Monday, October 21, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Joker

Joker was written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver. It was directed by Todd Phillips.

Silver has quite a checkered resume, as he previously wrote Johns, The Mod Squad (which he also directed), 8 Mile, The Fighter and The Finest Hours.

Phillips is a prolific writer & director who up to now has specialized in inexplicably popular dude-bro comedies. He previously wrote Borat, and directed The Hangover. He wrote AND directed Hated: GG Allin & The Murder Junkies, Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch, School For Scoundrels, Due Date, The Hangover Part II, The Hangover Part III and War Dogs.

Take equal parts Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy, Death Wish and You Were Never Really Here, put them in a blender, simmer for 122 minutes and you end up with a heaping serving of Joker.

Ever since the project was first announced, the general public has gone absolutely apesh*t over this movie, eagerly anticipating its release. The internet's been buzzing over every minute detail for well over a year. Art forums are filled with terabytes of Joker fan art, people have been dressing up like the character ever since the first trailer was released 
and tickets went on sale a full six months before the premiere.

I honestly do not get it! I am absolutely mystified by all the hype surrounding this movie. Nothing in the trailer spoke to me, as it seemed less like a comic book film and more like a gritty 1970s exploitation movie. I thought it looked "meh" at best. I can't for the life of my understand why people want to see a movie about the Joker that doesn't also feature Batman. 

I'm not knocking those who're excited about it— I just don't share, or even understand your fervor.

After finally seeing the film, I still don't get it! In the interest of credit where it's due, Joker features an absolutely electrifying performance by actor Joachin Phoenix, who 
throws himself headfirst into the title role and gives an unforgettable and fearless performance. Unfortunately all his hard work is in service of nothing. Joker is an extremely simple, by-the-numbers story with absolutely zero surprises. It's a standard "Victimized Man Fights Back Against Society" tale that we've seen a thousand times before, which was disappointing to say the least.

Don't get me wrong— Joker isn't a bad film, by any stretch of the imagination. The performances are all top notch, the cinematography is excellent and it's brilliantly directed. Sadly, there's just little or no substance to it. 

Since this is 2019, Joker was of course the source of a ton of controversy, months before it even opened. Remember when movies used to come out we'd either go see them or stay home, and that was the end of it? I miss those days.

EVERYONE and their dog was pissed off by this movie for some reason or another. Comic book fans were angry over the fact that it altered and ignored traditional DC canon. SJWs were offended (what else?) because it shamefully portrayed a mentally ill man as a villain. 

The government even got in on the worrying, fearing it would give young white incels permission to violently act out their frustrations. The FBI jumped in as well, warning that it would be monitoring "internet chat rooms" (are those still even a thing?) as it looked for suspicious activity. Some theaters were reluctant to play the film at all, afraid it would incite another Aurora-type mass shooting.

Amazingly, the US Army even joined in, placing themselves on "high alert" in anticipation of the nationwide riots that would inevitably result from this ferkakte movie. I sh*t you not! The frakin' United States Army got involved over a stinkin' film!

Jesus Jetskiing Christ! All this uproar and turmoil over a goddamned comic book movie! This can't be real life, can it?

Of course all these worrywarts began wringing their hands long before ever seeing a single frame of the movie. And as you might expect, their concerns were all for naught. There were no Joker-related shooting, no riots and no appreciable violence of any kind. The only unrest the film may have caused was from dissatisfied audience members demanding their money back.

If some nutjob wants to open fire on the public, they'll do it. They don't need a stupid movie to give them permission!It was satisfying to see all these doomsayers have to sheepishly admit their fears were hilariously unfounded, as they tried to scrape the copious amount of egg off their collective faces.

Supposedly Joker is the first film in DC's new DC Black Label brand. It's a sub-brand of Warner Bros., intended to produce a series of "darker, more experimental" material that's unrelated to the DCEU. Wait, aren't ALL DC movies pretty much unrelated to the DCEU?

Personally I think starting up yet another studio sub-brand is a GREAT idea!

Remember Universal Studio's Dark Universe, and all the amazing movies they put out under that label? No?

How about Sony's Ghost Corps? Do you recall how successful it was, and how it pumped out film after film that consistently grossed a billion dollars? You don't? Me either!

Actually, Warner may be onto something here with this new brand. Amazingly, Joker's grossed an astonishing $738 million worldwide against its paltry $55 million budget. And that's just in its first three weeks! I would not be surprised to see it reach a billion before it's all over. 

Incredibly, Joker is absolutely trouncing fellow DC film Justice League movie, which could only manage to scare up $657 million in its entire seventeen week release. Holy crap. How embarrassing for Warner and the DCEU, when a movie about a villain with no superheroics in it trounces their version of Avengers.

Again, I absolutely do not get all the love for this film, but more power to it, I guess.


The Plot:
It's 1981 in Gotham City, which is suffering from rampant poverty, unemployment and dangerous civil unrest. There's also a massive garbage strike, causing trash to pile sky high in the streets. Enter Arthur Fleck (played brilliantly by Joachin Phoenix), a downtrodden, mentally ill sad sack who blames all his problems on society. Arthur suffers from a condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times, and regularly sees a social worker who prescribes numerous meds for him.

Arthur ekes out a meager living working as a sign-spinning clown for a sleazy company called Ha-Has, and hopes to some day become a standup comic. His laughing condition, plus the fact that he isn't remotely funny, make that seem unlikely. While twirling his sign one day, Arthur's robbed by a group of punks, who lure him into an alley and savagely beat him.

Arthur painfully makes his way back to his dingy apartment, which he shares with his elderly mother Penny. She worked as a maid for the fabulously wealthy Thomas Wayne years ago, and constantly sends him letters asking for financial help. Arthur and his mom regularly watch The Johnny Carson, er, I mean The Murray Franklin Show together on TV. Arthur fantasizes about being a guest on Franklin's show.

The next day at work, Arthur's friend Randall says he heard about the beating incident, and gives him a handgun for protection.

That evening, Arthur returns home and has a meet-cute with his neighbor Sophie in the elevator. She says a quick hello to him, but he responds awkwardly and creepily— the only way he knows how. He becomes obsessed with her, even following her to see where she works. The next day Sophie knocks on his door and asks point blank if he's been following her. He admits he has, and oddly enough she's OK with this. He invites her to his standup show and she cheerfully accepts. Hmm...

Cut to a small comedy club, where Arthur takes the stage. Sure enough, the minute he gets onstage he begins laughing uncontrollably, sabotaging his set. He manages to get one joke out, which generates a mild chuckle from the audience. He sees Sophie in the back, who laughs heartily at his joke.

Later Arthur gets a gig entertaining kids in the cancer ward of a hospital. As he dances around, his gun falls from his pants, horrifying the staff. Arthur's immediately fired by his boss. He then visits his social worker, who tells him Gotham's cut the program's funding, and this is their last session. This also means he'll no longer receive free meds.

Defeated, Arthur rides the subway home, still in full clown makeup. Three young, drunken Wayne Enterprises interns enter the car, and Arthur starts laughing uncontrollably. They harass him at first, but eventually start beating him. Suddenly Arthur pulls out his gun and goes all Death Wish on them, shooting one in the head and another in the chest, killing both instantly. The third man runs from the train, but Arthur follows and shoots him dead on the stairs. He looks around, sees there were no witnesses and flees. He enters a restroom, shocked by what he's done. After a beat he collects himself and begins dancing in front of the mirror, because he's CRAYzeeeeeeee!

The news has a field day with the murders, somehow knowing the three men were murdered by someone dressed as a clown. Lower-income citizens see the killer as a hero, and actually begin supporting violence against the rich and elite. Thomas Wayne denounces the killings and the dangerous mood of the city, labeling the rabble as "clowns." Overnight, people begin committing acts of violence while wearing clown masks.

Penny asks Arthur to mail another letter to Thomas Wayne. On a whim he opens and reads it, and is shocked by what he finds— his mother had an affair with Thomas Wayne, which means Arthur's his son! Groaaaaaaan! Take that, Batman canon!

Arthur stakes out Stately Wayne Manor, which is protected by a tall wrought iron fence. He sees ten year old Bruce Wayne cavorting on the grounds, and starts performing magic tricks to lure him over to the gate. For no good reason, he reaches through the bars and sticks his fingers in the corners of Bruce's mouth, stretching his skin into an exaggerated smile. For even less reason, Bruce just stands there and lets him do it.

Suddenly Alfred the butler appears (he's never identified by name, but it's clearly him), and quite rightly asks what the hell. Arthur tells Alfred he knows about Penny and Thomas, and wants to talk to his "father." Alfred says Penny was a disturbed woman who's quite mistaken, and tells Arthur to get lost.

Later Arthur's visited by police detectives Burke & Shea. They know he worked as a clown at Ha-Has and was recently fired, and ask if he knows anything about the subway murders. He denies any involvement and sends them on their way. The next day he returns home, and sees his mother being wheeled into an ambulance. Apparently the detectives questioned Penny and upset her so much she had a stroke.

Arthur sits with his mother in the hospital, with Sophie by his side. Hmm... The Murray Franklin Show comes on, and Arthur watches with rapt attention. He's gobsmacked when Franklin begins talking about him, and plays a video clip from his disastrous standup act. 
His delight quickly changes to disappointment and anger though, when Franklin mocks Arthur's "comedy."

Sometime later Arthur sneaks into a charity benefit hosted by Thomas Wayne. He confronts Wayne in the restroom, telling him he's his son. Thomas gives him a "Jesus, not this again" sigh, and says Penny's a sick and delusional woman, there was no affair and he's not his son. Arthur begins laughing uncontrollably, and Thomas punches him right in the mouth and has him thrown out.

Just as Arthur's at his lowest point, he gets a call from Murray Franklin's booking agent. She explains that his standup clip has gone viral three decades before that was a phrase, and asks if he'd like to be a guest on the show. He accepts.

Arthur visits Arkham Asylum, where his mother was institutionalized many years ago. He checks her medical records and discovers he was an orphan, and Penny adopted him. Not sure how a mental patient gets cleared to adopt a kid, but whatever. Unfortunately she abused Arthur as a child, resulting in various head traumas. He then goes to the hospital and confronts Penny. When she admits the truth, he smothers her with a pillow. Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

He goes back to his building, where he breaks into Sophie's apartment and scares her to death. She begs him to leave, and we realize their "relationship" was all in his head.

Some time later Arthur's visited by Ha-Has employees Randall and Gary (who's a little person). They say they heard about his Mom's death, and bring him a bottle of booze to cheer him up. Arthur then brutally stabs Randall to death, much to Gary's horror. He lets Gary go, saying he was the only person at Ha-Has who was ever nice to him.

Arthur then prepares for The Murray Franklin Show by dying his hair green and putting on his full clown makeup. Filled with a newfound confidence, he begins dancing down the steep steps leading from his apartment. Burke and Garrity spot him  and yell for him to stop. Arthur takes off running and enters a subway car . The detectives follow closely behind.

It's Arthur's lucky day though, as the car's filled with angry protesters who're all wearing clown masks. Arthur slips away just as Burke accidentally shoots one of the protesters. The rioters attack the two detectives, savagely beating them.

Arthur makes his way to the studio, where he finally meets Murray Franklin for real. Franklin's unnerved about the makeup, but agrees to let him on the show. Arthur asks Franklin to introduce him as "Joker."

The show begins, and eventually Franklin brings Joker out. He tells a couple of awful jokes, as the audience begins to turn on him. He then confesses to the subway killings, which Franklin assumes is another bad joke. Eventually Franklin realizes he's serious, and asks why he did it. Joker says the only reason people care about the three victims is because they were rich Wayne Enterprises employees. He says if someone like himself were killed, people would step over him and go about their business.

Quite rightly, Franklin says it sounds like Joker's blaming his problems on everyone else. Joker calmly takes out his gun and shoots Franklin square in the head on live TV. The audience runs screaming from the studio, as the networks are flooded with news of the crime.

Gotham City then explodes in an orgy of violence, as thousands of people in clown masks begin rioting. Thomas Wayne, his wife Martha (WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?) and Bruce Wayne exit a theater, right into the center of the riot. They duck down an alley to escape, and a masked clown shoots and kills the Waynes in front of Bruce.

Meanwhile, Joker's arrested and is being transported to the police station. Suddenly an ambulance plows into the police car, killing the officers inside. Clown rioters then gently pull Joker's body from the wreckage, and lay him on the hood of the car. He comes to, stands on top of the police car and takes a bow to the cheers of the crowd.

Some time later, we see Arthur's being held in Arkham Asylum. He's meeting with a new social worker, and begins laughing. She asks what's so funny, and he says she wouldn't get it. Cut to Arthur running down a hall, leaving bloody footprints behind him as he's chased by orderlies.

Was the entire movie in his head? Who the hell knows? Your guess is as good as mine!


• The movie opens with the old school Warner Bros. logo.

This particular version of their logo has always been my favorite. It was created by famed graphic designer Saul Bass, and was first used in 1972. Sadly it was phased out sometime in the mid 1980s. 

• One may be wondering why Todd Phillips, director of many comedies over the years, suddenly decided to make a gritty psychological drama. In a recent interview, Phillips explained his reasoning, saying SJWs and our current Outrage Culture make it impossible to be funny anymore. Said Phillips, “Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture. There were articles written about why comedies don’t work anymore. I’ll tell you why, because all the f*cking funny guys are like, ‘F*ck this sh*t, because I don’t want to offend you.”

SJWs then instantly proved Phillips' point, by becoming offended over his remarks on their offendedness. Jesus Christ, these people exhaust me.

• I have to admit I wasn't expecting Joker to be a period piece, set in 1981. Admittedly I didn't think about it much before seeing it, so I just assumed it was a contemporary film. It's the Joker's origin story though, so I guess it makes sense that it'd be set in the past.

By the way, the movie never actually comes out and actually states it takes place in 1981. But based on the fashions, cars and "current" movies advertised on theater marquees though in the film, that's definitely when it takes place.

• Based on what I saw in the trailers, Joker looked like a DCEU movie in name only. In fact before seeing it I er, joked that they might as well have just called it Clown.

So imagine my surprise when I saw it featured far more DC Comics references than I expected. Gotham City, Arkham, Thomas & Martha Wayne, Bruce Wayne and even Alfred all make appearances. Amazing!

Too bad the actual Joker character never shows up though, as he's replaced by Travis Bickle in greasepaint.

• As the film opens, we see that Gotham City is in dismal shape. Unemployment, poverty and violent crime are running rampant, as the city's in danger of literally going bankrupt. To make things even worse, there's a garbage strike going on, resulting in tons of trash piling up on the sidewalks.

Gotham City may be fictional, but its many problems are all too real— mirrored in the actual New York City of the past. In 1975, New York really was on the verge of bankruptcy. Governor Hugh Carey appealed to then-president Gerald Ford to help bail them out. That's when Ford famously told the city to "Drop Dead." Carey then implemented a bold series of cost cutting measures and tax hikes to get the city out of the red. He also initiated programs to create more jobs, and started up the "I (Heart) New York" ad campaign to lure tourism back to the area.

New York also suffered through The Great Garbage Strike Of 1968, in which sanitation workers refused to pick up trash until they received better pay and working conditions. Naturally this caused trash to pile up to ridiculous heights in just a day or two. Just like in this film.

• As I mentioned in the intro, there are absolutely no surprises in Joker. You can see every single plot point coming from a mile away, as the story plays out exactly as expected. Arthur's mistreated by the world, he snaps and strikes back. The End. That's it! There's nothing more to it. I could have written a reasonable facsimile of the entire script after seeing the trailer once.

Look, I get it— Joker's a character study, so plot takes a back seat to performance. But there's gotta be a little sliver of a story to keep me interested in watching the thing for two hours!

I know I shouldn't get hung up on all the similarities to other films, but I couldn't help it. All through the runtime my brain kept ticking off where all the various plot points came from. I couldn't help it!

As I mentioned in the intro, Joker is equal parts Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy, Death Wish and You Were Never Really Here. That's not a joke, no pun intended. It's a hard cold fact.

Don't believe me? Allow me to present my evidence, your Honor.

Exhibit A: Taxi Driver. In 1976, Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro) is a downtrodden Vietnam vet living in New York City. He works as a cab driver and is disgusted by the city's rapid decline and immoral citizenry. He strikes up a relationship with a woman named Betsy, but she's eventually weirded out by his moody intensity and breaks things off. Travis starts having violent thoughts, and begins working out and buying various handguns. He meets a teen prostitute named Iris, and tries to convince her to go back home. Eventually he engages in a bloody shootout with her pimp, killing him. The police believe he was trying to rescue Iris though, so he's hailed as a hero. He goes back and reconnects with Iris, but it's unclear if this actually happens or was all in his head.

Joker is practically a remake of this film, but with more greasepaint. Virtually every element is recreated in Joker: The downtrodden antihero whose appalled by society. A "relationship" with a woman whose unnerved by him. The main character obtains a gun and uses it, and is seen as a hero by some. And it's unclear if much of the plot is actually real.

Exhibit B: Death Wish. Paul Kersey is a successful architect living in Manhattan in 1974. His life takes a tragic turn when home invaders kill his wife and brutally rape his daughter. One night Paul's mugged, but fights back with a homemade weapon, which exhilarates him. Sometime later a colleague gifts him a handgun. Paul's mugged again and this time shoots and kills the robber. Sickened at first, he eventually begins patrolling the streets, looking for trouble. He kills numerous criminals who attack him or others. The public rallies around this new "Vigilante," hailing him a hero. Amazingly, crime begins dropping all over the city. The police figure out the Vigilante is Paul, but are afraid of arresting him and turning him into a martyr. They tell him if he moves to a new city, they won't press charges. As he enters the train station, he rescues a woman and makes a "shooting" motion with his hand at her attackers.

Joker's subway shooting scene is practically a shot-for-shot recreation of Paul Kersey's first gun battle.

Exhibit C: The King Of Comedy. Rupert Pupkin (also played by Robert De Niro!) is a downtrodden, mentally disturbed unsuccessful standup comedian living in New York in 1983. He's obsessed with talk show host Jerry Langford, and fantasizes about being friends with him. He constantly tries to book a spot on Langford's show, but is rejected each time. He breaks into Langford's mansion, hoping he'll invite him to stay. Langford threatens to call the police if Rupert doesn't leave. Desperate, Rupert kidnaps Langford and holds him hostage in return for a guest spot on his show. The police agree to his demands, and Rupert finally gets to perform his act on live TV. His set goes over quite well, and he closes by admitting he kidnapped Langford, and tomorrow everyone will know he's not joking. He says, "It's better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime." Rupert's arrested, but once he serves his sentence he becomes a successful celebrity. It's unclear if the kidnapping or Rupert's subsequent success actually happened, or was all in his delusional mind.

Joker apes a ton from this film as well. Arthur's obsessed with a talk show host, and fantasizes about meeting him and starring on his show. He's also a terrible stand-up comic, just like Rupert Pupkin. And again, it's unclear how much of the story actually happens.

Exhibit D: You Were Never Really Here. Joe (played by Joachin Phoenix!) is a downtrodden veteran who lives in New York in 2018. He lives in a dingy apartment with his elderly mother, and works as a hired gun who rescues trafficked young girls. He's assigned to rescue Nina, the daughter of Senator Albert Votto. Joe enters a brothel and kills all the guards and patrons before rescuing Nina. The two wait in a hotel room, but before Joe can return Nina to her father, he sees a news report that Votto's killed himself. Police then raid the hotel, capturing Nina and attempting to kill Joe. He shoots the officers and flees. He returns home, where he discovers two agents have killed his mother and are waiting for him. Joe kills the agents, after learning that Governor Williams ordered the police to cover up the trafficking, and return his favorite prostitute Nina to him. Joe throws his mother's body into the river and attempts to kill himself. He changes his mind and heads for the Governor's mansion. Inside he discovers the Governor sitting with his throat slit, and Nina calmly holding a straight razor. Sometime later the two are eating in a diner, and Joe has an intense suicidal fantasy and passes out. Nina wakes him and tells him "It's a beautiful day."

Arthur's character in Joker is so similar to that of Joe that's it's actually fascinating. Both are played by the same actor, they both live with their frail, elderly mothers, both suffer from severe mental problems and they both experience violent, psychotic thoughts and end up lashing out at society.

As always, some a helpful tip to would-be directors— it's never a good idea to remind the audience of other, better films they could be watching besides yours.

Joker features a VERY simplistic view of both mental illness and modern society's many problems. It's like fan fiction from a first year psychology or sociology student, who's only halfway through his courses.

Every idea in the film is reduced to its simplest possible form. Arthur's abused and mistreated, so of course he becomes a psychopath who violently lashes out at those who wronged him. It's the only possible outcome to that scenario!

Similarly, once Arthur begins killing, Gotham's poor and marginalized citizens see him as a hero and begin emulating his look and actions. Again, it's the only logical response— happens all the time in the real world whenever there's a mass shooting, right?

• For all its maddening simplicity, Joker is a puzzling and baffling film, as I'm not sure how I'm meant to react to it. Am I supposed to sympathize with Arthur and feel sorry for him? Kind of hard to do that once he becomes a mass murderer. He's the main character, but he's definitely not the hero. He's not even an antihero he's a straight up villain (hence the movie's title).

So... am I supposed to identify with the villain? Or just passively watch his origin, as descends into madness and becomes the Joker. I'm really not sure what the movie wants from the viewer.

• Despite my disappointment with the story (or lack of same), I have nothing but praise for Joachin Phoenix. He inhabits the character of Arthur Fleck with every fiber of his being, and his performance is nothing short of astonishing. It really is something to see. The only thing to see in the movie, really.

That said, it's too bad Phoenix is playing a generic crazy person who doesn't resemble the Joker in any way.

Amazingly, Phoenix lost a whopping fifty two pounds in order to play the emaciated Arthur, eating little more than one apple a day. Now that's commitment to the part!

• As if Arthur didn't have enough problems already, he also has a medical condition that causes him to involuntarily laugh at the most inappropriate moments possible. He even has a card he hands out to people to explain his malady.

The movie never actually comes out and states what's wrong with Arthur, but his condition is based on a real-life disorder called Pseudobulbar Affect, or PBA.

PBA causes fits of uncontrollable laughter or crying, and is common in people with ALS, MS or other neurological conditions. It can also occur in people who've had traumatic brain injuries— like Arthur, who was physically abused as a child.

• Of course we all know the real reason why Arthur goes insane. He had to bathe his elderly mother in the bathtub every day! Who wouldn't lose their marbles after that?

• All movies contain their share of plot holes, but most of them can be plugged up with a simple explanation or even ignored. Joker contains a major plot hole though one so big you could drive a dump truck through it. 

At one point Arthur rides the subway home, in full clown makeup. He's harassed and humiliated by three Wayne Enterprises assholes, so he shoots and kills them all. Note that there's no one else in the subway at the time, so there are no witnesses to his crime.

Yet the next day, the newspaper headlines scream "KILLER CLOWN SLAYS THREE!" But... how'd the police know the suspect was wearing a "clown mask" (as they call it) if there was no one was around to see the murders?

Even more interesting, thousands of citizens see the Killer Clown as a hero, and start aping his actions while wearing masks. Masks that are virtually identical to Arthur's clown makeup! Again, how does anyone know what he looked like if nobody's ever seen him? Whoops!

Understand that this isn't just some little nitpick I'm unfairly singling out. The entire second half of the movie revolves around this Killer Clown concept. In fact the movie can't proceed without it. And yet it appears there's no way the newspapers and public could possibly know about him!

• Speaking of clowns, I guess I'm getting slow in my old age. It took me forever to realize that Arthur's Joker makeup is virtually identical to that of serial killer John Wayne Gacy! It's not an exact match, but Arthur's face uses the exact same colors and similar shapes. I'm one hundred percent certain that this was intentional.

• Remember Jared Leto? He played an ersatz Joker in the execrable Suicide Squad, and was reportedly furious when he heard the news that Joachin Phoenix was playing the character in a new film.

Leto was supposedly under the impression that he'd be starring in a standalone Joker film, and felt "hurt and betrayed" when found out he'd been quietly skipped over. He allegedly even pressured Warner Bros. executives to cancel the project!

Personally I'm glad Warner dropped him, as I thought his Joker was the worst incarnation of the character to date. Good riddance to his Hot Topic gangsta clown!
• OK, I admit they got me with Arthur's girlfriend Sophie. I knew there was something off about their relationship from the start especially when she finds out Arthur's been stalking her and is strangely OK with it.

I didn't think much about her showing up for his standup act or them eating at the diner. But I knew there was something up when we saw her comforting him in his mother's hospital room. That's something that would only happen in a long-term relationship, not between two people who've been on one date.

But I just chalked it up to bad writing and/or direction it never occurred to me that their relationship was all in Arthur's head!

• Credit where it's due: There's some great attention to detail in this film. They took special care to make Murray Franklin's program look exactly like The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. That curtain is an exact copy of the one seen for decades on Carson's show!

By the way, Robert De Niro played a wannabe talk show host in The King Of Comedy, and he plays a bona fide one here in Joker. De Niro's casting here had to be deliberate.

• Symbolism Alert! All through the movie we see the downtrodden Arthur slowly trudge up the long staircase to his apartment. It's almost as if the metaphorical weight of the world was on his narrow shoulders!

Once he "liberates" his mind and embraces the crazy though, he struts and dances down the stairs with all the poise and confidence of Fred Astaire. Why, it's like he's no longer allowing himself to be victimized the city that's mistreated him all his life! That's deep, man!

• By the way, if you've a hankering to dance down the now-infamous "Joker Steps" just like Arthur did, you can find 'em at 1170 Shakespeare Avenue in the Bronx. Somehow they don't look quite as iconic in real life. I'm sure the people in the adjoining buildings won't mind thousands and thousands of people photographing themselves on the steps for the next twenty or thirty years.

• By all means, Bruce, please just stand motionless in front of your fence and let a creepy middle-aged man stick his dirty fingers in your mouth. That's perfectly normal behavior, and couldn't possibly raise any red flags.

Jesus wept! I have a hard time believing this is the kid who grows up to be Batman! Hell, I have a hard time believing this particular kid will ever grow up, as he'll no doubt be killed or abducted long before adulthood.

• In traditional Batman canon, Bruce Wayne's parents are killed in a movie theater alleyway after they take him to see Zorro.

Here the Waynes are murdered after seeing Zorro The Gay Blade. Although that title might seem like a joke, it's not. It was a real film, and it actually came out in 1981— the year in which Joker takes place. I'm assuming this was the Joker-verse version of the comic canon.

Apropos of nothing, Blow Out is also playing at the theater. It's a good movie, despite the fact that it stars John Travolta. Check it out!

Also, in every comic book, animated cartoon and live action version of Batman's origin story, the killer ALWAYS grabs Martha Wayne's pearl necklace, causing the precious beads to spill all over the ground. ALWAYS.

True to form, it happens here in Joker as well.

Joker is a beautifully shot and well-directed film, featuring an absolutely brilliant performance by Joachin Phoenix as the title character. Unfortunately there are no surprises in the movie, as it picks bits and pieces from many other better films. It's also overly simplistic, with a plot that goes directly from A to B with no detours in between. It deserves a C+ or even a C, but I'm bumping it up based solely on Phoenix's awesome performance, and am giving it a B-. Let the hate mail begin!

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