“There’s a sucker born every minute.” – P.T. Barnum
Same as the Humbugs of the World can be said for the millions of worshippers that devote their life and money to Scientology – or for that matter the billions that actually believe God exists. The Master, brought to us by our reborn P.T. Paul Thomas Anderson, offers a compelling look of post WW2 America and the formation of a cult and it’s charismatic leader, Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and a discharged navy seaman drifter, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who’s only vocation is taking portrait pictures, concocting a mean batch of hooch, and a compulsive need to fornicate with everything from dime store broads to sand crotch sculptures…but most of all to sustain his drinking habit and Freddie Freeloading ways.
What makes this movie so remarkable and mesmerizing is that Anderson, who clearly depicts Lancaster and all of his followers as a bunch of whackadoodles, actually has you identifying with Joaquin’s obviously disturbed character who runs away with this circus surrounding Lancaster. By shooting it from Joaquin’s point of view with several long takes (with or without dialogue) that are so beautifully constructed and impeccably shot and edited, it easily surpasses any of Anderson’s previous films. As for Joaquin, thankfully he’s still here affirming he’s one of the best actors of his generation. I mean, the scene when he’s in jail and totals a toilet alone will most likely win him the Oscar for best actor…that is if he doesn’t lose to Phillip Seymour for his off key rendition of On a Slow Boat to China (which is so truly bizzaro) while Amy Adams’ creepy performance lends a helping hand playing his wife and with his willie.
So what is Paul Thomas Anderson trying to say? Well, it feels epic in scope and subject matter, but in a nutshell it’s really just an intimate portrait of a friendship between two nonconformist men wandering around during an innocent Bible fearing, homo shunning, prosperous patriotic time in America – all the while hoodwinking the other lost souls and suckers preceding all other cults that will crop up in darker times to come…like those people who don’t poop for a month and drink cayenne pepper and lemon maple syrup. I prefer a shot of turpentine myself.
Humor is tragedy plus time – Mark Twain
In one of many Joaquin Phoenix’s epiphanies throughout, he questions, “Is it that the dream is unattainable or is that it’s just the wrong dream?” Only time will tell if this is the wrong mockumentary directed by Casey Affleck and is still humorous and entertaining in a year from now – or at least until the DVD release in a few months. Nevertheless, the movie chronicles the tumultuous life of two time Academy Award Nominee, Joaquin Phoenix, following his decision to abruptly retire from acting so as to stop being a high paid “fucking puppet” millionaire and express his true artistry in Hip Hop form, where all music is sampled and has produced nothing innovative in the last 25 years and counting, just as one can say for mockumentaries since This Is Spinal Tap.
Along this magical mystery tour (another misguided movie that went nowhere) is his seemingly dopey peon assistant, Antony Langdon, who gets shit on by Phoenix throughout the movie until he gets what you would call the last laugh. (But I wasn’t laughing, because like the rest of the movie seeing is not necessarily believing.) And P. Diddy, who Joaquin stalks to produce his album.
If only the media didn’t spill the beans two years ago, I might buy it. Which is sadly their defeat as they try to salvage the film and address accusations of this prank. Suddenly “They’re Going to Kill Us Productions” should be “Don’t Flatter Yourself Productions”. But I can’t say I wasn’t entertained by Phoenix’s Andy Kaufmanesque like performance art and his nomadic lifestyle with his free association musings and ramblings from the plight of bees to the entrapment of celebritydom, and hookers – everything but brother River Phoenix’s tragic death nor his other family members who are understandably absent including, maybe, even his father according to credits, who appears briefly, which is a dead giveaway for it being nothing but an elaborate and impressive hoax to stir the majority of the hungry gossiping public and media, like Roger Ebert. In his thumbs up review he empathizes with this tortuous soul but also says he will be seriously pissed if it turn out to be a hoax.
(“I’m a thief and I dig it!”)
So if their is sustaining humor to be found in this tragedy of his “lost years” than it would be that Casey Affleck is charged with sexually harassing the producer and DP and turns out to be the real lost cause and the one with the bad career move. If the filmmakers had any balls they would save that for the dvd outtakes. So will the real Phat Joaquin please stand up? Maybe he will in his upcoming movie “The Raven” or on Letterman this Friday.