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Star of the Month: Inventing the Abbotts

My mother was right: if the Abbotts didn’t exist, Jacey would have had to invent them. But it seems to me that inventing the Abbotts was something that almost everyone in Haley did, and still do.

Inventing the Abbotts (1997) is a movie steeped in 1950s nostalgia, something that seems common in films from the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a film about a small town boy from “the wrong side of the tracks”, Doug Holt (star of the month Joaquin Phoenix), and his older brother (Billy Crudup) who holds a grudge against the richest family in town, the Abbotts.

Crudup, Tyler, and Phoenix in Inventing the Abbotts.

The Abbotts are the closest thing to royalty in the small Indiana town of Haley, known for their glamorous parties thrown in honor of their three beautiful daughters. Doug is fascinated by the Abbott girls, but his brother, Jacey, is interested in them for a more malicious reason: he believes that their father, Lloyd Abbott, stole a business patent from their own father (who died when they were young), and proceeded to get rich off of it. He executes his revenge by seducing the Abbott daughters, one by one, and jeopardizing the blossoming relationship between Doug and Pamela Abbott (Liv Tyler).

The film centers around Doug and his naivety concerning his brother and the Abbott girls. Joaquin Phoenix does an excellent job of portraying the awkwardness of adolescence and the loss of innocence that Doug goes through. Stepping out of his brother’s shadow is a slow, subtle process that Phoenix masters, especially as Doug begins to fall in love with Pamela. He almost holds her up on a pedestal and can’t believe that one of the elusive, elegant Abbott girls could care for him in return. Knowing the behind-screen relationship unfolding between Phoenix and Tyler adds another dimension to Doug’s feelings: Phoenix once remarked to Jennifer Connelly (who plays Eleanor Abbott) that he could never get a girl like Tyler.

While the film focuses on Phoenix, it would be hard to review this film without taking note of Crudup’s performance as Jacey Holt, Doug’s older brother. Jacey has everything going for him: good looks, brains, and a bright future at the University of Pennsylvania. But he is a ticking time bomb; he’s held in his rage towards both his mother and Lloyd Abbott (the patriarch of the Abbott family) for years, and he’s ready to explode, not caring if he hurts himself and others in the process. Jacey is a character that’s hard to love but difficult to wholly hate, even as he messes up the lives of those around him, because in the end, his whole persona is built on a lie.

Tyler and Phoenix, on and off-screen sweethearts.

Inventing the Abbotts is a slow film, and both the plot and the drama gradually build up to a poignant crescendo as Jacey’s toying with the Abbott girls affects Doug in a way he never expected. It’s billed as a light-hearted romance (it’s not), but to me, the film is a story about growing up and learning to live. It’s a story about how to move on from everything you’ve ever known and how to grow into your own person when you’ve only ever been known as the “little brother.”

The film concludes sweetly, as Doug’s passion is the true to key to his own happiness and the happiness of others. The conclusion to his story is satisfying, if a little saccharine. Doug is an observer and he learns and grows from both his experiences and those of others. Told from his perspective, the film gives us some integral lessons about life and loving someone no matter what they do. In the end, it’s a sweet film; not one of Phoenix’s best, but one that shouldn’t be missed nonetheless.

There’s different kinds of love. Some people you love no matter what, and others you love if the situation is right. To me, the best kind of love is the “no matter what” kind.

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Star of the Month Monday: The Master

“Man is not an animal,” proclaims the charismatic, seemingly placid Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), leader of a movement dubbed ‘The Cause’, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest cinematic achievement.

But animal is what Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) seems to be. He is a bundle of loose ends, boiling rage and animal urges. After much wandering, Freddie is eventually drawn into Dodd’s Cause, attracted to the safety it seems to offer. Dodd (to his followers, the ‘Master’) and Quell become fast friends in spite of their vast differences, Quell filling the role of protege and right hand man after Dodd takes him under his wing. Both men are mysteries that The Master delves to the core of in a long, engrossing character study.

Freddie, an incomplete, animal-like being, is filled with rage, lust, and loneliness that drive him to brew chemical cocktails and get it on with a lady sculpted from sand. Freddie’s drive for sex and violence is fierce, with an underlying inability to connect emotionally with a real woman–it cuts back continually to scenes of his sand lady, as well as the extremely young and naive Love of His Life–and control his fury. Under Dodd’s wing, Freddie is, from time to time, temporarily subdued, but never mastered. Over the course of the film, it becomes clear that he was not made to be mastered–the question is if he can learn to be his own master.

“If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master,” says Dodd to Freddie, “be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world.”

Upon its release back in the fall of 2012, The Master earned some criticism for being lengthy, slow, and devoid of a solid, linear plot. I disagree, though. The Master is engrossing and contains some of the absolute best acting this side of the century. Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of a lifetime. If nothing else, watch it for the acting.

Parts of it play out like a comedy, in the same way that Daniel Plainview’s “I drink your milkshake” rant never fails to make me laugh out loud, in spite of the overall tension of the scene and Daniel Day-Lewis’s powerful acting. The Master is filled with some similar weird, twisted humor that elicited nervous laughter from the little crowd of five in my theater when I saw it back in October.

Though very different, The Master possesses many of the elements that make There Will Be Blood so good, such as outstanding performances on all parts, gorgeous cinematography filled with rich colors, the incomparable direction of Paul Thomas Anderson, raw emotion and energy, and a chilling score by Jonny Greenwood. Shot on 65mm film, the look of the film alone is spectacular. The blue of that sea is too pretty for words.

The film is also notable for Joaquin Phoenix’s return to film. Phoenix is back, and better than ever. I’m not only overjoyed to see him again, but to see him again giving such an incredible performance. Convincing and animal-like, thin and hunching, handsome and brutish as Quell, Phoenix makes the character explode off the screen. Don’t ever leave me like that again, Joaquin.

Phoenix wasn’t the only one who gave a masterful performance, though: Philip Seymour Hoffman played Dodd with quiet intensity, and Amy Adams shone as his hard, icy wife.

Much as I love me some DDL, I have to say that Joaquin Phoenix deserved an Oscar for this film. I was torn throughout the entire awards season, because Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix are both my favorite actors of all time. I wasn’t sad that DDL won, but… Joaquin :( I’m less torn about my thoughts on Amy Adams’ loss, though. My blood is still boiling about Anne Hathaway’s win, but I’m going to stop there before this gets ugly. Don’t even get me started on the Academy completely snubbing Paul Thomas Anderson. I can only hope for Oscars for all three soon.

For me, The Master was one of those rare films that dramatically heightened my love and understanding of film, and gave me an even greater appreciation for the work of Paul Thomas Anderson (if you haven’t watched Boogie Nights, every day you go without watching Boogie Nights is a waste). Thoughts of The Master rolled through my brain for weeks afterwards, and continued to distract me as I tried to unravel the many mysteries it contains. It’s a great, powerful film with great acting. Not one I’m likely to forget about anytime soon, even if I wanted to.


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May Star of the Month: Joaquin Phoenix

A new feature we’re starting here at Moviefellas is the Star of the Month, which entails movie reviews and other posts on the actor or actress we choose for a given month. For May 2013, I decided that our star should be the talented Joaquin Phoenix, after whom I named my goldfish (2012-2012 R.I.P.), and whose picture is currently gracing my mantle (my family hasn’t noticed yet, don’t tell them).

You may know Phoenix from films such as Gladiator (2000), Walk the Line (2005), and The Master (2012), all of which earned him Academy Award nominations for his outstanding performances. Born in Puerto Rico to Children of God missionaries, Phoenix began his acting career as a child after moving to Los Angeles at the age of four, alongside his brother River, who quickly rose to fame (see: Stand by Me). In 1993, tragedy struck when Joaquin’s older brother River died of a drug overdose.

In 1995, Joaquin returned to acting in Gus Van Sant’s dark comedy To Die For alongside Nicole Kidman. Widespread critical success came with his role as the villainous Roman emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) starring Russell Crowe. Gladiator earned Phoenix nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTAs and SAG Awards–and it wouldn’t be the last time.

Joaquin proved himself to be one of the greatest actors of his generation with his spot-on portrayal of legendary singer Johnny Cash in the 2005 biopic Walk the Line. Phoenix starred as the Man in Black alongside Reese Witherspoon, who met the challenge of portraying Cash’s wife and fellow musician, June Carter Cash.

Director James Mangold and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of Walk the Line

Director James Mangold and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of Walk the Line

Phoenix earned a Grammy Award for his bassy, dare I say angelic/beautiful/tear-inducingly wonderful rendition of some of Cash’s songs for the soundtrack of Walk the Line. Walk the Line brought Joaquin a slew of nominations and wins, including an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe win for Best Actor.

Phoenix shocked and confused both fans and media in 2009 when he announced that he was leaving his successful acting career to become a rapper. His bizarre behavior was later revealed to be part of the making of the “documentary” I’m Still Here, which chronicles Phoenix’s foray into hip-hop music. In an interview with TIME, Phoenix said of the experience:

“Part of why I was frustrated with acting was because I took it so seriously. I want it to be so good that I get in my own way. It’s like love: when you fall in love, you’re not yourself anymore. You lose control of being natural and showing the beautiful parts of yourself, and all somebody recognizes is this total desperation. And that’s very unattractive. Once I became a total buffoon, it was so liberating.

“… I’d just been acting too long, and it had kind of been ruined for me. I wanted to put myself in a situation that would feel brand-new and hopefully inspire a new way of approaching acting. It did do that for me.”

After a hiatus from acting, Phoenix made a triumphant return to the screen in 2012 with acclaimed director (aka one of my absolute favorite directors) Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Phoenix stunned audiences and critics with his riveting performance as the tortured, animalistic Freddie Quell, who is drawn into charismatic Lancaster Dodd’s ‘Cause’. Brutally passionate, physical, and powerful, Joaquin Phoenix seems to burst off the screen with the performance of a lifetime in The Master, which earned him a well-deserved profusion of nominations. Tragically, though, this amazing performance came the same year as Daniel Day-Lewis–the other greatest actor of this day and age–‘s widely praised portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, and, once again, Joaquin was left Oscar-less. (SOON, JOAQUIN. SOON.)

Thankfully, though, this isn’t the last we will see of Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible talent. Phoenix has two movies slated to release in 2013: James Gray’s The Immigrant, co-starring Marion Cotillard; and Spike Jonze’s Her, in which he will reunite with The Master costar Amy Adams. In 2014, Phoenix will reteam with director Paul Thomas Anderson in Inherent Vice.

Joaquin Phoenix has never been one to confine himself to any type of role, and has consistently proved himself to be a talented, versatile actor. Regardless of the critical or box office success of his films, he has always exhibited his strength as an actor onscreen. Offscreen, Phoenix is a cool guy who doesn’t subscribe to Hollywood bullshit. Phoenix gives a comparatively small amount of interviews, but when he does, they always show his insight, candidness, and overall charm. Personally, I can’t wait for the rest of his career.

Did I mention I love Joaquin Phoenix?

Where do I begin?! – Five Joaquin Phoenix movies you should watch

  • To Die For
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • Gladiator
  • Walk the Line
  • The Master