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Where's Joaldo?

Magnolia Pictures

James Gray aptly summed up the sideshow atmosphere that’s engulfed “Two Lovers,” his latest film.

Followed into the press roundtable room at Manhattan’s Regency Hotel by Casey Affleck – there filming a documentary about brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix’s sudden inexplicable transition from actor to rapper – the clearly agitated filmmaker turned around and virulently tossed him out.

“I actually do like press days. But that craziness, that’s not press day. That’s psychosis,” he said as he sat down. “That’s fucking crazy, right? I’m going to be in this movie. I signed the release about eight months ago not knowing what I was doing.”

Since the actor abruptly announced his retirement from the big screen last October, “Two Lovers” – a big hit at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival – has been largely overshadowed by the spectacle of his new career and Mr. Affleck’s documentary. Entertainment Weekly and Defamer, among other prominent outlets, have speculated that Mr. Phoenix is perpetrating a giant hoax, although he’s repeatedly refuted that allegation.

It’d have been nice to actually ask the star about his strange career move, but the powers that be apparently determined Critics Notebook unworthy of his time, despite his participating in an earlier roundtable. Instead, we’re left with Mr. Gray’s take on the craziness:

“I don’t have any news on that,” he said. “Wife calls me up. She’s in the kitchen. I’m in the office. She says, ‘honey, come here;’ and she says, ‘what is this?’ And she shows me some Web site thing where Joaquin looks like Rasputin, and he’s a rapper now, and he’s quitting movies."

The conversation with Mr. Gray eventually turned to his terrific film, and he had a lot of thoughtful things to say about it. Unfortunately, Mr. Phoenix’s theater of the absurd (which continued in fine form on “Late Show with David Letterman” last night) became the story of the day.


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