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There Will Be Blood (2007)
Greed + Amorality + Impeccable Film-making and Performances = Classic Cinema
Easily one of the three or so best films I've seen in the past year. Daniel Day-Lewis is quite simply one of the most talented, charismatic, and purely watchable actors to grace the screen in recent years.
There are many shades of great directors like Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, and Robert Altman throughout in terms of tone, storytelling, pacing, and the use of unlikeable yet exhilarating characters.
Johnny Greenwood's score was distracting at times, but in retrospect, was absolutely necessary. This, along with No Country for Old Men, is also one of the best looking films of the past year with fantastic cinematography.
Paul Dano has come a VERY long way since The Girl Next Door. =P I think he'll be one to watch for in the near future. P.T. Anderson has made a film that really validates his reputation as one of the best American directors.
The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006)
There is a lot that I love about John Lennon, and a lot that I don't like much about him. I was interested in this film initially, but was not all that impressed. I'll try to explain my problems with it. I suppose I should start by saying that it is not all bad, but anybody who looks at this as "the" documentary on Lennon is grossly misinformed.
In a nutshell, nearly everything in the film had all been said before. It was the first time I felt like I was watching a remake of a documentary! Some people claimed that it was the first time this part of Lennon's life was shown in a documentary, but there was absolutely nothing in this film that hadn't been said elsewhere, be it on film or in a book.
I hated the overused "talking-heads" format. I had no need to hear what Gore Vidal had to say, particularly when he went on about Lennon representing "life" and Nixon and George Bush representing "death". Whatever. I'm not their biggest fan either, but that was pure sensationalism. It's not clear which Bush he was talking about, but Vidal takes every chance he gets to make pompous, oversimplified statements like that.
Geraldo Rivera? You've got to be kidding!
I just wasn't always sure if the film had anything more to say than "John Lennon ruled and Richard Nixon sucked." Does anybody who is going to see this film really need to be told that to the degree that this film tells the audience? While I'm at it, I hated the film's ad campaign. It centered upon the above Vidal quote and counted on people who didn't do their own thinking to applaud it as wholly original and profound. The fact that it bastardized "War Is Over... If You Want It" by making it the film's tagline irritated me, especially since the film wasn't supposed to be about war! Even if you read into it and say that it was about a war between Nixon and Lennon, I still say that's a flimsy reason.
David Leaf is usually much more impressive than this. I, for one, value his work as Brian Wilson's biographer. This film, however, just seemed to be capitalizing on the current documentary craze. It used to be that a viewer could be enlightened and educated by almost every documentary that made its way into cinemas. Not anymore, though. This one simply staples together other, BETTER documentaries about the same stuff. Want to learn about Lennon? Read a book. Watch better Lennon documentaries like Imagine: John Lennon. That film wasn't perfect either, but at least it showed John at his best and at his worst. The U.S. vs. John Lennon is simply John worship that spends so much time treating him like a legend, it forgets to treat him like a man.
I probably would not have felt so negatively had I seen this one on television instead of in a cinema. It was partly produced by VH1, and that's really where it belongs. At least on VH1, it can be taken with a grain of salt alongside I Love the 80s: 1982 and Flava of Love. (Okay, okay, that last part was pretty low, I admit it. I apologize.) I can't say that I hated the whole thing. There were some pretty interesting interviews, particularly the one with John Sinclair. His contribution was the best part of the film. They also made at least some efforts (i.e. two or three I think) to bring in opposing viewpoints so they could say they were being objective.
Above everything else, it is always a pleasure to listen to Lennon, even when he wasn't thinking much about what he said. Yes, friends, even Lennons make mistakes. Either way, his interviews were pretty well used in this film. I walked away really wishing that John were still around to state his case for himself retrospectively.
Exceeded all my expectations
What can I say, but I really enjoyed Terminator 3. The key, I believe, was to go in expecting to be let down. 2003 has been and will continue to be a sequel-happy year, filled with instantly forgettable rehashes of successful films in order to see if lightning would strike twice, or thrice, or who knows how many more times. Since the first two Terminator films were so incredibly good and T2 ended on such a fantastic note, I didn't think another good entry into the Terminator franchise was possible, especially since a) Arnold isn't young anymore, b) Linda Hamilton was not involved, and c) neither was Jim Cameron. I was expecting a sub-par action flick with mediocre special effects and painfully shallow performances all around. While the amazing Linda Hamilton's presence was sorely missed, as was the direction (not necessarily the dialogue) of James Cameron, T3 really delivered! It was a great deal of fun and excitement, exactly what a summer moviegoer should want to see during a season known for idiot movies.
I am very hard to please in the summertime since SO much trash comes out and most so-called films released between June and August insult my intelligence beyond forgiveness. While not as fresh, intriguing, and thought-provoking as the first two, Terminator 3 actually, surprisingly, had somewhat of a brain! The story was well-conceived, the special effects were out of the park incredible (given the budget, they'd BETTER have been!), Arnold was in great shape, and most strikingly, the performances were very strong indeed!
While Arnold Schwarzenegger's speaking performance was limited mostly to expository dialogue, short commands or replies ("Negative", "Get down!", "Take the wheel"), he gave a delightfully campy, tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the part tailor-made for him. His deadpan quips were in the "lame and predictable, but can't help laughing and smiling" category. As for the stunts and his fights with the new T-X supervillain, or "Terminatrix" (played adequately enough by stone-faced stunner Kristanna Loken), they were outstanding. At times, the physical confrontations between the two make the classic fights between Arnold's T-101 and Robert Patrick's T-1000 in T2 look like a schoolyard spat. I kept seeing dollar signs popping up with all the cars, buildings, etc. that were destroyed.
Perhaps the most inspired casting, however, were Claire Danes as Kate Brewster and Nick Stahl as John Connor. I NEVER would have expected Claire Danes to fit well into a Terminator movie, but she was a gem! First of all, she's looking great these days. She has such attractive features, but in more of a classical way. Whereas Loken's looks make guys simply say, "She's hot!", Danes has more of the look of a girl that a respectable man would want to introduce to his family. She played her part excellently and remembered to have a good time doing it, as one can see while watching her.
Nick Stahl was perfectly cast as reluctant hero John Connor. He had a look in his eyes of a man with a haunting past (and future) as the role requires. There was a wonderful sense of urgency and despair in his voice that told me that he understood the part completely. His character's frustration came through perfectly and I know purists say that Eddie Furlong should've played him, but I disagree. Furlong was okay as young John, but nowadays he just doesn't have a certain look that Conner should have (no offense to Eddie. loved him in American History X). Stahl has such a strong dark side, it's a shame the part of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episodes II and III didn't go to him, as he would have probably done very well.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. T3 packed a nice summer popcorn movie punch and a very clever ending. Considering the expectations and the dynamite of potentially alienating diehard Terminator fans, director Mostow, whose exciting 1997 B-movie Breakdown showed a great deal of promise, has earned his wings in the annals of action moviemaking.