FANTASTIC VOYAGES: Movie Reviews of Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Moana by Howard CasnerPosted: November 27, 2016 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alison Sudo, Amy Adams, Arrival, Auli’i Cravalho, Collin Farrell, Dan Vogler, David Yates, Denis Villeneuve, Dwayne Johnson, Eddie Redmayne, Eric Heisser, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Finally, Forest Whitaker, J.K. Rowling, Jeremy Renner, Jon Voigt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Moana, Ted Chiang | Leave a comment »
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First, a word from our sponsors: I am now offering a new service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00. For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you. I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one.
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
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I think their might be a competition for the use of the geekiest hero in thrillers these days.
In the movie The Da Vinci Code, Tom Hanks plays a symbologist who races to uncover a mystery in order to save Christianity and the Catholic Church.
Now we have the film Arrival in which Amy Adams is a linguist who is called in to save the world from a possible alien attack.
What’s next? A philatelist? A trademark attorney?
The basic premise of Arrival revolves around a group of spacecraft that suddenly appear and hover above the earth in twelve different locations. In order to try to communicate with them and discover why they are here and what they want, they bring in Louise Banks (Adams), a college professor, someone who, it seems safe to say, is just a bit out of touch with her fellow man-the day after the craft arrive she comes in to teach her class and seems a little put out that no one else showed up. Read the rest of this entry »
JUST LIE BACK AND ENJOY IT: Movie Reviews of Elle, Nocturnal Animals and The Salesman by Howard CasnerPosted: November 25, 2016 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Amy Adams, Armie Hammer, Asghar Farhadi, Austin Wright, Christian Berkel, David Birke, Death of a Salesman, Elle, Isabel Huppert, Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Linney, Michael Shannon, Michael Sheen, Nocturnal Animals, Paul Verhoeven, Phillipe Djian, Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoost, The Salesman, Tom Ford | Leave a comment »
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First, a word from our sponsors: I wanted to say thank you to everyone who contributed to our Indiegogo campaign for 15 Conversations in 10 Minutes. We did very well due to you folks. For those who weren’t able to give, keep us in your thoughts. And if you are able to contribute in the future, contact me and I’ll tell you how. I will even honor the perks on the original campaign.
I am now offering a new consultation service: so much emphasis has been given lately to the importance of the opening of your screenplay, I now offer coverage for the first twenty pages at the cost of $20.00. For those who don’t want to have full coverage on their screenplay at this time, but want to know how well their script is working with the opening pages, this is perfect for you. I’ll help you not lose the reader on page one.
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? FosCheck out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
and check out my Script Consultation Services: http://ow.ly/HPxKE
SPECIAL NOTE: the review of Elle is especially riddled with spoilers, but I don’t know really how else to talk about it.
There has been a lot written of late when it comes to the use of rape as a plot point in movies about women. More and more, for many viewers and critics, the use of such a storyline has turned into a cheap device and exploitive way to get an audience, especially men, to tune in.
It may have even become so polarizing that, to some extent, it has made it difficult to write about a film in which sexual assault is central to the action.
For example, I have seen three movies lately that have employed attacks on women as part of the narrative. Two were explicitly rapes, the other a bit more ambiguous. But in the two that were explicit, I couldn’t tell if the rape felt exploitive because that’s what it was, or that it felt exploitive because the political climate today is such that it doesn’t allow it to be anything but. Read the rest of this entry »
First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
The title of these reviews is called Last But Not Least because Big Eyes and Selma are the final two movies I’m going to include under my 2014 reviews. After this, all films will fall under my 2015 reviews, no matter whether they were released in 2014 or not.
So off we go.
The strongest aspect of Big Eyes, the new bio-com written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and directed by Tim Burton, is the art direction and production design.
Beginning in the 1950’s, the sets, the costumes, the look, the colors all have a poodle skirt playfulness about them that gives the movie some much needed energy.
This should probably be of no surprise since Burton has always had one of the more striking visual eyes in movies today, from Edward Scissorhands to Ed Wood to Alice in Wonderland. If nothing else, his films can be fun to watch.
But outside of that, there is almost nothing that works in this movie. Nothing, and almost amazingly so. Read the rest of this entry »
Ah, AI’s that become sentient. If there is one very important lesson to learn from movies, it’s that this is never a very good idea. The argument:
In Electric Dreams, that 1984 movie that gave us a fun disco tune (“it’s got a good rhythm, I can dance to it, I give it an 8”) and a computer, Edgar, that achieves full sentience after having champagne spilt on it, Edgar falls in love with his owner’s girlfriend (a pre-Oscar nominated Virginia Madsen) and tries to kill his rival (with Harold and Maude’s Bud Cort providing Edgar’s voice).
In Colossus: The Forbin Project, a super computer links up with a Russian one in an early form of détente and takes over the world, threatening to launch some nuclear missiles if everyone doesn’t do what he says (voice artist Paul Frees is the voice this time ‘round).
And who can forget Demon Seed, in which a computer that controls every aspect of a state of the art futuristic house imprisons Julie Christie (in a “was she really that desperate for work that she needed to do this film” role) and forces her to have sex with him so he can reproduce (no, I am not kidding, and the voice work this time is the soothing toned Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn, and though it’s more than a bit campy, it’s actually not as bad as I make it sound and is better than it has any right to be).
And I won’t even mention 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL.
In the new sci-fi, rom com Her from writer/director Spike Jonze, the AI here, Samantha, doesn’t do anything like that. No, she does much worse. She non-surgically removes the heart of our hero, Theodore, from his chest cavity; throws it on the ground, splat; and stomps on it until there’s nothing left.
The future world painted by Jonze in this movie is not a particularly optimistic one. Perhaps the biggest dystopian aspect of it is that men are back to wearing high wasted, Humphrey Bogart style pants (for some reason, the Donna Karen’s of the future didn’t get the memo that pants that cover the belly button look best when worn with suit jackets of some sort); long sleeve shirts that have pockets that are screaming out for those plastic protectors our grandfather’s use to wear; ugly sweaters than could win every Christmas contest; and ironic mustaches worn unironically.
But just as bad are the women. I mean, they are a pretty weird and awful group in Jonze’s view of things to come. There’s Theodore’s soon to be ex-wife who has left him for some vague reason she claims is Theodore’s fault; a phone sex hook up with someone who has a really sick fetish you will not believe; an emotionally bonkers blind date who freaks out for no logical reason at all; and Samantha who, well, you know. Even Amy, Theodore’s best friend, is a little odd, making a documentary about her mother that we’re suppose to laugh at.
I found it all a little dispiriting myself.
But in the end, how you feel about Her will probably depend on how you feel about the growing relationship of Samantha and Theodore. It never worked for me and there are several reasons for this. Though I had no issue with Samantha’s exponential growth in knowledge and emotion, I felt that Theodore’s growing relationship with Samantha was too equally exponential. He seemed to accept everything far too easily and go along with it all far too quickly to be believable.
What might have helped was if I had a better context for Theodore and his loneliness and life of quiet desperation (such as why his wife was divorcing him), as well as a better context for these OS’s and why he would purchase such a contraption. Theodore just sees an ad for one and buys it. No research, no investigation, no asking of friends. It seemed so impulsive for someone who I would never describe as being remotely impulsive.
In fact, one of the issues I had with the movie is that Theodore is the central character, but it seems to be Samantha’s story. She’s the one who learns something, who grows, who goes on a journey—but her journey is all off screen and never really dramatized. Instead, we follow Theodore who only seems to learn that women, whether of the real or artificial intelligence kind, will just stab you in the back and leave you bleeding to death. But is that really the point Jonze is trying to make here?
And because I never bought this central relationship, my mind wandered and I began questioning other, less important aspects of the story, such as how someone who is basically a few steps up from someone who writes greeting cards could possibly afford a huge apartment with an incredible view of L.A.; how someone at his wage level could even afford an OS at all (he doesn’t even wait until the price comes down like people do today for computers, phones and TV’s, and I wonder what the monthly fee would be for something like this); and why, when Sam sends some of Theodore’s writings (he works for a business that composes letters for people) to a publisher, the first reaction Theodore has isn’t, “you can’t do that, I don’t own the rights to any of them”.
I know. I’m the Grinch here, I fully admit it. I’m sure I missed the point and need to have my head examined. But the whole thing just never came together for me.
The acting is quite strong, I admit. Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead with a post nasal drip and “nerd” glasses (his character’s name is Theodore after all) and he again fully disappears into his role (has he somehow become our Daniel Day-Lewis without our even noticing it?). Amy Adams as Amy has nothing to do and proceeds not to do it, but she’s always a welcome addition. And there’s just something about Scarlet Johansson’s voice as Samantha that reminded me of Jane Fonda’s early kitten roles that’s a lot of fun.
At the same time, I kinda felt the best and most fun performances were given in smaller roles like Chris Pratt as Theodore’s overly friendly, but ingratiating, boss, and Brian Cox as a somewhat pompous Gore Vidal like OS. And did anyone know that there was a Cher impersonator in the movie? It says so in IMDB, but I think I blinked and missed her. It should also be noted that we now have an actor in Portia Doubleday who rivals Benedict Cumberbatch for most Dickensian name.
I also liked Jonze’s habit of suddenly cutting to a silent montage of scenes from Theodore’s past. There was something moving about this in a way I never found the movie as a whole to be. And whose ever idea it was to use Shanghai as the future L.A. deserves a bonus (though I did catch the exit sign in Chinese lettering at one point).
But in the end, I pretty much knew how it was going to resolve itself and I found few surprises along the way. It’s like watching your best friend dating someone you know is bad for him, but there’s nothing you can say or do, you just have to see it through. So I did.
I’m not sure what the biggest crime in the new, based kinda, sorta, but who knows how much on a true story movie American Hustle is: the ABSCAM scandal at the center of the plot or those awful, awful fashions we use to wear at the time (some people may think that Michael Wilkinson’s designs are exaggerated for comic affect, but I tell you, they seem painfully close to the real thing to me).
I have to be honest, I did have some trouble with the film at first and for me the issue was Christian Bale in the lead as Irving Rosenfield, a con-man with a fake comb over (got symbolism?). I have always had issues with Bale, and it’s really not his fault. But I always felt he was trying way too hard to be Daniel Day-Lewis and he couldn’t quite carry it off. Where Day-Lewis seems to disappear into his roles, Bale always seems to be saying, “look at me pretending to be someone not remotely like myself”. And it’s always been a stickler to me when it came to his films.
I also don’t think it helped that the movie started with a rather loooooong introduction via voice over that just never seemed to stop.
But as the story gained traction and the supporting cast made their presences known, I forgot all about Bale’s calling attention to his talent as much as I forgot about Rosenfield’s comb over, which I think says a lot about both, actually.
And such a supporting cast: Amy Adams as his girlfriend and partner in crime who revels in showing off her side boob as much as her rather convincing, fake English accent (well, it’s better than Irving’s hair); Bradley Cooper as an over eager government agent who, somehow, miracles of miracles, is the only one who looks good in the period clothes and hairstyles (and he’s a much better dancer here than in Silver Linings Playbook); Jennifer Lawrence, riotously hysterical as Irving’s bi-polar wife; Jeremy Renner as a corrupt, but well-meaning mayor with a pompadour that looks like it’s about to take over the world; and in smaller roles, Louis C.K. as Richie’s long-suffering boss and Michael Pena as a fake sheik.
If nothing else, American Hustle is one of the most deliriously entertaining movies of the year. The screenplay by Eric Warren Singer and director David O. Russell has a fun, frantic 1930’s farcical feel to it. It seems to revel in the amorality of it all; in the ridiculousness of the situations; and, perhaps most pleasurable of all, in the incredibly neurotic relationships of the characters until the whole thing feels like a Warner Brother’s pre-code movie starring James Cagney in the con-man lead; Carole Lombard as his partner in crime; Jean Harlow as his wife; Clark Gable as the government agent; and Warner Baxter in the cameo as the corrupt mayor. Throw in a few character actors like Edward Everett Horton as the agent’s boss and Mischa Auer as the fake Sheik, and your back in the days of “more stars than there are in heaven”.
American Hustle also has some of the strongest and most interesting female characters in awhile. In this, the movie also harkens back to the 1930’s in it’s portrayal of women as alpha females who attract men because they are alpha females (rather than today when alpha females are often ridiculed and put down by screenwriters) and in its portrayal of men who are as willing to make as big of emotional fools of themselves over women as the women are over the men. And if anything, the women are far more in control of their emotions and destinies than any of the alpha males here.
It’s an attitude I feel is often missing from today’s rom coms (because no matter what else it is, American Hustle at the core is really a love story between two con artists). Of course, Singer and Russell still had to go into the past to pull it off, but at least they didn’t have to go eighty years to do it.
And the film feels like a step forward for Russell whose last couple off films (Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter), though entertaining, felt a big tame and familiar, even formulaic. Perhaps there’s something about the story itself and the screenplay that took over. Whereas the earlier films felt like standard tropes and familiar arcs directed with an anarchic, chaotic style, American Hustle feels like a story that is all anarchy and chaos directed in, well, an anarchic, chaotic style. It refuses to let itself be put in a box and Russell didn’t force it, but let it be what it needed to be.
The Past, the new movie by writers Massoumeh Lahidji and Asghar Farhadi, who also directed (Farhadi gave us the searingly intense A Separation), feels like a table with a leg missing. It has three dynamic and powerful performances from Bernice (The Artist) Bejo, Tahar (A Prophet) Rahim and Ali (who has done a lot of other things, but I’m afraid I’m not familiar with him, but his hairpiece is far more convincing than Bale’s) Mosaffa in a sort of love triangle. And their intensity carries the film for quite awhile. But in the end, they are let down by a story that doesn’t quite hold up.
It took me awhile to figure out where things went wrong, but it happens about a third of the way through. In the first part, the story gains a lot of tension as Ahmad (Mosaffa) comes to France to finalize a divorce with his wife Marie (Bejo), only to find out that she’s not only living with a younger man, Samir (Rahim), she’s pregnant by him, and Ahmad’s oldest daughter is virulently against the relationship for reasons she won’t say.
And then the movie takes a completely different turn and begins to focus not on Ahmad, but on the daughter and why she’s against Marie and Samir’s upcoming nuptials, all having to do with Samir’s wife who is in a coma after trying to kill herself.
Now at first glance, this may sound like an interesting turn of the screw. But the problem is that this part of the story has nothing to do with Ahmad. By the time the movie is over, you even wonder why he’s in the story at all. In fact, almost as suddenly as he arrives, he disappears from the story for a good while as the other characters grapple with secrets being revealed.
There’s only one possible dramatic justification for Ahmad’s inclusion in the story and that is to get his daughter to confess a secret. But that’s not really enough of a justification for him to be a part of it all, and so the structure seems wobbly and the forward momentum slows down as you’re no longer sure where the story is going.
Farhadi’s previous film, A Separation, had a similar structure. It starts out as a family having issues and then changes course when they hire a caretaker, but she gets thrown out of the apartment by the husband, has a miscarriage and the story becomes about what really happened. But even there, the outcome of the story affected every single character. Everybody in the film was inextricably linked to that one incident. Here, Ahmad is more chopped liver and has nothing to really do.
The film is titled The Past and I’m not quite sure why. At one point, Samir talks about the need to forget what has come before in order to get on with the future. But that’s not really what the film as a whole has been about. And when Samir has his speech, it feels tacked on, as if the writers had suddenly remembered what they had named their story, and now suddenly felt a need to justify it.
The new movie On the Road is filmed with the energy and chaos of jazz being played by musicians on Benzedrine. It’s full of jagged rhythms and scenes cut together as if they were half improvised. It grabs you at first as does the beautiful period detail, with sets and costumes that fill you with a certain excitement the moment you’re confronted by them (production design by Carlo Conti; costume design by Danny Glicker).
But Benzedrine doesn’t last forever and On The Road quickly crashes into a hung over morning after because this story about members of the beat generation is also about a group of people who think they are interesting, but aren’t (almost never a good premise for a drama). Actually, it’s a little worse than that. It’s about a group of people that the screenwriter Jose Rivera and director Walter Salles think are interesting, but neither gives all that compelling a reason as to why we should think so too.
The movie, of course, is based on the popular cult novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac. It’s a sort of, kind of autobiographical tale in the best Wolfe/Proust tradition (all the names were changed, but apparently not to protect the innocent, because there was never any question as to who was really who in the first place). The story revolves around an aspiring writer Sal Paradise (Kerouac) who doesn’t have anything to write about. Into his life comes Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), introduced to him by Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsburg).
Dean first appears to our naïve little hero fully naked, opening the door having been interruptus in his coitus with his sixteen year old wife, Marylou (how Jerry Lee Lewis can you get). The idea, I presume, is to show just how free and uninhibited Dean is. But all it shows is the hypocrisy of the movie and how unfree and inhibited the production is: the confrontational in your face Dean is shown wearing that fig leaf that all movies like this use—he’s seen only from the waste up so as not to offend anyone watching from the safety of their auditorium seats (oh, the irony, the irony). To the filmmakers’ credit, they do a bit better with the bisexuality, but only by a bit.
Dean is suppose to be a symbol of someone who makes his own morality and lives life on his own terms, fully free of the shackles of 1950’s America. But I have two issues with this:
The first is that I saw no shackles. Sal lives in his mother’s apartment (apparently room and board free), with no real job to speak off, coming and going as he pleases, doing drugs, and if he’s not getting sex, it’s not because of society’s priggishness, he’s just not any good at the art of seduction. When these kinds of characters are portrayed in contemporary films, they usually live in their parents’ basement, playing video games and watching internet porn all day long. But I don’t think Rivera and Salles see the parallel. In actually, the only real symbol of the shackles these poor fellows must endure are the tickets they get from highway patrolman when they are racing down frozen highways at breakneck speed, often with the windshield encrusted with ice, robbing them of any visibility (gee, getting a ticket for exceeding the speed limit—those fascists).
The second issue is how this freedom of Dean’s is defined. Everyone wants to be Dean, but not because of an existential idea of liberation. They want to be Dean because he can get his sixteen year old ex-wife to give him a blowjob without his asking while he’s driving a car, even though she knows she’s going to be dumped when he returns to his present wife upon reaching San Francisco. They don’t want freedom. They want women to humiliate themselves sexually for them. And that’s just a whiff of the misogyny run rampant here.
To its credit, the movie ends not with Sal’s embracement of Dean’s credo, but with the realization that Dean is not a symbol of liberation, but an all out sociopath. At the same time, this realization leaves a bad taste in the way Sal is more than a bit of a dick in his last encounter with his erstwhile hero.
The movie as a whole is not helped by not being particularly well cast. Garrett Hedlund was building a nice career for himself with strong appearances in such films as the highly recommended Control and the not so highly recommended, but not a complete failure, Brighton Rock. But here, sad to say, he brings little to the roll of Sal. Sam Riley as Dean brings about the same. Neither seems to have the ability to do anything with the characters that’s not already there. And since nothing is there, well, you know, Q.E.D. and all that.
The supporting cast is filled with tons of cameos, most successfully Elizabeth Moss as a frustrated wife who doesn’t know how to fit into this insane world she finds herself trapped in (true to the nature of the piece, the other women tell her that giving blowjobs will make her happy), and even more successfully, Viggo Mortensen, who steals the show in a few scenes as Old Bull Lee/William S. Burroughs. It’s an amazing little snapshot, but part of his success might possibly be that his character is the only one able to cut through the bullshit and call Dean the sociopath he is (finally, you think to yourself). Amy Adams makes an appearance as the pre-manslaughtered by way of William Tell second wife of Burroughs, but she has nothing to really do and proceeds not to do it.
Walter Salles and Jose Rivera were responsible for the much more successful Motorcycle Diaries, a movie with some similar ideas, at least in structure. In that movie, likewise inspired by true events, a young Che Guevara and Alberto Granado also hit the road. But the difference is astounding. While Motorcycle Diaries is a moving and often powerful movie about two friends who come to realize the breadth of injustice in the world and that they must do something about it, On the Road is about two friends who learn, well, nothing really. Well, I suppose one could say that Sal learns how to leave a friend sick and dying in the cold while he goes off to exploit him for literary purposes, but I’m not sure I’d brag about that.
I am quite convinced that Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer and director of the new sorta controversial film The Master (sorta because in the end, the controversy surprisingly didn’t revolve around whether it was or wasn’t a story about Scientology, but whether it was any good or not) fully understands his movie and everything that happens in it. Unfortunately, if I’m going to be completely honest here, I didn’t understand anything in it.
The basic plot is about the intersection of two men, broken down alcoholic Freddie Quell (played by Joaquin Phoenix, giving it his all), and the leader of a cult in its infancy Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who isn’t quite as effective). But it’s this intersection that is the main issue for me and the reason the movie never quite got off the ground: these two men who become absolutely fascinated with each other (to a homoerotic degree), but without any convincing reason for it. It all begins when Quell makes his drunken stupor way onto Dodd’s boat and instead of being thrown into the brink, Dodd takes Quell under his wing. Why? I haven’t the faintest idea. And why does Quell stay? Well, other than free room and board and the ability to make his bootleg whiskey with the approval of Dodd, I also haven’t the faintest idea. And without clear and understandable reasons, or at least convincing ones, I’m not sure that this story can ever really work.
Phoenix plays his role with a stooped and nearly hunchbacked set of shoulders and a distinct (or often, indistinct) mumble. Like Anderson and the film, I’m not sure what Phoenix is trying to do here, but in many ways, I think Phoenix is at least doing it rather brilliantly. Quell is sexually obsessed, seeing erotic possibilities in everything (from standard Rorschach tests to a somewhat bizarre scene at a private home where Dodd sings “I Will Go No More a Roving” where, from Quell’s perspective, all the women are naked—well, Amy Adams is sorta naked—she presents herself rather modestly, but that’s what three Oscar nominations and a strong agent can do for you). What may be hard to believe is that women go ga-ga over him when there are much better looking men around. If his character made sense, then his performance might be much more memorable. But there are times when it seems he’s do the ultra-method approach to cover up that there is something lacking on the page.
Hoffman has a different issue and here, for me, Anderson makes the same mistake he made in There Will be Blood when he cast Paul Dano as an up and coming preacher of national repute. It was impossible for me to believe that thin-voiced, scrawny Dano could ever become a Billy Sunday and I still claim that only people who have never seen a preacher at a revival service could think so. In the same way, Dodd is supposed to be the leader of a cult about to go big. But Hoffman, who is one of our finest character actors (a modern day Charles Laughton in many ways), shows almost no charisma and gives no indication as to why his character would be able to attract anyone to his beliefs.
The rest of the cast get the job done. Amy Adams has moments here and there, but like the rest of the actors, she seems a bit lost as to what is driving her character. In the end, the best performance is probably given by Christopher Evan Welch as a doubter who questions Dodd at a party scene—but in his defense, he has the best written part.
Even the cult that Dodd’s creating doesn’t feel all that impressive or seems that well thought out. The most interesting aspect of it is a series of questions Dodd asks Quell that forces Quell to confront something about himself that is unpleasant (this is the only scene that indicates that Dodd might be more than the man behind the curtain). The least interesting aspect of the cult seems based on a basic past life regression belief (certainly an effective approach to attracting believers, since many cults have been built around reincarnation, but not particularly original or exciting). The most puzzling aspect is a series of strange exercises that Quell is put through in order to help him break away from whatever it is that is holding him back—but since these exercises make no sense and seem arbitrary (which may be the point, but I don’t really know, which is the main issue I have with the movie), they don’t really connect (and go on forever—the food is terrible, but such large servings punch line).
The strongest parts of the film are the technical aspects. It’s beautifully shot, the cinematographer (Mihai Malaimare, Jr.) capturing a stark beauty of the post war world. The sets (production design by David Crank and Jack Fisk and set decoration by Amy Wells) give a haunting period feel and make us regret that so much of this architecture is being lost. But perhaps most impressive are the costumes by Mark Bridges that make full use of what is perhaps the strongest line of design in American history for both men and women (and these are perhaps some of the best tailored outfits I’ve seen in a movie for some time).
I admire Anderson and have loved such films as Hard Eight, Magnolia, Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love (though only half of There Will Be Blood). He is one of our finest filmmakers. But in the end, for me, The Master was basically Elmer Gantry but without Elmer Gantry or Sister Sharon Falconer, perhaps not the best approach.
P.S. For those trivia lovers out there, that’s Patty McCormack, the bad seed from The Bad Seed, as Mildred Drummond.