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There Will Be Blood (2007)
If not from his previous works, There Will Be Blood will finally give credit where due, and announce Paul Thomas Anderson as one of the best American story tellers working in film. Magnolia, a cinematic experience like no other, and a bold statement to come from Anderson, Blood is a further honing of his craft, and catapulting him to another level of mastery. Based upon the novel Oil!, Blood has something to say, but this isn’t a very uplifting message. The main foes, Plainview and Sunday, each are not lost souls, they are demonic creatures, crawled out for the black oil that surrounds them. Not so much about the oil boom in the turn of the century California, Capitalism and Religious Zealots are butting heads, each possessing their vessels, yet both are kneeling at the alter of greed. Man’s soul is at risk here, but way of redeeming it is a bigger question.
Standing at the heart of this monster and screaming ‘I’ is Daniel Day-Lewis. A villainous monster, equally repulsive and eerily inspiring, Day-Lewis possesses Daniel Plainview with such demonic fever. Plainview is charming and charismatic, a likable man with his small limp and smile, and family man exterior. Behind the squint of his eye, evil deeds await for all who fall prey to him and his conquest. ‘There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.’ Plainview is a monster; with such content towards man, people are nothing more than meat to discard once he’s dried the land, yet he also carries that wonder and excitement that comes with discovery in industrialism, and a man that sticks to his ideals and principles, even if they rest in the extreme. You can’t call Day-Lewis’s performance a performance, he is Plainview. Standing beside Plainview with his cherub face and innocent demeanour is Eli Sunday, with Paul Dano leaving an impressive mark. The smoky veil of evangelical religion, the empty rapture and redemption he offers, as Sunday looks to control his minions and his self fulfilment as a prophet and vessel of God.
Conjuring Kubrick through his direction, from the wordless opening and extended scenes, dramatic shifts, it all goes with a purpose. Anderson makes a dramatic and epic statement every scene, as there is always interaction, verbally or non verbal, or through the piercing stares between characters. Jonny Greenwood’s discordant score cuts through the landscape and characters, raising the tension to blood boiling levels, before dropping it in an instant. Robert Elswit’s cinematography captures the Western landscape magnificently.
If the long wordless opening made some viewers wondering where will this all end, the yang to this are the two final gut wrenching conversation, and the bone crushing final moments (diabolical with its odd humour, many will be talking about this than the layers of themes, allegories and mythology to dig through) that will permeate and linger long after leaving the cinema. There Will Be Blood is an epic masterpiece from a master story teller.
solid follow up by Mclean
With his previous film Wolf Creek, Greg Mclean made an impact on the world cinema. Splitting audiences with his visceral and unabashed attack on the horror genre. Sadistic undertones, many labeling it Mysoginistic, Wolf Creek got tongues wagging. Mclean not venturing far from another genre flick, Rogue sees Mclean taking on the creature feature. Written before Wolf Creek, Rogue is a film that knows what it is, 'B' film fodder, masquerading as nothing else.
Simplistic in story, Rogue finds a group of tourists venturing on what they think is a tour through crocodile country, in the Australian Northern Territory. Leading the tour, Kate, has in her group Pete. An American travel writer for a magazine back in his hometown of Chicago. Vocally showing, a crocodile tour is not what Pete had in mind for is latest article. Added to the mix is a family with a dying mother hoping for fulfilling moments with her husband and daughter, a bickering couple and and a few loners. Like everything that's going to well, it never lasts, after a run in with two of the local hooligans, before the real terror starts.
If you go back, more so to the better made creature features, many have at their core a social commentary, a reflection of their time. Rogue so much doesn't have a social commentary, Mclean does however taps into a primal fear. An intellectual conversation isn't what you'll find in Rogue, not when a fun ride is afoot. Rogue is a greatly crafted 'B' film. Playing on all the motifs and clichés of the genre, it's easy to figure where this is heading. Jumbling the formula enough, Rogue still offers surprises and twists to keep proceedings fresh.
Showing his skill in Wolf Creek, Mclean is a master of mood. Dropping the sadistic undertones of Wolf Creek, there is a constant atmosphere of dread and foreboding. Like its predecessor, Rogue takes it times to build, milking the tension before we hit the actual problem. The main character of Rogue is also drawn out, not making a proper debut till the final climax. The giant crocodile is an enigma for the most part, all for a more dangerous adversary; especially if an animal that massive can elude its prey. To when the crocodile is fully shown, its well worth the wait.
While Mclean has a directorial eye, and can create situational problems, there is a lag in his ability of character development. Wolf Creek neither had well fleshed out characters, though mostly on the actors part, a connection was made where you hoped for their survival. The case isn't the same with Rogue. All sit at one dimensional. Radha Mitchell is solid as Kate, along with Michael Vartan as Pete, who may not be the most commanding of leading men. Sam Worthington also makes a notable impression as Neil. Mclean tries to inject some back story, as one tourist grieves his dead wife and unspoken problems between Kate and Neil. Pete doesn't like to get his hands dirty and likes the cushy side of life. In the end, they all become scared victims all screaming for their lives. While you back for Kate and Pete, all other characters you hope would already be croc food. The most interesting character is not an actual human, or creature. The Australian landscape is utilised to great extent again, with Will Gibson's cinematography, like Wolf Creek, show casing the beauty and danger hidden within.
Far from being the sophomore blues, Rogue lacks the initial impact of Wolf Creek. Instead Rogue is a simple but fun genre flick. With a few jumps and surprises along the way.
Eastern Promises (2007)
Cronenberg going further into mainstream, not his best work
Cutting into the mainstream cinema, with his last film A History of Violence, Cronenberg keeps slicing his way further in; with lots of blood too. Always a cult director, Cronenberg seems to be diverting from his core themes; sex and flesh. History of Violence kept his themes in tact, Eastern Promises find Cronenberg on a different agenda. Far from trying to be the new Godfather, Eastern Promises seems prepped for this modern title. Focusing mainly on Nikolai, a driver and bodyguard of Semyon's son Kirill. Nikolai has aspiration to rise from chauffeuring Kirill and move to higher ranks in the Vory V Zakone. Throwing a spanner into the works is Anna, who starts to investigate to the parentage of a baby, after her mother died during birth. Reading the mother's diary, Anna find there is something more sinister to her death, which compromises Semyon.
While seeing Cronenberg in a different light, if anything he hasn't left behind is his brutality of violence. Minimal are scenes of violence, as intense neck slicing and a fight in a bath house, drag up the nasty side of Nikolai's life and the business at hand. A smack of cheek can be felt as Nikolai defrosts a body with a hairdryer and laughs on the dead mans haircut. Eastern Promises constantly boils away with a sinister underbelly, but never completely reaches the surface. Cronenberg gave History of Violence a sharp edge from its pulp roots, Eastern Promises seems to have a pulp exterior to Steven Knight's dark screenplay.
To point out a miscalculation, Knight's problem is Anna. Her character is misjudged and un-necessary. Her means of being here and compulsion to find what happened to the young mother feels contrived. Naomi Watts tries to bring an intrigue to Anna, yet looks rigid most of the time, for a woman possessed to find answers. Swinging the camera to Nikolai and Kirill, all slack is counter acted. Majorly to Viggo Mortensen's and Vincent Cassel's performance, Mortensen especially creates such a powerful and enigmatic character in Nikolai. Hitting another snag, Eastern Promises has to ambiguous of an ending, leaving many story arcs untied. Open for another film?
Eastern Promises falls short of the visceral cinema experience Cronenberg wants, yet with Mortensen in his greatest role to date, Eastern Promises is a film of a director evolving into new territory.
The Brave One (2007)
could have been a lot more..
The Vigilante is a strange and intriguing person. One person’s act of retribution, or act for the greater good can stir so much emotions. Not just in the single man or woman, but the greater community; with polarising effects. The Brave One takes a side step of the vigilante parable. Erica Bain is not out there to clean the streets, The Brave One studies more on the emotional aftermath of a woman’s turmoil, resulting in her beaten close to death and fiancé David murdered. Director Neil Jordan handles proceedings well, while screenwriters Cynthia Mort, Bruce A. Taylor and Roderick Taylor inject intelligence into this story of a woman rebuilding her life. Well not rebuilding, changing into someone she doesn’t recognise; this stranger. For the most part, The Brave One walks a solid line, as Erica grips with her lose and the first few murders, until revenge and the vigilante acts enter the picture. Side stepping into that vigilante territory and the final act of revenge drag everything into a standard form. All the insight and turmoil to Erica is muted when this becomes another vigilante film. When the exploration of society’s reaction to these crimes is about to head into thought provoking areas and the ramifications of these acts, are all dropped for acts of revenge. The final act is what unfolds what was so tightly constructed beforehand. The tuff and hard hitting ending Jordan was heading for never eventuates, for an ending more cheap and selling out the audience. Jodie Foster gives and powerhouse performance, over shadowing the rest of the cast, and is the strongest element of The Brave One. Terrence Howard is solid, without being very memorable. The Brave One has an intriguing premise, true this isn't Deathwish or Taxi Driver again, it’s a disappointment it could have risen above what it actually finished as.
December Boys (2007)
The coming of age tale has been tried and test for quite a long time. Learning life's mysteries and hard lessons, learning the end of childhood innocence. When all the ingredients are so blatantly in front of director Rod Hardy, it's sad that December Boys never utilise them to make a point in four boys lives cinematic, or even engaging. December Boys treads all so familiar territory; seen it before, well you'll see it all over again. True to the fact movies can regurgitate the same plot and arc time and time again, it all depends how it's rearranged into something that looks new and exciting. As four orphans, all born in December, are taken on a holiday to a small beach community, all things are possible. Marc Rosenberg's screenplay based upon Michael Noonan's book, wonderment on how this was such an important moment in his life becomes hard to figure out. As time slowly lumbers by, the build to what could have been a beautiful coda, resides on a perfunctory thud. Where was this building to? Nowhere except to some gorgeous scenery. David Connell's cinematography injects some lovely, sweeping landscapes; if only the story swept you away this much. A tiresome story, stiff and rigid acting all round. For Daniel Radcliffe's first major role out of Harry Potter, better stick to what he knows. December Boys is a broken record of a tired theme.
Surf's Up (2007)
enjoyable, light-hearted flick
It's becoming a train of thought currently with penguins. "If I see one more penguin, I think I'm going to...". They seem to be everywhere, with movies; March of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Farce of the Penguins. Penguin overload, critical mass reached, looking to explode with Surf's Up jumping into the feathery black and white pile. While wondering what will be the next new animal to grace the screen, it's a hard blow for Surf's Up, coming so late in the penguin parade, and will easily be overlooked as low-grade family fodder. Simple fact is that Surf's Up is a beautiful family affair, with lots of heart, and gives Pixar a reminder they aren't the only ones in the game.
While a simple tale of facing life's challenges, and taking them on with a smile, and a good old laugh for measure, the lack of sap and sickly sweet gooey moments, make Surf's Up such and light an easily digested treat. Surf's Up grabs your attention more due to its venture in the Mockumentary scene; an unconventional twist for the simple kids flick. Screenwriters Lisa Addario and Christian Darren grasp this concept fully, even tackling the genre better than it's original father Christopher Guest. (Well better than his last few features). Interactions between characters and the unseen documentary crew adds an interactiveness, it feels they are talking with the audience. Shots from surf boards and inside the tubes add an actual documentary dimension. A flaw Surf's Up hits is a real punch with many of the jokes and gags. While not reaching the hysterical heights of comedy, the "smaller" laughs keep coming one after the other.
Showing why he's becoming one of the biggest star right now, Shia LaBeouf has a natural charisma and wit to engage you and keep you engaged for the films entirety. Jeff Bridges seems to tap into a more cleaned up, still stoned Lebowski. The rest of the cast never really raise to much. Jon Heder doing what he does best and James Woods becomes bit too caricature as Reggie Belafonte. Yet look for appearances by Kelly Slater and Rob Machado.
While looking like just another computer animated, family film, Surf's Up has so much more going for it. The animation is stunning, scenes inside the wave tubes are beautifully created. This is a film that will be easily forgotten, but for all the wrong reasons.
a revision, not a remake
John Waters's film Hairspray is such a cult classic, and one of his most mainstream films, especially after his run of shock comedies; ala Pink Flamingos. Behind all the satire and Baltimore bashing in Waters's original, there resided a commentary on racism, set behind the battle of integration and segregation. Director Adam Shankman and Co. brings the Broadway production, based upon Waters's version, with all the glitz, glamour and sparkling shimmer. Hairspray though doesn't stray into rehash territory, unlike many other remakes. While based more on the Broadway production, Hairspray is a re-envision on it's original counterpart; an element many remakes miss. Shankman's update may be Hollywoodnised, and glazed covered candy with an extra serving of sweetness, Waters's satire nowhere to be seen, yet a remainder of tongue firmly in cheek in his brief cameo. Screenwriter Leslie Dixon, while dropping all satire, has no problem sinking the teeth in with hard biting, forked tongued humour, making Hairspray a delightful treat. Along with cameos from Ricki Lake and Jerry Stiller, and homage in Tracy's final dress.
As with any musical, the defining factor is the music and dance numbers. Choreographed by director Shankman; who pulls off two major feats, after a run of very ill decided, and plain awful films, constructs the most energetic and exuberant atmosphere. On Shankman's part, this is a real surprise, and a welcomed one at that. All songs hook and reel you in, right from the opening number "Good Morning Baltimore", Hairspray grabs you. All the dances are constructed and executed with such mirth and spirit, embodying the era of the early sixties, along with costumes and reconstruction of sixties Baltimore.
Pelting out every tune, Hairspray has an exceptional cast. In her debut role, Nikki Blonsky shines and sits as the sweet core of this film as Tracy Turnblad. Zac Efron has charm and grace as Link. Yet this is an all round affair. Even this late in his career, John Travolta marks a career defining role as Edna. Never sending up Devine, who played Edna in the original, Travolta embodies this woman and weight, stealing every single scene he's in. And he can still sing and dance. Michelle Pfeiffer is magnificently bitchy as Velma Von Tussle and a surprise singer. Even with minimal screen time, both Christopher Walken and James Marsden mark their presence strongly. Queen Latifah hasn't been this wonderful since Chicago. Even with her few scenes, Allison Janney is a small treat.
While Waters's Hairspray is endearing and the penultimate version, Shankman's new Hairspray stands solely by its self, and another fine example that the musical will always live on.
For this writer, the attraction of each Adam Sandler film becomes lower and lower. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry finally takes the cake, or breaks the tolerance; ironically when this films preaches about tolerance, to how lazy each film is and how far this film verges on insulting. In hind sight after viewing Chuck and Larry, there is an episode of South Park, which looked at gay marriages, also another episode on tolerance. As far yielding South Park has with its PC levels, the outcome is satire and social commentary gold. Screenwriters Alexander Payne, Barry Fanaro and Jim Taylor; looking at Payne and Taylor's previous films Sideways and About Schidt, something isn't right here. All three scrape the bottom of the barrel, digging up every cliché and stereotype to whip up a film more insulting than actually bringing awareness.
All Characters are flat and one-dimensional. Larry the sensitive father looking out for his kids, while Chuck the womanising ladies man, who is far from the Playboy Man he thinks. Every element of Chuck and Larry is basic 101 film making. Chuck is so ugly at the start, but only to make his transformation more impacting, but is deft of any impact. Dennis Dugan has become the main director for any of these Sandler comedies, with uninspiring and flat directing; whenever a good moment arises to adds strength, Dugan take all the easy steps. His paint by colours in hand. Gay stereotypes come flying left and right, all presented as the weak wristed men, who need the strong heterosexual to shown them how to be a man. Squirm as Cindy Lauper's 'Girls just wanna have fun', on a "girl" shopping spree, or the oldest joke of dropping the soap. That joke ought to stay in the Naked Gun.
Chuck and Larry, while presenting tolerance for the homosexual community, also brackets to simple respect for all people. Yet no tolerance is left for any audience member, or the groups and minorities they leave little for. Regression and backward steps are taken, instead of strengthening the rights for any group attacked by Conservatives. A staple of the Sandler's company Happy Madison is schmaltz life lessons that churn the stomach than warm the heart. Remember Click? Actually lets not remember. The final note that everything will work out hinges on some un-noted preconception. No burning effigies, but crowned heroes.
The real surprise here is Jessica Biel, who manged to rise above the rest, even when she's hardly trying. Along with Nick Swardson, who manages to hit the 'mock' button, these two were the only highlights in a horrible movie. Honestly, there were three chuckles released, and that's a poor show indeed when this abomination stretches for close to two hours.
Flicking through Michael Moore's previous films, if you were caught in his cross hairs, you automatically needed your "Foot-in-the-door O Matic", to sever his leg if he came knocking at your door; as shown in once part of Sicko, the Big Cheeses' don't like being in the next Michael Moore film. Moore is an angry man, and he wants his results when he is asking why something isn't right. Sicko yet is Moore's less intrusive film to date, being he is not the main flag waver here. Unlike previous film Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore pushes himself to the background, and lets the people's voice through, and their horror stories with battling the American Healthcare System.
As Moore simply states at the beginning of Sicko, this is not a film about all the millions of American's who have no health insurance what so ever, this is about all the people how are actually covered by the HMO, or so they think. Sicko is one film that really makes your stomach churn in revolt, and the ending result of feeling just plain sick. The stories told by those covered who felt so secure by their HMO, are truly horrific. Just when they think all is well and be covered for the hospital bill, they better think again. Excluding care for the most trivial problems, or if nothing is wrong, the Health Insurance will find a way to deny you. The private health system, big money with little to none care given. The Ultimate Money Game should be the actual name of the American Healthcare System, to no wonder why they are so low on the world standard for Healthcare.
Moore presents something truly horrific in Sicko, that does speak to everyone. We all have people we love, and it's a terrifying that so many people in the American Healthcare System worry more about the bill or being thrown out to the gutter, then receiving the care they ask for. Sicko is one film also being an Australian, they should all see, as when the Australian Healthcare is slowly being privatised and morphing into one resembling that of America, it's enough to take a lesson from the French and fill those streets.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
popcorn film at its best
You know the type of people, who are so interactive with a action flick, that they mimic all the guns and explosions. Well if you did that with this installment of the resurrected Die Hard franchise, you would be hoarse by the end of the two hours. By no means the first film ever to have constant and relentless action thrown at the audience, but like most that do, proceedings turn boring and repetitive by the end. It's a glimmering light shown from Len Wiseman, that Die Hard 4.0 is an exemption and one of the most entertaining popcorn films in quiet sometime.
Twelve years since we have since John McClane, Die Hard 4.0 doesn't play around with the formula, that has become a blue print for so many films from the invent of Die Hard. McClane once again is entangled in the plans of a well-groomed villain, where digital terrorism is our other foe. Based upon an article by John Carlin, the premise see's what happens when an entire country is hit with digital mayhem, and ultimately when that control over the digital world is ripped from its hands. The short answer here, Armageddon. The concepts and ideas presented by Carlin does the ultimate mind boggle on this "What if" situation, as humanities dependency is so reliant on this digital age. Sreenplay by Mark Bomback, beefs up the action side and injects the Die Hard formula, along with McClanes wise-cracks and invisible subtitle "They hurt my family, nows it's personal" eighties homage, resulting in our John McClane adventure.
Again McClane is the one man army, winding up in the wrong place at the wrong time again on a routine suspect pick up. Willis shows he is McClane, while able to show up all those young action stars he still has the goods, even if he doesn't have the ripped body of yesterdays. Very self aware of itself, instead of an intriguing thriller with dark undertones, director Len Wiseman, of both Underworld films, takes Die Hard 4.0 to bombastic levels of constant action set pieces, but all in the good name of great entertainment. With each set piece nearly an allusive boxing match; John McClane verses a band of armed hit men, John McClane verses a Helicopter, John McClane verses Kung-Fu Chick, John McClane verses a Jet Fighter. Each one raises the bar of ill-credibility so high, on paper its insanity of the highest order. Wiseman likes his films sleek and slick, and to his credit executes each scene with such precision, edited perfectly, to draw out that "Whoa" with such easement. Your eyes will binge on so much eye candy, as this defines destruction with nothing left unblown or shot out to the hilt. Rubble should have had a credit, with more screen time than most of the actors.
Relentless in pace and ACTION, ACTION, ACTION to please action flick junkies, Die Hard 4.0 like the predecessors are guilty pleasures. If you were able to take one part from this film, if needed to place a bet on the victor between McClane verses a Jet Fighter, you know where to place your money.