Monthly Archives: January 2008

THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Paul Thomas Anderson’s much-anticipated epic is the quintessentially American masterwork we’ve been waiting for for a long time. It is a combination horror film, black comedy and epic portrait of two characters so consumed by greed, vindictiveness, misanthropy and evil that they are mesmerizing even as they repulse.

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<br/><br />Daniel Day-Lewis is Daniel Plainview, the silver miner in 1898 New Mexico (at the outset) who eventually makes his way to California to be a self-proclaimed “oil man.” Once there, he meets first Paul and then identical twin (? – or are they one in the same?) Eli Sunday (BOTH played by Paul Dano of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “L.I.E.”), the former telling Daniel of the family’s goat farm in the middle of nowhere, and the latter being a zealous, Evangelical faith healer whose Church of the Third Revelation is his sole passion.

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<br/><br />Plainview is a horrific monster movie villain in the best sense of the word: he runs roughshod over everyone and everything, destroying all in his path. Dano is meek, small and humbly innocent-seeming by contrast, making him just as dangerous, if not more so (Plainview sees this clearly from the outset).

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<br/><br />Plainview is a user of “these people” around him (including an adopted son who he attains as a very young business partner in the aftermath of the boy’s biological father’s violent death via misadventure). The scenes between Daniel and his son H.W. (played by newcomer Dillon Freasier) have an almost warm, heartfelt tone that is missing from EVERY SINGLE OTHER CONTACT that Plainview has with humanity. What Plainview does to H.W. is, ultimately, the beginning of the end for him and the film (though it may also be the ONE SOURCE of regret and repentance in his soul).

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<br/><br />Plainview is a misanthropic loner who would probably live on the moon were it possible in the early 20th Century to do so (1898-1927 is the span of the picture). He has a magnificent mini-monologue about his “hatreds being built up over the years” that brings down the house!

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<br/><br />Then there’s the ending, about which the less said the better. I will simply say this: for those who read the screenplay, the on-the-nose nature of the final showdown between Daniel and Eli is missing here, but the twisted humor is still in tact!

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<br/><br />Day-Lewis chews the scenery with relish, and Dano matches him almost measure for measure. This is definitely Day-Lewis’ film though, as his portrait of a villain is the most horrific and weirdly lovable since…well, since he was Bill the Butcher in Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” (2002).

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<br/><br />Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has employed his usual crack team of collaborators, including longtime editor Dylan Tichenor, who lends the film a nice (appropriately) deliberate pace; Robert Elswit, whose camera snakes its way through the rough & tumble post-Old West landscape of New Mexico and California with great aplomb; and Radiohead musician Jonny Greenwood’s original score, which is by turns warm and lush, cold and violent, underlies the whole enterprise with unspoken tension even in the most mundane scenes!

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<br/><br />Much comparison has been made to “Citizen Kane” and “Giant” and those may be apt milemarkers for Anderson’s achievement, but I was oddly reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” (1975). The story of a similarly misanthropic (or, at least, uncaring) young man who rose through the ranks to become a wealthy and powerful man who was, ultimately alone, it’s a story often told, and just as well now as it was back then (the final credits music by Brahms doesn’t hurt the feeling of similarity).

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<br/><br />A film like this, though not Anderson’s best work, is still a GREAT film and well worth seeking out. Much awards attention has already been bestowed upon the remarkable work done herein, and it is all well-deserved. This is almost the best film of 2007! Nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, a tie with my #5 pick.

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27 DRESSES

PG_13, 111 min, 2008

Director: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna
Stars: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Akerman

Here, I’m afraid, the setup could not be simpler: Jane (Katherine Heigl of TV’s Grey’s Anatomy and Knocked Up) is a marriage-obsessed little girl in the body of an early-30s “old maid.” The saying, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” may have been coined by prefiguring her existence. Jane has a quirk, you see: she attends every single wedding of her (apparently) many friends (and, we suspect, virtual strangers as well) only because she loves being at weddings. She dreams of her own wedding someday and seems to see it as an unhealthy exercise of her fantasy life. Continue reading

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CASSANDRA’S DREAM

Cassandra's Dream Movie Review

PG_13, 108 m., 2007

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Stars: Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell

Writer-director Woody Allen is in his 70s, making film after film (sometimes twice a year; late summer brings the much-buzzed-about Vicky Cristina Barcelona). Cassandra’s Dream, a middle-of-the-road effort, is the  master nebish’s latest from London. Continue reading

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CLOVERFIELD

Cloverfield Movie Review

PG_13, 85 min, 2008

Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard (written by)
Stars: Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan

Cloverfield is a monster movie for the Digital Generation, ostensibly Godzilla crossed with The Blair Witch Project and transplanted to the city. Continue reading

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TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE

Taxi to the Dark Side Movie Review

R, 106 m., 2007

Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney
Stars: Alex Gibney, Brian Keith Allen, Moazzam Begg

Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side is a horrifying, unblinking and appalling documentary, confirming your worst fears about the terrible, no-good, very bad things that your government is up to in the name of protecting “freedom.” Continue reading

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TEETH

Teeth Movie Review

R, 94 min, 2007

Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Writer: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Stars: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais

In Teeth, the debut of writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein, the filmmaker has crafted the oddest mixture of horror and comedy since Lucky McKee’s May (2003). I was also a little reminded of Carrie (1976) by way of John Waters. Continue reading

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MAD MONEY

Mad Money Movie Review

PG_13, 104 min, 2008

Director: Callie Khouri
Writers: Glenn Gers (screenplay), John Mister (earlier screenplay), Neil McKay (screenplay Hot Money) and Terry Winsor (screenplay Hot Money)

Stars: Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes

Here is a generic sitcom – exactly the sort of film that gets released in mid-January – without a scintilla of wit, charm or suspense. Continue reading

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SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE

R, 91 m., 2006

Director: Ed Blum
Writer: Aschlin Ditta (written by)
Stars: Holly Aird, Eileen Atkins, Hugh Bonneville

Ed Blum’s Scenes of a Sexual Nature is an Altman-esque romantic comedy, the latest ensemble mosaic from London (following in the footsteps of Winterbottom’s Wonderland and Mike Leigh’s entire career). Continue reading

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THE BUCKET LIST

The Bucket List Movie Review

PG_13, 97 min, 2007

Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: Justin Zackham
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes

Here is a film that means well and trips head over foot on its own eagerness to please. Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List is a tearjerker, not without a scintilla of attempts at humor, that exists in some Hollywood-generated alternate universe where things that are impossible not only can and do happen, but where we’re meant to be comforted by their improbable success. It ultimately feels just a bit too much like a well-oiled machine, and not enough like it comes from the heart; it’s more like it took a detour through a few too many rewrites on its way through the chest cavity of sincerity. Continue reading

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THE ORPHANAGE

J.A. Bayona’s debut is a creepy, effective little ghost story from Spain (executive produced by Guillermo del Toro, fresh off PAN’S LABYRINTH). This one involves a once-adopted woman whose husband and adopted son move with her to the abandoned orphanage in which she grew up. Her son, afflicted with both HIV and apparent imaginary friends, is on medication and things get pretty freaky when he is interacting with children who aren’t there. The film, thankfully, never strains too hard for effect, nor does it lapse into show-off mode or cheap scares. Nevertheless, this is one of the creepiest and most effective “horror” films I’ve seen in some time. Slow, methodical, chilling, and ultimately touching, this is a surprisingly intelligent and involving thriller from one of the best countries in the movie business. Well-done.

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ATONEMENT

Atonement Movie Review

R, 123 m., 2007

Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Ian McEwan (novel), Christopher Hampton (screenplay)
Stars: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Brenda Blethyn

Joe Wright’s Atonement is an intimate epic about deceit, the tragedy that can come from lying, and the regret that follows. Continue reading

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ONE MISSED CALL

PG_13, 87 min, 2008

Director: Eric Valette
Writers: Andrew Klavan (screenplay), Yasushi Akimoto (novel Chakushin ari), Minako Daira (screenplay Chakushin ari) (as Miwako Daira)

Stars: Edward Burns, Shannyn Sossamon, Ana Claudia Talancón

One Missed Call is yet another Japanese horror remake; when will they learn? And by “they” I mean the idiots (studio executives) in Hollywood. And by “learn” I mean stop giving the micro-idiots (would-be filmmakers) access to paper and cameras and various film equipment and budgets and things. Continue reading

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