This round features my thoughts on “The Master,” and “Rise of the Guardians.”
In the past I was never a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. I always found them strange, aimless, and tedious, including “There Will be Blood.” Anderson’s latest picture “The Master” marks his first that I’ve watched since becoming a critic and the one I’ve come closest to appreciating. Part of that has to do with the fact that I watch movies differently now, looking at them with a sharper eye for technical details. The other key difference was that I was appropriately intoxicated while watching the film. If you’ve seen “The Master” then you know why it’s fitting that I was intoxicated. For those who haven’t though, I’ll explain.
This postwar tale concentrates on Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a young man drifting through life since the his release from the Navy at the end of World War II. Freddy is a raging alcoholic suffering from PTSD, who travels the country aimlessly, taking on odd jobs, which he is swiftly fired from because of his erratic drunken behavior. Things change for Freddy after he crosses paths with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a cult leader who takes an odd interest in him. Dodd and his clan take Freddy in, hoping to tame the loose cannon and cure him of his affliction through a series of bizarre mental control exercises. At first Freddy feels at home there, although the deeper he gets into Dodd’s cult, the more disturbed he becomes by it.
From a technical perspective, “The Master” is a majestic mixture of excellent directing, cinematography, and music. Anderson’s directing is sublime, using smooth, controlled camera movements to keep you invested even during outlandish moments. A great example is the slick tracking shot that follows Freddy through a department store as he runs around throwing objects at an angry customer. There are also impressively lit panoramic shots that will leave you breathless such as one where Freddy flees on foot through a field at dusk and another where Dodd and Freddy are taking turns gunning a motorcycle through the desert. Music in the film almost feels like it’s out of a silent movie, beautifully arranged with precision to match actions from the characters on screen.
Despite the incredibly bizarre plot and dialogue, “The Master” is strangely captivating, constantly leaving you wondering where the relationship between Quell and Dodd will go. Most of that is due to Anderson’s and his team’s technical prowess discussed before, although the remaining bit is a result of the performances from Phoenix, Hoffman, and Amy Adams who plays Dodd’s manipulative wife. It’s a bit silly that the almost 40-year-old Phoenix is playing a “young man,” but he’s eerily convincing as an unhinged boozehound. Hoffman is intensely commanding as well playing Dodd and Adams subtly conniving as the outwardly sweet Peggy. Unfortunately there is very little payoff at the end when Quell and Dodd finally reach an impasse with one another, so all my rapt attention felt wasted. While I laud the skill with which this film was made, I don’t care for Anderson’s story enough, to watch “The Master” again.
My Grade: B+
Rise of the Guardians
The best part about “Rise of the Guardians” is its fresh approach to well-known characters from children’s folklore. In the imaginative world that this animated film crafts, Santa Claus (North), The Easter Bunny (Bunny), The Toothfairy (Tooth), and The Sandman (Sandy) work together as a superhero team known as “The Guardians,” powered by the support of kids around the world who believe in them.
Long ago, the group defeated The Boogeyman (Pitch) so kids no longer believe he exists. At the outset of the film, Pitch has decided to return and to make his presence known to the world. This prompts the commission of a new Guardian: Jack Frost, someone the other heroes hate for his mischievous weather. The remainder of the film focuses on Jack trying to earn acceptance among his new colleagues, while learning to harness his powers, so that everyone can defeat Pitch before he does them in.
Mainly this movie is fun because The Guardians aren’t the same boring personalities from tradition. North is a hulking, sword-wielding Russian with tattoos, who lives in the company of elves and yetis. Bunny is a buff Australian rabbit who knows martial arts and uses a boomerang for a weapon. Tooth is a feathery sprite who enjoys collecting teeth for the memories that they hold. And while The Sandman can’t speak, he is a powerful sorcerer, who conjures up all sorts of wild creatures.
The story in “Rise of the Guardians” is nothing impressive, and neither is the animation. It’s your average tale about an outsider trying to fit in. As the villain, Pitch has similar motives to Jack Frost, although his exact endgame is murky and his appearance to fight The Guardians feels very random at points. His predictable defeat at the end feels anticlimactic, because the film doesn’t build adequate anticipation to the final conflict.
Aside from the creativity used when designing The Guardians, the next most entertaining part of this film is the voice talent chosen to portray the central characters. Alec Baldwin does a silly Russian accent as North, Hugh Jackman actually gets to use his real accent as Bunny, Isla Fisher gives a cutesy flair to Tooth, and Jude Law has a diabolical quality as Pitch. Chris Pine does a fine job as Jack Frost, however he feels very out of place because his voice is too mature for the boyish looking guardian.
“Rise of the Guardians” excels with amusing characters and excellent voice talent, although it never rises above the status quo for this genre. Generally I dug this movie, but didn’t feel like it lived up to the standards of other great animated flicks from 2012 like “Wreck It Ralph” and “ParaNorman.”
My Grade: C+