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There Will Be Blood (2007)
Visual poetry and great acting...drunk up
"There Will Be A Blood" is a great piece of film-making. The camera glides and slithers, taking on the movements of no less than a drill and a wagon. A sort of surreal poetry is created out of one of the most banal subjects imaginable, creating a surprisingly entertaining experience. Unfortunately, it's short of a masterpiece because of one element, and one alone: the writing. Paul Thomas Anderson is not alien to this problem. His idiosyncratic writing is what makes people, either love him or hate him. PTA tends to write high melodramas, rich on character but a bit too self- explanatory and forceful (like the other "T"), as if he were writing the dialog thinking about how great it will sound in the TV ads. It does.
It's never realistic, but realism in film is always a tricky concept: a movie not being realistic doesn't make it bad per Se, but it doesn't necessarily make it great either. So here we are at what is undeniably Paul Thomas Anderson's greatest film thus far: he shows in the writing, up to a point, an incredible use of restraint, reigning in his tendencies to write modern Greek tragedy.
He has something in that relationship between the boy and Plainview; no surprises that this is the focus of the novel, since it's an element that feels like it belongs the most in this story. The airplane begins to experience turbulence around act two, where Plainview doesn't interact with any other characters verbally, except for his family member. He goes on extended soliloquies, including of course, the one about how much he doesn't like people. O'Connor's character stays silent and out of our perceptions completely until his untimely demise.
This protracted segment is well-played like the rest of the film, but fails to provide any insight into Plainview the man. He might as well be talking to himself. The natural ending to this segment reveals a diary which gives us a brief glimpse in to the "Why" for such a human monster. A movie about one-person's complex experience seen through their eyes alone is flop-sided. No one in Plainview's world is even afforded a personality. Such lack of emphasis on interaction, and such overemphasis on monologues make him a character in serious danger of becoming one-dimensional, a fate which Daniel Day-Lewis' talent prevents. The approach of Upton Sinclair's novel was to use the boy as naturally, a source of humanity for Plainview. The film almost gets there, but the boy of "There Will Be Blood" seems more like an element Anderson treats like a consolation prize to those critics who may call the Plainview character TOO enigmatic, and therefore a tad unbelievable (note the fact that he's carted out halfway in the film, as if, like Plainview, Anderson's use for him has run out).
The second mistake happens at about the same point: Anderson's use of the Boy Priest as a foil, and mirror image, to Plainview. Only until the end was I even sure of the Priest's intentions. Up until that point I didn't read the kind of craven greed that Anderson supposes the priest has. The exorcism scene purports that any holy man during the Great Revival was not simply a practicing charlatan, but one as knowingly deceitful as Plainview. Unfortunately, we are NOT provided with any the level exposition necessary to discern the Priest's character, making his function obsolete. Why is the religion parable even there? Just because Anderson was raised a Catholic and feels bitter about its hypocrisy? Does that mean it has to work in to every story of his?
Another personal element PTA sweeps under the rug in favor of the religion plot is the relationship between Plainview and H.W. I felt the resolution was fine enough. Though some of the lines bordered on self-parody, again Day-Lewis saved the day by being so amazingly gifted. I feel this is certainly where the movie should have ended. A non-conclusive series of shots showing Plainview wandering through his mansion alone would have served the story of a greedy oil man quite well. Not in America, however. Even our greatest directors, perhaps because of being raised on manufactured stories, find existential endings unsatisfying. They struggle to end a movie at all; look at Spike Lee, for example.
Anderson has been also plagued by the "Curse of the Ending". Why a penis? Why drinks? For that matter, why frogs? Because it's hip and garish. Because it provides college students with something to chat about back at the dorm, and recall again when high. We are served to an ending that is so uncharacteristic that it does not serve the movie at all. Losing his previous restraint, Anderson allows his movie to end with a selfish, buffoonish piece of writing that almost causes the entire thing to implode, nearly reducing his master stroke to a T-shirt slogan. What is ultimately missing from this movie is a sense of full rounded purpose: of events, of Plainview's existence. A frustrating truth is that the boy was a potential key lost in favor of an undeveloped religion plot. Is Plainview a force that wrecks like a ship at the end? And is that disaster, one that has been mocked to death, a great one or merely...a disaster. Did Anderson give up? Was he unsure of how to end a life as complex as Plainview's? I think Welles had something with that sled.
Tales from the Hood (1995)
Great Twist on an Old Idea
It's strange that there have been so many anthology films since TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972), but never a black one. Come to think of it, there haven't been many black horror films PERIOD. While this certainly ISN'T the best (that would go to the other one, CANDYMAN), it is a lot of fun and not just pure camp. The best stories are the second one and the last, which get points for being the most cohesive and having a message that's Afrocentric. A unique addition to genre films.
If you like this film, then definitely rent CANDYMAN. Too bad I can't say there's many other black horror films worth watching, if there even are any at all.
The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Stop Hating on This Movie
I would recommend "Lair of the White Worm" to anyone who likes camp or is into enjoyable genre films. Sure, it doesn't quite make sense...is this film about worms? Vampires? Snakes? All three? The plot is quite remiss, as well, but that's besides the point. You'll have a good laugh and remember this for decades. The best part is definitely seeing Hugh Grant keep a straight face while cutting vampire-snake women in half. I'm proud to have it in my DVD collection.
If you enjoy this film, I would also suggest ROBOCOP, TROLL 1 & 2, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, JACK FROST (the horror film 1997), and THE WICKER MAN.
Saw: A Movie in Search of a Brain
Horror films have become simulated Hollywood snuff in recent years: mean, baseless violence that does not revolve around an engaging plot. If you want to see a REAL horror film that "Saw" ripped off, then go see "Seven". In contrast to Saw, Seven was brutal for a purpose...there was no inkling that indicated David Fincher to be a nihilistic, twenty something with nothing better to do than shock people. His work since has further shown his interest in emulating Hitchcock, rather than the makers of "I Spit On Your Grave". Seven did not actually show the tortures while Saw picks this up as the basis for a movie, not realizing that NOT seeing them is exactly what makes these scary in the first place. Is SAW entertaining? Yes. But I think we should examine after wards how good we feel about ourselves for thinking so.
Unfortunately, pop culture has a memory of only five to ten years, and since Seven is about that old, it's no surprise that it's been forgotten in favor of Saw, which inexplicably got over a 7 on IMDb, something I find very telling about our culture. Seven was smart, instead of just acting like it. It had some reasonable logic, with a realistic enough serial killer.
However, Saw does not rely on any character or villain that interests you, but a vacuous machine of one known as "Jigsaw". Ironically, this "character"'s real name is "John"; a name that is indicative of what he really is: a "John Doe", a character with no life, purpose, or back story. But of course, as some readers would point out, Jigsaw does have an origin. True, but it is no more realistic than say, the Incredible Hulk's. In that sense it takes away a great deal from the very pseudo-realism that is supposed to propel the chills in Saw.
The main problem with Saw is its maddeningly illogical logic; it's as if someone has given you a Jigsaw puzzle to solve, one that should open up the secrets of this plot, yet they've failed to give you all the pieces. It would be better if it didn't feel like it was done not on purpose, but because of the sheer incompetence of the writing.
***Note: I did like Saw II, but only because it didn't attempt to insult my intelligence by pretending to have one.***
Superman Returns (2006)
Superman III, Part 2: An Argument Against "Superman Returns"
If fellow IMDb voters are basing their rave reviews of "Superman Returns" on the mere fact that it's better than the FIRST attempt at a Superman III (the one with Richard Pyror, remember?), then indeed this movie is superb; make that FANTASTIC: the greatest, most fulfilling superhero movie to date. However, to my monumental disappointment, it isn't. At over 150 minutes, we are offered nothing new in comparison to the previous installments besides a longer running time. No new ground is covered that wasn't already four times before. Lex Luthor is STILL the bad guy, while the diverse Superman rogue gallery (Bizarro, Braniac, Metallo, Darkseid, and Doomsday to name a few) remains completely untouched. Did the producers of "Superman Returns" not realize that this formula had been all tapped out by parts 3 and 4? This film proves that the solution for making up for Supermans III and IV is NOT to pretend as if they never existed, but to start a new franchise.
"Superman Returns" is religiously devoted to the Donner-Superman, so much so that it copies it. For some inexplicable reason, it attempts to pick-up the story from Superman II and worse, resurrect Marlon Brando's famous "lost footage". It also manages to mangle any chances of a decent sequel by giving Superman a kid, something so cheap and opportunistic that even DC Comics hasn't thought of it. But what's missing from this devout mistake is the irreplaceable presence of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. This movie is so badly miscast in its two leads that you could say this Superman III has TWO Gus Gormans instead of one. Make that two Nuclear Men: Brandon Routh is completely without presence, an emotionally challenged amateur. While Kidder's Lois Lane was sassy, Kate Bosworth has no character to work with. Lois is as lifeless as Superman, not that she is absolved of any guilt: Bosworth herself proves she is talented only at gracing CVS make-up displays, furthuring the notion that dating Orlando Bloom is part of a resume. Given her performance in this film, I'm inclined to say it is her best part yet.
And one has to feel sorry for poor Kevin Spacey, who's given the unfortunate task of playing a rich villain like Lex Luthor with the one-notedness that Singer's writers give him. Spacey plays Luthor so over the top that you begin to appreciate how, even in the midst of such cinematic bile as "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace", Gene Hackman towed the line between humor and chutzpah. As for the Luthor character himself, why do the films insist on making him the sole villain time and time again? Why always make him a jester obsessed with real estate? These were FAULTS of the earlier films, not strengths. If you're unfamiliar with these criticisms, then look no further than the "Man of Steel" comic (or even Smallville for that matter) from 1986 and you'll see what I mean. Lex Luthor's comics persona is so much more interesting that it truly is a shame that Singer refuses to give him these pernicious touches and instead prefers a lightweight caricature.
Why does this film not start from the beginning and start anew? What is the purpose of making Superman Returns a sequel, besides causing confusion in some viewers and to remind others of how much this film pales in comparison to Superman's I and II. After something as fulfilling and as involving as "Batman Begins", how can anyone find this good? I suspect that part of the basis for a positive review is 50% based on the mere fact that Superman is on screen and you're alive to sit down and watch him in a theater. In that case, you will love this movie. Or if you're looking for a "Beyond the Sea" reunion, then you also might like this movie. Otherwise there doesn't seem to be a legitimate reason to.
Bryan Singer, who made two great movies out of the X-Men comic books, fails at Superman because he offers no new interpretation of it. You'll derive more entertainment from a John Byrne comic, because truthfully, there's more life in the ink version of Superman then there is in this entire 154-minute chore of a movie. Superman does indeed return, but with nothing to offer but a rehash of the more lively Christopher Reeve films.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Charles Gray...IN MAKE-UP AND FULL OUT DRAG (And Other Reasons To Not See This)
Yes, ladies and gentleman, Blofeld, master villain of the entire Earth is reduced to wearing a full women's outfit with wig and make-up in the tragically comic DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. There's also a confusing bit about Blofeld cloning himself and then being able to fake anyone's voice. The cat's also cloned. Mr. Wynd and Mr. Kidd pop up and disappear out of nowhere. Tiffany Case is in the movie! Then she's not! Then she is again! And wouldn't you know it, for the last 20 minutes she's in it yet again! Somebody's named Plenty O' Toole, and Blofeld fakes the moon landing (?). A woman turns into a gorilla (??). There's car chases with no music, not even in the Bond theme, and Shirley Bassey delivers an embarrassingly bad version of the title song in the credits. Oh yes, and Sean Connery's wearing a toupe and has something that looks like a tattoo on his arm.
Isn't that enough to convince you?
Eureka's Castle meets Shakespeare
Why is the otherwise lauded BBC series of the 'Complete Shakespeare Works' stopped dead in its tracks by the time they get to 'Macbeth'? Simple: An otherwise passable production with decent but not excellent casting is sabatoged by the ridiculous overracting of both Macbeths, man and wife.
This is not Orson Welles nor is it Roman Polanski. Clearly, because it is more a stage production that was filmed rather than an actual film, it suffers from the infamous "Macbeth Curse". You get the impression, in fact, that they probably yelled "Macbeth Macbeth Macbeth!" on the set a bunch of times. This is indeed, more Peter O' Toole mixed in with Denzel Washington's "Julius Caesar" in terms of quality. Not to mention the set design and production values are on the level of Sesame Street (did you SEE the blue day sky?). No, scratch that. Make that Eureka's Castle.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Walken Again Carries An O.K. Franchise Film And Makes It Great
Roger Moore's last outing as Bond is not perfect. Does it run a bit too long, even by Bond standards? Yes. Does Bond look silly sleeping with butch new-wave singer Grace Jones? Yes. Does Christopher Walken's hair illicit laughs? Of course. Are the Bond girls in 'A View To A Kill' some of the worst ever? Not as bad as the ones following it (minus 'Goldenye'), but yeah, they're pretty uninteresting. 'A View To A Kill' however, is one of the better Roger Moore films, and definitely the most underrated. Siskel & Ebert once called it (unfairly) "the worst Bond film EVER." Not the atrocious 'Man With The Golden Gun' or the rather boring 'For Your Eyes Only' (totally OVER-rated), or the universally hated 'Living Daylights', or even Sean Connery's less than stellar attempts at getting his groove back ('Diamonds Are Forever' and 'Never Say Never Again', anyone?).
To Mr. Moores credit, he rocks this film to the very last minute...and he's 60 years old, something that (yes, even Him) the 'great' Sean Connery could never do. Being old never looked better, because simply put, Roger Moore doesn't LOOK like he is old; whereas Sir Sean's hair looked like it was always on a holiday as he battled villains at age 50.
'A View to a Kill' also has a rocking soundtrack, thanks to Duran Duran's masterful new-wave title song, and John Barry's always incredible music. Not to mention the eye- catching action sequences, that include fights on both the Eiffel Tower (and the subsequent car chase, VERY memorable), and the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks to these sequences and more, 'View' is guaranteed to be remembered fondly in your memory for years to come.
Additionally, Christopher Walken is one of the best villains in the history of Bondage, PERIOD. Whereas the string of Blofelds never lived up to the 'arch-enemy' reputation except for the immortal Donald Pleasence (no offense, but C'MON, Charles 'Rocky Horror' Gray?!? And Telly Savalas was fine, but since when is Blofeld a pimp?), Walken 'chews scenery' with his outlandish wardrobe and hair, owning the character seamlessly, but he always connects with the lines like no one has done since Gert Forbe. He IS Goldfinger, boyish arrogance and all. The makers of 'Casino Royale' should take note when they make the character of Le Chiffre. Bond villains are not SUPPOSED to be humble or wise, but reckless and as immature as all hell . They are 'characters', and because Walken is the best character actor of our time, he is perfect for the series.
The movie has its weaknesses: it is overlong, the Bond girls suck, there are too many locations for the senses to handle at one time (a major weakness of ALL Bond films except for Live and Let Die and possibly this one), and Grace Jones is just terrible (have you ever noticed that despite their noble attempts, Bond didn't have an attractive black girlfriend until Halle Berry?), but Christopher Walken saves what might normally be just a mediocre Bond outing and makes it a GREAT one. Enjoyable and entertaining throughout.
Walken again, like he did with Batman Returns, carries an O.K. franchise film and makes it something memorable...and he does it both times with nothing but talent, a ridiculous wardrobe, and even more flamboyant hair.
Dr. Dre directed this violent, supposedly "autobiographical" film by rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg about his fictional death, but it's really more of an excuse to make a extended music video for the title song, intermixed with live performance and interview segments. Far better than the other Death Row video releases, this is still only for nostalgic die-hard fans of Snoop when he was a Doggy, as it contains some footage of interest. Murphy (of Chapelle's Show), who plays Snoop's killer, is Eddie's brother. DVD special edition contains extra music videos by Snoop from his Death Row era, as well as "Natural Born Killers". Excellent soundtrack, of no real relation to the movie, is also available.
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Who Knew Rob Zombie Could Direct a Decent Picture?
"House of 1,000 Corpses" is not a great film. It's not even original. But that's so besides the point. I think it's fruitless to try to complain how much it resembles "Texas Chainsaw", etc. "House" is innovative FILMAKING, even if the movie itself is flawed. Rob Zombie is not only competent at directing, he has proved himself a maverick that should quit his shticky music career and focus on this job. Unlike most movies that DO copy their scarier relatives, "House" has a quality to it, something that will stick with you long after it's done. None of the acting, or the actors themselves are forgettable. Instead of faceless teenagers and their even more faceless tormentors, Karen Black and her family have depth, and the Captain Spaulding character, played by Sid Haig, is actually the best thing about it. Haig brings an unforgettable energy to a colorful character that could have just been written as "Non-Descript Creepy Hick Gas Station Adentdant". But no, Rob Zombie makes him a CHARACTER, and what a character he is. I only wish "Zombie" had made a movie just about the Clown and continued the excellent opening instead of throwing it away into subplot status. Does this film make sense? NO. But does it HAVE TO? Rob Zombie has a bizarre sense of style, one that is NOT traditional, one that is NOT ordinary or created by a studio. Again, I think you're really misreading this film if you discard it as a "copy" of other horror movies. The difference between a cliché horror film and this one, is that instead of simply COPYING, Rob Zombie actually appreciates and loves the genre and its classics and quirks, in a genuine, Queintin Tarantino-esquire way. You might not like "Corpses", but respect it.