The Book of Mormon (Play)

Repressed Sexuality = Extreme Acts of Violence & Comedy Hijinks !

I saw “Book of Mormon” over the weekend at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. My wife surprised me with tickets out of nowhere(Thank you again baby!) I heard so many good things about the play, but didn’t really know much about the plot/content. So, I wasn’t quite sure of what I was walking into. But, based upon sweeping the Tonys and the massive hype surrounding this show, my expectations were soaring. Trey Parker and Matt Stone previously produced other musicals I’d seen before with : “Cannibal! The Musical” and “South Park : Bigger, Longer, and Uncut”. Even though these were movies and not live theater, I was familiar with their general approach to comedy. No topic is off-limits, and being gross = big yucks. Sometimes, I think they get caught up in the shock humor a bit too much. And this is why I enjoyed both of their musical endeavors more than their TV show South Park – fewer poop jokes, more wit and content. Also, being that I detest organized religions and standard Broadway musicals, the prospect that BOM might take a stab at both at once had me salivating with anticipation.

The backdrop when we walked in was the only preview I got.

So, what usually happens when the bar is set so high? Well, you get a “War of The Worlds”(2005) scenario where I walk away severely disappointed with what could have been. But, these guys just hit it right out of the fucking park. From start to finish, I was captivated, entertained, and just generally laughing and happy. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, because a great deal of the comedy was further enhanced by the element of surprise, due to my lack of prior knowledge to its content.

The big laughs started when the elders landed in Uganda, and discovered how far life in Africa was from a version of “The Lion King”. Some other random highlights included : the quote “I’m wet with salvation” and the musical number “Turn it off”. Really fantastic stuff. They delivered on all fronts. They poked fun at cheesy, over the top Broadway numbers while simultaneously, completely eviscerating Mormonism in the process.

He’s about to do what we all wish we could do.

It was quite an achievement. As for the actors, they did an outstanding job. Great timing and delivery for all the jokes served to really make the writing come to life. The two leads, Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner had a nice rhythm together as Elders Price and Cunningham. But, Grey Henson stole the show with his portrayal of not-so-closet homosexual character Elder McKinley. One thing I couldn’t figure out though, was how the Latter-day “saints” actually advertised in the playbill for BOM. Or furthermore, how they didn’t protest the balls out of this production. Seriously, wtf am I missing here? If this isn’t a total dismantling of how ridiculous their faith is, I must have been watching some other musical. Maybe Mormons are just too naive and obtuse understand what they are watching. Come to think of it, that’s probably the answer right there.

This show totally ruled. Trey and Matt finally put it all together. Where South Park falls short for me, this came through.

You guys finally grew up. You are real men now.

Although, I can’t quite give this a perfect rating, due to going a little bit too far with some sophomoric references to blood in your stool that didn’t seem entirely necessary. Maybe I’m being a bit too sensitive in my old age. But, I have two kids now, so I have a license to be more crotchety, god damn it! Bottom line; I’d love to see this again someday – particularly with some religious people in my immediate vicinity. There’s no better method to get people to realize what fucktards they are for buying into organized religion, than with some crafty, well-written, relatable humor. And BOM is some potently funny stuff. So, “Bravo!” Matt and Trey. “Encore!” and… “Hasa Diga Eebowai!!!!”

Overall Rating : 9.9/10

– JA

The Master (2012 film)

Even when life is viewed through a kaleidoscope, it doesn’t change the fundamental reality of what you are looking at.

I first heard about the “The Master” several months before its release. After reading the synopsis, and finding out that it was going to be a thinly veiled slam on the cult of Scientology, which would be written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix), I could not have been more excited. I am a huge fan of PTA’s previous works “Magnolia”, “Boogie Nights”, and particularly, his latest crowning jewel ; “There Will Be Blood”. However, unlike his previous works, “The Master” is missing something. Unfortunately, it’s a big something.

Before we get to what was missing, let’s take a moment to recognize what was still there. Most of PTA’s movies do a great job of capturing the finer details of any given scene with a hyper-realist approach. His movies consistently make me feel like I’m watching a piece of history unfold before my eyes. This is quite an accomplishment, considering what we are really watching : a bunch of overpaid actors blurting out lines on a closed set. “Boogie Nights” simply oozed the essence of the 70’s / early 80’s. And I don’t know what kind of extensive research was done for “There Will Be Blood”. But, my god, did he capture an astonishingly detailed account of what life might have been like for an “oil man” at the turn of the century. “The Master” continued this theme of immersing audiences in a visceral experience, this time using post WWII America as a backdrop.

“Right over there. That’s where I want you to drink some paint thinner, fingerblast a sand prostitute, and then feverishly masturbate into the ocean, okay? And give me PASSION god-damn it!”

Another strength that PTA has as a director, is squeezing the best performance possible out of his actors. Granted, when you are working with the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, and Joaquin Phoenix, it makes your job a lot easier. But, don’t forget, he’s also drawn max talent from non-Oscar talents like Burt Reynolds, Kevin J. O’Connor, Mark Wahlberg, and Heather Graham. Whether you like his movies or not, this guy knows how to motivate. And “The Master” is no exception. Hoffman plays cult leader Lancaster Dodd brilliantly. And Phoenix’s virtuoso performance as wack-job Freddie Quell, is a shoe-in for a best-actor nod. Between his sicko half-grin laugh, and his bizarre, elbows-forward posture, portraying this character seemed to go beyond just “acting”. If I were one of the actors who had to get beaten up by Freddy(there are several), I would be genuinely frightened by the whimsical ferocity of Joaquin Phoenix, not just his character.

The calm before the storm

Hoffman and Phoenix developed a terrific rhythm together as actors, and it became quite gripping to watch them play off eachother. In particular, the “don’t blink” scene, and the prison meltdown scene made me think that perhaps PTA yelling “cut” would not have yielded any change in the actors personalities. However, if it wasn’t for this caliber of acting prowess, I’m not sure how anyone could sit through a movie with pacing this lethargic.

Which brings me to my main gripe with the film. Where’s the meat?? I mean, nothing really happens. While the style points and acting chops are great and all, at the end of the day, this is really just a two-hour character study. There is one small payoff at the end, when Dodd finally realizes that Freddie is beyond his grasp of control(while Freddy comes to accept that Dodd is completely full of shit”). But, overall, nothing compelling ever happens to our characters. What was missing in all of this magnificent artistry, was the most important variable : an entertaining story. I’d much rather watch poorly acted, drab characters dwelling within a gripping storyline, than watch fascinating characters, brilliantly acted, with very little happening to them. So, was this a good movie? Yes. Would I watch it again? Probably not. I’ll just revisit the best scenes again on Feburary 24th at 7pm on ABC.

Overall Rating : 6.8/10

– JA