Movie Review: The Master [2012]

The Master [2012]

The Master [2012]
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Genre: Drama
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams
Runtime: 137 minutes

New films from Paul Thomas Anderson don’t come around too often, so when they do, it’s a huge deal. Last night, a secret “pop-up” screening of The Master took place at the legendary Music Box Theatre in Chicago. This is the only theater in the entire city that can show a film in 70mm print (as The Master was filmed and meant to be seen), and the event sold out in less than two hours. Since the film won’t receive a worldwide release until September 21, this was an even bigger deal, and the demand was through the roof. Scalpers on Craigslist were reported to be selling tickets for hundreds of dollars, prompting the Music Box to send out Facebook posts and tweets warning moviegoers to avoid paying inflated fees. It already seems The Master is one of this year’s most talked about films, and after seeing it myself, I feel it will remain that way all the way through Oscar season.

The most common reactions coming out of this screening were “Wow” and “I need to process this.” I am in the same boat — even as I sit here, nearly 24 hours later, I am trying to wrap my head around what I just saw. Make no mistake: this is going to require more than one viewing to fully comprehend, but I will do my best here.

The Master [2012]

In its purest form, The Master is a character study of two men: Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Quell is a drifter, a Navy veteran with a troubled past who boozily ventures from place to place. After being chased out of an island town after an alcohol-related incident, Quell sneaks onto a luxury ship. This is where he meets Dodd, who learns of the intruder’s trespassing and allows him to stay on board — but only if he keeps a steady batch of mixed drinks coming his way.

It doesn’t take long for Quell to realize that Dodd is the leader of a new religious organization simply known as “The Cause.” With his loyal, pregnant wife Mary Sue (Amy Adams) at his side, as well as a sizable collection of followers, Dodd preaches to them day after day.

The Master [2012]

The comparisons between The Cause and Scientology are inevitable, but this should not be dwelled upon. While there are similarities between the two, The Cause works in its own right, and it could represent any number of cults. The point here is not to bash a certain organization but to show the man in power and his influence over those near him.

In this regard, the relationship between Dodd and Quell is endlessly fascinating. Quell is a bit of a wild man, and it’s almost as if Dodd sees him as a pet project. Both men are prone to explosions — Dodd when his beliefs are questioned — but yet they have a bizarre mutual respect for each other.

The Master [2012]

Of course, it helps greatly to have skilled actors such as Hoffman and Phoenix playing these multi-layered characters. The scenes with the two of them together are when the film really shines. One particular scene, the real centerpiece of the film, involves Dodd interrogating Quell, asking him a series of questions (including many repeats) to “cleanse” him. This is part of the grooming process, to see if Quell will be a fit for the organization. The interaction between these two men is astounding, especially as Phoenix twitches nervously, runs his fingers through his hair and even slaps himself as Hoffman grills him with intense personal questions.

Much will be said of Phoenix’s dedicatedly physical performance, and he deserves ALL of the accolades he will receive. Hoffman also warrants a great deal of attention, as he perfectly nails the demeanor and mannerisms of a cult leader (while also showing his insecurities). The real surprise here is Amy Adams. For much of the film, she is in the background, quietly by Hoffman’s side, seemingly acting as a loyal housewife. But there are moments where she strongly asserts herself and commands the scene, showing that she has a great deal of power, too. Her subtle facial expressions are phenomenal. These three deliver some of their finest performances yet, and they are rounded out by a stellar cast that includes Laura Dern, Ambyr Childers and Jesse Plemons.

The Master [2012]

I had the pleasure of seeing The Master in 70mm, the first time I have ever seen any film in that format. The difference between 70mm and the traditional 35mm is like night and day. It’s almost comparable to watching an old early-print DVD and then seeing the latest and greatest Blu-ray transfer, but that analogy doesn’t even do this justice. This is a visually stunning film in its own right, but if you have the option of seeing it in 70mm, it is an absolute must.

As stated earlier, The Master will almost certainly be one of this year’s most talked about films. Cults are always a tantalizing subject, and with two characters as dynamic as those played by Phoenix and Hoffman, it’s hard not to get sucked into the experience. Some may be disappointed with the slow pacing early on, but for those here for the long haul, this is infinitely rewarding. Based on my gut reaction, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this hold up as one of the year’s best.


Movie Review: Everything Must Go [2010]

Everything Must Go [2010]

Everything Must Go [2010]
Director: Dan Rush
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Will Ferrell is back in a much-welcomed dramatic role.

Everything Must Go, based on Raymond Carver’s (very) short story “Why Don’t You Dance?“, is a moving character study that gives Ferrell a chance to show off his improved dramatic chops. Ferrell plays the character of Nick Halsey, an alcoholic whose world has just crumbled all around him. After getting fired from his job for a drinking-related incident, Nick comes home to find all of his belongings scattered across the front lawn. His wife, who is nowhere to be found, has kicked him out of the house and even changed the locks on him. With nowhere else to go and nothing to do, Halsey takes up residence on his lawn.

Although he seems perfectly content to spend the foreseeable future on his front lawn while drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, Nick’s neighbors don’t have the same idea. The police visit his house to warn him that he is breaking the law, but a friend of Nick’s on the force (and also his AA sponsor, played by Michael Pena) grants him a temporary reprieve if he agrees to have a yard sale. Facing the prospect of jail time if he doesn’t, Halsey is forced to agree.

Everything Must Go [2010]

In the midst of his life being in total disarray, Nick forges two unlikely relationships. One is with Kenny, a pudgy teenager (Christopher Jordan Wallace, aka Biggie’s son) who he teaches about sales and baseball in exchange for helping him with his yard sale. The other is with Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a lonely pregnant neighbor across the street who feels sympathy for Nick and is one of few who shows common decency toward him. In a time of need, these are the only people who are even giving him the time of day, as unlikely of “friends” as they might be.

On paper this sounds pretty depressing. And, in some instances, it is. Those expecting a typical Will Ferrell effort will be disappointed, but I believe this is his finest role yet. It is absolutely refreshing to see Ferrell play a different type of drunk — one who is subdued and functional rather than over-the-top and obnoxious. His character is a seemingly good man who has a serious addiction, and Ferrell’s performance really drives this home.

Everything Must Go [2010]

Everything Must Go focuses on the dramatic side of things, although there are hints of sly humor from time to time. The film has a bit of a slow pace that might turn off some, but I found it to be engaging throughout. This is definitely a one-man show complemented by some admirable performances from the supporting cast (including some nice bit roles from Laura Dern and Stephen Root). Hopefully this is the beginning of more similar roles from Will Ferrell; in Everything Must Go, he shows he is certainly up to the task of carrying this type of film.