Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

Joaquin Phoenix spent two full years essentially trolling the living hell out of the press with I'm Still Here. He spent two years, in character, every single time he appeared outside of his home. It was all a stunt, but it demonstrates a level of dedication that is either deeply troubling or worthy of substantial admiration.

That level of dedication is clear in The Master, in a way that is profoundly effective. Phoenix has been the subject of critical praise throughout his career, but absolutely nothing he's done compares to the level of performance he is able to achieve here. It's flat out amazing. Nothing else can express it.

If that weren't a good enough reason to see The Master, there's Philip Seymour Hoffman. Another of this generations most respected actors, who has managed to find his way into a roles that have demonstrated he's a gifted actor with the ability to make characters feel real and grounded on a range that is impressive because of how rare it is. This is the best work he's ever done.

The two men spend eighty-five to ninety percent of the films running time on screen together. doing this strangely dysfunctional dance in the creation of a relationship that is at times deeply troubling, but only in just how well it portrays the reality of this kind of interaction. There's a level of emotional honesty in the script that gives Hoffman room to display all of his range, and more. It also gives Phoenix the chance to so fully embody a character that it crawls right up to the line of being unsettling to consider that he is acting, and not actually the person he's portraying on screen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4 (Henry Joost, Ariel Shulman, 2012)

If there's one thing you need to know about Paranormal Activity 4, it's that there's nothing new in front of the lens, under the moon or anywhere else for that matter. There isn't anything in the latest installment of the Halloween season behemoth franchise that you haven't seen in the previous installments. The question is, did you like what you saw in the first three movies? If you did, the chances are pretty good that you're going to enjoy this as well.

It doesn't succeed in carrying the series mythology forward in a substantial way like the third film, and most of the scares are variations on things the first three films have already succeeded in using to cause a theater full of people to jump, yelp and sometimes scream in fright. At the same time, if you're looking for a fun time in a theater full of people who are anticipating having the crap scared out of them, and they enjoy that idea, you're in luck.

Let's face it, the Paranormal Activity series hasn't reinvented the horror genre with any of it's installments. It has succeeded because it's been like an amusement park ride. A large group of people get together, and agree it's perfectly acceptable to act in a way they would not find it acceptable to be seen acting under any other circumstances, like frightened children. Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman have succeeded in delivering that experience again. There are some seriously great scares peppered throughout the film.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012)

It's that time of year. The Halloween season is upon us. The horror industry is kicking things into high gear as everyone is a little more willing to venture out and attempt to find a film that's going to scare them out of their wits.

One of the many offerings this Halloween season is Sinister, directed by Scott Derrickson, who is also credited as having written the screenplay, with C. Robert Cargill (Massawyrm to readers of Ain't It Cool News, who's gone on to write for his own site, Hit Fix). The trailer and marketing material suggest a film about haunted home movies, starring Ethan Hawke.

Derrickson's most well known film to date is The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which drew it's strength from taking a different perspective on the possession genre and a particularly strong performance from Jennifer Carpenter. Given that and the fact that Cargill is an enthusiastic and unabashed cinema devotee whose work I've been reading for years, I thought it worth giving Sinister a chance. If nothing else, I'd be using my dollar to cast a vote for movies made by people who love them instead of being made by people who only see them as vehicles used to extract dollars from the pockets of unsuspecting consumer audiences.