Monday, October 6, 2014

"Inherent Vice" — Gathering the early opinions and analysis

Like most people, I won't see Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel, until December at the earliest.

But last week was a big moment for the film, as it debuted at the New York Film Festival and the embargo on critics' reviews was also lifted.

I am not going to read everything right now. That's my plan, at least. But I am scanning headlines and opening paragraphs of reviews because I'm interested in reading what people have to say about Inherent Vice while also avoiding as many spoilers as possible.

I find all of this fascinating, because Anderson is a much-beloved, very divisive and deeply analyzed filmmaker. The level of writing and analysis that surrounds his films is unlike that of most other directors. So I enjoyed checking out the reactions that flowed onto websites, Twitter accounts, comment sections and message boards after the festival showing.

If you're interested, too — and you probably are if you bothered to read this far — here's a collection of links and other interesting stuff that I've come across. This will serve as my set of bookmarks and I plan to come back and read this from top to bottom after I finally see Inherent Vice some day.

•HitFix's Drew McWeeny: "Review: Joaquin Phoenix dazzles and delights in warm and woozy 'Inherent Vice'"

•The Playlist's Rodrigo Perez: "NYFF Review: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson & More"

•The Guardian's Xan Brooks: "Inherent Vice review: a free range freak-out for California dreamers"

•Some Came Running's Glenn Kenny: "A Few Early Notes On The Film Version Of 'Inherent Vice'"

•Variety's Scott Foundas: "Film Review: ‘Inherent Vice’ — The '60s are over, everyone is on the run, and there's nowhere to hide in Paul Thomas Anderson's audacious, fiercely funny Pynchonian stoner noir"

•Little White Lies' David Ehrlich: "NYFF 2014: Inherent Vice"

•The Telegraph's Robbie Collin: "Inherent Vice, review: 'blissed-out bamboozlement'"

•Huffington Post's Matthew Jacobs and Erin Whitney: "Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Inherent Vice' Is A Crazy, Complicated Stoner Noir"

•Los Angeles Times' Steve Zeitchik: "NYFF: 'Inherent Vice' and the contemporary cult hit"

•Times' Richard Corliss: "Review: Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Druggy Nights"

•New York Post's Lou Lumenick: "‘Inherent Vice’ an Oscar non-starter"

•Indiewire's Eric Kohn: "Review: Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Inherent Vice' is a Faithful and Endearing Thomas Pynchon Adaptation"

•Cinema Viewfinder's Tony Dayoub: "NYFF52 Centerpiece Review: Inherent Vice (2014)"

•The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy: "'Inherent Vice': Film Review — The first Thomas Pynchon novel to hit the big screen gets uneven handling by Paul Thomas Anderson"

•The Film Stage's Nick Newman: "Inherent Vice: NYFF 2014 Review"

•Slant Magazine's Chris Cabin: "Inherent Vice"

•The New York Times' Logan Hill: "Pynchon’s Cameo, and Other Surrealities — Paul Thomas Anderson Films ‘Inherent Vice’"

•Flavorwire's Jason Bailey: "Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ Is a Breezy, Bizarre Blast"

•Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells, Part I: Excerpt from post titled Trippy, Woozy ’70s Sink-In…Texture, Man…Dirt and Scratch Marks…Whoa: "I need to think about Inherent Vice a bit before writing anything. ... One thing is for sure and that’s that tonight I just wasn’t hip or smart or observant enough to really get down with Inherent Vice. I kinda got where it was coming from but I couldn't get to a place of delight. I certainly got portions of it. I know I chucked at a few lines. But I'm basically too fucking stupid and my ears are too full of wax or something. So it's me — I'm the problem and not PTA."

•Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells, Part II: The previous post was followed up with one titled Morning-After Respect. An excerpt: "I said a couple of times that it was probably more my fault than Paul Thomas Anderson's that the film didn't turn me on that much (although some of it definitely made me feel spacey and swoony and half-baked) and…you know, tested my patience and all. But that's almost par for the course. ... But you always have to come to them — they never come to you. And that's cool."

•A Twitter take: Here's a string of October 5 tweets from Cory Everett (@modage): "#InherentVice is completely unlike any film Paul Thomas Anderson has ever made. And yet could not have been made by anyone else except PTA. ... As a mystery, #InherentVice is nearly incomprehensible (on 1st view anyway) but as a mood piece/time machine, it's pretty much unparalleled. ... #InherentVice may be PTA's least accessible film for general audiences but for those willing to get on its wavelength, def worth the trip."

•Finally, a Xixax commenter: Xixax is a fairly obscure movie message board that I used to frequent in the early 2000s (with a somewhat pretentious user name that referenced an Italian neorealism classic). A board member named wilder wrote an amazing stream-of-consciousness piece about Inherent Vice on October 5. I don't think it really spoils anything.

So I'll leave you with most of wilder's piece, and if it doesn't whet your appetite for the movie, then I'm definitely not sure why you read this far...
First thing I want to say is that I think this movie is virtually un-spoilerable.

If someone put a gun to my head and asked me to give a play-by-play of IV’s plot I’d be a dead man. I’ll need to watch it at least seven more times with subtitles before I’ll have the vaguest idea what was going on (mod was right to see this 3 times in one day). Even beyond the plot the movie is difficult to describe. The word “beguiling” has been used and is actually pretty apt. It’s hard to put your finger on, but that’s maybe the point, because Doc has a hard time putting his finger on anything beyond his lost love for the duration of Inherent Vice’s running time. The beauty is that it doesn’t even matter if you’re able to follow the story — what was most compelling to me was the always unexpected, dissonant ways the characters Doc comes across behaved within their vignettes. A scene is moving “this way” and a character is moving “that way” instead. Their life, their full, fleshed out life, memory, experience, all that, is what you’re watching, a specific slice of it shown just because it happens to coincide with the plot’s need to show a character at that moment, but their helping to unravel the mystery doesn’t really seem to matter. We get to see them, instead. This has to have the best acting in any PT movie, often Cassavetes level, an unprecedented immediacy in comparison to his previous films, and the detective story seems more an excuse for observation, a way to get Doc mobile running around Los Angeles and into the presence of all these insane characters to fix his eyes on what’s-going-on-with-them as humans regardless of their part within the crime thread.

The Master was beautiful but visually this is another horse entirely, a step beyond. It LOOKS like a movie straight up made in the 70s even moreso than Boogie Nights, and if I was unfamiliar with all names involved and happened to see it I’d probably think it actually was. The lighting, the textures, the furniture…how did he do that? It boggles my mind. I wasn’t alive 40 years ago, but even if it isn’t period accurate it definitely doesn’t look “like now”, and it doesn’t look like a pastiche. I need to rewatch the trailer but I feel like it was color timed to appear more like a normal movie, the picture I saw up on that screen felt such a departure from it. Maybe the trailer difference was my imagination. Whatever.

Inherent Vice starts off like something in the tonal vein of Love Streams and morphs, with the momentum of a hawaiian slide guitar, into a mad, mindblowing labyrinth of cryptic doublespeak and double entendres. It’s perverted as hell, thank god (Thank GOD), and DENSE, so many things going on and to pick up on repeat viewings. It’s a slipstream of madcap antics and unbeatable melancholy. Who is who and why is why and how is what I couldn’t tell you. I don’t think I care that I couldn’t tell you. The acting is SO GOOD though, that even when you’re bewildered, when characters like Martin Short’s Doctor Blatnoyd are speaking almost incoherently but Doc seems right there with them and to have some clue what’s going on, you believe them so fully as people, their renderings feel so real, that it doesn’t feel like the scene doesn’t make sense, but that you’re privy to an actual event that took place and just haven’t cracked the code. I loved that. Even if I never make sense of it I could watch it again and again — an endless supply of deranged company to hang out with.

In some ways Inherent Vice feels like a fraternal twin of The Master, conveying similar skepticism about America’s ideals, about its skeptics alternatives, and of any answers in general, and like The Master, at its core the movie is about a love that got away - love the only thing that will save you, and love as a drug that’s worth taking because sobriety in this life without a point doesn’t seem to be worth it. Love as a drug…a loved life worth living…sobriety as a life without love…drugs as a substitute for that lacking love…something or other…

Ironic that this is the film of PT’s that has big studio backing behind it — WB is out of their minds. Yeah it has humor, but it’s his least commercial movie by a mile, and I wonder what the fuck is going to happen come day one of its wide release when word of mouth spreads. The trailer is SO OFF — I don’t even know what to relate the movie to as I’ve never seen anything else like it. Long Goodbye this Big Lebowski that — not even close. I’ll say this - the movie makes you feel like PT is the only real filmmaker out there right now making anything new or pushing any boundaries to show you something you haven’t seen before. You realize how rote everything else is in comparison, how many patterns most movies follow even in terms of “art film” style. ...

Going to have to edit this a bunch of times because my mind is still swirling and I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to wrap my head around something concrete. I know my comments are vague but atm I don’t know how to describe my feelings or really what I saw. The movie is so so original, and will rekindle your love of film and belief in its future possibilities even more than The Master, I think. IV goes into fever dream territory and never comes out.

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