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There will be yawns

THE MASTER Drama Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Cert 16

Five years on from the Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood and anticipation couldn't be greater for the new offering from Paul Thomas Anderson. Advance word that powerful figures in Hollywood were becoming rather twitchy about the film's subject matter, a cult leader who may or may not be loosely based on Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard, only added to the hype. With five-star reviews and purple prose gushing like the geysers in Anderson's previous film, you'd imagine that The Master is the movie to teach everyone else a lesson. Well, now it's here and it's ... fine.

Drifter

Anderson's trademark skills are all in evidence, with beautifully framed shots, perfect detail and strong performances taken as a given but, somewhere along the way, he forgot to come up with a story strong enough to carry the viewer through what feels like a very, very long 136-minute character study. There will be boredom.

We're introduced to former sailor Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) in a fabulous 20-minute sequence at the start of the film, a lusciously shot series of scenes which let us know that he's a sexually voracious, violent, alcoholic drifter, who's more than likely suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder after his experiences in the Pacific during World War Two.

As with the sensational opening of There Will Be Blood, which established the character of Daniel Plainview, one can only marvel here at Anderson's skill as a cinematic storyteller, the narrative continuing when Quell, having drifted to the West Coast of America, stows away on a boat commanded by a man known as 'The Master'.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, head of a cult known as The Cause, some of whose beliefs do indeed smack of Scientology's vague mumbo-jumbo, who views Freddie almost as an ongoing project and sets about getting inside his head.

The offbeat father-son dynamic is one which Anderson has addressed before and, for a while, it works here, until the flat and unevolving nature of the storyline gradually diminishes the power of the film's opening hour.

The central performances are excellent, although Phoenix does lay on the facial tics and twitches a little heavily at times, and Amy Adams is outstanding as Dodd's wife Peggy, a more fascinating character than those played by either of the two leads.



Laughter

However, just as There Will Be Blood ended on a ridiculous note with an atrocious ending, so The Master peters out by way of a final confrontation between Quell and Dodd which had me desperately trying to hold back the laughter, lest the solemnity at the press screening be desecrated.

At one point during the film, a supporting character accuses Dodd of "making all this up as he goes along", and after more than two hours of The Master, I'd be inclined to say the same of Paul Thomas Anderson.

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TWILIGHT -- BREAKING DAWN, PART II Fantasy Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Peter Facinelli, Billy Burke, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning. Directed by Bill Condon. Cert 16

Having generated more than $2bn over the past five years, the Twilight franchise grinds to a halt with an instalment which, while a quantum improvement on the dreadful and quite mad Breaking Dawn -- Part 1, is still a cinematic slog.

In its favour, at least some of the humour here appears intentional, not least when Taylor Lautner gets to take his shirt and trousers off, and -- good Lord -- Kristen Stewart gets to do something other than mope for the guts of two hours.

Having married Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), given birth to a half-human/half vampire daughter and become a vampire herself, Bella Swan is enjoying life with a relish never hinted at in the previous 10-plus hours of screen time. Ah, but can it possibly last?

The very existence of little Renesmee (you just know that there are unfortunate girls in for a terrible time at school in five or six years time) has alerted the Volturi, essentially the Internal Affairs unit of the vampire world and we're set for a big showdown.

The Cullen clan call in their vampire buddies from around the globe, including a family of Irish blood-suckers straight from Tatty McCrap's House of Crap and Tat, put aside their differences with the werewolves (would an Oklahoma!-style chorus of 'The vampires and the werewolves should be friends' have been too much to ask as a finale?) and that's essentially that. All the flaws of previous Twilight movies -- treacle-like pacing, bad dialogue, woeful CGI and wooden acting -- are present and correct but at least here there's a smidgin of wit and energy on display, as if the cast knew that their ordeal would soon be over and started behaving like schoolkids putting on a play on the last day of term.

But please, no more.

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AMOUR Drama Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell. Directed by Michael Haneke. Cert 12a

A tender and deeply moving love story isn't the kind of thing we've come to expect from Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke but this year's Palme d'Or winner delivers just that.

Granted, given that this is Michael Haneke and not Nicholas Sparks we're dealing with here, there's an element of raw emotion and gut-wrenching tragedy thrown into the mix, which makes the film all the more real and believable.

Veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, retired music teachers clearly devoted to each other and living a life of warm, comfortable domesticity in their Paris apartment.

All that changes dramatically when Anne suffers a stroke, gradually slips into dementia and the performances simply soar. The heartbreak in the eyes of the actors as their characters drift apart, because of the ravages of disease, is simply spellbinding, making Amour an essential watch. An extremely difficult one, certainly, but essential all the same.

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ALSO out

THiS WEEK ... .

JASON BECKER: NOT DEAD YET Cert Club

A moving documentary about a teenage guitarist who landed a gig with David Lee Roth's band only to be diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Given three to five years to live in 1990, Becker is, remarkably, still here and still making music, despite communicating only with his eyes.

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