THE MASTER (BATES) EDITION
Welcome, readers. I’m Mike De Luca and this is ON THE SLATE. This is where we talk about what’s hot, what’s not, what’s overrated, what’s underrated, what’s awful, what’s awesome…well, you know, we met in Rupert Everett’s champagne room. Everyone was there: Will Smith, Tyler Perry, John Travolta, and Prince Harry, because, well, he can never keep it in his pants. You serenaded me from across the room with some old ditty about getting me on a “slow boat to China”, I presented you with a flask of paint thinner, we wrestled into the corner, and then we….Wait that wasn’t you? Shit. That paint thinner is really taking its toll. Wait…it’s all coming back to me. That blonde mustache, those suspenders, that perfectly-parted hair….Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd? NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!
“Hey, Joaquin. Whip it out.”
Anyway, welcome! One week we might talk about how 70mm could provide more Pattinson than my tender loins can handle, or offer up unfiltered commentary on my days as Lindsay Lohan’s driving instructor (I wasn’t very good). But, before we begin, there are three things you need to know – #1 – This is ON THE SLATE with Mike De Luca. #2 – I am not producing a film called “Button Man” (zippers are what makes me hard). #3 – Jack Reacher is my porn name. Let’s begin…
Paul Thomas Anderson, I want to punch you in the face. Thanks to you, I have the worst case of cinematic blue balls I’ve had since forever. Sure, some found that with “Prometheus”, but I stand by my opinion that watching “Prometheus” is like sex with the wife (you know what’s coming). Yes, I am calling Anderson out for teasing me with the promise of a masterpiece and then giving me a lackluster resolution with more endings than “Return of the King”. “The Master” is 2/3 of a great film. It is also perhaps the least subtle homoerotic buddy movie since “Top Gun”. Think I’m kidding? Take a shot every time Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix look longingly into each other’s eyes and I guarantee you, that, by the time L. Ron Hubbard figure Hoffman sings “(I’d Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China”, you’ll be on the floor with your hand down your pants, watching “Project Runway”. (No wait, that’s just me. Different strokes, I guess. A lot of strokes.)
Anderson’s command of the frame and setting (1950) is predictably impeccable, with characters of controlled hair and emotions seen in brown muted clothing, which ably contrasts with richness of the waves crashing across the bow of a white ship in the salty breeze. Phoenix embodies man as dumb beast, pure animal instinct. He is also a severely damaged individual, a WW2 Navy veteran with violent tendencies and a taste for alcohol laced with paint thinner. He finds his (not-quite) salvation in the form of Lancaster Dodd – “The Master” of the title – a blond, round, self-styled Svengali of the human condition. He sees Phoenix’s Freddy Quell as his greatest challenge, his greatest amusement, and, perhaps, something else. He had him at “hello”. To The Master, Freddy is an example of the personality he wants to “cure” using “processing” (read: auditing) a method described in his “Dianetics”esque tome, “The Cause”. Freddy lives to fight, drink, and screw. When we first meet Freddy, he is on a beach with his fellow sailors, masturbating in the surf and miming sex with a woman he has shaped from sand. In Freddy, Dodd finds a kindred spirit, and a willing, albeit imbalanced student. The men drink together, get arrested together (Freddy is more than willing to exact violence upon Dodd’s critics), curse each other out, and laugh and wrestle to the point of clothes being shredded.
Hoffman plays Dodd as a pseudointellectual used car salesman with streaks of hostility and paranoia. As Jonny Greenwood’s Ligeti-inspired “2001”-like atonal strings play with a pounding urgency, The Master and protégé, father and son, unrequited lovers, bond and form the twisted relationship at the center of the picture. Not surprisingly, Dodd’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) finds the dynamic unhealthy (not to mention the paint thinner consumption). In one remarkable moment, she grabs Hoffman’s penis in the bathroom and convinces him to stop drinking the hard way. (I, too, am susceptible to such measures. Just ask Travolta.)
The climax of the film comes in an explosive scene in a jailhouse where Phoenix goes ballistic and calls bullshit on “The Cause”, pissing Dodd off in the process. It could be the best-acted scene of the year and one that will probably result in one or more Academy Awards. Only problem is, is it occurs at the end of the film’s second act. After that, we have another half hour worth of violence and recriminations, and you feel the length. I never had that problem with “There Will Be Blood”, which is indeed an American masterpiece. But “TWBB” also had the advantage of being about a more universal theme (capitalism rotting the soul), in contrast to the theme of “The Master”, which is, I guess, is the often-toxic relationship between the believer and the believed. “The Master” is more about finding meaning in life, which is a more amorphous concept, and more firmly in line with “Boogie Nights”, except instead of Dirk Diggler and his schlong finding a makeshift family unit, we have Freddy finding a temporary refuge, before ultimately discovering he is as disconnected from Dodd’s ilk as he is from everyone else.
It’s a great film, a film rife with subtext, and powerhouse performances. But it does not know how to end and, for that, Mr. Anderson, I want to punch you in the face.
Oh, and see “The Master” in 70mm, if you can. It’s worth it. Next!
Makers of A&E’s “Bates Motel” “Psycho” reboot-prequel t.v. show, you are hitting the pipe. Modernizing Hitchcock and casting Freddie Highmore, Charlie from Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as Norman Bates makes about as much sense as describing 47% of the American population as “entitled”. (Oh, wait). And Norman now reads manga! First, stillcore filmmaker Gus Van Sant gave us a masturbating Norman Bates (thanks a lot, Vince Vaughn), and now we have a Norman who reads manga? Between that and his mother, Norman really did never have a chance. Of getting laid. Jeez.
Oh, forget it.
Until next week, this is ON THE SLATE warning you that if you are approached by a man calling himself “Thor” and offering to show you his hammer, he may not be one of the Avengers.
But he might be me.
Your Father Figure,