Inherent Vice-The Age of Aquarius

SpInherent Vice imageeaking for myself, this story would not be my first choice of Pynchon’s work to be brought to the screen. The Crying of Lot 49, in my opinion, would be so much more interesting in the hands of a great director. Perhaps that will happen someday, but with this book, Inherent Vice, so many characters are thrown out there and the convoluted nature of the story is so confusing that it just doesn’t add up to anything resembling a linear plotline. Thus, the film version of “Inherent Vice” is a thin thread filled with hidden meanings and some subtle and not-so subtle references, all of which may be easily overlooked by viewers not familiar with Thomas Pynchon’s work.

But Joacquin Phoenix is wonderful as the canny and refreshingly laid-back character of Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello. Doc is the quintessential hippie who works hard to seemingly not fit in with the majority of society’s norms. And Josh Brolin is wound wonderfully tight as the completely un-ironic caricature of a button-down cop with the chip on his shoulder and a long-standing grudge against hippies.

Although I’ve always been among those who strongly feel that the medium of film is separate and apart from the printed material of the author’s original book, this film does try to follow the story Pynchon wrote in a fairly faithful manner. It’s not easy to tell if the translation was entirely successful, because some of the visual elements are the funniest parts of the film. Phoenix haplessly walking into the crowd of stuffed shirt cops and being bounced onto the pavement and later, being unsuccessfully hauled by Brolin into the back of a police car are some of the more hilarious scenes in the film. And the least effective portion was the narrated voice-over lifting some of the passages of Pynchon verbatim. It came across as a bit of an over-reach, because the characters and layers of plot should have been enough, without adding Thomas Pynchon’s written words.

The bad news is this film goes long, almost two and a half hours, and could have used a good ten to fifteen minutes of editing to condense some scenes. Many of the cameos and performances by the likes of Eric Roberts, Martin Short and Benicio del Toro are brilliantly cast and spot-on, fitting in perfectly with the absurd nature of the story. The times we lived in and the social commentary on the society we have become are the best take-aways from this sometimes raunchy, sometimes funny film. It’s a must see for all Pynchon devotees, and a good fit for those of us who are “of a certain age” and feel a twinge of nostalgia for the now gone but never forgotten Age of Aquarius.

The Imitation Game

the imitation game Fall 2014The acting of Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the reasons to go see this film. Another reason is this. The Imitation Game is a movie about ideas and how they are incubated.  The notion to invent modern day computers didn’t just pop out of Alan Turing’s head. The film emphasizes the amount of  hard work and the blood, sweat and tears of many people who fought to create something extraordinary. Ideas such as the ones that made the machine that broke the Enigma code possible only came about when some were willing to fight for their visions.

My one criticism would be the part of the film that dealt with Alan Turing’s homosexuality. It seemed to be slapped together to complete the story somehow. But the more interesting part of the film deals with the culmination of the brain child of Alan Turing and the accompanying risks and responsibility the knowledge of the code entailed.

The men and women who worked on this project were not able to speak of it for decades. There was no glamour or glory for these people. It was a hard fought slog of a war, and the action of this film, quite naturally, takes place within the confines of a quiet town in the English countryside. The dramatic license found in all works of Hollywood fiction make up a small portion of the action, but there really is no melodramatic dilemma found within the story of the Enigma code breakers.
The fascination is found within the confines of the mind of the visionary Alan Turing character.

Which is why only an actor such as Cumberbatch could play such a man. Some of the unlikeable elements of his quicksilver-tongued Sherlock appear in the Turning character at times. But the bulk of the film is carried by Cumberbatch’s focus on the single-minded dedication to detail seen in the makeup of Turing.

Out of a very poor season, and frankly a stunningly slow year for movies, this film stands out in the crowd. Now up for Best Picture, as well as Best Actor for Cumberbatch and Best Supporting for Keira Knightley, this is one film that easily wins my vote. Go see this movie.

Taken 3-Capsule Review

Liam NeesonIn order to complete this review, let’s game this out logically. What should you do with a hit movie theme that needs a spark of imagination and creativity to move the characters development along?

Plot # 1 would have Liam Neeson, a man with “a special set of skills” but also one with a softer side when it comes to his grown daughter and his ex-wife, doing something different this time around. You could pick up the action by tacking back to the history of his friendship and loyalties with his military buddies in special-ops. And expand from there. Like James Bond, you might pit his wits and expertise against a formidable foe- a Dr. No or a version of  Professor Moriarty, as found in Sherlock Holmes.

 Or, you could just write a plodding and fairly pedestrian story about some thugs who killed your ex-wife. And waste the talents of a good actor like Liam Neeson in a very run-of-the-mill re-hash of the same story. What should you do?

In the case of Taken 3, the easy way out was the road taken in this forgettable film. Only Liam Neeson die-hards need apply for this outing.

The End of the Interview

The interview pixThis has to be one of the least funny comedies I’ve ever seen. This film should have gone straight to video, but not for the same reasons it did become controversial. There is really no point to the plot. And for that matter, the plot points that supposedly flow from scene to scene make this a jumbled mess of a story without rhyme or reason.

There is no need to bring in the CIA in the early stages of the story to act as the straight man for the initial plot to kill the leader of North Korea. For that matter, why not make it a fictional country or just change the name of the real leader? This is not a deep film. Nor is it one that is well planned or executed.

It’s a genre that is known as juvenilia. I suppose that the target audience would be twelve to fourteen year old boys. Lots of butt jokes and juvenile humor combined with some gory scenes round out the hilarity.

Seth Rogen and James Franco are better than this mess. I would be embarrassed to think the President of the United States and other leading statesmen might waste their time watching this piece of you-know-what. It’s not worth a trip to the movies, or even a download. This is…so bad it’s not worth even talking about-or writing about! End of story.