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September 15, 2010 5:15 pm
|Joaquin Phoenix in ‘I’m Still Here’|
I’m Still Here, (
Tabloid-surfers know the story so far. Phoenix, two-time Oscar nominee, said a much-publicised goodbye to acting, grew a beard, tried to become a hip-hop singer, failed to be the Eminem of ex-Hollywood, and has been completing the arc of his downfall with drugs, prostitutes and violent quarrels with friends. In the film one of his friends takes revenge – recorded by a night-vision camera – by lowering his trousers and dropping a bodily substance on the sleeping Phoenix’s face.
Earlier scenes feature a hooker from whose breast Phoenix licks cocaine. And there is the infamous David Letterman Show on which, as chief guest, Phoenix barely mumbled a comprehensible word. Letterman says goodbye with, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight”.
Is it all true? Or a hoax? Does Phoenix want to be hated? Or to endear himself to us by hamming up his adversities, known or notional? There is a mesmerising moment when rapper P. Diddy, listening to a demo tape the actor has brought into his studio, gives the camera a look that says, “Am I really hearing this? Is there an escape tunnel available?”
As director Casey Affleck does a brilliantly invisible job. We barely even think “fly on the wall”; we assume there are no walls. Someone is stealing a peek into a celebrity’s mind and seeing all the rot inside. It would be enough to condemn a building. But showbiz being the world it is, primeval or punishable behaviour – bear witness, George Michael, Robert Downey, Lindsay Lohan – sometimes helps a career stay buzzed, beatified, even zoned for preservation.
It could be a Hemingway story, enriched by Robert Flaherty, the docu-enchanter of Louisiana Story and Elephant Boy. Individual shots are doodles in a visual diary, disconnected yet organic: a boy’s feet balancing on a bobbing boat-edge, a surprised lobster speared in its coral bed. A picture builds slowly, like a coral reef, of parent-child love. Teaching is integrated into play. Pain – that of impending separation – is latent in the pleasure voyage. (The father is separated from the Italian mother, glimpsed at beginning and end).
It is almost a “silent movie”, even amid speech. But by the end, when a bottle with a boy’s message in it, thrown into the sea, is rhymed in the next and final shot with a bubble blown over a Rome park, we realise a perfect story has been told. That of a boy creating his formative memories, fragile, translucent, eternal.
“How about some deer stew?” says someone in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, (
This decent, flat-toned, earnestly naturalistic film is a typical Sundance laureate. A teenage girl (Jennifer Lawrence of The Burning Plain) searches for her bail-jumped father when his disappearance threatens her house and her ailing mother and two small siblings. The literate script (based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell) is delivered by the actors with a lifeless beat. Like a Botoxed face, the movie never shows an interesting wrinkle or passion-attesting lifeline. Amid the rural tableaux and bluesy banjo twangles the most we get – for “vivid”, never mind visceral – are a lesson in squirrel-gutting and a scene of late-night corpse-fishing. Both are as demure as the well-scrubbed little siblings, who end up adopting a brood of orphaned chicks, in a touch for the Sundance slowcoaches. They might not have realised they are watching a tale of the dispossessed, the parent-bereaved, the nest-threatened . . .
Flying over every filmgoer’s roof should be a banner with the bold device, “Never give up”. Not even on Will Ferrell. The moose-faced comic who has stumbled from one half-dud comedy to another now makes The Other Guys
|Will Ferrell and Steve Coogan in ‘The Other Guys’|
This pair wants to leave pen-pushing for the dizzy dangers of street action. Or Wahlberg does. They bicker like marrieds. Like marrieds they learn each other’s guilty secrets. (Wahlberg can ballet dance, a skill developed, he insists, to make fun of wimpy schoolmates. Ferrell: “You mean you learned to dance like that sarcastically?”). Like marrieds they scream around the roads giving each other directions, once they have muscled in on a mission to investigate white-collar crook Coogan.
Top jokes are thrown away, including the 10-second skit of a cop lecturing a school class: “Do your best not to be black or Hispanic. . .” And we can only run past the running gag of the bribes Ferrell/Wahlberg keep taking inadvertently from Coogan. (Damn, they have succumbed to another free Knicks game or Broadway show.) Or the “good cop, bad cop” routine that goes wrong. Or – oh just go and see it. And send me the bill if you don’t laugh.
Don’t send me any bill if you don’t scream during The Horde (
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