Tag Archives: murder

WIND RIVER

WIND RIVER

USA
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: English

Midway through Wind River, a character roughly says, “This murder is practically solving itself,” and that, my dear friends, is a problem. Taylor Sheridan once again dives into the underbelly of society, but where his incursions redefined the Western in Hell or High Water and danced with horror in Sicario, both films which yielded memorable performances from its shady as heck characters (and a sympathetic one from Emily Blunt, a female FBI agent tossed in the middle of an increasing set of odds in Sicario), Wind River, while correct and serviceable as a crime thriller, never truly manages to find that dark tone that would have made it the standout sleeper of the late summer. It’s a shame because with an action taking place in the desolate mountains of Wyoming in the Indian Reservation of Wind River, there was plenty of material to convey an atmospheric sense of a larger corruption at hand, something truly unsettling.

The best scene is, as a matter of fact, its most disturbing. The film opens to a young woman dashing barefoot through the snow, escaping an unknown danger before she collapses to the elements and passes out of the story, in body. Enter Jeremy Renner, a game tracker separated from his Indian wife, who finds the dead woman’s body and has to team up with the nearest FBI agent sent all the way from Vegas to survey the crime scene, and with her report, justify the need to send out more agents or close the case. When she appears it’s under the form of Elizabeth Olsen, and at first, as it always is in these movies, her presence is, for the locals, meant to be merely perfunctory, a blip in a series of nothings in a place where nothing really happens. However, a correct assessment of the way rhe woman — Natalie — died doesn’t match up despite the coroner’s report. However, the coroner can’t justify homicide. Olsen can’t call for more agents, so it’s up to her and Renner to take matters into their own hands.

I’m going to say that perhaps this is what happens when someone who’s barely directed takes a film as ambitious as this into his own hands in the hopes of delivering a strong product and coming up just a shade short. Wind River is what you’d call a serviceable, above average procedural that takes you from start to end without delving too much in the horror of it all — even the necessary flashback scene that sets the plot in motion feels flat and done without style or any sense of suspense or even terror — but somehow it just didn’t quite go that extra mile to stay in my memory and thus, remains as just another good movie with solid performances by Renner, Olsen, Gil Birmingham, and Jon Bernthal in a small but pivotal role.

LADY MACBETH

LADY MACBETH

USA
Director: William Oldroyd
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Disregard the tight, binding corsets and the crinolines, the gloomy Victorian setting that echoes the works of the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. William Oldroyd’s minimal story of a woman’s climb to dominance is as old as the ages,and as new as anything coming out of the sexual revolution and Women’s Lib. Inspired on the character created by William Shakespeare and based on the novella Lady Macbeth of Miensk District, Lady Macbeth tells the story of Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young woman who has been bought into marriage to a ill-tempered asshole of a man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton). Lester takes her to reside at his father’s estate, where from the word go, they make it known she will have no more presence than a mute wife, keeping house, and nothing more. The first night she spends at the Lester house is as chilling as anything, and ends with a note of uncertainty, and the following scene, where she sits in dead silence, staring at nothing, awaiting Lester’s and Boris’ arrival, is as tense and uncomfortable as anything that comes later.

When Boris and Lester leave the estate to take care of some business, Katherine is left on her own in the house. and stumbles onto a scene in a barn. Several men, workers, are having a little sexual fun with some of the maids. One of the men, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) catches her attention, and she makes a point to get close to him. It’s clear there is an attraction between the two, and it doesn’t take long for Sebastian to make his way into her room in a scene that starts as an invasion of privacy teetering on rape and ends with her taking charge in the long run, having him over, seeing him every chance she gets. Anna, the maid she saw in a tryst with Sebastian, disapproves, and takes matters into her own hands to notify the priest of what is happening. Her actions eventually reach Lester and Boris, who returns to the house and confronts Katherine. What happens next is something I won’t say, because it is contingent to the transformation that Katherine receives as she begins to assert her power and cross the line from proto-feminist to monster.

If there ever was a movie that relied only on a mounting sense of dread to announce in hints of the violence that is to come, it would be Lady Macbeth, a movie filled with moments of silence, glances, and a minimal story line that moves, with deliberate fury, to its horrifying conclusion. Florence Pugh is a lightning bolt, igniting an entire film on her presence alone — in her physicality is the symbol for the triumph of ambition and drive taken to its extremes (and reader, I really do mean extremes). The movie almost always has her in blue, which is a color associated with masculine strength, and this exactly personifies the type of woman she is — one who negates her femininity, her passivity, and goes for the jugular. You might say the movie takes a step too far in the last third, but this is a story named after one of Shakespeare’s darkest female characters, after all. You will not find Austen’s females anywhere here

DANCING WITH THE ENEMY

MY COUSIN RACHEL
UK
Director: Roger MIchell
Runtime: 105 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading:

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Does anyone remember those haunting opening lines of Rebecca? Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It’s enough to send shivers down your back whether you’ve read the Daphne DuMaurier novel, allegedly plagiarized from Carolina Nabucco’s 1934 novel A Sucessora, or seen the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece in Gothic suspense. It also shows that perhaps this dreamy ambiguity was good for only one novel and nothing else; as a writer, DuMaurier may have had her inspirations, but she was not exactly what I would call a good writer.

Perhaps then this is the reason that Roger MIchell’s version manages to colossally misfire and land in a puddle of mud before it even has time to tell its tale. Picture this, a story in which another ambiguous line starts the wheels of the plot in motion– “Did she? Didn’t she?” — reeks of phoning in a sense of dread, the kind that by its presence and atmosphere alone should grab a hold of your stomach and apply some unsavory pressure little by little until you can’t even breathe. The person who utters that question is our hero Philip (Sam Claflin, previously seen in Their Finest), who plays the male version of Rebecca‘s X — basically a non person who tells of a childhood living wile and free with his cousin Ambrose, who then went off to Italy, and while there met and fell in love with the titular Rachel only to suddenly fall ill and die soon after the two of them were married.

So much build up is placed on these events that we feel that after Ambrose kicks the bucket, Philip will turn into some kind of raving Byronic hero of the kind fo leave even Heathcliff in the dust. He does vow revenge on Rachel, whom he suspects of murdering Ambrose, but once she arrives at Plymouth all that falls by the wayside and Philip is practically giving Rachel the benefits of the doubt and the keys to his entire estate faster than you can see 45 tweet covfefe. Once I saw this happen with frightening speed my eyebrow arched, and I went “What just happened? Can we refresh this scene, please, and play it slowly? No? Okay. ” That, my friends,  just doesn’t quite gel in a story that should be less about what is said, shown, or spoken, and more about insinuations, side glances, and especially emotions just waiting to be released, at least, for a little. It doesn’t help that Rachel Weisz is completely wrong for this film — an actress who could be more enigmatic could have been a better choice — and Sam Claflin, like I said earlier, is written rather blandly. It’s hard to care for any of this movie’s people when they themselves don’t give their own moments on screen any life. My Cousin Rachel isn’t deadly; shes just plain dullsville. Perhaps I’ll wait for Lady Macbeth — that looks like it’s got teeth.

My Cousin Rachel is still playing in theaters and arrives on DVD at the end of August.

MOKA
France / Switzerland
Director: Frederic Mermoud
Runtime:  85 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Emmanuelle Devos is a French actress that I’ve been seeing on film for the past 15 years now, and while she’s a good performer for the most part, that little girl voice of hers and that look of perpetually helpless wait begging to be rescued somewhat puts me off. It’s the sole reason I didn’t go to see Moka at the Film Forum when it premiered and waited a couple of days until it was extended for a third and final week there. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to sit in a theater listening to a woman just over 50 talking like a sex-kitten filled with angst and vulnerabilities plod her way through an intellectual thriller that someone like Isabelle Huppert could handle in her sleep without the slightest effort.

Well, dear reader, I have to say I was blown away with Devos in this little Swiss-French thriller that also paired her with acting giant Nathalie Baye. [As an interesting little note, Baye’s previous role was another barely seen French thriller in which she played the Devos role.] Moka starts with the image of Devos (who plays a woman named Diane) silently banging her head against a window. We don’t know where she is, until the camera pans away and we realize she’s in some sort of mental facility. And then the cards that plant the seeds of the plot get revealed: Diane has lost her son Luc in a freak accident where he was fatally involved in a hit-and-run. Since then, time and basically everything has stopped for Diane. Because the perpetrators were never brought to justice, Diane has hired a private investigator to find out about the vehicle that killed her son. She learns that it was a mocha-colored car registered to a woman who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The woman happens to be Marlene (Baye). Marlene is the owner of a beauty salon, and from the moment both women meet there is a sense of uneasiness in the air. But Diane has other plans, and so does the story: while she is befriending (and getting to know Marlene), she’s also flirting with Marlene’s boyfriend Michel who is selling the mocha vehicle, and at the same time, she also establishes a tentative friendship with Marlene’s daughter from a previous relationship.  To add to the whole situation, Diane has met a guy who does deals on the darkside and produces a gun for her, and as a final nail, Diane’s husband eventually appears on stage wondering what has happened to her. Sounds complicated? It’s because it is, and director Mermoud wastes no time in getting into the meat of the action while allowing it to breathe and develop on its own. We wonder where is all this going and how long can Diane keep her charade alive without recurring to cheap solutions. Devos plays Diane as a relentless avenger, but with enough frailty and vulnerability that we wonder if she will carry out her affairs in Lausanne until the end. Baye, her hair bleached a cheap, older woman peroxide blonde, is prickly, suspicious from the get-go, but all reception. She’s a beautician, so she hears stories from her clients, and Diane’s doesn’t ring totally true. Even so, she lets her slowly in and we wonder if there isn’t some agenda . . . or is she being set up for something terrible.

It’s not often that movies feature strong women in leading roles playing complicated characters that dance around each other like samurais waiting to strike. Moka is a complex psycho drama that touches on the topics of grief and loss and the need to mete out personal justice without turning it into exploitation and offers enough twists and turns and even an emotional finale to out-guess aficionados of the thriller genre and leave them satisfied.

THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER

THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER
USA/Canada
Director: Oz Perkins
Runtime: 93 minutes
Language: English

5/5

Here is the first truly unnerving indie horror story of the year. You may know Oz Perkins because last year Netflix released an atmospheric oddity titled I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, a movie that, while not perfect, is pregnant, bursting at the seams with atmospheric dread straight from the universe of Shirley Jackson. The interesting thing is that this is actually Oz Perkins’ debut feature, previously titled February as it was known for almost twoy years where it floated in film festival hell before finally landing a spot in DirecTV’s On Demand Cinema in, wouldn’t you know, February, where it’s been playing before it got it’s official release at the very end of March.

Borrowing, it seems, liberally from a variety of sources, such as the works of David Lynch and a faint whiff of a Spanish horror film from 1971 titled La Residencia (a.k.a. The House that Screamed), The Blackcoat’s Daughter starts off with a surreal nightmare and ends with a scream. School is over at Bramford, and everyone is let go for the winter break except two very different girls : Kat (Kiernan Shipka), a waifish freshman, and Rose, a more assertive girl who comes off as a Mean Girl. Neither of the girls’ parents have arrived to pick them up, and both are allowed temporary residence at the university while their situation gets resolved.

Rose (Lucy Boynton), it seems, has her own issues to deal with. It looks like she might be pregnant and may need an abortion (a situation that Oz Perkins handles so deftly you almost have to listen very carefully to the dialogue to not miss it). She’s been tasked to take care of Kat but has plans of her own — namely, to go out that night with her boyfriend. Before she leaves she tells Kat a story that the sisters who work at Bramford are witches and departs. Kat is going through her own problems: she had badly wanted Father Brian to attend her piano performance at school, she seems to be certain her parents are dead and not coming for her, and she keeps getting phone calls on the dorm’s pay phone  which get more and more sinister.

Later that night, Rose returns and hears some sounds and muffled voices coming from the basement. Having Kat under her care and seeing she is not in her room she goes down and sees an extremely frightening revelation. Almost immediately we get ripped out of Bramford and into a Greyhound bus station where a lone young woman, Joan (Emma Roberts), sits alone in the cold. She meets Bill (James Remar), an older man on his way upstate with his wife Linda (Lauren Holly) and a bouquet of flowers in the back seat. While Bill feels an odd kinship to Joan and gives her a lift to Bramford, Linda is less than open — perhaps even hostile. The closer Joan gets to Bramford the more violent Kat becomes until it’s clear she’s under some dark influence.

And here, I’ll have to stop, because this is one of these stories where going into it knowing only the basic information is the best. Reader, this is an excellent movie and will be awarded recognition upon time. Remember those Val Lewton penny dreadfuls that eventually have grown in stature due to their sense of dread, that blink or miss it moment where something even darker lurks among the blackest of shadows? This is that movie. Oz Perkins and his brother Elvis Perkins, the latter who composed the sound and music of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, have produced that elusive act of a scary movie without a single jump scare that stretches the tension more and more, playing with time and events, the real and unreal, until there is no more choice but to release it all in a shocking sequence of violence and bloodletting. Filmed in the coldest of colors and thick chiaroscuro, this is a gorgeous movie saturated with menace in every frame. And, again, the sound — I haven’t heard a soundtrack this unsettling, discordant, and downright creepy. It’s a sound that just burrows underneath your skin. It’s purely evil music and I love it.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is playing at Village East Cinema in NYC, Alamo Drafthouse  in Yonkers. and the AMC Cherry Hill 24. Check Moviefone for showings in your area. If you have DirecTV, it’s still there, On Demand, and it’s also available on Amazon, VUDU, YouTube, and iTunes.

 

LAVENDER

LAVENDER
USA
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Runtime: 92 minutes
Language: English

1.5/5

Ever since Hitchcock used repressed memories as plot devices to narrate his formidable movies every director wanting to probe the waters of supernatural horror has tried to emulate the Master of Suspense, sometimes getting close like Christopher Dolan’s Memento, and sometimes misfiring badly, such as this new arrival onto the indie scene. It’s a shame because the story itself could have been a great platform for its lead actress to perform the heck out of a tormented character haunted by the past. Instead we get a color-by-numbers product that is as dead on arrival as its mystery.

In 1985 young Jane Ryer was found holding onto a knife, covered in blood, crouching in a corner of her house while her family lay lifeless before her. There was some speculation that she may have snapped, but who in their right mind would think a girl of her age would be able to produce this level of carnage? Fast forward to the present: now Jane Ryer has grown into a happy young woman married, with a daughter and a career as a photographer. A car accident (that happens just when she’s singing a piece of a child’s song, Lavender — hence the title, clever) lands Jane in the counsel of a psychiatrist (Justin Long) who attempts via therapy to induce her memories. A mysterious box arrives, and Jane realizes what it’s about.

Soon we see her being drawn back to the house where the events from 1985 occurred. This, instead of inducing an interest in a mystery, instead creates scenarios where anything and everything that is meant to be seen as a Portent of Horror happens: a red balloon with a key, a chase through a maze of bales of hay that leads to another gift box, and the requisite supernatural specters that have to make their appearance to remind you this is a thriller rife with horrific overtones. Meanwhile, Jane grows none the wiser and digs not an inch into her own psyche, but instead becomes a passive conduct for cheap scares that will inevitably play themselves out in the time the movie takes to get there, which at least here, is mercifully quick.

Lavender comes courtesy from Tribeca Film Festival, which should give you an idea of what you’re getting as cinematic entertainment. Abbie Cornish can, on occasion, motivate you to see her perform onscreen (as she did over 10 years ago in her debut picture Somersault) but ever since she’s been adrift and resembling a clone of Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts — all doll-faced, no character. Everyone else, especially Dermot Mulroney, else is wasted, the story falls apart, and you’re left with the feeling that you just got swindled. If at least there was a smidgen of style, Lavender could transcend its limitations but it never even tries to build any tension. A colossal waste of time.

THE WITNESS

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

It’s been all over the news, a story that refuses to go away even when it was technically “only a murder”. It even has its own Wikipedia page if you google her name, and recently, Discovery ID did a rather haunting recreation of the events leading up to her murder on “A Crime to Remember”.

The murder of Kitty Genovese might not have been such a widely reported crime that continues to pop up in articles, classes, and the media had it not been for the article in The New York Times. It’s not that the event happened — in itself a horrific event no human being deserves — but that The Times reported that “38 people saw Kitty Genovese being murdered and did nothing at all.” Much has been said about these witnesses to the crime that has even spawned the term “the bystander effect” in which people witness an event happening but are unable or unwilling to help out.

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Her younger brother, William “Bill” Genovese, takes the helms in this documentary to find out the veracity of these details. He lost his legs in the Vietnam war and later in the film he recounts on how alone he felt, how he thought he was going to die the same way she must have known this was the end. In a way, this is his form of finding closure from the people who knew her, but also from the remaining witnesses to his sister’s murder who might shed any light that the faulty reporting of the times neglected to mention. For example, that in the vestibule of the apartment where Kitty used to live were the palm prints of Sophie Farrar, a neighbor who came out to cradle Kitty as she bled out and who had also telephoned the police, only to be informed that someone else had already done so, and whose testimony was left out of the Times for the sole reason that it didn’t go with their version — accepted for a long time as truth — that no one came out to help. That apathy at another person’s tragedy was so entrenched, even when it happened right outside the apartment complex.

07DRESS-master768

One of the salient points of The Witness is that while trying to put the pieces together of what happened and separate truth from fiction, that it never treats Kitty Genovese as a poster for murdered women even when. From home films and stories of those who knew her we get a very well rounded picture of a vibrant young woman loved by her family, happy as a bartender in a Queens bar, moonlighting as a racketeer (hence her most known photo, which turns out to be a mugshot), and sexually troubled in her identity [she was gay but had issues with it, a thing her surviving girlfriend Mary Ann Zielonko recounts in a voice-only interview she had with Bill. She goes on to add that Kitty “would have worked through them” eventually had she not been murdered.].

There are moments in these people’s narratives when you can almost feel her presence hover just over the screen like a ghost making her final appearance. With her murder, Kitty left a hole in the fabric of her micro-world; it destroyed her family, brought even more bereavement to Mary Ann as Mr Genovese took the dog Kitty and she were raising as their own. In a moment of self-reflection, both Mary Ann and Bill seem to be consoling each other, with his apology bringing closure to her grief, which is still very present. Mary Ann questions what kind of monster could do such a thing.

Bill will get his answer when he decides to interview Winston Moseley, possibly to try and comprehend the imcomprehnsible . . . only to not only get a refusal, but also a visit from his son, now a pastor. If you haven’t experienced outrage, you will. The pastor, a cagey man who won’t look Bill in the face, outright tells his perspective of the incident and goes into state that Kitty was yelling racial slurs at the perpetrator at a time of racial tension and his father caved in, all but implying (as he goes no further in his take on those events) that perhaps she deserved what she got. When Bill informs Moseley, Jr. that his father killed another lady and she was black, he has no recollection and evades. Then, as if to deflect more questions he goes out to condescendingly tell Bill that he had reservations in coming out to see him because he had heard of the Genovese mafia family, so he could very well end up dead. This, America, is callousness to the core.

To add injury to insult, Bill later receives a rambling letter from the perpetrator himself, one that sounds like the ramblings of a man gone insane. It’s just as well, I thought as I watched this scene unfold, that he never got his chance to confront.

What can one gain by watching The Witness? The answer may come as a surprise when he recruits a young actress to play the part of Kitty at the moment she was assaulted. The scene is horrifying — her screams alone are piercing in the night — but more so are the lights in the nearby apartments, still on, not a face in sight. Not a person comes out. If there is anything to add, is the question: in a city filled with people, can you truly be sure your neighbors — those you know and see every day — will open the windows, yell for help, and call 911? Or risk everything and come out?

A BIGGER SPLASH

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

 

Reader, where do I begin? I’m still reeling over the sheer awfulness of Luca Guadagnino’s mediation on ex-lovers, gender politics, and something vaguely resembling a romance. Remember a little-known playwright called William Shakespeare? Him. Well, he basically wrote the book on partner-swapping in his comedies and did so much better. Even Woody Allen has managed to produce interesting reflections on the nature of relationships between men and women and the consequences they engender. This, on the other hand . . .

The trailer promises and delivers nothing that it winks at the audience it will deliver. From the opening shot of Tilda Swinton, a rock star reflecting on stage in what seems David Bowie drag, followed by her and Matthias Schoenaerts laying on the beach as they get a call from Ralph Fiennes who is popping for a visit (and you see a shadow of a plane about to land as to drive the point home), to an awkward sequence where the twosome get introduced to Fiennes’ daughter in the film played by Dakota Johnson, you get a general idea that perhaps this will be something screwball-ish, rather flighty, with misunderstandings left and right and perhaps a couple of sex scenes along the way for good measure. I mean, they are in a secluded Italian island in the middle of a vacation, might as well make the best of it and pretend nothing ever happened, right?

Wrong. From the moment Fiennes enters the picture, it’s as if he had in mind he had to ham it up to almost extreme lengths to make his older stud-character register. Reader, it’s painful. The harakiri would have been an act of mercy. Seeing Fiennes, still remarkably fit, make a fool of himself at every turn and inhabit a character who is deluded as to the extent he relates to the others is just torture. Consider it an act of an old peacock macho-ing it up in an extended mating dance that clearly provokes some quiet seething from Schoenaerts who takes a secondary seat and inexplicably allows Fiennes to take center stage as if it were better that way. Meanwhile, Swinton, who’s rock star persona in the movie is recovering from a throat operation, can’t speak but in whispers, and even that is an effort. All she can do is react in various degrees of passivity while both men circle each other, each trying to claim their ground, neither backing up.

And Dakota Johnson? She’s merely skin decoration. She gets in one or two lines pregnant with innuendo, but that’s all her character is: a tease. Guadagnino plays her like a card held very close to his chest, and some late-story revelations don’t really do much more than cement how unnecessary her character truly is to the story, but to supply a motive for a completely out of the blue catharsis that . . . well. You’d have to see this mess to see where I’m getting at.

A Bigger Splash boasts an inexplicable title that narrates a story that doesn’t seem to have any real direction other than to force some events to come together and perhaps shed light on the consequences of giving into temptation. I wish that somehow some narration choices would have been less indulgent. Guadagnino’s film had the potential to play with the original material it’s based on — Jacques Deray’s La Piscine. Tragically it all but dissipates any sense of tension in lieu of lingering shots of beach, scenery, food preparing, snakes, Fiennes diving into the pool, Fiennes dancing, Fiennes basically chewing sccenery, which makes this movie almost insufferable. At least Schoenaerts boasts some incredible pectorals. That at least prevented me from stabbing my eyes out.

Next!

 

New on DVD: Irrational Man

irrational.man_.woody_.allen_.review
Emma Stone falls head over heels for Joaquin Phoenix in Woody Allen’s clunker Irrational Man, now on DVD.

Hooked on Film rating:

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

I’m going to go out on a limb and defend Woody Allen for having made this oddity of a film rife with potential but flat as Kansas in tone and overall delivery. Allen makes a movie a year, and has done so since the late 60s. Ever since he gained status as the giant he became in the late 70s and throughout most of the 80s, the quality of his output starting with 1993 (a year Allen would rather forget) has slowly morphed into what I call diminishing returns that on occasion hold a spark of the wit and cynicism the man’s movies once held. This is the man who, ever since Match Point –widely considered to be his comeback film after having been all but forgotten (even as he relentlessly forged ahead, movie after movie)– went back into something of a valley of creativity peaking with the sublime Blue Jasmine (and gave Cate Blanchett another gold statue while also bestowing Sally Hawkins her first nomination for supporting actress). Magic in the Moonlight was a delightful farce that revisited, to a degree, the magician sequence from Shadows and Fog, and not only gave Emma Stone and Colin Firth well-rounded, amoral characters, but also gave veteran British actress Eileen Atkins a juicy part to sink her teeth in, and boy, did she.

There’s the often quoted saying that after a while writers tend to tell the same story over and over again. That isn’t such a bad idea, but when it becomes so self-referential as to resemble parody, then it poses a problem of either storytelling or focus. But far from me to tell Allen how to direct and write a film. The man has, as I said, made a film for nearly every year since 1970 and has himself stated profound dissatisfaction with their results.

Irrational Man falls under this category, and I’ll tell you why. In this movie Allen presents Abe Lucas (who is almost always referred to by first and last name), a philosophy professor who seems to have lost his sense of purpose in the world. When he meets Jill Pollard, sparks don’t exactly fly, but she is smitten. Why, we don’t know. The movie won’t tell us, and here she begins to talk non-stop about Abe Lucas as if he were some sort of god that she’d encountered. While doing this, she estranges her boyfriend, but then again, I’d walk out of the beating of a dead horse, if at all to conserve the peace, and either do so permanently or let this folly play itself out and return once the crazy was back to normal.

Jill doesn’t return to normal. She and Abe initiate a relationship that seems as platonic as it s uncomfortable, and while he’s at it, he throws Heidegger, Dostoevsky, and other Allen go-to existentialists for good measure with the enthusiasm of a man wishing death would just come and take him away. Jill, of course, fawns.

And then — the moment the plot turns into high gear. I think. Jill overhears a conversation at a restaurant and has Abe come over to her side to listen in. The people in the booth behind them –a woman and some friends — are discussing a nasty custody battle. It’s here that Abe’s light-bulb goes off, and he gets an idea as dark as anything presented on Discovery ID. He decides to kill the judge that would rule against the woman.

This in itself under a director more accustomed to suspense stories would have made an excellent story about moral choices and people who look into the abyss. The problem with Allen presenting it, is that he continually leaves his story as casual as a car commercial featuring cool people. His constant use of Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd” seems to punctuate this off-handedness. It’s appropriate during the opening part of the movie, but like a joke that gets told too often, it runs itself to the ground or morphs into a swinging cocktail party. And then, that voice-over narration. Talk about committing an act of self-mutilation: that in itself becomes a fatal blow to the movie. Car crash. Bodies all over the place. Bring in the yellow tape; we have a crime scene masquerading as a comedy-thriller. The part of Annie Hall Allen (wisely) left out. Remember that?

And while I’m at it, to call the second and last act Hitchcockian (as some reviewers have) is an insult to the Master of Suspense. You just don’t care enough for any of the characters and there is no sense of dread, of a darkening of the plot, of a man even aware that he is having a repressed breakdown and will rationalize taking a few with him. And on and on, Ramsey Lewis winks at the audience. The audience? Not so much.

Parker Posey makes her first appearance in Woody Allen's Irrational Man.
Parker Posey makes her first appearance in Woody Allen’s Irrational Man.

Irrational Man is a colossal misfire that never  takes off or develop as a whole. Its schizophrenic scenario makes it seem like a disjointed, haphazard puzzle where all the pieces are there, but neither make an effort to try and fit.  Joaquin Phoenix is okay in his miserable character — at least he makes the part of Abe Lucas his own, kind of. Emma Stone and Parker Posey? They fare much worse, delivering two egregiously wasted  performances. They are interchangeable mannequins, stand-ins for the small roles that Shelly DuVall, Janet Margolis, and Carol Kane played in Annie Hall as women fawning head over heels over Allen the actor/director (who could be less interested in them, but morbidly fascinated with his own crumbling ruminations). Yes, they serve a purpose in the story, but seeing how Irrational Man took a backseat from entertaining to being on autopilot, the only question remains, what for? That, I will state, is a mystery this bland movie will not answer. Stick with Match Point for a good mystery. This, sadly, is throwable, recycled, half-baked, late-period Allen juggling for a plot.