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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Joker

“The Shed” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Here’s an interesting tidbit I learned from a documentary about notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who did part-time clown work: His makeup was done wrong. Professional clowns know to never use shapes like triangles or put any sharp points on their makeup—it’s frightening to children. The pros use only round, soft shapes. This is perhaps why some people are afraid of clowns. Their parents hired an amateur clown for a birthday party when they were little, and the jagged edges on the clown’s makeup scared them. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix, giving the best performance of the year regardless of what any award shows have to say about it) was one of the clowns who would scare children.

Arthur goes by the clown name Carnival, but as we know by the title of the movie, he eventually adopts the name Joker. While “Joker” may be part of the DC comic book universe, this is a dark and gritty origin story like no other. The movie takes place in 1981. There is a garbage collector’s strike in Gotham that causes trash to pile up everywhere, the streets are flooded with hoodlums who will beat people up for fun, and there is an underlying tension between the haves and the have-nots that is ready to bust out into Gotham society at large.

Arthur is a victim of every aspect of this society, one that ignores him at best and one that beats him down at worst. I also can’t help but see a deeper, underlying theme in “Joker” given that its director, Todd Phillips, made some classic comedies of the first decade of the 2000s, including “Old School” and “The Hangover.” In addition to clown work, Arthur is an aspiring standup comedian. There are many instances through “Joker” where Arthur is doing his job, trying to make people laugh with his jokes and clowning, only to have others scold, mock, ridicule, and beat him. I think this could be Phillips’ metaphorical way of commenting on how comedians are constantly guilted, shamed, and forced to apologize for jokes in today’s keyboard warrior culture. Only instead of some spineless, anonymous d-bag ranting on Tumblr about how butt hurt they are over some comedian’s joke from thirty years ago, the condemnation of Arthur is more up front and physically violent as well as verbal.

The taunting, mocking, ridiculing, and beating down does not end on the streets, however. Late night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, having an excellent year between this and “The Irishman”) gets a hold of a video of one of Arthur’s attempts at standup comedy and puts it on the air for the nation to see. The video is a hit and Arthur is invited on to Murray’s show. This is where Phillips’s thoughts on the state of comedy today really come through. Arthur tells an off-color joke and is immediately told that he’s not allowed to joke about such things because society says so. Arthur counters by stating that comedy is subjective—just because they don’t find it funny, it doesn’t mean that he should be censored. If there was ever a scene in a movie that perfectly drives the point home about the problem with the uptight, obnoxious, judgmental, bossy, sanctimonious, joyless buzzkills that are a part of PC cancel culture, this scene is it. Arthur may be no hero—not by a long shot—but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a valid point. And boy, does he ever. Buy it.

Also New This Week

The Shed

The premise for “The Shed” is simple: Small town seventeen-year-old Stan (Jay Jay Warren) has a bloodthirsty vampire (Frank Whaley) locked in his shed and he must figure out what to do with him. Stan also has a best friend named Dommer (Cody Kostro) who is being bullied, an abusive grandfather named Ellis (Timothy Bottoms) who he is constantly at odds with, and female friend Roxy (Sofia Happonen), who he has a crush on. The local Sheriff Dorney (Siobhan Fallon Hogan) even knows him by name and gives him a ride to school in one scene.

The story of the “The Shed” is like something that would have been written by Stephen King and John Hughes had they ever teamed up (side thought: How awesome would that have been?), with a little bit of the ‘80s movie “Tuff Turf” thrown into the mix. Makes sense given that judging by the clothes and cars, as well as the audio and video cassettes, this movie takes place in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.

The monster makeup, for what little we see of it, looks good. The dramatic scenes are well-written and well-acted, complete with Stan’s hair being ever so perfectly disheveled to give him a rebellious look. I appreciate this movie for taking the time to build its characters before plunging them into the horror of having to deal with the monster in the shed.

My appreciation, however, ends there. Plot-wise “The Shed” is a major let down. We’re teased in the beginning about Stan’s parents and the reason why he has to live with his grandfather but it is never made clear. This could be forgiven if the movie was not chock full of other plot contrivances and head scratching story choices, or if the movie’s narrative flowed in a more clear manner. I can’t help but think that if screenwriter and director Frank Sabatella had taken a little more time to polish his script and make it more coherent, the final product would not have been as confusing and ill-conceived as it is, especially in the final act. Stream it.

More New Releases: “The Lighthouse,” the story of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson; and “Crown Vic,” which follows one memorable night in the life of LAPD officer Ray Mandel while hunting two cop killers on the loose, starring Thomas Jane, David Krumholtz, and Bridget Moynahan.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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