THE MASTER CLEANSE (2016)

April 30, 2016

Dallas International Film Festival 2016

master cleanse Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes, it’s just difficult to know how to describe or discuss a movie. This happens more frequently at film festivals where the most creative and risky films often find their only audience. This first feature film from writer/director Bobby Miller isn’t really a comedy – though there are some uneasy laughs; and it isn’t really a horror film – though isolated cabins in the woods and creepy little creatures give the impression that it could go that way.

Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) stars as Paul, a down-on-his-luck nice guy who hasn’t recovered emotionally from being dumped at the altar by his fiancé. One night he’s dozing on the sofa when a TV ad captures his attention … it’s a spiritual retreat for the downtrodden!  The timing couldn’t be better.

He’s joined at the isolated retreat by struggling actress Maggie (Anna Friel), a young couple, Eric (Kyle Gallner) and Lily (Diana Bang) working through relationship issues, and a quasi-caretaker and holdover client played by Kevin J O’Connor. The on-site leader is played in full-bellow mode by the great Angelica Huston.

Day one is the juice cleanse, and the participants have to force down a disgusting concoction designed to “eliminate” … the step preceding “termination”. Elimination is pretty easy to figure out, as our new friends expel from both ends (fortunately this is mostly implied, not shown).  While that part might be expected, the surprise comes in the form of the eliminated creatures unique to each of our players … little critters representing the emotional baggage we all carry inside.

In the midst of misery, the retreaters are told that the movement (no pun intended) leader (Oliver Platt) will be arriving soon. He’s kind of a cult-like figure without the expected pretentiousness. In fact, he’s a pretty nice guy that seems to really care. Of course, that would be a pretty boring story, so plenty of things go awry during the process.

“Let’s Get Pure” is the name for the retreat, and the idea of physically removing our negative energy and emotional baggage does make some sense. Director Miller seems to blend the worlds of early David Cronenberg and Gremlins to deliver an odd little film that could develop a cult following of its own. It’s a serious message conveyed in a not so serious way. Galecki and Friel do a nice job of keeping us grounded and giving us some peeps to pull for.  Just watch that final step … termination can be brutal.

 

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THE MASTER (2012)

September 24, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Critics seem to love it, while movie goers seem to be left grasping for meaning. This is director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s sixth film, and could be either his best or worst, depending on your tastes. What is clear, however, is that all the hoopla over this being an expose’ of Scientology was for nothing. In fact, the cult/religion in the film plays second fiddle to a mentally unstable drifter who you will find no real interest in following (yet unable to take your eyes off).

On the plus side, there are three terrific performances in the film. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a frightening, off beat character named Freddie Quell. Freddie suffers from PTSD after WWII and is some kind of freaky genius when it comes to moonshine and hooch. We see him utilize missile fuel, paint thinner, photographic chemicals, coconuts and Lysol. Never accept a drink from Freddie. Philip Seymour Hoffman is pure charisma and power as Lancaster Dodd, the character supposedly modeled on L Ron Hubbard, the writer and (some would say) con man who developed Scientology through his Dianetics theories. Hoffman is fascinating to watch and totally believable as a guy who draws in the suckers. His staunchest follower is his ice queen wife played with quiet intensity by Amy Adams. This is quite a different role for her and she really delivers the goods.

 Joaquin Phoenix deserves a few words. His physicality here approaches deformity and his sexual perversion is clear early on thanks to a beach scene. Phoenix looks emaciated, and somehow inverts his shoulders and wears a constant grimace that would make Michael Shannon proud. Much of his performance reminded me of a young Marlon Brando … high praise indeed. Many of director Anderson’s films deal with the surrogate father/son relationship, and Phoenix is at his best when desperately seeking acceptance from his would-be father figure, Lancaster Dodd.

 Though Scientology is never mentioned, the “processing” demonstrated certainly fits right in with the early methods. Still, the weakness of the movie stems from the story. Following Freddie leaves a gaping hole in substance. There’s just not much to this broken man. On the other hand, we constantly want to know more about The Master, Lancaster Dodd.

Technically, it’s a stunning and beautiful movie with moments of cinematic greatness. From an entertainment perspective, some might find the second half downright boring and uninteresting. If not for the Oscar worthy performances and the stellar camera work and interesting camera angles, even more people probably would have walked out during the film. Jonny Greenwood is back (There Will Be Blood) with Anderson, and again delivers the perfect accompaniment. With some script work, this could have been a truly great film. Instead, we get just-missed greatness from a true auteur.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see 3 Oscar worthy performances OR unusual filmmaking and story telling is worth a couple hours of your time … especially when presented by an auteur like Paul Thomas Anderson

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: oddball characters and expert technical filmmaking are not enough to maintain your interest

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ1O1vb9AUU