As with seemingly every facet of modern American existence, Joker, Todd Philips' nihilistic tale of one of America's most recognizable villains, has been analyzed as much for how it relates to these Trumpian times as its artistic merits. Film critics and political commentators alike have been firing off hot takes about whether Joaquin Phoenix's awe-inspiring portrayal of a painfully lonely man being pushed past his breaking point by an uncaring society is irresponsible in our modern landscape of far-right and incel-fueled mass shootings. Sometimes lost in the noise is the plain fact that Joker contains modern cinema's finest male actor delivering his greatest performance, a mélange of loneliness, mental illness and stunningly poetic physicality. The film, as much an ode to gritty 1970s cinema as it is a Joker backstory, undoubtedly revels in Arthur Fleck's tragic transformation into the laughing homicidal maniac we all know. But it's less of an endorsement of such actions and more of a celebration of the dark character at the center of the narrative. His archaic views about "PC culture" aside, Philips has created a pitch-black cinematic world where the have-nots have been pushed beyond the brink by the ever-widening gap between them and the privileged, and brought forth from Phoenix a performance that will be studied as long as cinema exists. Joker forces America to stare into the face of what we've wrought as a people—perhaps that's what people are so opposed to seeing. R. DONOVAN FARLEY. Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, Mill Plain 8, Vancouver Mall 23, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Mission, Moreland, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza, Roseway, Scappoose, St. Johns Pub and Theater, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Studio One.
Wrinkles the Clown
Four years ago, the interwebs were all abuzz about a snippet of grainy security cam footage that seemingly showed a derelict clown climbing out from under the bed of a sleeping child. It was the sort of macabre whimsy from which the best memes blossom. Online arbiters soon learned the video was meant to advertise the services of a low-rent Pennywise who promised to terrify the misbehaving children of Florida for a small fee. Meanwhile, Wrinkles the Clown had emblazoned himself on the national consciousness for…almost a week, maybe. Should there be a soul among us who'd hoped Wrinkles' tale deserved further attention, there is now a feature-length investigation from Emmy-nominated documentarian Michael Beach Nichols (Welcome to Leith) that labors wearyingly to prove that the circus has left town. As pretty much any 21st century American would've guessed, the legend of Wrinkles has little to do with Wrinkles the man and no relation whatsoever to the theories droned on about by talking heads. Leave aside the overheated claims arguing Wrinkles' momentary ascent influenced copycat clowns toward increasingly darker antics—why so Serial?—and we're left with a doc so empty that even the amateurish, manipulative late-stage revelation regarding our subject's identity slides by without notice. Everything we needed to know about this 2015 viral sensation could've been gleaned from Wrinkles' still-affecting debut video, but some filmmakers just want to watch the hours burn. TBC. JAY HORTON. Cinema 21.