Monthly Archives: November 2012

Review – The Master (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood

Cast:

  • Joaquin Phoenix – Gladiator, We Own The Night, Her
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Ides of March, Moneyball, A Most Wanted Man
  • Amy Adams – Charlie Wilson’s War, The Fighter, Man of Steel
  • Ambyr Childers – Playback, Crossfire, Gangster Squad
  • Jesse Plemons – Paul, Battleship, Flutter

Tom Cruise and John Travolta are two of the most well-known members of the Church of Scientology. Following the former’s divorce to Katie Holmes earlier this year, the nature of the quasi-religion/cult, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, was came under media scrutiny, and not without some bad press. Yet, one key element that was not addressed during the Cruise-Holmes divorce was the type of individual who would join such a movement. The Master gives us some ideas in excellent fashion.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) looking like he needs to be seen by the men in white coats.

The Master is set during the 1950s, centred round Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Freddie is a naval veteran who is yet to find peace with himself after World War II (WWII). He is suffering from a multitude of psychological issues and drinking anything to excess that he can get his hands on.

Randomly, he finds himself aboard a ship that is being borrowed by a movement, called The Cause. There, he finds himself mesmerised by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of the cult, believing that Lancaster has the cure to his problems.

The Master is a 144-minute art-house film with a peculiar atmosphere. The 1950s-style music has been adjusted, weirdly, yet aptly, to make one feel uncomfortable in almost every scene as we explore the nature of this bizarre cult through Freddie’s eyes.

One watches with bewilderment as The Cause’s followers lap up Lancaster Dodd’s (bonkers) ideology, as well as their aggressive reactions to those who dare to question any aspect of the dogma, even if it is illogical and contradictory. Moreover, one sees the 1984-style, brainwashing techniques that some cults adopt not only to allow people to join the movement, but to ensure that they are ‘committed’ to the cause.

Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) giving one of his fantastic, if crazy, speeches about how one is connected to previous and future existences.

The alarming craziness of The Cause’s ideology makes up for the slowness of The Master and the lack of activity in the plot. The quality of the acting does the same. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a master-class performance as someone suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism (paint-thinner and lighter fluid included). He always looks exhausted, distressed, and like he’s about to blow a fuse. Additionally, his speech is consistently slurred, entailing that viewers will believe that Freddie is on the verge of a psychotic breakdown.

Whilst Phoenix is the stand-out performer in the film, the rest of the cast do their roles with equal capability, even if their ones are less challenging. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays exceptionally plausibly as the captivating, yet mad and flawed leader of the cult. Hoffman’s aura and charisma, as Lancaster Dodd, indicates why so many people in 1950s America were drawn to (the self-declared human-deity) L. Ron Hubbard. In addition, Dodd’s magnetic personality hints at how Hubbard managed to found the Church of Scientology and accrue millions of dollars from his followers. That all of this can be encompassed in one performance is testament to Hoffman’s acting skills.

Phoenix and Hoffman dominate The Master, thereby leaving little room for the rest of the cast to showcase their abilities. Nevertheless, Amy Adams plays very well as Lancaster’s wife, whose devotion to the movement is scarily absolute; similar things can be said for Ambyr Childers, who plays as Lancaster’s daughter, and who spends much of the time she is on screen teasing Freddie; and Jesse Plemons does a decent enough job as Lancaster’s son, who ultimately knows that his father is a phoney making it all up as he goes along.

Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), Lancaster’s wife, appeaing to her husband to do something about Freddie due to his drinking problems.

Much praise should rightly go to the cast. But director Paul Thomas Anderson should also get credit for making The Master look like one is reliving 1950s America. The clothes, the hair-styles and the music all seem to perfectly fit into place. Furthermore, there is no mention of the term ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ in the movie. This is because the term did not exist in those days. Still, it would have been easy for Anderson (even if it would have been patronising on the audience) to have had someone in the film state the obvious and make a factual error. After-all, in Gladiator Ridley Scott made Lucilla, the sister of Emperor Commodus, played coincidentally by Phoenix, outlive her brother when in fact she predeceased her brother; and in the 2009 Dorian Gray, Oliver Parker inserted the Suffragettes into the narrative, even though when Oscar Wilde wrote the book in 1890 the Suffragettes had yet to be formed. Anderson, therefore, should be complimented for not falling into such a trap.

All-in-all, The Master is a brilliant, but strange movie. The film might be slow, long and devoid of a linear plot. However, with superb acting and analogies to real-life cults, like Scientology, one is likely to be mesmerised whilst watching the movie from the point of view of the messed-up Freddie. Freddie might have ostensibly little in common with the likes of Tom Cruise and John Travolta but, through Freddie, The Master can give one an understanding for the sorts of people who join cults.

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Review – Rust And Bone (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Jacques Audiard – Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet

Cast:

Music Composer:

In August 2012, London held the Paralympics event. More than anything, the paralympians illustrated that people with crippling injuries can be full of life and can excel in the face of much adversity. Yet, the tournament did not display the hardships that such people face on a daily basis. Rust and Bone does so, and in a particularly gritty and unglamorous way.

Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) giving his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure), a piggy-back. Ali, however, is not necessary the most responsible of parents.

Rust and Bone is a French film based on the book by Craig Davidson with the same title. The movie centres round Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts), a man of dubious morality, who is seemingly in sole custody of his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure). As Alain is unemployed, he leaves Belgium to go to live with his sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero), in the Antibes, where he hopes to find work. Using his skills as a former bare-fist boxer, he gets a job as a bouncer at a nightclub.

There, Alain meets a drunken Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer-whale stunt trainer. After she falls over and cuts herself badly outside the club, he takes her home. Yet, it is not until Stephanie loses both her legs when a stunt goes horribly wrong that she and him form a close relationship.

Rust and Bone is a 120-minute unhurried, art-house film with a very serious atmosphere. Much of the movie is played out in under-privileged dismal areas, akin to those in Harry Brown. The aesthetics, as well as the silence (with the exception of the loud and brash Katy Perry song, Firework, for the Killer Whale stunts) emphasise the severity of the movie’s tone.

Ali carrying Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) into the sea, following her crippling injury, wherein she had to have her legs amupatated from the knee.

The stark manner of Rust and Bone is reflected in the generally unpleasant characters in the film. Due to a lack of action or intrigue in the plot, the movie relies heavily on the characters, and the relationships that they have with one another, to maintain viewers’ interests. This is not an issue, per se, but as none of the characters are particularly amiable, it is hard for one to truly empathise with their situations.

Alain, for one, is a scummy and untrustworthy individual, with a violent side as well. Indeed, if it were not for his (almost) wonderful treatment toward Stephanie after her injury, Alain would have no redemptive qualities and would be utterly detestable. Despite the nature of Alain’s character, though, credit must go Matthias Schoenaerts. It would have been easy for Schoenaerts to turn Alain into a stereotypical thug. Yet, Schoenaerts doesn’t do this. Rather, he makes Alain unlikeable, but at the same time human, realistic and understandable, which is far from a simple task.

Similarly, Marion Cotillard does a good job as Stephanie, an ordinary girl coming to terms with a crippling injury. Cotillard’s performance in the wheel-chair leaves out nothing, including the struggle of doing something as mundane as making a coffee or going to the bathroom. Cotillard truly makes viewers sympathise with Stephanie’s predicament. Furthermore, and arguably what makes Rust and Bone so unique is that director Jacques Ardiard is not scared to have Stephanie discuss (and perform) sex or swimming in the sea. By doing these, and making Stephanie feel better for it, Audiard demonstrates that Stephanie, and anyone else with a crippling injury for that matter, is a human being. It is a tribute to Cotillard’s skills that she is able to illustrate Stephanie’s feelings so naturally, and without it seeming odd either.

Stephanie looking good and enjoying herself in a nightclub, demonstrating that amputatees know how to have a good time like the rest of us.

Unlike with Schoenaerts and Cotillard, it is hard to overly praise or fault the rest of the cast for their performances. Since the film is dominated by Alain and Stephanie, and how their relationship develops, Armand Verdure, Corinne Masiero and Bouli Lanners (who plays as Martial, Alain’s friend and part-mentor, who is also a gambler of unofficial violent sports among the underclasses) are not given much time on screen. What little we see of them shows us, plausibly, that they are normal people with problems, facing the issues that normal people face, while living in a terrible area.

Over-all, Rust and Bone is a slow-paced and sombre film, but an impressive one in its own right. The movie may not be shot in aesthetically pleasing places, and it may not contain particularly nice characters either. Nevertheless, the film does not do what the authorities of the London 2012 Paralympic games did, and shy away from tackling the harsh realities that arise from crippling injuries. Marion Cotillard’s Stefanie embodies how difficult it can be for people with such injuries to pick themselves up. What’s more, Cotillard’s performance emphasises that a little support from even the most improbable of individuals can help to steer an injured person onto the path of becoming more comfortable with their new and forced lifestyle.

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Review – Skyfall (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Sam Mendes – American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Revolutionary RoadSpectre

Cast:

Music Composer:

The 1990s was a pretty decent era for James Bond. Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough were all very acceptable Bond films. But then, in 2002, Die Another Die ruined it all. Subsequently, MGM, the owners of the 007 franchise, completely changed the direction of Bond to make it more original, as Casino Royale (2006) and The Quantum of Solace demonstrate. Skyfall cleverly continues this trend, but not without hitches.

The stunning and enigmatic Sévérine (Bérénice Malohe). Her style and dangerous background make her an apt fit for Bond’s affections.

Skyfall begins with M (Judi Dench) coming under intense pressure to resign, following a failed mission in Turkey. After meeting with Gareth Mellory (Ralph Fiennes), the British Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman, M discovers that the computer in her office in MI6 has been hacked and a bomb explodes in MI6 headquarters. M subsequently turns to her secret agents, Eve (Naomi Harris) and James Bond (Daniel Craig), who is suffering from psychological problems following events in Turkey, to find out who was behind the attack.

There is much to admire about Skyfall. That a significant proportion of it is filmed in Britain is bold; it gives us a hint at how MI6 might work in the event of war on British soil; and the last scene of the movie is very clever. Also, for the first 100 minutes or so, the plot is logical and intelligent. Cyber-terrorism is a very current issue, and director Sam Mendes conveys the threat well.

It is just a shame that the last 44 minutes drag and has only a tenuous link to the first part of the film. Indeed, it renders the purpose of going to exotic Shanghai pointless (not that that was ever more than a cynical attempt to tap into the Chinese market) and, worse, it throws up plagiarism issues with the exceptionally magnificent Batman Begins.

Eve (Naomi Harris) dressed classily, while in the midst of an MI6 operation.

Moreover, Skyfall appears to be torn in several directions. Sir Ian Fleming wrote James Bond as a satire on the British secret service. Yet, because MGM now want Bond to be more grounded (and even bleed), the fundamental element of 007 has been lost. Additionally, if MGM truly want to make Bond plausible, they should look toward Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Shadow Dancer, and remove the Expendables-/Mission: Impossible-style stunts and action scenes. Those always look ridiculous and undermine all attempts at realism. (Besides, those scenes have become so clichéd that one is unlikely to miss them.)

The change of direction for 007 movies has also greatly impacted upon the appearance and character of James Bond, himself. Nevertheless, it is not Craig’s blond hair and lighter features that differentiate him from his predecessors, Roger Moore and Pearce Brosnan. Rather, it is his black humour, as well as his lack of suave and touché lines. That is not to say that Craig performs badly as the Bond he’s been asked to perform; actually, he’s rather good. But that doesn’t make him seem any more like the James Bond of old.

Yet, it is not just Craig’s Bond that has been given a new lease of life; the villains have too. Silva, embraced whole-heartedly and delightfully by the Oscar-winning Javier Bardem, is by far the most flamboyant and hilarious Bond baddie. However, it is blatantly obvious that Sam Mendes drew his inspiration from the villains in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (and he didn’t need to spell it out in an interview either). Mendes should have been aware that stepping onto the haloed territory of the Joker and, to a lesser extent, Two-Face is like trying to win a game of ice-hockey while skating on thin ice. Can anyone really say with conviction that Bardem’s Silva was on a par with Heath Ledger’s Joker?

The blond-haired villain, Silva (Javier Bardem), teases Bond, while the latter is tied up. Haven’t we seen such a scenario before?

Craig and Bardem aside, the performances from Ralph Fiennes and Judi Dench are typically strong and down to earth. The same can be said for Ben Whishaw, who plays the young, new Q with much spirit and humour to make himself, potentially, the long-term successor to the late Desmond Llewelyn.

Conversely, Naomi Harris, as Eve, never convinces that she’s a secret agent, unlike Jessica Chastain in The Debt or Julia Roberts in Duplicity. Harris’ Eve also lacks chemistry with Craig’s Bond. Maybe both of those things are deliberate, but if that is true then MI6 would never have sent her into the field, thereby revealing another flaw in the movie’s attempt at realism.

All-in-all, Skyfall is not a bad film and continues the interesting trend of Casino Royale and The Quantum of Solace. Skyfall has intelligence and a cast that does justice to the more credible, if unconventional direction that MGM have taken Bond toward. This does not mean that the film is problem-free, aside from being too long and recycling parts of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. No, if MGM truly wish for 007 to depart from the approach of the 1990s Bond films, they must not stand half-way as they have here: they must make James Bond chillingly realistic.

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