Joker, by Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix, comes to HBO

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Beginning in July, HBO will present one of the most highly praised cinematographic works of recent years. We are talking about Joker (2019), the film directed by Todd Phillips, which changed how we view the most famous Batman villain and elevated Joaquin Phoenix to an even higher stature.

Joker shows us the most realistic DC Universe ever

Joker surprised us all. While people did know that something different was on the way, nobody expected the arch-enemy’s origins to stretch the bounds of realism in a movie filled with tough, tragic moments. It has been much related to New American Cinema, also known as New Hollywood—heir to Italian Neorealism, British Free Cinema and French Nouvelle Vague—which saw the emergence of numerous directors who are now international film legends, including Arthur Penn, Francis Ford Coppola, John Cassavetes, Robert Altman, Dennis Hopper, Brian de Palma and Martin Scorsese, among others. That cinema, while engaging with a wealth and range of subject matter over each generation of directors, had a strong realist bent, concerned with social themes and dramatic character development within that context.

Contemporary cinema, for its part, enjoys relishing tradition and tribute. And so, in Joker, we find references to New Hollywood, particularly Scorsese films, the most obvious being Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1982).

Assim, Phillips nos apresenta um trabalho altamente realista, que lembra muito Scorsese, com uma ponta de crítica social e profundidade psicológica. Arthur Fleck é um personagem massacrado pela pobreza e pela doença, um ser medíocre em um mundo cruel que nunca deixa de exigir a anulação de todos aqueles que não podem se dar ao luxo de buscar dinheiro e sucesso. Porque no final, isto é o que parece ser importante para o personagem: o bem-estar e a fama que levam a essa felicidade plena.

Arthur Fleck, alias the Joker

Fleck wants to be a comedian. He performs as a pathetic clown while preparing for the day when, according to him, he will be propelled to stardom by his jokes as a stand-up comedian. His laugh, which he cannot control because he is at the mercy of a condition that affects his brain, emerges most readily when he finds himself in situations that agitate his nerves. His laugh is more a desperate cry than a laugh. There is no possible joy for Fleck. The world demands it of him, but he can’t give it, he doesn’t know how. His small, pathetic life does not fit within that happiness imposed on him. Blow after blow, Fleck will become what he does not want to be. That is, his drama, his tragedy will lead us to a transformation: the birth of the Joker.

Joaquin Phoenix plays the Joker

Joaquin Phoenix, one of the best-established Hollywood names of recent years, offers us, among numerous other outstanding roles, what would seem to be the performance of his life (in fact, he took home the Best Actor Oscar for it). There were great hopes for his characterization, not only due to his proven talent but also because in the recent memory of the audience, especially fans of Batman and the DC Universe in the movies, Heath Ledger shone brightly as the incomparable actor who conceived that raving, sinister Joker who raised hell in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). In fact, we should remember that Ledger received a posthumous Oscar for Best Actor. In other words, two actors have been rewarded by the Academy for putting themselves in the skin of the supreme Batman villain. But Phoenix was operating in the shadow of not only Ledger but also no less than Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), the one that sparked Hollywood ambitions to bring superheroes to the movies in major box office productions, and in certain aspects, also to greater directorial heights, a space in which Burton, Nolan and now Phillips have been the ones to lend their most personal stamp.

And so, Joaquin Phoenix faced a real challenge, and without a doubt, his acting genius led him to play a character with complex nuances. In any event, for Phoenix the challenge was of a different nature: he would have to embody the Joker, yes, but beyond the Joker, Arthur Fleck and his descent into Hell. There, that character who is no longer the Joker, was charged by a powerful tragic performance very different from that of Nicholson and Ledger. And that is undoubtedly what sets it apart from the other Jokers.

Robert De Niro, the king of comedy

Accompanying Phoenix in this difficult feat is Robert De Niro, one of the greatest actors of our time, who is also still a go-to performer for Scorsese and, in this case, the star of two of the films that inspired Phillips’s directing and even his history. De Niro is Travis Bickle, the strange and broken titular Taxi Driver, and also Rupert Pupkin, the failed comedian who kidnaps a TV talk-show host (Jerry Lewis) jn The King of Comedy. This time, Robert De Niro is not the comedian, but Murray Franklin, the host of a successful talk show. Fleck’s aspirations and dreams are focused on that program and the figure of Franklin, almost paternal for Fleck.

Todd Phillips, beyond comedy

Todd Phillips left many speechless with this magnificent movie about the Joker. He was, without a doubt, best known for the highly successful Hangover comedy trilogy (2009, 2011, 2013). But if we carefully comb through Phillips’s work, we find that the director has in fact explored the dark side of the human soul. His first film, a documentary titled Hated: GG Allin & the Murder Junkies (1993), delves into the life of a tormented fringe figure, punk singer GG Allin, who was notable for his rebelliousness and outlandish stage performances. Phillips was also executive producer on All the King's Men (2006), directed by Steven Zaillian. Heavy on political content, the film deals with the corruption of power, love, guilt and redemption. Even his comedies usually stem from the dark side of the human condition and take place in environments of crisis and extreme situations. It is not therefore surprising that he should be brought on to this project. Phillips has also stated that in these times of political correctness, comedy is not the best path, that today it is almost impossible to do it without offending many people. However, the director was prepared to continue, although sticking with the irreverence that defines him: so, he decided to take a character from comics and give it an unexpected twist. The result: nominations and awards in every competition possible, among others, Oscar nominations in the Best Director and Best Picture categories, and Academy Awards for Best Soundtrack and Best Actor, in this case for the unscathed Joaquin Phoenix.

Beginning in July, Joker, one of best films in recent years, on HBO and HBO GO.

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