Our entertainment experts this week tackle the important issues of the day, including remakes, Michael Jackson's comeback and Joaquin Phoenix's mental state.
1. Is Joaquin off his bean? Is he putting us on with his weird public behavior and his announcement that he's ditching his acting career to become a hip-hop artist? What's up with Joaquin Phoenix?
Entertainment Editor Gene Triplett:
I'd like to think he's pulling a Sacha Baron Cohen/"Borat"/Andy Kaufman number on all of us, but I don't think that's Phoenix's style of humor, if he has a funny bone in his body at all. I interviewed him in 2004 when he was on a publicity tour for "Ladder 49," the firefighter movie, and found him to be a very low-key, unaffected, serious kind of a guy. I think we may be witnessing a meltdown here, which would be tragic considering his tremendous talent as an actor. On the other hand, his best friend/brother-in-law Casey Affleck has been seen filming Phoenix's hip-hop act from the audience, so maybe they really are making an ambush movie. If it's all a joke, it's not very funny.
Assistant Entertainment Editor George Lang:
I'm wondering if it's a big put-on, and if Joaquin is having a laugh with us -- his boasting about "One million dollars in my bank account" at that fateful Miami show sounded like fake rapper bravado. He could be pulling some kind of Andy Kaufman performance art stunt: personally, I think there's sizeable odds that Andy's still alive, and he's going to show up someday and say that his death was just a big joke. The 25th anniversary of his death is coming up on May 16th, so watch out.
But there's a serious side of the Joaquin issue. Remember, this is a guy who was raised in the notorious cult the Children of God, and he watched his brother River die in front of the Viper Room in Los Angeles, so the guy doesn't have baggage -- he has a warehouse full of Samsonite. If he's having problems, we should be averting our eyes, not chuckling at his meltdown. As he said in "Gladiator," "I'm vexed."
Features writer Heather Warlick:
Phoenix is definitely off his rocker even if the whole thing is a hoax. But how we look at the whole charade depends on whether it’s a hoax, drug-induced mania or mental illness. If it’s mental illness, his friends, and especially Casey Affleck who has been following Phoenix around filming him for a supposed documentary, need to get him help. Mental illness is not a joke. If it’s a hoax, it would seem Phoenix is playing a mentally ill character, which is not cool. And if it’s drugs and alcohol, he needs help. Whatever it is: drugs, mental illness or a hoax, it’s not funny.
Assistant features editor Matthew Price:
I hope there’s nothing seriously wrong with him. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his acting work, and it’s just sad if he’s having a public meltdown. But I hope, given that his friend Casey Affleck is filming the endeavor, that it’s all a wink-nudge Andy Kaufmanesque act.
2. Michael Jackson is returning to the stage. Some observers wondered if anyone would care. But the initial dates at London's O2 Arena were instant sellouts. What are your thoughts about Jack-o coming back-o?
Jackson is the poster boy for weird celebrity behavior. Phoenix is dull and normal by comparison. But Michael Jackson was far and away the biggest pop star of the '80s, and deservedly so. He was the first to break down the race barrier on what started out as an all-white MTV, he had all the right moves as an onstage performer, and more than enough charisma and songcrafting savvy to rate his superstar status. Obviously, his most dedicated fans still love him enough to overlook his disturbing problems and buy up his tickets at a rate of 39,474 tickets per hour until they 're all gone.
There's an even chance that these concerts aren't going to pan out, given Jacko's erratic last quarter-century or so. Personally I don't care about the shows, but I'd like to see Michael Jackson reunite with his former producer, Quincy Jones, and make an album that restores his reputation as an artist. His last few studio albums have been disappointing-to-catastrophic, mainly because he pursues the hot producer of the moment rather than trusting his instincts. Jacko needs to get back with Q so they can make an album of amazing R&B. The time is right: Jones is the keynote speaker at SXSW this year, and hipsters love his work right now: if you listen to the production that Dave Fridmann did on MGMT's "Electric Feel," it actually sounds like a psychedelic take on what Q did with Jacko's "Off the Wall" disc and some classics by the Brothers Johnson. I don't care about chimps, hyperbaric chambers, the Elephant Man, Macauley Culkin, Webster or anything else -- just give us some good music before your nose falls off for good.
t’s no surprise to me that his first round of concerts sold out in five hours. He’s an amazingly talented performer. What was originally set to be 10 concerts has expanded to 50 in response to the demand. But, I still think he’s a weirdo. I think that part of the reason for the high volume of concert sales is that people want to be there to see it for themselves. I bet the show will be something unlike anything most people have ever seen before.