Monday, February 23, 2015

"Best" Movies of the Year Part 1 (Inherent Vice, Gone Girl)

In which I systematically (but relatively succinctly, all flaws considered) do my best to rip apart the major contenders, that I actually saw this year, for last night’s most irrelevant awards show on the planet and for all the other similar vanity fairs that don’t manage against all odds to stay on television.  Part 2 will include critiques of American Sniper, Boyhood, and Birdman as well as my own obligatory end-of-year favorites, so you all can freely deride me for thinking Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a better movie than The Imitation Game.

Third Circle Vices

The cover of the possibly illegitimately obtained advance casing for Inherent Vice promoted it “for my consideration” this ensuing awards season.  Being one of the internet’s most auspicious undocumented critics of film, politics, and the idiots who shape them, I accepted the call of duty against my preconceived biases and ended up considering it wholly unworthy of any awards save maybe those for talking in an engaging manner and altering one’s appearance for the sake of portraying a character.  If you’re the kind of casual entertainment seeker who believes a well-constructed film doesn’t need anything more than recognizable stars dressing up in makeup and behaving eccentrically for the camera, or if you’re the kind of conceited hipster theoretician who likes digging around for allegorical profundities where no apparent meaning exists in the first place, then Inherent Vice will surely fulfill all your expectations.  But what a sad culture we’ve devolved into that dressing up and talking funny alone have become instant qualifiers of high art.

Attempting to summarize the plot of Inherent Vice is an innately futile endeavor, as it was never meant to be followed in the first place and exists primarily as an excuse to herd heavily made-up celebrities into an overstuffed pet project wherein characters will enter and depart from the picture in the same scene.  Cult director Paul Thomas Anderson starts us on a triple-headed missing person/murder case led by a hairy pothead Joaquin Phoenix, who will travel all over Los Angeles talking to various people and further entangling the narrative’s mystery with a deluge of names and places and enterprises we’ll never get to know in much detail because Phoenix’s encounters with these leads also consists purely of talking about other leads; so the cycle continues until he’s eventually reunited with his girlfriend Shasta, who spends what feels like an eternity sharing garbled whispers with him that’d be indecipherable enough even if her breasts weren’t exposed the duration of the unbearably long shot, climaxing in unbearably discomforting and unattractive wordplay – I mean intercourse.  It’s not quite porn, but it’s not great storytelling either – just one of the elements of a really impotent and unfocused movie.

Inherent Vice isn’t nearly as bad as PTA’s previous endeavor Magnolia, but then how could it be?  With Magnolia Anderson had already hit the bottom of the barrel in terms of self-indulgent, pseudo-provocative drivel geared squarely towards college film students who would slavishly fawn over its extravagant incomprehensibility, mistaking it for genius.  I’ll concede that Inherent Vice even has some fleeting moments of truly funny dark comedy, as when Josh Brolin simulates having sex with his fingers and carefully spells the action out for our unkempt hero in case he was too daft to process the image.  Or there’s the sign in the sordid massage parlor advertising either a “good old-fashioned f&#!” for $25 or “two girl f&#!” for $50, which is gross but nonetheless humorously pointed.  Depressing though it is to admit, Anderson is at his highest when his laughs are their lowest or weirdest.  At one point Phoenix creeps across half the frame in what looks like stealthy slow-motion before dropping the ruse and just crossing the rest at normal speed.  This is good filmmaking.

The same just can’t be said of the whole, which Anderson largely composes of single shots of people drowning his devotees in names and places and plot details the vast majority of viewers won’t be mentally able to process.  None of the characters are developed enough for us to care about them; some, like Martin Short’s cokehead, seem to have no reason for being there aside from injecting a little more star power into the framework and keeping us awake with the vain expectation that they’ll say something funny.  PTA makes smoking look really cool, over and over again, but that’s about the only cinematic feat he and his photographers accomplish.

The movie closes with a scene of Brolin’s “Bigfoot” nonchalantly eating a joint and downing a plate of weed as if it’s a salad, all while Phoenix stares on aghast at his breathtaking waste of fine narcotics.  Perhaps this is PTA’s subliminally symbolic way of showing us just how high on himself he was when extracting Inherent Vice from “the city dump that was his memory”.  If you liked Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream, then you probably won’t like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.  If you didn’t like watching Requiem For A Dream, then you probably exhibited a perfectly natural reaction to the film’s disorienting editing techniques and horrifying images of drug addiction.  You also probably won’t like Inherent Vice.


Judgment: Gluttony of the self, lust, and violence against time.  But mostly gluttony of the self.  “A drug councilor trying to talk kids into sensible drug use.”

Why is Neil Patrick Harris playing a heterosexual?

Gone Girl has had the good success of inciting one of two visceral responses among moviegoers, dividing them squarely into the men who will nod approvingly at every misdeed the villainess carries out, muttering, “Ah, women,” to each other with viral cynicism, and the New Feminist crybabies who will shake their heads in phony outrage at the same events, muttering, “Ah, ignorance.”  Excluded from the scope of conversation are the few who have had the good sense to analyze Gone Girl and mutter, “Ah, a completely unrealistic, laughably shallow perversion of logic designed to emotionally manipulate me by barraging me with shock images and one contrived WTF moment after another.”  Because that’s what Gone Girl is at its core.  It doesn’t have anything to say about the human race and everything it tries to say about the inner viciousness of womankind is predicated on a one-dimensional caricature who frames husbands, fakes kidnappings, and slashes throats without any discernible purpose.  The movie doesn’t offer any reason for its own existence save to scare insecure single men out of pursuing the “Amy”s of the world, who may or may not be lurking in reality but would certainly be more interesting to watch at work than the real Amy – that is the fake one.

This is where I might outline the plot, but since the movie is based on a bestselling novel, I think it suffices to say the story’s pretty much crap.  After all, one has to look in some pretty obscure places today to find a book of legitimate literary worth, and anything that makes it to the big screen tends to begin as some kind of overhyped, media-sponsored fluff.  In any case, Ben Affleck plays the husband and Rosamund Pike portrays his off-kilter, borderline psychopathic wife Amy.  I’ll admit I only walked in on the latter half the night I saw it, though I was able to gather most of the preceding plot points just from dialogue and… yeah, it’s a really easy movie to follow overall, which is probably why so many people fell head over heels for it.  Everyone gushes about the numerous twists dotting the narrative, but you’d have to redefine “twist” in order to call Gone Girl remotely loopy as a story.  Nothing that happens in the film really forces you to reevaluate anything you saw earlier, as opposed to director David Fincher’s magnum opus Fight Club, which is so meticulously edited and written to continually reward viewers for rewinding and watching the first few acts again.  Gone Girl, in contrast, simply marches along to its inevitable, Postmodernist non-conclusion, never astonishing even when striking us with ridiculous, Tarantino-esque depictions of bloodshed.

Its basic chapters consist of Amy running away from Affleck, getting abducted by the pervy Neil Patrick Harris, who can’t really pass as a straight man, abusing herself to look as though she got raped, killing Neil Patrick Harris, returning to Affleck soaked in blood that neither she nor the hospital bothered to wash off, getting in the shower with fully naked Affleck (yes, it’s that “edgy”), and play-acting as if nothing ever happened betwixt them to warrant a permanent separation.  Meanwhile, on Affleck’s side of the story, the feds are hot on his back for murdering his disloyal, vanishing spouse, who’s apparently acquired celebrity status by writing illustrated kiddie books, and Tyler Perry is a wisecracking lawyer who shows up every now and then to fulfill the studio’s diversity requirement.  Tyler Perry thinks that Affleck should lie and play along with Amy’s games to minimize the sentence he’ll receive from the people who have no evidence against him whatsoever, while Affleck thinks his best defense is the truth.  The movie starts to present some 21st-century themes about hashtag activism, fake rape claims stemming from vanity or embarrassment, and how the American media exploits made-up local murder dramas to perpetually distract the population from real-world problems, but author-screenwriter Gillian Flynn sensationalizes the story to such a point that you can’t judge any of it rationally.

After all, nothing in the movie makes any logical sense and stupid decisions/plot holes abound for the convenience of propping up what’s essentially an unsalvageable, extended soap opera special.  Some have taken to the film’s defense by passing off everything that transpires in it as a fantasy of the woman, but what point is there then in watching it?  Fight Club is in many respects a fantastical film, featuring images, events, and characters that aren’t wholly rooted in “reality” as we’d see it, but one in which the nameless hero ultimately triumphs over his fantasies, joining hands with the world of the actual as he witnesses the work of his delusions crashing down around him.  Gone Girl has no such resolution, nor is it explicitly unfolding in a dreamlike state.  If you’re an insecure, probably douchey jock looking for nothing more than a fictional horror story that will feed your repressed terror of your wife or simply of the woman, then Gone Girl does an adequate job of making you tremble at the nonexistent Amy’s of the world.  If the movie succeeds in raising any sociopolitical question worth its run time, it’s why Progressive Hollywood creators who continually insist “gay is the new black” also continue casting gay people as straights and vice versa.  Would these same bastions of intercultural sensitivity cast a white man in the role of Jesse Owens or a black man in the role of Winston Churchill?  Why then do they think it any more acceptable to cast Neil Patrick Harris as a lascivious heterosexual male or Benedict Cumberbatch as a homosexual mathematician?  Isn’t a person’s sexuality just as integral to their identity and immutable as their skin color?  Or must we finally cut the bullcrap and concede the really simple truth that being a homosexual-American in 2015 isn’t nearly the ordeal that was being a Michigan-American in the 1960s?


Judgment: Wrath, heresy, seduction, lust, blood and gore, female playing traditionally male role, male exposing himself in traditionally female capacity, political correctness and gender equality in general.  Sixth circle.

I like this scene because it points out how shallow and meaningless the word “African-American” has become in our society.

2 comments:

  1. I skipped to the video clip at the end. Loved it! Do you think I would like the rest of that one?

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    Replies
    1. If you liked Mean Girls: the video clip, you'll definitely love Mean Girls: the movie. If you didn't like Mean Girls: the video clip, you probably won't like Mean Girls: the movie, which is really unfortunate because it's one of the sharpest high school political comedies I've seen, unlike Glee, which is almost too gay to function.

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