"The Master" isn't based on L. Rob Hubbard, or Scientology? That's patent nonsense after seeing the Cannes promo footage from Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, which promises to annoy the hell out of those nice people in the big blue building between Sunset and Fountain.
The connection is clear from the first frame of the extended trailer, which the Weinstein Co. screened Monday evening for press at a Majestic Hotel reception. We see a man in an old-fashioned blue Navy uniform — Hubbard's own beloved military branch — writing something on a hallway's billboard; meanwhile, there's a voiceover that asks, "Are you mixed up?"
As we soon see, the leading question's not going to the man at the billboard but to Joaquin Phoenix, who's being interrogated by a military officer. The inquiry continues to probe and insinuate ("Are you more jumpy than you were before? Do you have nightmares?") and an apparently clueless Phoenix rejects the queries with polite confusion.
This segues into a shot of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who describes himself as being a genius jack-of-all-trades — including roles as a doctor and a nuclear physicist — but whose demonstrated skill is as a charismatic speaker who tells people that if they have cold feet, they can't move forward. Amy Adams is his devoted and determined wife who believes in his vision, perhaps even more than he does. It's clear that Phoenix and Hoffman are some kind of collision course, but exactly how is left unclear.
The official logline tells us that they will become partners after a time, but the footage was designed to display each actor as a tour de force. Hoffman certainly bears a resemblance to the pale and paunchy Hubbard, but it's Phoenix that really generates interest. Not only is it nice to see him without the damn crazybeard, but his face has finally lost its childishness. However, he still seems more than willing to bring the nutty; one of the last shots in the footage features him standing at the beach, his back to the camera, apparently jerking off into the ocean.
As to whether all of this will play when Weinstein releases "The Master" October 12, consensus in the Cannes audience was they'd have to see the rest before rendering judgment. (That's in contrast to "Django Unchained," which Anne Thompson covers; people would have skipped dinner if they could have paid for a ticket right then.)
Check out the teaser trailer below. While it's much shorter than the Cannes footage, it shares some footage and the voiceover with the piece that screened today. And the teaser is all about Phoenix; there's nothing from Adams or from Hoffman, which suggests that they'll try to push the "it's not Scientology" line for as long as they can.
As for David O. Russell's "The Silver Linings Playbook" starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the prognosis is less clear. He's a man who's lost his marriage, his mind and his meds; she's similarly addled. The cast also includes Robert DeNiro, Chris Tucker (nice to see him!) and Julia Stiles. Russell adapted the script from Matthew Quick's novel and the tone plays as a romantic dramedy, which doesn't necessarily translate in a few-minute clip.
While Harvey Weinstein must have had some measure of anxiety in displaying his three big films for 2012 to a room of international press, he played it well and saved the best for last. Audiences will be curious about "The Master," but they're going to go nuts for "Django."