Hidden Netflix Gems – I’m Still Here

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Joaquin Phoenix‘s much-publicized retirement from acting in order to pursue his burgeoning career as a rapper had cries of “Hoax!” surrounding it from the very beginning, and its subsequent critical and audience response was mostly negative. However, despite the apparent trend of people upset at being duped, Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here is a fascinating and frequently hilarious send-up of celebrity culture anchored by an amazingly committed performance from Phoenix. In the film, as in reality, this is the kind of thing that could potentially end a career and forever ruin a reputation, and the courage he displays in sticking to it is very impressive.

In one of the best scenes, Phoenix rejects an offer to co-star with Ben Stiller (who you would never guess by watching is in on the joke the whole time) in Greenberg; in another, he hilariously attempts to obtain a record deal with Sean “Puffy” Combs, who isn’t quite the actor Stiller is, though his performance is just good enough that its weaker elements could be seen as arrogant posturing for the cameras that follow Phoenix everywhere. Then there is the famous David Letterman interview, in which he mumbles and stares blankly at the roaring audience, seemingly unable to fathom why they think he’s so funny (Letterman was not in on the joke, but of course he is unfazed after previous encounters with the likes of Crispin Glover and Harmony Korine).

So, what of the supposed rapping, you ask? Is it any good? The answer is a resounding “not really.” While the filmmakers wisely make it just decent enough to convince us that an arrogant movie star who has lost his mind to drugs and the excess of stardom would believe it was his new calling, his flows are about what you’d see in the mid-range of a good Hip-Hop open mic. The rhymes are clumsy and mostly monosyllabic, the beats generic; Phoenix’s delivery is full of the gruff showmanship of a spoiled rich dude with no real inkling of the dues a great emcee must pay. The funniest part about it is that at his few live appearances as a rapper, star-struck morons who are clearly just tickled to be near an Oscar-nominated actor mostly cheer him on. At one such performance he tells the lone heckler, “I’ve got a million dollars in my bank account – what do you got?” Cue the cheers.

This is why the film works, and why it is has not permanently damaged Phoenix’s acting career. By committing himself so fully to the performance and taking a great risk of being reviled and blacklisted by the Hollywood community, Phoenix has made a strong and convincing statement about our celebrity culture and the idea of reinventing oneself. Beyond any of that, though, it’s a very fun movie to watch, and all the more impressive for making you wonder what’s real even when you know it’s a hoax.

  

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2010: A Look Back at a Lot of Interviews

At the end of 2009, I took a look back at 100 interviews I’d done over the course of the year, and it was exhausting…not only for me, but possibly also for you, the reader. Oh, I still think it was a heck of a piece, but I believe I made a mistake by numbering them. I mean, you get about 20 – 25 into the proceedings, and it’s, like, “Oh, geez, I’ve still got 75 left to go? Screw this, I’m out of here.” So this time, I’m not going to tell you how many quotes are in the piece. I’ll just say that I talked to a lot of really funny, fascinating, and decidedly forthright people during the course of 2010, and I’ll let you dive in. Hope you enjoy the chance to reminisce as much I did, and here’s to a great 2011 for us all!

Big Shots at the Box Office

“I was in Australia, touring with my films and live show, and I got an E-mail from my agent, saying that there was interest in me for Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I thought, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’ I thought it would be for a day or two, maybe a few days or something, and I would’ve been very happy to do that. But then the offer came in, and it was for virtually the entire run of the film. I didn’t even know what part it was for, so I asked my agent, and he said it was for the Knave of Hearts. So I looked up the Knave of Hearts in the original book online and…it didn’t really seem like a character that would require the run of the film. I thought, ‘Something must be different.’ And then I got the actual screenplay, and it was extremely different. I could see that it was written as a sequel. But it was a great part, and I was ecstatic to be in it…and I’m still ecstatic to be in it!” – Crispin Glover, Alice in Wonderland

“They called my agent and said they were auditioning for (‘Inception’), so I flew myself back, I read for Chris (Nolan) once, and I left. I think it was later that day that I heard from my agent, saying, ‘They’ve cut everyone except you. Now, they’re going to go to London to see some people, and then we’ll know more after that. So don’t get your hopes up, but…this is great!’ Then I came back and read again, and I got the job. And then, as you might expect, I freaked out completely.” – Dileep Rao, Inception

“I was actually down at my ranch in South Texas, and my guys called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get you a meeting with Sylvester Stallone. He’s casting a movie called ‘The Expendables.’’ Several months went by, and he’d already cast ‘The Expendables,’ but he still wanted to meet me for potentially playing the part of Dan Paine. So I went in to meet Sly, it was the first time I’d ever met him, and I’m a huge fan. I remember watching ‘Rocky’ back in ’76 or whenever it was, then getting up the next morning, drinking eggs, and running down the street…and now here I am meeting with this guy!” – Steve Austin, The Expendables

“I was privileged and honored to work side by side with Sly (Stallone in ‘The Expendables’). Most of my scenes take place with him, and I’m telling you, man, he took me under his wing, and it was a brilliant thing. I don’t know what else to say. ‘Rocky,’ ‘Rambo,’ just everything he’s done is iconic, and it wasn’t lost on me. I love the man, and I can’t wait to do another one, ‘cause Sly’s the king of the sequels…and in my whole career, I’ve never done a sequel to any one of my projects. So I’m, like, ‘Sly, I’m ready for ‘Expendables 2,’ okay?'” – Terry Crews, The Expendables

“Jessica (Pare) was just about to disrobe…we were in the (hot) tub…and they were, like, ‘Ready!’ And she took off whatever was covering her in the tub. And somebody asked the boom guy a question just as she was disrobing, and all he could say was, ‘Yesssssss…’ He could only whisper. I didn’t make a joke about it, though. I was just, like, ‘Okay, Craig, keep it cool, keep it together…’” – Craig Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine

“I made the mistake of using one term loosely and saying (filming in 3D) was a tedious process, and somebody made it sound really bad. The bottom line is that it took a little longer, and the one that suffered more than anybody was (director Kevin Greutert) and the camera guy, because they have to get it right. You know, calibration and being specific with lights and all that stuff. For me, it was a good excuse to go play with the crew that wasn’t on set and crack a couple of jokes, so I got to socialize a little bit more.” – Costas Mandylor, Saw 3D

“Usually, when you’re coming in completely blind with who you’re working with, you don’t know if you’re going to get along, nor do some people put the time in to try to get along. We were all in Pittsburgh, and we did do, like, two weeks of rehearsal before we started shooting (‘She’s Out of My League’), and in those two weeks, we hung out a lot…and, luckily, it went good rather than bad. Because sometimes it’s just awful, and you’re going, ‘I can’t stand that guy!’ So we were lucky. I know a lot of people always say this when they come off work, because they’re kind of trained to say it, but with this one, we all really got along, and I think that’s what helps our chemistry on screen so much: we thought each other were funny, we even liked to hang out afterward, and that played well. ” – Nate Torrence, She’s Out of My League

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Back to “Back to the Future”

It’s the 25th anniversary of the science fiction comedy from Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. As you might also expect, a 3-disc Blu-Ray set is also hitting stores today featuring the original film and it’s two-sequels.

So, to go with Will Harris’s interview with Gale which includes some more interesting casting details in addition to the ones you’ve probably already heard about, Universal has made available a series of short clips from yesterday’s press conference at New York’s Waldorf Hotel featuring a lot of the cast — Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and Mary Steenburgen (from “Back to the Future 3”) but not Crispin Glover — as well as Gale and Zemeckis. A lot of them are very brief and I would have been happier if they’d edited it into one clip, but you take what you can get.

We’ve got a bunch of more these after the flip for you diehard “Future” fans.

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Crispin Glover: Not the greedy bastard “Back to the Future” execs made him out to be

Uh oh. Marty McFly’s on the warpath.

Well, as warpath-like as a guy like Crispin Glover can get, anyway. In fact, Glover is the first celeb we ran into at MGM’s (awesome) press junket for their upcoming time-travel comedy “Hot Tub Time Machine,” and it’s in the ski shop, of all places. He had just done some skiing at Diamond Peak (yours truly was renting skis to hit those slopes the next day), and we made small talk about the movie, which we were seeing later that day. “I like it when people throw up,” he told me. Yes, but how did the squirrel feel about it?

As we gathered in the press room to talk to Glover – I was grouped with three other writers, whose names and publications I cannot remember except that one of them writes for Dark Horizons – we all expressed concern that we would not have enough questions to fill a 20-minute interview slot with him. Never fear – Glover would take care of that for us by giving us lengthy answers to even the simplest of questions. Towards the end, though, one of the other writers was feeling ballsy, so he went for it:

“Is there a bitterness at all on your part with the “Back to the Future” series, that you’re so recognized for that, and then what happened with the sequel, and them using your image and everything?”

What happened for the next seven minutes was, well, spectacular.

“On the DVD to the “Back to the Future” trilogy, Bob Gale, who’s one of the writers and executive producers, has said something that’s totally fabricated,” Glover told us. “What he said is that I asked for twice the money that Michael J. Fox asked for. I didn’t do that.”

Ah, but wait. Crispin was just getting warmed up.

Crispin chainsaw

“The way propaganda works, you hear the phrase, ‘the bigger the lie, the more people believe it.’ Basically, what was done was to obfuscate the fact that they had done something extremely wrong by taking another actor and putting him into false nose, chin and cheekbones in order to fool people into believing that I was in the film. This very specific lie that Bob Gale told on the DVD was specifically to not address that what they did was totally immoral and illegal.”

So why did the producers take such an aggressive stance towards their negotiations with Glover? As far as he’s concerned, it was for making an independent film after the runaway success of “Back to the Future,” rather than a studio film.

“In negotiations for the second film, they offered me less than half than any of the other actors that were being asked to come back, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson. But I was offered…they had all done studio films, and they had made a lot of money. The film I had made between ‘Back to the Future Part I’ and ‘Part II’ was ‘River’s Edge,’ and I did that for scale. So they seemed to argue that it’s okay to offer me far less than any of the other actors that were coming back because I had done this independent art film – which I really like, I’m still very proud of it – but I was being penalized.”

So now we have a culprit and a motive. But Glover wasn’t finished.

“It was not fair, it was not a normal negotiation. And in fact, what normally happens is they’ll make an offer, you’ll make a counter-offer, and then you’ll meet in the middle, or something approximate to that. In this situation, they made an offer, and I didn’t even make a counter-offer. I just said, ‘That’s too low.’ At which point they came back at a lower offer. To me at this point, what was apparent was that they did not want me to be in the film or, if I was going to do it, that it was essentially a punishment that I was going to have to take less than half what everybody else was going to take in order to make the film. It just didn’t seem fair on any level.”

And he still wasn’t finished with Bob Gale.

“Bob Gale didn’t do this just on the DVDs, but he’s been going on radio shows [telling the same story]. I don’t know why.”

While we’re trying not to take sides here, it is important to consider that Glover has since gone on to work with Robert Zemeckis again (in the motion capture clusterfuck “Beowulf”), so clearly their working relationship was decent enough to earn a second go-round. Also, Glover has never had a problem finding work within the studio system since his falling out with the makers of “Back to the Future” – indeed, he just appeared in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” reboot – and in fact uses their money to finance his own films. His crackpot reputation may precede him, but the man we met in Lake Tahoe couldn’t have been more gracious or candid. And we wore a bitchin’ suit to the party Saturday night.

  

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Brand Upon the Brain

It’s over-simplifying, but there’s no way around it: Winnipeg surrealist Guy Maddin works the same general territory as David Lynch. But while Lynch is still, in his unique way, a creature of Hollywood, Maddin has remained a Manitoba miniaturist whose films are both overtly psychological and proudly melodramatic. Oddly enough, Maddin’s movies are often more accessible than Lynch’s – at least partly because the filmmaker is an unabashed fan of the primal storytelling style of silent movies. “Brand Upon the Brain” builds upon the director’s fandom by being Maddin’s second actual silent film, and was originally presented as a theatrical event with a live orchestra, sound effects artists, and narrators. This typically lavish Criterion DVD includes both studio recordings and crisp live audio tracks with seven different narrators, including Isabella Rossellini (“Blue Velvet”), professional weirdo Crispin Glover, and the great nonagenarian character actor Eli Wallach (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”).

The movie itself combines elaborate fantasy and confessional filmmaking, at least on the level of metaphor – the main character is named “Guy Maddin” and the director has described the film as “97% true.” It’s not a drag, though – there’s a pleasing and funny jumble of genre elements ranging from teen detective to grand guignol horror, some nudity (both the sexy kind and the not so sexy kind, in this case involving a male corpse) and Ms. Rossellini’s narration is literally a scream. Featuring a deliberately herky-jerky editorial approach (a new wrinkle for Maddin that I’m not wild about), “Brand Upon the Brain” works for the most part, but for me this doesn’t quite add up to Class A insanity. I would have happier with a bit more melodrama and a bit less psychosexual metaphor.

Click to buy “Brand Upon the Brain”

  

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