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Picks and Pans Main: Movies

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The Master

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams R |


To say that Naval officer Freddie Quell (Phoenix) survived World War II would be to overstate the matter. While Freddie did not die, the bent, feral man who squints out of his right eye and talks out of the left side of his mouth is far from whole. Sexually rapacious and a blistering drunk, Freddie is a lost sheep in need of a flock. As it happens, Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is a shepherd.

Personable and generous to Freddie when the young man stows away on his boat, Lancaster seems every bit Freddie’s opposite. He’s also the founder of the Cause, a religious movement with clear parallels to Scientology. But this is not a movie about Scientology. Director Paul Thomas Anderson is far more interested in the dynamic between the men than he is in investigating religion. Fortunately, Hoffman and Phoenix know just how to make that dynamic riveting. Hoffman is remarkably subtle in revealing Lancaster’s spiteful ego, and Phoenix is just…remarkable. His turn as a man drained and broken is so powerful, I’m afraid to imagine what he had to do to deliver it. Adams is riveting too as Lancaster’s steely wife.

Still, The Master is challenging in its slow pace and its moral caginess. It leaves Freddie with nothing but wrenching choices: Either he can save himself by clinging to a man who may well be a false prophet or he can wither alone.

10 Years

Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Chris Pratt PG-13 |


Like many a teen, 10 Years has an awkward phase and parties too much, but it rights itself in the end. The high school reunion film’s overstuffed cast includes Jake (Tatum), his girlfriend Jess (Jenna Dewan-Tatum), his former love Mary (Dawson) and their buddy Cully (Pratt), who hilariously spends the entire night bullying his old victims into forgiving his prior bullying. There are more, but who can keep up? 10 Years is at its best when the party’s nearly over, and the not-quite-thirtysomethings realize that, like it or not, they’re adults. Not Cully, though-that dude’s too drunk for epiphanies.

Liberal Arts

Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Allison Janney NR |


At 35, with a job he hates and no personal life to speak of, Jesse (Radnor, who directed and wrote the funny script) is adrift. So when he returns to his alma mater to toast his mentor (Richard Jenkins), he falls for Zibby, Olsen’s luminescent, witty student. (I get it-Elizabeth Olsen went to my high school, and I’m besotted with her too.) While Jesse figures out whether falling for a teenager makes you one, he communes with a dippy hippie (Zac Efron), tangles with a professor (Janney, gin-on-the-rocks icy) and gets an education all over again. At least this time it’s free.