I’m Still Here * * * 1/2

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Director: Casey Affleck.
Screenplay: Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Antony Langdon, Larry McHale, Sean Combs, Ben Stiller, Edward James Olmos, David Letterman, Tim Affleck.

In 2008, Joaquin Phoenix announces that he’s quitting acting to pursue a music career in hip hop. His bother-in-law, Casey Affleck, decides to film his every move over the course of a year and delivers a portrait of an artist at a crossroads in his life.

Beginning with home video footage from 1981 in Panama, of a young Phoenix jumping from a waterfall, this films sets it’s stall out in exploring a life that’s seemingly always been documented. Phoenix has been in the public-eye from a very tender age, having appeared as young as 8 yrs old in the television series “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” before moving onto “The Fall Guy”, “Hill Street Blues” and “Murder She Wrote”. His first recognisable movie roles came in the shape of 1986’s “Space Camp” or 1989’s “Parenthood” before moving into more edgier roles in Gus Van Sant’s “To Die For” in 1995. Up until then, he was better known as the younger sibling of (the late) River Phoenix but eventually gained the full respect of movie goers with two Oscar nominations (now three, since the release of this movie). It’s was through this steady rise in the film industry that brought so much media attention to his, seemingly, self destructive decision to abandon acting and become a rap artist under the guidance of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
This fly-on-the wall documentary follows Phoenix’s obvious lack of talent for rapping and the abandonment of his personal hygiene, while his fragile mental state increased due to a voracious appetite for cannabis and cocaine. As he’s constantly high and stoned, a frenzied media where clambering for his story and a reason for the meltdown of an actor in the prime of his career. Ultimately, though, the joke was on them (and us), as the whole thing was an elaborate hoax and an exposé of the nature of celebrity and their pandered ego’s and lifestyle’s.
Phoenix is entirely believable in his bearded, paunched appearance and his spiralling egotistical, mental anguish and arrogance. He even dares to tackle chat-show host David Letterman (in a now infamous episode) and when you consider that this was a role that completely consumed him – not only throughout the length of the shoot but in the eyes of the world, before and after – you realise how outstanding he is. It’s a powerful display of commitment and it’s probably one of the bravest and boldest moves that an actor has done.
As entertainment, though, it’s questionable. It goes on too long and there are points where the voyeurism pushes boundaries and comes across as bad taste. What could have been the downfall of a man going through a serious mental breakdown, struggles to decide whether it’s comedic or dramatic. That being said, it’s interesting viewing and it at least exposes the bitter behaviour of western media and how easily they can turn.

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Being a fan of Phoenix, will certainly add to the appeal of this film, but if you can normally take or leave him, then this won’t hold much of an interest. It’s flawed, but it’s a bold and noteworthy experiment all the same.

Mark Walker

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33 Responses to “I’m Still Here * * * 1/2”

  1. Oh my God. This movie cracks me up. I had to buy it when I saw it was on sale for $3.99! Phoenix is so believable and was totally dedicated to this role!

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    • Ha! It’s funny you say that. I also got it on sale and had to buy it. £2.99 on Blu-Ray. It was a real bargain.
      Phoenix was outstanding in it, wasn’t he? It must have been an absolutely exhausting time for him to keep that up.

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  2. Such an odd movie. It was obviously fake, even before Affleck came right out and said it, but seriously, once they showed the dude shitting of Joaquin’s face, I had pretty much lost it. Good review Mark.

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  3. I’ve got to see this! That clip from Letterman was hilarious Mark.

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    • Yeah, it’s good stuff Chris. Phoenix is outstanding and has mostly everyone bluffed. Lots of celebrities and people from the media had no idea how to take him and consistently made fool of him when it was him that pulling the wool over their eyes. He’s quite impressive.

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  4. I loved this film. And I’m not always the biggest fan of Phoenix (although he blew me away The Master). Can understand that it won’t be for everyone – but it’s the epitome of living a role!

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    • That’s good to hear, man. I suspected that people that didn’t like Phoenix would like him even less in this. Totally agree about the epitome of living a role. In the early part of the film, that’s was his supposed gripe with the acting profession – that he wasn’t free enough to express himself fully. Well… he certainly manages to do that here and accomplishes his goal. Brave stuff. I did consider giving it a higher rating but couldn’t quite get to grips with the comedy and tragedy of it all.

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      • Yeah, it’s a hard one to categorise… but I like that about it.

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      • Definitely hard to pigeonhole and, again, I think that was the intention. There was just a tone of uncertainty for me and I do think it went on a bit too long. Other than that, though, it was quite an achievement. Glad to hear you felt the same. 🙂

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  5. Once again we end up on exactly the same rating. It appears that most people didn’t like it at all. I think it’s misunderstood. It’s not a funny movie and it’s not supposed to be that either. It’s a sad and depressing comment on celebrity and the emptiness surrounding it A companion to Coppola’s Somewhere. Shameless plug for my own post about it follows here: http://thevelvetcafe.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/im-still-here-bringing-more-tears-than-laughs/

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    • Keeping up the consistent opinions, eh Jessica? Glad to hear it. It did seem that it panned unfairly and definitely misunderstood. Perhaps the Hollywood folks and media didn’t care for the joke at their expense? I haven’t seen Coppola’s Somewhere yet but it’s on my list. I will get around to it.

      I’m sure I checked your review out a while ago but now that I’ve seen the film, I’ll swing by again. 🙂

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  6. Great review Mark! There’ve been some scathing reviews of this but I’m still curious about it. Phoenix is a great actor and this is certainly one of his best ‘acting’ ever, I mean that interview w/ Letterman is brilliant. Thanks for this.

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    • Damn! I’d just written a big long-winded response to this and it didn’t send. 😦

      Anyway, what I was trying to say is that I rate Phoenix in “The Master” as one of cinema’s finest ever performances and transformations and this is right up there with that. Yes, he took a lot of stick for it at the time but in hindsight its one of the most committed performances you’ll ever see and he put his reputation on the line in the process. He fooled a hell of a lot of people and for that he deserves the utmost respect. I can’t think of another living actor that has challenged the craft or broke the mould the way he does here. He’s fast becoming one of my very favourite actors.

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      • Hear, hear Mark. Very well said. I think he’s an excellent actor who seems to abide by his own rules. It’s interesting though that when The Master came out he seemed blase about the whole awards thing, saying that he didn’t give a darn about the accolades, etc. but then I saw him at the Oscars and a few others. I was kinda expecting him not to show up after he said that. In any case, he’s still a good actor.

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      • That’s funny you mention that. He has a rant in “Im Still Here” about how he starred in “Reservation Road” which was ignored for the oscars and “Revolutionary Rd” got some noms. I wonder just how much art imitates life in this film. Like you say, though, he’s great stuff!

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  7. I’ve always heard references to this (along the lines of that insanely weird thing Joaquin Phoenix did), but I never knew exactly what it was and wasn’t bothered to look it up for some reason. It does sound insane but he’s impressed me in everything I’ve seen him in so I’ll have to check this out if I ever run across it.
    Didn’t realize Casey Affleck directed either. I am just so surprised at the existence of this movie!

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    • The movie does have flaws Hunter but its bold, to say the least, and that’s thanks to an outstanding Phoenix. He truly does go the extra length here and it’s quite sensational what he delivers. You should check it out for him alone.

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  8. Nice work, Mucker! I don’t know about this movie though : )

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  9. Nice review. I am a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix, but haven’t seen this, mostly because of the polarizing reviews. I’m glad to see he’s back on track with The Master and I can’t wait for Inherent Vice.

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    • Thanks man. If you liked Phoenix in The Master (as I most certainly did) then you should be able to fully appreciate his work here. The movie itself does have flaws but it Phoenix’s vehicle all the way.

      Oh, and Inherent Vice is sounding great. Can’t wait for that either.

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  10. Good stuff Mark. I’ll never forget the Letterman appearance. He sold nutcase really well!

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  11. Nicely done sir. Looks like something a bit different, this one. I like Phoenix, so I’d definitely check this out. I remember when everyone thought he was going off the rails and heading for an early grave, etc. He did reasonably well fooling people for a while.

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    • Thank you sir! It is quite different, especially when you have a well known actor as the focus of your voyeurism. Phoenix does superb in pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes for quite some time. It’s worth checking out, although it has been unfairly treated by many critics.

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  12. I thought this was a great film glad you got a chance to review it Mark. Talk about immersing yourself in a role. I am still waiting anxiously for his hip hop album to drop.

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  13. Popcorn Nights Says:

    Nice review Mark. I didn’t get on with this one when I saw it. Funny at times (especially when P Diddy’s on camera) but even as a fan of Phoenix I just got more and more irritated while I felt I was watching some overindulged kid’s prank. The joke stopped being funny way before the film ended, for me, but I might well have been in a bad mood when it was on!

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    • Thanks man. I took quite a bit from this one. It wasn’t flawless by any means and overlength was definitely an issue but I quite enjoyed the prank and enjoyed Phoenix’s commitment even more so.

      By the way, congrats on your admission to The Lamb 🙂

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  14. I really hated the movie, really had a hard time getting through it.

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