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Relaxer - Coconut Grove Music Album Reviews After years of kicking against dance music’s strictures, Daniel Martin-McCormick delivers something close to a pure techno album. A product of turmoil, it’s a satisfyingly confident statement.
Daniel Martin-McCormick’s past always seems to dominate the conversation about his present. No matter how many new groups he’s formed or new aliases he’s tried on for size, his music continues to be evaluated through the lens of his earliest projects. Since 2002, Martin-McCormick has logged lengthy stints in groups like Black Eyes and Mi Ami and recorded solo as Sex Worker and Ital. (Full disclosure: he’s also an occasional contributor to Pitchfork.) Launched in 2016 with a series of five self-released EPs, Relaxer is the New York producer’s latest undertaking, and his new album, Coconut Grove, potentially represents a final, complete break from his noisy post-hardcore roots.

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Joker Movie Review

Joker Movie Review
Flakes the Clown

Let's just start with the thought many of you likely have: no, this is not the best Joker performance we've seen on screen. I remain divided between Heath Ledger and Mark Hamill - with a dash of Caesar Romero's mustache covered in white makeup - but that's a story for a different article. "Joker," Todd Phillips' first film since declaring comedy impossible to make (also a different article), is a fascinating and frustrating thing to experience. Yes, it's technically a comic book movie, in that it inhabits DC Black-some sort of pocket DC film universe-but it is not like ANY comic book movie previously released. This is a character study in the combination of mental instability, toxic environment, and poor timing leading the way to madness.


The heart of it all is Joaquin Phoenix ("Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot") - no stranger to acting excellence - delivering an exceptional and unnerving performance as Arthur Fleck, a man who, from frame one, is clearly not meant for Gotham City. Suffering from a host of ailments requiring multiple medications, and which have left him with a choking involuntary laugh, Arthur earns a meager living as a clown for hire in a city which clearly needs, but has no desire for, his trade.

After frustrating and dangerous days, he comes home to his aging mother Penny (a delightfully sad and creepy Frances Conroy, American Horror Story) who dreams of better times with Thomas Wayne - A GOOD MAN.  Arthur dreams too, both of life as a standup comedian wo brings joy and laughter to the world, and of realizing the affection of his TV-hero-cum-father-figure Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, channeling both Johnny Carson and "Network's" Peter Finch). Alas, Arthur's not even a little funny - not even in an Andy Kaufman kind of way. All of these things lead to a fateful, but chance, subway encounter that puts a match to the powder keg, both for Gotham and for Arthur's fragile consciousness.

Unfortunately, "Joker" struggles with originality - the elements borrowed from "Taxi Driver," "Death Wish," "Pi," "Psycho," "The Machinist," and countless other movies about madness and urban decay are not hard to spot. The larger context of a city eating itself alive over wealth inequality left me unsatisfied; it's hard to be both a treatise on the descent into madness AND a social commentary in 122 minutes.  The "V for Vendetta"-meets-Occupy Wall Street" B-plot doesn't add anything other than a convenient means to move along the madness story line. Disappointingly, Arthur doesn't spend much time interacting meaningfully with it - it's mainly just background and context. There is also a retcon tightrope-walk that first challenged, and then pulled me right out of the movie.  But if you can embrace the madness plot line and ignore the rest, it's challenging, interesting and not overly predictable.

Phillips has done a great job of world-building, much as Nolan built a believable Gotham in his Bat-Trilogy; this town feels authentic and coarse in a way not really seen since the likes of 70's cinema greats like "The French Connection" or "The Warriors." Lawrence Sher's cinematography also nails things down, with excellent lighting and lens work supporting the environment and action without drawing attention to itself. "Joker" isn't playing against the Avengers, or even the other Bat-Flicks. It's playing against its inspiration and forebearers: taut, psychological thrillers playing out high-stakes drama in realistic worlds.  On that merit, it's a success.

Special credit is also due to Hildur Guðnadóttir ("Sicario: Day of the Soldado") for composing a truly effective score: the music is quite brilliant in establishing and maintaining the film's mood. It recalls the haunting score from Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." The pop music references are a bit on the big red nose - "Send in the Clowns," in a Joker movie?  Sigh.

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However... I don't think I ultimately liked "Joker." Originality problems aside, I'm not satisfied that this movie - a violent, hard-R, uncomfortable piece - demonstrated why it needs to exist. This isn't a background story for a Joker we already know, and based on the structure of this universe, I can't image we'll be seeing this Joker fight his universe's Batman (unless it's Geriatric Joker vs In His Prime Batman). In addition, while Arthur ends up a sociopathic killer (don't cry spoilers, you knew this was the end game for the character), he doesn't meet the standard that we expect of The Joker. He just never comes near to what is arguably the preeminent archetype of a supervillain. In this regard, "Joker" is like "Solo," an origin story we never really wanted or needed... except in this case, it wasn't doomed to that fate. "Joker" could have been truly great if it had laid the groundwork leading to that grander scheme of things. But it doesn't, and it's not; Joker is ultimately just a collection of notes from the movies I mentioned above, with some DC universe names slapped on the characters. And that's a terrible punchline to what could have be a historically great joke.

Lastly, there has been much discussion about the violence and broader social implications of this film, to say nothing of the concerns about people doing horrible things in real life following some sort of inspiration seen on screen. I will say that I am unsettled by what this film says and shows about mental illness, both overtly and covertly. It does level some real criticism about neglect in the mental health care system, but then turns it into a modus operandi, or a least an excuse, for horrifying violence. This is not to say I'm clutching at my pearls over the violence - I'm just not sure that "Joker" delivers the message in the right manner. And I must confess, there were more than a few moments where the reaction in my screening room was simply disconcerting. Laughter, cheers, and applause to horrifying on-screen action at moments not evidently intended to generate those reactions left me troubled and reinforced my concern about what underlying messages were in play.

It is evident that this film will continue to elicit a range of personal reactions from audiences, and it's clearly a polarizing piece; some viewers will love it, some will hate it. Some, as I did, will walk away conflicted: in the end I can respect "Joker" for what it is trying to accomplish, even if I didn't much like it.


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