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Kant get enough of this 'Man'

Published August 19. 2015 04:00PM

"Irrational Man" is an odd movie title that doesn't make much sense until you've seen the film.

While the title is not one of the more memorable film titles, it makes sense symbolically.

That's because "Irrational Man" writer-director Woody Allen isn't only talking about the protagonist, Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), a college philosophy professor, but rather the family of man with Abe as the stand-in.

Abe is a left-leaning professor in his first semester on a new college campus. His reputation precedes him. That includes his habit to break out a flask, his wandering eye and his penchant for musings of morbidity.

He's not exactly the life of the party.

One of his students, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), takes an unsolicited interest in his well-being, inviting him to a party (where he sits alone), chatting him up over lunch and asking probing questions during campus strolls.

Jill spending time with Abe goes over with her boyfriend, Roy (Jamie Blackley, "If I Stay," 2014) like a dead shark.

Meanwhile, Abe strikes up a friendship with Rita Richards (Parker Posey), a married professor.

Despite his emotional and physical needs being attended to, Abe is still emotionally unavailable, even to himself.

The emotional and mental state of Abe turns around when he seizes on an idea and commits an unspeakable act that to reveal here would spoil your enjoyment, or surprise, should you see the film.

Should you see the film?

If you're a fan of Woody Allen and don't want to miss his annual offering, yes. "Irrational Man" compares favorably with "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), but in a more esoteric way as befits a screenplay that tosses around Kant and Kierkegaard like a salad. The existential verbal sparring is quite fun.

The film uses double voiceovers, that of Jill and Abe, which at times is a bit overbearing.

If you're a fan of Emma Stone and you don't want to miss her latest performance, yes. Stone (who starred in Allen's romantic comedy, "Magic in the Moonlight," 2014) doesn't hit a wrong emotional note. Add to this her luminous blue-green eyes, which are put to good use here; a captivating energy and a performance that builds to a boiling point of anger that could well bring her another Oscar nomination (she was an Oscar supporting actress nominee for "Birdman," 2014).

If you're a fan of Joaquin Phoenix (who isn't?) and don't want to miss his latest turn, yes. Phoenix is one of contemporary cinema's most fascinating actors. The good professor has the worst possible traits. He's not likable. Phoenix makes him likable.

With "Irrational Man," Woody Allen does Hitchcock. Allen has done this before ("Crimes And Misdemeanors"), whereby he's homaged directors who've influenced him. One thinks most readily of Ingmar Bergman with Allen's "Interiors" (1978).

To whatever degree or not Allen is successful in his attempt at a Hitchcockian thriller is less important than that "Irrational Man" has one of the better plots (and plot twists) among Allen's films. It also has less of the fluttery hands and halting dialogue that has often typified Allen's films.

Getting back to the bigger picture: When and how does moral turpitude, disillusionment and ennui morph into mortal terrorism? Where does personal responsibility begin and where does societal responsibility end? These questions, and nothing less, are at the core of "Irrational Man."

"Irrational Man" is not top-shelf Woody Allen. Still, a lesser Woody is better than a major anything else. Is it imperative you see "Irrational Man?" Categorically, yes. That's about as rational a review one can give "Irrational Man."

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Irrational Man" was filmed on location in Rhode Island. The live 1965 Bohemian Caverns, D.C., recording of Ramsey Lewis "The 'In' Crowd" is heard throughout the soundtrack.

"Irrational Man," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for some language and sexual content; Genre: Drama, Mystery; Run time: 1 hr., 35 mins.; Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Box Office, Aug. 14: "Straight Outta Compton" went straight to No. 1, opening with $56.1 million, one week, knocking "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation" from No. 1 after two weeks straight to No. 2, with $17 million, $138.1 million, three weeks; and keeping "The Man from U.N.C.L.E"; opening at No. 3, with $13.5 million;

4. "Fantastic Four," $8 million; $41.9 million, two weeks; 5. "The Gift," $6.5 million; $23.5 million, two weeks; 6. "Ant-Man," $5.5 million, $157.5 million, five weeks; 7. "Vacation," $5.3 million, $46.8 million, three weeks; 8. "Minions," $5.2 million, $312.9 million, six weeks; 9. "Ricki and the Flash," $4.5 million, $14.6 million, two weeks; 10. "Trainwreck," $3.8 million, $97.9 million, five weeks

Unreel, Aug. 21:

"Sinister 2," R: A rural house. A young mother. Twin sons. A horror film. You get the picture. James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan star.

"American Ultra," R: Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg and Topher Grace star in the action-comedy about an undercover government agent.

"Grandma," R: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden and Judy Greer star in the comedy about a grumpy old grandma who goes on a journey with her teenage granddaughter.

"She's Funny That Way," R: Peter Bogdanovich is back with the first feature film he's directed since 2001 ("The Cat's Meow"). It's about the lives of Broadway show stars. Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, Kathryn Hahn, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Aniston and Will Forte star in the comedy.

"Learning To Drive," R: Grace Gummer stars as a young woman who takes driver-training from a Sikh instructor (Ben Kingsley). Patricia Clarkson and Jake Weber co-star in the romantic-comedy.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press website,; the Times News website, tnonline. com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6-6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM,, where the movie reviews are archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ tnonline. com. Follow Paul Willistein on Twitter @ PaulWillistein and friend Paul Willistein on Facebook.

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