Tag Archives: Joaquin Phoenix

Don’t Worry. He Won’t Get Far On Foot

John Callahan was a dedicated alcoholic when he had a life-changing accident that left him paralyzed.

Post-accident, the path to sobriety isn’t exactly direct. Between the struggle to accept his new limitations, learning to live in a chair, caring for his broken body, and searching for the mother who gave him up at birth, there are a lot of reasons to drink. Of course, there’s always a reason to drink. Only when he truly embraces the value of AA, with the help of group leader Donny (Jonah Hill), does he start to imagine a future for himself. And he finds a healthy way to channel his anger and his energy and his wonderment: cartoons.

MV5BMjMyMTY2MzYxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTEwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Callahan is injured enough that he cannot grasp a pen but he manages somehow to manipulate a felt-tip pen between two mangled hands and he finds inspiration in his life to create funny, and often controversial cartoons. His student paper sees fit to publish him and from there he develops a national following.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is a line ripped from one of his own cartoons; the movie is adapted from Callaghan’s memoir. Director Gus Van Sant wants to say something about the healing power of art but the movie itself reads more like a tribute to support systems and the importance of forgiveness without dipping into the considerable well of inspirational cliches.

It’s a dark comedy, as you can imagine, but between Jack Black, Jonah Hill, and an orange-haired Joaquin Phoenix wielding his wheel chair like a bat on wheels, there’s some appreciated levity to all the drama. It’s an off-beat comedy about an off-beat guy. Phoenix is irrepressible.

Sean didn’t care for the movie – he felt not much had happened. I liked it well enough – I liked the unexpected performances from the likes of Beth Ditto, Carrie Brownstein, and Kim Gordon. I liked that Callaghan’s dark vein of humour is kept in tact throughout transformation, that he doesn’t become some sort of saint, merely the same caustic guy with a new lease on life. I liked that his past is never treated like an excuse – not that I’m not sympathetic to his victimhood but I like that he finds his salvation elsewhere, that he’s allowed to not solve the puzzle of his childhood before finding peace in his present. The 12 steps are not equally cinematic, but I felt Phoenix’s charismatic performance carried us through. Obviously Sean disagreed, so I guess I’d call this a mixed-bag review. It’s not for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TIFF18: The Sisters Brothers

Murder and machismo, that’s what you’re in for when you sit down to watch The Sisters Brothers. Charlie and Eli Sisters are a couple of guns for hire. They care deeply about maintaining their bad reputations, which shouldn’t be a problem as long as they keep working for The Commodore, a fearsome and violent man.

Their next mission, should they choose to accept it: kill Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who’s got something The Commodore wants. A professional scout, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), is already tracking him, and once located, the Sisters Brothers ride in for the dirty work.

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play the brothers – Phoenix the younger brother, Charlie, but natural leader of the two. He’s more violent and more gung-ho. Reilly, on theMV5BNWE3MDAwMDgtZGY0MS00OGM3LTk4MzEtYjIxODZkMDc0NGY2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1496,1000_AL_ other hand, gives Eli a slightly sweeter disposition. He dreams of retirement but remains in the game to keep watch over his brother, who’s a drunk always looking for trouble, and always, always finding it. Eli pines for a woman who was kind to him once. He laments the fate of his pitiable horse. He cuts his brother’s hair.

When the foursome finally meet up, Herman isn’t the villain everyone anticipated, and his commodity proves irresistible to anyone who hears about it. But if his body and potion aren’t offered up to The Commodore in a hurry, there’ll be hell to pay. With allegiances divided and a different ending standing tantalizingly before them, what will the Sisters Brothers choose, and how will the body count be affected? Because there WILL be a body count, make no mistake on that.

The Sisters Brothers is adapted from a book I absolutely adored and passed around to nearly everyone I know, by  Canadian author Patrick DeWitt. John C. Reilly also read it and loved it, and he optioned the book in 2011; he produces this film alongside his wife, Alison Dickey, an indie film producer he met on the set of Casualties of War when she was an assistant to Sean Penn – they’ve been married for over 25 years). They’ve tapped French director Jacques Audiard to helm this shoot-em-up western, and Audiard gives it a sensibility that’s weird and eccentric. Not your typical western, not your typical anything. It’s as funny as it is violent, and both characters and story break out of the genre frequently enough to surprise you.

The acting is great. Riz Ahmed especially gives Herman’s character a bit of a twist, colouring the movie with a slightly more optimistic or meditative vibe. But of course the film belongs to Reilly and he knows it. Though I wish we would have spent a little more time with Eli alone, away from his brother’s influence, deeper into his psyche (flashbacks, I suppose, would have been nice), there’s still something very special going on there, something half-sweet (Eli is still a bad man), half-innocent, half-introspective, half-other-worldly. These aren’t necessarily the kind of cowboys you’re used to but I enjoy the genre’s subversion, the clever hacks that elevate it to something unique and fun to watch. DeWitt’s novel is quite good and I urge you to read it. But unlike many adaptations, this film captures some of its surprising warmth. Despite the Sisters Brothers being contract killers, we find a fair bit of compassion for them as they unravel the traumas of their past and seek a path forward, perhaps not quite forged in enlightenment, but in understanding, and from a need to do and be better.

Charlie and Eli are a some of the most interesting characters to come out of the western genre. Charlie simmers with anger. Eli ooze regret. The brothers bicker like an old married couple but they have each other’s backs when needed – and if often is. But no matter how much sympathy we’re feeling for them, Audiard doesn’t shy away from the fact that the guns on their hips are used to commit murder, for money. Their morals are for sale to the highest bidder. It makes them complex, and eminently watchable.

 

You Were Never Really Here

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a troubled war veteran and basically a hired gun, specializing in the finding and retrieving of missing and trafficked young girls. He lives with his elderly mother (Judith Roberts), who is the only person left in his life. And once you start seeing what’s in his head, you’ll understand why. He’s haunted by flashbacks, riddled with PTSD. It’s rough stuff, and it’s hard to keep straight. It actually appears hard for him to keep straight, and as he grapples with thoughts of suicide and questions of sanity, it seems his past might be catching up with him.

But the present’s not much better. His next job is to rescue Nina, a 13 year old girl MV5BNDQwOGQyYTMtNTc2MS00Nzg3LTgyMjctOWFmM2YzZWE3YTBlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_being held in a brothel. Her father works for the government and doesn’t want to get police involved. And if Joe could, you know, fuck up the men who did this to her, he’d be pleased. But walking a mile in Joe’s boots is never straight forward. He’s plagued by violent images, by death, by his own abusive childhood.

Once the killing starts, it doesn’t end, and Joe is basically a zombie, barely evading death, and barely caring. Writer-director Lynne Ramsay keeps us off kilter with static-y flashbacks. We’re as unbalanced as Joe is, and we’re unable to really trust everything we see. It’s disorienting and clever, unhinged and a little scary since we never know what we’re walking into. It’s gory, or course, likely enough blood to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, but we start to feel anesthetized to it because Joe barely registers it. Joaquin Phoenix really sells it. He sells a man who stopped caring about himself a long time ago. Who doesn’t trust his own reality, and isn’t particularly bothered by it. He suffers from these violent memories but nothing really jolts him from his stupor. It’s a great performance. And Ramsay somehow manages to evoke sympathy for this wounded soldier. She makes this action movie something special, something worth watching, even if the finished product is rather like a nightmare.

Irrational Man

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a burned out, impotent philosophy professor who’s looking for the will to live. A fellow teacher (Parker Posey) throws herself at him and a pretty and 45-Irrational-Man_1promising student (Emma Stone) engages him mentally, but he’s still, shall we say, unresponsive, until he starts plotting a hypothetical murder.

Joaquin and Emma have an easy rapport that’s eminently watchable, when the dialogue’s not getting in the way. The story is partially inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, about a university student who commits murder to prove that he is morally superior to other people. But both Dostoevsky’s student and Woody Allen’s professor are only pretending that murder would be to help others, or the world in general. In fact, it’s a pretty selfish pursuit, even when purely cerebral. Can thoughts of murder really be a “creative 635725682661364214-11-1600x900-c-defaultendeavour”, or is that just the typical justification of an unfulfilled philosophy professor?

Woody Allen struggles to sound authentic around some of the philosophical arguments, and Joaquin doesn’t do a much better job conveying them. And Allen’s dialogue surrounding the erection difficulty is as stilted and awkward  as only Woody Allen can be – which doesn’t quite sound right coming from Joaquin, even with his 30 pounds of pot belly. Allen’s more adept with the cynicism and the dark humour (not to mention age-inappropriate romance), and when the material’s good, he’s hired actors talented enough to handle it. So this movie is not without merit. It’s also just not very original (even among Allen’s oeuvre) or very necessary, and the unevenness almost drove me batty.

Verdict: quintessential mediocre Allen.

10 Magical Movie Moments

In response to A Fistful of Films’ blogathon, 10 Perfect Cinematic Moments, here are Sean’s. Check out Matt’s and Jay’s as well!

The Usual Suspects – “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled…”

As surprised as I was to find out Kaiser Sose’s identity, it was the way the reveal was handled that puts it on this list. This is more than a “gotcha” moment; it is an amazing sequence that was perfectly executed by Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri and Brian Singer, and I am sure a lot of others. The movie would still be good if this sequence was something less, but the scene makes this movie a classic and makes this moment one of my favourites.

Gladiator – Battle of Carthage

This battle is not the film’s climactic one but it is the turning point in this movie. For Russell Crowe’s Maximus, it is his rebirth. For his fellow gladiators, it is when they find their leader. And for Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus, it is when he realizes his days are numbered. It is such a fantastic battle that is so well filmed, has such high stakes, and perfectly captures that underdog victory feeling.

E.T. – Flying Bicycles!

This was the first moment that Jay and I came up with for this list, and at the same time, I think that says a lot. Of all the moments ever filmed, this one comes to mind because it is so magical and unexpected,  because it really shows you that anything is possible and there are no limits at all – if you can dream it, you can do it. That is the essence of movies and that feeling is what we hope to see captured in some new way every time we see something new.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – “I am your father”

I had to put this one on here.  It’s part of my childhood.  This was the moment I realized that things are not just black and white.  There isn’t just good and evil.  It took me a while to understand how this was possible but when I figured it out I loved what it said about the world (though I was a little scared by it too).  By the way, Darth Vader’s life before these movies was much better in my head than it was when put up on-screen in Episodes 1-3.  And it always is, isn’t it?  Some things are better left to your imagination.

Big – The Big Piano

How perfect is this moment?  So perfect that when I went to New York for the first time only a few years ago, seeing this piano made me feel like a big kid.  Exactly the way I like to think Robert Loggia is made to feel by Tom Hanks’ Josh in this scene.  It’s hard to keep touch with that feeling in the abstract, sometimes we need help. This scene gives me that help every time and that is a powerful thing.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – Swordfight

This swordfight is not much of a fight at all.  It is totally one-sided and that is what makes it so brilliant.  Indiana Jones’ reaction here sums up the character perfectly – there are no rules, this is not about being a hero, there is just a goal that he is going to accomplish and no one will stand in his way.  Steven Spielberg has such a gift at doing that, at distilling things into a five second wordless sequence that others would have to spend dialogue and time on.  It’s so much better this way.

Rocky – Gonna Fly Now

Rocky has gone through a lot at this point.  He hasn’t had an easy life and he has been trying to become more than a punched-out shell.  Not many believe in him, possibly including a lot in the audience.  This scene is where it turns around, for Rocky anyway.  After this it doesn’t matter what happens, he’s already won.

Singing in the Rain – Singing in the Rain!

For a movie that has been around more than 50 years, it took me a while to get to it.  I shouldn’t have waited that long!  Singing in the Rain is amazing all the way through but the title song is really something special and stands out above all else.  It is simply magical and no one else does it like Gene Kelly does.  Brilliant!

Days of Thunder – “He always goes to the outside”

Cole Trickle plays the long game in this movie.  He spends an hour of screen time setting up Russ Wheeler for this moment, and we all see it coming but Russ himself.  I like that we see it coming.  It makes it that much better when Cole slingshots past Russ, and the best part is that Cole still takes the time to smash Russ into the wall.  Of course he did.  That’s Cole Trickle.

Amelie – Walking with a Blind Man

This one gets me every time.  It is so joyous and so magical with so much energy.  Again it feels like the movie leads up to this point.  The music adds so much and it’s another moment where director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is not constrained by the rules of our world.  If a blind man is happy why shouldn’t he glow?  It just makes sense.

Inherent Vice is finally playing in Ottawa!

I couldn’t wait to see this. I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Pynchon’s beautifully written but always entertaining novel and couldn’t wait to see what the always unpredictable writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson was going to do with it. PTA hasn’t been very accessible lately with almost painfully slow and light on dialogue movies like There Will Be Blood and The Master. I have watched and rewatched those movies and think they’re great but will still always prefer his more exciting earlier work (Boogie Nights, Magnolia). Inherent Vice, about an almost constantly stoned hippie private eye working a hopelessly confusing case, seemed like it might be a bit of a return to form.inherent vice 2

Although probably much more engaging to mainstream audiences, Inherent Vice still has more in common with The Master than it does, say, Boogie Nights. It gets our attention immediately with missing ex-girlfriends, frameups, murders, and an ominous message Beware the Golden Fang! It gets more and more demanding as it goes on however, as Doc gets more and more information through a fog of marijuana smoke and it becomes tougher and tougher to tell the reality from the hallucinations.

The mystery held my attention even as I started to lose my way. The cast of interested parties and suspects started to become unmanageable for me and, although all the bizarre supporting characters are well-cast and usually compelling, I lost track of them all at a certain point and even now couldn’t tell you how they all fit in. In fact, I am pretty sure it doesn’t all fit together.

What’s most impressive about Inherent Vice is that I barely noticed how lost I was while I was watching it and it was only when jay asked me afterwards “So, what did happen to Mickey inherent viceWolfmann?” that I realized that I didn’t really know. I just enjoyed watching Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to keep it all straight. The story is really about Doc, a hippie in 1970 when hippies were a dying breed. Its a great character for Joaquin, who plays him as niave in an increasingly cynical world and as surprisingly sharp sometimes, despite being bumbling and as lost as we are most of the time. The situations he finds himself get increasingly absurd and hysterical but there’s always a dark and foreboding tone- sometimes in the background, sometimes front and center- that is made even trippier when seen through Doc’s stoned confusion.

As a whodunnit, Inherent Vice doesn’t make a lot of sense and doesn’t answer the question it raises clearly enough for most people’s taste. For fans of Paul Thomas Anderson, though, it moves his career in a new and interesting direction and I can’t wait to see how he’s going to try to follow this.