Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Paul Thomas Anderson's artistically challenging character study is sure to be one of the most controversial entries in the coming Oscar season, earning nominations for its three leading actors.
Beginning somewhere in the South Pacific at the conclusion of World War II, Navy seaman Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has a quirky psychosexual obsession, masturbating with a huge female torso sculpted in the wet sand. He's a volatile, demented drunkard, drifting from job to job, until he stumbles aboard an elegant yacht bound for New York from San Francisco via the Panama Canal. That's where he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a charismatic charlatan. Presenting himself as an erudite philosopher/guru, Dodd leads The Cause, a cult that -- using a manipulative hypnosis technique called "processing" -- purges troubling memories so that its members can theoretically gain control over self-destructive impulses, cure physical ailments and purify their immortal souls. While Quell quickly becomes a devoted follower, he harbors such anguish -- and anger -- that he eventually alienates everyone in the close-knit community, even Dodd's empathetic but strong-willed wife, Peggy (Amy Adams).
Following his 2007 Oscar-nominated epic, "There Will Be Blood," Anderson has meticulously crafted this visually stunning, intellectually provocative, yet plodding period piece, which never comes near the compelling force of "Boogie Nights" (1997) and "Magnolia" (1999). While L. Ron Hubbard and his Church of Scientology are never mentioned, the parallels are obvious, beginning with the physical resemblance between Hubbard and Hoffman's Dodd.
The problem is that it's an uneven, tedious and seemingly interminable meditation, punctuated by a discordant Jonny Greenwood score and huge cast of supporting characters, including Dodd's cynical son (Jesse Plemons); Dodd's daughter (Jillian Bell) and her husband (Rami Malek), and Dodd's devoted disciple/benefactor (Laura Dern).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Master" is an audacious, insidious 7, detailing how spiritual and religious systems can seduce and subversively manipulate vulnerable minds.
"END OF WATCH"
With "Training Day" and "Dark Blue" to his credit, screenwriter/director/producer David Ayer has staked his claim on gritty Los Angeles Police Department procedurals. This time, the gimmick is faux found footage.
Mucho macho, ex-Marine Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) always carries a handheld HD camera and has a microphone rigged into his uniform. He's taking pre-law classes and -- for his art elective -- he's planning to make a surreptitious documentary about his life in law enforcement in the South Central precinct, melodramatically emphasizing that "beyond my badge is a heart like yours."
At his side is his loyal Mexican-American partner, Officer Mike "Z" Zavala (Michael Pena). Their arrogant attitude on returning from leave after grabbing headlines for killing two "perps" in-the-line-of-duty draws resentment from a pair of no-nonsense female cops -- Orozco (America Ferrera) and Davis (Cody Horn) -- and veteran Van Hauser (David Harbour).
But obstinate Taylor and Zavala don't care about them, or following directives like, "Try not to kill anyone by the end of the week." Episodic in structure, David Ayer and "shaky-cam" cinematographer Roman Vasyanov have contrived an insular, intricate character study of two men whose lives have become not only intertwined but also interdependent, as shown by their interaction within their squad car as they cruise around, gulping Red Bull as they deal with various domestic disputes and dispatch urban foul-mouthed hoodlums.
Goofing off, Taylor and Zavala banter and tease each other mercilessly, even when they're hanging out with their respective female friends, like Zavala's pregnant wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) and Taylor's current "badge bunny" Janet (Anna Kendrick), who has a graduate degree in "food hydraulics," whatever that means. Eventually, following an escalating trail of drugs, guns and money leads them into a climactic encounter with street gangs and a rising Mexican cartel.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "End of Watch" is an insightful, intense 7, emphasizing not only the importance of brotherhood and teamwork, but also the cinematic chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena.
"RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION"
When huckster P.T. Barnum said, "No one ever went broke underestimating public taste," writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson took him seriously. Anderson helms this science-fiction/horror film series, based on the popular Capcom video games, and this is the fifth installment, following "Resident Evil," "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," "Resident Evil: Extinction" and "Resident Evil: Afterlife."
A vicious bio-engineering pharmaceutical company called the Umbrella Corp. concocted the T-virus, a plague that triggered a zombie apocalypse. As the human race's last-and-only hope, intrepid Alice (Milla Jovovich), who once worked for Umbrella as a security operative, is leading the opposition. As this segment begins, she awakens in the heart of Umbrella's most clandestine, underwater operations compound and reveals more of her mysterious past as she delves further into the complex. Using a convenient cloning plot ruse, now-dead characters -- including Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr), Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) and Ada Wong (Li Binging) -- once again surface as Alice fights her way through a series of holograms designed to simulate various cities (Tokyo,, Moscow, Berlin, etc.) around the world, including Alice's hometown, Suburbia, located outside Raccoon City.
At least I think they do. When you're dealing with the undead, it often gets very confusing.
As if trying to replicate the video game, Anderson concentrates on the repetitive explosive action, except when Alice maternally bonds with Becky (Aryana Engineer), a little hearing-impaired girl who may or may not be her daughter. Actually, the part was not designated "deaf," but young Canadian Aryana Engineer so impressed Anderson and his real-life wife, Milla Jovovich, with her audition that the role was altered to accommodate her disability.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Resident Evil: Retribution" is a dreary, loud, uber-violent 3. Since the franchise already has grossed nearly $700 million worldwide, there's no stopping it.