Tag Archives: Jack Nicholson

TIFF19: Joker

As any comic book fan knows, Marvel Comics has more interesting heroes than DC, because Stan Lee’s storytelling focus was as much on the hero’s day-to-day life as on the showdown with that month’s villain.  DC’s heroes have never had the same issues, because they are either literal gods (Wonder Woman), aliens who are stronger than most gods (Superman), or humans with seemingly unlimited physical, mental and financial resources (Batman).  But because DC’s heroes are so powerful, DC’s villains have always had the edge on Marvel’s, and the Joker is at the very top of the list of DC’s best villains.

jokerDC’s latest movie, Joker, tells the origin story of the iconic villain.  Well, it tells an origin story for Joker, one that to my knowledge doesn’t line up with anything in the comics.  It is a fitting origin that has some nice touches, including a subplot that casts Gotham’s beloved Wayne family in a very interesting new light.

We’ve seen the Joker on screen before.  Jack Nicholson was suitably over-the-top and cartoonish, but still maintained a dark centre, in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989).  Heath Ledger was a flat-out monster in The Dark Knight, delivering an all-time great performance that gave a new level of legitimacy to comic book films.  Jared Leto’s gangster Joker was almost an afterthought in Suicide Squad, and it probably would have been better for Joker not to have made an appearance in that film at all.

Now, in Joker, Joaquin Phoenix takes on the role, and he’s phenomenal.  Phoenix’s Joker feels different enough from Ledger’s to be original, but borrows smartly from Ledger’s mannerisms to give Joker the manic energy that makes him the clown prince of crime.  Seeing Joker emerge from the man formerly known as Arthur Fleck is a riveting process.  Director Todd Phillips rightly describes Joker as a slow burn and the pace of the movie creates significant tension.  We know Fleck is going to snap, and we can almost understand why, but we don’t know when or how.

Joker is worth watching for Phoenix’s performance, which, like Ledger before him, should get serious Oscar consideration (this time, for Best Actor, as Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for his Joker in 2009).  Joker might be up for other awards as well, and the awards buzz is well-deserved.  There is more than one way to make a comic book movie, caped crusaders are not always needed, and when the villain is this mesmerizing, it’s okay for the bad guy to win.

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Movies With Devastating Crushing Endings That Make You Want to Weep

TMP

Sorry to arrive a few hours late to this unusually sad edition of Thursday Movie Picks, hosted by Wandering Through the shelves. Since I’m posting this late, I’ll get right down to it but I will mention that, given the topic, I will be making no effort from here on to avoid spoilers.

CITIZEN KANE

Citizen Kane (1941)– Often called the greatest American film of all time, Citizen kane may have one of the saddest and most profound endings I’ve ever seen. Most people know by now that Rosebud was the sled. a dying rich man who had everything he could ever want except for the ability to really connect with another person calling out for his childhood, wishing he could do it all over again, is just plain tragic. I don’t think there’s a single silver lining in this movie.

one flew over the cuckoo's nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)– There’s a bit of a silver lining here. Chief does make a break for freedom after all. But poor Jack. He was so full of life throughout the movie and had such a rebellious spirit. He’s finally broken though and the only relief he gets is when Chief euthanizes him. Depressing stuff.

blue valentine

Blue Valentine (2010)– Watching Dean and Cindy’s marraige fall apart along with the sweet excitement of new love when they first met is depressing enough. When we start to realize that it’s the things that brought them together that are now tearing them apart, the whole thing seems inevitable and tragic. When Dean and Cindy are played with such raw honesty by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, it’s just plain heartbreaking. And when it was released just two months after my own marraige fell apart, it felt personal.

Cop Movies!

Sean

TMPThere’s nothing like cop week to get the dirty taste of dance movies out of your mouth! Thanks Wandering Through the Shelves for sponsoring yet another thoughtful Thursday theme, and for giving me the perfect excuse for subjecting my wife to all the explodey movies she normally turns her cute little nose up at.
badboys

Bad Boys: Mike & Marcus (Will Smith & Martin Lawrence) are two “loose cannon” cops, not to mention best friends, who spend so much time together they sound like an old married couple – the kind constantly threatening to get a divorce. But damn if they don’t pull together in times of trouble! Legend has it that this script was originally intended for Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey – now just imagine that movie for a minute, if you will.

heatHeat: Bank robbers start to feel “the heat” from cops when their latest robbery turns out to be a little sloppy. Lieutenant Al Pacino is on to them but Robert De Niro needs one last heist before he can retire (isn’t that always the way?). Then of course De Niro makes his fatal mistake – he goes against the golden rule ‘Never have anything in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds flat, if you spot the heat coming around the corner.’ Die-Hard-quotes-8

Die Hard: It’s Die Hard, what else do you have to say? It’s Christmas AND he’s off duty (plus he’s NYPD visiting LA), but John McClane (Bruce Willis) is still a bad-ass motherfucker who will single-handedly END YOU.

Jay

I watched a lot of cop movies this week and it turns out that a lot of my favourite jams just happen to have cops in them. Actually, if you look hard enough, probably there’s a cop or two in nearly every movie. There were cops in dance movie Billy Elliot, and cops in teen comedy Superbad, and more cops than you can shake a stick at in the black and white movies we watched a while back. They’re everywhere, even in outer space, but above all, they’re immediately below 🙂
Fargo Marge Gunderson is probably my favourite cop-hero of all time. She doesn’t do the ass-slide over the hoods of cars, she doesn’t use karate to subdue perps twice her size, and she doesn’t cause millions of dollars in damage as she careens her car wildly through populated city fargostreets. She’s just a quiet woman getting er done – you know, kind of like a real cop would do. Frances McDormand is crazy-talented, and I love watching her waddle through this movie with her quaint sense of humour, her helmet hair, the meals she shares with her husband. She doesn’t thump her chest or swing her dick around but she’s persistent and dogged and we enjoy watching her unravel this case – poor used car salesman Jerry (William H. Macy); he never really stood a chance against such a humbly formidable opponent.

The Departed This one is kind of on the other end of the spectrum, isn’t it? Two young cops join the force – one, Matt Damon, has a pristine record but works as a mole for mob boss Jack Nicholson. The other, Leonardo DiCaprio, comes from a rough background which helps him go deep under cover, infiltrating the gang, and feeding information back to the only two cops who thedepartedknow he’s actually a good guy – Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg. What ends up happening is that these two chase each other, relentlessly trying to uncover the mole while staying hidden themselves. It’s tense, degrading work, and losing means you pay with your life. Honestly, my favourite cop is probably the one played by Mark Wahlberg. He just goes so off the hook, unpredictable, balls to the wall, you have to admire it. The ending leads me to believe that he’s not clean. But is he a disgruntled ex-cop gone rogue or is he somebody’s rat? Either way, “If a gun is pointed at you, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or a criminal.”

21 Jump Street Aaaaaand switching gears again, one of my favourite cop buddy movies of recent years, and probably ever (although, for the record, I also super love Hot Fuzz, and if Matt hadn’t jumped on it, I’d have tried my best to beat Sean to it).  This movie is self-referential and 21jumpstreetmocks the very genre it masters, but it’s never a mere homage. It’s smarter than a spoof, much like Hot Fuzz I suppose, and isn’t afraid to pay respect to its roots, embracing them even, and making them part of the fun. There’s never a moment when the film stops winking at us, trading in the cop movie clichés for cops in bike shorts doing slow-speed chases through grass, having cases thrown out on sad technicalities (“You have the right to remain an attorney.” – “Well, you DO have the right to be an attorney if you want to.”), bullet-riddled tankers that somehow fail to explode. I didn’t like Channing Tatum before this, and I still only like him in this (and I believe that includes the sequel) but for some reason the chemistry between he and Jonah Hill just really works.

Matt

As long as I can rembmer, I wanted to be a cop. I used to play cops and robbers in the schoolyard- usually with people who didn’t even know they were playing. When I was about to 12 I had to rethink my career goals when I realized that my eyesight wasn’t nearly good enough and would never be able to drive a car or see who I’m shooting at but the dream was fun while it lasted. I didn’t know much about police work back then but I did watch a lot of cop movies. Thanks to Wandering Through the Shelves for giving me an excuse to revisit them this week.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)- In the Heat of the Night is nearly 50 years old but its oepning scenes couldn’t be timelier. There’s been a murder in Sparta, Mississippi and the police go out and arrest the first black man they see. Of course, the suspect turns out to be an off-duty Philadelphia homicide detective who they call Mr. Tibbs. If Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger’s characters ever managed to become buddies, this wouIn the Heat of the Nightld have been a contender for the best cop buddy movie of all time. Instead, What we get instead is much more interesting- a classic that manages to say a lot about race relations in the deep South in a time where you had to pretty careful what you said about race in the deep South. Best of all, it never forgets to deliver an engaging murder mystery

Hot FuzzHot Fuzz (2007)– According to TV ads, Hot Fuzz is “from the guys who have watched every action movie ever made”. Satire works best when a writer understands its subject so Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were smart enough to take aim at a genre that they clearly knew well- and loved! Pegg plays a big city cop witha love of police work who is paired with a smalltown cop with a love of police movies (espeically Bad Boys 2). You can feel the love for buddy movies in almost every scene as Wright does his best to recreate the look and feel of a mainstream action movie and filling it with unexpected laugh-out loud moments throughout. To me, this is still pegg and Wrse7enight’s funniest movie.

Se7en (1995)– Between Sean and I, we have three picks from 1995 – a year that seems to have been a golden age for cop movies. Unlike most movies about serial killers, the cops (played of course by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt)- not the killings- are the focus. Freeman, days away from retirement, has lost faith in humanity long before John Doe’s first killing and Pitton his first week on the job, still believes he can make a difference. Over the course of one week and seven brutal killings, both men will have to examine their beliefs. Se7en also has the distinction of being the first film in director David Fincher’s twenty-year winning streak. The final “What’s in the box?” scene is so powerful that even Pitt’s overacting couldn’t derail it.

Frightfest 2015 Double Feature: The Shining and Room 237

Die-hard fans of Stephen King’s harrowing 1977 novel of the same name will likely disagree but, to many, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining delivers two of the most frightening hours in the history of American horror.

the shining

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), an out-of-work writer who is desperately in need of a job, drags his meek wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and eight year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to the historic and secluded Overlook hotel where Jack is to act as caretaker for the long lonely winter. The hotel manager warns Jack that some caretakers in the past have experienced some cabin fever as a result of the isolation, resulting in (at least) one murder-suicide. Jack (Torrance), with that famous Jack (Nicholson) grin, assures the manager that this will never happen to him but we as the audience already aren’t so sure. We’ve already learnt from Wendy that Jack has a bit of a temper and once dislocated Danny’s shoulder in an accident that “could have happened to anybody”. What’s worse, Danny has a special ability to see both the past atrocities of the hotel’s history and all all the horrors to come but, despite his frequent chants of “Redrum”, no one will listen.

the shining 2

King famously hated Kubrick’s adaptation of his cherished novel. Kubrick took what was useful from the book and scrapped the rest, in favour of a more surreal, ambiguous, and visceral version of the story. As a fan of the novel, It’s a chilling, exceptionally well-made horror film that so many have embraced over the years and can easily be enjoyed as such. The Shining is most unsettling, however, for those who are willing to dig a little deeper and continue to reflect on the film’s mysteries as it continues it’s work on you.

Which brings me to Room 237, a 2012 documentary by Rodney Ascher about people who have room 237never been able to stop delving into the mysteries and symbolism of The Shining. Six participants share their elaborate theories through voice-over almost entirely over footage of the film. The choice of brands in the pantry, posters on the wall, faces in the clouds, missing chairs, impossible windows, and hidden erections are all under intense scrutiny.

The theories of Room 237 run the gamut from thought-provoking to just plain silly. Some examples you’ll wonder how you yourself could have missed while other are almost painful to see as people who are clearly obsessed seem to be grasping so desparately at straws. So many who were involved in the making of The Shining have insisted that there are no answers to be found in Room 237 but, one way or another, it is sure to change the way you experience Kubrick’s classic.

As Good As It Gets

tumblr_m1ehh5O2Z81rra86mo1_1280It’s impossible to tell if it’s this movie that’s not aging well, or if it’s me. Maybe I’m just getting more curmudgeonly with every passing year, but this movie seemed better in my memory than it did in the re-watching.

Jack Nicholson, who is superb, plays Melvin, an obsessive-compulsive gentleman who lives an extremely regimented life until two things stop him in his tracks: a diner waitress, and a mangy dog.

The first: Helen Hunt is, playing a martyr named Carol, or you know, just doing the Helen Hunt thing. I’m immediately annoyed with her character. Being a single mom is so hard, guys! And article-1350653-000B108A00000258-682_634x481asthma: the worst! She got an Oscar for this, so I guess I’m just being hard on her. She plays the only waitress that will serve Melvin at the only restaurant he’ll eat in. When she doesn’t show up to serve him his usual three eggs, over easy because her son is sick, he shows up at her house hungry with a doctor in tow.

The second: Greg Kinnear plays Simon, Melvin’s arty neighbour. Melvin is not what you would call a sociable man anas-good-as-it-getsd has no love for any of his neighbours, or their acquaintances, or their pets. In fact, Simon’s pup Verdell takes a trip down the trash chute early on because Melvin can’t stand the sight of him. But once Cuba Gooding Jr. brow-beats Melvin into caring for the dog while Simon recovers from a vicious attack, certain aspects of pet ownership start to feel enticing – particularly when little Verdell starts to imitate some of Melvin’s idiosyncracies.

Always worth a mention: Jack Nicholson was also awarded an Oscar for his work on this film, and this one I can get behind. Melvin’s only communication with the world is a series of as-good-as-it-gets-41-4degrading insults – racist, sexist, homophobic, you name it, he spits it out. And yet we love him for it, almost. We certainly forgive him. Just a lift of his bushy eyebrows and we’re his. The fact is, there’s great dialogue between these players, full of irony and thoughtful observation. It really makes you wish the plot didn’t follow such a conventional path. If only the film makers were brave enough to follow the characters down their authentic, quirky paths instead of playing it safe.

The dog, by the way (played saucily by “Jill the dog”), never received an Oscar for her stellar work on the film, but did pick up a UK Shadows Award, presented to the best dog actor, and I think a imagescase can be made for hers being the most charming role of them all. Technically Verdell was played by 6 dogs (Timer, Sprout, Debbie, Billy, and Parfait) but Jill was undoubtedly the star – Greg Kinnear (who was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting) describes being “upstaged by Jill”: “She’s got these lashes and big eyes… and when she walks onto the set everybody just says ‘oooh’.” Jill and company are Brussels Griffons and terribly cute. I’m sure she could melt the heart of any obsessive-compulsive, and I don’t know that there’s a higher compliment I can pay than that.