Paulie’s Perspective: Laugh, Clown Laugh

Todd Phillips’ Joker movie opened this weekend. And it’s astonishing how uncomfortable it’s making people. Some say it’s too dark and gritty, other’s say the violence does not fit the story, other’s say Joaquin’s take on the character makes it all too realistic. 

Two filmmakers made waves in social media this past week. Todd Phillips was one, by saying it’s impossible to do comedy now, in today’s world with all the scrutiny and everyone getting offended. Todd, as you may know, is the director behind “The Hangover” movies and the classic comedy “Old School.” 

Now we know what he says is not true, and I don’t think anyone was buying it. Kevin Hart, Dave Chapelle, Eddie Murphy, Bill Burr, Ellen, Sebastian Maniscalco are all making the biggest paydays in their careers right now. So it could be another reason, he wants to leave that world behind and finally be taken seriously by Hollywood. That is exactly what Adam Mckay is doing as well, so it makes sense. Adam McKay broke his partnership with Will Farrell and did a serious movie about Dick Cheney entitled “Vice.” It starred Christan Bale and garnered critical praise, and I’m sure Todd is looking for the same kind of vindication – to prove he’s a good filmmaker and not just some clown making money for big studios.

It’s a common theme among comedians – wanting to be taken seriously – dating all the way back to Chaplin. Chaplin made The Dictator in hopes of getting some serious attention, Jim Carrey, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, and Dean Martin did it, so did Jerry Lewis. Sometimes clowns get tired of being laughed at.

So Todd Phillips unveils “Joker,” going for realism, going for a kind of “Taxi Driver” effect for the DC Villain. It’s a new origin story because it’s a new Joker. This Joker is Arthur Fleck, not the Jack Napier that Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger played. This Joker is making his big screen debut and I’m sure we’ll have a ton more origin stories of him before the decade is over.  Hollywood now has two Jokers to oversaturate us with – oh joy. This story is less Batman and more psycho. This story is less cartoonish and more realistic. This story also has the authorities a bit worried. NYPD is putting policeman at theaters that are showing “Joker” this weekend. Funny, they didn’t care about Rambo.

We have finally reached the point where a war machine like Rambo is perfectly fine, but The Joker has everyone worried about mass shootings.  

Speaking of the DC Universe getting under people’s skins, the legendary Martin Scorsese spoke out about the comic book hero movies while doing press for his new masterpiece “The Irishman.” 

In an interview with Empire Magazine, Martin says that Marvel and DC movies are “not cinema”. He deems them to be fare and fodder for theme parks and nothing more.  “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It is not the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional experiences to another human being.”

Twitter was up in arms, and I was thinking – how can you possibly argue that? You can’t say the man doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You can’t say “Captain America: Winter Soldier” changed your life. You can’t say oh that movie “Thor: The Dark World” kept me up nights thinking about our state of society. 

What you can say is – theme park tickets increased this year after all these movies came out. I mean the guy is right. Theme parks is where the money is made. That is why Disney spent millions creating Star Wars attractions, because the box office is small potatoes to them. 

One movie ticket for one adult for one day – $15, tops. One theme park ticket, one adult, one day at the Magic Kingdom is $115.  And no one goes to a theme park alone. So you can see where the money is.  These movies have become one huge commercial for the theme parks, and Martin is absolutely right about their quality.  They don’t tug the heart strings and in some cases they don’t even make sense. “Avengers: Endgame” is not the endgame because they built a time machine!! There is no end game when you have a time machine!! 

Still, they make billions because they are our childhood heroes and we have waited a lifetime for technology to be advanced enough to give us what we want on the big screen.  Will it fade? If they keep on being just blank, empty commercials for theme parks, yes. Scorsese’s films touch the heart and have withstood the test of time. I don’t hear of anyone clamoring to trade for a DVD of “Iron Man 3.”  

At the end of the day, it’s a business. Disney and Marvel tapped into a realm that is fresh and new and leads right to the front gate of their theme parks. Is Martin right? Of course he is. These films reach around the globe preaching these characters, the rides, the attractions. There is more than one use for a film just as The Joker wants to be seen as more than just a clown.


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