Valdosta Daily Times

March 22, 2013

'The Master' is masterful

Adann-Kennn Alexxandar
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — “The Master” (Drama: 2 hour, 18 minutes)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rated: R (Thematic elements, sexuality, nudity, alcohol usage, profanity and violence)

Movie Review: Naval veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives home from World War II. He becomes a drifter and alcoholic, a man committing one sin after the next. His future is dim until he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), the charismatic leader of The Cause, a new religion with different views outside of other mainstream religions.

Paul Thomas Anderson helms this mental-driven screenplay that takes place in a post-World War II United States. Anderson directs solid films with an edge: “Boogie Nights” (1997), “Magnolia” (1999) and “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002). He directs like a maestro artist. Even more, his photoplays have a genuine intellectual component. They are thinking films as much as they are entertaining. Therefore, they exist for certain intellectual crowds, which mean many ignore his films.

"The Master” is another edgy film. It is a higher thinking film. One must decide if the characters are sincere about their beliefs. This is not an easy task. Anderson, as director and scripter, makes this a film about characters and their nature. More important, he uses his players and their often-dysfunctional relationships with each other.

What makes this film somewhat controversial is that it appears based on Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. According to reports, Anderson finally admitted in fall of 2012 that he based the charismatic leader Lancaster Dodd on Hubbard. This is evident if one sees the film.

A question remains. What is Anderson’s intent?

This will matter little for those who are fans of Anderson’s film. His films are cerebral. They contain good acting and a plot with original twists.         

Like many of the movies of 2012, the acting is superior to the movie as a whole. Phoenix, Seymour and Adams received Academy Award nominations for their roles. Their acting is phenomenal, especially Phoenix and Hoffman.

The plot on the other hand is worthy, but while energetic mentally, it is not necessarily entertaining. This is not the film to see if one is tired. This exists because this film is thoughtfully provocative. It engages by being unapologetically in your face as a brainteaser.

This style works in most of Anderson’s screenplays. It does here, too. The major problem is that “The Master’s” characters argue and commit the same actions repetitively. This aspect of this film can be tedious and equally perplexing at moments. When the cast commits these repetitive actions, audiences must ponder characters’ intent.

In that manner, “The Master” is mind scrambling often, but its quality is topnotch. Anderson delivers again.        

Grade: B (Anderson remains a master of filmmaking.)


“The Call” (Thriller: 1 hour, 34 minutes)

Starring: Halle Berry, Michael Eklund, Abigail Breslin and Morris Chestnut

Director: Brad Anderson

Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, violence and thematic elements)

Movie Review: Think of this as a collect call. You pay for the call, only to get a busy signal.

Halle Berry stars as Jordan Turner, a veteran 911 operator for the Los Angeles Police Department. Her life changes after she receives a 911 call regarding a young lady, Casey Welson (Breslin), who has been abducted and is riding in the back of a trunk. Even more, Berry realizes the kidnapper (Eklund) is the same guy she encountered in a previous emergency call. Time is now of the essence as Turner and the LAPD race to find clues as to Welson's location.

As a thriller, this piece easily moves audiences. It builds suspense nicely in the first two thirds. Then, it reaches its latter third, which is a messy script. The plot goes awry. This film moves from being a great thriller to becoming a revenge film without sound conclusion.

The characters’ personalities appear to shift during the latter third. Their behavior changes. This appears out of place for Berry and Breslin’s roles. These two women are good initially, but they quickly begin to irritate via actions that appear unconvincing.        

Grade: C (911, we have an emergency.)


“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” (Comedy: 1 hour, 40 minutes)

Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin and Jim Carrey

Director: Don Scardino

Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, violence, sexuality and thematic elements)

Movie Review: Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) fell in love with magic as children. The friends grow up to become two of the most well-known magicians. Their fame comes with consequences. The pressure to stay at the top of their game is tough, especially when fellow magician Steve Gray (Carrey) enters the picture.

This is a comedy, so it gets some leeway as to how asinine it can be. That latitude quickly evaporates. “Wonderstone” quickly becomes a tedious film where jokes are repetitive.

Carell’s Wonderstone is annoying for the first hour. Carrey overplays it as usual in every scene.

Buscemi and Wilde tag along helplessly trying to keep their roles afloat. They are much better than Carell and Carrey. Arkin is also funny as a cantankerous, retired magician, who inspired Wonderstone and Marvelton. The problem is the good cast members can do nothing to help this wayward film.

This comedy needs a trick because it is definitely not magical.

Grade: C- (Not incredible.)