Now in Cinemas: Reviews for March 27, 2008

Reviews: There Will Be Blood, 27 Dresses

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

Bolstered by one of the most memorable screen performances in recent memory, Paul Thomas Anderson´s There Will Be Blood is an epic-scale near-masterpiece mitigated by a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. Daniel Day-Lewis is nothing short of extraordinary as oil man Daniel Plainview in an intense, gloriously unrestrained performance that ignites the screen and recalls the actor´s turn as Bill ‘The Butcher´ Cutting in Martin Scorsese´s Gangs of New York. Film as a whole is similarly unrestrained (there is, indeed, blood); overall enjoyment of the movie hinges on acceptance of the fiery vision of its director. The film´s first twenty minutes, which feature almost no dialogue, are electrifying.

There Will Be Blood
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor, Sydney McCallister, David Willis, David Warshofsky, Colton Woodward, Colleen Foy, Russell Harvard. Written by Anderson, based on the novel Oil by Upton Sinclair.
IMDb link

Film follows the rise to power of the ruthless Daniel Plainview and his subsequent psychological deterioration; though how crazed he becomes, and how crazed he was from the start, I´m not so sure. Plainview begins the movie as a struggling prospector who hits oil and finds his calling, creating a successful company with his son H.W. (though it´s not specifically mentioned in the film, H.W. is not Plainview´s son, but rather the orphaned child of the man killed towards the beginning; Plainview ‘adopts´ the boy as a business move and prominently displays him while pitching to investors.) He´s visited by drifter Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), who sells him the information of where he can buy oil-rich land cheaply; namely, his family´s ranch. When visiting the ranch, Plainview meets another of the Sunday clan, brother Eli (also Dano; though IMDb tells me the actor played both roles by coincidence, we inevitably suspect something is amiss), who agrees to sell Plainview the land for money needed to found his evangelical church. Plainview makes an untold fortune off the land while tolerating Sunday, who he sees as a false prophet; an escalating conflict builds between the two as Plainview descends into madness.

Film is a tour-de-force for both Day-Lewis and Anderson, who directs this with the sure-hand of Kubrick; like it or not, his vision is undeniable. Technical credits are first-rate in every respect; breathtaking cinematography by Robert Elswit flawlessly captures oil field magnitudes alongside intimate details. Jonny Greenwood provides a haunting, memorable score. Like Anderson´s previous Magnolia, a lot of people are bothered by the third act of There Will Be Blood; not because of the script specifics per se, but because the director seems to wallow in a kind of Kubrickian excess in a jarring departure from the rest of the film. I had problems with the film´s ending as well, but upon a second viewing they detract less from the movie as whole; considering the masterful hand that produced the enthralling first two hours, I say let Anderson end the movie as he sees fit. And he most certainly has. Ultimately, I´m glad we have this visionary director who isn´t afraid to challenge his audience.

Won well-deserved Oscars for Lead Actor and Cinematography.


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27 Dresses
Directed by Anne Fletcher. Starring Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Edward Burns, Malin Akerman, Judy Greer, Melora Hardin, Brian Kerwin, Maulik Pancholy. Written by Aline Brosh McKenna.
IMDb link

A mild, formulaic romantic comedy, Anne Fletcher´s 27 Dresses wastes a game cast with a paint-by-numbers screenplay; results could be worse, but what we´re left with is disposable, forgettable entertainment. Katherine Heigl stars as Jane Nichols, a perpetual bridesmaid who loves attending weddings but pines for her own. She´s secretly in love with boss George (Edward Burns), until sister Tess (Malin Akerman) rolls into town and improbably manages to sweep him off his feet. Guess who´s asked to become maid of honor at their shotgun wedding? Meanwhile, wedding columnist Kevin Doyle (James Marsden) begins a story on always-a-bridesmaid Jane under the guise of covering her sister´s wedding. Can the cynical, improbably-employed Kevin win Jane´s heart even after publically humiliating her? That synopsis sounds like nothing short of torture; it´s a testament to the cast that this film is even watchable. Burns somehow manages to salvage his poorly-written character, and Judy Greer is delightful as the foul-mouthed best friend. Heigl and Marsden are both appealing and likable, and have a decent amount of on-screen chemistry; I only wish they were in a better movie. There´s a scene here (disarmingly similar to one in the recent P.S. I Love You) in which the romantic tension between two characters – built up during most of the film – is supposed to be deflated after a quick kiss where the characters “feel nothing”. Rarely have I seen screenwriters take such an easy and unrealistic way out of a potentially dramatic situation.


Also opening: the Czech comedy Bobule (Grapes, showtimes | IMDb) from director Tomáš Bařina and starring Kryštof Hádek, Lukáš Langmajer, Václav Postránecký, Tomáš Matonoha, Lucie Benešová, Tereza Voříšková. Screening in Czech, without subtitles.

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