Friday, October 4, 2019

Grandly portayed 'Joker' might stir you up; 'Honeyland' impresses, too

Move over "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," there's a new picture of the year. Its name is "Joker," the movie in which Joaquin Phoenix gives one of the finest performances of all-time as a character who giggles a lot, hurts even more, and might be too afraid to cry.

Phoenix rises out of a screenplay sprinkled with mixed messages.
Actually, Arthur Fleck has a medical condition that keeps him laughing curiously at times, and Phoenix's facial expressions during those bouts of faux joy that are obviously touched by pain become nerve-wracking to watch. In fact, the actor's entire range-- whether dancing or damning, listening or lashing out, scowling or smiling for just about the entire film is a legitimate tour de force for our times.

In this origin story from director Todd Phillips (the "Hangover: movies) and his co-writer, Scott Silver ("The Fighter"), Fleck is a rather poor, if self-admiring soul who spends his days on clown-related jobs and his nights caring for a sickly mom (Frances Conroy). There's also a comely neighbor (Zazie Beetz), who actually gives him the time of day, a social worker (Sharon Washington) working for a system that mostly doesn't, and a co-worker (Glen Fleshler) pretending to be his pal.

Good ol' Robert De Niro (yeah, right!) shows up as well as a smarmy talk-show host feeding Fleck's dreams of becoming a stand-up star. Surely that won't work out so fabulously, but such darkly disturbing stuff does get reminiscent of  "The King of Comedy" and "Taxi Driver" in a garbage-ridden Gotham City likely struggling with its own dirty self around the same time period that those two Scorsese fixtures arrived.

Of course, we all know that Fleck eventually will turn into "The Joker" of Batman lore, so both young Bruce Wayne, who meets his nemesis-to-be in just one of many magnificently creepy scenes here, and wealthy dad Thomas Wayne (Brent Cullen) also appear in smaller roles.

Collectively, all the supporting characters help weave the web that eventually will strangle the Arthur out of Fleck and, it says here, have audience members making constant choices about right and wrong, good and evil, happy and sad. Phoenix plays 'em all out to the edge of brilliance, madness and beyond. Bravo, and guess who'll have the last laugh when the Best Actor votes are counted.

Rated "R": strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images; 2:01; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Muratova's world-weary countenance speaks volumes.
In the documentary "Honeyland," a middle-aged daughter also waits on her ailing mother in a manner that anyone who ever has cared for an elderly parent will relate. The dialogue and circumstances are spot-on, but it's still only one more very real part of a small movie detailing the meager exploits of  a remarkable woman named Hatidze Muratova.

Slavic directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov spent more than three years following around their subject, billed as Europe's last female beekeeper, in a Macedonia wilderness without water and electricity.

The result produces a combination of wonder and despair, but rarely any indignation from Muratova, a tough woman with enough capacity to accept what she's given, including the loud and pillaging neighbors adding one more significant hardship to her solitary existence. The little woman is a marvel and, at times, so is the movie showing us her remote spirit.

Unrated, but with profanity, grief and hardships; 1:27; $ $ $ $ out of $5

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