Sunday, January 31, 2010

CHARACTER STUDY: Daniel Plainview, the Protagonist of There Will Be Blood?

It is easy to label Daniel Plainview, the oil man at the center of Paul Thomas Anderson’s American epic There Will Be Blood, as a villain. As he scowls, grumbles, glares, and slinks his way through the picture, his bursts of outrage and violence, and his single-minded obsession with greed may paint him outwardly as a scoundrel through and through. But looking closer at this man, played by Daniel Day Lewis in one of the all time great film roles, he is not the villain here. In fact, if I were forced to label, I would have to say Plainview is the protagonist of the story, an antihero so corrupted by greed and power that he loses sight of himself and his obsessions drive him to solitary madness. Of course, every protagonist needs an antagonist, and I think there is a clear answer as to who that is in the film.

In the opening scenes of There Will Be Blood, we see Plainview, a single-minded prospector hacking away at the earth in search of silver deposits. Without any dialogue, we are given a glimpse as to what drives this man: profit. After discovering oil, Daniel’s destiny is set for the remainder of the picture, as he brings along a minimal crew and begins pulling the black gold from the ground. The first fifteen minutes lack any dialogue, but they introduce us to Daniel as what he is, a man consumed by money, so much so that after falling and breaking his leg, he drags himself out of the well and into town to cash in on the silver he had found. One of the men in the well with Plainview has a child, and when an accident kills that man, with Plainview right down their in the oil with him, it is Daniel who decides to care for the young child. This is something he did not have to do, and while there may be the argument that Daniel takes the boy – H.W. Plainview as he grows older – in order to manipulate people into allowing him to drill on their land, I see no real evidence of this. In his opening monologue to a collection of townsfolk reluctant to let him build, he says “he is a family man,” which he is. Throughout the film, until the unfortunate accident (which I will discuss at length in a moment), Daniel works alongside H.W., never minimalizing him, never trivializing him or exploiting him. He is merely trying to show young H.W. the business.

And consider the other child in the film, young Mary, the daughter of Abel Sunday and the younger sister of Paul and Eli Sunday. Daniel is the one who stops the abuse Mary is getting from her father at home. He despises the abuse, even going so far as to make a mockery of Abel at the dinner table, emasculating him for being an abusive father. “No more hitting.” Daniel cares for children, because he knows they are innocent, he knows they are not his competition, and he knows they need to be cared for and not abused, so the business that he is using H.W. does not seem valid.

While Daniel wishes to make a hefty sum of money, he also sees an opportunity to share wealth and prosperity with the people of the town in which he and H.W. arrive after a hint from the enigmatic Paul Sunday. He wants to bring water, commerce, farming, and economic stimulation to the region along with wealth and prosperity. He is a business man, but in part his business is in helping those who cooperate with him. He, like any businessman, wants things to go smoothly, and when his antagonist is introduced in the form of Paul’s twin brother, Eli, conflict becomes the focal point of the story.

Eli Sunday is the true antagonist of the story, especially when examined alongside Daniel. Eli is the young preacher of the town, and his religious characterization is a central theme in Anderson’s narrative. Many will say that Plainview is godless, therefore is the villain, but if they were to examine closely the way Anderson treats organized religion in the picture, they would see quite the opposite. Eli is clearly a fraud, a snake-oil salesman dealing in salvation, and Daniel, having traveled the country, can see through his façade. Eli has used his power in the community, his manipulative abilities to be seen as a healer, to gather the less educated people of the town behind him. He thrives off the admiration, and when Daniel does not return admiration of his own, tension builds between the two. Eli comes to Daniel and asks, or tells, him to dedicate the opening of the new well to him, and Daniel promptly ignores him. He has no time for phonies, he has no patience for liars, and as it becomes obvious that Eli wants only money for the oil, Daniel has no time for competition. And Daniel’s first ravenous explosion in the film, his first violent outburst, is directed at Eli and comes on the heels of H.W.’s accident.

H.W. is deafened by the oil derrick once it strikes oil in the picture’s most exhilarating sequence. This is a moment where Anderson deftly allows the audience to see the greed taking over Plainview, as he forgets momentarily about his son and is consumed by the prospect of profit. However, Anderson does not allow us to build much animosity for Daniel, as the very next scene shows him trying his best to comfort H.W., whose ear trauma has caused him much pain and confusion. In doing this, Anderson shows the greed, and the subsequent good that is inside Plainview.
Not long after, Eli approaches Daniel, not to ask him about H.W. but to ask him about the money, and this sends Daniel into an uncontrollable rage. He slaps Eli and pushes his face into the mud, where he feels it belongs. Shortly thereafter, he is forced to send H.W. away to a school so he may learn how to communicate without hearing. Many point to this as Daniel giving up on H.W. when it was no longer easy, or he was no longer able to exploit him, but I would argue that Daniel is doing what he can to help H.W. lead a normal life. He doesn’t know how to help him after the accident, and grows frustrated, angry at times, and sending him away was the best thing for him no matter how much Daniel did not want to let him go. Daniel cares about the boy, as evidenced in the baptism scene where his guilt for sending him away cannot be masked by any indifference or distaste Daniel may have for the whole scene itself.
As a matter of fact, the baptism sequence is perhaps the most telling of any scenes in the film. As Daniel has agreed to do the baptism, in order to satisfy William Bandy who is holding up his pipeline with the sale of his land, he goes into the baptism without much conviction, but what happens during the baptism shows where Daniel truly does care for H.W., and is guilty more about that than what he did in the scenes leading up to the baptism, perhaps his darkest moment:





Notice when Daniel shouts, looking to the sky, tears forming in his eyes. It is his most vulnerable moment in the film, and proof that he is, deep down, a man with a soul. But aside from that moment and that stark realization, the rest of the time he is treating the baptism as a step towards wealth, making a mockery of the thing inwardly and, at times, outwardly.
Of course, the biggest argument to his villainy for most people – aside from his misdiagnosed treatment of H.W. – is the murder of Henry, a conman posing as his brother. Henry deceives Daniel, but not in the way that most have done; his deception is so deep and hits so hard into the isolation of Daniel as a man, that he spills his most intimate secrets, his most inner thoughts about humanity:





He doesn’t like most people, he wants to get away from them, he uses them; all murmurings of the dark side of Daniel’s soul, the place where he ends up by the end. In this scene, I feel that he is trying to explain his overview of human society in hopes that Henry responds with agreement, only he doesn’t, and later when Daniel realizes this man is a phony, the anger and resentment towards him becomes overwhelming for Daniel. The murder is a turning point for Daniel, yes, and not an excusable act regardless of what Henry did to him, but I feel that the guilt and anger towards Henry, and the subsequent cold reception from H.W. once he returns, compounds to create the monster we see at the end of the picture.

Several years down the road we see Daniel, given up on humanity, devoid of any personal contact besides his servants and business connections who are few and far between. He spends his days drunk, shooting his pistol at a pile of worthless goods in his vast hallway of his empty mansion. Greed has corrupted him, power has isolated him, and madness and alcoholism has turned him into the personification of those feelings and emotions he spilled to Henry that evening. He has made all the money he will ever need, he has built the town of Little Boston higher and better than it ever would have done without him, and the only thing he has yet to conquer just so happens to walk into his personal bowling alley and wake him up at the end of the film.

When Eli returns, emphasizing his shield of religion by a gaudy silver cross hanging around his neck, Daniel knows he is in desperate need of financial help, and he sees his chance to emasculate, expose, and ruin Eli, crushing his hopes and his soul in the process. Eli was the one who lied and manipulated God and religion to get what he wanted, Daniel never once lied about his ultimate goal, and that discretion may have been the third element of Plainview’s eventual madness. So when he sees Eli in dire straits, he relishes the moment, already certain of how this meeting will end:





The “milkshake scene” as it has been tagged, is one of the most lampooned scenes in recent film, but the scene overall shows Eli for what he is: a sad, weak, lying phony who has no set of moral codes, like Daniel. Anderson handles this final scene perfectly, switching at a second’s notice between almost slapstick comedy, then to anger, tension, horror, and shock, and perhaps all around again. While the milkshake line seems funny, things around it, and mannerisms along with it, create a scene of uncertainty and uneasiness. It also gives Daniel the final say in the duel between the two men, with the more honest man – the one who may be lost now, but was never a false prophet, and never used the people of Little Boston the way Eli did – coming out on top.

Daniel Plainview is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good person. However, he is not the villain of the picture. He delivers on his promises, he loves H.W. the best way he knows how, but the vulnerability he showed to Henry that drives him into a furious rage may have been the beginning of his undoing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Edge of Darkness


DARK KNIGHT

Edge of Darkness: Mel Gibson, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone (117 min.)

There is at least one thing that can be taken from Edge of Darkness, the new thriller from Casino Royale director Martin Campbell and Departed scribe William Monahan, and that is the fact that Mel Gibson – personal craziness and controversy aside – can still carry a movie. With thinning hair and age lines cutting through his face like wood carving, Gibson still knows how to convey sadness, remorse, anger and fury, all in his eyes. While the wisecracking days of Martin Riggs are well behind him, he can still take a sometimes thrilling, otherwise familiar story like Edge of Darkness and make it something worth seeing.

Gibson plays Boston Homicide Detective Tommy (of course) Craven, a widower who cherishes seeing his daughter, Emma, who at the opening of the film arrives home from her new job to the jittery, protective, loving arms of Tommy. Before they can even get home, Emma vomits on the side of the street, then again in the kitchen. And she has a curious nosebleed. As they are rushing from the house to the hospital, a masked man shouts “CRAVEN” before blowing Emma back through the front door with a furious shotgun blast. She is dead, and the police that arrive on the scene assume the blast was intended for Craven. But Craven suspects otherwise because of the nosebleeds and the vomiting, and a brief, panicked line Emma screams before they get to the porch. Withdrawn, cold, and inwardly angry, Craven begins investigating the life and work of his daughter and begins to uncover a plot that could be straight out of a 70s thriller like The Parallax View or The Manchurian Candidate.

Emma worked as an intern for Northmoor, a mysterious corporation nestled atop a hill in an excessive, ridiculous compund. The buildings, clearly CGI, are over the top and extravagant to the point of distraction, and given Northmoor’s line of business it doesn’t necessitate or explain such an eye-catching, curious façade. Tommy visits Northmoor and speaks to Jack Bennett, the creepy and slick CEO of the company, played by Danny Huston. Huston is perfect in the role, he seems robotic, and when he asks Tommy the cold question “what does it feel like” in reference to losing his daughter you almost assume he is asking “what does it feel like… to be human?”

As the investigation unfolds and Tommy gets deeper, a mysterious Brit named Jedburgh appears in his backyard. Jedburgh is a complete enigma. Who does he work for? We don’t know. Is he on Tommy’s side? Yes. Is he on the other side? Sure. Jedburgh, played by the always reliable Ray Winstone, works at times alongside Tommy, other times he is seen with Tommy’s opposition. And his real origin is never given, because it doesn’t really matter.

There are things that work in Edge of Darkness, starting with Mel Gibson. He doesn’t go too far with the Boston accent, which is a good idea, and his resolve and pent up anger live right behind those tears collecting in his eyes that will never fall. Huston is spot on as Bennett, and Winstone, whose part in the story could really not even exist, is appropriately mysterious. The story, as it builds, never lost me and kept me curious. As Tommy uncovers more facts, the thriller deepens, and the tension is kept at a solid level throughout. The final shot is a little hokey, but the climax leading up to it effective. I always enjoy political paranoia films, and the story here is along the lines of the great ones.
Things that don’t work in Edge of Darkness, aside from the Northmoor compound seemingly pulled from a comic book, are a few supporting performances and a curious narrative choice from Monahan and Campbell. Craven hunts down Emma’s twitchy, high-strung boyfriend, Burnham, played by someone named Shawn Roberts, and you cannot convince me he has ever acted before. His performance is so forced and just plain bad. Same goes for a young girl from Emma’s past, played by Caterina Scorsone. She cries and twitches as well, and her performance is just as bad. These are pivotal characters, we need convincing actors here.

Another thing that does not quite work are the interspersed shots of Craven seeing young Emma on park benches or beside him at the bathroom mirror, or speaking to him from beyond the grave. These scenes didn’t affect me, they just seemed strange and as if they were taken from another movie.

Edge of Darkness is a remake of a BBC miniseries Campbell directed in 1985, and his American film remake is strong if still flawed in a few areas. A few cat-and-mouse chase sequences and some shocking action keep the story moving. And, personal turmoil aside, it is nice to see Gibson back on the screen for whatever reason. I think starring on screen was what Gibson needed to try and get past his numerous scandals and problems in his personal life, and while it isnt his best, Edge of Darkness was a nice place to start.

B

Friday, January 29, 2010

FRIDAY SCATTER-SHOOTING...

* Somehow, I have been sucked in to the Mel Gibson thriller, Edge of Darkness. It might be awful, but I want to try and separate Gibson’s acting prowess from his batshit insanity plaguing his personal life and just see how he does on screen after seven years away.

* Okay, enough with the Avatar box office news. It beat Titanic in worldwide gross, but not in domestic gross, but after $50 million more it will be the domestic gross and be “the biggest movie of all time.” Well, adjusted for inflation, Gone With the Wind is the biggest movie of all time, and there were obviously more tickets sold to Titanic, when the average ticket price was around five dollars as opposed to ten dollars. Avatar is cool to look at, but as an actual movie it is an empty shell. People need to stop trying to find racist or imperialistic themes in the film for a couple of reasons. 1 – the themes are so obvious and hammer you over the head, that it takes no real thought beyond what you see and process while the movie is in front of you, and 2 – this is the ultimate popcorn movie, nothing more, maybe something less, it doesn’t need deep analysis.

* Yesterday, there were three notable deaths. From the “isn’t he already dead” department, J.D. Salinger, joined by Zelda Rubinstein, who played Tangina the spiritual guru in Poletergeist. The third death is Miramax Studios, one of the pioneers of the indie film movement of the last twenty years, bringing us films like sex, lies, and videotape, My Left Foot, Pulp Fiction, and mainstream successes in Chicago, The Aviator, and No Country for Old Men. RIP.

* Ryan Reynolds seems to sabotage any credibility he might get. At the beginning of the week, he was accumulating praise for his role in Buried, a Sundance darling starring him and him alone buried alive for ninety minutes in a Middle Eastern desert. Yesterday, word came down that he was moving forward with Deadpool, a spin-off film from Wolverine. Yes, a fringe superhero with roughly the same skill set as Wolverine that really nobody knows starring in his own film, an offshoot of a wildly forgettable entry into the superhero film canon itself. In other words, nobody learned their lesson from Elektra. They better keep the budget low on this one.

* I watched the Wall Street 2 trailer two more times last night. I just love the energy and the fact that everyone seems to be having fun with the material. People say “this sequel is unnecessary.” Most of the time I would agree that a sequel to a popular film or franchise some twenty years down the road is a bad idea (Indiana Jones anyone?), but this sequel is perfectly in tune with the economic malaise of the country right now. It seems like the perfect bookend to the first film. And Michael Douglas looks like he is happy to be back in a relevant movie. Just dump the silly subtitle, Money Never Sleeps.

* Reading Roger Ebert’s Great Films, Volume 1, and loving it. Any film buff should check these out. Regardless of what you think of Ebert as a reviewer, he is a fantastic writer and he rivals the cinematic knowledge of Martin Scorsese.

* Let’s get a violent, dark remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon up and running. And let’s not cast Sam Worthington, unless he is the creature.

* And speaking of Sam Worthington, he has been cast to play Dracula? Seriously? The guy will be a terrible Dracula. What kind of dirt does this stiff version of Russell Crowe have on studio execs?

* 3 weeks until Shutter Island.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

TRAILER BULLETIN: Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps

That is right, Gordon Gekko is back at it, newly released from prison and back on the Manhattan scene. New hip cast, jazz music, some humor, and some slickness from the man himself, Michael Douglas. Say what you will, but I am sucked in... Let me know what you think...

CHE: Part Two, Guerilla


RISE AND FALL

CHE: Part Two, Guerilla - Benicio Del Toro (132 min.)

Part one of Che, The Argentine, deals with Guevera and Castro strong-arming power away from the Batista regime, therein putting Fidel Castro in as the new leader of Cuba. Part two, Guerilla, deals with what is a lesser known aspect of Che Guevera’s life as a revolutionary, and that is his journey into Bolivia to try and accomplish the same thing he did in Cuba. However, things do not end well for Guevera here, and Soderbergh shows with an unflinching eye, the revolutionary’s demise under the pressure of overwhelming odds.

Again, there is no real explanation as to what motivates Che to carry on his revolution deeper into South America, as Soderbergh does not worry himself with past details of Che’s life. Part two, perhaps even more than the opening part, is an immediate story, one that follows Che into Bolivia where, with a public resistant towards Che’s goals, a dwindling collection of solliders, and his own deteriorating health, he ultimately fails to carry his message beyond La Paz in 1967.

The final third of the story has Che making his last stand against the Bolivian army, an Army supported by the U.S. military. Where the first half of Che shows the leader taking on his role, flourishing as the head of a powerful revolution, and accomplishing his goals, the second half is his downfall, as supplies and morale dwindle and he is gunned down by the Bolivian forces.

Soderbergh here, much like in part one, does not place Che up on a pedestal; he merely places the audience alongside him as we watch the fall of this resolved leader. Something that should be noted about both parts of the picture is the texture Soderbergh uses to give the film a rich look. You can almost smell the cigar smoke, you can almost feel the grit and the grime Che collects as he tries to escape the forces hunting him. Seen as a whole, Che is a solid biopic, albeit one that does not give the viewer any back-story to its subject. Rather, it shows the two most important aspects of his life, as a revolutionary and as the hunted, in a stunning scope and detail. But in the second part, once the odds become stacked against him, the narrative stalls until Che is finally killed. Nevertheless, the arch of Guevera is represented well by Soderbergh, an experimental filmmaker unlike none other who manages to get most things right in telling the story of Che Guevera.

B+

As a whole, Che deserves the A-

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CHE: Part One, The Argentine.


THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED

CHE: Part One, The Argentine: Benicio Del Toro (pt. one, 130 min.)

Director Steven Soderbergh is perhaps the most daring, experimental director working today. Sometimes, he misses the mark, but he never lets his last project affect his next. Over the past few years, Soderbergh has made commercial fare with the Ocean films, confusing films like Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience, and most recently he has tackled the rise and fall of Ernesto “Che” Guevera, in a four-and-a-half hour biopic starring Benicio Del Toro. Thankfully, Soderbergh has broken the story into two digestible parts, the first being labeled “The Argentine.” Soderbergh has taken perhaps the best route in telling the story of such a polarizing figure, a revolutionary leader of men who has been reduced to an image on a Gap t-shirt.

Part one of Che, The Argentine, opens with Guevera, a young Argentinean doctor, meeting a young Fidel Castro. The two hash out a plan to travel by boat to Cuba, where they will gather troops and willing fighters to overtake the government in place at the time, led by American ally Fulgencio Batista. Castro and Guevera, of course, harbor communist ideologies, but their plan is not to enslave the Cuban people, only to liberate them from what they feel is a democratic power holding them down.

The narrative wastes no time in putting Guevera in the jungles of Cuba, where along the way, he steadily collects villagers of all ages, both male and female, to join his revolution. And Che does not want to collect simply warm bodies to serve as expendable fighters against the government, he wants his men – and women – to be educated, because uneducated people are easy to deceive. While in the jungles, Che and his men set up a small village with a school and even a printing press.

Soderbergh does the wise thing with his direction in that he does not deify Che. Che does not grandstand, he does not make a William Wallace-type speech, he simply allows his troops to gather and accumulate and through stern orders and sound leadership. Soderbergh does not tell the story through the eyes of Che necessarily, he simply allows the viewer to observe. At the same time, Che is not portrayed as an evil communist murderer. In this, Soderbergh is able to tell the story of Che without taking a political side one way or another. And by lining the story of the city invasion – where part one ends – with a black and white narrative showing Che speaking at the U.N., Soderbergh is able to show the man as solider and philosopher, adding needed depth to the man.

Del Toro is the obvious choice to play Che, and he exceeds admirably at giving the revolutionary an unwavering set of morals that guide his life and his decisions. We know not why Guevera agreed to take on the task of “liberating” Cuba, or why, in the second part, he attempts to carry the revolution to Bolivia and beyond, and Soderbergh does not bother to try and explain with a back-story that would bog down an already expansive biopic. But perhaps some motivation would flesh out Che a bit more. A minor quibble.

A-
PART TWO: GUERILLA, COMING UP TOMORROW

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TUESDAY TOP 10: Best Biopics...

Biopics are a tricky subgenre to navigate. I consider a biopic to be a true, in-depth character study of one person and their life. There are certain gray areas here that, for the sake of making a valid list, I will separate. For example, Schindler’s List and The Pianist are pictures more about the Holocaust and World War II than an examination of one character’s specific arch. Goodfellas, while it does tell the tale of Henry Hill’s rise and fall in the mafia, is more a story about the operations of the entire mafia in the twentieth century. These characters serve as a guide through a larger story. These would all find their way onto a biopic list without boundaries, but as such, those obvious choices may tend to overshadow some excellent narratives about some of the most influential people in the arts, the media, and the shaping of modern society. There are surely a few left off this list, a few biopics that didn’t make my cut, but I suppose that is why this is my list. I must say beforehand that I have seen only portions of Patton, never the entire film, which may find its way onto this list after a full viewing.

10) The Elephant Man (1980) – It is hard to believe that this is David Lynch, but what is perhaps Lynch’s best film (though some would argue for Mulholland Drive) is one of his earliest. It tells the story of John Merrick – the real person’s name was Joseph – a horribly disfigured man who is reduced to a circus sideshow. A riveting performance from John Hurt, beneath the makeup and the shroud, carries Lynch’s film, who creates a world of sadness and weight surrounding this unfortunate man’s life.

9) Monster (2003) – Charlize Theron was not to be denied at the Academy Awards this year with her transcendent turn as Aileen Wuornos, a Florida transient and prostitute who murdered seven men in the late eighties. Theron disappears beneath sun-scarred skin, wiry hair, and slack weight to become Wuornos, a pure psychotic but someone who may have never had a chance. Again, Theron carries the film, and her relationship with Selby, a lost, confused young girl played by Christina Ricci, actually brings a surprising bit of empathy and emotion for Wuornos as a helpless murderer.

8) Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) – Country music is a good spot for a biopic, as was 1980 apparently, but a story about relatively controversy-free country singer Loretta Lynn doesn’t seem like it would be compelling, but it is. What is most interesting about her story is her up-and-down marriage to Mooney Lynn, a local country boy who was instrumental in her career. Nevermind that they married when Lynn was merely thirteen. Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones play Loretta and Mooney, repectively, and they are both excellent in the leads. Spacek, who also did her own singing, won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1980.

7) Walk the Line (2005) – Yet another country-music biopic, this time about a singer whose life was perhaps a bit more tumultuous than Loretta Lynn. Walk the Line is the story of Johnny Cash, the man in black, one of the most iconic musicians of all time. While director James Mangold might play it safe with some of the darker aspects of Cash’s troubled life, and his downward spiral into addiction, he still manages to touch on enough of it to make a convincing biopic that is purely entertaining. Joaquin Phoenix embodies the man in black quite well, and Reese Witherspoon does an excellent job in her Oscar-winning portrayal of June Carter, who would later marry Johnny.

6) Malcolm X (1992) – Director Spike Lee tells the story of hustler turned leader-of-men, Malcolm X, with great attention to detail, and undying passion that can be seen in every spot of the biopic. With Denzel Washington, an eerie lookalike, pouring himself equally as much into the role of Malcolm X, the duo of Lee and Washington make one of the more complete, unabashed look at a powerful man who was never believed to be a wholly great person.

5) Gandhi (1982) – Ben Kingsley is a chameleon, as he can play any person of any nationality in any capacity. But he never embodied someone so fully as what he did in 1982 when he portrayed the peaceful leader of the Indian resistance against Great Britain. Starting out as a bureaucrat and morphing into a pacifist leader of men whose philosophical approach to conflict is like no other before or after it, Kingsley transforms his body and his mind into Gandhi so seamlessly that it is tough to remember this is not a documentary.

4) Serpico (1973) – Al Pacino loses himself in the role of Frank Serpico, an honest cop caught up in the greed and controversy of the New York police department skimming money from everywhere all the time. Director Sidney Lumet allows Pacino to transform throughout the story, as Serpico’s creative policing techniques and renegade style choices were overshadowed, throughout the department, by his reluctance to take money, making him a pariah to the force. The stand Serpico took nearly got him killed in the line of duty, but he never wavered, and Lumet and Pacino nail the mood and the narrative perfectly, making one of the best films of the best decade in cinema.

3) Ed Wood (1994) –
Who else but Tim Burton could direct a quirky biopic about a failed cross-dressing film director and his posse of outcasts and weirdos? Johnny Depp, in perhaps his best performance to date, plays Ed Wood with naivety and pure energy, much like the man himself was, and the telling of his disastrous direction of the now cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space is hilarious and a little bit sad. And Martin Landau as the washed up Bela Lugosi, an actor who becomes a lifelong friend of Ed, delivers a heartbreaking performance. This is perhaps Burton’s most complete work, and one of the better, most original biopics of all time.

2) Raging Bull (1980) – Yet another biopic from 1980 is one of the best films of all time, biopic or otherwise, though I feel that number one on this list is more compelling from start to finish. Robert DeNiro plays the self-destructive Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s boxing picture. Loaded with anger, frustration, guilt, and self destruction, LaMotta the fighter was a ferocious athlete in the ring. But outside of the ring, LaMotta was a disaster of a human being, ruining friendships, marriages, and his relationship with his brother because of unfounded paranoia and jealousy. DeNiro won Best Actor for the role, accepting his award with the real Jake LaMotta watching from the audience (the same year Spacek took home her award for Coal Miner’s Daugher, with Loretta Lynn watching on as well. Still the only instance of this happening.)

1) Amadeus (1984) – It would be easy to tell a linear narrative about the life and times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the finest composers of all time, but director Milos Forman opted to do something different, and the result is an amazing film and a surprisingly thrilling tale of jealousy and hatred. Rather than work front to back, Forman used the memory of Salieri, a fellow composer who has grown old and is looking back on the life of Amadeus, an unmatched genius with whom Salieri became insanely jealous. The fact that Salieri could see that Amadeus, from an early age, had a natural talent that Salieri could never match drove Salieri to madness. The story is told with flair and a pop-art, hippie-influenced panache, not to mention a certain added amount of creepy ambiance, that makes Amadeus stand out, not to mention two fantastic performances from F. Murray Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as Amadeus.

Monday, January 25, 2010

AWAY FROM THE 'WOOD: Patton Oswalt in BIG FAN

BIG FAN: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan (86 min.)

Foreign cinema is not the only thing filmed outside the studios of Southern California. And every once in a while, a small film – beyond small – can make an impact on those who discover them on netflix and the like. One such picture is Big Fan, a small character study from Robert D. Siegel, the writer of Darren Aronofsky’s indie hit from last year, The Wrestler. The film is a complex look at a simple man whose life is turned inside out by mistake, and the character dissection is sometimes humorous, often times sad, but wholly affecting from start to finish.

The name Patton Oswalt is not typically synonymous with dramatic filmmaking, as the stubby comedian is a regular on Comedy Central roasts and has a filmography that includes Balls of Fury, Observe and Report, Taxi, and a number of spots on television comedies like Crank Yankers and The King of Queens. Nevertheless, Oswalt here plays Paul Aufiero, a lonely loser, an overnight parking-lot attendant who lives with his mother and whose life is completely consumed by the New York Giants. While sitting in his little box stamping parking passes and collecting money, Paul listens to the sports talk radio and writes down, in his childish handwriting, his smack-talking monologue in a tattered spiral notebook that he will later read to the sports radio station. Paul is the New York Giants’ counterpunch to a Philadelphia Eagles’ fan, Philadelphia Phil, who calls in and talks some smack of his own.

A character actor you would recognize from bit parts in Goodfellas, The Departed, and Pineapple Express, Kevin Corrigan, plays Paul’s friend, Sal. Sal is equally as obsessed with the Giants, and Paul and Sal put on their game day gear, take in the sights and sounds of Giant’s tailgating, and subsequently watch the game on a small TV outside the stadium, as they cannot afford tickets.

Paul’s favorite player from the Giants is a hard-hitting linebacker named Quantrell Bishop. Paul wears his jersey and has a wall-sized poster of Quantrell one would find in a ten-year old’s bedroom. One evening, Paul and Sal spot QB – as is his nickname – loading up in an SUV with his posse, and they decide to follow him. The two hapless losers wind up at a strip joint in Manhattan, sitting across the way from Quantrell and his buddies, sipping their nine-dollar Budweisers, trying to muster up enough nerve to go say hello. Once they finally do, a gross misunderstanding takes place, one that sends Quantrell into a rage and he pounces on Paul and beats him within an inch of his life.

Paul wakes up in the hospital three days later, and under pressure from his lawyer brother and the police investigation to prosecute Quantrell, who has been suspended. But the Giants are in the middle of a playoff push, a tight race between them and the Eagles for the division crown, and Paul’s undying devotion to his beloved Giants creates apprehension towards doing the right thing and putting this spoiled superstar behind bars.

The rest of the picture deals with Paul wrestling his loyalty to the Giants while, at the same time, wrestling the pressure from his family and the police to do what should be done. While any sports outsider might not see the conundrum here – a spoiled athlete should not get away with such a brutal assault on an innocent person – Big Fan manages to allow the audience to see the situation from Paul’s blackened eyes. Quantrell is suspended, and the Giants start to lose, and Philly gains ground in the playoff race, and these things seem to hurt Paul worse than Quantrell did that night at the club. Paul’s world has been ripped apart, his quiet little existence is no more, and all he wants is for things to go back to the way they were.

It’s quite refreshing to see an actor like Patton Oswalt display emotion and a quiet sadness as Paul. As the story unfolds, and the pressure on Paul mounts, there is never that melodramatic moment of insanity or an emotional outburst that traps these small films in cliché. However, Siegel – who also directs – wants the audience to think it may be headed in that direction once Paul makes the decision to confront Philadelphia Phil (a solid cameo from Michael Rappaport). The end result is a nice twist to what could have become a conventional story. Aside from solid performances from Oswalt and Kevin Corrigan, a fine character actor whose roles have begun to expand over the last few years, Paul’s family, his brother, his sister, and his pushy Italian mother, are all well played by a collection of convincing character actors.

Big Fan may resonate more with anyone who has ever had an undying devotion to a sports team, but the humanity on display by the characters in their situations should touch anyone who takes the time to uncover what makes Paul tick. Distributed on indie circuits without a major distributor, Big Fan is that inevitable directorial debut from an acclaimed, talented screenwriter in Robert Siegel. Many of these experiments do not end well (one such instance that comes to mind is Stephen Gaghan, who won Best Original Screenplay for Traffic, then directed the disastrous supernatural thriller Abandon), but for Siegel, a tight direction and a script that is well thought out make Big Fan a solid film and a nice change of pace for Patton Oswalt.

A

Friday, January 22, 2010

FRIDAY SCATTER-SHOOTING...

* I don’t really care that Sony hired Marc Webb, the talented director behind (500) Days of Summer, to direct the reboot of Spider Man. And the fact that they are going to do a darker version doesn’t really interest me either, because Spider Man isn’t a dark character. Just let it go for now.

* I mean, I know Spider Man 3 was bad. As a matter of fact, just off the top of my head: dancing Peter Parker with eyeliner, James Franco getting amnesia, therein forgetting how to act, the skewed physics of Sandman, who can magically grow to ten times his size, the manic editing, Eddie Brock/Venom being played by Topher Grace, Venom appearing for about ten minutes in the film, most of which has Topher Grace’s face poking out of the symbiote instead of actually seeing Venom, Bruce Dallas howard just… being in the movie. All of these signs point towards a much-needed dormant period for the webslinger, not an immediate restart.

* The first inductees into the has-been hall of fame: John Travolta, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson. Up next on the ballot: Robert DeNiro and Michael Douglas.

* Ben Stiller has agreed to star in a film from Mark Romanek (Arlington Road) called The Voices, about a man who kills a woman he works with, then listens to the advice of his dog and cat on how to cover his tracks. Yes, you read that right.

* Clive Owen has signed on to do a film called Protection about the daughter of a Mexican judge who witnesses a murder and has to flee from the bad guys. Owen will play the guy who… sorry I lost interest. You’re better than doing these generic action pictures, Clive.

* Sean Penn and Robert Pattinson are rumored to be in Water for Elephants, an adaptation of a novel which tells the tale of a depression-era romantic triangle revolving around a traveling circus. The female lead is Reese Witherspoon. This creates quite the conundrum. I mean, sure I want to see a Sean Penn flick, but do I want to see a Robert Pattinson movie?

* This same article claims that Sean Penn would have to return from his “acting sabbatical” to accept the role. So, he took a break from film? When did this happen? Because, if I remember correctly, Sean Penn won the Academy Award for Best Actor way back in March of 2009. He is such a strange guy.

* In a conversation with Focus Features’ CEO James Schamus from The Hollywood Reporter, he claimed that he is working on a new project with Ang Lee that will take us back to “good old, tragic, suicidally depressing Ang.” So does this mean they are back in the studio working on a Hulk sequel?

* Am I the only one who sees the irony in Paul Bettany’s career right now? In Legion, he plays an angel armed to the teeth with firearms, and at the same time in Creation, he plays Charles Darwin. And, amazingly enough (not), they appear to both suck.

* So, the Macgruber trailer… I don’t really know what to do with it.

* Could it be that The Wolfman will not be the biggest disaster for Universal since Waterworld? I mean, the effects look great, the cast is top notch, and the more I see about it the more I want to see of it. But there isn’t any way it will be any good, right? Never before has a movie been pushed back repeatedly and gone through so much turmoil and wound up being even remotely good. But maybe… just maybe…

* 4 weeks until Shutter Island (finally) opens.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

AWAY FROM THE 'WOOD

With all of the films and film news coming out of Hollywood on such a consistent basis, it's easy to overlook the Indie circuit and the latest foreign films that are soon to find their wide audience. With foreign films, it seems there is a handful from across the pond each year that gain a solid following in the States. A few years back it was Pan's Labyrinth, followed closely by The Lives of Others, the eventual Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film. Last year Waltz with Bashir and The Class found an audience. This year, A Prophet might be one of the foreign films to find an American following.

A Prophet (Un Prophete) is a Belgium film that tells the story of a young Arab man, a soft 19-year old, sent to a French prison and, under the pressure of a pocket of Corsican mafia inhabiting the prison, is forced into a series of tasks. What these Corsican mafia men did not plan on was the young man's talent as a hood and a killer. Judging from the trailer, complete with a few snippets of glowing reviews and a dynamite song from a band called Turner Cody, Un Prophete looks like a fireball of a movie that could catch on with American audiences...


TUESDAY TOP 10: Biggest Academy Awards mistakes...

Oscar isn’t always right. As a matter of fact, there are quite a few instances where the Academy Awards, in hindsight, made the wrong pick in handing out an acting award, not handing out the award to the right person, or rewarding an inferior picture. And there are quite a few times where hindsight isn’t the problem, as the mistake is clear the night of the Awards…


10) Kevin Spacey wins over Denzel Washington (1999) – Kevin Spacey took home the Best Actor Oscar in ’99 for his role as Lester Burnham in American Beauty, the eventual Best Picture winner that has since lost its luster. Denzel Washington was up for his role as Ruben “Hurricane” Carter in the biopic Hurricane. Denzel seemed like a lock until controversy surrounding the films factual liberties somehow hurt Denzel’s chances. Enter Spacey, who is definitely good in American Beauty but, like the movie itself, he is not that great.


9) How Green Was My Valley beats Citizen Kane (1941) – This seems weird to even type, but what is often considered to be the best films of all time for technical and narrative reasons was beaten by a film I can tell you not one thing about, aside from the fact that it has a silly title. My only theory to this is that Citizen Kane was quite edgy and progressive for its time, and even as far back as the 30s and 40s it seems the Academy was afraid to reward something that isn’t safe.

8) Art Carney beating the field (1974) – 1974 had some stellar performances from some screen legends. First there was Al Pacino nominated for The Godfather, Part II. And Jack Nicholson for Chinatown. And Dustin Hoffman for Lenny. All three performances are staples in American cinema, and all were deserving of the statue. But the eventual winner, Art Carney, won for some movie called Harry and Tonto where he travels the country with his cat. Even typing this out confuses me.

7) Dances with Wolves beats Goodfellas (1990) – Okay, Dances with Wolves is not a bad film, but it’s not really a memorable one. When is the last time anyone ever listed their favorite movies and just had to mark Dances with Wolves down on their list? Exactly. On the other end, Martin Scorsese re-wrote the book on gangster pictures, creating an instant classic with Goodfellas, a film still lauded by critics and the public as being one of the most complete crime dramas of all time. But again, Goodfellas wasn’t the safe pick, it was much too edgy and violent for stuffy Academy voters, so they went with their default American western epic.

6) Denzel Washington wins over Russell Crowe (2001) – I suppose this could be considered a make up Oscar for Denzel, who was unjustly beaten two years earlier by Kevin Spacey. Russell Crowe stretches his acting chops as a schizophrenic math genius in A Beautiful Mind, and his performance may outweigh the quality of the movie, but there is no real excuse for him losing to Denzel as a crooked cop in Training Day, a solid genre entry into the crooked cop canon. Denzel grimaces and acts “gangsta” and says things like “dawg” and “King Kong ain’t got shit on me.” Nobody should ever win an award if they say that in their movie.


5) Crash beats Brokeback Mountain (2005) – Everything was pointing one way this year at the Oscars, and then the rug was pulled out from under everyone. Brokeback Mountain had all the momentum going into the night, not to mention all of the quality, and after Ang Lee won Best Director it seemed a foregone conclusion that Brokeback would take home the big prize. And then, out of nowhere, Crash, the generic, ridiculous, over-simplified, poorly acted, cliché-riddled race-relation Magnolia rip-off steals the statue to everyone’s surprise. Even the people involved with Crash. This is a prime example of a) the Academy’s reluctance to go out on a limb, and b) the power of lobbying behind the scenes.


4) Hitchcock and Kubrick shut out – It’s hard to imagine that Alfred Hitchcock, a director so celebrated in American cinema that he has his own mimicked style of filmmaking, and Stanley Kubrick, one of the most relentlessly daring directors of all time, were a combined 0-9 in Oscar statues. I can see Kubrick not winning, as his films were a bit too progressive or edgy for Oscar (notice a trend?), but the fact that Hitchcock was shut out in his career is staggering to me. Nevermind losses for North by Northwest, Rear Window, and Vertigo, Hitchcok lost to Billy Wilder for The Apartment in 1960 when he was nominated for the game-changing birth of slasher films, Psycho. Unbelievable.


3) Tommy Lee Jones beats Ralph Fiennes (1993) – I cannot, for the life of me, understand this one. Tommy Lee Jones, again, good in The Fugitive as Sam Gerrard, but in no way, in no world, was he better than Ralph Fiennes as the villainous Nazi Colonel in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, Schindler’s List. Feinnes oozed evil in a very challenging role. Jones simply played a funny, wisecracking US Marshal. The role wasn’t near the stretch the Fiennes went through to play a murderous Nazi.

2) Ordinary People beats Raging Bull (1980) – I resisted watching Ordinary People for a long while, but I figured if I was to have the opinion that Raging Bull was robbed then I must be fair and see if Ordinary People may, in fact, be better. Well I can safely say, without simply spouting off, that Ordinary People had no business beating Raging Bull. Look no further than the title to find an accurate description for Ordinary People: Ordinary. A movie of the week soaked in drab melodrama, it in no way compares to the ferocious, cerebral sports masterpiece from Scorsese. Then again, Ordinary People, in its boringness and flat delivery, was a much safer pick than the tough, vibrant, edgy Raging Bull. One of these days maybe the Academy won’t be scared to pick quality over safety.

1) Shakespeare in Love beats Saving Private Ryan (1998) – There is really no excuse for this. Saving Private Ryan was a gritty, realistic slice of war cinema unlike anything before it. Shakespeare in Love was a fluffy romantic fictionalization of the early life of William Shakespeare that really had no business being in the final five. Any of the other four pictures should have won over Shakespeare in Love, but Saving Private Ryan was perhaps the most deserving. And it wasn’t too edgy for the Academy, so there is no real excuse out there that can explain away this overwhelming error by Oscar.

Monday, January 18, 2010

MONDAY OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Best Picture...

How to sort this out… Ten movies? Really? I just don’t understand this. Rather than concern themselves with integrity, the Academy has decided to concern themselves with the bottom line and drag in five more Best Picture nominees, therein tarnishing the very notion of being a nominated film. Nevertheless, we have to find ten films to fill out the category, and after the five locks it’s anyone’s guess as to how the next five will look.

There are five pictures that are absolute locks, and look no further than last night’s Golden Globe nominees for Best Drama (and let’s all hope, for the sake of movies in general, that the end result changes) to find the five frontrunners. First is Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which has an outside shot at winning it all, depending on how ferocious producer Harvey Weinstein gets down the road. Next is The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war picture that should, for all intents and purposes, be the leader of the pack for picture and director. Then again, I thought that last night. Third on the list has to be (sigh) Avatar, James Cameron’s ho hum story shielded by amazing technological advances. If we were to judge on creativity, writing, and acting rather than box-office numbers, Avatar wouldn’t have a shot.

Rounding out the top five is Jason Reitman’s clever, timely Up in the Air and Lee Daniels’ rough domestic drama Precious. Both pictures are two of the best this year, but their chances of actually winning are slimmer than the aforementioned three. Up, Pixar’s fantastic animated picture should be the sixth entry. Which leaves about a dozen films vying to fill out the bottom four, the four with no shot at winning Best Picture. I feel like a couple of small films might find their way in these four, films like The Coen Brothers’ Jewish period drama, A Serious Man, or Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man (try and keep those straight in your head). While those small flicks are all well and good, who are we kidding? Adding five spots in this category is a shameless money grab, and I would not be surprised if another big-budget blockbuster like Star Trek – a fine Summer action picture that really doesn’t deserve to be there – found it’s way in the mix. Or how does this sound: Best Picture nominee, The Hangover? It could happen. Not that The Hangover isn’t a comedic gem, but come on.

Perhaps Where the Wild Things Are could make it, but I feel like it’s too divisive and polarizing. Then again, ten spots are a lot when the field thins considerably after the first five. Movies like (500) Days of Summer, The Road, and An Education all have a shot at filling out the category, but it’s anybody’s guess as to how the Academy will fill this out. Perhaps they should stop pretending that ten slots are there to celebrate the ten highest quality films of the year, take the box-office numbers of the pictures remaining, and fill out the category. It’s not like any of them will win anyway, so what if Transformers 2 is in the mix?

PREDICTIONS:

Up in the Air
Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
Avatar
Precious
An Education
A Serious Man
A Single Man
The Road
Up


OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Where the Wild Things Are
(500) Days of Summer
Star Trek

LONG SHOTS:

The Hangover
Nine

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Friday, January 15, 2010

FRIDAY SCATTER-SHOOTING...

* The Hurt Locker hit the DVD shelves this past Tuesday. If you haven’t seen it I suggest you pick it up and give it a look. One of the best of the year, it very well may win Best Picture, and while I think Inglourious Basterds is the best of the year, I would have no problem with The Hurt Locker taking home the top prize. As long as Kathryn Bigelow gets her statue.

* And speaking of The Hurt Locker, the news came out this week that Taylor Laughtner, the “werewolf dude” from the Twilight flicks will be seated at The Hurt Locker table at this Sunday’s Golden Globes. Why? To make the table more glamorous on TV. Usually, the Globes get things right where the Oscars don’t, but this is appalling. What about this prepubescent, no-talent kid whose fans all still tape pictures of him from Teen Beat on their wall and, you know, attend middle school, makes a table full of real talent that just so happened to make a real movie that has something to offer look more glamorous? The only thing it will create is confusion. Why cant Laughtner go sit at the Twilight table? Oh, there isn’t a Twilight table? Why? Oh, right, this is an awards show not on MTV, a place they have no business in being. Bush League move, Golden Globes.

* I think Sam Raimi made the right move by bailing on Spider Man 4. I assume Raimi leaving created the chain reaction of Tobey Maguire and the cast deciding it was time to move on, I only wish Sony would move on too. Sure, we didn’t need a fourth Spider Man, but what we definitely don’t need is a reboot of a franchise that isn’t even a decade removed from the first Maguire/Raimi collaboration. I know we did that with The Incredible Hulk, but that’s because Ang Lee’s Hulk was a completely confusing disaster from the get go. It’s different when the third film in a franchise is pathetic.

* Something I found funny this week…I caught a new TV spot for the Hallmark terminal-illness drama with Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, the generically-named Extraordinary Measures. Up until now, the spots and trailers for this medical movie of the week masquerading as a real picture were full of sugar-coated scenes and melodrama, so much so that the sap nearly froze the picture on my screen. But now, with a new cut and some added suspenseful music, this new TV spot makes Measures look edgy and daring and thrilling. Give me a break. It just reminded me of the numerous youtube trailer cuts that make a movie like The Shining a family comedy or Sleepless in Seattle a stalker movie. You aren’t kidding anyone.

* Also, Harrison Ford, I know you aren’t hurting for money unless you have some sort of out of control gambling problem, but if this is what you are going to do, just retire. There isn’t any point, save crappy movies like Extraordinary Measures for Gerard Butler.

* And I know, from all reports, that John Travolta is a really good guy, and what happened to his son is such a horrendous tragedy, but that does not excuse From Paris with Love.

* While we are on the topic of former superstars who pissed their credibility away either through an astounding number of awful movies or by coming mentally unglued and spouting anti-Semitic remarks to your arresting officer in a drunken rage, Mel Gibson’s ho-hum cop drama Edge of Darkness opens at the end of this month.

* I am conflicted about this new A-Team movie. The cast looks good, the story seems like it isn’t going to fall into camp too often, and of course it’s completely jacked up on action juice, but do we really need this movie? I mean, you could say that about a lot of movies, but I just think the TV show remake is getting old. Although, I think a movie version of the Six-Million Dollar Man would be cool.

* Is it possible that The Wolfman won’t turn out to be one of the biggest disasters of all time? I don’t think there is any way, even though the trailers and TV spots keep sucking me in, and I have faith in Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro. But still…

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Daybreakers


DUSK IS DAWN

Daybreakers: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill (98 min.)

In the 2019 world of Daybreakers, a pandemic has turned the majority of the planet into vampires, so much so that society has adjusted accordingly. Now rush hour is just after dusk, sidewalks are underground, and blood is served in coffee and tea instead of sugar. Human blood, as a matter of fact, is a big business, as humans are captured and stored like comatose cattle where they are drained dry. But humans are in short supply, so much so that the blood will run out for most of vampire society by the end of the month. And when vampires don’t get their blood, they don’t just die of starvation, they shrivel and transform into snarling bat-like creatures and are forced underground. They are this society’s version of the homeless.

And this is why Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is so important. Edward is the lead hematologist for the big blood bank corporation, headed by Sam Neill’s Charles Bromley, and Edward is in charge of developing a synthetic blood substitute. Edward is a vampire with morals, as he refuses to drink human blood and secretly longs to be a human again. Too bad most vampires don’t share his sentiment, as humans are still hunted like wild game. By chance, Edward falls in with a pocket of human resistance, led by Elvis, a not-so-subtle Willem Dafoe.

The most fascinating aspect of Daybreakers, directed by the relatively unknown Speirig Brothers, is the world created for these vampires to live and the rules of said vamps. The world has, visually, a mix of Blade Runner and Minority Report, and the vampires glowing amber eyes and pale skin look good splashed with a blue-tinted lens. They can still get around during the day, as their cars are modeled with UV shields and equipped with computer screens for vision. The Speirigs, who also wrote Daybreakers, put a lot of energy and thought into creating these vampires, developing a plausible, functioning society, and attending to every detail. The problem is, however, that they abandon this world too early for something all to familiar and a little dull.

Once Edward falls in with the humans, he goes with them to their hideout, an abandoned house in the country that is predictably shabby. This is where the story sags, as there may be a possible cure for vampirism. For all of the action and the gore – and there is plenty of cool gore – the meat of Daybreakers is fairly heavy with dialogue, and the problem with that is that a) Quentin Tarantino didn’t spit the script out, and b) a lot of the dialogue is delivered by Willem Dafoe, the weakest spot of the picture.

Dafoe, as Elvis, is a painful cliché, complete with a southern twang (sometimes, whenever it seems Dafoe remembers to do it), a one liner for every situation, and a collection of muscle cars that includes a Trans-Am straight from the set of Smokey and the Bandit. Elvis delivers some classically cheesy one liners and quips like “living in a world where vampires are the dominant species is about as safe as bare-backing a five-dollar whore.” Groan.

Hawke is solid, as always, as Edward, and Sam Neill is quite devilish as a bloodsucking CEO. And let’s not look past the metaphorical importance of that. Sure, there are a lot of comparisons to be made here: the human farm looks like the one in The Matrix, the world resembles Blade Runner, and the human safe house looks like any human safe house in any movie that requires such a thing. But so what? That can be said for any genre picture, it’s what you do with it, and the Speirigs hit a lot of things with style and panache, but they miss a lot of things with formula and cliché. Nevertheless, the action is well crafted and there is even the occasional scare, and Daybreakers is a passable genre exercise, and a definite elixir for those horror fans suffering from Twilight-itis.

B-