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HUGO: a response to the film

If you look at what “Hugo” won (5 awards) and what they lost (6 awards), I agree with all 11 choices. And yet, having just seen the film for the first time, I feel utterly unsatisfied and feel bait-and-switched by the trailers and what the film delivered.

Who is this film for? The young? The families? The cineophiles? The Scorcese fans? All four categories will be let down in some small way.

Remember this about me — I’m a sap for good “magic” and I can certainly suspend my disbelief and become an unusually acute empathetic viewer. But this started with great intrigue and 30 minutes in just didn’t deliver, continuing to go where I didn’t see it going, and drifting from being about Hugo. This is about the movies. Change the title, Scorcese. Every character I could describe as well or better than Hugo, including all supporting roles. Alas, I digress…

Nothing is horrible about this film. Everything is good or better, but nothing “dazzled”. It’s a 2 hr 5 min film that is more about George Melies, the french director/writer/actor/producer, than anybody else. Hugo, the boy, existing in the film is merely happenstance. Sure he found a family, but the story line with his father is incomplete. Giving the nominations “Hugo” recieved, I’m stunned with the film I just saw. If any one else directed this thing, or if it wasn’t about George Melies, “Hugo” would have been just another family film with little to no buzz — and while that sounds like a “dis”, it’s really not. It would have been an improvment since it would then not be trying to do so many things and would have recieved a more modest amount of awards, like two. Other films in Hugo’s categories at the 84th Academy Ceremony deserved it just as much if not more. Just for example, Cinematography could have easily gone to “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or “War Horse”, and Sound Editing really should have been a shoe-in for “Drive” or “Dragon Tattoo” again.

(for all winners, go here.)

In closing: over-hyped. See it on the Redbox for $1.27

Went into it dying to love it and recommend it to everyone. I can’t. It’s worth watching once. Nothing more. People giving it more than a 7.5/10 must be doing so on merit of it’s aesthetic pleasure and technical accomplishments, which are, of course, excellent. But still… (7/10)

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There Will Be Blood: Movie Analysis & Review

 

This analysis and review was a major work I wrote in October of 2009 in a film History and appriciation class. I have just made some minor additions and corrections. Enjoy.

 

There Will Be Blood: A Stubborn Battle of Shifting Times

There Will Be Blood (2007)

            There Will Be Blood is a film rich with substance for discussion; philosophically, thematically, and cinematically. The film is intense, unique, and stands out in contrast to the other releases in 2007, if not the decade. It has a timeless quality that makes it feel like it could have been made in any decade since 1930. The script is intelligent; the strong acting is brilliant and complex, and the cinematography from beginning to end is breathtaking. This is a film whose merit falls not in the special effects or action, but rather its strength as a story, its sound mixing, unique orchestration, seamless editing, and emotional content (arguably, more difficult and rewarding to capture on screen). The minimalistic approach makes the script and its ideals carry the narrative along.

 The opening shot is beautiful, just as every wide shot in this film is, but it also resembles a place without many people (if any people at all). This image is juxtaposed with the eerie clashing of string orchestration which continues to come and go for the duration of the film. The disharmonious musical score is effective in drawing an emotional response and putting the viewer in its environment; both geographically and psychologically. The dissonance is wonderful and not something often heard in American mainstream cinema post-2000.

The film is almost a silent movie for the first fourteen minutes; besides the sound effects, there is no dialogue. It is 1898, and Daniel Plainview is in a mine, presumably looking for oil. The editing rhythm of the film here makes one feel the time it takes to be hacking away in a mine. It’s edited to be seven minutes long; we see him working and sweating. We feel the solitude and see the lack of light deep in the ground. The sound effects are realistic, well-mixed, and conservative.

Now we can deconstruct the goals of this man, as early on as this one scene. Why is he alone? Mining is surely a project for more men than just he. He then injures himself after finding some promising looking rocks which could signify oil. With a broken leg, he crawls and slides his way into town through desolation, but not before putting some of the ore or shale into his pocket. Rather than going to the hospital first, he goes to the oil/real estate people first to claim rights to the property. He lies on the floor with his broken leg and then signs his name on a paper. Here we learn early on something of Daniel Plainview that is both a strength and weakness. He is very ambitious, forgoing medical attention for profit, and above all things will try to succeed by his self if necessary.

Still in silence, we jump to 1902, where he now has a crew drawing oil from the ground. Still, no words are spoken. We observe the primal and dangerous nature of the early pioneers of industry. When a man dies down in the well from an accident, Daniel takes in the dead man’s baby and names him H.W. It seems to be compassion, but that first instinct would be wrong. He uses the boy throughout the entire movie to inspire sympathy and work the angle of being a “family man”, even going as far as telling people his wife died in childbirth. It is cold and calculated, but effective. The fact that there is no dialogue in the first fourteen minutes of the film only accentuates the minimalistic, dissonant musical score and the realistically placed sound effects. Without dialogue, something modern audiences are very accustomed to, the filmmakers have still given us so much information about the character, something only the film medium can do.

Daniel is a man of — not few words — only necessary words. He can talk a lot, but often, not at all. Unless he’s trying to get something from someone, he sees no reason to talk. He feels that most people are terrible; that there’s nothing worth liking. Daniel will say anything, however immoral and manipulative, to get what he wants. He is direct, aggressive, sly and collected.

His doppelganger and enemy in the film, Eli Sunday, is fascinating, and perhaps the most complex character in the film. When we first meet Eli, he introduced himself as Paul Sunday and tells Daniel there might be oil by the Sunday Ranch. Daniel goes to where they live where something bizarre occurs. “Paul” said that he had a brother, Eli. We quickly discover that the name he has given, Paul, is actually a fake name, and there is only Eli. But why Eli has said this is quite ambiguous, and as the film continues, Eli’s very sanity is put into question. He even goes as far as to re-introduce himself as Eli to Daniel Plainview as if he they had not met just days ago. He says things in a haunting fashion and his mannerisms are sometimes very strange. The scene where Eli is giving a sermon at his church is certainly unsettling and cult-like (also, an amazing, long take of character acting). At this point, one could say that either Eli is truly crazy in general, or that he really believes in his sermons and that he has been touched by God. Maybe even worse, he is a lying false prophet and is actually the same type of person as Daniel.

But an important comparison must be drawn here: Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday both use a form of pageantry and deliver grandiose speeches when in front of people to get what they want. Whether they believe in what they are saying is irrelevant – they have power; Eli with his church and followers, Daniel with his swindling of families as if there was something in common with their ways of life.

Eli and Daniel both have enormous ambitions. From the time these two characters first clash until the end of the film, there is a great competition and slow building hatred between the two of them. The difference is that where Daniel wants to succeed for the sake of money, Eli perhaps wants to build community recognition for himself and be a figure of spiritual enlightenment. They want two very different kinds of power, as can be proven from the first time Eli is on the screen, saying “God Bless” to everyone. Daniel only cares and talks about oil, whereas Eli only cares and talks about his church and tries to get funds from Daniel. In different ways, they are both ambitiously using people and the debate between who is more righteous or whose ends justify the means can be debated indefinitely. On a larger scale, one could look at their battle of pride and stubbornness as a metaphor for the changing times in which There Will Be Blood is placed – the turn of the century. During this time, business and religion were clashing.

The film could be making a statement about the massive ideological differences between capitalism and religion. The battle of the times is manifested in the characters Eli and Daniel. And in the end of the movie, when “capitalism” clubs “religion” in the back of the head and religion dies (symbolized in Eli’s death), the movie perhaps makes a statement about a new power and evolution of man which is beginning to leave religion behind. Capitalism roars on as religion stumbles during the changing times. Even today, science is doing similar things to debunk religion.

By the end of the film, 1927, we have watched Daniel slip into madness and loneliness. He still hates that he had to bend to the will of Eli and be baptized at his church years ago in order to gain land for his pipeline. Though he knows he will do anything it takes to succeed, his damaged pride infuriates him, and he will not only beat Eli at his own game, but literally kill him. He wants “no one else to succeed,” as he states in the film. A sickly looking Daniel sits beside a dead and still bleeding Eli as he utters the final line of the film. “I’m finished,” Plainview says. Yes he is – in all the ways one could mean it. He has beaten Eli, beaten the false prophet, and he is perhaps “finished” in his career and his life if he is found guilty of murder. Has all of these years been worth it? And for what? Money? Pride? It is one of the most memorable film endings in recent history which surely has audiences conversing and thinking as soon as the credits roll, as all good films do. The film’s significance is only amplified considering all the events leading up to this scene. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Both actors (Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano) really put on a show in the final scene; a phenomenal display of acting, which won Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar for Best Actor in 2007.

Every corner of this film was realistic and controlled, and yet elicits fears and reactions from the viewing audience. Parts are visceral, unsettling, and physically affecting, which is a great testament to the medium when superb art can make people really “feel” something. Great writing by the screenwriter and director Paul Thomas Anderson. Bravo. That is an achievement in filmmaking.

The long takes, deep focuses, complex mise-en-scene, and slow zooms/camera dollies were not distracting and only added to the experience. Without unnecessary bells and whistles, this film keeps the drama and tension going. However, some may say that it is too simple or slow in some areas; its length, and general meter/tempo as a whole could be lost on some viewers and be seen as boorish where “nothing really happens.” But this response could be rebutted by pointing out all of the rich, cerebral themes from the film; there are conflicts and ideologies lush for discussion: Greed, Ambition, Deceit, Capitalism, and Religion – all centered on the turn of the twentieth century in the United States. Observing the effects of oil, money, and social power on different peoples within a community was a study all its own, and quite interesting.

Though not a movie for everyone, if one is inclined to enjoy character studies or films which feel like novels, well, buckle in and get ready to work your brain. There is a lot going on in There Will Be Blood.

(There Will Be Blood is a film based on the Upton Sinclair novel, Oil! from 1927, but is much different from its adaptation.)

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83rd Annual Academy Award Predictions

I love a good story. I love a good movie. And more movies than you may think are based off of novels. See how uninspired Hollywood grabs the good through another medium?

There are a few reasons for this: for one thing, the story is already written in a novel and usually is overflowing with content. With what is basically a huge “treatment,” a production company will then get a screenwriter (or team of them) to adapt the work for the screen. Characters can be lost, dialogue changed, and whole scenes deleted or added, but, one would hope, with such substantial source material a sweet screenplay would be written up with all the good stuff from the book, right? Not always.

To prove my point, simply look at the Harry Potter Series, Jurassic Park, No Country For Old men, and Never Let Me Go.  I use these examples because they are all different and aI have read these novels. Jurassic Park is way, way different. Whether these are good or bad adaptations will change depending on whose opinion you listen to. The point is that things change from the book, and that’s because it is in a different medium and a new way to tell the story is necessary while simultaneously making you feel what you felt while reading it. Not freakin’ easy. There is now sound to your story, a written score of music, cadence of lines delivered from actors, and cinematography which needs to convey an ambiance.

This year for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, set for Sunday, February 27th at (8pm East/5pm pacific), several movies (like every year) are adaptations. Most of the best films often are. 127 Hours, The Social Network, and True Grit are this years films which were written by others first then optioned for a film. As you may know, not only is True Grit an adaptation from a book, but it is also a remake from the 1969 version with John Wayne.

The best part, for me anyway, is comparing the two mediums for myself: book vs. film. Everyone has different expectations, and what I think is a flop, you might think is a home-run. And that’s the best part for me–that conversation and comparison. It’s fun!

Below are all the categories and all the nominees. I have “boldened” my predictions for each category. I really believe nearly all of these films deserve their recognition. Great year, 2010! Who are you rooting for? (Comment at the bottom.)

Best Picture

    * “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
    * “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
    * “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
    * “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
    * “The King’s Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
    * “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
    * “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
    * “Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
    * “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
    * “Winter’s Bone” Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

Actor in a Leading Role

   * Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
    * Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
    * Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
    * Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
    * James Franco in “127 Hours”

Actor in a Supporting Role

   * Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
    * John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone”
    * Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
    * Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
    * Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech”

Actress in a Leading Role

    * Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
    * Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
    * Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone”
    * Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
    * Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

Actress in a Supporting Role

    * Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
    * Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech”
    * Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
    * Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
    * Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

Animated Feature Film

    * “How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
    * “The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
    * “Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich

Art Direction

    * “Alice in Wonderland”
      Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara
    * “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
      Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
    * “Inception”
      Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
    * “The King’s Speech”
      Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
    * “True Grit”
      Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

Cinematography (tough one! I’m picking two!)

    * “Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
    * “Inception” Wally Pfister
    * “The King’s Speech” Danny Cohen
    * “The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
    * “True Grit” Roger Deakins

Costume Design

    * “Alice in Wonderland” Colleen Atwood
    * “I Am Love” Antonella Cannarozzi
    * “The King’s Speech” Jenny Beavan
    * “The Tempest” Sandy Powell
    * “True Grit” Mary Zophres

Directing

    * “Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
    * “The Fighter” David O. Russell
    * “The King’s Speech” Tom Hooper
    * “The Social Network” David Fincher
    * “True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Documentary (Feature)

    * “Exit through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
    * “Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
    * “Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
    * “Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
    * “Waste Land” Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Documentary (Short Subject) (simply haven’t seen them)

    * “Killing in the Name” Nominees to be determined
    * “Poster Girl” Nominees to be determined
    * “Strangers No More” Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
    * “Sun Come Up” Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
    * “The Warriors of Qiugang” Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Film Editing

    * “Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
    * “The Fighter” Pamela Martin
    * “The King’s Speech” Tariq Anwar
    * “127 Hours” Jon Harris
    * “The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Foreign Language Film

    * “Biutiful” Mexico
    * “Dogtooth” Greece
    * “In a Better World” Denmark
    * “Incendies” Canada
    * “Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” Algeria

Makeup

    * “Barney’s Version” Adrien Morot
    * “The Way Back” Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
    * “The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Music (Original Score)

    * “How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell
    * “Inception” Hans Zimmer
    * “The King’s Speech” Alexandre Desplat
    * “127 Hours” A.R. Rahman
    * “The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Music (Original Song)

    * “Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
    * “I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
    * “If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
    * “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3″ Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Short Film (Animated)

    * “Day & Night” Teddy Newton
    * “The Gruffalo” Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
    * “Let’s Pollute” Geefwee Boedoe
    * “The Lost Thing” Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
    * “Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)” Bastien Dubois

Short Film (Live Action) (simply haven’t seen them)

    * “The Confession” Tanel Toom
    * “The Crush” Michael Creagh
    * “God of Love” Luke Matheny
    * “Na Wewe” Ivan Goldschmidt
    * “Wish 143” Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Sound Editing

    * “Inception” Richard King
    * “Toy Story 3” Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
    * “Tron: Legacy” Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
    * “True Grit” Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
    * “Unstoppable” Mark P. Stoeckinger

Sound Mixing

    * “Inception” Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
    * “The King’s Speech” Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
    * “Salt” Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
    * “The Social Network” Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
    * “True Grit” Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Visual Effects

    * “Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
    * “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
    * “Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
    * “Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
    * “Iron Man 2” Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

    * “127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
    * “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
    * “Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
    * “True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
    * “Winter’s Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Writing (Original Screenplay) (Can’t pick one!)
 
    * “Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
    * “The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
      Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
    * “Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
    * “The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
    * “The King’s Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

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