This groomed tomboy of a film has a conceptual framework trapped in 50s ideologies (as Guardians of the Galaxy traps itself in the 80s) coupled to a digital techo-necrophilia amped for 12 second attention spans. It flows rhythmically.
The effect is a synthetic blockbuster pooling post-modern access to primal race-war. We laugh at it through culture schlock like this, but the ethnic conflict finds its calling in cinema. One was designed here stateside during the early years of the film industry, though Birth of a Nation is a motion-picture calling-card of bad repute, countless one-reelers preceding it were laced in ethnic slant. There in 1915 Griffith (born in Kentucky where Vaughn's climax erupts) stared seriously into his crystal-ball 1860s and found a socio-political nightmare to scare audiences into the first features. Here in 2015 Vaughn cryptically evokes the 1950s merged with British winking into the present. Both netherworlds conjuring anything goes. Here cameras access the most prescient things and happenings, excitably playing sputtering guide to all that Vaughn can conduct. Sure better card tricks, but in a manner of filmmaking that does your thinking for you: a visually straight-no-chaser. Though technically brilliant, the effect is muted. Like Herbert Ross's Pennies From Heaven, which sent up musicals by going hard R and killing its hero, Vaughn takes Bond into hard R violence to make 'fun' of it gleefully. Hows about that for laughs. We need severed limbs and spraying blood to get a rise out of the crowd. Lots of gags erupt, but they're mostly loops. The wit of the Airplane movies played somber. No doubt it's strange and clever and demented the way 5-10 beers are. Here though, the hangover is forgetting the ploys, the baits, the slicing. Deciphering the plot is not part of the visual essence, the vital stuff is spoken, in the usual threats and promises. A must see for anyone interested in what might really be layered into here with the right story, techniques in search of mastery...
Big Q: Why isn't this a videogame? It would make 10x the amount it's going to make in theaters.
After wandering in the desert of adaptation, The Wachiowskis finally return to their self-designed micro/macrocosmic battles; the Earth's Chicago stands tall as the simula CITY did circa 1999 (aka The Matrix) whose macro was a dessicated, darkened wasteland where things moved mechanically only in a city made solely from machines. Here live the rulers of humans of CITY, and lo, they ruled as well, indirectly, over the escapees in ZION. "There" actually came out in 1999. "Here" in 2015 the macro is a galaxy sized madhouse where all embedded earthly conflicts between ownership, class and animal kingdom are magnified and spliced genetically into a swampland of data and potential plastic toy figurines. It is 'out there' the rulers of Earthly humans live, and like the blank citizens of The Matrix, we too live unaware of their rulership. Essentially the same dark satire of The Matrix that veers into kinetic comedy. The mechanics of Lucas's prequel trilogy blended unevenly into The Matrix's liberation theology from unseen imprisonment. When it works it's great (scenes minus dialogue), think of the looney Fletcher Hanks photographically under more stable hands. Fights, aerial and zero-g battles are top-notch, the battles feel effortless and swift. That first dogfight above Chicago is stellar to its end, an 8 minute battle is gone in seconds. And moments of the space arcadia work, but the shifts in tone are out of tune. We know these siblings can hack it, but the light tone they've embedded since Speed Racer doesn't fit. We know how dark it is out there: The reveal of Jupiter's eye as an industrial smokescreen for the Abrasax empire's chokehold on life-giving serum is a typical moment underplayed, left strangely unnoticed by the editing. There's a moment that should be bringing the paradox home, relatively, instead it's merely a spot that Channing Tatum's Cain Wise has to go to "get her." When it doesn't (work) - Marxist theory meets pulp comic - it turns into a pummeling, chuffing out of control train that's managed (somehow) to tie you to the tracks before it runs you over. The problems lie in the constraints (both for the audience and the onscreen Earthlings). The Matrix was perfectly imagined with ingenious limitations in mind (obviously: a simula starring dreaming humans that still must walk and drive to work), Jupiter stretches the opposite tack, where anything goes and it goes overboard. Eye popping 'scapes, feats of physicality that defy sanity, feats of tone that defy deliverability. And no one seems to be able to explain why Earth is so valuable, why the universe's queen spends a day in bureaucratic hold-ups, and why protocol and deception can't beat pure and simple assasination. The Wachiowskis should be the first to know that going all the way isn't at the root of entertainment. Spectacle needs a certain amount of withholding to pop. Otherwise it fizzes.
Only on Earth could you see a film like this. Physically legible only in IMAX.
Edward Snowden is revealed as the leaker of the N.S.A.'s convulsive and monumental data collection capabilities. Hearing him wax about Web 1.0 buys the whole enchilada in the gambit. Listening into a brief analytical speech about how metadata is spawned between the linking of your transportation ticketing to your credit/debit card gives everyone a ground level view into the software's mortar. Our 'freedom' vs. what's never really mentioned: an attempt to built an A.I. for oraculation and prediction purposes, dominantly in the service of a vast military network. One that attempts to head off minute miltary events, while far greater populations die from disease, starvation, you name it. Billions if not trillions spent to create the ultimate totalitarian listening service inside a democracy. And that leads to a basic question: can governments really continue to grow if they're paradoxical Januses? Statistically, this is the real prequel Terminator film (it fits the Matrix too), and Snowden is the first John Connor/Neo archetype, instead here he's fighting a ghost of a machine that can't materialize as yet, it its place is The State. He can live in redoubt, somewhat safe from the drone capabilities of U.S. forces. He's deadly serious, possessing a will to match world leaders. The direction is restrained. A must see.
Necessary intro to any post V. diatribe: California was invented by pen, written by the hand of saga-scribe de Montalvo of Spain, who heard an Eden existed at the other coast of the recently conquered America. He never ended up visiting the 'state' he named, instead the conquering Spaniards did it for him, fact from fiction.
Conspiracy junkies unite as P.T. Anderson finally breaks free of his 5-picture somber-zone and lurches out a semi-carefree hit on fellow Kalifornian Pynchin. Adapting great novels (in this case, a 'great' novelist) has never been easy. Who loves the filmed versions of Bonfire of the Vanities, Love in the Time of Cholera (perversely, adapted from a translation) or this past year's Winter's Tale? Great novels tank their screen versions because either they can't be gapped (can't be understood without the full story being told) or are exotically difficult to gap (the construction into a new medium - "difficult to adapt" is on the coroner's report). Compressing a long-winded masterpiece is nearly impossible, yet the allure makes them difficult to ignore. Like the bullseye at a targeting range, a male's shooter Holy Grail-complex surrounds them. With Pynchon it isn't so much how but why? Why tackle this lunacy? These are impossible visual feats written in the wit of the moment. Why make visible what dances so weirdly along a page? You think you can match this guy Pynchon, move for move? Well. Mr. Anderson (you can almost hear Agent Smith goading him) has made a film for the believers, the boomers that bought all those Pynchon books and raised momentary hell in the divorcees 70s.
Equal parts hubris and adoration drive this fender-bender of a flick. The underplaying of Pynchon's hep stat-ttire works and doesn't work in the filmed version (the paradox goes long - it's still a vast improve on the recent religious zeal he's been draining since Magnolia). In many ways, the earlier movies play far more like Pynchon than this one does. Inherent Vice unspools more like a filmed novelization parodying Pynch than any stand-alone adapt, maybe it's even a photo-novel (see below) rather than any straight 'adaptation.' There is no brilliant diagrammatic oversight (Sortilege's bland incremental 'faulty' narrator doesn't pull it off) or central visual metaphor that keeps the plot tone (well maybe the Fang's boat, oversight slipping in from Hubbard's fantasy of sea-faring eternity, remember, Vice's opening shot is of the ocean, and glance at all those knick-knacks and lampshade: ocean, ocean, ocean). But Anderson has a full plate to deal with, rounding out the story with a grand cast of two-to-three scene cameo-players surrounding Joaquin Phoenix's Doc Sportello. As in all Pynchon (either the caper novels or his elite epics), plot is dense and disguise is endemic. Who means whom to who? Unfortunately irony guest stars and deadens every role as P.I. Sportello plays outsider while behaving insider (here's one example: informer/sell-out Owen Wilson is leap-frogged by Doc Sportello's metaphysical resurrecting of him to Brolin's copper Bigfoot.) We're meant to identify Sportello with hippies, but he's far too double-agent'd to make that identity clear. When Martin Donovan's Crocker Fenway glibly paints Sportello with "people like you lose all claim to respect the first time they pay anybody rent" you realize the whole shebang is an illusion. Even Pynchon doesn't buy all the contrasts he's typing across everyone's foreheads. The film can't bridge Pynchon's psychic purity (built mostly for laughs and rooting for the 'heroes') to our reality, so it just regresses to illustrative, the film plays out like those one-note religious pamphlets that hark about repentance. Sure you might laugh at their gimmickery, but somewhere, other people buy this malarkey.
The flick fails through its actors. Barely any of the performances register the easy-going aftermath of the Tate-Manson-Altamont exchanges. Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro all behave as if the acid failed them decades ago. The bad news is Wilson's in the wrong movie since he doesn't really perform, he pretends. 'He's' an east-coast/texas-toast affectation crashing a best-coast opera of shrugs and winks. And the misses get more than a few shots to get it right: both he and Brolin play other people on TV (in different genres). And Brolin and Del Toro can't seem to quite find a toe-hold on the material with the film sliding somewhere between screwball and brightly lit 'dark' post-modernism. Brolin meanders between meaty and overdone (he's more from Kurtzmann's Humbug than Gaines's MAD). Visual gimmicks only intermitently work, especially self-torpedoing is a last supper retread photo-ministration that triangulates Wilson - it falls dead on arrival. (at the screening i saw, snickers of derision came with that pop-junk). That leaves the chicks to pick up the slack and some of them can hack it. You believe, despite their enforced roles as sex-toys, they exist far more than the men. (Well, Joanna Newsom is so self-conscious, so into herself, she brings us right back to 2014 only moments after the film begins. No wonder nobody digs her. And we can't shake her because she's locating us as narrator. It should be cryptic, her detailings, the way Linda Manz zonked us in Days of Heaven, but all she does is give away the house, graffitied in bad astrology. It's a trap for any performer. For a non-actor like her, we get the sense it's stage-talk, listening to her between songs during a set. The effect resembles voiceing over Deckard in the producer's cut of Blade Runner. She's the pivot against Sportello, "the catch right under his nose," but the acting styles don't meet. You keep thinking Newsom's going to whip out her iPhone and find an address: 2014 calling 1970. Erps! She wasn't even IN the car!)
Yet with all those performances, there are no jaw-dropper types in the bunch that really happen (honorable mentions: Martin Short, the Doc at the Hospital whispering along with the movie-within-movie, and the female impersonator on the phone). Certain scenes lack laughs and then have to pay with exposition, others get guffaws and others face-plant. The worst of it yacks rote sentimentalism for the 70s (a terrible sin, employing Pynchon for this). All of us are missing the true unpredictability, the palm-sweating films of the era came with. Altman, Chandler, Coen Bros., Penn, Ashby and Pynchon all blur into sometimes plausible characterization and possible double-crosses (both on the audience and those up on screen). Leading the cameos is Martin Short who especially lets it rip, leading everyone to a backlit cop pullover under the effects of OP VIGILANT CALIFORNIA. (alot of this stuff is registered by viewing The Tube - the film's best moments involve cathode rays on celluloid fix). There's even some DNA of Chinatown's: a medical cabal leads to a dual Japanese Zen and faked early Hindu swastika cult luring millionaires to their liquidation. Long Good Goodbye by way of blotter, except lacking Zsigmond's luxurious and decayed wide ratios. Denseness comes in the movie's cake frosting: the set design frames out loads of detail, but to what effect? Sportello's even got a gun-shaped california kitchen kut-out. Pop-70s goes 1:1.85 in Tati-brightness, yet it reads mostly like memory glitches made from postcards. Frames but no framework. A similar plot to Vineland is in effect as idolized women are loved across political spectrums: idolized girl-stealing Mickey Wolfman is Vice's version of 1989's Brock Vond. Endless 'nothing is what it seems'-isms guide both tales.
Maybe this was the one to commit to 70mm 'scope. Not that scatter about Hubbard in The Master... pull the camera back just a bit, give it room to breath. Don't explain it to us during late-edit dissolve-ins you shot to patch things together, let us head scratch. And darken it all, it's so damn bright. And make sure these actors are scared-paranoid. Only some of them are gripped with the fear that goes along with Pynchon's desire for total anonymity. (When Jade asks for a ride out of the weird atmosphere of a party, we don't feel her threat level [she's scared? a performer of cunnilingus for bikers?] but we should, and then some.) Maybe that's the problem here, Anderson not taking Pynchon seriously enough. Underneath all those freaky names and overt satire lurks rage against control. Can you make fun of satire? Or do you engage with it directly. Missing here was the aura of Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night Moves or Three Days of the Condor - unremitting paranoia appearing in casual situations gone mad. Anderson had to go a step further and bridge it to stoner excess where it becomes zany, but he doesn't even come close to level A. Stoner paranoia has a level-head at its core, and that means scary B-movies hide in each of Pynchon's books, just waiting to be taken seriously. Here under Elswit's lens it succumbs to pop-art. Maybe Anderson should have tried an epic of Pynchon's, like the beatnik serious-crossed-gonzo V. instead of the light mystery of Vice. Where is Anderson's pont-of-view here? This feels like dry, canonical Pynchon, set in mortar the way those Jackson-Tolkein megatoy spectacles vibrate in some kind of geeky religious fever.
Or maybe the problem is deep in Pynchon's rhetoric. Clearly he's written himself into these tomes. Here he' avatared by Sportello (in Vineland it's Zoyd), antagonized by square jawed Dick Tracy conjurings like Brock, Bigfoot and Wolfman. . isn't Doc the same archetype as Woody Allen's, only driving another genre? Chicks are objectified. Guys will lazily try anything to get laid. Drug culture stratifies the cast into an us vs. them gap. And it reads like Burroughs meets MAD Magazine. Still, at the core: very dark comedy clouding a persona. Maybe Pynchon's the one whose dated the whole enchilada with his worshipful rubber stamp "TP." It may be set in the 70s but it smells like the 50s to me.
Kaufmann's remarkable Body Snatchers in foto-novel form. 70s paranoia made mass market.
Manucher Ghorbanifar was an arms trader during the heady days of the Reagan administration. The Executive Branch fiasco known as "Iran-Contra" was led by men who devised a new import-export system for dangerous times: the exportation of U.S. arms (proxied by Israel) to Iran and the importation of hostages (proxied by Iran) from Lebanon to the U.S. A scheme so elaborate it was bound to collapse, exposed by a dissident within the Iranian ultraconservatives who despised the two-faced nature of the realpolitik. Manucher was both duplicitous, failing every lie detector test the CIA gave him, and indispensible, rehired after every failed test to continue his shady work. Was he an Israeli agent or an unaligned profiteer, history has been unable to solve the puzzle of Manucher...
Masterwork pop-up, printed and bound in Cali, Columbia, 1984. Out-of-print.
Trailer for the presumed Episode VII bookends the awakening John Boyega (as a Stormtrooper gone AWOL) with the title itself. There's a good possibility he's been inhabited by an overload of midichlorian (gives him headaches, visions, you know, 'can't sleep' kinda thing). That means he's half of the title role, an anonymous trooper gone light-side's head of the class. Is he Skywalker's paderwan? If yes, he'll be clashing with Driver's "red sword."
The trailer hints that Abrams has his color-wheel work under control (just notice the interplay in hues). Maybe we'll finally get to see the effect of all that TV work. His MI3 was entirely watchable, even with its existentially overwrought climax. Not a pure kineticist/jokester like Brad Bird, Abrams tries to build family tales; he peers into collapsing connections then reboots them by films' end. When the action gets heavy the storytelling gets mired (as does his sentiment), and there's the question. Will the endless caravan of the space opera sharpen his skills? See it next December.
Kasdan is Abrams's secret weapon. Leigh Brackett's swashbuckling overkill of a first draft in 1978 allowed Kasdan to extract Empire from both Lucas's storyline and Brackett's characterizing. Now both he and Abrams are leaping over another character heavy first-draft try (Michael Arendt's). The Disney(Pixar)-Lucasfilm pairing has terrifying potential to alter visual media. Remember Pixar was instigated at Lucasfilm, sold to Jobs for pennies, grown into a genre by itself, and sold to Disney - in-turn making Jobs its largest individual shareholder. Now Lucas follows Pixar into the fold. From staunch independent to Fortune 500 in 30 years, the polar opposite arc to Coppola.
Visual extract: Ep I-III & Ep IV-VI are copycat visual-mirrors of one another (one hint of many, both middle films travel to cities separate from land and set high in atmospherics - above water and clouds. Physically resembling one another, Bespin and Kamino are places Boba Fett escapes from using the same ship, Slave I.) Let's hope the visuals rule again.
MAIN STREET FROM BROADWAY, LOOKING SOUTH, APRIL 1920 Flushing’s first theater, the Janice, which opened November 24, 1914, is at left. Main Street is in transition here: many old wooden stores and some majestic old street trees survive but the automobiles are getting numerous and the signs more noticeable. (Frederick Weber)