Tag Archives: Joaquim Phoenix

Beau is Afraid

22 Apr

‘Beau is Afraid’: Mission to mommy

The latest from Ari Aster doesn’t quite swerve off into a macabre occult or seasonal cult rite the way “Heredity” (2018) and “Midsommar” (2019) did to the delight of art house horror fans, though “Beau is Afraid” has its own special flourishes of outré that disturb as much as they provoke. The film moves in a very A-then-B fashion with flashbacks to inform us on the trauma unfolding in the present. We begin in the dark with a series of dull thuds and agonized groans. There’s occasional bolts of white light and peers through murky pink filament. What’s going on, you might ask, trench warfare at night? Soon the answer is delivered as Beau is birthed and slapped awake into his new world. We leap ahead to find the mature, balding 40-something Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) in therapy, where we learn he has a lot of mommy issues. Given his father died at the very moment of his conception, this makes sense. His mother calls several times during the session; he doesn’t answer, but tells his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) he’s supposed to go visit her the next day – a task Beau doesn’t fully want to do.

We wander through chaotic streets, or is this unsettled world a projection of Beau’s inner turmoil? A berserk tattoo-faced man chases him with maniacal intent on his way home to a high-rise roost, where he hears news of a naked man stabbing people randomly. That evening, as Beau sleeps, a neighbor keeps sliding notes under his door asking him to turn down the music, yet his apartment is mute, and when Beau takes a bath, another neighbor literally drops in, in nearly the same demonic fashion a possessed soul does in the “Evil Dead” reboot out this week. Getting to mom proves elusive too. Lost keys, lost luggage – he never makes it to the airport, and when he calls his mother a UPS driver (Bill Hader, though you’d never know because you never really see him) answers and blathers on about police on the way and something about a chandelier and a missing head.

Beau remains absurdly calm and tries a plan B. The end result is that he gets stabbed, hit by a car and wakes up two days later in the bucolic home of Roger (Nathan Lane) and Grace (Amy Ryan, so good in “Gone Baby Gone”), kind medical professionals who nurse him back to health. Lurking around is a menacing looking “former war hero” (Denis Ménochet) who I’m not sure ever speaks, and the couple’s surly, sassy daughter (Kylie Rogers), who offers to drive Beau to his mother’s house. It turns out to be something of a blunt-smoking, kangaroo-court shenanigan. 

With effusive control, Aster keeps working us – and Beau – in a downward spiral where the sense of what’s real and what’s not is as murky as that birth canal opener. Lost in the woods, Beau stumbles upon a theater group enacting the play of his life, and there’s a neat segue into animation, further gonzo, dark turns and Parker Posey, superb in a brief yet pivotal part. Mom’s in nearly every frame even when she’s not there, but about midway through we get her in the flesh, in flashbacks (played by Zoe Lister-Jones) and breathing fire in the now (Patti LuPone, bringing it). The line-blurring journey is reminiscent of the award-winning Daniels’ film “Swiss Army Man” (2016), with Aster’s frenetic edginess and dread imbued in nearly every frame. It’s a near three-hour odyssey that rivets right up to the Orwellian finale. Not all of it works, and Beau never seems genuinely afraid at times others might hit the panic button, but Aster’s film, like his others, has that lingering provocative tease that’s both a sign and a gift.

The Sisters Brothers

5 Oct

‘The Sisters Brothers’: Hunting the chemist who can find gold – the West is rotten with it


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If the title feels like a tongue-twisting joke, it is, but the film’s anything but. Reminiscent of Robert Altman’s “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971) and Sam Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country” (1962), “The Sisters Brothers” bites feverishly into the grim lawless landscape of the American Northwest during the mid 1800s mining boom. It’s quite a violent film, but also one with great emotional depth – a rare accomplishment that makes it the best American western to hit the screen since “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” reimagined the notorious outlaw’s demise back in 2007. Everything about the film unfurls in smoky, dark wisps. It bears the same kind of foreboding heaviness that crowded the Coen brothers’ 2010 recasting of “True Grit.”

To land in such fine company, “The Sisters Brothers” rides out of the stable something of an anti-western, everything that John Ford and John Wayne were not – square-jawed and morally black and white. Peckinpah and Sergio Leone would certainly be pleased. For starters, the siblings of the title, Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) and Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) are murderous souls whom we invariably come to care for just like Peckinpah’s richly drawn ruffians in “The Wild Bunch” (1969) and the film, shot largely in Span and Romania (close enough logistically to think spaghetti?) happens to be directed by the French auteur, Jacques Audiard (“Rust and Bone”). How’s that for nontraditional? Continue reading

You Were Never Really Here

15 Apr


Seven years ago Scottish director Lynne Ramsay served notice with the psychological thriller “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” In that film, a family is torn apart by a son’s increasingly disturbed behavior. Things proceed edgily and eventually go off the rails, violently and shockingly. In her latest, “You Were Never Really Here,” audiences don’t have to wait long for an eruption of carnage when an equalizer/hitman is employed to retrieve a state senator’s daughter from a high-end brothel in midtown Manhattan.

If that sounds like the boilerplate to “Taken” or “Taxi Driver,” you’d be right to think so – at least on paper – but for Ramsay, getting at her protagonist’s state of mind and backstory is anything but a linear exercise. In wisps we catch Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) in military fatigues within the confines of a desert encampment feed a candy bar through a chain-link perimeter to a youth who is promptly shot dead by a surprising source. Later, ostensibly in the FBI or some investigative law enforcement unit, Joe uncovers a van full of dead bodies. And then there are the flashbacks to a highly abusive father and Joe’s attempts at suicide via asphyxiation (dry cleaning bags being the impermeable of choice). These images are littered throughout, giving brushstrokes of insight to the enigmatic Joe, bearded, burly and employing the peen end of a hammer to bash his way through his first assignment. To save the senator’s daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov), he employs the same implement – a new one of course, selected carefully from the hanging racks of a Home Depot, Ace Hardware or the like – working his way through the Manhattan brownstone in a more “Old Boy” style than Travis Bickle might consider. Continue reading