"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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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

A Ghost Story : A Review

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

My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE.  A warning : This is an art house film, if your tastes run to the more conventional, you will probably hate this movie. You've been forewarned!

There is an old story, I think it is about legendary producer Robert Evans, that recounts a Hollywood big wig wanting to re-make Moby Dick, but this time...from the whale's perspective. I kept thinking of that as I watched writer/director David Lowery's mesmerizing A Ghost Story. Don't be deceived, A Ghost Story is not a horror film, although it has moments of creepiness, rather it is a ghost story, but this time...from the ghost's perspective. 

The film is not your typical ghost story in that it is more a meditation on the nature of time, place, existence and grief. As someone who has suffered the relentless slings and arrows that accompany the unexpected death of a loved one, I can say that A Ghost Story acts as an intriguing philosophical salve that cools the hot wounds of being forced to contemplate the fragility of life and our own impending mortality. This theme must be in the forefront of the collective unconscious at the moment because other great artists besides director David Lowery have recently made films that touch upon this subject. Both Olivier Assayas with his fantastic Personal Shopper and the enigmatic Terence Malick with Song to Song have delved into the depths of our existential despair and discovered dramatic treasure, and so it is with Lowery and A Ghost Story.

A Ghost Story stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, both of whom give impeccable performances. Following up on her stellar work in Terence Malick's Song to Song, Mara does masterful work as "M" opposite Affleck's "C". Mara is blessed with the ability to draw viewers in to her character's private world while at the same time appearing to be impenetrable to the those around her.

Rooney Mara is an actress at the top of her game and may be the best actress on the planet at the moment. She is an utter joy to behold in this film, where her master of craft is on full display. She doesn't have much dialogue, but she fills every moment with a specificity and attention to detail that render her work riveting, bordering on the hypnotic. She fills the screen and her character with such clear intentions that there are no wasted movements or moments. Most actors struggle when they don't have words to say, but Mara has proven herself to be an exquisite artist who never succumbs to the alluring temptation to creatively meander.

There is one moment in particular from Mara that resonated with me. The moment occurs right before the "pie scene" that has gotten so much attention on the internet. In the lead up to that scene, Mara throws something away, and then she takes a short beat and actually looks into the garbage can. In the hands of a lesser talent, that moment never would have occurred, but with Rooney Mara, she made a distinct choice and it filled a rather mundane moment with intrigue and artistry. You can't help but watch the scene and wonder…what is in the garbage can? What is she seeing and what does it mean to her? And when coupled with the context of the narrative at that moment, it makes for quite compelling cinema.

Casey Affleck also gives a strong performance, which is remarkable considering the circumstances he is working under. Affleck, coming off his Best Actor Oscar, looks to be an actor who is willing to take chances and commit himself fully to even the most challenging of artistic visions. He, like Mara, never wastes a single moment on screen, and fills his silence with a powerful and tangible humanity that can be both chilling and heartening, but never fails to captivate.

As for the film itself, director David Lowery proves himself to be a unique filmmaker. He is certainly influenced by his fellow Texan, Terence Malick, but that influence never falls into creative sycophancy. Lowery is not the virtuoso talent of Malick, but like Malick he embraces silence and stillness in his films, and philosophical topics in his stories. The other thing that Lowery and Malick share is an artistic courage and comfort outside the mainstream. 

What I liked the most about A Ghost Story is maybe what other people will like the least about it, namely that it has a deliberate pace and uses long, slow takes in order to let the drama and the characters unfold in a sometimes painful, but always interesting, way. It is rare to find directors with the confidence to let the camera keep rolling for sometimes excruciatingly long scenes, but Lowery successfully coaxes viewers into the story with this technique. It is also difficult to find actors who are comfortable with that style of directing, but Lowery succeeded in the casting room by getting two phenomenal artists to sign on to play the parts.

There is one scene in the film which may be the best scene I have witnessed this entire year. It is a monologue, and in a film with very little dialogue it stands out not only for its verbosity but for its intellectual eloquence. This monologue is at once an existential wail into the abyss and also a vivid clarion call to life. The monologue also sums up the philosophical underpinnings of the film, which are fascinating to say the least and will resonate with any human who has ever contemplated their own existence. 

In conclusion, A Ghost Story is a wonderfully original piece of work from director David Lowery, that boasts sublime and meticulous performances from Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. A Ghost Story is in execution and intention an art house film through and through, so if your tastes tend toward the more mainstream, you will not only dislike this movie, but loathe it. But if you are an adventuresome cinephile or someone who has carried the cross of intense personal grief, or both, A Ghost Story is well worth your time and hard earned money, and I highly recommend you make the effort to see it in the theatre. 

©2017

Song to Song : A Review

****THIS IS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME VERY MINOR SPOILERS (Discussion of themes and plot structure)!!!! THIS IS TECHNICALLY NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

My Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT (with caveats).  If you are a fan of director Terrence Malick, you will enjoy this film a great deal. If your tastes are less "experimental" and more conventional, you will absolutely hate this movie, so skip it.

Song to Song, written and directed by Terrence Malick, with cinematography by three time Academy Award winner Emmanuel Lubezki, is a meditation on love, shame, sex, mercy and forgiveness set in the music scene of Austin, Texas. The film stars Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman.

For some reason, every time I go see a Malick film in the theaters, I run into some issue with my fellow moviegoers. This time around I had two white-haired biddies come into the theatre as the previews rolled and they proceeded to talk very loudly during them. Then when the film started, one of the old Crones said very loudly, "it's hot in here!!".

I turned and said to them, in as gentle a voice as possible, "excuse me ladies, would you mind not talking, that would be awesome." They said, "ok", but then proceeded to talk throughout the entire film anyway. I kept getting distracted by these two nasty hags and daydreamed of stomping their empty skulls to dust with my steel toed boots every time they felt the need to say how much they hated the film as it was playing. 

I never killed them, or even kicked them, as much as I wanted to, mostly because I assumed one or both of them were packing heat…just a hunch...but because of this irritating distraction it was difficult for me to get into the proper Malick head space to watch the film. The first third of the movie was definitely a struggle, but against all odds, Song to Song was able to win me over, and in the final two thirds was able to transport me into the mind and spirit of its genius director, no small feat with the Greek chorus of dipshits persistently chiming in behind me. 

Enigmatic filmmaker Terrence Malick's work can be an acquired taste, I readily acknowledge this fact. His recent string of films, Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and this year's Song to Song, are often times describes as "experimental" films. I label them "contemplative cinema" because they are not meant to be watched like you watch a "regular" movie with a linear narrative, but is meant to be enjoyed as more of a meditative storytelling experience.

Malick speaks in a very distinct language, and if you do not understand that language, his films will not only be confusing, but will be downright frustrating and irritating. It would be like watching a foreign film without the subtitles and with sunglasses on. Hence you get people like the two morons behind me who were so out of their depth watching Song to Song they felt the need to assume everyone was equally as ill-equipped to understand what they were watching. Those old whores (again this is just a hunch, I have no definitive proof that they have or had sex for money) didn't understand Malick's language, hell, they probably thought they were going to see the animated musical Sing.

The thing to understand before going to see a Malick film is that Malick makes films that speak in a veiled, but distinctly religious and cinematic language. The trouble with this is that the people who are artistically cultured enough to understand the cinematic language, will most likely be members of the Church of the Libertine and not understand Malick's Gnostic Catholic religious language, and those with the religious understanding will not be cinematically sophisticated enough to understand the structure, style and visuals of the film. It is a dilemma, no doubt, but at this point, I do not care, as I am apparently one of a very, very tiny minority of people (and critics) for whom Malick's film's deeply resonate. I don't care how, or why that is, just that it is. I consider myself blessed because of it. If you do not "get" Malick's work, that is on you, and I beg you to keep your ignorance to yourself, because next time I might not be so reticent and go full on Hulk and smash those who ruin my sacred experience in the local art house. 

As for the film itself, cinematographer Lubezki once again does a masterful job with his floating and dancing camera that creates an otherworldly aura about the entire project. Malick's films, (and Lubezki's), are gorgeous to look at, but they also tell the deeper story of the film with visuals alone, and so it is with Song to Song. Lubezki consistently moves his camera from left to right, sometimes to observe a conversation, other times to expand the make up of the shot. The left to right camera movement is meant to symbolize the alchemical journey the lead character makes on the "left hand path" away from her center.

Regardless of what Lubezki is shooting in Song to Song, each fluid shot offers a brief glimpse at a visual masterpiece. It is like spinning your way through an art museum, the view is staggeringly beautiful, but ephemeral, quickly replaced by a new work of wonder to amaze you.

The themes that Malick examines in Song to Song are similar to the ones he explored in his Dante-esque masterpiece Knight of Cups. This time though, the main, but not exclusive, protagonist is a woman, Rooney Mara's Faye, a struggling musician in Austin, as opposed to the man at the center of Knight of Cups, played by Christian Bale, who was navigating the perils of Hollywood.

Rooney Mara does exquisitely wondrous work as Malick's muse Faye. Mara is able to fill the camera, and her scenes with a painfully yearning melancholy that is mesmerizing to watch. She seems wonderfully comfortable with her discomfort in front of Malick's camera, and that translates remarkably well to the myth at the heart of the film. Mara's face is striking, and she is able to draw the viewer in towards her even while she withdraws into her cocoon of self doubt and spiritual turmoil.

Ryan Gosling plays BV, a song writer and Faye's love interest, while Michael Fassbender is music producer Cook and Natalie Portman plays Cook's girlfriend Rhonda. They all do top-notch, and at times spectacular work in Song to Song. BV's Christ-like gentle nature and kind heart are balanced by Cook's Mephistophelean and insatiable hunger, just like Faye's melancholic yearning is balanced by Rhonda's crushing desperation. 

Cate Blanchett also has a small role but proves once again what a extraordinary actress she truly is. Blanchett is a wonder to behold in her brief screen time. She can tell an entire story with just the smallest of gestures with her hands, watch her tap the glass!! I would encourage any and all actors to closely watch Ms. Blanchett's hands in both Song to Song and in Knight of Cups to see a masterclass in subtly powerful acting.

As with many of Malick's films, most notably Knight of Cups, the theme of forgetting one's true self runs throughout. Faye has forgotten her true nature, her connection to God and her goodness. Like a Prodigal daughter she must leave home, and the Divine, and take the "left hand path" of struggle in order to return to her center out of choice, not chance. Unlike most films, Song to Song is structured as a circle, not a straight line. When Faye returns to where she began, it all seems so new that it is only vaguely familiar. The starting point is the same, but Faye is different, she sees it with new eyes.

The haunting sense of the familiar, and of a lost connection to the true self are common themes that Malick explores in many of his more recent films. Malick films are like dreams and should be watched and understood through that prism. Everything means something, but not what it appears to mean on the surface. And, as in all Malick movies, and as it is in dreams, time in Song to Song is at best fluid, and at most, non-existent.

As Faye tries to return to the Eden she left behind, she is seduced by the temptations of the "left hand path" of this world, success, fame, wealth, and power. But this is a fallen world, and Cook, like the fallen angel Satan, is the king of it. To follow the path of Cook is to embrace the momentary over the eternal, the profane over the divine. While Cook's world is deliciously tantalizing, it is most assuredly the way of spiritual death. On some level Faye knows this, but the allure of that sweet death can be both intoxicating and spellbinding. 

The message at the heart of Song to Song is one that should resonate with spiritual seekers of all kinds, that in order to return to our true selves and higher nature, we must evolve beyond our animal drives and instincts, and simplify our lives and embrace a true and honest heart inspired love (as opposed to genital inspired). Of course, that is much easier said than done, and even when one makes that choice, their more base desires will still call out to them like the Sirens singing ships into their doom on the pointy rocks of shore, but as Song to Song shows us, evolution is a process, one that is cyclical and circular. We return Home from our travels and travails, born anew, but will be called once again to the "left hand path" of our lesser urges and will have to make the journey all over again, just with new eyes.

When BV washes Faye, her sins are cleansed, her heart and soul clear, and they are both born again into a new, and more simple life. Cook will still be in Austin hunting for souls, damaged ones or ones he seeks to damage, but the key for Faye and BV is to return to the simplicity of Eden. Their journey is a return to the earth, a return to love, a return to their true and higher selves. 

Mercy and the freedom of forgiveness are the gifts Faye receives and they propel her to evolve beyond her limiting animal nature, and to sacrifice her wants for the higher purpose of her true self and love. I know this all sounds very new-agey, but it isn't, it is in many ways deeply traditionalist, just without the female subservience. The answer for Faye and BV, is a traditionalist return to a grounding on the earth, not the new age promise of life among the stars. And this may be why Malick's film has caused such a negative stir among cinephiles. The more sophisticated of viewers will probably be members of the Church of the Libertine, and therefore will not see Faye's dalliances with debauchery or moral and ethical compromises as problematic, they would see them as a form of freedom. But the reality is that freedom for Faye, and for many of us, is an illusion, and comes with a steep price, namely your soul. 

That message is anathema to American culture, one that celebrates the individual’s wants and demands instant gratification of any and all desires. As Song to Song tells us, sex is a gift, and to abuse it for any reason is a sin against oneself and the divine. That is a message that most members of the Church of the Libertine will reject out of hand, which may explain why critics are so hostile to Song to Song, as they are unconsciously repulsed by the films moral, ethical and spiritual compass.

Song to Song is a piece of art to be experienced, not a puzzle to be solved. The film, like all of Malick's recent work, not only works visually and acoustically, but viscerally. Song to Song, if you can lose yourself in it, washes over you like the cool waters of a cinematic baptism, inviting the viewer to witness the struggle and the possibility of faith and a true and transcendent love. 

If you are a lover of more mainstream fare, Song to Song is most definitely not for you…not at all. If you love Malick films, I believe you will love Song to Song. If you are somewhere in the middle, I would assume that Song to Song would be a bridge too far for you. This type of cinema, whether you call it "experimental" or "cinematic contemplation", is very challenging, and if you aren't up for the challenge, then you should stick to your comfort zone. But if you do make the ambitious trek to see Song to Song, then please just give yourself over to it. And if you hate it, keep it to yourself. Let's make a deal, I won't ruin the Fast and Furious movies for you, and you don't ruin Malick movies for me? Ok? Great!! See you at the concession stand!!

©2017

 

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!!