Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Master

After seeing Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, I considered whether I enjoyed it more than There Will Be Blood, which, for me, was the best film of the previous decade.

And as you might've guessed, I wasn't able to arrive an answer. 1) It's too early to say (I didn't truly love There Will Be Blood until weeks after seeing it in the theater). And 2) There's no reason to compare them, despite numerous similarities.

I think both films benefit from brilliant scenes, strong performances from the entire cast, and from the complex relationships between the main characters. And those characters themselves are similar - Eli Sunday and Lancaster Dodd are more spiritual and use religion to their advantage, and Daniel Planview and Freddie Quell are both crazy assholes.

The teasers and trailers for The Master got me really excited to see it. We all know what Joaquin Phoenix is capable of doing, but this is easily his best performance to date. I think I'll say the same of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as well; I don't often use the word "mesmerizing," but it applies to Hoffman here. He's the perfect cult leader and I'd drink up every ounce  of his kool-aid. I'm not a big Amy Adams fan, even though I'll admit she's a talented actress. She's wonderful as Peggy Dodd. Despite only have a handful of scenes together, you quickly get a sense of the relationship between Lancaster and Peggy.

But back to Phoenix as Quell. I read a little bit of Jeff's review (the only one I've glanced at so far) and I saw something that compared him to a stray dog. That's definitely an apt comparison, but really I see Freddie as more of an infant. While his extracurricular activities are definitely more adult, emotionally and mentally, he's clearly a child. And more than that, he's a orphan looking for paternal and maternal figures. Lancaster Dodd steps in to fill the paternal role, and Freddie accepts him and becomes very loyal to him rather quickly. In fact, when Lancaster's biological son Val expresses perfidious views of his father, Freddie lashes out in anger and violence (granted, that seems to be his response to anything that bothers him).

And Lancaster seems to need Freddie as well. I do think there's a genuine quality to their relationship, and they legitimately care for each other. But given the opposition to Dodd's movement, I can see Lancaster warming up to anyone who's oblivious to who he is and what he preaches. And quite possibly, one of the reasons why Lancaster seems to keep Freddie around is because he recognizes that Freddie is the perfect soldier.

Maternally, Freddie's search is a little more complicated. While he's a bit sex-obsessed, he has it in his mind that he'll marry a young girl named Doris. Even though she is younger than Freddie, odds are, she's already more mature than he is. Even though their relationship doesn't work out, I do think that Freddie is on a search for a woman who'll take care of him. In the last of the film, Freddie is in bed with a woman he picks up. There's a strange shot in this scene where the woman's breast is in the corner of a shot focusing on Freddie's face. Between that shot and the final one, where Freddie rests his head on the woman made of sand, I'd argue that Freddie is a child in search of a bosom.

As far as Scientology is concerned, I don't see a reason for Scientologists to be so upset with the film that it would lead to threatening the Weinstein Co. Of course, those Scientologists will never actually see the film (and their reaction does not come as a surprise). But it's clear that Anderson is gentle with Lancaster Dodd. There's a fine balance of qualities and flaws, as there is with Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood. Yes, he's full of shit, but that doesn't mean he isn't a man, above all things. Or an animal. And when Dodd and Quell unleash their inner-animal, they've got one hell of a zoo.

Best film of the year so far. I can't wait to see it again.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Oh no...beta!

 A quick ranking of the films in V/H/S:

1. Second Honeymoon
2. Amateur Night
3. 10/31/98
4. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger
5. Tape 56
6. Tuesday the 17th

Having typed all that, I have agree with John that V/H/S is ONLY worth watching in a setting similar to our experience. We had a great crew and it made everything more enjoyable. We shared a few laughs and some moments of confusion and anger (McQuaidddddddddd!!!).

I have yet to see The Innkeepers or The House of the Devil but I've obviously heard plenty of good things about Ti West from Jeff and Brandon. Jeff also played that West interview for me last Friday - it's an interesting interview and it helped to affirm that Second Honeymoon was the best of the bunch. It's the only one rooted in reality and for that reason, it's effective and a bit more haunting than the other films. And even though found footage is an embarrassing gimmick, West was the only one to play by the rules. This twist was also my favorite; there are some nice clues along the way but mostly you don't see it coming. It might've moved just a tad too slow for me, though, but I'm aware of what he was trying to do.

I feel kinda sorry for the bug-eyed demon chick in Amateur Night. The way she says, "I like you" is kinda heartbreaking at the end. But I like think that after carrying Camera Glasses up in the sky, they eventually worked things out. About time the dudes from The Hangover got what they deserved. This one was creepy and set a tone and mood that was perfect for the genre.

Actually, the only thing I truly appreciate about 10/31/98 is the special effects. Beautiful work, especially with the window on the front door and the midair dinner plates. Nicely done. The ending is weak, though...even with the interesting twist.

There are definitely moments where I really appreciate The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily... but it would've benefited from cleaner execution. Yes this one is the most "high concept," but still. It's issues are glaring and it comes off as ridiculous/laughable at times.

Calling Tape 56 "pointless" as Jeff does is pretty spot-on. If it weren't for Randy/Dennis/Glenn McQuaid, it would probably be everyone's whipping boy. I understand you need frame/set-up these tapes in some fashion, but there's a definite air of confusion surrounding this wraparound. I'd ask for more development, but at a running time of 116 minutes, the film is already too long.

Tuesday the 17th. Poor marks across the board. Every decision Glenn McQuaid made was awful and since I have nothing positive to say, I'll just move on.

The lack of scares in V/H/S is evident; I did think it would be much scarier than it was and really that's fine by me. I'm not really a seeker of thrills. The Twilight Zone comparisons are apt because it seems that these filmmakers spent more time working interesting stories with twist endings than they did on trying to scare the audience.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Features (17)

High Sierra ****1/2
The Virgin Spring *****
That Touch of Mink ****
Brave ****
Holiday ****
Gun Crazy ****
The Artist **1/2
The Dark Knight Rises ****
Angels with Dirty Faces ****
In a Lonely Place ****1/2
The Rules of the Game ****
Wings in the Dark ***
Big Brown Eyes ***1/2
Pickpocket ****
Bed and Board ****
The Last Days of Disco ****
Lawrence of Arabia ****1/2
Celeste & Jesse Forever ***
Metropolitan ****


Breaking Bad seasons 2, 3, 4, 5
The Wire season 1 (the first ep.)
Seinfeld season 4
The Daily Show
The Colbert Report
Weeds season 8
The Newsroom season 1
Doug season 4

Notes: That Touch of Mink is a lot of fun and was much funnier than I thought it would be. Cary Grant and Doris Day are a great comedic team in this one.

I really enjoyed Brave and I wish I had posted on it back in July. The theater was packed with families and little kids when Jeff and I went to see it. But instead of thinking, "no one should bring a toddler to a movie" like I usually do in those moments, I realized that that's what I should come to expect watching an animated film at the theater. I think Brave was the first Pixar film I've seen in the theater since Toy Story. Anyway, there were moments when I thought the film was going to lose me, but ultimately I was impressed and loved the story. It's a great mother/daughter story with heart. Something we don't get to see too much of. Merida is a great character for little lasses to look up to.

I agree with Jeff on The Artist. Time for Uncle Jesse to join film club (I really love his top ten list, by the way). Anyway, I assumed The Artist would charm the hell out of me, but it didn't do much of that at all. There aren't many memorable scenes. I wasn't expecting too much from the film, despite/because of its awards and acclaim. I just wanted it to entertain me and it failed in that regard. The dog was great, though; I'm sure we all agree there. Give him the Oscars. He'll know how to treat them properly.

I need to watch more Bresson. As it stands, all I've seen is Pickpocket and The Trial of Joan of Arc. Diary of a Country Priest is on our DVR and I will watch it at some point. His other films are in my Netflix queue. Anyway, I like Bresson so far but I am waiting for one of his film to come along and really impress me.

I just need to see Love on the Run and I've finished the Antoine Doinel series. Apparently that one contains clips from the other four films. That's kinda lame, but I am looking forward to watching it anyway. Love me some Trauffaut.

Watching The Last Days of Disco at Brandon's was a lot of fun. It was hilarious - I especially love the discussion about Lady and the Tramp. It also made me appreciate Damsels in Distress even more, and I did like that one quite a bit to begin with. Glad to see that Metropolitan was reinstated on NWI. All of Stillman's films are great - sign me up for the fan club, too. I'm not sure which is my favorite film, but I still need to see Barcelona (I added it to my queue). Chris Eigeman is damn good in Disco and Metropolitan, but really the casting for all three films is commendable.

Celeste & Jesse Forever is one to pass on. It's not very good, but it does have some good laughs. Rashida Jones is great and makes the film much better than it is - and I say that with the fact she co-wrote the script in mind. But Jones hilarious and loveable. I especially enjoyed the scenes where her character hits rock bottom. I only wish I had photographic evidence to compliment that fact but I couldn't find the pictures I wanted on-line. Anyway, she's is definitely worthy of praise here.

This isn't a competition, but I actually found The Newsroom to be too corny during the second episode. The tone of the first episode was something I preferred - it was angrier and more dramatic. The second episode tried too hard to be funny and likeable. I'll continue to watch, but I'm not a huge fan of it so far. If it were a show that was completely devoted to bashing conservatives, I'd enjoy it more probably. But I have Real Time with Bill Maher for that so....meh.

I've only seen the first episode of The Wire. Now that Breaking Bad is on a long (bad) break, I might start watching more episodes. Good stuff so far.

Nickelodeon's Doug kicks ass. I love that show.

Watching the final season of Weeds. Thank god it's the final season. I'm not sure how I feel about this particular one yet. Guess I'm waiting to let it all play out before I judge. I will say that I enjoy the opening credit sequence this year. It's nice having "Little Boxes" back - that and the sketches of everything the Botwin's have been through over the past eight years is kinda cool and sentimental.

Also, welcome Alex! We've met once or twice already. From what I can tell, you're a great guy...but I'm an awful judge of character.  I watched Election a long time ago and I've forgotten everything about it. Hopefully I have something to offer for your next post.