Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fan Film Theatre - Feature Presentations: "Patient J" (Aaron Schoenke, 2005)


Directed by Aaron Schoenke
Written by David Hammond, Aaron Schoenke and Sean Schoenke
Based on the DC Comic Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Produced by Sean Schoenke and Aaron Schoenke
Cinematography by Aaron Schoenke
Editing by Aaron Schoenke
Art Direction by Ron Rogge
Make-Up Design by Jeff West
Original Motion Picture Score composed by Sean Schoenke

Paul Molnar … The Joker
Kurt Carley … Henny Youngman; The Psychologist
Robert Tovani … Jason Todd/Robin
Rachel Nicole … Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn
Sean Olney … Arkham Guard
Rusty Locke … Red Hood Thug 1
Vince Adams … Red Hood Thug 2
Allen Harris … Joker Thug
Nicle Klepper … Joker Victim
Sophia Di Ferrigno … Joker’s Wife
Jessica Butler … Barbara Gordon
Kevin Porter … Batman

Deep in the basement of Arkham Asylum, a desperate psychologist has secretly set up an interview with the mass-murdering Joker.


Sometimes, the greatest Batman stories don’t focus on Batman at all, realizing that surrounding the caped crusader is a laundry list of intriguing, psychologically provocative characters rich with material to delve into.

With 2005’s “Patient J,” the focus is placed once more upon the Clown Prince of Crime himself and in the end, the film reminds us exactly why it is that, of all Batman’s foes, the Joker forever remains his most potent.


Deep within the cavernous under dwellings of Arkham Asylum, Psychologist Henny Youngman (Kurt Carley) sets up an impromptu meeting with the Joker (Paul Molnar) meant to fill the pages of a book the good doctor is currently penning.

As their discussion begins to descend into Joker’s history, his fixations with Batman and their mutual bloodstained relationship it soon becomes clear that tension is mounting.

The result is an extremely close and intriguing look at the off chance of what just might be the motivating factor of the Joker’s actions over all these years; a peek behind the veil as to what his madness entails.


Shot for the most part in one lone location (the basement of a haunted house in fact), “Patient J” is the perfect example of fans telling a story while knowing full well their limitations.

As a result, we’re not given a mediocre attempt at some feature length, three act narrative involving Batman battling his villains. No. Instead we’re given a menacing and well executed analysis of Batman’s deadliest and most unpredictable adversary. The film is about as moody as it gets, and it’s a great place to start when it comes to taking a deeper, more psychologically based look into Batman’s world through the Joker’s eyes. In many ways, the film argues that Joker is actually a more interesting character than Batman himself (I certainly don’t think a sit-down to delve into Wayne’s psyche would be nearly as enthralling, perhaps) and hearing the speculative reasonings given by screenwriter David Hammond and writer/director Aaron Schoenke to the Joker’s intent in what he does is exceedingly fascinating.

The production, following a trajectory started by Bat in the Sun’s earlier work, continues to improve as we’re given professionally executed costumes, cinematography, set decoration and, most notably, performances.

Casting is usually thrown to the winds for fan productions as the filmmakers generally turn to friends and acquaintances in order to fill roles with bodies. Here it’s no such thing.


I just love the tense chemistry between Carley and Molnar. In many ways, given that he IS the Joker after all, Paul gets an early start in taking the picture for himself, but when the twist occurs, Kurt pulls the reigns just as effectively. His ability to emote even in the earlier portions of the conversation when it seems he’s not is so subtle and so good.

For Paul, it’s clear that he’s being inspired by previous incarnations of the character, ranging most heavily from Mark Hamill’s turn in “Batman: The Animated Series” to Alan Moore’s “Killing Joke” graphic novel. That being said, it’s clear that it is inspiration and not downright plagiarism (like so many Ledger-wannabes these days). Paul has a sense of unpredictability in his eyes almost reminiscent of Michael Keaton as Batman that makes the film awfully tense. At any moment, he could conceivably leap across that table and kill Youngman; at least that’s the impression I got.

On the flipside, he has a crazy calm during the whole of the piece (thanks to his being ‘behind the curtain’) that makes his Joker all the more of a curiosity until he goes full blown with his punchline, giving us the menacing Joker we all know and love.

Aside from the discussion the two men are having, the film is bulked up with a trio collection of nifty and beautiful vignettes highlighting key points in Batman and Joker’s struggle with one another.


The first is staged, shot and produced in the same vein as the 40s film serials (although much cooler) and actually features Batman in his original costume from “Case of the Chemical Syndicate” (!) as it retells his encounter with the Red Hood from “Killing Joke.” I just loved the editing style here, with the quick single-frame cuts that seem lifted right out of the motion picture serials. And of course that moment when the Joker emerges from his chemical bath, complete with a mouth-full of foamy discharge (!) as his mind completely goes. So awesome!


The second, beginning as a slight homage to the 1960’s television series features Jason Todd as Robin the Boy Wonder and the dreaded account of the Joker beating him to death and leaving him to be caught in an explosion as told in the mid 80s epic “A Death in the Family.” The only thing I wish this scene had done more of is fill in on the fact that this took place in Ethiopia and not Gotham. You wouldn’t know that just by watching it.

But regardless, the scene is quite powerful; haunting really.

The moment where the Joker declares his wanting to be Robin’s best friend; I still find that chilling. We also get a great Neal Adams/Jim Aparo approach to Batman’s costume complete with the yellow-encircled Bat and the Blue/Gray color scheme.


The final is a fantasy; a ‘what-if’ scenario crafted by the Joker of his last conflict with Batman. It’s charming that it takes place in a theatre on a stage, just as the Joker feels the world to be. How he presents the final battle to an audience of empty seats (though to his twisted mind, perhaps they aren’t empty) is rather clever. Here we’re given a Jim Lee approach to Batman as well, lifted right out of the “HUSH” storyline.

The film’s score is pretty good, although it could’ve stood to be a bit more original (the track for the ‘Birth of the Joker’ sequence came from Aaron’s “Dark Justice” short film) but Sean did a wonderful job at presenting the anguish and morbid whimsy of the Joker and Arkham Asylum as a location.

I also LOVE the use of Nat King Cole’s “Smile.” It’s lovely (even in the demented context with which it’s used) and it’s a perfect fit for the Joker, as is Jim Carrey’s cover of “I Am the Walrus” for the film’s end credits.

In the end, without spoiling the ending, the film is a fascinating probe into the Joker’s conscious (and perhaps his subconscious). As I said before, it does remind you why he remains the end all, be all of the caped crusader’s villains.

Sort of like Spielberg and Film. How part of you resents the exposure he gets but when you stop to take a good look you realize that he’s so good at what he does that it’s earned him his position in the ranks?

That’s what “Patient J” does for the Joker.

Wonderfully crafted, charmingly macabre, “Patient J” is a wonderful tribute to arguably the single greatest villain in comic books.

Now, on with the show!




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