Ever since I first saw Daniel Day-Lewis portray Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot, I understood that he was one of those rare actors who could completely immerse himself physically and mentally into the characters he chooses to play. Although I thought the film was greatly flawed, his performance as Bill the Butcher in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York is one of the most memorable ones I’ve had the pleasure of watching. It is, therefore, no surprise that Mr. Lewis has again hit pay dirt acting out the life of an early 20th-century businessman on a collision course with madness.
There Will Be Blood, a film based on the book by Upton Sinclair called Oil, begins with antagonist Daniel Plainview (Lewis) digging for silver in a desolate place in the American Southwest. It is an adventurous sequence that offers not one word of dialogue for the first part of the story. During this section, we witness Plainview’s metamorphosis from lone prospector to oil entrepreneur as he myopically toils to exploit the earth’s natural resources. Plainview also becomes the adopted father of a baby belonging to one of his workers who is killed in a freak rigging accident. Plainview passes the boy named H.W. (Dillon Freasier) off as his own son while selling himself to clients as a “family man” and congenial businessman. While searching for his next big score, a mysterious young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) comes to Plainview’s office. After brief negotiation, he sells him information about a rich deposit located at his father’s farm near the central coast of California. With H. W. in tow, Plainview immediately heads for this parcel; and as an excuse to verify the existence of oil, tells Sunday’s father Abel (David Willis) that he wants to hunt quail on his land. When Paul’s story pans out, Plainview quickly offers to buy Abel’s farm but Paul’s identical twin brother Eli (Paul Dano) runs interference and jacks up the price to $10,000. The keen-eyed businessman also buys all the other farms surrounding the Sunday property with the exception of one holdout named Mister Bandy. Plainview l’s oil company descends on the area while he assures the local residents that he will be respectful of their rights and spread the wealth. During this time we learn that Eli claims to be a faith healer and wants to start his own church with the money promised to him by Plainview. A strange rivalry begins when Plainview slights Eli at the blessing of his first well and he performs the ceremony himself, in spite of promising to allow the young preacher to do it. Things go smoothly until one of the riggers is killed in an accident, which is soon followed by an oil well explosion where H.W. loses his hearing. On the heels of this bad luck, Plainview melts down when Eli confronts him demanding his five thousand dollar payment. After he throws him a nasty beating, he accuses the healer of being a fake for not offering to cure his son’s deafness.
With his personal troubles mounting, Plainview encounters a man claiming to be his half- brother Henry (Kevin O’Connor) who has traveled to California to notify him of their father’s death. After testing Henry’s family knowledge, Plainview offers him a job and begins to confide his inner thoughts to him. Their bond is reinforced when H.W. tries to burn down the house and Henry awakens Plainview from a heavy sleep. Because of his rebellious and withdrawn behavior, the boy is sent away to a special school for the hearing impaired. With this imposed separation from his adopted son, Plainview loses his remaining humanity and begins to become unhinged. While surveying land purchased to develop a pipeline for Union Oil, Plainview discovers that Henry is a fake, coldly shoots the imposter in the head and inadvertently buries him on Mr. Bandy’s land. The next morning, holdout Bandy (Hans Howes) surprises Plainview and threatens to reveal his murderous secret unless he repents and joins Eli’s Church. In return, Bandy also promises Plainview the lease rights to his property upon his conversion. In a painfully humiliating ceremony, zealous preacher Sunday repeatedly slaps and verbally grinds the self-sufficient Plainview while making him shout that he has betrayed his son by sending him away. After this public embarrassment, the pipeline is built and Plainview becomes incredibly wealthy.
During the film’s final scenes, the story fast-forwards 14 years and we find that the once driven Plainview has become a bitter, complacent drunk. In spite of bringing H.W. home from school immediately after his phony conversion, their relationship has sadly deteriorated. After he marries his childhood friend Mary Sunday, H.W. informs Plainview that he is moving to Mexico to start his own oil company. Plainview disowns H.W. and cruelly informs him he is adopted and was only used as a ploy to attract more business. Soon afterward, Eli comes to visit Plainview to negotiate for the drilling rights of Bandy’s land on behalf of the deceased man’s son. Plainview tells the preacher that he will agree to a deal if he renounces God and admits that he is a bogus healer. After some hesitation, Plainview gets Eli to shout it loudly in the same way he was compelled to do during his conversion ceremony. Afterward, Plainview gleefully informs Sunday that he already has drained all the oil from Bandy’s parcel and attacks and kills him with a pin from his private bowling alley.
There Will Be Blood is an extremely well-made film that is ambitious in scope and originality. At its core, the story is a classic Greek tragedy transplanted into the American West with detailed depictions of period action and entrepreneurial philosophy. The acting is uniformly superb, the cinematography is high quality and the film score is exceptional. Though the narrative unfolds in a conventional chronological fashion, the relentless lack of genuine humanity by the principal characters creates an uneasy feeling that sustains itself throughout the film. For this reason, I almost felt guilty about continually rooting for Plainview and admiring his savage desire for survival and success. The film has some storytelling flaws and I was confused by the Eli/Paul Sunday characters and at times wasn’t sure if Paul was Eli’s alter ego. Though the director insists that is not the case, the viewer is left wondering why after his initial visit to Plainview’s office, why Paul mysteriously disappears. Apart from the few holes, it is a challenging film that leaves you with something to think about after it’s over.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Kevin O’Connor
Company: Ghoulardi Films
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.
When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.
Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.
Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.
The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.
In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.
HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes