Picks of the Week
(R, 138 minutes, The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay): It’s the end of World War II and sailor Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) hits the road, finally stowing away, drunk, on a party boat under the command of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Seeing that Freddie has been on a bender, he announces that the younger man is “aberrated,” a disjointed state of being that Lancaster seeks to mend with his self-styled religion, the Cause. They enter an alternately symbiotic and dramatically dysfunctional relationship, observed by Lancaster’s all-seeing wife, Peggy (Amy Adams). Combined with a surprising turn from Adams, “The Master” presents viewers with one of the most potent triads in recent film memory.
There’s so much weirdness and beauty in “The Master” that it takes awhile for the notion to sink in that so much acting talent and cinematic artistry has been put to the service of such puny, insufferable characters.
There’s no doubt that Paul Thomas Anderson is a master of the medium. The deeper question is whether the filmmaker’s ambition and skill in this case leave us feeling buoyed or hopelessly at sea. Contains sexual content, graphic nudity and profanity.
Extras: “Back Beyond” outtakes and additional scenes edited to music; “Unguided Message,” a behind-the-scenes short; “Let There Be Light” (1946), John Huston’s landmark documentary about World War II veterans.
(PG, 105 minutes, Fox): There are two monster waves in this surfing movie inspired by the life of Jay Moriarity, the California teenager who in 1994 became an overnight celebrity after riding the infamous swells off Half Moon Bay known as Mavericks. One is the literal mass of churning, white water that lends the movie its name and much of its dramatic power. The other is the figurative tsunami of schmaltzy melodrama.
Although “Mavericks” is structured around the quasi father-son relationship between the squeaky-clean Jay (Jonny Weston)and Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), the gruff, grizzled surfing veteran who becomes the teen’s life coach and big-wave trainer, there’s lots of extraneous plotting – which, however fact-based, is handled in such a pre-fab manner that it feels phony.
Fortunately, directors Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson keep this syrupy tide in check. After a somewhat shaky start, the movie improves as it works its way out of the tangle of subplots to an undeniably stirring conclusion. Contains some roughhousing and dangerous surf.
Extras: commentary with Apted and writers Brandon Hooper and Jim Meenaghan; deleted scenes; four featurettes.
(Unrated, 115 minutes, in English and French with English subtitles, Indomina Films): This is an electrifying, confounding exercise in unbounded imagination, unapologetic theatricality and bravura acting.
“Holy Motors” begins in Paris on a typical morning, when a wealthy banker named Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) greets his limo driver, Celine (Edith Scob). As they drive into the city, he disguises himself as a beggar woman, one of several transformations he undergoes to keep a mysterious series of “appointments.”
Like an existential assassin, Monsieur Oscar enters into several of what seem to be pre-existing narratives in which everyone plays a part, whether it’s two actors performing for motion-capture animation cameras, a satyr-like monster kidnapping a supermodel (Eva Mendes) or a niece visiting her dying uncle.
Each vignette plays out in encounters familiar from mythology, movies and real life, as the characters hit their marks with polished, professional precision. Contains adult material and graphic sexual images.
Extras: making-of featurette, interview with singer Kylie Minogue.