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Josh Reviews Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice is a wonderful film, funny and engaging, a gloriously bizarre journey through a world of drugs and crime and real estate (and dentistry) in 1970’s Los Angeles.

Adapted from a novel by Thomas Pynchon (which I now desperately want to read), the film was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the masters of cinema working today.  Joaquin Phoenix (who was also the star of Mr. Anderson’s last film, The Master) plays “Doc,” a druggie private eye.  One night, an ex-flame, Shasta, surprises Doc in his home and asks for his help unravelling a kidnapping plot centered on her wealthy new lover, real-estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann.  Doc agrees to help, but soon after Shasta herself disappears, and Doc finds himself sucked down a twisty rabbit hole of crosses and double-crosses.

Inherent Vice reminded me a lot of The Big Lebowski.  Both have the same balance of humor and drama, and both center on a drugged-out private eye trying to get to the bottom of a twisty mystery.  The film also has some echoes of Chinatown, in the way that a small mystery eventually sheds light on a larger plot concerning the history of Los Angeles.  But make no mistake, Inherent Vice is a wholly original creation.  It is unique and delightfully weird.

Joaquin Phoenix kills it in the title role.  He is perfect as Doc, striking exactly the right tone.  He’s hysterical, but Doc always remains a serious character with whom the audience can engage.  Mr. Phoenix gives Doc an innocence and nobility that is incredibly sweet and endearing.  Because of this, one completely roots for Doc to succeed as he tries to navigate a world of slippery, deceitful characters.  I can’t believe that Mr. Phoenix isn’t in more conversations for a 2014 best actor Oscar.  This is a fantastic role, one of the best performances of his career.

Katherine Waterston has a star-making performance as Shasta.  She actually has very little screen-time, but she has a few critical scenes, and she needs to be enough of a power in those scenes for her presence to resonate throughout the rest of the film as the object of Doc’s quest.  In this Ms. Waterston succeeds wildly (and not just because of one striking scene of jaw-dropping nudity).  Ms. Waterston is incredible in the role, creating a fully-realized character in just a few minutes, and more than holding her own with Joaquin Phoenix.  This is an actress I will be paying attention to in the future.

The film is jammed-full of wonderful actors who each appear in small roles as Doc’s quest takes him all over the world of nineteen-seventies Los Angeles.  Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood) returns to our cinema screens with a wonderful, perplexing yet phenomenally engaging new film: The Master. It’s a film that I’m not quite sure what to make of, but one that I’ve really been thinking about ever since seeing it.  It’s a hard movie to shake, one that I found to be weirdly captivating despite it’s often stately, leisurely pacing.  Without question it’s the work of a true master of cinema.

Joaquin Phoenix (appearing in his first film since 2008, not counting his weird sort-of-not-really documentary I’m Still Here) plays Freddie Quell.  A navy-man during World War II, in the film’s opening section we watch Freddie repeatedly trying and failing to make a go of any sort of regular life in the years after the war.  He seems to be suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress, though the film lets us draw our own conclusions.  He’s clearly unstable, an angry, intense, young man with a serious habit of heavy-drinking.  Out of work, he stows away on a boat that it turns out is hosting a lengthy excursion to sea by a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a self-described “writer, doctor, nuclear-physicist, and theoretical philosopher.”  Despite their being complete opposites in nearly every way, Freddie and Mr. Dodd have an immediate connection.  They bond over their love of the potent alcohol that Freddie likes to whip up, and while Dodd feels he can help Freddie and straighten him out, Freddie seems to find in Dodd a friend and father figure absent in his life.

As soon as one of Dodd’s followers refers to him as “master,” we know there might be another side to this charismatic writer and speaker.  Indeed, as Freddie (and the audience) spends more time with Dodd and his close-knit family and followers who seem to be constantly with him, we begin to see how many in his group are following his writings and his philosophies as a complete way of life.  Much has been made over whether the film is or isn’t based on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.  I did not read the film as an attack on scientology in specific, nor did I feel the point of the film was in critiquing any religion or cult.  (And please note that I am not equating the two!!)  There are definitely moments when one might raise one’s eyebrows at certain things we see Dodd’s followers saying or doing.  The film shows the positive power of the community of close-knit followers who surround the man they call “master,” and also the dangers of creeping, unquestioning group-think.

But it seems to me that … [continued]