I’ve always been fairly neutral on auteur darling Paul Thomas Anderson. Oh sure, There Will be Blood was pure greatness spread across a crusty kaiser roll; but as longtime readers will remember, I found The Master (or at least, the second half) about as boring as watching paint dry, and without even the fun of any fumes to inhale. So the announcement of a new PT Anderson flick itself doesn’t get my blood running. But Inherent Vice looked fun and entertaining from the trailers, with a strong cast and Anderson’s to-be-expected excellent visual presentation. All of which the film delivered, but rather than merely the wild caper its trailers may have made it out to be, Inherent Vice is also one of the more tightly packed, intelligent, beguiling crime films I’ve seen in a while – a true blue Neo Noir the likes of which hasn’t been seen on screens in years.

Inherent Vice posterJoaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a drug addled private eye in 1970s LA who gets thrown into an ever-deepening labyrinth of crime and corruption when his old flame, Shasta, reappears out of the blue in classic noir fashion. It’s probably been said somewhere that it’s only really noir if the whole thing is kicked off by some leggy dame, who’s nuthin’ but trouble, crossing the hero’s doorstep, and Inherent Vice sticks to that rule. Shasta’s arrival drops Doc into an intensely convoluted criminal conspiracy involving drug smugglers, real estate moguls, police corruption and all that other fun neo-noir fare, with a heavy does of pot-fuelled paranoia to keep things even more interesting.

It’s that convoluted storyline that I think will keep Inherent Vice at arms length for a lot of people, or at least the film’s unwillingless to offer the audience any help in keeping up. Like Beyond the Black Rainbow last week, and Drug War beyond that, Inherent Vice will not offer you any aid in keeping up with the vast conspiracy you’re thrown into. Let your attention wander and you’re bound to miss at least five pieces of crucial information, and God help you if you go for a pee-break. And even just paying attention isn’t enough. There’s a lot of double-speak, implication, and conclusions reached by the characters in the film that aren’t always spelled out in plain English for the audience. I’m not sure how much of this comes from Anderson and the screenwriter intentionally, and how much is that old “adapted from a book” problem where you feel like you’re missing a vital piece or two of the picture if you haven’t read the book in advance. But either way Inherent Vice isn’t what you’d call a “casual” movie. Pay attention, think and maybe you’ll be able to keep up. Maybe.

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But even if you get lost, you can at least still enjoy the dynamite performances and visuals. I was bracing myself for Phoenix to go a bit too Johnny Depp, reducing his performance as Doc to a collection of affectations, ticks, one-liners and pratfalls. But while those are all there, he doesn’t let Doc become a caricature. There’s always the sense that there’s more lurking under the surface, and with a performance like this that’s a tricky thing to pull off. Josh Brolin is a deadpan powerhouse, often delivering some of the film’s most memorable lines (I want my “Motto Panecaku!” shirt), and the rotating cast of walk-ons all do fine, even if a lot of them only get one or two scenes tops.

Anderson, as fans have come to expect from him, comes through on his rep for visually breathtaking movies. The framing, camera movements, and general formal qualities are all strong. The image has this nice washed out quality on top of what must have been very colorful sets and costumes, making the film look almost like a comic book left out in the sun or something. There’s also this nice trend of long takes, but not attention grabbing long takes. More the kind that demands that the actors keep on top of their game and keeps the attention without being distracting.

Like a lot, if not all, of Anderson’s movies, I don’t think Inherent Vice is for everyone. But in a film culture that often seems to baby its audience, catering to as many demographics as possible, and treating the audience with kid gloves, it’s refreshing to see a film that dares to demand its audience to pay attention, think, and make connections themselves, rather than watch as the film spells them out. For people willing to acquiesce to this demand, Inherent Vice can be an incredibly rewarding experience if you manage to tease out what’s going on, which admittedly can be pretty damn tricky. I have a feeling I won’t totally “get” it until I’ve seen it at least one or two more times. But even if you can’t quite follow every minutia of the plot, the atmosphere, performances and humor are all more than enough to keep you entertained.

Ice storms.

Triple pant layers for slippery grocery shopping trips.

Post-holiday back to the grind panic attacks.

Sound familiar?

I’m slowly working my way into a winter funk and I am sure I’m not alone in this.  Here’s what I’m betting on as the perfect remedy:

Rx –  One vigorous dose of Archery Guild’s launch of their sophomore album Manitòk  this Friday.

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For those of you unfamiliar with these Montreal music makers, Archery Guild is an experimental indie rock band. Their line up currently includes Michael Cota (vox, guitar, synth), Marshall Vaillancourt (drums), Tristan Giardini (Bass), Mariah Andrews (trumpet, synth, vibraphone), Ian Gibbons (cello), Huei Lin (sax) and Casimir Kaplan (guitar).

Archery Guild is known for their dynamic wall of sound and their joyful cacophonous melodies. I greatly anticipate experiencing their new tracks and haven’t looked forward to a show like this in quite some time.

This line up of local musicians is pretty sweet: I’ve seen experimental psychedelic pop act The Walls are Blonde and enjoyed their tunes and stage performance thoroughly. I’ve yet to see Montreal’s psychedelic prog surf rockers Snooker Emporium and noise pop duo Look Vibrant live.

See you there. I’ll be the head bobbing, feet swaying gal wearing wool socks. Don’t be shy, come say hi.

Get ready and have a listen:

I really should learn to stop watching trailers. After deciding to go to the press screening for Cronenberg’s new film Cosmopolis, I watched the trailer (because doing things in the proper order is for fools and communists) and was instantly thrown into an ire when it proclaimed itself “The first film about our new millennium”. I mean, there’s a little hubris and there’s giving 11 years of film making the finger.

But after watching the film I can almost, -almost- see what they were going for, just like I can almost, -almost- see what the damn movie was actually about.

David Cronenberg is an interesting oddity of a director, known as much for delivering perplexing, almost surrealist movies like Naked Lunch or (God help you) Existenz as he is for whip-smart, not at all completely insane thrillers like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.

Cosmopolis seems almost like a return to his older surrealist ways, a film as visually peculiar as it is face-eatingly mad. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start with the easily-quantifiable stuff.

Robert Pattinson (hiss!) plays Eric Packer, a Billionaire asset manager who decides to get a haircut across town and embarks on a strange odyssey across New York, watching as his fortune crumbles due to a financial downturn.

That’s a really, really cut-down version of the plot, and as I’ll discuss later, just because that’s what happens in the movie doesn’t mean that’swhat it’s really about.

Pattinson does a surprisingly good job in the role, turning out a decent performance that I admittedly had to muscle past my natural male urge to curse the ground he walks on to recognize. But he’s vastly out-shined by his co-stars, which is no easy feat considering many of them only have one scene.

Local boy Jay Baruchel has a great turn as a high-strung techie, to say nothing of excellent performances by Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton and Emily Hampshire. And you caught me, I have no bloody clue what their characters actually do, they mostly just appear in the movie and talk incomprehensibly about finances. And bang Pattinson.

For me, the standout is Paul Giamatti as a man out to kill our broody hero, but do I really need to say that Paul Giamatti was excellent? It’s like saying the sun shines, grass grows or Paul Greengrass can’t keep a damn camera steady. We all know, no need to point it out.

The soundtrack is similarly excellent, and it came as no surprise that it was composed by Howard Shore and performed by Metric, a band whose lead singer I have an only slightly unhealthy fixation with.

That’s the easy stuff, now we’re getting into the harder to explain territory, starting with the fact that this movie if effing dense. And I don’t mean dense like a cement block or Kristen Stewart, I mean that this movie is so packed with symbolism and subtext that it’s a wonder it doesn’t end with the director coming out and saying “Try interpreting that, assholes”

Packer’s journey across New York is filled to the brim with imagery upon imagery, metaphor upon metaphor, touching on commerce, society, human interaction, revolution and mortality.

His conversations with his wife (Played by Sarah Gadon, one of the only performances I didn’t entirely care for) are stilted and strange, coming across as less like two people talking to each other as at each other. Arguably the only real conversation he has in the movie is with Giamatti in their scene together.

The imagery of the rat shows up numerous times linked to commerce. Extended periods of the movie are discussions or monologues on the state of society and finance in a modern world (not so much subtext there as just text). The point is, this movie has stuff to say.

And in saying so much, it will definitely alienate some viewers, and the often odd tone, strange imagery, deliberately stilted performances and overall “Cronenberg-ness” will probably confuse more people than it will enlighten. Hell, I watch movies for a living and I still didn’t understand most of this. Any Twi-hards looking to get a Pattinson fix from this thing will likely just have their head explode.

This isn’t a movie you come out of completely understanding, this is one you have to chew on for a while, one you have to re-watch and mull over. When the lights came on, I honestly had to just sit there and let my mind work for a few minutes, mostly trying to figure out if I even liked the damn thing.

Now, several days later, I can honestly say that I did. But it took some thinking. It took some considering. It’s a strange, bewildering journey of a movie that leaves you shaken, battered, confused and not quite sure if you’re satisfied, like a night of debauchery with a half-insane Swedish bodybuilder with a poor grasp of the English language and a mountain of daddy issues.

And really, what else can I say about the movie? Besides the fact that Robert Pattinson gets a rectal exam while talking about international commerce. Suck on that imagery, Twi-hards.