Viewed – 08 October 2019. Cinema

I didn’t get the most positive impression upon seeing the trailer for this. Although I believed Joaquin Phoenix was an ideal casting for the clown prince of crime … the realistic approach and the fact the movie looked simply like a guy laughing a lot and acting a bit strange didn’t fill me with excitement. There’s more to Joker than being a clown and a bit of a weirdo … but thankfully having sat through this, such feats are swept aside as director Todd Phillips delivers precisely the origin story fitting to the iconic character.

Phoenix plays Arthur, a guy with more than a few mental problems, not helped by an over dependant mother, a thankless job as a street performer, hopeless aspirations to be a stand-up comedian and living in a city that doesn’t give a damn. However with a girl next door who catches his eye, not all is bad. That is until a series of events finds him sinking further into madness and eventually finding a confidence in himself – as the Joker is manifested. Welcome support comes from Robert DeNiro as a chat show host but this is clearly Phoenix’s show and despite (favourable) comparisons to Nicholson & Ledger, he somehow makes the character his own in a complex, at times heart-breaking – yet still menacing portrayal.

This can be seen as a snapshot of our current society. It’s a brave exploration of how the powers that be can create a monster. At the same time, the movie plays cleverly with the viewers interpretation of what is real and what is fantasised . In the closing moments this approach is almost its undoing but with very strong echoes of Taxi Driver and even Black Swan I still came away surprised and particularly impressed. A must-see.

Verdict: 5 /5

The Master

Viewed – 11 May 2013  Blu-ray

For some time I have been an admirer of the acting skills of Philip Seymour Hoffman, even though I haven’t seen that many of his movies.  He was a great villain in Mission Impossible 3 and also very good in movies like the 25th Hour and Boogie Nights, which brings me nicely to this latest  Oscar nominated offering from the same director as Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson, a man who has gained no small amount of acclaim for movies like There Will Be Blood and Magnolia.

The Master

Unmistakably inspired by the early days of Scientology, Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, a man who leads a gathering of people and teaches a philosophy on life, that some would call a cult.  After a chance encounter with a damaged, alcoholic drifter and former World War II navel officer (Joaquin Phoenix), Lancaster promises to turn this man’s life around, if he agrees to follow his teachings.  Co-starring Amy Adams as Lancaster’s straight talking wife and with a world-weary performance from an increasingly unhinged-looking Phoenix this was at first hard to get into, not helped by Phoenix’s muffled dialogue.  However once Hoffman turns up this became a lot more interesting.  I have always wondered about the background of Scientology, and although this isn’t based on fact, it certainly opened my mind to an alternative to religion and could see how it might appeal to people.  However the movie does show that such beliefs can be attacked or questioned, and each time this happens, Hoffman or Phoenix’s reaction is either abusive or violent, threatening to reveal the real danger behind such so-called cult followings.

Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted an intriguing, if lightweight story with classy direction and some eye-catching visuals, showing off the period attractively.  Performances are decent, especially Hoffman, manipulative and charming as Lancaster Dodd, although moments of explicit dialogue and nudity seemed out of place.  Considering the subject matter, I found the lack of depth disappointing, but despite this I still had a good time.

Verdict:  3 /5