INHERENT VICE (2014)

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Set in 1970, private investigator Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is visited by his ex-girlfriend who asks him to look into a possible sting operation on her current real estate mogul boyfriend by his wife and her lover and so, gets embroiled in a tangled web of secrets, Nazis, crazy dentists and tightly wound police men.

I like Paul Thomas Anderson and he is one of the few directors whose films I will definitely watch and always look forward to them.

Inherent Vice is very enjoyable, as complicated as may be; Anderson steeps us in this L.A. noir world that is unusually bright for a Noir film.

Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s book of the same name, this is a journey through the complex world of a private detective, his ex-girlfriend, her housing mogul boyfriend and an array of weird and wonderful characters.

I haven’t read the book yet but will be doing so very soon.

The great Joaquin Phoenix plays the P.I., Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello whose penchant for the greener type of smoking infuses the film with a heady haziness that is a lot of fun once you accept it for what it is. The audience is mostly always on the same page as Doc, so the ride is as surprising to him as it is to us.

The cinematography by Robert Elswit (Anderson’s regular lenser) is stunning, filled with beautifully composed shots. He recently shot the fantastic Nightcrawler that is also set in L.A. mostly at night whereas Inherent Vice is filled with the L.A. sunshine.

This has the hallmarks of a cult film; there will be midnight screenings for the fans. It is not a film that gen pop will willingly go to, it’s too convoluted for most viewers who like everything neatly tied up and explained but for the adventurous amongst you, this will be a treat.

Anderson was introduced to me, like most of us via the superb Boogie Nights and he followed this with his opus, Magnolia. I went back and watched Hard Eight (cut to ribbons by the studio) which was an enjoyable mess (director’s cut anytime sooon?) and then Punch Drunk Love followed by There Will be Blood and The Master. All of these contain quality storytelling and although I had problems with There Will Be Blood (Daniel Day-Lewis’ incredible performance overshadowing the narrative) Anderson’s oeuvre is filled with incredible performances and always-interesting film-making.

Katherine Waterson (Sam’s daughter) plays the ethereal, Shasta Fay Hepworth and delivers a performance worthy of note; she literally lays herself bare both physically and emotionally. She is an interesting actor whose choices and skills are given free reign here.

The supporting cast are all excellent; Josh Brolin as the angry policeman, Bigfoot, Joanna Newsom as the film’s earth mother/narrator, Sortilège, Martin Short as the unhinged dentist, Dr Rudy Blatnoyd, Hong Chau as the masseur/prostitute, Jade, Eric Roberts as the real estate mogul and boyfriend of Shasta, Mickey Wolfmann, Serena Scott Thomas as his wife, Sloane, Michael K Williams as Tariq Khalil, Owen Wilson as the musician, Coy Harlingen and Benicio Del Toro as Doc’s lawyer amongst many very talented others.

Paul Thomas Anderson has always loved actors and he is definitely an actor’s director.
Special mention should go to Jonny Greenwood for creating a beautiful soundtrack.

This is a film for cineastes out there, those with an appreciation for all things cinema and I, for one, will be re-watching this at some point.

4/5

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THE IMMIGRANT (2013)

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James Gray brilliantly recreates New York in the 1920’s with this tale of a Polish immigrant arriving at Ellis Island with her sister only to get embroiled in prostitution as she tries to raise the money to release her sister who is being detained on the island due to illness.

Brought up in Queens, New York, Gray locates this film in his beloved city. He is clearly influenced by Francis Ford Coppola and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America as far as the film-making techniques go; a brown hue permeates the film that is reminiscent of The Godfather and American films of the seventies. This is made possible by the sepia tones of Darius Khondji’s delicious cinematography.

Marion Cotillard is Ewa, the immigrant of the title and she cements her status as one of the finest screen actors working today. The sign of a great actor is the capability to project emotions with a look and she does this wonderfully.

Gray is an arthouse director with European sensibilities. His films tend to be downbeat and deal with the darker aspects of life, the complicated relationships between characters; they are not to everyone’s taste but nevertheless have artistic merit.

Joaquin Phoenix is Bruno Weiss, Ewa’s twisted guardian angel, who cajoles her into the grim world of prostitution but strangely finds himself conflicted as he falls in love with her; another stellar performance from Phoenix in an already impressive canon. Jeremy Renner is on romantic duties as Bruno’s cousin who falls for Ewa. Excellent performances all round.

This is a world of struggle and challenges for all the characters and all the creatives commit fully to tell this bleak tale of survival and the incredible fortitude of the human spirit.

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3/5