Movie Review: Inherent Vice (or was I just hallucinating?)

inherent vice

Inherent Vice is one of two movies I’ve been chomping at the bit to see ever since the trailer was released months ago (the other being American Sniper). And it most certainly did not disappoint.

First, the boring stuff: Inherent Vice is a crime/whodunit story that mixes equal parts comedy, drama and trippy insanity. It was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and it’s based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon. And it feels like everyone in Hollywood has a starring or supporting role in the film.

The twisting, looney plot unfolds as a 1970s private investigator, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), gets pulled in a thousand different directions while trying to find the whereabouts of his missing ex-girlfriend and her new lover, a real estate mogul named Mickey Wolfmann. The film begins with the ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay, visiting Doc at his home in a little California beach town and asking for his help in stopping a plot by Wolfmann’s current wife to have Wolfmann committed to an insane asylum so she can take all his money.

Then Shasta goes missing. Then someone murders one of Wolfmann’s bodyguards. Then, in seemingly a completely separate plot, a woman contacts Doc about her missing husband, who’s actually in hiding while working as a police informant.

And then an organization (or maybe it’s just a boat?) called the Golden Fang comes into play because they’re smuggling drugs into the United States.

There is so much more to this movie that I can’t even begin to dive into. There seem to be unlimited plots, side stories, twists & turns, and all of it is supposed to tie into the main story. Once again, that main story is Doc trying to find Wolfmann and Shasta after they disappear (you’ll need to remind yourself of this several times during the movie).

Now for the fun stuff: This movie is The Big Lebowski on a mix of speed and mushrooms. Seriously, if you close your eyes at different times during the film, you’d swear you’re hearing the characters of Lebowski. Doc is a ’70s version of The Dude, if only The Dude had more motivation and a more extensive use of drugs.

I know the unrolling of the different plots I mentioned above is confusing, and it’s just as tough to follow in the movie. But it doesn’t matter. You can keep up with the major twists & turns, get lost in the subplots and side stories, and still laugh your ass off.

I haven’t even talked about the LAPD Lieutenant “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), Deputy DA Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) or a dentist played by Martin Short. But they’re all there. And they all try to push their agendas on Doc, who seems to do a lot more wandering around aimlessly for information than hunting with a purpose like a real detective.

When we first meet Doc, it’s impossible to expect that he’s a competent PI. He’s a hippie dopehead who can’t seem to keep up with anything. He tries to jot down notes in his notebooks as someone’s asking for his help, but usually he just writes something like “not hallucinating.” Is he talking about the person presenting him with a case? Or is he reminding himself that he’s not currently hallucinating?

I can’t stress enough how wacky, scatterbrained and bizarre this movie is…but I mean that in the best way possible. Seeing Inherent Vice was one of the most fun times I’ve had at the movies in years.

You should see this movie if: You like the idea of a crazier Big Lebowski; you like stoner movies; you’re a fan of crime stories and 1970s drug culture; you love Paul Thomas Anderson films; you want to see an epic performance by Joaquin Phoenix that I think should earn him Best Actor consideration at The Oscars; you appreciate films with confusing plots that will force you to watch it at least a second and third time to really nail down what the hell happened; you’re looking for something to watch while really REALLY high.

You should not see this movie if: You’re a narc and despise everything the ’70s culture stood for; you don’t like your comedy to include a side dish of violence; you don’t want to see great acting and silly plots; sex and drugs on the big screen scares or embarrasses you; you hate all those actors I mentioned above; you can’t handle being confused during or after a movie.

Like I said, this was one of the most enjoyable movie experiences I’ve had, so there should be no surprise that I’m ranking this high on the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS). I’m going with a solid 9 out of 10. Not only is it fantastic the first time, but I imagine any time it comes on HBO or the other movie channels later this year, I will stop what I’m doing and at least watch parts of it.

If you missed my movie review from earlier this week and want to read about a film that’s on the opposite end of the RWS spectrum, check out my thoughts on The Gambler here.

Taking The Decision-Making Process Out of Your Weekend Movie Theater Visit (5 Reviews)

It’s officially the first weekend of Summer, and you might be so inclined to go see a movie this weekend.  This may be especially true if you live in a place where the temperature might hit 95 and you’ve got no AC at your house.  The movie theater is a great place to get out of the heat and stuff yourself to capacity with 3lbs of popcorn & 76 ounces of soda.  But which movie will you see?

If you’re like me, a lot of movie trailers and commercials have looked extremely appealing lately so it might be tough to choose.  Luckily I have lots of time on my hand so I’ve checked out five different movies in the theater over the past two weeks.  If you only have time to see one movie and don’t want to be disappointed, keep reading for my ranking and feedback of these five big budget films.

Here they are in order of worst to least-worst:

5). Snow White & the Huntsman – PG-13

Don’t laugh.  It’s supposed to be a darker take on the classic fairy tale, and that’s what appealed to me.  I was promised lots of killing, crazy army battles and the evilest queen ever created.  I wanted Charlize Theron’s queen to be truly devious, to constantly be chasing Kristen Stewart’s Snow White in clever ways throughout the film.  I wanted SW and her allies to go through hell and be faced with certain death over and over again.  Unfortunately I got only about 10 minutes of this in the beginning of the movie and 10 minutes at the end, with about 100 minutes in between of I don’t know what… The middle was Snow White wandering through the “Dark Forest” mostly unharmed, hooking up with groups of people who never told us their motivation for wanting revenge on the Queen.  The movie didn’t even clearly lay out who some of the major characters were and how they fit into the story.  It seems like the makers of this movie were so fixated on the “dark” imagery—Snow White’s hair, the Queen’s wardrobe, the Dark Forest—that they forgot about creating excitement throughout the entire movie and developing the characters enough that they naturally fit in with the overall plot.  The only redeeming part of this movie was the Dwarves, and they don’t even come into play until two-thirds of the way through.

Final Verdict: Not even worth putting on the Netflix queue.

4). Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (3-D) – R

This one totally tricked me because I had heard so many positive reviews about the book this movie is based on.  And the guy who wrote the book was in charge of writing the script so I went in with high hopes.  Big mistake.  Recently I was reading a book on Screenwriting and the author said that movie audiences are willing to accept “one piece of magic per movie.”  His example is that audiences will accept aliens landing on earth in a movie, but they will not accept aliens landing on earth who then get bit by vampires.  You can have one piece of fantasy in a movie, but no more than one.  Well Vampire Hunter had at least three.  I could believe that Vampires inhabited the southern states of the Union during the time of the Civil War, but I couldn’t also believe that Lincoln’s ax had magical powers AND that he turned into a superhero.  And then, by the end of the movie, his friends basically had superpowers too.  This was just too much, and it turned the movie into a cartoon.  There’s a scene in the movie where Lincoln and one of his vampire enemies are caught in a horse stampede and they literally start throwing full grown horses at each other!  I’m not making this up.  The movie becomes one big joke, and obviously they weren’t trying to make a comedy.  They were trying to make a very serious movie.  The only reason it’s not #5 on my list is because Snow White was just so boring.

Final Verdict: You’re going to try to talk yourself into this movie, either at the theater or on DVD.  Don’t do it.

3). Men in Black 3 (3-D) – PG-13

In my defense, I got back to LA from San Francisco this past Monday around 2pm, and walked into a “fire alarm testing” situation at my apartment complex.  Knowing the ear-splitting sound was going to continue for three more hours, I decided a movie was the best option.  Because I had already seen three of the other four movies on this list, I had little choice at the local theater.  I never saw MIB 2, but figured that wouldn’t be a problem.  OK, so Men in Black isn’t much of a “thinker’s movie.”  It’s not going to win any awards.  But unlike #5 and #4 on this list, at least it was fun to watch.  It had all the characteristics of your typical cheesy summer action film—including Will Smith overacting and Tommy Lee Jones/Josh Brolin (playing a younger version of Tommy Lee when Will Smith travels back to 1969) calling someone “Slick” or “Ace” a few too many times.  But it’s a movie you’ll feel familiar and comfortable with, and it’ll fly by at 106 minutes.  The 3-D didn’t really add much for me on this particular film.  But again, it did it’s job of entertaining me while the alarms were blaring at my apartment.

Final Verdict: Worth the Netflix queue add, but don’t prioritize it.

2). Prometheus (3-D) – R

The lazy in me wants to simply say, “I feel the exact same way about Prometheus as I did about Avatar,” and make you try to figure out what that means.  But fine, let me explain.  This movie, to me, is absolutely worth seeing in 3-D on a movie theater screen.  It is visually pleasing, as I suspect all well-done space travel movies made in 3-D will be from now on.  It’s the perfect type of movie for 3-D.  Having said that, I didn’t love the plot, and I didn’t care much about the movie trying to answer important questions like, “Who created humans?” and “What happens to us after we die?”  If sci-fi is your genre of choice, and you like movies that reach for answers to those types of questions, you’re going to love this film.  I was never able to invest in the characters or plot of Avatar, but I enjoyed the film at least when seeing it in 3-D on the big screen, and that’s exactly how Prometheus played out for me.

Final Verdict: See it in the theater, in 3-D.  It’s one of those movies worth shelling out the crazy 3-D ticket prices.

1). The Avengers (3-D) – PG-13

I’m holding out high hopes for the new Batman in July, but Avengers may very well end up being the best movie of the Summer.  And that’s coming from someone who’s not a comic book person and typically doesn’t love superhero movies.  This movie had so much more than just great action scenes.  The plot wasn’t overly cheesy, and it was simple enough to not get in the way.  The characters, for the most part, were well-developed and had depth.  If I wanted to nitpick, I’d mention that the Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner characters were pretty much unnecessary to the movie.  They were the only two characters that didn’t have any layers beyond their special powers and being involved in the action scenes.  The rest of the characters—especially Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk—were incredible, both as superheroes doing superhero things, and as regular people.  One of the most entertaining decisions the creators of The Avengers made was having a lot of conflict and fighting between the superheroes.  The movie isn’t just about six superheroes trying to stop a villain.  It’s about six superheroes trying to stop a villain while figuring out if they can trust each other and be team players.  And yes, the action in 3-D is incredible.

Final Verdict: See it in 3-D at the theater for sure, but if you can’t, get it to the top of your Netflix queue as soon as it’s released on Blu-Ray.