Film Reviews for 1-23-08

Jan 22, 2008 at 6:43 pm

‘There Will Be Blood’ is good but not great

(Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Mary Elizabeth Barrett, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier and Christine Olejniczak. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Rated R; 2:38. LEO Report Card: B+)

Wait a few days after you see Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” and only two images remain: a stark vision of the desolate Western plains, and Daniel Day-Lewis’ manic performance as oil baron Daniel Plainview. There’s more to the film (sometimes too much), but those two traits are why it has been so feverishly anticipated.

It opens in 1898, as a young Plainview has struck out on his own as a prospector, first mining minerals, then oil. He almost dies in a mining accident, heaving himself out of the ground only to look up and be reminded that he is miles from help. It’s a beautiful and disturbing scene.

He survives the accident and goes on to amass a number of productive drilling operations, but unlike Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, his company is still run like a mom-and-pop: He and his angelic child Ward (Dillon Freasier) go from house to house buying up land and setting up drills. They work on the wild frontier and are good at taking advantage of the unworldly people who live there.

Plainview is everything that is both wicked and efficient about capitalism: He’s competitive, intensely paranoid and fanatically individualist. When he comes into conflict with a young, influential preacher (Paul Dano), he sees a man relying upon faith and emotional manipulation to influence his community, not guile and strong-arming. Naturally, they hate each other. In the rocky, desert lands of the West, their confrontation is a parable for their era: Tradition and modernity are coming to blows at the dawn of the 20th century.

Anderson has set out to make a great movie but accomplishes merely a very good one. It’s beautifully shot, strongly reminiscent of John Ford’s “The Searchers.” But it’s also overly indebted to the type of filmmakers that are tough to rip off without being noticed: It has Kubrick’s absurdist humor, Ford’s iconography and landscapes and Orson Welles’ vision of wealth and integrity. “There Will Be Blood” is good, but it rarely rises to those levels.

Day-Lewis has been celebrated for his work as Plainview, and rightly so. He has a commanding voice and elemental rage and is at once charismatic and terrifying. It would be a shock if he didn’t win the Oscar in a landslide: Few actors are ever given so much screen time, so many close-ups and so many flamboyant scenes of stark-raving madness. —Alan Abbott

‘Cloverfield’ leaves you creeped and dizzy

(Starring Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman and Michael Stahl-David. Directed by Matt Reeves. Rated PG-13; 1:24. LEO Report Card: B)

If you’re prone to motion sickness, it’s probably best you skip this “Godzilla” meets “Blair Witch Project” monster-movie spawn that’s filmed entirely from a shaky hand-held camera. It’s like showing up at King’s Island with a hangover — the spins and shakes will hang around for days.

The film starts out innocently enough, as most monster movies do. Humans frolicking in their natural environment they presume to control. We’re at a house party in Manhattan bidding a dear friend adieu before he departs to Japan. Wallflower Hud gets stuck with camera duties — collect soundbites from partygoers wishing Rob the best of luck. While Hud sheepishly approaches each person, we learn of Rob’s recent breakup with Beth. And when she shows up with a new beau, drama ensues as doors slam and gossip spreads. That is, until the head of the Statue of Liberty crashes the party and lands on the street in front of the apartment. As the kids revel the sight and snap photos with their cell phones, Hud captures something on the camera a few blocks up — a giant being moving between two skyscrapers, demolishing everything it its path.

The party of five must now navigate through the streets, alleys and subway tunnels of Manhattan to find safety, as the military rolls into town with guns and bigger guns. Rob realizes he must go back and rescue Beth, who left a plea for help on his cell. Meanwhile, Hud has the camera running the whole time, capturing the panic and hysteria that comes when an alien grasshopper-like creature plays “Rampage” with New York City. —Sara Havens