Just released from a mental institution after a breakdown and afflicted with hysterical laughter when he feels stress, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is unappreciated. He believes himself destined to be a comedian, but the only job he can get is as a clown.

      To escape his grim reality, he and his infirm mother watch talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) obsessively, Arthur fantasizing about being a guest on the show.

     His life of rejection plays out against a city, Gotham, on the brink of riot. People can’t make ends meet; crime is on the rise; garbage clogs the streets. 

     As the city crumbles, so does Arthur. His fantasies turn violent. He gets a gun. He teeters on a knife’s edge until he makes a violent choice that will pull him and Gotham into a downward spiral.

      This is a movie that clearly aspires to be more. What it aspires to be already was: Taxi Driver. Martin Scorsese’s trademarks are all over Joker. And the De Niro plot is borrowed from Scorsese’s The King of Comedy.

      Director Todd Phillips (War Dogs) lacks the command of the master he imitates. Twists and turns are over-explained. Dialogue is clunky. His unhappy people scream into the void.

      On top of that, it’s a comic book movie, tied to a famous origin story we’ve seen dozens of times. 

      What this film needs is an actor to save it. Phoenix does that, in a mesmerizing performance. His Arthur is a pile of skin and bones, contorting as he tries to deal with each blow life sends him. His fundamentally broken expression makes Arthur pitiful and terrifying. It’s a wonderful turn.

      If you’re a fan of DC comics or great acting, this faulty flick should be worth the ticket. If you’ve never heard of Martin Scorsese, you’ll probably enjoy it more. 

Fair Drama • R • 122 mins.

~~~ New this Week ~~~

The Addams Family

       The Addams are not your typical family. Gregarious Goths with plenty of ghoulish pets, when they move into a New Jersey town, the neighbors don’t welcome a disembodied hand and a Frankenstein monster. 

      Can the Addams family convince the neighbors that ghouls are cool? 

      This new reimagining of the first family of Halloween is animated, designed to look like the Charles Addams cartoon that started the phenomenon. It should have plenty of goofy gags and horror movie jokes. If you’re a fan of quirky comedy and want to introduce your young ones to morbid humor, this should be a great low-scare Halloween treat. 

Prospects: Bright • PG • 105 mins.

Gemini Man

      Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is the best assassin in the business. But a rival who seems to anticipate his moves endangers his status and his life. His rival has the unique advantage of being Henry’s clone. 

      Is Henry doomed to die by his own hands? 

      Both convoluted action plots and clone fighting tend to disappoint. Also, de-aging CGI can only go so far. Don’t be surprised if Smith doesn’t look younger, just creepy.

Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 117 mins.