Saturday, October 13, 2012


Plot: During the Iranian revolution in 1979, the American embassy was overrun, and six staffers escaped to the Canadian ambassador's house. Tony Mendez (Ben Afflack) sets up a back story involving a fake movie, and attempts to smuggle the refugee staffers out of the country as a film crew. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Argo makes good use of the tension of the revolution to make the hostage-taking event immediate and gripping. The over-running of the embassy is dramatic, and the actors appears to be afraid, although maybe not afraid enough. 

Ben Affleck's role is much larger than anyone else's. He acts well, but is too cool and non-emotive. Besides Affleck, only Bryan Cranson's Jack O'Donnell has a sizable part. Cranson does a great job in depicting stress and tension as he thrashes around at the CIA HQ. 

Argo creates echoes of the more recent terrorist plots and middle eastern political drama make this more immediate and poignant. 

I liked the Tehran bazaar scene which was so colorful and confrontational. I liked the way they argued with the merchants. The John Goodman and Alan Arkin scenes in Hollywood provided lightness, and made the movie a bit more realistic. I also liked the preamble where we get a bit of Iranian history that includes the 1941 revolution that brought the Shah to power. (This was a little more Americo-centric than it might have been.) The post-script where we see the real characters was pretty cool too.

There were a several plot that (I thought) were contrived Hollywood additions to add drama at the end. This is the weakest part of the movie. I did not expect a documentary, but it would be more impactful if it stayed realistic. See Even More below.

Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranson.

Directed by: Ben Affleck

Rating: 2.5 stars: Positives are the true story and revolution scenes, but downers are the plot devices to create tension that are too cumbersome to be believable, and the acting that was hit-and-miss. 

More: The real story was not as cut and dried as the one in the movie. Actually the people stayed in multiple locations, for example. 

Even More: [SPOILER] Three things feel too Hollywood for me; the phone ringing in Hollywood and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) busting past the security guard to answer it on the last ring, the reservation just showing up when they are standing at the ticketing agent, and the police cars underneath the wings of the plane upon departure. Just does not feel right. If this really happened -- it would be pretty cool though. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Master

Plot: Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is in the navy on a beach with other sailors, and he makes a sand sculpture of a naked woman, and then has sex with it -- as the other sailors watch and laugh. Later when the other sailors are gone, he lies on the beach with the sand girl, his arm around it -- as two lovers might lie in bed.  Freddie gets in trouble for fighting, and a navy doctor shows he is sex obsessed. Freddie is pathetic and unlikeable.

When Freddie gets out of the navy, he stows away on a ship leased by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman.) He makes a hootch, a cocktail made from paint thinner and liquor, and he shares it with Lancaster. Lancaster sees himself in Freddie -- and this symbolic link between Freddie and Lancaster is basic to understanding the rest of the movie. Freddie is the dark side of Lancaster.  Freddie signs on a sailor on the ship, and afterward joins Lancaster's troupe as he travels the country teaching. 

======= Spoilers after this point. Start reading again at the Review paragraph to avoid. ======

Lancaster is a spiritual guru with a program called "The Cause", and his crowds become large. Lancaster gives lessons including "Processing," which involves repetitive questions and hypnosis. At one lesson a skeptic argues with Lancaster, and afterward Freddie kills him. 

Lancaster's wife, Peggy, (Amy Adams) hates Freddie as he represents the evil side of Lancaster. He tries to reform Freddie, and later to send him away -- because she is trying to shape up Lancaster. Peggy is seen to be the real power in "The Cause," but remains on the side in the shadows.

At a party, Lancaster is singing and dancing, and both Lancaster & Freddie are imagining all the women naked -- as if to say that "The Cause" is a way to fuck with people's minds in Lancaster's case and to fuck women in Freddie's case. 

Lancaster gets a new motorcycle, and they go riding in the desert. Freddie gets on and never comes back. He visits his old girlfriend's house, but she married and moved away. At the end, he visits Lancaster, who has moved into a very large building with many students, and Lancaster begs him to stay, but his wife (Amy Adams) sends him away. Lancaster begs him to stay by singing him a love song; Freddie cries and then goes.

The movie ends with Freddie picking up a girl at a bar, and asking her Lancaster's "Processing" questions -- as he has sex with her. This makes literal the metaphor about "The Cause" fucking with people. In the end Freddie is shown lying on the beach with the sand sculpture girl from the beginning of the movie -- rather than the real girl he picked up in the bar -- which shows the Freddie has not changed. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: This movie is always interesting, but it is really slow paced. "The Master," is more fun after the film when you can think about what it meant, then while you are there where it is gruelingly slow. Freddie Quell is unlikeable: dirty, angry, base, and no friend to the women that he fucks.  It is not fun to watch him for so long. 

Phillip Seymour Hoffman shows (again) that he is a master actor, and his craftsmanship is fun to watch. Joaquin Phoenix's performance is probably just as difficult technically, but it did not draw attention to itself as being outstanding. He did cry during the closing song, which has got to be hard. Amy Adams is great, but her part is small. She is, of course, too young for Hoffman.

The music is pretty special -- I bought five songs from the soundtrack. The soundtrack was written by Johnny Greenwood, formerly of Radiohead. There were some very nice visuals especially the water churning under the boat. 

The naked party scene has this allegorical value described above, but it is too much like a Showtime/HBO movie where they use nudity to keep viewers because the plot line is too complicated and slow to watch otherwise. 

After ninety minutes, I was slouched over the side of my chair because I couldn't generate the energy to keep sitting up straight -- I did not sleep though because the plot moves -- just slowly. 

Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams. 

Written and directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rating: 3.0  stars:  A substantive movie that is not fun-to-watch, and more enjoyable as you talk about it afterwards. 

More: There was press that "The Cause" was actually Scientology, and that Lancaster is actually Scientology founder "L Ron Hubbard." This isn't really true. Most Hollywood movies that are actually biographies are barely factual, and this film has many stories with no relation to Hubbard or Scientology. 

Even more: The Master's title slide plays silently on a black background, and then the screen fades black as the audience waits for the film. Movies that start like this are never "Fun-to-Watch." It shows the director's contempt for the audience. The Master is a drama, but a beginning like this in a comedy is a cue to leave the theater, and slip into another movie at the megaplex.