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Posts Tagged ‘Gus Van Sant’

Joaquin Phoenix

“DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT”  My rating: B

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot”  a seemingly hopeless alcoholic turns his life around after a car crash leaves him a quadriplegic.

Is it churlish of me to admit that I actually prefer the first part of the film — the drunken, obnoxious, grotesquely guzzling part — over the uplifting recovery-through-AA second half?

Gus Van Sant’s latest feature is the fact-based story of John Callahan, who with the one hand he could still partly control drew some of the blackest, funniest cartoons ever printed. The film’s title, in fact, is the caption of one of his scandalous creations:  A posse of cowboys on horseback come across an empty wheelchair  in the desert. “Don’t worry,” says the sheriff in charge, “he won’t get far on foot.”

Callahan, who died in 2010  at age 51, is portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix as a reprehensible asshole who — perhaps because of his traumatic infirmity — slowly discovers his own humanity and self-worth.

Certainly his pre-accident life was nothing to be proud of.  A native of the Portland area, Callahan worked manual labor and spent every recreational hour sucking down the booze. The film suggests that at least part of his problem was that he was abandoned as a child by his mother — evidently an unmarried Roman Catholic girl who gave up her baby to the nuns.  It was a betrayal that Callahan never got over…or perhaps he was just looking for an excuse for his destructive behavior.

He was also sexually abused as a child, although the film makes no mention of that.

Without actually showing the crash, Van Sant and his co-writers (Jack Gibson and William Andrew Eatman, adapting Callahan’s memoir) depict a day of furious barhopping by Callahan and his newfound drinking buddy Dexter (Jack Black). Rarely has unfettered, dedicated, puke-your-guts-out boozing been captured with such gleeful intensity. It’s appalling, certainly, but also weirdly attractive.

Callahan wakes up in an ER where an not-particularly-sympathetic MD gives him the bad news. He’ll probably never feel anything below the neck.

After months of rehab Callahan is introduced to a motorized wheelchair…which means he can now drive himself  to the liquor store and pick up where he left off.  Granted, it’s frustrating trying to rest a bottle in the elbow of one arm while using your only mobile hand to twist off the cap…but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do.

There’s a manic, almost Keystone Kops intensity to Callahan’s use of  his motorized wheelchair, which he drives at daredevil velocity, weaving in and out of street traffic. Now and then he overturns this mini-dune buggy and must be lifted back into the seat by a passerby. Even after getting clean, it’s obvious that he needs  some sort of addiction…now speed has replaced alcohol as his drug of choice.

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Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe

Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe

“SEA OF TREES” My rating: C

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

At the outset of Gus Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees,” a university lecturer played by Matthew McConaughey buys a one-way ticket to Tokyo and has a taxi deliver him at the entrance of Aokigahara,  a vast forest and park famous — or infamous — for the number of people who go there to commit suicide (100 or so each year…some of the bodies are never found).

Even before we see the signs advising visitors to think of heir families before killing themselves, we know that the American — eventually we learn his name is Arthur — is in bad shape. He’s hollow-eyed and morose and has a vial of little blue pills with which he plans to chug-a-lug himself into the hereafter.

Arthur hikes deep into the dark and eerie forest, but before he can do the deed  he is interrupted by Takumi (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese businessman wandering about lost, his shirt cuffs bloody from a botched attempt to slit his wrists. Apparently the guy’s career has spiraled into the crapper and he can’t stand to lose face.

Altruism trumps suicide, and Arthurs decides to put off offing himself until he can steer Takumi to a trail out of the park. It’s the decent thing to do. Except that Arthur is himself seriously injured in a horrendous fall off a cliff, and now the two men must rely on each other to — ironically enough — survive.

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Rosemary DeWitt and Matt Damon in "Promised Land"

Rosemary DeWitt and Matt Damon in “Promised Land”

“PROMISED LAND”  My rating: B+ (Opening Jan. 4 at the AMC Studio 30 and Barrywoods 24)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Matt Damon is this generation’s Jimmy Stewart. The guy rarely looks like he’s acting and yet we believe everything that comes out of his mouth, every gesture his characters make.

Certainly it’s hard to imagine any other contemporary actor pulling off what Damon accomplishes in “Promised Land,” a film that could easily have become a shrill pro-environmental screed but which, in Damon’s capable hands, becomes something far more challenging and subtle — a character study of an individual who may have convinced himself that wrong is right.

In the latest from director Gus Van Sant, Damon plays Steve Butler, a hotshot aquisitions man for a natural gas company. Steve’s job involves traveling around the country to purchase drilling rights from farmers and other property owners. He can take a failing ranch or a economically-strapped town and turn it into a cash cow.

As he unassumingly notes, he makes people millionaires. Clearly, Steve loves his job. He gets to hand out big chunks of money, turn around lives, leaves the world a better place.

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