Movie Review: “Inherent Vice”

Starring
Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterson, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro
Director
Paul Thomas Anderson

After years of toying with my patience (first with “There Will Be Blood,” and more recently with “The Master,” both of which feature such great acting that it papered over their respective cracks), Paul Thomas Anderson has finally made a movie that’s almost impossible to defend. Fans of the director will make excuses for the film’s myriad problems anyway, but the fact that they find it necessary at all only confirms what a giant mess “Inherent Vice” really is. Based on the 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, the so-called inherent vice (or hidden defect) of Anderson’s slacker noir is the narrative itself. It’s as if the film, like many of its characters, is in a constant state of a drug-addled high, unable to remain focused or make sense of anything that’s going on. And while that may be the big joke of “Inherent Vice,” it’s not a very funny one.

Set in the seedy underworld of 1970s Los Angeles, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a pothead private investigator who receives a visit one night from his free-spirited ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterson), requesting help with a personal matter. She needs Doc to track down her new boyfriend, hotshot real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), after learning that his duplicitous wife plans to have him committed and steal his fortune, only for Shasta to go missing herself. While investigating the pair’s disappearance, Doc takes on some additional cases – including a presumed-dead musician (Owen Wilson), the murder of one of Mickey’s bodyguards, and a mysterious Indo-Chinese drug syndicate called the Golden Fang – that are curiously all connected in some way. Doc doesn’t exactly know why or how, but one thing seems certain: he’s not going to get any assistance from hippie-hating LAPD detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), with whom he has a strange love-hate relationship.

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Movie Review: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

Starring
Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Jamie King
Directors
Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez bring the long-awaited “Sin City” sequel to audiences after nearly a decade’s absence. Unfortunately, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” proves that no matter how many clouds and thunder you put on a screen, it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. The characters are engaging, the over-the-top violence is there in spades, but the magic that made fans scream for a sequel is somewhere between the pages of the graphic novel and the cutting room floor.

Everyone’s favorite jawline with muscles, Marv (Mickey Rourke), is back in full noir fashion. The film opens with him awakening to no memory of the cool trenchcoat he’s wearing and the not-so-cool injuries that came with it. Before he can put things together, he witnesses a guy being set afire by a bunch of frat boys. He teaches them a lesson that they’ll never forget in this world or the next. Just as in 2005’s “Sin City,” Marv is willing to nearly kill himself to bring people to justice. Although seemingly indestructible, he racks up scars by the dozens. Of course, with the six inches of prosthetics Rourke wears on his face, it starts to grow on you.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins the cast as the unstoppable gambler, Johnny. Levitt is continuing to fuel an argument as being one of the most versatile young actors in Hollywood. Expect this performance to only add to that. As the slick-talking Johnny, it’s easy to believe that he can do no wrong. He’s a suited force of nature, emptying slot machines almost without pulling the handle. But Johnny boy has his eyes on the sinister Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), and as bad guys go, Roark takes the cake and smashes you in the face with it. He doesn’t suffer fools or losing lightly and quickly shows Johnny why he’s feared by almost everyone with a pulse. Another guy on the wrong end of Roark is Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private investigator who uses his fists to get to the bottom of a case, especially when it’s involving a damsel in distress. And this particular damsel is the titular dame to die for: Ava Ford (Eva Green).

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Adam F. Goldberg (‘The Goldbergs’)

If you grew up the ’80s and haven’t watched ABC’s The Goldbergs, then you’re missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season…and if you didn’t grow up in the ’80s, you’re still missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season, because most of the stories are about growing up and dealing with your family, two things which are absolutely not decade-specific. Tonight’s episode is definitely going to be a treat for those folks in the former category, though, because it’s basically one big homage to The Goonies. I had a chance to chat with the show’s creator, Adam J. Goldberg, who’s basically taken his own life and turned it into a sitcom, and there’s little question that this episode is a career milestone for him. Having now seen it, I’d agree…although I hadn’t seen it when I originally hopped on the phone to talk to him.

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Bullz-Eye: While I got a link to watch the Goonies episode of The Goldbergs, I didn’t get it in time to watch it, due to another deadline I was rushing to meet. But I’m rationalizing that, since the piece is going to be written for people who won’t have seen it either, I’m still on solid ground.

Adam F. Goldberg: [Laughs.] Right, exactly! And it’s technically not even finished, anyway, because I’m still editing it! I’m just so nervous about this one. ABC loved it and wanted to send it out, but I was, like, “I don’t know…” It’s the one that… There’s just a lot of writers on my staff who, like, don’t know the movie. I showed it to them as an adult, and they were just, like, “What is this?” So when they watched it, they were just baffled. So I’m hoping that people who’ve seen the movie will be reviewing it, at least…

BE: When you’re doing a show about the ‘80s, you’ve got the opportunity to pay tribute to basically anything you experienced when you were growing up. Was The Goonies always in the back of your mind as something you wanted to do?

AG: Yes. From the minute I sold the show, and I think even… [Hesitates.] I don’t remember if it was in my original pitch document, because I didn’t want to alienate anybody with something that could potentially be so insane to do. But I’m a collector of the props. You know, I have an original doubloon, and fans have made replicas that I have of the various copper bones and all this stuff. I’ve seen the movie a billion times. I mean, honestly, it’s the movie that… It’s the reason I’m a writer. I know that when Peter Jackson made King Kong, that was his movie as a kid, and this is mine. So if I’m doing a show about the ‘80s, of course I’m going to pay tribute to it. And there’s a character that’s me, and since it was such a big part of my life growing up…

My siblings just tortured me about it being the dumbest movie ever, ‘cause they were teenagers. They didn’t get it, so they always made fun of me for watching it and called the movie stupid to torture me. So that’s how the episode began. And, you know, I even did something on my last show, Breaking In, which was that Goonies 2 was coming out, and they had a mission to protect the movie. So it’s always something. I pitched the musical to Richard Donner. I went in initially to pitch him Goonies 2, which he quickly said he wasn’t that into. [Laughs.] So I flipped over to the musical. So it’s, like, my dream job. I keep revisiting it in different ways. It’s my thing. My jam.

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Movie Review: “Labor Day”

Starring
Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire
Director
Jason Reitman

For a moment, it seemed like Jason Reitman could do no wrong, following up his excellent directorial debut, “Thank You for Smoking,” with one great movie after the next, and earning a quartet of Oscar nominations in the process. But even the best filmmakers are capable of making bad movies, and though “Labor Day” isn’t a complete failure, it’s the director’s weakest film by a country mile. Based on the 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, the movie represents a major departure for Reitman, who’s made a name for himself telling stories with a dark comedic bite. That trademark humor isn’t present in “Labor Day,” instead replaced by the kind of gooey sentimentalism that you’d be more likely to find in a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, which leads me to wonder what Reitman was even thinking.

Set in a quaint New England town during Labor Day weekend in 1987, the film stars Kate Winslet as Adele, a shut-in single mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown. During a rare excursion outside to take her teenage son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) clothes shopping for the new school year, they’re approached by a wounded stranger named Frank (Josh Brolin), who takes Adele and Henry hostage and holes up in their rundown house with the intention of making a run for it at nightfall. A convicted murderer who escaped from the hospital while recovering from an emergency appendectomy, Frank insists that there’s more to the story, and as they spend more time with the supposedly dangerous fugitive, he turns out to be a pretty nice guy. So when Frank ends up staying the next day to do some repairs around the house, Adele and Henry don’t complain, and before long, he’s accepted as a part of the family, serving as a father figure to Henry and passionate lover to the fragile Adele.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with James Brolin (‘Christmas with Tucker’)

James Brolin has been a star of TV and film since the ’60s, rarely disappearing from either for very long before popping back up somewhere or other, and tonight at 9 PM he can be found starring in “Christmas with Tucker,” the debut original movie from the Hallmark Movie Channel (which, just in case you aren’t aware, is a separate entity from the Hallmark Channel), playing a gruff but loveable grandfatherly type fella who gets to have a lot of scenes with a very cute dog. I was fortunate enough to chat with Brolin for a bit when he attended this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, and – as you’ll read below – I was even more fortunate to be able to continue the conversation a bit later.

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Bullz-Eye: So you’re in a dog movie, but are you a dog guy by nature?

James Brolin: Yeah, but guess what? I don’t have a dog right now. But I’m kind of shopping! The thing is, I’m not sure where I’m going to be next, and I kind of hate to go off and leave a dog once I have it. I’ve found that didn’t work well in the past. But I got my wife a dog. And the dog is… I can’t believe she’s had it 10 years now. And it sleeps right here. [Points to his head.] It likes the top of the couch or the head pillow. So usually, if you roll over it or around it, it gets out of your way and just goes down to the other end. Anyway, I’ve been moved to the back seat of the car now. [Laughs.] Those two run things.

BE: Yeah, we just got a dog a few months ago, so I know what you mean.

JB: Oh, yeah. If it ain’t a baby, it’s a dog. [Laughs.]

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BE: How was this dog, Tucker, to work with?

JB: Fine! Really good natured. He would do all the things, and then when you’d go to shoot, sometimes the dog would have a little brain fade or confusion, but it’s not unusual. You just keep going. You have the trainer keep going, you run the camera, and now with digital, you can just turn the camera on and let it run for two hours, and then you go in there, wade through it, and pick out just what you need. But that’s Filmmaking 101, in a way. If you have time for that, you do that. And if you’re doing a dog picture, you make time. And the kids… Anyone youthful who was involved was just right on. Gage (Munroe) is just like a honed pro, so that wasn’t an issue. Kids weren’t an issue. But animals are always an issue, and you just need to schedule the time to shoot and shoot and shoot a little bit.

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