Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Melora Walters singing "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" sounds exactly like Melora Walters singing "A-Tisket, A-Tasket"

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Hollywood has sent forth two Amy Adams films to the cinemas. The first is The Master (which sadly has nothing to do with that one episode of "Roseanne" where she and Dan were one-upping each others' Halloween pranks), the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson, he of the late 90s explosion of big time filmmakers with the same last name, alongside Wes Anderson and Paul W.S. Anderson. (I didn't say they were of matching talents.)

The Adorable Amy Adams plays the wife of an L. Ron Hubbard-like motherfucker named Lancaster Dodd, MOC, PhD, MD, ABC, BBD, The East Coast Family -- played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, best known to assholes like me as the funny best friend in that shitty Ben Stiller movie. No, the other one. No, not that one either, the other one, the one where he's a bit of an awkward dude and he has a thing for this hot chick and -- no, not that one either.

I don't know if Hubbard had a wife who sat in the background keeping an ever-watchful eye on him and the people he hung out with, but that's what Adams' character Peggy mostly does in this movie. There's a definite "behind every great man..." element at play between Peggy and Lancaster, and Anderson cannily keeps her mostly in the background during the film, making a motherfucker feel that there's possibly even more than meets the eye with that broad -- there's a little Karl Rove mixed into her Jackie Kennedy, if you get my drift.

This life is complicated enough with all the haters giving my man Dodd shit about his movement and book titled "The Cause" -- which involves healing motherfuckers from their past traumas and giving up "animal" behaviors -- and they're either showing up to his parties and interrupting him while he's dropping Mental Health Modern Science on old gullible society ladies, or they're sending the pigs to harass him while he's doing his thing at Laura "The Tidbit" Dern's house. It's enough to make a man want to drink some super-strong hooch made mostly from household items that probably shouldn't be imbibed.

That's where Joaquin Phoenix's character, Freddie Quell, comes in. Quell's a lost soul/expert mixologist, and when he's not trying to show his liver who the fuck is in charge, he's getting into smacking/wrestling matches with his fellow man, trying to get into penis/vagina matches with his fellow ladies, or beating the shit out of jail cell toilets. He's an unhappy fellow who "can't take this world straight", to steal a line from the film. I would judge this unpleasant weirdo harshly, were it not for the unfortunate fact that I found myself relating a little too much with him at times.

I'm not Quell, though; I don't share his fondness for farting in public or whacking off in front of others and I don't look like Joaquin Phoenix. Come to think of it, even Joaquin Phoenix doesn't look like Joaquin Phoenix here. I don't know if he specifically lost weight for the film or if that fake wannabe Andy Kaufman rapper shit failure took a chomp out of his spirit, but either way, Jay-P is lookin' tore the fuck up. It works because his Quell is coming down from the one-two punch of getting permanently jangled from serving in WW2, and from ditching the girl he loved. All that, plus drinking torpedo fuel and downing paint thinner-based concoctions is gonna make any young man look like a, uh, not a young man.

Eventually Quell hooks up with Dodd, and their relationship ultimately comes down to some inherent need for one another -- call it scientist/guinea pig, father/son, general/soldier, philosopher/student -- it's all of those, really. You have the wild uninhibited Quell, all id, all animal. You have Dodd, the "master" of himself, talking shit about animals like somehow humans are better. Both are full of shit because despite his drinking and outbursts, Quell ultimately would like to improve (even though he doesn't make it easy) and while Dodd tries to use his Cause methods to help the dude out (or exploit as a prime test subject?), I also got the sense that he secretly gets some vicarious pleasure watching the homie act a fool. (It's seems the only moments where Dodd is able to indulge himself is when he's tipsily dancing/singing at parties or wildly gesticulating while telling stories about putting leashes on dragons.)

It's a sad little movie, an intimate character study painted on a grand canvas, the canvas being the 70mm film format (or 65mm, if you wanna be that way). I've seen it twice -- 70mm and digital -- and while you lose the bonus of watching the beautiful cinematography lookin' so large and pristine in the non-70mm versions, you don't lose out on any of the dramatic punch. By "dramatic", I mean the acting, because narrative-wise this joint's a very simple story, quite possibly the most simple story told by PTA since Punch-Drunk Love, it's just that homeboy likes taking the scenic route. There is no memorable set-piece in this film, like the burning oil derrick in There Will Be Blood or raining ribbits in Magnolia, no pop-culture-ready quotables like "I drink your milkshake", no coked-up Alfred Molina in a bathrobe.

This is definitely his most subtle film, as far as what makes these characters tick; nothing is spelled out and sometimes it's just a matter of taking in a dude's body language or even his surroundings to get where he's coming from. Go to the next paragraph if you want to avoid an example that happens like 10-20 minutes into the film: So there's this scene where Quell is working as a photographer at a shopping center, taking pics of families and shit like that. He ends up getting drunk on the job and is setting up a photo shoot with some dude; in the background we can hear the distant cries of a baby, as you would at a public place like this. Quell stops for a moment, then asks the man if he's married. Man says yes. Quell then approaches him and starts fucking with the dude and eventually it gets physical between them (the man slaps Quell in the face and the digital 7.1 surround fucking sells that SMACK so hard, holy shit). Anyway, I think the baby crying, the man being married, and Quell being apart from the girl he loved, plus the booze....I don't know what the fuck I'm saying.  

You don't have Anderson drawing you a map to each character's motivations, or bravura cinematic moments that you'll be quoting and rewinding and spoofing on YouTube or Funny or Die (those assholes always find a way, though), but what you do have are a few intense moments of 100-proof Grade-A Acting between some of the best actors around. Phoenix's Quell has spent time at the V.A. getting treatment for his "nervous condition", and watching him will give many viewers a nervous condition as well; he always appears to be on the verge of lunging at a motherfucker, and at one point, he literally begins chewing the scenery as he tears into a mattress.

He's also just fascinating to watch, especially whenever PTA shoots him in low-angle close-ups while homeboy already has his head tilted back; he's always hunched over and he even makes standing with his hands on his hips look like some kind of painful ordeal. His face is always scrunched up with his cleft-palate'd mouth frozen in some kind of post-stroke rictus, causing his dialogue to sometimes sound all GWARNM BLAGRM and causing me to reach for the Subtitle option on my remote except I'm at a movie theater, there's no remote, and now I'm all like Fuck, I gotta wait for the Blu-ray to understand this motherfucker?!

Hoffman is excellent as Dodd, someone who seems to be on top of everything, seems to know everything, prone to hearty handshakes and being the center of attention at social functions. You can totally understand why people would be eager to believe what he says, even though the game he spits can range from "interesting" to "are you fucking kidding me?" And the cracks certainly show through his otherwise confident facade whenever someone has the audacity to call Dodd on this shit, causing homeboy to snap on a motherfucker. Not that anyone takes much notice (or refuses to acknowledge it), I guess for the same reason people will forgive their favorite politician or spiritual leader for fucking up royally; nobody's perfect and we're only human after all, either that or maybe people just want to believe in something so bad, they'll plug their ears, close their eyes, and go LALALALALALA to ignore the warning signs and then unplug and open long enough to blame someone else -- anyone else -- for putting Their Guy in that position.

As for The Adorable Amy Adams, she does very well in her role; nothing showstopping, but that's not what the part's about anyway, she's more of a presence that pops up from time to time to remind us that Amy Adams is in this movie. Dalton from Road House must've been her grandson and that's where he learned his Be Nice Until It's Time Not To Be Nice ways, because there are times where she looks/acts as sweet as expected, bouncing her toddler son on her knee and baby-talking him, and then there are other moments where she is all business and will get up in a dude's face while he's trying to catch some ZZZ's and tell him what's what.

And when it comes time to pull the leash on the ol' hubby, she does that shit like a fuckin' boss, walking up to L.D. while he's washing up in the bathroom before bed, and proceeding to jerk that motherfucker off while setting him straight with some rules on how he should behave. My goodness -- the last film they acted in together, Adams and Hoffman were bonding over their fondness for Frosty the Snowman, now she's like the reverse Frank T.J. Mackey, demanding respect for the cunt while taming the cock. The cherry of this hand-job sundae is when she tells Dodd when to come (I prefer the non-porn spelling), she doesn't even let the guy come at his own leisure. It's like just 'cause she's tugging this dude's main vein doesn't mean she has all fuckin' night, either, 'cause a girl's gotta get her sleep. Damn. Even her one-handed hand-wash afterward was gangsta.

People always gotta make it about something it's not, and I guess as soon as they found out that Lancaster Dodd was based in some part on L. Ron Hubbard, they figured Anderson was gonna fuck Scientology in the ass, like he's Jesus Quintana on a Wednesday night date. He doesn't really do that because it's not an exposé on that shit. It's more about the flawed motherfuckers behind that kind of thing, but there are enough references to it that you can point it out your bud, all "That's the auditing session he's doing, only he doesn't have the E-meter!" If he wanted to, Anderson could've completely changed it to something that didn't resemble Scientology at all -- and you'd still have the same story and character arc (or lack thereof).

I think the 70mm will throw some people off, coming in and expecting some epic bastard-from-a-basket type shit, but they're getting something closer to a minor-scaled joint like Hard Eight (or Sydney, if you wanna be that way). His last film ended with a character declaring "I'm finished!" while this film ended with the lady behind me asking her friend "Is that it?", so keep that in mind. It's got a bit of a Full Metal Jacket thing going where the second half doesn't match the first half in power and awesomeness. I liked the film but after seeing it twice, I have to say this is my least favorite P.T. Anderson flick. But hey, with an oeuvre like his, "least" is still pretty fuckin' good.