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Posts Tagged ‘Philip Seymour Hoffman’

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It’s challenging to explicitly articulate how I feel about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest experiment, The Master, after just one viewing. With its estranged set of characters and languid structure, the film crumbles the concept of clarity, and it yearns for multiple viewings in order one to gain an understanding of Anderson’s thesis. However, his deliberate aimlessness archives the true beauty of cinema, and he successfully illustrates the frustration we as humans can harbor when we are forced to explain ourselves.

The Master contends emptiness against self-actualization when Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a volatile, misguided alcoholic falls into the confident hands of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour-Hoffman), a theatrical philosopher who also revels in drunkenness. Dodd is the father of “The Cause”, a religious movement intended to give members peace by spiritually connecting them with their souls through simple yet intense thought exercises. Although these exercises appear to be fruitless, their repetitive executions persuade people into thinking they have been healed. With this confidence, Dodd believes he can raise Freddie from his savage, primordial state to a higher plane of humanness.

Slowly, Freddie learns about the insincerity of “The Cause”. Dodd’s own son, Val (Jesse Plemmons), somberly states that “He is making it all up as he goes along,” and dissenters make rational invectives that this religious group is nothing but a cult. Even Freddie’s primitive perspective notices how pointless Dodd’s exercises and speeches are.

Dodd and Quell’s relationship staggers between friendship and mutual hatred. The two are ostensibly counterparts to one another; Quell is an unleashed animal incapable of being tamed, while Dodd is a puppeteer who has mastered the art of conversation. However, their altercations display how alike they are as men; by relying on the bestial technique of yelling and cursing to secure their points, Lancaster and Freddie automatically lowers themselves to primates, becoming equivalent for a few awful moments.

Freddie and Lancaster play their roles particularly well. However, their relationship doesn’t allow them to be themselves completely. Lancaster cannot simply talk his way into healing Freddie. His exercises are all ideal, but they don’t provide concrete improvement. Lancaster’s repetitive processes of spiritually guiding a person into his or her past are frustratingly intangible, and the overall vagueness never truly cleanses anyone; it’s not until Freddie takes it upon himself to physically encounter his past that he finally gets some sort of catharsis. Freddie is certainly guided by “The Cause”, but Lancaster misses several crucial elements to completely cure him.

At times, Anderson misses some opportunities in The Master too. He has several characters aside from Lancaster and Freddie to play with, but they simply melt into the background. PTA started his career with major epics, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, two films that featured an array of strong, unique characters. He progressed by keeping the lens on just 1 or 2 people with Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. This film could have been a perfect amalgam of his past and present, but he doesn’t really develop an arc for anyone besides Lancaster and Freddie. The emptiness is however filled by the gorgeous cinematography and alluring score. Together, they create an unsettling tone that bleeds with tension and despair.

I’ve been thinking about The Master for about a day and a half, and I still haven’t established a strong opinion on where the characters end up. It’s funny that Lancaster’s “Cause” implies that we are never quite where we ought to be anyway. We simply have trails that can lead us to happiness, and only he can take us there. Hopefully, more viewings will lead me down a trail of understanding (only Anderson can lead me there). Until then, I’ll have to just think about it all.

8.5 out of 10

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It is now 2010, and everything from reviews to teasers is suddenly culminating to this. A reflective and hopefully not so irrelevant list of my favorite movies from 2009. I know that publishing such a compilation seems so out of date when we’re already in the new decade, but I want to contemplate on the past year a tiny bit before plunging into the future.

Before we count down, I’d like to share with you the ineligibles and the honorable mentions. The ineligibles are movies that seemed likely in making the list, but are ones I never got around to seeing. The honorable mentions are films that just barely missed the cut.

Ineligible: In the Loop, Fantastic Mr. Fox, A Single Man, The White Ribbon

Honorable Mentions: Drag Me to Hell, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Coraline, Moon

And so we begin. It’s time to throw all numerical scores out the window and to simply go with intuition.

10. Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze’s adaptation of beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, is an assortment of innocence, wonderment, and loneliness. The treatment of these consolidated emotions is a bit rushed and unfocused, however, and what remains is a frenetic and rather sloppy movie; but where the film lacks in steadiness is where it succeeds in providing unabashed and sometimes painful emotion. Jonze’s artful construction of a purely fantastical world serves as a harbor of nostalgia for those who were once tormented children. From building forts to feeling ignored, Where the Wild Things Are manages to beautifully exhibit both the wonder and terror of growing up.

9. Humpday


Humpday is a cleverly inquisitve movie. At first, the film asks questions about sexuality and masculinity, but as it meanders to a fitting end, these queries slowly transform into examinations of a concept that is far more frustrating than sex. Growing up. Unbeknownst to our main characters, Andrew and Ben, they do make discoveries about themselves, and their inner demons are quietly exorcised. What makes this overall experience so cathartic is the innate goodness and relatability of the characters we follow. Now being twenty years old, I often bump into the proverbial quarter-life crisis. Thoughts of past accomplishments and future ambitions come up for dissection, and I’m sometimes unsure how to assess myself. Humpday happens to mirror some of my thoughts and apprehensions perfectly.

8. Adventureland


Adventureland isn’t just a movie that’s set in 1987. It’s a recollection of personal memories that vicariously warps us back to our own pasts. While watching this film, it’s natural to recall that sacred instance we first fell in love; it’s reactionary to conjure up memories of simply hanging out with old friends and realizing that life is pretty amazing when shared with the right people. Adventureland’s ability to feel like something in the past tense is a reminder that these years are the best years of our lives. Its depiction of joy, frustration, regret, and inebriation is honest and endearing, making us want to latch onto our own Adventureland, whatever that may be, forever.

7. A Serious Man

The latest Coen Brothers film, A Serious Man, opens with the quote, “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” What follows is an hour and a half of comically tragic torture, all befalling our gentle and very disgruntled subject, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). How we respond to his misfortune depends on our own religious beliefs, considering that Joel and Ethan Coen never pamper us with their own direct discernment, other than to antithetically “Accept the mystery.” Many of this film’s oddities and philosophical undertones are stylistically reminiscent of one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, and that is perhaps why I adore it so much. Its wandering nature is not only thought provoking, but also brave, for it ultimately encourages us to find our own meaning to the movie’s unfortunate events ourselves.

6. An Education

Collectively, college students can be as pretentious as they are naive. I am no different. Nor is the main character of An Education, Jenny (Carey Mulligan). Her desire to become an adult far too quickly is triggered by the splendor of pop culture. She eventually finds herself circumscribed by an exquisite, highbrow life for which she is not yet ready, and it all clusters into a horrible yet calculated mess by the end. The illusion with which she is enamored is undeniably charming and elegant, and credit must be given to those across the Atlantic who made this film. Interestingly enough, behind said illusion is a reality we, myself included, should try to accept. We mustn’t be so quick to let our pretension overbear our not so necessarily terrible innocence.

5. The Hurt Locker


The most cataclysmic dangers in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker are not epic or turbulent. Rather, they are unforeseeable and omnipresent. Trouble could be within a crowd of seemingly innocent civilians, or behind a wall hundreds of feet away, or dangling between loose bomb wires that are within one’s grasp. The notion that these dangers are all “could be’s” and “what if’s” is what makes the experience all the more terrifying. Additionally, the characters we see endure these crises are communally unstable and unpredictable, only heightening the already established tension. The intensity that is embedded within The Hurt Locker damages our characters psychologically, and we are challenged to accept them as imperfect individuals who are merely trying to survive.

4. Star Trek

As made evident by his television series, Lost, JJ Abrams has a penchant for creating thoughtful relationships between strong characters. With Star Trek, he takes familiar faces from a renowned franchise and still manages to create crisp dynamics. It’s an absolute joy to watch the relationship between James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), one that traverses both directions in time, blossom from pure hatred to something a little less vile. Their exchanges, which range from simple bickering to physical engagement, are some of the best parts of the film, and where their individual character arcs conclude makes the journey with them that much more satisfying.

3. Up in the Air

Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) forlorn philosophy on relationships is one that I, more often than not, subscribe to. Yet, his gradual but never completed metamorphasis into a more susceptible person is alleviating on multiple levels. I say “never completed” because we don’t really know if he is a changed man by the end. Along the way, Ryan is damaged, betrayed, and abandoned, and we are left without a cathartic, warmhearted climax. Knowing that everything is literally up in the air by the end of this film, we become refugees who are forced to find a home in whatever makes the film seem whole to us. Our interpretations of such a bold ending will be subject to debate, and this is where our human tendencies will be examined. This beautiful experiment that director Jason Reitman conducts is one that I will not forget being a part of.

2. Mary and Max

Australian film, Mary and Max, is a claymation feature that is crude and sophisticated. The tone is childlike in appearance, but its deeply sad themes resonate particularly well with me at this point in my life. Currently attending college, I feel like I’m inside some sort of purgatory or in-between. I’m no longer a kid, but I’m not yet an adult. This place can be, at times, very lonely. The film’s characters are from both ends of the spectrum-Mary is a young, lonely girl, and Max is an old, misunderstood hermit. Where they converge in similarities and differences is exactly where I reside-that bubble of misunderstanding and uncertainty. Complemented by a captivating score, Mary and Max unfolds with the innocence of a children’s book, but its insight is extremely powerful.

1. Inglourious Basterds

I never thought I’d ever be putting a Tarantino film at the top of a favorites list. He’s a filmmaking genius, but the romantic in me doesn’t necessarily anchor to his masculine movies. However, upon further meditation, there’s no doubt in my mind that Inglourious Basterds is my favorite film of 2009. Tarantino’s orchestration of remorseless action serves as a shrewd device for both entertainment and examination, and I love everything that occurs on screen. More impressively, beyond the conscious brutality that Inglourious Basterds sustains is a great deal of lacerating tension that comes from people simply talking. Tarantino’s loud audacity is most prominent in his quietest scenes, creating a wholesome, epic experience-one that I admire from beginning to end.

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Wow. This is a great, feel-good trailer for a seemingly great movie. I hadn’t heard about The Boat that Rocked until I saw the trailer this morning, and now I’m sold. Hopefully, this doesn’t stay completely under the radar because it could be a really endearing gem. Philip Seymour Hoffman is always a joy to watch, and I’m especially glad he’s back in a comedic role, which is something we haven’t really seen in a while.

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This film was the directorial debut for prolific writer, Charlie Kaufman, and I finally got a chance to see it this past weekend.  Kaufman is most well known for penning a few critically acclaimed films, Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation, (2002), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). All three of these movies received noms for Best Original Screenplay, but Eternal Sunshine was the only one to take home the award. (It still remains to be one of the most original screenplays ever.)  All these films delve pretty deep into the mind of man, whether it’s literal (in the case of BJM and even ESOTSM), or just metaphorical, like in Adaptation.

The basic premise of Synecdoche is that a theater director, Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) becomes detached from life entirely- his wife, his daughter, his friends, himself. He becomes more physically ailed as the movie progresses, and his relationships with other humans worsen too. He’s given a grant of money that pretty much allows him to create the masterpiece he’s always wanted to do.  And he does it. Or at least attempts to. This masterpiece, which is somewhat of an artful clusterfuck,  is an attempt to show the truest features of humankind and everything it encapsulates-life, love, but most importantly, death.

Similar to Kaufman’s past works, Synecdoche attempts to achieve this similar idea of going into the psych of a man. And then some. And then much more. The story touches up on so many facets of life, it’s hard to get a good grip on this movie.

To determine whether or not you will enjoy it, you’ll have to take into consideration your age, your gender, your past life, your present life, what you hope to be your future life. Everything. It’s a piece of art that’ll be treated differently with each viewing.

And that was certainly the point. This movie wasn’t necessarily made to answer questions. Rather, it lets us know that there are questions that are necessary to be addressed in order to truly live in such a confusing world.

My thoughts on this movie aren’t too clear yet, and for that, I apologize. It’s hard to make an opinion on something I don’t completely understand just yet. Will I ever? I sure hope so, but that will come with multiple viewings and a bit of maturing.

The  movie, itself, is an astonishing feat. Its ambitiousness is evident in the first few minutes, and you get smacked in the head with the statement, “Hey, guy. This movie’s pretty deep, but it can be hard to get through. Just stick with me on this one, and it’ll all ride out.” So for some people, this movie might be a rather vapid piece of crap. But for others, it’ll be a complete work of art.

So did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. At times, it was a bit tough to get through, but the ride was pretty phenomenal. The journey inside Caden’s head was pretty riveting, and even sad to watch.  Were there problems? Yes. As Kaufman’s first piece, of course there were, but for the most part, these mistakes were forgivable. I say you should give it a try. You’ll definitey learn a thing or two about yourself after watching it. But if you feel like this movie asked questions more than it answered them, don’t be upset. Kaufman’s a tricky guy in this one.

7.5 out of 10

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