Spared or Spoiled Film Reviews: Inherent Vice

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Inherent Vice (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Inherent Vice Poster

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by Paul Thomas Anderson  Based on Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Starring Joaquin PhoenixJosh BrolinOwen WilsonKatherine WaterstonReese WitherspoonBenicio del ToroJena Malone & Joanna Newsom

Inherent Vice, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, is a good story. But an overly complicated detective story with too many characters for the screen. It features an amazing cast and I usually like Paul Thomas Anderson but here he’s long-winded and tries too hard to bring that dime store detective novel feel to the screen. Most of the movie is conversations, one after another, like those 50’s detective stories, but this is set in the early 70’s. So, it’s more of a hippie private detective story. Also, there isn’t a single scene in the movie where someone isn’t doing some drug or another. I love the era. I especially love women’s fashion and make-up from that era; mini skirts and long lashes but there was too much drug use back then… apparently. There are moments in the film that are pretty fantastic but they are few and far between. In the meantime there’s too many characters and too much dope and too much talking. It nearly put me to sleep..

Verdict: SPOILED

Josh Brolin and Joaquin Phoenix

SPOILER ALERT

I wanted to like Inherent Vice. But I did not. It reminded me, at times, of Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly from 1955, just not as good. And with this type of film you usually get the detective as the narrator. But Inherent Vice makes that narrator a third person with an impossibly god’s eye view, she really shouldn’t have because she’s not there.

Joaquin Phoenix

The whole movie just didn’t work because of the narration. But the performances are great. Some of the more zany elements are fun. And like I said there were some cool scenes and a nice story. I probably would have loved the book. So once again, I should have read the book before the movie. I’m not a fan of doing it the other way around.

Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice doesn’t work as a movie. First it’s too long. And because our hero handles three cases at once, there are too many characters. Too much narration from the third-party and too much drug use. But what really failed for me was the pacing. Inherent Vice almost put me to sleep. It’s atmospheric and laid back, like the 70’s.

Katherine Waterston

Josh Brolin is a highlight however. He plays a crazy police detective who is constantly harassing, abusing and arresting Joaquin’s oft-stoned private eye. Brolin’s character is a real loose cannon. But he’s just so weird and very funny. Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon and Jena Malone are all pretty good too. But Joaquin Phoenix as always wears his character like a suit. I’m starting to think he enjoys playing these wacky people because he likes inhabiting them 24/7.

Martin Short

But anyway, the mystery is interesting, if you can keep your eyes open. The performances are fun, including Martin Short as a heavy drug using, lecherous dentist. It’s just long, long-winded and complicated. I nearly fell asleep a bunch of times. There is however, at the end, a satisfying and exciting climax, if you can keep your eyes open that long, where our hero solves his cases like a champ and even gets the girl. Inherent Vice just needed to be about 30 minutes shorter and narrated by the P.I. himself.

Long-winded and boring.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Film Reviews: Boyhood

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Boyhood (IFC Films)

Boyhood Poster

Written & Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Ellar ColtranePatricia ArquetteLorelei Linklater & Ethan Hawke

That little snot-nosed kid from the beginning is all grown up by the end. Boyhood is one of the best films I have ever seen. It is less of a conventional movie than even Birdman. I still think Iñárritu deserves Best Director but I now think Boyhood deserves Best Picture. Here is a movie that depressed me in many ways because it was like seeing someone else’s life while immediately and viscerally it brings up memories of your own. I would even go so far as to say that nothing happens in the movie proper but it pushes play on your own life’s memory in your own mind. Boyhood is an experience. Different for everyone. A solitary experience. I was already in awe of Richard Linklater. He was already a god in my eyes. Is there a position above god? Because he deserves a promotion.

Verdict: SPARED

Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane

I couldn’t spoil this movie if I wanted to. So little happens but a life happens. We see a family’s growth in twelve years. Not just the boy from the title. We see him age from 6 to 18. If you’re over the age of 18 then you know what the movie is about. We also see his sister grow and mature and his parents grow and mature. Not just the actors but the characters, they become better people than they are at the start. And even as it centers on little Mason Jr., I would say he matures the least of this amazingly relate-able family.

Lorelei Linklater

And again the details of his growth are specific and non-specific. There is so much of his life unseen, that we the audience get to fill-in the blank spots with our own memories. Our own stories. Our own images. It is a rare and wonderous thing for a film to not have a plot. Not one you can see. To not have a theme. Not one you can feel. But to elicit such an emotional response. Such an individual, emotional response. It’s like it’s not even a fucking movie. You know?

Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane

You know that part in It’s a Wonderful Life when Clarence is trying to convince Bailey that his life was good and that he was important or some such nonsense. This movie plays like that. Boyhood is a visit from an angel showing you a childhood you never had. You know that part in A Christmas Story when the ghost shows Ebenezer his Christmases past? Well then Boyhood is the ghost of Christmas past. Christmases you never knew you had. You know that thing where a movie is so good that your review of it starts to sound like pretentious horse shit and really it could never do the film justice. Boyhood is that film and this review, that horse shit. Honestly Boyhood defies description. I am blown away.

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t identify with most of it. That was not my life on the screen. My life was the one playing in my head. Sometimes better. Sometimes worse. By the time our hero reaches the age of 16 and he’s not sleeping in the park, in shelters or the subway, it’s not me. When our hero graduates from High School he’s done something I never did. But even then, once it got to the stuff I’d never done. The years I’d never lived. It got really fucking good. Love and life and things and stuff that I’ve only seen in movies.

Boyhood

And I expected the film to jump cut through Mason’s life. For each year to feel like its own separate thing. But Boyhood is fluid. It is so fluid and so gradual and so effortless. Boyhood is a sublime cinematic experience that will never be duplicated. Not even by someone else buying a ticket to the same theater or by me watching the movie again. Those twelve years on the screen and the years in m-m-memory can only be lived once. Now if you’ll excuse me. I’m gonna go cry. I owe myself a good cry.

Boyhood star Ellar Coltrane through the years

I leave you with my top ten Linklater films:

Boyhood (The best)
Dazed and Confused (Alright, alright, alright)
Before Sunrise (Julie Delpy!)
Waking Life (Mind Blown)
Before Sunset (More Julie Delpy)
A Scanner Darkly (Linklater & Philip K. Dick [Need I say more?])
Before Midnight (Hello again old friends)
Slacker (My life before Slacker & my life after Slacker)
Bernie (Jack Black)
Fast Food Nation (See how the sausage is made)

Thank you, sir.

– Mel

Amorality Tale 3: The Inner World of the Bad Storyteller

The Storyteller

The Bad Storyteller will tell you that good things happen to bad people. And bad things happen to good people. And we believe them. Because we posit goodness and badness everyday. Because we judge who belongs on either side of the good vs evil divide, and have done so from the very first time we felt betrayed. And this is just a rudimentary way of looking at a more complex world while neglecting the real problem. It is the inner world of the bad storyteller that is the crux of the problem.

From the inner world of the bad storyteller, they like to ask us why, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

And I always respond the same, “Define good things and bad things.” And, “While you’re at it, define bad people and good people.” And, “While you’re at it, shut the hell up.”

Something you posited as being good happened to someone you judged as being bad and you’re all bent out of shape about it. So, you defined the person. You created the thing. And you developed the outcome. This has nothing to do with anyone else. And it is not a reflection of the real world. You are just being a bad storyteller.

You have reduced the story world to good people and bad people and then decided that everything else is random. When it’s the characters that are grey but their actions that are black and white. Their motivations are nuanced but the consequences are black and white. And you’ve just thrown all of that away to have your anti-hero extinguish his cigar on another man’s face because it sounded like a cool thing for him to do.

It’s because the stories that you grew up on were shit. They didn’t tell you everything. They left out morality in exchange for a dark ending. They weren’t tales about real people, they were tales about bad ideas and the deluded belief that crime pays. That ambition creates its own consequence. And that happiness is something you can trade.

But the truth of the matter has always been that everything exists in harmony with its outcome. That the present and the future are the same moment. Including bad actions.

Greed is a strong desire for what you don’t have but it is accompanied by a fear of losing the things that you do have.

Lust is an overblown desire for human sexual contact but it leads to dehumanization. Destroying the very thing that it desires.

Wrath is a response to pain but pain is the solution, the outcome and the product of wrath. Wrath creates more pain which creates more wrath which creates more. It’s like stomping your foot because you stubbed your toe.

Gluttony is a waste of resources to an excess but it leads to poverty and to having nothing, because, you know, you wasted it.

Sloth, on the other hand, is a total waste of time so what it leads to is the complete absence of time. We call that death.

Pride is an overconfidence in ones abilities. An overconfidence that leads to the failure of those same abilities.

And… Envy, the granddaddy of the bad storyteller, the belief that someone else has cheated or lied or stolen their way to having happiness. Well, it leads to never being satisfied with what you have no matter what you get. Like getting everything you want but never being happy with it.

That’s screwed up right?

I’m not making this stuff up. It is a constant. It is true. every. single. time. So why do we abandon the truth? Because it’s become boring. It’s now a cliché for you to tell an honest story with an honest outcome. But I still strongly believe that it is a necessity. It is necessary to have what we used to call a moral to your story otherwise it’s just a lie..

I still believe that storytellers are the molders of reality. That they are the makers of fashion. The creators of myth and the new religion. So spread the words:

I still believe.

I still believe that a story can be dark without being morally bankrupt. Can still be original without pretending it’s the only story that’s every been told.

I still believe.

I still believe in the difference between Ayn Rand and George Orwell.

Between Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury.

Orson Scott Card and Arthur C. Clarke

L. Ron Hubbard

and Philip K. Dick.

I still believe.

I still believe in morality. I still believe in the beauty of words and ideas. And in the boundless creativity of unrestrained self-awareness.

So sure, your big bad anti-hero can pull off the heist. Make the killing. Cheating, lying, stealing and torturing their way to your story’s end. But if you leave out the consequence, continually omit the well-earned punishment for their evil actions, were they characters in the real world, it’s not only bad writing, its neglectful. It’s inhumane. It’s insulting.

For the world is full of stories. Some for real. Some for fantasy. Some are fiction. Some are fictionalized. And so-called non-fiction. And every time you finish a story, close a screenplay or a book with those big black beautiful bold words; THE END at the bottom of a page, you add to the outside world of stories from your inner world. You create life and affect lives. As the wheel turns, showing life imitates art imitates life imitates art imitates life imitates art, ad infinitum.

So won’t you please stop giving us false tales of false people with false emotions because it warps the wheel. And because you are a Storyteller (with a capital s). You provide an emotional experience to people without them having to have lived that experience. You give us an emotional cushion without the emotional scars. And that’s amazing.

So stop lying.

This is your story. You’re the storyteller. But you do not have to be a BAD storyteller.

The truth is… The truth has always been… you can be better.

THE END

Thanks for listening.

– Mel

Amorality Tale 1

Amorality Tale 2

Spared or Spoiled Film Reviews: Interstellar

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Interstellar (Paramount Pictures [North America],  Warner Bros. Pictures [International])

Interstellar Poster

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Written by Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan

Starring Matthew McConaugheyAnne HathawayJessica Chastain & Michael Caine

Swing and a miss. Too long did not like. Too ambitious. Interstellar gets trapped in the singularity up its own ass. Wow what a promising start but Christopher Nolan turns into M. Night Shyamalan somewhere near Gargantua and it doesn’t just get bad. It gets really bad. Hopelessly and unapologetically bad.

Verdict: SPOILED

Matthew McConaughey

“Don’t worry kids. NASA will save us. Go play with your lunar module until Mel’s done ranting.”

SPOILER ALERT

First, I think Matthew McConaughey is solid as usual. I loved Anne Hathaway in this and also Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn. Honestly all the actors that played Murphy were very good. I liked but did not love the start of the movie back on Earth. The explanations of what happened to the Earth were rushed. It felt like they were glossed-over on purpose as to not get too earthbound. But it all comes back to haunt the narrative when they try desperately to find an upbeat ending. Where’d they get the soil? The seeds? If you can grow and live inside on a spaceship you can live inside on the planet.

The Coopers

“Stop him, daddy. He’s insulting our movie.”

I usually love the paradox of us saving our past selves from the future. I have a little something like that in what I’m working on now but it’s a lot more complex than this crap and it doesn’t get all inter-dimensional. That should have been the title of this thing. Not Interstellar but inter-dimensional. But then I guess that would have ruined the Shymalanity of it all. As it is, Interstellar left me cold and I hate it for that.

Anne Hathaway Handshake

“When you ask me what that was, I’m gonna say a handshake. Don’t ask me any follow up questions okay? It’ll make absolutely no sense later.”

Because, in the end all of its kumbaya ending crap felt so disingenuous that I would have been more satisfied had Matthew McConaughey died and not been found conveniently floating in space. What is the overall area that a human adult takes up in the vastness of space again? Don’t answer that. Well then you might as well have made it aliens and had those aliens transport him back to his stupid corn farm or bring everybody back to life. Roll credits. Oh this movie made me so mad.

Cooper, Brand and Romilly

“Put me in here until the review is over. Because I can’t take much more of this.”

Because once it goes into space it gets so freaking good. I mean positively stellar. Matt Damon and the robot and the planets and the ships and the stuff with the thing and the lights and the sci-fi. “We’re gonna make it!” “I can do this.” “Don’t open that airlock.” I loved every minute of the second act. Every last fucking minute. From the effects to the science to the suspense and the emotion it was fantastic. So, it starts off weak but necessarily so. “All is forgiven.” I thought to myself because this movie rocks when it turns into one of the best movie space adventures I’ve seen since Europa Report.

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar

“Europa Report? What’s a Europa Report? This movie has three Oscar winners and the guy who directed Batman. What does your precious Europa Report have? Believability? Psshh”

But for a third act, Interstellar shits all over itself. And not solid and easy to clean up. It sprays diarrhea all over the screen and then the credits roll. I’m sorry for the imagery. It really annoyed me. It literally felt to me like M. Night Shyamalan directed the third act. From the grown up Murphy suddenly realizing that her childhood “ghost” was her father, to Cooper explaining quantum time mechanics or something equally mind-boggling-ly complex in Morse code, to the Starblazers and Battlestar Galactica style convoy leaving the Earth behind with no destination and suddenly being able to grow food. Swing and a miss, Nolans. I still love you both madly but… swing… and… a… miss.

Arrrgh! (I usually put a conclusion here but I just felt like screaming this time) Arrrgh!

– Mel

Amorality Tale 2: The Seven Deadly Sins

Seven Deadly Sins

To Whom It May Concern,

Each of the Seven Deadly Sins comes with a built-in punishment. An inescapable, fully-automatic, non-negotiable built-in punishment.

Greed is accompanied by Fear every time. A fear of losing the things desired. So there’s the need for guns and locks, a mote, wall, dragons and no peace. Because to the greedy person everyone else is out to take the things that they have. They can’t enjoy it for fear of losing it. And what they thought would be freedom, isn’t freedom at all. They are instead held hostage by a lifestyle. Forced to do all manner of horrible things to people in order to maintain that lifestyle. It is a constant.

Fear and mistrust go hand in hand with greed. Not money in general but the love of money. An amoral greed that will stop at nothing to have everything. And it is our ignorance of their inner turmoil that they use to justify their bad behavior. It always astonishes people to know that the poor have more moments of happiness than the wealthy. And it is the wealthy that are in desperate need of our help. They need an intervention and a rehab. Maybe a good deprogramming. Wealth is a drug. And like a drug it’s that first bit that feels good but after that you’re just chasing it and feeling nothing.

Lust leads to Dehumanization every time. There is nothing wrong with sex but there is something wrong with seeing other humans as sex objects. This is more common in men but it can be women to men, men to men or women to women. It’s just more often men, even though lust doesn’t discriminate. And what is at risk when letting lust control your every interaction with a gender is a denying of the humanity of half the world. Your gender preference, this huge well of knowledge and experience and human kindness and compassion is reduced to a fuck puppet, sperm donor or baby incubator.

We see this play out in the extreme patriarchal societies where the only solution they can think of is to blow shit up. With women in positions of power you get other ideas. You get the feminine and the masculine. We’re all supposed to work together. One is not here to be the sex toy of the other. From societies that tell women to shut up and look pretty, to those that tell them to shut up and cover themselves from head to toe so they DO NOT look pretty, it is that uncontrolled lust and objectification that leads to dehumanization. And what you get is half a life. What you live in is half a society, half a world. And frankly it’s a bland, boring, stupid and violent half.

Wrath brings Pain every time. Plain old-fashioned pain. Anger is destructive. Not hatred but anger. Take the mosquito that lands on your arm. You can hate what it’s doing to you. Not a big epic hate. It’s just a mosquito. But then you form the resolve to repel it or to kill it. But on the other hand you could get angry with the mosquito and swat it as hard as you can, maybe even make contact but then you’re hitting yourself aren’t you.

Anger destroys everything it touches. Not just the thing you’re angry with but anything in the vicinity including you. Your peace of mind. Your image to those who witness it. Your love, your life, your health. Rage brings nothing but pain. And since rage is a reaction to pain, it just feeds itself.

Gluttony ends in Poverty every time. Most people look at gluttony as being just about food but it is not just about over-eating. It’s about wasting. Using up resources that could benefit others. Using up more than you need. Wasting food and energy without concern for who is not eating or living in the dark. And again, it’s something that the wealthy do to convince others that they are happy. But all they really do is annoy the world and the people around them.

Excess is not fun. It’s disgusting. And it makes the people around them, the ones who have to live without because of those who want more than they can honestly consume, it makes them hate. And hate is a sense of resolve to bring about change. A resolve to take everything they have and leave them with nothing.

Sloth precedes Death every time. Inactivity brings obesity and obesity brings death. And you may think that obesity should be listed under gluttony. It’s not gluttony that makes you fat, but sloth (for the morbidly obese it’s really a combo platter). Yet in our stories there is always the big fat guy. The powerful man who sits on a huge bed or travels around in a truck. Or the jolly, likable, morbidly obese character that everybody likes. You never see the clean up. You never see them removing a wall to pull out his bloated carcass after his heart fails in the first act.

I don’t know when we started to romanticize obesity but it has to stop. It leads to death Every… single…. time. There are studies done frequently that show that human beings need to stay active to stay alive. But there are still people who are actively trying to make themselves fatter and fatter. And the people around them are enablers. It’s more like an assisted suicide… by food… and sloth.

Pride comes before Failure every time. Confidence is useful. But overconfidence is harmful. The most efficient people are the ones who think a mistake is right around the corner. This trend of the impossibly confident and ruthlessly efficient, disturbingly perfect character is a lie. Overconfidence leads to failure every time. So much so that one of the best ways to defeat someone is to make them think that they can’t lose. But we praise mediocrity so much that the line has been moved gradually toward the unproven. So that now folks are full of pride before they’ve even accomplished a thing. They’re full of themselves and their perceived talent practically from birth these days.

But if you ask the masters of discipline, the ones that do it and do it well, they will tell you about that thing that they’re still working on and what they wish they could do better. And how much they fear failure. Because in reality the person who gets everything right is the one who sweats out every last detail. The person who worried and worked. Everybody wants to be the super-cool confident guy who’s good at everything. But he doesn’t actually exist. Shhhhh Don’t wake them up. They’re dreaming of being great at something but have never worked at being better.

Envy goes hand in hand with Mistrust every time. Envy is a jealousy of what someone else posseses and it is accompanied by a distrust of other people’s motives. If you’re looking in someone else’s yard to see what they have, then you think they’re also looking in yours. And we see this play out in politics all over the world. It’s us against them and they have something we don’t. Those people have it better than us and it makes us mad. Not because they are wealthy or in power but because they’re our next door neighbors and dammit we deserve the same shit as they have.

Go ahead and ask someone why their co-worker or peer doesn’t like them. Or why the two don’t get along. And you’ll always get the same deluded answer, “They’re just jealous.” Because to the envious everyone else is jealous, and to the jealous everyone else is envious. And to them, no one is deserving of trust because deep down they know that it’s them who aren’t trustworthy. And believing that everyone else is the same is the only way they can live with themselves.

Thank you for your attention,

TO BE CONCLUDED

– Mel

Amorality Tale 1

Amorality Tale 3