Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Inherent Vice and my failings
as a human being

It seems futile to describe my feelings about Inherent Vice. Although I'm fairly certain I watched it, I feel like I didn't see it. At least, I didn't see the film that most other people who've watched it have seen. You only need to do a brief Twitter search of the film's title to see that it's already enormously popular, and a convincing enough majority of critics are hailing it as yet another masterpiece in the already masterpiece-heavy canon of its director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Well that's great; good on him. If you're a PTA person, go and watch Inherent Vice when it comes out at the end of January, as if you needed an idiot like me to tell you that. Personally, I found it to be one of the most difficult, dull and miserable experiences I've ever had watching a film, and I've seen Roger Moore's Fire, Ice & Dynamite.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying it's a terrible film, and - although I seem to be in a tiny minority - I'm fully aware I'm not alone with my foul opinion. I don't want to be that insufferable twerp who tries to make a name for himself by giving a one-star review to something he alone didn't like or understand, just so people will take notice and commend him for his bravery in refusing to bow to popular opinion. The sheer tidal wave of positivity for Inherent Vice is proof that it has worth, so who am I to ignore that? I'm far more interested in trying to get to the bottom of my intensely negative psychological reaction to the film, simply because I don't understand why I would feel this way.
Inherent Vice is a crime comedy drama based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, which I obviously haven't read otherwise I might have made more sense of the film. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as sleazy stoner PI Doc Sportello, and a huge ensemble cast who, as far as I can tell, are all very good in their respective roles. But I'd struggle to summarise the plot, because I found it utterly baffling. Sportello is hired by an ex-girlfriend to help stop a plan by her new lover's wife to have him committed to an insane asylum, and that's as far as I got. Approximately seventy thousand more characters get involved and I had literally no idea how they were related to each other, what they were up to or why I should care.

Now I'm not entirely dense; I realise this is kind of the point. The Big Lebowski and The Big Sleep, two films for which I have a lot of affection and which crop up in innumerable Inherent Vice reviews, are similarly labyrinthine. The trippy nature of Anderson's film is so deeply ingrained that it's obviously intended that you're never quite sure what you're seeing isn't a figment of Doc's weed-addled imagination. Fine. But somewhere along the line, character empathy turned to alienation: long takes filled with people mumbling dialogue that washed right over me recreated the experience of being stoned only insofar as it was like being in a room full of enormously boring assholes talking inconsequential shit for hours on end. Forgive me, but that's not my idea of entertainment.

The obvious explanation for my antipathy is that Paul Thomas Anderson just doesn't do it for me: I liked Punch Drunk Love a lot, but Boogie Nights and Magnolia left little impact on me, while I have nothing positive to say about There Will Be Blood or The Master, two films which almost everyone else I know believe to be among mankind's greatest artistic achievements. I haven't seen Anderson's debut, Hard Eight, and nor am I in any rush to. But my reaction to PTA's last three films isn't just a dislike of a particular style, it's a total inability to fathom what the majority of like-minded people find so appealing, and that's just not my usual state of mind. Am I not clever enough? Am I too old? Too mainstream? I don't think so, but maybe I'm not the best judge.

What I am is suspicious: I get a distinct whiff of emperor's new clothes about Paul Thomas Anderson in some circles. That's not to belittle or denigrate those who are genuinely passionate about his work: I respect your opinion and am, in some small way, quite jealous. But I'm sure there are more like me out there who won't admit it. I saw Inherent Vice at one of two sold-out preview screenings at London's Prince Charles Cinema which were introduced by Anderson himself, and the gales of laughter which greeted early scenes suggested to me that there were several audience members desperately trying to tell PTA that they got it, they were down with it, as if he was going to take them back to his hotel and hold a thank you party in their honour. I can't understand why anybody would act that way, but then I can't understand why people eat mussels either, yet it definitely happens. I've seen it. It's disgusting.
I'd never refer to myself as A Film Critic - at best I'd describe myself as Someone Who Writes About Films - and that's clearly for the best. But as Someone Who Writes About Films and who wants to be good at it, it seems important to me to understand exactly what it is that makes a film good or bad beyond the vague boundaries of personal opinion. And, at the risk of disappearing right up my own arsehole, I think this is at the heart of my PTA problem. I can't understand why I don't get on with him and I feel like Someone Who Writes About Films really should have a firm grasp on that. So maybe it's this dent in my self-confidence that's caused me to have this reaction to Inherent Vice and to ramble on about it for over a thousand words; if that's the case and you've read this far, I can only apologise that the conclusion involves my bruised ego.

I'll continue to watch Paul Thomas Anderson's films because a) he's clearly an important director and b) I really, really want to like them, but I now dread the day I see the next one, because I'm sure I'll go through all this again. Inherent Vice, for me, was an hour of confusion followed by an hour and a half of mental torture, and I must be some kind of masochist for willingly putting myself through that again. But I'd rather see something and hate it than not see it at all if it's met with widespread approval, because if there's one thing I can't bear it's an uninformed opinion. And if there's another thing I can't bear it's missing out on something everyone else is on about. You might think that's pathetic, but in the words of a wise old sage, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Who's your favourite James Bond?

You know how it is: you're at a dinner party, having a perfectly good time, and conversation suddenly turns to the eternal, dreaded question, usually posed by the most insufferable twit in the room: "Go on then - who's YOUR favourite James Bond?" You panic. You don't know. You've never given it that much thought, because really, does it matter? But it does matter. The rest of the evening could hinge on this one answer.

Fortunately The Incredible Suit, in conjunction with market research firm YouGov*, is here to help. YouGov recently launched "segmentation and media planning tool" YouGov Profiles, an app designed to reveal the "quintessential" (as opposed to "typical") fan or customer of almost any brand, person or thing. Naturally my first reaction was to investigate fans of The Incredible Suit, but for some reason there aren't any. My second reaction, therefore, was to have a look at the quintessential profiles of fans of all the actors to play James Bond. Yeah, it was kind of a slow day.

So in order to find out who YOUR favourite James Bond is, simply identify yourself from the following six profiles, and then you'll be armed with all the knowledge you need to survive the next excruciatingly awful dinner party. And remember: all of the following data - including the remarkable illustrations - are the work of YouGov. I am completely blameless.

Note: George Lazenby, who played Bond just once, is apparently so unpopular that he doesn't feature in YouGov's database. I was therefore forced to replace him with the closest search result, who was BBC News presenter George Alagiah. I don't think it makes much difference to the outcome.

Age: 40-59
Favourite dishes: Bread pudding, deep fried mushrooms, Bombay potatoes
Customer of: Macleans toothpaste, Olay, Black & Decker
Favourite musical artists: Rod Stewart, U2, Phil Collins
Top Twitter follow: @denise_vanouten
Favourite magazine: PC Pro

Age: 60+
Favourite dish: Apricot strudel
Enjoys: Going to museums and galleries
Customer of: BBC News, BBC Two, BBC Four
Favourite celebrities: Huw Edwards, Fiona Bruce, Dermot Murnaghan
Top website visited: ford.co.uk

Age: 60+
Most likely to say: "UKIP are just saying what ordinary British people are thinking"
Customer of: Wall's sausages, Ginsters, Matteson's
Favourite musical artists: Bing Crosby, Liza Minelli, Bette Midler
Top Facebook page: Jeremy Clarkson Is Not A Racist
Favourite newspaper: Daily Mail

Age: 25-39
Favourite dishes: Blueberry pie, lemon pie, Welsh potato cakes
Describes themselves as: Knowledgeable, but occasionally miserable
Customer of: I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Flora ProActiv
Favourite TV shows: Wonder Woman, Seaside Rescue, Greatest Cities Of The World With Griff Rhys Jones
Top websites visited include: hoseasons.co.uk

Age: 40-59
Politics: Slightly left of centre
Customer of: Wall's ice cream, Ben & Jerry's, Fabulous Bakin' Boys
Favourite movies: Where Eagles Dare, Cleopatra, Shark Tale
Top Twitter follows include: @rupertmurdoch, @dropbox
Favourite magazine: Take A Break

Age: 40-59
Hobbies and activities: Painting, travelling, going on day trips
Most likely to say: "Fresh food is better than frozen"
Favourite movies: Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall, Cowboys & Aliens
Favourite TV shows: Trumpton, Rainbow
Top Facebook pages: Daniel Craig, James Bond 007, James Bond

Didn't find yourself among those six profiles? Then you're clearly not a James Bond fan at all, get the fuck out of my dinner party this instant.

Other observations: 
  • Sean Connery fans watch TV for over fifty hours a week.
  • George Alagiah fans are the most current affairs-minded of all Bond fans: their top five TV shows watched recently are all BBC News programmes.
  • Roger Moore fans are all, essentially, Alan Partridge.
  • Timothy Dalton fans are the most right-wing of all Bond fans.
  • Pierce Brosnan fans need to lay off the snacks.
  • Daniel Craig fans are the wealthiest, with between £125 and £499 disposable income per month compared to all other Bond fans' measly £125 or less.

* YouGov have absolutely no idea that I'm abusing their precious data like this and would staunchly refute the phrase "in conjuction with" in this context.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Salak ile Avanak Geri Dönüyor,
aka Dumb And Dumber To

Apologies if, by some miracle, anyone has noticed the lack of updates at The Incredible Suit recently. I have a reasonably good excuse for this, which is that last week I was on holiday in Istanbul (not Constantinople), the magical meeting place of East and West, land of spectacular mosques with dreaming minarets, delicious cuisine at every turn and boaster of three millennia of turbulent history. With all this cultural Turkish delight within a stone's throw of my hotel, I took myself off to Cinemaximum on İstiklal Caddesi to watch a comedy sequel about two quinquagenarians who trick people into smelling their fingers, having recently inserted those very fingers into their own anuses. I mean, I know the Hagia Sophia is 1,500 years old and is widely considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, but does it have Jim Carrey up to his elbow in elderly quim? No, it does not.

Dumb And Dumber To was released across parts of Europe five weeks ahead of the UK, presumably to avoid the very real possibility of the entire continent simultaneously erupting with laughter and dislodging itself from the continental shelf. If so, such fears were ungrounded, for the film's most far-reaching environmental consequence will most likely be a gentle ripple of air caused by one or two of those mild nasal snorts that almost, but not quite, constitute a chuckle. It's not the worst comedy sequel of recent times (that would be Anchorman 2), but its near-admirable refusal to recognise any evolution in its own genre over the last two decades renders it of interest only to people for whom the first film didn't feature enough of a rubber-faced actor squirting mouth freshener away from his face instead of into it.
It is funny because there is a bird on his head and also he is making a silly face

Part To (*sigh*) of what is looking dangerously close to being called the Dumb And Dumber franchise sees our unfathomably moronic heroes, Harry and Lloyd, on the hunt for one of their hitherto-unknown offspring, an odyssey which will eventually result in them becoming mixed up in an assassination plot. Obviously all that is largely irrelevant, because the USP here is that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are recreating enormously popular roles from twenty years ago, regardless of whether or not anyone wanted them to. In that sense, Dumb And Dumber To is a huge success: give or take a few
wrinkles, Harry and Lloyd haven't altered at all in that time, and neither have the gags, which required no fewer than six credited writers to craft despite representing the level of humour normally reserved for office jokers and political speechwriters. Structurally and comedically, the sequel is the equal of its prequel, to the point where it's as if no time has passed whatsoever.

And that's the problem. Dumb And Dumber was kind of funny in 1995 because it was unashamedly, well, dumb, and traded heavily on Carrey's rocketing stardom. One-fifth of a century later, it's hard to justify the lameness of what's on offer here. You will laugh, but not much; the hit rate of gags is criminally low for such a high-profile comedy. And who, you have to ask, is this film's target audience? It's unlikely to be twenty-somethings who creased up at Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 22 Jump Street earlier this year - after all, what's funny about two men in their fifties with silly haircuts being idiots? - but rather an older crowd who loved the original but, let's be honest, probably haven't watched it in years, never expected nor requested a sequel and who should really demand a little more brains behind the gurning and annoying noises.
This scene is not quite as funny as Jeff Daniels is making out.

In its defence, and at the risk of sounding painfully ancient, Dumb And Dumber To at least doesn't resort to modern film comedy's tendency to substitute jokes with incessant swearing, shouting and painfully knowing cameos (although a huge name does appear, completely anonymously and unnoticed until revealed in the end credits). But it makes no effort to up its own game, and loses further goodwill in managing to be alarmingly offensive in its treatment of Kathleen Turner, who plays a small, self-deprecating role and gets little more than sexist, ageist and weightist abuse from her writers, directors and co-stars for her trouble. And as if that wasn't upsetting enough, it also features the worst unnecessary English accent since Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves.

If it's a brief wave of nostalgia for the mid-'90s you're after, then Dumb And Dumber To will deliver that in spades. But like much of that period's cultural output - Dubstar, Game On, Worms on PC - by the time you remember it's 2014, you'll have forgotten it ever existed.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Six films I'll be giving a shit about
in November

I'll be honest, I'm looking forward to this a lot less now that I've actually seen it. A loose medley of Red Dwarf skits with all the fun removed, it aims for the stars but its narrative inelegance keeps its feet nailed to the earth. (7th)

Now you might think that November Man looks like complete shit, but look at the evidence: Disney are opening it in the UK on THE SAME DAY as Interstellar. They KNOW they've got a winner on their hands. When that weekend's box office is announced, Inception's Chris Nolan will RUE THE DAY he dared to go up against The Bank Job's Roger Donaldson. (7th)

I don't care whether or not this is any good, I would murder my entire family for the chance to spend a minute with Kristen Wiig and there's nothing weird about that whatsoever. (7th)

Why you wouldn't want to see Bendy Cumbles in anything (except The Fourth Estate) is beyond me, and this looks like he might just save what appears to be a glossy and suspiciously over-dramatic biopic. Oh look, that's exactly what it is. Surprisingly funny and ruddy entertaining though. (14th)

Pretty sure I was giving a shit about this last month, not sure why the release date has been pushed back. The hashtag still looks like "David Bowels" so it's not as if they've been busy improving their social media strategy. (18th)

What do YOU do in the shadows, readers? Personally I like to get naked, keep still for as long as possible, wait until everyone's gone to sleep then suddenly leap about and make loud screeching noises. It's literally the most fun you can have in a nursing home. (21st)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Jake Gyllenhaal cuts a slim, skeletal figure in Nightcrawler as scruple-blind newshound Lou Bloom, a walking moral and ethical vacuum hunting for the most graphic crime scenes he can find and film. Harvesting images of dead, mangled victims of car crashes and shootings in order to flog the footage to Rene Russo's desperate news director, Bloom stalks the LA night fuelled by the teachings of a thousand internet self-help manuals and the twisted belief that he's performing a vital public service. He's a fascinating character, and Gyllenhaal wears him like a cheap suit, his skin glistening with the oily residue of what presumably used to be Bloom's soul, long since sweated out. It's a shame, then, that Nightcrawler isn't quite the vehicle he deserves: it's like having Huw Edwards presenting an item on skateboarding chickens on an early morning regional bulletin rather than grilling the Prime Minister on the 10 o'clock news.
It's not hard to make out the shadows of movie sociopath standards like Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin lurking behind Lou Bloom's eyes, and like those characters, Bloom is a product of the world he inhabits: a seedy, venal, urban underbelly most of us would rather pretend didn't exist. But Bloom more readily brings to mind a Patrick Bateman before he made his fortune: talking like a shopping channel and single-mindedly carving a path through life at the (occasionally fatal) expense of others, he hasn't yet graduated from socio- to psychopath but you get the impression it's only a matter of time.

Perhaps it's appropriate that Dan Gilroy's film is stylish but flimsy; there is, after all, not much going on beneath the surface of Lou Bloom. And it's fun while it lasts - Gilroy's script guarantees a healthy smattering of jet-black LOLs, he sure can shoot a car chase, the whole shebang is gorgeously lit and Gilroy and his missus - aka Rene Russo - work together to create the kind of past-their-sell-by-date, once-formidable businesswoman part that rarely gets written for actors of her stature. But for all its rather obvious commentary about the amorality of newsgathering in the 21st century, there's not a lot else going on here. Lou Bloom is way more fun than his own story, and the briefest hint of Gyllenhaal letting the Bateman-esque mask slip points towards a madder, ballsier film than the one we get.

Gilroy drops the ball altogether at the film's climax, uncertain how to satisfactorily deal with his protagonist's deeds and apparently offering up a selection of endings for us to choose from. A more daring director could have left a truly shocking taste in the mouth, but Gilroy's last-minute bottling betrays his inexperience: where Lou Bloom deserves a film made by the director of Fight Club, instead he gets one from the writer of Real Steel.

Monday, 27 October 2014


I've got all the time in the world for Joel Edgerton, part of Animal Kingdom's stunning ensemble cast, co-writer of The Rover and surely about to go global as a blinged-up, eyeliner-wearing Rhamses in Ridley Scott's forthcoming Exodus: Gods And Kings. That's why I sought out Felony, despite it being a straight-to-DVD shelf-botherer in the UK over a year after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Edgerton wrote and stars in Felony, and I was keen to see what he might do with the tale of an honest cop turned rotten. Annoyingly, the answer is nothing at all: Felony is dull, unambitious and chronically disappointing for the hardcore of The Joel Edgerton Fan Club (current membership: one).

Competently but unspectacularly directed by Matthew Saville, Felony stars Edgerton as Mal Toohey, a cop who knocks a kid off his bike while driving drunk. For no compelling reason Mal lies about his involvement in the accident, gets senior detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson, pretty much the best thing on offer here) to cover his tracks and arouses the suspicions of Summer's protégé Jim Melic, played entirely without charisma by A Good Day To Die Hard's Jai Courtney.

For an hour or so Toohey wrestles tediously with his conscience while Melic ponderously digs around for the truth. The two barely share any scenes, rendering their obvious friction toothless, and Courtney is left to argue with Wilkinson in a sequence of painfully imbalanced displays of acting. There's a frustratingly unpursued hint of Toohey's moral compass beginning to spin out of control and a fairly standard point made about the indistinct nature of justice, but a series of late - and increasingly implausible - plot developments suggest that Edgerton found himself desperately trying to inject some oomph into his script.

2013's The Place Beyond The Pines took the honest-cop-forced-to-go-bad idea and squeezed more drama out of it in one act than Felony does in its entire running time, making it hard to recommend this to anyone but The Joel Edgerton Fan Club, and now they've all seen it. I'm not about to renounce my membership (I'm looking forward to Exodus: Gods And Kings too much), but Edgerton needs to seriously up his game before I stop referring to him as co-writer of The Rover and start calling him Owen Lars from the Star Wars prequels.