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Jul 22nd
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Film

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School Daze

School Daze

Smart, funny college-nostalgia comedy 'Liberal Arts' makes the grade

As Thomas Wolfe once said, you can't go home again. According to Josh Radnor, in his smart, entertaining comedy Liberal Arts, you can't go back to college again, either. Whether or not you should want to is the driving force that propels Radnor's thoughtful, funny film, as the ferment of campus life, with all its drama, romance, and terror, where Wolfe and succeeding generations of literary mentors hold such sway, is re-examined by a protagonist in his 30s who's still having a hard time coming of age.

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Reviews and Times

Film, Times & Events: Week of Oct. 04

Film, Times & Events: Week of Oct. 04

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Second Rate

Second Rate

Big technique, minor story in underwhelming ‘The Master’

There are some astonishing moments early in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, when something really seems to be going on. As the Navy seaman played by Joaquin Phoenix behaves badly just before and after the end of World War II—cooking and drinking lethal alcohol out of whatever fuel is handy, dry-humping a sand sculpture of a nude woman on the beach, laughing inappropriately at the therapists in the VA hospital—the movie seems to have its own wildly original vitality. Then we begin to notice how threadbare the emperor’s clothes really are.

In broad compositions, story structure, and snatches of incidental music, The Master soon starts to feel a lot like Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Once again, he relies on powerhouse acting—here, Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman—to distract the audience away from the lack of substance or meaning or plot in Anderson’s script. As Phoenix’s lost soul and Hoffman’s cult leader go head-to-head—drinking, raging, psyching each other out, or, most alarming, engaging in queasy-making bromance bear hugs—we start to realize that’s all there is to The Master. It’s a dual character study in search of a story.

Freddy Quell (Phoenix) is a horny, alcoholic screw-up who can’t get a grip after the war. Extinguishing his job as a department store portrait photographer with an unprovoked attack on a customer, then driven out of the produce fields by enraged Filipino migrant workers for cooking bad hooch, he hops aboard a luxury yacht leaving San Francisco Bay. There he falls under the spell of Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a patriarchal figure with a facade of serenity who leads his large entourage in a belief system called The Cause.

Where Dodd comes from or what exactly he stands for remain elusive. He dabbles in past-life regression, urges his followers to elevate their species above animals (although Quell doesn’t quite get that part, eager to pummel anyone who begs to differ with Dodd’s message), and goes in for mentally abusive “processing” to break down his followers’ resistance. (“Do you ever think about how inconsequential you are?”) Meanwhile, his wife, Peggy (Amy Adams) coaches them on proactively attacking their attackers, otherwise “we will never dominate the environment the way we should.”

It would help if we ever had a clue what they were talking about or what they want to achieve. But once volatile Quell meets loony-tunes Dodd (who might break out at any moment into “I Want to Get You On a Slow Boat to China” for no reason), that’s it for plot development. Dodd elevates drunken Quell into his inner circle, to the despair of his family, evidently because his ego requires someone as hopeless as Quell to dominate. But despite the danse macabre between the two of them that lasts the rest of the movie, they never seem to connect with nor enlighten each other in any comprehensible way.

Anderson can get inarticulate rage up onscreen. But, like his characters, he doesn’t know what to do with it. Is he commenting on postwar trauma? The psychology of the cult follower (or leader)? Who knows? No one undergoes any kind of personal transformation or gains any insight, and with no narrative drive to prop up the flaccid story, the movie just lies there, twitching.

Moments of apparent dramatic intensity turn out to be fueled by Jonny Greenwood’s jittery, propulsive music, coupled with the built-in suspense of wondering how long Phoenix can maintain the same bent, gnarled stance of pent-up aggression. (Answer: for the entire movie. Phoenix’s bravura performance deserves some kind of endurance award, at least. So do we.)

Anderson has paid attention to physical scope; he shot in 65 mm, using lots of large vistas of deserts, beaches, canyons. He’s adept at long, complex tracking shots, full of perfectly choreographed action. Yet the simplest mechanics of storytelling often elude him, like the improbable moment when an usher brings in a cradle telephone (on what must be the world’s longest cord) into a theater balcony during the movie so a patron can take a call.

Anderson doesn’t seem to care if something makes sense as long as it looks cool, just as he doesn’t care if The Master adds up to anything, so long as it has the appearance of profundity. 


THE MASTER

★★ (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>

With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. A Weinstein Co. release. Rated R. 137 minutes.

Reviews and Times

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 27th

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 27th

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Soul Food

Soul Food

'Chicken With Plums' is a luscious, imaginative love story

First there was Persepolis, a gorgeously rendered black-and-white animated film about growing up female in Iran based on the graphic novel memoir by Marjane Satrapi. Now, Satrapi and her filmmaking partner Vincent Paronnaud are back with a splendid sophomore effort, Chicken With Plums.

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Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 20th

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 20th

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Spin Cycle

Spin Cycle

Awesome visual tone poem 'Samsara' tries too hard for profundity

Starting out as a cinematographer on Koyannisqatsi, the original trippy head movie, Ron Fricke has devoted his career to plotless, dialogue-free visual meditations on Nature and Life. Twenty years ago, he made his feature directing debut with Baraka, an uneven, if at times breathtaking, visual tone poem on who we are and how we live in the world.

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Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 13th

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sept. 13th

Films This Week
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Sorry, Wrong Number

Sorry, Wrong Number

Phone-prank cautionary tale ‘Compliance’ loses touch with reality 

Is it a tough, but important and timely drama on the “only following orders” mentality, or a gratuitous wallow in abasement and abuse? Audiences at Sundance this year were split over Compliance, the sophomore feature from Craig Zobel; half of them walked out early, the rest stayed to the end and cheered. But the truth of this film’s effectiveness lies somewhere in between these extremes—just as the facts of the case histories on which the story is supposedly based (“INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” scream the opening credits) no doubt lie somewhat to windward of the way they are presented onscreen.

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Film, Times & Events: Week of Sep. 6th

Film, Times & Events: Week of Sep. 6th

Films This Week
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With: Reviews ~ COMPLIANCE,
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Art Files: Opposites Attract

Using found objects, Victoria May seeks beauty in dichotomy and tension, the creepy and absurd

 

A Year of Creative Self-Expression

Wednesday, after a year in Cancer’s nourishing waters, Jupiter enters fiery Leo. Next Tuesday, the sun joins Jupiter in Leo. Leo is the sign of the three fires of life, of seeking our individuality, our gifts and talents. Life for the next year will be quite dramatic, expressive, creative and generous. Jupiter, the heart of Aquarius, is the planet of expansion and truth, distributing Ray 2 of Love and Wisdom.

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of July 18

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Posted

Desserts at Seabright’s La Posta, a pop-up breakfast, local ethnic cuisine, and a long-lost varietal 

 

What is the most outrageous thing you did as a kid?

Santa Cruz | Retired

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Loma Prieta’s Pinotage

Although drinking alone is not half as much fun as drinking with others, after a busy day of dashing around, I came home and poured myself a glass or two of Loma Prieta’s Pinotage 2010 (saving a bit for my husband). There’s something about taking that first sip of a worthy wine that gives one an all-over glow.