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Joker movie review: Joaquin Phoenix delivers Oscar-worthy performance in dreary and distressing masterpiece

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Joker
Director – Todd Phillips
Cast – Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron

“All it takes,” the Joker famously said once, “is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” And that is all that separates him from the rest of society. One bad day.

This quote, as fans of the Batman comics would know, comes from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s seminal 1988 graphic novel, The Killing Joke, which is one of only a handful of recognisable comic book influences on director Todd Phillips’ Joker. I couldn’t think of a more thematically relevant quote to sum up this incendiary new film, which is at once a fable about moral decay, and a cautionary tale about societal division.

 Watch the Joker trailer here

Besides a couple of tacked-on moments (including a cute speech by the Trumpian Thomas Wayne about men who hide behind masks), Joker has very little to offer fans of comic book movies. It is, instead, inspired (heavily) by the bleak philosophy of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy; an unrelentingly distressing drama about loneliness and unchecked mental illness.

From its gloriously gripping opening scene to its jaw-dropping final moments, it is nearly impossible to take your eyes off Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible performance as Arthur Fleck, as much as you might want to. But it is this very repulsion that Phillips, I believe, is attempting to tap into.

There were several moments in the film, including Arthur’s introductory scene, when I wanted to avert my eyes, as many of us do when confronted with things that make us uncomfortable. Our first instinct, understandably, is to get as far away from the discomfort as possible. But no matter how far we run, the source of our problems will remain, festering in its own misery; drowning in its own despair.

Phillips looks at Arthur, a mentally ill loner, not with judgement, but with a mixture of pity and empathy. Despite his troubles, Arthur — crucially and controversially — isn’t a bad person. He is eternally ridiculed, bullied, and beaten up; living at the mercy of a system that doesn’t give two hoots about him or his ailing mother.

Joaquin Phoenix in a still from Joker.

Now this may well be problematic for some audiences. God knows I’ve struggled with what to feel about it myself. A sympathetic portrayal of a someone who is clearly modelled after one of those mass murderers that we hear about on the news, especially in 2019, a year in which there have been a reported 334 mass shootings in America, seems highly irresponsible.

Joker isn’t an easy film to watch; nor is it particularly easy to understand. It isn’t meant to be. For instance, I don’t for one second believe that Phillips could be tactless enough to glorify a psychopath in the manner that his film suggests. Arthur is most certainly humanised, but he is never idolised. He is a product of the same civilised society that has dedicated itself to pushing him to the fringes of existence and ignoring his frequent cries for help.

After an unrelentingly grim couple of acts, Joker transforms into a broad (but pitch-black) satire towards the end. This switch in tone, in my opinion, is what pulls the film off the ledge that it was fully prepared to leap from.

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker in a still from Todd Phillips’ new film.

And Arthur is, lest we forget, a highly unreliable narrator. Coupled with the knowledge that he is prone to imagining things — like Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, he has a tendency to bathe himself in delusions of self-grandeur — I fear that there is a very real chance for the film to be misinterpreted by precisely the sort of people who shouldn’t be seeing it as a validation of their dangerous feelings.

The risks, tragically, are quantifiable. A Taxi Driver fan tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Mark David Chapman had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in his pocket when he shot John Lennon. Charles Manson heard secret messages in the music of the Beatles. And only Shahid Kapoor knows how many sexist Tik-Tokers Kabir Singh has spawned.

That being said, I find it ridiculous that the same people who reject the notion of movies being responsible for inciting real-life violence are the ones panicking about Joker inspiring mass shooters. This is a reductive theory that wastes everyone’s time by diverting attention from where it should be (gun control and mental health treatment) to where it shouldn’t (movies, books, video games, etc). No sane person will watch this film and feel compelled to assassinate their least-favourite politician.

But then again, aren’t we all just ‘one bad day’ away from pulling the trigger?

Joaquin Phoenix in a still from Joker.

It is possible, however, that Phillips might have overestimated the intellect of his audience. By leaving such a crucial aspect of the film open to interpretation — that finale can stoke exactly the sort of polarisation that Phillips is trying to pulverise — the filmmaker might have bitten off more than he could chew. He ditches his typically playful ‘A Todd Phillips movie’ credit in favour of the infinitely more self-serious ‘A film by Todd Phillips’, but these are just cosmetic changes, not unlike Arthur slathering his face with makeup to mask his damaged psyche.

But despite pretentious flourishes such as this, Phillips must be celebrated for extracting an all-time great performance out of Phoenix. Much of the film frames him in painterly portraits shot by cinematographer Lawrence Sher, highlighting his sorrowful eyes; his distinct features; and the pain on his face as he erupts into involuntary bouts of mirthless laughter. Observe how the camera switches perspective as the film goes on, surrendering its position of superiority as Arthur’s transformation takes place. And do not miss the subtle shift in Phoenix’s body-language, as he sheds Arthur’s skin and slaps on a thick layer of clown makeup.

This is largely a one-man show, and the supporting actors, including Zazie Beetz and Robert De Niro, appear mostly in extended cameos. They’re solid, just underused. The biggest presence besides Phoenix, you’d be surprised to learn, is the eerie score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, who honed her skills under the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson. Her wailing cello perfectly captures Arthur’s fraying mental state.

Joker is a great film, not because of what it provides, but because of what it withholds. It’s brave, beautiful, and bound to annoy some people. Expect Oscars.

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Angrezi Medium Review: Irrfan makes perfect comeback in light-hearted family comedy drama

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Film: Angrezi Medium

Director: Homi Adajania

Cast: Irrfan, Deepak Dobriyal, Radhika Madan, Kareena Kapoor Khan

Angrezi Medium is a slow-moving tale about a father-daughter relationship essayed by Irrfan and Radhika Madan in perfect capacities. The lack of the mother figure is substituted by a brother, Deepak Dobriyal, who despite a legal dispute with Irrfan loves him dearly. An ensemble supporting cast including Pankaj Tripathi, Dimple Kapadia, Ranvir Shorey and Kiku Sharda lend their own flavours to this widely cultural text. To see an A-lister like Kareena Kapoor Khan play a supporting role is also game-changing in its own way.

Homi Adajania’s directorial has a slack pace throughout which is especially felt in the first half of the film. Despite it being culturally deeply rooted in the Udaipur landscape, with a backdrop of a family feud on the name of ‘Ghasiteram’, the overall narrative of the film is basic and in fact depends quite a lot on the nuances that the actors’ bring with their characters to the screen.

Radhika Madan and Irrfan ace their role, and it is refreshing to see a shy and yet bold, not so outspoken and fiery daughter figure in Angrezi Medium. A change in the arch of liberal womanhood per se. And, despite the presence of a domineering supporting cast, the film focuses on the struggles of Irrfan as a coming-of-age father when his relationship with his freedom-seeking daughter evolves during the course of the film. Yet, Deepak Dobriyal’s performance deserves a special mention and he stands out in parts individually, sometimes even stealing the show with his performance.

There are interesting cultural motifs inserted here and there in the film, though Irrfan largely remains the same rich doting father from Hindi Medium who would go to all extremes to get his daughter’s dreams fulfilled.Apart from the strength of its actors’ performances, perhaps, the screenplay could have been more worked upon. The filmmaker can be found enjoying himself a little too much with the film. The design suited the text as did the dialogues. Other little discrepancies were largely overshadowed by the filmmaker’s attempt to put to use whatever he could to make his film a complete entertainer.

The music of Angrezi Medium borrows from its source film some of the tracks, while putting in iconic Bollywood numbers during the sad alcohol parties organized by Deepak, Irrfan and Kiku to share who is the unhappiest of all. The background score suits the genre of the film.

Angrezi Medium marks Irrfan’s return to the acting table after a year. A much-awaited film in that regard, Irrfan’s performance is likely to gather much applause as the film hits theatres this Friday.

The film is a light-hearted family comedy drama that has a message to give, like Hindi Medium, though not punched into the audience’s face and repeated dismally. A kind of a comedy that comes in once in a while with refreshing dialogues, new situational comedy elements and is just plain fun.

Rating: 2.5

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The Body movie review: Rishi Kapoor-Emraan Hashmi’s film lacks depth

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The Body
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Vedhika Kumar
Director: Jeetu Joseph

It takes a deft hand to make a murder mystery that keeps you engaged and offers a zinger as the climax. Alas, Rishi Kapoor and Emraan Hashmi-starrer The Body is not that film.

Despite having a readymade story, director Jeetu Joseph fails to deliver or keep you interested throughout the length of the film. Given the plot and characters, it could have been quite a thrilling watch but poor treatment and a dry narrative leaves no scope for the actors – Rishi Kapoor, Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala – to perform beyond a point. A remake of a 2012 Spanish film by the same name, The Body is slow, scattered and a half-baked attempt at making a murder mystery.

Watch the trailer for The Body here:

The film begins with the body of a millionaire businesswoman, Maya (Dhulipala), going missing from a morgue. SP Jairaj Rawal (Kapoor) who is investigating the case believes the dead woman’s husband, Ajay (Hashmi) killed his wife by inducing a heart attack and then stole her body from the morgue to escape an autopsy.

As the events unfold over a span of one night – 8 hours to be precise – Hashmi gets plenty of hints that Maya is alive. Or is it her ghost? Meanwhile, his girlfriend Ritu (Kumar) is there to offer constant support to him to deal with the crisis. Will the cops find the body? Or will Ajay’s fears turn into reality?

Hindustantimes

The Body has many questions and what-will-happen-next moments but without the thrill you would expect in a murder mystery. Joseph plays it safe, and doesn’t play around much with his characters. and doesn’t play around much with his characters.

Kapoor is in his elements as he returns to the screen after almost a year. He owns his part as the cranky police officer who has his own baggage – he lost his wife in a car crash, which he refuses to believe was an accident. He’s a tough nut to crack but holds your attention when he’s there.

Hindustantimes

Hashmi, on the other hand, is shown as a diffident college professor who hits the jackpot when he marries Maya. He’s charming in parts but given that throughout the film he’s confined to the four walls of a morgue, he seems to be struggling to put pieces together and be seen.

While Sobhita as the svelte, rich and gorgeous entrepreneur born with a silver spoon is convincing, Vedhika is a bit of a misfit and doesn’t have a strong screen presence. She is mostly reduced to sobbing while telling Ajay, ‘tum wahan se bhaag jao’.

Hindustantimes

As the series of events unfold, you’re shown flashbacks which are, each time, topped with a romantic song. Even though they’re shot at the most picturesque locales and look pretty, they totally take you away from the story.

By the time you reach climax, you have made your own deductions and the twist makes you go ‘wow’ and ‘blah’ at the same time. The Body is mediocre at best, watch it if you truly like thrillers but don’t expect it to make it to your top 5 list.

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Frozen 2 movie review: Elsa and Anna make a case for reparations in more beautiful but needless sequel

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Frozen 2
Director: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Cast: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff

One of the easiest tests for assessing a sequel’s quality is comparing its cast and crew to the original. Are the leads back? Is someone else making it? Did the director have to be thrown out and another brought in their place to fill the hole? Frozen II passes this test with flying colours. Everyone from the original is back, including all the voice actors (Oscar-winners and otherwise) and also the directors. Which means, those who read the script were confident about it and so maybe, you should be, too. However, the test is often deemed unreliable for one factor–the sweet, clinking sound of coins dropping in their purses.

Frozen is still the most successful animated film ever made with a box office haul of $1.27 billion. And this isn’t even a fraction of the money it made for Disney with its Elsa tiffin boxes, Anna backpacks and Olaf toilet plungers. Of course, a sequel is too glossy an idea to not entertain. Another movie means four more Elsa costumes and four more Elsa dolls for your child’s collection. I’ll pray to my god that you find the four-in-one version, for the sake of your wallet and your sanity. That’s the least I can do after writing a review that tells you why you should bring your kids for Frozen II anyway.

Watch Frozen 2 trailer here:

In its second part, the story of ice queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) takes a more colourful albeit less enchanting turn. Set in the season of autumn, the screen aflush with stunning hues; the fiery red maple leaves, the soft auburns of hidden forests, the icy blues of Elsa’s snow outfits and the royal aubergines of Anna’s cloak. It’s an aesthetic fit for an Instagram trend. #VSCOgirls are shook.

But beautiful visuals were not all that was promised. Six years ago, Frozen gave Disney one of the most refreshing stories about princesses and magic. It wasn’t just a musical delight — although repeated listenings did …uh… made one particular song hard to ‘let go’ from your head. Frozen subverted long-held ideas about the meaning of true love and why one must always find it in a suitor. With a lot of pomp and pageantry, it sang about a woman’s need to break free from isolation and embrace her powers; and finally, learning to trust the ones closest to her. It was a story about how people can help others heal and grow stronger. Things change for Elsa as she breaks away from her sallow, lonely origins and embraces a happier side with her sister.

This image released by Disney shows Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, in a scene from "Frozen 2." (Disney via AP)

With Frozen II, there is no relationship to resolve or personality issues to address. Therefore, the story, the tension and the central conflict feels forced from the very beginning to the absolute end. This time when we meet the two sisters of Arendelle, an undisclosed amount of time has passed since the original. Everything seems happy and joyous in her kingdom but Elsa has been hearing eerie voices call out to her. In the spirit of every kids movie ever, she decides to chase after it and once again brings peril to her kingdom with her ever-growing icy powers that are beyond her control.

To bring things back in order, she goes searching for answers in an enchanted forest and Anna is bent on staying by her side. Last time’s events should have been enough to remind Elsa that Anna can hold her own and even save her in times of need. But the days of not trusting her sister and infantilizing her are still not behind her. The entire party, including the sisters, Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) get divided into different groups when Elsa ditches them to save Arendelle and to find her true self. Cue a song sequence in which Elsa sings at night in a kingdom of isolation with not a footstep to be seen. Welcome back to Frozen (2013).

Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, from left, Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff and Sven in a scene from Frozen 2.

In between a few death hoaxes and one stunning song (Into The Unknown) and one that will make 1991 Bryan Adams proud (Lost In The Woods), the film also makes a case for reparations…? The wronged people of the forest should be given their due for all that they suffered for decades and it falls on Elsa and Anna to make a tough decision for the good of their kingdom. What could have been a powerful opportunity to draw parallels with contemporary realities and teach a lesson or two in sacrifice and acceptance, was too quickly resolved with not much of a sacrifice. Of course, the real world doesn’t have ice queens to help them out.

The film, even without a strong, beating, motivated heart at its core is still not dull enough to be unwatchable. Josh Gad’s Olaf is once again one of the best things about the film. He still gets the most hilarious lines; his laugh is just as infectious as we remember it; his stupidity is the kind that make you burst into giggles rather than roll your eyes in frustration. In a standout scene, he gives a hilarious recap of the events of the original and it’s the most exciting and impressive piece of writing in the whole film. As a sad cherry on the cake, Olaf looks forward to adulthood and how he will be wiser when he grows up — a sly dig at all the grown-ups in theatre, realising how wrong he is about it all. It’ll stab at your heart when he realises none of it was true and frankly, he has one of the best character arcs in the film. Can’t believe I just said that about an anthropomorphic pile of snow.

Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, and Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, in a scene from Frozen 2.

Frozen II, however, falls short on the musical front, something that made the original Disney so memorable. Each song was catchy, crisp and brilliant in the first film. However, with the sequel, dig my brain as hard as I might, I can’t remember a single line of lyrics from more than one song. Idina Menzel knocks it out of the park once again with the powerful Into The Unknown, and the haunting chorus is still ringing in my ear, hours later. And karaoke lovers beware, this one will be tougher than its predecessor to sing.

But one catchy song is too less, one great snowman too little a reward for those who have waited six years for this. Maybe now that we have realised it was not really worth it, can we finally let it go?

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