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3 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
A brutal original is one of the year's best, 21 January 2008

A brutal, dazzling film. One of the year's best and a unique, uncompromised vision of evil. Director Paul Thomas Anderson's (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) latest film tells the story of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis), a self-proclaimed "oil man" whose only engine is to acquire and export oil. Plainview is not as concerned with wealth as he is conquest. He wants to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. Accompanying him on his mission is his young son HW, a loyal, trusting boy and excellent prop with which to give the illusion of family values to prospective business partners.

Daniel's quest takes him to the struggling village of Little Boston, California which he hopes contains previously untapped oil wealth. Before he can possess the land, however, he must contend with the charismatic evangelist Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) who has his own plans for the town of Little Boston.

The performances, as in previous Anderson films, are phenomenal. Daniel Day Lewis once again allows his role to completely possess him and displays the same intensity and hatred that defined his Bill the Butcher character--the main reason to see Scorsese's muddled The Gangs of New York. Paul Dano, who played the son with the vow of silence in Little Miss Sunshine, amazes as the evangelist determined to subdue Plainview. Their power struggle provides the film's primary conflict and when the two share the screen, you are transfixed. The film's score by Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood is insistent, overwhelming, and ominous. Like the film it accompanies, it is unique and exquisite.

There Will Be Blood will not be admired by all. Many will find it emotionally distant, its vision of humanity too bleak, its rhythms odd and off-putting. But Anderson has constructed a singular and completely new work unlike any that has come before. This will either make you supremely uncomfortable or amaze you in its audacity.

Highly recommended.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
"Year of the Dog" avoids the easy route, 21 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

More than a few critics have blamed the new Mike White film about a pet owner who loses her way with pulling its punches. But how refreshing to have a comedy that's about love, care, and a search for meaning that doesn't reach the sad, cynical conclusion that it's all BS to begin with. Sometimes a bracing satire where everything falls apart and a character's life spirals into total destruction can be invigorating, but at this point it's de rigeur for indie films. How much more subversive it is to make a film where happy endings are possible and love is not a pipe dream.

All this to say, I enjoyed "Year of the Dog". It's great to see Molly Shannon ("SNL" most notably as schoolgirl superstar Mary Catherine Gallagher) again and her performance is extraordinary. It's a difficult role that asks us to be at times sympathetic toward and simultaneously horrified with her character. She refuses to turn her animal loving heroine into a caricature. The film also features a great supporting cast including John C. Reilly, Regina King, Peter Saarsgard, and Laura Dern.

A very solid film worth checking out.

Once (2007)
9 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
"Once" thrills, 10 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Once", the Audience Award Winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is a gem of a movie. I had the pleasure of seeing the film last night at the Tivoli Theater with the film's leads and director in attendance. Hoping for great word of mouth, they are touring around the country with their film answering audience questions and performing songs from the film.

"Once" is a musical but not as you might expect. There are no scenes of passerbys bursting into song and dance as the leads fall in love or swelling string sections as the lovers embrace. Rather, director John Carney fashioned a stripped down, more "realistic" musical where the songs emerge from the leads as they perform on street corners, for friends, and in recording studios. Carney informed the audience that the film was made in only seventeen days and for only $150,000. The leads are professional musicians, but have never acted before. No one will mistake this for a big budget feature, but in the rawness of its presentation and performances the film gains extraordinary power.

Carney's film--which he also wrote--is a love story about waiting and deferring gratification. It's about the struggle of making ethical decisions when caught up in the fever of new love. Musicals are frequently larger than life odes to seizing the day and falling in rapturous love, so much so that you can't help burst into song. Carney subverts our expectations of the musical and presents a film about quiet, reserved lovers-to-be who struggle with the consequences of what a rapturous affair would mean to those they love.

But don't think the movie is a bore. Rather, it is a spellbinding and fantastic romantic film. Glen Hansard, lead singer of The Frames, stars alongside Czech singer and Dublin resident Marketa Irglova. Their musical performances are raw and powerful. Their harmonies are otherworldly and fantastic. The music is reminiscent of Damien Rice. Hearing them perform live after the film, I realized how little the recordings we hear in the film have been altered. Fans of Rice and singer/songwriter performers will enjoy this film.

After the multiplexes have beaten you in to a pulp striving to entertain you this summer, you would do well to seek out the quiet, haunting "Once". It sticks with you and has you humming on your way out of the lobby. It'll certainly make a bracing tonic to the sure-to-be-overstuffed "Hairsprapy".

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
3D elevates so-so film to a perfectly enjoyable one, 4 April 2007

Though "Meet the Robinsons" doesn't offer fantastic storytelling--it feels like an original feature from the Cartoon Network--it is a technical and design marvel. The storytelling is just good enough to keep all ages entertained, but the character design is quite good and the 3D presentation is a wonder to behold. The film is preceded by a classic Disney cartoon that, while in 3D, looks very flat. The characters look like paper cutouts which actually diminishes enjoyment of the cartoon. The 3D flattens the on screen characters and makes them look more artificial.

But when "Robinsons" starts, you immediately note the contrast between classic 3D and the new Disney technique. The film opens with a gee whizzy rainstorm that's very effective. Rain falls in the foreground, while in the background a mother places her child on the steps of an orphanage. Though the scene is a dramatic staple, the effective 3D technique breaths new life into this clichéd moment.

What follows is pretty standard animated fare about time travel, following your dreams, finding a place in the world, etc. The film borrows pretty liberally--pays homage(?)--to many other films including a climactic chase with moments ripped directly from "Return of the Jedi" and "The Matrix".

But the character design is fantastic, filling the movie with interesting caricatures that are practically Dickensian in their lovely grotesqueness. Two favorites include the lanky arch villain and the hyper-jock gym coach. These characters are comic inspirations brought to life by the 3D effect. "Robinsons" takes the gimmick of 3D and uses it to elevate a so-so film to a perfectly enjoyable one.

300 (2006)
2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A tedious bore, 19 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What's this movie about? Who the hell knows. Various critics have accused director Zack Snyder of producing a fascist tract or a glorification of the destructive policies of the Bush administration, but I think more than anything its a paean to CGI. The film is a tedious two hours and feels like a demonstration piece to help move home entertainment centers at Best Buy. It's devoid of emotion or drama and hopes to win audiences over solely through the steady bombardment of hyper-stylized bloodletting.

The film fails fundamentally by not creating a world we believe in. Snyder has tried to bring painterly comic book presentation to screen, a la "Sin City", and in this he succeeds. This movie world looks crisp, sharp, and perfectly composed. And lifeless. The hordes of CGI soldiers, meant to evoke fear in their might and number, don't emerge as real but merely as computer-generated hordes. The world looks artificial as do many of the soldiers. There's nothing at stake because we don't believe in the film's reality.

As in last Spring's big budget comic adaptation "V for Vendetta", the heroes of this tale, the 300 brave Spartans, are nearly invincible. These guys are mighty and as a whole nearly untouchable, and don't display any vulnerability until the script needs them to. There's no oomph to the battles because the 300 are so supernaturally mighty. They crush everyone in balletic slo-mo. Yawn. The story's brief moments of political turmoil away from the battlefield are predictable and seem culled from a different film.

If the film is guilty of any sin, it would be in trying to sell warfare as awesome and the enemy as relatively faceless and soulless. Hopefully the movie's presentation is so fantastic and ridiculous as to not sell anyone on the cruel, bloodthirsty code of the Spartans.

"300" is a bore and tedious. In IMAX, as I saw it, it's flaws were glaringly apparent.

The Host (2006)
10 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
A fresh and invigorating take on the "monster-on-the-loose" story, 14 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Forget all of your expectations of what a horror should be and prepare to be amazed by the latest high profile Korean import "The Host". When viewing an American horror film, whether it be the monster-on-the-loose or slasher variety, you generally know what to expect. Surprises are hard to come by and we are usually treated to tired retreads of the same formula, scenes, and dialogue. By now "Halloween" and "Alien" feel like the old standards and most new horror entries seem like karaoke night at the Holiday Inn.

Director Joon-ho Bong's film is likely to make some viewers uncomfortable because he keeps dashing expectations and taking his story in unexpected directions. The director generates tension by taking the monster movie and throwing the rules out the window. He keeps you on your toes. Telling the story of a gigantic hungry amphibious creature that wreaks havoc along the riverbanks of Seoul's Han River, "The Host" is a wonder. It's primarily the story of a father searching for his daughter who may or not have been killed by the monster. His family aids in the search and along the way they laugh, grieve, and deal with old wounds. It's sort of like "Little Miss Sunshine" meets "Alien".

The film is subtitled which is likely to limit its success in American markets, but those willing to do a minimum amount of reading will be rewarded. You will want to see the film for its odd, invigorating moments such as a scene where the family grieves for the little girl they love and assume killed by the monster. Their grieving reaches such a fevered, ridiculous pitch that the scene, which we assumed sad, becomes insanely comic. "The Host" is full of these moments that manage to be sad, scary, and comic all at once. That Joon-ho Bong can sustain this wild tone without becoming ludicrous is quite a feat.

Like the original "Godzilla", "The Host" is partially a cautionary tale about the dangers of environmental recklessness. I won't give away the monster's origins, but they are hilarious. In the creation of the monster, the special effects staff makes a pretty good use of a limited budget. By the film's climax, when the monster faces off against the determined, battle-hardened family members, we accept the reality of the creature.

Go see this one. It's fun, odd, and invigorating. And it's closing moments, perfect and touching, make the entire journey worth it.

Zodiac (2007)
2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Slow burn procedural rewards the patient, 13 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The new David Fincher ("Seven") film is as good as you have heard. Based on the book by Robert Graysmith, "Zodiac" is the true story of several San Franciso residents who become obsessed with discovering the identity of the serial killer calling himself "Zodiac." Robert Graysmith--played in the film by Jake Gyllenhaal in a subdued, fascinating performance--is an editorial cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who gets caught up in the hunt after the killer sends a coded letter to his employer.

Also on the hunt are crime reporter Paul Avery--a mesmerizing performance by Robert Downey Jr.--and homicide detectives Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). Toschi, Avery, and Graysmith each become obsessed with finding Zodiac and this obsession slowly begins to take over their lives and destroy them. Graysmith, while preparing a book about the killer, slips into paranoia. Audiences accustomed to the rhythms of the serial killer film will first accept and applaud Graysmith's paranoia. We know that with just a little more hunting, the vigilant reporter will crack the case. If he can just discover that one clue. We don't quickly realize that Graysmith's obsession and vigilance are unhealthy.

Fincher continually subverts our expectations of the genre. Though like a police procedural--a story about the detective work that leads to capture of the villain--"Zodiac" is the anti-procedural, the anti-"Law and Order". While "Law and Order" makes us feel safe and shows us a neat and tidy justice system that successfully weeds out the guilty from the innocent, "Zodiac" is about the limits of justice, forensic work, questioning, and detection. Sometimes the justice system comes up short. Sometimes we can't detect and ascertain the guilty. And it is this uncertainty that wears on the hunters at the center of "Zodiac".

The film is deliberate and methodical and is going to disappoint those looking for another exploitative entry in the slasher genre. There are several moments of horrific violence in the film that are among the most haunting ever filmed, but this is not a film that gets its jollies from carnage. Instead it shows it an unflinching, efficient, and brutal fashion. These moments, while horrifying, help us understand the fear of the people of San Francisco and the obsession of those who want to locate the killer.

Unsettling, expertly crafted, and full of outstanding performances, "Zodiac" is a drama that respects the intelligence of audiences. It asks us to pay attention, frees itself from genre conventions, and takes its time to tell its tale. Certain to alienate viewers who want a quick bloody thrill, "Zodiac" is nonetheless the year's first great film.

47 out of 71 people found the following review useful:
"Blades" is surprisingly funny, 9 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Will Ferrell and John Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) as figure skating partners. Sounds like a bad SNL skit? Right? I wasn't expecting much from this comedy whose trailers looked dull and uninspired. It seemed sure to bore. So when I sat down in the theater, I went in prepared to hate this movie. But then the credits began to roll, I was pleasantly surprised by the roll of names: William Fichtner, Craig T. Nelson, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett (Gob on Arrested Development), Rob Corddry, Jenna Fischer (The Office), and Romany Malco (The 40 Year Old Virgin). So I knew that even if the movie stunk, it would be fun to see the actors together on the screen. Also surprising was to see that Busy Philipps (Freaks and Geeks) had a role in creating the story.

The story is simple: arch rivals Chazz (Will Ferrell) and Jimmy (Jon Heder) are forced to become figure skating partners after they are banned from competing in singles skating. With the help of their coach Craig T. Nelson--in David Carradine mode--the men try to put aside their differences and compete for gold.

Will Ferrell does another variation on his Ron Burgundy/Ricky Bobby character: clueless egotist full of machismo. But he does it incredibly well and this time adds the wrinkle of being an insatiable sex addict. Not surprisingly, he gets the movie's biggest laughs and successfully carries the movie. Jon Heder is okay. He doesn't get in the way of Ferrell and surprisingly, given his monotone acting, scores a few laughs as a cherubic man-child. Amy Poehler and Will Arnett compliment the movie well with their absurd comic turns as brother and sister skating partners and arch-enemies to Chazz and Jimmy.

The film has a surprisingly light touch and at times feels like a live action feel gooder from Disney. But Ferrell as sex-addled Chazz dispels any notion that Blades is family fare.

The movie is instantly disposable, but very funny. Audiences are gonna enjoy this one.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Wow, 4 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***


The new David Lynch film will not win him any new admirers and will likely alienate many longtime fans, but those willing to give themselves over to this frightening journey into the subconscious of a damaged woman will be awed, frightened, and deeply rewarded. As theme parks create films and rides that try to help you physically experience a film--you're flying with ET, you're riding in Doc Brown's Delorean--Lynch has created a film that helps you to experience a complete psychological break. Or maybe it is just a long, horrible dream. Either way, it's a journey into a very damaged psyche that is both thrilling and haunting.

The film eschews logic pretty quickly and the only way to enjoy it is to let go. Let the film wash over you and get caught up in its weird rhythms, frightening imagery, great performances, and fantastic music. Some of you will hate this film with a passion, but others will be awed. Don't call this film pretentious. Lynch isn't trying to impress anyone--does he really need any more artistic cred?--and isn't trying too hard. He's simply laying his unique and uncompromised vision on film.

There are shades of narrative coherence, but this is employed in order to confuse and disorient you even more. Just when you're saying "I think I've got it," Lynch rips the rug out from under you and demands that you sink further into the confusion.

The movie is a bracing experience that must be seen to be believed. Go in with the right attitude and this movie will reward you greatly. And scare the hell out of you.

Idiocracy (2006)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Meandering, drab comedy scores some big laughs, 27 January 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Mike Judge's follow-up to the cult hit "Office Space" was held onto by 20th Century Fox for well over a year before it was finally dumped into a few theaters in the late summer. Fans of "Office Space" cried foul and lambasted the studio, but after seeing the movie, I can sympathize with the studio. "Idiocracy" is intermittently funny and hilarious at points, but it is a drab (purposefully so), bizarre film that will likely even leave many fans of Judge's work dissatisfied.

"Idiocracy" is the story of a shiftless Army private (Luke Wilson) and prostitute (Maya Rudolph) who get drafted into a top secret military hibernation project. They'll be put to sleep and reawakened in one year, perfectly preserved. But, of course, this plan goes awry and they don't awake until the year 2505. The future is ugly, coarse, and incredibly stupid.

The movie, like many dystopian stories, is not so much about the future as it is about poking fun at the present. Think "Futurama" meets "Transmetropolitan". The film is primarily a reflection on our tendency to celebrate the inept and lowbrow. Do you spend most of your evenings watching "Flavor of Love" reruns and eating biggie size fries? These actions will have dire consequences for future generations.

"Idiocracy" is under an hour and a half and mercifully so. The future is so unappealing and the people so stupid that we are happy to be out of their company sooner than later. The movie also lacks much in the way of narrative drive. It has many funny ideas that never coalesce into a sustainable narrative.

Yet, the movie has enough very funny moments, is short enough, and features some good performances from the leads. Luke Wilson carries the movie with his easygoing charm and Maya Rudolph ("SNL") gets solid laughs without trying too hard. It's definitely worth a look on video. Because hardly anyone has seen the film, expect high praise in some corners. It's obscurity and treatment by the studio will lead to overvaluing by many film geeks.

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