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 Hereis 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.
Anyone who thought that Vince’s thrill-seeking would eventually catch up to him was right, although not in the way most people probably expected. It seems that the back injury he sustained on the Nick Cassavetes movie has resulted in a pretty serious addiction to Vicodin, which has in turn resulted in Vince doing cocaine at one of his infamous look-at-all-the-naked-women parties. Of course, when Vince gets up for his meeting with Randall Wallace the next morning, he’s a complete wreck, and whether it’s from the coke the night before, the coffee he chugged before he left, or just plain nerves, he’s jittery all throughout the meeting. That sets off warning bells in Wallace’s head, and now the studio isn’t sure if they want to work with him on the upcoming “Airwalker” movie. Vince tells Eric that he didn’t do any coke, but of course he’s lying, and Billy Walsh knows it.
I’m not sure how long Billy is going to wait to speak up, but if he truly is Vince’s friend, he would have said something by now. Maybe he was scared because Scotty Lavin (who also partook in the snorting festivities) was in the same room, but that’s no reason to wuss out like that. Still, just like last week’s subplot involving Turtle and Alex’s shaved bush, I simply don’t buy Vincent Chase as a cokehead. Maybe the writers think they need to drag his character through a drug addiction (and eventual drug rehab program) before he can finally win an Oscar in the much rumored “Entourage” movie (honestly, where else can it go?), but despite Vince’s shortcomings as a responsible adult, he just never struck me as the kind of guy who would experiment with drugs. Blame the porn star girlfriend or just lazy writing.
Speaking of Billy, it looks like he’s going to be hanging around for these last few episodes, and for once, I don’t mind. Though he was obviously more entertaining as a self-destructive prima donna, it’s nice to see him acting like a regular dude for once. Unfortunately, that also means that we have to endure this stupid storyline about him creating an animated series for Drama. Now, I’m no Hollywood agent, but how in the world could anyone think that “Johnny’s Bananas” – a cartoon about a “high-strung simian trying to make it in the human world” – is a good premise for a TV show? I always thought Eric had good taste, but if he’s truly intrigued by the idea of Drama voicing a cartoon gorilla, then well, I clearly didn’t know him as well as I thought. Then again, this was the second time in the same episode where one of the leads did something completely out of character, so maybe it can just be chalked up to lazy writing.
If you saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — and I hope you have as its one of the stronger comedies to be made over the last several years — you’ll likely have noticed the strong comic chemistry between British comedy sensation Russell Brand as three-quarters insane, recovering addict rock star Aldous Snow and Jonah Hill (“Superbad“) as a resort waiter and somewhat overly devoted fan of Snow’s. Well, you’re not the only one, and so we have the somewhat slapdash, sometimes brilliant, and ultimately winning new comedy, “Get Him to the Greek,” which once again brings us Brand as Aldous Snow, who, since the events of “Sarah Marshall” has suffered a failed marriage to rocker Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), had a seven-year old son, and removed the “recovering” from his addiction — kind of impressive since “Sarah Marshall” was only two years ago.
Nevertheless, having fallen headlong off the wagon, Snow needs help arriving on-time and semi-cognizant for an important TV appearance, a sound check, and a special comeback performance at L.A.’s Greek Theater. The task falls to ambitious young record company assistant Aaron Green (Hill, playing a different character than in “Sarah Marshall”), a huge fan of Snow’s in a sweet but rocky relationship with his improbably adorable doctor girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men“). Frequently vomit-stained hijinks ensue as Green and Snow barely survive a number of unfortunate events, including a nearly apocalyptic visit to the set of “The Today Show,” one of the most truly mad Las Vegas sequences in film history, and the kind of freaky three-ways that would make most porn producers blanch. It’s all wrapped up with the sort of good-hearted traditional morality which reminds us that the producer is the Walt Disney of male-centric, R-rated comedies, Judd Apatow.