I’m Still Here (2010) So Who Cares?

I’m Still Here is the kind of film that builds on levels beyond whatever it might actually accomplish, which in this day and age isn’t necessarily a bad thing (see the Saw and Hostel franchise and just about everything Christopher Nolan has done since Memento) but an observation worth mentioning.  The hype was clearly over the top in the beginning, the sensationalized headlines and panic-stricken talk show hosts searching for the joke when they were in and of themselves the butt the filmmakers were directing their social commentary disguised as a film at.  Once the trailer was assembled, and the trailer was quite brilliant actually, the masses couldn’t get enough as the pea began a slow and steady descent down the mountain towards an inevitable, and dare we say unsatisfying collision with reality.  It was apparent a lot of people were interested in whether or not one of Hollywood’s A-list talents was actually turning in his good looks for a chance at fame and fortune ala the Hip Hop product machine.  With cameo’s from a handful of friends and what appeared to be surprised talent (re: Danny Glover looked like a guy on Cops with a camera in his face trying to explain why a man dressed like a woman pretending to be a man was in his car at two in the morning) the familiar stars never quite seemed in on the whole documentary film thing.

Above the Line: Practical movie reviews with Rory DeanYou might be asking yourself after reading my review why I would suggest that you see this film.  I guess my bet answer would be because there is no truthful way to have a discussion about it without first sitting through it.  You might not make it all the way through, you might press the FFW button or jump from one chapter to the next until you reach the joyful end but nevertheless this is one of those rare films that as much as it fails it requires a viewing; unless of course you’re not much for conversations about cinema or those wacky lot in the hills of Los Angeles.  For those folks, you might consider another film for your evening escape.

Perhaps most problematic about the film is that the movie lacks a cohesiveness that uses drug and alcohol fueled tirades by Phoenix about art and Hollywood, about commerce and creativity to populate otherwise uninteresting hotel rooms and guest houses; I almost half expected to see Roman Polanski appear ala Chinatown in a Fedora looking for a way out as Joaquin tried in vain to convince him to join them for a chat along chain link fence spotted with Warhol-esque screen prints. Not even the hooker’s slash prostitutes slash professional escorts looked real enough to convince even the most inept viewer that what we were watching was indeed a real account of a celebrity gone completely insane.  Had this been real, had the accounts actually have happened and the freshman attempt by Casey Affleck amounted to an actual expose into the inner workings of a celebrity gone awry, the film might have mattered; hell, it might have won some awards or garnered critical scrutiny of the calamity of the world of the rich and talented.  In its place is a muddled attempt at examination in the back of limousines and airplanes and record studios made to look like record studios no one actually spends time in.  I’m Still Here is in all accounts a shambles of moments, at best a half-hearted attempt at something unique and different, at worst further evidence that a video camera is a dangerous weapon in the hands of someone who has no idea which way to point it much less what the flashing red light means.

It matters little that the film is defined as a documentary or less that what we are lead to believe is that Casey Affleck, who is married to Joaquin’s sister Summer, just happened to be at all the right places and times to capture Joaquin’s slow, painfully exhaustive decline into actor-hell.  What is important is that people have gone on the record that the film is legitimate, that the message is clear: “I (Joaquin Phoenix) am not going to act anymore.”  Maybe this would matter more if he had some ailment, a condition if you will, like Patrick Swayze or Michael Landon back in the day, and that his days were quite literally numbered and there was no pretense or bullshit and in so many hours, days, or months he would quite literally be taken off the playing field for good.  I’m not suggesting a slow and agonizing death is any more relevant or newsworthy than a simple, methodical detachment from one’s senses.  Instead I believe we’re lead by the nose from one failed meeting to the next.  His hoax of a rap career plays out in vivid detail and for far too long.  When confronted by a rowdy and rightfully critical critic of his mumbling, stumbling efforts to sing or perform or do whatever it is he was trying to do, he jumps into the audience in front of a bunch of people who have already had too much Red Bull and cheap vodka.  In the end Joaquin the movie star has been replaced by Joaquin the vagabond wayfaring soul, the bushy, ragged man with the dark glasses and the very real consumption of as much drugs, alcohol and excess as can be captured via video camera at all hours, at all places, even when shooting video of your drunk best buddy and technically family member is making a giant ass of himself.

If the intent all along was to document the decline of a movie star I can understand the willingness on both the filmmaker and his subject to let the camera run where it would, but if the intent was to deceive, to manufacture and present for artistic merit or otherwise a fictionalized diatribe that is mostly forgettable, I must surely protest.  Aside from the defecation scene and maybe the part where Joaquin shows up to see Sean Combs, a.k.a diddy, a.k.a p-diddy, a.k.a puff-daddy, or whatever, the film is strewn with confetti-shaped seconds of video everyone has captured of themselves or others but clearly understand it is not meant for general consumption.  Yet there is something oddly compelling about the idea of this film, a chance “behind the scenes” which is most likely what Affleck and others thought would be appealing about it.  Genuinely you almost have to watch the film because no one, not even Roger Ebert is going to convince you otherwise.  Even your best friend who you trust and love couldn’t talk you out of watching this massacre of the senses.  This is an experience that must be had first hand; even if said experience must be expunged like a juvenile criminal record, later, once the Red Bull and vodka have worn off.

As Mr. Ebert puts it the film, “documents a train wreck.”  The only real question is to authenticity but even then why should we care if Mr. Phoenix is still here? Where is here? I can assure you it isn’t the here of you or I nor is it the here that we’re accustomed to, teenagers and early twenty somethings perhaps not withstanding.  We’ve all stumbled down dark, dank paths once or twice in our life but how do these adventures inform who we are and better yet, who we want other people to think we are?  There are no cameras following our missteps nor should there be.  Missteps are what little people make frequently and often at the expense of others who are family and friends and loved ones who aren’t supposed to mind, even when they can’t stomach the smell of freshly shat diapers.  Missteps are not important to the teeming masses, though the paparazzi feed on every trip and fall, because the fan base only wants to catch a tiny glimpse of the man they saw in all those films they love and hope, somehow, he’ll notice them in the crowd and smile and maybe shake their hand.

This film isn’t about vanity or narcissism any more than it is an account of reality.  This is the kind of reality we were introduced to in the MTV series The Real World back in 1992.  Remember how they gathered all these antagonistic personalities and put them up in some million dollar mansion where they didn’t have to work or pay rent or buy groceries and that allowed them to claw at one another’s gut strands, to pick apart their idiosyncrasies and personality hiccups?  If I’m Still Here is simply an extension of the reality world rip-off concept, we’ve all been there just not to this degree.  I had high hopes.  I had wanted to see some of the scales come off of the glinting, shiny armor of one of Hollywood’s brightest stars and what I ended up with was a cold plate of linguine with white sauce and anchovies and I hate anchovies.

As Roger Ebert wrote so convincingly in his review of the movie, “Note: Regarding the film’s 3-str rating: It could be one, it could be four. What do stars have to do with it?”

Exactly.

But if you just can’t leave this film alone, or the idea of it, here’s a link to more.  Much more.

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About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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15 Responses to I’m Still Here (2010) So Who Cares?

  1. joecooler2u says:

    Basically the film seems like a train-wreck. One you have to see even knowing ahead of time that it isn’t going to end good, you just can’t help but watch. I have yet to see it, but I was fascinated with Joaquin’s apparent downfall when it seemed like it was a real thing. Many probably thought like I did “Drugs? He lost his mind?” Knowing now that it was basically a joke at our expense to make a movie about a star and the hoopla surrounding his “fake” downfall leaves a bad taste in my mouth like the morning after a hangover. I still fully intend to see it Rory, as you said it has to be seen because explaining it wouldn’t do enough. You have to see it for yourself. I’m expecting maybe some real moments but mixed with lots of “reality” moments. The simple fact is, wouldn’t it have been better to do a documentary following a megastar’s real life without all the play-acting that comes with the “reality” world? I guess I’ll have to wait and see for myself if I receive a review copy.

    • rorydean says:

      “Train wreck” agreed, with no survivors. I almost liked the bookends, the home video, the child wanting to jump but afraid to with no help from his father, apparently, but it wasn’t enough to truly sustain the effort. And sadly, yes, we’re going to eventually get around to all films, most films, as many films as we can, and this will probably be one you must endure. Hopefully it will grow on me (I doubt it) but I’m afraid a second viewing would be painful as I tried my best to make heads or tales of who or what or why anyone would think a 90 minute performance piece would make for an enjoyable movie experience.

      Maybe if one of the filmmakers had gone to film school or studied film theory or something they would have realized the two art forms are not all that compatible. I felt a little like this with Miranda July’s “Me and you and everyone we know” – though at least she was able to wrap a more conventional narrative structure around what amounted to one long, and at times boring, stage play.

      Check out the end of the review for a link to a site where Affleck reveals what most of us pretty much figured all along. A lot of comments there as well.

  2. Rodney says:

    The bitter taste of being cheated by Phoenix (because I was led into his hoax along with plenty of others) will keep me from seeing this. Playing a trick on people, then standing up and saying “hey we took videos of it all” and expecting me to watch it, isn’t gonna happen twice.

    • rorydean says:

      And bitter it is, was. I felt like watching The Hours or even Bolt afterwards, anything to erase the memory of all the fake drugs, alcoholic binges and diatribes and vomit but nothing did the trick, yet. I mean the trailer! The trailer works in so many ways it is frightening how the resulting movie is even associated with it. I guess in the end a gravel-voice Edward James Olmos talking about a droplet of water on the mountain top could make anything seem like a worthy rental.

      Yet you’ll have to watch, some day, if only to have said you sat through it and to completely grasp the full extent of the filmmakers, however failed, regardless that it fails. If you’re going to avoid it completely, check out the link at the bottom of the post where it will take you to a site that explains it all (well, most of it).

  3. Simon says:

    I haven’t seen the film – but have a real frustration as to whether i should. You say I should watch it … but, im sure the same point is made elsewhere in other films. There is something incredibly frustrating that these accomplished filmmakers who have the freedom to do anything – they decide to make a film that, kinda, takes the audience as a joke. Our perspective is abused – claiming its a hoax so late in the day. Why didn’t they say earlier – because it wouldn’t make as much money. If you think about the pointless-publicity in the press about tv programmes, its the same type of cheap shot to get everyones attantion.

    I think i shall stick with not watching it.

    Simon

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Simon – thanks for dropping by!

      I was on the fence about this film for the longest time and decided it was a film best viewed at home. I have some serious issues with it (obviously) but at the same time I think anyone who considers themselves an avid movie goer, critic, or reviewer has to see it for the conversational value. It’s crazy at times and like I’ve commented elsewhere, my best advice is to see it then immediately check out the link at the bottom of my review. It might be helpful or it might just add to your frustration of why this project was made in the first place.

      And yes, stuff like this sells, sadly. So does sex and violence, gore and zombies. It’s just part of the fabric of the entertainment world is my thoughts.

      If you give it a go, come back and let me know what you thought!
      happy holidays

  4. 5plitreel says:

    Great review; I’m planning on watching the film this week, as it is now on the online moviesite Voddler that’s pretty much the Spotify for movies. I just hope it doesn’t ruin Joaquin Phoenix for me, I hope I ‘get it’. It’s just a strange thing for a really talented actor to do. To be fair, he is kind of messed up..

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks! My best advice for watching the film is to remember that we as audience members should always “try” and separate the man/woman from his/her art. Just because the person is messed up or behaves erratically (case in point Robert Downey Jr.) doesn’t mean we can’t like their work, their art. Downey Jr. has gone on to be one of the top and most beloved actors working today (because of Iron Man, among other things). Joaquin Phoenix has some issues as does the film but don’t let any of that prevent you from watching the film and enjoying what you can.

      Also, follow the link at the end of my post for more about the film (after you’ve watched it) and then please let me know your thoughts afterwards.
      cheers and happy holidays!

    • Rodney says:

      I don’t think the term “messed up” is entirely accurate; I like to think of Joaquin as eccentric rather that insane – if he was messed up he might end up like his late brother River. Being eccentric allows him a degree of Hollywood-style strangeness that sells magazines and cinema tickets.

      • rorydean says:

        Well, I’ll give you that one. “Messed Up” is a bit broad and especially with regards to Joaquin (I have a personal connection to his very loss of a brother). Thanks for making me thank about my careless broad brush strokes. I whole heartedly agree, eccentricity is a much more appropriate description and in all honesty I’ve been a fan of Joaquin’s work from way, way back – even two lovers which was totally dismissed for some reason by the critics.

        As far as ending up like his brother, well, that is still (sadly) a possibility, though I hope he returns to the cinema and I’ll be right there when he does. Hollywood is a land far, far away and only the best survive, and those with the most talented handlers.

        Always great to receive your insight and thoughts
        cheers
        rory

  5. Joseph Demme says:

    Will definitely rent this. 2010 has been a great year for documentaries.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Joseph, thanks for dropping by. Yes, there were plenty of good docs this year (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Beaches of Agnès, The Cove, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story and Yoav Shamir’s Defamation) but I’m Still Here isn’t a real documentary, more of a Mockumentary (also known as mock documentary) that is its own genre in which fictitious events are presented in documentary format. It would be a big stretch to consider this film a documentary but nevertheless as I wrote in my review, a film that has to be watched in order to fully appreciate (or insert other reaction here).

      Here’s a great article on the subject of the Faux Documentary – http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/sep/30/fake-documentaries-the-arbor

  6. Rodney says:

    Hey Rory, there was one thing I did want to mention (having had the Christmas period to reflect on this review) and that was the rather flip backhander regarding Chris Nolan’s work post-Memento. The way I read it, you don’t sound that impressed with his stuff… and I’d like both further clarification and expansion on this fact. If this is true, you’re among the minority who thinks this way, and it’d be great to have your thoughts on it all.

    I only say this because I was considering doing a piece on Nolan myself, and an alternate point of view would be awesome. Myself, I think he’s a great director and a cinematic visionary.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Rodney – great question and observation. Let me clarify. I do think Nolan is a brilliant director and is quite visionary in his approach to filmmaking. “The Following” in 1998 evidence to the fact that he has command of the cinematic language and if his debut feature doesn’t prove it to you, then his follow up “Momento” in 2000 be. Btw, Momento is on my best of list and has since I watched it all those first dozens ago. What I think has ensued has been a tradition of the auteur theory go awry. We know Nolan can tell a story, a darn complex one at that (Momento) and that he’s passionate (The Following, which he filmed in 16mm over a year – see this article for further details http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Following) and works with intent and intention as a filmmaker. But the problem as I see it, and as I write in my new article coming out soon, is “Concept versus Content”. I won’t go further into the depths to which I deconstruct and consequently dismiss Inception as a jumbled, incoherent, and frequently muddy cinematic expression (I did that and then some in https://rorydean.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/inception-a-k-a-exposition/) but suffice it so say, I’m not in particular disenfranchised with Nolan only excited to see his next project and hopeful that he’ll return to his formal upbringing, that of story and character and plot first and everything else second.

      A mediocre film with a bunch of money thrown at it is just going to be a mediocre film with a bunch of money thrown at it. I mean lets face it, his film The Following forced him to go over every shot, every detail in painstaking precision and it shows. Momento would probably not be possible in the hands of another filmmaker, other non-linear aficionado’s like Altman and Tarantino included). But cutting edge special effects and incredible visual trickery is just that at the end of the day. Perhaps that shows the chasm between my sensibilities at the general masses (the yunger folks) but I’ll stick to my guns. Hey, that’s what film critics do. They point out precisely what is wrong with a film regardless of the oodles of money it makes and how popular culture can’t get enough of it but for those willing to spend a little thought, a little careful examination, I’ll put my opinions and criticism against the “Pepsi Challenge” any day.

      I hope that wasn’t too terribly long and drawn out to answer your question. I loved “flip backhander” by the way. Always open to discussion, that’s why I’m here and appreciate your query.

  7. rorydean says:

    Way before I saw this movie or wrote about it, I caught an article over at Marshal and the Movies and rambled a bit about it. Good points, check it out – http://marshallandthemovies.com/2010/11/22/imstillhere/

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