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posted: 2/23/2013 6:00 AM

DVD previews: Catch 'The Master,' 'Chasing Mavericks'

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  • Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in "The Master."

    Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in "The Master."

The Washington Post

Coming Tuesday, Feb. 26

"The Master" (R, 138 minutes, The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay): It's the end of World War II and sailor Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) hits the road, finally stowing away, drunk, on a party boat under the command of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Seeing that Freddie has been on a bender, he announces that the younger man is "aberrated," a disjointed state of being that Lancaster seeks to mend by way of his self-styled religion, the Cause. They enter an alternately symbiotic and dramatically dysfunctional relationship, observed from an intimate distance by Lancaster's all-seeing wife, Peggy (Amy Adams). Combined with a surprising turn from Adams, "The Master" presents viewers with one of the most potent triads in recent film memory. There's so much weirdness and beauty in "The Master" that it takes awhile for the notion to sink in that so much acting talent and cinematic artistry has been put to the service of such puny, insufferable characters. There's no doubt that Paul Thomas Anderson is a master of the medium. The deeper question is whether the filmmaker's ambition and skill in this case leave us feeling buoyed or hopelessly at sea. Contains sexual content, graphic nudity and profanity. Extras: "Back Beyond" outtakes and additional scenes edited to music by Johnny Greenwood; "Unguided Message," an eight-minute behind-the-scenes short; "Let Their Be Light" (1946), John Huston's landmark documentary about World War II veterans.

"Chasing Mavericks" (PG, 105 minutes, Fox): There are two monster waves in this surfing movie inspired by the life of Jay Moriarity, the Northern California teenager who in 1994 became an overnight celebrity after riding the infamous swells off Half Moon Bay known as Mavericks. One is the literal mass of churning, white water that lends the movie its name and much of its dramatic power. The other is the figurative tsunami of schmaltzy melodrama. Although "Mavericks" is structured around the quasi father-son relationship between the squeaky-clean Jay and Frosty Hesson, the gruff, grizzled surfing veteran who becomes the teen's life coach and big-wave trainer, there's lots of extraneous plotting -- which, however fact-based, is handled in such a prefab manner that it feels phony. Fortunately, directors Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson keep this syrupy tide in check. After a somewhat shaky start, the movie improves as it works its way out of the tangle of subplots to an undeniably stirring conclusion. Contains some roughhousing and dangerous surf. Extras: commentary with Apted and writers Brandon Hooper and Jim Meenaghan; deleted scenes; "Surf City," "Shooting Waves," "Live Like Jay" and "Surfer Zen" featurettes.

"Holy Motors" (unrated, 115 minutes, in English and French with English subtitles, Indomina Films): This is an electrifying, confounding exercise in unbounded imagination, unapologetic theatricality, bravura acting and head-over-heels movie-love. "Holy Motors" begins in Paris on a typical morning, when a wealthy banker named Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) greets his limo driver, Celine (Edith Scob). As they drive into the city, he disguises himself as a beggar woman, one of what will become several transformations he undergoes to keep a mysterious series of "appointments." Like an existential assassin, Monsieur Oscar enters into several of what seem to be pre-existing narratives in which everyone plays their parts, whether it's two actors performing for motion-capture animation cameras, a satyr-like monster kidnapping a supermodel (played by knockout Eva Mendes) or a niece visiting her dying uncle. Each vignette plays out in encounters familiar from mythology, movies and real life, as the characters hit their marks with polished, professional precision. Contains adult material and graphic sexual images. Extras: making-of featurette, interview with singer Kylie Minogue.

"Chicken With Plums" (PG-13, 91 minutes, in French with English subtitles, Sony): In 2007, Iranian-born graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi made a splash with her "Persepolis" animated memoir of growing up and getting out of her troubled home country. "Chicken With Plums," which finds Satrapi directing once again with Vincent Paronnaud, marks a departure for the team in some ways: They're working with live actors and expanding their cinematic language. But "Chicken With Plums" pulses with the same unrequited longing for an idealized Iran that gave "Persepolis" its mournful pull. French actor Mathieu Amalric plays the besieged Nasser-Ali, who is trapped in a loveless marriage. As a narrator explains how Nasser-Ali came to take to his bed for eight days, the story unfolds in scenes as stylized as the panels of a vivid graphic novel. Are we witnessing a memoir, or the ecstatic vision and fever dream of a man narcotically transported? It doesn't matter, Satrapi and Paronnaud carry viewers along on a sensuous, visually ingenious journey to the unconscious at its most fanciful and irrational. "Chicken With Plums" is a feast for the senses, and the imagination of anyone who knows the pain of desperately desiring that which can never be. Contains some drug content, violent images, sensuality and smoking. Extras: Commentary with Satrapi and Paronnaud, Tribeca Q&A with Paronnaud and Satrapi.

Also out: "The Loneliest Planet," "Border Run," "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare" (documentary), "Company of Heroes," "Chronicle of a Summer" (1961, France, The Criterion Collection), "A Simple Life" (2011, Hong Kong), "Freaky Deaky," "Fast Girls," "Iron Road" (2008 Canadian Broadcasting Co. miniseries), "Liberace: The Candelabra Collection," "Joshua Tree" (1993), "The Reagan Presidency" (PBS), "Phineas and Ferb: Animal Agents," "Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon" and "Man From Shaolin."

Television series: "Law & Order: The Twelfth Year" (2001-02), "NOVA ScienceNOW: How Smart Can We Get?" (PBS), "Maigret Complete Collection" (PBS), "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles" (Nickelodeon), "The Client List: The Complete First Season" and "Garrow's Law: The Complete Collection" (2009-11).

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