Joaquin Phoenix

Inherent Vice

Over the weekend, the New York Film Festival took on a distinctly pungent scent, thanks to the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice, a star-studded adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel of the same name. Featuring Joaquin Phoenix as a weed-friendly detective — fine, he’s a stoner — the film is already garnering lots of attention for its shaggy vibe, its massive cast and a free-floating narrative that will likely appeal to both the Anderson faithful and viewers who approach the material with the edge taken off (if you know what we mean). But is that the key to unlocking the film’s charms? Over at Awards Daily, Sasha Stone caught on to the trend early, writing about the first round of tweets regarding the feature, issued immediately following its NYFF press screening on Saturday morning, mentioned its “stoner noir” vibe more than, well, just about anything else. But is Inherent Vice just a “stoner” movie — or, perhaps more appropriately, a movie that can most easily be classified as a “stoner” film above anything else? Let’s take it to the critics.

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Warner Bros.

The casting you expected to not pan out has, indeed, not panned out. Joaquin Phoenix is not, according to the reporting of Deadline, going to be donning a billowy red cloak and a Van Dyke to become Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange. Phoenix had been in talks for the role since July, upgrading to “final talks” status in August, and losing him this late in the game means Marvel is most likely going to have to repeat the whole process again with someone else (that’s what Deadline indicates, anyway, in titling their expose “Back to Square One”). As a gut reaction, this is saddening news. Phoenix is a truly phenomenal performer; there must have been something in Doctor Strange that piqued a creative spark inside him (why else wade through three months of contract negotiations?), and I would have loved to see Phoenix take that spark and let it amplify out into a stunning performance. As entertaining as most Marvel movies are, nobody’s winning an Oscar for their harrowing portrait of an Avenger. It’s not likely Phoenix would have changed that, but he would have brought a gravitas to the performance that guys like Chris Hemsworth or Chris Pratt, hilarious and/or ripped as they are, simply can’t match.

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Warner Bros.

I love it when movie news comes with a healthy dose of secrecy. And there’s nothing more secretive than this: Joaquin Phoenix has just signed on to the play the lead role in Woody Allen‘s next film. And, as is typical with announcements involving Woody Allen, we know absolutely nothing more than that. No idea about what the role is, or what the movie is, or if the movie even has a title (I’m assuming it does have a title, but for all we know Allen hasn’t even gotten that far). According to Deadline, the film might start shooting in July, but who knows if that’s true, or just a part of some Woody Allen false flag media blitz. And now for the required “Where are they now?” bit of context. Allen’s current project is Magic in the Moonlight, about an Englishman wrapped up in some kind of crime caper in early 20th century France, involving various Jazz Age luxuries like high fashion, large mansions and people expelling their lungs into coiled pieces of brass. Phoenix’s current wheeling and dealing is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, in which he plays a pot-infused ’70s P.I. chasing down his ex-girlfriend in the mean streets of Los Angeles. Alright, that’s out of the way. Now onto the fun part.

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The Immigrant

For some reason, James Gray‘s The Immigrant didn’t get released last fall as an awards contender. Like Snowpiercer, The Immigrant was far better than pretty much everything else Harvey Weinstein decided to release in 2013. Both movies sat on the shelf for a little bit, but thankfully for not too long. Snowpiercer and The Immigrant will have limited releases this summer, and it’s highly recommended to seek out the theaters that will show Gray and Bong Joon-ho‘s films. Both movies were made for the big screen. Bong Joon-ho’s exceptional control over tension makes for a true theatrical experience, while Gray’s new movie features gorgeous cinematography and another superb performance from Joaquin Phoenix that shouldn’t be first seen on your television set. Following up his best film, Two Lovers, Gray tells the story of an immigrant, played by Marion Cottillard, hoping to make it in America with her sister. It’s an often moving, refreshingly funny, and smartly structured drama.

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SpaceCamp 2

It may not have cracked the top ten this weekend after finally entering wide release, and it probably will be left empty handed at the Golden Globes tonight, but Spike Jonze‘s Her is one of the best movies of last year (it was #4 on FSR’s aggregated top ten, #3 on resident critic Rob Hunter’s list, #2 on our best sci-fi list…) and if you haven’t seen it already, you must go out as soon as you can and fall in love with this movie about love. If you don’t already know from our coverage and praise, the futurist sci-fi film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man recently separated from his wife who rebounds with his computer’s sentient operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. That plot has reminded me of other movies since I first heard about it, and I’ve continued to recall related recommendations before, during and after seeing it. It’s not necessarily derivative so much as the next step for cinema that deals with the idea of love as a concept, what it means to be in love and how much it’s in our heads as opposed to heart and how much is really a mutual experience. This week’s list of movies to watch mostly involve those same themes, though not all. As usual, some come from connections made by others. I’ve decided to leave out one particular movie, WarGames, as it’s not about love and I already highlighted it in relation to Her in the special year-end […]

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Her

Editor’s note: Our review of Spike Jonze’s brilliant Her originally ran during last year’s NYFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens tomorrow in wide release. A lonely man meets an unattainable woman, falls head over heels in love, and is forced to grow through the trials of their romance – it’s a story as old as time, but director Spike Jonze gives it a fresh, timely update with his Her, imagining said unattainable woman as, well, not even really a woman, but a highly intelligent computer operating system. Modern love is complicated. The twist of Her, however, is that Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, just plain heartbreaking here) and Samantha’s (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) relationship is prone to the same troubles and anxieties as any other romantic bond (all-human or not), and its plot is moved along by very recognizable twists in their road to (maybe) happily ever after. Sure, Her is about a guy who essentially falls in love with an ever-evolving piece of artificial intelligence meant to help sort his email and keep track of his calendar, but it’s also a deeply relatable love story about falling in love with anyone (or anything).

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immigrant

Does it sound like a super-dramatic period piece featuring beautiful, warm cinematography and starring first-rate actors like Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Renner would be the sort of thing that you’d be interested in? Then you’re probably going to want to watch the trailer for co-writer/director James Gray’s (We Own the Night, Two Lovers) new film, The Immigrant. It tells a complex tale that involves starting over in a new land, searching for lost family members, sex trafficking, and the seedy world of stage magicians. The Immigrant’s basic setup seems to be that Cotillard is the title character, who has traveled to 1920s New York in order to find a better life, Phoenix is a sleazy pimp, who offers to provide her this new life but ends up exploiting her, and Renner is a mustachioed gentlemen, who, upon meeting her, attempts to liberate her from the unseemly situation in which she’s found herself. Click through to give the movie a try, but be warned—this is an international trailer, so it features bare bosoms and, even worse, French subtitles.

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her trailer

Spike Jonze returns from a four-year hiatus from filmmaking to fuck us all up with the trailer for Her, the story of a woe-begotten Joaquin Phoenix who falls in love with the AI in his computer, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It’s dreamy, creepy, uncomfortable, and like the poster proclaims: it’s a Spike Jonze love story. Heartbroken Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) decides to cheer himself up with a fancy new operating system that promises to be incredibly intuitive and unique to each user. What he gets is “Samantha,” a chipper female voice who interacts with him as a friend and confidant, and who seems to grow more lifelike every day. Samantha is the woman of Theodore’s dreams, and it’s unsettling how easily you find yourself rooting for the “couple” in the trailer when you see him laughing and smiling through hazy shots of sunshine and blue skies. But just as soon as the happiness appears, reality kicks in when it’s a phone that Theodore is twirling with on the beach and, you know, not a human lady. Dammit, Jonze! The trailer only continues to spiral and become more sinister from there as Samantha becomes more sentient and their relationship gets more “serious.” I’m just worried about getting emotionally invested in a story about a man and a computer program. Check out the trailer below and see what you think.

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26-siberia

Last night, NBC debuted yet another new series with a documentary style structure. The network is no stranger to the format, but this show is apparently more confusing for viewers than, say, The Office and Parks and Recreation. The difference is that this show, Siberia, is not a comedy. It’s a fictional show that plays like a reality game show. Any blurbs calling it “Survivor meets Lost” are unnecessary praise because that is literally what is intended. The premise is a more anarchic take on a Survivor-type show, dropping contestants in the middle of the notorious Russian region, while the pilot is nearly a play-by-play of a crash-less version of the Lost pilot, complete with a male version of Shannon (he even sunbathes while everyone else works together as a team) and an unidentified creature in the woods, a la “The Smoke Monster.” By the time Siberia starts to get deadly, the audience should be fully aware that this is not a real reality show. That is if they aren’t already keen enough to see the impossible camerawork (common to other doc-style fiction series) or haven’t bothered looking up the program on IMDb or NBC’s website. But why would they go looking if they believed it to be just another nonfiction show? There’s not much that indicates otherwise in the opening credits (no writers are listed and the cast is listed by first name only) and while the network isn’t necessarily trying to dupe viewers, its marketing of the show […]

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The Immigrant

James Gray has steadily gained a head of steam over the four pictures he has released to date, culminating with the grand critical success of his compelling 2008 romantic drama Two Lovers. With another film again appearing In Competition at Cannes, Gray raises the curtain on what is easily his most-anticipated work to date, The Immigrant, which has previously gone by the names The Nightingale and Lowlife, though has no doubt landed on its final moniker for ripe positioning by the Weinstein Company in the impending awards season. As soon as Polish immigrant Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) arrive in the United States, their circumstances are dire. Magda is immediately quarantined with tuberculosis, while Ewa is questioned for reportedly being a “woman of bad morals,” due to her apparent conduct on the ship over from Europe. Appearing sympathetic to her plight, Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) bribes an official to allow Ewa passage, at which point he introduces her to his Prohibition-era bar and theater, and soon enough has her turning tricks in his employ. As Ewa finds little possibility to escape from this life, only Bruno’s magician cousin Orlando (Jeremy Renner) seems to offer any respite, locking the two in a fierce battle over the woman.

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Drinking Games

Nominated for three Oscars, The Master was a passion project for director P.T. Anderson. It pulled the veil back on a fictionalized account of Scientology as well as proving that Joaquin Phoenix can secure award nominations for any role in which he beats up plumbing. Thought not entirely mainstream, it was a darling of art-house film fans, and The Master also prominently features homemade booze as a subplot and symbol. This is enough of an excuse to knock back a few drinks while watching the film’s crisp transfer on Blu-ray or DVD.

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Best Actor

It’s an honor to just be nominated, right? You hear that politely said every year, even though you know it’s total hogwash for the four silver medallist of Oscar season. In reality, it’s not just an honor to be nominated; it’s quite easily a shot of go-go juice to an actor’s career. However, when the field of Best Actor nominees is populated almost entirely with people who have won before, it becomes an academic exercise. Best Actor is a category reserved (mostly) for seasoned actors who have been around the block a few times. There are occasional dark horses who come on strong, but the first-time nominees and those breaking out of genre roles usually show up in the Best Supporting Actor category. Yet every year, there seems to be one or two races in the Big Six that appear to be a lock. This year, we see that run in the Best Actor category, even though all of the nominees did fine work. It’s a popularity contest, to be sure, but it’s also an oft-accurate gauge of the best performance out there. (Because, let’s face it, if it were just a popularity category, where the hell is George Clooney this year?) Read on for the nominations and my predicted winner in red…

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Joaquin Phoenix

What is Casting Couch? It’s heading into the weekend with three pieces of casting news about three actors everyone has actually heard of. Star power! Remember how rumors were going around that Robert Downey Jr. was going to be the star of Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming project, Inherent Vice? Well, turns out that didn’t pan out. Don’t let the news that Downey and Anderson aren’t teaming up get you down for long though, because Variety has a report that says Inherent Vice is now going to star Joaquin Phoenix instead. Though opinions on The Master were a little divided, pretty much everyone agreed that Phoenix’s performance in that film was powerful enough to be hypnotic, so it should be great to watch the actor being directed by Anderson again. And, seeing as this one is supposed to be more of a comedy, it should feel fresh watching Phoenix doing something that isn’t so creepifying.

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Culture Warrior

Criticizing the Academy Awards is becoming a tradition as solidified as the Awards ceremony itself. The ink spilled over anticipation of who will come out swinging during Awards season is typically followed by an anticipated – but, when well-argued, often necessary – critique of the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony itself. Now that we’re neck-deep in Presidential election season, the time dedicated to polling, statistics, and manufactured drama all in the service of something ultimately unpredictable resonates alongside the earliest Fall predictions of the Winter’s Awards competitors: no matter the race, we can become hopelessly invested in every detail in the process of competition. As Matt Taibbi stated bluntly in an editorial on the Presidential race, this is not what democratic participation should look or feel like. Nor, for that matter, is immersing oneself in the Kool-Aid of Oscar anticipation what a genuine investment in cinema should look like. While I’ve bloviated more than enough on the Oscars, it’s something different entirely when someone who ostensibly stands to benefit from the institution itself to criticize it, as potential Best Actor nominee Joaquin Phoenix did recently. Perhaps criticizing the Oscars is not the bravest thing a wealthy famous person can do (perhaps), but the exact form that it takes is certainly worthy of attention because such instances evidence certain power relations and possibilities in Hollywood. Why do some Hollywood figures participate in this criticism, and others don’t?

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Now that Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master is in slightly wider release than it was in its opening weekend, perhaps it is time to discuss this period drama, which is perplexing both critics and regular moviegoers alike. More than the fact that a lot of people are now able to finally see the film, the interesting thing is that many have now watched it two or three times (at least) in an attempt to get more out of the thing. Countless reviews have pointed out that The Master is difficult to fully understand on a single viewing, and audiences of all levels of intellect are coming out declaring that they need to see it again. Plenty are doing so, but are they any closer to finding answers? No film requires or should require multiple viewings, and pretty much any film watched more than once can deliver previously unseen pieces and welcome new considerations. But The Master, whether constructed out of certain meaning or, as might be hinted through a significant line from the film, Anderson just made it all up as he went along without too much thought, is the sort of glorious cinema that we look at as a fun puzzle. We can imagine that one day a documentary similar to Room 237 will present obsessive PTA fans over-analyzing everything from the commanding performances to the film’s subtler nooks and crannies.

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In his vitriolic review of Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard’s self-indulgent mess that screened at Cannes in 2010), renowned critic Mark Kermode said: “the movie is incredibly boring and incomprehensible, but so boring and incomprehensible that critics concluded it must be quite profound.” With that quote in mind, I carefully read every single glowing review I could find of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s new film The Master (including one already on this site) after watching it at the Toronto Film Festival. Before the love fest, I walked out of the theater feeling confident that everyone else in attendance hated it as much as I did. Instead, it seems as if everyone has found a safe place for their beloved director’s latest to hide by looking for praise anywhere they could. The film follows the life and tribulations of former sailor Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) whose rather random but instant bond with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) turns into a lasting friendship that puzzles everyone around them. Quell is a deeply damaged soul who appears to be guided by his basic human needs of sex and violence but also hides greater emotional devotion to a long lost love – one he tries to retrieve years too late. Lancaster Dodd is an equally insane but significantly more eloquent oddball thanks to his natural ability to influence others around him. While his ego knows no bounds and his methods reveal no logic whatsoever, he displays such a sense of self-assurance and persuasion that he can […]

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Siri

We’ve been following along with the development of Spike Jonze’s next project for a while now, and with good reason. For one, it’s a new Spike Jonze movie, and that should be enough to get film geek blood pumping on its own. But when you factor in the cast that he’s compiled, which includes names like Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, Samantha Morton, and Olivia Wilde, well, it doesn’t take long before the anticipation hits a boiling point. There is one cloud of uncertainty that’s been hanging over the project’s head ever since it got announced, however, and that’s the fact that it has been sold as being a story about a man who falls in love with Siri. Yeah, the iPhone thing.

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The Master

Editor’s Note: On Friday night in Santa Monica’s Aero Theater, a group of movie fans gathered to enjoy a 70mm print of The Shining were treated to the first screening ever of Paul Thomas Anderson’s forthcoming The Master. We’ve asked film geek Victor Escobar, who was lucky enough to be there, to offer his thoughts on the film. It hits theaters September 21st. I thought that I was lucky just because I had won tickets to see The Shining on Friday,  but before it began, we were told that a special 70 mm print was being shown right afterward and that we were welcome to stay for the screening. During the movie, I kept thinking of films that were shot in 70 mm which would make a great follow-up to Kubrick’s hotel-set horror. The first and most logical film that came to mind was 2001: A Space Odyssey. So the film ends, the lights go up and we’re told that we will be the first people to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master. The announcement was greeted by a unanimous roar from the audience. The Master is about Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a man without any self control or a sense of direction life, who is taken under the wing of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Both men find inspiration within each other but as Dodd’s religion grows, Freddie finds himself going against not just Dodd’s teachings, but Dodd himself.

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River Phoenix Dark Blood

With only eleven days left of production, director George Sluizer‘s bizarre Dark Blood shut down because of River Phoenix‘s untimely death in 1993 at the age of 23. In the film, the rising star played a hermit living on a nuclear testing site, making dolls he felt had magical powers and waiting for the old world to end. Like you do. When two Hollywood types traveling through Arizona on a second honeymoon (Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis) break down, he helps them…but then keeps them against their will because he likes the cut of Judy Davis’s jib. And because he’s been alone in the desert for a long time. The long-abandoned project got a trailer recently, which you can see below, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, Sluizer plans on bringing a finished cut of the project to the Netherlands Film Festival in September. This announcement comes after the director first claimed last Fall that he wanted to complete the picture and needed Joaquin Phoenix‘s help with a new voice over track. It seems likely that some sort of US release will follow, but what’s most interesting about this story is that, in addition to money from the Netherlands Film Fund, Sluizer was able to finish this film with help from crowdfunding. It’s partially because of dedicated fans that we’ll be able to see River Phoenix, 19 years after his death, one last time on screen.

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The Master Trailer

So far, we’ve been treated to two very different (yet equally as engaging and wonderful) teaser trailers for Paul Thomas Anderson‘s upcoming film, The Master, but today gifts us with the film’s first full trailer. And it was worth the wait. Drawing from the film’s second teaser, this look at the Philip Seymour Hoffman- and Joaquin Phoenix-starring film dives deeper into the world of Hoffman’s mysterious, eponymous “master” and the outsider who at first embraces him, and then threatens the very fabric of his work and existence. The auteur’s apparent take on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology is set in the 1950s and it centers on Hoffman’s character, “a charismatic intellectual known as ‘the Master’ whose faith-based organization begins to catch on in America” and Phoenix’s character, “a young drifter who becomes his right-hand man.” Check out the film’s first full trailer, complete with lots of looks at the inevitable rift between the leads, after the break.

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