Joker

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 1/7/20;
Warner;
Drama;
Box Office $333.5 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.
Stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, Douglas Hodge, Josh Pais, Leigh Gill.

In DC Comics, the Joker has been Batman’s primary nemesis for 80 years, and part of the reason he remains such a fascinating character is the mystery surrounding his origins and motivations.

That isn’t to say that there haven’t been versions of a Joker origin story over the years, most often tailored to a specific story being told. There just hasn’t been a definitive one as clean as his counterpart’s, the boy who grew up to fight crime after the murder of his parents. The tale of the Joker is often messy and contradictory, which only adds to his intrigue and popularity.

With the movie aptly named Joker, director Todd Phillips brings a new interpretation of the character. The script by Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver is mostly a gritty, disturbing character study about what could push a man to reject society and embrace chaos; calling it Joker, as Phillips admits in the bonus materials, just gives comic book fans an excuse to see it.

But that’s not quite a fair assessment, as the story, while not directly adapting any of the myriad source material available, does touch upon several classic elements associated with Joker and Batman from the comics, particularly the notion that all it takes is “one bad day” to push a man over the edge.

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The film is anchored by Joaquin Phoenix’s immersive performance as Arthur Fleck, an anti-social, mentally ill loner and aspiring stand-up comedian who fantasizes about being accepted by a society that has little use for him. The film is set in 1981 in a moody version of Gotham City that threatens to burst at the seams at any moment, as corrupt bureaucrats leave public services underfunded while the wealthiest citizens, including Thomas Wayne, seem to have no interest in alleviating the tension.

While the story takes some violent turns and the film has courted controversy with its disturbing tone and sympathetic portrayal of a homicidal iconoclast, it nonetheless became a massive it. The film’s version of its title character has struck a nerve, becoming something of an anti-establishment champion of the downtrodden.

Phillips himself as even hinted that maybe Fleck isn’t the villain who ultimately confronts Batman, but is more of an inspiration for whomever that may be. But that’s a debate for fans and potentially a sequel that was never intended but may become a reality due to the film’s success.

Even so, there’s no requirement that this version of Joker be tied to any of the other versions of DC characters being displayed on the big screen at the moment. The look and style of the film is heavily inspired by Martin Scorsese crime dramas of the 1970s and ’80s, particularly Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, which is perfectly in line with graphic novels that reimagine characters in different settings, something DC’s Elseworlds imprint did all the time. So, this movie is basically just what if the Joker were a Scorsese antihero.

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The bonus materials for his initial home video release of Joker are somewhat sparse given its impact. The primary extra is “Joker: Vision & Fury,” a pretty good 22-and-a-half-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with many of the filmmakers and cast discussing how they sought to present their distinct vision of the character and his circumstances.

The other three featurettes are short highlight reels. “Becoming Joker” is a minute-and-a-half montage of Phoenix test footage; “Please Welcome … Joker!” is a nearly three-minute compilation of alternate takes of Joker’s entrance onto the late-night talk show that plays a central role in the story; and “Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos” is little more than a three-minute slideshow of photos from the movie.

A commentary with Phillips is available exclusively through copies of the film on iTunes, which owners of the Blu-ray can access as a result of the Movies Anywhere redemption code included with the disc.

Deadpool 2

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Fox;
Action Comedy;
Box Office $318.37 million;
$29.99 DVD; $34.99 Blu-ray; $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material.
Stars Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, Julian Dennison, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, Brianna Hildebrand, Shioli Kutsuna, Eddie Marsan, Rob Delaney.

In the age of the superhero movie, you can always count on Deadpool to take the utter piss out of the genre — and in doing so, provide a bit of the counter-balance to how seriously some of the films take themselves.

Sure, movies like “Ant-Man” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” might lighten the mood a bit with some jokes and irreverent characters, but Deadpool takes it to that next level, where there is no reference that can’t be made, and no gag that is out of bounds.

And what makes it work is that, just like the comic books that inspire it, the “Deadpool” movies are also the very thing they are making fun of — intense action, complicated plots, larger-than-life characters. It’s just a healthy dose of meta-humor can go a long way in setting it apart.

In this second film, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself trying to protect a mutant teenager (Julian Dennison) from a mutant from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) who wants to kill him before the kid fully unleashes his powers and becomes one of the world’s greatest villains.

To do that, and with the X-Men not available (thanks to one of several hilarious cameos), Deadpool forms X-Force, a team of marginal superheroes to help him rescue the kid and change the future.

With David Leitch taking over directing duties, the action is much more intense than the first film, and without the structural limitations of needing to tell Deadpool’s origin story, the script this time out doesn’t feel the need to follow any rules. (For example, with Brolin also playing Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, you can bet Deadpool 2 isn’t going to let that one slide without a comment).

Part of what makes the humor so effective is the commitment the filmmakers make to the material, putting absurd characters in the middle of a serious situation. The highlight is a pitch-perfect parody of a James Bond opening title sequence, complete with a haunting ballad sung to the hilt by Celine Dion.

The Blu-ray includes a 15-minute longer “Super Duper $@%!#& Cut” that, based on what some of the filmmakers say during the bonus materials, seems like it could have been the original version of the movie before it was trimmed for time and softened up a bit to hit the ‘R’ rating. This version has more violence, more guns, alternate jokes and some different music in parts. It’s an intriguing version but not a fundamentally different film.

The Super Duper cut is included on its own disc with no extras, as all the bonus materials are included with the disc containing the theatrical cut. And, as with the first film, the extras are a trove of Deadpool material from a hilarious marketing campaign.

This section includes several promotional spots and all the trailers, plus some international pieces such as Deadpool offering free tattoos to attendees of a Brazilian comic book convention. There are also a few music videos, including for Dion’s title-sequence tune, and a stills gallery.

The disc also offers a three-minute gag reel and a couple of deleted scenes, including the oft-mentioned scene in which Deadpool embarks on a quest to kill Baby Hitler (also included in the Super Duper cut).

The theatrical cut comes with a great audio commentary with Reynolds, Leitch, and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Warnick, who collectively discuss structuring the story and why they chose to include the gags that they did.

Finally, the Blu-ray includes about 75 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

“Deadpool Family Values: Cast of Characters” is a 15-minute profile of the characters; “David Leitch Not Lynch: Directing DP2” is a 12-minute look at the new director’s influence on the film and cast; “Deadpool’s Lips Are Sealed: Secrets and Easter Eggs” is a 13-minute look at how the film maintained secrecy while including a ton of surprises for fans; “Until Your Face Hurts: Alt Takes” is nine minutes mixing some of the alternate line readings with interviews about what makes a “Deadpool” film such a lively set; “Roll With the Punches: Action and Stunts” is a seven-minute look at the film’s action scenes; “The Deadpool Prison Experiment” is an 11-and-a-half examination of the film’s scenes set at a prison for mutants; “The Most Important X-Force Member” is a two-minute profile of Deadpool’s new pal Peter; “Chess With Omega Red” is a minute-long revelation of one of the other prisoners; “Swole and Sexy” is a two-minute profile of some of the film’s other characters; and “3 Minute Monologue” offers two minutes of Brolin’s ruminations as he gets into his Cable makeup.