The Master (2012) – Paul Thomas Anderson (Dir.), Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
In honor of the unfortunately acronymed and not-at-all parent-association-related PTA’s return to film, I shall write this review in the tone of one of his movies:
Picture of something in nature that is beautiful and unknowable – a dusty plain, swirling water, Jackie O making out with a Sasquatch. You know, classy shit.
JOHNNY GREENWOOD SCOREEEEEEWWWWEEEEEeeeeeWWWEEEEWWEEEeeeeeEEEEEEE
Random. Scenes. Of. Stuff. Occurring. PORCUPINES. Bananas. But also, maybe, not a banana? Mark Wahlberg’s penis! Hmmm.
Three Hours later…
Long shot of someone doing something strange. Finally, as the screen is about to darken, the always-bloated face of Philip Seymour Buttz Hoffman looks into the camera and declares:
“The Master suuuuuuucked.”
Alright, enough of that nonsense. Yes, to those of you that care, I’m sure you have gobbled review after review of praise, the cinematic literati bowing down for their tri-yearly Anderson-Humpings (TM) praying that perhaps this will be the feature that takes them closer to God, one metaphorical penile discharge at a time. Don’t get me wrong, I fucking love Paul Thomas Anderson films. That beautiful dirty bitch of a feature that was There Will Be Blood (Disclaimer: not much blood. But I suppose he never specified the quantity. It wasn’t quite the Veerhoven id-fest we’d all been hoping for. Misleading advertising, I feel). From the desolate plains, to Daniel Day-Lewis talking like if God and Ray Liotta had a baby that grew a baller-ass mustache, that movie was one whack-job moment after next. We have scenes of Paul Dano getting his shit slapped out, Paul Dano screaming evil spirits out of churches (they’re always in the place you look last) to Paul Dano getting his shit ferociously wrecked with a bowling pin. Oh yes. And mutherfucking milkshakes.
So, here we are, several years and Cohen Brothers movies later with The Master. Is it the harsh analytical and emotionally demanding look at Scientology we all hoped for? Is it a divine return to form and fury? Is it good?
No. Not really.
It’s difficult with movies such as these to quantify the word ‘good’. The acting is purely phenomenal all the way through. Even Laura “Please Only Wear Jean Shorts and Fight Dinosaurs” Dern delivers scenes worth mentioning. We have Philip Seymour “Say My Name Bitch” Hoffman obliterating every scene he’s in with such thespian genius that you cannot help but weep in his distinctly hoboish presence. Amy Adams gives a terrifying handjob. And Joaquin Phoenix is acting again! Think about it! That bizarre phase where he was rapping and slapping hookers and being the stingray to Casey Affleck’s Steve Irwin (too soon?) is over. We, once again, are blessed with the Phoenix who actually had a career beyond the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (too soon?). The man who gave us such cinematic creepiness as Emperor Commodus, who gave far too much credibility to M. Night Shyamalan’s career before The Last Airbender finally fucking murdered that hack (too soon? I’m going to hell). This was a movie shown in one of those fancy movie theaters with Metropolis Coffee (I got a shout out on twitter last time. Let’s see if lightning can strike twice! I’m also a whore, if you hadn’t noticed by now). It was a film garnered with poster-board blurbs by Manohla “Who The Fuck Calls Their Kid Manohla?” Dargis and a cavalcade of trailers so desperate to win Oscars that they come crawling on their hands and knees ready to suck any and all penises they have to, descending to a depth of academy degradation so deplorable that even Bill Murray is trying to act (shudder). As January marches closer and closer, the circle-jerk and/or group-clit-tickling increases its ferocity and we are pounded with movie after movie of weepy ladies yelling sad things at important men while the score picks up and Spielberg pees a little. With all that surrounding you, there is no way NOT to think ‘holy shit, this movie is the tits’. That is, until the end credits, you wander from the theater feeling hollow, as though you haven’t learned a single thing about the universe at large, that everything is as it was and you just wasted about 2.5 hours of your time watching terrible people do terrible things for terrible reasons.
It’s a fascinating conundrum. We are enjoy that wonderful word Schadenfreude when it comes to watching rich white people rip their lives apart over silly things like sex and boredom. But there is such a fine line. Yes, it is fun to see 1 percenters fuck their lives sideways. Yes, it is amusing to see a cult leader lose all grip on reality. The problem is we, as an audience, need that hook. We need the heart, the soul, the core that gets emotionally violated over and over again like a Turkey at Thanksgiving. The Master had, in simplest terms, no soul.
Alright, what is this movie about? Joaquin Phoenix is a pussy-connoseiur. He really, really, really likes sex, specifically with women, to the point that he rides the bone-town express with a sand-woman (yes, a woman made out of sand, not a Tusken Raider, you nerds. Only one of those things is gross.) He’s also the MacGyver of moonshine. Using the cunning and eminently tasty delicacies of paint thinner, bomb gasoline, lighter fluid and actual grain alcohol, he manages to buy his way onto The Master’s daughter’s wedding boat. Enter the Man of Hoff. The Master is the architect of ‘The Cause’, a thinly veiled version of Scientology that purports it can heal its follows by helping them go back into their past lives. He has detractors. Phoenix beats the shit out of them. Phoenix has issues. Like Michael Jackson’s dad issues (too soon? Fuck it. I don’t care anymore; I’m a husk of a man). Hoffman and his angry handjob wife try healing him with the brilliant use of ‘Is it a wall?’ and ‘Don’t blink’ and ‘Don’t look away’. So, basically, the practices are about as medically-based as every college acting class ever. Much like Scientology (OOOOH! THEATER-MAJOR BURN!) Well, they fail, he fucks off and then…I guess…they meet in England? The Master sings a song off key and…well, Joaquin fucks a British chick with big ole mammaries. (Disclaimer: SO MANY BOOBIES – that is a warning, not a commendation…I mentioned neither the age nor the sag factor of said chesticles).
It’s hard to tell what went wrong exactly. So many of the scenes were beautifully acted, directed, shot, scored and all the rest. It was the simply threaded together as poorly as my first attempt at making a quilt (never buy from quiltsbyandrew.com. Lawsuit waiting to happen). The pieces are fascinating and intriguing…yet they never amount to more than a ‘huh…what time is it?’ Never once did I lose the thread in any of his earlier works. With this one, the first time check was after an hour. In PTA terms that’s like a quarter of a movie! We already know immediately that the thesis of ‘cults are bullshit’ is central to the film so, when you discover the cult to be bullshit there is no gasp of surprise from the audience; there is a minor yawn and another reach for Metropolis coffee (eh? eh? Retweet? C’mon!). It’s clear Anderson was attempting to draw lines between the helplessness and the lying nature of the alcoholic with a man addicted to his own self-importance. The only problem is…’Duh’. It’s like standing up in front of a room of aging Jews and declaring “The Nazis were evil!” and waiting to see them drop their latkas in horror. No latkas shall be dropped, Mr. Anderson.
It seemed as though it was a film with conviction at its conception that, perhaps due to boredom or pressure from an ‘unknown organization’, lost its way like a two year old who really doesn’t want to nap. The more he kicks and screams, the more that mutherfucker is going to hit the hay. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If PTA had wished to douse Scientologists in snark, hate, skepticism or hurt, well…I guess, good job? And, to compound the issue, it seemed as though the man looked back over his celluloid after finishing and realized that ‘Oh fuck…this isn’t very good. Let’s insert weird shit!’ And so, like a toilet at a Phish concert, weird shit was inserted. Did it have to be 2.5 hours? Did it have to have so many saggy boobs? Was the statutory rape really necessary? Did it give this collection of disparate vignettes any deeper meaning?
Probably not. But then again, I’m an asshole with a computer and he has a fucking Oscar. Can’t compete with that.
Wait a second…Ben Affleck has an Oscar. And Cher…And Eminem…something isn’t right here…