Inherent Vice  (2014)    60/100

Rating :   60/100                                                                     148 Min        15

Paul Thomas Anderson (‘The Master’ 12, ‘There Will Be Blood’ 07, ‘Boogie Nights’ 97) directs and adapts for the big-screen Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name, about dope addled private investigator Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello in 1970’s Los Angeles who is sent on an abduction case, against the backdrop of a cultural kickback taking aim at the ‘free love’ of the hippy generation. The novel is comedic as well as serious and Anderson’s writing sometimes hits the mark with the comedy but it fails on every other point, neither giving us a realistic or engaging sense of the issues of the day nor making the noir style detective story comprehensible or engaging. Even the actors, Benicio Del Toro especially at one point, look irked by the lack of structure around them and if you are looking for an involving story then you can absolutely forget this.

The director’s skill behind the camera, however, has allowed to him to create a very unique quasi-surrealism, in fact just watching it makes you feel as if you are on drugs which is a singularly impressive feat, if at times an uneasy one. Similarly, sex appeal is littered around the movie but when, at one moment in particular, there is a deliberate attempt to be erotic it falls pretty short of it. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Sportello and he is accompanied by Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Hong Chau, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon and Joanna Newsom who narrates the story but unfortunately the style of narration adds to the underlying soporific nature of the film and is a major hindrance. Anderson has successfully recreated the same feeling that must have inspired him to adapt the novel in the first place, but failure to properly fire the comedy more often and the complete absence of a decipherable plot leaves the film’s appeal unnecessarily limited.

Sin City : A Dame to Kill For  (2014)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                      Treasure Chest                   102 Min        18

Wow. I don’t believe I have ever seen a film where the lead actress’s breasts are essentially the main character and focus of the visual narrative, to the point where significant discussion and storyboarding must have taken place as to exactly how to shoot them in each scene, and just how much exposure to give them each time. The actress in question, and the appropriately titular dame to kill for, is Eva Green, who is running a fairly impressive bare breastage to big screen appearances ratio so far (see ‘The Dreamers’ 03 and ‘300 : Rise of an Empire‘ for two exemplary examples), possibly giving Penélope Cruz a run for her money, and my goodness you can see why, with a visage of sassy and tempting perfection that surely leaves all mortals of both sexes in silenced awe.

This is the long anticipated (too long really) sequel to 2005’s monster hit ‘Sin City’, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels of the same name and both produced in strong collaboration with Miller himself – director Robert Rodriguez wanting to create as faithful a rendition as possible, to the point that only Miller is given any of the writing credits for either film and they shared the directing duties on both (they have a brief cameo scene together here too). Again, it’s a compendium of interlinking stories which take place chronologically both before and after events in the first film, with two of the sections written solely for the screen this time around (alas, these are the weaker chapters). Lots of familiar faces return – Mickey Rourke wonderfully portraying Marv again, for example, and Jessica Alba as high class striptease Nancy (who does an especially memorable routine, also one of the highlights of the film), although Clive Owen is replaced by Josh Brolin as Dwight, Jamie Chung takes over from Devon Aoki as Miho, and of course tragically both Birttany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan have passed away since the first film, with Dennis Haysbert taking over the latter’s role of Manute.

It’s not as accomplished as its predecessor, with a jittery start and less compelling stories, and although they have remained true to the green screen noir style of the first one and have certainly paralleled its violent and bloody body count, it is within the depiction of the lavish and diverse femmes fatales that the film is singularly successful. Initially Green’s womanly assets are nude but partially obscured, inducing The Red Dragon to muse ‘Oh come on, that’s crap’, you don’t have to wait too long until they are revealed in all their glory though, to the point where even I had to concede they probably dominate one scene too many. I’m not sure though, I think I’ll have to go and see it again. Too much is always better than too little anyway ….

The Double  (2013)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                       93 Min        15

The second film written and directed by Richard Ayoade (probably best known for playing Moss in ‘The IT Crowd’) and starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska in the central roles with many of the cast from his previous film, the wonderful ‘Submarine’ (10), appearing in support. The story is an adaptation of the novella of the same name by Dostoyevsky, first published in 1846, concerning the appearance one day of a man’s exact physical double, here at his place of work, who embodies everything he isn’t – the double is confident, the double is admired, the double is brassy to the point of being criminally indulgent and offensive but people love him for it, and so on.

It’s great to see a new filmmaker experimenting with their own ideas, as is the case here, with plenty of room for personal interpretation opening open as we see the double zero in on the original character’s love interest. Is this imposter what he would become if he were to drastically change his personality to become more of a traditional alpha male? Would such an attempted change result in an almost schizophrenic interim period, or perhaps even a corruptive downward spiral?

Shot within a fairly constrictive local environment of workplace/tower block/diner and with consistent dark hues of yellow and green, the piece has the vibrant ambivalence of feeling both clinical and accessible – largely sold to us by terrific acting from Eisenberg himself, no mean feat when we consider to pull it off he had to do each take twice and continually match the timing with his invisible counterpart to perfection.

Unfortunately, experimenting too wildly can easily go awry, and here Ayoade has admitted that he struggled the most with the ending, which alas comes across onscreen as something which had up until then been interesting and thought provoking descends into a series of fairly nonsensical events and it ends up just being too whimsical and loose. Asides from the final furlong, it shows a lot of promise for the fledgling writer/director though, and it should still prove fairly interesting if you’re looking for something a little bit different.

Renaissance  (2006)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     105 Min        15

The most striking aspect of this animation is its austere use of black and white contrasts, which initially made it a little painful to watch (lights had to be turned off as a necessity) but come the end I was thoroughly enjoying its unique style. If you were to imagine a beautifully inked noir graphic novel suddenly come to life as a series of moving pictures before you, this is exactly what you would see. The title refers to the literal meaning of the French word, rebirth, and the story takes place in Paris in the year 2054, where we see a young woman being kidnapped and a hard boiled cop enjoined to track her down.

Daniel Craig voices the lead, and as always with animation there is the inherent distraction of time spent thinking ‘I know that voice! Who is it, hmm…’ and the satisfaction of finally getting there (or the irritation of not), to help everyone along, there is a connection linking the hero to the villain, and again from the villain to the guy in the middle. The plot revolves around the disappearance of the girl and the cosmetics company she works for, unfolding in very traditional film noir style. Enter the role of the disappeared’s sister, and the worst elements of the film are revealed, as suddenly both the dialogue and its delivery, along with the concepts, nose dive into a corny and ill developed pastiche of the genre.

It’s not gripping, but it does have a lot of credible artistry to it. Fans of different styles of animation (a combination of motion capture and 3D computer graphics were used here) will probably get more out of it than followers of film noir will, but it’s probably still worth a look in for both.