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The Master Earning Raves out of Venice

The Guardian’s Xan Brooks:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic tale of postwar America offers catnip for the senses and succour for the soul, riffing lightly off the life of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard to conjure up a film that is both expansive and intimate, confident and self-questioning. The themes may be contentious, but the handling is perfect. If there were ever a movie to cause the lame to walk and the blind to see, The Master may just be it.

Joaquin Phoenix gives a startlingly intense, almost simian performance as Freddie Quell; his back hunched and shoulders sloping, looking for all the world as if he’s only just learned to walk on his hind legs. Quell is home from the war, wild and wonky and set to explode. He can’t hold down a job and his homemade moonshine – largely concocted from soap suds and paint thinner – tends to poison those who drink it. The future looks black for poor Freddie Quell. Then one night, strolling on the wharf, he spies a fairytale yacht, strung with light bulbs, the stars and stripes flapping. On deck stands the man who will prove his salvation.

Todd McCarthy for HR:

The writer-director’s first film in five years is an unsettling character study of a disturbed and violent Navy veteran, a selective portrait of post-World War II America, a showcase for two superb performances and a cinephile’s sandbox. One thing it is not is a dissection or exposé of Scientology, even though nearly all the characters are involved in a controversial cult. Even the prerelease phase of the film’s life has been unusual, with The Weinstein Co. moving up the release date to Sept. 21, some surprise screenings having sprung up around the country prior to its official world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and even the cinemas it will play in having become the subject of much discussion due to the 70mm format in which much of the film was shot. Its commercial career looks to follow the usual course of the director’s work, with his intense fan base and mostly, if not unanimously, strong critical support making the film a must-see for serious audiences and wider acceptance dependent upon the extent of awards recognition. Even so, this will be a tougher sell to Joe Public than Anderson’s other work.

Visually, The Master is bracing, resplendent, almost hyper-sensitizing. Pictorial elements such as ocean seas, skin tones, clothing fabrics and early evening light are vibrantly magnified by the 70mm celluloid so skillfully used by Anderson and cinematographer Mihai Malaimareh Jr. (Youth Without Youth, Tetro and Twixt for Francis Ford Coppola). By any standards, the film is a visual feast. (This marks the first time the director has worked with a director of photography other than Robert Elswit, who was busy on The Bourne Legacy.) As The Master is not an epic in the usual sense of grand locations and antiquity and does not employ a widescreen format, it’s a bit surprising that this, of all films, is the first American dramatic feature to have been shot in its virtual entirety in 70mm (specifically, Panavision System 65) since Ron Howard‘s Far and Away in 1992. Due to the great format’s essential disuse, The Weinstein Co. has been finding it difficult to secure properly equipped cinemas even in some major cities to present it to the director’s specifications.

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17 Comments on this Post

  1. “Even so, this will be a tougher sell to Joe Public than Anderson’s other work.”

    That’s the understatement of the young millenium. :) I hope this is not going to be another Hurt Locker redux (critics-only support, regular fans can’t run away from it fast enough). Oscar needs to open up the tent and have TDKR, Avengers and Hunger Games, movies that critics AND fans actually loved, competing in almost every major category to stem the dark age we’ve endured (4 indies in a row winning BP).

  2. I thought his last name was supposed to be Sutton? Was this a misreporting on everyone’s parts, or did they redub the new last name into the film?

    Also, happy to see child star/Oscar-nominee Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed, TV’s The Miracle Worker) playing the role of Mildred Drummond….is this a big part or a small part?

  3. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Anybody having site access problems over the weekend or this morning?

    We had an issue. We think it’s fixed. Just checking with you guys to see if it looks ok to you.

  4. I don’t think PTA has ever made an easy-sell, but the remark by The Guardian (“If there were ever a movie to cause the lame to walk and the blind to see, The Master may just be it,”) should get serious film lovers into seats. As for the rest, were they ever a target?

    (No recent access problems, Ryan)

  5. No problems here… With site issues.

    The problem I have is people turning away from movies that require some input from the audience.

    Kids, you need your vegetables to grow, sugar just makes you fat and stupid.

  6. It seems that ‘The Master’ will be THE cinematic masterpiece of the year. Didn’t expect anything less from Paul Thomas Anderson, it will be a glorious comeback for Joaquin Phoenix and further proof that Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams are two of the most consistent actors today. The fact that Amy Adams is widely considered a succesful mainstream comedy leading lady by the public, meanwhile quietly becoming a three (probably four in a few months) time Oscar nominee for dramatic supporting roles in indie films, is also damn impressive and basically unprecedented.

    OT :

    Anna Karenina had its World Premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, early word is as divisive – though leaning toward positive – as expected, taking the experimental approach into account. Apparently it is a flawed, but bold and ambitious cinematic experience.

    Who have seen it, seem to agree that it is visually stunning and probably a viable contender in several technical categories especially cinematography, costume design, set design, original score.

    Also they do love the performances, Knightley got closer to her second nomination, something we’ve been predicting since they announced the project, Jude Law seems strong for a long-awaited third nod, second in supporting, and this year’s breakthrough success, Alicia Vikander who rose to prominence as the female lead of the Berlinale hit, ‘A Royal Affair’, is also receiving rave reviews for portraying Kitty, who is without a doubt the most challenging female supporting character in the novel, so if she indeed nailed it, the performance could be easily right up the Academy’s alley. Aaron Johnson or Taylor-Johnson or whatever his name is now, didn’t seem to hack it, but isn’t embarassingly bad, simply not particularly good, either.

    What is still worth mentioning, that Jude Law might face serious internal competition : former Wright-leading man, Matthew Macfadyen is apparently a hilarious scenestealer and after a few bit parts in high profile films (Never let me go, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I-II, True Grit), Domhnall Gleeson (yes, son of Brendan) is finally making a name for himself here, his Levin is getting early praise, and considering he is the male lead opposite Rachel McAdams in the new Richard Curtis-film next year, this kind of prestigious, memorable acting showcase is probably exactly what he needed before his first lead vehicle.

    If US-critics will be divided leaning toward positive (Metacritic 65-70)
    Best Actress
    Best Supporting Actor (Jude Law)
    Best Original Score
    Best Cinematography
    Best Costume Design
    Best Set Design

    If they will love it (Metacritic 70-80), also
    Best Picture
    Best Adapted Screenplay
    Best Supporting Actress

    If they will REALLY love it (Metacritic 80-90), also
    Best Director
    Best Editing
    Best Supporting Actor (Domhnall Gleeson or Matthew Macfadyen)

  7. rufussondheim

    So The Master looks like it might grab the The Tree of Life slot this year.

    Doesn’t look good for Beasts of the Southern Wild which was the early leader for that slot.

    I could be wrong, there could be two The Tree of Life slots. But I highly doubt it.

  8. Gotta break that “slot” glass ceiling this year – at least 2-3 demanding films and 2 female directors. I know I’m dreaming, but what the hey.

  9. “Oscar needs to open up the tent and have TDKR, Avengers and Hunger Games, movies that critics AND fans actually loved, competing in almost every major category to stem the dark age we’ve endured (4 indies in a row winning BP).”

    Damn right.

    “Also they do love the performances, Knightley got closer to her second nomination,”

    That isn`t true. Reviews are positive but mostly say she`s fine, her best work is in Wright movies anyway. No one is loosing their s*** over her performence. I wouldn`t call that love. reviews are good but not outright raves or something that sudden more engaging competition cannot push down the line. And speaking of weak actress field this year that many see as the reason for that second nom happening, Jennifer Lawrence garnered more enthusiastic reviews for The Hunger Games than KK for AK, yet she isn`t considered because THG is YA and AK is based on a classic. But at least in Lawrence case nobody said that costumes and sets upsated the actors and there was no “Levin and Kitty are more compelling couple than Anna and Vronsky” type of remark. Also, JL performence was called star-making while nobody`s throwing that praise on KK.

  10. there are some reviews popping up for malick’s “to the wonder” too… looks like its even more free-flowing than “tree of life” (which i adored). he seems less and less concerned with narrative with each film (which i’m ok with)…

  11. Malick`s not happening in any major category witht his movie that was boo`d and that only has people tlaking about whom he cut out of it. And if Kurylenko, who was beepin terrible in Quantum of Solace, made the best Actress cut, than this would be the worst year for best actress indeed.

  12. Did one of us see this? I forgot.

    Actually I was going to make a suggestion/request. How ’bout a sticky section on the side just of Sasha’s reviews. So us civilians can go back and look at what she thought when we finally get to see the films. :)

  13. Nik Grape

    “there are some reviews popping up for malick’s “to the wonder” too… looks like its even more free-flowing than “tree of life” (which i adored). he seems less and less concerned with narrative with each film (which i’m ok with)…”

    Some of the reviews I read said that those reviews saying it’s even more “out there” than ToL are exaggerating…in fact, To the wonder has more of a plot than tree of life…

    Either way, I’m stoked. I’m seeing it at TIFF along with The Master and I can’t freakin wait for these movies!! I have a feeling these two, along with Amour (another one I’m going to do everything I can to catch at TIFF) will be the top films of the year, hopefully anyway.

    But I’ll be at the Master premiere in Toronto that will have a Q&A with the cast and crew, this Friday :) I’ll write up my thoughts here afterwards.

  14. ^Nik – the groans you might hear 5000 miles away are me writhing in envy! We wait for your verdict.

  15. Hmm, one of the reviews states Far and Away was the last picture shot in this way, but I thought Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 Hamlet did as well.

    And yes, how exciting that The Oscar nominated actress from The Bad Seed, Patty McCormack is in The Master !

    Hoping Jonny Greenwood gets recognition for his score too !!

  16. Have fun, Nik Grape. Make good friends. :)

  17. I’m going to avoid Anna Karenina like the plague. Knightley looks like she is constantly biting her cheeks or suck on lemons. She makes my skin crawl.

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