In this new Woody Allen film, Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) is the new professor of Continental Philosophy at Braylin, a small liberal arts college in Rhode Island. He is not a happy man until he finds a new purpose: committing the perfect crime.
When Abe arrives at Braylin, everyone is all atwitter because Abe is a famous writer with an exotic past. However, Abe is having an existential crisis calling his own path in life, philosophy, nothing more than "verbal masturbation."
He embarks upon a relationship with one of his students, enthusiastic, wide-eyed A-student Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), while at the same time having sex with one of the other teachers, married but bored Rita Richards (Parker Posey). Jill has a boyfriend, Roy (Jamie Blackly), but is drawn to Abe's dark, brooding personality.
What is it with women and the sad types? As many women do, she thinks she can fix him. But nothing makes him happy until Jill and he overhear a woman in a booth behind them at a restaurant complaining about her custody issues and how unfair the judge is being to her. The idea comes to Abe that for the greater good, he needs to get rid of that judge. Creating the perfect murder gives Abe a new reason to live. He is even able to rationalize that what he is doing is the the right and moral thing to do.
Unlike many of Woody's recent films, this film has a plot. He has tackled murder mysteries before, "Match Point," being one. Here Woody casts his eye on the lengths people will go to to find meaning in their lives.
Nobody does tormented like Joaquin Phoenix and he gets to twitch to his heart's content here. His monotone delivery is in keeping with the characters angst and I couldn't take my eyes off of the decided beer belly he has given his character.
Must be all of that single malt Abe seems to love.
And no one plays wide-eyed like Emma Stone, because she has the biggest eyes of today's young actresses. She appears to be Woody's latest muse ("Magic in the Moonlight"). He seems to always need one. The last one was Scarlett ("Match Point" and "Scoop"), and then most famously Mia ("Alice") and Diane ("Annie Hall" and others) with Mariel ("Manhattan") and Penelope ("Vicki Christina Barcelona") and others along the way. But that is understandable because Woody writes great roles for women, because it's obvious he loves them, though his neuroses obscures exactly how he feels about them.
Parker Posey has been an indy darling for years and is starting to look it but she puts in a great performance. One couldn't help but wonder why she never broke through into superstardom.
There are certain things you can always count on with a Woody Allen movie: He will put one out every year, it will have black and white opening and closing credits, there will be jazz (this time Ramsey Lewis), a young beautiful muse (as mentioned earlier), a life is meaningless theme and biting satire, Woody Allen Style. Woody Allen is not a happy man either. His views on life have always been existential, but it doesn't matter, because he is also a very smart and funny man.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a smart movie for smart people.
George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) has a thriving timber business but his life becomes complicated when he meets Serena (Jennifer Lawrence).
It's 1929 and George has a thriving timber empire in South Carolina. He goes to Denver and meets upper-class Serena. They fall in love fast and hard. They get married and George brings Serena back to his lumberyard in the country.
Serena's father was also a timber man so Serena wants to be involved in George's business. She can give and take as good as any man. However, George's cronies are not happy about that. At the same time, there is talk about turning the Smokey Mountains into a National Park, which would definitely hurt George's timber interests.
The sheriff (Toby Jones) is trying to get Pemberton's land for the national park. He offers him $400,000. Pemberton wants a mil. Buchanan (David Dencik), George's friend, is secretly brokering the deal for the sheriff and Serena is suspicious and tells George he "needs to do something." She plants the seed that Buchanan needs to have an "accident."
When Serena discovers she can never have children she becomes obsessed with a child one of the mountain girls had with George. The out of wedlock baby is a constant reminder to her of her inability to bear a child and when she finds that George has kept a picture of the baby, she loses it. Serena is a jealous cow and George starts to get the picture.
Galloway (Rhys Ifans), a strange, quiet loner becomes Serena's henchman his blind mother prophesized that a woman would save him, so when Serena does in fact save him he feels he must pay her back. Serena goads him into killing the child.
Where did this movie come from? Jennifer Lawrence AND Bradley Cooper. How did this movie slip everyone's notice?
This is Jennifer Lawrence as you've never seen her. She and Cooper supposedly had a "thing" during the making of this movie and their chemistry is palpable.
Directed by Susanne Bier and based on the book by the same name by Ron Rash, it's very much like the Gene Tierney film, "Leave Her To Heaven," featuring an obsessive psycho woman who doesn't want to share her man with anyone, not even a child. There are some plot twists you can see coming a mile away. It's a predictable psycho girlfriend drama, but it's enjoyable because of the star power chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a bit of a Lifetime Movie feel to this one, but it's still an engrossing story starring two of our biggest stars. If you like Southern Gothic, you will like this.
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
296 to go!
Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)
When an elderly couple lose their house and neither of their five children can take both of them in, they are forced to separate.
Lucy (Beulah Bondi) and Bark Cooper (Victor Moore) have five adult children but when they lose their home, none of the children step up to house the both of them. Each goes to a different child's home 300 miles apart, forcing them to separate for the first time in 50 years of marriage. This is the 1930's when a long distance phone call was a big deal and very expensive.
It becomes apparent right away that both parents are an annoyance to their children and are in their way, disrupting their lives. The children are condescending toward the parents. Bark seeks friendship with a local shop owner to whom he confides: "I sometimes thin children should never get beyond the age that you tuck them in every night." The separation is supposed to be only for three months, but when the child who was going to take both of them renigs, they are forced to separate seemingly for good: Bark to California and Lucy to a nursing home.
The message seems to be and acceptance that though parents like to think that their children love them, like them and will feel gratitude for all that was done for them, in the end, the generation gap is such that there is no understanding or even patience from the young toward their parents when they age.
This same theme and storyline was adopted to great affect in the recent John Lithgow-Joseph Molina film "Love is Strange," which I reviewed back in January and the classic Japanese film "Tokyo Story" also tackles this issue.
Why it's a Must See: "In this one-of-a-kind masterpiece by one of the greatest American directors...Leo McCarey's direction...is beyond praise. All of the actors are expansive and natural, and the generosity McCarey shows toward his characters is unstinting...There is nothing contrived about McCarey's handling of the story, and thus no escaping its poignancy."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
McCarey directed many classic films: "Going My Way," "Duck Soup" and "An Affair to Remember," to name a few, but this was McCarey's favorite film. When McCarey won an Oscar for his film "The Awful Truth," he told the Academy they had given him the award for the wrong film.
The film begins with a quote on the screen: "Honor thy father and mother," but if the title ironically implies that when we get old we need to be carted off to a nursing home to "make way" for the younger generation, then just shoot me now!
Rosy the Reviewer says...a classic film that still resonates today. A must-see for adult children and their parents.
***Book of the Week***
Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why It Often Sucks in the City, or Who Are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? by Jen Lancaster (2007)
What it's really like to be young and living in the big city. "Sex and the City" it's NOT!
Here she disabuses the reader of a Carrie Bradshaw life in the Big City. Manola Blahniks? Not likely. Lobster and champagne for breakfast? What a laugh! It's more like shopping at "The Holy Trinity (Target, Ikea and Trader Joe's)," rude neighbors, unemployment and Lucky Charms for breakfast.
The one drawback is that this is a pop culture book that is eight years old. Might as well be a 1000 years as far as TV and the Internet go, but some things have no timeline: feeling fat, going to the ob/gyn (which we ladies all know is no fun), working as a temp, watching too much TV when we know we should be working and the fear that we are really shallow human beings (thinking that while watching really bad reality TV like "Bachelor in Paradise*" and telling your Hubby to pipe down).
Rosy the Reviewer says...it's a self-deprecating, sometimes hilarious and bitchy satiric look at how unglamorous city life can be. If you like snarky pop culture essays from a Millennial, you will like this.
*I updated the reference because you probably wouldn't remember the ones she mentioned: "Temptation Island" and "Paradise Hotel." I am now going to go into the bathroom and talk to myself in the mirror for being shallow.
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