For the week of February 26th, Anchor Bay Home Entertainment is bringing The Master to Blu-ray. Director Paul Thomas Anderson's highly anticipated follow-up to his Academy Award-winning There Will Be Blood proved to be one of 2012's most divisive films, and it isn't difficult to see why. Nominally a fictional exposé of The Cause, a Scientology-esque religion that rose to prominence in post-WWII America, the film focuses more on Joaquin Phoenix's unsettling, delusional Allied veteran Freddie Quell, who finds himself drawn to The Cause and its charismatic leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for reasons that grow murky as The Master approaches its elliptical conclusion. Anderson refuses to cast judgment on Quell or The Cause, which renders most of their interactions ambiguous, sometimes frustratingly so. However, Anderson's direction is even more refined and mature than it was on There Will Be Blood, and its Academy Award-nominated leads - Phoenix, Hoffman, and Amy Adams - are brilliant, with Phoenix scoring particularly high marks as the unpredictable Quell. In a career filled with terrific performances, this may be his finest.
Michael Reuben gave the Blu-ray set high marks in his Blu-ray review, writing, "The Master is Anderson's boldest experiment yet with narrative form, because it kicks away much of the familiar scaffolding we use to keep our footing in a story, while at the same time commanding our attention with entrancing images, hypnotic sound and enthralling performances. Themes, connections and emotions multiply on subsequent viewings. The Master is a film that will be slowly discovered and assimilated over time. I've seen it twice, and I already want to see it again. But it only takes one viewing to recognize that Anderson has created something remarkable."
Also hitting the HD format is Indomina Releasing's Holy Motors. This bizarre, hilarious fantasy practically defies explanation. It's about a mystery man (Denis Lavant) who sets off on a series of appointments that involve...white limousines. And giant dogs. And models and sex and action and sewers. And Kylie Minogue. And it all might be a dream. Holy Motors is the kind of film that begs for cult appreciation, but despite the weirdness on display, it's a lot more approachable than you might think, with inspired, loopy visual gags and Lavant's shape-shifting work as the hero keeping the movie on point. And if you get confused, just remember: it's all about movies.
In his review of the Region B Blu-ray edition, Svet Atanasov called Holy Motors "a unique entity, a film that constantly evolves without imitating other films. There are select themes in it - such as the idea that progress and modernity have completely destroyed our ability to function and recognize each other as individuals - that have appeared in some form in other films, but their use and presentation are completely new. Holy Motors is structured in a way that never completely locks visuals with messages, allowing one to interpret each of its stories in a variety of different ways. A film this unpredictable and impossible to categorize can spur only two kinds of reactions - complete admiration or total annoyance. No one will remain indifferent because no other film in recent years, and even not so recent years, has taken its audience on such a wild journey."
On Tuesday, the Criterion Collection is also hosting the high-definition debut of Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff. Since its debut in 1954, the film has picked up a reputation as one of the most emotionally devastating motion pictures ever made. Its story is simple and potent: after a governor defies his feudal lord, he is banished, and his family is sold to the title character, a venal slavedriver who inflicts maximum savagery on his charges. This is tough stuff, even for 1954, and Mizoguchi does not shirk from portraying the brutal realities of slavery. However, his take on the material is clear-eyed and never exploitative - Mizoguchi cares deeply about the governor's family, and he respects their situation too much to sugarcoat it with faux-uplift.
Svet Atanasov writes that "The story the film tells is simple, but there are multiple key characters that are followed closely. Additionally, past and present are closely intertwined, but a narrator points out the time changes and the important facts that are worth remembering. The film is firmly grounded in reality and free of melodrama. Sansho's camp, for example, is a cesspool where people are literally treated as objects. There are no graphic scenes, but the brutality is very authentic. The manner in which the guards treat the women, in particular, is quite disturbing. As the story progresses each of the key characters faces different dilemmas. What makes the film so fascinating to behold, however, is not how they solve them, but how they perceive and judge each others' actions. Their views and the statements they produce reveal a lot about the socio-political conditions in 11th century Japan."
Finally, we end the week with Warner Home Entertainment's The Hudsucker Proxy. For many years, this film was one of Joel and Ethan Coen's most under-appreciated works - it's a multi-million-dollar blockbuster seemingly designed to appeal to a very small group of viewers. Using the screwball comedies of Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks for inspiration, the brothers Coen craft a bizarre and blackly comic look at climbing the corporate ladder, as a venal business executive (Paul Newman) and a fast-talking reporter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) both find themselves exploiting a dimwitted stooge (Tim Robbins) who finds fame and fortune after inventing the hula-hoop. In many ways, it's no surprise that the picture barely recouped any of its $40 million budget; the Coens subvert romantic comedy stereotypes every chance they get (Leigh's character is barely sympathetic, and Robbins' Norville Barnes is legitimately stupid), and they frame the action from within a metropolitan hellscape only a few degrees removed from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. But if you can tune into its (admittedly pretty odd) wavelength, The Hudsucker Proxy offers up an inexhaustible supply of gags and creative invention.
I'm getting Attenborough's Africa. If it's from BBC, it's for me! I have the Eagles concert on HD-DVD and it's probably the best looking and sounding HD concert that I've ever seen. I might make the jump to blu if the price is right.
Yep. Really slow week. Nothing for me. But then we get into some good ones. Wreck-It Ralph followed by Rise of the Guardians followed by Hobbit an Unexpected Journey. That'll pretty much blow my blu-ray budget for March.
No love from me, just indifference. PTA crafted two of the best movies I've ever seen, Magnolia and Boogie Nights, and Punch Drunk Love was a groundbreaking "comedy". The Master was, aside from its amazing cinematography and fascinating performances, too inconsequential and distant for my taste. I felt it should have focused much more on Philip Seymour Hoffman's character and The Cause itself.