Tag Archives: Phoenix

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

28 Jul

‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot’: Alcoholic cartoonist was hell on wheels

Image result for picture don't worry he wont get far on foot

The films of Gus Van Sant, be they the good (“To Die For” or “Drugstore Cowboy”), the total miscue (“Psycho” or “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”) or even a crowd-pleasingly mainliner (“Good Will Hunting” or “Milk”) have always been embossed by a gritty, streetwise authenticity. That’s Van Sant’s gift – plus, by skill, proximity or both, educing some of the great performances of the past 20 or 30 years from actors the likes of Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Matt Dillon, Robin Williams, Matt Damon and River Phoenix, to name a few. Here he’s re-teamed with River’s brother Joaquin, who played one of Kidman’s teen lovers-turned-hubby snuffers in “To Die For” (1995).

“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” isn’t a topical grabber; it’s a biopic about an esoteric satirist/sketch artist by the name of John Callahan who died in 2010 after spending most of his adult life in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident involving a drunken driver. The terrible catch there being that the car was Callahan’s, driven by another (Jack Black) because Callahan was too drunken to drive.

“Don’t Worry,” however, isn’t so much about overcoming physical difficulties and beating the odds, but about confronting one’s demons. As the film has it, Callahan has an angry closet full of ’em. A raging alcoholic from the minute we catch up with him to the alcohol rocket of an evening that ends with Callahan’s VW Bug wrapped around a cement post, the slacker handyman out for the next good time seemingly has little prospects beyond his shaggy good looks and winning smile – and then that too seemingly gets taken from him. Strapped to a hospital gurney in the cold, sterile aftermath, Callahan flirts with his physical therapist (Rooney Mara, impeccable and fetching in the small role) and when peppering his counselor (Rebecca Field) about the functionality of his equipment, she suggests with grave seriousness that he ask the night nurse to sit on his face. Callahan flashes his old smile and accepts the challenge gleefully. Out on his own. Callahan returns to the bottle with self-pitying vehemence. It seems a fast downward spiral, but he also starts drawing acerbic political doodles that get published (“the place that publishes Gary Larson just called”) and elicit strong public reaction. He also checks into an AA group led by Jonah Hill’s ultra-rich gay swami, Donnie, who presides over the flock with the smarmy, manipulative charm of a cocksure charlatan. Callahan takes to Donnie, but keeps boozing on the side with angry-man swagger. All of which makes for a gonzo 12-step ride.

It might be treasonous to say, but Phoenix and Hill don’t have great chemistry. They’re fantastic, mind you, but not in the way Bogie and Bacall or Newman and Redford were, or even Damon and Affleck’s bros in Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting.” When the two are on screen together the film is undeniably intoxicating in its own quirky right; if you were at a bar with this duo, you’d find it hard to close out your tab before closing time. But they’re just not pouring the same stuff. And sans the bravura performances – self-righteous Hill and self-hating Phoenix – I’m not sure “Don’t Worry” would be that interesting of a film. Cultural icons Kim Gordon, Udo Kier and Carrie Brownstein have small bits and feel plugged in but not necessarily engaged in the presence of the immersed leads. Gordon, best known for her work as a member of edgy ’90s rock band Sonic Youth, also had a small role in Van Sant’s “Last Days” (2006) the last chapter in the filmmaker’s Death Trilogy that reimagined Kurt Cobain’s demise. The other films in that series, “Gerry” (2002) and “Elephant” (2003), a repainting of the Columbine massacre, are similarly fact-based and likewise riveting. “To Die For” (1995) and “Paranoid Park” (2007) too might make apt bookends, and if you added in “Don’t Worry,” an individual alone in a country cabin for a weekend with the ability to stream such a double-triple program might emerge on Sunday depressed, enlightened and oddly invigorated. The most telling and frightening aspect of “Don’t Worry,” however, is its raw and honest depiction of addiction and the grip it has on the ensnared – and the ends they will go to in spinning a false narrative even as the knees of reality betray them.

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Irrational Man

31 Jul

“Irrational Man,” the new movie from Woody Allen, is a hodgepodge of parts held together by an enigmatic protagonist – a swaggering nihilist who teaches philosophy and, despite a flabby, alcoholic paunch, invites much favor from attached women, even though he can’t get it up – and a finely nuanced performance by Joaquin Phoenix taking on that role. Phoenix’s Abe arrives to a small New England liberal arts institution (filmed in Rhode Island), where there is as much dread over Abe’s debauchery as there is awe over his revered mind and that one big book he published that made him a philosophical rock star.

073015i Irrational ManAbe gets himself into a love triangle faster than he can down a shot of bourbon or spout a lazy line about “mental masturbation.” On the faculty side he’s got Rita (Parker Posey, digging into the role nicely), semi-unhappily married and dreaming of wine and roses and dirty sex with a kindred miserable spirit. Rita’s counterbalanced by the fawnish Jill (Allen’s muse du jour, Emma Stone, so good in “Birdman” and proving that inclination correct here), a student with a jockish beau. Things go from mentor-student banter to inappropriate friendship even with clothes on. Abe, in all his louche self-loathing, has become the black hole of the campus. But then, near the nadir of his pontificating wretchedness, he finds an up.

Allen has been making movies for almost 50 years. The sardonic joys of “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall” and “Hannah and her Sisters” radiates across the decades, the self-deprecating nebbish new and relevant again in every generation. There’s no doubt to his genius, but recent years have seen change-ups in his works, some too hauntingly self-reflective or suggestive of refutations of public opinion of his media circus life behind closed doors (“Husbands and Wives”) and forays into Hitchcock (“Match Point”). His last truly great film was “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (before the whole fallout with longtime partner Mia Farrow), and while there have been flourishes of the unique and the old Woody (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Blue Jasmine”) there’s almost always a two off that seem unformed, and that the old Woody wouldn’t have done or developed more to a point. No matter – his output of a film a year is nothing less than impressive.

“Irrational Man” fuses the old quirky Allen – with sharp characters ensnared in the mundane and struggling to get out – with his more current predilection for Hitchcockian dabbling. It almost works, but in the denouement, stumbles (irrationally) and falls down the shaft of the absurd. If you don’t see it coming, it’s not because you weren’t paying attention, but because you were.

Inherent Vice

9 Jan

There’s drugs and free love a’plenty in Inherent Vice, but the characters steal the show 

Doc’s Orders

Joaquin Phoenix takes the audience on a trip in  'Inherent Vice'

Warner Brothers Pictures

Joaquin Phoenix takes the audience on a trip in ‘Inherent Vice’

Clearly Paul Thomas Anderson has a thing for the storied eras of America’s past. Boogie Nights welcomed in the rise of the porn industry during the flared-pant, disco-fueled 70s; the more nuanced The Master took up the arc of an L. Ron Hubbard-like charlatan in the wake WWII; while There Will be Bloodnegotiated the nasty, avaricious early roots of the American oil grab. Anderson’s latest, Inherent Vice, is no exception. In texture it’s an ode to the psychedelic 70s of free love and rampant recreational drug use.

Anderson’s always been a contemplative filmmaker with a keen sense of perverse quirk, and those qualities really come to the fore in Inherent Vice, a gumshoe noir on LSD if ever there was one. The stalwart indie director —who proved his ability to handle the opus works of literary lions by spinning Upton Sinclair’s Oil! into There Will be Blood — delves deep into Thomas Pychon’s far-roaming 2009 novel with baroque gusto. Continue reading

13 Sins

19 Apr

April 19, 2014

Published in Pate Magazine

<i>13 Sins</i>

“The devil made me do it,” might be an apt response for some of the mayhem and mischief that goes on in 13 Sins, but greed and desperation are more to the point. The film, directed by Daniel Stamm and based on the Thai film, 13 Games of Death, rides a one-trick-pony for all it’s worth. It might not be original, or superbly cut together, but it does pay dividends as it the scale of sociopathic doings becomes ever more satanic.

After a baroque opener that has an elder gentleman in a suit and tie launch into a four-letter-word fit at a podium only to perform impromptu digit surgery on a beloved one once he’s arguably calmed down, we meet Elliot (Mark Webber) who’s having the day from hell. His mentally impaired brother (Devon Graye) needs expensive meds, he’s expecting a child with his fiancée (Rutina Wesley), and with all the downward financial pressure, he gets tossed from his job by a patronizing ass of a boss, and we haven’t even gotten to his drunk, racist dad (Tom Bower) who needs to move in with them, and drops a few N-bombs on his African-American daughter-in-law-to-be just to let everyone know exactly what he’s thinking.

So it’s fortuitous, or ominous, when Elliot gets a call from a random avuncular soul who tells him, that if he kills the annoying fly buzzing about in his car, he’ll get a thousand dollars. At first, Elliot looks around to see if he’s been punked, but then complies. Boom, the money lights up in his account. (Smart phones are such great plot accelerator for rote horror films) and then he’s told, that if he then eats the squashed bug he’ll get three thousand more.

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All is Lost

25 Oct

‘All is Lost’: Redford, alone at sea, silent, carries film soaked with beauty and fear

By Tom Meek
October 24, 2013

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Vastness can be an aesthetic wonderment, breathtaking to behold like the dark cold of outer space in “Gravity” or the endless desert in “Lawrence of Arabia,” but given a rip in a suit or a missed rendezvous at an oasis, that hypnotic intoxication with the serene forever can quickly become the edge of a hapless demise where outside intervention becomes a mathematic improbability and personal perseverance is the only shot at salvation.

102513i All Is Lost

In his sophomore effort, “All is Lost,” young filmmaker J.C. Chandor – who got an Academy Award nomination for his bold debut “Margin Call” – employs the sea as his beauteous hell. The film’s title is a shard from a letter written by a hopeless yachtsman adrift at sea in a life raft.  Continue reading

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The Rhode Island International Film Fest

9 Aug

The Rhode Island International Film Fest

My 2 cents on it in the Providence Phoenix

World War Z

24 Jun

‘World War Z’: Flesh-rippers come at you fast, and so does this globe-racing flick

By Tom Meek
June 22, 2013

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Zombie apocalypse and anything vampire seems to be the hot ticket out of Hollywood these days. The subtext that we prey on each other and that life is a precious and fragile thing is a piquant notion that gets magnified to its fullest when examining how man comports himself as civilization crumbles.

062213 World War ZSans rules and with limited resources, what would you do? Snatch and grab, help out or hole up doomsday-prepper style?

That’s the special sauce that makes any apocalypse-cum-horror flick grip the road. Real people, supernatural horror, deep shit. George Romero’s seminal “Night of the Living Dead” was more about the dynamics and dissent among a band of survivors barricaded in a farmhouse than it was about the throng of shambling flesh scratching at the walls. Decades later, guys such as Danny Boyle (“28 Days Later”) and Zack Snyder (the 2004 remake of Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”) got the nifty idea to make the dead move at warp speed.  Continue reading