Week in Review 1/10 to 1/16

It’s 2020 and I’m catching up on films from 2019 haha. With the massive amount of content out there now with cinema, streaming, and Redbox, it would be a full time job watching everything out there. I would gladly take that job in a heart beat…This week from RedBox I watched Joker and Judy. From Netflix, I watched new release, Jezebel. What is it with movies starting with the letter “J” this week? Weird…

photo imdb.com

The problem with hype is it usually leaves you with unmet expectations. Joker is one of these casualties. Written (with a handful of others) and directed Todd Phillips. I had specific thoughts while watching and when it was over, I felt a sadness I wasn’t sure of the origin. Maybe if we talk about it, we can figure it out…First, the premise. Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a clown who turns signs and does parties. He seems to like his job but is consistently ignored by society. When he’s confronted or anxious, he laughs and carries a card explaining his laughing disorder. Arthur lives and cares for his mother, Frances Conroy, while dreaming of becoming a comedian and performing on the Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) Show. One fateful “gift” catapults Arthur on a dark path of psychopathic freedom and thus births Joker.

Second, the script. The dialogue is good. Subtle, normal, casual, like what you would hear from real people. I know it sounds weird to write that but so often, films like this have a camp element with dialogue meant for soundbites or taglines. Joaquin Phoenix has a sincerity and subtlety which makes you feel bad when he loses his mental health services, gets beat up, or bullied. The scariest moment, for me, was when he says he went off his meds and feels better. The violence at Arthur Fleck’s hand made sense. The rest, not so much. I’ll get into that in a sec. The color saturation throughout and the dinginess of his apartment. The Gotham streets, alleys, and stairs look straight out of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy which makes sense since Phillips is trying to tie Arthur to Bruce. We even get a little taste at the Wayne estate gates. The story line basically works but felt like a Gotham-polished, let’s make it a Joker origin story and see if DC will buy it.

Alright. It’s Gotham. A big city rife with crime and the less fortunate. Bad kids running amok. No one cares. Got it. Questions: Three business men get killed on the subway and everyone goes into a tizzy? The whole city? No one has been killed before and the whole city has zero coping skills going into a complete meltdown? The killer wore a clown mask so now the killing must be a movement about the less fortunate taking back the city? And they do this by protesting, burning, and looting? Has the whole town gone mad? (See what I did there?) *I’d like to be the guy who happened to have hundreds of the same clown masks to sell. Bet he “made a killing, too”.* (At least in V for Vendetta, V orders and ships the masks for people to wear…) Sorry, tangent. Arthur bombs at a comedy club and the footage gets shown without his permission on the Murray Franklin Show? Then, they decide to call him to be a guest? They couldn’t just invite him on and then ambush him with the tape making the hit on Murray more authentic and less pre-meditated? Also, do you really NEED Robert DeNiro? (I like him, too, but he pulls focus.) As the city is literally burning and Joker is reveling in the glory from the back seat of a cop car, a clown guy driving–I’m assuming–a stolen ambulance, t-bones the cop car to free his hero? But then while Joker lies on the hood of the cop car, some other clown sees the Wayne family leave the movie house (Which movie do you think they saw? Blow Out or Zorro the Gay Blade?), follows them to the alley, and shoots Bruce’s parents? So, Joker DIDN’T kill Bruce Wayne’s parents? Why didn’t Todd Phillips set this whole thing up as Arthur Fleck’s delusion and have him wake up to his mother saying something or whatever and mind f**k the whole viewing audience?

Bits on the internet say Todd Phillips wants people to view this as a stand alone film. Why didn’t he make one then? Other bits say this is a cautionary tale. For what? If we don’t provide mental health services and treat people properly, society will don clown masks and burn it down? PEOPLE ARE ALREADY DOING THAT. Well, maybe not in clown masks. I was disappointed with this film. I wanted something different than what it served. I think Todd Phillips thinks viewers are stupid and can be dazzled by DC hype, villains as heros, and carefully orchestrated media buzz (theaters beef up security in preparation for possible shooters) to sell tickets. People didn’t leave theaters because of the violence or anything else. They left because they aren’t stupid. Joaquin Phoenix is the ONLY good thing about Joker. Watch the trailer below:

photo imdb.com

Judy Garland, an icon and a star. Used up, burned out, and dead by 47. Directed by Rupert Goold, written by Tom Edge, based on the play End of the Rainbow by playwright Peter Quilter, this is the story of the last big hurrah of Judy Garland before her death. Renee Zellweger plays Judy Garland with such precision, it prevents the film from reaching the bar she sets. Glitzy and sad. Same old story from the Hollywood archives. Young girl plucked from obscurity, fed lectures about how lucky she was as well as uppers to keep her slim and downers to help her sleep, only to be cast off into the oblivion in guest spots, touring, and living out of hotel rooms the remainder of her life. Any shot at normalcy was not going to be in cards for Judy. After watching this film, I don’t think any of her husbands could keep up with the constant demand of being Judy and the endless need to work just to maintain a place to live. Meanwhile, her ex Sid Luft lives in a giant mansion and Judy has to crash on her daughter Liza’s floor after being kicked out of her hotel suite for non-payment… Nostalgia wants us to be able to relive moments of Judy; otherwise, this film is irrelevant. Other than keeping her memory alive. Judy does its best to show what made Judy Garland who she was, her work ethic, her desperate need for applause and belonging and love. I think it scratches the surface of dark times but doesn’t want to soak too long for fear of never waking up. The flashbacks were just creepy enough and sad at the same time. It would have been nice to see moments closer to her final days. Not for gruesome reasons but to see how she could go from Talk of the Town to quiet forever in a matter of months dying from an accidental overdose of downers. She had such difficulty sleeping and with her drinking vodka like water, it’s not hard to make the leap.

I really enjoyed this film. I appreciate Renee Zellweger as an actress for her delicate and committed portrayal of Judy. The film itself was a bit cold and felt like a set with Judy powering through with her signature self-preservation detachment. I suspect that is how her real life was, too. Watch the trailer below:

photo imdb.com

Written and directed by newcomer Numa Perrier, now playing on Netflix. A coming of age story based on a true events. Not the coming of age story you might expect for a young female but, nevertheless, girls gotta start somewhere. First, it’s hard to write stories about yourself. Especially stories of delicate or vulnerable content. Your memory of it isn’t accurate. It’s based on your perception of how it was. Taking this into consideration, Jezebel is a good start with a lot of room for Perrier to grow as a filmmaker. The premise– 19 year old Tiffany/Jezebel, played by Tiffany Tenille, lives with her siblings: Sabrina, a phone sex operator, played by Numa Perrier; brother Dominic, played by Stephen Barrington; sister Juju, played by Rockwelle Dortch; and Sabrina’s boyfriend David, played by Bobby Field. Sabrina is the only one with a job until their mother dies which forces people to get to work. Sabrina encourages Tiffany to get a job working in sex industry as a video chat room sex girl. Tiffany gains confidence in herself and moves out on her own. Okay. Like I said, it’s tricky to write about your own life with realistic perception. It’s even more tricky when you cast yourself as the older sister when you’re clearly not the actress the film needed. Being a true story, I cannot argue the plot points necessarily; however, the execution is up for grabs. **Spoilers from here on…

Let’s start with what works. Tiffany Tenille as Jezebel was a strong choice. With the right costume and make-up, she looks 13 or 23, which suits the film’s premise of a young girl coming of age as well as the perfect type for a video chat sex girl fantasy. The scene when Tiffany goes in for the video chat job. She’s clearly unsure yet trying to be more mature than she is. When asked to take off her clothes, she does so in a way telling the audience she has never done this before in front of anyone. The scene lifting the veil about how the whole video chat thing is illusion and positioning gives the customers what they want without violating themselves or any laws. The two scenes in which Sabrina uses sex talk on the phone and in bed with her boyfriend. So perfectly orchestrated in the sound of her voice and yet perfectly detached from true emotion. Now, what needed more for maximum impact. The apartment needed more stuff to illustrate what it looks and feels like for FIVE people living in a ONE bedroom. There should’ve been a lot more stuff in stacks or piles along the floor or on top of furniture. The opening scene with Sabrina was too abrupt. Slower fade from black, maybe a camera sweep from the front door visualizing the others sleeping and then into the bedroom with Sabrina talking into the phone. The illusion she is having sex only to find she’s on the phone as a sex operator. The plot point about the mother in the hospital and eventually dying, not needed. It doesn’t move the story forward. It might be a real life catalyst for the characters to get jobs; but here it’s a piece of unnecessary information. The scene Sabrina introducing Tiffany to the idea of being a sex video model was emotionally choppy and felt forced. In fact, most of the scenes between Sabrina and Tiffany felt forced. Tiffany’s development arc as a video sex girl was at lightning speed which didn’t seem realistic. Seconds after she reluctantly takes off her clothes, she’s having no problem acting coy and sexy with her trainer? She’s a natural… okay. Tiffany’s miss attitude shows up after being called the n-word and now she wants respect? It felt out of context. Now this might be my white privilege typing, but, am I being led to think she has been sheltered and this is her first exposure to derogatory comments? The response of the other girls was a classic lack of understanding the depth the word holds as probably all white people possess. After a number of weeks, and only one customer–Bobby, played by Brett Gelman, who seems to have a lot of money to spend on Tiffany/Jezebel, Tiffany is now in a position to demand more money, live on her own, and venture out into the world as an independent woman. The end. Huh?

I wanted more from this film. I know there’s more to the real story. More vulnerability, more struggle. I think Numa Perrier was too close to it for the film to be what she imagined and hoped for. She probably should’ve made a couple other films to get some film chops set before tackling this part of her life and putting it on screen. She has potential but maybe Array Distribution should’ve developed her a little bit more before tossing her in the pool. Now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

2 thoughts on “Week in Review 1/10 to 1/16”

  1. I predicate your honest and thorough reviews. I plan to skip all three of these movies. For “Judy” I had a feeling it was going to be intense, sad, depressing. The only reason why I would have seen it, would have been to see Renee’s portrayal of Judy.

    1. Judy isn’t THAT sad or depressing. I encourage you to keep it on your list to watch for some rainy day in the future. Or sunny day for that matter, haha. She does the singing herself!

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