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Update October, 2019

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Arts - Entertainment - Film Review World

Film Review: ‘Joker’ laughs its way to October box office record


This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from the film, “Joker.” (Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

Los Angeles (AP) — The filmmakers and studio behind “Joker” have reason to put on a happy face. Despite concerns over its violent themes and ramped up theater security, audiences flocked to the multiplex to check out the R-rated film this weekend resulting in a record October opening.

Warner Bros. said Sunday that “Joker” grossed an estimated $93.5 million in ticket sales from 4,374 screens in North America. The previous October record-holder was the Spider-Man spinoff “Venom” which opened to $80 million last year. Internationally, “Joker” earned $140.5 million from 73 markets, resulting in a stunning $234 million global debut.

“This was a much larger result at the box office than we had ever anticipated globally,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution. “Putting records aside, we’re just thrilled that audiences are embracing the movie as strong as they are.”

Since debuting at the Venice Film Festival where it won the prestigious Golden Lion last month, “Joker” has been both praised and criticized for its dark spin on the classic Batman villain played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film from director and co-writer Todd Phillips was always seen as a bit of a gamble with one of the studios’ most valuable pieces of intellectual property, hence its modest-for-a-comic-book-film $55 million budget.

But in the weeks leading up to its release, hype and uneasiness intensified beyond how audiences would react to placing this character in a realistic and unambiguously adult setting with “Taxi Driver” undertones. Responding to anxiety that the film might have the potential to inspire violence, multiple theater chains banned costumes or reaffirmed earlier policies regarding masks and authorities in numerous cities said they were stepping police patrols around theaters. Some relatives of the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting even asked Warner Bros. to commit to gun control causes — the studio said it always has.

While some worried this would impact the box office, it did not ultimately detract audiences from turning out opening weekend; the box office surpassed industry expectations and may rise even higher when weekend actuals are reported. Although the film got a B+ CinemaScore from opening night audiences, the studio is optimistic about its long-term playability.

“Sixty-six percent of the audience was under the age of 35,” Goldstein said. “That tells you that the audience will expand out with that younger group as time goes on.” The younger audience also gave the film a more favorable A- CinemaScore.

Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for box office tracker Comscore, said that the convergence of critical acclaim and controversy actually helped the film become bigger than expected at the box office.

“It’s the ultimate water-cooler movie right now,” Dergarabedian said.

He added that it was important that “Joker” was always marketed as a “very dark, R-rated film.”

“It always had an element of mystery and danger surrounding it,” Dergarabedian said. “If it were a G-rated film, controversy like this would not be a good thing.”

In the landscape of R-rated comic book films, “Joker” is nestled between “Deadpool” and its sequel, both of which opened over $125 million, and “Logan,” which launched with $88.4 million.

“Joker” was the only new wide release this weekend, which is down from last year when both “Venom” and “A Star is Born” opened. Holdovers populated the top 10: The more family friendly “Abominable” landed in second place with $12 million in its second weekend and “Downton Abbey” took third in its third weekend with $8 million.

Film Review: A space odyssey with Brad Pitt in 'Ad Astra'

This image shows Brad Pitt in a scene from the film "Ad Astra".
(Francois Duhamel/20th Century Fox via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - Having stayed rigorously close to his native New York for much of his career, writer-director James Gray has lately been making up for lost time. His last film, "The Lost City of Z," journeyed into the Amazon, circa early 20th century. His latest, "Ad Astra," skitters across the solar system like a stone skipped through space.

Both films aren't merely changes in setting. They're inherently about leaving home — the sacrifice entailed, the wonders to be discovered, the cost of obsessions that require pursuit. It's fitting that they follow Gray's masterpiece, "The Immigrant," a profound and melancholic tale of passage. Whether orbiting New York or Neptune, Gray has been on the move for some time.

"Ad Astra," starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut in the near future, is easily the most expensive production yet for Gray ("We Own the Night," ''Two Lovers"). Its timing is fortuitous. Coming on the heels of Pitt's radiant performance in "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood," ''Ad Astra" seems almost like an encore amid all the (deserved) celebration of its lead performer, a singular star in a movie universe with few that can match his luster.

But "Ad Astra," more intimate than it is majestic, is much more than a rocket-fueled vehicle for its star. It's a ruminative, mythical space adventure propelled by father-son issues of cosmic proportions. Pitt's Roy McBride is ordered to the far reaches of the solar system to make contact with his previously presumed dead father, a legendary space explorer named H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones).

He's feared to have gone mad, and is suspected of having something to do with power surges playing havoc with Earth's electronics. In the film's staggering first moments, McBride is working on a miles-high antenna, like Jack on a beanstalk to the sky, when a surge sweeps over it. Explosions follow and McBride plummets through the stratosphere.

"Ad Astra" is mapped like "Apocalypse Now." (Gray is so devoted a Coppola fan that he ranks dinners by the director's oeuvre.) Instead of an ominous, top-secret trek down a Vietnamese river toward Colonel Kurtz, McBride is hopping between planetary stations (a string of colonized bases exist on the moon and Mars, with Neptune the next destination) en route to another missing hero-turned-psychopath, with a mission to potentially search and destroy. That this is Roy's father, whom he hasn't seen since he was a youngster, adds significantly to the implications of the journey.

Pitt's astronaut is a solitary figure, taciturn and cool under pressure. Much of the charisma he so effortlessly displayed in "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" has gone into hiding, replaced with a more pensive and subtle performance. His space voyage comes in contact with a handful of colorful figures, all of them underused (Donald Sutherland, Natasha Lyonne, Ruth Negga, a pair of rabid space baboons). But Roy's chiefly in dialogue with himself and the old video transmissions from his father.

In copious amounts of voice over and frequent confessional-like psychological evaluations, Roy narrates his psychological voyage through the stars. "I will not allow my mind to linger on that which is not important," he says early in the film, pledging his devotion to the mission. It's a line that will come to mean something else to Roy as he gets further and further from home (he leaves behind an ex-wife, played by Liv Tyler), and goes deeper and deeper into his — and his father's — obsessions. The nature of ambition gets deconstructed. Grandiosity gets toppled by elemental humanity.

Gray, of course, is only the most recent master-filmmaker to seek existential truths in the remoteness of space. There was Claire Denis' "High Life" earlier this year and Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" in 2014. The latter bears some similar DNA with "Ad Astra." But Nolan lingered much more on the life and family left behind by its space traveler (Matthew McConaughey). Gray, a more restrained director, gives us little of Roy's earthly life, something that dulls the movie's emotional arc when Roy begins to look backward.

Where I think "Ad Astra" misses the mark is in so closely marrying its subtext with its text. Roy is navigating his relationship to his absent father both literally and figuratively. Daddy issues, alone, can take you only so far, even if it's to Neptune. Aside from verging on the one-note, that focus constricts the very linear, very self-contained "Ad Astra," a taut but inflexible chamber piece in a genre given to symphony.

That minimalism, though, is also part of the considerable appeal of "Ad Astra." The placid surface of Pitt's carefully calibrated performance slowly cracks. And it's often riveting to watch how Gray remakes fairly familiar science-fiction terrain. Working with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (who also shot "Interstellar"), Gray brings his typically formalist style and firm command to stripped-down scenes that approach the sublime. A dazzling chase sequence with buggy-riding pirates on the moon is depicted nearly soundlessly.

Gray has a gift for shrinking massive set pieces and enlarging private dramas. In "Ad Astra," he travels 2.7 billion miles through space. It's a long way to go for a talk with your dad, but a fair distance for uncovering a ray of hope in a lifeless void.

"Ad Astra," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language. Running time: 124 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Julie Andrews to receive American Film Institute honor

Actress Julie Andrews is shown in this Sept. 29, 2015 file photo. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Los Angeles (AP) - The American Film Institute is honoring Julie Andrews with its Life Achievement Award.

The organization said that Andrews will receive the award at the Gala Tribute on April 25 next year in Los Angeles.

Andrews' acting career has spanned several decades, winning an Academy Award in 1965 for her starring role in "Mary Poppins." She also starred in "The Sound of Music" and "The Princess Diaries."

Andrews received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. She also won two Grammys through "Mary Poppins" and "Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies."

The 83-year-old actress will be the 48th recipient of the prestigious honor from the AFI, joining Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and George Clooney. This year's honoree was Denzel Washington.


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

‘Joker’ laughs its way to October box office record

A space odyssey with Brad Pitt in 'Ad Astra'

Julie Andrews to receive American Film Institute honor