Sunday, January 20, 2008

There Will Be Blood (no kidding)


There Will Be Blood
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Here's another one of those big-deal, high-quality, awards-seeking films that came out in 2007 but have taken a little longer to get released across the country. There Will Be Blood was definitely worth waiting for. The story starts at the end of the 19th century, following the life of a prospector who becomes an oil man, and along with that, the growth of the U.S. oil industry. And what a guy that oil man is. As played by Daniel Day-Lewis, he's a fascinating and scary creature, a combination of civilized man and dangerous animal, who buys oil-drilling rights at indefensibly low prices and proceeds to make lots of money. Along the way, he picks up a son (courtesy of partner killed in a mining accident) and an ongoing battle with a not-particularly-Jesus-like evangelizing preacher, played by Paul Dano. The look of this film is wonderful, from the long, mostly silent, opening sequence through to the bitter and bloody end. (You can't say you weren't warned by the title.) And the sound is great too. The score is by Jonny Greenwood of the band Radiohead, and it's just about perfect, adding to the cinematic experience but not overpowering it.

This is a wonderful movie, with a great central performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. See this film.

Video notes:

Eastern Promises
Directed by David Cronenberg

Here's another one from 2007. This film came out just a few months ago, but is already available for your video viewing pleasure. It's a story about Russian mob activity in London, but it's not the London of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. It's a London populated by immigrants and home to all sorts of sordid illegal activity. Viggo Mortensen play a slick Russian mobster and Naomi Watts is a midwife (and a first-generation Russian immigrant), trying to find the family of a baby orphaned at birth. The film is well-done, and the acting is excellent, especially Mortensen as a very un-Aragorn-like member of the London underworld. TVOR's one complaint is that the character played by Watts is really dumb. If you found out that people you were dealing with were dangerous gangsters, would you then take the opportunity to throw a hissy fit and give them a piece of your mind? TVOR didn't think so. You probably enjoy being alive and would like to remain so. In spite of this flaw, the film is still worth seeing.

Paul Thomas Anderson hasn't made a huge number of movies (he's still a young guy) but he's made some good ones. Check out Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love (the only Adam Sandler movie TVOR has ever seen) if you've missed them along the way.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008



Directed by Jason Reitman
Screenplay by Diablo Cody

A fair amount of ink has been spilled about the fact that two of the most popular (and funny) comedies of the year deal with unwanted pregnancies, and what it all means, especially the fact that in this age of choice (however long that lasts), abortion is not seriously considered as an option in these films, much less chosen. It's an interesting question, but TVOR won't go there. These are comedies, after all. If serious films start getting made about unwanted pregnancies, and still no one is talking about the "a" word, then that'll be different. TVOR would just be happy if there were no more movie characters with above-average IQs (and real people, for that matter) who express surprise when they have unprotected sex and conception occurs. HELLO! That's how it works!

OK, down to business. Juno is about a 16-year old girl who gets pregnant, decides to have the baby, picks out prospective adoptive parents from the Nickel Want Ads, and keeps the audience very well entertained while she does it. It's a very funny, well-written, well-acted, well-put together film. Maybe not so realistic, but it's a movie, right? And the characters seem human, if not very similar to folks you actually know. If only people were that witty in real life. The cast is wonderful, especially Ellen Page as Juno and Michael Cera as the baby daddy. Definitely one to see.

Video notes:

Jason Reitman's first film was Thank You for Smoking, an entertaining satire about a tobacco lobbyist (Aaron Eckhart). The film is based on Christopher Buckley's novel of the same name. It's sort of satire lite, not too cutting, but it does have some nice bits.

The other unwanted pregnancy comedy of the year is, of course, Knocked Up, written and directed by Judd Apatow. This one makes the case that men are drifting underachievers, waiting to be civilized by women, a superior sex. Whatever. It's funny, and Paul Rudd is in it, which is always a plus.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Happy 2008--let's see some movies!


It's 2008 now, but TVOR is still trying to digest 2007's goodies--and there were a lot of them. These films have been out for a few weeks, and may stick around a while longer if they get any awards nominations--which would be entirely warranted.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Directed by Sidney Lumet from a script by Kelly Masterson

Sydney Lumet has been directing television and film for 60 years, and he's gotten pretty good at it. His latest film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, proves that he hasn't lost his touch. It's a genre film--the crime drama--but it's a genre film made by a master. It's a story of a heist gone horribly wrong. And when TVOR says horribly wrong, she means HORRIBLY wrong. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play brothers who rob their parents' jewelry store (you can see that the likelihood of things not working out is extremely high). Albert Finney plays their father. This is no Shakespearean tragedy. These are not great men with tragic flaws that bring them down. These are small men, motivated by greed, jealousy, lust, revenge, and other unseemly things. The characters aren't particularly sympathetic, but the writing and directing and acting (including Marisa Tomei as Hoffman's wife) come together so that we understand something about these people at the same time we are appalled by them.

Starting Out in the Evening
Directed by Andrew Wagner

Frank Langella spends most of his time on stage, but in Starting Out in the Evening, he has a great film role and does a wonderful job. He plays an aging, out-of-print author, who becomes the master's thesis project of a young graduate student (Lauren Ambrose) who worms her way into his actual as well as his literary life. Lily Taylor plays the author's daughter. This is a well-made, thoughtful, smaller-scale movie that's a nice change of pace from the rest of the year-end stuff.

Video notes:

Some of the better films of 2007 are already out on video.

Zodiac was seen by few people in theaters, yet is showing up on a lot of year-end best film lists. It's the story of the real Zodiac killer, active in California in the 1960's and 70's, and is based on a book by one of the newspapermen involved in the story from its earliest days. David Fincher, best known for Fight Club and Se7en, directed the film. Although Zodiac deals with a serial killer, the emphasis is not on the murders, but the attempts by police and the press to find the killer. Three excellent actors (Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr.) head the cast, and as the film progresses, and various leads are followed and dropped, we get a picture of the difficulties of dealing with a smart, crazy criminal--even if it's a crazy criminal who likes publicity. A heads-up: this is a long film. It was a very long, tough slog to try to solve these crimes. But if you've got about two and a half hours, this is not a bad way to spend it.

3:10 to Yuma isn't on a lot of best-films lists, but it's making it into some honorable mention sections, and TVOR liked it. It's a western with a really bad guy (Russell Crowe) and a really good guy (Christian Bale). What more do you need in a western, especially when those guys have a good script to work with, and can act?

Check out some of Sidney Lumet's work: Fail-Safe, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Equus, The Pawnbroker, The Verdict...the list goes on and on.