Pick of the week: “The Master“ — My full review is here. My favorite movie of 2012 was Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece that puts the lie to the American ideal of the “free-thinking, self-made man.” Anderson’s two men — a physically and emotionally damaged veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) and a charismatic cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are deeply flawed, but find their flaws fit together in a charged, fascinating way.
So I was reading other publications and appreciating how their event listings are broken down day-by-day, so if you were free on a Tuesday night, you could easily see all your options for things to do.
It took me a little while longer before I realized that if I appreciated it so much, I should probably do it too. So I’m tweaking the format of the weekly Friday “What’s Playing” column a little here. This seems to make sense in an especially busy week like this one. Let me know what you think.
“Oz: The Great And Powerful” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Cinema Cafe) — Did you ever wonder how the Wizard of Oz got to be the Wizard? Me neither, but Sam Raimi will tell us with this eye-popping prequel, with James Franco as the Once and Future Wiz. Reviews have been meh, but Raimi is too inventive a filmmaker to count out.
“Dead Man Down” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — Despite the redundant title, I’m interested in this R-rated action film because it’s the English-language debut of Swedish director Niels Ander Oplev,, who did the superbly creepy original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” (Just watch the underwhelming next two in the trilogy, done by a different director, to properly appreciate it.) So I have high hopes it’ll be stylish and unusual.
“Emperor” (Sundance) — A war drama that takes place after the war is over, “Emperor” stars Tommy Lee Jones as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who has dispatched subordinate Matthew Fox to investigate whether Emperor Hirohito should be arrested for war crimes or not. It’s a little dry, but illuminates a small but important corner of American history. And Jones as MacArthur is a lot of fun.
“Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” (Sundance) — Read my review here. The happy people in question are a group of Siberian villagers living a harsh but self-sufficient life on the edge of the tundra. In the eyes of documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog, this counts as happiness. Your bliss may vary.
“The Master” (6 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St.) Read my review here. My favorite movie of 2012 was Paul Thomas Anderson’s cryptic, exquisitely controlled drama about the complicated relationship between an L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a troubled acolyte (Joaquin Phoenix) he brings into the fold. Free!
“Edvard Munch” (7 p.m., UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave.) The on-campus series concludes its two-night look at the films of Peter Watkins with his highly unorthodox biopic of the notorious painter behind “The Scream.” Free!
“Drunken Master” (midnight, Union South Marquee Theatre) If you only know Jackie Chan from the “Rush Hour” movies, you ought to see him in his prime in this martial arts classic, one of the first to play to Chan’s comedic as well as physical gifts. Free!
“The Master” (6 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., Union South Marquee Theatre) See Friday listing.
“The Mercenary” (7 p.m., UW Cinematheque) Remember that scene in “Django Unchained” where a character gets shot above the heart, and the blood turns his white carnation pink? That was a direct homage to this spaghetti Western classic, starring Jack Palance as a ruthless government agent trying to put down a revolution in 1915 Mexico. Free!
“The Host” (midnight, Union South Marquee Theatre) Read my review here. It’s a monster movie, a family drama, a screwball comedy and a political film all rolled up into one wildly entertaining movie from South Korean director Joon-ho Bong. “Packs an emotional kick that we don’t expect from a movie where a giant iguana is running around with human legs dangling out of his mouth like stray pieces of linguini,” I wrote back in 2007.
“Pom Poko: ( 2 p.m., Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Ave.) The “Cinematheque at the Chazen” Sunday afternoon series of films by the hallowed Studio Ghibli continues with this take of raccoon-like creatures and their war with developers. Free!
“The Master” (3 p.m., Union South Marquee Theatre) See Friday listing.
“Girl Rising” (7:30 p.m. Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave.) To underscore the importance of education for girls in developing countries, this project features nine stories of nine young women in nine different countries, each narrated by a different actress, including Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett. Tickets are $10 at the door.
“West Side Story” (1:10 p.m. and 6:40 p.m., Sundance Cinemas, 430 N. Midvale Blvd.) If you enjoyed the reimagined Broadway version that just played at Overture Center, check out the original 1962 film version, that brings the tragic romance of “Romeo & Juliet” to the barrio. Tickets are $7.50 for the 1:10 p.m. show and $12 for the 6:40 p.m.
“Roman Holiday” (7 p.m., Union South Marquee Theatre) Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck star in the 1953 classic romance about a princess and a foreign correspondent who find adventure and love together in Rome. Free!
“True Wolf” (7 p.m., Barrymore Theatre) The Timber Wolf Alliance is co-sponsoring this documentary about the plight of the wolf in the United States. After the film, a panel of wolf researchers will hold a post-show Q&A. $10 at the door.
“Ek Tha Tiger” (7 p.m., Union South Marquee Theatre) Intrigue, romance, action and, of course, dancing collide in this Bollywood thriller about a secret agent and a dancer in a globe-hopping adventure. Free!
The 6th Annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival (7 p.m., Barrymore Theatre) This popular series features short films from within and beyond Wisconsin’s borders about the natural world. Tickets are $10 in advance through barrymorelive.com., $13 at the door, or a $25 VIP ticket includes a one-year membership with the sponsor, River Alliance of Wisconsin.
“The President Vanishes” ( 7 p.m. Chazen Museum of Art) In an attempt to thwart warmongers in his cabinet, the President fakes his own disappearance. This film is one of a series of 1934 films screened by the Chazen and UW-Cinematheque in conjunction with the “1934: A New Deal For Artists” exhibit at the museum. Free!
“Brew & View: A Tribute To Leslie Nielsen” (7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Majestic Theatre, 115 King St.) You mean to tell me that the Majestic is honoring the deadpan comic actor by presenting his two iconic movies, “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun,” in a double feature with a ticket price of $5 for both movies? Surely you can’t be serious!
Keith Phipps had a delightful piece in the Atlantic Online this week about the “irresistible perils” of watching deleted scenes. The occasion was the release of “The Master” on DVD and Blu-ray, and the Blu-ray edition has a 20-minute collection of deleted scenes called “Back Beyond.” The most arresting seems to be a scene where Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix opens the mysterious case that Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) opens in the desert, only to see flames.
Phipps’ article is about, in a nut shell, “Do deleted scenes count?” That is, should we accept or reject them as part of what we know about the movie, that the missing pieces of information found within those scenes should be connected up to the rest of the story?
“Deleted scenes belong to a space that’s neither part of the film nor removed from it, one perhaps better left unexplored,” Phipps writes. “I’ve come to think of deleted scenes features as the equivalent of that box given to Freddie to guard (or the one given to Pandora): a thing better left unexamined but impossible to resist.”
I have the same love-hate relationship with deleted scenes. Some, like for comedies, are pure fun; Judd Apatow always shoots way more than he can use on his films, so the DVDs are a treasure trove of ad-libs, alternate takes, even entire characters who couldn’t make it into the finished product. But they feel “bonus” in every sense of the word — fun, and extranous, like those deluxe-edition tracks on CDs that exist in a separate place from the main album.
Other deleted scenes are more problematic. The worst is when a scene is so wrongheaded that it can’t help tarnish the original movie a little, like that awful original ending to “Clerks,” in which Dante is abruptly shot and killed by a robber. It’s the kind of disastrous, faux-“edgy” choice that only a first-time filmmaker can make, and thankfully Kevin Smith was talked out of it before “Clerks” came to Sundance.
But even if the new footage doesn’t hurt the film, it never quite fits right. I watched the new extended cut of “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly,” which includes about 12 minutes of restored footage (with actors Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood dubbing in their dialogue just a couple of years ago, which is jarring to say the least.) It’s one of my favorite movies, so what’s wrong with a little bit more? And the scenes do fill in some gaps, such as explaining how one character got from Point A or Point B.
The problem was that I had seen the original version so many times (at least twice a year on my local Fox affiliate’s “Eastwood Week” as a kid in Denver) that I had the rhythms of the movie down cold, almost on a subconscious level. To add in that extra stuff disrupted those rhythms. I couldn’t just sink into that movie the way I had done so many times before.
I won’t go as far as Indiewire critic Matt Singer did on his recent piece, succinctly titled “Why I Hate Deleted Scenes.” Singer hates them not just because of how they alter his perception of the movie, but of how they alter his perception of the moviemaker. He lives in fear of scenes like the “Clerks” ending that show filmmakers making mistakes, stumbling down blind alleys and back again before they somehow put together a movie that works.
“Making small tweaks to a movie is one thing; completely changing the content and tone of an ending is another. These sorts of deleted scenes recall the classic William Goldman line that ‘Nobody knows anything.’ In these cases, deleted scenes make great movies look like some kind of cosmic fluke — a random happenstance of timing and focus group scores.”
See, I have the exact opposte reaction. Because those scenes, to me, show the creative process in all its messy glory. It can be incredibly inspiring to see that your favorite movie didn’t come to your favorite director via a bolt of pure instinctive genius, but was hammered out made through a series of false starts, catastrophic errors, unnecessary scenes, blown chances. And yet somehow, in the editing process, all the chaff was finally stripped away, the rough edges smoothed over, the thing somehow finally coming together.
Sometimes, when you’re stuck in your own creative process, sandblasting with your forehead (to steal a great line from novelist Richard Bausch) inch by inch through a project, what pushes you forward isn’t seeing someone else’s sculpture up on the pedestal. It’s the scraps on the floor.