There Will Be Blood – Crude Awakening

There Will Be Blood     A

Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, and Ciaran Hinds
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights)
Rated R for some violence
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story:  Loosely based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, Blood follows the life of a successful oil man (Lewis), and the corruption that falls upon him once he becomes wealthy.  Troubled by his deaf son and the local preacher (Dano) that won’t stay off his back, he allows the money to cause him to lose his mind.

The Good: Daniel Day Lewis is the big winner here.  His performance is absolutely legendary and he should be a sure thing for the Best Actor Oscar this year. 

Aside from Lewis though, this is still a great film.  Written and directed by P.T. Anderson, the pic is a far cry from his other classics like Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch Drunk Love.  The film looks like a Western, but with the haunting score written by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, it feels almost like an epic horror pic.  It’s a different kind of movie experience that will grow on you long after you leave the theater. 

The Bad: While he has proven himself to be a great actor elsewhere, I wasn’t impressed with the selection of Paul Dano as the annoying preacher.  I know what Anderson was going for, but the film could have been even stronger with a more appropriate actor in the role.

I must also warn that the ending is very bleak and unresolved.  It’s the kind of ending that will ruin the movie for many an audience member.  

The Summary: While the production is impressive, it’s Daniel Day Lewis that makes this a memorable motion picture. 

Atonement – A Beautiful Tragedy

Atonement     A

Starring Keira Knightly, James McAvoy, and Saoirse Ronan
Directed by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice)
Rated R for disturbing war images, language, and some sexuality
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: Set during WWII, Atonement follows a young couple in love (McAvoy and Knightly) and the girl that tears them apart (Ronan) when she is confused by a highly volatile situation.  The two lovers try to make their relationship work out through the war, and the young girl attempts to atone for the horrible wrong she committed as a child.

The Good: It was apparent from Pride and Prejudice that director Joe Wright has a real eye for beauty and this is film is no different.  With Seamus McGarvey at the camera and Dario Marianelli’s beautiful Golden Globe winning score, Atonement provides for the most inspiring cinematic experience of the year. 

Atonement also finds itself in possession of one of the most amazing scenes to ever be put on film.  Watch for the moment that the English are on the beach awaiting to evacuate France.  This particular scene is one extended shot, no cuts, and utilizes hundreds of extras, perfectly choreographed with matching choral and instrumental music.  It’s only five minutes long, but it’s truly one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. 

It doesn’t hurt that the acting and writing are top notch as well, but they are overshadowed by the production.

The Bad: This is not a happy love story.  If The English Patient or Cold Mountain made you miserable, then this might not be up your alley.  Tragic romances aren’t for everyone, but when they are as well done as this, I hope that they can still be fully appreciated at the very least.

The Summary: Both beautiful and sad, this is a masterpiece of a romance.

The Kite Runner – Making Amends

The Kite Runner     A-

Starring Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada
Directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland)
Rated PG-13 for strong thematic material including the rape of a child, violence and brief strong language
Appropriate for ages 15+

The Story: Based on the popular novel by Khaled Hosseini, Kite Runner follows the lives of two Afghani children before, during, and after the Russian invasion and the effect that their decisions have on each other. 

The Good:  Having not read the book, I cannot comment on the similarities or differences, but I can say that this is a very beautiful and emotional film to take in.  The majority of the story takes place with the boys and their performances were remarkable, even without considering that they were not actors to begin with.  Abadalla and Ershadi also turned in tremendous performances as the father and son struggling to survive in America years later.  Big Kudos go to Marc Forster for difficult but rewarding direction.

The Bad: This is one heavy movie that you really have to be in the mood to see.  The central focus of the film is about the rape of a child, which doesn’t exactly make this the feel good movie of the year.  Bring a box of tissues and get ready to use many.

The Summary: The Kite Runner is beautiful to watch, but tough to sit  through.

Cloverfield – Lives Up to the Buzz

Cloverfield     B+

Starring Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, and T.J. Miller
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror disturbing images
Appropriate for ages 15+

The Story: The movie audience gets to watch the playback from a videotape found in Central Park after New York City is destroyed.  The tape follows a group of friends as they try to survive an attack from a horrible and unstoppable monster that wreaks havoc on the city.

The Good: A few months back theaters saw the trailer for a film that looked like The Blair Witch Project on crack.  I don’t even remember the film that came after, but for weeks this little untitled pic was all we film-nerds could chat about.  It didn’t have a title and many people actually thought that the name of the flick was 1-18-08 since that was the only thing listed on the trailer and following poster.  This super-hype was too much for any film to live up to.  But this one does.  This is a scary, realistic-as-you-can-get movie that effectively uses a handheld camera and makes you feel like you are with the friends every step of the way.  There were many moments when my heart was racing and my stomach was turning.  I’ll admit, the jerky and diagonal motion of the camera could have been partly to blame, but there is some really frightening stuff here that should cause this low-budget thriller to make loads of dough.

The Bad: In order to get the kind of story that delivers the right result, the characters have to do many, many stupid things.  While rescuing the one you love isn’t crazy – risking your life and the lives of your friends to get there in an impossible situation involving a humongous monster is.  That being said, I think they could have given us another story line that would have delivered the same effects without the audience constantly saying “yeah right…” 

Also, if you thought the Bourne flicks had some nauseating moments, pop those Dramamines during the trailers.  The motion sickness might add to the enjoyment, but puking during the movie could cause a chain reaction that you don’t want to see outside of Stand By Me

The Summary: This great little monster movie truly lives up to the buzz surrounding it. 

The Bucket List – A Life Without Regrets

The Bucket List     B-

Starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman
Directed by Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally…)
Rated PG-13 for language, including a sexual reference
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Story: Two men (Nicholson and Freeman) dying of cancer, decide to put together a list of all the things they want to do before they die.  Since one of them is a multi-millionaire, they set off on a fully-funded trip around the world in order to not have any regrets before they kick the bucket.

The Good: Nicholson and Freeman are both very fun to watch together.  Their charisma and talent get them through this dark story with flying colors.  If you are looking for a good tear-jerker that will make you laugh (and you’ve already seen Juno), then this is a great film for you.

The Bad: Due to the content alone, this is a film that skews older.  You won’t see many teenagers fighting to get into the theater, which means that the movie will probably die before the characters.  It should get some decent business on DVD, but if you wait for a few weeks to see it on the big screen – it will be gone.

On a more critical note, this is a very predictable picture.  If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the Cliff’s Notes version of the film.  This makes the tearful scenes seem manipulated, although still effective. 

The Summary: It might be a decent movie with very good performances, but it should see a quick box office death. 

Juno – All Knocked Up and Nowhere to Go

Juno     A+

Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman
Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content, and language
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Story: Young Juno (Page) is bored one night and decides to have sex with her friend Bleeker (Cera), only to find that this one lapse in judgment would end up with a baby in nine months.  When a trip to the abortion clinic scares her away, she finds a young couple incapable of having their own child, and offers hers up for adoption. 

The Good: While the story is fairly simple, it’s the screenplay that makes this movie sing.  Written by newbie Diablo Cody, this is simply one of the wittiest, smartest, and funniest films to come along this year.  Another find here is young Ellen Page.  While she showed signs of her brilliance in the very frightening 2005 movie Hard Candy, Juno has proven her to be a future superstar.  Combine Diablo’s script, Pages terrific handling of the lead character, and a top notch director and supporting cast, and you end up with a movie that should get itself nominated for many Oscars this year (I think it’s safe to say a best picture nod is in store), and could even take home a trophy or two. 

The Bad: I want to try to tear this film apart, but simply can’t.  It had me smiling from start to finish.  While some of the dialogue is sometimes too witty, I still found myself eating it up. 

The Summary: This little indie could be the next Big Fat Greek Wedding.