Magnolia Home Entertainment
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Johnny Moreno
Extras: Audio Commentary
"A wiser fella than myself once said, 'Sometimes you eat the bar. Sometimes the bar, well, he eats you.'" The Stranger (Sam Elliott) spoke wise words to The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in the closing moments of "The Big Lebowski". It may be a phrase that sums up Joaquin Phoenix as he chases a rabbit trail in the mockumentary "I'm Still Here". Mockumentary? This classification may come as a surprise for the millions of people who watched Phoenix self-destruct on "TMZ", "Access Hollywood", and "Late Show with David Letterman". The majority of America was also laughing along as Ben Stiller walked out onstage during the Academy Awards in 2009 wearing sunglasses, a huge beard, and acting like he had done a little too much pre-partying that evening. After all of the antics, smoke and mirrors were revealed to inform people that the whole thing was a hoax. In a business where it is often said that any press is good press, Joaquin Phoenix may have bit off more than he can chew by blurring the line between acting and living.
"I'm Still Here" documents Joaquin Phoenix's surprising decision to retire from acting and pursue a career in hip hop. Directed by brother-in-law Casey Affleck, cameras follow what appears to be a man spiraling out of control into a world that Phoenix considers artistic freedom. Some may watch and ask "Why would an actor bow out at the peak of his career?" while others may respect an artist who follows his vision. Either way, "I'm Still Here" begs for attention and seems to get it with every scene.
Again, this 'transformation' that Joaquin Phoenix went through was highly publicized and most people are very familiar with it. "I'm Not Here" basically fills in the gaps between statements and actions that were seen under the public eye with an uncensored look at motivations and reactions to the media. After watching the mockumentary, I have to ask – What's the point? Joaquin Phoenix was truly at the top of his game and seemed to be well respected by his peers and the viewing public. I could understand if he really wanted to be true to himself and follow an artistic passion, but to just 'act' like you have a dream seems a bit shallow. The other side to this coin is that Phoenix was following his artistic vision by making a different type of film. It may have backfired though. For a man who has carved a path as a very good dramatic actor, he may have a difficult time being taken seriously after such an elaborate stunt. It is almost like he has become typecast in a role as an uncouth wannabe rapper. What have you seen Joaquin Phoenix in since "I'm Not Here"? Nothing. Are producers scared that he is unstable? Is there a concern that he has lost some of his 'star power'? I really hope not. Phoenix has been very impressive in front of the camera and has a lot more to offer. Unfortunately, I think while this dude was eating the bar, well, it ate him.
"I'm Still Here" is presented in a 1.78:1, MPEG-4 AVC encoded, 1080p transfer for Blu-ray. The problem with the transfer stems from the source material. There are many different sources of material used for this film, so there is no consistency in regards to the final product. The lossless DTS-HD Mater Audio soundtrack suffers from the same issues. Shots that have been 'setup' seem to have solid dialogue levels, but others are at times difficult to understand. The majority of the actions stays in the front sound field, but does trickle to other speakers occasionally. Neither the video or audio quality are going to impress anyone used to the capabilities of a Blu-ray release, but the final product is exactly what one should expect from a release like "I'm Still Here".
There are a surprising amount of extra features on this release. Starting things off are two feature length commentaries. The first is with Writer/Director Casey Affleck. Casey seems to focus more on how things were shot than anything else – the type of camera, how VHS footage was transferred, etc. He also reveals some of the fiction that made it into "I'm Not Here" like fake television sound bites and whatnot. The commentary is very uninspiring. Affleck delivers the information in a soft mumble that sounds like he is lying down and commenting on the film as he tries to stay awake. It makes for a difficult listen. The second commentary has a bit more energy. The group consists of Writer/Director Casey Affleck, Writer/ (Former)Actor/Rapper Joaquin Phoenix Producer Nicole Acacio, Publicist Sue Patricola, along with Actors Anthony Langdon, Eddie Rouse, Larry McHale, Elliot Gaynon, Johnny Moreno and Matt Maher. It seems everyone had multiple roles on the film. There were many who worked on both the cast and the crew to help keep the story fairly tight knit. Given the large number of people present for the commentary, there are a lot of silent moments. When participants are questioned about particular scenes, there is a decent amount of information revealed. The commentary plays out more like an interview with Affleck moderating. There are eight deleted scenes (1:02:42) with an optional commentary by Casey Affleck. The bulk of the runtime is in the 'Random Bits' section and have some slower moments. It is entertaining to hear Joaquin Phoenix give a brief, enthusiastic history of hip hop in one of the later deleted scenes. The commentary seems to be an extension of Affleck's solo track where his voice is raspy and dull. In addition to the deleted scenes, there is 'Alternate Ending Outtakes' (6:47) with another optional commentary by Casey Affleck. This is one of the few moments where "I'm Still Here" attempts to be artistic with what is happening onscreen. The commentary is almost necessary to appreciate the differences between the outtakes and the final product. The 'Audio Conversation with Jerry Penacoli ("Extra"), Casey Affleck, and Joaquin Phoenix' (10:32) goes more in-depth with how the whole 'actor turned rapper' story was fake. Penacoli originally broke the news that Phoenix wasn't really retiring from acting, so it is fitting that he moderates this interview. An 'Audio Conversation with Christine Spines (Journalism Professor), Casey Affleck, and Joaquin Phoenix' (27:20) is a bit more serious in tone as Spines talks about the conflict between being a journalist and a person who is interested in watching the events unfold. Spines voice is heard throughout the majority of the conversation as she recounts how the events affected her. After a couple of audio only extras, it was nice to find a live interview. 'Jerry Pencacoli Interview with Joaquin Phoenix' (6:11) shows a cleaned up Joaquin Phoenix talking about how the movie is indeed fiction. It seems like more of a public relations piece to clean up what has become a bit of a mess for Phoenix's career. The final extras on the disc are trailers for 'Centurion', 'Monsters', 'The Extra Man', 'Freakonomics', and 'Countdown to Zero'.
Though I would have been disappointed as a fan of Joaquin Phoenix's work, I almost would have enjoyed "I'm Not Here" more if it were real. The mockumentary seems forced at times and knowing that it is fake lowers the entertainment value in a major way. The disc comes with quite a few extra features, but the questionable audio and video quality along with a so-so movie makes this Blu-ray difficult to recommend as anything other than a rental.