“THE MASTER” (2012) Review

the-master

“THE MASTER” (2012) Review

Paul Thomas Anderson seemed to be one of those filmmakers who embody what critics would categorize as a modern day “auteurist” that release a movie every few years to dazzle moviegoers and critics with his or her personal creative vision. During his sixteen years as a director and filmmaker, he has made four short films and six feature movies. One of the six feature films is his latest, “THE MASTER”

Believed by many to be an exposé on Scientology, “THE MASTER”tells of the story of a World War II Navy veteran named Freddie Quell, who struggles to adjust to a post-war society. Freddie uses sex and alcohol to escape his personal demons. But when his drinking and violent behavior leads him to lose jobs as a department store photographer and a field worker on a cabbage farm, Freddie ends up in San Francisco, where he stows aboard a yacht that belongs to one Lancaster Dodd, a leader of a philosophical movement known as “The Cause”. Dodd sees something in Quell and accepts him into the movement. But Freddie’s drunken and violent behavior fails to abate and Dodd’s wife, daughter and son-in-law begin to express doubt that the latter can help the World War II veteran.

What can I say about “THE MASTER”? Did it turn out to be the exposé on Scientology that many believed it would become? Not really. Despite its title, “THE MASTER” seemed to be more about Freddie Quell than Lancaster Dodd and “the Cause”. The movie did feature practices that are believed to be similar to those practiced by members of Scientology. But the movie’s deeper focus on Freddie’s personal demons has led me to believe that the Church of Scientology has nothing to fear. In the end, “THE MASTER” seemed to be more of a character study of the very disturbed Freddie Quell, along with a secondary study of Lancaster Dodd . . . and their friendship. And Paul Thomas Anderson revealed these two character studies in a movie with a running time of 143 minutes.

There were aspects of “THE MASTER” I found very admirable. The movie featured outstanding performances from Joaquin Phoenix, who gave a volatile portrayal of the disturbing Freddie Quell. I was also impressed by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of the charismatic Lancaster Dodd. His performance not only hinted in subtle ways, his understanding of Freddie’s demons, but the possibility that he once possessed similar demons. And Amy Adams was memorable as Peggy Dodd, Lancaster’s second or third wife, who not only seemed more dedicated to “the Cause” than her husband; but also seemed to understand both him and Freddie with a frankness the two men seemed unwilling to face. The movie also featured solid performances from Laura Dern, who portrayed a hardcore devotee to Dodd; Rami Malek, Dodd’s quiet and unassuming son-in-law who assumes a dislike of Freddie; Ambyr Childers, Dodd’s daughter, who hides a lusty attraction to Freddie; Jesse Plemons, who portrays Dodd’s disenchanted son; Madisen Beaty, who portrays Freddie’s love of his life; and Kevin J. O’Connor, a devotee of “the Cause” who is not impressed by Dodd’s writing.

I was also impressed by the movie’s production designs. David Frank and Jack Fisk did an excellent job in re-creating America during the post-World War II era and the beginning of the 1950s. Mark Bridges’ costumes were tasteful and at the same time, projected an accuracy of the era. And cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. captured Anderson’s direction and the movie’s setting with some impressive photography.

So, did I enjoy “THE MASTER”? No. In fact, I dislike the movie . . . intensely. There is nothing more boring than a 143 minute character study, in which the main character does not evolve or devolve. Freddie Quell never changes. Perhaps this was the lesson that Anderson was trying to convey. But honestly, he could have done this with more solid writing, a shorter running time and with less pretentiousness. And I have never seen a movie with so much pretentiousness since Joe Wright’s movie, “HANNA”. While watching an early scene that featured Freddie dry humping a nude woman made from sand on a beach, I began to suspect that my patience might be tested with this film. I had no idea my patience would eventually slipped into sheer boredom. One cannot image the relief I felt when the movie finally ended.

I realize that “THE MASTER” has received a great deal of acclaim from critics and some moviegoers. But I simply failed to see the magic. And if this movie manages to acquire a great deal of nominations during the awards season (which it probably will), I will not be one of those cheering the movie for critical glory. I dislike it too much. Oh well. Perhaps I will like Anderson’s next film.

“THE MUMMY” (1999) Review

“THE MUMMY” (1999) Review

As a rule, I dislike horror movies or thrillers very much. Not only do I dislike today’s slasher films, I am NOT a fan of the old horror classics that feature actors like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., and Boris Karloff. In other words, the slasher films disgust me and the old horror classics tend to creep me out. 

One of those old horror classics happened to be the 1932 movie, ”THE MUMMY”, starring Karloff. It told the story of an ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep that became a mummy and ended up terrorizing Cairo. Seventy-six years later, director Stephen Sommers remade the old classic into a half-horror/half-adventure tale in the style of Indiana Jones about how members of a treasure-seeking expedition in 1920s Egypt, revived Imhotep, who wrecked havoc upon the expedition camp and Cairo. I had been prepared to ignore this remake, until a relative informed me that this version had been filmed in the style of an Indiana Jones movie. Being a fan of the Lucas/Spielberg movies, I lowered my guard and saw the movie.

Looking back at my decision, eleven years later, I am glad that I had seen ”THE MUMMY”. My relative had been right. The movie felt more like an action-adventure film, with a touch of horror. Well, more than a touch. After all, this was a tale about an Egyptian mummy that came back to life. But I loved every minute of the film. Well . . . almost. But I believe that it was a perfect blend of action, the supernatural, adventure, comedy and romance. My two favorite sequences featured the Medjai (descendants of Pharaoh Seti I’s palace guards) attacking the Nile River steamboat conveying the heroes from Cairo to Hamunaptra, site of the treasure they sought and Imohtep’s remains; and Imohtep’s reign of terror in Cairo, as he sought the three Americans and the Egyptologist who possessed the canopic jars that held the mummy’s preserved organs. I especially enjoyed this last sequence, because I feel that it managed to evoke the surreal and mysterious atmosphere of the old 30s horror films more than any other sequence in the movie.

Another one of the movie’s major virtues turned out to be its cast. Brendan Fraser did a great job in portraying the aggressive soldier-of-fortune, Rick O’Connell. He must have been at least 30 years old around the time he shot ”THE MUMMY”. And I must say that he also managed to project a strong and masculine screen presence, with a touch of sly humor. Creating screen chemistry with Fraser was Rachel Weisz, who portrayed the inexperienced yet enthusiastic archeologist, Dr. Evelyn Carnahan. I really enjoyed how she injected a mixture of charm and spirit into the very ladylike Evelyn. And John Hannah rounded out the golden trio as Jonathan Carnahan, Evelyn’s humorous yet slightly decadent older brother. Hannah was very funny as Evelyn’s self-serving brother, who seemed more interested in making a quick buck, instead of doing hard work.

Kevin J. O’Connor, a favorite of Sommers, gave a sly and hilarious performance as the Hungarian born Beni Gabor, Rick’s amoral former Foreign Legion comrade that becomes Imohtep’s willing minion. O’Connor was especially hilarious in a scene that featured Beni’s attempts to save himself from Imohtep’s wrath by invoking God’s help in different languages. Actor Oded Fehr provided a great deal of dash and intensity as Ardeth Bay, the leader of Medjai. Actors Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, and Tuc Watkins provided plenty of their own comic relief as the three American adventurers seeking treasure from Hamunaptra. Jonathan Hyde provided a stable contrast to their lunacy as the Egyptian archeologist who serves as their expedition’s Egyptology specialist. Patricia Velásquez gave a brief, but very memorable performance as Anck-Su-Namun, the ancient Egyptian courtesan that happened to be the love of Imohtep’s life. Speaking of Imohtep, Arnold Vosloo literally made a name for himself as the imposing and ruthless high priest and future mummy, who becomes obsessed with reuniting with his love through any means possible.

Despite its vast array of virtues, ”THE MUMMY” had its share of flaws. One, some of the humor and so-called wit struck me as rather silly and sophomoric. I also found it annoying that the Rick O’Connell character seemed inclined to constantly use a gun for every situation – especially when they worked fruitlessly against supernatural beings like mummies. Costume designer John Bloomfield did a piss poor job with Rachel Weisz’s costumes. I realize that Westerners in the far reaches of the British Empire tend to dress more conservatively than their fellow citizens in Great Britain. But that was no excuse for why Evelyn wore an outfit and hairstyle dated a decade older than the movie’s 1920s setting:

However, my biggest problem with the movie happened to be the final showdown between the heroes and Imohtep inside the temple at Hamunaptra. How can I put this? Director Stephen Sommers added new meaning to the phrase ”over-the-top”. Not only did the action and special effects struck me as excessive, but it almost seemed to go on with no end in sight.

Despite my misgivings of ”THE MUMMY”, I still enjoyed the movie very much. It is a fun movie filled with memorable characters, humor, suspense and some genuine fright. For me, it turned out to be one of the better summer blockbusters of the late 1990s.

“G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the new action film based upon the “G.I. Joe” toy franchise: 

 

”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” (2009) Review

For the third time in my life, I saw a movie that was based upon a popular toy franchise. The latest movie with this particular premise turned out to be ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”. And if I must be honest, I ended up seeing the movie under confusing circumstances.

I never had any intentions of seeing ”G.I. JOE”. Let me make this perfectly clear. After the mindless action of the two”TRANSFORMERS” movies, I had vowed never to watch another action movie based upon a popular toy. In fact, I had intended to see the new comedy, ”JULIE AND JULIA”. My family and I ended up watching ”G.I. JOE”, because I thought a relative of mine wanted to see it. As it turned out, my relative thought ”I” wanted to see the movie. Which goes to show how dangerous the lack of communications can be. We ended up watching a movie that neither of us had intended to see.

Stephen Sommers, the creator of the recent ”MUMMY” franchise and director of the first two movies, directed this tale about the G.I. Joe Team, a covert unit of international special forces commandos, under the command of a U.S. Army general named Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Original, huh? Following an attempt by terrorists to steal nanotechnology-based warheads, two regular Army commandos – Conrad “Duke” Hauser and Wallace “Ripcord” Weems (Channing Tatums and Marlon Wayans) – join the “Joes” in an effort to prevent the warheads from falling into the hands of terrorists. During Duke and Ripcord’s training at the G.I. Joe’s command center in North Africa, two terrorists named the Baroneess (Sienna Miller) and Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) attack the base and in the process manage to wound General Hawk and steal the warheads. The Team eventually learn that the warheads’ creator – James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), owner of an arms manufacturing company called MARS – was responsible for the attack and wanted the warheads back for his own nefarious means.

What can I say about ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”? It was simply your typical summer action blockbuster based upon a popular franchise. And like many of these action films, it was filled with the usual explosions, violence, silly one-liners and special effects. Nothing special. Nothing original. It also featured an underwater battle between the “G.I. Joe” Team and McCullen’s troops. I read somewhere that Sommers wanted to pay homage to the 1965 James Bond movie, ”THUNDERBALL”. Well, he certainly succeeded as far as I am concerned. Sommer’s underwater battle in”G.I. JOE” seemed just as boring as the one featured in ”THUNDERBALL”.

Surprisingly, ”G.I. JOE” turned out to be better than I had expected. In fact, the movie possessed enough attributes for me to enjoy it. You heard right. I actually managed to enjoy ”G.I. JOE”. Despite the usual action nonsense, the movie turned out to rather enjoyable. More importantly, screenwriters Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett included several twists in both the plot and some of the characterizations that took me by surprise. And ”G.I. JOE”does not strike me as the type of movie that could generate that kind of surprise. Another aspect of the movie that allowed it rise above the likes of the ”TRANSFORMER” movies, was its exploration of background stories of characters like Duke, the Baroness, McCullen, the Baroness’ brother Rex Lewis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the two former rivals, Storm Shadow and one of the “Joes”, Snake Eyes (Ray Parks). The movie also featured a surprisingly effective action sequence set in Paris – a sequence that ended with some noteworthy special effects produced under the supervision of Christian Roberton and shot wonderfully by cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen.

Another aspect of ”G.I. JOE” that impressed me was its cast. Aside from one particular actor, the actors and actresses struck me as surprisingly impressive. Channing Tatum led the cast as Duke, the Army Special Forces officer who decides to join the “G.I. Joe Team” in order to continue his assignment regarding the nanoprobe warheads. Duke is also haunted by a past tragedy that involved his former girlfriend, Ana Lewis aka the Baroness and her brother, Rex. Tatum has been making a name for himself as a up and coming actor for the past three years. I have to be honest. He does not exactly appeal to me as a screen presence. But I must admit that he is a solid actor and did a very competent job with his role. Portraying Duke’s best friend is comic actor, writer and producer Marlon Wayans. He portrayed Ripcord, another Special Forces soldier who decides to follow Duke in joining the “Joes”. Ripcord also harbors a desire to be acknowledged as a top military pilot and he falls in love with another member of the “G.I. Joe Team”. As expected, Wayans provided a great deal of laughter in a role that could easily be labeled as comic relief. Only in this movie, Ripcord has a well written romance and managed to save two major capital cities in the movie’s finale. Wayans not only handled the comedy with great ease, he also did a solid job in his romantic and action scenes.

The supporting cast was filled with first-rate actors and actresses that provided solid performances. I especially enjoyed Sienna Miller as Duke’s conflicted ex-girlfriend, Ana Lewis. Family tragedy led her to join McCullen’s villainous team and change her name to the Baroness. It seemed quite obvious that Miller was enjoying herself in the role. And Rachel Nichols gave an interesting performance as the brainy and uptight Scarlett, who learns not to open up her heart to Ripcord’s humor and warmth. Also, she and Wayans provided great screen chemistry. And it was great seeing Adewale Akinuoye-Agbale again, after three years. I have not seen him since early Season 3 of ”LOST”. In this movie, he was his usual commanding self as Hershel “Heavy Duty” Dalton, the team’s ordinance expert who acted as field commander of the “Joes”. I also enjoyed Said Taghmaoni as Abel “Breaker” Shaz, the Moroccan hacker and communications expert that harbored a fondness for bubble gum. I especially enjoyed his performance in a scene that featured his character’s dismay at being banned from French soil, following the Eiffel Tower debacle. I have to give kudos to Lee Byung-hun for giving a convincingly complex performance as the villainous Storm Shadow. Christopher Eccleston was pretty solid as the main villain, James McCullen. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a hoot as Ana’s slightly neurotic brother, Rex Lewis.

There was one performance that failed to impress me. And it belonged to Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, leader of the “G.I. Joe Team”. Now, I have been a fan of Quaid for years. Out of all the performances in the movie, his was the only one that turned me off. How can I put this? Quaid’s General Hawk sounded and behaved like an authority figure – whether it be a police officer, politician or military officer – from a 1950s or 60s “B” movie. You know – he spouted the usual flag-waving crap in a very exaggerated manner that came off as stiff. I only thank God that it was a small role.

Before I saw ”G.I. JOE”, I had suspected that it would become another ”TRANSFORMERS” or ”TRANSFORMERS 2”. Unlike the two Michael Bay movies, I did not have to turn off my brain to enjoy the film. And that surprised me, despite the movie’s flaws. Also, Stephen Sommers did a pretty good job in directing both the cast and crew to create a surprisingly entertaining movie. He also had the good luck to work from a solid script that provided a few good twists and surprises. ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” is not a cinematic masterpiece or exercise in intellectual introspection. If you want a movie that you might be able to enjoy with kids . . . or even a few friends, then I would recommend it.

“THERE WILL BE BLOOD” (2007) Review

 

”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” (2007) Review

I really do not know what to say about Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie, ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD”. This movie, based upon Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel ”Oil!”, is about a ruthless oilman in California between 1898 and 1927. I cannot deny that this is basically an excellent film and that Daniel Day-Lewis gave one of the best performances of career. I cannot also deny that ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” was basically well written, produced and directed by director Anderson. I basically enjoyed it very much and consider it to be one of the better films released this year. But for some reason, I cannot muster any real passion for it.

I must admit that there were times that I found the movie fascinating. One has to thank leading Daniel Day-Lewis’ riveting performance maintaining my interest. He portrayed the ruthless Daniel Plainview, a hard-working silver prospector who discovered an oil well, while prospecting for silver. On the very day he discovers his first oil well, one of his employees die in an accident and Plainview adopts the dead man’s infant son. By 1911, he is one of the most successful oil men in California. In order to convince many farmers and other small landowners to drill on their land, he uses his adoptive son, whom he names H.W. (Dillon Freasier), as his “partner” to project his status as a family man and a family businessman. Plainview is approached by a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) who sells Plainview an oil lead located on his family’s property in Little Boston, California. Plainview and H.W. travel to Little Boston, and, pretending to be hunting quail, scout out the Sunday property and discover a good amount of seepage oil. Plainview attempts to buy the property without notifying Paul’s father Abel (David Willis) of the oil, but Paul’s twin brother, Eli (again Paul Dano), knows of the oil and raises the price to $10,000, the bulk of which he intends to put into the founding of his own Church. Plainview pays him $5000 up front and promises the other $5000 as a donation to the church. In order to ensure the monopoly on the Little Boston oil, Plainview buys the “ranches” of a number of the surrounding neighbors, with the exception of one property, which the owner, a Mr. Bandy (Hans Howes), was hesitant to sell.

As I had earlier stated, the heart and soul of ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” for me was Daniel Day-Lewis. His Daniel Plainview has to be one of the most fascinating characters in movie history. Certainly not in literary history, since Plainview was a character created for the screen by Anderson. I really do not know how to describe him. He seemed to be the epitome of those ruthless tycoons of the late 19th century and early 20th century. He is certainly not typical. Utilizing a John Huston accent, Day-Lewis captured all of the malevolence , cunning and emotional perversity of Plainview, as he draws the audience into the character’s unchecked greed for wealth and power. The ironic thing is that Plainview does not seem to care for the trappings of wealth. One example of this is his habit of sleeping on the floor, even when a comfortable bed is available. And even in that exclusive mansion he has built by the end of the film, he sleeps on the floor inside the mansion’s bowling alley. But the money and power, he definitely needs. And he needs an audience to witness his financial triumphs, judging how he had temporarily abandoned H.W. when the latter first lost his hearing in an accident and how he took under his wings, a man claiming to be a long lost brother named Henry Brands (Kevin J. O’Connor).  Due to his superb performance, Day-Lewis deservedly won both a Golden Globe award and an Oscar.  If he had failed to win either or both awards, I would have been shocked.

It is a shame that the Golden Globes and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science were never able to acknowledge Paul Dano for his performances as the twin brothers – Paul and Eli Sunday, and Dillon Freasier as the young H.W. Plainview. Dano, who had last impressed critics with his supporting role in ”LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE”, had studied evangelism for his role as the Sunday twins. The Paul Sunday character made a brief appearance near the beginning of the story, but Dano’s performance as the other twin Eli really impressed me. Dano’s performance revealed the malevolence and greed for wealth and power behind Eli’s meek and religious demeanor – traits that seemed to match Plainview’s. Anderson could not find a child actor to portray Plainview’s adoptive son, H.W., so he had hired the son of a Texas state trooper who had pulled over the movie’s casting agent for speeding. Like Dakota Blue Richards in ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”, Dillon Freasier turned out to be find. Especially for Anderson and the movie. With very few words, the young actor managed to convey all of his character’s array of emotions experienced in the film – from his intelligence and warmth, to his suspicions and resentment of Plainview’s relationship with Henry Brands.

Most of ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” seemed to be set during 1911. Sinclair’s novel seemed to be a condemnation of the oil industry itself and a response to the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal during the Warren G. Harding administration. Anderson does condemn the oil industry in California, especially in his revelation of how many small landowners were cheated out of millions of dollars through the manipulations of oil companies and tycoons. But for me, ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” seemed more like a character study than an expose on a major industry. But I must admit that it is a first-class movie and probably one of the better ones of 2007. Anderson paced the movie very well, making one ALMOST forget that this movie is fifteen minutes short of three hours. With actors like Day-Lewis, Dano, Freasier, Ciarán Hinds and Kevin J. O’Connor, Anderson managed to make the most of a first-class cast. Well, almost. More on that later. Does it deserve to win the Best Picture Oscar? Quite frankly, I am not sure. As excellent as the movie is . . . as first-rate as was Day-Lewis’ performance, it did not exactly rock my boat. Quite frankly, I do have a few problems with the film.

As I had stated earlier, ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” seemed more like a character study, instead of an expose. And because of that, I feel that it could have been at least a half hour or forty-five minutes shorter. When I said that Anderson had almost made me forget that this movie was nearly three hours long, I was serious. He ALMOST made me forget about the film’s running time. Until the story shifted to 1927. Frankly, I do not see why Anderson had even bothered. Following the time shift, the movie lost its epic scope. Even Plainview’s personality seemed to have lost some of its steam . . . until his last encounter with Eli Sunday. Speaking of those two, I believe that the make-up artist may have done both Day-Lewis and Dano a bit of a disservice. Despite the fifteen to sixteen year difference between the two time shifts, I never really got the impression that either Plainview or Sunday had aged at all. There was barely a strand of gray in Day-Lewis’ hair and Dano still looked like a young man in his early twenties, despite the fact that Eli Sunday must have been at least in his mid-to-late thirties during the film’s last half hour. But the one thing I actually disliked about the film was its abrupt ending. One can say that the movie ended with the final confrontation between the two adversaries. But there is this feeling in my gut that Anderson had ended the movie in the middle of the story’s finale. He probably had a reason for ending it in this manner. Whatever reason he had, it has eluded me.

Despite some of my disenchantment with ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD”, I must admit that it is overall, an excellent film. It may not have rocked my boat, but I did find it fascinating. And if you can deal with a two hour and forty-five minute study about a fictional character, then I suggest that you watch the movie.