The Master: Hard to Watch

I have a love-hate relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson. Mostly hate.

But let’s start with the love, shall we? “Boogie Nights,” my first introduction to him, was brilliant. I know some of the characters and stories from around these times, and the movie was meticulous and wonderful to watch. Great stuff.

His next, “Magnolia,” did have a pretty unforgettable performance by Tom Cruise, but was mostly a “WTF Was That?” kind of head-scratcher. (Cue raining frogs…)

“Punch Drunk Love” was so horrendously awful, if I’d thought to bring rotten tomatoes with me, I surely WOULD have thrown them at the screen. Instead, I just walked out. Hate doesn’t even begin to encompass how I feel about that movie. I still start seething when anyone even says those three words.

It is thus with trepidation that I approached “There Will Be Blood.” I do love Daniel Day-Lewis, so I did see it. Even sat all the way through to the end, but mostly hated it.

I’m realizing now why I hated these shows so much, as I scan IMDB for credits. All of these movies were not only directed by him, but written by him also. Not that people CAN’T both write and direct a movie. I just think HE can’t.

He’s one of those people who is so enamoured with the situations he’s setting up that he just thinks all is grand, while you’re sitting there wondering why the hell you are watching it. This is true, in greater or lesser degrees for me, in all his movies.

This latest one, I just realized has pretty much the same character as the oilman in “There Will Be Blood.” Except the guy in this one is (supposedly) the founder of Scientology. Starts out nice, becomes (through success) a crazed, greedy ego maniac. All along the way he is a charlatan.

So let’s just leave it at that. I pretty much hate Paul Thomas Anderson the writer. The director has some promise, if only he got another screenwriter.

However, all that being said, the actors he gets to work for him do amazing things.

In fact, the only reason to sit through this treacle is to watch some master craftsmen of acting do their thing.

Joaquin Phoenix, to my knowledge, has never turned in a better performance. He’s off the hinges and crazy. Sex-addicted, alcohol-addicted lunatic. One who barely fits into the confines of society. A psychopath.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is incapable of a bad performance, plays the “Scientology” leader. Charismatic and charming to his accolytes, but with a mean temper when crossed. Hoffman makes many subtle changes in character believable and stunning to watch.

Amy Adams, who just continues to be a revelation, sparkles as Hoffman’s wife. Laura Dern has a brief, but memorable, cameo.

As in “There Will Be Blood,” there are images in this movie that will be disturbing and hard to erase from one’s memory. But unlike “There Will Be Blood,”  I think this one is worth sitting through, just to see these actors work their magic.



Moneyball: Way too on the money

Do you love a good baseball movie? Does thinking about Field of Dreams or Bull Durham just get you all wistful? Or The National? Yeah, me too. Moneyball is none of those.

Or were you stunned and amazed by Russell Crowe’s mathematical brilliance in Beautiful Mind? Well, me, not so much.

But this movie is kind of a combination of those two. If you’re going for a rousing baseball movie, you’d best stay home. Ditto if the sight of math (especially math on a screen) starts putting you into heaves.

I just don’t know what to make of this movie. There are so many reasons I wanted to like it.

For instance, I attended with my friend who (GASP!) had never even HEARD of Aaron Sorkin, much less cottoned to his patented “walk and talks.” Sorkin, though, is the second credited writer on this. After Steven Zaillian. Now, if one has a discussion of the top ten living screenwriters today, it’s pretty assured that both of those names would be on the list.

Still, the script pretty much left me cold.

Part of it was the script (or lack of it), part of it was the ham-fisted direction by Bennett Miller. You can just read the page in your mind: “and he tears up, hearing his little girl’s voice. He decides to stay.” CUT TO: Tears in his eyes.

No joke. The final (supposed to be poignant shot, I guess) was a close-up of tears in Brad Pitt’s eyes. I wanted to barf.

And you would think that with eight (and counting) little brats of his own, that he’d be able to convey this fatherliness that warrants the end tear-up. I musta missed it.

Also, while his team is out there, struggling it out, Brad Pitt’s character is anywhere but on the field or watching. He’s working out, he’s in his office, he’s driving, far away. Why? Well, if you rustle your popcorn at the wrong time you’ll miss it, but his little tyke at one point says, “You’re not gonna jinx it, go back.”

From this, I guess, that you are supposed to glean that he’s afraid of jinxing his own team. That’s why he stays away. And, to hammer that point home, he returns when they have an 11-point lead. The other teams starts scoring. It ends up tied.

Do we cut to the drama on the field? No, been there, done that. Instead, we get Pitt, agonizing in the locker room about whether or not he’s jinxing them. Yikes.

Maudlin crap like that.

So, the direction was dreadful. But let’s get back to the story.

Now, if it’s a good baseball movie, it should be understandable by anyone who watches it, whatever their level of baseball knowledge.

And I love baseball. I wouldn’t claim to be intimate with all its arcana, though.

The premise here is that MLB had gotten too full of its britches, offering million-dollar contracts to people who really didn’t deserve them. And that some Yale dude had figured out a mathematical way to know who deserved to be hired and who didn’t. Based on how often they got on base. Mathematically.

Jonah Hill does the best with this that he can. Coach Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who still wants to coach baseball his way, adds some fire to a nothing role.

But to me, in the end, baseball is really about those guys out there on the bases. Not the money men counting out their worth in back rooms. This movie dealt far too much with those guys. Did this new way of “counting” change baseball? Apparently so.

Do we care? No matter how many close-uped tears you shoot, the answer is still no.