Thursday, January 29, 2015

Recent viewing: Inherent Vice, Brewster McCloud, The Babadook

As mentioned earlier, some accounting of recent media viewing...

The first reviews are a motherfucker...


By now, most of the critical reaction to Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel has turned out decidedly mixed and disappointing box office turnout has making the analogy that this is PTA's "1941" [Steven 'Bulletproof' Spielberg's infamous Bete Noire of 1979 which pulled him from the top of the heap until RAIDERS]. Which might be overstating things slightly, but you really have to wonder if most of these people have even heard of Thomas Pynchon or even put any thought into what an adaptation of his work would even be by a director whose love of subverting expectations is pretty much his established style?

That said, it's no big surprise that this adaptation - a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel - would probably not go over well with the general audience, despite what seems to be a can't miss setup... a stoner-noir of hippie private-eye 'Doc' Sportello (Jocquin Phoenix) who gets pulled into a mystery by an ex(?)-girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston) whom he still carries a torch for and which leads him into other mysteries which all seem tied into one BIG conspiracy/mystery with many players, most who work with him/against him depending on whatever situation he turns up in.

This sounds like a hoot, like THE BIG LEBOWSKI - which is basically Pynchon-Lite appropriated by the Coen Brothers which had Jeff Bridges as a clueless stoner who gets caught up in a neo-noirish mystery and which turned into a beloved cult film. Unfortunately, most didn't seem to take to INHERENT's languorous approach to plot or character and seemed to be pissed off that the movie wasn't anything like LEBOWSKI.

Not to jump on anyone for not liking INHERENT VICE - after all, it is based on a Pynchon novel and anyone who's read him knows that straightforward plotting is not what draws one to Pynchon - but what was surprising, to me at least, was the hardcore dissing of the film by people who profess to love the work of Robert Altman. [Residing near Kansas City, MO, those connected to film are very quick to invoke the name of Altman, especially when it also involves his successful work, like M*A*S*H]. Watching VICE put me in mind of another misunderstood film that also got little respect and box office at the time of its release, but is now regarded as a classic - THE LONG GOODBYE, directed by Saint Altman.

INHERENT VICE isn't as audience friendly as THE BIG LEBOWSKI was; and nowhere near as concerned with plot trajectory -- it's not the destination that's important, it's the journey and the characters met along the way. And maybe more of the public will be more appreciative in 20 years - when Everyone will LOVE the film.

Fuck Da Haters, Dude


Speaking of Altman... those aforementioned acolytes that like to invoke the holy name apparently don't feel the same of invoking the work which doesn't fall under the 'Success' banner, which with Altman seems to be missing the entire point - my guess is that they'd felt the same about BREWSTER McCLOUD at the time of its release as they felt about INHERENT VICE now. Of course 40 years later, they're bound to look at BREWSTER with some fondness.

BREWSTER is best described as an Altman fantasy, the first before delving into later works like IMAGES, 3 WOMEN and QUINTET. Basically pulling one element from a script by Doran William Cannon (SKIDOO) - the idea of a boy building a set of wings to fly - the script was tossed out by  Altman, and the story reworked by Altman and writer Brian McKay and during production, much was improvised constantly. That the resulting film makes any sort of coherent sense at all is a testament to the talent of everyone involved because it does seem to be the sort of film whose charm is mainly due to the death-defying act of not collapsing into chaos, but always being on just the verge of doing so.

Altman manages to keep the absurdities aflitter around that central concept - set in Houston, our title character (Bud Cort) secretly lives in the Astrodome while working on a set of wings for human flight. At the same time, Houston is plagued by a series of random stranglings, which bring hotshot San Francisco detective, Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy) to town. Amongst those two plot tentpoles are a variety of characters: Stacey Keach as a miserly landlord of rest homes, Sally Kellerman as Brewster's guardian (fallen?) angel; and in her debut, Shelley Duvall as a Astrodome tour guide who gets involved with Brewster. There are also a lot of allusions to birds throughout - pay close attention to names of places and license plates, as well as Rene Aborjonois as a lecturer on birds who acts as a chorus. Micheal Murphy's character is a parody of Steve McQueen in BULLITT and there is also sequence that parodies the famous car chase.

It may not be for everyone, but for those in the mood for a bit of whimsy from the late 60's/early 70's, it'll fit the bill nicely. Available on Burn-On-Demand DVD from Warner Home Archive.



Jennifer Kent's feature has been hailed as one of the best horror films of the year, and I get in line with the rest to back up that statement, although calling it a 'horror' film somewhat marginalizes it - by rights, Kent and her two main actors should also be amongst the list of nominees for awards, but such is life.

One of the  refreshing things about the film is the situation that sets the events in motion - the relationship of a grieving single mother and her problematic son, which is a change from the usual gang of idiots waiting to be killed, or some lame franchise creation. The two main influences of the film are REPULSION and THE SHINING, as well as the feel of a Grimm Fairy Tale come to life. Also refreshing is the level of ambiguity that Kent allows in the story; audiences nowadays are not huge fans of ambiguity, as witness by some of the pushback on the film, calling it 'not scary'. If you're expecting the usual jump scares and blood, yeah, it certainly ain't in that league -- THE BABADOOK isn't 'thrill ride horror', it's meant to be The Real Thing.


This weekend has two good film events scheduled: in Lawrence, KS, there's the Free State Winterfest, Friday & Saturday Jan 30 -31 which will screen THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL and GONE DOGGY GONE,

And in North Kansas City, The Panic Film Festival returns to the Screenland Armour Fri-Sun. Jan 30 - Feb. 1 for an eclectic selection of horror and sci-fi films, as well as special guests and events. Films of note are LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S 'THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU', WOLFCOP, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, DARK WAS THE NIGHT, STAR TREK II - THE WRATH OF KHAN, HEAVY METAL, among others.

No comments: