Tag: todd phillips

Joker


Joker (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Todd Phillips’ “Joker” stares directly into the dark well of a man’s misery and asks the viewers to endure a series of highly uncomfortable, humiliating, and desperate situations. Although there are sudden, gruesome violence and plenty of blame to go around—government corruption, systems in place designed to keep the poor longing and powerless while the rich remain thriving and in charge, the way we choose to treat our neighbors—it trusts the audience to find empathy and compassion toward a person whose life is not without laughter but utterly, cripplingly devoid of joy. It is most appropriate that we meet Arthur Fleck, a clown by day and an aspiring standup comedian at night, from behind as he faces a mirror. Because in order to understand him, even appreciate him, we are required to take a look at ourselves.

The titular character may have comic book origins, but the film is a character study first and foremost. Each passing scene is a nudge toward inevitable villainy, but Arthur is never reduced to a cartoon. The work employs a hammer to showcase mental illness but it is necessary, in a way, because the character is larger than life. His life circumstances, however, are grounded in reality: he does not have a rewarding job, he is not respected by his peers (in fact, he is ridiculed or mocked), he has no friends, he is told he is not funny enough to be a comedian, and even strangers have a tendency to pick on him because he appears to be an easy target. People see him but not in ways he would like to be seen. Maybe that is worse than being invisible.

I felt deep sadness toward this character and Joaquin Phoenix does a superlative job in making us identify the person behind the supervillain name and clown make-up. Even when the camera is showing only his back, we can already feel the weight of Arthur’s depression, his frustration from being rejected again and again, and eventually his rage toward a society in which no one really gives a damn—it is in his posture, the movement of his back muscles, the way he breathes.

When the camera focuses on Arthur’s face, it is like reading an engaging novel. Here is a man craving to find meaning, to be regarded by somebody else as important—or relevant at the very least, to be wanted for his ordinariness, to be enough. It is a consummate performance and it is not just because of Phoenix’ skeletal frame or creepy laugh: Experiencing Arthur’s day-to-day existence is like watching a car wreck in slow motion. At one point we must wonder how much more can a person take. It is the kind of performance you don’t want to blink from because doing so might lead to missing a very telling information. Phoenix does not waste a moment.

It is appropriate that co-writer Phillips and Scott Silver take inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s pictures, “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.” Images like the subject playing with a gun and aspiring to be shown on television are obvious—and I am not interested in that. I am interested, however, in the mixture of tone and feeling of the two classics, the former a psychological drama with thriller elements and the latter a satirical dark comedy. What results in “Joker” is a morbid sense of humor, an anti-joke, and an effective social commentary about personal and societal responsibility. I wager the work will stand the test of time.

The Hangover Part III


The Hangover Part III (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has been off his meds for six months and is in dire need of an intervention. His family has found a treatment facility in Arizona and his friends—Stu (Ed Helms), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Phil (Bradley Cooper)—agree to take him there. While making their way through a desert, their car is run off the road by a truck. Inside are armed men wearing pig masks. They work for Marshall (John Goodman) who is very upset because Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) had stolen his gold. He thinks that the wolf pack know the man enough to be able to track him. If they fail to present Mr. Chow to Marshall within three days, Doug is as good as dead.

“The Hangover Part III,” written by Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin, has no reason to exist. Clearly, it received the green light because there is dinero to be made. Nobody cared about creativity, making the audience laugh, or creating a good movie. This is as depressing as it gets. It proves that sitting through over ninety minutes of mostly unfunny and forced gags is a draining and maddening experience.

Instead of focusing on how the movie is an endurance test one cannot win, I choose to mention bits that do work. Though evanescent and few, they are there—if one is forgiving enough to see through the boredom and lack of inspiration.

The shining star, not surprisingly, is Melissa McCarthy, playing a pawnshop clerk with whom Alan has fallen for. McCarthy makes the correct decision to play it small because the men’s personalities are larger-than-life. This way, by playing an ordinary character who can be vulnerable and tough, she stands out. The lollipop scene is outstanding. Since it is so effective, I wondered by McCarthy was not given a bigger role to play.

I have always found Alan’s creepy, homoerotic remarks toward Phil to be awkward and odd or somewhat amusing. Galifianakis’ line deliveries during these scenes are close to perfect and having Cooper’s character respond in a macho but secure way is icing on the cake. There is an element of comedy to it because, in real life, most or many straight men that do look like Cooper’s character tend to respond with a level or tone of animosity.

So why is the movie not good? It is a question worth asking because, in my opinion, the on-screen talent is there. Occasionally, they are able to rise above what is on paper because they allow their charm and energy to seep through. The writing lacks a special punch that made the first of the series so surprising and enjoyable. Here, there is nothing to discover about the characters or the wild situations they are thrusted into. In other words, it has nothing to go on and yet the film is made anyway.

Directed by Todd Phillips, “The Hangover Part III” is pessimism on a platter. Though I am optimistic and try to separate what works from what does not, one thing is certain: I do not respond well to mediocrity—a trait embedded in the marrow of this movie. One can only hope that the screenwriters will have enough insight to stop and create a project that is more fulfilling—to them and us—one that contributes something to the art form.

The Hangover Part II


The Hangover Part II (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Two years after a bachelor’s party turned into horrendous but hilarious mess in Las Vegas, Phil, (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and Doug (Justin Bartha) headed to Thailand to see Stu (Ed Helms) get married to Lauren (Jamie Chung), despite the father of the bride’s disapproval of the groom. Two nights before the big day, the four friends, along with Lauren’s sixteen-year-old brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), each quaffed a bottle of harmless beer at the beach. The next day, Phil and Alan woke up alongside Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), an international criminal, with Doug and Teddy missing. Like last time, the party had no choice but to retrace their steps, find the persons of interest, and get back to the wedding in time. The cardinal sin that “The Hangover Part II,” written by Craig Mazin, Scott Armstrong, and Todd Phillips, committed was underestimating their audiences’ capacity to appreciate a sequel that, in the least, tried to be original. I had no qualms about the characters making an utter fool of themselves by getting into the most ridiculous situations involving Russians and their pet monkey, prostitutes with something unexpected in their panties, and Paul Giamatti being devilishly magnetic as a crime boss, but giving us a facsimile of its predecessor was not only lazy on the filmmakers’ part, it was also quite pessimistic and insulting. Given that the first film was such a success nationally and internationally, one would expect that the writers would at least try to come up with something different so that, after watching the final product, we would be begging to see more. The characters weren’t allowed to move past their adventures in Vegas and I wondered, with great frustration, why not. Alan kept bringing up what had happened in Vegas two years ago in almost every other scene. It was counterproductive because instead of drawing us into this specific new adventure and slowly revealing why frolicking all over Thailand was special in its own right, referencing to its counterpart forced us to compare analogous scenes–this one overwhelmingly inferior. The jokes ranged from bad to completely absent. I didn’t see what was so funny about smoking monkeys and ten-year-old kids engaging in underaged drinking. Nor did I recognize why the characters eventually broke out in song instead of just engaging in silence. At times, scenes with a poverty of words can work given the right timing and direction. These guys embodied hedonism which, in reality, almost always comes with a price. Instead of being boisterous jerks all the time, stereotypically American in that they had no regard or respect toward other cultures, why not allow them to sit and consider the fact that perhaps their heedlessness led them exactly where they should be and deservingly so? “The Hangover Part II,” clumsily directed by Todd Phillips, was a comedy that was diffident in terms of dealing with real emotions. Sure, it was about having fun and getting into trouble afterwards. But the filmmakers had forgotten that their project was about friendship, too. From what I saw, these guys were not worthy of each other’s friendships. Then why should they be worthy of our time?

Due Date


Due Date (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) was on his way back to California because his wife (Michelle Monaghan) was expected to give birth soon. But Peter’s luck turned for the worse when he met Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor with a dog, at the airport. They both got into a car accident. Then they accidentally switched each other’s luggages. They even ended up sitting near each other on the plane. The two ended up talking about bombs on terrorists before take-off which prohibited them from flying. Despite all the unfortunate events and the fact that Peter couldn’t stand Ethan’s crazy antics, they decided to go on a cross-country road trip. Directed by Todd Phillips, the film was a broad comedy with two main characters we couldn’t help but dislike. Peter had a faux confidence about him but he was very sensitive to comments that one could easily let go. When threatened, he showed his mean-spirited sense of humor. One of the ugliest scenes was when he actually hit a kid in the stomach and the boy was left writhing in pain on the floor. It was supposed to be funny. On the other hand, Ethan, having the gall to try to pass off as twenty-two years old, was a total imbecile. I wondered how he made it through life not taking anything seriously. Or worse, living a life so completely unaware that other people needed their personal space. However, the film had few moments of hilarity. The bathroom scene was particularly memorable as Peter gave Ethan hypothetical situations and the aspiring actor had to prove that he had the talent to make it in Hollywood. Even though they didn’t necessarily get along, I felt a strange camaraderie growing between them. Unfortunately, with each good scene, a bad one always came after. Writers should know that when they feel like they should throw in an obligatory car chase, their material is in trouble. I just didn’t see what was so amusing about regular people doing their jobs and they ended up getting hurt because Peter and Ethan had a one-track mind. Casting actors like Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, and Juliette Lewis was a waste. They were asked to play stereotypes, but I wasn’t convinced, in the five minutes of screen time they were given, that they injected something unique to their characters in order to make their roles memorable or worth watching. They certainly didn’t make Peter and Ethan any funnier or more charming. “Due Date” failed to make me laugh on a consistent basis. I chuckled (and was grossed out) during the masturbation scene and smiled when Ethan discussed getting a perm. But it wasn’t enough. Maybe the writers should have aspired to write a dark comedy screenplay instead.

The Hangover


The Hangover (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Bradley Cooper (he’s seems to be in everything these days such as “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “Yes Man” and “The Midnight Meat Train”), Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha star as four friends who decide to go to Las Vegas for Bartha’s bachelor party. The four make a toast on the roof of Caesar’s Palace hotel and the movie cuts to the next day as the first three try to figure out why there’s a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, and where the missing groom could be. (Not to mention Helms’ missing tooth.) Their efforts to find out what truly happened the night before lead to very funny (and often ludicrous) situations. I’ve heard from a lot of people this film was gut-wrenchingly funny (as in “Superbad”-funny) so I really had high expectations coming into it. Although it wasn’t quite as funny as I thought it would be (nor was it comparable to “Superbad” because this is geared more toward adults), I have to admit that this is probably the funniest movie of 2009 so far. Its timing of release couldn’t be any more perfect because it’s summer and people often head to Sin City to have some fun. Todd Phillips, the director, was smart enough to make this farce buddy film as short as possible. Only lasting over an hour and thirty minutes, each scene was consistently funny except for about fifteen minutes somewhere in the middle. While it was able to make fun of the characters either by being flat-out mean or crude, their interactions were realistic. I can easily picture actual people saying and doing certain things the characters say and do and that’s why it was so much fun to watch. The brilliant one-liners from Galifianakis reminded me of things that my friends might say when they’re drunk and unaware of things that are happening around them. I also liked the fact that it didn’t quite glamorize Las Vegas. Instead of featuring posh people doing really cool things (which brings caper films and movies like “21” to mind), it focused on regular individuals who are flawed and have actual problems outside their vacation in Vegas; no matter how smart or slick they think they are, they are capable of making mistakes that they do not necessarily learn from. But that’s just me trying to look under the surface. If one is looking for a comedy movie that one can watch with friends on a slow weekend, this is definitely the one to watch because it can easily inspire a night out (no matter how late it is).