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I saw Joker yesterday afternoon and—after all the controversy and hype—thought it was....OK. The pluses: Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is fucking amazing. Throughout the first part of the film—which I genuinely was swept up in— and the lesser second half, he gives a live-wire performance that makes the movie better than it otherwise would be. I liked the first half of the film a lot. The script is never perfect—most of the characters other than Arthur Fleck (AKA Joker) aren’t really fleshed out—but the film does a really good job of putting you inside Fleck’s head. I have some issues with how the film depicts mental illness (I have struggled with depression in the past myself) but there are a lot of aspects that It nails dead-on. It is gritty and unflinching and I thought it was really effective (although it is entirely possible that other people might find it triggering, so I’ll send up that warning for you). There is no CGI overkill (or any CGI, that I really noticed). The minuses: The second half (and especially the climax) of the film is simply too busy. The film starts as a portrait of mental illness and a failing bureaucratic system, and if it had stuck with that it could have been great. But it tries to connect to the Batman origin story to a degree that feels shoehorned in by the end. It never successfully shows why The Joker appeals to his deranged fans, we’re just supposed to accept it because it is canon. It feels like lazy writing that ends up shooting the film in the foot, despite Phoenix’s performance. Also, Arthur Fleck’s mental illness as he becomes Joker does turn into a broader stereotype. It’s a tonal mishmash—the film wants to be gritty and realistic, but you can’t do that when you’re turning the antihero into a comic book villain. The final scenes of the film do seem to revel in the fact that he’s gone bonkers simply to show him doing violent, crazy shit. It’s a film that seems to be building to a point about mental illness but then keeps undermining its own point. Finally, There’s a point midway (or perhaps later) through the film where it could have reimagined the Joker/Batman universe in an interesting way. It doesn’t and it feels a bit cowardly for taking the lesser route. Despite all this, if the film still appeals to you, I do recommend it for Phoenix’s performance and the parts of the film that do work. It was good enough to make me wish that it had been better and I’m glad I saw it.
I’ll be honest—I didn’t love the first chapter of It, even though I read the book and the movie made a gazillion dollars. It just WAS NOT SCARY, it was CGI sanitized horror with its balls cut off. It was the type of horror movie I’d recommend for people who don’t like horror and it felt like the Cliff Notes version of the book (particularly in how the involvement of the only character of color was really cut down from the original story). I didn’t hate it but couldn’t get behind its popularity. My lasting impression was a resounding C-C+. Now the conclusion has arrived and I actually thought it was better in some ways and more of the same in others. I enjoyed the nightmarish scenarios It came up with more the second time around. I don’t know if I found them scarier, but they definitely were more creatively bonkers. Also, Bill Hader and James Ransone were great (the rest of the cast is fine but kinda stranded). The movie itself is hit and miss, but I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to until the climax. It just goes on for too long (170 minutes) and the film peters out with a whimper. If you enjoyed the first half I’d still recommend it and the two films combined I’d give a C+. I just wonder if these films would have been better if Cary Juji Fukunaga had gotten his way.