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Tag: Joker

Editorials

Road Trip to Joker: The Success of Todd Phillips

March 5, 2020
Todd Phillips Films

Love him or hate him, director Todd Phillips has certainly made a very successful niche for himself. Today I’ll be looking over the controversial director’s career. Beginning with an overview of his work before looking into his most acclaimed films, The Hangover and Joker and how they succeeded at the box office, with critics, and for the director himself.

Filmography

Phillips broke into narrative features with 2000’s Road Trip. A sex comedy that made over $119 million dollars at the box office against a $16 million budget. He followed that up with other successes like 2003s gross-out comedy Old School. 2004s movie adaptation of Starsky & Hutch. 2010s buddy road trip film Due Date. 2016s biographical black comedy War Dogs. And The Hangover sequels, which while never earning the acclaim of the original, were still financially successful.

Comparatively, Phillips’ only unsuccessful movie is School of Scoundrels which earned $24 million against a $35 million budget. However inarguably his most successful ventures are The Hangover and Joker.

The leads of The Hangover (2009)
The leads of The Hangover (2009) [Source: Standard.co.uk]

Success and Acclaim: The Hangover & Joker

The Hangover became the highest-grossing R rated comedy of all time during its release (not adjusted for inflation). While this record was later surpassed The Hangover was also celebrated by audiences and critics (Rated 7.7 on IMDb and 78% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Meanwhile, Joker has become the highest-grossing R rated movie of all time, making over $1 billion worldwide. Despite mixed critical reception (68% on Rotten Tomatoes) Joker still received great acclaim. Winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and being nominated for many Best Film and Best Director awards. Audiences also roundly embraced the film (it’s currently rated 8.6 on IMDb and is ranked 46th in the IMDb Top 250).

Both films are examples of popular film trends from their time. The Hangover owes some of its success to the popular raunchy comedies of Judd Apatow. And Joker owes a lot to the domination of comic book movies at the box office.

But both films also have something unique, ambiguity. While The Hangover was a raunchy comedy it also had a grimy presentation. This allowed people to view the film as a condemnation of the activities the characters get involved with. Thus even people unsympathetic to the characters could enjoy laughing at them. Meanwhile, Joker presented its villain as somewhat sympathetic by showcasing how many facets of American culture helped to turn him evil but also presented his actions as shocking. Meaning the film functioned as both a disturbing look inside a killer’s mind but also an exploration of the factors that turned him into one. This ambiguous presentation allows for audiences to engage with these films in different ways. And gives critics a lot to analyze. Which is likely something else that lead to their success.

Frightening killer or victim of society? Joker (2019)
Frightening killer or victim of society? Joker (2019) [Source: Variety]

Todd Phillips’ Risks

Surprisingly Warner Brothers were initially unsupportive of both films. They didn’t want to give The Hangover a $35 million budget, because of its R rating (often not as successful as PG-13 movies) and because the leads were relatively unknown at the time. And even though Joker was a sure-fire hit due to the main characters’ comic popularity, Warner Brothers still attempted to prevent the project being made by giving Phillips a relatively small budget of $55 million.

But this ended up paying off well for Phillips. Because of Warner’s reluctance to finance The Hangover Phillips gave up his directing salary to help make the film and asked for 16% of the films gross. Meaning his pay went from $6.5 million to $75 million. And Phillips took a smaller salary on Joker, again asking for a percentage of the gross. Many publications estimate he will make $100 million from it.

Controversial director Todd Phillip
Controversial director Todd Phillips [Source: NME.com]

Conclusion

In the end, Todd Phillips knows how to get moviegoers talking and how to make a success of it. By using successful formulas his films have struck a note with audiences. And the well-constructed morally ambiguous presentation of Hangover and Joker managed to appeal to many different audiences and critics alike. And thanks to their success and the risks Phillips took to make his two best films he’s now laughing all the way to the bank. What a Joker.   

Also Read: The Unique Style of Wes Anderson

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Reviews

Review: Birds of Prey

February 9, 2020

That heartbreak can cause much pain is something we’re familiar with. Whether it’s ending a long time relationship or a short fling, we are always going to handle it in our way. However you deal with it, pretty sure it’s not as drastic as Harley Quinn getting over her Joker. But who knew that dealing with a break up would this much fun! With Birds of Prey (or Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), DC has finally got the funny, colourful, vibrant and extremely entertaining film it deserves. With massive thanks to director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs)!

They should fear me cause I’m Harley f*cking Quinn

It seems that Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) her life isn’t rolling into the right direction. After splitting up with her “J” and taking revenge in the most explosive way possible, she’s now being hunted by everyone she has wronged. One of them is Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). He’s the latest ‘victim’ on her list as she hurt his driver in that typical “Harley Quinn” way. After being captured, Quinn wants to save her skin. She’s being tasked with tracking down a precious diamond that holds the code to the bank account of a rich Mafia family. While claiming to be the “finder of all lost things”, this search may not be as easy as she expected, especially when that diamond has been swallowed by young hustler Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

That’s not the only problem Quinn has to overcome. The jewel has also caught the attention of Gotham City Police Department Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). For Montoya, who has been screwed over by her former male colleague, this gem could be getting the promotion she deserves. A bad-ass assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) also has her reasons to retrieve the diamond. There’s also Sionis’ driver Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) wants the diamond. Four women with each their own agenda, one little thief and a large number of men who are after them. Many people but just one diamond. How will this end?

Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as The Huntress, Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary in Birds of Prey
Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as The Huntress, Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary in Birds of Prey
(Source: IMDb)

A dream cast

If you would ask us how to describe Robbie (Bombshell, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood) her performance in one word we would say: Superb! She nails Quinn perfectly. Both the looks as well as the emotions. Her expressive and joyful appearance just puts an instant smile on your face and when the sadder. When the strong emotions appear, Robbie’s acting makes sure that you care about Quinn every step of the way, no matter how many horrifying mistakes Quinn made in the past. Basco plays a key role in the film and she does that by putting on a wonderful performance. The connection between Robbie and Basco is just spot-on.

Smollett-Bell (One Last Thing, Hands of Stone) grabs your attention every time she appears as Black Canary, who literally and figuratively has a killer voice. No matter if it’s during the quiet signing scenes or the violent, entertaining and action-packed fight scenes, watching Smollett-Bell is such a treat. While Winstead (The Parts You Lose, Gemini Man) only makes her first appearance during the middle of this movie, she brings such a comedy element as well as immense female power. Perez (The Dead Don’t Die, Active Adults) might not have the rock ‘n roll attitude the rest of the cast has but she’s still very much fun to watch.

Don’t think that the exquisite cast only exists of women. No, there’s also McGregor (Doctor Sleep, Christopher Robin). Whether it’s as the charismatic but short-tempered Sionis or as the secretive and sinister Black Mask, his scenes are just fantastic. Saying that there’s a sensational chemistry between the leads would be such an understatement.

Tremendous talent behind the camera

There’s also the top-notch talent behind the scenes that delivered astonishing work. First up, we want to congratulate the hair and makeup team and costume department. They make from Birds of Prey the most energetic, flashy and eye-catching comic movie you will ever see. Our praise also needs to go to the stunt team and the special effects team. The many on-set stunts and the CGI added afterwards make this film go so smoothly, even though they might be over the top. We also want to thank the people who made and/or chose the music. Every song has a hidden reference and gives Birds of Prey an immense punch.

One hell of a ride

While watching Birds of Prey, it becomes clear that comic book movies are still going to dominate the box office for many years to come. If any of those could be as much fun, entertaining, stunning performed and wonderfully created, then we would be over the moon.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Also Read: Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis

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Editorials

Batman & Joker: The Future of the DCEU

October 22, 2019
Batman Vs Joker

Joker has been a big success commercially and for the most part critically, but what does this Joker mean for the DCEU?

Warning – major spoilers for Joker below

Not A Superhero Film

Joker is many things. In my opinion, it is a great film, an intense film, a controversial film but it’s hardly a superhero film at all. There is very little of the comic book about it – no superpowers, no gadgets and absolutely no heroes. Joker has far more in common with Taxi Driver than The Dark Knight and that film is evoked often. The titular character is Arthur Fleck, a man who is struggling to survive in Gotham City. He lives with his mother who is in poor health, he works a poorly-paid job where his colleagues laugh at him when he rarely tries to reach out to anyone it does not go well. Arthur also has very serious mental health problems for which he sees a court-appointed therapist as well as taking lots of medication. At the beginning of the film, Arthur seems to be trying to stay on a positive path but that is proving increasingly difficult.

Joker without his makeup (source: indiewire.com)

The “origins” of Joker are the grim, horrible circumstances of what such a person, in reality, might have. While still cinematic Gotham is a seedy, dirty, city, a million miles from the Gotham of the Bale or Affleck films. If we were still in the Affleck-Batman world there could be no way of integrating these two characters or these two universes (the same would be true of the Nolan films). Not a successful way of doing it anyway, but they may well have tried. And while the Robert Pattison Batman is an unknown quality it would be hard to imagine a Batman that would work with this Joker. The instant the batmobile made an appearance would cause some terrible schism of the comic book universe where such a vehicle could happen and the brutal and dirty universe where such a thing is plainly ridiculous and impossible.

Jared Leto as the Joker (source: reddit.com)

Too Many Jokers

But some of you might say well we have a perfectly good Joker right here…well, a Joker anyway, in the shape of Jared Leto from Suicide Squad. I was quite forgiving of this incarnation of the Joker, yes, it was bad, but trying to follow the iconic performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger was going to be damn-near impossible. Leto’s IMDb page still has an Untitled Joker film in the works but such was the rancour directed at his portrayal I doubt we’ll see him reprise the role. I have heard some people suggest that Joaquin Phoenix’s character is not the Joker but rather perhaps an inspiration for him, with that being said could both Leto and Phoenix’s Joker appear in the same film? I can’t see how this would work, already comparisons between the two different portrayals have not been kind to Leto and putting him in scenes with Phoenix would only make it worse.

A Billionaire Playboy

An interesting facet of Joker that I had not at all anticipated was the anti-wealth aspect. When Fleck kills three stockbrokers many of the citizens of Gotham see someone striking back against the greedy upper class. Thomas Wayne is shown as an unsympathetic character, harbouring his own prejudices against the poor and his murder was motivated less for material gain than as a political killing. What type of figure would Bruce Wayne be in this world? There has been a meme going around for years that said if Bruce Wayne really wanted to help Gotham he would use his vast wealth in more orthodox ways. Would we get a Batman who delighted in attacking the less fortunate who had resorted to crime because of their circumstances rather than criminal insanity? Those denied essential services, with no opportunities to improve their lot, that would hardly seem heroic.

The glamorous Gotham of Christopher Nolan (source: polygon.com)

I still think of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as the pinnacle of superhero films, a genius director, a fantastic cast and the money to make it happen. For me, and many people, Batman Vs Superman was an outright disaster and I was so disillusioned I didn’t even bother with Justice League, but undeniably it has a different feel to Nolan’s films. So coming up with a whole new distinct world might be difficult, especially so as I hope Joker is quarantined and kept safe from any other DC films. Joker is a brilliant film and should be allowed to be that and not just the first part of another story.

The Next Villain

As we now know Robert Pattison is taking over the role of Batman and very recent news seems to suggest the villain will be The Riddler (played by Paul Dano) so it may be that the DCEU lets the character of the Joker rest a little while. However, I’m sure they will return to the character, after all, he is best-known and most iconic Batman villain.

Also Read: Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis

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Editorials

Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis On the Big Screen

October 2, 2019

The Joker is Batman’s most iconic villain. While many of his other villains are more physically imposing, none have left quite an impact like the Joker. The villain is so iconic, that he’s even getting his own standalone movie. The new film is completely separate from all other continuity and even earning Oscar buzz, but also it’s fair of backlash.

With the film in cinemas soon, now seems like the perfect time to take a look at the Joker, some of the iconic performances, why it’s such a great role, and whether audiences should be worried about going to see it in cinemas…

“Wait ’til they get a load of me”

Cesar Romero famously refused to shave his iconic moustache for the role (Credit: ABC/20th Century Television, 1966-68)

The Joker first appeared in 1940 in the first issue of “Batman” (who finally got his own book after starting in “Detective Comics”). Initially intended to be a one-off villain who was killed off at the end of the story, a panel showing his survival was added at the last minute. The Joker would return several times, with his own unique brand of chaos changing from serial killer to prankster and a hybrid of both as the years went by. The first live-action incarnation came alongside the campy Adam West Batman (1966-68) played by Cesar Romero. He was tied for most popular villains on the show appearing in 22 episodes, as well as the feature-length movie.

Jack Nicholson initially turned down the role but changed his mind when he found out Robin Williams had been offered the part. (Credit: WB, DC, 1989)

The next time Joker appeared in live-action, it was in 1989’s Batman played by Jack Nicholson, starring opposite Micheal Keaton’s Caped Crusader. He wouldn’t appear again in a film until 2008, despite the Batman franchise being hugely successful in the 90’s before Batman and Robin put it on ice (Mr Freeze pun intended). However, the character lived on in comics and animated series, with Mark Hamill being the definitive voice for many fans.

“You wanna know how I got these scars?”

Heath Ledger redefined the Joker in “The Dark Knight” (Legendary, Credit: WB 2008)

In 2008, Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in The Dark Knight which was met with huge disapproval from fans (some things never change). Despite this, production continued resulting in the iconic performance that makes The Dark Knight the phenomenon that it is. Ledger went to extreme lengths to get into the mindset of the character, locking himself in his hotel room, keeping a journal in character, and directing the hostage videos seen in the film. His best-known role, it would also tragically be his last, as he was found dead in his room a few months after completing filming (He was part way through his final film, which had to use clever recasting for some scenes). His untimely death sent shockwaves throughout the world and helped his Joker transcend just the one film. He posthumously won a (well deserved) Oscar for the role, helping the film transform comic book movies as well as the Oscars.

However, not all the effects of The Dark Knight were positive. Ledger’s death meant the character did not appear in The Dark Knight Rises. At a midnight showing of the film, a gunman opened fire on the audience claiming he was the Joker and was inspired by the character, which was an unfortunate addition to Ledger’s legacy.

Jared Leto immersed himself in the role by sending “gifts” to his castmates, including bullets and a dead pig. (Credit: WB/ DC, 2016)

The next film the Joker appeared in was 2016’s Suicide Squad played by Jared Leto. Naturally, he had some big shoes to fill and Leto responded by taking the method acting up to 11. Leto lived the character resulting in some quite disturbing set stories. After so much build-up, audiences were disappointed to find out he had barely 15 minutes of screentime. This film was the first to feature his relationship with Harley Quinn, an abusive relationship in the comics.

“Madness is a lot like gravity, all it takes is a little push”

Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian who slowly becomes unhinged. (Credit: WB/DC, 2019)

Joaquin Phoenix is the next person to play the Joker and, if early screenings are any indication, gives a phenomenal performance as the character. However, some feel that, by making him the protagonist and sympathetic, it reinforces ideas about toxic masculinity and violence that have led to real-life crimes like the shooting (the cinema it took place in will not show the new film) and some authorities preparing for copycats.

It is hard to say if people are right to be worried about such things until the film is released. While it is likely that this is an overreaction, some people are understandably worried. These fears could impact its opening weekend, but it seems unfair to blame Phoenix, who could still be on track for an Oscar.

Also Read: Holy Fan Films, Batman

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