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Irrational Man


Woody Allen has experimented with so many genres throughout his years that most of his films essentially boil down to belonging in their own category. That is, a dramedy with romantic elements that gives the viewer an elusive sense of wanderlust upon viewing. Irrational Man is classic in all of Allen’s stylistic tendencies. It never goes above and beyond or has much to say, but it’s a breezy and light 90-minute affair that is still worth seeing.

Irrational Man has the bare essentials of a plot, but it keeps these essentials close to its chest. We’re introduced to Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), a new professor at a liberal arts university who is trying to give his life a new meaning. After hitting it off with one of his students Jill (Emma Stone), he hatches a murder plot that in all honesty sounds pretty realistic (even for Allen). What follows is a 45-minute romantic comedy mixed with a 45-minute murder mystery. It’s Allen in nature, but with bits of Hitchcock thrown in.

Abe is quite a downer, and he fits all the checkboxes for ‘philosophy professor.’ He spews Kant and makes his students look as bored as we are watching the beginning of this movie. This makes the first half of the film pretty standard and unexpected. He mingles with the faculty and turns heads with his age-inappropriate relationship with Jill, but he is tormented deep within and is searching for a deeper will to live. While the murder plot can seem ridiculous on the surface, it’s mostly used as a device to kickstart Lucas’s second coming, and the film gets significantly better following. After planning this murder and carrying it through, Abe is a changed man. Phoenix reflects Abe’s change and becomes much more lighthearted and seems very pleased with himself the rest of the film. It’s a day-night change that might seem hasty but makes sense given what we understand about Abe.

Luckily Irrational Man never gets too preachy with its philosophical genre conventions. But like Allen’s last film, Magic in the Moonlight, it’s pretty standard affair. While the finale is unexpected and there are little bits of humor sprinkled in, but there simply isn’t much here to recommend other than a rental. Even Stone gives an unimpressive performance as the wide-eyed hopeless romantic smitten with Abe but unsure how to move on from her boyfriend Roy. While I’m sure Allen has much to say about finding meaning in life’s mechanical course of procedure, he doesn’t quite get there in Irrational Man. 

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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Movie Reviews


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Birdman is exceptional. It’s funny, dark, modern, and represents a sort of career-defining moment for Michael Keaton, who kind of dropped off the radar at the new millennium. A clever commentary on both the industry and Keaton himself, Birdman is wholly original, and you won’t see anything else like it this year.

Starring Michael Keaton, Birdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor who used to play Birdman in a series of superhero films. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it’s representing Keaton playing Batman in the 1990s, when he dropped out after the third film. In Birdman, Riggan is attempting to write, direct, and star in his revival Broadway play, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, based on Raymond Carver’s short story. At first it can all be kind of confusing, but it comes together and makes for a deeply felt and humorous tale.

Riggan is internally conflicted by his two thoughts: his present thoughts and his Birdman-era thoughts. Birdman constantly torments him, and here we see the effects that Hollywood can have on certain individuals. Riggan is susceptible to fits of rage, media scrutiny, and all he wants to do is create a hit play. Getting in his way is a variety of characters who each have their own unique temperaments. Mike Shiner, played by the wonderful Edward Norton, is Riggan’s first choice for the lead role in his play. Initially, the two get along, with their playful banter and fun Hollywood chatter. But soon things spiral out of control and Shiner outshines Riggan and his ego gets the best of him. This culminates in an outstanding scene with Riggan walking naked through Times Square.

It’s all a very personal film, one that taps into Riggan’s inner demons. Here’s a character injured by his selfishness and those around him, one who is both deeply sympathetic and loathsome at the same time. You meet his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and his daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone), both who turn in excellent performances, especially Sam. The familial interactions are both cold and harrowing, but have an aura of patriarchal love as Riggan tries to reconnect with Sam, who is fresh out of rehab.

All of this comes together through phenomenal camera work from Emmanuel Lubezki, hot off his win from last year’s Gravity. The film is shot in only a few number of takes, with excellent tracking shots and great angles that actually mean something. Birdman is a great example of how the cinematography can elevate a good film into a great one. Scenes with Riggan’s inner demons battling within use great use of narration and score. Antonio Sanchez delivers a Broadway-esque score with blaring horns and light percussion, one that I hope gets awards recognition down the line.

In fact, the whole film deserves awards recognition. Keaton is amazing and gives his best performance ever here. Emma Stone and Edward Norton are also scene-stealers. Many scenes in Birdman I think will be all-timers, from Shiner and Riggan’s fist fight to Riggan’s flight through New York City. It’s a testament to Innaritu’s great direction that I think Birdman will stand the test of time. It’s one of the year’s best, and a great revival for an all-time great actor.

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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Movie Reviews


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Magic in the Moonlight



Colin Firth’s expression on the poster was exactly how I had felt upon seeing the trailer for the latest Woody Allen film. Upon viewing, it looked very Woody Allen-esque, with not a lot to stand out from the crowd. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Allen hits another home run with Magic in the Moonlight. Sure, it’s no Blue Jasmine, but Magic has plenty of charm and wonder to keep you invested, with great characters and many memorable moments.

Magic in the Moonlight stars Colin Firth as Stanley/Wei Ling Soo, a British performance artist. Stanley is sent by an acquaintance to the Catledges, a rich American family, who have fallen under the spell of a mystic named Sophie (Emma Stone). The setup is all very quick, and doesn’t provide much reasoning given our limited knowledge of the characters at this point in the film. Stanley’s job is to unmask Sophie and expose her as a fraud, but professional complications get in the way as he has trouble exposing Sophie’s secrets.

You’ll just want to roll with the premise, as the conflict starts very quickly, but going along for the ride is half the fun. Firth is excellent as Stanley, the dark cynic in the magical trance of the Catledges. His chemistry with the much younger Stone is surprisingly pleasant, and the two shine whenever they are on screen together. Stone however, steals the show. The séance scene is absolutely hysterical, and Stone flexes her comedic witticisms in full force. The rest of the cast is, unfortunately, forgettable and underdeveloped, save for a feverish Jackie Weaver as grandmother Grace.

All of this breezes along at a brisk pace, typical of a Woody Allen film. The film loses some steam towards the end, and I thought the film would end multiple times before it did. But despite these few too many scenes at the resolution, Magic in the Moonlight never overstays its welcome, and the ending is quite memorable. Definitely not the worst Woody Allen film, but far from the best, Magic in the Moonlight is worth your time, due in part to Firth and Stone but also in part to its witty sense of wonder and enchantment.

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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Movie Reviews


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