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by Alex Ramon

16 May 2015


Another year, another Woody Allen movie. Or, rather, should that be: another year, the same Woody Allen movie? The appearance on screen of those oh-so-familiar white-on-black credits may still generate a certain excitement for some of us, but the extent to which you consider Allen’s tendency to return to favorite plots, themes, and character types to be evidence of a filmmaker still grappling bravely with personal obsessions, or simply evidence of desperate recycling, will likely determine your response to Irrational Man, which is screening out of competition (as Allen always stipulates) at Cannes 2015.

Following the wildly overrated Blue Jasmine (2013) and the slight but quite charming Magic in the Moonlight (2014), Allen’s latest offering finds him mining his preoccupation with crimes and moral choices once more. The result proves moderately entertaining, but Irrational Man is too overt in its mash-up of bits of previous Allen features, and, ultimately, too obvious all round. You won’t be able to miss the themes that the movie’s dealing with, since not one but two voiceovers keep stating them. 

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Abe Lucas, a philosophy professor who, as the movie opens, is arriving to take up a new post at a Rhode Island college. Sozzled and suicidal, Abe is blocked, depressed and impotent, suffering a major case of academic burn-out. But none of that matters much to Jill (Emma Stone), a bright, charming student who—“naturally”—is immediately smitten with him. “I wanted to be a world-changer and I’ve ended up a passive intellectual who can’t fuck,” Abe bleats, as Jill listens sympathetically. A turning point comes, however, when Abe overhears a conversation about an upcoming court case that leaves him with murder in mind—and, it turns out, the opportunity to get his mojo back in the process.

Allen has sometimes been too explicit in his approach to major themes, and a certain clunkiness pervades Irrational Man from the off. The movie actually begins by outlining what it will be about—“morality, choice and murder”—and ends by summing up. It’s like the work of a diligent, slightly insecure student who wants to make really, really sure we get the point they’re making. The notion of a dual voiceover—with Abe and Jill taking turns to chip in—is intriguing, and Allen used voiceover for some good, distancing effects in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).

Here, though, the device is disastrous. The characters keep telling us what we’ve already perceived, or else filling in details that haven’t been sufficiently dramatized. (“I was swept off my feet by Abe Lucas,” Jill declares.) This spelling-it-out approach feels especially lazy and embarrassing when one has just emerged from a film by Radu Muntean (One Floor Below, reviewed yesterday). Muntean’s movie actually approaches some similar thematic territory to Allen’s: both films pivot on overheard conversations and explore the responses of the protagonists to the information they’ve learned.

But where One Floor Below allows the viewer a great deal of interpretive space, engaging us as emotional and intellectual participants, Irrational Man turns into a Cliffs Notes on itself. Moreover, the movie’s philosophizing, seasoned lightly with a few short snippets of Kant, de Beauvoir and Sartre (he wrote that “Hell is other people,” we’re informed), can’t be said to cut very deep.

A paunchy Phoenix and a radiant Stone perform proficiently but an air of artificiality hangs over many of the exchanges here. The talk is awkward and unwitty. (“I love it when you order for me,” simpers Jill in a restaurant scene before she and Abe end up in bed together, after which she announces “I loved making love with you.”) Pity poor Parker Posey, who’s drafted into the movie to complete a patented one-guy-two-girls Allen scenario, and then given so little that’s funny or meaningful to say or do that the actress can only deliver a clenched and constricted performance.

To give him his due, Allen is in a way attempting something fresh here in terms of genre: the movie might be described as a sunny noir. Still, it’s hard to know what tone is being hoped for when the director includes a clue in the shape of a copy of Crime and Punishment that comes handily marked up with a victim’s name and a Hannah Arendt quotation. (You can probably guess which one.)

For all its shortcomings, the movie does keep up pace, though, even as it reaches an elimination-of-an-inconvenient-female plot element that will come as no surprise at all to those who’ve seen Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) or Match Point (2005). While the film-making is occasionally shoddy (there are some bewildering dissolves early on), Allen, working again with the great director of photography Darius Khondji, does supply a couple of resonant images. The first is a terrific funhouse mirror sequence, and the second is a startling shot of Phoenix’s Abe, breathless with fear and exhilaration, as he walks away from the scene of his crime. That potent shot lasts just a few seconds but it makes the viewer aware of just how much the movie would have benefitted from more such genuine moments of irrationality.

by Sachyn Mital

15 May 2015


Sweden’s José González and Iceland’s Ólöf Arnalds are both accomplished guitarists. With González currently supporting his new record Vestiges & Claws (Mute) and Arnalds supporting her fourth album Palme (One Little Indian), their decision to tour together in Europe and in the US this past March and April allowed audiences to listen to these excellent musicians create uniquely magical sonics on the same night.

by Alex Ramon

15 May 2015


An

If it’s mid-May, in the movie world at least, then it must be Cannes: the exhausting, exhilarating 12 days during which assorted actors, directors, producers, distributors, deal–makers and journos (over 4,000 of the latter) descend upon the beautiful Cote d’Azur town for another round of world premieres, press conferences, parties and heavy duty schmoozing. This Olympics of Film Festivals, once memorably described by Roger Ebert as “a glorious ceremony of avarice, lust, ego, and occasional inspiration and genius,” is now 68 years old, but its prestige, allure and all round cachet seem undiminished.

by Sachyn Mital

14 May 2015


Noel Gallagher is known to have a no-holds barred attitude in conversations. At one point during his show at Webster Hall on May 7th, he told the quiet, rapt and possible fearful audience, “For fuck’s sake, say something!” But perhaps it wasn’t that they were shy or afraid, though he had been smart with the crowd in Toronto apparently, it was that they were saving their voices to sing along with the frontman and his ace flock of “birds”, Tim Smith on lead guitar, Russ Pritchard on bass, Mikey Rowe on keyboards and Jeremy Stacey on drums, plus a three piece horn section. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds have just released their second album Chasing Yesterday on Gallagher’s label Sour Mash Records. Their show is a powerful evening of rock that combines material from both NGHFB albums and some of the now-classic Oasis material into an awesome sounding show that I wished could have been longer. (The setlist appears to remain the same throughout the tour.)

by Anthony Merino

12 May 2015


Dawn Black, Follys Buden 2015 (detail)

“You see, in my trade, this is called—what you did—you cracked out of turn. Huh? You see? You crumbed the play.”
—Character Mike, House of Games, 1987, David Mamet

We crumble the play all the time. This is because the more statements we make about ourselves, the more we never say. Who we present to the world is a balance of subconscious and conscious. The former holds our basic appetites and determines many of our behaviors. It is where the impolite stuff that drives us—lusts, appetites, fears and vanities fester.

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