Saturday, January 4, 2020

JOKER (2019) (4K UltraHD Review)

JOKER (2019) 

Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 122 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos TrueHD, Dolby Digital 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p UltraHD, 1080P HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Josh Pais, Rocco Luna, Marc Maron, Sondra James, Murphy Guyer, Douglas Hodge

Todd Philips' Joker (2019) is an alternate reality retelling of the origin of DC comics villain the Joker, the setting is Gotham in the year 1981, with the city is very much styled in the image of late-70's New York City, the streets are lined with mountains of trash and super-sized rats stalk the alleyways, and crime in rampant and there's a swell of anti-wealth sentiment permeating the poorer parts of the city. 

Our protagonist/antagonist is the mentally ill loner Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who is employed as a party clown while living in a squalid apartment with his aging and demented mother Penny (Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under). Arthur suffers from a medical condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably at inopportune moments, he has aspirations of becoming a stand-up comedian, inspired by his hero, the late-night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro, The Irishman), but as his mother so unkindly puts it, "don't you have to be funny to be a comedian?".

After an incident with a handgun while performing at a children's hospital Arthur is fired immediately from his job, and on the way home on the subway train that night he is attacked by a trio of drunken Wayne Enterprise employees, he shoots one in self defense and murders the others with the gun. In the aftermath the news reports that a masked clown committed the crimes, the act is condemned by Thomas Wayne, but the act further fuels Gotham's growing class divide, with citizens donning clown masks and rioting in the streets.

While all this is happening Arthur's mom falls ill, he discovers a letter his mother penned to Thomas Wayne claiming that Arthur is his illegitimate son, and increasingly obsessing over single mom (Zazie Beetz, Dead Pool 2) who lives in his apartment building with her young daughter. Furthermore he's cut off from his medication when social services funding is cut, things have always been bleak for Arthur but they're starting to boil over.

When a video tape of his stand-up routine winds up on Murray Franklin's late night program he earns an invite onto the show, but the cops are close to pinning the subway murders on him, and his appearance on the show is looking to usher in a new and violent era for the loner. 

I was not expecting this film to be as gritty a character study as it was, but I have to say I loved it. sure, the film borrows liberally from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, even a bit of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange to create it's seedy and violent world, but it worked for me, it's an interesting take on the character, if you're down for that sort of sad, pathetic Joker origin story this is an utterly fascinating and down-turned decent into madness sort of origin story.

Audio/Video: Joker (2019) arrives on 4K UltraHD+Blu-ray+Digital from Warner Bros. Entertainment framed in 1.85:1 widescreen in both 2160p UHD and 1080p HD formats. The film was shot using the ARRI Alexa 65 camera system with a fine grain filter giving it a filmic look, which translates gorgeously to 4K UltraHD. The color tone of the film is grim, re-visualizing early eighties New York City as the dingy Gotham. Things are varying shades of brown throughout, but the HDR color-grading gives yellows and oranges a nice boost. Fine detail is through the roof, the opening scene of Phoenix's Arthur Fleck painting his face white shows exquisite amounts of detail in the close-ups, and the dim-lit interiors and garbage strewn streets and alleys are repulsive in their 4K resolution, it's quite dynamic in it's dinginess. 

Audio comes by way of a precise Dolby Atmos track that carries the strained score from Hildur Guðnadóttir (HBO's Chernobyl) with a pleasing amount of low-end. There's a variety of atmospherics at play throughout, though this is not a particularly bombastic surround presentation, it keeps things appropriately subtle. Dialogue is delivered with exacting precision, the tones subtly change according the acoustics of the room the character's inhabit, it's wonderful stuff. 

There are no extras on the 4K UHD disc, all the bonus content lands on the accompanying Blu-ray, beginning with the 22-min Joker: Vision & Fury making of featurette, here we get talking heads director Todd Philip, producer Bradley Cooper, actors Joaquin Phoenix, Glenn Fleshler and Leigh Gill, plus costume designer Mark Bridges, visual effects supervisor Edwin Rivera, and production designer Mark Friedberg. At only 22-min it covers a lot of ground, from Phillips pitching the idea to Warner Bros., creating a fresh take on an iconic DC villain, capturing the gritty feel of vintage NYC, turning NYC into Gotham, the spontaneous nature of the shoot, and Joaquin's apple-a-day weight loss method, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, it's a solid making of featurette. 

The rest of the extras are more anemic, we get a 2-min 'Becoming Joker' which is really a series of costume tests, the 3-min 'Please Welcome... Joker!' which are alternate takes of Joker's intro on the Murray Franklin show, and the 3-min 'Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos' still gallery. 

The 2-disc 4K UHD/Blu-ray arrives in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork, housed inside of a slipcase with the same artwork. Opening up the case you will find a Movies Anywhere digital code for a 4K digital copy of the film.  

Special Features: 
- Joker: Vision & Fury (22 min) HD 
- Becoming Joker (2 min) HD 
- Please Welcome… Joker! (3 min)HD
- Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos (3 min) HD

At a time when we're getting origin stories for comic character every few weeks at the movies I found this dark alternate reality Joker story to be a breath of fresh air, intensely depressing though it may be, this is compelling stuff. I give top marks for this 4K UltraHD presentation, this is right up there with The Shining 4K UHD, and comes highly recommended.