Director Todd Phillips and his longtime cinematographer Lawrence Sher knew their latest film, Joker, would have more eyes on it than usual. But neither expected the runaway success train it has become, winning a prestigious Venice Film Festival award, making over $740 million at the worldwide box-office, and attracting awards heat for its star, Joaquin Phoenix.
Sher, who’s an economics major with a background in still photography, has been working with Phillips since the Hangover trilogy. Before the duo’s first collaboration on that hit series, Sher shot Garden State and I Love You Man, to name just a few. This year, he played on a huge, beautiful canvas with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and was able to make a comic book movie that’s a throwback to the ’70s and the Martin Scorsese movies that made him want to be a cinematographer in the first place. It’s a big year for Sher, who recently talked to us about some of Joker‘s most memorable sequences, working with Joaquin Phoenix, and the line between fantasy and reality in the movie.
This interview contains major spoilers for Joker.
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Joker may end up taking the #3 spot at on the box office charts this weekend, but it stayed at the top for two weeks before that, and it’s already raked in over $619.5 million worldwide. People can’t stop talking about Todd Phillips‘ grimy, twisted origin story for Batman’s arch nemesis, for better or worse, and the awards buzz for the DC Comics movie is high. But if Suicide Squad star Jared Leto had his way, no one would have seen the movie at all.
Reportedly, when news broke of a Joker origin story in the works from Todd Phillips at Warner Bros. Pictures, Jared Leto tried to stop the movie from getting made. Not only did he ask his agents at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to stop the movie before it ever got off the ground (his agents just so happened to represent Phillips too), but he even went so far as to ask his 30 Seconds to Mars music manager Irving Azoff at Full Stop Management to call the head of TimeWarner/Warner Media and pull the plug on the movie. Read More »
Right around the time Joker hit theaters, star Joaquin Phoenix revealed that the movie had some “radical changes” to the script that took place throughout production. Now, thanks to director Todd Phillips, we have an idea of how the Joker bathroom scene in particular was changed significantly from the original script. In fact, this change made the scene infinitely better, because the original scene in question was a lot more ham-fisted than what ended up in theaters. Read More »
(Welcome to Role Call, where we examine two performances from an actor – their first defining role and their most recent/last – to get a sense of who they are.)
Joaquin Phoenix has been playing the Joker for a long time.
As the awkward romantic Leonard Kraditor in Two Lovers. As the lonely, optimistic Theodore Twombly in Her. As the morally ambiguous bruiser Bruno in The Immigrant. There’s also the scorned, disrespected monster Commodus in Gladiator, the sick puppy dog Freddie Quell in The Master, and the vacant, delusional version of “Joaquin Phoenix” who stared and stuttered his way through emerging hip-hop fame in I’m Still Here.
All of these puzzle pieces are present in his version of DC’s most infamous bad guy.
Usually in this column, we explore how Angela Lansbury went from gorgeous ingenue to globally respected murder-solver, but Phoenix’s career shifted slightly different than everyone else’s. While a lot of other stars evolve by broadening how we see the scope of their talents, Phoenix has deepened. His talent has a singular focus. In a word, “troubled.”
As in, more often than not, reviews of his movies include the phrase, “Joaquin Phoenix plays a troubled…” A troubled philosophy professor. A troubled club manager. A troubled WWII veteran. A troubled hit man. A troubled performer. The best – “a troubled soul,” from one description of The Master – sums up his career in just three words.
While Phoenix has stayed focused, the movie industry has evolved around him to take him from supporting actor to troubled leading man. Let’s look at how far he’s come from a laugh in 1995 to a signature cackle in 2019.
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The Morning Watch is a recurring feature that highlights a handful of noteworthy videos from around the web. They could be video essays, fanmade productions, featurettes, short films, hilarious sketches, or just anything that has to do with our favorite movies and TV shows.
In this edition, run through a bunch of Easter eggs you might have missed in Pixar Animation’s surprisingly great sequel Toy Story 4. Plus, watch a trailer mash-up of Joaquin Phoenix‘s roles in the recently released Joker and the sci-fi romance Her, and be amazed as Big Mouth co-creator and voice star Nick Kroll improvises voices for seven new cartoon characters on the spot. Read More »
A great comic book villain isn’t living up to his or her potential without a proper musical theme, and in the case of Joker, he gets one courtesy of composer Hildur Guðnadóttir. Her score for Joker is chillingly good and up there with the best of the genre, with an intensity matching and complimenting Joaquin Pheonix‘s performance. Again, the Emmy-winning composer behind Chernobyl elicits intense feelings of horror and uneasiness, although she laughs when people – including myself – tell her that her music has a horror quality to it. “It’s definitely very common that my music is perceived as darker than what I am feeling myself,” she told us, laughing. In her view, her music is more reflective than horrific.
Prior to Joker, Guðnadóttir has produced several albums of her own (which you should listen to on Spotify), performed cello on The Revenant and several other films all movie nerds know, and collaborated frequently with the deeply missed Johan Johansson (Arrival). After playing cello on Sicario, years later she was composing the music for its sequel, Day of Soldado. Now, she’s scored her first big comic book movie, and she told us all about her experience, her collaboration with director Todd Phillips‘, and the movie’s stunning final piece, “Call Me Joker.”
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On the October 7, 2019 episode of /Film Daily, /Film editor-in-chief Peter Sciretta is joined by /Film managing editor Jacob Hall and writer Chris Evangelista to have a spoiler-filled discussion about Joker.
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Todd Phillips makes ugly movies. Yes, they’re comedies, but they typically have a noticeable lack of empathy and humanity. There’s not a lot of joy in his comedies, mostly misery. The Hangover movies get progressively crueler, and War Dogs and Due Date aren’t much different. He’s cold and displays an appetite for pain, and those qualities are turned up to 11 in Joker.
With Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), Phillips couldn’t have found a comic book character more attuned to his divisively morbid sensibilities. The director never would’ve been right for a superhero movie about one of “the good guys,” because his movies are hardly ever about good guys. A movie about Joker probably should look and sound like an abrasive Todd Phillips’ movie. The villain got the director he deserved, and Phillips, whose movies are largely about nothing, found a comic book character he deserved in Arthur Fleck – a man who believes in nothing.
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Cool Posts From Around the Web:
Joker was a smash-hit over the weekend. That would usually all-but-assure that a sequel would be in the works. But Joker isn’t your typical comic book adaptation, and star Joaquin Phoenix has tended to avoid franchises in his career. But a Joker sequel might just happen. According to Phoenix, he and director Todd Phillips had such a good time making the first movie that there are “endless” possibilities for the character.
In addition to this news, Joker co-star Brett Cullen, who plays Thomas Wayne in the flick, has some thoughts on a spoiler-heavy twist.
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Reading around online, it would be easy to go into into Joker with a list of talking points in your head before you had even seen the movie. Since its unprecedented win last month of the Venice Film Festival’s top prize, the latest comic book tentpole from Warner Bros. and DC Films has become highly politicized—to the point where the idea of it and what it represents is almost a separate thing from the movie itself. Film festival premieres take place in an online vacuum where larger cultural forces have not yet swept in to surround a movie and define it. On the other side of them comes the escalation (of movie opinions) that Commissioner Gordon warned about at the end of Batman Begins.
Whether it’s a case of critics comparing notes and/or the film telegraphing specific concepts, reviews of Joker have frequently invoked the same buzzwords, such as “incel” and “income inequality.” There’s a lot of hand-wringing, in negative reviews, about the movie’s lack of a clear message. Comparisons abound, across the boards, to the films of Martin Scorsese, while in the background, the shadow of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting hangs over everything.
To be clear, it’s not without good reason that some of these talking points are out there, but now Joker is in theaters and general audiences have had a chance to square their own cinema experience against the pre-release media chatter. Members of the insane clown posse that is the Internet should probably brace themselves for the backlash to the backlash. However, until such time as a #ReleaseThePhillipsCut petition materializes, let’s not forget that there’s an actual movie with Joker’s name on it to be discussed.
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