Movie Review: “Irrational Man”

Starring
Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley
Director
Woody Allen

Woody Allen is the ballplayer of filmmakers. He probably takes more swings than any other writer-director working today, so when he misses, even badly, they often go unnoticed. That was certainly the case with his 2014 film, “Magic in the Moonlight,” a lifeless romantic comedy that wasted the talent of its two stars. Allen’s latest movie, “Irrational Man,” is all about life and the pain that comes with it, and though it isn’t quite a homerun, it’s a solid double down the line that ranks as one of the director’s funnier and more engaging character studies.

Everyone likes Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) except Abe Lucas. His students and peers consider the philosophy professor to be mysterious, intriguing and sexy, but he has nothing going for himself since his wife left him and his best friend passed away. One of his students, Jill (Emma Stone), takes an interest in Abe and all his misery, as does a lonely professor named Rita (Parker Posey), but despite being romantically pursued by a young girl and a gorgeous woman, Abe remains a Debbie Downer. One day, though, his whole attitude and outlook on life changes when Abe and Jill overhear a conversation at a diner. Without spoiling it, the conversation gives him a reason to stop talking about making a change in the world and actually make one, and convinced of his newfound sense of purpose, Abe only becomes more lost than he already was.

Abe Lucas is one of Allen’s more unlikable protagonists. He drinks and drives, sleeps with a married woman, and his mission ultimately makes him something of a monster, although a very real and human monster. Abe’s lesson to his students is to accept your flaws and embrace your selfish desire; at the expense of others, he’ll do whatever it takes to survive. This all sounds very vague, but like “Midnight in Paris,” the turn in Abe Lucas’ journey is surprising, and it’s best to experience it blind.

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Movie Review: “Inherent Vice”

Starring
Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterson, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro
Director
Paul Thomas Anderson

After years of toying with my patience (first with “There Will Be Blood,” and more recently with “The Master,” both of which feature such great acting that it papered over their respective cracks), Paul Thomas Anderson has finally made a movie that’s almost impossible to defend. Fans of the director will make excuses for the film’s myriad problems anyway, but the fact that they find it necessary at all only confirms what a giant mess “Inherent Vice” really is. Based on the 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, the so-called inherent vice (or hidden defect) of Anderson’s slacker noir is the narrative itself. It’s as if the film, like many of its characters, is in a constant state of a drug-addled high, unable to remain focused or make sense of anything that’s going on. And while that may be the big joke of “Inherent Vice,” it’s not a very funny one.

Set in the seedy underworld of 1970s Los Angeles, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a pothead private investigator who receives a visit one night from his free-spirited ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterson), requesting help with a personal matter. She needs Doc to track down her new boyfriend, hotshot real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), after learning that his duplicitous wife plans to have him committed and steal his fortune, only for Shasta to go missing herself. While investigating the pair’s disappearance, Doc takes on some additional cases – including a presumed-dead musician (Owen Wilson), the murder of one of Mickey’s bodyguards, and a mysterious Indo-Chinese drug syndicate called the Golden Fang – that are curiously all connected in some way. Doc doesn’t exactly know why or how, but one thing seems certain: he’s not going to get any assistance from hippie-hating LAPD detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), with whom he has a strange love-hate relationship.

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Movie Review: “Her”

Starring
Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
Director
Spike Jonze

It’s a pity that “Her” is rated R, because tweens and teens could learn a lot from it. (Note to parents: while your kids should see this movie, they shouldn’t see it with you, because it’s occasionally naughty, and you’ll both feel embarrassed watching it together.) Writer/director Spike Jonze uses a fantastical premise – a computer operating system that people can interact with like they would another human being – to deliver sharp commentary about the importance of the human touch in the Catfish era, where online relationships carry the same weight as a physical relationship. As an added bonus, he points out just how messed up we are as a species, and how lucky any of us are to make a meaningful connection with another person.

After a year-long separation, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is still stinging from his impending divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). Eager to make some kind of emotional connection but still gun shy about getting involved with someone, he buys a new operating system for his computer that comes with an interactive, self-aware voice program. He chooses a female voice named Samantha (Scarlett Johannson). Samantha helps Theodore organize his life in ways he would never have been capable of doing himself, and she’s eager to learn more about Theodore as a person and what it’s like to be human in general. Theodore is seduced by Samantha’s thoughtfulness and reassuring voice, and finds himself turning down potential couplings with real women in favor of spending more time with Samantha. Eventually, Theodore considers Samantha his girlfriend. This makes Samantha happy and, eager to be more than just a voice in his earpiece, she decides to take things to the next level. Considering the fact that she doesn’t have a body, her efforts to consummate the relationship are curious, to say the least.

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