Video Verdict: ‘The Master,’ ‘Chasing Mavericks’

Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in “The Master,” the latest film from director Paul Thomas Anderson.

Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in “The Master,” the latest film from director Paul Thomas Anderson.

This week’s home video releases are anchored by the latest project from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose previous films include “There Will Be Blood,” “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Magnolia.”

The Master

2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

“The Master” is at the center of the Academy Awards race, having received a best actor nomination for its star, Joaquin Phoenix, and supporting actor nods for co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. While the performances are unquestionably fine, it’s hard to get behind the movie as a whole because of its wandering plot and unlikable characters.

Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran who emerges from the Navy scarred and hopelessly addicted to booze, most of which he manufactures himself using dangerous chemicals like paint thinner. Mentally unstable and unable to hold a regular job, he falls under the influence of a self-appointed spiritual guru named Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). Dodd travels the U.S. with his wife, Peggy (Adams), and their two children, arguing that everyone has led past lives and that addressing traumas incurred in previous incarnations can solve current problems.

While the concept of an explosive, mentally ill man falling under the spell of a phony messiah is fertile ground for a movie, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t take his setup anywhere interesting. The film is surprisingly nonjudgmental in its portrayal of Dodd, who is an obvious fraud. In fact, it’s arguable that Freddie benefits from his interactions with Dodd, even though the man’s teachings are little more than manufactured hokum.

Anderson could have explored the mindset that leads people into cults or whether the mentally ill are easier targets for their charismatic leaders, and this would have been fascinating. Instead, he turns “The Master” into a sort of buddy movie, with Dodd latching onto Freddie and vice versa.

It is possible that Anderson wants viewers to see Dodd and Freddie as equally unstable. But even when read that way, the film doesn’t have much to offer. It looks beautiful, and it’s carefully put together, but there doesn’t seem to be any great message about human nature or society. Depth isn’t necessary in a movie, of course, but “The Master” isn’t particularly entertaining either. Rather, it’s a lengthy, often dull, story about two lost souls who discover each other and proceed to tread water.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include outtakes, additional scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

 

Chasing Mavericks

3 stars
Rated PG for thematic elements and some perilous action
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Surfing is inherently cinematic thanks to the visual beauty of waves crashing against a beach and the danger that accompanies the most extreme versions of the sport. For many filmmakers, this combination is too good to pass up, making surf films a genre of their own.

The latest picture to enter the fray is “Chasing Mavericks,” a consistently entertaining project that does a lot of things right, yet fails to move beyond Hollywood clichés. The film is based on the real-life story of Santa Cruz surf star Jay Moriarity; and it focuses on his teen years, in particular his relationship with big wave surfer Frosty Hesson.

As portrayed by newcomer Jonny Weston, Jay is a natural-born surfer determined to conquer the biggest waves around. For him, that means the legendary Mavericks area, located on the California coast near Half Moon Bay. Although just a boy, Jay is able to convince Frosty (Gerard Butler) to teach him the ins and outs of surfing in this dangerous environment.

Like most sports movies, “Chasing Mavericks” follows Jay as he plows through a relentless training regimen. And, like most sports movies, the action peaks when he finally gets a shot at his dream. Weston is solid in the lead role, and Butler is likable and believable as a weathered surf mentor.

The movie also benefits from the talent of two veteran directors: Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential,” “8 Mile”) and Michael Apted (“Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “The World Is Not Enough”). Sharing the reins, they keep the film moving at a solid pace that allows viewers to invest in the story and look beyond the fact that they’ve likely seen the same material in numerous other films.

Any good surf movie depends heavily on visuals, and cinematographers Oliver Euclid and Bill Pope capture some fantastic big wave sequences. Perhaps even more importantly, editor John Gilbert makes it look as though it’s actually Weston and Butler surfing those giant waves.

“Chasing Mavericks” is too much like “Blue Crush,” “Soul Surfer” and other recent surf movies to become a classic, but it is entertaining and a nice memorial to Jay Moriarity.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary by Apted and writers Brandon Hooper and Jim Meenaghan.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“How to Survive a Plague”: This film about activists who lobbied for an increase in AIDS resources earned an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature. Directed by David France.

“The Client List” – The Complete First Season: Initial 10 episodes of the Lifetime network series about a mother (Jennifer Love Hewitt) who begins working as a prostitute after her husband abandons her. The show was renewed for a second season, which is set to begin in early March.

“Chronicle of a Summer”: The Criterion Collection is delivering a new high-definition transfer of this groundbreaking, 1961 film in which filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin interview Paris residents about political issues and life in general. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“Scooby-Doo – Mask of the Blue Falcon”: New direct-to-video animated movie in which Scooby-Doo and his crime fighting gang go head-to-head with a super villain who was thought to exist only in comic books.

“Rocko’s Modern Life” – The Complete Series: All 52 episodes of the animated series that aired on Nickelodeon in the mid-1990s. The show centers on the adventures of an Australian wallaby living in the U.S.

“Barbie in The Pink Shoes”: Direct-to-video animated movie featuring Barbie as a young ballerina who gets transported to a strange world where she must dance famous ballets to defeat an evil queen.

“Escape Fire – The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare”: Documentary film focused on problems in the American healthcare system. Produced and directed by Matthew Heineman and Susan Fromke.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Rise of the Turtles”: Five episodes of the new computer-animated Ninja Turtles series that premiered on Nickelodeon in September 2012. In this set, the turtles begin fighting crime for the first time. The voice cast includes Jason Biggs, Sean Astin, Bob Paulsen and Greg Cipes.

“Phineas and Ferb – Animal Agents”: Twelve episodes of Disney Channel’s “Phineas and Ferb” cartoon series, each one centered on the adventures of Perry the Platypus and his crime-fighting buddies.

“Joshua Tree”: Fresh release of the 1993 action film starring Dolph Lundgren as a car thief who escapes from prison and unknowingly takes a female police officer hostage. George Segal also stars. Directed by Vic Armstrong.

“Chicken With Plums”: Fanciful foreign film about a violinist who is heartbroken when his prized instrument is broken. Distraught, he decides to die, but he is first plunged into a number of nostalgic visions. Co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. Presented in French with English with subtitles.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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