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

BUY THE FILM ON BLU RAY DVD HERE

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12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)

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“The most important film you’ll see this year” usually means you have to drag yourself to see something worthy and as great as it may be you will probably suffer it.

This is NOT one of those films. It is far from a chore, it is a joy. A beautifully made piece of film, filled with all the right ingredients prepared in the right order.

Cinematography-Check. Sean Bobbitt frames it stunningly, a delight to behold.

Writing-Check. John Ridley delivers a screenplay devoid of sentimentality.

Acting-Check check check. We shall return to my favourite subject soon.

Direction-Check mate. Steve McQueen walks the line betwixt true story honesty and great storytelling.

I have yet to see Hunger but as much as I thought Shame was as well made film, I had some issues with it as a whole. I felt it was too loose and Fassbender’s character had no big transformation. Beautifully shot (Sean Bobbit again as D.O.P.), but ultimately, for me, unsatisfying.

With 12 Years a Slave, however, McQueen has hit all the right marks and knocks it out of the park.

The balance is near enough perfect.

And now, the acting.

Everyone brings their ‘A’ game to this incredibly sensitive true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who is duped, separated from his family and sold into slavery. The film takes place in 1841 and shows Northup enduring all manner of horrific injustices over the subsequent 12 years.

This is not a Passion of the Christ/Schindler’s List type of experience though. As brutal as it is the story unfolds with space and subtlety and takes the viewer on a cinematic journey that delivers its message maturely and clearly.

All are excellent, mired in truth and devoid of the over-acting and over-emoting that we come to expect from stories with heavy subject matter.

Michael Kenneth Williams turns up as another man duped and sold, always nice to see him whatever he does, he brings a weight to his performances that I enjoy tremendously.
Dwight Henry is wonderful as the other side to Michael K’s coin.
Taran Killam, an SNL alumni and Scoot McNairy play the dupers with the right balance of conniving and conviction.
Benedict Cumberbatch is securing his place in Hollywood as the conflicted slave owner Solomon is initially sold to.
Paul Dano injects his role with a raw animal energy that is both unhinged and scary.
Michael Fassbender comes in like a man possessed with wanton lust and his commitment to going to the dark side had been deservedly acknowledged by the awards posse.
Lupita Nyong’o delivers and performance of such sadness and beauty it’s enough to break your heart and is also being recognized by the awards mafia.
Paul Giamatti turns up as the procurer and seller of the stolen people.

If I’ve forgotten anyone, I apologise, everyone is stellar.

And, of course, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Words cannot begin to do justice to the depth and subtlety of his performance. He is extraordinary. My friend was talking about how receptive he is in this and his playing off the other actors is a masterclass in how to do actings. He is telling the story and not getting in the way.

No histrionics here, just plain and simple truths.

It is a testament to an actor who has never really put a foot wrong in his career making his first big splash in 1997 with Spielberg’s Amistad.

He deserves every accolade and firmly cements his place as an actor of extreme talent.

Now, I know this has been a long one but it would be remiss of me to not mention my theory that it had to take an Englishman to bring this film to the table. Maybe it’s too close to the bone emotionally for a current native American to tell this story clearly, without being clouded by their emotions.

Not necessarily an Englishman but someone other than an American. There is a greater level of perspective with someone who has distance allowing the space to tell the story honestly and with clarity.

Maybe it’s controversial but look at the track record of American made slave films (Wikipedia counts 29), from Birth of a Nation to Django Unchained never has a film dealt with the issues at hand with such sensitivity.

So, hats off to Mr McQueen and all who came to the table, you have made a powerful film that should be part of the school curriculum. A dark time in recent history that needs to be looked at and acknowledged.

4.6/5

BUY THE BLU-RAY DVD HERE

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