Punch Drunk Scientology

So it turns out that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.  The very idea that he’s ‘making it up as he goes along’ flies very much in the face of what Tom Cruise, reportedly, reputedly understood the author of Battlefield: Earth to be doing when he developed Scientology.

Now Scientology, it’s fair to say, is a fairly divisive organisation.  It’s certainly highly secretive, beholden to its own practices and power structures and possessed of some beliefs of its own that appear from without as being a little…strange. It also arguably has an apparent scant regard for the beliefs of nonbelievers.  In the spirit of non-judgement, and for clarity, the above represents a standard description of almost any religion, denomination, cult or other belief-based organisation when viewed from the outside.

And like all religions, I personally find Scientology inherently fascinating.  It appears that Paul Thomas Anderson also finds it fascinating, if the whisperings about his latest film The Master are to be believed.

Whoa there, sparky, Anderson doesn’t really do films about stuff, now does he?  Punch Drunk Love, so far as I can tell, is a movie about what happens when Adam Sandler takes his job seriously instead of gurning a bit and talking like he hit his head one too many times as a child. Which is rather insensitive of him in these hypersensitive, easily offended times, non?  Adam Sandler: an actor of surprising depth and sensitivity, who’d a thunk it?

In my mammothly self-regarding opinion, Anderson’s skill as a director lies in coaxing career-best performances from his cast, in letting them go to town with their tics and foibles – giving them space to improvise like Miles Davis used to claim he did.

Hard Eight and to a greater extent Boogie Nights and Magnolia are ensemble dramas, more about characters and character studies than anything so mundane as plot.  Likewise, There Will Be Blood is more a vehicle for Daniel Day Lewis’ extraordinary turn as a milkshake aficionado than a mere story.

In fact, if you were to assess Anderson’s output based on plot and storyline you might well conclude that Boogie Nights is overlong and self-indulgent, a plasticky, sanitised take on the John Holmes story but worse than that sounds because it also involves Burt Reynolds.  Likewise, Magnolia is more a series of vignettes tied together tenuously at best that go nowhere, with a jarring, silly bit that comes from nowhere – you know what I’m talking about.  Type of thing.

So it’s probably fair to say that The Master will have less to do with ‘The Cause’ around which the movie is said to revolve and the primary reason for its infamy, and more to do with setting the scene and watching Hoffman, Phoenix et al do their thing.

So why, assuming I’m not wrong, create a trailer that appears designed to troll Scientologists and particularly one of Anderson’s former collaborators?  Controversy, like an ass-kicking Milla Jovovich in increasingly impractical outfits, sells.  The Master appears to be one of those mid-budget films that are almost guaranteed to lose money – the sort of film that studios don’t make anymore because they’re in the business to, you know, make money.  And while people may say they want to see grown up films, the ones that actually turn a profit tend to rely heavily on guns and girls, explosions rather than exposition.

Or put another way, I’d bet you any money that Paul WS Anderson has grossed more disgusting wealth to date with his gosh-darn awful Resident Evil series alone than Paul T Anderson has with his entire oeuvre.

And while obviously you and I are sophisticates who listen to jazz, read Nobel Prize-winning literature and prefer to watch proper movies by actual film-makers, actually you and I both know that’s a total lie.

So I’ll see you at the cinema for Resident Evil 5, yeah?

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