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Despite my relatively low review rating on this site, Im an avid movie lover. My reviews don't reflect in any way the amount of films i've watched. I just like to add something a little more substantial than putting in a few stars to reflect my opinion. Although it is very tempting to take the easy route!
I notice some people like to keep a certain privacy on this site also which baffles me...? It's a social networking site at the end of the day and we seem to share a common interest. The more friends and film recomendations the merrier.
Do you know that feeling of anticipation you get whenever a respected director is releasing a new film? It's the same feeling that often surrounds the released from Quentin Tarantino. Well, I also get that feeling when I hear of a new Paul Thomas Anderson project and I'm pretty certain many others do too. That being said, Anderson's last two introspective films There Will Be Blood and The Master took him much further away from his earlier vibrant works of Boogie Nights and Magnolia and left a number of his fans finding them too onerous. Many may not agree but if he was ever to bridge that gap then Inherent Vice is that bridge.
It's 1971 in Gordita Beach, California, where private eye, Larry "Doc" Sportello conducts his gumshoe business. He's approached, out of the blue, by his ex Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Watertson) to search for her, recently vanished, new boyfriend and real-estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). Doc takes on the case but stumbles on a conspiracy that involves a whole host of corrupt characters and soon realises that things are certainly not as they seem.
Let's just begin by stating that Inherent Vice poses more questions than it actually answers. As a result, the film is downright perplexing - to say the least. The answers that can be found amidst it's dense cloud of cannabis smog are not easy to find and Anderson is in no mood to walk you through it either. In fact, during the opening scene where Doc is hired by his ex-girlfriend on a possible abduction case she wonders why he's not overly interested in the details, to which he responds "Don't worry. Thinking comes later". And indeed it does come later. So much so, that you begin to wonder if your bewilderment is a direct result of your own drug addled, misspent youth.
What's very important to note is that the confusion is entirely intentional and a lot of events are possibly taking place in Doc's head which (as our overhead commentary informs us) are also influenced by the astrological alignments with Jupiter and other planetary systems. Let's face it, Doc's a Hippie and if his head wasn't a little drug infused and mashed up then we'd be reaching our whodunit conclusion a lot easier and smoother - and the film would be a lot more dull as a result. This is what allows the story a creativity. All be it, a creativity that confuses the viewer. One minute he's watching two women getting it on at a massage parlour where you can purchase a pussy feast for $14.95 and the next he's, unsuspectingly, batted around the head only to wake up next to a dead body where the local police take an interest. The police interest takes shape in a hilarious turn from Josh Brolin's Lt. Det. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen who's described as an "old hippie-hating mad dog... SAG member, John Wayne walk, flat top of Flintstone proportions and that evil, little shit-twinkle in his eye that says Civil Rights Violations" - and he also seems to have some very expressive sexual urges that manifest in his eating of phallic, chocolate coated bananas.
By now, you'll have heard about the films mentioned in the same breath as Inherent Vice. It has an almost indecipherable plot like Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep; the same offbeat Hippie private-eye from Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye and the same pot-headed, labyrinthine confusion and humour of the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski. I found the latter to hang heavily over Joaquin Phoenix's work. At times, it's hard to forget Jeff Bridges as Phoenix skilfully manages to channel his inner Dude and delivers a nuanced and, surprisingly, hysterical performance. None of the comparisons are inaccurate, however, as it's heavily influenced by them all, but Inherent Vice can admirably lay claim to carving it's own place among them.
Those well versed in Anderson's work will no doubt recognise his usual traits and ability to capture the times; in Boogie Nights you felt the fun-filled and erratic cocaine vibe of the 70's/80's disco scene. In Magnolia, you felt the burden and pain of dysfunctional families and relationships. In There Will Be Blood, you felt the weight of the depression and the greed of an oil baron. In The Master, you were transfixed by the cult and it's charismatic leader and here, in Inherent Vice, you feel the hazy marijuana comforting your head, making it lazy and hard to process even the smallest detail. Anderson himself, knew about the complexity of Thomas Pynchon's 384 page novel (of which he personally, and painstakingly, deciphered and adapted) and even worried that it would be criticised as "Incoherent Vice". There are numerous characters introduced, making it hard to work out who's who and plot strands drift off and go up in smoke quicker than Doc's joints. On a first viewing it can look like a mess but Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright summed it up nicely by calling it "Inherent Twice" as after reflexion and a (very much required) second viewing, Inherent Vice, is a wonderful piece of work. In all honesty, it would take quite a number of viewings to fully comprehend it and even then you'll realise that some plot strands are intended to be pointless. There's a level of surrealism in many scenes that it only reinforces our "patchouli fart" perception of events. All before Anderson abandons the sharp humour for a most intense and explosive denouement that's very impressively handled.
It's hard to talk about the plot of the film as a) it would delve into spoiler territory and b) it's just too fuckin' hard to talk about in the first place but there are so many positives from this film that's it's disappointing to hear that many have chosen to judge it too soon. Whether it be Incoherent Vice or Inherent Twice is entirely up to the viewer. I can side, somewhat, with the former but absolutely agree with the latter. If the film can be described in two words I'd use the words of Doc Sportello himself... "Right On!"
After the likes of Capote and Moneyball it comes as no surprise that Bennett Miller has chosen yet another true story for his third feature film. With these films in mind, it also comes as no surprise that his ability to focus on an individuals obsession and determination is as intense as he's proven already.
John du Pont (Steve Carell) is an influential billionaire who takes it upon himself to restore American pride in the sport of Wrestling. To do so, he employs the talents of Olympic freestyle wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Despite his abilities, Mark has always lived under the shadow of his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) when it comes to the sport and see's du Pont's offer as a chance of a lifetime. However, an increasingly strange du Pont eventually hires Dave as well, turning Mark's experience into a very difficult and life-changing one.
The psychological interplay between these three different characters is a real driving force behind Miller's most accomplished film yet. It manages to be a moral commentary on the class divide - the drive and passion of the working class mirrored against the privileged and self-indulgent lifestyles of the wealthy elitists and their vacuous void in truly achieving something meaningful in life. Even du Pont's rhetoric brings the weighty theme of American exceptionalism.
Despite their lack of money, the love and camaraderie between the Schultz brothers is a richness that du Pont can only dream of and Miller never forces the issue. His deliberate and retrained approach is reflected in his actors as they slowly reveal the layers to their characters and as jealousy and obsession begin to take hold, so does the enormity of the calamitously dysfunctional relationships.
Hugely rich in detail and thoroughly deserving of it's Oscar nominations (although not to receive a Best Picture nod is an enigma). This is a film that ominously creeps up on you and before you know it, has you in a choke hold from which it's hard not to submit to. Strong and absorbing work by all involved.
"Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige"
Mexican director Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu is not normally known for his jeu d'esprit and has seemed more comfortable while dealing with heavily pessimistic and sombre themes. His previous films Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful are all excellent works but they require serious commitment to get yourself through their excruciatingly downbeat material. With that in mind, it's no surprise that his latest effort in Birdman is ultimately about the fractured and fragile psyche of a man on a seemingly downward spiral. However, Birdman shows another side to IÃ±Ã¡rritu's talents; black it may be but he now surprisingly displays a great talent for comedy.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) was once a massive Hollywood star that made his reputation playing the superhero Birdman. However, his career faded after the third instalment of the franchise and he now finds himself working on the Broadway stage. He's determined to prove his worth as a real actor and director by adapting a Raymond Carver play but problems with his cast, his family and his own fragile mental state threaten to sink his ambitions.
Films within films have often been a theme throughout filmmaking. To become self-referential is a bold move. Robert Altman's The Player, Spike Jonze's Adaptation or the surreal work of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive are notable works that have toyed with the life imitating art imitating life structure. It can be hard to pull off but these films are just some examples of when it's done right and IÃ±Ã¡rritu's latest can now consider itself to be on the same level.
On previous evidence, IÃ±Ã¡rritu has proven to be a very clever director. He has always had a grasp on his material and delivered their fractured structures and timeframes with deftness and consummate skill. His work on Birdman is as impressive as he's ever been but it's the handling of comedy that's impresses most. Not only is he able to capture the absurdity and quirks in human behaviour but he also utilises these behaviours to create an inventive and original farce. Employing the likes of Emmanuel Lubezki as director of photography is also a genius stroke. In a short space of time, Lubezki has become one of the most respected cinematographer's in the business and if you look at his work on Gravity last year or his work here, you can easily see why. He manages to keep the camera constantly moving throughout the films entirety; one minute we're focused, up close and personal, on the actors before sweeping through claustrophobic corridors, upstairs and down to find another dramatic moment. The film wasn't shot as one continuous take but it's miraculously made to look like it and credit must go to editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione for their seamless work on Lubezki's constantly mobile camerawork.
As the long, seemingly continuous shots grab your attention, though, so too do the performances. Across the board, everyone delivers. Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough are given small roles but they're by no means ineffective. Naomi Watts produces the emotional quality she always does and Emma Stone really sinks her teeth into the conflicted and tortured daughter role. Again, Zach Galifiniakas is given a small role where he only sporadically appears throughout the story but whenever he does, he commands a surprising range of emotions. I was very impressed with his dramatic work when he's normally considered a comedy actor. From the supporting players, though, it's Ed Norton who shines brightest. It's been a while since Norton has had a role that he's able to reaffirm his talents but he finds it here. Again, self-referential, Norton sends himself up. He has a reputation for being difficult to work with but bravely embraces a character that similarly reflects his acting methods. As a big admirer of Norton, I can only hope that this sees him back where he belongs. Which brings me to the leading man; I've never really been too kind or retrained on my dislike for Michael Keaton. I've often found him to be quite a self-conscious actor and could never shake off the feeling that most of his work is nothing more than a performance. He never allowed me to suspend my disbelief and for any actor that is a major demerit and (to be brutally honest) unforgivable. That being said, as Riggan Thompson, Keaton wonderfully parodies himself and I have to hold my hands up here... he's absolutely outstanding in Birdman. It's by far his finest work to date and a role that's tailor made for him. Having successfully donned the Batsuit in Tim Burton's take on the dark knight, Keaton never really reached those heights again. He had the occasional role that provided him with reasonable supporting hits but, for the most part, Keaton had had his day. This is the film that will, no doubt, bring him more work where his fans will rejoice in seeing his solid return.
I was honestly one for passing Birdman by. I do enjoy the works of Norton and IÃ±Ã¡rritu but when I heard about Michael Keaton headlining a film, I considered giving it a wide berth. However, the buzz surrounding it left me with no choice but to check it out. I'm glad I did as it's an accomplished piece of work that explores the weighty themes of the human ego, past successes and the inability to come to terms with failure. Meanwhile, it satirises showbiz, and in particular, the superhero hero genre. Everyone from Woody Harrelson in The Hunger Games to Robert Downey, Jr in his "tin-man get up" takes a dig but ultimately the film is one big in-joke that manages to tread a fine line between fantasy and reality.
One simple word springs to mind when I think of Whiplash. Just one word... "Oz". Those are that familiar with the HBO series that ran from 1997 to 2003 will no doubt remember the brutal intensity of the white supremacist character Vern Schillinger. It was one of my first experiences of actor J.K. Simmons and ever since then I've been a big fan. Now I'm not suggesting that Simmons is the only thing about this film that strikes you but he'll mostly be the thing that leaves you continually thinking about it.
At a highly prestigious music school, 19 year old Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is determined to prove his worth as a drumming student. However, in order to prove himself he has to go through the exacting conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher is a man who accepts nothing but the best and to impress him becomes an arduous ordeal for young Neiman.
Inspirational teachers are often depicted in film with great respect and admiration. They often touch the hearts of their pupils and bring out the best in them. In Oscar nominated turns, Richard Dreyfuss' played music teacher Glenn Holland in the little-seen Mr. Holland's Opus and as the passionate English professor John Keating, the late Robin Williams achieved the same in Dead Poets Society. Two thoroughly heartwarming characters that inspired their students to want to learn and grow. Whiplash, however, takes an altogether different path; J.K. Simmons' Terence Fletcher certainly inspires his students but it's not through admiration or respect, it's through spite and a determination to prove his vehement criticism wrong. As a result, the film becomes a highly charged, back and forth, exchange between teacher and pupil.
The back and forth tension between the two characters almost reflect the instrument at the centre of the film itself; caught in the snare or Fletcher's marching bass, Neiman is like the clashing symbol trying to break out. There's a constant beat between them that director Damien Chazelle captures wonderfully. He has complete control over his scenes and when the moment is called upon to hold tight and build the tension, he does so with the ability of a director with twice his experience. Added to which, he manages to maintain this approach until the very end making Whiplash a great achievement in only his second film (after the Jazz musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench in 2009 he originally delivered Whiplash as a short film which won the Short Film Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival before being funded for a feature length film).
In order for Chazelle to realise his vision, though, he must have the actors to pull it off and he does; Young Miles Teller breaks free from his earlier romantic comedy roles to deliver a work of real maturity while Simmons is simply electrifying. As mentioned earlier, though, if you've seen Oz then this will be of no surprise to you. He's an absolutely ferocious and towering presence that dominates every scene he's involved in. Having already won numerous critical and festival awards including the Golden Globe - as well as being hotly tipped to take the Best Supporting Actor Oscar - it finally looks like Simmons has caught people's attention. I can only say... it's about fucking time. Simmons has been doing outstanding work for over 20 years now. No matter how big or small or how dramatic or comedic, he always delivers and no one, at this time, is more deserving of praise for their efforts than this man. Welcome Mr. Simmons! There's certainly no need for introductions. It's always a pleasure having you.
An intensely powerful and personal film that turns, what could be a generic and dull drama, into one that's gripping and absorbing from the offset. It's masterfully directed and outstandingly performed and when films of this nature creep up on the 'bigger' films of the year it not only demands your attention, it's deserving of it.
"When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can't do".
After the impressively talkative Margin Call and the hypnotically silent All Is Lost, the third film from J.C. Chandor had a lot of expectations behind it. However, due to a misjudged marketing campaign, I think many people will be left disappointed with A Most Violent Year. It's doesn't have echoes of The Godfather as the trailer would have you believe but is, in fact, a leisurely and low-key criminal affair that will mostly appeal to those who are prepared for it's more personal story.
Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is self-made businessman who is determined to expand his heating oil organisation. However, someone keeps hijacking his trucks costing him money and the trust of his local investors. Abel tries to deal with the situation lawfully and non-violently but his no-nonsense wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain) suggests he gets tougher on the gangsters and the unions around him before everything he's worked hard for comes crashing down.
The title A Most Violent Year will mislead many when it comes J.C. Chandor's third film. It actually refers to the year (1981) in which it's set, whereby New York had an upsurge of violent crimes. This violence isn't necessarily relevant to the film itself and to know this beforehand may allow you to enjoy the film and it's methodical and meticulous approach all the more.
Although this film should certainly not be compared to Francis Ford Coppola's Corleone saga, you can definitely see Oscar Isaac resembling a young Al Pacino. He plays his character with the same simmering intensity and intelligence and it's largely due to Isaac's towering performance that the film succeeds in being a mood-piece or a solid character study and less of a mob movie. It's not overly concerned with people getting 'whacked' or double-crossed but more concerned about business and how our struggling protagonist deals with things in a controlled and dignified manner despite his righteous indignation. It also doesn't help that his wife is the daughter of a Brooklyn gangster who feels the solution to every problem is a violent one. Keeping her in check is a constant problem, especially when it's played with such verve and dangerous passion by Jessica Chastain. Personally, I'd liked to have seen the leads among the Oscar contenders this year as the work they produce here, is some of their very best.
In hindsight, if Chandor had chosen a different title then he might not have led many viewers into false expectations. However, this is a slow burner and if you resist the urge to judge the film before seeing it, you'll find it as stylish and refined as the camel-haired apparel that Isaac carries so gallantly.