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Inherent Vice: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Inherent Vice (2014) movie poster Inherent Vice

Theatrical Release: December 12, 2014 / Running Time: 149 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson / Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson (screenplay), Thomas Pynchon (novel)

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Larry "Doc" Sportello), Josh Brolin (Lt. Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen), Owen Wilson (Coy Harlingen), Katherine Waterston (Shasta Fay Hepworth), Reese Witherspoon (Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball), Benicio Del Toro (Sauncho Smilax, Esq.), Jena Malone (Hope Harlingen), Joanna Newsom (Sortilθge), Jordan Christian Hearn (Denis), Hong Chau (Jade), Jeannie Berlin (Aunt Reet), Maya Rudolph (Petunia Leeway), Michael Kenneth Williams (Tariq Khalil), Michelle Sinclair (Clancy Charlock), Martin Short (Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, D.D.S.), Sasha Pieterse (Japonica Fenway), Martin Donovan (Crocker Fenway), Eric Roberts (Michael Z. "Mickey" Wolfmann), Serena Scott Thomas (Sloane Wolfmann), Yvette Yates (Luz), Andrew Simpson (Riggs Warbling), Jefferson Mays (Dr. Threeply), Keith Jardine (Puck Beaverton), Peter McRobbie (Adrian Prussia), Sam Jaeger (Agent Flatweed, F.B.I.), Timothy Simons (Agent Borderline, F.B.I.)

Buy Inherent Vice from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Somewhere in between There Will Be Blood and The Master, the arrival of a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie became an event for cineastes. A long time coming, The Master opened to near-universal critical acclaim. Though revered by many, the drama did not, however, strongly connect with moviegoers as a whole. That is one explanation for how it went from certain major Academy Awards contender to a film with three fruitless acting Oscar nominations.

One could deduce from such a reception that The Master was merely a showcase for strong acting and as an overall film, flawed. But that would not be doing that drama and its ambitious writer-director justice.

Anderson delivers his quickest follow-up effort this century on Inherent Vice, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel of the same name. Between the virtuoso at the helm, the deeply talented cast he was likely able to assemble effortlessly, and Warner Bros. scheduling it just as they did 2013's much-heralded Joaquin Phoenix movie, Inherent Vice looked like a promising vessel for earning the major recognition for which Anderson is so clearly destined. But then, word came out of the New York Film Festival that in recent years has become a launchpad for successful Oscar campaigns that this was no Oscar movie. This time, we can't blame timing, a marketing campaign, or a distributor pinning its award season hopes on surer things (as The Weinstein Company could be accused of in backing Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook over The Master). Inherent Vice was definitely not the Academy's cup of tea, but you can easily argue that it shouldn't be, not because it doesn't fit the narrow traditional Oscar mold of inspirational true stories set in the distant past, but because Inherent Vice is kind of a mess.

Set in 1970 Los Angeles, the film opens with "doper" and licensed PI Larry "Doc" Sportello (Phoenix) being visited by ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). She has been seeing a married man whose wife and her extramarital boyfriend have been planning to pull a fast one over on him. A man made wealthy in real estate development, the husband has gone missing and has had his sanity questioned. Meanwhile, Doc is also approached by an ex-con looking to settle a score with a Nazi/Aryan who has yet to make good on a deal they arranged while in prison together. The Nazi is an associate of Shasta's missing man. But, you know what? There is almost no value in trying to synopsize the plot in detail.

"Inherent Vice" stars Joaquin Phoenix as Larry "Doc" Sportello, a hippie private eye in 1970 Gordita Beach, California.

Suffice it to say, the severely mutton-chopped Doc goes investigating various threads in between his habitual use of recreational drugs. His work gets him brought in as a suspect by Lt. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a flat-topped police detective who's a proud violator of civil rights. With help from a lawyer friend (Benicio Del Toro), Doc is soon released, set free to pursue other leads, such as the disappearance of a musician who also may be a police informant (Owen Wilson). Shasta too goes missing and we gather that this could be the biggest concern of Doc, who doesn't seem altogether over her.

The private and celebrated Pynchon has only been adapted once before: a super-obscure 2002 German language filming of his most-praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow. After seeing Inherent Vice without having read a single word by the author, I feel safe in assuming that Hollywood's reluctance to adapt Pynchon's novels might be well-founded. Inherent Vice's story is all over the place. Characters come and go, few of them appearing in more than two scenes. Our one constant is Doc, a hippie antihero clinging to a counterculture that is in the process of disappearing.

If anyone could make Pynchon's novel fly on screen, you have to assume it's Anderson. This is the guy who turned Upton Sinclair's Oil! into the masterful There Will Be Blood and who has riveted with beautifully strange films like Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia. Even so, the task of turning Inherent Vice into something compelling and coherent somewhat eludes this unique, superb filmmaker. The film is too much of a wild goose chase, a series of scenes that seem almost unrelated to one another. One minute, Doc is flipping off a pair of federal agents. The next, he's doing cocaine with a dentist connected to an Indo-Chinese drug cartel. There's little joy to be had in connecting all the dots because many of them don't even seem to connect and the ones that do hardly matter, anyway. A second viewing renders the story easier to follow, but hardly more fulfilling.

Lt. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) is an unlikely and not entirely cooperative ally to Doc's investigations. Martin Short resurfaces in a small role as heroin-sniffing dentist Rudy Blatnoyd.

No one has ever accused Anderson of being a populist filmmaker; his personal top-grosser, 2007 Best Picture nominee and Actor winner Blood, looks like a fluke. While in the past, the director has defied conventionality for the sake of art, here he comes across as deliberately difficult. The film's tone, focus, and crux all seem to change repeatedly throughout the patience-taxing 149-minute runtime achieved by long takes and lingering on disposable shots.
As the mystery at hand grows cloudier, its appeal grows thin. Phoenix may commit to the character who is the film's glue, but his snarling, mumbling protagonist lacks the layers and complexity to truly appreciate accompanying him on this bizarre, meandering odyssey.

There are some funny moments and some nice turns from actors who haven't before worked with Anderson, including Brolin, Del Toro, Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short, and Eric Roberts. In the end, though, our inability to identify with the story hinders our enjoyment, no matter how well the movie can recreate the era and compose a frame.

Though they challenged general moviegoers, The Master and Her seem downright accessible compared to this film, which failed to attract Anderson's usual critical favor, with his weakest reviews to date doing little to appeal to the cultured film buff. At the box office, Inherent Vice became the director's worst-performing film since his debut Hard Eight played just 29 theaters in the winter of 1997.

As for awards, this movie won very little, but did a little better than expected in terms of nominations. Musical or Comedy designation landed Phoenix a Best Actor nod at the Golden Globes (his second straight one in that category perhaps qualifies him for the "funnyman" label), but the film could not get a Best Picture nomination despite a field with only two legitimate Oscar contenders. The Oscars, meanwhile, recognized Vice with nominations in Costume Design and Adapted Screenplay, the latter shockingly shutting out possible frontrunner Gone Girl.

Over four months since its bicoastal debut and three and a half since its wide opening in 650 theaters, Inherent Vice is now available to own on DVD in one of Warner's standard Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo packs.

Inherent Vice: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Even on home video, Inherent Vice cannot be mistaken for having been shot on video. This is clearly a film, a fact the 1.85:1 Blu-ray presentation agreeably conveys. The clean, sharp element kind of gives the impression of a meticulously-preserved work from the early '70s era being dramatized. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is consistently crisp, even, and effective.

Inherent Vice's neon title logo appears on one of the four "special trailers" that accompany the film on Blu-ray and DVD. Eventually settling on a head-on shot of Shasta (Katherine Waterston), the Inherent Vice DVD's menu resembles a Blu-ray's and features such touches as titled chapters.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

One of a few directors with the power and interest to ensure their home video releases don't resemble all the others,
Paul Thomas Anderson clearly exerts his influence on Inherent Vice's combo pack. You'll notice that in the way that the Blu-ray doesn't open with trailers for other movies, but goes straight to the menu. And in how that menu isn't Warner's simple standard of score applied to poster art, but an animated scene of Doc and Shasta sitting on the beach, first in silhouette and later head-on in the still image that is settled upon (which changes upon a return to the menu).

Identical on both Blu-ray and DVD (but encoded in HD on the former), the extras included here are also quite unconventional and probably quite disappointing to some. There are just four promotional shorts, which can be viewed individually or with a "Play All" option. The rear cover calls them "Special Trailers" and that's a fair description.

The first three -- "Los Paranoias" (1:59), "Shasta Fay" (1:11), "The Golden Fang" (2:11) -- are trailer-like, applying narration by the mystic Sortilθge (Joanna Newsom) over a variety of clips from the film (and some that probably were cut). They're not like trailers you'd see in theaters today, though. They include profanity and nudity, while making little effort to inform prospective moviegoers what the film is about, instead choosing to focus on different facets of it and then slipping a pitch in at the end.

The fourth short, "Everything in This Dream" (5:49), is different, running a little longer and offering a more extensive look at a few scenes with no clear intent to sell tickets.

Those spoiled by the thoughtful and unusual extras on Anderson's past movies may be perplexed to get so little in the way of bonus features here. Perhaps a deluxe version will come one day, though it's tough to imagine Warner being interested in revisiting a movie that clearly lost a bit of money in theaters and Warner has almost never licensed a title to someone like Criterion or anyone really.

The eco-friendly keepcase reproduces the appealing, unusual Technicolor artwork of the cardboard slipcover. A variation on it, featuring characters in the hair of Shasta adorns the reverse of the keepcase cover, rendering the inside of the case more colorful than usual. The lone insert supplies directions and a code for redeeming the Digital HD with UltraViolet version of the film that's included with this set.

Detective work leads Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) to missing surf band saxaphonist Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

No one can question Paul Thomas Anderson's virtuosity as a filmmaker, but Inherent Vice may lead some to doubt his abilities as a storyteller. This overlong, muddled mystery seems to be of much greater enjoyment
to the director and his accomplished cast than to those watching it. You appreciate Anderson doing what he wants to, a process that has yielded some excellent movies in the past. Though it has some inspired moments and a throwback nonconformist vibe you can get on board with, Vice is just too much of a mess to really celebrate or rank among the director's better efforts.

Warner's combo pack delivers the high quality, filmic presentation desired in a package with appealing artwork. Those who value bonus features, however, are certain to be disappointed by how little of significance this provides in that regard, in stark contrast to the director's past movies.

Buy Inherent Vice from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Blu-ray: U Turn • The Gambler • A Most Violent Year • Big Eyes • Interstellar • Accidental Love
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson: The Master • There Will Be Blood
Joaquin Phoenix: The Immigrant • Her • The Village • Ladder 49 | Josh Brolin: Labor Day • No Country for Old Men • Men in Black 3
Owen Wilson: Bottle Rocket • Are You Here | Benicio Del Toro: Traffic • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Martin Short: Father of the Bride & Father of the Bride Part II • The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Reese Witherspoon: The Good Lie • Devil's Knot • How Do You Know | Jena Malone: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Katherine Waterston: The Factory | 1970s: American Hustle • Zodiac • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

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Reviewed April 30, 2015.



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