Movie Review: “Irrational Man”

Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley
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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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett steps out of the elevator, hangs a right, and strolls into the lobby of the Beverly Hilton, a man on a mission: to participate in the promotion of a PBS documentary which premieres on August 8 at 9 PM EST/PST: Dick Cavett’s Watergate, an examination of the Watergate scandal and its effects on Richard Nixon’s presidency that’s structured around archival clips from Cavett’s late night talk show.


After introducing himself, Cavett can’t resist making an observation about the familiarity of his surroundings: “You know, this is the same lobby where I stood when I was out here for two weeks auditioning to be a writer on The Jack Paar Show.” As has been the case for Cavett on more than few occasions during the course of his half-century (and then some) in the TV business, this observation proves to be only the first sentence of an anecdote.

“I came into the hotel one night and I heard singing,” continued Cavett, glancing and vaguely gesturing at the entrance to a nearby ballroom. “I opened a big door, and Judy Garland was onstage. The lights came on, and there were George Burns, Jack Benny, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, and about a hundred more. It was a huge charity thing. You couldn’t see any face that you didn’t know!”

With this brief recollection, Cavett immediately confirms that at least one of his lines during his memorable appearance on The Simpsons was absolutely spot-on: he really does have some wonderful stories about famous people that involve him in some way.

Who came up with the idea of viewing the Watergate scandal through the prism of your show?

You know, I think (executive producer Robert S.) Bader did. I’m almost certain he did. Yeah, he’s the one who’s most up on tapes that I had and stuff like that, so I don’t think it could’ve been anyone else. He just went through the stuff. I think initially he looked at 350 Cavett shows to make the (Shout Factory) DVDs, and then he just finally had to stop looking at them and start making them! But I was stunned to find how much stuff we have. It’s going to be a strain to make it only an hour. There’s so much good stuff. That’s a luxury, because there are so many shows that are a strain to make even an hour.

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Movie Review: “Magic in the Moonlight”

Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins
Woody Allen

Woody Allen has made some real stinkers over the course of his 50-year career, and though “Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t quite bad enough to be included among the director’s absolute worst films, it’s not very good either. Allen’s movies have always been pretty hit-and-miss, but since 2005’s career-altering “Match Point” – in which he inadvertently became a foreign film director by working almost exclusively in Europe – he’s only made three legitimately great movies. But while Allen has proven that he’s still capable of delivering a good film on occasion, he seems more concerned with maintaining his yearly output no matter what the cost, and that quantity-over-quality way of thinking only underlines the problems with his latest comedy.

Set in the late 1920s, the movie opens in a Berlin theater during a performance of world-renowned magician Wei Ling Soo. But just like the magic tricks in his show, it’s all a ruse. Wei Ling Soo isn’t Chinese at all, but rather the terribly racist stage persona of grumpy and arrogant Englishman Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth). He’s an elitist at heart who despises charlatans that give his profession a bad name, so when his longtime friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) asks for his assistance in debunking a young spiritualist named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), whom he believes is scamming the heir of the wealthy Catledge family, Stanley is all too happy to oblige. The pair heads to the Catledges’ mansion on the French Riviera in order to observe Sophie in action and catch her red-handed, but against his better judgment, Stanley begins to believe that she’s the real deal.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Greg Mottola (“Clear History”)

Greg Mottola first came to prominence as the director of the indie comedy “The Daytrippers,” but he began a much quicker rise in mainstream recognition when he helmed the comedies “Superbad” and “Adventureland.” Currently, Mottola is making the rounds to support his work as the director of Larry David’s new HBO movie, “Clear History,” but he’s not entirely confident if the word “director” really sums up his efforts on the film. Bullz-Eye chatted with Mottola during the TCA press tour, and we talked about how surprisingly easy David is to work with, how he came to appear in a couple of Woody Allen films as an actor, and what a hassle – and what fun – it was to make “Paul.”


Bullz-Eye: So directing Larry David has got to be at least somewhat of a challenge.

Greg Mottola: Um…

BE: I’m not saying good or bad, just…challenging.

GM: It’s… Well, I mean, the process was so specific. I don’t even know if my job title should be called “director” on this movie. [Laughs.] “Associate collaborator” is probably closer to it. But that’s the way it should be. I’m not sure if, in the press notes, they talk so much about how we made it, but essentially it’s the same way Larry does “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with some key differences. But Larry writes a script-ment, they call it, so this was about 35 pages of paragraphs of what happens in this scene, with an occasional line of dialogue or joke that Larry or his co-writers thought, “Oh, we should definitely get that in.” So they write that in, but, really, no other dialogue.

And we get to the set, we walk through the scene, and we’ll just sort of block it very generally. Like, “You’re gonna enter from that door, you’re gonna be sitting here, you’re gonna come over here, talk about this, you’re gonna leave.” Y’know, just sort of walk through all the little bits of blocking, but never rehearse it at all. So the first time anyone is acting, the cameras are rolling. And it’s usually two cameras, sometimes three if we can squeeze another one in there. And Larry by and large never does the same thing twice. [Laughs.] So as a director, you’re constantly strategizing, “Okay, we did that one time, I’d like to try and get something like that line, maybe in a tighter size, so…let’s switch lenses right now while we’re in the zone, and we’ll swap back and do wide shots again.” So you’re constantly just sort of improvising the directing style as everyone’s improvising the lines.


So directing Larry is just sort of endless conferences between takes about, “We’d like this from that, we didn’t like that,” just sort of honing in on what worked, sometimes stopping entirely and saying, “This doesn’t work at all, let’s start from scratch and just approach it completely differently and do a different version of the scene.” And that happened a few times. We’d have two completely different versions of the same scene…and usually the one that ends up in the movie is the second one. You know, the one thing about Larry is that he’s an absolute pleasure to work with. Despite his sort of screen persona and his point of view about human nature, which—between “Seinfeld” and “Curb”—is pretty clear… [Laughs.] He’s a really happy guy! He’s a guy who walks around whistling and practicing his golf swing. He’s, like, in a good mood 99% of the time. So it’s great to work with him.

BE: I…can’t really wrap my head around that.

GM: [Laughs.] It is hard to believe.

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Sunday Reading: Aaron Sorkin, Woody in Rome and a great summer drink

Aaron Sorkin is back on TV, and you can catch “The Newsroom” premiere tonight on HBO. Will Harris was able to preview the first four episodes, and fans of Sorkin won’t be disappointed with this new series. Jeff Daniels is one of the best actors in the business and he has a great supporting cast to help him deliver Sorkin’s signature dialogue.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t been watching Louie C.K., you can check out the fabulous season 2 of “Louie” which is now out on DVD and Blu-ray.

Nothing impressed our movie critics much this week. “Brave” was a bit of a disappointment, while “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” had a hard time living up to its romantic comedy billing. Meanwhile, Woody Allen moves from Paris to Rome with his latest effort, and the result isn’t all that bad. Woody has become a caricature of himself, but at least he’s picking great locations for his movies.

For our car review this week we had the 2012 BMW 335i Sedan. Yes – it proved to be a badass vehicle. We were in San Diego this week driving the new Hyundai Veloster Turbo so check back this week for our driving impressions.

Finally, try the simple Cliquet for the perfect summer drink.


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