Monday, May 19, 2008

Movie Review: "There Will Be Blood"

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciaran Hinds, Dillon Freasier
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Official Web site

Having only acted in three movies since 1997, Daniel Day-Lewis has certainly made the most of his rare on-screen appearances, having pulled in a total of four Academy Award nominations in his career and, counting his riveting performance in “There Will Be Blood,” two Oscar wins.

Taking on the role as a heartless oil prospector in writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s unconventional, yet outstanding drama, Day-Lewis commands the screen. His performance is so focused and mesmerizing, you occasionally forget that there’s a story to be told here.

“Blood” spans three decades in the life of Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), who is introduced in a sequence of scenes that only feature one single line of dialogue, along with the atmospheric and eerie film score by Jonny Greenwood (better known as the guitarist for Radiohead). It’s one of many bold and ambitious decisions in the film by Anderson, who is in territory significantly different from his stellar work on “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.”

Plainview, as his name might imply, is of a singular vision – he wants to get rich and doesn’t care who he hurts or exploits in the attempt to do so. He makes seductive pitches to landowners in oil-rich Texas, assuring them that his is a family-operated business. His adopted young son, H.W. (Dillion Freasier), is frequently by his side and acts as a friendly face to counter Daniel’s aggressive business tactics.

Slowly building his wealth and power, Plainview runs into an obstacle when he attempts to buy land owned by the family of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young, but passionate preacher. It’s obvious from the first negotiation between Plainview and Eli, who is a stronger presence in the household than his soft-spoken father (David Willis), that these two will never become friends.

Plainview sees Sunday, like most people in his life, as an adversary that must be conquered. In fact, the bitter oilman later makes clear, in a well-written scene, his general disdain of people and desire to escape from them. Near the conclusion of the movie, when Plainview has seemingly made good on his wish, few would believe that the price paid for the life he has carved out was worth the effort.

Some will argue that having to follow such a contemptible character around for the film’s nearly 2 hour and 40 minute running time is too much. But few characters as intriguing and villainous as this ever grace the screen, which makes Plainview a character you clearly will never love, but will also find hard to get out of your head. For that matter, the same can easily be said about the movie itself.

Grade: A
(Rated R for violence.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Indy & Co. survive Cannes

From left: Actors Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas attend the “Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” photocall at the Palais des Festivals during the Cannes film festival on May 18 in Cannes, France.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Putting themselves before the critics at the Cannes film festival in France, the makers of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” look like they’ve managed to acquit themselves with nary a piece of rotten fruit hurled at them. The early reviews from the festival are beginning to pour in, and the response is largely positive.

Let’s face it: the reviews, be it from me or any notable critic, will be irrelevant to whether or not you go see this movie. This film is as clear example of being critic-proof as you can get. But don’t think that the cast and crew of the movie don’t care what people think. You don’t get together after 19 years apart to get torn apart by bad reviews. I’ll weigh in with my two cents probably after the upcoming holiday weekend.

- MC

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Movie Review: "Iron Man"

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by Jon Favreau

Official Web site

When news first broke last year that troubled movie star Robert Downey Jr. would be playing the title character in the big-budgeted summer movie, “Iron Man,” more than a few eyebrows were raised, not to mention the blood pressure of executives at Paramount, the studio distributing the film. But audiences and executives can breathe easy, as this adaptation of the popular Marvel comic book franchise has almost certainly got a film franchise on its hands – thanks in no small part to Downey’s wonderfully crowd-pleasing work.

Playing Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy who has made his fortune on weapons manufacturing and sales, Downey captures the cockiness and fast-talking brashness of a man not used to being told no. But when he’s kidnapped by a group of brutal rebels while on a sales pitch in Afghanistan, he quickly realizes he’s no longer in control. Being forced to build a bomb he had just demonstrated to the U.S. military, Stark manages to instead spend his time constructing a metal suit that secures his freedom.

Taking on a series of modifications to the template of the suit once he returns home, Stark doesn’t set out to be a superhero that will thwart evildoers wherever they may roam. Instead, his main goal is to destroy the very weapons on which he and his company have made a fortune. Naturally, not everyone in the company shares Stark’s newfound sense of purpose.

Origin films, particularly with comic books, can tend to drag on occasion, as there is usually so much exposition required to introduce the characters and their various motivations. But the solidly written script (save for a less-than-satisfactory third act final battle) and good direction by Jon Favreau (in quite the departure from “Elf” and “Swingers”) keeps the action moving along at a fairly brisk pace. Plus, the casting is particularly noteworthy, as the four leads (Downey, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow) all do good work here. It’s pretty amazing to have a comic book movie filled at the top with actors who have all been nominated for an Oscar (and, in Paltrow’s case, won the award).

While a few months ago, people might have thought it a bit hard to believe Downey as a superhero, few have ever questioned his acting ability. It’s been all that off-the-set stuff that has usually caused him problems. But after witnessing him get harnessed into the sleek two-toned suit, deftly dropping self-deprecating one-liners along the way, any lingering doubt should easily disappear.

Grade: B+
(Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Summer 2008 Movie Preview, Part 2

The second half of the summer schedule is typically filled with a heavy dose of escapist fare, with July particularly targeted by movie studios for their big-budget releases. But, August usually manages to unearth some sleeper hits, as the dog days of the season wind down.
Here’s a look at some of the notable releases set to hit theaters in the latter half of the summer.

Starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron
Directed by Peter Berg

Playing a superhero who’s a bit less than heroic, Smith looks like he has another hit on his hands. Having previously had huge Fourth of July weekend movies, he is one of the few movie stars that can draw in big crowds, no matter what film genre he appears in. Having Oscar-winner Theron on board, portraying a possible love interest, sure can’t hurt. (July 2)
Official Web site

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, James Dodd
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

The first movie in this adaptation of the comic book became a big hit on DVD, which led to Universal Pictures taking on the sequel. Clearly, it’s a big boost to have Guillermo del Toro still very much involved in the franchise, as he’s become a big-time director since the first film, following the success of “Pan’s Labyrinth.” (July 11)
Official Web site

“The Dark Knight”
Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Nolan’s successful relaunch of the franchise in 2005’s “Batman Begins” led to this even darker looking sequel, which has unfortunately been overshadowed to some extent by the tragic death of Ledger earlier this year. In this one, Batman (Bale) has to deal with a devious and twisted bank robber (Ledger), who becomes known as The Joker. (July 18)
Official Web site

“Step Brothers”
Starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins
Directed by Adam McKay

From the same goofballs that brought you “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman” comes the latest Ferrell vehicle, with him and Reilly playing a pair of competitive guys who are forced to live together after their formerly single parents get married. There likely won’t be too many surprises for those who have seen previous comedies from Ferrell and his collaborators. But then again, if it makes you laugh, it’s hard to complain too much. Gotta love that poster, too. (July 25)
Official Web site

“The X-Files: I Want to Believe”
Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Mitch Pileggi
Directed by Chris Carter

Ten years have past since the first “X-Files” movie, with many fans possibly having given up hope that a sequel would ever be made. The first film was a hit, but because so much time has passed, it’s uncertain what kind of success the follow-up will have. But agents Mulder (Duchovny) and Scully (Anderson) are both back, as is creator Carter, who is also serving as writer and director. (July 25)
Official Web site

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”
Starring Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Luke Ford, Michelle Yeoh
Directed by Rob Cohen

Well, look here, it’s another sequel! Cohen takes over for Stephen Sommers as director, while Fraser is the only major player from the previous two “Mummy” films to return. But Li is on board as a mummy, who will probably be a bit more nimble than the slow-walking stereotypes that were popular in the early years of monster movies. Still, how much more gas could this franchise still have in the tank? (Aug. 1)
Official Web site

“Pineapple Express”
Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Danny McBride
Directed by David Gordon Green

The comedic reach of Judd Apatow seems unlimited nowadays, as he is producing this action-comedy written by the team that released last summer’s hit “Superbad.” Rogen stars as a pot-loving process server who is forced to go on the run with his drug dealer buddy after he witnesses a cop-related murder. The trailer shows the promise of a really good movie, and the calendar slot looks to be just about right to produce a hit. (Aug. 8)
Official Web site

“Tropic Thunder”
Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte
Directed by Ben Stiller

Stiller stars and steps behind the camera for the first time since 2001’s “Zoolander” in this action-packed comedy about a group of actors who think they’re shooting a big budget war movie. However, when complications ensue, the actors find themselves having to become the very soldiers they’re portraying (which includes Downey as you’ve never seen him before). Go seek out the trailer to see what I mean. (Aug. 15)
Official Web site