Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson follows There Will Be Blood with The Master, another story about a monomaniacal sociopath who ruins the lives of virtually everyone he meets — even those whose lives were in ruins to begin with. Philip Seymour Hoffman was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the titular Master, Lancaster Dodd, who (modestly) describes himself as "a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, and a theoretical philosopher." To the viewer, however, he mostly seems like a cult leader and a con artist, peddling nonsense to weak-minded acolytes — none weaker or more vulnerable than maladjusted WWII veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar).
Anderson has been coy in interviews about whether The Master is a fictionalized biopic of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
Apropos of nothing, have you read Lawrence Wright's Going Clear? Both it and The Master are interesting works of very different stripes, and are both worth checking out.
The first time you heard the name "Megan Ellison," most likely, was when she saved The Master. Paul Thomas Anderson's then-untitled project was on the ropes, Universal having dropped it after cringing at its $35 million budget. And then, wham, Ellison — the now 27-year-old daughter of Oracle founder Larry Ellison, the third richest man in America — swooped in, cut the check, and made Joaquin Phoenix's quivering-arm-on-hip move a national phenomenon (OK, no, not really. But there's still time!) And quickly, a rep was born: Ellison was flush with cash and willing to spend it, straight up, on stuff she liked, thorny projects from prestige names that just weren't getting the studio money they used to. That mentality has translated into a couple of solid flicks (Killing Them Softly, Lawless) and one big screaming winner: Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, which bears Ellison's Annapurna Pictures imprint. Now, with ZDT barging into the Oscars, Vanity Fair has gone ahead and profiled the young Ms. Ellison. And while she didn't actually sit down to talk about herself, luckily, lots of other people did. So what'd we learn?
For the final Hollywood Prospectus Podcast of the year, Chris Ryan and I, like generations of anthropomorphic snacks before us, headed to the cinema. What were 2012's best films? (The Bourne Legacy, obvs.) Best characters? (Edward Norton in The Bourne Legacy, duh.) Biggest surprises? (That time Jeremy Renner punched a wolf in The Bourne Legacy. Next time bring harder questions!) We were joined by Hollywood Prospectus editor (and Dredd superfan) Mark Lisanti to debate the debate over Zero Dark Thirty, go hunting for Beasts of the Southern Wild, and remember (or misremember) The Master. There may or may not also be mention of Channing Tatum's leather pants. It's the Year in Movies! Listen up and then, as a great cinema legend once said, it's over! Go home!
If you haven't seen The Master (and you really should have seen The Master), some of this video, from the guys who did the Boys video, might be lost on you. Perhaps not all of it, though, because you've probably at least come across a trailer by now. In any case, whether or not you understand what the phrase "informal processing" means, you almost certainly can appreciate the way in which this particular mind-probing session ends. It pays off. We've said too much. We don't want to spoil it. We are not careless in our remarks.
Not three weeks after the debut of the first official trailer for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, a Best Picture play so ingeniously conceived that Clint Eastwood immediately took a sledgehammer to the typewriter upon which he was outlining the unannounced third installment of his Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima franchise while rasping with anguish, "Why did I have to pick that bullshit, used-up war?," DreamWorks released a newer, better, more exciting effort after last night's presidential debates.
It can be argued that Paul Thomas Anderson is America's greatest living director. That particular argument is not one we're about to undertake, because we're not looking to incite a cineaste melee in which various Criterion Collection Blu-rays are hurled to and fro like so many phosphorescent Tron death-Frisbees, but here is the short yet significant filmography of the man a certain excitable segment of the population likes to shorthand as "PTA": Hard Eight. Boogie Nights. Magnolia. Punch-Drunk Love. There Will Be Blood. And now, arriving with roughly the same level of anticipation in the film-obsessed community as behind-the-scenes footage of a drunk Orson Welles test-sledding six dozen Rosebud prototypes, The Master.
Anderson's latest divisive masterpiece was released on a handful of screens in New York and Los Angeles last week, shattering per-theater records in the process. Today, it expands to 788 locations, giving moviegoers in the rest of the country their first opportunity to partake in the Mastermania gripping artisanal-torpedo-juice-sipping coastal elites. But should you part with your hard-earned entertainment dollar on a movie that, at this moment, is a mere nine points higher on the Tomatometer than Dredd 3D? We once again are committed to answering the questions that will guide our readers to the best possible ticket-buying decision.
Take a seat, pour yourself a tall glass of paint thinner and don’t you dare blink: it’s time to talk The Master on the Hollywood Prospectus podcast (1:30). Chris Ryan and I processed the heck out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s strange and powerful new movie, discussing our favorite theories, moments and performances. While we ended the talk still out to sea like Freddie Quell, one thing is certain: PTA deserves a hand, and not necessarily in the Amy Adams-to-Philip Seymour Hoffman sense, either.
Fully alive with the imagined memory of our past selves, we then moved on to the return of Boardwalk Empire (37:00): is the show merely an empty suit? And is it ever OK for a series to just be OK?
After last weekend's shameful box office numbers, things are looking up in Hollywood. Originality is still dead, for the most part: The big movies were a re-release and a sequel. But at least the same old, unoriginal stuff made some money!
First, good news for Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. Out in only five theaters, it managed a $729,745 haul. That's a $145,949 per theater average, and that's the BEST per-theater average for a live-action film EVER. (The record was most recently held by Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, which put up a $130,749 figure). Yes, The Master reviews are already gushing, and Oscar glory seems destined. But (relatively) big money is always a bonus come award season, differentiating your classy high-brow fare from all the classy high-brow fare nobody saw. PTA's highest-grossing movie to date was his last, 2007's There Will Be Blood, which managed over $40 million. If The Master's hoping to take that title, it's off to a damn fine start. If David Miscavige seems particularly irritable this morning, this is probably why.
Here is actor Jesse Plemons, talking to Zap2It in 2007 about the first time he suited up to shoot a football scene on Friday Night Lights: "There's this play where Taylor is supposed to knock the crap out of me. So he does, and I get up and I'm jumping around — and everyone's like, "Holy crap!" My chin had split open [laughs], I had to get like 11 stitches."
If you're reading this website, these people probably need no introduction, but just in case: On Friday Night Lights, Plemons played Landry Clarke, whose non-gridiron activities included wearing women down with persistence, fronting the best-ever Christian death-metal band in Dillon, Texas, and the occasional act of justifiable manslaughter. In the first season, Landry was an appealing comic foil to Zach Gilford's long-suffering Matt Saracen; when he joined Saracen on Dillon High's football team in Season 2, it was implausible but forgivable, provided you liked Landry and wanted him in the mix as much as possible, which people generally did.
This week, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master gets a limited release, effectively kicking off Oscar season. There are many reasons to be excited about this movie, but chief among them is the chance to watch powerhouse thespians Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix act the living daylights out of one another. In anticipation of this battle for the ages, we've put together this pregame highlight reel and asked our staff: Are you Team Hoffman or Team Phoenix?
One of the many elements that makes Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master such an object of fascination is the fact that the movie will be Joaquin Phoenix's first project since he went woolly. The last time we saw the ever-talented Phoenix onscreen, it was in his fake-documentary I'm Still Here, in which he was bearded and incoherent and druggy and pretending to launch a rap career. Personally, I was always onboard with Phoenix and his buddy/director Casey Affleck trying to mess with us; getting Diddy to vouch that "Joaquin's for real" will forever be a hilarious thing to do. For the most part, though, the long months of performance art rubbed the populace the wrong way, and the end result of I'm Still Here wasn't nearly enough to convince the detractors it was all worth it. But those same anti–I'm Still Here–ians must now face an uncomfortable truth: According to the man himself, if Phoenix's comeback performance — and, by extension, The Master as a whole — is any good, it's because of that time he was pretending to be a rapper.
Silver: No matter how talented or versatile a performer is, sometimes they get pigeonholed into a genre. Audiences have all but refused to pay to see Vin Diesel in anything but a tight white T-shirt and souped-up roadster. And Jim Carrey was amazing in The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but all three of those film’s box office grosses combined still fall short of Bruce Almighty’s haul. As celebrities begin to fade, sometimes audiences just want to see their favorite stars do what they do best (see: both Expendables). So despite the quality of his last two directorial outings (Lions for Lambs and The Conspirator), I’m always intrigued when Robert Redford is attached to a political drama/thriller. Based on far too many films for me to list (but All the President's Men, Ordinary People, and The Candidate to name a few), as far as I’m concerned, if Redford is in a film, much less directs a film, with any kind of “weight,” I’ll see it. And yet, The Company You Keep doesn’t stop with Redford. The film’s written by the talented Lem Dobbs (Haywire, The Limey, and Dark City) and stars a veritable menagerie of Hollywood’s best character actors. We’ll get a better indication of how good this film is after it’s been picked up and its distributor sets a release date (Oscar season = good, anything else = bad). But the inclusion of Shia LeBeouf aside, I’m really looking forward to seeing this one.
According to the mandates of the official Grantland policy to Obsessively Cover Anything That Has to Do With The Master, we really have no choice but to present you with this latest clip from Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming magnum opus. As The Playlist explains, this footage was cut to promote a screening of the movie in Chicago this very Thursday night, with proceeds benefiting a film preservation society. So step one here should be watching the clip, and taking in once more just how epically tortured Joaquin Phoenix looks every second he's onscreen. Whatever you may have thought of Phoenix's "I'm a rapper now" movie I'm Still Here, it flexed a certain method-nutso vulnerability that, to me, was hard not to respect. Now, it looks like Phoenix has brought some of that back — doesn't it feel like his character here is, at any moment, a slight breeze away from breaking out in sobs? — and refined and elevated it through the handiwork of PTA. OK, and step two here should be getting to Chicago for tonight's preview screening of The Master — get on Kayak, saddle up your horse-and-buggy, rent a motorcycle with a sidecar if you have to, just go, go, go!
Silver: With this first official trailer, we’re finally given a better understanding of The Master’s plot, and a much clearer sense of the film’s three leads and the roles they’ll play in the action. My previously written thoughts (based on the firsttwo teasers) were further solidified. Here are my two new takeaways from this trailer: First, my newfound love for cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. His 65mm visuals are striking, and he seems to have perfectly filled the role after Paul Thomas Anderson’s longtime DP, Robert Elswit, was unavailable because of prior commitments. The other takeaway is how perfect Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix appear to be in their roles. The quiet menace of Hoffman, the demure malevolence of Adams, and the inner and outward psychosis and rage of Phoenix. Even without seeing the film, I honestly can’t picture anyone else playing these characters.