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Double Feature: September 2013

THE MASTER

September’s Not So Far Away

Warning! Sitting around watching hours and hours of video will totally fry your brain! But if you do it right, watching movies back-to-back can illuminate wildly different details, create a whole new viewing experience, and totally BLOW your MIND. Plus, it’s fun! Here’s your monthly guide:

White shorts and flip-flops and towels on wet concrete – Labor Day serves as a last hurrah before the end of summer. Then suddenly, all the pools are closed and we spend weeks sweating in dress pants, drowsing in airless classrooms, pretending that summer is – yeah, sure – over.

September is a confused month – stuck in a prolonged period of terminations and commencements. Candy corn and Styrofoam headstones litter our grocery stores while hammocks and picnic tables are swarmed in the clearance aisle.

So, this is when movie studios dump the flicks they have no idea what to do with into multiplexes – a funky blend of leftover popcorn, raw Halloween treats, and curdled Oscar bait. The could-be disappointments, weirdies.

Money Grubbers and Clout Sniffers can only hope for luck, which has certainly bubbled up from the vortex of this lost season from time to time: Rush Hour spawned an $850 million franchise. Amadeus and American Beauty each snagged Best Picture Academy Awards. Plus, there’s frigging Goodfellas.

These diamonds rarely show through the rough, however. A bit more common are the gems whose glimmer shines more peculiar colors than white:

Wily Savagery (Burn After Reading, True Romance); Touchy-Subject Comedy (In & Out, Easy A); Ghastly Mystery (L.A. Confidential, Se7en); ‘Is-This-Supposed-To-Be-Comedy?’ Comedy (50/50, The Informant!); Pedigree Gore (A History Of Violence, Drive); Pop-Rock Personal Journey (Almost Famous, The Big Chill).

It’s fun to categorize these curious creations because they weren’t meant to fill easy slots, win prizes, or change any games. They play their own games, make their own rules. And last year, an unusually strong year for film, a pair of these independent-minded Virgos stood more towering than anything else from the 2012 elite:

First up:
The Master
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray – available now

“Here comes a large dragon. Teeth! Blood dripping! Red eyes! What do I got? A lasso. And I whip it up, I wrap it around its neck, and I wrestle!”

It is well known that Lancaster Dodd, who preaches these words with ferocious charm, is directly inspired by Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. And that’s where a lot of people get stuck.

There’s a sense that the movie ought to have been a searing depiction and exposé of a powerful cult. But Paul Thomas Anderson is much more interested in depicting a soldier spiraling after war, exposing primal souls strapped down by fleshly bodies and morals.

Beyond the magnetic leader, there are many other parallels to Tom Cruise‘s church, most importantly an exercise called Auditing (tweaked in the film to Processing). It’s an aggressive session between two people designed to puncture deep to dark roots, which leads to an extraordinary sequence between Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s Dodd and Joaquin Phoenix‘s Freddy Quell – by far the most thrilling moment in theaters last year.

Dodd prods Freddy. Provokes him, teaches, studies, wrangles, thrashes him. But it goes the other way, too. Throughout the movie they battle and embrace each other, but Quell – a broken veteran craving bosoms, swilling paint thinner, and heartbreakingly in love with life – never agrees to be anything but himself. And The Master follows that same strange spirit.

Next:
Looper
Dir. Rian Johnson, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray – available now

This strange beast of a thriller establishes itself as a sci-fi flick with a film noir tone – tough and nostalgic – but then somehow slips into Western territory with splashes of extreme horror. And it’s all done with a boldness and clarity of vision from writer-director Rian Johnson that elevates this mutt to breathless storytelling that few filmmakers are brave (or creative) enough to attempt.

As is the case with all time travel yarns, the logic of reality gets complex pretty damn quick. Do yourself a favor and trust it. Take the ride. If you must try to poke holes (and I totally disagree that you must), do it afterward. Don’t rob yourself of this bracing adventure about the radically opposing desires of the same person (played ruthlessly by both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) at different ages in life.

Check out these two masterpieces together and dream that maybe, just maybe, somewhere in this muddled September, among three sequels, an exorcism comedy from the “Reno 911!” gang and a Robert De Niro/Luc Besson “action comedy,” we will discover at least one piece of movie magic that is personal and unique and doesn’t care what you think of it – it is what it is.

-Rob Fagin

Filed Under: ColumnsDouble FeatureMonthly

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