CVIndependent

Tue09172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Mary Magdalene, the latest take on the title character—who has had widely ranging portrayals in cinema over the years—suggests that Mary (Rooney Mara) was Jesus’ closest disciple, and was by no means a prostitute, effectively declaring Barbara Hershey’s depiction of Mary in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ to be total bullshit.

According to this film from director Garth Davis (Lion), Mary wasn’t just the closest confidant of Jesus, but easily the most boring. Mara’s Mary just skulks about in this movie, arriving late for all the big events, like Jesus tearing up the temple, the Last Supper and the whole Crucifixion. (In a strange way, she reminds of Brian in Monty Python’s Life of Brian; however, she’s not as funny.) While Mara’s Mary is a snooze, she’s excitement personified next to this film’s Jesus, portrayed by the usually reliable Joaquin Phoenix.

In the hands of Phoenix, Jesus becomes a quizzical sort who looks cold all the time, pulling his little shawl/robe shut to avoid chills and coming off as super-depressed. In short, Phoenix is a terrible Jesus … one of the worst ever.

While it’s admirable for Mary Magdalene to be portrayed as more of disciple than a prostitute, this movie makes the whole dying-for-your-sins event a sleepy afterthought. Too bad … I like a good Jesus movie, and this isn’t one of them. It’s not a good movie in general.

Mary Magdalene is now showing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033). It is also available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in Reviews

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix join forces as title-characters The Sisters Brothers, guns for hire who are contracted to find a prospector (Riz Ahmed) with a scientific trick for finding gold in rivers.

Reilly plays Eli, the nicer of the two brothers, who is starting to consider life after riding and killing. Phoenix plays Charlie, perfectly content to be a bounty hunter of sorts, as long as the mission includes hookers and lots of booze. Another man (Jake Gyllenhaal) intercepts the prospector with the intent of turning him over to the brothers, but he has a change of heart—and the hunt takes on a new dimension.

Reilly and Phoenix are great together, creating a palpable fraternal bond. This is a dark period Western speckled with some funny moments, but don’t be tricked by the commercials for the film: It’s a mostly dark affair, acted well by all involved.

Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) has made a moving, absorbing, appropriately nasty Western that gives the impression that everybody onscreen smells really bad. Phoenix, having a banner year, turns out to be perfectly cast as a gunslinger, something I wouldn’t have believed going in. He and Reilly give this film a ton of soul, and it doesn’t hurt having the likes of Gyllenhaal and Ahmed in their supporting roles. They are all equally good.

The Sisters Brothers is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Gus Van Sant gets back into fine directing shape with Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, his best effort in years.

Joaquin Phoenix gets much of the credit; he’s terrific as real-life cartoonist John Callahan, an alcoholic who wound up in a wheelchair after a car accident with a friend (Jack Black). Van Sant jumps around with his timeline—but the film is never confusing, no matter where it goes. We see Callahan pre-accident, drinking tequila first thing in the morning. We also see him during one of the film’s framing devices, a convention at which Callahan is sharing his story. Most effectively, we see him in group-therapy sessions led by Donnie (Jonah Hill), a free-spirited, generally kind man who, nevertheless, isn’t going to give you many breaks as your sponsor. Those sessions have a documentary-like feel, and Hill is especially good (and nearly unrecognizable) in them.

Phoenix is having a great year—if you haven’t seen him in You Were Never Really Here, you must—and this might be his very best work yet. Rooney Mara, Carrie Brownstein and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth show up in brief, yet effective roles. This is one of the summer’s better films.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot opens Friday, July 27, at theaters including the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

Woody Allen gets dark and ugly again with Irrational Man—something that seems to suit him better than his comedy efforts these days.

Yes, Blue Jasmine was a comedy, but it was quite nasty. It was also Allen’s best film in years, and perhaps touched off a bit of a creative renaissance for the stupid jerkface. (I still think what he did to Mia Farrow’s family was despicable, and I’m not backing down on that one.)

In Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix is a genuine creepfest as Abe, a philosophy professor who strikes up a friendship with Jill (Emma Stone), one of his students. Abe is in a rut; he’s drinking a lot, blathering morose philosophies, and even playing Russian roulette at a college party. He’s desperately in need of a pick-me-up.

Well, Abe finds that pick-me-up—and it certainly is not a standard one. I won’t give it away, but it’s pretty brutal, and it touches off numerous moral dilemmas.

While this isn’t one of Allen’s more ingenious or original efforts, it is a good film that pulls great performances out of Phoenix and Stone. Phoenix has quietly been turning in one great performance after another, and this is no exception. He makes Abe a multilayered, tragic and enthralling character. Stone is his match as a young woman interested in her professor—an interest that could lead to very bad things.

The film has a jaunty soundtrack that goes nicely with the nasty undertakings.

Allen makes good movies when he gets sinister—and this shows him at his most sinister.

Special Features: There’s nothing much in the way of features: All you get is a couple of red-carpet interviews and a photo gallery. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I abstain from weed because some people really shouldn’t do drugs. If you are like me, you might need two or three viewings to completely get the vibe and plot of Inherent Vice.

However, if you watch the movie while mildly high, you might follow everything in one shot.

I’ve watched director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film twice now, and it was almost like watching a different movie the second time through. I enjoyed it both times, but the language and proceedings made more sense to me on the second go-round. I must have some sort of latent stoner sensibility stored in my brain from bong hits in years past.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a sloppy private investigator in 1970 Los Angeles who operates, inexplicably, out of a doctor’s office. When an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) goes missing, he conducts a haphazard investigation into her disappearance that involves dead people who aren’t dead, drug-dealers and kidnapped real estate moguls. All of these things are being investigated by a guy who is seriously high most of the time, and who pieces things together at his own mellow, clumsy pace.

Along the way, Doc comes across a parade of colorful characters—with each one played by a brilliant actor or actress. Josh Brolin is perfection as an unstable, macho cop with a penchant for kicking down Doc’s door. Phoenix and Brolin have a lot of fun making the characters bitter enemies, even though they’re almost chummy at times. Brolin’s final scene is, shall we say, surreal and bizarre on joyous levels.

Owen Wilson does some of his best work in years as a musician, believed dead, who has gone into hiding. He has scenes with Phoenix that are borderline brilliant, as does Martin Short as a lascivious dentist with a taste for young girls and pharmaceutical-grade cocaine. Anderson may have given Short his best role since his SCTV days, even though Short is only in a few scenes.

Benicio del Toro shows up as Doc’s attorney; his character reminded me of his similar role in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Reese Witherspoon caps off a great year by playing Doc’s uptight current girlfriend, and Jena Malone has a terrific scene as a wife who pleasantly and happily discusses her drug addiction and missing husband.

The mystery, if you want to call it that, ties up fairly cleanly. The film, despite what some folks are saying, has a beginning, a middle and an end that makes sense. You just have to work at it a bit.

The locations, clothing and hairstyles are very 1970s. The film plays like a stoner mood piece, swinging from relaxed to paranoid, unintelligible to highly coherent—as if you are going through the various phases of some high-grade kush.

You might be thinking, “Hey, this sounds a little bit like The Big Lebowski.” Lebowski was a lot cuter, and far funnier. Both stories do, however, feature a stoner dude investigating a missing person. (It should be noted that the Coens wrote and produced Lebowski 11 years before Thomas Pynchon put out the novel on which Inherent Vice is based.)

If you’ve never smoked weed, but have a friend that does smoke, go see the movie with them. You may not get it, while your friend’s mind will be blown. He or she will explain some things to you, and you’ll be all set for a second, more-informed viewing.

Also: Do not smoke weed for the first time before seeing Inherent Vice. The stuff out there now is pretty damn powerful, and the site of Phoenix’s Wolverine chops will surely freak out a first-timer.

Inherent Vice opens Thursday, Jan. 8, at theaters including the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

Director Spike Jonze gives us a beautiful yet odd love story about a man smitten with his computer’s operating system (voiced by a lovely Scarlett Johansson).

Johansson does mesmerizing voice work as Samantha, a Siri-like voice operating system that is so charming, her new owner (Joaquin Phoenix) finds her far more interesting than actual humans. She makes you believe a man could fall in love with his computer. That’s a sad reality, perhaps, and Jonze (who won a screenwriting Oscar here) does a good job of dealing with the awkward circumstance.

Jonze has made a movie that looks and feels realistic, creating a future land in which it’s perfectly OK to date your computer. He approaches the topic seriously—and somehow manages to make it all work. While the premise sounds nutty, the approach is purely dramatic. There are few directors who could make a film like this come together.

The movie not only looks spectacular, as Jonze’s films often do; it also sounds great, thanks to a soundtrack from Arcade Fire. Meanwhile, Phoenix turns in some of the finest acting of his career. His nerdy character is somebody to root for, even though he’s basically pleasuring himself with Samantha for a good chunk of the film. Chris Pratt, soon to be a megastar with Guardians of the Galaxy, gives a good supporting performance as one of Phoenix’s co-workers.

Johansson deserved an Oscar nomination for her voice work. She created a fleshed-out character without ever being seen in the flesh—and that’s no easy feat.

Special Features: There’s a short making-of film and some interviews about modern relationships.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I count director Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and Magnolia as two of my all-time-favorite films. The Daniel Day-Lewis performance in Blood currently stands as my favorite performance by anybody, in any movie, ever.

What I’m saying is that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest directors to ever set foot on the planet. I suppose as a critic, I’m supposed to avoid such grandiose remarks, but screw it: I feel confident my declaration will stand until my dying days.

That said, The Master—out Feb. 26 on DVD and Blu-ray—is my least-favorite of his movies. However, on a grading scale, I’d still give it a “B,” which is a good grade, and lord knows I’m a tough grader.

The pre-release scuttlebutt about the film declared that it was Anderson’s take on the advent of Scientology—but it isn’t. Instead, it’s about a stressed-out World War II Navy sailor (Joaquin Phoenix), a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and their strange, almost-codependent relationship.

Watching these two square off is a delight. They both received Oscar nominations, and they both deserved them. I guess I was seeking a little more substance in the story itself, and felt Anderson was repeating himself a tad (especially with the Jonny Greenwood soundtrack; Greenwood also provided the music for Blood).

It’s a good movie featuring astonishingly great performances. I just want more from Anderson. I’m a selfish bastard, and I admit to this, so there.

Special Features: The disc takes a unique approach to deleted scenes by creating a short film of outtakes and even bloopers scored by Greenwood. It’s a great way to watch deleted footage, and I actually wish some of these cuts had made it into the movie. There’s also a behind-the-scenes short film, culminating in a rather funny fart moment. Finally, you also get John Huston’s World War II documentary Let There Be Light, a film Anderson borrowed from while making The Master. Some of Phoenix’s dialogue is directly drawn from it.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing