If you ask me, there aren’t many good movies made these days, so when a brilliant director decides to take on an iconic novelist’s material, I get excited.
Let’s get one thing straight here: if you don’t think that most feature films released these days are, for lack of a better word, shit, you can stop reading now. That’s not meant as an attack on your sensibilities, it’s just obvious that we’re inhabiting different realms.
It’s gotten to the point, for me, anyways, that I see maybe 10 new movies all year, and probably only 1-3 in theatres. I spend more time trying to discover or re-discover1 older films than I do watching new ones. I’m a film lover who’s fallen out of practice. Part of that is my fault — with a young family, it takes some effort to regularly get out to the theatre, but more than that, it’s the movie industry’s fault.
There are few movies made these days with me in mind. I wouldn’t consider watching SuperHero Movie 4 on tv for free let alone paying to see it in the theatre. I’m not interested in watching a Sandler-like comedy or a teen fiction adaptation. I’m not going to see a fantasy movie with CGI dragons, orcs, wizards or, god I don’t know, you know what I mean. I don’t want to see anything that’s keeping Kate Hudson, Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts employed, and likewise Jason Statham, Will Smith and Liam Neeson.
What does that leave, exactly? It leaves a handful of films each year from an increasingly small cabal of consistent, artistic directors and a few who might one day be able to apply for junior membership in that cabal.
If you’re anything like me, you long for the 1970s when even action movies were character-driven. Where are the movies about real people doing things people really do? Why has that become so unpalatable to the general movie-going public?
That’s all a really long way of saying that Inherent Vice is probably my most anticipated movie in years.
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As you may have read, I’m in the middle of discovering what it is I actually like about Los Angeles. Part of my pop culture exploratory mission included reading Thomas Pyncheon’s novel Inherent Vice, which, in an extreme understatement in the name of brevity, was excellent. Being the lover of a novel that’s being adapted for the screen is usually accompanied with as much trepidation as it is anticipation, we all know that sometimes the richest of source material can be poorly translated into the worst of movies.
That’s not the case for me, here. The director is the incredibly talented Paul Thomas Anderson, who is responsible not only for great movies like Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, and The Master but also, in my mind, the best movie of the last 10 years, There Will Be Blood. Sure, there’s always the possibility that it still goes wrong, that it doesn’t stay true to the novel, but if there’s anyone who can take on adapting Pynchon — a beautifully voluble writer — it’s Anderson.
His work is heavily influenced by his idol, and later mentor, Robert Altman, whose sweeping narratives expertly wove together the strands of a multitude of characters. Altman’s genius was as much in the feel and tone of his films as it was anything else. There was a beautiful chaos involved. I’m not the first one to suggest that if this movie had been made 20 or 30 years ago2 it would have been Altman who could have best served the material.
The novel isn’t a heavy one, “Pynchon-lite” it’s been called before, but it is an entertaining one. In the wrong hands it could be turned into a Big Bounce-like disaster because it’s easy to read the novel superficially, seeing only the stoner jokes and whimsical characters, and missing the underlying themes. Doc Sportello3 is funny, but he’s not a joke. There’s no guarantee Inherent Vice will work as a movie even with a genius like Anderson at the helm, but it bodes well for its chances, that’s for sure, and that’s why I can’t wait for its release4