Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

August 3, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara
Directed by: Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”)
Written by: Gus Van Sant (“Last Days”)

Three-time Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”) stars as quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” a conventional biopic stifled by a screenplay that doesn’t allow its main character to flourish or make meaningful relationships.

Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”), who made one of the most memorable biopics of the last decade in 2008’s “Milk,” works off his own script based on John’s memoir of the same name.

Although writing has been, at best, an inconsistent endeavor for Van Sant in the past, what saves “Don’t Worry” from losing its footing completely is Phoenix’s portrayal of the controversial Callahan, who we see in the film through flashbacks as an alcoholic 21-year-old kid from Portland, who becomes paralyzed in a drunken car accident in 1972.

Most of “Don’t Worry” focuses on John’s physical and emotional recovery after the crash as well as his effort to kick his drinking habit by finding support in Alcoholics Anonymous. In AA, he meets Donnie (Jonah Hill), the group’s leader whose easy-going demeanor keeps John’s addiction in check. Despite the importance of Donnie and the other AA members, Van Sant’s script keeps them at an arm’s length away and never really acknowledges their value.

The same can be said with the way Van Sant handles John’s love interest Annu (Rooney Mara), a Swedish physical therapist who feels like an afterthought as soon as she leaves the room. An hour into the film and it’s almost like John has been alone the entire time. Even more problematic is the fact that because of the way the narrative is constructed, John’s artwork, the most fascinating thing about his life from a cinematic standpoint, only makes an impression in the second half of the story.

When his cartoons are given their moment to shine, however, is when “Don’t Worry” becomes a charming inside look into a man’s comically dark and clever mind through the politically-incorrect doodles he creates on issues like physical disabilities, race, religion and anything else that would cause conservative readers to gasp. Van Sant enhances some of these scenes by having John’s drawings come alive on paper. The subtle animations of his scribbly characters bring a happiness to the picture that balances the sobriety storyline well.

Still, it’s too little too late for “Don’t Worry” when we get to anything that resembles a significant part of who John really is – from his artistic abilities to his friendships to some of the personal baggage that weighs him down. Phoenix gives a triumphant performance, but “Don’t Worry” needed more color – something like 2003’s superior “American Splendor.” Van Sant, unfortunately, thought it adequate enough to scribble in pencil.

Restless

October 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase
Directed by: Gus Van Sant (“Milk”)
Written by: Jason Lew (debut)

If starring in a quirky, indie romantic comedy was something actress Mia Wasikowska (“The Kids Are All Right”) wanted to experience, she could’ve done a whole lot better than “Restless,” a hipster-wannabe teenage love story that gives “The Art of Getting By” some serious competition for the most annoyingly adorable schlock to hit theaters this year. Even Wasikowska lighting up every scene with her immense likeability can’t save “Restless” from torturing audiences with its pretentiousness.

The film feels so calculated, even the names of the lead characters sound like they were overanalyzed by first-time screenwriter Jason Lew. The lovebirds in this angst-filled feature are Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper) and Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska), two teens who meet at a funeral mass and decide they’re so darned unusual, they should spend the rest of Annabel’s life hanging out doing strange things like going on a date to a morgue and memorizing bird trivia.

See, Annabel is dying of brain cancer and only has three months to live. Since Enoch is intrigued by death (he spends his free time crashing funerals and talks to the ghost of a Japanese Kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi that he can only see) he volunteers his services to his new love interest.

“I know a lot about [death], so I can help you with stuff,” Enoch tells Annabel when she drops the news about her dwindling life span.

From here, the courtship between Enoch and Annabel becomes preposterous as they exchange philosophical ideas and run through grassy fields. Wisikowska does her best to keep the material genuine with her sweet performance, but Lew’s script and bloated dialogue is just too much to overcome, even for inconsistent albeit talented director Gus Van Sant (“Milk”).

Once Enoch pulls a Slinky from his jacket like any young “old soul” would do, imagining how much he probably got beat up in high school was a much needed perk for having to sit through the cliché, melodramatic disaster. If it’s any consolation, “Restless” is the perfect film for 16-year-old girls who wear old-lady glasses and 16-year-old boys who worship bands with names like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. How much more emo can you get?

Milk

December 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco
Directed by: Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”)
Written by: Dustin Lance Black (TV’s “Big Love”)

With all the governmental conspiracy in the news today (we’re finger wagging at you Gov. Blagojevich) and a blast-from-the-past take on the Richard Nixon scandal in the upcoming “Frost/Nixon,” a story of positive political effort is always welcomed even if the film ends on a tragic and all-too-real note.

The life of protagonist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn in an Oscar-worthy performance) in the biopic “Milk” is one of pain and rejection, but also one of perseverance and hope for a country caught in a social crossroads in the 1970s. The film, of course, becomes more prevalent today with the aftermath of Proposition 8 still looming in California causing the line between human rights and gay rights to blur more and more as both sides fight to define marriage.

In “Milk,” the Gay Movement is brought to the forefront through powerful storytelling and an interesting combination of narrative and old footage of news conferences, rallies, and the uprising of gay men and women through the streets of San Francisco.

Penn captures Milk’s essence in one of the best performances of the year. As Milk, he is able to skillfully develop the character between the different stages of his life – from a novice business owner to a gay rights activist to his election as a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, a position that offered him a taller soap box to stand up on behalf of his fellow gay constituency.

While Penn is the virtuoso in this political opera, his supporting cast is just as riveting. As Milk’s first lover Scott Smith, James Franco (“Pineapple Express”) brings out the most human side of the larger-than-life politician. Franco’s affection for Harvey as a man and his affliction to understand him as a man of the people is valuable in seeing the entire picture. As Dan White, the man who ultimately ends up assassinating Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone (played by Victor Garber) in 1978, Josh Brolin is a complex character worthy of dissection. Between him and Franco, at least one of them should have an Oscar nomination come January.

It’s also great to see director Gus Van Sant ascend from his last three provoking albeit lesser-known films known as the “Death Trilogy” (“Gerry,” “Last Days” and “Elephant”). He goes a bit more mainstream in “Milk” but never bends in ways that are out of his element.