Another month, another Hollywood Asian horror film rip-off ... or "adaptation," if you're more kindly inclined.
Opening Friday, Feb. 1, is The Eye , based on the Pang Brothers' Ji?†n Gu«ê, which was released in 2002. The latest version is co-produced by Tom Cruise and stars Jessica Alba as violinist Sydney, blind since childhood, who undergoes an experimental corneal transplant. This being a horror film, her new eyes see more than she bargained for. To avoid a complete disintegration of her life, Sydney must discover the cornea donor. Maybe the new eyes will improve Alba's acting. Happily, the film co-stars Parker Posey as Sydney's sister Helen. Rated PG-13 for violence/terror and disturbing content. 107 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
In her film debut as a married woman — Over Her Dead Body — Eva Longoria Parker stars as Kate, who refuses to move on even though she's been killed by an ice sculpture. When her former fianc?© Henry (Paul Rudd, Knocked Up) falls in love with psychic Ashley (Lake Bell, Boston Legal), Kate's ghost attempts to derail the new romance. I haven't seen the film yet, but I've already forgotten it. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. 105 m. At the Broadway.
Also on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m., the Westhaven Center for the Arts presents Genesis in its First Friday Community Enrichment film series. Released in 2004, the documentary Genesis, by filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennu, "takes a mystical, beautiful look at life cycles on Planet Earth," according to information received from the WCA. Running time: 81 m.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD: For approximately the first 20 minutes of There Will Be Blood, there is no dialog. The only sounds are tense, edgy music and the noises that accompany the process of digging for oil. As it turns out, this opening is indicative of the film as a whole. The dialog is kept to a necessary minimum; the narrative unfolds visually and on the soundtrack. Much like No Country for Old Men, the film has a mythic quality as it explores two aspects of this country: the nature of those men who sought their fortunes in oil and fundamentalist Christianity.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson's (Magnolia; Punch Drunk Love) screenplay adapts these elements from muckraker Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil. But Anderson is less interested in exposing the exploitive nature of the nascent oil industry or evangelical Christianity than in creating a dark, virtually all-male universe that has always been evil and will forever be. Whether for oilmen or for Christians of a certain ilk, money is king and there is no other currency. Ethics and morality are simply commodities one uses to gain more money.
The story opens in 1898 as we see oil explorer Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) digging for oil. The pure primitive nature of the scene, words being both unnecessary and too civilized, sets the tone for the film's exploration of greed. The other main character is faith healer Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, who also plays Eli's brother Paul), who aspires to leading his own successful church. We meet Eli in 1911, by which time Daniel is a successful oilman who, however, doesn't care for the trappings of success.
The core of the film explores the complex but intermittent relationship between the two, as well as those who surround them, and the final clash between them that provides the film's climax is both inevitable and brutal.
One of the more interesting aspects of Daniel's character is how quick he is to be offended. He is particularly sensitive about his relationship with H.W. (played as an adult by Dillon Freasier in his first film role) who appears in Daniel's life as an infant and who becomes his strange partner in the oil business until he is deafened in an explosion. The only real "normal" human moments in the story for Daniel are those between him and H.W.
There may be other actors who could bring the character of Daniel Plainview to life, but I can think of none who could bring Day-Lewis' intensity, subtlety and precision to a role that might easily have been over-the-top. As Daniel's antagonist, Dano, who I know chiefly from his role in Little Miss Sunshine, provides the perfect foil, treading the line between oily and sincere.
But much of the credit goes to Anderson, who has created a masterpiece here. There is not a wasted shot, nor one held too long or too short. He builds the story carefully and with the inevitability and complexity it needs. If I were an Academy Awards voter, I'd have great difficulty choosing between There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men for best film. As it is, I have two treasured masterpieces in the same year.
At one point in the film, Daniel says to a man claiming to be his half-brother, "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people." It's a line that will resonate in the film's final scene between Eli and Daniel. Daniel's final line is "I'm finished," a possible echo of Jesus' "It is finished." If a parallel between vicious oilmen and evangelical Christianity is disturbing, you might want to skip this film. Rated R for some violence. 168 m. At the Broadway and the Minor.
UNTRACEABLE: It was probably unfortunate that I saw Untraceable just after seeing There Will Be Blood. I can only presume that the classy Diane Lane was cast in this film in an attempt to elevate it above the average torture porn. Unfortunately, it's more than the genre that Lane has to surmount; it's also an incredibly incompetent script that manages to be preachy as well, and completely indifferent direction from the previously effective Gregory Hoblit (Fracture; Primal Fear).
Happily, Lane is always up to the most difficult task and she makes the film watchable. Lane is F.B.I. cyber-agent Jennifer Marsh, a single mother, who is stationed in Portland, Ore. While she usually chases down sexual predators using her computer skills, her life takes a turn when someone starts to post real-time torture/killings on the Internet. Beginning with a pet cat, the killer quickly escalates to people, a plot device I must admit I have encountered in one or more of the sleazier novels I've read.
Her task, along with the F.B.I. team, is to track down the perpetrator before too many people are done in. Oh, and there's a larger, social issue here because the victims are killed in relation to how many people log into the site (killwithme.com); the more people, the faster the death. And, of course, the killer is so clever that the site itself is untraceable.
In this sort of film, the main character being a single mother is a dead giveaway for the climactic scene. When the identity of the killer is discovered, primarily by "old-fashioned" investigative techniques, the viewer is subjected to lame reasons as to the motive. Besides Lane, the only other performance worth noting is that by Billy Burke (Fracture; Feast of Love) as the detective who becomes Jennifer's partner for the case.
This genre has its hardcore fans, as the Saw films have shown. But if you plan to see this film primarily because of Lane, rent Unfaithful instead. Rated R for grisly violence and torture, and some language. 110 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
27 DRESSES. Jane, an idealistic, romantic and selfless woman, re-examines her life when her little sister usurps her love interest. Rated PG-13. 111 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS. Based on the 1950s cartoon series about chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore, who sing in three-part harmony. Rated PG. 91 m. At The Movies.
ATONEMENT. Dramatic British tale set in 1935, of deceit and love, of wealth and privilege, based on novel by Ian McEwan. Rated R. 123 m. At the Broadway.
BUCKET LIST. A corporate billionaire and a working class mechanic, who have developed a strong bond while sharing a hospital room, embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Rated PG-13. 97 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
CLOVERFIELD. Five young New Yorkers document their attempt to survive a huge monster attacking the city. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
HOW SHE MOVE. Raya Green, a gifted student, forced to leave her prestigious school because of family tragedy, uses the world of step dancing to change her fate. Rated PG-13. 98 m. At The Movies.
I AM LEGEND. Robert Neville, a brilliant scientist, is the one man left alive after a terrible, manmade virus sweeps New York City. But he is not alone. Rated PG-13. 114 m. At The Movies.
I'M NOT THERE. Biographical film about Bob Dylan follows six distinct characters, depicting different stages of Dylan's life. Rated R. 135 m. At the Minor.
JUNO. An intelligent teen, Juno, deals with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy by seeking out the perfect set of parents to adopt her unborn child. Rated PG-13. 96 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
MAD MONEY. Three ordinary women form an unlikely alliance to rob one of the most secure banks in the world. Rated PG-13. 101 m. At The Movies.
MEET THE SPARTANS. Spoof movie features the heroic Leonidas, armed with nothing but leather underwear and a cape, commanding a Spartan force. Rated PG-13. 84 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
MICHAEL CLAYTON. Clayton, a corporate lawyer, deals with his biggest life challenge when he faces sabotage, divorce, debt and burn-out. Rated R. 120 m. At Fortuna.
NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS. A man follows an international chain of clues to prove his great-grandfather's innocence when a page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth surfaces implicating his ancestor in Abraham Lincoln's death. Rated PG. 124 m. At The Movies.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Coen Brothers' adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy touches on themes as varied as the Bible and this morning's headlines. Rated R. 123 m. At The Movies, Fortuna and the Minor.
RAMBO. Rambo returns to the big screen in grisly, violent tale written, directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone. Rated R. 93 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
SWEENEY TODD. Sweeney Todd, a man unjustly sent to prison, becomes the Demon Barber of Fleet Street when he seeks revenge on those who wronged him via his barbershop. Rated R. 117 m. At the Broadway, the Minor and Mill Creek.
WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP. A young boy finds an enchanted egg, which holds the amazing, mythical creature of Scottish lore, the "water horse." Rated PG. 112 m. At The Movies.