“Inherent Vice”

Paul Thomas Anderson is not my kind of wunderkind. I have tried with his “Boogie Nights” 1997,and with his”Magnolia” 1999, and with his “There Will Be Blood” 2007. The “soul of America searching” does not lead me to sociopaths and psychopaths. Anderson’s “The Master” 2012 would be my favorite PTA work, but Scientology and Elmer Gantry antics lead to easy satirization,so credit is easy in coming. His “Inherent Vice” based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel left me antsy to leave the packed  audience of  thirty and forty -year -olds to their snickering. I can’t remember when I was more bored–maybe watching my ninty-year -old mother go through her envelope of grocery coupons.

The setting is my decade, and Pynchon’s. Torrance California ( of “Unbroken” fame) and its L.A.environs provide the background. A narrator is used to tell a hazy and hollow tale of a  private investigator/counsellor type named Larry “Doc” Sportello. (Joaquin Phoenix) Phoenix,who I loved in “Her”, relies on his farcical chia- pet mutton chops and stoner stare in too many close-ups. I think his nomination for best actor is a reaction to his losing for “Her” last year.The hippie culture details were evocative: the Ouija boards,astrological mutterings,the turquoise phones with rotary dials and curly cords,the weed and harder drugs,the police animosity,the easy sex and patachouli clouds, not the farts.  The theme does not come easily,maybe change in love and in loyalty. The key is the viewer does not care. The movie was too long,too nihilistic,and too “unartful”.

Josh Brolin played his type,a big-footed unsavory policeman. His chocolate-covered banana close-ups overdone. A heavier Benito del Toro was excellent in his cameo role,but not worthy of the ticket price and time wasted.The “boulevards of regret” were all mine. I liked the irreverent pizza last supper with matching tablecloth,and wish other religions would be as tolerant of needling sacred images. I worry about PTA,whose friends PSH (Phillip Seymour Hoffman)and DFW (David Foster Wallace) both offed themselves. Maybe,having a comedic partner like Maya Rudolph will keep him from black-humor burnout. Only those who get Pynchon,or enjoy the vulgar, or the silly picking of noses and toes,or like to hear pants growing should bother with this one.

“Selma”

“Come to Selma” may have been a better title for this docu-drama. Martin Luther King is given import as a Noble Peace Prize recipient, and then portrayed as a political strategist intent on capitalizing on 70 million people sympathizing with marchers demanding a vote. This is how protest is done Saul Alinsky style: orchestrating a non-violent disturbance,using negotiating,demonstrating and resistance to gain needed change. The film is a primer for knocking down status quo unfairness.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act is the subject matter here,and Martin Luther King is the community organizer with a mission to create a better world.”Come to Selma” is his rallying cry.

Cinematographer Bradford Young does an absolutely glorious job of filming. The light and dark images play across the screen in headshot close-ups,and in pastels of muted meeting rooms, and pink-lighted, floating, slow-motion tumbles of little girls’ shoes and legs. But to be visually mesmerized is not the only reason to see this film. The acting under the direction of Ava Duvernay is masterclass worthy. David Ogelowo’s facial expressions let ussee the joys and the agonies of giving oneself over to a cause. Tom Wilkinson, as President Johnson, shows his impatience with “all that was on his plate” (Vietnam Nam included) without diminishing his good intentions and ultimate accomplishment.

Ava Duvernay in her womanly direction strengthens  the touching scene between Coretta Scott King and her husband,  as Cory tells Martin that she knows what he sounds like and that the crank call ( probably J.E.Hoover  instigated) was not worthy of her angst. She then asks her husband if he loves her and if he ever loved the others. Carmen Ejogo is simply exquisite. Dignity is paramount and MLK never loses it. The praying on bended knee mid-bridge and the quiet conversations with John Lewis, Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy and Malcolm X are histories videoed. The viewer goes away with missing the cadences of his speeches,but awe struck at this man slain at the young age of 39. That we all could make such a difference is what this film inspires.

“God’s Pocket”

Directed by John Slattery and co-written by Alex Metcalf, “God’s Pocket” is based on the 1983 novel by Pete Dexter. I won’t be reading it, nor will I be viewing the film again.

The cinematography is dull and lifeless and the script worse. I want to say this would work better as black comedy; it is so faulty- cliché filled. So, if you feel it is fun to watch all seven deadly sins committed view “God’s Pocket”, which evidently refers to a Hell’s pocket section in South Philly that the inhabitants renamed.Hubris, Sloth,Envy, Lust, Greed, Gluttony and Anger all raise their ugly backsides. Dissolution is personified.

The film makes one cringe at the stereotypes of the “gun-slinging mama”, the “deluded playboy” and the “busty Italian”. The bartender, something like the mayor of the enclave, turns on the lights only to see the “cockroaches” scatter. What a depressing film that leaves the audience feeling like the poor deserve laughs. The paper bag “ask-back”, the big- eared photo and the tossed-out corpse could not have lifted Philip Seymour Hoffman’s spirit, and this film deadened mine.

“The Chef”

“The Chef” is a foodie’s comedy/slice of life piece that delights! Whether it is the passion of creating butter-slathered grilled cheeses, Cubanos or sizzled sauces that draws one in, this film centers on parenting and work, and how children are often excluded when they need not be. Emjay Anthony is adorable as a kid that anyone would wish to call his/her own. A softer Sofia Vergara is lovely as the insightful nurturer, and Robert Downey Jr. is more than memorable as the phobia ridden ex with ADHD. Dustin Hoffman adds another character to his repertoire, and Scarlett Johansson does her thing as the sexy confidant. One wonders how Jon Favreau, who wrote, directed and starred in “The Chef” could get so many “sous-chefs” into his “kitchen”. No one upstages another. Oliver Platt is a natural gustatory critic. Comedic actors Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo both add a special zest to a beautiful cast.

“The Chef” is so freshly current with its social media, with its “lay your hits” marketing philosophy, with its undocumented workers, that the audience immediately connects, or at least recognizes the lay of modern culture.

The music is so engaging that several patrons danced out of their seats and down the aisle as they left the theater. Tito Puente comes to mind. And “Mr. Bone Tangle” and the street artist highlighted our chef’s past laments. This film will cause me to research M. Favreau, who must love and respect women and it not afraid to show his softer side.

“A Most Wanted Man”

Espionage reigns this year and most years. Trust, motivation and ideology interest us. From the popularity of MI5 re-runs, to the publication of Ben MacIntyre’s book “A Spy Among Friends”, to the brilliant film ” The Imitation Game”, to the young adult novel “Code Name, Verity”, saboteurs of all types and genders intrigue. Counter-intelligence is murky and morally suspect, and sometimes necessary. “A Most Wanted Man” is so bleak and haunting that resignation sets in for the viewer. Yet, Director Anton Corbijn”s “A Most Wanted Man” captivates us, too. Based on the John Le Carre novel, Andrew Bovell”s screenplay crafts a cynical and twisted plotline, while a splendid cast has us cringing in our seats. Never have I been so tense while hoping that a charitable gift remain as initially written! John Le Carre is a best selling spy novelist for a reason.

The cast makes this a ” must see “,too. Flawless acting by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is restrained and explosive at the same time, and actors Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Rachel McAdams add depth and irony and obsessive weariness.

The cool, industrial frames of Hamburg are beautifully stark, and the beginning wave-sloshing shot reminds us to look below the surface.The film was morally disturbing and it brings up the question, “Who was the man”most wanted”? Could it be the man we most miss?

“Calvary”

Don’t bother seeing Brendan Gleeson in “Calvary” unless you want to see a film that plays to Irish stereotypes of the derogatory kind. The whole parish is filled with ugly types in the premise that the viewer will have fun guessing who is plotting the killing of the good priest. Rage over childhood rape fuels the revenge, and the offending priest is long dead, and besides murdering a good priest will produce more pain.The revenge film structure merges with dark comedy and mystery, yet a farce emerges.

Cheesy graphics mark off the weekdays in the left hand corner of the big screen, and cheesier music and lyrics guide the audience just in case the duller members can’t follow Mr. Gleason’s emotional state. Though the film attempts to prove that “forgiveness is the most neglected virtue”, this film actually does the opposite. The crude violence seems like it belongs in another movie. The lab scene where a cigarette is stubbed out on a heart specimen was too much for this viewer.

Disrespect of all kinds does not a noir film make, and this botched one seems like an ill-conceived morality tale to boot. The few positives were watching Brendan Gleeson emote, and the County Sligo environs. As the credits rolled,the afterward did capture the loss of this good man, crucified for the sins of others. Sadly, most of the audience did not stay for these last goodbyes.

“Birdman”

If you appreciate magic realism,love acting and the cinema then “The  Birdman” is for you. Its subtitle, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” sheds some light on every cliche you have ever known about actors and acting. Fresh and imaginative, the camera’s constant roll gives the viewer’s mind no time to rest or to breathe in a pretty frame. Surprises are everywhere,as are egos. The unmasking of an alter ego is one of my favorite jolts.

Michael Keaton is crazy good as the self-indulgent lead,but so is Ed Norton as the photographic- memory -logged genius. Emma Stone is memorable and archetypal as the now dutiful drug-rehabbed daughter–sassy-wise and risk- ready. Naomi Watts is  believable and fragile and dedicated to her profession.

Dark energy permeates and self-indulgent obsession pounds away. The drums are a tad too loud in the initial scenes and the soaring flights too long in the latter, but I was blown away at all there was to contemplate psychologically. Amid the tidy-whitey humor, I loved the toilet -paper- roll -hash -mark scene! Shakespeare’s “Sound & Fury” was given unique range.

“Birdman” is attributed to a Raymond Carver short story,known for its realism–yet, this film still smiles and spews a certain Latin joy of life that supercedes  the seven dealy sins constantly being portrayed. Dark,funny exasperating and celebratory all at once, I could easily enjoy this film again and again.