Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best film directors working today. Period. By his thirtieth birthday, he had already made three feature films, two of which are emotionally and intellectually deep ensemble films. In the last ten years, he has taken his time to complete two of the best films of the last decade. There is little that can be said about Paul Thomas Anderson that hasn’t been said. All I hope is that he remains a film director as long as I live. There are few directors who make films with such vibrant enthusiasm as this man does. He is a hero and a ongoing inspiration in my life. Lets begin this edition Director Profile.
Hard Eight, also known as Sydney, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature. Unlike the next two films he would direct, Hard Eight is a character drama that focuses, for the most part, on Philip Baker Hall’s character, Sydney, as he takes on John (subtly played by John C. Reilly) as a apprentice in his Casino swindling ways. The film’s script is pretty simple. The shifts from act to act are incredibly noticeable. This simplicity allowed PTA to be quite adventurous with his direction. He pulls off a few lengthy tracking shots, something that would become a staple in his work, along with getting some fine performances from his actors, especially Hall. Philip Baker Hall gives a wonderful, career defining lead performance as the film’s most complicated character. There’s just so much charisma put on display and it makes him incredibly cool. Gwyneth Paltrow shows some range as a hotel waitress who is being forced into prostitution by her managers. Samuel L. Jackson, while solid, gives a pretty cliched performance that he does in other films much better (most notably Tarantino’s Jackie Brown). All in all, Hard Eight is a solid debut feature even if its simplicity makes it rather shallow. B+
Boogie Nights! I had to type something that would catch your attention to start this critique to reflect exactly how the film begins. The very first shot is one of the most impressive I have seen committed to film ever. It A). grabs your attention immediately, B). captures it’s setting perfectly, and 3). introduces and establishes the main characters subtly. It is, without a doubt, the best thing about the film, but the next 2 1/2 hours are great too! Boogie Nights follows Eddie Thomas who is inducted into probably the most dysfunctional family of all time when he catches the eye of Porn producer Jack Horner. He later changes his name to Dirk Diggler when Jack tells him he can go far as a pornographic actor. The first half of the film is set in the last days of the seventies, a blissful period where all the characters are succeeding and there’s always a party. But then 1980 begins with a bang (literally) and the party ends. The group splits up and each character begins to fail and some of the characters descend even further into their own respective black holes. However, a dramatic upswing occurs at the end of the film following a crazy (and somewhat forced) circumstance where our main character, Dirk Diggler, comes face to face with how fragile life is. The film, even in it’s darker scenes, is some of the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. PTA effortlessly catches the feel of the 70s in every shot. The performances are thoroughly incredible. Mark Wahlberg carries the film well, grabbing hold of his breakthrough role vigorously. Heather Graham gives a complex performance as a vapid, yet fragile fellow pornstar. Julianne Moore creates a deeply sympathetic and dark character as a drug addicted porn star who’s been around the block too many times for comfort. Philip Seymour Hoffman creates a equally hilarious and heartbreaking character as Scotty J, a closeted (?) gay character who crushes on Dirk. Finally, there’s Burt Reynolds who gives a subtle sharp performance as the father figure to Wahlberg’s Dirk. Boogie Nights, whether its about a highly dysfunctional family going through crisis or about the porn industry in the 70s, succeeds in both with remarkable ease. A excellent breakthrough into the film world. B+
Magnolia is a crazy film. It has a gigantic cast. And a very strange plot with a uber bizarre plot twist. A lot of people find this film annoying – to be honest, I’m kind of the middle between calling Magnolia a master work and calling it depressing mess of pretentiousness. Every character within the film has some sort of personal tragedy happening to them. Each character has some sort of break down scene – lots of crying in this story. It’s three hours long. And yet, there’s a certain charm to the entire thing. Each of the many characters are connected somehow, some stronger than others. To elaborate on the plot would take a lot of paragraphs, so I’m just going to tell you you have to see it, if only for the plot. There are some redeeming technical and performing aspects to the film though. For instance, PTA hired Aimee Mann to compose the entire score and soundtrack. The result is some of her best work of her career. Roger Elswit, PTA’s cinematographer, pulls off some pretty subtle shots compared to the last two films he did with Anderson. And the film’s editing is brilliant: it creates the films atmosphere hauntingly beautiful in its own, somewhat unpredictable nature. As far as cast standouts go, Melora Walters plays a mentally unstable coke addict with a lot of personal demons with unequaled vigor. Tom Cruise gives a complex performance as a a misogynist motivational speaker for men who want to learn how to “seduce and destroy” women, but also has some personal trauma. Julianne Moore plays the wife of a dying man and displays her (you guessed it) emotional baggage in a number of scenes that range from yelling to crying. John C. Reilly and William H. Macy are solid as well. At times, the frantic script’s emotional melodramatic roller coaster gets tiring – but stick through the film and you’ll find a emotionally satisfying ending that avoids the schmaltz that most Hollywood produced dramas boil down to. Perhaps I’ll be eternally undecided on this one, but for now I’m giving Magnolia, a B+
Punch Drunk Love is even crazier than Magnolia! As the first non-ensemble film since Hard Eight, Punch Drunk Love follows Barry, a small business owner, who gets mixed up with a phone sex line, some Mormon gangsters, and a mysterious woman whom he falls for. The problem is is the fact that Barry (who knew Adam Sandler had THIS kind of performance in him?) has something akin to a bipolar disorder. He suffers from strong emotional breaks where he angrily berates the person on whoever is receiving. His disorder translates to the screen, making us feel what he’s feeling by making us experience it with him. Punch Drunk Love attaches itself to you by creating a unique atmosphere that reflects the general psyche of the character. Paul Thomas Anderson uses certain directorial techniques like using a constantly disorienting score and breaks into swirls of color accompanied with the score. There are scenes of violence that occur throughout the film seemingly randomly that creates a even more disorienting tone. The one thing I love more than anything else in the movie is the wildly unpredictable script: I never could have predicted what happened next – scene after scene, line after line. Punch Drunk Love is a constantly awarding experience because it keeps setting up scenarios that should lead into a normal outcome, but every time something different than from what you expect occurs. This technique pulled me into the film and eventually swallowed me whole. Simply put, Punch Drunk Love is a absolutely genius film and the crowning masterpiece (so far) of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. A+
There Will Be Blood is probably the most famous and top grossing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work and it’s not difficult to see why. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a staggeringly iconic performance as Daniel Plainview – a performance that rivals all of the greats like Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier. You simply cannot praise the man enough. Beyond the performance lies a excellent, if flawed, portrayal of a particular oil prospector in early 1900s California. At the front and center of the film is a intense struggle, a rivalry, between Plainview and Eli Sunday, the town’s priest. Personalities clash hard after Plainview swindles Sunday’s father’s land from him and begins to drill for oil immediately. Eli struggles for some kind of control over Daniel to which Daniel replies wordlessly with more rebellion. At Plainview’s side is his adopted son, H.W. In one of the film’s most expertly edited scenes, H.W. loses his hearing after the oil drill catches on fire. This causes a rift in their relationship as Plainview sends H.W. to school out in the city and continues his work to drill the land, becoming more and more troubled as he trudges along, alone. Once again, Paul Thomas Anderson creates a incredibly believable setting. The art direction in this film is incredible, as is the Kubrick influenced cinematography. It’s no wonder that the film is so loved by critics; it’s a cinephile wet dream. But the problem with the film lies within it’s scope: it’s messy. At times, it feels all over the place and never quite focused. The Eli Sunday character specifically, while portrayed wonderfully by Paul Dano, doesn’t transcend the one dimensionality of a over-the-top priest as well as Plainview does. Similarly, near the end, the film takes a gigantic time leap that loses much of the character development of H.W. that is evident to have happened in his final scene with Daniel. I can’t fault the film too much though because the combination of one of the best written characters of the last decade played by (most likely) best actor living today directed by one of the best directors currently working is a magical event to behold. In that right, There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece, if a bit of a messy one. And yes, mark my words, the title delivers its promise. A-
I hope you enjoyed this edition of director profile! Thanks for reading!!!