I have waited all year for The Master. I am a huge fan of both actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Moneyball) and director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson, who five years ago gave us the brilliantly disturbing drama There Will Be Blood.
Anderson presents us with a stark, often uncomfortable look at human interactions as he pits a psychologically troubled World War Two veteran (a wonderful Joaquin Phoenix) against the fierce intelligence of Lancaster Dodd (a stunningly brilliant Hoffman) who is the highly charismatic “master” of a new religion called The Cause.
Immediately, comparisons to that other famous man-made religion born in the 1950s spring to mind and Anderson has publicly acknowledged that The Master is in fact based loosely on the early years of Scientology and its self help program of Dianetics.
This in itself is fascinating, however it is the intense personal interaction between the men that truly unnerved me.
This is a brilliantly performed (the performances from Hoffman and Phoenix should not be missed) well crafted film from a “master” filmmaker and though a little long, it will deeply challenge you if you are up for it.
In 1990 a 38 year-old man wrote an article for a local newspaper titled “On seeing a Sex Surrogate.”
The man was journalist Mark O’Brien, who as a result of childhood polio, had spent the rest of his life in an iron lung, only being able to move his head slightly to the left and use his mouth to type with a pencil on a keyboard. Luckily for us he was at least able to do this, as his musings are still greatly admired for their wit, perception and penetrating honesty.
It was this very article about a disabled person’s first sexual encounter with a sex surrogate (a sex therapist who helps people with disabilities experience sexual intercourse) that caught the attention of well known Australian writer director Ben Lewin in 2006.
Lewin, himself a victim of polio at a young age, was intrigued and moved by O’Brien’s revealing account of his time with sex therapist Cheryl Cohan-Greene.
So with true boldness and immense talent, Lewin has brought to the screen O’Brien’s remarkable story.
Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in The Sessions
This might not be the sexiest of subjects – a lead character who can’t move and who has endured a life of hardship and loneliness – but please don’t be put off as this is without a doubt one of the most moving, laugh-out-loud funny and memorable films I have seen in a long time.
Lewin’s perfect screenplay captures O’Brien’s remarkable tenacity and humour and never ventures down the path of self pity or emotional manipulation. Yes, I felt incredible, powerful feelings when watching but at no time did I feel maudlin.
I simply felt inspired and uplifted by the beauty of the human spirit.
And the performances by the three lead actors are astounding. John Hawkes, who may not be known to many of you but is hugely applauded within acting circles, simply IS Mark O’Brien. His attention to detail and deft touch is pitch perfect.
I predict an Oscar nomination, for this is a performance of such rare quality.
The great Helen Hunt is wonderful as Greene. She rigorously avoids drama and melancholy, allowing us to truly have a window into what the remarkable Cheryl Cohan-Greene did for so many people she helped.
And finally William H. Macy as O’Briens parish priest is terrific. This is the only fictitious character in the film as Lewin decided to use it has a device to show not only O’Briens enduring faith but also his overwhelming sense of guilt and punishment at the hand of God
But really this is Lewin’s (pictured right) moment. It has taken him 15 years of hard work in Hollywood to reach this point: may he savour it all and enjoy the ride. Do yourself and favour and try not to miss this one.
It’s corny, but he is back! Bond, that is… or rather an older, wiser Daniel Craig who has to face off with one of his toughest adversaries, the maniacal Silva, played with chilling complexity by Javier Bardem.
Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem in Skyfall
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) this latest installment, with its heavy focus on Bond’s relationship with M (a truly superb Judi Dench) offers something slightly different from the typical Bond experience.
Yep, it is still a rush of fun, a high octane ride, enjoying and exploiting all the excesses life can offer, but Mendes focuses on the emotional aspects of the film, grounds it in a drama not often seen in this incredibly successful franchise.
Twilight Breaking Dawn – Part 2
Who would have guessed way back in 2008 that the first Twilight film would go on to connect in such a massive way with the public? I remember sitting in that screening surprised at the emotional impact the film had on me and indeed the other reviewers present and how alluring its young stars were.
Robert Pattinson and Kirsten Stewart in Breaking Dawn – Part 2
We all left the cinema in a bit of a wow state, knowing that this adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s best selling book about a beautiful soulful teen falling under the spell of a devastatingly good looking vampire was going to do well.
Do Well? Yes, well, we were a little off the mark with that one.
But here we are again with number 4, or is it 5? I have lost count.
Lets face it, the juggernaut is so immense and unstoppable that opinions are useless, you are either a fan or not. For me, the first film will always set the tone and indeed be the benchmark that the others will often strive to live up to it hard to.
MORE REVIEWS BY LISA HENSLEY
*Lisa Hensley is a highly respected Australian actor who has played many roles in various feature films, TV shows and mini series. She is a regular on Richard Glover’s successful drive program on ABC radio. She began writing for magazines four years ago and is a regular contributor to Harpers Bazaar.