Cinema Movie Review: Irrational Man (2015)

screen-shot-2015-04-29-at-5-58-10-pmCatherine Feore returns with Picturenose‘s 900th post and her thoughts on Woody Allen‘s latest.

Sipping on a beer before the film, I overheard a wonderfully Allenesque conversation – words that he might have given to a character: ‘J’ai jamais fait du sport, je suis plutot intello’ (I’ve never been sporting, I’m more of an intellectual).

This was said without a trace of irony, I think I managed to stifle a giggle. The guy probably was an intellectual, but to utter this phrase in the Anglo-Saxon world would be an open invitation to savage derision (happily, it was uttered in Belgium). This raised a worrying question in my mind – there appear to be two camps when it comes to Woody Allen, those who are generally in the ‘he is so over-rated’ camp and those who are ‘devotees’. Am I an intello, who doesn’t like sport? All I can say is that to one of these questions, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.

To those in the haters camp, I might be considered incapable of critical judgement when it comes to Allen’s films. I would have to query this a little, but will confess that while I have found some of his films unsettling and some not quite as good as others, I have always found them interesting and I always get some sort of insight from them – I even liked Melinda and Melinda (2004).

Irrational Man is a reference to a book of the same name by William Barret on existentialism; the film also leans on Allen’s fascination with the novels of Dostoyevsky, in this instance Crime and Punishment. When it comes to films that address existential questions, I would place Allen somewhere between Bergman and the director of The Fast and the Furious 3, let’s say near the top. So, if this is your bag, you are in for a fun night at the cinema.

The eponymous irrational man is Abe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a philosophy professor who is resigned to the pointlessness of existence; I say pointlessness, because he has already transcended meaninglessness and despair. Refreshingly, Allen has allowed Phoenix to play an angst-ridden man without forcing him to adopt Woody-like mannerisms – other actors have been less able to resist.

Abe’s arrival on campus is widely anticipated – Rita (Parker Posey), a bored chemistry professor, who has been serially unfaithful to her often-absent husband, is particularly looking forward to meeting the new professor and potential conquest. The other main character, Jill (Emma Stone), is a student who sparks Abe’s interest with an essay where she heavily critiques one of his books.

Jill comes to idolize Abe, and fails to see that ‘he’s a wreck and he smells’. Jill is not the most interesting character, especially compared to the sassy Rita. It would be difficult to see Jill’s attraction to Abe, if it weren’t for her insipid and clinging boyfriend. Abe’s capitulation to Jill’s advances is another aspect of his moral decline.

SPOILER ALERT!

Abe and Jill overhear a discussion in a diner, where a women tells her friends about how a judge has given the custody of her child to her ex-husband who has shown little or no interest in his child to date – she has been impoverished by the legal process and sees no point in an appeal, especially since the judge seems unlikely to move and is an acquaintance of the errant father. Abe decides that he is going to intervene and murder the judge. Initially, he verifies that the judge is the despicable person he appears to be, then he starts to follow his movements and plan his crime. Abe is liberated by his action and feels no guilt afterwards, just a new found love for life. Predictably, things start to go very wrong; when Jill discovers what he’s done, she urges Abe to turn himself in.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film as much as other Allen work; at times it felt like there had been a lot of cutting and pasting from earlier films. There were a couple of brilliant moments, for example when Abe demonstrates how Russian roulette works to a bunch of optimistic, preppy students, but on the whole, there weren’t many laughs and this can definitely be classed as one of Allen’s darker films, alongside Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

Feeling nostalgic for cheerier works, I turned to Hannah and her Sisters (1986), my preferred take on existence where – after dabbling with various religions – Mickey (Allen) finds meaning through the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup (1933), concluding: “What if the worst is true, what if there is no God and you only go round once, and that’s it? Well don’t you want to be part of the experience? It’s not all a drag and I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never going to get and just enjoy it while it lasts. And afterwards, who knows…”

Is this a great Woody Allen? No, it is not, but ultimately he is still the best at this kind of stuff – maybe too comfortable with it, as I sometimes felt in this film. To pull off a work that explicitly addresses existentialist  ideas with any aplomb requires skill – I wouldn’t place this movie (his 50th!) in the top ranking of his work to date; however, to my mind, 97 minutes in a cinema exploring existential ideas beats several evenings in reading Kierkegaard.

97 mins.

100 Movies To Be Seen Before You Die

film reel and clapperboardPicturenose welcomes Brussels-based journalist and film doyen Cillian Donnelly to the fold – agree with his choices? Do let us know, won’t you…

1. The Third Man (1949): The greatest film ever made. Fact. (OK, so I say that about every film…)

2. A Matter Of Life And Death (1946): Monochrome and technicolor fantasy. David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey and Marius Goring’s accent all do their bit for post-war relations.

3. The Searchers (1956): Morally and politically dubious John Wayne masterpiece. Inspired song by Buddy Holly. Bizarrely, continuously referenced by rubbish billionaire George Lucas.

4. Oh! Mister Porter (1937): The first film ever to acknowledge that the word ‘Pants’ is funny. The best film ever made about IRA gunrunning.

5. The Godfather (1972): Morally dubious gangster epic, no doubt hated by Frank Sinatra.

6. The Godfather Part Two (1974): Ice-cold gangster epic. The greatest American film ever made. Better than the first one, way better than the abominable Part Three.

7. Duck Soup (1933): “I suggest we give him ten years at Leavenworth or eleven years at Twelveworth…” etcetera.

8. The Italian Job (1969): “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off…” etcetera. Not the recent one – the worst Mark Whalberg remake since the one before, and the one before that.

9. Billy Liar (1963): Grim-up-North tale of perpetually daydreaming youth. Great support from Julie Christie, before she became really annoying.

10. Escape To Victory (1981): Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Ipswich Town take on the Third Reich. Fantastic.

11. Citizen Kane (1941): Newspaper tycoon (based on William Randolph Hearst) dies while dreaming of metaphorical sledge.

12. The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938): Errol Flynn does heroic, Basil Rathbone does menace and California does England. A long way up from Kevin Costner.

13. The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935): Plot doesn’t matter if the Hero keeps running. Hitchcock’s best. Avoid the dodgy Kenneth Moore remake, but watch the Robert Powell one if it’s raining out and there’s nothing else on.

14. Rashomon (1951): What is The Truth? Profound. Avoid the iffy American remake with Paul Newman.

15. The Wolf Man (1940): Featuring the oddest father and son combo and least convincing Welsh policeman in cinema history.

16. Casablanca (1942): Ultra quotable Bogart/Bergman classic. Claude Raines has excellent Chief Wiggum moment.

17. His Girl Friday (1940): The fastest comedy ever made. Lots of antique telephones and hats with press cards in them. Cary Grant admits to meeting Archie Leach. Great.

18. The Big Sleep (1946): No, I don’t know what’s going on either. Not the Michael Winner one.

19. To Be Or Not To Be (1942): Has to be included for the shave-the-dead-body scene alone. Not the Mel Brooks one.

20. Sneakers (1992): When drunk, the best film of the 90s. When sober, still pretty good.

21. M*A*S*H (1970): Pitch black comedy set in an in-no-way-Vietnam-like Korea. Way superior to the emetic and never-ending television series.

22. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): The Greatest Alien As Jesus Movie ever made (ET? Bah!). Gave rise to the catchphrase “Klaatu Barada Nikto”.

23. Babe (1996): Talking pigs – usually scary, but in this case wholly charming.

24. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988): Raymond Chandler as helmed by Tex Avery. Live action Bob Hoskins heads to Toontown to solve ink-based mystery.

25. This Is Spinal Tap (1984): Marty DiBergi Rockumentary™ that goes up to eleven, etcetera.

26. The Last Waltz (1978): Martin Scorsese documentary. The world’s best director films the world’s best musicians (and Neil Diamond). Great, obviously.

27. The Apartment (1960): Brilliant tragi-comedy about corporate ladder climbing. Shirley MacLaine delivers cinema’s greatest ever performance. Fact.

28. 24-Hour Party People (2002): Fact-blurring biopic of Factory Records honcho Tony ‘Anthony H’ Wilson. Euphoric. Tragic. Funny. Preposterous.

29. Thunderbolt And Lightfoot (1974): Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges team up for big heist. George Kennedy does tough guy role to perfection.

30. The Man Who Would Be King (1975): Sean Connery and Michael Caine team up to rip-off fictitious Himalayan kingdom. Plan starts off well, but then goes a bit pear-shaped…

31. Terror In A Texas Town (1958): Sterling Hayden liberates Western hamlet from the clutches of big business armed only with a harpoon and Swedish accent.

32. Carry On Screaming (1966): Harry H Corbett investigates spooky goings on in sinister rest home complete with his deerstalker and some double entendres.

33. The Beguiled (1971): Bizarro-psychosexual melodrama involving Clint Eastwood, some schoolgirls and the American Civil War. Very weird indeed.

34. Fail Safe (1964): Ultra-tense Cold War thriller in which Dan O’Herlihy bombs New York. But it’s OK, ’cause the President said he could.

35. Bad Day At Black Rock (1954): One-armed man rides into one-horse town and starts asking some awkward questions. One of the greatest Sweaty Character Actor Movies of all time.

36. Bringing Up Baby (1938): “I just went gay all of a sudden”, declares much married closet case Cary Grant.

37. The Manchurian Candidate (1962): Brainwashed Korean War veteran becomes deadly assassin at behest of mother. Great indoctrination sequence.

38. Executive Action (1973): More conspiracies, this time Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster plan the Kennedy assassination. It’s official: Oswald was a patsy all along. Surprisingly credible.

39. The Big Heat (1953): A typically tenacious Glenn Ford hands in badge and takes on the baddies alone. Dodgy right-wing politics aside, great.

40. Anatomy Of A Murder (1959): Jazz-loving lawyer James Stewart defends unhinged GI Ben Gazzara on homicide charge, while Lee Remick does slutty and George C Scott does sleazy. First Hollywood film ever to use the word ‘Panties’. Fact.

41. Intruder In The Dust (1949): Murder mystery as social comment. Only film in movie history where Porter Hall isn’t some kind of millionaire.

42. Miracle Mile (1988): It’s the end of the world as we know it, but at least Tangerine Dream are going down with us.

43. Miller’s Crossing (1990): Twisty-turny tale of depression era Irish gangsters featuring a perpetually battered Gabriel Byrne.

44. Juggernaut (1974): Bomb disposal expert Richard Harris races against clock to stop very big ship being reduced to very small pieces. Meanwhile, back on dry land, Anthony Hopkins interrogates a host of familiar faces.

45. Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975): Intriguing and infuriating Australian set drama. Prolonged metaphor for emergent adolescent sexuality, Freud fans. Er, probably…

46. The Lost Weekend (1945): Landmark exploration of the effects of alcoholism. Ray Milland’s turn makes Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas look like WC Fields.

47. The Big Combo (1955): B-movie magnificence from Hollywood’s greatest ever director, Joseph H Lewis. Best bit: Brian Donlevy being iced by Lee Van Cleef.

48. In A Lonely Place (1950): A career best performance from Humphrey Bogart. Yes, that is what I’m saying.

49. Double Indemnity (1944): Doomed mark Fred MacMurray gets involved in murderous insurance scam instigated by Barbara Stanwyk. Edward G Robinson investigates.

50. Don’t Look Now (1973): That’s my daughter, that is. Oh no, it’s not… Fookin’ scary.

51. The Long Good Friday (1981): Cubic, proto-Thatcherite gangster Bob Hoskins loses his criminal empire to mute IRA man Pierce Brosnan and Charlie from Casualty. Now, that’s just careless.

52. The Night Of The Hunter (1955): Demented preacher Robert Mitchum terrorises two young children who hold the key to the whereabouts of stolen loot, but finds his skills with a switchblade are no match for Lillian Gish’s expertise with a double-barrel shotgun; something that seminarian college failed to warn him about.

53. Flash Gordon (1980): Ex-footballers, Bergman regulars, respected playwrights, Blue Peter presenters, cult musicians, future James Bonds, Eurotrash totty and camp, bearded fat blokes all prove that giving the casting director too much power isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

54. Two Lane Blacktop (1971): Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton take on Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson and laid-back MOR folkster James Taylor in cross-country race. I know which pair my money’s on.

55. Robbery (1967): Future Jesus Robert Powell gets coshed and Stanley Baker gets away with the loot. Steve McQueen liked it.

56. Jason And The Argonauts (1963): Special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen’s greatest moment, and last public sighting of Gary Raymond. Skeletal army climax obviously made an impression on a young Sam Raimi.

57. Witchfinder General (1968): English Civil War-set horror flick in which Vincent Price burns women for kicks, director Michael Reeves salivates over the countryside and Patrick Wymark cameos as a warts-and-all Oliver Cromwell.

58. Seconds (1966): Disillusioned, middle-aged suburbanite gets turned into Rock Hudson via cosmetic surgery, but still remains strangely unfulfilled. Fact: after watching this film you won’t sleep for a week.

59: The Quiet Man (1950): Rivers of booze and public brawling: hey, it is Ireland, after all.

60. Sweet Smell Of Success (1956): Magnificently cynical doggerel set among the world of low-life hacks and smoky jazz clubs. Alexander MacKendrick, the film’s Scottish Presbyterian director, disowned it and fled Hollywood. A career-best turn from Tony Curtis.

61. The Long Goodbye (1973): Dishevelled private detective Elliott Gould loses gastronomically choosy cat and gets involved in labyrinthine murder case. Encounters a near-naked Arnie.

62. Short Cuts (1993): Altman again, this time freewheeling through the world of Raymond Carver.

63. That’ll Be The Day (1973): Fairground worker David Essex dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom, taking Ringo Starr along for the ride.

64. Stardust (1975): Sequel to the above, this time with Essex as a now-successful pop phenomenon suffering from megastar blues. Ringo Starr has somehow transformed into Adam Faith.

65. Theatre Of Blood (1973): Disgruntled thesp Vincent Price take it upon himself to dispatch from the planet some of his more vehement critics, having the audacity to rewrite Shakespeare along the way. Ripped off by the inferior Se7en (1995).

66. Planet Of The Apes (1967): Forget the Tim Burton remake, cut-price cartoon, television series and endless sequels; this is still the greatest talking-monkey flick of all time. Chuck Heston delivers one of cinema’s greatest ever lines while sporting deeply unfashionable loincloth.

67. The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976): Entrepreneurial extra terrestrial needs water to save home planet. Features some weird alien sex and typically pyrotechnic Nic Roeg visuals. Lousy punch line.

68. Cool Hand Luke (1967): Paul Newman stars in greatest Chain Gang Prisoner As Jesus Movie ever made. With George Kennedy as a chain gang Saint Paul, and a host of sweaty character actors. Overcooked Christian symbolist ending remains the worst bit, though.

69. Easy Rider (1969): Brought cocaine to the attention of a new generation of Hollywood execs. Great cameo by alleged murderer Phil Spector.

70. The Quatermass Xperiment (1955): Richard Wordsworth returns from space and slowly transforms into giant vegetable. Great scene in London Zoo.

71. Quatermass 2 (1957): Prolonged metaphor for the rise of Fascism in which sinister alien-types are acclimatised to Earth’s atmosphere by brainwashed human accomplices. Amazingly, Michael Ripper plays a barman. Great cameo by Sydney James.

72. Quatermass And The Pit (1967): Best of the bunch. Ancient skeletons reveal origins of human race. Great cameo by Satan.

73. If… (1968): Public school rebel resolves societal anguish in appropriate manner: by climbing onto a roof and machine-gunning everyone in sight. Prophetic.

74. Manhunter (1986): First cinematic appearance of Hannibal Lector (née Lektor). Brian Cox’s turn as the sociopath highlights just how bad Anthony Hopkins really is. Yes, that is what I’m saying.

75. Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962): Completely bonkers tale of rival sisters, both former screen stars, now washed-up and rapidly losing touch with reality. As an extra special treat Victor ‘King Tut’ Buono is in it as well.

76. On The Waterfront (1954): Everyone knows The Contender speech, but this politically dubious slice of social realism still has much to recommend it, not least Marlon Brando’s second, and last, good screen performance. Alternately, try the following.

77. Edge Of The City (1957): The best of the Waterfront imitators, notable for John Cassavetes not being a villain and Sidney Poitier not being over the top.

78. The Blues Brothers (1980): Delight as every car in the Chicago area gets trashed in cinema’s greatest elongated chase. As a bonus we get Aretha, James, Cab, Ray, etcetera…

79. The Man With The Golden Arm (1955): Skaghead Frank Sinatra finds that hardcore drug use can ruin your chances of being a top-flight drummer. Just say no, kids.

80. Beautiful Girls (1996): Perfectly detailed small-town ensemble piece marred only by the presence of Rosie O’Donnell, who mars everything she’s in.

81. Lone Star (1996): Complex meditation on the social make-up of the United States. Director/writer/editor/actor John Sayles edited himself out of the final cut.

82. River’s Edge (1986): Bored teen murders girlfriend for kicks. Featuring Donovan’s daughter and a pre-fame Keanu Reeves. Dennis Hopper plays a bloke called, improbably enough, Feck.

83. The Hustler (1961): Engrossing, but downbeat, drama made by HUAC stooge Robert Rossen. Jackie Gleason’s turn as Minnesota Fats instantly makes you forget about Smokey and the Bandit 3.

84. The Mean Machine/The Longest Yard (1974): Forget the Vinnie Jones one, and, more controversially, forget Deliverance (1972): This is the one truly great Burt Reynolds flick. Great support from Eddie Albert as an in-no-way-Richard-Nixon-like prison governor.

85. The Ipcress File (1965): Michael Caine plays anti-Bond Harry Palmer. Great title sequence. Crazy brainwashing scene roots it in the sixties, though.

86. Back To The Future (1985): Still as good as you remember it. Professional teen Michael J Fox tries to make a man of his father, while fending off the amorous advances of his mother.

87. Badlands (1974): This time Sissy Spacek does professional teen duty in this sparse killers-on-the-run flick. Inspired great Bruce Springsteen song.

88. Bonnie And Clyde (1967): Invented the 1970s three years early. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty would never be this likable again.

89. Laura (1944): A casual examination of the place of necrophilia in the former half of the twentieth century cunningly disguised as a radioland-set thriller.

90. Das Boot (1981): The Director’s Cut remains the mother of all submarine movies. Sympathetic Nazis abound as Wolfgang Peterson reinvents the tracking shot. Rubbish would-be ironic ending is, frankly, rubbish.

91. Rio Bravo (1959): John Wayne and, especially, Dean Martin more than compensate for Rick Nelson delivering the worst performance in cinema history in Howard Hawks’ rambling masterpiece.

92. Kelly’s Heroes (1970): World War Two set genre-bouncing genius as Clint Eastwood and hippy fruitcake Donald Sutherland plan to make off with huge cache of gold from behind enemy lines, stopping along the way to recruit a Nazi tank commander in hilarious Spaghetti Western parody.

93. Only Two Can Play (1962): A brilliant performance from Peter Sellers is one of the many things to recommend this tragically under-seen low-key drama, also starring professional Welshman (and loony screen Hitler) Kenneth Griffith. The best film ever made about librarians.

94. Operation Amsterdam (1958): Peter Finch, Alexander Knox and the guy who played Nigel Havers’ dad in rubbish medical sitcom Don’t Wait Up attempt to liberate Dutch diamond supply from encroaching Nazis. Featuring the best ever aeroplane-shooting-at-fleeing-refugees scene in cinema history.

95. Private Hell 36 (1954): Hit and miss Don Siegel second feature starring Steve Cochran and Howard Duff. Hello? Central casting? Hello?

96. The Case Of The Mukkinese Battlehorn (1956): Genius short featuring Goon Show stalwarts Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. Features the oldest, and best, joke in the history of cinema (“Look, an impression of a heel…”)

97. Raid On Entebbe (1976): Made-for-TV special detailing the events surrounding the liberation of Jewish hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Politically dubious, as you might expect, with some truly dreadful expository dialogue, this is nonetheless Horst Bucholtz’s finest hour, while Yaphet Kotto is magnificent as the jovially evil (it says here) Idi Amin. Watch out for James Woods passionately leading a Yiddish singalong.

98. Seven Days To Noon (1950): Disillusioned scientist threatens to blow up London with stolen nuclear bomb unless further atomic research is ceased. By now an old chestnut, this film offers the only chance to see this plotline when it was fresh and exciting. And fresh and exciting it certainly is.

99. Wargames (1983): Pesky teen Mathew Broderick engages military computer in supposedly harmless combat game that could (naturally) threaten the safety of the entire globe. Message: technology is evil, unless, of course, it’s in the hands of the American military.

100. It Happened Here (1963): Grimly compulsive ‘What If?’ drama detailing life in Britain after the Nazi takeover in 1940. By turns banal and chillingly realistic, and much better than the dodgy TV movie version of Fatherland (1994).

And check out Cillian’s fab sequel, 100 More Movies To Be Seen Before You Die, here. 🙂