Inherent Vice

Critical Hit.


It's not fair, Mommy! How come they got to see Postal?
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Reported on 5th of February, 2015

As I drove back from the bittersweet last trip to the charming Uckfield Picture house, I struggled to determine whether Inherent Vice was worse or better than its more praised Foxcatcher. Never a good sign to put one in mind of the worse film of the year, but it did get me thinking that maybe I had the whole film analysis wrong. We’re taught to think of art in terms of spectrum, with good on one side and ‘bad’ on the other. Mediocre films, it follows, just don’t have enough flumlph or, worse still, less than seven kremmies.

Inherent Vice

19 February 2015 @ The Uckfield Picturehouse


-$0.08 or, if one must be prosaic, and one must... 
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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But in the spirit of words like ‘flumph’ and ‘kremmie’, it’s probably more of a 20 sided die where mediocrity is its own category. Rather than failing to consist of either energy or incompetence or even pure malice, films of this type consist of aggressive mediocrity. Films like Godzilla or any of the Hr. Boll œuvre are so full of chase scenes that stop in the middle, or characters that walk into monster’s mouths for the visuals, that you can’t help but walk out smiling. Likewise, films like The Babadook or Calvary are more nasty than bad, and leave you wanting to punch anyone who’s smiling. It’s not fair, Mommy! How come they got to see Postal?

Inherent Vice is rolling 10 die 20, or ‘you open the door and find nothing’. , is just that kind of movie with the line ‘Does it ever end?’ in the first 20 minutes of a fairly excruciating 168. And I think that its averageness is contextual, that it would somehow have less, I don’t know, prattogonals, if they’re weren’t other films in the genre that, you know, everyone has seen. Being that its audience does not live in a vacuum, this is a film defined by what it ain’t. It ain’t Chinatown. It definitely ain’t The Long Goodbye, which reeked of energy. It ain’t Scanner Darkly. It ain’t Lebowski, and seems blissfully ignorant that the first, third and fourth of those films existed. It ain’t even Idaho Transfer or WUSA or any number of those flat 1970s films this film seems hellbent on emulating. Emulate feels too strong. Mimeographing? Too retro. Instagramming. That’ll do for now.

By leaving the characters onscreen for a very, very long time, doing nothing, you're naturally going to read something into what they're doing. It's the Kuleshov Effect without the cutaways.

It ain’t any of those, and yet seems to want to define itself on what those films did (expose a conspiracy/apply quirky characters to noir/have a stoner as the lead or have a drug-addled unreliable narrator, respectively). It’s fine to do things over and over again; those much better films are themselves standing on the shoulders of the slightly taller people before them. They were giants at one point, but wound up with cervical spondylotic myelopathy from all the weight. It’s a serious condition.

But films like Chinatown or The Long Goodbye or Lebowski know, and I daresay, respect, nay love the genre. Inherent Vice demonstrates not only zero grasp of the pantheon, but even a deliberate disdain, possibly shared by both Mr. Pynchon and Mr. Thomas Anderson. This manifests in a kind of low energy, low affect quality that is our modern currency for depth, mistaking languorousness for insight. Making something slow is not new in the genre either: there are plenty of past-the-threshold-of-average noirs out there. The second Harper, or (shudder) Against All Odds more than prove this dictum. This lack of pace is more the fashion of the critical moment. By leaving the characters onscreen for a very, very long time, doing nothing, you’re naturally going to read something into what they’re doing. It’s the Kuleshov Effect without the cutaways.

Ultimately, Mr. Thomas Anderson is simply the wrong director for the material, in the way that Mr. Wes Anderson was the only director who could have made The Grand Budapest Hotel. What I mean is that the film takes place in a semi-undefined universe, which leaves all kinds of problems for the audience. Like the lazy storytelling of any Abrams joint or this year’s irksome Revival of the Genre of the Apes – lazy surrealism means anything can happen. It’s only a problem if your depends on things happening.

Goodbye very small theater divided into three even smaller ones. You gave all there was to the name 'Uckfield'.

Goodbye very small theater divided into three even smaller ones. You gave all there was to the name ‘Uckfield’.

And yet, one senses something there. You can glimpse it in the way that the Golden Tooth keeps meaning many things, a genuine moment of newness within the genre – a multiplicitious MacGuffin. It could have been a real movie, if you’re working at a level of post Dead Ringers Cronenberg, a pre-Rubber Duplieux (and yes, that means being able to make Rubber, he was able to make Rubber), post Phantom of Liberty Buñuel or even post Boogie Nights Thomas Anderson. This is, or was, the guy who had frogs fall from the sky. But with your audience unmoored, you must bring more than ideas taken, willingly or not, intentionally or not, from other, better movies.

There are lots of things wrong with Inherent Vice, that it takes place in a flexible universe yet wants us to be concerned with the outcome or the characters, that it thinks itself clever by doing what has been done better before, or even that it utterly fails at its stated purpose: to explore the transition between the 1960s and 1970s. Which by the way, took place in 1973. You know it, because that’s when Chinatown was made. Movies can be about anything as long as they’re fun or funny or, I don’t know, doing something. Having taken a chance on Mr. Wes Anderson this year and having rolled 4 die 12, which is totally cleric or something, I know it’s random. All this film managed was to make me miss Mr. Thomas Anderson’s energetic phase, purely for the selfish reason of wanting to see another one of those movies. I’m just waiting for the right one for that job.

Profits!
A few days before, we saw Kingsmen: The Secret Service instead of this for Gianni’s 70th birthday. Happy Birthday, Gianni.
$0.12
Total Profits
$0.12
Losses!
Get it? He’s sucking a chocolate banana! Don’t worry! Homophobia is retro!
$0.04
Retro moment two: And then he drove up. And then he got out of the car. And then he opened the door. Do they leave these scenes in for RiffTrax?
$0.07
Retro moment three: he trades drugs with a Girl Scout? Spit take!
$0.09
Total Losses
$0.20

-$0.08

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