Archive for the ‘Todd Phillips’ Category

It’s Crazy Out There

Joker

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert de Niro, Zazie Beetz Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Glenn Fleishler, Leigh Gill

The Hangover director Todd Phillips plays a sick and twisted joke on audience members that expect Joker to be a conventional superhero origin story.

Joker won the Best Film at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival and is absolutely brilliant, diabolically clever and deeply disturbing thanks to an unbelievable onscreen performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a struggling clown and stand-up comedian in a garbage ridden Gotham who transforms with nefarious elegance into Joker, the arch enemy of Bruce Wayne aka Batman.

Joaquin Phoenix has delivered some stunning film performances first in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and then for his Oscar nominated roles as the vicious Emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott’s Roman epic Gladiator (2000) followed by his performance as musician Johnny Cash in James Mangold’s Walk the Line (2005) and more recently as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012).

Phoenix’s performance in Joker is utterly phenomenal as he physically transforms into Arthur Fleck, whose sinewy body holds a promise of vicious intent as he discovers that his mother Penny who he has to wash and bathe was discarded by the wealthy Thomas Wayne played by Brett Cullen (The Dark Knight Rises).

Arthur is told by an unsympathetic counselor that Gotham is cutting social services which includes his medication while in the mean streets his clown gigs are becoming increasingly hostile. He is attacked by juvenile delinquents for holding up a sign saying Everything Must Go.

Arthur’s desire to be a stand-up comedian is ridiculed on live Television by professional Talk Show host Murray Franklin superbly played by Oscar winner Robert de Niro (Raging Bull, The Godfather Part II).

Amidst the gritty streets of Gotham, Arthur Fleck’s sanity slowly unravels, the ties that bind him to conventional behaviour prove useless as he comes off his meds and psychopathically starts killing entitled bullies on subway trains. An incessant smoker, Arthur watches the deterioration of his mother Penny played by Frances Conroy (The Tale, Shopgirl, Broken Flowers). After being invited onto Murray Franklin’s sarcastic talk show, Arthur paints on the clown make up and delivers a masterful narcissistic monologue, whereby the Joker is born. The results are riveting.

Arthur Fleck violently disregards the advice of his fellow clowns Randall played by Glenn Fleischer (Suburbicon) and Gary played by Leigh Gill (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) in a particularly disturbing scene which is both funny and scary. 

Joaquin Phoenix delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Arthur Fleck who transforms into Joker, a psychotic violent lunatic that thrives on chaos and disenchantment in a crowded Gotham overrun by ruthless men and an uncaring upper class. Not since Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, has there been an equally spine-chilling performance of this perennial and chaotic comic book villain.

Joker gets a film rating of 9 out of 10 is essential viewing, a dark mirror for a 21st century society which accurately reflects just how crazy it is out there. The politics of fear reign supreme.

2019 Venice International Film Festival Winners

Venice International Film Festival, known as La Biennale di Venezia takes place annually in late August, early September and is regarded as the oldest Film Festival in the World

Golden Lion (Best Film): Joker directed by Todd Phillips

Grand Jury Prize: An Officer and a Spy directed by Roman Polanski – no poster available at time of publication

Silver Lion (Best Director): Roy Andersson – About Endlessness  – no poster available at time of publication

Best Actor:   Luca Marinelli – Martin Eden

Best Actress: Ariane AscarideGloria Mundi – no poster available at time of publication

Best Screenplay Award – No. 7 Cherry Lane by Yonfan  

Bullets and Bravado

War Dogs

war_dogs

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak, Julian Sergi, Ana de Armas, Shaun Taub, Mehdi Merali, Wallace Langham

The Hangover director Todd Phillips tries to emulate Scorsese or de Palma in his latest film War Dogs about two twenty something misfits David Packouz and Ephraim Diveroli played by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill respectively, who inadvertently become arms dealers for the US. Government in the twilight of the Bush administration’s War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007.

Unlike Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street or even Brian de Palma’s Scarface, War Dogs does not pack the same visceral shock value. Punctuated by a set of script markers, War Dogs plunders along with a terrible script and a director who clearly should have stuck to comedy.

As an audience member watching Miles Teller and Jonah Hill in this film, one can be forgiven for feeling slightly embarrassed for them. Both actors have produced better work especially Jonah Hill in Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street, while Teller was suitably terrified opposite the superb J.K. Simmons in Damien Chazelle’s Oscar winner Whiplash.

The problem with War Dogs, as the action moves from Miami Beach to Amman to Tirana to Las Vegas and back again, is that the film starts off with so much promise, but then fails to deliver. Unlike the marginally better Andrew Niccol’s film Lord of War, War Dogs does not give up its moral compass or ask the audience to judge but merely shows two ambitious young men desperate to earn a fast million in America’s war-mongering capitalist economy prior to the financial crisis hitting in late 2008.

What War Dogs does provide is a theory that war is never about the human conflict but more about the financial business of providing weapons for soldiers fighting in foreign lands. War is a big business, less so in recent years as it has given way to sinister urban terrorism.

war_dogs_ver2

Packouz and Diveroli appear naïve about the ethical implications of the illegal arms business especially when their dangerous dealings get increasingly complicated as they try to supply the US government with Albanian bullets which are actually Chinese through a shady arms dealer Henry Girard played against type by a barely recognizable Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper, Joy, The Hangover). War Dogs also features Cuban actress Ana de Armas as Packouz’s girlfriend Iz.

Despite Jonah Hill emulating his character in The Wolf of Wall Street, his version of Ephraim Diveroli comes off as a fast talking foul-mouthed con-man with a penchant for screwing his partner and having absolutely no moral fibre.

With bullets and bravado, War Dogs fails to deliver, leaving these talented actors floundering with a bad script and a morally skewed film which could have been so much better, not to mention insightful.

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