Movie Reviews: “The Master” (2012)

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Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix & Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“The Master” follows Freddie Quell, a scoundrel, and the result of brutal military service in WW2. He is lost, alone, and while in a drunken fit, finds himself stumbling onto the boat of one Lancaster Dodd, The Master. Lancaster is an author, a leader and a visionary. He takes the broken Freddie under his wing, studies him, loves him, with hopes to reform him, and document it against the naysayers of his work. What results is a gripping, and emotionally dark film.

Writer/Director PTA, has made some of my favorite films including “There Will Be Blood”, “Magnolia”, “Boogie Nights”, & “Punch-Dunk Love.” He works with great actors and knows how to get the very best performances out of them. This film is a shining example of that statement. To watch “The Master” is to be hypnotized by the world it visits upon you. In small moments we can relate to the characters, but mostly they are bizarre strangers that we gaze upon as if attending a carnival. Its raw barbaric emotion can be uncomfortable, but always remains compelling.

I feel like “The Master” is an instant classic, and a clinic on filmmaking. It doesn’t insult the viewers intelligence by filling in all the gaps. It challenges you to understand its motivations and message.

4.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Movie Reviews: “Sound of My Voice” (2011)

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Directed by Zal Batmanglij.
Starring Brit Marling, Christopher Denham & Nicole Vicius.
Written by Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij.

Peter, a journalist, and his writer girlfriend Lorna integrate themselves into an underground cult led by Maggie, who claims to come from the year 2054.

Maggie is gentle, hypnotic, detailed, direct and subtly demanding, telling the followers that all the “choices are theirs.” It’s creepy, yet as a viewer, rejecting her openness makes me feel sad. Brit Marling portrayed the futuristic leader perfectly in ways that words can’t do justice. It’s a masterful performance.

This film works on parallel levels. Is she for real? Is she a fraud? What are the consequences of each? How deep will Peter & Lorna allow themselves to get to document this?

“Sound of My Voice” is gorgeously shot and performed, and written with a wide mind. It was a surprise gem with a conclusion that haunts me to this very moment. My brain is still philosophizing the events and rolling over the details. The best films do that to us.

3.5 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Kids” (1995)

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Directed by Larry Clark. Starring Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson.

A rude and candid look at a group of skater teens in mid 90’s New York City. One of them, Telly, is HIV positive and recklessly continues to sleep around. Jennie who contracted the disease goes to confront him.

“Kids” is shocking and meant to be that way. It was a wake-up call to adults of the time and haunts some of the actors to this day. Leo Fitzpatrick who played Telly claims that people harassed him, thinking “Kids” was a documentary, instead of fiction.

I appreciate the rawness of the material and all too real performances, but let me make it clear, “Kids” is not meant to entertain. The scenes following Jennie post test results were the most interesting. Would’ve liked to have seen a whole film about her.

3.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” (2010)

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Written and directed by Woody Allen.
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, and Antonio Banderas.

Enjoyable yet familiar Allen-esque entanglement of relationships.

Roy is married to Sally. However, various stresses have caused them to emotionally and sexually drift apart. One day while writing, Ray hears music outside his window. He sees a beautiful woman playing guitar, and develops a fondness for her.
The two begin talking and having lunch regularly. Sally gets a new job as an assistant to Greg, a dashing and wealthy art gallery owner. She develops a crush.
Meanwhile Sally’s parents, Helena and Alfie, begin new relationships of their own.

We see the consequences and triumphs to chasing ones dreams. The film poses the question as to whether these desires are illusions of the heart, or if they are really what’s best for us. Even if they are illusions, does it really matter since they make us happy?

Great cast! I personally love Naomi Watts! This is a good film. Not too deep and not too silly. Normal Allen fare. I recommend it.

2.5 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Terri” (2011)

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Starring Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly.

Terri (Wysocki) is 15 years old, overweight, friendless, and takes care of his ill uncle. Going to school is a miserable experience. So much so that Terri shows up late consistently and wearing his pajamas. He doesn’t care anymore. This lands him in principal Fitzgerald’s (Reilly) office. The principal begins regular meetings and eventually a friendship with Terri because he sees Terri as a troubled good heart.

“Terri” is a decent movie with greatness within. John C. Reilly is hilarious as the empathetic and “hip” principal, and my favorite part of the film. The Terri character doesn’t do much for me though. He doesn’t really go anywhere or accomplish much. I’m not sure what point this film is trying to make other than to give insight into a troubled teen’s life. I would have liked to have seen more into Terri’s mind and witness some resolution in his life.

2.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “The Future” (2011)

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Written and directed by Miranda July. Starring Miranda July and Hamish Linklater.

This is an odd film where anything goes. Imaginations run wild and exist, for real. “The Future” is also narrated by a lonely cat named Paw-Paw.

Sophie and Jason live together. They decide to adopt a wounded cat that only has a few months, to a few years left to live. Because of the state of the cat, the couple have to wait almost a month before they can bring him home. Paw-Paw sits and waits and ponders.

Sophie and Jason quit their jobs and start living as if the following month were their last ever. Jason can stop time at will and talk to the moon. He also begins selling trees door to door. Sophie begins an affair with a man they purchased a photo from days earlier.

Much like Miranda’s previous film “Me and You and Everyone We Know”, this one is quirky and weird, but not as happy or fun. It’s actually very somber and at times hard to follow. I do enjoy Miranda’s alternative viewpoint to everything. She can take something as simple as walking through a door, or dancing, and have you looking at it upside down. She is original and thoughtful, two of my favorite qualities in a person or filmmaker.

“The Future” isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy weird, then I do recommend it.

3.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “The Seventh Seal” (1957)

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Directed and written by Ingmar Bergman. Starring Max von Sydow.

The black plague is sweeping across the land. People fear God’s wrath and repent in hopes of being saved.

Knight Antonius Block returns from the crusades, traveling across the country to his castle. He struggles with his own beliefs, and questions the point of existence. “I want knowledge. Not faith or conjecture, but knowledge. I want God to reach out his hand, show his face, speak to me…I cry to him in the darkness, but sometimes it feels like no one is there… No man can live facing death knowing that everything is nothingness.”

On a beach during his travels, Antonius is visited by the Death himself. Instead of succumbing, he asks the reaper to play a game of chess for his own life and those around him. There must be faith somewhere inside him.

“The Seventh Seal” is stunning, both visually and in it’s poetic symbolism. Lets face it, Bergman could shoot Max von Sydow eating a bowl of Cheerios and it would be fantastic. Bengt Ekerot as Death is one of cinema’s finest images. I’ve seen still photos of him before, but to watch in motion gave me chills. This is a true classic.

4.0 out of 4.0 stars.