The Master of Vice

He went to film school for two days and decided it wasn’t for him. Yet he is now one of Hollywood’s most critically acclaimed and bankable directors. Instead of the normal route, to learn his aspired-to craft he watched movie after movie on video/DVD, all accompanied by the director’s audio-commentary. In other words, he taught himself to direct. He thought the best way to get the movers and shakers to sit up and take notice was to direct porn – or, at least, a short about porn. This took the form of a mockumentary on the life of the legendary John Holmes – you’d have heard of him if you’re into that sort of thing. This half-hour 1988 effort, ‘The Dirk Diggler Story’, later morphed into ‘Boogie Nights’, the movie that really announced the arrival of a special progeny back in ’97 – and the one that introduced this scribbler to his world.

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Paul Thomas Anderson was born in 1970 to a disc-jockey, voice-over father and a mother who had difficulty relating to her son, the third youngest of nine offspring. Dad, though, was very supportive, allowing son PT to run with his passions. This soon turned out to be various forms of the video camera – to the detriment of his schooling. By the early nineties his shorts were receiving notice, leading to his first full length feature in 1996, ‘Hard Eight’. Those believing in him, to the degree they gave him the financial means to make it, included luminaries such as John C Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow. His sophomore effort was ‘Boogie Nights’, resurrecting Burt Reynolds’ career. Anderson’s idiosyncratic style has since enhanced the careers of many noted thespians including Tom Cruise (‘Magnolia’, 1999), Adam Sandler (‘Punch Drunk Love’, 2000 – a personal favourite) and the vehicle that gave Daniel Day Lewis the second of his three Best Leading Actor Oscars,’There Will Be Blood’. Many regard this as the best film to come out of the noughties. The critical and commercial success of PTA’s offerings have continued on into this present decade.

Being one of the last movies to feature the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman before his untimely departure, when I espied ‘The Master’, considerably reduced, at my fav merchants of popular culture, I grabbed it quick smart. I’d missed it at the multiplexes. Hoffman didn’t disappoint and was duly awarded a nomination for the big gong. But it wasn’t he that blew me away, but the lead guy, Joaquin Phoenix. He was simply incredible in this and was also duly accoladed for his efforts during the awards season. Freddie, his character, was a WW2 vet off his head with PTS and industrial strength alcohol – plus anything else he could ingest. Returning back to the States after the conflict, he creates a fracas as a fashion emporium photographer, resulting in him being down and out, stowing away on a yacht, as one does in that condition. On this vessel he encounters the charismatic leader of the Cause (Hoffman). It’s a semi-religious cult Anderson presumably based on Scientology. As Freddie’s life becomes entwined with the Cult, so do his demons wax and wane. This has the result that we, the audience, are taken on a fantastical journey through the middle-America of the Eisenhower years. There was some memorable imagery involved in this, plus a copious eyeful of sex and nudity – so be warned. Through it all Phoenix’s contorted face and body are mesmerising – a truly remarkable performance that had this punter in awe – with, I suspect Anderson also so much in his thrall that the actor was a shoo-in for the lead in his next offering.

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I was hanging out to see ‘Inherent Vice’ after the excesses of the above – and as I had read about the mutton-chops. I suspect that such glorious side-burn hair may not have been witnessed since the seventies – the setting of the film. And magnificent as well were JP’s actorly chops in this production.

I’d tell you about more about the plot if I could, but it completely lost me – as it did many more competent critics than I. I reckon it’d take more than another viewing to figure it all out, a fact that possibly cost it dearly when it came to those gongs this year. ‘IV’ only raised a three for the Globes and the Golden Man combined. But the trip it takes one on is wonderful. With a palette of washed out, sun drenched and burnished hues, the movie swings viewers back to more hedonistic times when pot-addled PI Doc (Phoenix) is up to his neck in drugs and loose women. He’s searching for his ex’s new lover. Katherine Waterston is brave in her role as said ex, but the whole ensemble revelled in out-and-out weirdness. Josh Brolin, as a possibly mad LAPD officer, was a great turn. Martin Short, a manic dentist, was unrecognisable. Owen Wilson entranced as a dead saxophonist, Benicio del Toro was terrific as I am not exactly sure what and Renee Witherspoon remained super-cool as Doc’s current squeeze. I adored the whole she-bang and will wait with baited breath to see what the directorial one-off, Paul Thomas A, has next in store for us.

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Official Trailer ‘The Master’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ1O1vb9AUU

Official Trailer ‘Inherent Vice’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZfs22E7JmI

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