Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rapid Reviews: Inherent Vice and The Babadook

Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson's well-established career can be described as somewhat of a Jekyl & Hyde scenario. On one hand, Anderson has been the creative catalyst and visionary for highly regarded Oscar contenders of the past like There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, each of which represent a truly impeccable level of filmmaking and storytelling. On the other hand, three of the director's last four features haven't quite lived up to the superior quality of his more prominent work. Yet, while the auteur's latest attempt, Inherent Vice, is a big step down from Anderson's trio of brilliant titles, the quirky crime comedy is a tolerable watch that gives a refreshing new vantage point for Anderson's abilities.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a clumsy, drug-loving (especially reefer) private investigator in 1970s Los Angeles who's given a tip by his former ex-girlfriend about a wealthy real estate mogul's impending disappearance. And shortly after both his ex-girlfriend and the wealthy man go missing, Doc uses his unorthodox methods to crack the case. Ultimately, its Joaquin Phoenix's wonderfully peculiar performance and plenty of adequately-timed situational humor that helps ease the audience through an otherwise unfathomable two and a half hour affair.

Inherent Vice is without a doubt a second straight muddled feature from Paul Thomas Anderson (including 2012's The Master) that's weak on mystery and substance. However, rich in style and easily-earned laughs, you're better off just welcoming the off-kilter and mindless entertainment than bogging yourself down with its lack of intrigue. Much like the drug-users of its time would say, "just enjoy the ride, man", no matter how nonsensical and pointless it may seem.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Another recent release I've had the pleasure of viewing was the widely buzzed Australian horror film, The Babadook. Before I begin my praises for the feature, because I definitely thought it was an extremely well-developed horror idea, let me first give the disclaimer that The Babadook is nowhere near a conventional scary movie. In fact, Exorcist director William Friedkin's recent remark, in which he said, "I've never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook", is wildly excessive.

The movie follows a widowed single mother named Amelia (played by Essie Davis) who's still struggling to cope with the fact that she lost her husband in a car accident the same day she gave birth to their son, Samuel, nearly 7 years prior. Then, one evening before bed time, Samuel picks a book off the shelf for his mother to read to him called "The Babadook". Despite their greatest efforts, the mother and son can't seem to get rid of the frightening short story and its evil character.

More in tune with the psychological thriller genre, The Babadook plays off of human fears and weaknesses beautifully. William Friedkin was correct in stating that the film is a terrifying experience, just not in the traditional sense. You won't jump and you won't look away from the screen, instead you'll marvel at the perfectly nuanced storytelling brought to life by filmmaker Jennifer Kent. She does a spectacular job of turning the horror genre into a mirror of our own human insecurities and demons. And although the finale is extremely strange (and I do mean "extremely), allowing the necessary time for its message to sink in will certainly enhance the effect. Because you must always remember one important fact, "you can never get rid of The Babadook".

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

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