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Love to Give: The Films of PT Anderson

It started with There Will be Blood.

I had no idea, at that time (2007) who Paul Thomas Anderson was. I simply remembered that the trailer for this film came up a whole hell of a lot when I went to the movies that year. It was usually shown with No Country and the Assassination of Jesse James.

And I remember telling a friend that I wanted to see it and they seemed unsure as to whether it was good.

I saw it once close to its first weekend in limited release and again in wide release after I had moved to Humboldt County a few months later.

At that point, I was hooked. I needed to see his other movies. It was the same with the Coen Brothers after No Country came out. I spent most of the next year seeing the films of these three folks.

But the Coens will come later (see, eventually). We’re talking about PT Anderson who is, unabashedly, my favorite filmmaker.

The second film of his that I saw was Magnolia. This came about both by happenstance and pure boredom. I had been wanting to watch the film but thought I had no means to. I was new in town, living in dorms, and spent most of my time cooped up in my room writing a really shitty screenplay/watching baseball/hanging out with my roommate.

But then, from one of my suitemates, I found out that the library has a small collection of films you can either rent for free or watch in the library. And one of those films, it turned out was Magnolia.

But I wasn’t ready to spend three hours watching it even though I’m more than willing to spend three hours a night six months per year watching baseball games. Weird, I know.

The next thing domino to fall was that it was a Saturday (I think, let’s call it Saturday), and I was bored and I had time to kill. So I went to the library to pick up the copy. I figured I could go back to my room and watch it on my laptop even though that would incur a litany of questions from the roommate who loved to ask questions because my lifestyle choice was so fascinating since I didn’t listen to Janis Joplin and Cypress Hill and think that Smokin’ Aces was the best film ever (I’m making that last one up, but it fits, doesn’t it).

I get to the library and what do you know: the copy they have is on VHS. And it’s one of those double-tape packs so it’s extra daunting. That killed the idea of hiding in my room all afternoon, but the library itself has VCRs.

So I plop down in front of one of the 13 inch TVs, put on giant space-man/hipster headphones that are vinyl and make your ears sweat, and strapped in for 3 hours and 9 minutes of… something. I had no idea what to expect. Keep in mind I had only ever seen There Will be Blood and that is so very very different from his previous efforts.

I can remember, between tapes, going down for a cigarette and just thinking “I gotta finish this. I have no idea what is going on, but I fucking love it.”

Since that day, I’ve seen the movie eight more times as well as his other films: Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, and Hard Eight.

There is something at work in his esthetic that I absolutely adore. The fast moving cameras, the dollying and panning and constant running of the camera only for it to stop and really accentuate a moment in time. It brings everything to a halt and your mind is forced deep into the moment at hand.

I love the long shots/composite long shots that he does in Boogie Nights–both at the beginning and at the party. Especially the beginning because, in the first ten to fifteen minutes of a film, you have to stuff every major character in and give them a slight introduction so the audience has something to grab onto.

That’s what that shot does. It pans down from the club sign–Reseda, giving geographic context–and into the club where we meet all the main characters that will have a roll in the story. The shot stops with Eddie Adams from Torrance, washing dishes. The camera stops, and stays with him, and we immediately gather that he is the center of the story.

He does something similar in Magnolia after the three vignettes at the beginning of the film that are brilliant and set up the context of chance and serendipity of the story. From there, he buzzes through every single character you’re going to be spending time with in the story, showing them at their story’s genesis–alone in an apartment, on top of the world of inspirational speeches, doing drugs, studying, panicking, starting their shift.

I love Magnolia because it’s really a portrait of a young filmmaker trying to stuff everything he knows into a single film. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Infinite Jest: it’s long, and it’s a constant give and take relationship between creator and audience. Both are ensemble pieces that play out like Robert Altman hasn’t been taking his meds. (Infinite Jest is more affecting, mostly because it’s a book I spent 9 months reading–and when you spend that much time with one piece of media, it’s gonna fucking stay with you)

And on the companion disc to Magnolia is an hour and a half long making of documentary that is absolutely fascinating because it takes the movie from preproduction to premiere, it shows how he works with actors and with his crew–it’s an intimate portrait of how not to suck at being a director.

Hard Eight, his first film, was one that you can tell is a learning experience. It’s a prototype film that gives off glimmers of genius–especially in his ability to get good performances from his actors. The movie itself is best described as “okay:” it has some amazing moments, its story is solid, but it kind of drags ass. I’m curious to see what would happen if he remade it today.

The wildcard in his oeuvre is Punch Drunk Love, a 90-minute Adam Sandler comedy.

But it’s so much more than that and maybe my second or third favorite movie of his. He was actually able to prove to the world that Adam Sandler has a soul.

The whole movie is an off-kilter love story that uses all the conventions of the genre to their logical conclusion and amps everything about them up to 11. Barry is weird and depressed and suppressed by his seven sisters. His love interest is perhaps more curious to see where things go with him than actually interested in him at the beginning.

The camera movements and everything is there, as well as another Jon Brion score that kicks an amazing amount of ass. His use of atonal chords and noises adds to the weirdness and unsettling nature of the film.

I was trying to think if there was a thematic constant to all of his films, and I’m not sure. Hard Eight’s about Vegas and gambling and base-level being-John-C.-Reilly; Boogie Nights is about porno; Magnolia is about people of all different kinds; Punch Drunk Love is about love; and There Will be Blood is about an androgynous/asexual oilman.

If there’s one constant, though, it’s this: they are looks at the ebbs and flows of life. There are the highest highs and the lowest lows. What I like about his take on this idea, though, is that after such a mountainous high, it never gets to be as good; and after a rock bottom low, it never feels so bad. It’s best described as “movement and repose,” because instead of it being fucking perfect again, it’s just “okay,” and that’s fine to lay back on.

In Boogie Nights this was Dirk Diggler’s story: catastrophic rise to fast cars and easy women and awards. Then cocaine. Then decent into madness. Then a leveling out.

In Magnolia, every one is at a different point of this cycle, but it all levels out at the end. And it never feels like a completely happy ending with him.

Even in There Will be Blood when Plainview defeats his enemy, it never feels completely happy.

But my favorite remains Magnolia. It’s a three hour emotional ebb and flow with some amazing cinematography (notice in the bar, with William H. Macy, how the camera comes back to him and sits and then moves as his exhaled smoke moves. I like that little touch and I only noticed it on viewing #9).

He pays homage a lot to Scorsese and obscure cinema. He likes to use the same actors a lot. He’s married to Maya Rudolph and has two daughters. He was raised in the Valley. He’s trying to make another movie but hit road blocks even though everything was in place.

Top Ten American Directors, 1990-Present

I had to write this one for a class too. I only turned in 1-5.

Top Ten Best American Directors, 1990-Today

 

There have been plenty of lists to dictate who the best directors of all time are. The likes of Orson Welles or Jean Luc Godard consistently made the list, along with many others.

However, not much has been said about the current state of cinema in the way of artistic integrity. Much seems to have been said about the evolving state of the box office or viewing habits as a result the new Blu-Ray technology, but little is often said about what great movies are being released today.

The criterion for this list is that the directors did not begin directing feature films before 1990. If a director had projects in which he was used in a different role before that date, or wasn’t making feature films as a director, I still consider them for the list. This allowed me to include the likes of Quentin Tarantino who penned two feature films in the late 80’s (True Romance and Natural Born Killers before making his directorial debut with Reservoir Dogs in 1992.

Let’s get down to it.

 

10.            Michael Bay  (Bad Boys, The Rock, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, The Island, Transformers) – Don’t give me crap about this choice. I put him on this list because he has set a new precedent for action films. No, his films cannot be described as high art—or even medium art most of the time—but he has become the benchmark for whether or not an action film is good or even decent. He sets up and films explosions better than anyone in the business.  He tosses away pretense and gives the audience pure spectacle. According to a reviewer on “Aint it Cool News” by the pseudonym of Mr. Beaks, “Bad Boys II is the ultimate achievement in empty spectacle; an unabashedly brainless thrill ride that cleverly announces its intentions with an opening credit montage of Ecstasy tablets rolling off an assembly line. This is a summer cinematic narcotic refreshingly bereft of pretension and aimed directly at the pleasure center; a perfect complement to the deadly serious philosophizing of THE MATRIX franchise that focuses solely on sensory overload, not stopping until it collapses in exhaustion at the finish line with a brilliantly improbable finale that ups the ante just as the film seems to be wrapping up.”

Michael Bay doesn’t just make an action film, he empties it of its story and its character development, and creates something that lacks between explosions and excels during them. That may not be a good thing, but damn is it an enjoyable one that has become the new modus operandi for the genre.

 

9.            Michael Moore (Roger and Me [December of 1989 is close enough to 1990 for me], Canadian Bacon, The Big One, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 911, Sicko) –

Aside from his attempted foray into directing comedy with Canadian Bacon, Michael Moore has been a thorough and conniving documentarian. When I was in video production in High School, we analyzed the techniques of his films. For example, one things that he does is that he poses a question via voiceover and then shows clips of people simply saying yes.

Does it take this out of context? Most of the time, yes. But is it effective? All of the time, hell yes.

And it makes sense that he would do this given that, to be a successful documentarian, you have to be able to convince your audience of your point of view across the runtime of your film. And sometimes, the only way to do this is to sometimes twist the truth just a little bit.

It doesn’t matter that his Fahrenheit 911 didn’t convince the American people to not re-elect George W. Bush, what does matter about this film and all of his other films, is that he was able to get people talking and wondering about such issues. This is usually where convincing comes from—the after-the-movie discussions that eventually breed grassroots dissent either over the internet or the phone.

 

8.            Kevin Smith –

Honestly, I don’t like Kevin Smith. I think he’s a one trick pony (and, usually, that one trick is people talking about girls fucking ponies) who can write smart and tight dialogue but honestly cannot direct worth a damn.

I had been trying to pin down why I didn’t enjoy his films until earlier this week when I was discussing this with a friend of mine and we got on the subject of the acting and it became clear to me that Kevin Smith just eats it as a director.

So the hell is he here? Because he set a new precedent with Clerks in indie filmmaking by doing it all by his lonesome. He used the place he worked at as the set, he maxed out his credit cards, and he got a discount on film by saying he was a student. Essentially, he did what Melvin Van Peebles did with “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”: he taught a brand new generation of directors that lying, cheating, and stealing can turn your screenplay into a film if you have the wit and the ethical depravity (who am I kidding, we  all do at heart).

 

7.            Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up)

I honestly feel like comedy has never gotten very much attention even though it’s been known that, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” Oscar Wilde said that and he is never known much for comedy, but Apatow is.

I really think that his films portray just as much tragedy and sadness as Baumbach’s except that they are swathed in raunch and circumstance. Take, for instance, his directorial debut film of the 40 Year Old Virgin: it is damnable that a man has gone 40 years of his life so shy agoraphobic that he hasn’t been able to sustain a romantic relationship. He stays home most nights either repainting WarHammer figurines or watching the TV show Survivor with his elderly next door neighbors.

Obviously, if this film were made as a drama, it would break your heart. But, instead, it is taken as humorous and it runs with this as a gag instead of as a fault for him.

And, in Knocked Up, we are confronted with the all-too-real possibility of a one-night-stand leading to a pregnancy that neither party wants to deal with or abort.

His films deal with real situations in hyper-comical ways instead of dealing with comical situations in comical ways (like modern comedies like Zoolander or Balls of Fury or Napoleon Dynamite). The realism of his films lends itself to an undertone of subtle sadness.

 

6.            John Lasseter (Toy Story 1 & 2, A Bug’s Life)

Whenever I reflect on the successes of John Lasseter, I wonder what it’s like to see the effects of your innovations on an entire genre of filmmaking.

Before Lasseter got the crazy idea to animate a film completely on computers, the genre was beginning to sag because animating by hand is expensive and time-consuming. Computer technology was beginning to be used for special effects by the beginning of the 90’s, but no one expected it to be something that could be visually engaging.

With 1995’s Toy Story, Lasseter proved the opposite: a film made wholly through computer animation could be visually engaging as well as one hell of a film.

It’s not just that Lasseter’s films are revolutionary for their animation innovations, it’s also that they are done with such heart and such passion that it flows through every cell and every animation.

 

5.             Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, Mr. Jealousy, The Squid and The Whale, Margot at the Wedding)

Although Baumbach hasn’t done very much to reinvent or reinvigorate a genre,

he has, according to Kevin Mattson of Dissent Magazine in their Summer 2006 issue, he has begun to brought back Susan Sontag’s idea of filmic directness that “that entirely frees us from the itch to interpret.”

His films are emotionally raw. Everything that happens on screen lingers within your soul.

Dealing with familial dissension and existential quandaries he has released movies that make you forget the actors and remember the characters. In his 2007 film Margot at the Wedding, Jack Black plays a character who is a pitiful excuse for a man who wants to sit around and play guitar. When something is revealed later in the film and he is chased down a hill and onto the beach, you can really see the characters true colors: running away and crying and apologizing profusely like a small child.

The movies he makes are wildly visceral, focusing on a small amount of time in which the main characters are honestly suffering and, in an age in which films are given to irony and jadedness, it is a refreshing film even though it will, along with his other films, ultimately breaks your heart.

 

4.            Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Death Proof) –

By waking up a generation of film goers by shocking the hell out of them with Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino reinvigorated a generation of jaded watchers with eyes glazed over.

And it’s an amazing film in the way that an adolescent film lover will watch it at 15 or 16, right around the time that one becomes jaded towards children’s films and typical Hollywood fare (and the whole world in general), and suddenly capture the movie-bug. It did it for kids in 1992, and it did it for me during my Junior Year of High School.

I was sick and tired of seeing movies at that point. I knew they were something I loved, but I just hated everything about the typical fare that one gets at the multiplexes or at Blockbuster. I wanted something more.

Based on someone’s recommendation, I discovered this film and, honestly, it was much like discovering masturbation: I thought I was the only one who knew about its glories and its heights and I wanted to tell every other male my age about it.

As a result I woke up the friends around me to better films as we began our journey into adulthood.

But, here’s the thing about Tarantino: he seems to work better under some kind of limitation—under some sort of reign. This is evident during his two greatest works of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction (which is considered by some to be the Citizen Kane of that Generation) because he was constantly hounded by producers to see a return.

And when they got their return by way of Pulp Fiction being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (it lost to Forrest Gump, because what movie wouldn’t lose to Forrest Gump?), he was essentially given a blank check for the rest of the movies. He was allowed to go about and make the most bombastic and utterly disastrous films around.

Take Jackie Brown for instance: it’s a 2 and a half hour film lead by Pam Grier who Tarantino had a crush on as a child. He seemed to have disregarded the fact that she really can’t act.

Or Kill Bill, a four hour movie split into two films that Tarantino has yet to re-release as one film. It’s simply four hours of homage to all his favorite kung fu and western films. He even goes so far as to cast David Carradine, a perennially B-rate kung fu star, as the titular Bill.

Or his most recent picture, Death Proof, which was packaged in theaters as a double bill with Richard Rodriguez’s Planet Terror: it, again, is pure homage. After Pulp Fiction, it seems like he’s run out of original ideas.

 

3.            Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) –

With a flare for the visual, Darren Aronofsky has created visceral and emotional films much like Noah Baumbach except with a style that beckons one to constantly pay attention.

Take for example his film Requiem for a Dream where he uses half-second close ups of eyes dilating and mouths gasping cuts to show people taking heroine as opposed to simply showing them shooting up. He gives his film a look all his own by casting off norms and pointing his films in a surreal direction.

With The Fountain, he took his stylized approach to a whole new level. The story spans a thousand years and tells three parallel loves stories: one of a conquistador searching for the tree of life for his queen, one of a present-day doctor trying to find a cure for cancer that may have been found in the bark of a tree in South America, and a man in the future with the tree of life floating through a bubble trying to get to the Mayan afterlife. Obviously, the idea is the question of “What if you could live forever?”

I can’t understand why critics responded the way they did to the film. I mean, sure, it can be a bit convoluted at times but it is also one of the most beautiful films ever produced. It stands alone as a film that can both visually keep me in awe and make me cry every time I watch it.

 

2.            Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited)

A post-modern filmmaker to the end, his films are swathed in the irony that was discussed in the Baumbach portion.

They are antitheses even though they often work together. Where Baumbach’s films go out of their way to show pain and to show hurt, Anderson’s go out of their way to avoid such feelings or to confront them in a deadpan and stylized way.

All his characters are jaded by life and are only willing to show their true colors some of the time.

In his films, you really have to watch the eyes because they are usually the only portion of the face allowed to show emotion. The rest of the face is flat with exhaustion from the hyperbolic situations they are thrust in. Everything in Anderson’s movies is amped up with style and flare except for the acting which comes across as apathetic.

This mix causes the viewer to be constantly taken away with the film to its strangest places—be it India or the bottom of the ocean.

 

1.            Paul Thomas Anderson (Sydney [or Hard Eight], Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will be Blood)

PT Anderson, to me, is the greatest director to come out of the 90’s and today. He has been able to create epic films out of some of the most esoteric topics like 70’s porn or oilmen of the early 20th century.

Yet he has also been able to make films that deal with being lovelorn and angry as well as dealing with tragedy and death of the soul and the body.

And he has done it all with a flare and with imagination. He doesn’t go so far towards the Anderson side of quirk and smarminess nor does he go the entire other way of Baumbach by constantly showing heartwrenching emotion. Instead, he sways around in the middle, choosing to go either way as he chooses.

A lot of my affection for his films goes beyond words. You simply have to see Magnolia to understand what pendulum shifts I am talking about. The movie is about six people in the San Fernando Valley losing themselves in sadness which fulfills the Baumbach esthetic. And yet, there is something unreal about the world be it frogs falling from the sky or a character having success through a series of inspirational series about dating with the tagline “No Pussy has Nine Lives,” and this fulfills the Wes Anderson esthetic.

The film sits happily in the middle, allowing humor to shine through at the right times to give a break from some of the sadness, or allowing pure emotion to shine through when it needs to as well.

On top of all this, PT Anderson is one of hell of a director just based on his Academy Award Nomination track record: three of his five films have had one or more actors nominated for awards (Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights; Tom Cruise in Magnolia; and Daniel Day-Lewis won for his role in There Will be Blood).

So there you have it. My top five American Directors of the past 18 years. To see directors numbered six through ten, check out http://filmicpulp.wordpress.com.

 

Boogie Nights

There were two movies that I saw late last year and early this year that sent me into a film-loving spiral: There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men.

See, with No Country, I had no idea who the Coen Bros. were though I had seen O Brother Where Art Thou and The Ladykillers. And then, suddenly, I wanted to know everything about them. By mid-summer, I had seen all their films. I just saw Burn After Reading (maybe a review of that soon…) and so, now, I’ve seen most all their movies save Intolerable Cruelty which just scares me in how smug it seems.

But with There Will Be Blood, I hadn’t seen any of PT Anderson’s films and I had no idea who the fuck he was. But, once I saw Blood, I knew I wanted to see everything he’d done.

And Boogie Nights was my final entry into seeing all of his films.

Boy, was it a naughty little movie.

Based on an earlier short film that Anderson did when he was 17 (he even quoted Dirk Diggler in his Sr. yearbook), this is a movie about porn and cocaine and one very large penis all based around John Holmess life.

All the usual suspects are in this film: William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, and Luis Guzman, but the central character is played by Marky Mark. This time, though, his Funky Bunch is all in his pants.

It goes from the 70’s through the 80’s, with a rise and a fall and a refrain, and it’s all done very well.

But this review stands solely that I can discuss this one scene: Dirk’s first foray into cocaine. See, what I was expecting was the typical, slow-motion, close-up, THIS FUCKING MEANS SOMETHING shot when we see Dirk do his first line. Instead, though, it’s simply a passing shot like, “Oh, well, here’s Dirk doing some coke for the first time.” It was interesting to see how the cinematography didn’t act as if this was a central point in the movie but, rather, a passing scene. And I absolutely loved that. It threw me for such a loop that, even a couple weeks after seeing the film, I am still throttled by the way it was shot–much like the lighting in a scene of the movie Adaptation where Meryl Streep is saying all these things about wanting somebody and needing to feel alive and the lighting is done in such a way that our eyes are drawn towards her wedding ring.

There are just some things that give me chills in film. And those two scenes were definitely up there.

But don’t get me wrong, the rest of the movie is just as fabulous. It’s all very well done and very meticulous.

Aural Pleasure in the Cinema

Music is something that can make or break a film for me.

And, I mean, it makes sense, right? Since the first days of cinema, there’s been a musical aspect.
From organists to scores to pop music. It’s been ubiquitous and a part of the experience.

Even if the performances are top notch, head-of-the-class, flawless ones, the music will kill it for me.
Take for example Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. You’ve got the best performance of Cameron Diaz’s life as well great ones from Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis. They’re almost flawless. They’re very good.
But from the first battle scene on, the score completely pulls me out of the otherwise well-done period piece.
I mean, seriously, a battle scene set to trip-hop? Was Martin Scorsese sitting there, drinking coffee and listening to Portishead and then began to think, “Oh my God, I can see immigrants dying to this shit!”
Howard Shore just followed suit, I hope, because he otherwise has done some very good scores (Like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Departed and Se7en)

And an example of a well-done score is last year’s There Will Be Blood.
It takes music from the period and twists and convulses it with aleatoric swells and discordant pieces. Because of the way it was composed, and how well it fits with the period of the film, it turns a movie with all the right aspects and turns it into one of my favorite films.

It’s just make or break for me.
If it’s overused it can tear an otherwise decent movie apart (see: Smart People) and if it’s just pisspoor, it can tear myself apart as to whether or not I enjoyed the film—though I do know that no movie with shitty music has given me the feeling that I’ve gained something from watching it.

But, then, what about movies with no music?
Silence is definitely an aural tool that is used far too sparsely in film these days.
With music, you’re given the mood of the scene on a platter. With silence, though, you have to ask yourself how this scene makes you feel. Without the deep swells of the orchestra, how’re you sometimes to know when to cry?
One movie that I can think of that used silence excellently was last year’s No Country for Old Men. In it, there is next to no music—it’s in the credits and, apparently, in a couple of scenes though I have yet to hear any in the film proper.
With that comes the film’s morally ambiguous center: the characters don’t know how to feel about this whole situation, so why should we give you clues as to how we the directors and producers think they feel?
The problem with silence is that it is unforgiving to the viewer. In a theater, you feel sucked into the image because of the silence of everything around you.
Take for example the movie Punch Drunk Love (I know, another P.T. Anderson film—he’s real goddam good at music and silence, though). In the beginning of it there is a whole scene where Adam Sandler is standing from his workplace’s doorway and staring at a harmonium that someone just dropped off for no reason.
There is silence. There is no movement from the camera or the characters.
And it completely sucks you into the mystery of why the fuck would someone dump a harmonium in front of his shop.

The difference is that silence gets into your mind first and then your emotions come out of your own thoughts while music gets into your emotions first and tells your mind what’s going on.

Don’t get me wrong, though. One is not better than the other. They work together in a great harmony when things are done right.
But when done wrong, both can totally destroy a film.

titular note: when I thought of the title I was thinking of the part of Alanis Morisette’s song “You Oughta Know” where she asks, “would she go down on you in a theater?” And then remembered that that song is about Dave Coulier (Joey on Full House). I almost puked.

Punch Drunk Love

So if you haven’t heard the story yet, Adam Sandler has made a movie that proves he has a soul.

I think.

See, in Punch Drunk Love he doesn’t play the infantile man-child suffering from Arrested Development. Instead, such social and mental handicaps are forced upon him by his suffocating sisters—of which he has seven.

However, one of them does introduce him to a woman played by Emily Watson who is attracted to his childish, medication-necessary, antics (one running joke is about him throwing a hammer through a glass door as a child). She, strangely, is completely drawn into this world because, as I’m willing to purport, she sees the great and caring guy underneath.

That element of the film—the element of “holy shit, a woman is actually falling in love with this guy?”—is played out in a manner that doesn’t allow it to fall prey to the formula of having a turning point scene that sticks out blatantly. In Billy Madison, it was when he sticks up for a kid who pissed his pants. In Big Daddy, it was having a child show up at his door.

The other element that makes Paul Thomas Anderson’s film well done is that it’s not a high concept film (like Billy Madison’s “dumb guy goes back to school” or Big Daddy’s aforementioned random child appearing). It’s a simple film. Boy meets girl type of film done in such a different way that it makes it feel different from any other romance story I’ve seen.

One thing that I noticed in this movie that is done very well is the use of silence. It, mixed with the cacophonous soundtrack, add to the emotion of the scene. Such boredom and such dread sometimes mix with these two elements.

And what definitely adds to the silence and soundtrack is the cinematography which utilizes excellent, long, tracking shots up towards and away from subjects and objects either innocuous or belligerent. The only time that the camera movement stops is when Sandler’s life stops and isn’t as chaotic as everything around it. P.T. Anderson does a good job of marrying the images and the sound to give the effect necessary to pull off this movie in such a way that it keeps it from being like every other Adam Sandler film.

There’s also a nice little sub-plot involving Philip Seymour Hoffman and one of his call-girls, but that whole thing is so ridiculous that I leave to your viewing to experience all that excitement.

There Will Be Blood

I could have sworn I reviewed this movie. I guess not.

If you don’t remember what this film is about, let me refresh your memory: Morally Ambiguous Oilman vs. Morally Ambiguous Prophet (The Fight of the Fucking Century only on PPV [after Girls Gone Wild: First Timers])

It might even be better that I haven’t written about this film because, unlike some of my reviews (Blood Simple, Magnolia, Platoon, Boondock Saints), I’m writing after multiple viewings. Therefore, it’s bound to be less reactionary and more reflective or analytical.

I first saw this film when it was in the limited stage of its platform release. I was packed into a theater in Pasadena because I really wanted to see Paul Dano tear the motherfucking roof off. I really liked him in Little Miss Sunshine and the scenes we see of him in the trailers are awesome in its most absolute sense.

If you remember the show Carnivale that used to be on HBO, he reminds me a bit of Brother Justin who was a preacher that turned out to be very evil inside. And that’s what I see in Dano’s character Eli Sunday. A lot of facade and a whole lot more of evil and greed.

I’ll be the first to admit that I wanted to see this film because of Paul Dano and not Daniel Day-Lewis. Hell, I’ve never even seen Gangs of New York (Scorsese is tough for me).

What I got from Paul Thomas Anderson’s directing and writing was a film built more upon facial expressions and subtlety than upon dialog. A film that it takes multiple viewings to finally understand some things. It’s like a bizarro David Lynch film like Lost Highway or Mulholland Dr. (Inland Empire has no meaning. It’s three hours of existential crises that make Samuel Beckett jealous) except instead of the twists being within the plot, they’re within the face. There are many things that could’ve been said but, instead, Anderson chose for them to be expressed.

Which is the pacing complaint arises. When there’s no dialog and just two people looking at each other on screen, most people are bound to get bored–especially upon first take. But these “boring” moments are where the film excels. The cold stares of Day-Lewis and the conniving or sniveling, desperate, looks of Dano speak louder than any word could have. Anderson acknowledges the adagecliche that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and, in a movie where things are composed of 24 pictures per second, why fucking bother with words sometimes? You can’t cram 24,000 words into a second of film–but you can at the same time if you take to the adage as Anderson has.

This film excels at speaking depths while silently rolling towards its anti-climax. It is a character study taken to its highest level. It nearly throws plot by the wayside in favor of showing, slowly or quickly, just what Day-Lewis is doing at each and every second. The movie’s pace slows enough for us to take in every single piece of the character. It’s so beautiful, and it’s only upon multiple viewings do you realize such a thing.

Another aspect of this film that really excels is the scoring by Jonny Greenwood. He swirls and moves his pieces like a horror film so as to accent the tension in each scene he’s needed. (Fun Fact, by the way: The movie is 158 minutes while the score is only about 50 minutes) Some of his pieces sound like an orchestra simply tuning up before the big show–and it works because that’s exactly what this movie has. A lot of tuning before a small piece.

And you haven’t listened to his piece “Popcorn Superhet Receiver,” you really should (I found a link where you can stream it in Real Audio, which is kind of a shitty format, but it’s a good piece of music that deserves a listen). And listen to Radiohead, he’s pretty good at guitar too.

Magnolia

After I saw There will be Blood, I knew I had to see another Paul Thomas Anderson film. Blood was so beautiful and so rich that it seemed like Anderson had the potential to have other movies as great and effecting as that.

So my first venture into his older films was his 2000 film Magnolia, a three-hour film about the semi-intersecting lives of six people in the San Fernando Valley.

Usually, I don’t enjoy films about semi-intersecting lives. To name a few, I did not like Crash, Babel, or Amores Perros. These were films that tried desperately to get you to see that all our lives are connected. To see that our actions effect the lives of others. We get it.

But the beauty of Magnolia is that this film only uses those coincidental intersections for cohesion, not to show that our actions effect others, not to show that all our actions mean something. Instead, this movie is a character study about these people who are slowly descending into loneliness and madness. And, because of these intersections, the movie becomes a movie instead of six vignettes–instead of something along the lines of Coffee and Cigarettes. And the cohesion sinks deeper than accidents, it is a chain and a link that is evident through the characters’ pain and their personalities. Their stubbornness to reveal the past (for example, we only find out about the past of John C. Reilly’s cop character in the last third of the film), their desperation, their sadness. Each character has their own poignant scene that shows just what they are feeling. And what they are feeling is what the other five people are feeling. And maybe, just maybe, it’s what someone in the audience has felt. That’s how you make a connection–through emotion since we are all the same at the bottom of everything.

Magnolia hosts an all-star cast featuring the likes of William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Alfred Molina, John C. Reilly (Surprisingly, only once I thought, “Dewey Cox is a cop?!”), and many others. No matter how much I hate his acting abilities, Tom Cruise’s character was one that was so well-written to the person that it is scary.

Cruise’s character is a sexual-motivational speaker under the mantra of “Respect the cock and tame the cunt.” He’s a hardass who’s showing you how to get any woman you want. His character is a heartless, soulless, bastard… For awhile. See, that’s where it starts to break down. During an interview scene, the character begins to crack and suddenly Cruise’s acting abilities come into question. He is an actor who simply cannot show sadness. Blame it on L. Ron Hubbard, whatever. He’s one who can do pensive, angry, and other emotions that one would associate with the color red. However, when he gets into the blue emotions–sadness, depression et al–Cruise begins to crack and his on-screen presence begins to pull you out of the film.

Luckily, he’s only one-sixth of this film. And one-sixth of three hours is only 30 minutes. And he’s only blue for about fifteen of them. So for the other 165 minutes, you’ve got other actors who can do blue and red swimmingly. And you’ve got a director who knows how to cull the best from most actors. You can tell that these people are genuinely sad and genuinely guilty and genuinely unfit for life.

But the problem with a film of this scope and length is that there’s only so much sadness that a person can take before the apathy and the boredom sets in. And that’s usually around the 90-minute mark. So what Anderson has done rather brilliantly, is to offset some of the sadder moments with music in the background–like a scene where William H. Macy is in a bar, drinking himself silly and bearing his soul to those who will listen. It’s an effecting scene, but one that is overlaid by what is pouring from the jukebox which is typical barroom fare. By doing so, the watcher is allowed a bit of a rest from all the Kafka-esque deprivation and the spiraling towards hell that this film deals with.

There is so much more I could write about Magnolia, but it’s so layered and so thick that to explain it would be like giving someone the bottom layer of a wedding cake without the wedding and without the rest of the cake. You have to see this film to truly appreciate its beauty and depth.