Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Inherent Vice, Maps to the Stars, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

Inherent Vice
Maps to the Stars

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

Capsule reviews on the rest of the week's new features:

In a packed auditorium at the Landmark Saturday night, my friends (who were keeping count, and one of whom herself left midway through) reported two dozen walkouts during Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice," which around town is already being called "Incoherent Vice." It's certainly not the laugh riot the preview promised, but I found myself seduced by its laze, its haze, and its milieu of offhand venality. 

Nothing expresses the difference between P.T. Anderson and Wes Anderson as well as their casting. Wes Anderson casts people like Adrien Brody, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton to play caricatures. P.T. Anderson casts the feckless and ineffably sad yet sweet and soulful Joaquin Phoenix as "Doc" Sportello, Thomas Pynchon's beach-bum P.I. operating out of a Fegen Suite in a medical office, and surrounds him with genuine actors: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, even (though their scenes together go on interminably) Owen Wilson. Brolin especially shines as an LAPD detective with actorly aspirations, browbeaten at home and glad of any chance to take it out on Phoenix. Martin Short is funny again as a maybe-Mob-connected dentist hopped up on gobs of cocaine.

Julianne Moore, who earned a Golden Globe nomination (drama) for her fine work in "Still Alice," also received one for comedy for David Cronenberg's Hollywood satire "Maps to the Stars." Moore plays Havana Segrand, the daughter of a Hollywood legend who died young. Havana's made a name for herself, but hopes to ascend to stardom in a new remake of her mother's most iconic film, playing the role her mother originated decades earlier. As usual, Moore's the best thing about the movie, making Havana a hilariously unpredictable mash-up of the demanding diva and the profoundly needy and insecure actress. She also has a scene opposite Robert Pattinson, as the limo-driving boyfriend of her new personal assistant (Mia Wasikowska), that's one of the two or three sexiest of the movie year. (There's no mistaking its tumescent effect on one's nether regions.) 

Industry audiences are likely to tune out most of the rest of Bruce Wagner's script, which is given to incantations of mystical hooey. Wasikowska's character, Agatha, is the black-sheep daughter of celebrity psychologist John Cusack. She's just back in town, having years before started a fire that almost killed her child-star brother (Evan Bird) and domineering stage mother (Olivia Williams). Juxtaposed with such delicious scenes as Havana's chance encounter (outside a Beverly Hills boutique) with the actress initially cast in the part she's been dying for, this dolorous backstory acts as a buzzkill. Cronenberg and Wagner need to learn that mental violence and spiritual death are far more compelling than their physical analogues.

"Cocoon" as reimagined by Katrina vanden Heuvel, Arthur Allan Seidelman's film of the stage play "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" is a piece of pablum-puking, politically correct piffle destined (if anyone actually sees it) to receive multiple Razzie nominations from voters of all persuasions.

The first, for Worst Actor, has to go to the loathsome Cheyenne Jackson as failed Broadway chorus boy turned St. Pete dance instructor Michael Minnetti. Wearing outfits too flamboyant for either a gay bullfighter or a Solid Gold dancer, Jackson dances, prances, and bares his teeth through this two-hour torture-fest with all the subtlety of a dinner theater trouper in Des Moines. Even this guy's ringtone screams faggot, yet Seidelman and writer Richard Alfieri ask us to indulge the pretense that Michael passes himself off to his clientele of elderly ladies as straight. 

Gena Rowlands has taken the co-lead as Lily Harrison, the widowed wife of a Southern Baptist minister. I like Rowlands as much as anyone (her reminiscence of her affair with Gene Hackman in Woody Allen's 1988 "Another Woman" brought tears to my eyes), but she starts out by claiming to be 68. Please - Gena Rowlands has dresses that are 68.

Additional Razzie nominees include, for Worst Supporting Actress, Jacki Weaver as a sex-crazed widow who briefly vies with Lily for Michael's attentions, rubbing herself up against him and grabbing his ass cheeks. What a comedown for this gifted actress, a genuine force of nature in her Oscar-nominated turn in "Animal Kingdom," to be given this pathetic and pitiful part. I'd also suggest Rita Moreno as Worst Guest Actress, playing Lily's nosy and noise-hating downstairs neighbor, but Moreno's mere presence in a movie is a sure sign of its desperation.

Michael and Lily break up and make up so many times I stopped keeping track. Michael accuses her of being intolerant, while she calls him on his own religious prejudices. For us in the audience, these battles to be the most progressive smack of stridency, self-righteousness, and (worst) mind-numbing redundancy. Just how fringe-left are this movie's sensibilities? The daughter Lily's been mourning for decades died from an illegal abortion!

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