Paul Thomas Anderson

Review: Inherent Vice

Jan 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218407:41869:0[/embed] Inherent ViceDirector: Paul Thomas AndersonRelease Date: December 12th, 2014 (Limited); January 9th, 2015 (Wide)Rating: R  Inherent Vice is odd. As I watched it, I assumed I was missing something. I didn’t really connect with it or what I thought it might be trying to do, but at the same time I did feel like I understood basically what was going on. I actually thought to myself, “I’m pretty sure I understand this more than I think I do,” at least on a superficial level. But perhaps I didn’t. The basic narrative seems pretty simple (down to its bare essentials: a stoner private investigator is trying to find his ex-girlfriend and gets mixed up in some bad things), but beyond that things start to go in all kinds of bizarre directions. And the film doesn’t necessarily hit the points it needed to. Press notes fill in the blanks, and the number of copies of Pynchon’s novel that surrounded me in the theater made me feel like I had missed some vital memo. But then maybe it’s not my fault that I didn’t understand the film, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s. And here we get to the question of adaptation: What is the purpose of taking a thing and bringing it to a new medium? Is it just to delight fans of the original work, or is it to bring that original work to a new audience that can fall in love with it? If it were the former, anecdotal evidence would lead me to believe it’s a success… but if he was going for the latter, it’s a failure. But I don’t know what Paul Thomas Anderson was going for, and I’m not even sure he does. Anderson has compared Inherent Vice to Zucker Brothers comedies (Airplane, Naked Gun, etc.) and I can’t help but wonder if Paul Thomas Anderson has ever seen a Zucker Bros. film, or his own most recent effort. To be sure, Inherent Vice is a comedy, but it’s nothing like what the Zucker Bros. did. Their films featured a gag in nearly every single shot (if not multiple), and at their best there was barely a moment where you weren’t laughing at what they’d done. Inherent Vice made me laugh, and it made most of the other people in the theater laugh, but it’s no laugh riot. Not even close. Long moments of serious intensity and drama may be punctuated by a joke, but I can’t even begin to comprehend what would make him think of that comparison. (Other comedies that it’s compared to, such as The Long Goodbye, I haven’t seen and cannot speak to.) Then again, maybe there was a version of Inherent Vice with more laughs. At the ludicrously large press conference that followed our screening (twelve people), it was pretty clear that a lot of the cast wasn’t entirely sure what they had done. They talked about how much they enjoyed improvising and the “chaos” of the set. (Others disagreed with the fundamental premise of chaos. As is so often the case, the truth likely lies somewhere in between.) They said that they tried a bunch of different things and they trusted that in the editing room everything would be worked out. And that interests me more than anything the film actually did, because it means that if someone else had been given the exact same footage, we could have literally had an entirely different film. The performances are so uniformly strong that little tweaks to delivery and cadence could have made a world of difference in the way it all played out. Many characters are only in a few scenes (some just one), and the plethora of long takes means that it probably wasn’t all that hard to work around different versions of any individual performance. I can’t help but wonder if I would have liked another version of the film more. I certainly like The Naked Gun more than I liked Inherent Vice. (Which in and of itself says a lot about a lot of things.) Everyone has a bunch of lists of different books they need to read, movies they need to see, music they need to hear, and etc. The work of Thomas Pynchon in general has been on that list for some time. Inherent Vice has been described more than once as Pynchon-lite – whatever that means – and thus a good starting point into his work. (Many of those myriad copies around me in the theater were apparently breezed through.) So maybe I’ll read it down the line, and maybe it will retroactively make me appreciate the work that went into adapting a novel from a writer whose books are often deemed “unfilmable.” But I shouldn’t be required to read an adaptation to really grasp what a film is trying to do. An adaptation is not necessarily a replacement of a source material the way a remake might be, but it needs to stand on its own. Inherent Vice doesn’t really do that. But it’s not just that I haven’t read Pynchon. Perhaps my critical mind just doesn’t go deep enough. And perhaps my lack of knowledge of 1971 America exacerbated that issue. It’s something that didn’t occur to me until after the credits had rolled. I asked Hubert Vigilla (of our Gone Girl analysis discussion fame) what he thought of it, and he said something to the effect of “I think I’ll like it more after I’ve thought more about the way it uses teeth to represent the decay of consumerism in the late 1960s.” And the only thing I could say was, “Oh.” And perhaps, “Might you be overthinking it?” “No.” “Oh.” And that inability to respond was the moment when I realized that I really had missed something and that this wasn’t a film that could appeal to a broader audience on anything more than that superficial level. But here’s something true: that superficial level is very well-crafted, and no matter what your level of education or Pynchon literacy, you will almost definitely like Inherent Vice at least a little bit. Paul Thomas Anderson is undoubtedly a supremely talented filmmaker, and the ensemble he’s pulled together for the film is uniformly excellent. If you don’t think about what the film is trying to say or its narrative failings, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a truly fantastic film (if a bit long). But it’s not actually fantastic; it’s just good. And there is nothing wrong with being good. But while I haven’t seen everything Anderson has done, I can also say it’s the least compelling of the films that I’ve seen. And so I’ve met the film halfway. I may not really understand it, and I definitely think it failed in its attempt at bringing Pynchon’s story to a new audience in a way that is inherently compelling, but I know that so many others (who are better-read than I am) have really liked it that lambasting it for my own ignorance seems even more ignorant. But even so, I know that a lot of people who aren’t critics by hobby or trade will be put off by what Anderson has made. When you’re laughing and enjoying the craft, Inherent Vice is an easy film to like, but as soon as it gets into its esoteric meanderings, a lot of people will turn off. This will be a polarizing film, and unfortunately the debate surrounding it will be marred by pretension.  Though perhaps that's fitting.
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Something Something Thomas Pynchon
I’m not educated enough to have an intelligent conversation about Inherent Vice. I’m smart enough, but to seriously wrestle with what Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s book is tryin...

Inherent Vice Trailer photo
Whoa.
Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel Inherent Vice might just be the craziest, and best thing to come out this year. Just by looking at this trailer with its unique style, stupidly talented ca...

Flixist Awards 2012: Best Director

Feb 25 // Matthew Razak
Django Unchained may have stirred up some controversy, but there's one thing no one could argue about: Quentin Tarantino put together an amazingly good movie. From nailing the cast to shooting in his fantastically unique style it stood out. From nods to classic westerns to somehow keeping a very dark film entertaining Tarantino showed us why he's a master of the medium he loves so much. Often his films can feel like he's simply referencing things he's seen, but with Django everything seems somehow fresh while still honoring what came before. Moving past Tarantino's mastery of the homage is his mastery of making violence somehow artistic. There's so much going on in Django that it seems ridiculous to focus on this, but that last shoot out is a gun fight masterpiece. The man is simply a brilliant director. Full Review. This was one of our closer contests and all five directors definitely deserve some sort of dinosaur statue even if they didn't grab a Golden Pterodactyl. Paul Thomas Anderson especially deserves a bit more attention since The Master disappeared  from the radar this awards season other than its actors. Meanwhile, Ben Affleck truly established himself as one of Hollywood's best directors with Argo and Spielberg kept his throne by giving us the powerful, though flawed, Lincoln. We're also pretty sure that Wes Anderson makes the same movie every time, which is fine with us because that movie is awesome and Moonrise Kingdom might be his best version of it. Wes Anderson - Moonrise KingdomSteven Spielberg - LincolnPaul Thomas Anderson - The MasterBen Affleck - Argo
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They have arrived and this is the first one
The 2012 Flixist Awards (known as the Golden Pterodactyls by those in the know) have arrived. Now that those far less important awards have come and gone, it's time to get down to the ones that really matter. We'll be spendin...

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PT Anderson hopes to shoot Inherent Vice in 2013


Dec 28
// Hubert Vigilla
After making a divisive but remarkable inkblot of a movie with The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson hopes to get started on his next film in 2013: an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. It's one of Pynchon's lighter nov...

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Check out these beautiful Turkish posters for The Master


Oct 24
// Liz Rugg
If you haven't seen The Master, you've missed one of the most incredible films of the year. And if you have seen The Master, you'll especially appreciate these overseas posters for Paul Thomas Anderson's epic film. The poster...

Review: The Master

Sep 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]212872:38849[/embed] The MasterDirector: Paul Thomas AndersonRelease Date: September 14th, 2012 (New York and Los Angeles); September 21st, 2012 (expanded release)Rating: R The Master follows Freddie Quell (Phoenix), a psychologically wrecked Navy veteran who re-enters civilian life in 1950 as a lost drunk. Our first glimpse of Freddie is the second shot of the film. We only see his eyes and his brow, and both have a deranged concern in them. Already we can tell Freddie isn't right in the head, and then we see just how bad it is. He's violent, he's sadistic, and he's also horny as hell in a creepy way. Anderson assembles a few other faces that communicate a damaged mind for the early part of the film -- long stares, vacant eyes, a certain twitch of eyelid. Jonny Greenwood's score helps get the mania across as well, with wonky oboes, freak out strings, and even some anxious percussion that recalls a subdued version of "Convergence" from Bodysong and There Will Be Blood. But so much of what makes Freddie compelling is Phoenix's performance. One side of his face looks pinched as if he's about to aim through an invisible gun sight. His body's bent up like his mind. He's hunched over, hands at hips and elbows jutted out -- Freddie Quell: the child of Popeye, a question mark, and a coat hanger. Oscar buzz is obvious for a performance like this. Maybe it wasn't that difficult a transformation given Phoenix's crazed year as a rapper for I'm Still Here. Perhaps more telling: when he first saw a rough cut of the film without the soundtrack, Phoenix thought The Master was a comedy. Freddie thinks all the mayhem he's doing is amusing as well. In a stupor, Freddie winds up in the life of Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a charismatic flimflammer who's the head of a cult known as The Cause. A lot's been made about Dodd being an analog for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, but that doesn't paint a full picture of the character. Hoffman plays the role more like Orson Welles. He's got the delivery, the gravitas, that sheer flair of Welles, who was a far more eloquent trickster than Hubbard. There's even a musical number that reminded me just a little of the "Charlie Kane" song from Citizen Kane. Dodd decides to take in Freddie and tame the savage drunk by way of The Cause. This relationship between Freddie and Dodd is the heart of The Master, and like an inkblot, there are different ways to read it. Dodd could just be a conman and Freddie his mark, but they have an odd affection for each other. There's the obvious father/son possibility, or even an older brother/younger brother. Dodd sometimes treats Freddie like a stray dog, which is underscored by the way he scolds him for bad behavior. It's just short of yelling "Bad boy" with a rolled-up newspaper in his fist. Since Dodd gets called "master" a lot and psychologically tortures Freddie as part of treatment, there's some BDSM in there. On the benign side, Freddie could be the Eliza Doolitle to Dodd's Henry Higgins. There's also a hint of love between them that may or may not be sexual. It's two opposing force with multitudes between them, whatever they are. The two characters are constantly playing with levels of intensity, and they're great foils for each other. Freddie is pure animal urge, all appetite. He just wants to get drunk, screw, and get drunk (and then screw if he isn't sleeping). What Dodd offers is a chance of getting Freddie civilized and, more importantly, making Freddie feel like he belongs. Dodd is the only person who seems to even like Freddie in the entire film. He defends him, he protects him, and he expresses a genuine concern about his poor little stray. The Cause may be a bunk religion and it may be dangerous, but what if it's the only kind of salvation for a lost soul? Like any religion followed close enough, The Cause gives meaning to a life that may be lacking, or a rudder and sail to someone who feels adrift. That's why the followers are so ardent about The Cause, like Peggy, Lancaster's wife, played by Amy Adams. This is Adams's best performance of her career, and she does it with the zeal of a true believer. She's devout and prim for much of the film, but she has fiery moments, like when she vents her frustrations about The Cause being questioned. Anderson crafts her explosion nicely. Basing The Cause on Scientology allows for some intense exploration of Freddie's past. There's an incredible set piece in which Freddie is processed for the first time, a practice similar to auditing in Scientology. Dodd breaks Freddie down and builds him up just through a series of questions. Repetition, volume, speed, variation in wording -- every shift becomes a thing of drama. It's pure dynamite, one of several scenes that made me lean forward in my seat as I watched. But it's more than just a convenient bit of exposition. It's a showcase for Phoenix and Hoffman, sure, and it's also an exploration of how people can try to make sense of those deep hurts in their past. Like the relationship between Freddie and Dodd, The Master isn't so definitive about its feelings on The Cause. It's a cult, no doubt, and Dodd is a charlatan who's making the religion up as he goes along, but there's still ambivalence. I understand what Anderson meant when he said the movie wasn't just about Scientology. There are scenes in the movie where The Cause is like a helpful fiction for people. Maybe any certainty is better than the unknown, and any family is better than none for the orphans and the mongrels. The final third of The Master is where its odd shape becomes most apparent. There's an expectation we all have about character arcs and plot points, act structures and story pyramids. I don't think Anderson cared about any of that, or at least not in a traditional sense. The end of the film doesn't give its audience a cue about what to feel, and none of the characters have a neat moment where they come to a realization and then change. If there's a thesis to The Master, it's buried or whispered. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'll admit, maybe I didn't know what to feel at the end of The Master because so much of what comes before is draining. I wanted The Master to tell me how to feel, which is maybe fitting since the movie is so concerned with whether or not Freddie wants to be given direction or to make his own sloppy way through life. Going back to Freddie and Dodd, I think Anderson was more interested in what the opposites had to say about human frailty and human nature, but he felt uncomfortable about providing definitive answers. You have this clash between animal nature and human nature, between a master and a slave, between fathers and sons, between salvation (even if it's a fake one) and being lost on your own miserable terms. Greenwood's score has some very regal compositions as well as these moments of paranoiac, improvised jazz. The film even takes place smack in the middle of the twentieth century -- that brutal and glorious 100 years of human misery and human endeavor. Even though I didn't know what to think of The Master immediately afterwards, sleeping on it made me realize how much of the film lingers in my mind. It hooks something I can't quite identify. This isn't going to be a movie for everyone, and people are just going to flat out hate it because it undermines expectations of plot and character. Without the pattern of recognition, change, and self-actualization in a protagonist, you're left watching characters be themselves the whole time at different levels of intensity. (Though like the processing scene, every shift in the performance becomes a potential for drama.) There's something about the rough edges and unresolved shapes that makes me appreciate its boldness. The Master can be uncomfortable, it can be difficult, but it's a film that kept me enthralled even when it kept me in the dark. Maybe the end of The Master feels so unresolved because few dichotomies are successfully resolved in real life and few people change as drastically as convention demands. It's all about exploring grey areas and odd shapes, and what's an inkblot test in the end but a mirror image of a mess? What a fine mess Anderson has gotten us into.
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Paul Thomas Anderson's intense inkblot of a film
When I think of Paul Thomas Anderson's films, I usually think of them in terms of velocity. There's a certain kind of drive to them, the movies hurtling toward moments that express frailty and loneliness. There are set pieces...

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Even though Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master only played in five theaters across the country, it set the box office on fire. The Master now has the highest per-screen average for a film with a traditional release. It made $7...

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The Church of Scientology is plotting against The Master


Sep 12
// Hubert Vigilla
The Church of Scientology continues its tradition of creepy, off-putting actions, this time targeting Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. The New York Post reports that Scientologists have been "'inundating' the distributor, T...

Listen to Jonny Greenwood's score for The Master

Sep 11 // Hubert Vigilla
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With Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master coming out this week, a treat just popped up online. You can now stream Jonny Greenwood's score for The Master in its entirety. Greenwood previously scored Anderson's There Will Be Blood...

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PT Anderson adapting Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice next


Sep 05
// Hubert Vigilla
Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master will finally hit theaters on September 14th, but he's already got his eyes set on his next project: an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's 2009 stoner-detective novel, Inherent Vice. You may remem...
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Trailer: The Master


The Anderson film Scientologists are don't want you to see
Aug 28
// Hubert Vigilla
Here it is, the final trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. It's short, it's strange, it's percussive, and it's as foreboding as a mofo. "Mofo," of course, is an abbreviated combination of the words "motherf***ing,"...
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SF print for PT Anderson's The Master is the cat's PJs


Aug 24
// Hubert Vigilla
Earlier in the week we shared two promo videos for Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, which coincided with a special screening in San Francisco at the Castro Theater last Tuesday. In addition to film being shown in glorious 7...
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Joaquin Phoenix loses his ship in new Master promo


Aug 21
// Hubert Vigilla
Tonight Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master will be screening in 70mm at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. I was too slow to grab tickets, and you shouldn't bother trying because they're all gone, but there was a keen promo...
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Tracklist and details for The Master soundtrack


Aug 15
// Hubert Vigilla
Ages ago we reported that Jonny Greenwood would be doing the score for The Master, marking the Radiohead guitarist's second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson. (He previously scored There Will Be Blood.) Yesterday the fu...
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15 images from The Master, which isn't about Scientology*


Aug 13
// Hubert Vigilla
More than a dozen new images from Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master surfaced over the weekend, giving us more glimpses of Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Perhaps most striking, though, is Phoenix looki...
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Last week a big batch of images from Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master surfaced, but we were asked to remove them for the time being. In lieu of those, here's a second poster for The Master, which is like the cast members vie...

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We're getting The Master one month earlier!


Jul 27
// Alex Katz
This is some of the happiest news I've heard all day. Previously on tap for an October 12th release, Paul Thomas Anderson's "about Scientology in everything but name alone" film The Master will begin attacking our brains...

Trailer: The Master

Jul 20 // Maxwell Roahrig
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Confession time: I'm only a recent fan of Paul Thomas Anderson's. Starting with There Will Be Blood, I've slowly but surely come around to loving the man's work. He's a modern day Stanley Kubrick, which kind of explains why ...

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The Master reveals its first poster


Jul 19
// Matthew Razak
If you've been paying attention to Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming film The Master you know that the marketing department behind is doing some pretty interesting things. The last two (not) trailers for the (not) about-Sciento...

Teaser: The Master

Jun 19 // Hubert Vigilla
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Last month brought us the first footage from Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, introducing us to Joaquin Phoenix's character. Today's teaser/trailer/clip provides our first glimpse of Philip Seymour Hoffman in action as the...

Trailer: The Master

May 21 // Alex Katz
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Ok, calling the first clip from Paul Thomas Anderson's not-about-Scientology-at-all-why-would-you-even-say-that picture The Master a "trailer" isn't precisely accurate, but having read the script (hint hint, it's a...

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Confirmed: PT Anderson's The Master out October 12th


Mar 28
// Hubert Vigilla
Earlier in the month we reported that Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master may be coming out in October. We can now confirm that rumor was true; you may commence dancing. The Master has an official limited release date of Octobe...
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Behind the scenes pics from PT Anderson's The Master


Dec 12
// Hubert Vigilla
As we're still waiting for more details about Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master to emerge, BlackBook recently published some fine behind-the-scene photos from the film. These pics taken by Jack Erling are of extras rathe...
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Jonny Greenwood is scoring PT Anderson's The Master


Dec 06
// Hubert Vigilla
Good news, everyone: Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is being scored by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. Greenwood also scored Anderson's There Will Be Blood, lending extra moodiness, ill-ease, and suffocation to the film....
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Cinematographer chosen for PTA's The Master


Jun 13
// Glenn Morris
There was a bit of wonder surrounding the Director of Photography job on Paul Thomas Anderson's next flick. After serving as cinematographer on every one of the director's films from Hard Eight through to There Will Be Blood,...

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