"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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5th Annual Mickey™® Awards: 2018 Edition

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Estimated Reading Time: The Mickey™® Awards are much more presitigious than the Oscars, and unlike our lesser crosstown rival, we here at The Mickeys™® do not limit acceptance speech times. There will be no classless playing off by the orchestra here…mostly because we don’t have an orchestra. Regardless… expect this awards show article to last at a minimum approximately 5 hours and 48 minutes.

The ultimate awards show is upon us…are you ready? The Mickeys™® are far superior to every other award imaginable…be it the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony, the Grammy, the Pulitzer or even the Nobel. The Mickey™® is the mountaintop of not just artistic but human achievement, which is why they always take place AFTER the Oscars!

This year has been an erratic one for cinema, but with that said there are still a multitude of outstanding films eligible for a Mickey™® award. Actors, actresses, writers, cinematographers and directors are all sweating and squirming right now in anticipation of the Mickey™® nominations and winners. Remember, even a coveted Mickey™® nomination is a career and life changing event.

Before we get to what everyone is here for…a quick rundown of the rules and regulations of The Mickeys™®. The Mickeys™® are selected by me. I am judge, jury and executioner. The only films eligible are films I have actually seen, be it in the theatre, via screener, cable, Netflix or VOD. I do not see every film because as we all know, the overwhelming majority of films are God-awful, and I am a working man so I must be pretty selective. So that means that just getting me to actually watch your movie is a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself…never mind being nominated or winning!

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The Prizes!! The winners of The Mickey™® award will receive one acting coaching session with me FOR FREE!!! Yes…you read that right…FOR FREE!! Non-acting category winners receive a free lunch* with me at Fatburger (*lunch is considered one "sandwich" item, one order of small fries, you aren't actors so I know you can eat carbs, and one beverage….yes, your beverage can be a shake, you fat bastards). Actors who win and don't want an acting coaching session but would prefer the lunch…can still go straight to hell…but I am legally obligated to inform you that, yes, there WILL BE SUBSTITUTIONS allowed with The Mickey™® Awards prizes. If you want to go to lunch I will gladly pay for your meal…and the sterling conversation will be entirely free of charge.

Enough with the formalities…let's start the festivities!!

Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin...

Ladies and gentlemen…welcome to the fifth annual Mickey™® Awards!!!

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cold War - Lukasz Zal: Zal’s masterful use of a black and white with sharp contrast and his at times eye-popping framing make for exquisite visuals in Cold War that help to propel the narrative and tell the story in theri own right.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron: Cuaron’s virtuoso camera work in Roma, which includes dazzling camera movements and remarkable framing, is a master class in the art. Any single frame from this movie could hang in a photography exhibit in any of the great museums of the world.

The Favourite - Robbie Ryan: Ryan deftly uses light and darkness, especially with candles, to illuminate the dramatic sub-text in The Favourite.

If Beale Street Could Talk - James Laxton: Laxton paints this film with a striking and lush palette in this film that is gorgeous to behold.

Widows - Sean Bobbitt : Bobbitt’s framing, particularly his use of mirrors, is simply stunning and elevates this rather sub-par material.

First Man - Linus Sandgren: Sandgren’s ability to contrast the claustrophobia of space travel to the vast expanse of the moon is breathtaking and aids in giving this film a visceral element.

You Were Never Really Here - Thomas Townend: Townend’s wondrous cinematography amplifies the fever dream feeling that envelops this entire film.

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And The Mickey Goes To….ROMA - ALFONSO CUARON - This was an absolutely stacked category this year but Cuaron’s masterful work on Roma takes the award. Cuaron's cinematography on this film is stunning as he pulls off numerous, extremely difficult maneuvers with an ease and subtlety that is staggering to behold. Is Cuaron winning a Cinematography Oscar this year a big deal? Yes it is. Is Cuaron winning The Mickey™® Award for best Cinematography a bigger deal? You bet your ass it is.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

First Man : A film more about grief than space travel, this script is able to take an expansive and historical subject and reduce it into a viscerally intimate and personal film.

The Sisters Brothers : An extremely well-written narrative filled with deep symbolism and genuine humanity that turns the western genre on its head.

Leave No Trace : This script perfectly captures the powerful relationship of a young girl coming of age with a damaged father, and never falls into the trap of sentimentality or caricature.

You Were Never Really Here: Intense and disturbing, this script grabs you and pulls you into its protagonist’s tortured mind and soul and never lets you go, even when you want it to.

The Death of Stalin: An uproariously funny script that is masterfully paced and wondrously smart.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE - Lynne Ramsay’s script drags us kicking and screaming into the mind of her kicking and screaming main character, Joe, and never lets us leave. A wonderfully woven nightmare of a movie that is both grotesque and gripping. Lynne Ramsay is now among the best of the best having won a Mickey™® Award.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Cold War: A narrative that stretches over decades and vast swaths of Europe but with an immediate pace that never loses its sense of intimacy.

Roma: A story of a simple woman that is anything but simple. Riddled with rich symbolism and moments of magical realism, Roma is a magnificent script.

The Favourite: Darkly funny and deeply insightful, The Favourite never fails to shock, compel or intrigue.

The Quiet Place: A fascinating story that transcends genre and speaks to the larger issues of our time without ever losing its horrifyingly entertaining value.

First Reformed: An extraordinary script that seriously grapples with matters of faith, theology, philosophy and eco-politics while also being a poignant and exacting character study.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…ROMA - Alfonso Cuaron masterfully weaves a precise and detailed story of harsh realism with mysticism in this slice of life/family drama that never fails to compel. Cuaron has already won more Mickeys™® in this ceremony than other mere mortals could dream of winning in their entire lives.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams - Vice: Amy Adams is stunning as Lynne Cheney, the Lady MacBeth who is the straw that stirs the drink of Darth Cheney’s nefarious political career. This is the very best work of Ms. Adam’s stellar career.

Sakuro Ando - Shoplifters: Ando gives a mesmerizing performance as the de facto mother of this rag tag family trying to make ends meet under the oppressive boot of capitalism. A powerful yet delicate performance that is simply wondrous.

Emma Stone - The Favourite: Stone gives a delicious performance as the ambitious social climber who will do whatever it takes to survive and thrive in Queen Anne’s court. A sexy, funny and compelling piece of work.

Emily Blunt - A Quiet Place: Best Actress Mickey Award winner (for Sicario) Emily Blunt proves once again that she is not just a movie star/pretty face, but one of the very best actresses working in film today. A kinetic, immediate and stunning performance.

Claire Foy - First Man: Foy imbues her character with a frenetic and unrelenting power that bubbles just beneath her calm facade. When that power boils to the surface it brings with it a magnetic intentionality that is palpable and mesmerizing.

Rachel Weisz - The Favourite: Weisz’s use of physicality to convey her character’s intellectual and political prowess is a master class in posture and stance and is something actors should study and steal from.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…AMY ADAMS - VICE : Adams’ very first scene in Vice is the best acting I have seen by an actress on film this year. Adams’ Lynne Cheney is a force of nature and when unleashed is a sight to behold. Adams’ Lynne has an insatiable hunger for power and an arrogant streak that drives the film even if it is from the backseat. Amy Adams is a hugely rich and famous movie star, but it wasn’t until now, when she won her first Mickey™® Award, that she finally “made it”. Congratulations m’lady!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Ben Foster - Leave No Trace: Foster is one of the great under rated talents of his generation and in Leave No Trace he gives yet another magnetic performance by imbuing his character with a palpable wound that torments and propels him to seek solace from it.

Sam Rockwell - Vice: Rockwell gives a delicious performance as Dubya, never falling into imitation or caricature, Rockwell turns Bush into a genuine yet damaged human being that is always compelling to watch and often times hysterically funny.

Thomas Hoult - The Favourite: In lesser hands, Hoult’s character in The Favourite, a sharp tongued and sharp elbowed dandy who plays to win the game of palace intrigue, would have been reduced to a punch line, but Hoult turns him into a dynamic presence that elevates the film considerably.

Joaquin Phoenix - The Sisters Brothers: Phoenix’s tortured character is a combustible mess who never fails to make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons but also never fails to be a compelling, unsettling and dynamic screen presence.

Jonah Hill - Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot: Hill creates an intriguing character in this film who is both a self-help bullshitter and a complicated and real human being. A subtle and finely crafted piece of acting that is a testament to Jonah Hill’s skill and commitment.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…BEN FOSTER - LEAVE NO TRACE: This is Ben Foster’s second Mickey nomination (Best Supporting Actor Hell or High Water) and first win. Foster has been known to be a rather explosive actor in the past and often thrives in roles where he is combustible, but in Leave No Trace he eschews his usual pyrotechnics for a more subdued, more nuanced and more subtle approach. Foster’s Will is an explosive character, but Foster takes all of that combustibility and stuffs it into a little furnace inside him. The furnace gets hot and even feels like it could explode, but Will fights to keep it contained and it is this struggle which makes for such a compelling and satisfying performance from Ben Foster…who rightly takes his place among the best actors of his generation with this Mickey™® award win.

BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

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Thomasin McKenzie - Thomasin McKenzie is so great in Leave No Trace it is miraculous. She masterfully brings to life a teenage girl struggling to make sense of her ever changing world and also her damaged father. A deft and subtle performance, highlighted by her ability to have the impulse to cry but the skill to not let herself, McKenzie proves her worth as a vibrant and compelling actress in Leave No Trace. Much like Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in director Debra Granik’s previous film Winter’s Bone, which launched her career, McKenzie has an undeniable screen presence and a surprising level and command of craft for such a young actress. I look forward to seeing what her very bright future holds.

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale - VIce: Bale proves he is one of the very best actors working in film with his remarkable transformation into Dick Cheney. A master of physicality, Bale also is able to fill Cheney’s silences with a palpable intentionality that gives even the quietest scenes an unsettling air of menace.

John C. Reilly - The Sisters Brothers: Reilly gives the very best performance of his versatile and stellar career as the older and more sensitive of the Sisters brothers. Reilly’s well-crafted and nuanced work never falls into the trap of sentimentality and is a testament to his great talent.

Joaquin Phoenix - You Were Never Really Here: Joaquin Phoenix is may be the best actor on the planet right now and his volatile, magnetic and dynamic performance in You Were Never Really here stands as a monument to his towering talent and his mastery of craft. Phoenix creates an unsettling character suffering a Sisyphean wound that eats at his soul but never contaminates his pure heart.

Tomasz Kot - Cold War: Kot masterfully portrays a man who seems above the fray of life and then adeptly shows his unraveling and descent at the hands of love. A compelling and finely crafted piece of work that highlights Kot as both a movie star and a sublime actor.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…JOAQUIN PHOENIX - YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE: This is Joaquin Phoenix’s second nomination (Best Actor Inherent Vice) and first win. Joaquin Phoenix may be the very best actor working in film today. Phoenix is blessed with an undeniable talent and an interesting look, but what makes him so potent as an actor is his mastery of craft and exquisite skill. Phoenix never half-asses his way through a role, always committing fully to whatever is demanded. Phoenix’s work in You Were Never Really Here is as unnerving as it is glorious, as it reveals the tormented soul of a man on the edge and falling off of it. For this hypnotic and mesmerizing piece of work Joaquin Phoenix rightly takes his place atop the acting world with his much deserved Mickey™® Award.

BEST ACTRESS

Joanna Kulig - Cold War: Kulig gives an electrifying and explosive performance as an alluring Polish songstress. Kulig is like a Polish Jennifer Lawrence, charming, sexy and beguiling with a dash of danger sprinkled in. A truly mesmerizing performance.

Yalitza Aparicio - Vice: Aparicio makes her debut in Roma and could not have been better. Entirely genuine, present and grounded, Aparicio makes us feel as if she isn’t acting at all, but those of us in the know realize she is doing incredible and complicated work.

Olivia Colman - The Favourite: A deliriously delicious performance that is both funny and poignant. Colman won an Oscar for her dazzling work in the film, but being nominated for a Mickey trumps winning an Oscar…this is a fact.

Thomasin McKenzie - Leave No Trace: The winner of the presitgious Breakthrough award, McKenzie is one to watch as her work in Leave No Trace proves. A finely crafted and intricate performance that shows an actress with a refined skill set and in command of her craft.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…JOANNA KULIG - COLD WAR: This is Joanna Kulig’s first nomination and first win. Joanna Kulig is an intoxicating screen presence in Cold War and she expertly makes the audience fall in love with her even while keeping them at an arm’s length. This performance is so dynamic as to be glorious and is a pure joy to watch even when things take a darker turn. Masterfully crafted and palpably brought to life, Joanna Kulig’s work in Cold War gives her the highest honor an actress can ever receive…The Mickey™® Award.

BEST ENSEMBLE

Vice: Christian Bale and Amy Adams give career best performances in this uneven film and are joined in their sublime acting by Sam Rockwell and even Steve Carrell. Across the board this film is blessed with top-notch talent doing high level work.

The Favourite: A cornucopia of delectable performances make The Favorite a delicious joy to behold. Boasting four Mickey™® acting nominees, The Favourite is an actor’s delight.

The Death of Stalin: A cavalcade of talent lends their skill to this phenomenal dark comedy. Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffery Tambor are among the multitude of actors who shine in this movie. A very skilled and very deep cast.

The Sister Brothers: The four actors in this film, John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed all give nuanced, layered and standout performances in this alt-western gem. Reilly and Phoenix in particular have a crackling chemistry that is a pure pleasure to watch.

Shoplifters: A wonderful cast which includes Mickey™® nominee Sanduro Ando, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka and the late Kirin Kiki. All of the actors in this film, including the child actors, do tremendous and very complex work.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…THE FAVOURITE - Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Nicholas Hoult give stellar performances in The Favourite that are intoxicatingly funny and layered. When you put a collection of talent this strong with a director of such vision, great things happen…like winning a Best Ensemble Mickey™® Award!! I am truly looking forward to this cast claiming their award and joining me for a feast fit for a Queen at Fatburger!

BEST DIRECTOR

Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War: A stunning piece of film making that is concise, precise and beautiful. An achingly beautiful yet complicated love story set in the shadow of European history that never takes a misstep.

Alfonso Cuaron - Roma: Cuaron’s masterpiece is a piece of virtuoso film making that is undeniably compelling and viscerally heartbreaking. At once a beautifully shot piece of magical realism as well as an earnestly told and acted slice of life. A simply stunning and unforgettable piece of work.

Hirokazu Koreada - Shoplifters: A finely crafted film that never lets you go and haunts you for weeks after seeing. An exceedingly well directed film that boasts top notch performances from a big cast of actors.

Lynne Ramsay - You Were never Really Here: This film is a disturbing and unrelenting fever dream and character study that draws you in and refuses to let you go. Both visually and dramatically dynamic, this movie is a testament to Lynne Ramsay’s talent and vision.

Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite: Lanthimos has been nominated twice before for a Mickey™® and is proving himself as one of the great and original filmmakers of our time. The Favourite is proof of Lanthimos’ great ability and intriguing style.

Debra Granik - Leave No Trace: Granik is one of those understated directors that often gets overlooked. She has the increasingly rare skill of coaxing terrific performances from actors without surrounding them with cinematic pyrotechnics. A highly skilled, old school director who puts character and drama before spectacle.

AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…ALFONSO CUARON - ROMA: This is a loaded category but Cuaron has made a personal film that is universal in its beauty and insight. A gorgeous movie to look at and a heart breakingly human story make for a glorious piece of cinema. Cuaron has established himself as the auteur of our times with this masterpiece and with his unprecedented 3 Mickey™® Awards tonight!

ACTOR/ACTRESS OF THE YEAR - JOAQUIN PHOENIX

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Joaquin Phoenix gives three stellar performances this year in the films You Were Never Really Here, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and The Sisters Brothers. All of these performances were intricate, delicate, dynamic and magnetic and show him to be a master craftsman as well as a transcendent artist. Few actors have ever churned out three performances of this caliber in their career, never mind in one year…and it is for this reason that Mr. Joaquin Phoenix wins the prestigious, and first ever, Actor/Actress of the year Mickey™® Award.

BEST COMEDY OF THE YEAR - TIE BETWEEN THE FAVOURITE & THE DEATH OF STALIN

Two dark and exceedingly hilarious films, that boast rapturously glorious and deep casts, and speak volumes about the corrupting influence of power in history and today. In dark times, these two films bless us with their morbid but enlightening humor mixed with drama that make for spectacular cinema.

BEST BLOCKBUSTER OF THE YEAR - A QUIET PLACE

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A Quiet Place came out of nowhere to dominate the box office and to open my eyes. Who knew that Jim from The Office, otherwise known as John Krasinski, could be such a great writer, director and leading man? A Quiet Place isn’t just a fantastically well-made, finely-crafted, heart pounding and stomach churning horror/thriller, it is also an insightful commentary on our current culture. A remarkable and entertaining film that is both scary and smart and that beat out other blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 and Ready Player One, who all won the box office battle but lost the prestige war to A Quiet Place, the first ever Mickey™® Blockbuster of the Year award winner.

BEST PICTURE

10. HAPPY AS LAZZARRO - A magical movie that uses the mystical to peal back the scab of capitalism and exposes the gangrenous wound festering underneath.

9. LEAVE NO TRACE - This film poignantly reveals that genuine masculinity is dying in America. Subtly directed and marvelously acted, Leave No Trace is an understated gem.

8. A QUIET PLACE - A shockingly good movie that is extremely well-crafted. This movie was so well-made I exhaled a breath of relief when it was over…and I wasn’t even consciously aware I had been partially holding my breath the whole time.

7. THE DEATH OF STALIN - A masterful comedy with an exquisite cast that is perfectly paced and precisely acted.

6. THE SISTERS BROTHERS - A film that challenges conventions and overturns genres, The Sisters Brothers was an overlooked piece of gold.

5. SHOPLIFTERS - This movie is haunting as it stayed with me for weeks after seeing it. An insightful that challenges us to question what we think we know about our world and ourselves.

4. THE FAVOURITE - A top notch cast and a daring director combine to make a rabidly funny mediation on the intoxicating and corrupting sway of power.

3. COLD WAR - A gloriously shot, extremely well-acted and well-directed film that is so mesmerizing as to be hypnotic.

2. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE - This film is an electrifying and pulsating fever dream of a movie that transports us into its lead character twisted mind and never lets us go. A masterfully directed and acted film that shows the moral decay on the soul of America.

1. ROMA - A true masterpiece, impeccably shot and directed. Alfonso Cuaron brings his artistic vision to life with such originality and technical skill that it is a marvel to behold. Cuaron has a lot of Fatburger meals waiting for him after winning an unprecedented FOUR Mickey™® Awards tonight!

MOST IMPORTANT FILM OF THE YEAR - THE FAVOURITE, VICE, THE DEATH OF STALIN AND YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

What could these four seemingly disparate films have in common that could make them the most important films of the year? The answer is that they are all meditations or contemplations on corruption.

In The Favourite and The Death of Stalin we see those who get closer to power losing their minds and distorting or ignoring reality just to stay in close proximity to power. If this doesn’t reflect the current state of Washington and the establishment media, nothing does.

In Vice we see the full arc of corruption when the same type of sycophants on display in The Favourite and The Death of Stalin finally finagle their way into the top spot and unleash their power on to innocents across the globe.

And in You Were Never Really Here we see the how the moral and ethical cancer that infects those in the power structure, compels the ruling elite to seek out the innocent in order to satiate their depraved desires and pass on their sickness by devouring the purity of the next generation.

All fo these films high mirror back to us the sickened world in which we live. As far fetched as the narrative in You Were Never Really Here may seem, a cursory glance at the news will reveal that it is not as fictional as we would like to believe. Whether it be the Catholic church and its never ending sex abuse scandals or Bryan Singer and the pervasive pedophilia in Hollywood or Jeffrey Epstein and his Lolita Express that exposes Washington’s elite sexual abuse of young people, this issue is very very real.

These stories are not the whole ugly truth, they are but the tip of a repulsive iceberg. If you think the Catholic church is the only institution to sexually prey upon young people, you are a fool. If you think Bryan Singer is the only Hollywood power player to systematically sexually exploit young people, you’re an even bigger fool. And if you think the Lolita Express is the last word on Washington depravity, you are the biggest fool of all.

The moral and ethical corruption on display in these films and in these scandals are epidemic in American culture. Corruption doesn’t just infect institutions but also individuals. When the powerfully depraved and the depraved powerful control the levers of power then truth gets perverted and reality itself comes under assault….this is America in 2019.

The Favourite, The Death of Stalin, Vice and You Were Never Really Here shows us that the corrupting influence of power has made the world mad (crazy), which in turn has made the world mad (angry). This anger and this madness combine to create an unstoppable force, a vortex of spiritual, mental, emotional and political insanity, that will eventually gather more and more momentum until it destroys absolutely everything in its path.

We aren’t at this tipping point just yet…the despicable Dick Cheney is still allowed to live free and walk the streets of America without fear of someone bludgeoning his brains out with a hammer. Donald Trump, the Queen Anne of our times, still skates through life without a care. Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, act like a modern-day version of Beria, Khrushchev and Melenkov as scramble to hold up the illusion of democracy in the wake of America’s death, all while feeding at the corporate trough like the insatiable pigs that they are.

That said, it does become clearer and clearer as every moment passes that this shit house is a tinder box that is going to go up flames. So the time is fast approaching when we will have to grab our ball peen hammers and get to work...the ruling elite are a target rich environment…we will have a lot of smashing to do.

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On that upbeat note…WHO’S READY FOR SOME FATBURGER!!

And thus we conclude our 5th annual Mickey Awards™®!!! Thank you for reading. I appreciate all my readers, their support and openness to debate and discussion!! We’ll see you next year at The Mickeys™®!!

And tune in later this week for the shadow of The Mickey™®, the Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® awards!!

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©2019

The Sisters Brothers: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An at times funny and also surprisingly moving French, art house “western” that boasts a career best performance from John C. Reilly and a very stellar cast.

The Sisters Brothers, written and directed by Jacque Audiard, based upon the book of the same name by Thomas Bidegain, is the story of the Sisters brothers Eli and Charlie, assassins in 1850’s Oregon. The film stars John C. Reilly as Eli and Joaquin Phoenix as Charlie, with supporting turns from Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed.

The Sisters Brothers is a strange film that American audiences, conditioned by Hollywood to expect certain things from certain genres, will probably find frustratingly obtuse. On the surface, The Sisters Brothers is a standard western, with all the revenge fueled shootouts and horse-ridden treks through wilderness you’d expect from that genre, but buried just beneath that veneer of conventionality is the gold of a rich and complex foreign art house film and biblical parable.

I had no idea what to expect from The Sisters Brothers, as far as I knew it could be a slapstick western in the vein of Jack Nicholson’s Goin’ South or something, so I just went along for the ride on which the film took me, and I am ever so glad that I did.

Director Jacques Audiard is a terrific filmmaker, having made three distinctive and at times fantastic French films, A Prophet, Rust and Bone and Dheepan. Audiard’s directing touch on The Sisters Brothers, his first English language film, is exquisitely deft, and his artistic vision and cinematic aesthetic are a perfect match to turn the western genre on its head.

The film is a comedy, of sorts, with the Sisters brothers Eli and Charlie acting like an old married couple, bitching and bickering with one another to much hilarity. But the film is also gripped with an existential and hereditary darkness that gives it a resonant dramatic power.

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The film is elevated by four outstanding acting performances. The best of them all is John C. Reilly, a remarkably versatile actor, who gives a nuanced and complex performance as Eli which is the very best of his stellar career. Eli is the more thoughtful of the Sisters brothers, who has a gentle heart and caring soul. Reilly imbues Eli with a palpable sensitivity that, like the character, evolves and reveals itself over the duration of the story. Reilly’s ability to make Eli a genuine human being, rather than a buffoonish caricature, gives The Sisters Brothers a dramatic grounding that is the heart and soul of the film.

Reilly’s Eli is the archetypal feminine in the movie, which is symbolized by his relationship to the spider. In Jungian psychology and in Shamanic traditions the spider is representative of the feminine and of the weaving of fate. Eli has a fateful and intimate encounter with a spider in the film and literally gives birth to a brood of spiders.

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Eli’s kindness extends not only to his troubled younger brother Charlie, but to his second rate horse, with whom he grows a deep bond that is quite moving. It is Eli’s feminine nature that is both his greatest strength and also his crippling weakness as it has led to his being usurped and passed by his more archetypally masculine brother for the position of leading brother in the family.

Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best actors on the planet, and he is in the midst of a terrific year in cinema. Thus far in 2018, Phoenix has given stellar performances in both You Were Never Really Here and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, and he keeps that streak alive as the combustible Charlie in The Sisters Brothers.

Phoenix is an actor that vibrates with a viscerally chaotic and unnerving unpredictability, and his Charlie is the perfect avatar to highlight that talent. Phoenix’s performance is one of understated brilliance as it is filled with some startling moments of primal anguish and pain.

Phoenix’s Charlie is a deeply wounded soul carrying a grievous original sin, but who has been elevated to the “right hand” of the Father not in spite of that sin, but because of it. Charlie’s great weakness is that he is so wounded he can never mature and evolve enough to survive in such an exalted position. In other words, crazy will only get you so far, but to be fair to Charlie, he comes by his crazy honestly.

What makes both Phoenix and Reilly shine is that they are blessed to have each other off of which to play. Eli ingests spider energy and is transformed, whereas Charlie slays a bear, a symbol of the power of the unconscious and the dawning of a personal spring. Eli’s encounter with the spider leads to transformation, whereas Charlie’s encounter with the bear is symbolic of his breaking of the connection with the unconscious and with that connection goes his chance at self-realization and transformation.

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Jake Gyllenhaal gives a solid performance as John Morris, a tracker and wannabe Thoreau who, like the Sister brothers, is trying to understand and deal with the affliction that his father passed on to him. John, Eli and Charlie are all victims of the archetypal father wound, and the malady they carry unconsciously guides them through their lives and propels the film forward. Gyllenhaal’s Morris is more aware of his ailments than the Sisters brothers, or at least becomes more aware of them, which leads him to question the entire purpose of his life.

Gyllenhaal is always at his best when he is understated, and his John Morris is a perfectly subdued and technically proficient performance. Gyllenhaal never pushes or prods with Morris, he simply let’s him be, and that decision makes for a solid contribution to the film.

Riz Ahmed plays Hermann Kermit Warm, a chemist who is hunted by the Sister brothers. Ahmed is absolutely fantastic in the role. Ahmed has a, pardon the pun, warmth about him as an actor that is captivating on screen and that trait serves him well in The Sisters Brothers. Ahmed’s Warm is a Christ-like figure, who radiates a near-defiantly fervent gentleness that is remarkably compelling.

Besides being a biblical and Jungian parable, the film is also a political, religious and economic parable. Mr. Warm is a pied piper for a socialist (and Christ-like, but not necessarily Christian) utopia which is alluring to the idealist and dreamer in all of us. In contrast, the uber-capitalist corporate town of Mayfield is held up as a bastion of deception and debauchery.

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The film also touches upon the need for a dismantling of a patriarchy that produces such twisted and tormented forms of masculinity as the Sisters brothers and much of the other violent men in the film. The patriarchy in its old form, namely the character the Commodore, needs to die for these men to ever have a chance to be free from their afflictions and to find the utopia that deep down they have yearned for their entire lives.

The religious aspects of the film are glaring for those with eyes to see them, for instance there is the brothers grooming of each other like apostles or the men anointing themselves with oil in a pseudo-baptismal ritual before they wade into the river. There is also the connection between Mr. Warm and Eli’s horse…who are both, in their own way, beasts of burden, and the viewer should keep a keen eye out for the similarity in the eyes of Warm and the horse at pivotal moments in the film.

The Sisters Brothers is a film with a multitude of layers, each one more interesting, revealing and insightful than the last. If you are planning to see the film, put aside your cultural conditioning and your expectations for a western, and instead watch the film as if it were a dream. Keep a vigilant eye out for spiders, bears, raccoons and the plethora of other signs and symbols that show the way to the film’s profound message.

The Sisters Brothers opens with a shout in the silent darkness of the Oregon night, but then there are flashes of light that splinter that darkness ever so quickly. That opening scene is the story of The Sisters Brothers, for it is a film about alchemy, where finding the gold in the darkness is an act of transformation which leads down the road to redemption. I never expected to be, but I was deeply, deeply moved by The Sisters Brothers, and found it be a profoundly satisfying cinematic experience. I wholly recommend you suspend your expectations and go see this film in the theatre, it is well worth the time, money and effort.

©2018

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot: A Review

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***THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!***

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT: Skip it in the theatre (unless you have MoviePass) but due to terrific acting you should see it on cable or Netflix.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, written and directed by Gus Van Sant, is a dramedy bio-pic based upon the memoir of the same name by quadriplegic cartoonist and recovering alcoholic John Callahan. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Callahan, with supporting turns from Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black.

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I have been to rehab more times than I can even remember...maybe it's because I was in a booze-fueled blackout during those years...who knows? The thing that I do remember from my various rehab stints was that at every single one of them they were so bereft of ideas on how to help us degenerate drunken sons of bitches that they would always, at some point, resort to having us watch a movie. The movie they ALWAYS showed at every single rehab was the 1988 film Clean and Sober starring Michael Keaton.

The showing of Clean and Sober was preceded by comments from counselors as to what a "great movie" it was...which only further undermined my trust in them. Clean and Sober is a decent enough teaching tool for a rehab...but it sure as hell is not a "great" movie.

I thought of my seemingly endless rehab days often as I watched Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, and couldn't help but wonder if this film could morph into the new cinematic entertainment/teaching tool for rehabs across the country. 

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You never know what you're going to get with director Gus Van Sant. Sometimes he rolls out a total impressionistic arthouse piece of cinema (Elephant) and other times he'll give you a rather solid but conventional movie tinged with some arthouse flair (Milk, Good Will Hunting). With Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, he falls decidedly into the former category, as the film is a surprisingly standard and conventional "sobriety" bio-pic.

Van Sant does mess around with some less than linear storytelling, but that only confuses matters, as it is at times hard to tell where Callahan is in his recovery or non-recovery as the case may be.

As a recovery story the film works but for all the wrong reasons, namely the incoherent timeline mimics the confusion inherent in addiction, but also makes for a discombobulating cinematic experience. It is frustrating to the point of infuriating watching Callahan consistently get in his own way and stumble and stagger his way from bar to bar and AA meeting to AA meeting and back again and not knowing if we are in "real time" or a flashback or flash forward.

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The cycle of alcoholism and addiction is highlighted in a cartoon by John Callahan which shows the evolutionary scale from an amoeba in a swamp all the way up to a man accepting an award at a podium. Watching someone on screen so convincingly go through that heart breaking, gut wrenching and shame-filled struggle from the drunken swamp creature to the victorious award winner is uncomfortable for anyone like me who has made a similarly arduous journey.

In this context, Van Sant's less than coherent narrative is effective in relaying the psychological and spiritual vertigo that accompanies addiction, which is like a hall of funhouse mirrors where up is down, left is right and right is wrong. It is a horrifying and soul crushing experience to endure (and for loved one's of the afflicted to endure as well) the climb up and then falling back down of Callahan's evolutionary scale. The climb to sobriety is much like Christ's gauntlet to his own crucifixion, but at least Christ had the benefit of a clear path to Golgotha where he wasn't constantly taking one step forward and two steps back.

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John Callahan's struggle for sobriety is doubly difficult because of how painful and hopeless his unique situation is in regards to his spinal injury. Being unable to literally run away from his demons is an added burden that makes his climb all the steeper and also gives him a built in self-pitying excuse. Addicts love to self-pity and embrace the victim archetype...whining "poor me, poor me, poor me...pour me another drink". Callahan's victimhood is valid, but that doesn't make it useful in trying to ease and transform his feelings of emotional myopia, abandonment, betrayal, self-loathing and rage that can strangle recovery in its cradle.

I don't know if Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot will be embraced by rehabs in the coming years as it is a little too realistic in showing how sobriety is a series of very small victories floating in an ocean of abysmal failures. That cold, hard reality might be too much for the newly sober to grapple with in such a fragile and delicate stage of their very long journey up and out of the muddy pit of addiction and onto the terra firma of an "ordinary" life.

As far as the particulars go, the film is definitely elevated above the likes of Clean and Sober because it boasts two top notch performances, one from lead Joaquin Phoenix, who I believe is the best actor in film today, and Jonah Hill, who plays sobriety guru Donnie Green.

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Phoenix's Callahan has a festering wound eating away at his soul that is only heightened when he (literally) cannot run away from it any longer. Phoenix is a combustible talent, but his skill and mastery of craft is equal to his prodigious talents, and watching him imprisoned in a motionless body for two hours is a masterclass. At once charming and infuriating, self-destructive, self-absorbed, self-pitying and yet always magnetically compelling, Phoenix does Callahan justice by pulling no punches in his complex portrayal of him. . 

Phoenix uses his breath to great effect to simulate Callahan's sensation of suffocating as his body struggles simply to inhale and exhale as he is born again in a useless body. He speaks so softly at times you lean forward in your seat to hear him, and at times explodes in such a visceral rage that you recoil from his inner ugliness being vomited upon the scene.

Phoenix is the best acting going right now, and his work in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, is just another monument to that fact.

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Jonah Hill is tremendous as Donnie, a sort of new age aristocrat and golden haired Dr. Phil. Donnie is definitely a character, but Hill never pushes or gets showy with him, he keeps it grounded and contained and so fully inhabits Donnie that he disappears into him. Hill is an actor you never would have guessed would end up being so good. As a comedian and a comic actor he is pretty predictable and rather mundane, but as a serious actor he has developed a solid base of skill and craft along with the courage to abandon his ego and persona and lose himself completely in roles...and it is a joy to behold.

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Rooney Mara is such a luminous screen presence in the film that I kept expecting her to be revealed to be an angel or a figment of John Callahan's imagination at some point...but she isn't, she is a real person...well...sort of...her character Annu is so thinly written she is little more than a sparkle of sunshine dancing ever so briefly on a butterfly's wing.

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In terms of the hidden sub-text of the film...there was one little gem that I discovered and was surprised by...namely that John Callahan is symbolic of Donald Trump. Yes, I know, maybe I, like the rest of America, am seeing Trump in every Rorschach test, but bear with me, I think this is valid as the similarities are striking. For instance, Callahan is an orange-haired cripple and Trump is an orange-haired emotional cripple. Both men are victims of an absent mother who abandoned them to either a cruel world or a cruel father. And both men vented their shadow by flouting political correctness and finding validation by offending other people. They also both claimed to be merely "saying what everyone is thinking" when they disregarded political correctness. Trump, like Callahan, is a shameless liar who is able to deceive nearly everyone, including himself. And finally both men have a thing for beautiful European women.

In regards to Callahan's evolutionary scale cartoon in relation to Trump, both men think they are on top of the scale, when in reality they are just at the top of this cycle of the scale, and will frequently devolve back into the swamp of their own tormented psychology, only to rise again over time.

Trump's presidency is a sign that America is in a stage of devolution right now (and frankly a much needed devolution). We are returning to the swamp in order to purge ourselves of everything but our most basic survival needs. As the cycle dictates, we will return to the mountaintop eventually and will stand at the podium to accept our award...only to be followed by our neck breaking dive head first into the swamp once again...and so goes the circle of life.

In conclusion, overall as much as I loved the performances, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot was slightly underwhelming and dare I say it disappointing due to structural flaws in the narrative that prove dramatically fatal. Van Sant was definitely off his game with this film because the second half loses momentum and also Callahan's drawing ability seemingly comes out of nowhere and is never satisfyingly explained.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot is worth seeing on cable of Netflix for free (or in the theatre's with MoviePass if you like), but even with the great cast it doesn't rise to the level of paying full price to see it at the theatre. So there is no need to run, walk or crawl to the cineplex to catch Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot...but if you they show it at your rehab be thankful, it is much better...and more honest...than Clean and Sober.

©2018

You Were Never Really Here: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT - A terrific film but be forewarned, it is marketed as a more conventional action-thriller but it is art house cinema to the core. If your tastes run to the more mainstream, you will probably hate this movie. 

You Were Never Really Here, written and directed by Lynne Ramsay (based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Ames), is the story of Joe, a former military and law enforcement man who rescues girls who are being trafficked in the sex trade. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, with supporting performances from Ekaterina Samsonov and Judith Roberts.

If Taxi Driver and Blue Velvet went on a date, the movie they'd go see would be Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here. While not being quite the cinematic masterpieces that are those two films, You Were Never Really Here is still the best movie I've seen so far this year due to the originality and skill of its director, Lynne Ramsay, and the otherworldly talent of its lead actor, Joaquin Phoenix. 

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You Were Never Really Here is a wonderfully ambitious, hypnotically tense, taut and dark art house character study. Director Ramsay has created a mesmerizing impressionist PTSD fever dream that is both unsettling and enlightening.

The film is fueled by Joaquin Phoenix's staggering performance as Joe, a tortured soul struggling to navigate the world as he spirals downward through it. Phoenix is the greatest actor working on the planet right now, and his Joe is a testament to his talent, mastery of craft and artistic commitment. Seen in conjunction with his powerful work in The Master, Phoenix's performance in You Were Never Really Here puts him onto the Mount Rushmore of actors. 

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Phoenix seamlessly morphs into the muscular Joe, a husky vigilante who inflicts his righteous violence upon the wicked with a ball-peen hammer. Phoenix's Joe has a plodding and heavy gait accompanied by thunderous footsteps, aided by the sound department, that land with a resounding thud. Joe walks heavy on the earth because of the burdensome cross he has to bear. Like a giant, twisted oak tree swaying in the wind, Joe yearns to break free from this world of pain and fly off to the stars, but his sentence is to be welded firmly to the ground and to suffer the most heinous slings and arrows that life can conjure. 

Joe is undoubtedly a fallen angel, and even has the scars where wings used to be to prove it, but like some cross between Chiron, Sisyphus and a hammer wielding Thor, he has turned his punishment into penance, and tries to redeem himself by saving others. 

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Phoenix's performance is that of an open nerve simultaneously screaming out in agony and trying to kill itself to deaden the pain. Intense, magnetic and menacing, Phoenix uses strategic stillness and silence mixed with a ferociously vivid inner life and intentionality to create a Joe that is ominously compelling.

Lynne Ramsay has directed some intriguing films in the past, the most notable being the stellar Ratcatcher and We Need To Talk About Kevin. Never a slave to convention, Ramsay turns the vigilante genre on its head in You Were Never Really Here by throwing the audience into the twisted psyche of her protagonist, Joe. With the brief, unexplained and impressionist glimpses into Joe's past, Ramsay relies on her audience to put the pieces together. More conventional audiences, weened on Spielberg films, will no doubt recoil at such demands from a director who bravely asks questions as opposed to gives answers, but those who dare accept the challenge receive the gift of exquisite cinema.

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Ramsay and cinematographer Thomas Townend use different camera and film styles to create intimacy and tension within viewers. Townend's use of light and shadow and his subdued color palette give the film a gritty yet surreal visual aesthetic that perfectly matches the subtext of the movie. 

Even though You Were Never Here is certainly a violent film, the decision by Ramsay to, unlike Taxi Driver, not show an orgy of violence is an interesting one. I understand the thinking that could go into making that decision, and while I disagree with that aesthetic choice, I respect Ramsay's stylistic commitment. By not explicitly showing the violence, Ramsay never allows the audience to feel cathartic relief from the torture inflicted upon Joe's soul.

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I also admired Ramsay's deft use of music, which is very reminiscent of Blue Velvet, as is the theme of revealing the insidious rot just beneath the veneer of normalcy in America. Ramsay's use of camera movement and the setting of New York would seem to be tributes to Scorsese's Taxi Driver, and that too is thematically appropriate, as Joe could be Travis Bickle's nephew. 

You Were Never Really Here is in many ways an unconventional film and viewers should be aware of that going in. If you watch the film as just a straight forward exercise in storytelling, and nit-pick inconsistencies and demand more realistic unfolding of events, then you will be both frustrated and disappointed and miss the gem hiding just beneath the movie’s surface. But if you watch the film as if it were a PTSD inspired dream/nightmare of Joe, with all of the improbabilities and inconsistencies that go along with that scenario, then You Were Never Really Here is both an invigorating and satisfying cinematic experience. My recommendation to anyone who goes to see the film is to suspend your disbelief and watch it less as a narrative adventure and more as a character study that dives into the mind of a tortured soul. 

Keeping that advice in mind, I highly recommend any viewers who enjoy art house cinema to go see You Were Never Really Here as fast as you can…because a film like this may actually leave theaters so fast it will feel like it was never really here. For cinephiles it would be a sin to miss this movie and Joaquin Phoenix's truly magnificent performance. For less adventurous movie-goers, You Were Never Really Here might be an art house bridge too far, as it asks a lot of its audience and some people may be reluctant to abandon their familiar approach to watching films, but that will truly be their loss.

©2018

 

A VERY BRIEF COMMENTARY WITH SPOILERS

****WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS BIG SPOILERS****

****SPOILERS AHEAD - YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!!****

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There is a storyline in You Were Never Really There where a pedophile ring that services very powerful men is involved. I know that some viewers will roll their eyes at this narrative thinking it is an absurd and improbable "conspiracy". I would caution against that response. 

If any readers are interested in the subject, there are a plethora of materials out there to check out, and they are all very disturbing but informative. 

My advice would be to go read up on Jeffrey Epstein and his "Lolita Express" airplane and his connection to Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and other powerful men including Alan Dershowitz. Epstein got busted for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution but got the deal of the century from the D.A. and barely spent any time in prison. I wonder why?

I recommend readers go check out the documentary Who Took Johnny? on Netflix as well. This is a very disturbing look into the disappearance of Johnny Gosch, the first milk carton kid, and the unseemly world hiding just beneath the surface of America. 

If you can find it, which is no easy task, I also recommend watching the documentary The Franklin Affair and reading up on that topic as well. The Franklin Affair is tied into the Johnny Gosch story as well. Considering we are currently being inundated with stories about how wonderful George HW Bush is, it might be enlightening for readers to come to know more about the darker sides of the man and how the Franklin Affair story got scuttled.  

And one final thing to keep in mind when trying to process the idea of powerful people abusing children with impunity…remember the extent of the Catholic Church scandal, where not only the church, but police and courts protected abusers for decades and allowed them to continue to rape children.

Also remember just this past year when decades of abuse by the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and on and on came to light. You think Corey Feldman is crazy because he talks about high powered people in Hollywood preying on children? Well…Corey Feldman might be crazy…but he isn't wrong. Some of the most prominent and powerful people in Hollywood are monsters who devour children and they are hiding in plain sight. 

Jeffrey Epstein, Johnny Gosch, The Franklin Affair, The Church Scandal…these are all just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, the reality is that the pedophile club in You Were Never Really Here is not as far fetched as we'd like to believe and is much more common than we'd like to think. Go read up on the subject and learn the uncomfortable truth. 

©2018

 

 

Knight of Cups : A Review and Dispatches From the Great Malick Civil War

***THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!***

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 14 MINUTES

MY RATING: 4.75 out of 5 STARS - SEE IT IN THE THEATRE

*** REVIEW SUMMARY***: If you like Terrence Malick films you will really like Knight of Cups. As the third film in Malick's undeclared autobiographical trilogy, with The Tree of Life and To the Wonder being the first two films, it is much more accessible than To the Wonder and ever so slightly less accessible than The Tree of Life. Be forewarned, if your tastes run more conventional and mainstream, Knight of Cups, and any other Malick film for that matter, will not be for you.

Once the soul was perfect and had wings, and could soar into Heavenfind your way from darkness to light. Remember.

In 2011, I went to see the film The Tree of Life written and directed by Terence Malick. I was deeply moved by the film and genuinely loved it. The greatest attempt at describing my feelings for the film would be to say it was the film that I had unknowingly been waiting for my entire life.  Considering I am very reticent to engage in hyperbole in regards to any film (or any-thing for that matter), this was high praise indeed. 

When I was asked by people if I liked the film, I shared with them that same glowing endorsement, and I was received in one of two ways, either people warmly embraced me as a fellow traveler and soul-mate on this incredible journey of life, or I was assaulted like a stranger in a strange land with a level of vitriol unprecedented in the long, troubled history of mankind. 

It was clear, the battle lines had been drawn, pro-Malick people on one side, anti-Malick people on the other. The people who disliked The Tree of Life, REALLY, REALLY HATED it, and the people who liked the film, REALLY, REALLY LOVED it. The anti-Tree of Lifers said the film was incoherent, rambling and pretentious, while the pro-Tree of Lifers said it was intimate, personal and visionary. I wasn't entirely shocked by the negative reaction to the film by some people, during the showing I went to, three different audience members, at different times, got up and turned to face the rest of the crowd and held their arms out wide as if to say "what in the hell is this?" and then made a spectacle of themselves as they stormed out of the theatre in a loud huff, making sure everyone knew how much they hated the film.  And thus, with these 'walk-outs', the first shots in "The Great Malick Civil War", which had been simmering for decades, were fired, and the horrible, bloody war rages on to this day with Malick's latest release Knight of Cups.

At the conclusion of the showing of Knight of Cups (which is written and directed by Terrence Malick, stars Christian Bale, and is shot by Emmanuel Lubezki) which I attended, two blue-haried old biddies sitting near the front of the sparsely filled theatre made a show of dismissively laughing loudly the moment credits rolled. This was followed by an older man, sitting by himself on the other side of my row, who cupped his hands by his mouth and booed loudly, vomiting his negative opinion over every one in the theatre. My instinct was to walk over and pour my root beer over this geezer's head, and tell him that since he felt the need to share his feelings with me, I thought I'd share my feelings with him. Thankfully my better nature prevailed, or I might be writing this post on the lam, wanted for the murder, justifiable in my eyes, of three old people in a Los Angeles theatre. When it comes to this Great Malick Civil War, I am trying, God knows, to follow John Lennon's example of "giving peace a chance."

The Malick Civil War is one of those wars to which we've become so accustomed, the type of war which no one can win and which will last until the end of history. I can't end the war myself but I can try to help you understand it, it's origins and how to survive it, so that you can tell your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren about how we got into this senseless slaughter we know as "The Great Malick Civil War", with the hope that those future generations can bring an end to the carnage.

FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN MOVIES AGO

The Abraham Lincoln at the center of this civil war is enigmatic writer/director Terence Malick. Malick has directed and written seven feature films, which are, in chronological order, Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), To the Wonder (2012) and Knight of Cups (2016). In keeping with his somewhat eccentric image, after his second feature, Days of Heaven, Malick disappeared from movie-making and public life, only to resurface twenty years later with the film The Thin Red Line. Malick is a unique man, unlike most other directors, as evidenced by his rarely doing any press or interviews for his films, and not even allowing himself be photographed on the set of his movies.

Malick's last three films, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, which seem to form a sort of personal and autobiographical trilogy, are films that are particularly challenging for some viewers, and down right off-putting to others. The biggest complaint about The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups is the main complaint about many of Malick's films, namely people don't understand what the hell is happening in the story. In a Malick film, the narrative can be, at times, non-linear. Malick's films are like dreams...impressionistic, abstract and filled with symbolism.

"GIVE ME SIX HOURS TO CHOP DOWN A TREE AND I WILL SPEND THE FIRST FOUR SHARPENING THE AXE." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Unlike most other other filmmakers, Malick likes to shift perspective in his films. We often hear, in voice over, the inner thoughts and feelings of multiple characters throughout his films. It is a technique very similar in story telling structure to a novel or even a long form poem, and when done well, as it is in Malick's case, it helps create an intimacy and personal connection between the audience and the character.

Malick heightens this effect by often having these voice-overs be done in a barely audible whisper. Examples of this multiple-protagonist-narration technique can be found in The Thin Red Line, where the narration comes from as many as five characters, Private Witt, Sgt. Welsh, Captain Staros, Private Bell and Lt. Col. Tall, and the perspective jumps across multiple story lines, so we see the overarching narrative through these different protagonists perspectives, giving the film a depth and complexity it would otherwise be lacking with a more conventional storytelling technique.

The New World is also narrated by three different characters as well, Captain Smith, Pocahontas and John Rolfe, giving the story a much more well-rounded and deeper personal dimension than a standard filmmaking approach. This love triangle, which is a theme often explored in Malick's films, is brought to greater life and depth by understanding the inner thoughts and workings of all the participants. 

In The Tree of Life, the narration jumps between the mother (Jessica Chastain), the father (Brad Pitt) and the son as both a child (Hunter McCracken) and as an adult (Sean Penn), which gives the film a vibrant and exquisitely powerful intimacy. The use of multiple protagonist's narrations and perspectives is extremely unconventional in filmmaking, hell, just using a single narrator is a technique that many filmmakers vehemently disagree with, never mind using multiple narrators. In the hands of a less visionary director, the voice-over is a bandage used to cover their weak storytelling skill, but with a handful of directors, Malick and Scorsese in particular, voice-over narration is a weapon they wield expertly that elevates their storytelling to glorious heights. 

Malick hasn't always use multiple narrators in his films, for instance in Badlands and Days of Heaven, his first two films, he uses a singular narrator, both young woman/girls, to guide the viewer through the picture. In Badlands, the protagonist is Sissy Spacek's teenage character, Holly, who shows us the story, and her innocence makes the brutality and barbarity of Kit (Martin Sheen) and the other male characters more palatable for the viewer. In Days of Heaven, a young girl, Linda (Linda Manz), narrates the story of Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) as they make their way from Chicago to the plains of the Midwest. This technique gives the viewer a distance from the main protagonists, but maintains Malick's signature intimacy (and the theme of femininity), in this case, through the eyes of an innocent child. As Malick has matured and found his voice and style as an artist and filmmaker, he has become more deft at the use of the multiple protagonists and narrations, and has used it to great effect in his last five films to give the viewer more complex perspectives.

"I WALK SLOWLY, BUT I NEVER WALK BACKWARDS" - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Malick also has a distinct and unique visual style where he only uses natural lighting. In addition to the natural lighting, Malick also highlights this naturalism with his camera movement by letting the camera dance and float about. He sometimes let's the camera stop to focus on the wonders of the natural world and setting, holding on an animal, an insect or a tree. Malick never rushes his camera, and his deliberate pace and natural lighting, free moving camera and occasional focus on nature, all create a signature style that has a tangible and palpable feel to it. You don't just see through Malick's camera, you feel the world it inhabits. Whether it is the minuscule bumps on a soldiers helmet, the abrasive blades of grass in a field, the texture of a character's sweater, through Malick's use of natural light, these objects have greater definition and every contour of them is accentuated, giving the viewer the sense memory of similar items they have felt in their own lives. It is a remarkable accomplishment for Malick to be able to bring his visuals to such a heightened  and naturalistic state that viewers not only bask in their beauty but recall their own tactile memories.

There is a sequence in Knight of Cups where Christian Bale wears a bulky, wool sweater, and Cate Blanchett simply reaches out towards him and feels it. Malick's camera, with the guidance of one of the great cinematographers working today, Emmaneul Lubezki, picks up every single nook and cranny of this sweater, it is palpable on screen, and when Blanchett reaches out for it you feel that sweater right along with her, and also feel her character's longing to connect with Bale.

"I DESTROY MY ENEMIES WHEN I MAKE THEM MY FRIENDS." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Which brings us to acting in a Malick film. Of the many people with whom I have disagreed about Terrence Malick films, many of them are actors. A lot of actors I spoke with about The Tree of Life, absolutely hated the movie. I was shocked by this revelation as I would have assumed actors were a bit more cinematically sophisticated than the average Joe, but boy was I wrong. Actors may actually be even more culturally conditioned in their movie watching because they are so used to reading scripts and understanding the basics of how to tell a story. This does not suit the viewer of a Malick film, in fact it is poison.

Malick is very improvisational with his actors and his camera, which scares the living hell out of most actors. A lot of actors want to know what to do and when to do it. Being left out in front of a camera with no context and nothing to do but simply "be", is a form of torture for most actors. In addition, because Malick is able to bring us so intensely close to his subjects and into their internal world, the opportunities for a big external clash with the outer world are reduced. The brushes with the external are quickly integrated into the internal, so we don't have the explosive confrontation that actors love to embrace. Since Malick uses voice over so often, actors aren't allowed to talk their way through something, which a lot of actors desperately love to do. The actors are forced to be present in the moment and just "be alive" before the cameras. It is very improvisational and in some ways like watching an unrehearsed dance...kind of like…I don't know...life. Some actors hate it when they don't know what to do...am I mad here? Am I sad? Do I laugh? Do I cry? No, you just are here...alive and human. Once an actor can get comfortable with the "not knowing" of Malick's approach, then Malick can fill in the proper meaning and purpose he intends through voice over and editing.

Malick's style of filmmaking lays an actor bare. You can't bullshit, or rely on your good looks to charm your way through a Malick film. You need talent, skill and frankly, intelligence and gravitas to be able to thrive in a Malick film. There have been some extraordinary performances in Malick films, for instance, Cate Blanchett in Knight of Cups does simple yet stellar work, bringing her great craft to bear in a role that would have been invisible in the hands of a lesser actress. 

Blanchett being great is no surprise as she is one of the world's finest actresses, but Malick has been able to get great performances from some less expected places. In To the Wonder, Olga Kurylenko, who had previously been in little more than action films, gives a wondrous performance. Kurylenko, whose background is in dance and for whom English is a third language, is comfortable expressing herself through her body and movement, which means she is never stuck trying to figure out a scene, but rather is capable if just inhabiting it, a great quality for an actor to possess in a Malick film. Another surprising performance in a Malick film is Colin Farrell in The New World. Farrell's naturalism and tangible fear in front of Malick's camera made for a mesmerizing and unexpected  performance from the often-time uneven actor.

Other actors who have thrived in Malick films are Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Badlands, with Sheen giving a Brando-esque level performance filled with charisma and power. Nick Nolte, Jim Cavezial, Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin and Elias Koteas all do very solid work in The Thin Red Line. Koteas and Nolte in particular do spectacularly specific work in very difficult roles. The aforementioned Colin Farrell, Christian Bale and Q'oriana Kilcher in The New World. Kilcher is simply amazing as Pocahontes, completely natural, charismatic and at ease as Malick's Native American muse. Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain all give detailed and vibrant performances in The Tree of Life, with Chastain really being the break out star. Chastain, like Blanchett, is one of the great actresses working today, and her work in The Tree of Life was so masterful and elegantly human that she was immediately catapulted into the upper echelon of highly respected actors.

Conversely, there have been actors who have been exposed in Malick films as being little more than a pretty face with an empty head. Richard Gere simply lacked the gravitas to carry Days of Heaven and the film suffered greatly for it. Gere was just unable too fill the screen and maintain the viewers interest mostly due to a lack of focus and grounding. Along the same lines, Ben Affleck is really dreadful in To the Wonder. Affleck was revealed to be a dullard with absolutely nothing going on behind the eyes. He is obviously a handsome guy, but he is unable to express much with his face, leaving him being awkward and uncomfortable in front of Malick's camera without anything to do but just be. Simliarly, Rachel McAdams also struggled mightily in To the Wonder, as both actors seemed lost and wandering throughout their screen time, especially in comparison to Olga Kurylenko's transcendent performance. 

The ability to be able to communicate non-verbally is paramount for an actor in a Malick film, which is why highly skilled actors, like Chastain, Blanchett, Penn and Sheen were able to shine, as were relative novices like Kilcher and Kurylenko who are grounded and comfortable in their bodies. 

In Knight of Cups, Christian Bale shows his great craft and skill by being able to carry the narrative of the film without saying a whole lot. He is an often underrated actor, but his work in Knight of Cups is testament to his mastery of craft and innate talent.

"ALL THAT I AM, OR HOPE TO BE, I OWE TO MY ANGEL MOTHER." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Malick often returns to the same themes in his films. One theme that runs through all of his films, and is the central focus of Knight of Cups, is the Anima, the feminine. Malick has always had a certain, very specific type of feminine archetype on display in his films. His central female characters have almost always worn flowing, light dresses, mostly in the style of the 1940's or so, and have also frequently gone barefoot, both symbolic of femininity and maternity. This particular female archetype, probably inspired by the director's own mother, is not a damsel in distress, or a vixen or a school marm, it is a femininity of strength and intrigue, like the goddess or the Virgin Mary. At once mystical, mysterious, powerful and enchanting. This archetype is vividly on display in The Tree of Life in the mother character portrayed by Jessica Chastain. The archetype also shows up in fleeting and tantalizing glimpses in The Thin Red Line, as Ben Chaplin's wife (Miranda Otto) who writes him at the front. 

In Knight of Cups, the entire film is an exploration of the Anima, and the director's relationship, in the form of Christian Bale, to her many faces. Even the interaction between male characters is entirely based upon their individual and unique relationship to the Anima. The different faces of the Anima, such as Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, are sign posts along the journey of the main character as his relationship to the feminine changes as he ages and matures.

Other themes running through all of Malick's films are philosophy and spirituality, usually in the form of a Gnostic Catholicism. Malick is one of the rare directors who even considers having characters who think about God in their life in his films. The big questions that Malick tackles, questions of life and death, love and loss, God, nature and the infinite, are almost never found in any other films. Malick is alone out in the wilderness in trying to understand the world in which he lives, both in its external and internal forms, and the universe he inhabits and the God who created it, be he merciful or not, or if he exists or not, and what that all means to the individual making his way in the world. 

In the Knight of Cups this Gnostic Catholicism is a major theme as well. Christian Bale's character is lost amid the decadence and debauchery of a modern day Babylon, and has forgotten his true self and that he is a divine Son of God. The spiritual seeking and struggle on display in Knight of Cups is a common and powerful theme running through all of Malick's films and it is part of what sets him apart from other directors.

HOW TO WATCH A MALICK MOVIE - A PRIMER

Malick's films, especially his later ones and the autobiographical trilogy, are less storytelling as they are meditations. Meditations on God, faith, nature, grace, annihilation, fatherhood, motherhood, childhood, the duality of man, the duality of God, and Malick's cinematic meditation can become meditative for viewers. The key to appreciating Malick's films are to understand that they are not something you actively try to figure out. You don't have to decide if the guy in the red hat is in internal affairs, or if the doctor is really a ghost or the ship's captain is a spy. Watching Malick is, in and of itself, an artistic meditation. A meditation on the internal life of his characters and the character's struggle, as it relates to our own struggle and to our own internal life. Viewers are not consumers of a Malick film, they are participants. The catch being, of course, is that viewers don't participate intellectually with Malick's films, but emotionally and spiritually.

The key to enjoying a Malick film is to stop trying to impose standard storytelling rules upon it, and trying to figure it out consciously. A Malick film is like going to an art exhibit, you don't mentally figure the art out, you just let it wash over you and go for the ride. You trust that the artist/auteur has something to say and that you'll understand it at some point in time. The artist may be working on an unconscious level, beyond the ability of the viewer to articulate how or why the piece moves them. With Malick, it may not even be when the film is over, it may be after you see it a second time, or third time that it resonates with the viewer. Or it may be when an event in the viewer's life changes their perspective and the film then makes more sense to them in retrospect.

Some people may not be ready to hear what Malick is saying. Maybe they have become a prisoner to formula and cultural conditioning. Maybe they've been taught to be a passive consumer and need their films to only be entertainment and can only tolerate their art when it's spoon-fed to them. Maybe Malick's philosophical and theological perspective are off-putting to many viewers who do not share his Catholicism or any belief in God at all. I mean Adam Sandler is a trillionaire and makes a couple of movies a year, and they've made TWO Sex in the City films for God's sake, but poor Terence Malick has only made seven films in the last forty years, so trust me when I tell you that I totally understand if people don't believe in God. The truth is, belief in God is not a requirement to enjoying a Malick film, but belief in art is.

Another requirement to enjoying a Malick film is that you must have lived a life in order to truly appreciate Malick's work. Malick's films are not for some twenty-something who is joyously jaunting through life with the world as their oyster. A Malick film is for those who have experienced the slings and arrows of life and have the scars to prove it, and those who have loved and lost or lost and loved. For example, The Tree of Life is entirely about loss. If you haven't lost a loved one, a dear friend, a child, then maybe the film is a jumbled mush of nonsense. But if you have, like me, lost someone, the film walks you through the questions, the thoughts, the meditations, the doubts, the hopes and the fears of what this life, and the ending of it, all mean. It has no answers, and therein lies the rub.

We have been culturally conditioned to want answers. We pay our $10 and if we are asked a question by a film, then by God that same film better give us answers. And if it doesn't, if we are left walking out of the theatre with questions, with doubt, with a humility before the vastness of the universe and all of time, with nothing more than an understanding of how miniscule and insignificant we are in the big picture of things and yet how meaningful and powerful we are in the lives of others in the same predicament as we are. Well...that causes some people to walk out before the film is over. Or to shut down and seethe while waiting for it to end and then unleashing their boos on anyone within earshot. Or to simply want to go back to sleep walking through life avoiding the only certainty that we are born with...that we will all die. Everyone we know, have known or will ever know, will die. Everything we know, have ever known or will ever know will disappear. And so will we. The clock is ticking.

This is why I love Terrence Malick films, because they feel as if they were made especially for me. Malick and I have lived very different lives, but his films, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, in particular, are as close to my actual inner life and struggles as anything ever captured on film. Malick speaks my language, walks in my world and is able to cut me to the bone and reveal things about my inner being that I wasn't even aware of until he enlightened me. Malick asks me the same questions that I ask myself and struggles with the same answers, or lack of answers, that I struggle with. This is what makes Malick such a genius, and why I admire his work so much, and also why others may loathe his work. 

"MEDIOCRITIES EVERYWHEREI ABSOLVE YOUI ABSOLVE YOUI ABSOLVE YOU ALL." - SALIERI

"MOZART, MOZART, FORGIVE YOUR ASSASSIN!! I CONFESS I KILLED YOU" - SALIERI (AND THE REST OF US)

We live in a world of Salieri's, where mediocrity is rewarded and genius shunned. Some great examples of this are that Steven Spielberg has two Best Director Oscars and Terrence Malick has none. Spielberg is the ultimate Salieri to Malick's Mozart. A comparison of their two war films is proof of that. In 1997, after a twenty year absences from directing, Malick returned with his World War II film, The Thin Red Line, based on the James Jones book. Also that year, Steven Spielberg released his World War II film, Saving Private Ryan. The films could not have been more different and more glaring examples of the genius of one man, Malick, and the pandering mediocrity of the other, Spielberg. 

The juxtaposition of these two films is perfect for making the point about Malick as a singularly unique and original artistic voice and brilliant filmmaker. In Saving Private Ryan, a standard formulaic war film, we are shown the devastating effects of war upon the human body. Spielberg's gymnastic D-Day sequence shows the physical brutality of war in a very tense and riveting way. But after that sequence the film falls into the pattern of standard war film tropes. Malick's The Thin Red Line on the other hand, shows the impact of war not only on man's body, but upon his psyche, his spirit and his soul. Malick also has a vividly compelling war action sequence, where Marines must take a hill with Japanese machine gunners atop it, but Malick gives a more nuanced and human view of war beyond the physical carnage of it, by showing how it impacts not only the external life of the soldiers fighting, but the internal life. The torment of war upon the mind, the heart, the humanity and the spirituality of the men forced to fight it is front and center in The Thin Red Line, and completely missing from Saving Private Ryan. The Thin Red Line is the rarest of the rare, a multi-dimensional, deeply intimate war film that leaves us questioning war and our own righteousness, while Saving Private Ryan is simply another one-dimensional, standard war film that never forces us to question our virtue or morality. Saving Private Ryan shows us men surviving war, while The Thin Red Line teaches us that it is what men do to survive in war that does the most damage to them.

Spielberg won a Best Director Oscar for Saving Private Ryan. No one boos or walks out of a Spielberg film because he never questions his audience or makes them think or feel. He just mindlessly and soullessly entertains and leaves us on our way. Malick never let's his audience, or himself, off the hook. He challenges the audience, to surpass their cultural conditioning and to ask themselves the big questions that they don't want to think about. 

We are the guilty ones. We are all mini-Salieri's who reward the work of other more famous Salieris. Mediocrity has become King in America. Tom Hanks has won two Best Actor Oscars while Joaquin Phoenix has won none. A malignant mediocrity like Steven Spielberg has two Best Director Oscars, when two of the most rare cinematic geniuses, Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick have none. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, poster children for mediocrity, currently lead our Presidential elections. We have sentenced ourselves to a life term of mediocrity and deceive ourselves by calling it greatness. We are the ones to blame for this, no one else.

It is interesting to me that the people who walked out of The Tree of Life when I saw it, and the people who were so dismayed at the Knight of Cups when I saw it, were older people. These are the people who should most be thinking about the questions of life and death that Terrence Malick raises, yet they were the ones who were the most resistant to these Malick films. Maybe the fact that the next big thing to happen in the life of these folks will be the ending of it, is why they do not want to think about death, and they would rather be mindlessly entertained rather than confronted with their mortality. Of course, their fear and cowardice speaks more to them and their failings than it does to the artistry of Terrence Malick.

The people who would walk out of a Malick film, or boo it upon its conclusion, are the same people who laughed at Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollack or Mozart. They are the Gatekeepers of Mediocrity, Salieri's all, who want to keep genius in a cage while they whistle by the graveyard of their own worthless lives. I don't hate people who boo Malick films, I pity them. These people are missing out on so much beauty and joy and wisdom. To their credit, they do make me think about what things might I be resistant to out there that may be so fantastically wonderful but which I am too afraid to experience or understand. There is a lot of art in the world which is beyond my limited intellect, but I would never be so presumptuous as to boo it and stamp it as worthless. While I may not intellectually understand Jackson Pollack's work, I can still marvel at its dynamism. The same can be said of Opera, or classical music. While those art forms are things I know very little about, I would not presume to belch my inadequacies upon them in order to not feel stupid. Rather I would try and learn more about them and see if I could find the ageless beauty and wisdom that resides within them. 

Malick is an incomparable filmmaker. No one even attempts to do what he is and has been doing in cinema for the last forty years. Terrence Malick is among a very small, handful of true cinematic geniuses the world has ever known. The reality is, if you stand up and walk out of a Malick film, or boo loudly at the completion of a Malick film, that is an indictment of you and your compulsively myopic artistic tastes. Not understanding the genius of a Malick film is not a Malick problem….it is a YOU problem.

The Great Malick Civil War still rages to this day (and obviously, I rage along with it!!), with neither side willing to give an inch, but only one thing is assured…this war will end, and years from now, the fools, the clowns and the idiots who laughed and booed at Malick will be long gone and completely forgotten, but Malick's films will stand as a monument to his genius for the ages to come. Knight of Cups will be among those films which history will revere.

©2016

Hurricane Joaquin : Top Five Joaquin Phoenix Performances

The tv newsman with the impeccable hair and the vacant eyes is telling me that Hurricane Joaquin is tempestuously coming to a boil out in the Atlantic. Hurricanes and blizzards are the only time that weather is taken away from the tv weather person, be they the disingenuously jovial and cringe worthy comedy type of "weatherman", or the impossibly built and erotically charged type of "weather girl" (notice the term is 'girl' and not 'woman', no 'woman' over 23 need apply), and given to the vapid, dead-eyed mannequin that mindlessly reads the teleprompter every night, otherwise known as the "anchor person". As weatherman Schecky Numbnuts or Barbarella Bombshell slouches off in a darkened corner of the tv studio, no doubt rueing their plight, Johnny Handsome moves his fantastically whitened teeth up and down and tells me that Hurricane Joaquin is a powerful and unpredictable storm that is potentially on its way to ravage the eastern seaboard of the United States. I turn the sound off to avoid listening to the monotonous prattling of the orange faced man with the strenuously somber look, who deep down is praying that the Hurricane death count rises high enough so that the story will have 'dramatic resonance' with viewers and advertisers. 

Even with the sound off I cannot escape Hurricane Joaquin, as updates flash across the bottom of the screen. I chuckle every time I see the name Hurricane Joaquin crawl across on the news scroll, because I think of another Joaquin, the polar opposite in every way of the insincere Johnny Handsome, the enigmatic actor Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin Phoenix may be the best actor on the planet, and if he isn't the best, he is certainly the most interesting. Just like his name sake Hurricane, Joaquin Phoenix is powerful and unpredictable, tempestuous and raging. Instead of voyeuristically watching people in peril on the other side of the country from a force of nature called Hurricane Joaquin, I have decided to watch another force of nature, Joaquin Phoenix, rage in his best film performances, right here in the comfort of my own home. 

In tribute to Hurricane Joaquin here is a list of Joaquin Phoenix' best performances. So sit back, relax and enjoy The Master of the inner wound and the outer transformation, Joaquin Phoenix. 

If you are in Hurricane Joaquin's path, I genuinely implore you to please stay inside and stay safe, as hurricanes are serious and potentially very deadly business.  If you are going to watch Joaquin Phoenix films, the advice stays the same…stay inside…and stay safe. 

TOP FIVE JOAQUIN PHOENIX PERFORMANCES

5. GLADIATOR (2000)

Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott, won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and it's lead actor Russell Crowe won Best Actor. At the time of the film, Crowe was arguably the best actor and biggest star in the world, which only makes it all the more impressive that Joaquin Phoenix nearly steals the film right out from under him. Phoenix plays Commodus, the emperor's rather erratic son, who rises to the throne by killing his father in a jealous rage. Phoenix performance is electric, as he vibrates with a disconcerting and unsettlingly mania, a result of a very, very deep father wound. What makes Phoenix so good is that his energy, both physical and emotional, is sustained and focused yet unpredictably dangerous and capricious. The scene where he threatens his own sister with incestuous rape and the murder of her son, is chillingly effective. Phoenix greatest asset in playing Commodus is that he never gets stuck playing things at the same level. Commodus is certainly a mad man, which is why he is just as frightening when he is being reserved and quiet as he is when he is raging, because you don't know where his cruelty and wrath will fall next. Phoenix never lets Commodus be a caricatured villain, instead he creates a character that so desperately wants to be loved, and when he isn't, he wants others to feel the hurt that he carries so deeply inside him. Gladiator, at its heart, is a very conventional film, but Joaquin Phoenix' carefully crafted and nuanced performance raises the film from being somewhat mundane to being compulsively entertaining.

4. INHERENT VICE (2014)

Inherent Vice, directed by P.T. Anderson, is much like the man who stars in it, very strange, wondrously layered and terribly overlooked. Phoenix' work in this film is a tribute not only to his transcendent talent, but to his commitment to his art. His character "Doc", is created with such meticulous specificity that only a master craftsman could have pulled it off. Phoenix is able to convey a painstaking depth in the form of Doc's emotional wound, and a subtle charisma, that drives his character, and the film, through it's labyrinthian plot while never losing it's urgency and vitality. His scenes opposite his nemesis Josh Brolin, are pieces of comedic and dramatic gold.  It is really an extraordinary achievement to behold, and a credit to the artistry, magnetism and charm of Joaquin Phoenix.

Click here for my full review of INHERENT VICE.

3. WALK THE LINE (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix is sort of a strange looking guy. He has a cleft lip, a sunken sternum and a messed up, hunched back looking shoulder. And yet, despite all of these oddities, in Walk the Line, Phoenix goes full-on chameleon and transforms himself into the barrel-chested baritone, American icon Johnny Cash, without skipping a beat. It is a remarkable performance, all the way down to Joaquin doing much, if not all, of his own singing. What makes the performance all the more impressive is that it isn't an imitation of Cash, but rather an original creation that is close enough to the Johnny Cash we know to keep us placated, but unique and particular enough to keep us riveted. Once again, Phoenix creates an internal wound so vivid as to propel his character and compel the viewer all the way through the film. Walk the Line is at times a pedestrian piece of filmmaking, but Joaquin Phoenix' work in it is so magnetic that it is transcends and elevates what surrounds it.

2. HER (2013)

Her is the story of Theodore, a sensitive man living in the near future who falls in love with a computer operating system. It is directed by Spike Jonze and it stars our man of the hour, Joaquin Phoenix as the aforementioned Theodore. In the film, Phoenix sublimely uses his physicality to convey the isolation, desperation and emotional arc of the fragile and deeply damaged Theodore. Just watch and marvel at him walking around the futuristic Los Angeles in varying degrees of slouch. He also uses his greatly under appreciated charisma and magnetism to captivate the viewer while romantically playing opposite nothing but a voice. Her is really just a run of the mill love story, but both Jonze and Phoenix turn it into a poignant, touching and tragic commentary on human frailty and disconnect in the modern world. Joaquin Phoenix creates such a genuine, tender and delicate character that his hurt and his hope are palpable, as evidenced by two extraordinary scenes, one a dinner with his ex-wife exquisitely played by Rooney Mara, and the other when Theodore has a frantic conversation with his operating system/lover on the steps leading into a subway. Both scenes are exquisite examples of Joaquin Phoenix'  power as an actor.

Click here for my full review of HER.

1. THE MASTER (2012)

Acting is like walking a high wire, and the great actors, like Joaquin Phoenix, can do it without a net. In The Master though, Phoenix not only walks without a net, he goes without the high wire altogether. Joaquin simply jumps off the precipice and into the abyss with his arms and heart wide open, embracing whatever may come. What comes is nothing less than sheer brilliance, the master work of a true creative genius. In the film, again directed by P.T. Anderson, Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a malcontent in post World War Two America, with emotional and mental scars from the war and from his life before it. Phoenix contorts his body and his face to such extremes that he is unrecognizable in the role. It is such a virtuoso display of physicality that it boggles the mind. Every tortured contortion and deformity on Freddie's face and body tells the story of a specific and detailed inner hurt in outer form. It is not hyperbole to say that Phoenix' performance as Freddie Quell is the most transcendent piece of acting captured on film this century, and maybe even the last century as well. There is no other actor working today who could have done what Joaquin Phoenix did in The Master. His work is so vibrant, so vivid, so original, so unique, so detailed and so alive that it was a quantum leap in the evolution of the art of acting. A performance like that was previously inconceivable, and only the truly inspired genius of Joaquin Phoenix could have brought it life. Actors for generations to come will strive to match the audacious magnificence of Joaquin Phoenix performance in the aptly titled  The Master.  Joaquin Phoenix has proven to all of us that he most certainly is...The Master. I bow to his talent, and tip my cap to his mastery.

 

Enjoy the Joaquin Phoenix movies and stay safe!!

Inherent Vice : A Review?

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!!!

Inherent Vice, directed  and written by Paul Thomas Anderson, is an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix and boasts supporting performances from Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon among many others.

At this point in writing a review I will usually give a brief synopsis of the film's story. As I hopelessly stare at this ever ravenous and judgmental computer screen, with it's incessant hunger for words, wisdom and insight, I realize I am intellectually barren on this topic, hollow at my core, devoid of even the most primitive capacity to explain the labyrinthine plot of Inherent Vice. I have scoured my brain, even put on the complete Pink Floyd collection in search of inspiration, but to no avail. To paraphrase Ned Flander's beatnik parents on The Simpsons, who didn't know how to discipline young Ned, "I've tried nothing and I'm all out of ideas!"

The revelation that has dawned on me is that this is not really a 'review', but would more accurately be described as a 'viewers guide'.  Inherent Vice is a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by rolling papers. I have seen it twice already and it wasn't until well after the second viewing did things start to take shape for me in regards to figuring this film out. What I hope to do in writing this 'guide' is not explain the film to you, I think that is an impossibility, since my experience of the film will most assuredly be different from yours, but instead of explaining, I hope to help prepare you for your experience of the film. 

Inherent Vice is a film that is like a delicious Duncan Hines yellow cake with chocolate frosting, so dense and layered that it can be exquisitely delectable but at the same time down right overwhelming. The film is really three layers/films in one, if not many more. The key to watching Inherent Vice is to choose which version, or level, of the film you think you will most enjoy and gorge on it from there.  Here are the three scrumptious layers that are most apparent to me. Mmmmmmmm, yummy layers.

1. The Surface Level. On the surface level, Inherent Vice is a stoner mystery comedy. Think Cheech and Chong meet Chinatown. Personally, I don't get into stoner films, they just aren't my cup of tea, or drug of choice, or whatever metaphor you'd be more comfortable with. So I didn't appreciate the film on this level a great deal, although I admit it is pretty fun trying to figure out what is actually real and what is a just a hallucination in the mind of Joaquin Phoenix' character "Doc". A lot of people do dig stoner comedies though, and if you do, you may very well really like Inherent Vice just as an entertaining, fun movie and nothing more. If that is the case with you, then dive right in and enjoy. If not, then head to level two.

2. A Political/Social Commentary. Dig a little deeper with Inherent Vice and you will find a meditation on American corruption, fascism, and the exploitation of the individual and collective psyche by government and corporate interests through marketing and manipulation. On this level, it is all about the co-opting of the sixties liberation and freedom movements, both personal and political, by the establishment. As you watch, take note of how nothing is ever what it seems on the surface, like the dental conglomerate that is really an Asian drug cartel, or the drug-addled-hippie-musician who is really a spy for Nixon. Everything is something other than what it appears, every person and every group has a hidden nefarious motive at the core of their actions. So, don't have a freak out man!! Remember...paranoia is just a heightened sense of awareness!!

Level two is also riddled with political and social symbolism. As a prime example of level two symbolism, take note of one scene as an example,  in which Josh Brolin's "Bigfoot" character, the symbol of the establishment, kicks in Doc's door and then gobbles down marijuana by the handful as an intimidating show of power, which is really an allegory for the usurping of marijuana culture by the establishment in the form of legalization. Weed is now 'officially' integrated, and by being so legitimized, it loses it's mysterious power. Weed has now been neutered as a political statement and muted as a sacrament for the counter-culture and a symbol of their anti-authoritarianism and rebelliousness.

If you have four hours to kill (in one hour increments)… a really great primer on the exploitation of the individual and collective psyche by those in power, and how they manipulate through marketing, is a series of documentaries from the BBC titled, The Century of the Self. It is about Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays and his creation of of the public relations industry. It is long, but it is a truly great documentary, and it really lays the groundwork for understanding the massive manipulation that unfolds on level two of Inherent Vice, and in our actual lives to this day.  Here is a link…Century of the Self. 

3. A Jungian Psychological Exploration. On level three the story of Inherent Vice is really the tale of the spiritual/psychological quest for wholeness and reunification with the Self by the bringing together of the opposites. Ok, this might be the least apparent and most inaccessible level of the three described, but I found it the most interesting. The way to understand this is to see all of the characters in the story as parts of Doc's psyche. Doc, the long haired, counter-culture hippie, and Josh Brolin's "Bigfoot", the flat-topped-square-establishmentarian, are symbolic opposites of the same coin, Doc's psyche. Shasta, Doc's ex-girlfriend, represents the Anima (feminine power) and Doc the Animus (male), with Doc trying to re-connect with the anima in order to be complete and whole. Also notice the other opposites that come together, Nazis and Jews, the Black Guerrilla Family and the Aryan Brotherhood, Nixonites and hippies, etc. Another thing to keep an eye out for are the religious/spiritual symbolism, including the Christs with Uzis (no, that is not a misprint), and the Buddhas, both gatekeepers and guardians that keep Owen Wilson's character, and Mickey "Wolfmann" mentally, emotionally and psychologically hostage.

The great symbol of wholeness in the film is hiding in plain sight. It is...of all things…pizza!! Trust me, when you see pizza or hear the word pizza, pay attention. Pizza is round and is the symbol of wholeness, so when Doc, or the other characters whom are symbolic parts of his psyche, are looking for, ordering, or eating pizza, they are really searching for wholeness and reunification with the Self. Thus the eating of pizza represents the integrating of wholeness and through this synthesis with wholeness, they, and the part of Doc's psyche they personify, are healed. This is the story of level three, Doc's quest for re-connection with Self and wholeness. 

Thus ends the 'viewers guide'. Those are just some of the ways you can choose to look at the film. You will probably find much more, as the film speaks to people in the language that they can hear. I never read the Thomas Pynchon book the film is based on, so readers of that book might have a greater understanding and appreciation for the film on every level. 

Just a few quick final notes on some of the specifics of the film. First the acting. Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead role of Doc, and he is his usual stellar self. Phoenix' work in the last few years, especially his previous work with P.T. Anderson in The Master, has been so ingeniously brilliant it is beyond description as merely the craft of 'acting'. Phoenix' artistry is so rare and original that I cannot compare him to any other actor we've ever seen, but rather to another revolutionary artist from another form, Pablo Picasso.  Phoenix is so far out there in terms of what he brings to a role, his authenticity, originality and inventiveness that he can only be described as some sort of Picasso-esque mad genius. But beyond his obvious transcendent talent, he also brings an immense understanding and mastery of his craft and a painstakingly meticulous specificity to the details of his work. Joaquin Phoenix is as unique a talent as we have in the acting world, and he is at the height of his powers. We should all consider ourselves blessed to get to watch his work.

Josh Brolin has a supporting role and is as good as he's ever been. Brolin devours the role of "Bigfoot" like his character "Bigfoot" devours that platter of weed, or his Japanese pancakes ("MOTO PANACAKU!!"...Oh wow man, I just realized, just now, that a pancake is another round food symbol of wholeness!! Bigfoot is demanding, in the language of the east, more servings of wholeness to integrate!! Wholeness prepared and delivered by a man of the East!! Whoa….). Brolin brings an unwavering focus and intensity to "Bigfoot", which plays as both frightening and funny. Brolin can be an underrated actor, but here he shows he is the real deal when in the right role, and his performance is a key part in making Inherent Vice work.

Robert Elswit is the cinematographer on Inherent Vice, and his work is dazzling. Elswit has worked on many of P.T. Anderson's films, and his work is always exquisite, and Inherent Vice is no exception. This is the second film of note for Elswit this year, his cinematography on Nightstalker is stunning as well. It is without question that Elswit deserves not only an Oscar nomination but an Oscar win for his work in either Nightstalker or Inherent Vice. Elswit, like Phoenix, is another artist at the top of his game.

And there you have some random, scattered thoughts on the enigmatic Inherent Vice.  I can honestly tell you that I am not sure which parts of this 'review/guide' were real, and which were simply entertaining hallucinations, but I guess you'll figure that all out when you see the movie for yourself. 

I do hope you find the viewer's guide useful, but remember, those are just some of the ways to watch the film. You will probably find much more, as the film speaks to people in the language with which they can hear it, and that is it's greatest strength and a tribute to the mastery of director Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson is the great filmmaker of our time, and Inherent Vice is a tribute to his complexity and the intricacy of his work. I found the film to be fascinating, I think you may too.

© 2015

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , THE IMITATION GAME , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .