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A 'Master' of his film domain

Published October 30. 2012 05:01PM

"The Master" is one of those films that audiences and reviewers either love or hate.

Since I try not be a "hater," put me in the category of "strongly dislike" regarding "The Master."

My opinion has to do with "The Master" writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films are fascinating and confounding mish-mashes of big ideas, intriguing characters and performances connected by often incoherent storylines and punctuated by shock-value scenes.

Anderson seems to have a perverse sense of storytelling that requires him to plunge the movie-goer into the oddest corners of his imagination, for no apparent reason.

Anderson's films are fascinating, confounding and, ultimately, for this movie-goer, pretentious.

"There Will Be Blood" (2007), for which Daniel Day-Lewis received an actor Oscar in 2008, and for which Director of Photography Robert Elswit received a cinematography Oscar, is but one example.

Anderson's other feature films, "Punch-Drunk Love" (2002), "Magnolia" (1999) and "Boogie Nights" (1997), are much the same: mish-mashes of big ideas, intriguing characters and performances connected by often incoherent storylines, punctuated by shock-value scenes of violence, profanity and sexuality.

Anderson's films invariably arrive with a fanfare of controversy or intrigue. For example, what did Anderson do with, or to, Upton Sinclair's "Oil!," the 1927 novel on which "There Will Be Blood" was loosely based?

It's no different with "The Master." Advance word was that "The Master" tells a fictionalized account about L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology founder, with Anderson's go-to actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has been in four of Anderson's feature films, playing Lancaster Dodd, author and leader of a religious cult in early 1950's America.

Bizarre interviews, repetitive questioning and actions are a few of the brainwashing techniques, called "processing," and supposedly similar to the "auditing" technique in Hubbard's book "Dianetics," used by Dodd to control his dedicated followers of what is called The Cause.

The true believers include impressionable Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a shell-shocked World War II veteran, as well as Dodd's wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), and a rabid follower, Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern).

There's a dark side to Dodd as there is to "The Master." It's a story Hollywood has told before in, for example, "The Rainmaker" (1956), "A Face in the Crowd" (1957) and "Elmer Gantry" (1960), to name a few cinema classics.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Lancaster Dodd, is at his professorial best with measured tone and presence masking a tripwire anger.

Joaquin Phoenix, as Freddie Quell, is back from his "retirement" as a rapper, which, real or not, was part of his movie, "I'm Still Here." Phoenix creates a dispirited -- despite trying to fill his empty heart with the distilled spirits of alcohol -- chicken-chested loner with hands on his hips in an almost disjointed stance.

Amy Adams is severe and effective in her role as Lancaster Dodd's devoted wife.

Anderson knows how to obtain great performances and stunning visuals in his films, which he accomplishes in "The Master." One wishes he was a master storyteller, too.

"The Master," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for sexual content, graphic nudity and language; Genre: Drama; Run Time: Two hours, 17 min.; Distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Master" was filmed in and around Oakland, Berkeley, Vallejo, and Los Angeles, Calif.; O'ahu, Hawaii, and on the USS Potomac.

Box Office, Oct. 5: "Taken 2" took No. 1, $50 million, moving "Hotel Transylvania" back to No. 2, $26.3 million, $76 million, two weeks;

3. "Pitch Perfect," $14.7 million, $21.6 million, two weeks; 4. "Looper," $12.2 million, $40.3 million; 5. "Frankenweenie," $11.5 million, opening; 6. "End of Watch," $4 million, $32.8 million, three weeks; 7. "Trouble with the Curve," $3.8 million, $29.7 million, three weeks; 8. "House at the End of the Street," $3.7 million, $27.5 million, three weeks; 9. "The Master," $1.8 million, $12.3 million, four weeks; 10. "Finding Nemo," $1.5 million, $38.9 million, four weeks; 10. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," $1.5 million, $3.3 million, three weeks.

Unreel, Oct. 12:

"Argo," R: Ben Affleck directs the drama based on a true story where the CIA fronted a bogus movie-making company to free Iranian hostages. John Goodman and Alan Arkin star with Affleck.

"Sinister," R: Ethan Hawke stars in the found-footage horror film about a family and the legacy of their home.

"Here Comes the Boom," No MPAA Rating as of deadline: Kevin James stars as a high-school teacher who becomes a mixed-martial arts fighter to raise money for extra-curricular activities at his school in the comedy that also stars Salma Hayek and Henry Winkler.

"Seven Psychopaths," R: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken star in the comedy by director Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges") about the heist of a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site,, and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Lehigh Valley Community Public Radio WDIY 88.1 FM, Email Paul Willistein and on Facebook.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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