There’s no surer sign that Oscar season is officially underway than the release of one of the most anticipated films of the fall: The Master, director Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to the modern masterpiece that was There Will Be Blood. The filmwas known colloquially in cinephile discussions during its somewhat difficult development process as Anderson’s Scientology project, but it isn’t technically about Scientology. It is, however, about a charismatic writer who, in the wake of World War II, develops his own philosophy/religion and begins collecting recruits to his way of thinking. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the writer, here known as Lancaster Dodd, who is supposedly modeled on Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Joaquin Phoenix plays a veteran having difficulties since returning from the war, and in his first role since his self-imposed Hollywood exile to make the faux-documentary about his fake career meltdown, I’m Not There, he comes back as the force of nature everyone remembered him as, garnering near-universal acclaim and awards buzz for his performance from audiences at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
The Master is being described in terms just as grand and operatic as There Will Be Blood, though is somewhat more confounding plotwise. The reaction among many critics on Twitter seemed to be one of bewilderment as to how to begin writing about it. This critic was not able to catch the local press screening, but it’s exactly those types of reactions that make me more eager to see the film when it opens tomorrow. It will be playing all over the area, but there’s only one place to go if you want to get the full experience Anderson intended: the AFI. Anderson, not yet a convert to digital filmmaking, not only stuck with traditional film for this feature, but went so far as to shoot on the 70-millimeter format, which gives greater detail and lush visuals than the usual 35-millimeter. The AFI is the only area theater that’s actually projecting a 70-millimeter print of the film, which, by all accounts at preview screenings happening throughout August in select cities, is one of the most amazing visual experiences you’re likely to have at the movies all year.
Every September, the AFI presents the area’s largest collection of new Latin-American (and Spanish and Portuguese) films in a festival that covers three weeks, 50 films, and 20 nations. Highlights include: tonight’s opening night screening of Filly Brown, a US-produced feature about a Latin-American hip-hop artist trying to break into the business. There’s the debut from Mexican director Antonio Méndez Esparza, Aquí y Allá, about a migrant worker who gives up trying to get by in the US and finds that life is just as difficult south of the border when he attempts to reintegrate into his life back at home. Another debut comes from Argentinean director Benjamín Ávila with Clandestine Childhood, which was an official selection at Cannes this year—a personal story reflecting the director’s own childhood during the junta of the post-Perón years in the 1970s. That’s just a start for this festival, which grows bigger every year.
Each year for the past six years the National Archives has had a tribute to the documentarian Charles Guggenheim. This year’s program is a week from today, and this year’s tribute ties in with an upcoming exhibit at the Archives commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as they screen Guggenheim’s 1979 film about the life of John F. Kennedy, which was commissioned that year to screen at the dedication of the Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. Next week’s screening will be followed by a discussion with Kennedy’s special assistant for civil rights, Harris Wofford, as well as Jay Lash Cassidy, the film’s editor and a frequent Guggenheim collaborator.
Director Miloš Forman is best known to US audiences for his work on films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, but before he made the transition to Hollywood he was one of the most prominent figures in the blossoming of the Czechoslovakian New Wave—a movement that paralleled the French New Wave, but with its own defining characteristics, particularly the reactions of its cadre of young directors to growing up under Communism. In celebration of Forman’s 80th birthday this year, the National Gallery is presenting a small retrospective concentrating on the director’s early work, before winding things up with the crowd favorite Amadeus next weekend. Things kick off Saturday with a lecture from Michal Bregant, the director of the Czech film archive in Prague, who will discuss Forman’s career and its place in the Czech New Wave; that will be followed on Sunday by screenings of one of Forman’s earliest films, the 1963 blend of documentary and fiction Audition, and his first film after his exile to America, 1971’s Taking Off.
View clips from Audition. Audition
and Taking Off
screen Sunday at 4:40 PM at the National Gallery of
The rest of the Forman programs take place the following
weekend. See the
for complete details. Free.
Jean Renoir’s classic World War I POW movie, Grand Illusion, celebrates its 75th birthday this year and has been newly restored for the occasion, playing at selected screens across the country. One of those screens happens to be a brand new one, at the Angelika Mosaic out in Fairfax, which officially opens this weekend with a full slate of new films, as well as something old to christen the new space. Renoir made his film in 1937, as fascism was on the rise in Europe and the first steps on the path to another World War were underway. Renoir’s film is one that celebrates lessons that should have been—but apparently weren’t—hammered home hard enough in the aftermath of World War I, namely that the bonds of humanity should transcend the artificial national barriers between us. They’re lessons we’re still working on as a planet, which is one of the things that makes the film such a masterpiece and so eternally relevant.
Blu-Ray/DVD Pick: The Game
The Game often gets a bad rap, sometimes seen as a by-the-numbers exercise director David Fincher engaged in between two much more universally acclaimed works, Seven and Fight Club. But that’s a gross underrating of a sharp and entertaining film, and it’s been nice to see tides turn on the reputation of the film as time has gone on, culminating in a new Criterion Collection release with the usual slew of accompanying materials. The film stars Michael Douglas as a wealthy investment banker who receives for his birthday a mysterious gift for the guy who has everything: entrance into an elaborate real-life “game” tailored specifically to his own life. The character’s initial reluctance to participate turns to horror as he begins to suspect it isn’t even a game at all, but rather an elaborate plot to torture, humiliate, and eventually kill him. Endlessly thrilling, with some amazing action pieces and a fully earned twist in the end, The Game deserves to sit proudly right alongside the two films Fincher made.
Special Features: Audio commentary by Fincher, cinematographer Harris Savides, Douglas, screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, digital animation supervisor Richard “Dr.” Baily, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug, and visual effects producer Robyn D’Arcy; an hour’s worth of making-of materials, including storyboards for the movie’s big set pieces; an alternate ending; the original trailer with commentary; and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Sterritt.
View the trailer.