Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Master (***1/2)

Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson


There was a moment in between 2002's Punch-Drunk Love and 2007's There Will Be Blood in which the career of Paul Thomas Anderson shifted in its view. It seemed like an incredibly long five years between those two movies, much longer than the five years that separates There Will Be Blood and his new film, The Master. Before There Will Be Blood, Anderson was a niche filmmaker, specializing in tantalizing, offbeat independent films. Films which very scope challenged the limited resources he had overcame them. But with the release of There Will Be Blood, there was an entirely different scope. It was big. It was important. There was no more niche markets, he was a filmmaker that had to be watched. The movie starred Daniel Day-Lewis, for God's sake. And so, with this transition, P.T. Anderson has become an "event filmmaker", and his latest event is The Master.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

An Argument for Adam Sandler in 'Punch-Drunk Love'

The second piece that is part of 'September 2012: Paul Thomas Anderson Appreciation Month'. This will focus on Punch Drunk Love. #PTAAM

After much tormenting deliberation, I've come up with the five greatest screen performances that I've ever seen. And it goes like this...

Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver
Faye Dunaway, Network
Francer McDormand, Fargo
Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon
Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love

Sandler - Odd Man Out?

Yes, that is my list. I do not place Sandler in with the likes of Pacino and Dunaway out of some over-educated, zany contrarian need to make my list stand out amongst all of the others. This is how I really feel. This is my real opinion. And to be honest, I've kinda felt this way about Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love from the first time I'd seen it. For me, it's the kind of visceral, completely unhinged performance that would probably never come from someone who actually knows a whole lot about the craft of acting. I can't really see Jeremy Irons or Anthony Hopkins stripping down to such the vulnerable level that Sandler does in this movie, mostly because I think Sandler's novice stature in the acting community allowed him to follow P.T. Anderson to the end of the world. He put all his trust in Anderson's work, without even an ounce of thought of his own craft. Granted, it's not hard to do so when you're previous starring role was Little Nicky.

So, how do I make this argument? Well, I do feel that a lot of the people who would object to Sandler's placement on my list, probably haven't seen the movie. After all, it is probably Anderson's least-watched film. After that, what you are left with is the rest of Sandler's filmography - which is, while I think inherently underrated (considering the presence of what I find to be hilarious movies in The Wedding Singer and Happy Gilmore), still includes the likes of Click and Jack and Jill. There are other false starts at attempts for serious films. Reign Over Me was earnest enough but felt a little too much out of his league, and the film itself became just too melodramatic by its second half. Apatow's Funny People was prepped to be his great note about stand-up comedy with Adam Sandler tackling one of his best roles. But the film itself was overwrought and uneven, bloated in its 146 minutes. And most importantly, considering this piece, it was far too unkind to Sandler's character, George Simmons, leaving little room to feel anything but antipathy for his performance.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Celeste & Jesse Forever (***)

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger


Rashida Jones has been one of the loveliest supporting figures in movies for about five years now. I remember seeing her for the first time on The Office, but it was small roles in films like Our Idiot Brother and The Social Network, as well as larger parts in I Love You, Man that really caused her to pop out to audiences and she's been a very reliable screen presence. Beautiful without being overbearing, modest without seeming standoffish. Truth is, in most of her roles she just hasn't been on the screen long enough for viewers to really see her flaws. In Celeste & Jesse Forever, from a screenplay she co-wrote with Will McCormack, she allows the cracks to show in what is easily the best role of her still young career.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Anderson Brothers (Part 2)

A continuation of Part 1, we continue the somewhat tedious process of comparing the overlapping themes within the work of Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson.

In Part 1, we discussed how themes of family and growing up play large parts in the two filmmakers' movies. This time, we take a couple more themes to further show just how cohesive these two Andersons happen to be.


For two storytellers who tend to stray from strict genres for the most part, both started off their feature film careers with crime stories. Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket involves three friends trying to pull off a complex robbery. As it already may seem, they are not exactly equipped to pull of this kind of crime and things don't go exactly as planned. But there are never really a whole lot of stakes when we see the crime in Wes' films. We are very casually shown Royal participate in dog fighting twice in Tenenbaums, but it's treated like a  throwaway joke (a joke I don't think could've been pulled off had the film been post-Michael Vick arrest). In Life Aquatic, the submarine crew casually strips an observatory lab of all its equipment. None of this is considered with much seriousness, and the resulting theft from the observatory is treated with ironic humor when we learn that the observatory was run by Alistair (Jeff Goldblum), Steve's rival.

P.T.A., though, fills the criminal activity of his characters with enough tension for the both of them. Hard Eight's protagonist, Sydney's past as a criminal is brought to the forefront when John hold a man hostage when he won't pay his prostitute wife, Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) for a job. When Sydney comes to help the young newlyweds, it's a scene with taut, rigid emotion. In his very first film, P.T.A. establishes that he does not treat violence as a laughing matter. Scorsese has always been a pretty obvious influence for P.T.A., and it shows most when we see violence occur. Consider this scene toward the end of 'Boogie Nights', which isn't necessarily a crime film or a particularly violent one, but it's an obvious example of how P.T.A. uses a stark, unflinching reality in the face of violence in a very Scorsesean manner, treating it with the utmost seriousness. Now, consider the pirate shootout in Life Aquatic, where there's significantly less blood and the actual combat is so flippant. All Steve does is fire a few bullets, kill one of them, and the entire flock runs out of the boat. Significantly more playful (and even scored to the tunes of Iggy Pop and the Stooges) than anything we'd catch from P.T.A.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Anderson Brothers (Part 1)

This is the inaugural article of A Blogwork Orange's 'Paul Thomas Anderson Appreciation Month'. Please check in for more through out the coming weeks. Oh, and forgive the length of this piece. They won't all be this long. #PTAAM

Every generation of film students have their collection of contemporary filmmakers that are generally appreciated and celebrated more than most. From my crop, it's the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, Danny Boyle, and to an extent Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan. Basically, filmmakers whose flourish began in the '90s, shaping the minds of future film nuts during that time, creeping into the term papers read by numerous film professors during the mid-to-late 00's. But amongst this group, there are two filmmakers that have always been connected in a strange, omnipresent way that's always been hard to explain. I'm speaking about Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson.
There's always someone somewhere placing those two names in some form of cinematic argument, usually in an attempt to prop one up while slamming the other down. It's easy to do, considering the drastic gulf between the two's heavy styles. ("Hey well, at least P.T.A. doesn't have dopey mat sets and 60's music." or "Well, at least Wes doesn't have it rain frogs at the end." etc.) In the end, there is always a the declarative statement of which one is better, which seems particularly silly when you consider just how different stylistically these two are. They differ visually (P.T.A. is a schizo cameraman, mixing winding track shots and staccato handhelds; W.A. is more methodical and intent) and tonally (W.A. a master of dry subtlety, with dark tones only arising when need be; P.T.A. loves big, chewy drama shown off in rambling monologues and swelling emotions). Even their influences seem on the opposite ends of the map - P.T.A. showing much love to the Altman/Scorsese/Lumet group from the 70's, while W.A. prefers the Woody Allen/Hal Ashby variety from the same time.

So why are these two always mentioned together? There are shallow, uninteresting reasons. Both had their first feature released in 1996, both hold a devoted - sometimes rabid - fan base, and both were christened with the birth name 'Anderson' (but that seems almost too obvious to mention). Wes is generally considered more prolific, though by the end of this year, he will have released seven features to P.T.A.'s six. Both tend to focus their stories on the privileged, with few moments of attention on the working class. In really internally discussing the question of their constant comparison, I've realized how many overlapping themes these two actually have. And even though they seem to do it in opposite ways, these are two Andersons who have been telling the same story about family, aging, crime and love. Here's a breakdown...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September 2012: Paul Thomas Anderson Appreciation Month

By the power vested in me (and because his newest film The Master comes out later this month), I declare September of 2012 to be 'Paul Thomas Anderson Appreciation Month'. We will be celebrating this on the blog through various articles, essays and argument pieces dealing with our very own PTA at the heart. I will also keep posting contemporary film reviews throughout the month as well, but this month's main focus will be dedicating as much energy as we can to the awesome of Mr. P.T. Anderson.

Feel free to show your PTA love in the comments!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Expendables 2 (**)

Directed by Simon West


Even without any introduction via the 2010 film The Expendables, you would know within ten minutes of watching The Expendables 2 that it is not a movie to be taken seriously. And why is that? Because before the ten minute mark we see martial arts movie star Jet Li punch someone in the face until it explodes. I'm the last person in the world who should be commenting on the physical possibilities within fighting, but even I feel confident saying that something like that is pretty excessive.