Inherent Vice

Licorice Pizza

03/01/22

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

Paul Thomas Anderson has directed some of my all-time favourite films.

Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood are all gems, a triumvirate that any filmmaker would be proud to leave as a cinematic legacy. But more recently, his work has underwhelmed me. Inherent Vice (2014) was an incoherent mess and 2017’s Phantom Thread – though wildly acclaimed by many critics – left me curiously unmoved.

On the face of it then, Licorice Pizza feels like a return to his comfort zone, exploring the sleazy canyons of the San Fernando Valley in the early 70s, an era that yielded such delights in Boogie Nights. This is the story of Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), a supremely confident fifteen-year-old child ‘actor’ and all- round entrepreneur, with an extended family working to his orders on a variety of different projects. While it quickly becomes clear that Gary may be overestimating his own genius, he seems to have convinced a surprising number of others to give his projects a whirl.

Then, out of the blue, he falls in love at first sight with Alana (Alana Haim) who is twenty-five and makes no bones about telling Gary that he hasn’t a hope in hell of ending up with her. (This age thing, by the way, feels needlessly controversial. Hoffman’s actual age is eighteen and Haim thirty, so it would have had the same dynamic if they’d simply nudged Gary’s age up a year or so. Just saying.)

Despite Alana’s protestations, something sticks and she agrees to meet him for a drink. Soon enough, she becomes his loyal sidekick (although she’s insistent that they’re just friends), and he’s trying to get her into the movies…

What follows is an exuberant scramble of a film, as Gary and Alana run (and I mean literally) all around the valley, struggling through the ups and downs of an on/off relationship, while Gary tries out his madcap enterprises, setting himself up as a purveyor of waterbeds and – when the oncoming fuel crisis puts the kibosh on that – relaunching himself as the owner of a pinball arcade. The anarchic sprawl that ensues in that emporium probably mirrors the kind of youthful carnage that was played out in the Licorice Pizza record stores from which the film takes its name. – but that’s just my best guess.

Along the way, the duo encounter ageing action-movie star, Jack Holden (Sean Penn), desperate to impress Alana with an impromptu motorbike stunt, and terrifying coke freak Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) who urgently wants to purchase a water bed for his wife, Barbara Streisand! Watch out too for a sensational cameo from Harriet Samsom Harris as Gary’s agent, Mary Grady, who delivers an object lesson in how to make the most of limited screen time.

This is a kinetic, adrenalin-fuelled movie, pushed along by bold, swooping cinematography and a no-holds-barred 70s soundtrack. Hoffman (the son of Anderson’s old muse, Philip Seymour Hoffman) is terrific as Gary and has great chemistry with Haim. She is, of course, a member of the rock trio that bears her name (for whom Anderson has shot several videos) and, as if to emphasise the ‘home movie’ feel of the project, Haim’s sisters – and even her parents – have supporting roles to play in this story.

While Licorice Pizza can’t claim to be up there with the very best of Anderson’s films, it nevertheless delivers a thoroughly enjoyable ride as Gary and Alana run side-by-side and finally – inevitably- towards each other. I fully expect to see its two stars going on to greater things.

And for Paul Thomas Anderson, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Nice Guys

2629

12/06/16

Shane Black is an interesting fellow. A former screenwriter who’s status went meteoric after the runaway success of the Lethal Weapon franchise, his career went into the doldrums after later multi-million dollar scripts failed to put bums on seats in enough numbers to earn back the huge advances. But in 2005, his first film as  director, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang earned his some much-needed brownie points (at least from the critics, even if it didn’t pull in huge crowds)  and his subsequent helming of Iron Man 3 made him, once again, a bankable name, a big hitter.

So, he has the chance to start over and here’s The Nice Guys, which has all the classic Shane Black tropes: essentially a buddie movie, it features two mismatched characters bumbling their way through a complicated plot, milking some genuine big laughs along the way and pausing every so often for a insanely high-powered, ultra violent action sequence. Throw in the evocative 70s setting and this is everything that Inherent Vice could have been if it had bothered to incorporate a decent plot.

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a former cop, now fallen on hard times and reduced to beating up people for a living, something he does to the very best of his ability. One such person is Holland Marsh (Ryan Gosling) possibly the world’s most inept Private Detective, but when it transpires that both men are involved in looking for the same missing person, a young runaway who has recently been linked to the tragic death of infamous porn star, Misty Mountains, it seems expedient to join forces and pool their ‘expertise.’ Sadly, this is something that’s in rather short supply, but luckily Marsh’s precocious teenage daughter Holly (an appealing performance by Angourie Rice) has enough chutzpah to help them through. As the plot unfolds it transpires that there’s a conspiracy at the heart of the story that goes all the way to the top of the slippery pole.

Crowe and Gosling make an appealing double act. Gosling is particularly good, wringing every last drop out of his assured comic performance, (this is a man who can’t break a window without severing a major vein) while Crowe is, for once, actually rather likeable as a bluff, hard-hitting guy with anger management issues. While you could argue that the film is essentially a big piece of fluff, what fabulously accomplished fluff it is! It breezes effortlessly through its 116 minutes running time and actually leaves you wanting more. A coda suggests that there could be a second adventure for these two and on the form of this one, I’d say that’s a decent suggestion.

You’ll come out relishing some of Marsh’s more idiotic lines. A particular favourite? ‘Yeah, well you know who else was ‘just following orders?’ Hitler!’

Priceless.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Inherent Vice

MV5BMjI2ODQ2NzUwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU3NTE4MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_

31/1/15

Paul Thomas Anderson has been responsible for some of the most exciting and challenging films of recent times – Magnolia, Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master... cinematic masterpieces one and all. What then are we to make of his latest offering, based upon a novel by Thomas Pynchon, a drug soaked, paranoia fuelled ramble through the minds of a bunch of disreputable, low life residents of California in the year of our Lord, 1970? The main question that kept occurring to me throughout was ‘why?’ The second was ‘What the…?’ Because though it grieves me to say it, this film is an incoherent mess that can only be deemed a shattering disappointment.

Doc Sportillo (Joaquin Phoenix) is a permanently stoned PI, operating out of the back of a dentist’s surgery and showing none of the requisite skills you might reasonably associate with that role. He’s approached by his ex, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), now stepping out with the mysterious property tycoon Mickey Wolfmann. She informs him that something strange is going down and asks Sportillo to do some snooping on her behalf. There’s also the little matter of a fugitive saxophone player (Owen Wilson) a mysterious yacht called The Golden Fang and a buttoned-down police officer (Josh Brolin) who seems to have no higher objective in life than to beat Sportillo up every now and then. I’d like to offer bit more information on the actual story, but the baffling jumble of odd happenings and misadventures that ensue are frankly mystifying. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that nearly every character talks in a mumbling monotone, that Sportillo seems incapable of doing anything until he’s had yet another joint and that random characters appear and disappear like the figments of an opium dream.

On the plus side, the era is convincingly evoked, a whole team of talented actors do their best with what’s on offer and the cinematography echoes those pre digital days of the decade that fashion forgot – but at over two and a half hours long, the story soon runs out of steam and leaves us floundering in a sea of bafflement with very little information to help us float. If this film resembles any other it’s Polanksi’s Chinatown, with perhaps a spoonful of The Big Heat thrown in for good measurebut Inherent Vice is simply not in the same league as either of those classics. It’s (dare I say it) a bit of a bore.

File this one under M for ‘Missed Opportunity.’ What a shame.

2.1 stars

Philip Caveney