Inherent Vice: Not a P.T. Anderson Pic

Inherent Vice - poster landscape

Just as “Wes Anderson” has become an adjective, so too has “Paul Thomas Anderson.”  So when I say that I mostly hated Inherent Vice, do not take that as a disparagement against the PT Anderson brand.  For Inherent Vice was completely Inherent Vice - text block 2unrecognizable as a PT Anderson film.  And it will remain so as long as PT Anderson returns to making PT Anderson pics.

Joe Morgenstern, WSJ:

Since most of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” was meant to be impenetrable, the best approach, as you watch it drift by, is to savor the dreamy images and druggy jokes—the action is set in the stoner precincts of Los Angeles in 1970—and forget about penetrating the plot.

That’s how most critics took the film.  Just sit back and go with the groove.  Forget about the story.  Hey I’m hip, baby.  But 2 1/2 hours of vibe gets tedious.  By the end, even the humorous parts wear thin.  What great films do is put you in their world, but then use that world as a backdrop to the story.  Think Fargo, Gattaca, Pulp Fiction, Donnie Darko, and After Dark, My Sweet.  So when a world of critics tell me to slip into the world of Inherent Vice and forget about story I say no.  That doesn’t work for me.  Story matters.

Other critics have pointed out that Inherent Vice does a good job of remaining faithful to the novel.  On this point I don’t care.  Apparently that was the downfall of Wild.  If you can stay faithful to the book and make a good movie, more power to you.  But first you need to make a good movie.

Something else occurred to me scanning the reviews.  Lately it seems critics are instantly enamored with whatever junk a filmmaker puts out there, as long as it’s set in the ’70s.  That was the explanation I gave for all the praise American Hustle received.  Here we go again.

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Inherent Vice - text blockInherent Vice is a scattershot mess, a train wreck disguised as an ingenious labyrinth.  A series of conversations with little to no action never works in a movie.  It’s trying to be some type of latter-day Chinatown or Big Sleep or Jackie Brown.   But those movies focus on story first, then on atmosphere.

The Big Lebowski is the other obvious comparison.  I’m a fan of Joaquin Phoenix, and his “Dude” is great here.  As much as I disliked this movie, the funny scenes mostly worked for me.  And there are other good parts; a rather brilliant sex scene stands out.  But mostly, PT Anderson’s attempt at some crazy cross of David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers utterly fails.  He needs to stick to being PT Anderson.  3/10

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Highlighting: Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights Poster

Last night IFC played Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s second feature, and I had the pleasure of watching the intro sequence for the first time since I saw the movie in the theater, way back in 1997.  Terrific, and immediately reminds one of the famous scene in Goodfellas — but Anderson is never in danger of being called an imitator.

I’ve written about Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies including this one before, but I was reminded of what a great film it is.  I am very careful how I throw around 10/10 ratings and the word “masterpiece”, but I think Boogie Nights must be included in that pantheon.  Mr. Anderson is a director who gets you excited every time he releases a picture, but Boogie Nights remains his greatest success.

I’m pretty happy with what I wrote about this movie 5 years ago in the above-cited post:

A LITTLE MORE serious tone with the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.  What an extraordinary, visionary filmmaker he is.  The first of his that I saw – in its theatrical showing – was his first major release, the masterpiece Boogie Nights (1997).  I won’t say a whole lot about it, except it’s about the burgeoning porn industry in the ’70s disco era.  Mark Whalberg, an actor in a very select class, plays screen character ‘Dirk Diggler’; Burt Reynolds, in a sort of rebirth role for him, plays the porn family patriarch.  As this is the porn industry, and as cocaine is thrown in the mix, you can imagine not everyone is on the path of enlightenment.  This is an outstanding film, and has some sequences in it which to me are right up there with the greatest scenes in film history, e.g. Marilyn Monroe’s dress being blown up by a sidewalk air vent or Luke Sykwalker blowing up the Death Star.  One that stands out is an attempted drug heist while one of the lackeys throws out a punctuating staccato of little firecrackers.

The plot is very strong, and supported by an excellent cast including William H. Macy, Don Cheadle, Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and an early role by Heather Graham as ‘Rollergirl.’

In other news… I wish IFC would go back to showing movies without commercial interruption, but I suppose once you go commercial you never go back.  Luckily I suppose, other channels have popped up to fill the void.

Film Note: The Master

It is a unique treat to view a new film by Paul Thomas Anderson.  One looks forward to a new movie from him in the same way one anticipates new offerings from Wes Anderson, Lars von Trier, and Sofia Coppola.  You know you will be delivered a unique vision that is characteristic to the specific talents of these directors (see prior post).

The Master, PT Anderson’s latest (out now), does not disappoint in that regard.  It is the story of a disturbed WWII veteran sailor (Joaquin Phoenix) who has returned to civilian life.  He is unstable and disturbed, but powerful and strong.  Shuffling from one minor disaster to another, he at one point randomly hops on board a boat for a little pleasure cruise.  While on board, he meets another strong-willed character, “Master” as he is sometimes called (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is the head of a small cult of followers that may be likened to Scientology, though without all the alien nonsense.

The exceptional performances by Phoenix and Hoffman work well with the developing drama — to a point.  The problem with this film is that it felt like half a film.  There is superb character and plot development for about half the movie.  But by the time the picture is nearing the end, we realize that Anderson has not really thought of what to do with these people and their circumstances.  By that I mean he has not thought of anything particularly dramatic or interesting.  This film lacks any sort of climax with a punch.

As The Master began to unfold, I felt like I had better brace myself because I would be in for one hell of a ride.  Unfortunately the ride stopped short.  Without hesitation I’ll watch in theater the next PT Anderson offering, and hope for something on the caliber of his past, generally excellent work, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood.  But this one: a mere 4/10. [UPGRADED; SEE UPDATE IN COMMENT BELOW]

Two Andersons a Coppola

from email 30 May 2008

Hello all,

I’ve been wanting to write a little on what I know of the films of Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas (credited as p.t. in earlier films) Anderson.  As I said before, these are two very different directors not related to one another, at least not by “Blood” (I’ll explain that later).  However, I pair them because they started making films around the same time, in the mid to late ’90s, which is also when I became aware of them, and because that they each have unique characteristic filmmaking styles.  As different as they are I always think of them together.  Somehow like a “Bizarre Love Triangle” I fit Sofia Coppola into the mix – sort of a female counterpart to the two Andersons, with a style and perspective as different from the Andersons as they are from each-other.   Coppola shares some actors with at least one of the Andersons, so a link there too.

A couple notes: I’ve added Erik to the distribution on these as he expressed an interest.  And again, unless I specify otherwise, I am writing only about films that I recommend, and usually greatly so, as long as you’re in that sort of mood.  Because there are so many films I want to touch on, I am not going to provide much of a review or analyis on any one film, but hit a couple key points. Continue reading