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Film round-up: October 3, 2019

MARIA DUARTE and ALAN FRANK review Joker, Judy, Werewolf and Good Posture

Joker (15)
Directed by Tod Phillips
★★★★★

THE NAME of the title character in the extraordinary Joker, scathingly and unforgettably played by Joaquin Phoenix, is Arthur Flack.

That may imply someone comic, but Flack’s progress in the film from clown and aspirant comedian to brutal murderer is anything but.

It’s a spellbinding study of his increasing irrationality and ultimately inevitable descent into madness — “I think I felt better when I was locked up in hospital,” he tells a social worker — due, in part, to a septic upbringing in his rubbish-strewn, rat-infested home town of Gotham City.

Erroneously nicknamed Happy by his fragile single mother, whom he looks after in their cheap apartment, his fortuitous appearance on a hit television chat show hosted by suitably phoney Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro at his finest, over-ripe and self-adorning peak) fails to kick-start his career.

The discovery of dubious facts about his childhood, street bullies and taunting on the subway finally trigger his inner killer.

Phoenix delivers some unforgettable, if progressively bleak, comedy and the film’s source material — co-writer-director Tod Phillips’s searing story is derived from comic books — comes across as an agonising character study.

It’s created by a star whose grisly painted-on smile should be replaced with a genuine grin when — as he so appropriately deserves — next year he gets up and goes up on stage to pick up his Oscar.

Alan Frank

Judy (12A)
Directed by Rupert Goold
★★★★

IT'S a brave — some might think foolhardy — move to portray a much-loved Hollywood legend on the big screen, but Renee Zellweger’s gamble has paid off with her extraordinarily heart-wrenching performance as the iconic Judy Garland.

Pulling out all the stops in her musical numbers, she captures the spirit of Garland's voice and her gestures and physical fragility. For a split second on stage it seems like you are watching Garland, not Zellweger.

The film is set at the end of Garland’s career when, in the winter of 1968, she came to London to perform in a sell-out run at The Talk of the Town. In debt, she was desperate to make money so she could keep custody of her two children by Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell).

Her singing voice was no longer at its peak and she was very insecure, erratic and unpredictable due to her penchant for drink and pills. The film shows how, as a teenager, she was introduced to the latter to keep her awake and lose weight.

Based on Peter Quilter’s stage play End of the Rainbow, the drama flits back and forth from the older Judy to her 16-year-old self (a fantastic Darci Shaw) during the shooting of The Wizard of Oz.

She remembers the tough times she had at the hands of MGM, which controlled her every waking move, in what is a heartbreaking story with a moving ending.

Despite a fine supporting cast that includes Jessie Buckley and Michael Gambon, this is Zellweger’s film in a career-defining star turn.

Maria Duarte

Werewolf (15)
Directed by Adrian Panek
★★★★

POLISH writer-director Adrian Panek’s riveting blend of chiller and coming-of-age drama is set in the summer of 1945 and its opening sequence vividly recreates the horrors of a World War II German concentration camp — infinitely more terrifying than the mere prospect of close encounters with murderous werewolves.

When the Red Army liberates eight children from the Gross Rosen camp in Poland, they take refuge in an abandoned orphanage and it seems the understandably feral children, while fighting to survive on meagre rations, may regain normality, until they come under regular attack from “werewolves.”

Yet the film's title is misleading — the creatures are not supernatural but wolfhounds from the concentration camp trained to kill prisoners.

Even so, Panek, aided by a cast of unfamiliar youngsters delivering authentic performances, delivers a gripping shocker that makes Lord of the Flies resemble a nursery rhyme.

AF

Good Posture (15)
Directed by Dolly Wells
★★

WHEN Lillian (Grace Van Patten) breaks up with her boyfriend in Brooklyn, she moves in with famed but reclusive writer Julie Price (Emily Mortimer) and her musician husband Don (Ebon Moss-Bachrach),

Her life is essentially pointless — her mother is dead and her father is in Paris with his young French girlfriend. But, realising that she desperately needs a purpose apart from cooking meals for Julie in lieu of rent, Lillian decides to make a documentary about Price, with whom she spars in a passive-aggressive war of words.

Van Patten does the best she can with a role that is more defined by script tropes than motivation and credible characterisation.

Lillian’s journey towards adult responsibility is lightly propelled by writer-director Dolly Wells, but her film is not very involving. It’s natural home is late-night television.

AF

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