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Posts Tagged ‘Joaquin Phoenix’

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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Joaquin Phoenix

“YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE”  My rating: B- 

89 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A brutal character study encased in an overripe — some might say rancid — melodrama, Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really There” offers Joaquin Phoenix at his moodiest.

Depending upon your point of view, that will be either a warning or an enticement.

When we first meet Joe (Phoenix) he’s cleaning up a hotel room where something very nasty has occurred.  He’s wrapping a bloody hammer in plastic and rinsing gory items in the bathroom sink.  There are also insert shots of someone — it’s hard to say just who — struggling to breathe with their head wrapped in a plastic dry cleaning bag.

Joe — who has the graying beard and long hair of a ’60s Jesus freak and seems to be about 50 pounds overweight — is not, as you might think, a serial killer.  Nor is he a hit man, exactly.

His specialty is retrieving lost children — kids who have been snatched or sold into sex slavery. It’s hard to say whether he’s in it for the money, for the sake of the kids, or because it gives him a good excuse to go Neanderthal on some really despicable people.

Job completed and fee collected, he shuffles off to the Bronx house he shares with his invalid mother (Judith Roberts), with whom he shares a love/hate relationship.  There are moments of genuine  tenderness here.  There are also flashbacks to Joe’s tormented childhood; apparently he spent lots of time locked in a closet while Mom entertained.

Other brief blips from Joe’s past reveal him to be a veteran who fought somewhere in the Mideast. (more…)

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Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin

Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin

“INHERENT VICE”  My rating: C

148 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has been on such a long, productive run (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master”) that it was inevitable he’d mess up one day.

While you can’t categorize “Inherent Vice” as an outright disaster, it spends an awful lot of time going nowhere in particular. Mostly it spreads around lots of  stoner whimsey while wasting the efforts of a terrific cast.

It’s overlong, underpopulated with anything like real characterizations and — perhaps most frustrating of all — it’s a mystery yarn so uninvolving that 10 minutes after seeing it I could no longer recall who dunnit…or what they done.

Critics describe Inherent Vice as the most reader friendly of Thomas Pynchon’s dense, hallucinogenic novels.

As compared to what?  A trigonometry textbook?

It’s a riff on the classic L.A. detective yarn, set in the late 1960s and offering as our private eye protagonist a ganja-addled, sandal-wearing doofus.

“Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, sleepy-eyed and moving at half speed)  is a beach-dwelling sleuth with offices in a free health clinic. He’s visited one night by his former girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), a one-time flower-power love bunny who is now the mistress of the ruthless Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), L.A.’s most celebrated real estate developer.

Shasta tearfully asks Doc’s help in stopping a conspiracy by Wolfmann’s wife and her lover to have him committed to a mental institution. Doc — who for all his pharmaceutical excesses works to maintain his integrity — assents for old time’s sake.

But then both Wolfmann and Shasta go missing, and Doc finds himself dealing with coke-snorting dentist Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short),  killer Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie), and a sax-playing junkie (Owen Wilson) who was declared dead but is now back among the living.  Not to mention the Golden Fang, a vast drug-smuggling cartel.

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Joaquinn Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix…isolated, but not for long

“HER” My rating: A- (Opens wide on Jan. 10)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The sentient computer — the mechanical brain that becomes self aware — has been with us for many years now (perhaps most famously in the person of “2001’s” HAL 9000). But writer/director Spike Jonze’s “Her” pushes that idea in new and wonderful directions.

Along the way it becomes the best film of 2013.

In the near future — so near you can’t categorize the film as science fiction — a computer operating system is developed that so perfectly imitates human thought and emotion as to make the iPhone’s Siri seem like a grunting Neanderthal.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely romantic.  Lonely because he and his wife (Rooney Mara) are divorcing — though Tehodore cannot bring himself to sign the papers.  Romantic because his day job is writing heartfelt letters  to strangers.

He works for a company that, for a fee, will compose personal letters to family members, dearly beloveds, friends and acquaintances. Apparently in this near future most personal written correspondence is limited to texting abbreviatons and emoticons. Some folks will pay big bucks for a well-written, sincere and “handwritten” letter (actually, a computer provides the appropriate font and coughs it out of a laser printer).

Theodore is a master of this old-fashioned form of communication — which only makes his sterile personal life all the more ironic.

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