A stoner private eye in the late 60's is put on a missing-persons case by his seductive ex-girlfriend.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, and Katherine Waterston
Review by Jon Kissel
The release of a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie qualifies as an event that requires immediate tribute. The first opportunity to see it must be taken. I saw There Will Be Blood and The Master the first day they came to my midwest theaters and have clear memories of both. The opening shots of There Will Be Blood lighting up the darkness are seared into my brain. The feeling of being pushed back into my seat by Freddie Quell's intensity is an indelible memory. Hoping to get the same cinematic thrills from Inherent Vice, I left intrigued and impressed but not blown away in the way that I expect to be from PTA.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that Brie Larson has had an incredible career, but one that hopefully didn’t achieve its greatest potential too fast. From her breakout roles in Scott Pilgrim and United States of Tara through her critical success with Short Term 12 that culminated a mere two years later with Room, Larson has since migrated to big blockbusters with Kong: Skull Island and Captain Marvel. Neither utilized her talents particularly well but both were big successes, and dollar signs frequently light the way to the blank check, some of which she’s cashed to make her directorial debut before her 30th birthday. Arriving on Netflix, Unicorn Store adds a new imdb tab to Larson’s page but it doesn’t return her to the heights of 2015, though I don’t think she’s returned to that level at all in the intervening years.
People need constant reminders that their brains crave what can only be called laziness and stupidity. The path of least resistance in comprehending any phenomenon saves precious glucose, and it takes energy not just to consider complex issues, but to force oneself to allow for the possibility of their existence in the first place. Any time someone says ‘common sense,’ they’re appealing to a worn-out brain that just wants to be told that things are simple. The Informant provides a sterling example of this, where the viewer is presented with a dramatic theft by one man and thousands upon thousands of imperceptible thefts that lead to a consequential bag of loot, but the former attracts all the attention while the latter is an afterthought that’s too boring to put in front of the camera. The directing and writing team extraordinaire of Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns compound this imbalance by making a farce out of what was a tremendous corporate crime, dressing up the details with bluegrass music and talented comedic actors playing stuffy lawyers and FBI agents. The Informant is the equivalent of waving something shiny in front of the viewer to distract from something hugely important just beyond the field of vision, except here, the shiny thing is an A-list star bulking out and dressing down to portray a Midwestern huckster knee-deep in corporate espionage.
Directing a film is often as simple as maintaining a tone. I can’t remember where I heard that, whether it was on one of the half dozen film podcasts I listen to or if it was in an interview with someone (maybe the Coen brothers), but it’s a sentiment that rings true. Keeping the mood consistent and establishing a world that a film’s events can credibly occur in both fall under the umbrella of tone, and it’s a particular aspect of filmmaking that Joe Dante has never considered. We’ve previously discussed his Explorers, with its jarring third act spent amongst corny aliens. I only recently saw Gremlins for the first time, a film that wants to be a horror comedy but also contains a reaction shot to a fuzzy puppet when a character laments how her dad suffocated in a chimney during an elaborate Christmas prank. Both of those films are on solid ground when it comes to premise, but the tone is out of control. The same is true of The Burbs, a cogent satire with a vast distance between how it’s interpreting its characters and how they’re coming across. This is one more Dante film that has no idea what it wants to be.
We’ve been doing this long enough that anyone who’s paid attention to my reviews should know that I’m in on pretty much any movie about a cult. The Master is an all-timer, but my fascination with cults extends to smaller units than faux Scientology. Dogtooth is also in the top 50, and that’s a film where the cult is one family. Wherever there’s people telling bald-faced lies to fawning followers who unquestionably believe them, I’ll be there. Brigsby Bear immediately gets interest points by fitting in this box, but I can’t slap an A on every film whose premise pushes my buttons. The Master or something like Martha Marcy May Marlene are deeply curious about charismatic leaders, mindless ritual, and the creation of dogmatic rule systems, but Brigsby Bear is barely related to that kind of film. It uses a premise I often love to tell a story about making dreams into reality of the let’s-put-on-a-show variety, a premise I am much less fascinated by.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.