May 22, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 04 October 2012 14:14
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help you choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new drama from Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master.
The journey into self-destruction can be, for too many, a one-way trip without a happy ending. No matter the help someone may need, or the support available, some people remain sentenced to disappointing lives filled with empty promises. They may, over time, seek easy answers to their problems, but quickly realize life offers few simple solutions.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master serves a devastating study of self-destruction during a period in the United States when few services were available to offer necessary support. Like the most nutritious films, this fascinating work prompts meaningful discussion of how people behave, what they deny and what lessons they learn. And, as with Anderson’s other work, The Master is beautifully directed, creatively written and impeccably performed. He is a master chef who dares to challenge us to absorb a unique mix of ingredients.
In a performance to be remembered at Oscar time, Joaquin Phoenix plays a World War II veteran who returns home emotionally damaged by his military experience. At that time, services were limited for traumatized soldiers. And, for Freddie, the real world is an unwelcome destination for a soldier who experienced too much reality.
Five years after the end of the war, he finds himself in a tailspin of alcohol, doomed romance and a temptation to be violent. After failing on the job, he mysteriously lands on a luxury boat filled with the family and friends of a charismatic religious leader, Lancaster Dodd, portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. But Dodd is less than secure; his self-destructive behavior is at times as erratic as Freddie’s. But his determined young wife (Amy Adams) makes sure he never strays from the path she has plotted for his future. For Dodd, the chance to savor weakness is a fantasy; for Freddie, Dodd’s religion may be a release from emotional reality.
With suggestions of religious groups that make headlines, The Master examines how the search for answers can shape people and drive behavior. But this is not a tell-all about faith-based cults just as it is not a detailed examination of post-war America of the 1950s. These details frame the central narrative of how men, when suffering from fundamental issues of self-respect, destroy themselves through self-inflicted injury. Setting the story in its time period remind us how, at such defining moments, we fail to understand what we may have need. It can be too easy to make certain everything looks just right on the surface.
Visually, Anderson and his team create a look that perfectly balances fantasy and reality. Production designer Jack Fisk, in particular, reaches beyond the stylized views of the 1950s so common in film to suggest an abstract world in which these characters become lost. The music score, effectively created by Jonny Greenwood, enhances the piece with its subtle use of natural sounds and instrumentation.
The performances thrill. Phoenix, so effective as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, achieves a new high as a man trapped, fighting his demons. In a look and persona that suggests Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun in 1950, the year this film is set, Phoenix mesmerizes in a portrayal rich in detail and nuance. Hoffman brings subtle power to his portrayal of a man haunted by his external success and Adams devastates as a woman of steel who would love for you to consider her the nicest lady in the room.
So much happens in The Master that it can, at moments, overwhelm with its deliberate pace and complex dialogue. But it’s so refreshing to see a movie that dares to challenge as well as entertain. Thank you, Paul Thomas Anderson, for reminding us that the best movies can make us think, especially when a master is in the movie kitchen.
* Content: High. The Master demands that we pay attention to the narrative, and get to know the characters, to fully embrace all that the film offers.
* Entertainment: High. Even though the subject matter is somber, the strong performances and visual style contribute to an entertaining time at the movies.
* Message: High. The film challenges us to look at ourselves, the behaviors we may need to address, and the easy answers we may seek.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to consider such important issues, prompted by a beautifully created film, is worth the time and money.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the temptations people face to seek easy paths to truth.
The Master is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language. It runs 137 minutes.
5 Popcorn Buckets
Editor’s Note: We’re adding something new for families this week. “Reel Dad” Mark Schumann will be offering weekly “Family Movie Menus” to highlight films he feels offer something special.
Choosing what movies offer your family is a lot like planning what meals you serve. You want to savor something that you enjoy at the same time you want to nourish the mind, heart and body. Here are a few nutritional movies available this week on television for you and your family.
The big attraction of the week is Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind showing on Turner Classic Movies (on cable) at 8 pm Saturday, Oct. 6. This thrilling film from 1977 details the ultimate “what if” scenario for people living on earth: What if life actually thrives elsewhere in our universe and how would we react if these creatures came to visit? Would they utter the classic movie words, “take me to your leader,” or demonstrate hostility, or be as curious about us as we are about them? And what would such an adventure help us discover? That, perhaps, we are not the center of all being as we may believe we are? Or that other forms from other places could, perhaps, be more advanced? With a strong cast headed by Richard Dreyfuss, Close Encounters may ask more questions than it answers but Spielberg delivers it all with his usual creative view. And, visually, the film thrills.
On a lighter note, the great Peter Sellers shines in a lovely comedy from 1964, The World of Henry Orient, showing on Turner Classic Movies at noon on Saturday, too. If your children have never thrilled to Sellers’ comic touch, this is an ideal film to introduce them to this master comedian. He plays an eccentric concert pianist in New York City who is followed by two teen-aged girls played by Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth. The film is great fun for the family and those familiar with Manhattan will delight at all the exterior scenes. Look for Angela Lansbury who steals every scene she is in as she often did in early 1960s films.
A more serious film choice is The FBI Story from 1959, showing on Turner Classic Movies at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday. Starring James Stewart, this drama frames actual events in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with a fictional account of one of the agency’s long-term officers. And while the domestic issues facing this man and his family may seem overly dramatic in today’s context, the film’s review of milestone events in the nation’s criminal history will both entertain and educate. Now, don’t watch the film for an objective look at the bureau; the actual FBI was involved in developing the movie.
Offering a delightful look at a most entertaining family is 1950’s Cheaper by the Dozen showing at 4:15 p.m. Sunday on Turner Classic Movies. Starring Clifton Webb, Myrna Loy and Jeanne Crain, this fun film follows the real-life adventures of Frank Gilbreth, a leading businessman of his day, and his family of 12 children. Now, while the dad’s dictates may seem dated, the movie offers families of today a fun look at how people lived dozens of years ago. And don’t confuse this comedy with the disappointing remake that was made a few years ago. When it comes to movie comedy, stick to the originals.
The musical wizards at the Disney studios bring a recent gem to the home screen with The Princess and the Frog from 2009. With a story that writes itself, and musical numbers that entertain as expected, this fairy tale of a film introduces us to a young woman from New Orleans who longs to meet the man of her dreams. And it’s all a lot of fun with a frog prince, a whole bunch of movie magic, and a bouncy score. Look for this entree on ABC Family, Saturday, at 7 and 9 p.m.
Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.
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