"The Master": One Long, Impressive "Meh"

Dodd complex: Philip Seymour Hoffman as fictional '50s cult leader Lancaster Dodd.

The Master
The Weinstein Company
137 minutes

The Master is the kind of movie destined for dissection and canonization by critics and film students for eons to come—and for all the wrong reasons. It's tremendously ambitious and gorgeously shot (in 65mm, no less). It's the latest big-screen offering from the sadly not very prolific writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, the brilliant 42-year-old maestro behind classics like Magnolia (1999) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002). The film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Dern, and Amy Adams, all of whom have built filmographies that speak volumes for themselves. Hell, Radiohead's lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is back working with Anderson on the score!

It's the type of movie you'd be silly not to root for. And yet The Master achieves little more than being a film of ravishingly empty beauty, choked off by an untiring indulgence in flat visual metaphor.

I take no joy in typing this. As a fan of Anderson's challenging, often beautiful work (he has an eye for character, photography, and epic sweep that few of his generation possess), this letdown stings just as badly as the pangs of disappointment felt after Pixar disproved the longstanding theory that they are incapable of making a bad movie.

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss:

  • The Master, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's hotly anticipated new drama (with a central character inspired by the L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology). I give the movie (and prime 2012 Oscar bait) a very sad, disappointed "meh." It opens Friday, September 21.
  • End of Watch, an acclaimed cop drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Alyssa gives the film her enthusiastic endorsement. It opens Friday, September 21.
  • Trouble with the Curve, Clint Eastwood's latest flick, in which he plays an aging, reliably crotchety baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. (Hold all of the empty-chair jokes, or so help me god.) It opens Friday, September 21.
  • More on the third and current season of Boardwalk Empire on HBO.
  • The Mob Doctor on Fox.
  • "Chicks flicks" and "dick flicks," and also GQ's epically dumb "Men's Guide to Fall TV."
  • A little bit about Mitt Romney, just cuz.

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thank you for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast in the iTunes store, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

WATCH: Why Do They Hate Us? [Fiore Cartoon]

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

What Was Romney Doing in the #missing2min?

When our source secretly recorded Mitt Romney's comments at a private fundraiser, the recorder accidentally stopped, according to the source; a minute or two passed before it was restarted. The source provided all the recorded material to Mother Jones, and we published all of it. Unsurprisingly, right-wing pundits have stoked conspiracy talk about the estimated two-minute break in the recording. (Never mind that Romney didn't refute anything from his long talk, instead admitting that his remarks were "not elegantly stated," and doubling down on them.) So the internet did what it does in these cases: It started a meme, #missing2min. What shocking revelations existed therein? Here are some suggestions from the hive mind:

How the Romney Video Went Viral

On Monday, Mother Jones published now-infamous videos of a private fundraiser for Mitt Romney. By day's end several new memes would be born, Bloomberg would predict that "today, Mitt Romney lost the election," and Romney would hold a hasty late-night presser to respond. Here's a roundup of media highlights:

WATCH: Romney's Budget Magic [Saunders Cartoon]

Editors' note: Mother Jones illustrator Zina Saunders creates editorial animations riffing on the political news and current events of the week. In this week's animation, she shows us magician Mitt Romney sawing the government in half. "It's magic!" But the results are, uh, a bit bloody? The animation, as always, was written, animated and acted by Zina Saunders.

In the first ten minutes of NBC's new sci-fi drama Revolution (premiering Monday, September 17 at 10 p.m. EDT), we meet the villain: Captain Tom Neville, played by Giancarlo Esposito. He is a 6-feet-tall, light-skinned, half-black militiaman of the Monroe Republic. He rides into town imposingly atop a large horse, accompanied by a pack of angry bodyguards brandishing rifles. Neville wears a trenchcoat, dark sunglasses, and a pistol at his hip—he calls to mind a slimmer Morpheus from the Matrix franchise. He is charismatic and composed, and speaks in a rich baritone. The village folk (dozens of good-looking white people) look on in trepidation.

At first glance, you may feel inclined—as I was—to think, "say, that Captain Neville looks and sounds an awful lot like Barack Obama, now, doesn't he?" only to have your nagging liberal guilt kick in, thus batting away such a mildly racist assumption.

Phew! You've dodged a mildly racist bullet, so it seems!

NBCNBCBut then Neville starts talking to the white townsfolk about taxesburdensome taxes—that are owed to the Monroe dictatorship. He reinforms them that for civilians "owning a firearm is a federal offense." He threatens to "reeducate" their children if his demands aren't met. And then, faster than you can say "Hussein," Neville and his crew begin terrorizing and decimating the assembly of benevolent, over-regulated white folk!

By now this should really be reminding you of someone—or at least the acute right-wing spin on the administration of a certain someone.

And so it was that on September 17, 2012, NBC introduced the Obama-Morpheus Tyrant.

(Alyssa Rosenberg, critic at ThinkProgress (and my podcast buddy), has more on the despotic Morpheus-Barack here.)

The XX's "Coexist" Exquisite but Bloodless

The xx
Young Turks/XL

When The xx's self-titled debut made its way into the public consciousness back around late 2009, it was like nothing else I was listening to. Starkly sophisticated, complexly minimal, overtly sexual, deeply felt—I did the aural equivalent of a double-take, and then I was hooked. I suspect many people had a similar reaction, because all of a sudden they were everywhere, prompting the question: Who were these guys anyway, and where had they come from?

That's when you found out that the band's members—guitarist Romy Madley Croft, bassist Oliver Sim, and beatmaker Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx)—were, like, 20 years old, just out of school and living in London. How the hell did they know so much about love and sex and longing—let alone how to put it all to such original music? And perhaps most importantly, when would they make more of it?

In Defense of Grizzly Bear

Courtesy Kanine RecordsCourtesy Kanine RecordsGrizzly Bear
Warp Records

In 2004, a solemn, anxious NYU student caught the attention of indie aficionados with an album largely composed in a bedroom. Soon after, the addition of three more jazz-minded NYU kids turned Grizzly Bear into a four-on-the-floor band, and together they would go on to produce a handful of albums that made their way onto the unofficial, essential soundtrack to Williamsburg gentrification. By 2009, if you listened closely, you could probably hear the entirety of GB's majestic Veckatimest playing through leaky earbuds on the L train, the line notorious for hauling transplanted creatives in and out of Brooklandia. Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor, and Christopher Bear did not smile for photos; their albums garnered descriptions like "haunted" and "gloriously eccentric," and their shows sounded painstakingly, precisely like their albums.

From that story you've probably figured it out: It's really easy to roll eyeballs about Grizzly Bear in 2012. Just last month, LA Weekly gorged itself on this sort of clickbait when it made Grizzly Bear number 5 on its list of "20 Worst Hipster Bands." Blah, blah, yes, we've heard the hipster hatred before. And you know what? It's a shameful disservice. Grizzly Bear has been one of the most reliably masterful bands of the decade, and their latest album, Shields, might be one of the best of the year. So, in the new-journalistic habit of making lists, here are five reasons you should listen to the new Grizzly Bear record.


"We Must Also Love the Thieves"

From Catherine Irwin's Little Heater


Liner notes: This electrifying sermon on caring for life's unfortunates evokes the raw intensity of a backwoods church.

Behind the music: As half of Kentucky's Freakwater, Irwin helped launch alt-country in the late '80s. Her compositions have been recorded by Neko Case and Jolie Holland, and this second solo album features support from Bonnie Prince Billy and the group Ida.

Check it out if you like: Modern artists who tap into old-time American music, including Mountain Man, Paula Frazer, and the Handsome Family.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.