"I used to think my life was a tragedy...but now I realize...it's a fucking comedy." It's been a disgusting sight as the media tries to railroad Joker. It's appalling to see how the media so blatantly lies and misrepresents everything these days all the name of clicks and views as the country and the world itself becomes increasingly divided and hostile because of them. And, of course, when a film like Joker comes out - a film that among its many damning indictments includes the media - they do everything in their power to smear it and intentionally misrepresent everything the film stands for.
This isn't a rally cry for incels, mass shooters, or racist white men. This film is a wake up call to our world. It's a film that gets under your skin and forces you to look at the underbelly of society that we all like to conveniently push under the rug and forget that it exists, including the people who slip through the cracks and can't function in society. But what happens when what we push under the rug creeps back out and bears all of society's failures before us with vengeance, anger, and lives taken in a horrifying, nightmare-inducing sacrifice that demands payment in blood for wrongdoing?
Joker is a film that poses difficult questions to ugly dilemmas and has no easy answers for why. It shows how these things can get to a point and the aftermath, but like real life, it doesn't give the answers in between that shed light, provide closure, and perhaps even give preventative steps for the future. No. Like real life, it's ugly, it's painful, and we don't want to talk about it. We just move on, blame certain factors, attempt to pass legislation against those blamed factors, and pat ourselves on the back thinking we've made a quantum leap forward in improving society. It's a vicious punch in the gut that pries open your eyelids, forcing you to look into the nightmarish abyss that lies beneath the surface of society.
Arthur Fleck is a mentally troubled man who suffers from uncontrollable fits of laughter when his emotions bubble to the surface. He works as a clown entertainer, he aspires to be a comedian (Including religiously watching the late night program hosted by comedian, Murray Franklin), and lives and takes care of his mother (Who, 30 years ago, worked as a maid for the rich Wayne family. She also writes letters to Thomas Wayne, thinking he'll provide monetary support to them and supports his campaign for mayor). He's on medication and seeing a therapist weekly, but is barely functioning despite being on seven different medications. It also doesn't help that his therapist seems to be going through the motions and doesn't really pay attention to what he says.
His city, Gotham, is in a state of despair. Crime is on the rise and economic hardships abound. So bad is the state of the city that the garbage men are on strike, causing tons of garbage to pile up in the street and the rats have become super rats. Of course, in the midst of the turmoil, political hopefuls, such as Thomas Wayne can't help but pounce on the issues with promises of a brighter tomorrow to stroke their own egos behind a false smile that would make the shadiest car salesman seem humble by comparison.
Arthur's fragile world soon begins to crumble, when during a job simply holding a sign and dancing for a store's going out of business sale, his sign is stolen, and when he pursues the thieves, he gets jumped and beaten. After the incident, one of his fellow clown performer co-workers gives him a gun for protection (Despite Arthur not being allowed to have a firearm due to his mental illness). As if being attacked weren't bad enough, he is accused of stealing the sign as his boss refuses to believe his story and he loses a portion of his paycheck to pay for the sign.
Things only go downhill more when the city cuts funding across the board, including mental health services, leaving Arthur without a therapist or a means to get his medications. He then loses his job after a performance at a children's hospital in which his gun falls from his pocket.
Soon, Arthur is thrown into despair and what emerges from that despair that chips away at his fragile facade piece by piece will shatter and devastate the entire populace of Gotham City.
The story is gripping from start to finish. Sure, it has familiar hallmarks, but this film takes those hallmarks and makes them feel fresh again. Not only that, but unlike other films, it never strays into easy ploys like pop psychology. No, this film makes every moment feel timely, real, and deeply unsettling. I'm no expert on mental health, but much like the true nature of mental health issues, it's unpredictable and multi-faceted. No one person fits into a box that checkmarks all the signs. Sure, there are signs and similar characteristics, but that's merely a brushstroke to the nature of mental illness. There are many layers to such issues and this film's story doesn't try to haphazardly apply the band aids of pop psychology to those layers.
According to Joaquin Phoenix, he deliberately portrayed Arthur Fleck so as not to have an easily identifiable mental illness. Because of this, Arthur Fleck is a very complex character, not just because of all of his hardships, but also because you never quite know what's ticking around in the fog of his troubled mind. His life issues are what exacerbates the mismatched cogs and wheels of his mind that tries to cope with a society that rejects him. Even calling his character a jigsaw puzzle doesn't seem right, as his puzzling mind is missing pieces and also has mismatched pieces.
You'll never have all the answers because of the layers of his mind. You can only theorize and ponder long after the film is over.
The story not only works brilliantly as a character study, but also as a social commentary. Plus, as a bonus, it also doesn't provide easy answers to these other questions as well.
It's got a commentary on class differences, but the film doesn't make the mistake of making it seem as if the rich are to blame for the collapse of Gotham (Or the collapse of real world cities). Wayne Enterprises is by no means an upstanding company (Unlike what Batman films usually portray it as), but it - namely Thomas Wayne - becomes a symbol for a society that is being neglected and taken advantage of.
It is also a commentary on the failure of government and politicians as they do little to fix the problems. It's not merely the funding that's no good, but it's also a system that's no good and cares little for the people it claims to serve. If the system doesn't do a good job of serving regular, everyday people, then what do you think happens to people who really need help? They fall through the cracks and become the collateral damage of society's failures because little if anything was done to help them.
Sure, new laws can be passed and some funding could be thrown towards these programs, but when there is no real care behind such programs, what will that solve? This film lays out the cold hard truth: when the government isn't mismanaging and cutting funds, what programs it does have don't serve as they claim to. They don't really care. It's all for votes at the ballot and being able to make rosy, egotistical speeches about what good they've done while they stand on a pedestal looking down upon you.
Oh, but the story isn't done yet. It also takes a vicious, damning look at the media and how it plays a role in creating monsters and destroying lives. I won't go into exact details, as this would reveal plot spoilers, but the commentary deals with sensationalizing crimes and because of this, it ends up turning the monsters into antiheroes. The media is often all to eager to go into the gory details of crimes (Ironic, given that media outlets claim this film will inspire mass shooters), and in the end, they are the ones who inspire more of these monsters by providing all the glamor and fame that most celebrities could only dream of.
They only want the ratings, they don't care about the consequences of glorifying these people. The kind of coverage they give to such crimes rivals the blow-by-blow details of sporting events. In turn, they also cause more hysteria for the public, which then leads to mistrust among ourselves and tribalism - us vs them. They create monsters while dividing everyone else and making the world a darker, more cynical place in the process. The dead caught in the collateral damage merely become numbers, while the monster becomes the antihero.
With this cynicism, it also brings out the troubling natures of the rest of us, such as one scene where Zazie Beetz's character, Sophie, says in response to the reports of three murdered employees of Wayne Enterprises, "Fuck 'em." It's the us vs them mentality that begins to leech into society as a whole. Some prick or pricks we don't like get shot? Who gives a fuck? These are also the issues that Joker brings to the surface with the various tiers of society. The government failures, the lies of politicians, the media glorification, and our own failures. It's an ugly, cold, hard truth across the board that the film makes you confront. The film doesn't want you to just think about it by itself, it also wants you to think about the world around you that we all too often ignore or for those who think they're involved are actually ignorant of.
The story is brilliant and offers much to chew on as your brain not only ponders the film itself, but makes you ponder more about the world and of human nature. It's grim and uncompromising, which for some viewers will simply be too much. It's not often a major film release does such things, but by God, Joker is a miracle of a film.
Everything you've heard about the acting is true. Joaquin Phoenix delivers one of the greatest performances ever captured on film. If he is denied the Oscar for Best Actor, then the Oscars are officially dead. Then again, he doesn't need it, because this is one of those performances that will be talked about and studied for decades to come.
It's the kind of shattering performance that I would put on the same shelf as Anthony Perkins' portrayal of Norman Bates in Psycho (1960) and Renee Falconetti's portrayal of Joan of Arc in the Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). It's a miracle that I live in a time where I get to witness such a performance.
I make no exaggeration in my statement - it's the kind of performance that must be witnessed. The kind of performance that will still be talked about long after those of us alive today are gone. Many will try to imitate it, but none will match it. It will be cited as inspiration by future actors who will study it endlessly, wondering how Phoenix was able to do it. It is a new standard and benchmark in the history of film acting. Joaquin Phoenix is and will forever be one of the great treasures of film acting. If you didn't know his name before this film, you will forever know it afterward.
My words will never do it justice. It must be seen, it must be studied, and it will blow you away. It's truly a revelation in acting.
The rest of cast is also quite good, such as Robert De Niro as comedian and talk show host, Murray Franklin, who imbues the qualities of late night hosts quite well, as well as the cruel nature of show business. Frances Conroy as Arthur's mother is also quite good, showing a troubled woman whose past is a troubling revelation for Arthur and how it plays out for the future of Gotham City. Zazie Beetz as Sophie is quite charming and interesting to watch, especially with how her character plays into Arthur's life (Shhh...spoilers. Can't tell you. You gotta see it).
Joker is one of the best films of the decade and one of the most important films of our time. It's a challenging film with many layers and difficult questions to ponder long after you've seen it. It's not comfortable, it's not pleasant, and will hit you in the gut. But, it's a brilliant film that has many things to say and features an astounding, benchmark-setting performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Joker is destined to go down as one of the landmarks of 21st century cinema. You must see it as it goes beyond merely just being a great film, but also an important commentary on our world.
Players was a miserable flop upon its release in 1979. Not only did it bomb with critics and audiences, but it also tanked at the box office, and it has disappeared into such obscurity that you can't even buy it on DVD (I had to track down an old VHS copy, because yes, I still watch films on VHS every now and then. The VHS copy I have is also fairly old, dating back to 1985).
Even its production was mired in problems. The film was supposed to help jump start Ali MacGraw's acting career, which had been sidelined from 1973 to 1978 because of her marriage to Steve McQueen, and the film's producer, Robert Evans (who was previously married to MacGraw), hoped that this film would rekindle his relationship with MacGraw to no avail. It was also at the tail-end of his high-profile producing career at Paramount before the 80's would take a hell of a toll on his career with numerous scandals (Drug busts and the Cotton Club murder).
There was also plenty of other talent behind the production, including actual tennis stars being featured, segments actually being filmed at the famed Wimbledon, its director was Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter), and it had music composed by legendary composer, Jerry Goldsmith (The Secret of NIMH, Alien, Chinatown, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Basic Instinct, The Ghost and the Darkness).
Needless to say, things did not go according to plan with this intended hybrid of 70's mega hits, Love Story (1970) and Rocky (1976) but with tennis. It bombed and has virtually vanished from existence for most people.
Even among the few who remember it, it is not fondly looked upon with the few praises being given to Jerry Goldsmith's absolutely outstanding score (I'm even listening to the score as I write this review. It's fucking amazing) and the performance by tennis star, Pancho Gonzalez. Other than that, it is mostly bashed for being melodramatic pulp with hammy acting.
That being said, I must admit that I am not only one of the few people on Earth who has actually watched this film, but I am also one of its only fans. I absolutely adore Players.
The story follows a man named Chris, a young and attractive tennis player, who along with his friend, Rusty, are hustlers in amateur tennis circuits.
While driving through Mexico, the two meet an older attractive woman named Nicole who rebuffs them at a gas station, but they later encounter her again when she nearly crashes head on into a truck and drives off the road.
Chris then rescues her from the car which starts smoking and then explodes not long after her rescue (It might seem hokey for some viewers, but cars back in the olden days were deathtraps).
After some chitchat at a dealership where Nicole buys a new car, she wants Chris to meet with her to thank him for saving her life. She confides during their meeting that it's her birthday and Chris begins flirting with her to no avail as she is already involved with another man - a European millionaire who mostly does his business in a yacht near Madrid.
The two part ways so Chris can go participate in a tennis tournament, which lands him and his friend Rusty in the hospital because of a bet that Rusty made to hustle money from a man in the audience, resulting Chris receiving a serious hand injury while brawling with the conned man and his friends.
While he recovers from his injury, Nicole has Chris stay with her at her luxurious home. Soon, the two begin an intense love affair and Nicole encourages Chris to pursue a true career in tennis, rather than just being a hustler.
The story follows their tumultuous relationship as Chris becomes a rising star in the tennis world and Nicole tries to decide between Chris and her fiance.
Yes, I'll admit that the story is melodramatic and follows just about every beat you can imagine. You know where it will go and very little if anything about it will come as a surprise. That being said, I still found myself invested and giving a damn about what was going on.
I cared about their troubled relationship, how Chris wanted to better himself and make something out of his childhood dreams of playing tennis after seeing Pancho Gonzalez's win in 1968, how Nicole comes to discover things about herself and what she really wants. No matter how cliched or melodramatic it was, I was still fully hooked.
But it wasn't just the romance that hooked me, but even as someone who has never particularly been into sports, I found the look into the tennis world quite fascinating as Chris rises through the ranks under the training of Pancho Gonzalez. It basically contains the exciting parts of sports without all the boring downtime that drives me away from watching such events.
I not only got a wonderful romance, but also an exciting sports film to boot.
The acting has also received a great deal of critical flagellation. Ali MacGraw was seen as being lifeless while Dean Paul Martin was seen more as a hunk with mild tennis playing attributes as opposed to being an actor. I disagree with such assessments, as you can already guess.
Ali MacGraw was not only foxy and determined, but she also displayed vulnerability as Chris forces her to confront her own flaws and who she wants to be as a person. I felt her struggles and I also loved her back and forth banter with Martin. She was playful and hotheaded as well as being encouraging and deprecating. I loved watching her on the screen and her chemistry with Martin.
Dean Paul Martin also gave a terrific performance. He was cocky and arrogant, but also displayed a knack for reading people and who they were. I thought he fit the part perfectly, and much like MacGraw was quite good at their back and forth banter which covered a wide range of emotions as any relationship is bound to have. He, too, is forced to confront his own flaws and how he wastes his talents as Nicole helps to better him as a person.
I must also give a shout out to the one praised performance in the film: Pancho Gonzalez - an actual tennis star. I never knew his name before this film (Again, I'm not really a sports fan) and according to brief research only had one other acting credit to his name (Not counting television appearances on talk shows).
He may not have been an actor per say in the traditional film sense, but by God, that man had damn good comedic talent and screen presence as Chris' mentor and trainer in the film. He should have been in more films! He was absolutely hilarious and brought endless joy whenever he was on the screen, chewing Chris out for being lazy or providing grizzled encouragement to him. He did an absolutely fantastic job in the role.
Players is a criminally underrated romantic sports drama. I thought the film had an engaging story, terrific acting, thrilling sports segments that are nail-biting, and a superb, masterful score by Jerry Goldsmith (Which, admittedly, did help bolster the melodrama to a higher caliber). I adored this film and will probably remain one of its only fans, but by God, I adored my time with it and will cherish it. Who knows? Maybe I'll be able to convince a few people to watch it with me and like it, too. If you ever somehow catch it, I encourage you to at least give it a try. After all, if you've somehow ended up on this page for a long-forgotten film, something must have brought you here.
Knock Down the House is a dreadful film masquerading as a documentary. It should instead be called: Political Ads: The Movie or perhaps AOC and a Few Other Women: The Movie. It is not an enlightening look at the underdogs trying to take on the D.C. establishment, but rather it feels like an irritating puff piece that holds its subjects on a golden pedestal, rather than taking a clinical, impartial approach as it should. Hell, even as a clearly biased piece, it could have still been interesting. But this film is about exciting as the now seemingly endless campaign ads we as Americans are subjected to these days. Apparently, we aren't allowed to be freed of elections for any length of time.
The documentary follows four women running for Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Amy Vilela of Nevada, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia.
None of these women have any background in politics, but are driven to take on the establishment, having been inspired by their backgrounds: bartender, a former financial adviser, a pastor and nurse, and the daughter of a coal mining family. Each have their reasons and particular passions, such as the economy and the working class, the issues of race, police brutality, medicare, and more.
The film follows each of their campaigns up until their eventual outcomes.
Despite following four women, it's clear who the favorite subject of the four was: AOC. Sure, she actually won, and one could make a case for why the focus is mainly on her, but the other women are sidelined to a ridiculous degree. In the scheme of life, they'll only be tiny footnotes in the endless stream of candidates for the offices of politics, but they actually seemed to have potentially interesting stories and how they conflate with their beliefs that are given so little attention.
Amy Vilela was not only former financial adviser who gave up everything to run for Congress, but her story is the most sympathetic. Even as someone who doesn't lean left on a number of issues, she had actual points to make. It is a heart-wrenching moment in the film when she talks about losing her daughter because she didn't have the coverage to get the medical tests that could have saved her life. There is also a moment of levity within that dark story as she carries her daughter's urn because the daughter didn't want to stay in one location.
In a political climate that inspires nothing but cynicism, this part of the film was a rare unicorn moment in politics that rang true. I didn't feel condescending bullshit trying to exploit tragedy...it felt real. Sadly, her story is sidelined.
Swearengin seemed to also have an interesting backstory, given her background of being part of a coal mining family and how her state feels left behind compared to the rest of the country as corporations come in and tear apart the land with a lack of safety standards to boot (Her area has a troubling number of residents suffering from cancer). Beyond that, and maybe a few of her political points, we as the viewer are barely acquainted with her. There's a story to her, but again, she gets sidelined.
Cori Bush, both a pastor and nurse, wants to tackle the issues of race and police brutality, in particular, being influenced by the hotly debated death of Michael Brown. Aside from a few talking points, her story doesn't go past that point with this film. She gets sidelined worst of all. It's barely any better if at all than my paragraph about her in this review...I'm not kidding.
Nay, the star of this show is AOC, the bartender. Unlike the other women, she felt fake and insincere. Her life is also particularly uninteresting and even when she tries to be sympathetic as presented by the viewer, she instead embodies everything one could dislike about establishment politicians. She's condescending, uses others (Her own niece is used to help pass out flyers and look cute for potential voters), uses inflammatory rhetoric about women and race, loudly argues instead of debating, and more. She is a user and abuser of issues, milking the fiery Twitter crowd that no one else likes. There is not one moment that rings true with her - it all feels like a show and a means to gain the ultimate reward. Even tragedy isn't off-limits, when she's in D.C. at the end of the film and talks about her deceased father...it feels about as real her infamous border fence picture (It all feels like an act and she's a damn lousy actress, to boot).
Unfortunately, despite being so unlikable, she's the star of the show, while the much more interesting women are sidelined. Worst of all, the film worships her as a hero of sorts standing up against the corruption of politics when she is already well on her way to rubbing elbows with the most loathsome of the establishment. Though, perhaps given this modern age of politics, perhaps she was born for her job...using and abusing issues.
In the end, Knock Down the House is nothing but a worship of AOC, throwing the other, more interesting subjects under the bus. It's also a thoroughly biased piece with too few moments that feel genuine. Hell, it also doesn't even have much charisma with its biased subject matter that could still intrigue viewers. Instead, it's an 86-minute puff piece and political ad for the ever-swelling ego of AOC with a few other political talking points thrown in from the other subjects. It's dreadful, tedious, and will only appeal to a very small minority of viewers who themselves worship the subject at hand. It's not informative, it's biased as hell, and worst of all, boring.
Hark! Behold my fellow B-movie fanatics! I bring to your attention a modern masterpiece of unintentional comedy. Its name is Truth or Dare. I have witnessed many great unintentional comedies over the years, with many coming from the horror genre, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge, 976-Evil II, The Lords of Salem, Slaughter High, Sorority Row, Black Christmas (2006), Exorcist II: The Heretic, Prom Night (1980, not that shitty 2008 remake) and Automaton Transfusion to name some. Truth or Dare goes beyond even those films.
This film that crosses a line even beyond legendarily, gloriously awful films such Showgirls. It is a film so gloriously awful that I have not witnessed something of its ilk since watching the 1975 blaxploitation film, The Black Gestapo. In fact, this film may even surpass that one in my personal hall of fame for the greatest so-bad-they're-good films I have seen. I was in awe, I laughed harder than most actual comedies, and had a knee-slapping, howling good time the whole way through. Truth or Dare reaches a Nirvana of unintentional comedy gold.
The story follows a group of friends who go to Mexico for spring break. While at a party one night, Olivia (Our main character), meets a man named Carter, who after shooing away an annoying creep hitting on her, buys her a drink and they hang out for awhile.
When Olivia's friends come to retrieve her, there is a disagreement among the group as to what they should do next since it's their last night. Should they go find a club or go back to their hotel? Carter, on the other hand, suggests they follow him for some more partying.
He leads them to an abandoned mission where they just sort of hang out drinking beers. He then suggests that they play a game of truth or dare. Some members of the group are hesitant to play such a childish game, but in their drunken states, they decide to go along with the ridiculous game. There's streaking, brief girl-on-girl action, the gay guy of the group admitting to which guy in the group he'd like to hook up with, and some other stupid shit.
When it's Carter's turn, he picks truth and reveals what his intentions of bringing of them there is. He reveals that they're now stuck playing this game and that people are going to die.
The group heads back to college, a little baffled at such a weird night, but carrying on as usual. However, Olivia starts receiving constant truth or dare questions written on papers at first, then her car gets keyed with the question, and then when she goes to the library, she is surrounded by students, who with creepy smiles keep chanting the question. She picks truth, revealing that her friend is cheating on her boyfriend...while said friend and boyfriend are in the library.
At first, it's assumed Olivia is being a bitch, but when another friend gets the question, he ends up killing himself when he refuses his dare (Which was to stand on a pool table and show everyone his penis after a woman in the audience said a friend of hers said it was small). The event is also recorded and sent to their phones.
Soon, the group realizes they are stuck playing this game. Not only that, but it comes with the rule of only having two truths in a row, meaning the third person in line has no choice but to pick dare. The group must now figure out how to stop this game as it slowly begins to pick them off one by one.
The plot can be described as a strange combination of It Follows, Final Destination, and The Ring...only instead of being an invisible monster that serves as a symbol for STDs, cheating death, or an evil video tape, it's instead applied to the game of truth or dare. And yes, it is absolutely hilarious. It's not only hilarious as to the ways the characters have to play the game, but the game is a cheating bastard (Like at one point, despite a character picking dare, it forces the character through the dare to tell a friend her worst secret).
While I will give the writers credit for trying to close the inevitable loopholes that most other horror films would be stuck with in such a premise, it also becomes comical as the game increasingly becomes dickish and straight up cheats. Not to mention, the truths and dares imposed on these characters have a strange variety (Gay character forced to come out to his father, alcoholic girl forced to walk to the edge of the roof while downing a bottle of vodka, Olivia's friend, Markie, being forced to break Olivia's hand with a hammer, a girl at the beginning of the film forced to douse a woman in a convenience store with lighter fluid and lighting her on fire, and many, many more strange truths and dares).
While the plot is hilarious, I will give it credit for being very energetic and creative with its truths and dares. Plus, it does try to have moments of character development. While I laughed a lot, it certainly tries and there was clearly a lot of thought put into it. Most other films would have been lazy.
Also, despite the material they're given, I must give credit to the cast. I don't think I've watched an unintentional comedy with such committed performances. I mean it. These actors try their damnedest effort to elevate this material. Hell, there are even some effective scenes, particularly with actresses, Lucy Hale (Olivia), and Violett Beane (Markie). Despite the utterly ridiculous script, these two actresses actually manage to have some genuinely well done scenes, such as Markie trying to deal with her father's suicide and Olivia trying to be a good friend, but struggling to deal with their fracturing friendship.
In terms of being scary...it isn't. It's more fun to watch the characters try to complete their truths and dares, or the odd ways in which the game will kill them if they refuse to go through with their choice. It's also odd to watch as the characters learn about how this cursed game came to be and how to stop it. It's a wild, bonkers ride of a film that had me hooked with its madness from the opening scene.
If you're looking for a good serious horror film, this isn't it. But, if you're looking for a great unintentional comedy with a surprising amount of creativity and committed acting, Truth or Dare is one hell of a ride. It's a film that I can see myself watching many more times over the years and forcing unsuspecting friends and family members into watching it with me as I laugh and they gawk with jaw-dropping awe at what the fuck we're watching. This is a must-see if you're a B-movie fanatic and I hope in future years this will be rediscovered as such. I fucking adore this film. It is a B-movie masterpiece.