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On Movies: 'Still here' Why?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 16, 2010 - The first question raised by "I'm Still Here," which purports to be a documentary about actor Joaquin Phoenix's disastrous attempt to become a rapper, is how much of it is staged. The second question, which follows fast on the heels of the first, is "Do I care?"

Since the answer to the second question is "not really," exploration of the first question will be relatively brief.

The movie was directed by actor Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix's brother-in-law, and mainly consists of Phoenix railing in angry self-pity at almost everyone who has the misfortune to cross his path. When the end finally comes, with Joaquin purportedly visiting his father in what purports to be Panama, the credits state that the film was "written and produced" by Phoenix and Affleck. The credits also note that Joaquin's father was played by Tim Affleck - Casey's father.

So at least some of the action was scripted and acted. And at least some of it - for example, a humiliating appearance on the David Letterman show - seems to have happened unscripted. Even then, it's possible that the actor's pitiful, coke-addled incoherence and general hirsute disarray were planned by Phoenix and Affleck, hoping to provoke Letterman into insulting Phoenix. Which he did, at one point asking the actor glowering out of a vast and unkempt reddish-brown mane of hair and beard to "tell us about your days with the Unabomber." The video clip of Phoenix's surly appearance on Letterman became an Internet hit, which can be considered either an embarrassment or priceless publicity for a movie.

In "I'm Still Here," about the only person to avoid Phoenix's rage, real or invented, is rap producer Sean Combs. Phoenix tries time and again to suck up to Puffy or Diddy or whatever his name is, with minimal success.

I suppose the movie, scripted or not, can be taken as a satirical commentary on how tough it is to be rich, talented and famous in America. In any event, watching it is like spending an hour and 45 minutes with an aging adolescent who is off his meds and trapped in a manic phase. It's recommended only to those who like reality shows - speaking of events that are scripted -- that focus on self-demolition.

Opens Friday, Sept. 17

'Everyone Else’

I was about 45 minutes into this two-hour German movie, which is about two barely clad vacationers canoodling and bickering on the sunny island of Sardinia, before I realized that nothing was going to happen. Director Maren Ade's long, slow, screen-filling examination of these two irritating people - an insufferable snob and a half-bright drama queen - was not, I realized, intentionally boring, to intensify the surprise when the serial killer jumped out of the yuccas. The movie was only about these two annoying people and their jittery relationship, and nothing else. And they simply were not interesting enough for their own feature film.

Chris (Lars Eidinger) is a borderline obsessive-compulsive architect, proud but insecure, who doesn't work, or play, well with others. He is sexually attracted to Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), a clinging rock-music publicist. When he's not physically aroused, he seems to hold her in faint contempt, if I correctly read the flare of his nostrils and the tiny grimace of his lips, and he keeps balking at her pleas for something more lasting than lust.

At one point in the movie, Gitti gets so frustrated at Chris' wan lack of commitment that she calls him a scatological seven-letter word that begins with "A" and signfies "jerk." I'm here to tell you, there is no question that Chris is a complete scatalogical seven-letter word that begins with "A" and signifies "jerk."

Gitti specifically asks Chris to (1) tell her he loves her and (2) make love without a condom. I don't want to give anything away, but I might suggest that, if the film were to follow standard dramatic practice, those two requests would be like the shells in the double barrels of a shotgun on the mantelpiece, and both would go off before the story was over, probably near the end.

There are two other people in the film - another architect, an old friend and competitor of Chris named Hans, and his wife, Sana, a clothing designer. I don't exactly know what to make of them, but I found them more interesting than Chris and Gitti. At least they have tans, suggesting they don't spend all their time cooped up in the vacation house, whining.

After a fair amount of booze loosens everyone's tongue, Hans and Sana provide the catalyst for Chris and Gitti to change the terms of their relationship. I give them six months.

Opens Friday, Sept 17

Harper Barnes,  the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, has also been a long-time reviewer of movies.

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