“You Were Never Really Here”

Watching Joaquin Phoenix work is reason enough to see this film. Jonny Greenwood’s score is another.

Scottish director Lynne Ramsey films like “ Molvern Callar” ( 2002) never tell a story chronologically. In “You Were Never Really Here” , Phoenix does want he does best, plays a reality-taxed, wracked individual with  acute visceral feelings. He is a PTSD sufferer, who is hired to rescue  a U.S. Senator’s thirteen-year-old daughter. As Joe, he has flash backs to childhood abuse and war atrocities. Child sex rings and sex traffickers add to the taut tone. The tenseness is charged with a wavering electric current that keeps the viewer apprehensive throughout. We long for ennui, or at least a respite from sound whispering voices and plastic bags pulled tightly over faces.

Back exits, trash cans, police sirens, late night terminals  and wet alleyways predominate. Joe’s abode with his dementia-ridden mother ( Judith Roberts) offers no respite. It, too, becomes a murder scene. Weird scenarios play out. His mother watches “Psych” alone and plays “gothcha!” games on him. We see his battle scars as he puts her to bed. City dogs bark as he cleans up her water logged bathroom. He chastised her for the 1972 cream cheese in the fridge, and polishes silver with her. He likes green jelly beans. It is hard to see him as a vigilante, a killer for hire.

The Senator is as creepy as Joe’s weapon of choice, the hammer. His daughter Nina ( Ekaterina Samsonov) must be retrieved. He wants the kidnappers/brothel owners hurt. He wants Nina for unfatherly reasons we glean. This tawdry storyline drags us in more than most viewers will wish to be. Jonny Greenwood’s score and Joaquin Phoenix’s dazzling performance makes the horrific vice psychologically edgy. Joe respectfully buries his mother in lake waters, and we recall the scene where they sang old show tunes together. As Phoenix floats submerged in the waters stillness, we wonder if this netherworld will bring him peace. Can a murderer gain our empathy? Can a soldier’s bizarre suffering make him something to be feared? While author Jonathan Ames may consider his protagonist an avenging angel, most will see Joe as a damaged Marine and former FBI operative, who has kind underpinnings though he is a trained killing machine.

“Irrational Man”

At seventy-nine,Woody Allen can no longer charm romantically inclined girls,so what does he do? Make fun of the romantic temperament,of course.

As writer and director,Allen does his wordplay thing, called antithesis. “Conservative ~in a liberal way” is how Jill,our smitten college senior,( Emma Stone) describes her philosophy teacher, Abe. ( Joaquin Phoenix) Murder as giving one meaning to live is Abe’s existential thought, “The perfect murder made me feel alive.” When Jill cites that Abe suffers from despair, he retorts drolly with “How comfy that would be”.

Joaquin Phoenix enters in a voiceover as Abe Lucas. He is in a late-model,gray Volvo entering a new campus setting in Newport. Abe is relaxed as he bonds with his philosophy students and ironically talks about “situational ethics”.Kant’s perfect world where there is no room for lying foreshadows Allen’s storyline,too. Kierkegaard’s “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom” meshes with Abe’s choices and moral posturings.With flask always at hand, Phoenix is so comfortable in the role that he often channels Woody’s mannerisms. This is funny and adds another layer of depth to the film. His definition of philosophy as verbal masturbation does not.

Emma Stone is equally as good as the besotted Jill. When she stares with her big blues and states,”I hate that you think I’m practical”, the audience gets that she is too romantic to throw away the risk of losing a boyfriend for dating her prof. Allen uses a second character voiceover to keep us guessing who is really “the irrational man”,student or teacher. Anyway, Jill sees Abe as a brilliant sufferer. She wears a new perfume on a restaurant date and sighs,”I love that you order for me.”

If Emily Dickinson is quoted as “drunk on air” then Woody is “drunk on music”. His film’s jazzy score is often more entertaining than the film’s action. Besides Abe imbibing non-stop on single malt Scotch, his colleague in the Science Dept. unscrews flasks just as fast. Parker Posey plays the screwable Rita. Initially,she has trouble making the character more than a caricature. As the film progresses,she warms up and plays a dreamy foil to Jill.
When Abe complains,”I can’t write. I can’t breathe”, Rita follows up with “I hope you are not going to send me out into the rain without sleeping with me.”Forthright and gossipy,her crackpot theory and mutual crush rattles Jill and allows for a neat story arc.

Sartre’s “Hell is other people” is shown when Abe sees no way to save himself but by killing the precocious Jill. The storyline is silly. The flashlight roll into the elevator memorable.The passive intellectual finding zest for life in murder is more cause for despair than for humor. Go with your instincts on this one. A dark cloud has crossed Woody’s moon and there is poison in the park.

“Her”

The debut of Spike Jontz as screenwriter extradinaire has given me my favorite film of 2013. Oddly,it is a sci-fi romance, part satire,part sensitivity training and part metaphysical query. “Her” delivers a portrayal of such bittersweet longing that the score and the trailer still affect me. The film is emotionally wrenching,but with a smattering of oddball quirkiness for relief. I did not find this film “creepy”. The romantically rejected always have a place in my heart. Here the possibilities of cyber-love for Theodore Twombly are aural. He falls in love with a voice and an evolving artificial intelligence.

Professionally,Theodore writes personal letters for people who can not seem to do so.
There is a shot where we see many cubicles with workers doing the same. This service is weirder than hiring a personal shopper for familial gift selections or asking a secretary to handle these obligations,but it may be the next emotionally numbing, futuristic step. Joaquin Phoenix is masterful in portraying the sensitive scrivener. I thought he deserved the Oscar for Best Actor. His delight and vulnerability were palpable. This film received five Oscar nominations and won Best Screenplay.

The musical score was composed by the Canadian band Arcade Fire. This music was so much apart of the emotionality of the film that “Her” would not be the same film without this score. And “The Moon Song” by Karen O has remained a favorite of mine for it draws on and underscores love’s need for trust and safety. You will find yourself humming “A Million Miles Away” after leaving cyber-space. Send any real cineasts here..to see “Her” for one of the most original art -house- quality films to date. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson’s voice is lovely.