September 18, 2012

"The Master"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in a period piece very loosely based on the origins of Scientology, is a sumptuous viewing experience. Yet, it's not likely to live up to the immense hopes that film buffs have invested in it. The movie confirms that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a wonderful artist who doesn’t have stories to tell. 
So don’t go expecting plot tension in what is, more or less, a buddy comedy. (I found it frequently hilarious, although that’s a minority view.) Anderson’s framework allows Hoffman and Phoenix to deliver some of the most stupendous two-man scenes of acting-for-the-sake-of-acting since Sleuth or Midnight Cowboy.

Read the whole thing there.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

The movie confirms that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a wonderful artist who doesn’t have stories to tell.

There Will Be Blood was like this as well.

Anonymous said...

"The movie confirms that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a wonderful artist who doesn’t have much to say about big ideas. Far worse, he doesn’t have stories to tell."

So, he's not a wonderful artist.

Anonymous said...

"There Will Be Blood was like this as well."

All sound and fury but zero meaning.

I can't believe so many people think so highly of that silly movie--though it is better than awful BOOGER NIGHTS and ridiculous GAGNOLIA--while a true masterpiece like SIBERIADE and EMIGRANTS/NEW LAND get far less respect.

Seth said...

Yes the movie was funny and kind of droll, especially when you look at it as a buddy film. But the tone was off.

Have you ever read _Masters of Atlantis_ by Charles Portis, who wrote _True Grit_? It sends up the same kind of half-baked mystical pseudo-knowledge combined with Dale Carnegie that this movie covers, but as satire.

The Master was ponderous and kind of kitschy.

Anonymous said...

"Dianetics and Freudianism were equally contrived and unscientific"

Freud wasn't really scientific but he was an intellectual giant and one of the most provocative/deepest thinkers of all time. There are some people who dig out things of great value even when digging for something else that they don't find.

If someone digs for diamonds but never finds any but comes upon a whole lot of gold, we might say he's a failure and a fraud--for not having found what he claimed to be looking for(diamonds). But gold is nice too.

Anonymous said...

Freud may have been wrong and even crazy about lots of things, but I don't he would have said opposing 'gay marriage' is a 'phobia'.

When I took a college psychology course in 1986, our textbook said a child is best brought under a father and mother. Can you imagine any psychology book nowadays saying such a thing? Why, it would be 'homophobic'. I mean if Heather can have two mommies...

And it seems like the psychological community these days categorize EVERYTHING as a mental disease. So, if you're shy, you're mentally ill. If you're talkative, you have talkitis.

Anonymous said...

There Will Be Blood was like this as well.

No story, bad ending, boring as hell.

It's one of those movies looks like a good movie. And it really does look like it should be a good movie.

Anonymous said...

Given Anderson's sensibility, his latest movie should be called 'masterbate'.

DaveinHackensack said...

P.T. Anderson seems to do better work when he's constrained (by budget, running time, etc.), as I assume was the case with Punch-Drunk Love, which was great. Magnolia, on the other hand, had a few good scenes, but was, to borrow a former co-worker's simile, "like getting kicked in the groin for three hours".

Mr. Anon said...

According to wikipedia, his next film will be based on a Thomas Pynchon novel. That should really be unwatchable.

Perhaps Anderson doesn't bring "Ron" in for too much ridicule because he doesn't want to spend the next twenty years of his life being sued and looking for poisonous snakes in his mail-box.

Kylie said...

"Anderson’s framework allows Hoffman and Phoenix to deliver some of the most stupendous two-man scenes of acting-for-the-sake-of-acting since Sleuth or Midnight Cowboy."

Presumably you mean the earlier version of Sleuth with Caine and Olivier. Olivier, as always, was too hammy. He must have been brilliant onstage; onscreen he always leaves me cold. Caine got better as he got older. D. Hoffman and Voight's performances in Midnight Cowboy remain for me the very best of two-man acting. Voight's artlessness and D. Hoffman's artfulness dovetail poignantly and unforgettably.

"The only real reason the two characters hang out is so Anderson can film long takes of Hoffman and Phoenix putting on acting clinics. These guys are good."

P. Hoffman and Phoenix are both brilliant, brilliant actors. P. Hoffman is artful, like D. Hoffman while Phoenix is artless like Voight. Glad Phoenix came to what passes for his senses and returned to the screen. It's where he belongs.

Slightly OT, for two-person acting-for-the-sake-of-acting, you can't beat P. Hoffman and Streep in Doubt. I've never been a fan of Streep but she and Hoffman are pyrotechnical in this film.

Dennis Dale said...

The movie confirms that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a wonderful artist who doesn’t have stories to tell.

True, and ironic considering he burst on the scene with a work that was consummate story-telling: Boogie Nights. Of course, there's nothing original about the rags-to-riches fable. He even ends the film with a sly tribute to Raging Bull--with the chastened and redeemed hero reciting his lines in front of a mirror before shadow-boxing--after a fashion.

Ron Woo said...

"The movie confirms that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a wonderful artist who doesn’t have stories to tell. "

He's an accomplished visual stylist with a defective understanding of history and the human condition.

"There Will Be Blood" is a remarkable visual feat with an indelible performance from its leading actor. But it ends in a completely cheap and gimmicky manner, and completely misses the key point of the great industrialists of America's Gilded Era - they were Protestants capitalists abetted by the qualities of self-denial and thrift.

Ron Woo said...

"True, and ironic considering he burst on the scene with a work that was consummate story-telling: Boogie Nights."

Boogie Nights was an impeccably paced, technically accomplished ensemble film featuring stellar performances from an incredible cast.

But it was also contrived and mawkish with goofy dialogue and flat characterizations - Scorcese-lite essentially.

I recall an interview with Martin Scorcese in which he asserted that the Avignon Papacy was a feature of the high Renaissance. He's probably not an educated or cultured man in a conventional sense, but he understand human motivations and is incredibly deft at creating characters on screen.

It's these capabilities, in tandem with his stylistic finesse, which makes him one of the great film-makers of all time.

I feel with Anderson that he has only that lavish bag of stylistic tricks, yet lacks the depth and human understanding to create truly enduring art.

Anonymous said...

Well our whole society "lacks the depth and human understanding." Our psychology is so mechanistic and weak, so addled with blank slatism. Aquinas knew vastly more about human nature than we do.

Anonymous said...

http://www.economist.com/node/21562182

pat said...

I read everything by Heinlein when I was a kid but the real deal for me was the wonderfully kooky A.E.Van Vogt.
Van Vogh's sci-fi was always filled with some whacky belief system or another. For example there were stories based on the Bateson eye Method. This method beleived that eye glasses weakened your eyes. So instead of corrective lens you wore opaque black plastic lens with lots of little holes in them. The theory was that while struggling to see through thes holes you "exercised" and strengthened you eyes.

When I was a postal clerk in SF in the sixties we had a guy who wore a pair.

In Van Vogh's novel a guy who wears them transports to another dimension. Van Vogh also promoted General Semantics. And of course at SF State at that time we had S.I Hyakawa who got to the US Senate advocating this crazy philosophy. I was interested at the time in Semantics - not the crackpot kind but the mathematical/logical kind with Quine and Ayre. That's how I stumbled into an SF State Gerneral Semantics class.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

"Anderson based Blood’s thin plot on the first few chapters of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 roman à clef novel Oil! about California prospector Edward L. Doheny."

The most interesting part of my cousin's copy of the DVD of There Will Be Blood was not the movie itself, but the period documentary on the oil business included in the special features. Sure, Blood had some interesting scenes showcasing the technical side of the early oil business, and a marvelously over-the-top performance by Lewis, but when your movie is less interesting than the special features, you know it's a snooze.

Campaign Finance Reform grassroots authentic movement said...

psychological community these days categorize EVERYTHING as a mental disease

Yeah. And the plaintiffs' bar characterizes every vicissitude of life ("I don't have car; my job is boring" etc.) as a Civil Rights Issue, and the Google dweeb set treats every business like a juried painting competition or Montessori class. Go figure

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tough-nosed review because with this type of film it's hard to know what to expect. It just looked so (for lack of a better word) tasteful, that I feared it would be inevitably less than meets eye.

In college a friend of mine, a real AICN type, had me watch PTA's first movie(?) "Hard Eight" which is definitely Dullsville. I found Magnolia to be such a lousy Scorsese imitation that I stopped following his output after that; at least with Aronofsky's self-indulgent movies the guy is following his weird star.

Now that anonymous mentions it, "Booger Nights" (heh) was almost completely carried by two or three forceful actors--Wahlberg, Moore, arguably Cheadle. Really visually inventive, yes, but that's not the reason why you stick through a 150 minute film...

Marlowe said...

Van Vogt also became an early devotee of Hubbard's Dianetics but later left because L. Ron started to centralize control of the movement. It started out highly distributed in different American cities and Hubbard didn't like the way other persons started to come up with their own ideas. Much like Freud decades earlier when he expelled (or caused to leave) some of his proteges such as Jung and Adler because of disagreements.


Unsurprisingly, the American medical and psychiatric establishment counterattacked, accusing Hubbard of teaching medicine without a license. Either to gain tax breaks or First Amendment protection or both, Hubbard announced in 1952 that his Dianetics self-help movement was now a religion


The AMA went after quite a few alleged quacks during the fifties - Wilhelm Reich, a former Freudian and Communist (chucked out of both groups for deviant thinking) had all of his published works on Orgone Therapy seized by the federal government and incinerated and his organization forbidden from publishing. He served time in gaol too and went crazy. The fifties had quite a lot of weird thinkers travelling about America - Reich, Hubbard, Kinsey, George Adamski and his UFO contactee claims, the Search for Bridey Murphy (a book which kick-started a huge past life re-incarnation fad in the decade - Hubbard eventually climbed on board this bandwagon when he pushed harmful engrams back into former lives). And the General Semantics boys as well. Not to forget Buckminster Fuller. And Philip K. Dick. Surprisingly off the wall thinkers for a supposedly super-straight era.

Marlowe said...

I wonder whether the Phoenix character derives from Jack Kerouac in some fashion (an alcoholic ex-sailor of WWII).

pat said...

I like your observation that Anderson modifies fact into a less interesting form of fiction.

Anderson's first big hit was Boogie Nights about John Holmes, the man with the exceptional "gentlemen's sausage".

Holmes was a celebrity who got off scot free after walking out of a murder scene covered in blood. These were the Wonderland Murders. The two LA decetives screwed up the crime scene so badly there was no hope for a conviction.

A bit later the exact same two LA detectives were assigned to another celebrity murder case - that of O. J. Simpson and they did the same thing again.

Is this a service for celebrities provided by the LA police? In any case it's a very interesting set of facts - certainly more interesting than anything else in Boogie Nights.

Albertosaurus

Ray Sawhill said...

Smart and quietly hilarious review.

"Now that Freudianism has quietly become an ex-obsession that we shall never mention again ... " -- Sailer at his droll/brilliant best.

BTW, am I the only person in the world who doesn't enjoy Philip Seymour Hoffman? He seems (to me, anyway) unable to take a breath without radiating "Look at me act!"

Steve Sailer said...

I like Hoffman a lot, but he radiates this "Hey, look at me, I'm the movie star who is so talented I can get away with being fat. Now, watch, as Acting Man is off on another Acting Adventure!" But, I still like him.

A certain amount of acting is a kind of athletics of the voice and face, and Hoffman's just more powerful, as you can see in the drinking a shot of moonshine scenes. It's like watching Blake Griffin dunk the basketball.

Steve Sailer said...

Marlow:

"I wonder whether the Phoenix character derives from Jack Kerouac in some fashion (an alcoholic ex-sailor of WWII)."

Good call. I can't confirm it, but I suspect Kerouac's part of the DNA of the movie.

Kylie said...

"BTW, am I the only person in the world who doesn't enjoy Philip Seymour Hoffman? He seems (to me, anyway) unable to take a breath without radiating 'Look at me act!'"

I first saw and liked him in The Talented Mr. Ripley. But the next time I saw him, I liked him less, for just the reason you state. I've come to like him again, though. He was awfully good in Doubt and Capote.

He's definitely not for everyone--the opposite of Joaquin Phoenix, who is incredibly natural onscreen. I was horrified when Phoenix took that weird hiatus. He is such a gifted actor.

I prefer Voight's acting to D. Hoffman's n Midnight Cowboy, and I'm guessing I'd prefer Phoenix's acting to P. Hoffman's in The Master. I do like the natural style. There's an immediacy to it that I find very appealing.

Anonymous said...

"BTW, am I the only person in the world who doesn't enjoy Philip Seymour Hoffman? He seems (to me, anyway) unable to take a breath without radiating 'Look at me act!'"

He's talented but he makes my skin crawl. He looks like a fat slobby version of Matt Damon, and Matt Damon looks like fit/trim version of Hoffman.
I don't like moo-cow-man.

I do like voluptuous women, though said...

"BTW, am I the only person in the world who doesn't enjoy Philip Seymour Hoffman? He seems (to me, anyway) unable to take a breath without radiating 'Look at me act!'"

He's talented but he makes my skin crawl. He looks like a fat slobby version of Matt Damon, and Matt Damon looks like fit/trim version of Hoffman.
I don't like moo-cow-man.



Yeah, but its stereotypes like that which largely determined the roles they get. Hoffman as a younger man got roles like playing a storm chasing nerd in 'Twister' and an anxiety-ridden sound tech with latent homo tendencies in 'Boogie Nights', or a storm chasing nerd in Twister. Damon played cool roles like the cat in Ocean's Eleven or the agent Jason Bourne in Bourne Identity.

Of course, for that second one, the stereotype is dead on- overweight and out-of-shape is not exactly fitting the criteria of "can leap from 3 story windows to catroll to safety on the street below, quickly carry a 200lb man over my shoulder for 1000 yards to hide evidence, and run a country mile without breaking a sweat" in the job description for a secret agent hitman. Mr. Krispy Kreme in that role would've been a hard sell for Hollywood to the American public.