Seven independent features are opening this weekend. Seven! How will you decide what to see? Here are my priorities:
Amy. A documentary about a popular singer who killed herself? A lot of sadness is inherent in this effort by Asif Kapadia (Senna), but if you can deal with that. this is also one of the most highly-touted indie films of the moment. Angelika Dallas.
Strangerland. We’ll have Joe Baker’s review up shortly. Nicole Kidman and Hugo Weaving star. AMC Grapevine Mills.
Accidental Love (Nailed). Jessica Biel gets a nail in her head in this wacky comedy. This is the David Russell-directed production from a few years ago that ran out of money; the producers finished the film and supervised the editing, while Russell removed his name. Angelika Dallas.
Batkid Begins.The Make-A-Wish foundation helps a little boy give a Batman performance and the city of San Francisco plays along in this documentary. Angelika Dallas.
Meet Me in Montenegro. “A comedy about a failed American writer who enters into an affair after a chance encounter with a European dancer. Texas Theatre.
Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot. Dirk speaks German in this documentary. Landmark Magnolia.
The Suicide Theory. Suicidal man hires demented killer yet somehow survives each attempt on his life. Studio Grill Spring Valley.
Three films are opening wide in theaters throughout Dallas tomorrow. Are any of them worth your dime?
Self/Less. Ben Kingsley is a wealthy New York real-estate developer who is dying. Then he hears about a company that promises the transference of consciousness to a lab-grown body. Presto, gizmo, he dies and wakes up in the body of Ryan Reynolds. Cool, right? Eh, not so much. Director Tarsem Singh (The Cell) makes many pretty pictures before the thoughtful tale devolves into a second-rate thriller. Reviewed at TwitchFilm. Recommended with reservations.
Minions. The silly tiny supporting characters in the Despicable Me movies get their own starring roles in a new animated adventure. Advance word has not been positive, though it definitely sounds like very young children will relate.
The Gallows. Teenagers, school, found footage, something horrible from the past has come back, and so forth. The found-footage approach has become wearisome to me, but I’m curious to hear how this one turned out.
The Lazarus Effect. Olivia Wilde dies and is then resurrected, to the misery of her fellow scientific experimenters. With Mark Duplass and Evan Peters. Wide release.
Focus. Will Smith and Margot Robbie in con-man adventure. Wide release.
A La Mala. A comedy from Mexico about a woman who helps her best friend test out her fiancee’s fidelity. Hmm, this sounds familiar. Wide release.
Human Capital A drama from Italy about two families and a tragic accident. Angelika Dallas.
Maps to the Stars. David Cronenberg looks at Hollywood. With Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, and Robert Pattinson. Look Cinemas.
Out of the Dark. Newly-arrived in Colombia, a married couple (Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman) discover their daughter is in mortal danger due to … ghosts? The movie is better than it may sound. with Stephen Rea. Studio Grill Spring Valley.
Red Army. An acclaimed documentary about the famed and fearsome Soviet Union national hockey team. Angelika Dallas, Cinemark West Plano.
Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal. A Chinese New Year’s confection from director Peter Pau. Cinemark Legacy.
Timbuktu. Academy Award-nominated drama about a cattle herder and his family. Landmark Magnolia, Angelika Plano.
What We Do in the Shadows. A horror-comedy mockumentary from the very funny and talented duo behind Flight of the Conchords. Advance word is positive. Angelika Dallas, Angelika Plano.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is sure to polarize and challenge the expectations from a film noir. It’s a woozy tapestry of gung-ho cops, mysterious drug lords, disaffected Flower Children, fringe political anarchists and lots of marijuana use by its lead private investigator, which only casts a wider sense of paranoia and murkiness around the whole affair.
It’s also about the tenuous moment in time when sunny California, as the template for America at large, changed from the Summer of Love into something decidedly more sinister. Now, full admission. I worship P.T. Anderson’s films, so take the rest of this with a cinematic grain of salt. Two of his most divisive films, Magnolia (1999) and The Master (2012), I consider as two of the best films of their respective decades.
Like those ambitious efforts, Inherent Vice doesn’t play by the rules. The dialogue and voice-over (by indie singer Joanna Newsom) evoke the guttural poetry of a Hunter S. Thompson novel. Scenes between characters run on for minutes at a time, often in a slow zoom single take, allowing the words and their hidden meanings to take shape before our eyes. The actual case taken on by “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) doesn’t congeal into an easily explainable finale, often raising more questions than it answers. Inherent Vice isn’t a disposable Friday night date film. It requires patience, a bit of personal interaction and the desire to lose oneself in the convoluted universe Anderson and novelist Thomas Pynchon, whose book the film is based upon, have created. It’s a tall order but one that delivers on its majestic intent.
Taking place in the fictionalized ocean side town of Gordita Beach, California, in 1970, private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) has his nightly “decompression” time interrupted by ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston) asking for help. She’s involved with some bad people who want to capitalize on the fortunes of her current boyfriend, wealthy land developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). He accepts the assignment and, before long, finds himself in a cascading tunnel of police investigations, shady characters and loose ends, all the while continuing to smoke pot which most assuredly obfuscates his own thinking on the case.
In addition to all that, other people begin seeking him out for the resolution of their own missing people. A distraught housewife (Jean Malone) wants “Doc” to find her missing jazz saxophonist husband (Owen Wilson). A Black Panther member (Michael K. Williams) enlists “Doc” to investigate an old cellmate with ties to the Aryan Brotherhood. His visit to a massage parlor and its kinky employee (Hong Chau) exposes “Doc” to the Golden Fang — which could either be a nondescript boat or the corporate name for a vertical drug smuggling operation responsible for pummeling the West Coast with heroin.
Somehow, all these leads inadvertently careen back to Wolfmann. Even the help of “Doc’s” supposed allies, including his lawyer buddy (Benecio del Toro), Deputy District Attorney/old girlfriend Penny (Reese Witherspoon), and overbearing Detective Bigfoot Bjornson (Josh Brolin), lead him further down the rabbit hole of suspicion, confusion and alienation.
Inherent Vice features so many red herrings, unusually zany cameos (Martin Short, incredible!) and diversions from the truth it soon becomes almost a parody of film noir. Fasten your seat belts. This isn’t your father’s Sam Spade.
In Anderson’s sophomore epic film on the travails of the porn industry, Boogie Nights (1997), the central set-piece involved a New Year’s Eve party on December 31, 1979, where emotions boil to the surface and a violent outburst shatters the good times. Nothing’s the same after that. The 1980s arrived and video cassette effectively curtailed that industry’s heyday. Within that 20-minute set-piece, Anderson effectively conveyed the end of an era.
With Inherent Vice he stretches the collision of the old 1960s free love with the harsher realities of the 70s over two and a half hours. The Sharon Tate murders are mentioned. The horrible, degenerative effect of heroin on the body are alluded to several times. As Shasta Fay, actress Waterston is given a long monologue that succinctly delineates her feelings on the state of modern relationships.
Effectively, Inherent Vice is a very sad film behind its very comedic heart. Its narrative may not always make complete sense, but the mood it resonates makes all the sense in the world. It’s one of the very best films of the year.