Avoiding Dark Unspeakable Hippy Horrors with Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice

After There Will Be Blood and The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson deserved to take a break, didn’t he?  He pulled off a similar lark after Boogie Nights and Magnolia when he directed “his version” of an Adam Sandler film with Punch -Drunk Love.  Much like the main character Doc Sportello has to dig deeper and deeper for the truth in this hippy noir, viewers have to dig deep to find any of screenwriter Anderson’s trademark themes in Inherent Vice.  Maybe there’s something about makeshift dysfunctional families here?  Having never read Thomas Pynchon’s source material, I can only assume all the darkly hilarious dope-fuelled and sometimes absurd banter is pealed straight from his novel (especially Joanna Newsom’s most pleasing to the ear voice-over work) as I felt and heard none of Anderson here.

This is a true adaptation handled with artistic care.  Where one does find the director Anderson is in the visuals, pacing and music. Longtime collaborator Robert Elswit evocatively photographs this Gordita Beach 1970 set rambling comic-mystery with gritty stock, soft blues and hints of sunset orange.  He does special wonders with the beautiful actresses in their groovy and revealing period garb and make-up (look at those pores!).  Anderson peppers in his always great taste in period music, while Jonny Greenwood provides a score unlike any he’s previously done, sweetly nostalgic and understated, perfectly accentuating the cool mood of the film.

In the lead role of Doc Sportello, Joaquin Phoenix gives the comedic performance of the year as the most howlingly expressive stoner detective ever to grace to the screen.  Yet the film is very much an ensemble piece, so much so it’s hard to pick out the highlights from the carnival of stars. Continue reading

Intimacy, Technology and Social Media in The Circle and Her

Dave Eggers The Circle

In Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle, young, impressionable and lonely Mae Holland lands a dream job with a utopian posh social media tech company thanks to nepotism.  There she becomes fully immersed in her new work, which turns out to be so much more than just another job, it’s a way of life…and Eggers’ quasi-futuristic look at a corporation-as-religion is both humorous and horrifying.  The Circle, like some parasitic mash-up of Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook is hell-bent on creating a world of complete transparency where cameras monitor everything, and every thought or notion that pops into someone’s head is shared ad nauseum on its social network.  The intentions seem noble – education through access to every piece of information available, surveillance as a way to deter crime, and transparency of governments to create a true global democracy.  But The Circle soon becomes a monopoly bending the populace and world governments to its will under the guise of this being the will of the people who champion The Circle’s causes through “Likes” and sharing.  It quickly becomes obvious that not everything should be known.  Eggers seems to be saying with this cautionary tale that there’s value in mystery and privacy is still a right.

Mae, unfortunately, falls head over heels for The Circle, and her connection to the corporation goes from whirlwind romance to abusive relationship.  She can’t seem to break herself from this way of life even as she witnesses the destruction of friends and family.  Eggers describes moments where Mae gets a certain “high” from posting, pinging, and liking across The Circle, where there’s a feeling of euphoria mixed with exhaustion.  Yet in the corner of her mind she sees a tear in the universe opening up that seems poised to swallow her into utter darkness.  And that’s what all this interconnectedness is…a black hole where synthetic moments take the place a real emotions and connections.

Her Joaquin Phoenix

Eggers’ vision could take place in the same universe as Spike Jonze’s latest and Academy Award nominated film, Her.  His protagonist, Theodore (an awkwardly charming and sad-sack Joaquin Phoenix), seems like the type of guy Mae Holland would date, and The Circle the type of place he might work.  But in Jonze’s universe, Theodore works at a company where he ghost-writes handwritten letters – synthetic pages of falsified emotions – and he’s fallen in love with his new state-of-the-art and self-evolving Operating System named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who gives a breathy and compelling performance without ever appearing on-screen – something that I initially thought of as a crime on Jonze’s part but actually works quite well).  Continue reading

The Cause of Love and War in The Master

A man adrift.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is an infinitely sad tale of doomed love and repeated miseries.

(READ CAREFULLY – SPOILERS AHEAD)

Poor Freddie Quell (a resurrected from the ashes Joaquin Phoenix) – the guy was doomed from the start.  From infancy, the people he loved the most were destined to ruin him – his father a drunk and his mother insane.  Adrift at sea in war-time, a lovely girl named Doris (Madisen Beaty) starts writing him letters.  When he returns home to court her, he realizes she is too young, only sixteen, and uncomfortably dedicated to the idea of their love.  Freddie has no choice but to go away.

Years pass and his troubles brew, soothed only by his homebrewed hooch and pleasures of the flesh.  Finally, he stumbles drunk onto a party boat lit up like a Christmas tree, afloat on a San Franciscan dock and temporarily home to The Cause.  There love finds him again, in the form of a charismatic cult leader named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman – exceeding even his own increasingly high standards of acting) who introduces himself to a nervous Freddie as “just a man.”  But their love, too, is doomed.

Of course none of this is presented so cleanly.  The calculated precision of Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction, clean lines of Mihai Malaimare Jr’s photography, and the impeccable production design of Jack Fisk create a strange dichotomy to the chaos living within the characters being studied.  Continue reading

Trailer Park Art in The Master

We’re all drowning in mediocrity, the new poster for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master seems to be telling us.  The announcement of “This Fall – 2012” appears as a wine vintage or wedding announcement.

But PTA doesn’t play those “glass half full – glass half empty” games with his audience.  His cup always runneth over…be it with oil as in There Will Be Blood or with…well…other fluids…as in Boogie Nights.  Sometimes he rains frogs on us like he did in Magnolia.

Whatever he does, he wants to overwhelm.  His movies are not to be watched but to be experienced.  Love them or hate them…they are always “something” – or better yet, when compared to other films…”something else.” 

Yes – some people make films for the masses…others are masters of their art and make films like The Master.  I don’t pretend to prejudge the finished product…but you can tell a lot from a well crafted trailer…and if nothing else, PTA’s latest promises to be “something to talk about.” 

On the heels of two cold, clinical character-study teasers, we get the first full-blow trailer for The Master below.  Much ballyhooed as a thinly veiled critique on Scientology, this trailer proves that while some highlights of L. Ron Hubbard’s life may have provided inspiration or jumping-off points, The Master is purely in PTA’s wheelhouse exploring the stress of makeshift/non-traditional families and the deep troubling waters of bonds between delusional father-figures and tortured sons.  Continue reading