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Monthly Archives: January 2008

I wish I could start my review in the same way Paul Thomas Anderson starts his latest film – with no sound but a haunting, silent film-style score. I’d like to give everyone just about twenty minutes to listen to the music and picture the most triumphant moment imaginable. Due to the limitations of the textual medium, this is not a possibility, so I’ll just continue on my way rehashing ideas and reflections legitimate critics have had weeks to discuss.

There Will Be Blood is neither a step forward, nor backwards, nor sideways for Anderson. Rather, it is a bold, daring step into utter darkness, and, as it turns out, he has a completely solid ground to land upon – visual mastery, structural complexity, and a deep admiration for characters (not necessarily his own, but moreso the collective entity).

There is something incomparably thrilling about the intensity of the physical and personal destruction he displays on screen (certainly in his past works, but particularly in this, his latest). In addition to this simple charge, there is a new power Anderson has displayed – that to disturb. Never before has a film jolted me with so much energy to demand some sort of movement or physical activity. This, the result of so much evil portrayed on screen, is partially what makes There Will Be Blood so memorable as well as so difficult to watch.

If this performance (despite its’ detractors) is not Daniel Day-Lewis’ peak, whatever comes next may go down as the greatest of all time. It is more than just emotional authenticity he exhibits, it’s the passion and exuberance of him as an actor that enlivens the attitude of the character, greedy oilman Daniel Plainview. Almost up to par is Paul Dano as young preacher Eli Sunday, who leaves a little too little ambiguity in the true nature of his character but is still perfectly, timidly intense.

To rattle off the list of everything that makes this film such an incredible achievement would be boring and redundant, but Jonny Greenwood’s elegiac score, the lush, eye-popping cinematography, and a few scenes and lines to go down for the ages cannot go unmentioned. There! I just listed them without further comment and you didn’t even see it coming!

More interesting would be a discussion of the controversial final act, which, like much of this year’s great films’ endings, makes the film. Most criticism I have heard questions why Anderson needs to show us where these characters end up, an answer purposefully left out of most films. It’s not just to be different, though that may partially be the case, but it’s simply because that’s the way the story ends. Without a confrontation between the film’s two opposing forces, there is no conclusion whatsoever, and to claim that the blood-battle could have happened decades earlier would be to suggest that Anderson should have abandoned integrity for convolution and falseness.

Though it is too soon to call this one of the greatest of all time (and I’m by no means suggesting that it is), it is not unreasonable to predict a Citizen Kane-style Best Picture snub that may only enhance the film’s longevity (given the merit of recent Best Picture winners). It’s a film that cannot yet full be appreciated or understood, and it is destined to spark hours of discussion even decades down the road. A

I vividly remember seeing early publicity for what looked like a refreshing new entry into the seemingly forgotten monster movie genre. The trailer promised a cast of unknowns (to me, at least), a distinct visual style, and an attempt at off-season relief. The film was The Host, and I was ready to be wowed. Though not well versed in the realm of creature cinema, I’m always ready for an adrenaline-pumping sci-fi thriller, as long as it’s far from 1998’s Godzilla. What The Host delivered was overly clever dialogue, a laughable monster, and a never-ending merry-go-round devoid of suspense. Months later, from the dark, smoky, forgettable cloud that was Transformers emerged juggernaut J.J. Abrams with the then untitled, roller-coaster-like disaster flick that was everything I had hoped for in South Korea’s take. Cloverfield is precisely the sort of midwinter monster fun I needed after a season of intense dramas and awards hype.

Before expanding on my preface, it’s important to mention the self-inflicted obstacles the film must overcome in its opening act. A phony baloney love story between Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (Odette Yustman) is inevitably rendered insignificant by the time the monster shows up, so the reasons for imposing it upon the plot are unclear and undoubtedly inane. When, later on, we’re asked to pause and reflect on Rob’s triumphant journey across town to rescue his lover, it’s a distraction that is easily forgivable but not immediately forgotten. Just moments later, amidst the final chaotic blurbs of monster-ridden havoc, a close-up of the creature nearly ruins the way previous images had allowed imaginations to wonder precisely how the beast functions.

That said, the monster is a huge improvement on attempts of the past, and the Jaws-style patience in revealing its precise form proves crucial to the suspense. Where director Matt Reeves fails in character development he more than redeems himself with intensity and joie de vivre. While the attempts at humor are mostly left in the hands of cameraman Hud (the delightful T.J. Miller), they are nearly all stimulatingly chuckle-worthy.

As far as the conceptual decisions surely originating from producer Abrams’ reliable noggin, the cinema verité style is decisively consistent and admirably so. It is by no means nauseating, and it prevents any sort of rift from the eventually endearing characters. The cast is almost wholly impressive, and even the pre-attack party goers are subdued in their gyrations. Stahl-David and Miller are stand-outs, though the latter performer may not have the multi-dimensional promise of the lead.

Overall, Cloverfield is an impressively cool January experience and a great way to start 2008, unless, of course, you still need to catch up with There Will Be Blood or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. B+