August 13, 2015
Irrational Man (** ½)
Woody Allen’s latest filmmaking exercise, Irrational Man, is not the dud that early word might have you believe. In fact, the film contains some crackling dialogue and thought provoking existential discussions that aren’t likely to be found on too many multiplex screens at this time of the year. For that alone some sort of credit must be given and more cerebral audience members may want to seek it out for those very reasons. The celebrated filmmaker continues to stick to his guns and do what he does best and the film is like a breath of fresh air, coming in a summer which has shown audiences more of the same in recent summers past. It’s nice and refreshing to see adults in a film who grapple with real issues and have real discussions regarding weighty subjects.
Unfortunately Irrational Man has the feel of an artist who’s struggling to find a way to take subjects they’ve explored before and put a new twist on them. Revisiting previous cinematic territory—in this case Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors—isn’t necessarily a cardinal sin for filmmakers, many have made a career doing just that. It becomes a problem when you can feel the wheels turning as the story unfolds. There are more than a few moments like this but, thankfully, most of them don’t occur until the final act. By that time the viewer will likely be so far into the story that they may be willing to forgive the filmmaker for his transgressions. At least I did, in spite of the film having a finish that feels rushed and more than a tad unpolished.
Phoenix & Stone in a scene from Irrational Man
The plot here concerns Abe (Joaquin Phoenix, bringing echoes of his character in last year’s Inherent Vice), a college professor who’s lost the ability to derive any joy from life. He wants to feel alive but honestly doesn’t know how anymore. In spite of his being such a glum sad sack, he manages to attract the affections of both Parker Posey and Emma Stone, a plot development that may stretch credibility for some.
Abe and his student, Jill (Stone), overhear a conversation in a diner, which puts Abe on the path to regaining his life but, unfortunately, it involves murder. Abe attempts to rationalize his moral dilemma and it’s a question that can be looked at from many angles. Unfortunately, Abe seems incapable of doing that once his mind is made up to carry out the heinous act.
Irrational Man does hold its own for a while but the final sequence doesn’t seem organic and that’s where I felt writer/director Allen’s inability to completely pull off his variation on earlier themes. Still, it’s an interesting film for most of its running time, flaws and all. And besides, I’ll take it any day over having to sit through Fantastic Four again.
Per the Carmike website, Irrational Man will continue to play in Hickory this coming week.
Fantastic Four (* ½)
I was under the impression that the reason for rebooting a film franchise was to ‘get it right’ after an unsuccessful first attempt went awry but I guess that’s just the logical side of my brain kicking into gear. We all know the real reason for rebooting a film franchise is that the studios can continue squeezing revenue from valuable properties ad infinitum. Still, you would think that when a film as universally panned as the original Fantastic Four film was-made less than a decade ago, nonetheless-there would be some careful attempt to right the previous wrongs that were done. You know you’re in trouble when it becomes readily apparent early on that the previously flawed attempt is better than what’s transpiring right before your eyes.
Part of the problem with the new Fantastic Four, and there are many, is the film’s structure.
Kate Mara as Sue Storm in Fantastic Four
With such a treasure trove of story ideas to draw on as contained in the original Fantastic Four comics I can’t help but wonder why it was so hard for the filmmakers to craft a decent script with three logical acts. The film’s first hour is overloaded with clunky exposition that could have been pared down to five minutes or less. Instead of giving us a compelling story the film drones on for an hour, drowning in its oversimplification of the atypical origins story found in too many of these kinds of films. Had the filmmakers chosen to go the route of paring down the first hour of the film into five minutes they would have quickly realized they had no second or third acts and probably would have attempted to rectify the situation. When the villain shows up 75 minutes into a film that’s has only 101 minutes as its total running time, the script’s got problems.
The origin story in the previous film, a plot that more closely resembled the one found in the comics, had the foursome of the film’s title being exposed to radiation while in space and thus gaining their respective superpowers. Here the four, courtesy of young science wiz, Reed Richards (Miles Teller), who’s mastered the art of traveling to alternate dimensions, find themselves ensnared in some green goop and thereafter becoming ‘Fantastic.’ This happens while Reed and pals, Johnny and Kate Storm (Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) attempt to test out Richards’ device and get more than they bargained for in the deal. They also manage to inadvertently create the film’s villain, Doom (Toby Kebbell) who’s about as scary as your big drunk uncle at the holiday party.
Fantastic Four basically caves under the weigh of its dull and unsurprising storytelling devices more than anything else. The cast performs capably but one can only do so much with lackluster material. Perhaps another Fantastic Four reboot is not out of the question, after all.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at email@example.com.