Inherent Vice (2014, PT Anderson)

It feels, accurately, like an adaptation of a long, wordy book, in that it’s a long, wordy movie that crams in characters and investigations and descriptions and dialogues and backstories through its runtime, leaving little breathing room or sense that it’s all adding up to something. And it feels like one of those sprawling PT Anderson ensemble dramas, in that it’s packed to the gills with great actors, some of them never better than here. And it’s faithful to the madcap trailer, in that it contains those lines and comic scenes. And it’s similar to Big Lebowski, in that they’re both quizzically-plotted red-herring comedies featuring addled detectives. But it’s like none of these things, the visuals closer to Anderson’s The Master than I was prepared for, the mood less comic and hopeful. Some of the critic reactions I looked up mention the dark, disillusioned second half of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, a good point of reference. It’s being called the first Pynchon adaptation, but only because nobody (myself included) saw the semi-official Gravity’s Rainbow movies Impolex and Prufstand VII. Random movie references, presumably from the book: a company called Vorhees Kruger, a street called Gummo Marx Way.

This is Joaquin Phoenix’s show, but his cop frenemy Josh Brolin keeps trying to kick his ass and steal it. Also great: Jena Malone as an ex-junkie looking for her husband, Katherine Waterston as Doc’s ex-and-future girlfriend with questionable allegiances, and Martin Short as a depraved dentist. Plus: Martin Donovan, Omar, Eric Roberts, Jonah from Veep, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Hong Chau and Joanna Newsom.

D. Ehrlich:

Anderson has imbued [Joanna Newsom] with a spectral dimension – every conversation she has with Doc sheds light on his isolation, but each of her appearances ends with a cut or camera move that suggests that she was never there, that she isn’t an antidote to his loneliness so much as its most lucid projection.

MZ Seitz, who is “about 90 percent certain [Newsom] is not a figment of anyone’s imagination.”:

Phrases like “peak of his powers” seem contrary to the spirit of the thing. Vice impresses by seeming uninterested in impressing us. Anderson shoots moments as plainly as possible, staging whole scenes in unobtrusive long takes or tight closeups, letting faces, voices and subtle lighting touches do work that fifteen years ago he might’ve tried to accomplish with a virtuoso tracking shot that ended with the camera tilting or whirling or diving into a swimming pool.

G. Kenny:

The movie walks a very particular high wire, soaking in a series of madcap-surreal hijinks in an ambling, agreeable fashion to such an extent that even viewers resistant to demanding “what’s the point” might think “what’s the point.”

D. Edelstein:

It’s actually less coherent than Pynchon, no small feat. It’s not shallow, though. Underneath the surface is a vision of the counterculture fading into the past, at the mercy of the police state and the encroachment of capitalism. But I’m not sure the whole thing jells.

Seitz again:

Something in the way Phoenix regards Brolin … suggest an addled yet fathomless empathy. They get each other. In its way, the relationship between the stoner “detective” who pretends to be a master crime fighter and the meathead cop who sometimes moonlights as an extra on Dragnet is the film’s real great love story, an accidental metaphor for the liberal/conservative, dungarees/suits, blue state/red state divide that’s defined U.S. politics since the Civil War.

A. O’Hehir:

Like Anderson’s other films (and like Pynchon’s other books), Inherent Vice is a quest to find what can’t be found: That moment, somewhere in the past, when the entire American project went off the rails, when the optimism and idealism – of 1783, or 1948, or 1967 – became polluted by darker impulses. As Pynchon’s title suggests, the quest is futile because the American flaw, or the flaw in human nature, was baked in from the beginning.

Wild (2014, Jean-Marc Vallee)

Better than expected (because I expected Into The Wild with a happier ending). Reese Witherspoon goes on a life-cleansing solo voyage, encounters friends, admirers and dangers, a benevolent shoe company, potential-rapist hunters. Flashbacks to her mom Laura Dern dying of cancer and Reese’s ensuing descent were very well integrated into the present-day story. I am a fan of this movie’s editing. Vallée made last year’s Dallas Buyers Club, Nick Hornby adapted the memoir, and Reese might’ve won more awards if Julianne Moore hadn’t made an alzheimer’s drama the same year.

Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

“I’m one of you.”
“You’re one of me.”

Entrancing movie, full of oddball performances. Mostly bought the blu-ray because the cover art is so outstanding, but this was a pleasure to watch again. Completely holds up, even the scene where Cameron scans a computer (because, it’s explained, computers have nervous systems) through its modem over a payphone, since the movie itself seems to fully believe all the crazy stuff it’s telling us. But how come powerful psychics never notice gun-toting killers sneaking up behind them?

Good Scanners:

Patrick “The Prisoner” McGoohan runs a security company’s scanner program, recruits Cameron (Stephen Lack, later in Dead Ringers) off the streets, but the security company’s head security dude Keller (Lawrence Dane of Darkman 2) is secretly in cahoots with evil scanner Revok (the great Michael Ironside, later of Starship Troopers and Total Recall). Cameron tries to recruit reclusive artist Pierce (Cronenberg regular Robert Silverman, looking like Chris Guest in Waiting for Guffman) then teams up with Kim (Jennifer O’Neill of Fulci’s The Psychic) and her crew, scanner war ensues. Cameron and Revok are evenly matched, since it turns out they’re uber-scanner siblings, sons of McGoohan, so the final scan-off gets pretty extreme.

Bad Scanner:

Cronenberg’s follow-up to The Brood, which I should also rewatch. Warped, piercing keyboard soundtrack by Howard Shore. The scanner-controlling drug is named Ephemerol, which is a bit of genius I’m surprised hasn’t been used elsewhere (discounting Scanners sequels).

K. Newman:

There had been all sorts of rumors — and trashy paperbacks — about Soviet ESP experiments and their application to spying and warfare, which eventually inspired a U.S. program that would have some of its peculiar history told in Jon Ronson’s nonfiction study The Men Who Stare at Goats (2004), made into a film in 2009. In Scanners, Cronenberg evokes this shadowy area of paranormal research, as well as contemporary scandals involving botched drug testing, the less-than-ethical behavior of some sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, and the rise of private security and espionage outfits… The finale… can be seen as an optimistic mirror of the pessimistic finish of Dead Ringers, allowing for the mutual survival of the doppelgänger brothers in one melded form rather than ending in their shared death… It’s unusual in the run of films dealing with psychic psychopaths in exploring telepathy as well as telekinesis, and also touches—in its “human modem” sequence—on the fusion of man and machine that becomes central to Videodrome and The Fly.

John Dies at the End (2012, Don Coscarelli)

Feels like it’s trying too hard to be a cult hit, and the pacing is often weird, with our somnambulist hero Dave always moving and speaking slower than you’d expect, and its universe and logic seem simultaneously under- and over-developed (maybe since it’s an incomplete adaptation of the source comic), but overall a damned fun flick, unlike anything else out there, and a welcome return to weird-movie-making for Coscarelli ten years after Bubba Ho-Tep.

Attempts at plot summary would be ridiculous, but here are some people and things.

Tall Man as dark-eyed priest:

Basement meat monster summoned by Obscure Object snake girl, destroyed by Dr. Marconi phone call:

Paul Giamatti as viewer-surrogate reporter:

Good weapon:

Glynn Turman as evidence-destroying, hero-threatening rogue cop:

Church of Dave & John: clothing and masks optional

Dave nearly falls into pit of Korrok before monster is destroyed by humanity-saving suicide-bomber dog:

Live-Action Shorts watched Nov-Dec 2013

Castello Cavalcanti (2013, Wes Anderson)

Cute – Schwartzmann is a racecar driver who happens to crash in his ancestral village then decides to slow down and hang out for a while.

Aningaaq (2013, Jonas Cuaron)

The other side of a radio conversation Sandra Bullock has in Gravity, with a man in the icy wilderness who doesn’t understand her. It’s fun as a companion short but gets all its emotional weight from the Gravity recall.

Stephane Mallarme (1968, Eric Rohmer)

A visit with a typical pretentious french poet. Or I can’t tell if he’s pretentious since the spoken interview is translated but his written poetry excerpts are not. It’s all starting to seem odd, when the “documentary” short ends and the credits tell me Jean-Marie Robain (of Melville’s Le Silence de la Mer) played the poet, who died in 1898.

“In a society without cohesion, without stability, it’s impossible to create stable, definitive art.”

Weed (1996, Fatih Akin)

A corny-assed comedy starring Akin with Counting Crows hair, who tries to impress his new dance-club friends by claiming he has amazing weed at home, which he does not. So in order not to get killed once the lie has spun out of control, he brings them weeds from the garden, which they smoke and find to be amazing, because potheads have no standards I guess.

El Sicario Room 164 (2010, Gianfranco Rosi)

Similar to Collapse, in that both are documentaries set in a room where a single subject is speaking to the camera, and both are completely terrifying. Collapse left me aimlessly afraid of the end of the world, this one offers a clear action item: Never go to Mexico.

A former “sicario” (drug cartel enforcer) who has escaped with his family tells about his youth (driving cars full of drugs over the border before he was even old enough to drive), training (at the police academy, where 25% of graduates are already working for the cartels) and 20-year career as a kidnapper, torturer and murderer at the behest of an unworthy man, as the now church-going ex-sicario realizes. The drug business basically runs the government, police, and even military, if this guy is to be believed. Never go to Mexico.

M. Peranson:

More so than Police, Adjective, the film that came to mind when watching El Sicario is the still relevant Chambre 666, wherein Wim Wenders set up a stationary camera in Room 666 of the Hotel Martinez during the 1982 Cannes film festival and asked filmmakers like Godard, Fassbinder, Herzog and Spielberg the question: “Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?” It’s no coincidence that the directors are framed, like the sicario often is, next to a television set.

Attack the Block (2011, Joe Cornish)

We open on five mumbly hoodie youths mugging a white woman – and the youths turn out to be the protagonists. So I was on the movie’s side from the start, but it only gets better. After an alien from a freshly-landed meteorite claws Moses, the mini-gang-leader, he kills it and takes it to Nick Frost’s weed room. But a hundred more meteors land, carrying far more dangerous creatures – pitch-black hairy wolf-bears with glowing teeth, looking for the slain female. So the kids mount a defense against rampaging aliens using knives, swords and fireworks, joined by the still-irritable white woman (Jodie Whittaker, title character in Venus) and opposed by cops and a mad drug dealer.

Despite all the bloody death, the movie is mostly an action/comedy – the rare successful one. It builds to one of the sweetest minutes of film I’ve seen all year, Moses carrying the group’s full arsenal racing towards a gas-filled apartment, leaping over the blind beasts under a shower of slow-motion sparks.

Luke Treadaway (one of the twins from Brothers of the Head) plays a stoner nature-channel enthusiast who helps figure out the aliens’ motivation. Writer/director Cornish goes way back with Edgar Wright and just cowrote Spielberg’s Tintin movie, so this is his big year.

Chelsea Girls (1966, Andy Warhol)

“Everybody tastes different. But they all taste pretty good.” – Eric

Warhol’s first national hit, breaking outside the New York underground scene – after the widely-discussed but barely-seen sex/art films and before further success with the Flesh/Trash/Heat movies then franchising his name out to movies like Dracula and Bad on which he exec-produced.

Two 16mm projections side-by-side, Zaireeka-like (or perhaps Napoleon-like). Found the reel numbers/titles online along with projection instructions. Think I found out why it ran longer at the High than the listed runtime. The reels were supposed to overlap more, with no long periods of black on one side waiting for its neighbor to run out. As well as shorter, it would’ve been more interesting without all the black, providing new juxtapositions.

Reel #1, right – Nico In Kitchen
B/W, sound for the first few minutes. Nico (some years after La Dolce Vita) gives herself a haircut in the kitchen, drinks “jungle juice.” Eric Emerson (of Heat and Lonesome Cowboys) and Nico’s son are hanging around. Some camera movement here, but not much in the other reels until the halfway point.

Reel #2, left – Father Ondine & Ingrid
“Pope” Ondine (a Factory speed freak) has shoved two chairs together, a woman (Ingrid Superstar) comes in for “confession.” She never quite takes his title seriously – he asks her questions about her boyfriend then berates her for being a lesbian.

Reel #3, right – Brigid Holds Court
Overweight drug dealer “The Duchess” (Brigid Berlin, who had small parts in a couple John Waters films) talks to another girl, answers the phone.

Reel #4, left – Boys In Bed
Exactly that, slight nudity but no real action, some guys (Ed and Patrick) having a conversation I guess, but no sound.

Reel #5, right – Hanoi Hannah
A girl who kinda looks like a boy (Mary Woronov, bewigged wife in House of the Devil, also in Eating Raoul, Death Race 2000) hangs out in a room with a couple other girls, somewhat bullying and tormenting them. One mostly stays on the floor under the sink. This (and presumably #6) was one of the pre-scripted segments.

Reel #6, left – More Hanoi Hannah and Guests
Same room/cast as on the right, but at a different time and without sound.

Reel #7, right – Mario Sings Two Songs
More of the same guys in bed as #4, with some “female” visitors this time (Mario “Banana” Montez, also of Flaming Creatures) and less nudity.

Reel #8, left – Marie Menken
The first color segment. A visiting mother (Menken, director of Go! Go! Go!) wielding a whip is berating her son (Gerard Malanga of Vinyl) over his treatment of his girlfriend – because the girl (Woronov again, sharply dressed in a white shirt and tie) is sitting in the other bed barely moving and never speaking. Mother and son’s conversation get more shrill until they’re lost in the bad sound recording and the Velvet Underground music (droning ambience), but the camera is very active, scanning back and forth the room.

Reel #9, right – Eric Says All
The source of some lyrics in the Sonic Youth song. Eric Emerson stands there tripping, saying whatever’s on his mind, semi-stripteasing. Nice red lighting, shifting about.

Reel #10, left – Color Lights on Cast
Eric and others stand around, talk (no sound) while colored lights scan over them. They seem to be watching the other Eric to their right.

Reel #11, right – Pope Ondine
The Pope again. This time he physically attacks the girl talking with him (Ronna Page), then tries to justify himself, then kills time waiting for the film to run out, asking an offscreen Paul Morrissey if he can leave early.

Reel #12, left – Nico Crying
Nico silently cries, then just looks into space, while great colored light patterns play over her face.

G. Morris:

The idea behind the project was to film various Factory denizens doing what they did best: prattling, prancing, fondling each other, shooting up, screaming, applying makeup, confessing secrets, smacking and upbraiding each other.

Drugs, especially methedrine, were a crucial component of this crowd, and they’re everywhere in The Chelsea Girls. Both Ondine and Brigid Polk shoot up in their sequences, with Ondine doing so ritualistically, while Brigid unceremoniously sticks a needle through her blue jeans.

I don’t get the movie, or Warhol or his “superstars” (the label given to the drug-addled friends he regularly cast in films). But I guess I can see its value as a unique document of the Warhol scene that was inexplicably fascinating people throughout the 1960’s. Probably best expressed by Omar Diop below:

Whether you consider Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls to be fiction or document, it is an event, a rupture in the history of the cinema and an attack on the morality implicit in the image. Chelsea Girls is a monster born in the mind of a dilettante who puts the technical extremism of a Godard to the service of a moral metaphysics of a de Sade. An infernal machine puts on the screen a universe which only obeys its own laws.

The Wire season 5 (2008)

Best show I’ve seen.

Taking suggestions for what to watch next. Current considerations include dramas Deadwood and The Prisoner, Wire-related dramas The Corner and Homicide, or an anthology show like Thriller or Twilight Zone.

The actors, and where I might see ’em next:

McNutty (Dominic West) I’ve seen in Richard III and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, next appearing in John Carter of Mars and the TV show The Hour.

Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) – Treme and The Corner, also played Nelson Mandela in the movie Endgame, and appeared in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa. Sydnor (Corey Robinson) is from The Corner.

The Bunk (Wendell Pierce) moved on to Treme. Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) is in a new medical/crime show, was in Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead.

Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi) – Miami Vice, Find Me Guilty and a new crime show called Breakout Kings. Carver (Seth Gilliam) – Oz and Starship Troopers.

Prez (Jim True-Frost) was Buzz in The Hudsucker Proxy. I had no idea. Also in Affliction and The Conspirator, and making appearances in Treme. Beadie (Amy Ryan) moved on to the American version of The Office when not pulling oscar nominations for Gone Baby Gone.

Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector) was just in Night Catches Us, also in a season of Heroes. Omar (Michael Kenneth Williams) was the thief whom Viggo left naked in The Road, also in Gone Baby Gone (which I’ve long wanted to watch) and Life During Wartime (which I am suddenly desiring to watch)

Bubbles (Andre Royo) – recent movie Super, upcoming Shoedog. Cutty Wise (Chad Coleman) just appeared in The Green Hornet.

Michael (Tristan Wilds) is in the 90210 series remake and the movie Half Nelson. Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) is in the new movies by Joel Schumacher and Whit Stillman.

Clay Davis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) I remember from 25th Hour and She Hate Me. Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew) was in a few episodes of the other David Simon series.

Mayor Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) just starred in a British show called Identity, previously starred in Queer as Folk, and was the villain in Shanghai Knights. Norman (Reg Cathey) I’ve seen in at least eight movies, including Pootie Tang and The Machinist.

City Editor Gus (Clark Johnson) was one of the four leads in Homicide. Reporter Scott (Thomas McCarthy) directed The Station Agent and co-wrote Up! Also appeared in Year of the Dog, Duplicity and The Lovely Bones, though I don’t remember him.

Chris (Gbenga Akinnagbe) was in the TV version of Barbershop, also The Savages and the Taking of Pelham remake. Snoop (Felicia Pearson) was just in the news for being arrested on drug charges, but got a suspended sentence, yay.

Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) is starring in Fringe, also appeared in Oz. Rhonda (Deirdre Lovejoy) played somebody’s mom in Bad Teacher.

Rawls (John Doman) is currently starring in a historical drama, was in Blue Valentine, also that Bruce Campbell show and that Glenn Close show. Ex-Mayor Royce (Glynn Turman) was just in Super 8, in the upcoming movie by Don Coscarelli (!)

Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom) was in The Hawk Is Dying, Masked & Anonymous and Storytelling. Commissioner Burrell (Frankie Faison) was in Do The Right Thing, Mother Night, My Blueberry Nights and all four Hannibal Lecter movies.