Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


If Joker had been made by ordinary people, it would have been dismissed as an overdone dive into violence. Instead, a team headed by actor Joaquin Phoenix and director Todd Phillips has created a wicked nightmare on film. The arguments generated by its violence spring from fear of spreading violence in young people. Whatever your theories, the combination of acting, music, and filming will glue you to your seat. Just try to look away.

We meet Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who carries a card explaining that he is infected with a disease of frequent inappropriate laughter. That being the premise, director/writer Todd Phillips and his team create two hours of a man laughing as he indulges himself in his inherent criminal brutality. The background sound – sometimes musical, sometimes noise – is fulltime frightening.

In the film’s biggest weakness, Arthur asks his therapist for more meds. “You’re on seven already,” is her reply. If indeed she is a professional, we have little respect for her wisdom. Whenever Fleck becomes violent, the grim atmosphere is heightened by his expressions and the dark music. Even when this sick guy is taking good care of his bedridden mother, we are scared for her. The junk laden filthy subway is yet another scene of one of his memorable explosions.

Well into the movie and sunk in dark expectation, we watch Fleck walking around the city with frightening expressions and reactions to the smallest triggers. By now, we are scared in the certainty that even worse will come. With a cigarette hanging full time from his mouth and his head wrapped in smoke, we can feel the audience sinking into fear of what will come next.

As I think about the fear I felt while watching, I realize that Joaquin Phoenix has managed to create a man riddled with a sickness so deep that we are scared even in the protection of the theater. Every puff of smoke, every grimace, every hideous laugh is wrapped in a score that magnifies everything that is unfolding.

As you leave the theater, you may be soaked in a new determination to avoid subways, elevators, and dark city streets. The simple proof of the quality of this filming is that the fear audiences feel is solid proof that Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips have created two hours of hideously infectious suggestion. The why of that is partly due to new filming techniques that are well suited to terror.

Banning books or movies always leads to demands for more censorship. No, thank you. Let this movie be an example of the ability of expert filmmakers who succeed in lifting whole audiences right up into the story they are telling on screen. I will never forget the fear I felt eight decades ago when I watched Spencer Tracy create Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though it didn’t turn me into a savage, it still pops back into my head now and then. Verdict? They made a good movie.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Joker
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 2:02
Rating : R
Date : 13 October 2019


Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


Please don’t skip Frankie, and be sure to go when you feel peaceful enough to see a quiet and lovely movie. If you let it in, it’s likely to stay with you for a long while. Don’t look for a plot that unfolds in detail, and don’t think it’s dull because it unfolds gradually without driving you toward specific characters. So why is it so good?

The story was filmed in Sintra, Portugal where movie star Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) has gathered three generations of her family for a reunion. She has reasons of her own for doing it and keeps those closely inside herself. The family gathers in one of the most beautiful places anywhere on this earth and writer/director Ira Sachs resists any temptation to throw them all into a conventional plot. Instead we watch them interact quietly with few words as they explore the overwhelming beauty that surrounds them. They wander alone or in varying pairs through the hotel, the gardens, and the mountaintop. They are quiet, and we are drawn in.

Consider some of the quiet people. Frankie’s first husband, Jimmy is played with quiet caring by Brendan Gleeson. Her daughter is an explorer who ends up swimming in the ocean with a nice boy from her bus ride. We meet Ilene (Marisa Tomei), Gary (Greg Kinnear) and a handful of others. We listen to short, quiet exchanges before understanding that the enormity of the beauty of the surroundings has dropped them gently into silence. Do they appreciate the beauty so deeply because most of them are in the movie business?

As we follow their wanderings through the beauty, we in the audience become one of them. We don’t need to decipher the plot because we have become fellow travelers on their journey. As it all unfolds, we learn about Frankie’s reasons for the gathering and recognize why she chose Sintra. The gathering is silenced by beauty. Everything around them – weather, forest, ocean, stone mountains is an exaggerated symbol of beauty and no one violates the quiet.

If you, as I did, begin to wish you heard more that would reveal the characters, instead just watch the family silenced by the beauty of where the matriarch has brought them. You will hear short, meaningful conversations against the backdrop of scenery most of us have never seen. No one in the film or the theater remains unaffected.

If silence and beauty are the core, the conversations flow gently even when disappointment lies beneath. Anything else would have violated the achievement. You will hear no clichés. Everything is deeper than that. We know that everyone has depth, that no one is dull. Their depth is conveyed through acting on the best of levels. The beauty has reached every one of them. Each is different from the others, even in silence, and we feel the depth of the relationships and the power of the beauty as it hits them. In near silence, these people make deep connections.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Frankie
Word Count : 505
Running Time : 1:46
Rating : PG-13
Date : 6 October 2019

This review was posted on October 6, 2019, in Drama.