Monday, December 29, 2014

INHERENT VICE (2014)

Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 16, 2014 5:15PM



"Inherent Vice", an adaption of the detective novel by Thomas Pynchon, is the latest from director, Paul Thomas Anderson. This is the first time a book by Mr. Pynchon has attempted to be cinematically rendered and there's probably a good reason for this. The author's novels tend to be quite dense and atmospheric which doesn't necessarily make them easily translated in to film. However, if anyone could possibly bring them to life, that would be Mr. Anderson. The writer/director has a successful history of making films featuring complex and unexpected subject matter with some of Anderson's most engaging work includes the 1970's porn industry in "Boogie Nights", the unconventional romance of "Punch-Drunk Love" and the indirect look at the cult of Scientology in "The Master". With "Inherent Vice",  Pynchon's offbeat characters and the era this mystery is set seems right up his alley but the more surreal elements seem to throw the filmmaker off-balance. Some of the scenes that work are delightfully funny and strange but taken together as a whole, the hazy pieces are far too ambiguous and don't fit well enough to feel coherent.

The story takes place in 1970's Los Angeles and the usually tranquil city is tense due to the recent Charles Manson murder trials. Joaquin Phoenix is perfectly cast as Larry "Doc" Sportello, a perpetually stoned private detective who can become somewhat lucid when the time is required. Sportello isn't much to look at, with his mutton-chop sideburns and filthy feet nor particularly charming yet he manages to be utterly irresistible to women.

When his former love, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, daughter of Sam) reappears in to his life, those old tender feelings for this classic California beauty resurface. But Shasta has actually sought "Doc" out because she needs help. She has gotten involved with Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a married real-estate tycoon and he's vanished. Shasta is concerned because she's aware that Mickey's wife (Serena Scott Thomas, sister of Kristin) and her lover wanted to have Mickey committed in to a mental institution.

Not long after "Doc" begins his investigation through the sunny streets of L.A., the case turns suddenly quite eerie and violent. He's knocked unconscious after visiting one of Mickey's more lurid investments and awakens next to the dead body of one of the investor's bodyguards. This situation has "Doc" running up against LAPD detective, Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) who is no fan of the hippie detective. No-nonsense, intolerant and never in the mood for civility, Bjornsen is the type of lunkhead brute that populated the police force at this time (some would say still). After questioning "Doc" and getting nowhere, Bjornsen lets him go but keeps an eagle-eye on the whereabouts of the bumbling detective.

"Doc" is soon lead in the direction of the Golden Fang, a mysterious syndicate of dentists. After meeting the drug-induced wacko, Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short), it's clear that this organization has far more sinister interests than simply checking for cavities.

As far as the entangled plot is concerned, "Inherent Vice" is all over the place. Mr. Anderson seems less interested in presenting a clear conclusion to this twisted case but rather putting the focus on a weird, laid-back comic vibe filled with a little sex, a lot of drugs and soft California rock breezing through the air. With reliable help from long-time cinematographer, Robert Elswit (who has done all of Anderson's films except "The Master"), editor, Leslie Jones and Radiohead musician, Jonny Greenwood who composed the music for the director's last three projects, Mr. Anderson has created a beautifully, demented world but it's not nearly enough to make you want to stay long despite the formidable presence of Mr. Phoenix. The actor, who utilized his manic energy to great effect in "The Master", has gone in the opposite end of the spectrum here as his mellow detective hilariously never loses his cool despite the craziness that surrounds him.

Famous faces make appearances throughout including Benicio del Toro as Sportello's friend and lawyer, Sauncho Smillax, Jena Malone as a dentally-challenged, former druggie in search of her possibly still-breathing, deceased musician boyfriend, Coy Harlingen played by Owen Wilson. Also on hand is Resse Witherspoon, who re-teams with her "Walk The Line" co-star, as a straight-laced, district attorney who occasionally beds "Doc" and enjoys his drugs. There are some interesting lesser-known faces on board, in addition to the impressive Ms Waterston, such as Tony-winner, Jefferson Mays and musician, Joanna Newsom as Sortilège who helps out "Doc"on cases and provides the film with much needed narration. It's no surprise that one of the film's greatest strengths are the solid performances as this is one of Mr. Anderson's specialties but the parade of talented actors are still largely wasted as they drift in, then out with most never to be seen again.

It's clear Mr. Anderson had no intention of making a conventional crime noir and he certainly hasn't. "Inherent Vice" is a wild jumble of outlandish reflections and trippy images in search of a tangible narrative. I must admit I had great difficulty following along with this obscure story. Perhaps the film might be better enjoyed (and understood) under the influence but to be perfectly honest, I don't think there's much that would help clear up the confusion.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

The National Film Registry announced the twenty-five films that have been inducted for this year. These works range from the first Pixar computer-generated short ("Luxo, Jr."), the first Hollywood 3-D film ("House of Wax"), a horror classic ("Rosemary's Baby"), a stoner detective noir ("The Big Lebowski") and the beloved children's film that introduced us to Oompa-Loompas ("Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory"). The goal of the registry is to showcase the extraordinary diversity of America’s film heritage and by preserving these films, protecting a crucial element of American creativity, culture and history.

Here is the complete list of the films selected in to the 2014 National Film Registry. The films chosen must be at least ten years old and this now brings the total to 650 films in the registry:

"13 Lakes" (2004)

"Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day" (1913)

"The Big Lebowski"(1998)



"Down Argentine Way" (1940)

"The Dragon Painter" (1919)

"Felicia" (1965)

"Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" (1986)

"The Gang’s All Here" (1943)

"House of Wax" (1953)



"Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport" (2000)



"Little Big Man" (1970)

"Luxo Jr." (1986)

"Moon Breath Beat" (1980)

"Please Don’t Bury Me Alive!" (1976)

"The Power and the Glory" (1933)

"Rio Bravo" (1959)



"Rosemary’s Baby" (1968)


"Ruggles of Red Gap"(1935)

"Saving Private Ryan"(1998)

"Shoes" (1916)

"State Fair"(1933)

"Unmasked" (1917)

"V-E + 1" (1945)

"The Way of Peace" (1947)

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

GREAT PERFORMERS: 9 KISSES


The New York Times has once again rounded up some of the actors who gave memorable performances in 2014. This year, they have paired them up to make nine short films directed by Elaine Constantine with the focus on the intimate act of the kiss.

Some of the fascinating actors involved include Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood"), Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher"), Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Imitation Game"), Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Belle" & "Beyond The Lights"), David Oyelowo ("Selma" & "A Most Violent Year"), Jenny Slate ("Obvious Child"), Timothy Spall ("Mr. Turner") and Reese Witherspoon ("Wild" & "Inherent Vice").

Click below to see all the videos:

9 Kisses

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

Written by Graham Moore


Directed by Morten Tyldum


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 1, 2014  8:15PM



When Alan Turing took his own life in 1954, most people were unaware of his invaluable assistance in helping end the war against Hitler. With the first English-language film by Norwegian filmmaker, Morten Tyldum, the compelling, historical drama, "The Imitation Game" corrects this oversight by revealing exactly what this British mathematician accomplished and how the world is still benefiting from his amazing achievements.

The film opens a couple of years before his death as Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear), a police detective, grows suspicious after Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) reports a robbery but nothing has been taken. Thinking he's on the cusp of a much bigger story, Nock begins to dig in the mathematical biologist's background but finds that his records have been sealed. Knowing that Turing is hiding something (perhaps he's a spy?), he's brought in for questioning. But the answers turn out to be far from anything that the detective could possibly imagine.

We go back to middle of the second World War as Britain is losing many brave men in this long battle while the country is being relentlessly bombed by the treacherous Nazi army. Turing has been brought on board to join the top-secret team at Bletchley Park to work on breaking the encrypted codes used by the Germans to plan their deadly rampage with their Enigma machine. While clearly a highly intelligent man, Turing is rather clueless on how to properly engage with other people. Arrogant, demanding and quite odd, Turing has difficulty fitting in with the rest of his team which includes chess champ, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and John Cairncross (Allen Leech). Frustrated, in his view, by the need for more qualified associates and a lack of funds to build an electro-mechanical device to help him with the task at hand, Turning goes over the head of his stern superior, Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and writes to his superior, Winston Churchill.

Not only does Turing get what he needs, he's given control of this project. To acquire suitable minds, a crossword puzzle is placed in a newspaper with anyone able to complete invited to apply for a job. The potential applicants are decidedly male with the exception of a tardy young woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). After an attempt to shoo her away, Turing allows Clarke to take the qualifying test that needs to be completed in under six minutes. Guess who was the first to finish?

With a top-notch team now in place (with Clarke brought on publicly as a secretary to appease her skeptical parents and chauvinistic co-workers), Turing begins work on assembling his machine. When the bombe, affectionately named "Christopher" by the inventor, is finally up-and-running, they are still no closer in be able to decipher the Nazi messages. As Hitler and his powerful army continues to heavily pummel Britain, Commander Denniston grows impatient with Turing, demanding to see results or he will shut down his unit.

"The Imitation Game" is staged like a fairly conventional bio-pic with actual events clearly heightened for dramatic effect. But director Tyldum doesn't allow this to restrict him as he skillfully brings stylish visual touches with the help of cinematographer, Óscar Faura that makes this film feel far from ordinary. The smart script by Graham Moore (which was number one in 2011 on The Black List which ranks the best unproduced scripts) delivers emotional depth to the story by taking us back to Turing's childhood to help give us better understanding of his peculiar behavior. We see his time spent at the all-male boarding school where the bullied boy meets his first friend, Christopher which awakens his desire and sadly, teaches him about devastating loss.

The impressive cast also help make this film stand out which includes Mark Strong as the shadowy Major General Menzies who simply stands back and observes until he decides his services are truly needed. But it is Mr Cumberbatch, in what is really his first major starring film role, who holds "The Imitation Game" together as he delivers a masterful turn as Turing. The actor makes us care deeply for this complicated and eccentric man who is unable to express himself in a way for others to understand. Mr. Cumberbatch is known for his distinctive but quite striking facial features; the long face, wide-set eyes and cupid lips and this unusual combination adds to making Turing seem different. Ms Knightly, who I think is not given proper due as an actress, turns in another exceptional performance as the lone woman in this group of intellectuals. Clarke wasn't able to reach her full potential during this time because of her gender but Turing saw her as an equal and they make a great team.

Although Turing and Clarke never had a real romance despite being briefly engaged, the couple shared a deep passion of the mind and spirit. Many years after their heroic efforts during the war, Alan and Joan are reunited. While she had married well and started a family, Clarke is shocked and quite saddened to see a shell of the strange but brilliant friend she once knew. After being sentenced for the crime of homosexuality, Turing faced either a long prison sentence or chemical castration. This was a very tragic ending for a man who not only saved countless lives by helping end the war years earlier but paved the way for the invention of the modern computer.

Monday, December 8, 2014

AWARD SEASON 2014

Yes film lovers, it's that time once again. Critics from across the country are getting their say on what they consider the best of 2014. Over the past week, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and the National Board of Review have announced their picks and today, the American Film Institute weighed in on their favorites. You can always count on them to bring some attention to little-seen gems (Tom Hardy in "Locke", "Nightcrawler", "Ida" and Marion Cotillard for her work in "The Immigrant") and buzz for upcoming releases ("Selma"and Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper") but surprisingly, they all seem to be in agreement with Richard Linklater and his amazing "Boyhood" as the film is receiving universal love from these groups.

Here is a round-up of the selections:

AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR

"American Sniper"
"Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
"Boyhood"
"Foxcatcher"
"The Imitation Game"
"Interstellar"
"Into the Woods"
"Nightcrawler"
"Selma"
"Unbroken"
"Whiplash"

2014 New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Best Picture: "Boyhood"
Best Director: Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson and and Hugo Guinness, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Best Actor: Timothy Spall, "Mr. Turner"
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, "The Immigrant" and "Two Days, One Night"
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons,"Whiplash"
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Best Cinematographer: Darius Khondji, "The Immigrant"
Best Animated Film: "The LEGO Movie"
Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary): "Citizenfour"
Best Foreign Film: "Ida"
Best First Film: Jennifer Kent, "The Babadook"

2014 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

Best Picture: “Boyhood
Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood
Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, “The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Actor: Tom Hardy, “Locke
Best Actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress: Agata Kulesza, “Ida
Best Foreign Language Film: “Ida
Best Animation: “Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Best Documentary: “Citizenfour
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman
Best Editing: Sandra Adair, “Boyhood
New Generation Award: Ava DuVernay, “Selma

2014 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards:

Best Picture: "Boyhood"
Best Director: Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Screenplay: (Tie) Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo, "Birdman," and Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night" and "The Immigrant"
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Best Ensemble Cast: "Boyhood"
Best Documentary: "Citizenfour"
Best Animated Film: "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Two Days, One Night"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki,"Birdman"
Best Film Editing: Sandra Adair, "Boyhood"
Best Use of Music in a Film: "Inherent Vice"
Best New Filmmaker: Dan Gilroy, "Nightcrawler"

National Board of Review Top Films of 2014:

"American Sniper"
"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance"
"Boyhood"
"Fury"
"Gone Girl"
"The Imitation Game"
"Inherent Vice"
"The Lego Movie"
"Nightcrawler"
"Unbroken"

Best Film: "A Most Violent Year"
Best Director: Clint Eastwood, "American Sniper"
Best Actor (Tie): Oscar Isaac, "A Most Violent Year" and Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, "A Most Violent Year"
Best Original Screenplay: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, "The Lego Movie"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, "Inherent Vice"
Best Animated Feature: "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
Breakthrough Performance: Jack O'Connell, "Starred Up" & "Unbroken"
Best Directorial Debut: Gillian Robespierre, "Obvious Child"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Wild Tales"
Best Documentary: "Life Itself"
Best Ensemble: "Fury"
Spotlight Award: Chris Rock for writing, directing, and starring in "Top Five"
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: "Rosewater"
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: "Selma"