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Irrational Man (2015)
Tormented, a philosophy professor plots a redeeming act that seems to be the solution to his problem, while developing a close relationship with one of his students.
Woody Allen is a cinema auteur. Over the course of his 40 year plus career, he has not only given us some memorable films, but has produced a massive enviable body of work, which though interspersed with some failures, such as this one, still stand out on a whole as really really impressive. It takes only about one Woody Allen movie to get affiliated with his tone and visual style, and overarching themes run through all of his films which are part of the vision that he brings. Even bad Woody Allen movies aren't that hard to watch, since they are almost always strong on dialogue, score, and of course the overwhelming tonal style that he brings to the fore, which serves to remind you of him at his strongest, thus enabling a sort of nostalgic boost to even otherwise not-so-great movies. Of course, this makes taking a critical eye to some of his movies tough, since that inherent bias is hard to remove, but that's part of cinema.
With that customary disclaimer out of the way, let's get to the movie. Joaquin Phoenix (Abe) plays an existential college professor, who has stopped seeing the meaning in life, and lives a life of profound angst. This flawed genius attracts the college student played by Emma Stone (Jill), who seeks to find the root of the troubles plaguing him, and to try and mollify his despair. One day ,a chance conversation that Abe overhears puts an idea into his head, and he finds the solution to his problem: a single all consuming act that will bring back meaning into his life, an experience beyond any other. While I wouldn't like to comment on the nature of the act, it isn't much of a spoiler. Soon, the contemplation and the meticulous plan to carry it out devours his psyche, and we see a 'better' , energetic version of Abe, one completely in contrast to the dour, moaning professor with a drinking
The plot and the characters are textbook Allen, but they don't work at all this time around. While a random quote from Kierkegaard or Nietzche enhanced a character like Diane Keaton's in Manhattan, or Woody Allen's in Annie Hall, it just doesn't fit with Abe. In those classics, like a lot of Woody Allen flicks, especially the ones with him acting, you are invited to view this superficial jibber-jabber as part of the character's hyped pseudo-intellectuality, their false sense of identity that they are in conflict with. Here, they make a supposed genius philosopher, or his equally prodigious student, sound like they are delivering meaningless lines written to convince the audience to take them seriously. While both the leads deliver decent performances, their isn't much for them to do - as they merely follow a clichéd story line in a disciplined manner, unable to take advantage of the the characteristic snappy dialogue. The film also never makes an attempt to infuse some spark in it's textbook Dostoevskian premise, lazily meandering from one convenient plot point to another, in order to get to a conflict which can then be heightened to make for a hopefully intriguing climax. The crux of the movie while definitely interesting, is hardly new, and Allen himself has directed at least 2 more (better) movies that loosely deal with a similar theme. The support cast is largely wasted, as we have mostly one dimensional characters that serve little purpose in the story. Jill's boyfriend for example, has nearly (in fact probably exactly) all of his screen time devoted to his insecurity about her relationship with Abe. Similarly we have Rita (Parker Posey) whose only characteristic is her desire to woo Abe. While this would have added something to the movie if the plot didn't take woefully predictable turns, the lack of attempt to do anything new makes their characters absolutely irrelevant. Towards the end the movie does pick up pace, but it is bogged down by the weight of the convenience in the events that unfold leading up to the very end. The ending while somewhat strong, fails to make an impact because of lack of any involvement on the part of the audience at all.
Despite a lot of negative attributes, there are some things that do work for the film. As usual the dialogue is reminiscent of Allen at his peak, and while failing to make an impact largely due to the poor structuring, taken on it's own, it can still be enjoyed. Allen's vision in terms of his tone and score also ensure that the central theme of the movie is treated in an interesting fashion, adding a layer of tonal comedy and a touch of humour that the film would be dour without. This seemed important, considering there was little room for his trademark witty lines in the serious setup of the story. What struck me later was also the fact choice to have both Abe and Jill as narrators pays off in an interesting way, understanding which would need you to watch the film.
Carol Aird, an upper class woman going through a divorce, falls in love with Therese Belivet, a shop girl and aspiring photographer.
Carol is a romantic period drama set in the 1950s, adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, a 1952 novel. The movie stars Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird, an upper class woman going through a divorce, who falls in love with Therese Belivet(played by Rooney Mara), a shop girl and aspiring photographer.
Right from the get go, Carol has a definitive style and tone that is maintained throughout the film, one that is integral to both the story and the manner in which director Todd Haynes chooses to narrate it. The establishing scene where Carol and Therese meet for the first time, is one of the best examples of this, as complicated emotions of attraction, intrigue, and charisma are conveyed merely through glances and camera movement. This subtlety as both characters begin to understand and deal with their emotions and feelings for each other are key to the whole movie, and are continually accentuated by the cinematography and the set choices. 1950s Manhattan comes to life with a rather warm color palette, that would be familiar to anyone who's seen movies set in the 50s/60s. However, it does add on to the story by maintaining the subdued tone. The costumes are almost always breathtaking, Carol's fur coats accentuating her grace and class while Therese's dresses reflecting her youthful charm. Both the leads deliver commendable performances, which is the film's selling point, and again, something that Haynes seems to be aware of. This is obvious in the shot choices where you see almost every scene that features a rendezvous between the two characters framed close to the actors, switching between them as they deliver their lines, focusing on their delivery and poise, which is supposed to speak and mean more than the words they are saying. For a majority of the film, this is also true of the interactions that Carol and Therese have with the other characters in the film, be it Carol's with her soon to be ex- husband Harge (played by Kyle Chandler) or Therese's with the men in her life. This works also because in all of these relationships, including the one between the two central characters, a sense of apprehension and hesitancy is visible at the surface, in some cases governing it completely. This is to be expected in a story which revolves around a relationship that is 'forbidden' in the eyes of the conservative time period. That, however, is not the only element of restraint that is key, as also important is the nature of these characters themselves, as they, especially Therese, come to terms with being in love with each other. While their relationship does blossom and eventually leads to physical intimacy , it is not until well into the movie and has little melodrama associated with it, unlike the usual narrative in films about challenging social opinion.
While the characters do face challenges one would imagine arising out of an 'unorthodox' relationship, these are not the driving forces of the movie, but subplots that add to what is ultimately a film about the complex emotions associated with love.
The plot wades through somewhat familiar territory, and doesn't seem to be the key element at work, but not something that would bother one much, mainly because the performances and chemistry between the leads is impeccable. The film also boasts a solid supporting cast, with Sarah Paulson featuring as Carol's friend Abby. However, the film does struggle to incorporate characters beyond the two leads (and the husband Harge) in a meaningful manner leading to a few scenes which seem to be extraneous. That, however, is a minor flaw in what is a quite strong technical movie, with (apart from the elements mentioned earlier) , a really good score. Having not read the book, this is mere speculation, but it seems likely that all of these choices that are intended to (and rather successfully) reflect a sense of subtlety are because emotions and conflicts are what govern the book, and translating that to film would be a difficult task without these tools. It's not something that's very easy to do, but thanks to both the performances and good direction, they do work.
The film did create a decent amount of awards buzz, leading the pack towards the start of the season but ultimately failing to garner either a Best Picture or a Best Director nomination at the Oscars. It did however garner 6 nominations : for the two acting categories, cinematography, score, costume design, and adapted screenplay, winning none. While I personally rejoiced in The Big Short's win for the adapted screenplay category, having only seen Carol now after the awards does make me feel more conflicted about it. While Carol doesn't necessarily count as the best movie of the year for me (hopefully a list I'll manage to create soon after getting to everything on the watch-list), it's surely worth a watch. You'll like the film if subtlety works for you, or if you cherish really strong acting, but you might want to give it a skip if you tend to not like movies that aren't fast paced or that don't involve a lot of strong quick dialogue. Indeed, this film resorts to dialogue only when absolutely necessary.
A well written, realistic take on dating in the 90s.
After the success of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything, this movie looks like the next logical step for Cameron Crowe. Exploring the world of dating for 20 somethings in the 90s, this flick works really well by not going down the trodden part of establishing a drama and a solution, but rather letting the narrative flow be determined by the character's lives in a way that doesn't seem forced. With a nice cast of lovable and ratable characters, this makes for a good one time watch, with a nice sprinkling of humour and period pieces. The struggle during making a romcom often is to avoid being cheesy and yet manage to induce a happy feeling in the viewer, which this movie achieves.