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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Joaquin Phoenix

Cannes 2012: Joaquin Phoenix returns with Scientology-themed 'The Master'

May 22, 2012 |  5:00 pm

It's been a long while since we've seen Joaquin Phoenix on the big screen doing anything but mumbling and trying, unsuccessfully, to rap. Now that that phase is mercifully over, he's back in business with Paul Thomas Anderson's anticipated film "The Master," which by all appearances is a tale modeled on the story of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

A few minutes of footage were shown this week at Cannes by the Weinstein Co., which plans to bring the film to U.S. theaters in the fall. An even smaller bit, above, has been circulating on the Internet. Phoenix plays Freddie Sutton, a young drifter who becomes the right-hand man of Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic intellectual (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose spiritual organization begins to catch on in America in the 1950s. Amy Adams plays Dodd's wife, Mary Sue.

Neither Adams nor Hoffman appear in the trailer, just Phoenix, whose character is undergoing some kind of questioning by a man in a military-looking outfit. It's a tense, unsettling scene, made more so by the ominous atonal music and washed-out palette.

Given the significant number of celebrity Scientology adherents as well as detractors in Hollywood, the film is awaited with a sense not just of curiosity but also trepidation and giddiness. Anderson himself has worked with perhaps Scientology's best-known member, Tom Cruise, directing him in 1999's "Magnolia." (The Wrap reported Tuesday, quoting two unnamed sources, that Anderson had screened the film for Cruise and the actor “had issues” with some parts of the movie.)

The picture is being financed by up-and-coming producer Megan Ellison, 26, who is using family wealth to bankroll movies under the banner Annapurna Pictures.

While Ellison might not have any Cruise movies on her docket for a long while, she's already doubling down on Phoenix. She's funding Spike Jonze's new film, which stars Phoenix, Rooney Mara and, coincidentally, Adams.


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-- Julie Makinen


Joaquin Phoenix returns to David Letterman, this time with a different goal

September 22, 2010 | 10:54 pm

 The last time Joaquin Phoenix was on "The Late Show With David Letterman," he said little but grabbed a lot of the spotlight. This time he said a little bit more, but with his polite, gum-less guise, it was Letterman making the most of the airtime as Phoenix came on ostensibly to promote his fauxumentary "I'm Still Here." (Video hopefully coming soon.)

Phoenix was well-behaved and deferential, saying he was sorry -- and, perhaps, just a tad surprised that Letterman didn't catch on the first time.

"You've interviewed many people, and I assumed that you would know the difference between a character and a real person. But I apologize. I didn't – I hope I didn't offend you in any way." (Unclear is why Phoenix didn't just tell him on the spot, or right after the fact, just as he did some of the other entertainers who appeared in "I'm Still Here.")

There was a surprising amount of attention paid by the pair Wednesday night to demonstrating that Letterman was not in on the joke  ("Did I know anything about this," he asked Phoenix, who replied with a "No," the first of several such assurances.) That's probably as much for Letterman's sake as the actor's. It doesn't serve the host to have the implication hanging out there -- as this writer's comments essentially does -- that he's in cahoots with a guest to put one over on the audience.

But then, inexplicably, Letterman went in the opposite direction -- that he smelled a rat. He acknowledged that Phoenix took off his glasses as they were going to commercial and reverted to his normal, non-zoned-out personality, to Affleck's chagrin. And of Phoenix's rap career, he said, "Frankly, when I heard about it later, I was surprised that anybody had believed it." So he did know about it? He sort of thought he knew but he wasn't officially let in on it? (But then wouldn't he have asked Joaquin's reps what was going on?) It spins your head in almost as many directions as, well, Casey Affleck's appearance on Jay Leno the previous night.

Continue reading »

Casey Affleck is still here (offering tortured explanations)

September 22, 2010 |  3:00 am

By now it's hard to feel resentful about the Casey Affleck-Joaquin Phoenix hoax that is "I'm Still Here." It's just easier to shake your head at the whole misguided stunt.

On Tuesday, director Affleck came out on the stage of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to follow up on his comments last week that the entire Phoenix career switch was staged.

Leno, to his credit, asked if Affleck wanted people to think the film was real -- basically, he was asking if Affleck wanted it to cross from postmodern gag into outright deception. And Affleck essentially turned up his palms and acted as though he was surprised by the backlash.

This was a character piece, a "Being John Malkovich homage," from the start, he said. "I'm Still Here" is "not a documentary," he maintained. "It's a movie about an actor who's been doing this for his whole life, and he decides he wants to try something else."

"It doesn't seem like it would cause that much confusion, but it did. And we didn't address it. We never said, like, this isn't really Joaquin." (Well, that just might be why it caused the confusion.)

Affleck went on to say that he did -- sort of -- want people to be a little confused. "We just wanted to make a movie that would help people suspend their disbelief. They could go to the theater, they could experience it and sort wonder whether it's real or not," he said.

Continue reading »

Casey Affleck now says Phoenix movie was really a hoax

September 16, 2010 |  4:44 pm

He's an actor, a director--and now, it appears, a pretty good liar.

After insisting for some two years that his Joaquin Phoenix documentary "I'm Still Here" was not a hoax, Casey Affleck is now admitting that the whole thing--in which the "Gladiator" star said he was leaving Hollywood to try to become a rapper--was a put-on.

In a New York Times interview published Thursday, Affleck said almost everything in the movie was staged, including Phoenix's using drugs and prostitutes. “I never intended to trick anybody,” Affleck told the newspaper. “The idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered my mind.”

Yet as recently as the film's premiere at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, Affleck maintained that the documentary, which opened a week ago to unimpressive ticket sales, "is no hoax." He also declined in Venice to address questions about specific sequences in the film "because it will affect the way people view the film."

During the making of the movie, Phoenix said that his endeavor to become a hip-hop singer was not a piece of performance art but an actual career-switch.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times that Affleck was recording for the documentary, Phoenix said more than a year ago that he no longer found acting satisfying and was serious about abandoning the film business. "There are too many other elements that are a part of moviemaking that I just find unbearable," he said at the time.

In the New York Times interview Thursday, Affleck said that talk show host David Letterman was not in on the prank when a monosyllabic Phoenix appeared on the program in 2009. Phoenix is scheduled to appear on the program next Wednesday. "We wanted to create a space," Affleck told the New York Times. "You believe what’s happening is real."

A spokeswoman for Affleck said that he did not lie about the film, but did not comment further.

A week ago, Affleck said in an e-mail to a reporter that he didn't want people to discuss what happened in the film before its release.

"I worked on the movie for two years and for many reasons was diligent about keeping the content a secret," said Affleck, who acted in "Ocean's Eleven" and "Gone Baby Gone." "There were the personal lives of others to think about.  There was also the fact that curiosity would help me sell the movie and help the movie sell tickets.  And that's how I would earn back the money I spent and pay my bills."

-- John Horn

Photo of Casey Affleck by Robert Caplin / For The Times

Toronto 2010: The non-question questions around Joaquin Phoenix's 'I'm Still Here'

September 11, 2010 |  7:48 am


If filmgoers at Toronto were expecting to get some answers about the veracity -- or purpose -- of "I'm Still Here," Casey Affleck's tour into the life of a seriously messed up (or was it performance-arted up?) Joaquin Phoenix, Friday night's premiere here left them hanging.

"Was that real?" "Didn't that seem fake?" "Could you believe that guy went to the bathroom on Joaquin's head?" As credits rolled amid notably muted applause for the film -- which shows a (former?) actor in various states of anger, glassy-eyed detachment and bad rapping -- moments were scrutinized and clues were debated. Why was it that an ostensibly nonfiction film credited Phoenix's father as "Tim Affleck" and gave Phoenix a writing credit? Was Phoenix's hectoring of an underling -- telling him to do something with his life and get his own "bit" -- intended to clue in the audience that this, too, was all a bit?

Although representatives for the film had dropped hints that Affleck would be there, the director didn't turn up at the screening. Instead he sent a message read by festival co-director Cameron Bailey. Mostly the missive offered a litany of thank-yous. But then it wrapped up with one more pull on the is-it-real rug. "As for the misguided and surprisingly reductive debate in the press, I'm trying hard not to address [it]" -- at least not until everyone has seen the movie.

If "I'm Still Here" is a hoax -- and there's plenty to suggest it is -- it doesn't do much with the the conceit. A bit should do more than just provoke the question of whether it's a bit, and nothing about "I'm Still Here" does that. In the words of our colleague Kenneth Turan in Friday's Times, if the film is a hoax, it's "a glum and dispiriting counterfeit of reality that turns out to be much more interesting to speculate about than to actually watch."

Of course if the movie really is a straight-ahead portrait of a man on the ropes -- and there's plenty to suggest it is that too -- we're not sure it does much more with that conceit either. There's not a lot of  psychological insight here about why Phoenix throws away his life, beyond the fact that he's rich and generally restless.  Somewhere in Phoenix's story lies a commentary about the excesses and price of celebrity -- or at least a rich schadenfreude-laden celebrity car accident -- but watching an endless conga line of meltdowns and freak-outs leads nowhere except to more of the same. If it's real, then it's just the David Hasselhoff cheeseburger video stretched to feature length.

Affleck's note at the screening kept the mystery alive, as though that alone would propel people to the cinemas. (In addition to playing in Toronto, "I'm Still Here" opened Friday in about 20 theaters in the United States, including the Landmark in West Los Angeles.) His message would seem to imply that Affleck will eventually provide some answers -- perhaps after a certain box-office threshold is hit?

Maybe he will. Whether anyone will care by then is another matter.

 -- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Joaquin Phoenix, Credit: Magnolia Pictures.


Movie review: I'm Still Here

Critical Mass: I'm Still Here

Joaquin Phoenix's I'm Still Here could soon be there in theaters

Critical Mass: 'I'm Still Here'

September 10, 2010 |  6:00 pm


Is he for real or is he fooling? Is he a modern Andy Kaufman or just another bloated, broken-down Hollywood star? These are the questions swirling around director Casey Affleck's bizarre reality project "I'm Still Here," chronicling the supposed "tumultuous year" in the life of his brother-in-law, Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix.

Critics, just like everyone else, seem split on whether Phoenix's behavior is real or a put-on, and they are also split on whether that behavior is worth watching, no matter its veracity.

Here's a quick rundown of who believed what:

The "It's a Hoax!-ers"

Put The Times' own Kenneth Turan firmly in the "not a fan" camp. He writes, "Though 'I'm Still Here' can be persuasive, by the time it's over the feeling is inescapable that to one degree or another what we've been watching is a convincing hoax, a glum and dispiriting counterfeit of reality that turns out to be much more interesting to speculate about than to actually watch."

Continue reading »

Preview review: Joaquin Phoenix is more here than ever. Or is he?

August 19, 2010 |  7:48 pm

MV5BNTE5NjA2NzM5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODg5NTE3Mw@@._V1._SX640_SY948_ Months before its release, "I'm Still Here" was already generating a healthy amount of buzz. The documentary/mockumentary, out next month, of course has director Casey Affleck filming Joaquin Phoenix as the actor tries to launch a career as a rapper and engages in some very bad behavior.

As we reported in June, the movie apparently contains some pretty out-there stuff:  Phoenix "snorting cocaine, ordering call girls, having oral sex with a publicist, treating his assistants abusively and rapping badly."

But Phoenix -- who only five years ago earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" -- can't be serious, right? The whole thing has to be a joke, some kind of social experiment aimed at making a statement about the malleable nature of celebrity. 

A newly released teaser trailer -- only a minute long -- throws some light on the movie, though we'll admit we're still not entirely sure whether the film is a joke.

In the trailer, Phoenix appears disheveled, just as he did during that bizarre David Letterman appearance last year while he was promoting his last film, the family drama "Two Lovers." With a bushy beard and a head of hair flying in all directions, Phoenix looks stoic throughout the trailer, frequently hiding behind dark sunglasses. He is photographed numerous times. He puts his head in his hands, overwhelmed. He boards a private jet. He hugs P. Diddy.

The entire thing is kind of a blur, but it seems the film's very obvious message is about identity, and how fame can change your public persona. We think the voice-over of some wise old man telling Phoenix that he's a "mountaintop waterdrop" who "doesn't belong in this valley" with all of the other drops of water is funny, if also a tad heavy-handed.

But that doesn't mean we're not intrigued by Phoenix's journey. Whether or not he's really trying to be a rapper is almost a moot point; it seems like he (and Affleck) are commenting on what it means to be a part of the modern-day Hollywood machine. Which is more than most actors usually have to say.

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: The poster for "I'm Still Here." Credit: Magnolia Pictures.


The Joaquin Phoenix comeback (?) tour officially begins

Joaquin Phoenix's 'I'm Still Here' could soon be there in theaters

Joaquin Phoenix documentary: Even buyers aren't sure if it's a prank

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The Joaquin Phoenix comeback (?) tour officially begins

July 14, 2010 | 11:32 am

Magnolia this morning confirmed our item from back in June that it was picking up the Joaquin Phoenix documentary "I'm Still Here." (This is the film in which Phoenix either completely melts down or plays a national practical joke, with Casey Affleck filming Phoenix's bad behavior and even worse rapping.)

Phoe Magnolia took an, er, euphemistic tack in describing the picture, saying that it's a "striking portrayal of a tumultuous year in the life of internationally acclaimed actor Joaquin Phoenix ... a portrait of an artist at a crossroads."

In making the announcement of its worldwide-rights acquisition, Magnolia also announced a release date of Sept. 10. That's right after the trio of end-of-summer festivals (Telluride, Venice and Toronto), and it will be more than a little interesting to see which of them the film travels to (and which group has the more perplexed reaction).

The Phoenix doc also comes out the same weekend as the WWE releases a movie about John Cena in a tender family drama. We'll see which one is more surreal.

--Steven Zeitchik


Credit: Joaquin Phoenix. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times


Joaquin Phoenix's 'I'm Still Here' could soon be there in theaters

Joaquin Phoenix's documentary: Even buyers aren't sure if it's a prank

At the Movies: What's the talk about 'Two Lovers'?

Joaquin Phoenix's 'I'm Still Here' could soon be there in theaters

June 17, 2010 | 12:19 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Film buyers were mystified/intrigued by Joaquin Phoenix's "I'm Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix"  when they screened it last month. In the film, the actor -- er, rapper -- was seen cavorting around the screen, trying to get music industry bigwigs to pay attention to his singing, while also engaging in some pretty horrible behavior.

Now it looks like audiences will have the opportunity to be mystified/intrigued too.

Phoen Sources say that Magnolia Pictures is in final negotiations to acquire the Casey Affleck-directed documentary from seller WME Entertainment, aiming for a release in the fall.

Magnolia has worked with Phoenix before, releasing his last (final?) film, the romantic drama "Two Lovers." Release plans are still coming together, but one can imagine a multi-platform release following the theatrical one (video on-demand was an able platform for the company on "Lovers"). Magnolia declined to comment.

The new movie is a natural fit for the company; Magnolia will often take on some trickier marketing fare that the studio specialty divisions will shy away from. And this one is decidedly tricky. According to several people who've seen it, it features Phoenix having oral sex with a publicist, treating his assistants badly and rapping with no particular skill.

Of course, the entire film may be an elaborate practical joke. But that could still make for a challenge. Documentaries are already difficult sell. And the idea of Phoenix engaging in what is in many ways a 90-minute version of his infamous clip with David Letterman last year may not motivate everyone to spend $10 at the box office.

Then again, there's a lot of interest around Phoenix, and the film will no doubt be a media conversation piece. Expect plenty of publicity, as outlets will no doubt want to cover Phoenix and the film's is-it-or-isn't-it-real factor. We'd stay away from Letterman, though.

-- Steven Zeitchik and John Horn



Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.


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