Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Master

Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman (Lancaster Dodd), Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell) and Amy Adams (Peggy Dodd)

Bottomline: This is a pretty darn long movie that takes itself way too seriously to be as 'deep' or 'heartfelt' as it tries to be.

I must say, I am as unsure about how to write this review as I am about The Master. I saw the trailers which said things like "★★★★" and 'This was the best movie of the year and of my life!!!!', so naturally, I went into this movie with my high hopes. I've heard that to be a more serious critic, one has to remain neutral. That way, if it is a disappointing flick, then the disappointment doesn't mar the review. Oppositely, if one is expecting garbage and he or she watches slightly-better-than-garbage the review will be particularly positive.
Anyway, that isn't what happened here. I went in with my hopes up high. It had been, after all, a while since I saw a really good movie in theaters. Not a fun popcorn movie, mind you, but a well-made, powerful film. That's where I ran into some trouble and, quite frankly, I am a little embarrassed. It's like every time I have a glass of wine.
"How is it?"
Thinking Panicking, I say, "Complex...with a...fruity (yeah, that's a good word, fruity) aftertaste." That's what you're supposed to say, right? 'Good year' is another one. Do I really know? Heck no! I know that it tastes good. It's nice and alcoholic, I'll have another, thank you, but I couldn't really tell a good one from a bad one. Chalk it up to inexperience.

But where does that leave me with movies and, more importantly, The Master? I spent a good half of it mystified by all the supposed 'cinema' on the screen. My preconceived notions about it prevented me from seeing the mediocrity before my eyes. It reminded me of; I believe it was, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The big news was men's gymnastics. Could the American pull off the perfect vault to take the gold away from the Chinese? He did the perfect jump and won the gold. Afterwards the scoring was examined and it turns out the judges set his base score too high. If his score was set correctly, it would have been impossible for him to win. My experience with The Master was similar. My bar was set too high for it to lose. About halfway through, I started to doubt things and because of this, I feel I can write this review with a sound disposition. Now, let me tell you a little about the movie.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is Lancaster Dodd who has developed a "Method"/Religion/Cult/Scientology. A person's soul is eternal and passes from body to body. By accessing the memories of a previous life, a person can be healed physically and mentally of ailments. Enter Freddie Quell (Pheonix). He is a wayward bootlegger who formerly served as a sailor in WWII. He is a drunk (drinking everything from champagne to his homemade "potion") with a quick and violent temper. Dodd vows to save Quell from himself, in part, because Dodd remembers the drunk from somewhere. The story follows the interactions between Quell, the Dodd family as they tour the US to promote this religion.

Philip Seymour Hoffman acted the heck out of this movie but I wonder if he just did this to accentuate his character. Dodd bombastically dominates every room he enters and he tries to connect with Quell but we never truly see what is hiding below that gregarious personality. There were a couple points where he lashes out so we know that there is more to him but we never get to see it.

It has been a long time since I've seen Joaquin Phoenix and he has a pretty good performance. I don't fault him that his character was somewhat lacking.

There are a lot of moments in The Master where we are supposed to be shocked and I think that is a major reason for this to be considered a 'deep' movie. It tries to be tasteful and edgy in its shocks. For example, Quell is in a bathroom and he nonchalantly drinks aftershave (or cologne). Alright, sure, if you do that once and them build on it, I'm fine. The story carries on and, oh, there he goes again, this time he is drinking paint thinner. It isn't that I don't like this type of shock, but I am left wanting. If I just want to be shocked, I'll go watch some Serbian film, I'm sure they'll have something.

By the final minutes of the film, I was tired of trying to buy into Anderson's vision. I knew I was supposed to be brought to tears because Pheonix was crying. That's how you know it's a good movie, right? When you are brought to tears at the end. I wanted to cry at the end. I tried to well up a few tears but I couldn't.

Overall, I wouldn't really recommend going to see this in theaters. Maybe once it goes through the second run theaters or comes out on Blu-Ray.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell. Written by Brenda Chapman (story), Mark Andrews (screenplay), Steve Purcell (screenplay), Irene Mecchi (screenplay). Starring Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Billy Connolly (Fergus) and Emma Thompson (Elinor)

Bottom line: Pleasant family movie but it ultimately falls because it wasn't really anything new. I was also disappointed with the halfhearted feminism.

Brave is Pixar's latest princess movie. It begins with a wonderful scene of a royal family camping in the woods. One of the things I love about Pixar is their ability to capture the innocence and energy of children and the opening sequence is a perfect example.

The queen is playing hide and seek with her young daughter, Merida. The large, kinda goofy king enters and gives the sprightly little girl her first bow. She runs off in the forest, following some Willow-wisps all the while stalked by a "demon bear" which jumps out of the forest and attacks the family.

Fast forward ten or so years. The bear took the leg of the king and escaped into the forest. By this point we hear the message from the trailer: "This is my mum...she's in charge every single thing in my life". Merida has grown up being trained to be an ideal future queen. And yet, also as we know from the trailer, she is a tomboy who wants to live on her own. On the subject of marriage, Merida says, "I am not ready to get married and I don't know if I ever will be." This is the type of princess that I was hoping for. Finally, there will be a strong woman who actually stands on her own: She can hold her own in archery contests, ride horses and climb mountains (albeit in a dress).

All this potential and Pixar cops out! About a third of the way through, the movie becomes a pretty cliche mother-daughter bonding movie. In desperate act of defiance, Merida goes to a pretty cookie-cutter witch who offers a spell to "change your fate", read, "stop my mom from being so mean". The mom is changed and the two spend the rest of the movie trying to reverse the spell.

Why couldn't Pixar just keep going with the original sentiment? The whole "I don't know if I ever will get married" thing changes to a reluctance to "grow-up". Appropriately, you know that really deep sounding Gaelic song used in the trailer? If you look at the lyrics it is about a woman crying because he husband is out at sea. Of course I'm not suggesting that a strong female character can't cry but there is a difference between "I miss my husband" and "Merida doesn't want to get married...yet". Maybe the lyrics were a warning. One might argue that she does show independence because she is going to get married someday but more on her terms. Whoever wins her heart, she will marry. In the scheme of things, that isn't very progressive at all. So when Merida is finished playing with her little toys, she can be a woman and do a woman's job by assuming her position in the patriarchy.

Aside from the disappointing turn of events in story, everything else is great. The animation is every bit as beautiful and colorful as what you would expect from Pixar. The soft glow of the willow-wisps, for example, feels magical. Does it save the missed opportunity of progress? Not really. So, I would recommend this for an inexpensive rent.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution 3D

Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine) and Michelle Rodriguez (Rain)

Bottom line: Resident Evil: Retribution 3D is so terrible that it becomes fun with the right company but, otherwise, I wouldn't wish this on anyone.
1/4 (for the movie) 3/4 (for the experience)

In school, I took a class about Science Fiction film. We watched John Carpenter's The Thing. It is about an alien who takes the forms of people so you never know if someone is a human or an alien. One guy, who turns out to be housing the alien, has his head cut off. The disembodied head falls on the floor, sprouts six legs, looks at another character and roars. The character responds with "You have got to be fucking kidding me..."

We read an academic article about the significance of that line (which was called "You have got to be fucking kidding me"). The author claimed that at that moment the film becomes self-aware. On one level, the character speaks only as a person in the film's world; he is watching his friend's head roar. On another level, he is speaking as a spectator in the audience, that is, he knows this is a fake movie but it is such a stressful scene, that he comments on it. Let me know if you want me to try and explain it a little differently.

I love those types of movies. It is like you are having a conversation with the film.
"Isn't this a little ridiculous?" you ask.
"Yeah. Definitely. But it's just for fun," the film answers back.

I hope. I really hope that Resident Evil: Retribution is one of those movies.

The movie opens with an extended fighting sequence, reversed in slow motion. Before I get any further, let me comment on the slow-mo. IMDB says that the running time of this movie is ninety-five minutes. I am pretty sure that there was only about a half hour of movie but the use of slow-mo extended to an hour and a half. In this movie, slow motion is used both to emphasize a fight scene and a deep thought. I'd say the slow-mo is the only way they could get feeling in this movie.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the introduction. After the lengthy slow motion sequence and after it plays back in real time, Milla J comes on the screen and tells the plot of the past five movies to bring the audience up to speed.

Cutting over to a dream sequence, Milla wakes up in a suburban bed. Her husband is late for work and her daughter is having breakfast. Zombies break in and eventually kill everyone. Which brings me to my next problem with this movie; it's painfully predictable. So much so I feel like I am missing something. How exactly am I supposed to be on the edge of my seat when I know that character X will, without a doubt, survive?

Normally, I would go into more of the plot to point out the painful dialogue and “story” but, it isn’t really worth it. In my score, I gave this a 3/4 for the experience. By this I mean, I went with a friend and we laughed at the movie the entire time. But something about this seems wrong because this is, after all, a "movie review" not a "movie experience review". If it was all about the experience, what stops someone from giving a bad review because the cinema's air conditioning was broken? That said, looking strictly at the movie, the fancy 3D effects couldn't nearly save this from being a terribly bad movie.