Joker Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit Correspondent Tony Farinella.

If you had told me “Joker” would be the best film of 2019, I would have looked at you a little funny.  Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of comic book or superhero movies.  I understand I’m in the minority here as they are extremely popular and make billions of dollars.  Personally speaking, I find them hard to get into, and I have difficulty suspending my disbelief in certain cases.

So, what is different about “Joker?”  Well, it does not play like a comic book movie.  Instead, it plays more like a character study and drama as we learn how the Joker became the Joker, and it does so in a way which is unnerving, challenging and brutally blunt.  That is how I like my movies.

Joaquin Phoenix should win an Oscar for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, and he might be well on his way after winning a Golden Globe.  He lost a lot of weight for this performance, but it’s more than just the physical transformation.  It’s also the looks he gives and the emotional power he brings to the role.  Now a lot of controversy surrounded this film when it was released as people were worried the tone and nature was going to inspire other people to behave in a similar fashion as the Joker.  One interviewer even asked Joaquin Phoenix a question about the film potentially inspiring mass shooters.

Now I understand we live in sensitive times, and I am very aware and respectful of other people’s feelings.  A lot of bad things have happened over the past two decades, and we can’t ignore any of that.  However, when it comes to blaming video games, television or pop culture for these things, I find it is a rather far-reaching theory.  Film can be used in certain instances as a way to entertain, educate and inform us.  “Joker” is merely commenting on what is happening in the world today, and this is even though it is set in 1981.  You can’t help but see the parallels between what is happening in the film and what is happening in the world right now.  After all this time, there is still a marked division between the haves and have-nots.

Arthur is down on his luck in life even though he is trying his best to put on a happy face.  He lives with his sick mother (Frances Conroy), who is obsessed with Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen).  She used to work for him and keeps writing him letters, hoping he will respond and help them out.  When Arthur is out on the streets twirling signs as a clown, he gets beat up by a group of young punks, and it appears no one has much sympathy for what he endured.

He can’t catch a break with his therapy sessions either as he feels as though his therapist is not really listening to what he has to say. People also judge or feel uncomfortable around him because he has a condition where he has uncontrollable laughter, sometimes in inappropriate moments.   He’s on a number of medications (seven in fact), but none of them seem to be making him very happy.

Every night, he watches the Murray Franklin Show with his mother. Robert De Niro plays Murray Franklin, the wisecracking late-night talk-show host. Arthur hopes to one day be on the show as a famous stand-up comedian.  It is his dream. The film does a great job of showing how someone on that many medications can have severe side effects and difficulty figuring out what is reality and what is fiction.  I enjoyed the fact the film did not spoon-feed everything to the audience.  In many cases, you are not sure what is really happening or what is in Arthur’s head. The film tackles how difficult it is to get the proper funding for mental health treatment.  It is about someone who has been completely ignored and rejected by society.

Arthur is doing his best to put on a happy face, but the world around him is getting more and more out of hand each and every day.  Whenever he turns on the news, there is another gruesome or horrible story.  It makes him wonder what his purpose in life is and what is going to become of him.  How will he survive in this world?  He’s doing everything he believes to be right and fair, but the world is spitting him up and chewing him out.

This is when the real Joker is revealed after Arthur’s had enough and can’t take it anymore.  It’s up to the audience to decide what it all means and what’s the truth of the matter. Even Thomas Wayne can be looked at as a Trump-like figure if you want to go there.  I picked up on certain things I felt director Todd Phillips was sprinkling in throughout the movie, but I don’t know his true intentions.

“Joker” is the best film of 2019 much to my surprise.  It is supremely well made, intense, and it left me wanting more.  The film does leave the audience with more questions than answers, but this is a good thing.  We don’t need everything tied up together at the end of the film.  This is not that type of movie.  A lot of critics have compared it to 1970’s cinema and also “The King of Comedy” and “Taxi Driver.” It is the kind of film which is most definitely worth watching again and again because there is a lot to digest and unravel.  The musical score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, which also won at the Golden Globes, really sets the dark tone and mood of “Joker.”

Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as Arthur Fleck/Joker.  Without him, this film does not work.  I have not seen a performance which stayed with me like this in a long time.  At times, he’s sympathetic, and you feel empathy for him.  At other times, you are disgusted by his actions and his behavior.  This is not a one-dimensional character.  This film took a lot of balls to make, and it also took a lot of balls on the part of Phoenix to make the choices he made in this film.  “Joker” is a masterpiece of cinema, and it is easy to see why it is the first R-rated film to make one billion dollars at the box office.

* * * * out of * * * *

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Blu-Ray Info: “Joker” is released on a two-disc Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It has a running time of 122 minutes and is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images. It comes with the Blu-ray, DVD and a digital code as well.

Video Info: “Joker” is released on 1080p High-Definition on an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.  The film looks absolutely perfect on Blu-ray.  It has an old-school look to it while also looking crystal clear at the same time, which is exactly what the film needed to look like.

Audio Info: The audio for the film is presented in Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, English Descriptive Audio, and Dolby Digital: English, French, and Spanish.  Subtitles are also in English, French, and Spanish.  The audio is superb.  Once again, the score by Guðnadóttir is hauntingly eerie, and spot-on for the film.

Special Features:

Joker: Vision & Fury

Becoming Joker

Please Welcome… Joker!

Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos

Should You Buy It?

In the end, what Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix pulled off in “Joker” is simply stunning and mesmerizing.  This is not hyperbole here.  This film and everyone who participated in it deserves all of the praise they have received.  It is also great to see appearances by Marc Maron, Brian Tyree Henry and Bryan Callen sprinkled into the film along with a very stellar supporting performance by Robert De Niro.  It would have been nice to see more of Zazie Beetz in the film, but she does a lot with her limited screen time. She’s a pivotal part of the movie, especially the more you think about it.

A lot of people can probably relate to how Arthur feels and everything he is going through in life.  Of course, you don’t agree with his actions in the film, but you can understand it in the context of the film and this character’s state of mind.  That is the important thing to remember here—this is a film.  No one should ever go out and do any of this. I have to make that crystal clear.

You should buy this film as soon as you can! This is the kind of film you want to add to your collection because it is only going to get better with age.  It is an adult drama/character piece which is perfectly done.   The special features are a little light in terms of length, but maybe that was done on purpose.  The filmmakers don’t want to show all of their cards.  This film comes highly recommended from yours truly. It blew me away in the cinema, and I had the same reaction watching it at home.

‘It Chapter Two’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

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The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

It Chapter 2” was a film that I really thought was going to add to what the previous film had done back in 2017. I was very impressed with the chemistry of the children and especially with Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise.  He brought a whole new element of creepiness to the mix.  When you have a clown scaring children, it is the perfect combination for an entertaining yet disturbing horror flick.  Sadly, when they are adults, it does not have quite the same impact. The film is also held back by its nearly three-hour running time.  With some films, the running time is not always noticeable because of how it is edited. In this case, however, they could have cut close to a half-hour from the film, and it would have made a major difference.

Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has stayed in Derry, Maine for the past twenty-seven years in what appears to be a dungeon of sorts.  He has been waiting for Pennywise to return. Now, Pennywise has returned, and Mike decides to get the Losers Club back together because of the pact they made when they were children to end him once and for all, if he ever came back.  Sadly, there is little in the way of backstory when it comes to the adults in this flick.

Richie Tozier is played by Bill Hader, which on paper sounds like a perfect casting decision.  I don’t know if this was Hader doing improv during shooting or if this was in the script, but you can tell when he is about to make a joke, and the jokes are not funny and feel forced. Jessica Chastain is the star of the show as Beverly Marsh, and she brings the right amount of humanity, vulnerability, and strength to this role. James McAvoy also delivers a strong performance as Bill Denbrough. As for Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), he is no longer the overweight kid from the previous film.  He has lost a lot of weight and is still pining over Beverly all these years later, even having her signature from his yearbook in his wallet.

From a visual perspective, James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak is a great casting choice, as he looks almost exactly like the child actor he is portraying as an adult. Andy Bean rounds out the Losers Club as Stanley Uris.  The magic word in an ensemble movie is chemistry and, I am sad to say, they do not have much of it together, and this really puts a damper on the proceedings.  I remember watching the original film and its special features, and the kids really clicked on and off set. It is what made the film so powerful and enjoyable.  Here, it feels like a bunch of actors are thrown together just for the sake of ending the story.

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Another major issue with the film is how infrequently they use Pennywise.  In the first film, he is shown here and there, but the power of his presence is undeniable.  In this second chapter, he almost seems like an afterthought.  He is shown only a handful of times in the first two hours before showing up for the finale.  While some might say this was done to build things up and leave the audience wanting more, it instead focuses too much on the individual characters and their lackluster backstories.   They have not changed much in twenty-seven years, and this is not a good thing.

What is most maddening about “It Chapter 2” is how individual scenes are so powerful and impactful. This is frustrating because it makes you wish more of the film had that type of feeling to it.  Instead, the film is bogged down in going from the past to the present, and it does not have a flow to it.  There is no rhythm or consistency, and it is overstuffed.  There are things to like in “It Chapter 2,” but you have to suffer through a lot of tedious and unnecessary scenes to get to them and enjoy them.  This is one of the most frustrating films I have seen in 2019 because of how good it could have been if they had a clear vision on what they wanted to do from start to finish.

* * out of * * * *

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Blu-Ray Info: “It Chapter 2” is released on a three-disc Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 169 minutes. It is rated R for disturbing violent and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material.  One disc is the DVD, one is the Blu-Ray, and the final disc is the bonus disc with all of the special features.

Audio Info:  The audio for the film is presented in Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, English Descriptive Audio, and Dolby Digital: English, French, and Spanish.  The audio is tremendous, and it is really effective during the more anxious scenes in the movie. Subtitles are also in English, French, and Spanish.

Video Info: The 1080p high definition transfer of the film looks outstanding.  It is dark in the right moments when the tension calls for it. When scenes are in broad daylight it is really bright and vibrant.

Special Features:

The Summer of It: Chapter One, You’ll Float Too and The Summer of It: Chapter Two, It Ends

Pennywise Lives Again

The Meeting of the Losers Club Has Officially Begun

Finding the Deadlights

Commentary by Director Andy Muschietti

 

Should You Buy It?

I am not mad at “It Chapter 2.”  I am just disappointed.  It is clear everyone involved here wanted to make a great film, but maybe they should have waited a little bit longer in terms of its release date.  I know we live in a world where people want things right now, but if they were going to finish this up properly, they should have really taken their time to get it done properly.  There is too much movie here.

There are a ton of great special features, however.  There are so many special features that they had to add an extra disc to the set which is a nice touch. I appreciate the effort they put into this Blu-ray from that aspect as well as the audio and visuals.  There are hints of greatness here, but the final product of the film left me feeling underwhelmed. There is a really good movie somewhere in here, but it gets lost in a sea of mediocrity. If you want to own both films, I would buy this one when it goes on sale.

 

Blu-ray Review: ‘Prince of Darkness’

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It continually amazes me how the movies of John Carpenter have endured years after their release. Many of them were critical and commercial disappointments when they first came out, and it seemed for the longest time that Carpenter would forever be trapped in the shadow of his most successful movie, “Halloween.” “Prince of Darkness” was one of those movies, but it has long since gained a cult following to where the original DVD release became a very valuable collector’s item once it went out of print. Now, Shout Factory has released a special collector’s edition of it on Blu-ray, and it shows us why this movie has lingered in our minds long after we first saw it.

“Prince of Darkness” is about a research team of academics, students and a priest who discover an ancient canister in the basement of an abandoned church. This canister contains a liquid which ends up turning people into zombies, and the team eventually realize they have unknowingly unleashed the evilest thing imaginable as it could destroy anything and everything. It is not your typical horror movie as it deals with theoretical physics and atomic theory, but once you get into the story and look closely at the theories being explored, everything becomes quite terrifying.

I won’t bother going into how great the audio and visual elements of this Blu-ray are because it goes without saying “Prince of Darkness” has never looked as good as it does here. Let’s just skip ahead to the special features on the disc as the ones included here will provide fans with a wealth of information.

First off, the Blu-ray case states there is a commentary track with John Carpenter, but what it neglects to mention is that he is joined on this track by actor Peter Jason. Jason plays Dr. Leahy in “Prince of Darkness,” and he has appeared in many of Carpenter’s movies from this one to “Ghosts of Mars.” Carpenter’s commentary tracks are always great fun to listen to, but they are even more entertaining when he’s pared with someone else, and the conversations he has with Jason are tremendous fun as they discuss what it was like making a horror film with a budget of only $3 million dollars. Actually, this track was originally included in the Region 2 DVD release of “Prince of Darkness,” so it’s nice for those us who lack multi-region players to finally get the opportunity to listen to it.

Another special feature to is a brand-new interview with Carpenter called “Sympathy for the Devil.” In it, Carpenter explains how he had been making big budget studio movies before “Prince of Darkness” and had gotten tired of making them. With “Prince of Darkness,” he got the opportunity to go back to making low budget features where he had complete creative control. Carpenter speaks of how a book on quantum physics inspired him to write the script for this movie, under the name of Martin Quatermass, and of how he loves to view the apocalypse through movies even though he does not look forward to it in real life.

There’s also a brand-new interview with musician Alice Cooper who plays the leader of the street people who surround the abandoned church (he is billed as “street schizo”). The interview is called “Alice at the Apocalypse,” and Cooper talks about how he grew up on black and white horror movies like “Creature from the Black Lagoon” which he said “scared him appropriately.” He even admits he was glad his character had no dialogue, and I loved how he described how his songs get at how Satan’s greatest trick is in getting you to believe he doesn’t exist.

Then there’s “The Messenger,” an interview with actor and Special Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere. Grasmere portrays Frank Wyndham, the one guy who thinks that the research team’s job at the abandoned church is just a bunch of hooey. He starts off the interview talking about the practical effects used in “Prince of Darkness” and of how much of a nightmare the canister was to move around the set. Then he goes into how he got cast as an actor in it, and of how he ended up speaking some of the movie’s most famous lines of dialogue.

I want to take this time to tell you “Prince of Darkness” features of my favorite scores by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Howarth himself shows up for the interview “Hell on Earth” in which he discusses how they worked on the music for this movie. Howarth has done interviews on other Shout Factory releases like “Halloween II” and “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” but this feels like the most detailed interview he has given on working with Carpenter yet. It’s also fascinating to hear what it was like to make a film score before everything was recorded digitally.

Other special features on this collector’s edition include an episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” in which host Sean Clark toured the locations where “Prince of Darkness” was shot. Some of it was filmed at Carpenter’s Alma mater USC, and the church used is located in downtown Los Angeles and is now known as The David Henry Hwang Theatre. The scenes of the church were shot in a deserted ballroom in Santa Barbara which has long since been demolished.

You will also find the movie’s theatrical trailer which seems to imply things were supposed to end a little differently than it did. There are also radio spots which are amusing to listen to, a still gallery, and the alternate opening from the movie’s television version. Regarding the alternate opening, it makes the whole film look like it was all a dream in Jameson Parker’s head, and I never quite understood why Universal Pictures did this (it was definitely not Carpenter’s idea).

In addition, there is an easter egg to be found on this Blu-ray. When you click on the Bonus menu, you will see a cross on the right side. Click on it, and you can watch a Q&A with Carpenter at Screamfest 2012 where “Prince of Darkness” was screened in honor of its 25th anniversary. The whole thing was shot on iPhone so you will need to pump up the volume a bit to hear what is being said.

“Prince of Darkness” is by no means a perfect movie. Some of the acting is weak and the special effects do show their age, but it is still a very compelling horror film which deals with scientific theories that give the story more of an edge. Those of you who are big John Carpenter fans would do yourselves a disservice by not checking out this release. Those who really like this film will agree Shout Factory has given it the respect it deserves.

Blu-ray Review: Anchor Bay’s ‘Halloween’ 35th Anniversary Edition

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Just when you thought Anchor Bay Entertainment had released the last edition of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” on DVD or Blu-ray, another one emerges to taunt the movie’s die-hard fans with the possibility of purchasing it. Now we have the “Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition” which was released on Blu-ray and contains an all-new high definition transfer supervised and approved by the film’s cinematographer, Dean Cundey. With a couple of new special features combined with a few from previous editions, is it worth paying a few more bucks to own another version of this horror classic? Well, let’s find out…

Anchor Bay has released just about as many special editions of “Halloween” as they have of “Evil Dead” and “Army of Darkness,” so it’s hard to see what the point was of putting out yet another. But after watching this one, I can certainly see why. The colors on this high definition transfer look very balanced, and the movie looks far more vividly frightening as a result. It is a huge improvement over the 25th anniversary DVD Anchor Bay released as part of their Divimax Series as it proved to be hard on the eyes due to certain colors being far brighter than they needed to be. Seriously, this particular Blu-ray edition makes me want to watch “Halloween” over and over again as it made me feel like I had never watched it before, and I have seen this horror classic over a hundred times.

Among the brand new special features, the one I was surprised to see most was a brand-new commentary with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. That Carpenter would even consent to doing another commentary on “Halloween,” which he has long since answered every conceivable question about, is astonishing, but he sounds very enthusiastic here as he talks with Curtis about what went down during this movie’s making. It’s also great to hear Curtis’ thoughts on “Halloween” as we haven’t heard her talk too much about it in a long time. Carpenter’s commentaries are always more fun when he has someone to converse with, and he and Curtis share a lot of great memories here.

The other new special feature is the documentary “The Night She Came Home” which follows Curtis as she attends her first ever horror convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. Curtis talks about how she has stayed away from her past in horror movies because she was working on other things or being a mom, but now she feels the need to honor the fans who love “Halloween” so much because she now realizes just how strong the horror fan base is. It’s fun watching her sign autographs for fans who waited hours in line, and her generosity to them is genuinely sweet. The convention also proves to be a reunion of sorts as Curtis meets up with Charles Cyphers who played Sheriff Leigh Brackett, Brian Andrews who played the young Tommy Doyle, Production Designer Tommy Lee Wallace who would later go on to direct “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and filmmaker Nick Castle who was the first person to play Michael Myers.

As for the other special features, they are recycled from other previous editions. There’s the featurette “On Location: 25 Years Later” which looks at where “Halloween” was shot. Also included are the movie’s trailer, some TV and radio spots, and footage specifically shot for the television version. You’d figure Anchor Bay would make this another ultimate edition that would be jam packed with extras, but since this the umpteenth edition of this horror classic, I guess they didn’t want to make the previous editions seem altogether disposable. So for those who still own those editions, you should hang onto them as they contain a lot of extras and commentaries not to be found here.

Is it worth it to buy the “Halloween 35th Anniversary Edition” from Anchor Bay Entertainment? Well, it may depend on how much you love this movie. The remastered high definition transfer makes it look like it was filmed not too long ago, and watching it can quickly remind you of how frightening this horror classic is. You also get a nice booklet with interesting behind the scenes photos of the production and an essay by Stef Hutchinson which details why this movie still has a powerful impact on people years after its release.

The fact is none of the sequels or shameless imitators of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” can ever take away from the suspense and uneasiness it generated upon its release. I find myself revisiting this classic quite often, and this 35th anniversary edition makes me want to revisit it more and more. If you are happy with the “Halloween” special edition you currently own, then you probably won’t need this one, but you should at least check out how it looks here. For those who are still committed to buying every single incarnation of this movie Anchor Bay releases, then this one is definitely worth your money.