Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Master Ginger & Rosa On the Road

I saw three well regarded films during the last week of March.  I thought highly of all three.

The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix & Philip Seymour Hoffman; directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; (2012) - Official Website
Ginger & Rosa starring Elle Fanning, Alessandro Nivola & Alice Englert; with Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt & Annette Benning; directed by Sally Potter; (2012) - Official Facebook
On the Road starring Sam Riley & Garrett Hedlund; with Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams & Kirsten Dunst; directed by Walter Salles; (2012) - Official Website

I saw The Master at the Castro in 70 mm.  I saw the other two films at the Landmark Embarcadero.  I have noticed that since Landmark closed the Lumiere, I have been going to the Embarcadero more than the Opera Plaza.  I have also noticed some films don't even open in San Francisco proper anymore.  The Sapphires opened at the Landmark Aquarius in Palo Alto without ever playing in SF.

Ginger & Rosa was the opening night film at the 2013 Cinequest.


What can I really add about The Master that has not already been written?  I could point out that Philip Seymour Hoffman has been in all of PT Anderson's feature films except There Will Be Blood.  Hoffman seems comfortable on screen under Anderson's direction; perhaps as a result of their long partnership.  However, Hoffman always seems comfortable on screen.  Although I may not always like his films, I always like his performances.  Chameleon-like in his ability to adapt to the needs of whatever role he is playing, I have always impressed with Hoffman...and then forget he was in the film.  I forgot his, albeit small, role in The Big Lebowski.  I forgot about his role as Ben Stiller's sidekick in Along Came Polly.  I had to be reminded he was Art Howe in Moneyball.  Hoffman has this odd ability to create memorable supporting characters who fade into the background after my memory of the film recedes.  I remember Steve Buscemi from Lebowski, Alec Baldwin from Polly and...not too much Moneyball but that's a different matter.

Anyway, I like the period costumes from The Master.  Joaquin Phoenix frequently mumbled his lines making them unintelligible; his character seemed to have a harelip.  There is a great set piece where Hoffman, Phoenix and Amy Adams are in a humongous, high-ceilinged office the size of a basketball court.  Actually, the film is full of memorable scenes.  Hoffman sings this toe-tapping bawdy song and either he and/or Phoenix imagine all the women in the room naked.  In another scene Hoffman rapid fires questions to Phoenix as part of the process of indoctrination.  To be honest, there is a fair amount of homoerotic undertones in the relationship between Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd & Phoenix's Freddie Quell.

Is The Master about a cult?  Yes.  Is it a thinly veiled jab at Scientology?  I don't enough about Scientology to answer.  At the core of the film is the relationship between Dodd & Quell which is open to multiple interpretations.


Ginger & Rosa is set during during the Cuban Missile Crisis in London.  Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert who is Jane Campion's daughter) are best friends and inseparable in the way 16 year old girls can be.  Ginger's home life is strained as her father (Alessandro Nivola) and mother (Christina Hendricks) separate and Ginger decides to live with her leftist father who politics are more in keeping with her own.  Ginger is one of those idealistic young women who thinks she can change the world or at least has a moral obligation to try to change the world. Rosa's interest are less political.  In fact, soon after the separation, Rosa's main interest is Ginger's father with whom she begins an affair.

Understandably, this puts a strain on Ginger which her best friend and father seem oblivious of.  Combined with the tension about the Cuban blockade, Ginger cracks under the strain.  That scene and lead up to it are showcases for Fanning's talents.  Fanning's performance in Ginger & Rosa is exceptional considering she was only 13 or 14 when the film was made.  Nivola as her father is quite effective as Ginger's selfish and self-rationalizing father.

Annette Bening, Oliver Platt & Timothy Spall show up as leftist colleagues of Ginger's father.


On the Road is based on Jack Kerouac's autobiographical novel of the same name.  It has been over 20 years since I read that book so I cannot recall how closely the film follows the novel.  Although I enjoyed the film, I am ultimately conflicted about it.  I feel compelled to compare the film to my memories of the book and my preconceived notions going into the film.  I guess when they tackle a literary icon like On the Road, expectations are unrealistically high.

Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) & Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) are pseudonyms for Jack Kerouac & Neal Cassady, respectively.  As the title implies, they hit the highways travelling from New York to Denver and San Francisco and Mexico.  Moriarty is quite the marrying man and his two wives have the juiciest roles in the film.  Kristen Stewart is Marylou, Moriarty's teenage first wife.  After getting an annulment, he marries Camille (Kristin Dunst) who is a thinly disguised Carolyn Cassady, Neal's long-time wife.  Viggo Mortensen shows up as William Burroughs with Amy Adams as his ill-fated wife.

Like Sal Paradise, I'm having writer's block on this film.  I can't quite figure out how I felt about it and writing about it is not clarifying my thoughts.  I liked it but there is more I want to say but I cannot articulate.  Actually, I'm not even sure I can conceptualize it.  I guess that is appropriate for a film based on a seminal work of the Beat Generation writers.  Maybe a road trip would help me find my voice.

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