Joaquin Pheonix

The Weinstein Company

The Immigrant is a film of faces. That may seem simple, and perhaps it is, but James Gray‘s newest film does not try to be inscrutable. This is one of the virtues of melodrama, the raw and transparent quality of its emotion beaming from close-ups of the human face. Marion Cotillard‘s open, Catholic performance falls about her eyes, somewhere between Maria Falconetti and a Merchant Ivory adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel. Joaquin Phoenix‘s brow, meanwhile, seems ever wider and more brutal as he oscillates between compassion and selfish violence. Jeremy Renner wears eyeliner, like the star of a theoretically possible Mike Leigh film about Yiddish vaudeville entertainers. The plot is relatively straightforward, even initially cliché. Cotillard is Ewa, a woman just off the boat from Poland, with her sister Magda in tow. Yet when the Ellis Island officials notice that Magda is ill she is rushed off to the infirmary, where she will recuperate or face deportation. Ewa, meanwhile, is put in a precarious position by a vaguely-alluded-to incident on her journey that has cast her as a “woman of low morals.” Threatened with deportation herself, she appeals to a passing American for help.

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When it comes to Her, the movie-going public is a little like a kid ignoring his giant new RC car to play with the cardboard box it came in. Here we are, with a film that asks so many questions that are so relevant to our own lives- questions about the ever-increasing influence of technology and its impact on our relationships- and all anyone cares about are the high-waisted pants. Don’t get me wrong, the high-waisted pants are great. I love the pants. And it does make sense that people would be falling over themselves to editorialize about Joaquin Phoenix‘s fashion choices instead of his digital romance. Not a soul in Her ever speaks aloud about men buckling their trousers above the bellybutton; the inclusion of the pants is both subtle and on the nose at the same time. So when those in the audience realize why the men of Her look so oddly futuristic, they get a fun little feeling of discovery, and immediately decide to write about it on the internet.

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It seems sentient computer programs aren’t the only ones capable of falling in love with Joaquin Phoenix. Warner Bros seems to have done the same, and the studio is trying to woo the Her actor in the same manner most eleven year-old boys do: by letting him play with its newest Batman action figure. Yes, WB wants Phoenix for a role in Batman vs. Superman. But like everything else related to WB’s first attempt at mishmashing its DC Comics properties into a single film, much of the deal is unclear and/or shrouded in several layers of secrecy. First off, Phoenix hasn’t actually been offered the role. According to Variety, WB simply “wants” the actor for a part in their superhero epic, meaning that no deals have been made, or even attempted. Variety notes some hesitation on both sides, regarding Phoenix’s desire for a big-budget role. He’s not exactly a Hollywood blockbuster guy, after all, and he’s been on a strict diet of independent films ever since 2005’s Walk the Line. With that in mind, would he even want a part in a billion-dollar superhero mashup?

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A week or so ago, our Christopher Campbell wrote a piece posing the burning question: What is the Meaning of The Master? The fact is, he isn’t the only one asking. Some have harshly compared writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson to the film’s “titular” cult leader, believing Anderson also has no clue what he’s trying to say. Campbell theorized, “Maybe the reality is that there is nothing there. And yet maybe that lack of meaning is in fact its meaning,” but then went on to discount that interpretation of the film’s point, along with others. What is Anderson trying to say about religion? Is he saying, as Campbell speculates, that it’s all meaningless? In simple reality, to the obvious disappoint of many, is that Anderson is attempting to do no such thing. Even as it attempts ephemeral whatdoesitallmean-ness, The Master can be broken down to one simple sentence: a beautiful, tragic friendship between someone who has no interest in answers and a man who knows he has none of them. It’s solely a story of two distinct men, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Some could argue that’s too simplistic of a story for Paul Thomas Anderson, but Anderson has never been a “message” filmmaker. He’s always been a “relationship” filmmaker. The Master strives to be nothing more than another character study from Anderson told on a big, bold, beautiful canvas, not a hard-hitting critique of religion.

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Walk the Line

A few years back we got a film about a musician who over came great odds and family tragedy to become world renowned, well respected, a legend in his own lifetime. His life was not an easy one, it was fraught with drug abuse, infidelity, and just overall troubles, all despite his considerable music talent that connected with a legion of fans, and whose influence is felt to this day.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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