Archive for Philip Seymour Hoffman

THE MASTER, Paul Thomas Anderson (2012)

Posted in Drama, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by Toi Brownstone

the master

Last night I went to the movies for the first time this year 2013. There’s a lot of upcoming film releases which have already caught my attention, so seems that there’s gonna be a pretty busy season ahead, which I like, because my foursquare application reminded me I hadn’t gone to a movie theatre for almost 3 months, this is, since I attended some sessions at Sitges Film Festival. My bad!

After almost two months bombed by billboards exposing perfumes, beautiful women in bras, and Xmas season films addressed to kids, the new year brought the invasion of promo posters of the film The Master. How could it be ignored with Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Thomas Anderson right in front of my eyes? Impossible, I had to see that.

It’s been long time since I assumed Joaquin Phoenix to be one of the greatest actors of his generation, able to transmit deep feelings, and always enveloping his characters in a dark halo, somehow tortured and frustrated.

People always remember him for Gladiator or his stunning interpretation of Johnny Cash in Walk The Line, but it was first with Shyamalan‘s weak The Village, and then interpreting himself in the mockumentary I’m Still Here directed by his brother in law Cassey Affleck, when I realized I really digged this guy. For Phoenix, playing the role of Cash was easy, he seemed comfortable in the role of this legend, and I loved him right away. However his performances in Shyamalan’s failure and when offering an unseen (fake) side of the actor risking too much in his personal experiment, made me think of a hard gambler and an adventurer.

Regarding PTA, I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of blind faith, but since I was charmed with the overwhelming film Magnolia, I’ve been always following his steps.


Frank Quell, who’s been sailing for long time serving the US Navy as a mechanic taking part in World War II against the Japanese, is finally dismissed from service, better said, retired, due to a long record of mental disorder episodes and sex obsessive behavior which make him unfit for war times. Now it’s time to rehabilitate into society but his mental issues and his heavy alcoholism bringing out aggressive behavior only cause him problems and do not allow him to adapt. From a photographer at a mall, to cabbage collector in the country, sooner or later he ruins something and has to get away pursued by people.

One freezing night he sneaks into a private yacht, whose commander happens to be Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of The Cause, a philosophical movement, based on the concept of the soul living many lives in different bodies throughout the existence of the human kind on Earth, and the regression therapies recovering the past traumas to wake up and heal.

Dodd will adopt Quell as his protégée and will start using him as a guinea pig, starting with a very revealing informal processing which justifies in some way why the sailor has become a drifter and a misfit. In exchange, on his command, Quell will prepare his secret alcoholic poison, Dodd is so enthusiastic with.

From this moment, he will become part of the family even though Dodd’s wife, the manipulative Peggy (Amy Adams), his son and other members, do not feel comfortable with the stranger’s odd behavior.

As for The Cause, the movement will become more prominent among high society, no matter the ideas and values transmitted are weak and lack of rational sense, as sympathizers find it attractive enough as to adopt it as their guide to happiness and mental awakening, contributing through donation to the support of the movement.

the cause

The Master deals with several different aspects to take into account: first, the decline and evolution of Quell, second his relationship with Dodd, The Cause inspired in Scientologist movement, the relationship of Dodd and Peggy…and so on.

 Also the film, resembling There Will Be Blood, is clearly marked by different stages. First, the mental disorder episodes of Quell while on a mission, and the elaboration of its poisonous beverage, second the attempt of an insane man to rehabilitate into society with no supervision nor care received, the encounter and adoption of Dodd and his family, the adaptation and rehabilitation, the final enlightenment and the separation of Quell and the family.

John Quell is the most remarkable character, and his journey, the main plot in the history. His mental scars from war have turned him into a sick man, unable to adapt into society. He is, in essence, pure white trash, a scoundrel with no goals in life, no interests of any kind, and no feelings towards anyone. His only motivation in life is to prepare his poisonous booze and fuck whenever it’s possible. He used to be with that beautiful girl in his hometown, Doris, but considering his condition, unable to behave normal, he knows it’s not possible to get back to her.

When he meets Dodd and becomes his protégée, all of a sudden he’s granted access to privileges and luxuries he couldn’t dream of earlier: clothes, food, wealth, “happiness”…He just have to be part of the experiments the master improvises, even though they don’t make much sense most of times. A simple mind crippled guy as he is, can only feel grateful to the man who gave him a hand, thus, whenever contrary voices rise criticizing and accusing Dodd of being a liar, Quell will always act as the physical force responsible to defend his master. Submission and gratitude develop into comradeship, dependence and sort of friendship, however, once the poor man finally comes to terms with himself, finding some piece of mind which allows him to put himself together, Quell realizes Dodd is working on a big lie, and will leave The Cause.

Joaquin Phoenix

Some reviews have been too hard on Joaquin Phoenix’s interpretation of Quell as too exaggerated and affected. I particularly think he manages to transmit all the troubles and insanity this guy oozes. It’s necessary and I think he’s realistic. Outbursts and violent attacks are overwhelming, and those intense scenes of processing and confrontation with Lancaster Dodd are impressive.

Regarding Dodd, the more prominent his Cause becomes, and the more renown he gets, the more we see it’s actually Peggy the one who commands, decides and addresses the movement. As soon as she concludes Quell is hard to tame, she’s not longer interested in him and thinks of him as a threat, capable of ruining what she and her husband have been hard achieving for so long time.

It’s interesting the issue of the philosophical movement, and the ability of manipulating weak people charming them as to influence their minds to believe what you want them to believe.

We’ve always been warned of these associations seeking for our dependence and momeny, offering the ultimate truth about life, or about death, the justification to our sufferings, and whatever a hopeless soul would require. Weak people can be easily abducted for their purposes, living in a state of denial and mind induced lethargy. But what is really the turning point which make some of these adapts to suddenly realize the reality they’re living in such environment is not real?

It’d be interesting to dive into the origin of sects, their motivations to be created, and when was the first time one person discovered that creating a movement based on something attractive to some potential victims could be profitable. At the end of the day, if carried out in a harmless way, the idea of providing this mind and soul shelter to someone in need shouldn’t be bad, leaving all the religious issues aside. In The Master, even though everything Lancaster Dodd preaches about is pure fake and nonsense, the truth is that, regardless the stupid experiments performed, Quell improves and manages to keep his anxiety and obsessions under control.

All these sects gather interesting psychologic, philosophic and anthropologic points of view in my opinion. Truth is that, since I was a kid and heard of them I’ve always felt fascinated for them.


The Master is not an easy film. I think none of Paul Thomas Anderson are, because of all the side plots and aspects involved, the slow development of the stories, and the excessive length of his films. Many people are not able to focus on stories with so many details to assimilate and get easily tired and bored. The Master is impressive in terms of interpretation, flashbacks are very graphic, and the main story, even though can be confusing at some points and could be dealt with in a different way, it’s definitely worth it. It is one of these films likely to improve every time you review it being able to differ among stories, understand unnoticed details, and focus on the characters in the film. It won’t take me too long before I repeat.

And yes, it smells like some Oscar awards and others to come.

HAPPINESS, Todd Solondz 1998

Posted in Drama with tags , , , , on June 7, 2009 by Toi Brownstone


When you become a movie addict it’s easy to forget plots of many movies, either because they’re shit but sometimes they vanish just because even when the film is cool.

This happened with Happiness, I almost remembered nothing and was almost as shocking as for the first time I watched it few years ago.

You really have to be in the mood for this kind of drama assembling many separate plots in just two hours, but luckily I was up to that and it didn’t bore me at all although some story didn’t catch me much.

Happiness deals more with just the opposite, taking different stories from the members of a very same family, basically the three sisters completely different from one to each other.

Joy is the youngest of the three sisters, she just does not fit, she pretends to be songwriter, has shitty jobs and it’s difficult to picture a future shared with somebody else, because she’s too special. She’s a romantic with a  concept of  love  totally unrealistic. On the very first scene after having a wonderful evening with her friend Andy she rejects him as a possible lover not predicting his furious and vengeful  reaction to the max, which leaves her completely shocked and feeling as total crap. She will later know that Andy suicides, causing her a state of depression she tries to overcome by changing her job as an English teacher for foreign people.

Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a snob writer, she exploits  rape and abuse subjects  as if she had lived both situations although she was grown up in a normal familiar environment. She feels empty for she’s not authentic in her writings, she’s a fake, and she knows because of her status she can fuck whoever she wants, but this does not satisfy her any longer. When she receives one of this nasty and dirt phone calls, she gets so excited and hooked up that starts harassing the mysterious speaker up to a point she wants to meet him. Eventually he’ll be encouraged enough to knock at her door but nothing will happen for he’s not her type. The speaker is in fact his neighbor Allen (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a loser, fat boring wanker totally unnoticeable for anyone but for another fatty neighbor, who secretly has a crash on him.

Trish Jordan is the eldest sister, she’s a housewife, mother of three, who is apparently sharing a perfect life with her husband Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker), a psychiatrist with a remarkable dark side, who dreams with mass murdering and buys teenager magazines for wanking in his car. Bill is a pederast and eventually will put  his quiet life at risk when sexually abusing  one of his son’s best friends by sedating everybody at home. On the other hand, Bill has to deal with his son’s sexual awakening who is really concerned about coming.

Dad, I need to come

Dad, I need to come

If I have to choose one of the stories, no doubt the best is Maplewood’s, the perfect guy with the perfect family  and a perfect life who is not happy enough and decides to go further and trespass the limits of good, eventually getting in trouble. What is most shocking is that you realize in real life there’re many people like him. Sometimes the more you have, the more you need and we’re constantly witnessing real life stories of common life people, even in a easy living position who are caught involved in sexual scandals which have to do with depravation, abusing or so called sexual philiae.

The way Solondz deals with these extreme situations is handled in a very soft way, not creating morbid and possibly offensive scenes, but on dialogues and attitudes, very subtle but self explanatory  at the same time.  You are witnessing tough stories but can make fun of them.

Regarding interpretation, the most remarkable one in a negative way is Lara Flynn Boyle’s. In my opinion she’s just a pretty face and nothing else, her story is only interesting thanks to Allen, linked to Kristina’s.

The kids roles are very cool, you end sympathizing with Timmy Maplewood in his quest for coming, and obnoxious Johnny Grasso helps to get you tense for you know what’s going to happen.

Don’t know whether this movie deserves to be so awarded but there’s no doubt is original and not so full of drama as Magnolia, which is hardest to endure. Pessimism in Happiness is constantly present, but not so overwhelming.