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Laying Out Some “I’m Still Here”-y Theories

Laying Out Some “I’m Still Here”-y Theories (photo)

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Roger Ebert calls it “a sad and painful documentary.” Reuters calls it “an entertaining hoax.” So which is it? “I’m Still Here,” Casey Affleck’s film about a messy year in the life of his brother-in-law, actor-turned-laughing-stock-rapper Joaquin Phoenix, doesn’t open in theaters until Friday but as those early reviews indicate, the jury’s still out on the full extent of its truthiness. For his part, Affleck continues to maintain that the film is 100% real. “I can tell you, there’s no hoax. It never entered my mind until other people commented on the movie.” Affleck told the press at the Venice Film Festival.


Affleck’s not being coy. He’s coming right out and saying: my film is real. But do we believe him? Like everything in “I’m Still Here,” Affleck’s comment could be a put-on. It certainly sounds disingenuous, since at one point in the film Affleck himself interviews an editor from Entertainment Weekly who reported on the possibility that this whole thing is an elaborate prank. I’ve seen the film myself — I’ll have a full review on IFC.com on Friday — and I’m still not sure where I fall on the fact/fiction debate. There seems to be evidence to back up either theory, and plenty to suggest the truth may lie somewhere in between. Let’s look at each possibility along with the evidence supporting and disputing it.

POSSIBILITY #1: The movie is an authentic documentary.

WHAT THIS MEANS: Everything seen in the movie actually happened; Joaquin Phoenix had a legitimate meltdown in 2008 and 2009; he thinks his terrible hip hop music is actually good; his own brother-in-law chose to document his cry for help instead of trying to get him into rehab or therapy.

EVIDENCE FOR: Phoenix’s public behavior during the time chronicled in the film including his strange appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman”; his history of substance abuse; Phoenix’s complete absence from the film world since “retiring” in late 2008; scenes, like the one in which Phoenix walks off stage from a rap concert and repeatedly pukes in a toilet, that look disturbingly real.

EVIDENCE AGAINST: Repeated leaks in the press stating that the film was staged (like the one in Entertainment Weekly that Affleck confronts himself); the fact that Magnolia Pictures, the company that distributed the film Phoenix was (kind of) promoting during his shenanigans, signed on to distribute this film; the strong unlikelihood that Phoenix could learn to play guitar and mimic the distinctive singing voice and performance style of Johnny Cash perfectly and yet be completely incapable of approximating a legitimate hip hop record in any way at all; scenes, like the one in which Phoenix rages at the world for ignoring his performance in “Reservation Road” while praising Leonardo DiCaprio’s in “Revolutionary Road,” that look blatantly staged.

POSSIBILITY #2: The movie is a complete work of fiction.

WHAT THIS MEANS: Everyone who appears in the film is appearing “in character” and either speaking lines of dialogue or improvising scenarios written by Phoenix and Affleck, necessitating an industry-wide conspiracy involving major stars from the world of music, film, and television, all working together to produce a record-setting prank on the general public; that the Joaquin Phoenix who appears in “I’m Still Here” is actually one of the greatest acting performances in the history of cinema.

EVIDENCE FOR: End credits that call Phoenix and Affleck the writers of the film and that name several actors in the cast, like Antony Langon of the band Spacehog, who appears in the film as Phoenix’s assistant; a convenient storyline that justifies many of Phoenix’s most infamous public blunders by connecting them to heretofore unseen traumas in his personal life; the presence of so many real Hollywood celebrities whom may not have agreed to sign releases if the film was a real documentary.

EVIDENCE AGAINST: The extreme difficulty of maintaining the secrecy such a mammoth project demands; Affleck’s repeated assertions in the press that the film is genuine (to say it is fake is, to some degree, call Affleck a liar); apparently unsimulated scenes of drinking and smoking and snorting plus moments where Phoenix looks too genuinely zonked out of his gourd on drugs to be acting; graphic and also apparently unsimulated depictions of human biological functions that have previously only appeared in on movie screens John Waters movies, “Jackass,” and scatological porn.

POSSIBILITY #3: It’s “Borat.”

WHAT THIS MEANS: Affleck and Phoenix (and perhaps a select number of supporting “characters”) know the film is a put-on but everyone else, including celebrities appearing as themselves like Ben Stiller, P. Diddy, and Edward James Olmos, believe they are appearing in a straightforward documentary; Phoenix completely screwed over a director he’d worked with three times for the sake of this strange exercise; both Phoenix and Affleck are liars on a near-pathological scale.

EVIDENCE FOR: The way the film not only resembles the structure of “Borat” but also its content (a storyline about a socially inept weirdo pestering confused celebrities; people showing off their comically shabby houses; the confrontational use of human excrement; the presence of “real” prostitutes; men wrestling in the nude); the sheer logistics of keeping a secret between a couple people versus dozens or hundreds.

EVIDENCE AGAINST: A decidedly un-“Borat”-like ending; the fact that Phoenix isn’t known for his comic chops and hasn’t even made a comedy in almost a decade; the sheer odds of Affleck, who has little to no experience in improvisational and confrontational hoax comedy, managing to pull off one of the greatest feats in the history of improvisational and confrontational hoax comedy in his feature directorial debut.

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POSSIBILITY #4: It started as “Borat,” but at some point in the process became real.

WHAT THIS MEANS: Phoenix and Affleck thought it’d be a kick to mess with people by feigning a retirement and breakdown but didn’t anticipate the degree to which people would believe it or the legitimate toll it would have on Phoenix’s career; early scenes of Phoenix’s gleefully quitting to pursue his hip hop dreams are fake; later scenes of Phoenix’s finally coming to grips with the reality of his decision are not.

EVIDENCE FOR: The film’s strong shift away from celebrity excess to a more somber and introspective tone in its second half; the craziness of Phoenix’s behavior contrasted with the media’s willingness to believe it; Phoenix’s reaction to acting so strangely on the Letterman show; otherwise unfounded but deeply held suspicion on my part.

EVIDENCE AGAINST: The fact that this theory requires us to believe Phoenix and Affleck are smart enough to pull off something of this scale but dumb enough not to consider its ramifications; Phoenix’s total refusal to break character under any circumstances.

POSSIBILITY #5: Phoenix had a real meltdown, then invented the movie to cover his tracks.

WHAT THIS MEANS: Phoenix did a ton of drugs, lost his mind, tried to become the next Jay-Z, failed, and hit rock bottom. When he finally cleaned up, saw some of the footage and how he was being portrayed in the media, he sensed an opportunity.

EVIDENCE FOR: my sincere hope that Phoenix wasn’t faking this bad behavior at the expense of “Two Lovers” coupled with my sincere hope that Affleck wouldn’t stand by and watch his brother-in-law do these horrible things to himself.

EVIDENCE AGAINST: Phoenix, brilliant actor as he is, doesn’t seem career-minded (or sober) enough to do something so calculatingly; every instinct in my body.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.