Synopsis: Following the sudden death of his mother, a mild-mannered but anxiety-ridden man confronts his darkest fears as he embarks on an epic, Kafkaesque odyssey back home. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Kylie Rogers, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Michael Gandolfini, Zoe Lister-Jones, Richard Kind, Denis Ménochet Director: Ari Aster Rated: R Running Length: 179 minutes TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: Movies rarely give me a sense of dread when I sit down and get ready for them to start (well, maybe a few from Adam Sandler’s low period), but as Ari Aster’s Beau is Afraid was drawing near, I realized that I was getting nervous. It could have been the running time which clocks in at nearly three hours, a record length for distributor A24. Or it might be because of early reports that the movie was sending preview audiences out into the night either wishing they’d never left the house or proclaiming they’d witnessed a new masterpiece.
In his previous two films, 2018’s Hereditary and 2019’s Midsommar, Aster pushed audience endurance while giving them stretches of brilliant entertainment. There was a frustrating setback both of them shared, though. Each film would start with a bang, coast on that opening energy, but then end with hair-pulling alienation. Instead of remembering the 75% positive experience Aster was giving, that critical 25%, which kept the viewer at arm’s length (sometimes violently so), would be what made Hereditary and Midsommar tough choices for a re-watch. (Hereditary is the more easily accessible, while Midsommar drifts toward the complex unapologetic filmmaker Aster wants to be.)
With Beau is Afraid, Aster’s third time up to bat finds the writer/director working from his most confident point of view and most ambitious. Yes, the film is sprawling and often achingly long, but it needs to take up all that extra space to exist as Aster imagined it. The journey the lead character, played by Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix, takes is epic in scope, so the movie depicting it has to match, and boy, does it not skimp on its elaborate, absurdist narrative.
Opening quite literally as Beau exits the womb, we soon find ourselves with a present-day Beau (Phoenix, Joker) meeting with his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson, Dune) over his litany of worries. A hypochondriac, he’s set to visit his magnate mother (Patti LuPone, The School for Good and Evil), an imperious woman who dramatically influences him, almost down to each breath he takes. Beau’s world (as Aster has assembled it) is a bit of a hellscape. Living in a rundown set of apartments as a cavalcade of homeless and violent sort tear each other apart outdoors, I shouldn’t wonder why Beau is afraid to leave the house on any given day. Delayed in leaving to visit his mother by a series of unfortunate events, Beau learns through a phone call that his mother was killed (in a heinous accident Aster spares us from seeing…one of the only bits of violence held back) and is sent reeling into the world to make it to her funeral.
Along the way on his extraordinary journey, he suffers numerous bodily injuries, sending him to recuperate at the home of too-perfect couple Roger (Nathan Lane, Mirror Mirror) and Grace (Amy Ryan, Monster Trucks) and their troubled daughter (Kylie Rogers, Collateral Beauty), meets a pregnant actress (Hayley Squires, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain) and her merry band of forest-dwelling comrades, runs afoul of a psychotic ex-soldier (Denis Ménochet, The Beasts), and catches a glimpse of his first love who is now a grown woman (Parker Posey, Irrational Man). All the while, he has visions of himself as a young boy (Armen Nahapetian) with his mother (Zoe Lister-Jones, taking over for LuPone in these younger scenes) and witnesses fragments of memories starting to piece themselves together the closer he gets to home.
The attention to detail in Beau is Afraid is tremendous, with production designer Fiona Crombie (Cruella) outdoing even her Oscar-nominated work for The Favourite. Everywhere you look, there is something strange to see or put away in your back pocket for use later. The graffiti on the walls, signs, billboards, and even advertisements on television are jam-packed with so many inane/insane/profane asides that you’d have to watch the movie twice (once without sound) to truly take it all in. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (Nobody) worked on Aster’s previous films and has developed an obvious shorthand with the director. There’s a clear line of vision between where the film is going and where it is telling us to look.
I know Phoenix can be hit or miss for some (as he is for me), but this is truly a triumph for the veteran actor. While I could have done with about half as many scenes of Beau being in such a state of shock that he can barely slur a sentence together (if he speaks at all), there’s something so on the mark about what Phoenix is doing that you can’t take your eyes off of him. Another dominating force is Lister-Jones, completely nailing the manipulative mommy role but adding a demented malevolence that prevents you from looking away.
You should see Beau is Afraid in the theater for two reasons. One is for an extended sequence where Beau “enters” a play being performed in the forest. This is the peak moment for several technical elements to work together (production design, make-up, special effects, cinematography) and when Aster’s storytelling strength comes through at its highest quality. The second is to witness the tower of fire LuPone brings to her scant few minutes onscreen. The film equivalent of a big belty 11 o’clock number, when she appears on screen, make sure you don’t leave the theater – because if you miss it, you’ll have to sit through the entire film again.
Then there’s the finale – the grand ending, which, in true Aster fashion, introduces something so eye-popping nuts that I wouldn’t blame you for needing to request assistance to pick your jaw up off the floor. That it follows a scene which will make you never hear Mariah Carey’s ‘Always Be My Baby’ the same way ever again is tough enough, but geez, how I wanted Aster to be able to bring this home. Unfortunately, it’s a mixed bag of a wrap-up that left me listing in an unmoored boat. The three hours of Beau is Afraid are worth it in the end (because of LuPone and the technical elements chiefly), but you might have to grit your teeth to get to the credits in one piece.
Review: The first role any actor takes after they’ve won an Oscar is always a bit of a hold your breath moment. In the wake of being the toast of the town, can they stay true to the career they’d built up until that point and continue to perform within their chosen medium? Or will they be tempted toward projects that are more about profit than art, resulting in their award being the only truly valuable selling point about them in terms of box office? Perhaps they pick the right movie that fizzles at the box office. It’s rare to get the Tom Hanks treatment and go for back-to-back wins like the actor did with 1993’s Philadelphia and then a year later in Forrest Gump.
Joaquin Phoenix won his Best Actor Oscar for Joker in 2019 so he won’t be Hanks-ing it but he’ll most likely be in the mix again this year for his work in C’mon C’mon, a prime example of how to land yourself a winner directly after achieving the industry’s top award. The performance is so good that it nearly erases whatever small discomfort this critic was harboring for Phoenix’s win in a role that was dynamically performed but found in a movie that lacked a moral center. Paired with a first-rate child actor (newcomer Woody Norman) and a former child actor (veteran Gaby Hoffmann), under the direction of Mike Mills (20th Century Women), C’mon C’mon gives Phoenix the opportunity to show yet another side to his acting that is refreshing, honest, and true.
With her ex-husband living in another state and suffering another emotional collapse, Viv (Hoffmann, This is My Life) is unable to keep her life at home with son Jesse (Norman) on track. So she calls in a favor from her filmmaker brother Johnny (Phoenix, Inherent Vice) to come and stay with Jesse while she tends to the boy’s father. Unfamiliar with each other, uncle and nephew take a few days to get used to their individual rhythms and peculiarities. Jesse, for instance, likes to role play a scenario where he’s an orphan being welcomed into the home, eventually staying for the night. A documentarian, Johnny finds his nephew fascinating but wisely keeps him out of his latest project which involves traveling through cities, interviewing school-age children and asking a wealth of questions about growing up in this current moment in history*.
As time stretches on and Viv’s stay with Paul (Scott McNairy, Non-Stop) continues to be extended, Johnny eventually has to take Jesse with him on the next phase of his documentary and that’s where the real bonding occurs. Nudging close to middle age, Johnny has no children of his own or any potential on the horizon, so any parental traits are learned (and earned) through this time with Jesse…and as you’d imagine it’s not always easy. Happily, Mills (who also wrote the film) doesn’t weigh the film down with a lot of “getting to know you” bumpy road introduction business. Instead, there’s a focus on how the older man and younger boy both benefit from being in the company of the other, an approach that deepens the richness of the experience as the film progresses.
Even as a child actor, Phoenix always has had this awkward tension to his acting but there seems to be a differently wired actor on screen this time around. He’s more relaxed and, while still soft-spoken, not dripping with the pensive and self-contained aloofness he’s often known for. Warmth was necessary for the role and Phoenix knows it, so he’s very much tailored the work to what Mills needed for Johnny and some of that also must have come from working with Norman who is making a smashing debut. Not the same kind of cookie cutter child actor plopped into similar dramedies, Norman (a Brit, if you can believe it) exudes wisdom beyond his young years without being precocious or cloying in the process. He’s a good match not just for Phoenix but the style and tone Mills is going for as well. I sometimes struggle with Hoffmann’s choices because she seems to be actively rebelling against her child star past but in C’mon C’mon she’s excellent as a do-it-all every person that realizes she needs help and is surprised at the result asking for it yields. I would love it if this entire trio could find their way into the awards conversation because they’d all deserve it.
The unexpected moments are what make C’mon C’mon so unique and interesting, not to mention emotionally fulfilling. In his previous films, Mills has shown such a great affinity for the people he creates so audiences that know his work have found a director they can place a certain type of trust in. More than once, Mills hints at roads he might take which could turn rocky but then he ends up veering in another direction. On a few of these occasions, I was relieved to see the film move into a new lane because by that point, Mills had me so invested on a subconscious level that I cared about the outcome more than I originally thought. That’s good, understated filmmaking and the result is one of the finest movies of the year.
*Be sure to stay through the credits to hear the real interviews conducted with the realy kids seen in Johnny’s documentary.
Synopsis: To be an astronaut is the dream of thousands of young people around the world. It is this dream that leads a diverse group of young Americans to enroll in Space Camp for the summer, totally unsuspecting that their “Space Play” will turn into a real mission aboard a Space Shuttle.
Stars: Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Joaquin Phoenix, Larry B. Scott, Tate Donovan, Tom Skerritt, Terry O’Quinn
Director: Harry Winer
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Like many kids growing up in the 1980s that hadn’t hit puberty yet, there were two things that I was constantly thinking about: space and movies about space. I wasn’t quite into the physics and science involved with the exploration of space, but the possibility of it all was of great interest to me and I definitely fell asleep on more than one occasion thinking about what it would be like to achieve liftoff from Earth on the Space Shuttle. My view of outer space had been molded by science fiction that was clearly meant as entertainment but also in news reports about the evolving space program that was making continued strides forward with renewed public energy after a period of dormancy. It just all stimulated my young mind, and I’d jump at every chance I’d get to soak up knowledge, whether at our local Science Museum of MN, in an episode of NOVA airing on PBS, or, yes, even cracking open a textbook or two in school.
The epitome of all knowledge regarding space for a child of the ‘80s was SpaceCamp in Huntsville, Alabama and while I never attended, oh boy did I try to persuade my parents to make it happen. By the time it was my turn to venture out to test the waters of overnight camp, I was a tad too young to make the journey that far south and so my summer experience was limited to the YMCA camps in the (admittedly gorgeous) North Woods of MN. It was actually at one of these camps a few years later that I learned a movie about SpaceCamp was made and let me tell you, time practically stood still for my remaining stay until I could get home and make it to my local video store to claim my VHS copy and see what I had been missing.
I couldn’t have known then when I saw SpaceCamp for the first time all the circumstances that surrounded the film which contributed to its poor reception, dooming its scheduled summer release ever since that fateful day on January 28, 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger experienced its fatal accident 73 seconds into its journey. Killing all seven crew members aboard, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, the launch had been broadcast on television as many had been before, so the world got a real time view of the disaster. Along with people remembering where they were the day Kennedy was shot and during 9/11, I remember being in school and hearing an announcement over our PA system about the incident. Our teacher tried to offer some explanation for our first-grade hearts and minds to take in but how do you explain that to such young souls?
With a finished film about a crew of young kids accidentally blasted into space and put into numerous scenes of peril, ABC Motion Pictures was left with a huge dilemma of what to do with their movie. At a cost of 18 million dollars to produce and a plum June release date, it wasn’t something they could just write off; but could they still release a film that, while not entirely similar, had overlapping themes with the Challenger accident? Unlike today where a streaming service may have stepped in to offer a smaller tiered release, the studio had little option but to release it and, as expected, the film was shunned by critics and audiences who felt it infringed upon the mourning the country was still experiencing. Judging the film by that criteria isn’t very fair because it was wrapped long before the seven brave souls boarded the Challenger that January morning. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of reason to take SpaceCamp to task for its numerous implausibilities and clichéd dialogue and over time the film has lived and died in the public eye on its own merit. The journey out from under that shadow wasn’t easy, though.
How is the movie, celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2021, you may ask? Though it enjoyed many multiple night stays in my home between 1987-1990, I hadn’t seen the film in probably a decade or more and it didn’t take long for the nostalgia of it all to kick in. The movie wears its Reagan-era influences like a badge of honor with hairstyles, clothes, and soundtrack all turned up to 10. Thankfully, the performances don’t follow the garish design or music choices and I was surprised by what a solid acting ensemble director Harry Winer put together.
Aside from Kate Capshaw (Dreamscape) and Tom Skerritt (Steel Magnolias) as the requisite adults, there’s good work from Lea Thompson (JAWS 3-D), fresh off of Back to the Future as an ambitious go-getter, the late Kelly Preston (Twins) playing a free spirit that’s all glitter and glam, Revenge of the Nerds’ Larry B. Scott as a nerd that tends to fold under pressure, and Tate Donovan (Rocketman) appearing in his first role as the trust fund brat about to learn a lesson in working as team. True, it’s a check list of types and personalities along with their expected hang-ups, but it’s a far cry from the clear equality by design method employed today. This group is supposedly matched at random and it looks that way. Yes, that’s a very young Joaquin Phoenix (here credited as Leaf Phoenix) as the junior member of the squad, long before he would win an Oscar for his own shoot-for-the-moon performance in Joker.
Chances are if you’ve read this far you know a little something about the plot of SpaceCamp, so I won’t go too much further into it, only to say that watching it now it’s pretty pointless to hold it to any kind of scientific fact checking. We’ll overlook some patently deadly gaffes, like the young team wearing what appears to be astronaut/motorcycle helmets with face shields that are up for the entire blast off and other key moments of their unplanned voyage into space. There is no mention of needing oxygen to breathe during their transition from the Earth into orbit…until they start to run out and need to make a daring connection with the space station, resulting in a tense space walk that has its own set of head shaking (as in “no”) sequences. The no-gravity scenes are kind of a hoot too, with some wires either evident or the actors doing their best to wave their bodies and arms from side to side to simulate the anti-gravity of space. Let’s not also forget the entire reason they are in space is because a rogue robot that Phoenix befriends takes it upon itself to reprogram NASA’s computers to force the Space Shuttle into a launch or else the fuel tanks will explode. Never mind that if the robot calculated wrong, he might have killed his human friend in the process of helping him reach the stars.
For how silly the entire business is, I don’t think you can watch the film (now or then) and not say that it isn’t captivating or successful in keeping your engagement for much of the duration. This is owed to the cast taking the material seriously, not so serious it turns campy, but serious in that they don’t let their characters come off looking like goofballs for being invested in having the knowledge to navigate through a crisis. Preston initially is introduced as wanting to be a “the first cosmic DJ” and Scott wants to open an intergalactic chain of restaurants. That might get some chortles now but back in 1986…who knew what the future held the way things were headed? Capshaw helps to keep everything grounded and for my money is the true MVP of the show. Clearly the 107 minute adventure is obviously targeted at teens and Capshaw’s brittle teacher who hasn’t gotten her own shot at full-fledged astronaut isn’t intended to be the central figure, but when I watch it now, she leaves the biggest impression. While she’s mostly Mrs. Steven Spielberg now, Capshaw was a reliably dependable actress in her day, and this is quite a good example of how warm she could be even when playing cold.
Over the last three decades since it played in theaters, SpaceCamp has found its way out of the gloom and doom it opened under back in the summer of 1986, but the memory of the Challenger is hard to shake off even now. In the special features on the BluRay that was released several years back, both Thompson and director Winer speak about experiences they’ve had where fans of the movie have told them how seeing SpaceCamp served as the inspiration for their own journey into the field of science and that’s worth noting. Even a cheesy teen sci-fi adventure that I can imagine was originally designed as little more than an advertisement for a NASA-affiliated summer camp can have an impact all these years later. With its rather beautiful score by multiple Oscar winner John Williams (Jurassic Park), more than serviceable direction from Winer, and strong performances from its cast of seasoned veterans and newcomers, SpaceCamp might be held together by duct tape at times but it has weathered the last 35 years well.
Synopsis: A clown-for-hire by day, strives to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds that the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence teetering on the precipice of reality and madness, one bad decision brings about a chain reaction of escalating, ultimately deadly, events.
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Marc Maron, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Josh Pais, Shea Whigham, Douglas Hodge, Dante Pereira-Olsen
Director: Todd Phillips
Running Length: 121 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I’ve almost been dreading the day I had to see Joker ever since I saw the first preview for it. Though the internet lost their minds when they got a look at Joaquin Phoenix in costume and there were plenty exclamations of “Take My Money!” (What does that phrase mean, exactly? Anyway…), I didn’t understand what this movie was meant to do. For audiences. For the studio. For the character. The Joker has been played indelibly before by the likes of Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger…did Phoenix really want to walk a mile in those clown shoes and be compared to those titans? Also, the movie just looked skeevy and drab, clearly aiming to distance itself far from any vision yet of Gotham City.
So it came to pass that the day the screening arrived nothing seemed to go right. Waking up on the wrong side of the bed doesn’t even begin to describe it. The day was gloomy, the night was rain-soaked. The topper was a crazy security line to get into the preview that had the effect of setting a somber mood. Being slowly wanded by a security guard made me feel like there was something to be wary about, the early buzz of the movie’s excessive violence bouncing around in my head. Were critics worrying the movie might stir unrest not all that unfounded? I was on edge from the beginning.
Perhaps all that build-up and early fretting helped me stave off some of the higher expectations others may have going into the movie this weekend. While it’s certainly as violent as I’d heard and more deeply upsetting than I was imagining, I watched Joker with a transfixed gaze without being able to turn away. I didn’t always like what I was seeing but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen. It’s a film that starts with a bleak outlook and just goes downhill from there with little reprieve, hope, or kindness offered along the way. Even so, there’s a certain beauty in all that ugliness.
A standalone story that doesn’t involve the caped crusader (no mention of the B-word at all), Joker basically gives the Clown Prince of Crime the Wicked treatment and makes the character we’ve come to know as the villain the protagonist of the story. Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover Part III) co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver (The Finest Hours) and borrows liberally from Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed classics Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Setting the action in 1981 NYC gives Phillips the opportunity to let production designer Mark Friedberg (Noah) and costume designer Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread) pull out all the stops and the Big Apple is indeed recreated in all its seedy, smoky glory. It’s almost worth the price of admission alone to see the way the filmmakers have crafted not only the look of the time but also the mood.
Arthur Fleck (Phoenix, The Master) makes a meager living as clown hired out for odd jobs while dreaming of making it as a stand-up comic on the Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, Cape Fear) show. Living with his mother (Frances Conroy, Falling in Love) in a one-room apartment, he suffers from brain trauma causing him to laugh uncontrollably when faced with stress. Entertaining a new friendship with a neighbor (Zazie Beetz, Deadpool 2), Arthur becomes more infatuated with the thought of fame. His weekly therapy sessions hint at a man with diagnosed mental health issues not getting the kind of significant treatment he needs and, eventually, not even having the benefit of meeting with his psychiatrist. Soon, he’s a man on the edge finally pushed to his breaking point.
While dressed as a clown, he’s assaulted on a subway and strikes back. Though his identity goes unnoticed, his actions do not, inspiring the lesser thans in a city roiling in unrest to find a common bond and uniting in their shared anger. Though he claims to not stand for anything, deep down Arthur shares in their feelings, wondering why the world is so messed up and people have become so rotten to one another. Finding a newfound strength with his painted on persona and with his inner circle closing in around him, Arthur sets his sights on a broader audience and when his path crosses with his favorite television star, he seizes an opportunity to take the Joker global.
There’s a few ways you can look at what Phillips and Silver are going for with Joker. You can view the movie from a perspective that a terrible society without feeling or order breeds people like Arthur Fleck. He’s pushed aside and forgotten, left to fend for himself without any real chance to succeed. How can we expect people to be better, do better, if they aren’t given some kind of opportunity or a means of support? There’s another way to look at the film and I think it’s more dangerous. Maybe it’s a thinly veiled battle cry against a humanity that has become self-absorbed and aims to restore some order by introducing a violent messiah messiah-figure to idolize. I doubt the filmmakers knowingly were aiming for this but our culture isn’t that great at reading into the deeper meanings in metaphor so if some kind of statement on the dangers of societal violence was being made I think it was lost in the telling. The fears some people have voiced that the movie may be pro mob-mentality aren’t that off the mark.
At the epicenter of it all is Joaquin Phoenix’s polarizing performance as Fleck/Joker which hits the bullseye at times but is wildly weird at others. Backed by a surprisingly alert performance from De Niro and an eclectic mix of character actors, Phoenix is never off screen, which gets exhausting. Phoenix is known for immersing himself in roles to sometimes concerning levels and I spent most of the movie wondering how long it took for him to bounce back after filming had completed. That’s a problem. I was always aware it was a performance while watching his gaunt and greasy figure move from scene to scene.
Losing weight for the role gave him the wan visage intended but you can see him angling his body or sucking his stomach in to show each rib and bone – so it’s clearly all for show. Strangely, it’s when Phoenix is in make-up as Joker (actually, anytime he’s in clown make-up throughout the movie) that he’s nothing short of electric. Especially as the film ramps up to its troublesome final act, Phoenix positively comes alive and sheds the more pithy acting choices he’s made up until that point. Now, there’s more than danger present in Arthur’s eyes, there’s glee in the dread he’s inflicting on Gotham City and happiness he’s being noticed for the first time in his unhappy life.
We’ve had so many interpretations of Batman over the years that maybe it wasn’t all that bad of an idea to have a different take on one of the players in his rogue gallery of villains. I’m not sure Joker is exactly the movie we needed right now at this point when our nation is so overwhelmed with negativity and a general aimlessness, but it’s a well-made and in your face film that will surely open up conversations. You can argue the intentions of the filmmakers but you can’t argue that the movie isn’t intriguing in its own weird way.
We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.
I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.
I just wasn’t prepared for July. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a wave of cinematic excursions that made my head spin. So many movies were released that it was hard to keep track from week to week what was arriving and what was still waiting for its release date. As you can see below, I had a lot of catching-up to do
The month began with the disappointment of Terminator Genisys. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger but it for sure wasn’t the muddled misfire that was supposed to reboot this franchise. Badly cast with shoddy special effects, this was supposed to be the beginning of something but should likely be the end (though it did do well overseas so we may yet get another one of these in a few years).
A few summers back I lamented how bad the original Magic Mike was. Trading eye candy entertainment for any semblance of watchable narrative, it was another dud (for me) from Steven Soderbergh. So you’d understand why I wasn’t keen on Magic Mike XXL because I felt we’d already been there done that. Much to my delight, the sequel was much better than its predecessor, maintaining the fun frivolity of the world of male strippers while injecting some personality into the proceedings. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the summer for me.
I learned a lot from the wise documentary Amy, chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, the singer with the bluesy voice and broken butterfly backstory. She had a lot to overcome and the film made a compelling argument that she would still be here today had she had a better support system.
Though I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, I didn’t care for their solo outing with its half-baked story and less that inspired vocal work. It felt like a quick cash-grab and it looks like it accomplished its goal. Hopefully next time they’ll come back with a better story and more convincing actors.
The found footage horror movie had its death knell with The Gallows, a brainless exercise in tedium peppered with cheap scares and lousy acting. Could have (and should have) been much better.
Now we approach a stretch where I checked out for a bit – but I’m atoning for it now with these mini-reviews.
Movie Review ~ Batkid Begins The Facts: Synopsis: On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5-year-old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon. Stars: Miles Scott Director: Dana Nachman Rated: PG Running Length: 87 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: Can I admit something to you and not have you hate me? When I first saw the media frenzy around this back in 2013 I remember rolling my eyes are the saccharine nature of the whole endeavor. Why would an entire city be brought to a screeching halt because of one kid’s wish to be Batman for a day? Well, the documentary Batkid Begins showed me why and by the end I was feeling like a lout for my initial feelings and wiping away the happy tears the film easily brings forth from the viewer. Following the planning and execution by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a 5 year old leukemia survivor the day of his dreams, viewers get a glimpse at what goes into even the smallest wish granted by the organization. While it at times comes off like a big advertisement, it’s heart is most certainly in the right place and I found myself getting choked up with each good deed and promise fulfilled by a host of people involved in making the day come off without a hitch. An audience-pleasing winner.
Movie Review ~ The Overnight The Facts: Synopsis: A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. Stars: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche Director: Patrick Brice Rated: R Running Length: 79 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: There and gone in an instant, The Overnight is a film better suited for home viewing anyway. A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) new to the area meet Jason Schwartzman at a local playground where both of their children are playing. Their kids have hit it off so Schwartzmann invites the family over for more fun, but when the kids go to bed Schwartzman and his wife Judith Godrèche have more interesting games to play for the unsuspecting couple. Saying more would spoil the fun but it’s an adults only evening with oodles of twists and turns as both couples bare their secrets (and their bodies) before the night is over. Already famous for its full frontal shots of Schwartzman and Scott (sorry, both are wearing prosthetics), at 79 minutes the movie is short but does start to feel long in the middle section. It helps immensely that all four actors are competent and comfortable with the material…the story doesn’t hold back and neither do they.
Movie Review ~ Ant-Man The Facts: Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian, T.I. , Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Martin Donovan, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Gregg Turkington, Abby Ryder Fortson Director: Peyton Reed Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 117 minutes TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: Early troubles with the start of production with Ant-Man and some seriously questionable teasers/trailers didn’t get me very excited for this mid-summer superhero movie. I think Marvel was hoping that Ant-Man would score along the lines of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxybut it’s sadly missing the humor that made Guardians so much fun. It’s not a total wash though because for every 10 minutes of standard origin-story developments, there’s a solid 5 minutes of exciting action sequences to wake audiences up from their slumber. I know that with an origin story you need to cover a lot of ground and Ant-Man, to its additional credit, doesn’t waste much time in getting to the goods…but it’s a cheap-o undertaking and one that feels like a second-string entry in Marvel’s blockbuster universe. Paul Rudd makes for a surprisingly solid action lead as does Corey Stoll as Rudd’s nemesis, but Evangeline Lilly labors too much under her severe wig (that seems to change lengths multiple times, in the middle of scenes) and isn’t a good enough actress to carry some weighty responsibilities. A decent entry as far as Marvel films go…but I’m not clamoring for a sequel any time soon.
Movie Review ~ Irrational Man The Facts: Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg Director: Woody Allen Rated: R Running Length: 96 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: It happens every year and every year you never quite know what to expect. I’m speaking, of course, of the annual Woody Allen release and like many of the directors works, it’s a hit or miss affair. I’m constantly in awe that Allen has churned out a film a year (sometimes two a year) for the last three decades and even the really bad ones aren’t as terrible as the other dreck dumped on us during the summer. Last year Magic in the Moonlight was dismissed as too slight even for Allen but I enjoyed its frothy charm…something that was missing from the more serious-minded Irrational Man. As a boozy professor that gets into hot water in his New England college town, Joaquin Phoenix was perhaps the wrong choice because the actor plagues himself far too much for Allen’s light material. At least co-star Emma Stone helps keep Phoenix from the quicksand of his own creation but she can’t be in every scene and it’s when Phoenix is on his own that the film goes slack. Then there’s Parker Posey who I’m becoming convinced is simply not of this earth and doesn’t try to hide it anymore. Bizarre line readings and the tendency to let her mouth hang open are only the tip of Posey’s strange acting iceberg. Very much in line with the dark humor of Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man should hold your interest for a time but it’s quickie ending feels like Allen was ready to move on to his next film rather than put a period at the end things.
Movie Review ~ Trainwreck The Facts: Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, LeBron James, Method Man Director: Judd Apatow Rated: R Running Length: 125 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: One of the true success stories of the summer has to have been Amy Schumer, not so much for writing and starring in Trainwreck but the collective impact she’s had on the comedy scene. Unapologetic in her crassness and wise in her observations, Schumer is a comic moving like a shooting star and it’s nice to report that I think she’s a pretty decent actress as well. As much as I enjoy Schumer I was nervous that she was attaching herself to director Judd Apatow because Apatow, as we all know, has a way of turning in muddled work. Unfortunately, Apatow’s influence led the film to be about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and ultimately overstaying its welcome. I don’t care what anyone says about the appearance of LeBron James as a bona fide supporting player, his entire storyline should have been excised and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all. The problems get worse because Apatow likes to cast non-actors in his film and put in cameos when you least expect it…to the detriment of the flow of the narrative. He stumbles badly in several places here but is saved by Schumer and Bill Hader as the opposites attract duo that confidently lead the film. Special mention must, again, be made to Tilda Swinton for disappearing within her role as Schumer’s glam yet grim boss. Worth it for Schumer, Swinton, and Hader…but watch it at home so you can fast forward through the slow Apatow-ish parts.
Movie Review ~ Mr. Holmes The Facts: Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Philip Davis, Milo Parker Director: Bill Condon Rated: PG Running Length: 104 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: In reality, I probably should have given Mr. Holmes a more thorough review than I’m about to give here…but I have a feeling I’ll have a chance to discuss it more over the next few months because if all is right with the world Ian McKellen will find himself nominated in a few Best Actor categories during the end of the year awards round-up. McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes living in the country, attended to by a no-nonsense housekeeper (Laura Linney) and entertained by her young son. There’s actually three Holmes on display here as the present Holmes recalls two previous cases he was involved with that had an impact on his life. With a smart script from Jeffrey Hatcher adapted from a popular novel, it’s directed with a mellow grandeur by Bill Condon. Condon and McKellen scored before with the fascinating Gods and Monsters and here’s hoping they go the distance with this one too. An interesting tidbit, at one point Holmes ventures out to see a Sherlock Holmes movie…and the actor playing Holmes on screen (Nicholas Rowe) played the detective in 1986’s fun frolic Young Sherlock Holmes.
Movie Review ~ Paper Towns The Facts: Synopsis: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door. Stars: Nat Wolff, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith Director: Jake Schreir Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 109 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: After The Fault in Our Stars became a runaway hit last summer movie studios were looking for the next big alt-teen romance that could lure YA audiences away from summer action flicks. Turns out they didn’t have to look far because Paper Towns was adapted from the novel by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars. While Paper Towns doesn’t center around a disease that threatens to tear our lovebirds apart, it has its own mystery about it as Nat Wolff goes looking for his recently vanished neighbor (Cara Delevingne) that he’s been enamored with (or more like fascinated by) since they were children. Following the clues she seemingly left for him, Wolff and his friends embark on a journey of discovery where they Learn Life Lessons. The film kept my interest for most of the running length and it’s only in the final passages when all is explained does it feel a little like a letdown. Still, there’s a smart air of riskiness that elevates the film and more often than not it lands on the good side of taking that risky step.
Movie Review ~ Pixels The Facts: Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games. Stars: Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad Director: Chris Columbus Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 105 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: A movie where everyone involved should hang their head in shame. There’s actually some semblance of a good idea here with aliens attacking earth with classic arcade games but unfortunately it gets trampled by Adam Sandler’s lazy acting, Kevin James bad acting, and Josh Gad’s awful everything. Michelle Monaghan looks positively embarrassed to be sharing scenes (especially romantic ones) with Sandler and only Peter Dinklage comes out relatively unscathed in a campy, mullet wearing performance. For fans of ‘80s nostalgia there are some pleasant diversions as video game characters pop up in (supposedly) comical ways and I think that director Chirs Columbus really did give the material a chance to be something interesting…but Sandler and his crew suck the life out of everything and are so devoid of any vested interest that you wonder why you should care at all either.
Movie Review ~ Southpaw The Facts: Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track. Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Clare Foley, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris Director: Antoine Fuqua Rated: R Running Length: 123 minutes TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: By now, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart actor. With role after role from Prisoners to Nightcrawler to End of Watch we’ve seen that he’s up for most any challenge and likes to dive deep into his roles. So it’s not surprising that he was drawn to this tale of redemption concerning a famous boxer at the top of his game dealt a series of terrible blows (in more ways than one) and his eventual path back to himself. What is surprising is that while the performances are very good you can’t get away from the fact that the story feels recycled and originally intended for a different set of lower string stars. I’m always on the fence regarding Forest Whitaker but as the wise boxing manager that grudgingly comes to Gyllenhaal’s aid, the actor reminds us why he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. Also turning in a great performance in Rachel McAdams (The Vow) as Gyllenhaal’s high school sweetheart, mother of his daughter, and the only one that seems to have his best interest at heart.
Southpaw was also at the center of some controversy that arose this summer about movie trailers that give away too much of the film. If you have seen the trailer for Southpaw you know what I’m talking about…if you haven’t, please go into the movie blind. I had a faint idea what the spoiler was and even that made the first ¼ of the film much less involving. Worth it for the performances but gets knocked out by an also-ran plot.
Movie Review ~ Samba The Facts: Synopsis: Samba migrated to France ten years ago from Senegal, and has since been plugging away at various lowly jobs. Alice is a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Both struggle to get out of their dead-end lives. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers, while Alice tries to get her life back on track until fate draws them together. Stars: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Isaka Sawadogo Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano Rated: R Running Length: 118 minutes TMMM Score: (5.5/10) Review: Of all the movies I’m talking about in this wrap-up this is one I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard of. And you couldn’t be blamed because this barely made a blip on the usually forgiving art-house circuit. From the star and directors of 2012’s dynamite The Intouchables comes this story of an immigrant man living in France who crosses paths with a burned out executive when the man is discovered to be an illegal alien. Omar Sy (Jurassic World) and Charlotte Gainsbourg don’t have that much chemistry but in a weird way it works for the oddball romance that develops over the course of the film. I never could get a real feel if the movie was a comedy, drama, or something in between…and neither could most of the people involved. Slightly recommended but only if the plot or stars appeal to you.
That almost did it for July…but there was still one weekend to go! Moving up several months from its planned December release, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise had its brains in the right place but at times forgot to bring its brawn. I still prefer Ghost Protocol to Rogue Nation but as long as star Tom Cruise keeps making these films interesting I’ll keep accepting future missions. Here’s hoping he brings along Rebecca Ferguson again because finally there is a female that is every bit a match to Cruise’s daring agent.
I wasn’t sold at all when I heard that Warner Brothers was planning on remaking National Lampoon’s Vacation but as time went on I heard more that it was more of a sequel than a reboot (resequel?) and I started coming around to the idea of a new Vacation. I enjoyed Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the hapless couple traveling cross-country with their children…but audiences and most critics didn’t. It wasn’t a great movie and was probably too crude to be part of your Vacation marathons…but I have to say the worst part about it was when original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo showed up. Still, I’m hoping it made enough money to warrant a holiday themed sequel. In any event…it’s a damn sight better than European Vacation.
Wow – July didn’t skimp on variety, did it? Arguably the hottest month for releases, it carried over the promise of May and June and laid a path for August to do quite well…but could it top the three months that came before it?
Synopsis: On a small town college campus, a philosophy professor in existential crisis gives his life new purpose when he enters into a relationship with his student.
Release Date: July 24, 2015
Thoughts: As sure as blockbuster movies come out each summer, so does the latest offering from director Woody Allen (who last appeared onscreen in Fading Gigolo). While Irrational Man doesn’t look as serious as Blue Jasmineor as frothy as Magic in the Moonlight, the modern-day comedic romance looks like an Allen vehicle through and through. Starring new muse Emma Stone (Aloha, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice, an actor long overdue with taking himself less seriously) it’s doubtful this will emerge as a new Allen classic but there’s enough witty banter and piqued interest from this trailer to please any Allen aficionado.
Review: Looking back at the experience (and what an “experience” it was) of my recent screening of Inherent Vice I’m reminded of that one time I was in an airplane for 10+ hours traveling from Greece to Minnesota. At certain points of the turbulent flight I thought I wasn’t going to make it and mentally said my good-byes to everyone I loved while a single tear fell down my face. Then the plane landed, I was able to exit the airliner, and I went about my life.
Inherent Vice isn’t 10 hours long (but it sure feels like it) but unlike my trip to Greece, you won’t leave a showing of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaption of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel with a miniature replica of the Acropolis for your troubles.
Pynchon’s loopy novels have long been thought to be unadaptable for cinematic endeavors and Anderson’s screenplay proves why over and over again. It’s an obtuse, awkward, non-engaging film with so many layers it could be described as an onion dipped in PCP…which doesn’t necessarily signify a bad film, mind you. No, the worst offense of Inherent Vice is that it’s shockingly, maddeningly boring.
Set in the Manson crazed days of 1970’s Los Angeles, the film follows schlumpy PI ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, Her, Parenthood) through a case that hits close to home but opens up a Pandora’s Box of trouble. Asked by former flame Shasta (Robot & Frank’s Katherine Waterston, the victim of a humiliating sex scene late in the proceedings) to take a look into the shady intentions of the wife of her current lover (Eric Roberts, Lovelace), Sportello dives headfirst into a plot involving murder, kidnapping, extortion, drugs, and sex.
Now, sounds like fun, right? Perhaps…but my friends, it’ all in the execution and though Anderson knows how to produce a film with multiple storylines (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) things are rocky from the get-go. Though I was initially intrigued by a pre-credit noir-ish sequence that finds Shasta visiting a sleepy Sportello and asking for his help the film lost me before fifteen minutes were up. Even with the occasional foray into explicit hilarity such as Sportello’s visit to a massage parlor that boasts a menu of services that I can’t reprint here the majority of the film is a rough slough.
Reteaming with The Master star Phoenix, Anderson should have stuck with the original choice for the role….Robert Downey, Jr. Though Downey was deemed “too old” for the part, Phoenix looks gruesomely ancient thanks to unkempt sideburns, permanently greasy hair, and unshaven scruff. While Phoenix has a field day with the role, lounging through several drug induced sequences and slurring his words like was the Meryl Streep of lazy r’s, he’s only pleasing himself (and Anderson) as the haphazardly effective private eye.
The film’s labyrinthine plot may be interesting in hindsight but it’s so dense and unconcerned with our interest that I wondered if this shouldn’t have been a home movie for Anderson and Phoenix to watch huddled together with a bowl of popcorn on Oscar night. Pynchon’s novel is chock full of wacky names and comic turns but onscreen it feels too goofy for its own good. Josh Brolin (Oldboy), Reese Witherspoon (Mud), Owen Wilson (The Internship), and Benicio Del Toro (Savages) all show up as part of the caper at hand with only Brolin and Witherspoon in on whatever joke Anderson was attempting to convey. Also of note is Joanna Newsom’s earthy performance as an acquaintance of Sportello, though I started to question if she was a figment of his imagination or not.
Let’s put a pin in showering Anderson with love simply because he started out so strongly. I feel like it’s almost a sin for a cinephile to deride Anderson’s work but viewing a film like Magnolia side-by-side with Inherent Vice reveals a filmmaker that has given in to self-indulgence and forgotten that films are made for audiences (even discerning ones, though nearly a dozen at my screening didn’t stay for the whole picture). It doesn’t have to be a simple, easy to digest, pallid work…but it does have to have a pulse.
Synopsis: In Los Angeles in 1970, drug-fueled detective Larry “Doc” Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
Release Date: January 9, 2015
Thoughts: I didn’t like The Master. There, I said it and I’m not sorry I did. I thought it was bloated and too cuckoo for words. Not that it wasn’t a handsomely made film featuring great performances (however un-Oscar nomination worthy a few of them were…) and there’s little doubt that director Paul Thomas Anderson knows exactly what he’s doing behind the camera. Learning a lot from his mentor Robert Altman, Anderson may have his greatest tribute yet to the late master filmmaker with Inherent Vice, a 70s set detective story where Anderson can really go to town with his tripped out inclinations. Reuniting with Joaquin Phoenix (Her), looking to turn in another in a long line of loopy roles, Anderson’s newest project looks fun, fresh, and less meditative (read: snooze inducing) than his last picture.
Review: At first glance I wasn’t sure what to make of Her. After all, a Spike Jonze written/directed film starring the unpredictable Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) about a man that falls in love with a computer program could, without question, have gone either way. Even looking over the rest of the cast from Rooney Mara to Amy Adams to Olivia Wilde and especially Scarlett Johansson, (all actresses I like but don’t love) I couldn’t tell if this would wind up being another awards buzz movie I’d be forced to slog through and defend my overall opinion to hoity-toity critics or a new twist in the romance genre.
It was with a certain delight, then, that I emerged from Her so totally refreshed by its unconventional romance and stimulated by its two unlikely leads. Too often critics are eager to toss out the term “modern romance” when describing a film that portrays a love story without large flights of fancy but what Jonze has created here is a futuristic romance without a lot of extra bells and whistles or spaceships to Mars.
In the future as imagined by Jonze (and not that far off the mark, I believe) we’re all even more interconnected to the world with our activity on the web downloadable and programmable leaving little to the imagination. Fashion wise, I’m sorry to say that Jonze (who also had a hand in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa) believes we’ll all be wearing high waisted wool pants, too…frightening.
Employed to write letters from loved ones that don’t have the time to do it themselves, Phoenix finds just the right words to make his clients and their addressees happy. In his own personal life, however, he’s not so lucky in love. Recently divorced and not yet ready to go back on the market he’s intrigued by the latest in tech must-haves…an advanced operating system that’s tailored to cater to him specifically. After a brief set-up filtered through a typical Jonze-ian questionnaire, Phoenix is introduced to the one woman that will truly change his life…Samantha.
Scarlet Johansson (Don Jon) wasn’t the original actress cast to be the voice of Samantha…that would be Samantha Morton who was on the set every day with Phoenix to film his scenes. When the film was completed, Jonze discovered that Morton’s voice didn’t fit exactly with the rest of the film and Morton being the pro she was agreed. Johansson was brought in to redub Morton’s work without ever going through the live on-set emotion Morton and Phoenix shared.
Knowing this, it’s remarkable at how in tune Johansson and Phoenix are in the film and the buzz surrounding Johansson being the first actress to be nominated for an Oscar for voice-only work isn’t that unwarranted. Her take on Samantha is grounded, curious, playful, and understanding…never resorting to breathy cooing or attempts at seduction…as a computer program, she’s not designed for that…so the eventual feelings she starts to develop for Phoenix are lovely and genuine.
Phoenix too grapples with the knowledge that he’s falling for his operating system. Knowing that she’ll never be a real person and recognizing that she may be the best thing to ever happen to him he walks a fine line between a fantasy that can never be and the reality of his burgeoning love for her. It’s a high-wire relationship that Jonze, Phoenix, and Johansson handle with the greatest of care.
Aside from Phoenix, the rest of the cast is filled out primarily with females. Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Side Effects) plays Phoenix’s ex-wife and their frigid lunch meeting counters nicely with Phoenix’s flashback memories of their loving earlier life together. Popping up in a brief cameo is Wilde (Rush) as a first date for Phoenix that goes south pretty quickly…I’ll say it again that Hollywood hasn’t yet found the right way to use Wilde. Though she has less than a quarter of the screen time than she does in American Hustle, Amy Adams has a much greater impact here as a residential acquaintance and former flame of Phoenix that understands his current situation more than he/we think.
Make no mistake, though, that the movie belongs to Phoenix and Johansson. After a while, I forgot that Samantha was just a voice and we never actually “see” her in the film. The way that Jonze has filmed the movie and the way that Phoenix and Johansson run with the material make for a classic romance with its peaks and valleys of joy and heartache.
Her easily made my list for Best of 2013. In a future world perhaps years away from our own when it’s hard to make a live connection with someone, Phoenix finds a love that can never be returned but finds himself thrilled and reenergized. You’ll thrill right along with him.
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Synopsis: A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly-purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.
Release Date: December 18, 2013
Thoughts: The fourth feature film from director Spike Jonze looks like it’s traveling in the same universe that his first film, Being John Malkovich, exists in. Though I feel like the whole man-falls-for-a-woman-he-can’t-have angle has been done to death, making said woman part of a futuristic operating system and truly unattainable may get some mileage for Jonze and star Joaquin Phoenix (The Master). Phoenix has never been quite the accessible Hollywood star that everyone seems to want him to be but this preview reveals a softer side to his out-there persona. With a quartet of A-list Hollywood actresses on board as well, early positive word-of-mouth for Her has been strong and its studio recently moved up the release date to take advantage of awards season. We’ll see if Jonze has another quirky winner on his hands (Adaptation) or another troubled (but ultimately respectable) experiment like his last film, Where the Wild Things Are.