Saturday 19 October 2019

Film of the week: Joker

Cert: 16. Now showing.

Joaquin Phoenix leaves his mark in Joker, a movie that already carries much baggage
Joaquin Phoenix leaves his mark in Joker, a movie that already carries much baggage
Will Smith in Gemini Man

On screen or page, the Joker, Gotham's Clown Prince of Crime, has always shaded arch-nemesis Batman as the most interesting thing on view. Defining interpretations came from Jack Nicholson's fixed grin in Batman (1989) and more recently Heath Ledger, whose ghoulish psycho in The Dark Knight (2008) wanted to "watch the world burn".

Ledger's in particular seemed to tap into something disturbingly current that caught public attention, and it was only a matter of time before an origins character study was required.

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Joaquin Phoenix, wiry of limb and bringing that unseated air from The Master, is struggling comic and clown-for-hire Arthur Fleck. Living with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy) and reliant on medication for equilibrium, the near anarchy that rubbish-strewn Gotham is falling into is starting to chip away at him, an effect ramped-up when he's sacked for carrying a gun.

Cineastes will quickly spot nods to Scorsese (Robert de Niro even turns up as a schlocky talk show host) and Kubrick alongside subtler references such as the music of Jackson C Frank and a retro Warner Bros logo before opening credits (in case you were in any doubt of the era).

Yes, Joker fits into a time and place in US cinema when lone anti-heroes dream of washing the scum off the streets, but there are unsettling signposts to America's losing battle with maladjusted "incels" and vengeful gun nuts. It is dark stuff, but Arthur's mental health problems are actually front and centre once you look past the commedia dell'arte prancing and manic cackle.

Phoenix, pulsating with menace and instability, puts his hand up for title of most iconic screen Joker, and while perhaps unable to dethrone Ledger, he comes close.

This doesn't feel like a franchise film, and is least convincing when Arthur is brought close to the Wayne family sphere. Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) and co-writer Scott Silver have liberated the Joker from superhero-dom, filling the frame with dark pomp and musicality as Phoenix leaves an indelible mark on the character.

★★★★ Hilary A White


Losing Alaska

Cert: 12A; Now showing 

Tom Burke's extraordinary documentary is remarkably timely. Beautiful, moving, depressing and quietly enraging, it's a film about climate change but it is also very much a portrait of not only what is deemed important, but who is deemed important. I hated the story it told, but I loved the people in it.

Newtok, Alaska is a small coastal town where the population is overwhelmingly Native American, members of the Yup'ik Tribe. The coastal erosion is eating up to 23 metres a year of land and the town is quite literally disappearing.

In 1994, they tried to relocate to a new village - but raising the funds to complete the move has proven impossible for the subsistence community. Some have chosen to move away completely, others live on in a reality that threatens their traditions, health and lives. Last October, four homes were lost in one storm. Mental health issues are chronic, addiction and suicide rates high. The town has no running water. Through interviews, Burke shows the enormous human cost of being shown you count for nothing. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor



Cert: 12A; Now showing 

Over The Rainbow is a concept most of us grew up associating with Judy Garland and the Wizard of Oz. Peter Quilter's play of that name serves as the basis (adapted by Tom Edge) for Rupert Goold's film about a few of what would turn out to be the last months of Judy Garland's life.

Slightly whitewashing some of her worse behaviours, the film is a moving portrait of a fascinating character, played and sung beautifully by Renée Zellweger. Broke, homeless and unemployable, in late 1968 Garland got a residency in a London club. From this the film looks back over her life as a studio child star which it uses to explain the myriad issues she developed. She is sympathetically portrayed and the truth was no doubt slightly less black and white. Other characters in the story are not really developed - so it is just as well that Zellwegger is so very good in the role. And I might add that it's an Oscar kind of film. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor



Club Cert: Now showing IFI

From the outset Adrian Panek's film makes grim viewing. As Nazis prepare to leave a Polish concentration camp some of the child inmates are shot and others savaged by dogs. The film, a historical horror with a strong allegorical element relevant to today and all times, is powerful and brutal, and it lingers with you long after the credits have rolled.

A group of children are liberated from the camp by Russian soldiers and left in the care of a starving aristocrat, Jadwiga (Danuta Stenka). The children are damaged and hungry, their loose loyalty to each other a fragile thing. When more Russian soldiers show up the eldest girl, Hanka (Sonia Mietielica) faces rape and only the eldest boy Hanys (Nicolas Przygoda) tries to save her. But their greatest threat comes from starving camp dogs who, trained to attack humans in striped uniforms, trap the children in the house without food or water. The dogs prove formidable foes, the children realise that they cannot defeat them so work to undo the human bred prejudices instead.

Children have lived these horrors, seeing it portrayed is not an easy watch. It's about humanity and dehumanisation, brutality breeding brutality and it's about survival and it is an upsetting but worthwhile watch. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Gemini Man

Cert: 12A; Now showing 

Will Smith in Gemini Man

The phrase "over-egging the cake" applies to Ang Lee's double portion of Will Smith opus Gemini Man.  During the two decades that this script has been kicking around, a good idea and lots of talent has ended up getting quite lost.

Government assassin Henry Brogan (Smith) has developed a conscience and wants to retire but some confusing selection of agencies want him dead instead and the person selected to kill him is his younger clone (a CGI Smith). Fellow agent Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) helps Brogan against the threat lead by Clay Verris (Clive Owen). Visually and technically the film is very impressive although my brain and stigmatism occasionally failed to process the double whammy of 3D and HFR, it's 120 frames p/s. The more interesting psychological premise is barely explored and the plot, although thin, is poorly explained - but for fans of high-octane action, or tech, it simply has to be seen in a cinema. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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