Inherent Vice

 

Inherent Vice is an enjoyable mess from director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson. The plot is secondary to the film’s characters and the amusing things they do and say.

It’s 1970. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a longhaired pot-smoking hippie L.A. private detective who gets a surprise visit from old girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). Her newest flame, it turns out, is a married guy whose wife and the wife’s boyfriend are trying to get him out of the picture to get his money. Shasta wants Doc to find out what’s up.

The missing boyfriend is sleazy real estate developer Michael Wolfman (Eric Roberts) whose latest project is a subdivision ridiculously located next to L.A.’s concrete irrigation canal. When Doc goes to check it out, he finds a massage parlor where the menu of services is clearly posted on the wall.

The story brings in many players including LAPD Lieutenant Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (James Brolin) who has some hilarious moments onscreen. His enjoyment of chocolate covered bananas provides some of Inherent Vice’s humor.

Also in the cast is Martin Short as Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, a dentist who is handling money for other dentists in a company called the Golden Fang. Benecio Del Toro appears as Doc’s attorney. Reese Witherspoon plays an assistant D.A. who is another of Doc’s gal pals. Owen Wilson is Coy Harlingen, a musician with shady connections. Maya Rudolph has a role as a receptionist with the colorful name Petunia Leeway.

The narrative goes in many directions and brings in even more characters than those I’ve mentioned. My son described Inherent Vice as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for stoners. That sounds about right.

Inherent Vice, despite its too many plot elements has a charm not unlike that of The Big Lebowski. While it’s doubtful that IV might attain similar cult status, it provides a fun take on a time and a place. If Anderson is willing to share his characters and setting with a developer, I’d love to see an Inherent Vice TV series. Either in the more permissive setting of cable or the more restrictive arena of over-the-air TV, it just might work.

 

 

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is a beautiful Japanese anime by the master, director Hayao Miyazaki. Mixing historical reality with imaginative fantasy, Miyazaki delivers another gorgeous animated film. Miyazaki has said that this will be his last film.

My experience is with the original version which has Japanese voices and English subtitles. This original version is set to play at the Tivoli. The dubbed version (playing elsewhere in St. Louis) features the voices of actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci and Mandy Patinkin, among others.

Miyazaki’s films have a mixture of reality and fantasy. His most famous film Spirited Away is mainly fantasy. The Wind Rises is rooted in reality with a smaller amount of fantasy.

This story of real life Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Gordon-Levitt) begins when he is a student in the early days of the 20th century. He is obsessed with aviation. After completing his studies, he works in the industry in Japan and goes on to design the Mitsubishi Zero, the plane that his country used against America in World War II.

Jiro’s life story features the devastation of an earthquake, a trip to Germany to study their techniques and various personal relationships. But always, his focus is on designing airplanes. Many of the film’s fantasy segments involve his muse, Italian designer Caproni, voiced by Tucci.

For true anime fans and fans of Japanese culture, The Wind Rises is a “must see.” If you’ve never seen a Miyazaki film, you may appreciate the fact that the film is a fictionalized version of true events. (Some of his other films have a dreamy weirdness.)

As an American who has seen the films and heard the stories of the Pearl Harbor attack, it is odd to see Jiro depicted as a hero. But Jiro’s life’s work is designing planes, not ordering military missions.

The Wind Rises moves at a leisurely pace. The film is longer than most U.S. animated features, just over two hours. Some viewers, especially restless youngsters, may find it too slow. (Its rating is PG-13 for disturbing images and smoking.) For me, this movie’s gorgeous images and creative storytelling manage to overshadow any pacing issues.