★ ★ ½
I've been noticing the way cinema and film discussion has been trending lately, which comes down to this. Internet buzz will moan about studios playing it safe with their tentpole projects, how the high cost of movies leads to celebrating filmmakers like J.J. Abrams and The Russo Brothers. Filmmakers who can deliver crowd-pleasing moments (and I say there's nothing wrong with that), but they do little to advance the art and pump the heart that provides the life blood of cinema. Occasionally however, something unusual slips through. The Last Jedi takes the franchise away from predicted paths. Too bad, it upset a very vocal fanbase. Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is celebrated, but it's also criticized, and perhaps rightly so. Same with Joker. These films are different enough to upset the apple cart. What I find interesting is that they have the vocal bloggers, podcasters and non-troll pundits saying what a studio would say if they were going for something more mainstream.
The Joker is both nearly terrible and pretty great. It's a blunt film told by a blunt filmmaker who seems to enjoy picking on society. The effect it creates however, wouldn't work as well as it does if not for many of the decisions leading up to the final section. I wish the bad stuff was better, but then I don't think the great scenes would've worked quite so well. Joaquin Phoenix's brilliance comes with a good deal of camp and repetition and the feeling that he was left dangling, much like a comedy where everyone is clearly leaning on the cast to improvise the best moments. Sometimes this had all the unwanted deconstruction of Rob Zombie's Halloween and sometimes it's the closest anyone has come to the high bar set in place by Heath Ledger.