Thursday, June 18, 2020

Wichita Lineman




How have I only found out about this a week ago?

Written by Jimmy Webb in 1968, it was first sang and made popular by country singer, Glen Campbell.

Came to it by total accident, when one of Bombay Bicycle Club's band members did a Q&A with fans on Instagram and got asked if he could claim writing credits for a song, which one would have been. His answer: Wichita Lineman.

Given the humorous tone fo the Q&A session, for some reason I though he was being sarcastic... but after checking it out I fell in total awe.

Has some of the most elegant and beautiful musical arrangements I’ve listened to in a while and really shines a light on your average Joe blue collar worker by presenting the character’s emotional waves in a soft, gentle and heartfelt way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Mon Roi (2015)



Most of my French friends that discuss cinema with me have recommended over the years the movie Mon Roi (2015), directed by Maïwenn (Polisse) and starring Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel. 

A few of those have pointed out to big parts of it which they felt like they related to:

The experience of toxic, harmful relationships with people who are comparable to a deadly addiction that you can't get rid of.

Cassel's "Georgio" is charismatic, full of life but incredibly erratic, unreliable and manipulative. Bercot's "Tony" is caring, lovable, daring but dramatic, insecure and naive.

It's a dangerous combination that we have often seen fail both on screen and real life. Usually the spark begins through the same reasons that it will eventually lead to the relationship's demise.

As the movie unfolds, there's a huge part of me that is angry at Bercot's character for enduring such a narcissistic person. Despite being attracted Cassel's charm and "larger than life" attitude, I could never support him, even if there's a small part of me that finds him somewhat irresistible.

This is often the problem, when charms and a way with words can con people into falling into the most basic feelings and needs, not being able to see the big picture and protect themselves from harm. As someone who views it from the outside, it is always crystal clear what you need to go, but for those living that scenario, there's no way of passing on a message and making sense. Your mind and heart can become your worst enemy.

I know those characters and have seen those scenes unfold. Some of them I lived myself. That is why i guess the movie resonated with me.

Having earned a solid 76% score on Rotten Tomatoes, not sure anyone has been more critical than The Guardian's film pundit, Peter Bradshaw,  who absolutely destroyed the movie with his review
It left me (at the risk of being unfair) thinking if he ever experienced tumultuous love, raw passion or an emotional mismatch.

He says the scenes are over dramatized and embarrassing. Reactions are over over the top. The acting is bad. 
I mean, sure, there's plenty that I haven't seen or lived myself, but they aren't that much of a foreign thought for me to not think of them as believable.

I also wonder why are so many reacting with emotion towards the film? Why is it such a successful movie?

I look at all my friends who have recommended the film and they all share the same trades. Joyful, emotional state of mind, with an ever present lust for life. Yes, some may be dramatic, overly romantic, creators of high (and maybe unattainable) expectations... for some that can be just youth, for others an intrinsic group of character trades that evolve and become easy to manage, but surely that is normal and human.

That's at least how I felt when witnessing the constant flux of emotions: the spontaneity, the overflow of love and affection that transformed into psychological hardships and despair.

It's the tale of a degrading relationship that I'm sure we've seen or heard - even if just in parts - during our trials in life and in love. 

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Human (2015) - Documentary

Many years ago, a good friend of mine recommended a documentary by the name of Human (2015).

This friend, had rarely recommended anything to me but said that if he was going to insist that I watched something, it was that particular documentary. Being over three hours long, it ended up being broken into three parts and made available in its entirety on YouTube. 

Years went by and I didn't even come close to watching it. I don't know why... 

Nothing to do with the person that was recommending it, because if anything, it was due to coming from him that I always kept it in my back pocket. I think it may have to do with committing that much time... Like staying away from some of Sergio Leone's classic films, purely because I get put off when a movie is over three hours long and I'm watching it at home (too many distractions). 

Years went by and my friend would constantly tease me about the documentary.

"Have you seen it?"

 "The one thing I tell you to watch and you still haven't."

It even got to the point where he partnered up with another friend for a feature that involved interviewing the team behind the doco and off the back of that I got a DVD copy with a message urging me to watch it. Still, I didn't see it and a few more years went by.

With this quarantine upon us, I made a promise to my friend and myself to take the time to watch it...

... and today was the day!

The project consists of a series of interviews with people from all walks of life. They are asked the same questions and what we see is a narrative thread that take us on a journey through what makes us human, examining the best and worst in mankind and how our decisions have shaped the world we live in.

Love, gender, war, poverty are just some of the topics discussed and the things you hear are guaranteed to strike a chord - one way or another.

I wasn't prepared for it. The opening scene alone probably broke the record for making me tear up quicker. That record belonged to Pixar's Up (2009).

If you are not too sure about it, I would say give it a shot. Commit yourself to the first 15m and if you are not hooked / intrigued / moved by then... drop it. Otherwise, allow yourself to continue on this journey that puts people out of their comfort zone taking about their feelings and their views on the world, making us - as the audience - reassess our own lives.

As my final thought, i want to leave you a small section of documentary which I think to be very timely for these troubled times.

Really hope you like it.


HUMAN VOL 1
HUMAN VOL 2

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Ethan Hawke - Looking back at career and iconic characters

Had this video saved for ages on my "watch list" and faith would have it that one day after I watched Predestination (totally recommend), I would once again stumble upon this GQ interview with Ethan Hawke talking about his most iconic roles, offering amazing personal insight into each of them.

Hawke talks with such passion about his craft and the several masters he's worked with over the years that it's hard not to believe about his deep commitment to his profession.

I believe him to be so underrated, to the point where people often forget the amount of memorable films the four-time Oscar nominated actor has been part of and the milestones achieved in the process. 

From working with Peter Weir and Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society...

To meeting his future wife (now ex) Uma Thurman on set for the sci-fi classic Gattaca...

His frequent collaborations with Richard Linklater in the acclaimed The Before Trilogy and Boyhood...

Partnering up with Denzel Washington - who was at the top of his game for Training Day...

Or working with Sidney Lumet in Before The Devil Knows You're Dead - his last movie before the 12 Angry Men / Serpico / Dog Day Afternoon famed director passed away.

The list goes on... and in this video - going over 20 minutes talking about several roles - Hawke even left out one of my personal favorite performances of his, from the film Born To Be Blue where he plays legendary jazzman Chet Baker.

Definitely worth investigating a lot of his body of work. Plenty of quality there to be seen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

"Won't You be My Neighbor" - AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX



It just came to my attention that the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor (2018) is available on Netflix.

You might recall me talking and writing a lot about last year. It is one of the documentaries / movies of my life about a personality that i came to learn about very late in my life.

Fred Rogers, known to many as Mr. Rogers, was a Children's TV show host who forever changed the scope of American television. Through his program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, he would go inside people's home to talk in a language that would resonate both with children and adults, speaking about love, compassion as well as how to deal with hard topics and "negative emotions" that people go through everyday. The man was well ahead of his time and his approach was radical.

People like this are hard to come by...

Of open heart and open mind... who aren't afraid of sharing, of emotional intimacy... who seek to share love and joy at all times and who work (because it requires work) to bring out the best from others, as well as ourselves.

When I first saw the trailer for the documentary, I knew nothing about the man or his show, but instantly was drawn to it. Certain trades of the main character, aligned with the editing and the music, made me feel goosebumps from the get go and suddenly I had this urge to find out more.

I spoke with a couple of American friends who grew up watching Mr Rogers and raved about him.

He was becoming more and more fascinating in my eyes.

Soon after it got released, the documentary received high praise from critics (98% on Rotten Tomatoes)... I was starting to build a massive hype, which let me you, it didn't disappoint. Despite being snubbed at the Oscars (to me it should have been a certifiable winner, let alone nominated)... it did well with audiences as well (94% audience score on RT and 8.4 on iMDB) and went on to spread the legacy of what is deemed by many to be an important contemporary historical / pop-culture figure.
It's an important body of work about a man who we should all be acquainted with. I can say it has really provided me with more energy and strength to promote a good outlook in life... to have something more to strive for and to be more in connection with myself and my surroundings. It has also delivered a proxy role-model...

Not long after the doc came out, a biopic A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood (2019) was released with Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers, a role which got him an Oscar nomination for "Best Supporting Actor".

I've placed it under my "Top 10 of 2019", but will admit to some bias as in it we have my favorite actor playing one of my favorite personalities.

I remember watching it at a cinema in Atlanta and I treated the whole thing like an event.

Right there and then, watching that film was the most important thing in the world... and although it didn't live up to the same level the documentary, it still shook me at points and delivered two amazing performances from Matthew Rhys and Mr. Hanks.

So, please please please... try and watch this documentary and only then, if you enjoyed what you saw, get your hands on the biopic.



Sunday, March 01, 2020

Being Alive (from the musical "Company")


Someone to hold me too close.
Someone to hurt me too deep.
Someone to sit in my chair,
And ruin my sleep,
And make me aware,
Of being alive.
Being alive.
Somebody need me too much.
Somebody know me too well.
Somebody pull me up short,
And put me through hell,
And give me support,
For being alive.
Make me alive.
Make me alive.

Make me confused.
Mock me with praise.
Let me be used.
Vary my days.
But alone,
Is alone,
Not alive.

Somebody crowd me with love.
Somebody force me to care.
Somebody let me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive,
Being alive.
Being alive.
Being alive!


//

And now... for Adam Driver's version from the movie Marriage Story (2019) - also outstanding

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Just ahead of the Oscars...

...check out my most recent collaboration with Pedro Correia for his movie podcast Vinyl N Celluloid.

We predict who will win the coveted trophy...
Who should win...
Our favorites of the years...
and the biggest disappointments.

Adam Sandler speech at Independent Spirit Awards


Look at him go... 

PREACH ADAM, PREACH!

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Best of 2019 - From my perspective

As tradition will have it, here are my top 10 films, albums and tracks of the year.

2019 has been particularly strong in the cinema category! I can't remember the last time I've struggled to make this list, as I feel like I'm leaving out some pretty epic movies.

It honestly felt hard leaving behind motion pictures like Joker, John Wick 3, The Farewell, Toy Story 4,Us, Honey Boy, Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Dolomite is My Name, Atlantics or Booksmart...

And these are just the ones I've seen... so factor in other critically acclaimed films like Uncut Gems,  Little Women, 1917, JoJo Rabbit, Waves...

Crazy, right?!

Wish the same could be said about albums, but really there wasn't a lot surprising me this year and I actually struggled to get a list done... that doesn't apply to tracks though, as there are so many tunes I would love to fit in. With this in mind, I've created a Spotify list with my favorite songs of 2019.

So, without further ado... I present to you my Top 10 list:

MOVIES
Gisaengchung (Parasite)
Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)
Dolor y Gloria (Pain and Glory)

Marriage Story
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Irishman
The Lighthouse
Avengers: End Game

The Two Popes
Mike Wallace is Here


ALBUMS
Sam Fender - Hypersonic Missiles
Angelo de Augustine - Tomb
Bat for Lashes - Lost Girls
The National - I Am Easy To Find
Foals - Everything Will Not Be Saved Pt.1
Little Simz - GREY Area
Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising
Tyler, The Creator - Igor
Taz Modi - Reclaimed Goods
FKA Twigs - Magdalene

TRACKS
Sam Fender - Dead Boys
Angelo de Augustine - Tomb
Sam Fender - You Are Not The Only One
Tyler, The Creator - Puppet
Bombay Bicycle Club - Eat, Sleep, Wake
Angelo de Augustine - You needed love, I needed you
Teskey Brothers - Paint My Heart
White Lies - Time to Give
Vampire Weekend (feat. Steve Lacy) - Sunflower
Bat for Lashes - Kids In The Dark

**Full list for my favorite tracks of 2019**

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Being Alive (from the musical "Company")



Just leaving behind one of my favorite Youtube comments about this performance:

Mark Richards:
That, ladies and gents, is what I would call giving yourself 100% to something but then digging even a little deeper. It's an amazing performance.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

"Marriage Story" and "Parasite"

 























2019 has been a remarkable year when it comes to cinema... so much so that making my "Top 10 movies of the year" has been probably the most challenging since I started my blog.

This week has been yet another reminder of that... Just in the last couple of days I've seen two movies that have have transcended just getting into the top 10, but actually make - easily - my top 3.


Both offer very different things to the table, but having said that, there's a lot of sharable trades.


Marriage Story has taken me to places that I never thought I would go in a million years.

It desperately begged me to look into myself, my past relationships and my anxieties looking into the future. It also made me examine the human core, with the good and bad that lies within. 
None of this would be possible if not for the superb directing and writing from Noah Baumbach, the true craftsman of this success, that both offer sweet and lighthearted moments, as well as painfully heartbreaking ones.

Baumbach was well aided in his quest with a wonderful cast led by sensational leading performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Both are poised to get Oscar nominations, with Driver most likely to be in a two-horse race against Joaquin Phoenix's Joker (2019).
The supporting cast does well to keep up within the realms of their roles. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda are all wonderful and unique in their own way. 

The finish product feels authentic, real, raw... most people will likely find the subject tangible and I'm certain it will bring out personal and interesting reactions out of each and every viewer. They will likely differ, but an intimite experience is most likely in the cards.


Parasite, which won the top prize at Cannes Film Festival, also looks into the human core, with a particular astute eye on the social components that make South Korea's society - which in all truth, could be applied in almost equal measure to a lot of places around the world.

It never feels light, despite the use of dark comedy to lift the audience from a grim reality check. There's very little about the movie title, poster or even the trailer that gives away the plot. That should remain as it is.
As the the director Bong Joon-ho says: this movie is best served cold (not a direct quote, just FYI).
I believe that anyone that has watched it, will stick to this principal. The less you know, the more you will enjoy.
Weirdly enough the movie, currently leading the top award-winning list this year, has been released in Asia and parts of Europe ages ago, but for some reason it is only getting released in the UK in February of 2020. Fortunately enough, I was able to get access to a special screening in London just in time to include Parasite in the discussion for my "Top movies"


After being introduced onto the stage, Joon-ho made his way with a translator to greet the crowd and set up the film. As expected, the introduction was short and sweet, used mainly to reitorate that the audience should do its best to keep spoilers from spreading so people could enjoy the film as intended.

He then went on to say the film was appropriate for all families, as it didn't contain any blood, sex or any sort of violence. Joon-Ho left the stage under applause and cue the PG-15 slate staating the movie contained strong bloody violence, language, sex, sex references. The crowd bursted into laughter.

All I will say is that the movie delivered some laughter and plenty of tense, unexpected moments. The pacing was always right, the acting great, but similiary like Marriage Story, it was the writing and story-telling techniques that really delivered what I believe ot be the best movie of the year...

... and with a few highly acclaimed motion-pictures still left to watch (I'm looking at you Uncut Gems, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Honey Boy, Little Women and 1917) it will be a colossal task to try and bring this one down.


Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Tomb




Angelo de Augustine has been my revelation of 2019. 

Found him totally by chance and I can say it was love at first sight, or rather, love at first hearing. 

Its been a while since I last listened to a song that had immediate impact. As of late, tunes require two or three times listening to grasp my full admiration, but Augustine's Tomb swept me away literally within the first couple of cords... and when his vocals hit for the first time, its absolute bliss. 

I knew it was something special and immediately it made its way to my top songs of 2019. His album, also named Tomb, followed suit. 

In my ears, his music was where Elliot Smith and Sufjan Stevens met.

The two are among my favorite singer/songwriters, so you can imagine how Augustine is so appealing to me right from the get go. 

Both the musicians to whom I compare Augustine to, have this graceful ability to keep things incredibly minimalist, with a sense of genuine storytelling that appeals to your heart and soul. 

For instance, if the song is about heartbreak, it will shatter your heart.

It's no surprise the man from Thousand Oaks, California, is currently signed with Asthmatic Kitty Records, the same label Sufjan.

I hope you can enjoy his music as much as I have.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Irishman (2019)



What do you get when you join a master director with three legendary actors?

Chances are... a masterpiece!

The Irishman (2019) is Martin Scorsese's latest motion picture and boy oh boy, does it live to the hype.

Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses, this Netflix production teams up Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci (the latter coming out of a very long "unofficial retirement"),

The movie revolves around Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a war veteran working as a truck driver, who gets involved with mafioso Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and soon after becomes a hitman for his crime family.

Through his association with the mob, Sheeran ends up meeting unionist icon and Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) with whom he develops a close relationship, even going as far as becoming his bodyguard.


Hoffa, as pointed out in the film, is a name that young generations might recognize but not know his story and the weight his name carried - specially - during the 50s.

As much as Hoffa is central to the film, his background story isn't told, so some reading and/or viewings* are recommended for some context before watching this film.

Through De Niro's character point of view, The Irishman depicts Sheeran's life in sequences of flashbacks leading to Hoffa's final years all the way up to his "mysterious" disappearance.

With a running time of three and half hours, there's a lot to pack-in... but even though there's always an argument to be made about movies that go that long, it never feels like a minute is wasted or a scene is unnecessary.

Scorsese shows he's still at the top of his game and I only hope he gets to deliver more of these gems in years to come.

De Niro and Pacino deliver exceptional roles, despite making quite a lot of questionable decisions over the last few years... but hey, they are entitled do it. They have nothing to prove and from time to time, they waltz around reminding everyone why they are revered as two of the best actors of all-time. Both delivered stellar performances.

My biggest shout-out, however, goes to Joe Pesci.

Pesci made a career for himself working under Scorsese and alongside De Niro.  

Raging Bull (1980) got his first Oscar nomination and Goodfellas (1990) delivered his first win in the supporting role category for one of the most iconic roles in movie history.

Five years later, Pesci took a similar role in Casino (1995), another critically acclaimed movie that once again teamed him up with Scorsese and De Niro.
 
In between, there's multiple crossovers into comedy and drama... some as leading man, others in a supporting role... Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), Home Alone (1990), My Cousin Vinny (1992), With Honors (1994) are just some of the standout examples. 

In 1998, after the release of Lethal Weapon 4, Pesci started taking less roles eventually stepping out of the limelight and dedicating his time to other things, such as a music career.

In just about over twenty years, the man has made three movie appearances, all of which with a few years in between...

With this in mind, you can imagine that the idea of a comeback for a movie that reunited him with Scorsese and De Niro... and added Pacino (making it the first time they work together) was - in my opinion - the biggest headline.

It surpassed even my own expectations.

"Is acting like riding a bike?", I wonder. Because Pesci certainly made it look like it!

All and all, I can say this is one of Scorsese's finest in many years,  marking a pleasant return to a genre he made so popular.

And while 3h30m may be a struggle for some in a cinema room, my personal recommendation is that you see it in the big screen. It's just an unbeatable forum, particularly for films of this caliber.


Limited Theatrical release from November 8th. Netflix release November 27th


* There's a 1992 film Hoffa directed by Danny DeVito and starring Jack Nicholson that might shed some light.


Friday, November 08, 2019

Still Got The Blues (Live)




This is one of those tunes that really embodies the true meaning of blues.

One of the most powerful rock / blues ballads out there, this tune was written by master guitar player Gary Moore and rumor has it it was inspired on his ex-wife, although I haven't found anything to substantiate that story.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019)



Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019) is the new documentary on one of the most popular and ground-breaking musicians of all-time.

Taking its title from one of Davis's most acclaimed albums, the documentary is directed by Emmy Award-winner Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders and The Murder of Emmett Till), the film faced the enormous challenge of conveying aspects about Miles Davis’s life that haven’t been done before.

How do you make a documentary on someone that has been studied and explored in different mediums over so many years? How do you tell something new?

Well, in Nelson’s effort lies the answer.

The documentary isn’t ground-breaking as its subject, but it does offer some new perspective and access to footage that jazz fans – and in particular Miles’s fan-base – will come to greatly appreciate.

And its for those fans that the documentary really resonates the most. It’s not a deep insightful film on his life for viewers coming in fresh, but instead, it offers you short glimpses into parts of is life and career, making the best of new archive footage, as well as access to some of Davis’s personal manuscripts, voiced by actor Carl Lumbly “a la Miles style”.

We hear from people from all walks of Miles’s life. Childhood friends, musicians who have shared stage and studio and his family.

Naturally, I felt I was gravitating more towards the musicians…

Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Cobbs, Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock (to name a few)…

… but its Miles’s first wife, Francis Taylor, that really steals the show.


Bubbly and filled with confidence, Francis Taylor - who passed away nearly a year ago - really pushes the documentary’s tempo. Her sheer charisma and appealing personality help to bring to life some truly interesting stories.. some entertaining, others tragic.
Even when Taylor talks about some her darkest times near a man who was consumed by the effects of jealously, his ego and drug abuse… even then, you can feel how much she still loved him.

This and much more make for a quick – and sometimes rushed - two hour journey through Davis's different transformative phases, but the “nuggets” I came out with are magnificent.

Here’s an example of personal relevance:

At one point we hear a part of Miles’s manuscripts talking about his trip to Paris with the aim to expand his creative musical thinking. Davis would later come back to the States with a reinvigorated and more sentimental approach to his music, going on to write ballads. In this section, the narration and sit-down interviews are undergoing with It Never Entered My Mind being played in the background.  


This is a track of huge importance to me… Most likely my favorite Miles Davis song and one of the few I remember where I was, how I came across it and how it made me feel.

Roughly three years ago, I was in my Mom’s car which had an old K7 player and in it an old mix-tape. I heard the pound of the first piano notes followed by Miles’s trumpet. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!

As a jazz lover and a Miles fan, how did I only now come across this? I was shook. I was in love. I was raw. For a moment, it felt like I wasn’t there driving the car, but rather lost somewhere on those turbulent notes. It was a sensational experience for me, one that will always make me think of my Mom.

The experience only got better, as the following track was his cover of Disney classic Someday My Prince Will Come which I was also hearing for the first time.

Long story short, this documentary gave me really interesting insight into those two tracks… stuff that I had never heard before.

I’ve discovered much more throughout, leaving the cinema feeling that I had learned quite a bit.

The documentary does scrape the barrel a little bit, stretching the material as much as possible to avoid the “talking-head” taking custody of a lot of the air-time, something that critics have pointed out.

“So what”? (See what I did there?)

As a viewer who is into jazz, I always felt gripped by an interesting line-up of people who had something to say, particularly the ones who had been intimate – in one way or another - with Miles Davis.

As much as Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool won't change your life, it can still be appealing for anyone, regardless of your interest in jazz and how much you think you know Miles Davis.

So go watch it… enjoy the intimate access, the testimonials and most of all… enjoy the music!

Oh, and on that note, good luck trying to keep yourself from tapping your foot, swigging your arm, scatting or just screeching  somehow with sounds of pure joy and delight. That was my biggest battle throughout. 


Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Soundtrack on Spotify)
https://spoti.fi/2NBjvxA

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Joker (2019)



(Quick note: Had written a post on this ages ago but an unfortunate accident made me lose my entire draft. Eventually found 70% of a previous one, but took me a while to find the courage to write it again).
After months in anticipation, I finally got to see the Joker, probably the most hyped film of 2019.

The project brought together a set of peculiar elements that from its genesis created a tremendous amount of curiosity from fans and critics all around the world.

The idea of having a standalone movie of a DC villain to begin with, was something never seen before and this was no ordinary villain.

The Joker has been brought to life by iconic actors such as Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, the latter even going on to win an Oscar for his portrayal in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008).

This is already enough to create a lot of buzz, but it doesn't end there.

Director Todd Phillips, with a resume made purely of comedies such as The Hangover (2009), was brought to helm this project with Joaquin Phoenix as his leading man.

Phoenix, a well respected actor in Hollywood with three Oscar nominations to his name, suddenly took this "origins" movie to a whole new level. Even with a unproved director in this genre, people knew that for Phoenix to be involved, the film would likely be bound to a certain quality standard.

The buzz kept growing and growing... so much so that, once the first trailer was released,  people were already talking about the Oscars before the Joker even came out.

Fans expressed their excitement by going to iMDB and giving top marks without having watched the film. This and much more gave away the impression that a big campaign was set in motion to promote and create a massive hype around it. And it worked.

People - including myself - could not wait to see this movie in the big screens, hoping to get answers to some burning questions...

How would Phillips fare in this film? 
How dark and method would Phoenix go to deliver this character? 
Which directions was this movie taking? 
Would we see a lot of DC "Easter eggs"? 
How much of Martin Scorsese's - one of Philips biggest influences and once tipped to be a exec producer in this film - work inspired this film? 
Would the movie take inspiration from some of the graphic novel's biggest and most popular issues?

And more importantly...

Would it live up to the hype?

Well, I can say that the movie is very good...

... But it doesn't match the hype...

... and it certainly doesn't match the obscene 8.8/10 score on iMDB.

I even watched the movie for a second time, which was enough to clear some of the doubts on my mind about the character's transformation and it helped me to get rid of the shackles that kept me tied to my own views of the "Clown Prince of Crime".

Having seen so many different incarnations of the character, I admit it was difficult to start fresh and let go of the preconceptions that stopped me to feel any empathy towards Arthur Fleck, the protagonist of this film.

I did, however, benefit from the second viewing and gained a total different appreciation, but even with that, the Joker still doesn't rank among the film elite.

Sure, it gave us a fresh approach into the comic book genre, opening up a series of different possibilities when it comes to exploring new and more compelling narratives... and yes, the fact that it is now the highest grossing R-Rated film in history does provide the movie a memorable milestone...

... but even with that in mind, I don't believe this is a film people will be talking about in years to come, like some of the timeless masterpieces which this particular movie drew inspiration from.

Having said that though, I also don't side with the critics who had very mixed feelings about it, leading to a 69% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Philips convincingly breaks away from the comedy genre into the darker realms of an obsessive character study, drawing inspiration from Scorsese's movies such as Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1982), as well as the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke.


The Joker, created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, had its debut in 1940 without ever really having a backstory to his name. His origins have always remained a mystery... strong with ambiguity and many alternative suggestions as to why he is who he is and how he came about.

In reality, this was always seen by many as a blank canvas for artists to explore different narratives.

Alan Moore did exactly that in 1988 when he wrote The Killing Joke, and so did Philips with his latest cinematic effort.

The movie paints a grim picture of the world, with little to no room for kindness, in an exaggerated attempt to hold a mirror to the viewers face as it to make us question our daily actions and how they are impacting people around us on a daily basis.

For this film, Gotham City was inspired in New York of the early 80s. Through its fast pace and NY attitude, it aimed to convey something relatable to the audience... and here is where I had a hard time accepting a place that truly had no compassion or sympathy towards its fellow citizens. Nothing good ever happens to Fleck and it is within those lines that we start seeing a lot of "cause and effect".

One of the striking points of the Joker is the its mission to lead the audience into thinking of their own tolerance and empathy towards others. What may well be a thoughtless and somewhat meaningless reaction on our part, can instigate serious repercussions.


Phoenix's portrayal of Arthur shows us a glimpse of such repercussions through the eyes of a character who suffers from acute mental illness and a particular condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably in situations of high stress.


Being a a misunderstood misfit, the lack of acceptance and empathy bring Arthur to a breaking point.

In fact, Arthur's downward spiral into madness - escalated by his first taste of violence and later by his decision to stop taking high doses of prescribed medication, is reminiscent of a recurrent theme to the Joker's canon.

Heath Ledger's version tackled it in The Dark Knight:

Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push


This seemingly also takes inspiration of Batman: The Killing Joke most iconic and infamous monologue, that truly defines the existence of the Batman and the Joker:

All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. 
That's how far the world is from where I am. 
Just one bad day.


It is this concept that bonds both these characters. Despite their roles as hero and villain, both characters are consequence of "one bad day" that brought them on the edge of madness, altering forever their core and leading them to become the men they are... It is the exploration of trauma and its consequences that have made their dynamics so interesting and appealing to a global audience.

In the film however, the traumatic experience is told through the eyes of someone who's facing different demons that are not under his grasp, shining a spotlight on mental illness as the biggest theme. The subject, which has been targeted by many viewers, health experts and movie critics - It is brought to life in some heavy strokes, masterfully applied by a Joaquin Phoenix who - so far - has probably the best leading performance of the year.

This is not his finest, however.

If Phoenix goes on to win an Oscar for this role - a high possibility - it wouldn't be for his best career performance. I would say that you still have ahead The Master (2012) and You Were Never Really Here (2017). The latter is the more subtle out of the films, but maybe the most difficult. It is a character that has very limited body language, hardly no spoken lines, ticks or mannerisms. You compare it to the Joker and you are reaching for the opposite end.

Joker is filled with ticks, flamboyant body language, facial expressions... his laughter, his mental illness condition and most notably his body transformation, which grabs the attention of the audience.

I mean, how do you ignore it?

The man survived on a diet of just 500 calories a day, reportedly losing 24 kilos in the process to obtain the look demanded by the director. It certainly lead to more than just the look of the actor, also contributing to his unbalanced mindset for the character.

With regards to his body transformation though, I have one of my other pet peeves against this film.

It felt like there were a group of scenes purposelessly choreographed in a way to exploit Phoenix's look, almost as if his performance was "screaming" for attention.


We all know the Academy and audiences worldwide "love a body transformation" in order to provide as real of a performance as possible... and as much as I can appreciate that, I felt that in the Joker it was totally overboard. No longer was I seeing it as a full commitment to the character, but rather a gimmick.

Having said that though, it us still just a slight note on what is truly a magnificent rendition of the Joker, which should get Phoenix recognition in next year's award season.

In general, is it an all-round great film, - one of the year's best so far - with beautiful cinematography, good use of (understated) music, fabulous acting ("The Joaquin Phoenix show") and plenty of food for thought on today's society and its dealings with the mentally ill and the marginalized and de-franchised.

It isn't what everyone is making it to be though.