IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)
Odd flick from Woody Allen has philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to find meaning in his life. When an affair with a married member of the faculty, Rita (Parker Posey) and a relationship with one of his students, Jill (Emma Stone) doesn’t help, he decides to murder a judge who is about to rule on having a woman’s children taken from her. He thinks he has committed the perfect crime and done some good, when it all starts to unravel as both his lovers begin to figure out whodunit.
As per the plot synopsis, this is a weird flick from Allen who has kinda been on autopilot for quite a few years now. The film is intriguing and has some quirky and eccentric characters, but starts to unravel in it’s last act just as the professor’s plan does. The whole notion that mild mannered Abe would just commit a random murder to give his life some meaning is a bit out there, as it is. It also seems a little too far-fetched that it would be both his lovers that start to put the clues together and actually come to believe Abe committed the murder, as it seems equally ludicrous that he would so easily conclude that he had to do it again to keep his lady loves silent. It’s one of those movie’s were it seems to be taking itself very seriously, but would have worked far better as a comedy, which it’s not, though it feels like it should be. Would also love to see Allen, for once, make a film that didn’t involve upper class elitists, that might be refreshing, too.
LAKE EERIE (2016)
Written by and starring Meredith Majors and directed by husband and co-star Chris Majors, this is a little horror that may be too ambitious for it’s own good. Film has artist and recent widow Kate (Meredith Majors) moving into an old lakeside house. No one has lived there since the previous owner disappeared in 1969 and soon Kate starts to witness weird phenomena. Her research into the house reveals that the previous owner was an archeologist (Chris Majors) who may have discovered an amulet that could open dimensional portals. His notes indicate he may have entered one of these portals in pursuit of a banished Egyptian princess…you read that right…and Kate teams with her neighbor’s niece (Anne Leigh Cooper) to find the doorway and finally free the missing explorer.
I appreciate trying to do something a little different than the routine haunting, but this flick gets a bit convoluted long before the credits roll. The story mixes a haunting flick with something out of Tomb Raider and it doesn’t quite mesh together. The acting is also questionable from our leads and one thinks the writing/directing/producing couple should maybe have left the performances to more experienced actors than multi-tasking here. The film also doesn’t have the budget to really portray it’s alternate dimension, so it goes the Insidious route with staging it in the house with different lighting. It worked in Wan’s film, but here it just looks cheap. There is some nice atmosphere early on, but once the story starts to go all Indiana Jones meets Amityville Horror, it looses it’s grip. Yes, the attempt to do something more original is certainly admirable, but here a simpler haunting story might have been easier to pull off on a small budget and easier to swallow by the audience. Also stars Betsy Baker, who was Linda in the original Evil Dead and the incomparable Lance Henriksen in a small part as Kate’s concerned dad.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS (2013)
Written by Micael Skvarla and directed by Matt Jackson, this is a fairly unremarkable and only mildly amusing horror comedy. The story has sisters Carla (Marissa Skell) and Marla (Gena Shaw) heading to a family getaway lodge to meet up with Carla’s fiancé Johnny (Jade Cater) who works there. Toxic chemicals dumped in a nearby lake start to turn the forest life and a few of the employees, including Johnny, into zombies. Now the girls and the survivors must band together and fight for their lives…oh, and there is a Sasquatch mixed in there, too.
Sure, the girls are hot and there is a lot of gore, but aside from having the zombified lodge employees dressed in Sasquatch costumes, this is another routine zombie outbreak comedy. Most of the humor falls flat and the acting and dialog are equally sub-par and that would be OK if the flick were witty and had more of a devious sense of fun, like the similar Zombeavers. There are a few amusing bits, but aside from an actual Sasquatch appearing in the last act to take on the zombified animals and people, there is little to set this flick apart from all the other by-the-numbers zombie comedies.
Finally caught up with this interesting, involving and slightly whimsical Spike Jonze flick and found it a very enjoyable, offbeat and heartfelt movie. The story takes place in a not too distant future and focuses on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who writes letters for others for a living and has just suffered a heartbreaking separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Theodore, in his loneliness, buys a computer operating system with an artificial intelligence made to learn and adapt to their owner’s wants and needs. Theodore chooses a female voice and the OS chooses the name Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). But, the more time Theodore spends with Samantha, the more their relationship grows and the more Theodore thinks she’s all he needs and starts to fall in love with her. And Samantha feels likewise but, as Samantha grows and evolves and begins to experience new emotions and desires, will Theodore be all she needs?
Writer/director Spike Jonze delivers a rarity, an intriguing and very original romantic-comedy, a sub-genre that is one of the least adventurous genres and one that rarely steps outside the stale formula. He presents the idea of a computerized operating system that becomes such a perfect fit for it’s owner that it creates an emotional attachment, becoming a friend and a lover. Especially poignant, as it does so at a time where Theodore is wounded and afraid to connect with others of flesh and blood including his cute best friend Amy (Amy Adams) who has also recently gotten a divorce. Of course Jonze is making a comment on the increasing reliability on personal computers and cellphones, which almost seem to be a more important part of our lives then our friends and loved ones. We seem to spend more time communicating with and through our computerized devices and less and less actual time socially interacting with those around us. Why commit to the emotional investment of talking to someone face to face when we can text or E-mail and be done with it. Jonze gives his cautionary tale of loving our gadgets too much a very subtle and sly sense of humor and filmed his romance in the city of Shanghai to give it that futuristic look. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema accents Jonze’s colorful but slightly sterile future and there is a very effecting score by the band Arcade Fire that really embellishes the atmosphere and mood set by Jonze’s deft direction and clever story.
The cast is wonderful with Phoenix creating a very strong character in his Theodore, a man with his own intimacy issues who is wounded by the collapse of his marriage and afraid to start looking again and thus finding the perfect mate for his current emotional condition in the artificial intelligence that grows to suit his every need, Samantha. As the voice of Samantha, Scarlett Johansson gives a wonderful performance as an intelligence that is learning new emotions and experiences and who falls in love with the man who teaches them to her. She has only her voice to convey her feelings and does a simply amazing job of portraying the wonder of discovering new emotions and the joy of love for the first time. She and Phoenix make this work. If either of their performances were off, the film would simply have not come together and so well. We also get another strong performance by Amy Adams as the nerdy Amy, Theodore’s best friend and a person he cares for more then he wants to admit. The actress has become quite the chameleon. Rooney Mara is fine as the estranged wife who still haunts Theodore in his thoughts and has a really nice scene with Phoenix as they hesitate when the moment to finally sign the divorce papers comes. A very effecting and real sequence as they both must face the fact that it is indeed over. There are also some eccentric supporting performances by Chris Pratt as the quirky receptionist at Theodore’s job, Olivia Wilde as a pretty blind date that Theodore wasn’t quite ready for and Portia Doubleday as Isabella, a beautiful young woman who wants to act as the surrogate for the bodiless Samantha. A very eclectic and strong cast that really make Jonze’s vision work very well.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this film very much. It’s a heartfelt romantic comedy as it is an original one. It is also a cautionary tale about becoming too close to our computerized gadgets and letting our flesh and blood relationships fall to the side. It is well directed, intelligently written and has some wonderful and understated performances by all the cast. A very unique indie film and a real treat. Highly recommended! Also features vocal cameos by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.
MonsterZero NJ extra trivia: Pretty actress Portia Doubleday who plays the surrogate Isabella is the daughter of actor Frank Doubleday who played the creepy Romero in John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York!
3 and 1/2 Scarlett’s.