Joker Review: Joaquin Phoenix gets the last laugh!

“My life isn’t a tragedy it’s a fucking comedy!”  – Arthur Fleck 

Love him or hate him, but Joaquin Phoenix is Gotham’s new Clown Prince of Crime!

Todd Phillip’s reimagining of the iconic comic book villain is a disturbing look into human psychology. One that will leave you feeling increasingly unsettled as the story unfolds.

Read more: How to destroy your cinematic universe

The Plot

Joker Review: Joaquin Phoenix gets the last laugh!

Set in 1981, the film follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill failed stand-up comedian who turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City. 

Other characters who play a significant role in Arthur’s descent into madness are eccentric talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy) Arthur’s Mother who is both mentally and physically ill and Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beets) Arthur’s love interest.

Joker isn’t your typical action-packed popcorn flick. But a cinematic journey that gives us a chilling insight into the Joker’s origins while still paying homage to the Batman mythology.

A unique take on Joker

Joker Review: Joaquin Phoenix gets the last laugh!

While Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was a representation of anarchy and social unrest, Phoenix’s interpretation of the role deals with themes of alienation, depression and personality identity and a character that audiences can sympathize with on a more realistic level.  

While we’ve generally come to understand the Joker from the Batman movies as a psychotic, mass-murdering criminal with complete disregard to human life, Phoenix adds another layer of depth to the character, revitalizing the Joker as a symbol of discrimination and a reflection of the daily oppression we struggle within society.   

The verdict

Joker Review: Joaquin Phoenix gets the last laugh!

The film itself is a refreshing break from the star-studded CGI superhero movies we’ve generally been accustomed to in recent years and DC has done justice by introducing a story that is entertaining but at the same time pragmatic and grounded. 

All things considered, Joker is not for the faint-hearted.

It’s a fascinating character biopic and a gripping tale on a character we’ve all known more or less since childhood. It doesn’t have the jaw-dropping moments of Infinity War or Justice League. But Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-worthy performance alone enough satisfies your appetite by keeping you at the edge of your seat from start to finish. 

Joker is now running in Star Cineplex and Blockbuster Cinemas.

The DCEU: Does it exist? How the Joker’s success influences it

I think we can all agree that comic book movies in recent years have left a massive influence in pop culture. The excitement and buzz whenever a trailer of an adaptation starts trending on social media is an emphatic feeling that we all share to a certain extent.

Regardless of how the superhero genre has evolved over the years, when it comes to delivering sheer, blockbuster entertainment on the big screen nobody does it better than DC and Marvel.

But that also raises the question as to who has the edge when it comes to their respective media franchise?

Read more: How to destroy your cinematic universe

Marvel vs DC: The long rivalry

While Marvel Studios is known for their decade-long cinematic universe interconnected with a cohesive storyline, their rival DC Films attained their success by releasing stand-alone adaptations that left their own legacies. The Dark Knight Trilogy, Watchmen and Superman being a few notable examples.

Establishing a cinematic universe takes time, patience and thoughtful planning, something which Marvel figured out early on.

The swift introduction of the Justice League via e-mail in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice indicated that DC wasn’t willing to go that way.

Unlike Marvel’s Avengers where the heroes crossed paths after going through phases of character development in their respective solo films.

In all fairness, although DC did make an attempt to flesh out their characters by giving them a backstory to grow like in 2013’s Man of Steel, they were still struggling to find a consistent tone in subsequent DCEU instalments. Only exemplified by the commercial and critical failure of Suicide Squad – A movie that was disappointing on so many levels that even Oscar winner Jared Leto couldn’t salvage with his brief appearance. 

Individuality: DC’s stronghold

However not everything is doom and gloom as it looks. The enormous success of solo films such as Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam! prove that there’s still much anticipation and promise in the DC Extended Universe. It could even be a sign encouraging DC to go back to playing to their strengths. Which is, crafting individual stories with a strong focus on character development and exploration of intimate themes.

Joker Review: Joaquin Phoenix gets the last laugh!

DC’s latest project this year is the highly anticipated Joker starring the versatile Joaquin Phoenix. The film could be seen as a turning point for the company as it’s intended to launch DC Black, a line of DC-based comic book films separate from the DCEU with darker and more experimental material.

Read more: Joker Review: Joaquin Phoenix gets the last laugh!

In hindsight, DC is at their creative best when they stick to their roots instead of taking notes from its rivals. Although the future of the DCEU is uncertain Todd Phillip’s Joker and Joaquin Phoenix’s interpretation of the iconic role could be the “revival” DC has been looking for.     

How to destroy your cinematic universe

The concept of a shared cinematic universe where a series of movies would be connected with each other with its own individual plot and an overall arching story that would lead to big pay off in another movie down the line was created by Marvel Studios with the after credits of 2008’s Iron Man.

This paid dividends for the then fledgling and now the juggernaut in the Cinematic World.

With success comes a host of competitors that will try to give a shot at the successful idea.

However other than Marvel and in a much smaller capacity The Conjuring movie series, no one has been able to crack the code for a successful cinematic universe.

Whether due to sheer incompetence, greed, not understanding the strength and weakness of the properties and just not having a plan, there are a number of factors studios can cause for a studio’s cinematic universe to crash and burn even before it lifts off the ground.

Overestimating your strengths

Destroying your cinematic universe-HiFi Public

One of the fundamental reasons why a cinematic universe blows up is because most studios do not evaluate whether or not their properties, for example, can be adapted into a cinematic universe format.

The properties must have enough depth and characters that could be organically be stretched out into multiple movies without feeling forced. Marvel, DC and even Star Wars can pull this off because there are numerous stories written about those characters from many different writers in many formats, that the studios can simply pick and choose which one to go for.

For most studios they don’t have that luxury and instead of creating a traditional good first movie and then follow up with great sequels, they announce a cinematic universe with whatever IPs they have. The biggest example being the Universal Monster Dark Universe Cinematic Universe that was poorly thought out and it crashed and burn with only one movie in its slate. The 2017 reboot of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise.

Time will tell whether the planned WB Godzilla Kaiju Universe, Hasbro Transformers and their other toy line up universe will meet the same fate.

Not having a plan or direction

Destroying your cinematic universe-HiFi Public
Credit: SyFY Wire

One of the most baffling events that came out of the entertainment world is the DCEU or as it is now known Worlds of DC in general.

From hiring directors and them leaving midway through production, from Zack Snyder’s total control of it and then the Execs of WB taking control from him, from various movies being announced that no one asked for and then getting cancelled these developments clearly shows that WB never had a solid game plan for their cinematic universe and that indecision clearly shows in their movies as well.

With the exception of Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam, all the Worlds of DC branded movies either underperformed in terms of critically and commercially or both and generally they are seen as inferior to the MCU.

Read more: Shazam is the new magic word for DCEU!

The planning and the logistic behind the MCU is something that most studios don’t take any heed to it. That is one of the core reason why cinematic universes crash and burn even without getting a chance to fully form because the studios expect to land on the moon first before properly figuring it out how to get out of earth’s orbit in the first place.

Pacing and patience

Destroying your cinematic universe-HiFi Public
Credit: USA Today

For the all the talk about the MCU success most fail to see the one crucial step they took that no one up to now did. They never announced from the get-go that the First Iron Man movie was gonna be the start of their cinematic universe. They focused on making a great movie that can stand on its own first and then gave the small teaser of their plans in the end credit scene.

Read more: A love letter to MCU from a fan with no ticket

This was done so that they can create goodwill at first with the general audience and then in the subsequent movies slowly start to reveal their master plan cumulating in the First Avengers Movie and now their phase four.

Compare this with DCEU BVS which was tasked the monumental task of Introducing Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor and the entire Justice League in one sitting and also other numerous Easter eggs that were supposed to lead into other movies.

Sadly what resulted is a bloated mess of a movie that didn’t have any direction and character motivations and some scenes were done purely to tease the other future movies which created a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie that lacks focus.

Not exploring alternate options

Destroying your cinematic universe-HiFi Public

This article already talked a great length about the MCU when it comes to cinematic universes, however, there is another name that can be added to that list, The Conjuring Universe.

Rather than making the mistakes above they simply went on a different direction than all of the rest of the Marvel Imitators. They simply made one good movie and then created a sequel and based on the audience reaction on the sequels secondary villains or tertiary characters they made spinoffs about it and slowly in a matter of years created a cinematic universe of their own.

While the Conjuring Universe cannot be compared to Marvel in terms of financial and critical and cultural significance, at least that cinematic universe is done right.

The Lesson that can be taken from the conjuring universe is that other than the previous lessons above is sometimes a cinematic universe from the onset is not a must. You can simply create a good movie, have goodwill and slowly from there through sequels or spin-offs or prequels organically have a cinematic universe.

Not every series of movies need to have all the characters team up, in the end, to fight a big bad in the ultimate team-up movie.

Shazam is the new magic word for DCEU!

First, they tried too hard to not be Marvel. Then they tried too hard to be Marvel. Turns out all they had to do was say the magic word. The DC Extended Universe finally gets it all right with “Shazam!”.

A refreshing break from the bleakness

For a long time the consensus was that the DC movies are to be significantly more dark and bleak than contemporary superhero films. The darkness was supposed to inspire a more realistic outlook. If done right, that could have turned out well. But it wasn’t executed right. So the DCEU tried to move on to a more cheerful theme, evident in the Justice League movie. Unfortunately that also didn’t turn out great, as perhaps the most awaited film ever had measly returns from the box office.

With Aquaman, the DCEU showed signs of vitality. And they have finally perfected the formula with Shazam. The most family friendly movie from the DCEU so far, Shazam attempts to inspire every adult to embrace the child in them. And every child to unfold the hero in them. The DCEU displays it’s knack for consistency, comedy and timing in this exhilarating Boy-of-Steel film.

A well told origin story

The most difficult part of a Superhero story told on the big screen is often the origin. Origin stories are a dime a dozen, and many of them are as good as one would imagine can get. While Shazam isn’t innovative, it is near perfect in execution. The film tells the story of 14-year old Billy Batson gaining the powers of the “Seven Elders” and his subsequent adventures in a simple and carefree fashion.

While it is easy to assume from the trailers or this review that the film is specifically kid-friendly, such is not the case. It explores dark aspects of the regular lives of people with straightforward realism. But unlike many contemporaries, the film attempts to teach the audience to deal with life’s many problems with a smile.

A genuinely good time

At its core, Shazam is a cheerful superhero tale, told with remarkable simplicity and style. It doesn’t try too hard to be something it is not. And that sets it apart from many of its contemporaries. Instead of pushing an overreaching theme or straining to set up some elaborate tale (it does that quite naturally), Shazam just offers its audience a good time at the theater. All the actors involved perform perfectly on their roles, especially the younger actors and Zachary Levi. Mark Strong’s acting is as strong as ever. Most importantly, everyone seems in touch with their characters.

So go watch Shazam in the STAR Cineplex. And let the magic entangle you for a good time.

Get your tickets here.

5 Bangladeshi graphic novels you must read

Graphic novel is a wonderful medium where art and literature interplays. Often deemed as a pulpy and lesser creative form, graphic novels have gained momentum in the past 20 years or so. Often mistakenly labelled as comics, graphic novels deal with deeper subject matter and perplexed illustrations. They are bigger in length as well.

Bangladesh too has a thriving graphic novel scene confined in a limited readership. It is great to see publishing houses like Panjeree and Dhaka Comics are catering to the local fans and publishing new graphic novels frequently. If you have never read a deshi graphic novel, here is an essential reading list to get you started with. These 5 titles are a testament that our local writers/artists are rivalling with their Western counterparts, with what limited time and resource they have.

#1 Ruhan Ruhan (রুহান রুহান)

Genre: Sci-fi

Publisher: Dhaka Comics

Credit: Muhammad Zafar Iqbal (story), Mehedi Haque (illustration)

Summary: Ruhan Ruhan is set in a nihilistic and dystopian planet where people have no sense of humanity whatsoever. Ruhan, was fatefully kidnapped and deported to the planet ‘Gruzan’. A gang of savage businessmen throws him two options- either engage in a win-or-die gladiator match or be a guinea pig of human anatomy replacement. Ruhan is no ordinary guy, he defies the corrupt system and reclaims humanity. This graphic novel is a 5 part series; the last issue is scheduled to hit bookstores this year.

#2 Laily (লাইলী)

Genre: Comedy/romance

Publisher: Panjeree

Credit: Shahrier Khan (Story and illustration)

Summary: Laily, the titular character, is a drop dead gorgeous girl of her neighbourhood. After a 10 year hiatus, she returns to the area where she grew up. In no time, a neighboring engineer, a gangster and a journalist fall for her. With a heavy dose of Dhallywood-ish humor, Laily tackles all the hopeless romantics come what may. This is by far the best comedy graphic novel by a Bangladeshi artist. Although I might be opinionated, you’ll thank me later for recommending Laily!

#3 Shurjer Din (সূর্যের দিন)

Genre: Liberation war

Publisher: Pragati

Credits: Humayun Ahmed (story), Ahsan Habib (illustration)

Summary: Shurjer din chronicles the life of a group of teens amidst the tension of the liberation war. The main characters go through a crisis as their regular life comes to a standstill following the events of 1971. I highly recommend this graphic novel to pre-teenagers. Adapted from a Humayun Ahmed novella, Ahsan Habib’s illustration breathes sentiments of our glorious liberation war in this gem. This is a suitable starter for young readers who find war stories complex.

#4 Poncho Romancho (পঞ্চ রোমাঞ্চ)

Genre: Anthology

Publisher: Dhaka Comics

Credits: Kazi Anwar Hossain (story), various artists (illustration)

Summary: Kazi Anwar Hossain is a name synonymous with thriller/adventure books in Bangla. Back in mid 70’s, the legendary ‘Kazi Da’ adapted 5 stories by foreign writers, giving them an appropriate local setting. The book came out titled ‘Poncho Romancho’ featuring stories named Onno konokhane, Jhamela, Cancer, Ostad and Porokiya. Almost four decades later, Dhaka Comics adapted this anthology collection as a graphic novel. If you are a Sheba Prokashani fan, this one will definitely send nostalgia down your bloodstream.

#5 Cube (কিউব)

Genre: Sci-fi

Publisher: Panjeree

Credit: Shahrier Khan (story and illustration)

Summary: Geologist Joy Ahmed is employed in the coastal city of Cox’s Bazaar. He was having an ordinary life but soon things escalade when he stumbles upon an alien race. Aliens come to earth to scout a mysteriously powerful thing called ‘cube’. Whoever possesses the cube gains super power. Joy finds a cube as well as his love interest. But he will have a hard time defending his city as the extraterrestrial threat looms large in picturesque places of Chittagong.

That’s all for now, folks. I insist you to read Bangladeshi graphic novels. Without our support, it’s very hard to be a professional in this medium. As the local comic readers grow, we can dream of a day when fan-favourite titles will become live action movies. We’ll have our own Avengers or Tintin, someday!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

The world’s most beloved superhero turns 80 this year with Action comics reaching its 1000th issue. Superman is one of the most recognisable mainstays of American pop culture. With the signature S chest symbol and flowing red cape, Superman is more than just a superhero – he is a symbol of hope and an ideal for justice. Not to mention Superman most definitely paved the way for later iconic superheroes like Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America (although that was Marvel) and so on, heroes that we love and worship today. Superman has grown so popular that a life sized Superman statue stands tall in Metropolis, Illinois, the namesake of Superman’s fictional city in the comics.

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster in Cleveland, Ohio. Debuted in Action comics #1 in 1938, Superman quickly gained popularity among comic readers back then. Superman wasn’t always a hero though. In 1933 in a short story by Jerry Siegel, titled “The reign of Superman”, Superman was portrayed as a villain. However, that changed in 1938 when Superman was introduced as the doomed immigrant infant from the destroying planet Krypton, raised on a firm by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who grows up to be the Daily Planet journalist Clark Kent and in times of need, Superman. Lord and Saviour.

Superman is more than just a superhero. He is a symbol of hope and an ideal for justice.

Since then the story of Superman has seen a lot of ups and downs. Characters like Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor and Lois Lane were introduced. His adversaries grew stronger and more in-depth story arcs exploring the world of Superman were introduced. More superheroes followed. Marvel followed suit. The comics universe has constantly grown since then, thanks to Superman.

Superman entered the golden age of television with George Reeves playing the iconic hero in the 1950s TV series, “The Adventures of Superman”. Later in 1978, Superman the movie came out, starring Christopher Reeve in the lead role. It even made a run for the Oscars.

Besides that, an animated series aired in 1996 and continued till the 2000s. It was the defining series which introduced Superman to most millennials. For many of us, the animated Superman series was our first gateway to the world of comics and comic book shows. Superman holds a special seat in our heart just like that. The opening theme song still gives us goosebumps.

There have been many attempts to revive Superman on the big screen after 1978’s Christopher Reeve performance. Unfortunately, none of them quite took off. The TV series Smallville gained some popularity in the 2000s and basically generated a cult following. And Superman Returns starring Brandon Routh and directed by Bryan Singer showed great potential in 2006, trying to pick up where George Reeves left off.

Movie Superman finally took the flight in 2013, with a completely different approach to the character. Man of Steel introduced Henry Cavill as Superman. Directed by Zack Snyder, Man of Steel completely restructured Superman for a newer generation with notable changes to the costume and a darker overall tone in the movie. It had mixed reviews in the box office but fans loved Henry Cavill as Superman. Man of steel initiated the DC Extended Universe and we last saw Superman in the Movie Justice League, in 2017. Man of steel 2 is in the works and Henry Cavill is set to make appearances in future DCEU movies as well. Looks like we’re not losing our Superman on the big screen anytime soon.

Meanwhile Superman has been making constant appearances in the comics under various titles. Some notable reads are Crisis on Infinite Earths, Flashpoint, Death of Superman, Whatever happened to the Man of tomorrow, Lois and Clark: New Adventures of Superman and most recently the DC rebirth Series which re-imagines Superman, now married to Lois Lane and father to a Jonathan Kent. And of course, most recently, Action Comics #1000, which features an interesting story arc that suggests the end of Krypton was not what we thought it was. But don’t worry, we are not going to spoil it here. If you’re interested, we’re compiling a list of Superman must-reads elsewhere – check back soon.

So, with a number of changes and takes on the character over the years since its inception, what does the future look like for our beloved Superhero donning the symbol of hope? Keep following HiFi for our next article as we explore the future of the DCEU movie universe.