Masterful

20130131-225055.jpg

The rest of the long weekend went lazily, with much lolling about Cornwall Park and strolling through the twilit university. Betty could develop a taste for having entire days off.

20130131-123127.jpg

In the evening, she and the husband person went to the movies. There has been rather a rash of this going around, of late: Betty saw Life of Pi with her sisters over Christmas, and Les Miserables just the other week. This time was The Master.

Betty feels the need to point out that though she has a very high tolerance – a soft spot, in fact – for Paul Thomas Anderson, his work is seldom seemly. The Master is nuanced and beautiful; it tells the story of the leader of a movement called simply the Cause, and the broken stranger who threatens to be either his soulmate or his undoing.

20130131-230236.jpgJoaquin Phoenix’s character Freddy Quell is breathtakingly tragic – a piece of ex-Naval jetsam, grimly kyphosed, post-traumatic, abandoned and out of place, alcoholic to a near-savant degree, still sparking from the burns inflicted on his soul by military action and peacetime missteps in love.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the Master himself, a charismatic and down-to-earth auteur huckster. He is flailing somewhat in the process of writing his philosophical movement’s difficult second treatise, navigating the inconveniences of legal and domestic restrictions on his wishes that the Cause should allow him to cure, love, enjoy and experience all. In the face of disgruntled disciples, obstreperous policemen, and herself (beautifully played, again, by Amy Adams, qv), Freddy is a breath of fresh air – a blank slate, a listening ear, a second chance. The dance the two do together, under the wife’s suspicious eye, shows most sensitively the varied pulls of faith and love, of independence and of pain.

A fellow-congregant of Betty’s once remarked that a life lived in church had given him nothing if not a deep understanding of battered woman syndrome. He wasn’t being cynical – in faith, as in any good thing, opportunities to abuse each other abound, even before we face problems like significant doubt, or scandal. The Cause has plenty of worrying tenets, and the Master is unquestionably gifted to lead with authority, though he’s not the out-and-out deceiver one might want to believe he must be (comparisons to L. Ron Hubbard are justified but glib). To follow, or to go back, or to hang on for dear life is as natural as breathing, whether we’re grasping onto a violent spouse or a dangerous cult or a culture of painful potlucks; and, confusingly, we ourselves are often the party that’s no better than it should be. What then? If love, let go?

One suspects that the scars on Freddy’s soul would take as long to heal as Joaquin’s shoulders will take to complete the long migration to his back (his is a performance that excited Betty’s artistic admiration and professional horror in equal measure). But then one never knows. How few of us, really, are master of anything.

20130131-224727.jpg

Adjustment Bureau: or, the deus ex machina may have had its day

The movie of the week was Adjustment Bureau, in which Matt Damon and Emily Blunt run hand-in-hand around New York City while hatted men run in pursuit. Betty does not wish to spend undue amounts of time reviewing the movie, which was fun but only shallowly memorable; instead, she will provide a list of film adaptations of the work of Philip K. Dick.

In 1982, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” became Blade Runner.

In 1990, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” became Total Recall.

In 1992, “Confessions of a Crap Artist” became Confessions d’un Barjo. Pardon the French.

In 1995, “Second Variety” became Screamers.

In 2001, “Impostor” became Impostor.

In 2002, “The Minority Report” became Minority Report.

In 2003, “Paycheck” became Paycheck.

In 2006, “A Scanner Darkly” became A Scanner Darkly.

In 2007, “The Golden Man” became Next.

And this year, “The Adjustment Team” became Adjustment Bureau.

You’re welcome. It had its good points, actually — the hats were sweet.

True Grit

Well, the Denny’s garden burger has gone the way of all flesh. Betty and the husband person dropped in there, nostalgically, after a movie the other night; but although the waiter remembered the old menu, it was club sandwiches or nothing on the vegetable front.

Still, though. The movie was this one:

And a fine job it is too. It’s the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl determined to bring her father’s killer to justice. The killer’s identity is not in question, but the authorities seem to operate on a very freelance and as-desired basis; Mattie selects a trigger-happy marshal (Jeff Bridges) as the pursuer, and strikes a deal with her father’s money. She insists on going along — after all, she’s the one with the hundred dollars — and the pair are joined by a hapless Texas ranger (Matt Damon), who has been ineffectually searching for the same man for some time, and who expects a large reward.

The film is beautifully and unhurriedly paced, brilliantly cast (Matt Damon is genuinely horrible for the first half hour, and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie is an unsettling combination of ferociously untamed eyebrows and blankly literal determination), and set in the spacious forests and deserts of Fort Smith. There plot twists are simple and straightforward; bit parts, though they stray easily into the semi-ridiculous (like a travelling medical man dressed in an entire bearskin) somehow don’t pull the story too far into crude hick humour. Even the dialogue, excessively stylised and formal, doesn’t become cutesy. What could easily be a cheap trick, a forgettable kid-with-gun caper, manages — effortlessly, at that — to hold its own.

The true centre of the film, though, is in the tension between Mattie’s unshakeable faith in “grit” — the kind of strength of character that leads her marshal to lose count of the suspects he has taken on himself to shoot — and the haunting simplicity of the score that accompanies nearly all of the story’s significant moments. Even before the adult Mattie opens the film by declaring, in retrospect, that “there is nothing free, except the grace of God”, the musical phrase is a line from the hymn “Leaning on the everlasting arms”. It is repeated in every crisis, before every action, whether reaching for a gun, or standing outnumbered among a group of desperate fugitives. Safe and secure from all alarms…

There is crime and pursuit here, but no mystery; Mattie’s faith can admit no defeat. The film, like her mission, moves steadfastly on. Its climax is shocking on paper, but consummately logical and satisfying in the flesh. What have I to dread?, Mattie’s unperturbed countenance seems to say. What have I to fear? And her tumultuous story ends in peace, as she and her guardian hymn together declare that true grit is born of a blessed assurance, and of nothing else, and most certainly not the other way around.

 

The Brothers Bloom

The boy person friend ummed and ahhed a little before deciding to show Betty The Brothers Bloom. It turns out he had seen the trailer and suspected that the film was nothing more than a ho-hum heist movie. Indeed, had /Film not suggested otherwise, he might have let it utterly pass him by.

He also has an irrational disinclination to like Rachel Weisz, which Betty finds remarkable. Rachel Weisz, surely, is one of the modern masters of the simultaneously brains-before-beauty and deprived-of-oxygen-at-birth-for-just-a-wee-moment, just-as-well-father-has-money kind of effect otherwise made so famous by Nigella Lawson. How could anyone resist?

You perceive? At any rate, Betty enjoyed The Brothers Bloom very greatly. It is an energetic semi-fantastical caper in which Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo play notorious, albeit one-trick, con-men. After an unfortunate childhood, succinctly covered — in rhyme — in the first reel, the brothers develop a signature con, which they use to great effect in a number of lucrative jobs. But Adrien Brody, the sensitive one, finds the whole thing hard to stomach; his more beefy brother has to drag him bodily from a foreign clime to perform what he promises will be their last job.

Rachel Weisz is the mark, a beautiful heiress named Penelope who collects hobbies and takes fits. Along with the obvious tasks of falling in love with the sensitive brother and saying quirky things with her eyebrows, she does wonders for the plot.

And, not to be girly, but she has an amazing wardrobe. The cape… the hat… the endless coats… the whole thing is quite delicious.