In today’s Journal, we look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s controversial THE MASTER, the James Bond campfest MOONRAKER and we revisit the true story/disaster picture THE PERFECT STORM. I also describe a little bit about what it’s like living in the middle of the cultural epicenter of Scientology.
DAY 22: FEBRUARY 13, 2013
MOONRAKER (1979) – While being transported on top of an airplane, the new space shuttle Moonraker is stolen as the pilots are killed. James Bond uncovers a scheme by yet another crazy billionaire industrialist that threatens the security of the world. With the help of Dr. Holly Goodhead (ahem), he tries to foil Hugo Drax’s plan to create a new civilization in the stars, while destroying all life on planet Earth.
Originally, I said this was a disappointing Bond film but that it wasn’t until DIE ANOTHER DAY came along that I saw a 007 film I truly hated. Well, I might need to pull an Austin and check out all of these films over again. Because in revisiting MOONRAKER, I have to say that this is one amazingly awful motion picture.
Wanting to cash in on the STAR WARS craze, the film goes to great and unconvincing lengths to wedge an interstellar plotline into the James Bond universe. There’s a lot of the globetrotting we’ve come to expect in the film, but it’s all so dull and overly camped up that it comes off looking stale. The third act which ends with a laser fight in space has aged poorly. Basically, what BATMAN & ROBIN is to the Batman franchise, MOONRAKER is to James Bond.
One silver lining. Much like they retooled CASINO ROYALE following the abysmal DIE ANOTHER DAY, producers seemed to get the message and went serious for the far superior FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. ★ (out of ★★★★)
THE PERFECT STORM (2000) – Back in 1991, in the fishing town of Glaucester, Maine, all the fishing boats came in to shore. They were warned not to go out, as there was a hurricane coming. The crew of the Andrea Gale, desperate to make their catch, went out anyway believing they could survive the storm as they had in the past. Unfortunately, the right elements aligned to create a “perfect storm” that mercilessly tormented the crew.
I have always had a problem with this film. Naturally, nothing that says “based on a true story” is in fact completely true and Hollywood makes a lot of changes in order to help the story go down smoother. But THE PERFECT STORM just seemed…. wrong, somehow. In creating human drama for the crew of the Andrea Gail, they wrote elaborate backstories about affairs and rivalries that felt forced and untrue (and in fact were both). The film was also tooled as a summer blockbuster, meaning that the emphasis was on the storm itself and the special effects – grim stuff when one considers the still recent fate of the crew at the time of the film’s release. Lots of cutaways to other people in danger, which are presented as having more to do with your standard Irwin Allen disaster picture than anything of more substance.
Still, George Clooney and Marc Wahlberg both do admirable jobs and with the guidance of director Wolfgang Petersen, manage to create some insightful moments amidst all the noise. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
THE MASTER (2012) – first viewing – Upon returning from World War II, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) cannot integrate into society. He drinks highly dangerous alcoholic mixtures of his own creation and is prone to beating people up without provocation. He wanders drunkenly onto a ship as it is about to leave port. When he awakens, he finds that he is in the company of Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a self-styled renaissance man and the head of a new spiritual movement called the Cause.
Lancaster Dodd and the Cause are very obviously fashioned after one Lafayette Ronald Hubbard and the Scientology movement. The figures of Dodd and Hubbard are very similar and the Cause’s process of clearing emotions that block one’s path to enlightenment and service mirror that of the Scientologists’ process of going Clear. This is something I have some second-hand knowledge of. While I do not belong to the church and have not gone through the processes, I do live in Clearwater, Florida which is the spiritual center of Scientology. One cannot live here without seeing the influence the Church of Scientology has on the community and on its people. Yet, while they are always recruiting and doing outreach, the group tends to be a mystery to outsiders. I can tell you that I have seen people who give their all to the organization. Many of them I see as being taken, yes. But also, I have seen the ways in which the Church of Scientology helps some of its members, nurturing and holding on tightly to its community. The fact that I do not believe in the church’s philosophy does nothing to change the fact that they are here.
To see THE MASTER is to see the church at its infancy, or at least that’s the way it should be. If the film had focused on the enigmatic Lancaster Dodd, perhaps it would be more interesting. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with Freddie Quell, an increasingly brutish and unlikable character who does not seem to change significantly over the film’s two and a half hour running time. Moreover, Quell continues to exist within the organization because Dodd finds him so intriguing. And yet, we never really understand what it is about this character that peaks Dodd’s interest. It certainly does not translate to the audience.
The performances run the gamut. I cannot condone Phoenix’s performance, because he elicits no sympathy for the character. It’s a very method, Brando-esque performance, but not necessarily in the positive sense of the term. Hoffman and Amy Adams however continue to do astonishing work and their performances heighten the proceedings.
In the age of digital filmmaking, director Paul Thomas Anderson took the opposite route and instead filmed THE MASTER on 65mm stock, an almost unheard of practice. He makes a good case for pursuing the format in the future. Details and colors burst from the screen in a way digital manipulation has not been able to emulate. Not just colors, but different shades of colors within those colors are illuminated on the final image. It’s a gorgeous film and Anderson’s skilled direction is at the top of its game here, even if his script is not. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
THE CARE BEARS MOVIE (1985) – In their big-screen debut, the Care Bears travel from the kingdom of Care-a-lot to help a pair of orphan children discover the meaning of caring and friendship. But elsewhere, the magician’s apprentice Nicholas unleashes an evil spirit which threatens to destroy all the caring on Earth.
Yes, it’s a 1985 film and if you needed proof that we’re looking at everything, here it is. THE CARE BEARS MOVIE will be covered on our podcast, FILM GEEK CENTRAL PRESENTS: THE FILMS OF 1985. In the meantime, you can check out all the episodes we have done so far, as well as taking a look at what we’re covering in the weeks to come!
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 71
My soundtrack for February 13, 2013: “It wasn’t a game after this.”