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“I’m Still Here,” Reviewed

“I’m Still Here,” Reviewed (photo)

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Casey Affleck wants us to believe his documentary about actor Joaquin Phoenix’s retirement is real. For his sake, I hope he’s lying.

If “I’m Still Here” is real, then that means Affleck saw Phoenix, his brother-in-law, throwing away his career, his sobriety, and his maybe his sanity and decided to pick up a camera and get it all on film rather than stage an intervention. Instead of helping him heal in private he’s aired his ugliest behavior in front of the entire world. In other words, if “I’m Still Here” is the genuine article, Affleck might be the worst brother-in-law in history.

But while he may not win any awards for responsible familial behavior, he deserves at least a little credit for his filmmaking skills. With his first feature as a director, Affleck has made one of the most convincing and interesting movie pranks ever (that is, if he didn’t make one of the most exploitative and morally questionable documentaries ever). For the moment, let’s assume the former.

In that case, “I’m Still Here” is the “War of the Worlds” of actor meltdown movies. Its execution is so flawless and its internal logic is so strong, that we need the end credits to tell us that the film is not what it claims to be. It’s an interesting film to watch and an even more interesting film to discuss (for that reason, do not go see this movie alone). Since watching “I’m Still Here” on Tuesday I’ve had more conversations about it, about what it is and what it means, than any film this year except “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Like “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “I’m Still Here” is equal parts chronicle of and joke on the intersection of art and celebrity in our society. The facts of the movie are already well-known because they all took place on television. In 2008, Phoenix, sick of “playing the character of Joaquin” in the media (a clue, perhaps?) suddenly announced his retirement from acting and began performing as a hip hop artist. He played a nightclub in Vegas and fell off the stage. He showed up for an interview on Letterman and acted confused and possibly high.

How did we go from the man who starred in “Two Lovers,” a world-class thespian delivering an heart-wrenching performance, to the man who promoted “Two Lovers,” a sloppy, rambling weirdo who makes subway hobos look eloquent in comparison? Phoenix’s documentary fills in the gaps. When he wasn’t insisting he was done with Hollywood, Phoenix was scouring the Internet for hookers, snorting coke off their breasts, belittling his assistants, or practically stalking P. Diddy to try to convince him to produce his album.

Did Phoenix really think he had a future as a rapper? Did he ambush Diddy “Borat”-style or was Sean Combs in on the joke the whole time? I personally believe the truth of “I’m Still Here” lies somewhere in the murk between the two extremes of documentary and fiction. Though Phoenix and Affleck are the film’s credited writers, and some of the parts appear to have been filled by actors, Phoenix looks too legitimately high at times to be acting. Compare him stumbling around, puffing on a joint and doing cocaine to someone like Nicolas Cage in “Bad Lieutenant.” If Phoenix is acting in some of these scenes, he is giving one the greatest and most fearless performances of all time.

But the fact that Phoenix may be legitimately high doesn’t automatically make this a documentary either. Phoenix is a great actor; he’s also one of our craziest. How do we know he wouldn’t get genuinely stoned on camera for the sake of verisimilitude in a fiction film? I’m still not sure. And that ambuiguity is the point.

In 2010, reality and fiction are not only indistinguishable in popular culture, the difference between them is essentially irrelevant. Millions of people tune in every week to watch “Jersey Shore,” never questioning how much of the show is staged for the cameras, or written by writers, or massaged in the editing room. Whether Phoenix was high on Letterman or whether he was pretending to be high, the resultant impact on his career was the same. Whether he’s a terrible rapper or a performance artist aping the affectations of a terrible rapper, his audience wasn’t interested in parsing the difference. They just wanted to see the freak show and get a video of it on their cell phones.

If “I’m Still Here” is real, even in some small way, it is a freak show. Some of Phoenix’s antics are funny, at least until you remember the possibility that he’s not joking. On the other hand, maybe he was joking all along but nobody got the joke, and now he has to suffer the consequences. If Phoenix is as screwed up as he looks in this film, then Affleck owes his brother-in-law an apology (he might also need to explain himself to his wife, Joaquin’s sister Summer, who does not appear in the film). If it’s not then it is one hell of a hoax. This movie has to be seen to be simultaneously believed and disbelieved.

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Holiday Extra Special

Make The Holidays ’80s Again

Enjoy the holiday cheer Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Whatever happened to the kind of crazy-yet-cozy holiday specials that blanketed the early winter airwaves of the 1980s? Unceremoniously killed by infectious ’90s jadedness? Slow fade out at the hands of early-onset millennial ennui? Whatever the reason, nixing the tradition was a huge mistake.

A huge mistake that we’re about to fix.

Announcing IFC’s Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special, starring Tony Hale. It’s a celeb-studded extravaganza in the glorious tradition of yesteryear featuring Bridget Everett, Jo Firestone, Nick Thune, Jen Kirkman, house band The Dap-Kings, and many more. And it’s at Joe’s Pub, everyone’s favorite home away from home in the Big Apple.

The yuletide cheer explodes Wednesday December 21 at 10P. But if you were born after 1989 and have no idea what void this spectacular special is going to fill, sample from this vintage selection of holiday hits:

Andy Williams and The NBC Kids Search For Santa

The quintessential holiday special. Get snuggly and turn off your brain. You won’t need it.

A Muppet Family Christmas

The Fraggles. The Muppets. The Sesame Street gang. Fate. The Jim Henson multiverse merges in this warm and fuzzy Holiday gathering.

Julie Andrews: The Sound Of Christmas

To this day a foolproof antidote to holiday cynicism. It’s cheesy, but a good cheese. In this case an Alpine Gruyère.

Star Wars Holiday Special

Okay, busted. This one was released in 1978. Still totally ’80s though. And yes that’s Bea Arthur.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

Pass the eggnog, and make sure it’s loaded. This special is everything you’d expect it to be and much, much more.

Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special premieres Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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It Ain't Over Yet

A Guide to Coping with the End of Comedy Bang! Bang!

Watch the final episodes tonight at 11 and 11:30P on IFC.

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After five seasons and 110 halved-hour episodes, Scott Aukerman’s hipster comedy opus, Comedy Bang! Bang!, has come to an end. Fridays at 11 and 11:30P will never be the same. We know it can be hard for fans to adjust after the series finale of their favorite TV show. That’s why we’ve prepared this step-by-step guide to managing your grief.

Step One: Cry it out

It’s just natural. We’re sad too.
Scott crying GIF

Step Two: Read the CB!B! IMDB Trivia Page

The show is over and it feels like you’ve lost a friend. But how well did you really know this friend? Head over to Comedy Bang! Bang!’s IMDB page to find out some things you may not have known…like that it’s “based on a Civil War battle of the same name” or that “Reggie Watts was actually born with the name Theodore Leopold The Third.”

Step Three: Listen to the podcast

One fascinating piece of CB!B! trivia that you might not learn from IMDB is that there’s a podcast that shares the same name as the TV show. It’s even hosted by Scott Aukerman! It’s not exactly like watching the TV show on a Friday night, but that’s only because each episode is released Monday morning. If you close your eyes, the podcast is just like watching the show with your eyes closed!

Step Four: Watch brand new CB!B! clips?!

The best way to cope with the end of Comedy Bang! Bang! is to completely ignore that it’s over — because it’s not. In an unprecedented move, IFC is opening up the bonus CB!B! content vault. There are four brand new, never-before-seen sketches featuring Scott Aukerman, Kid Cudi, and “Weird Al” Yankovic ready for you to view on the IFC App. There’s also one right here, below this paragraph! Watch all four b-b-bonus clips and feel better.

Binge the entire final season, plus exclusive sketches, right now on the IFC app.

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Everybody Sweats Now

The Four-Day Sweatsgiving Weekend On IFC

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This long holiday weekend is your time to gobble gobble gobble and give heartfelt thanks—thanks for the comfort and forgiveness of sweatpants. Because when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing more wholesome and American than stuffing yourself stupid and spending endless hours in front of the TV in your softest of softests.

So get the sweats, grab the remote and join IFC for four perfect days of entertainment.

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It all starts with a 24-hour T-day marathon of Rocky Horror Picture Show, then continues Friday with an all-day binge of Stan Against Evil.

By Saturday, the couch will have molded to your shape. Which is good, because you’ll be nestled in for back-to-back Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

Finally, come Sunday it’s time to put the sweat back in your sweatpants with The Shining, The Exorcist, The Chronicles of Riddick, Terminator 2, and Blade: Trinity. They totally count as cardio.

As if you need more convincing, here’s Martha Wash and the IFC&C Music Factory to hammer the point home.

The Sweatsgiving Weekend starts Thursday on IFC

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