By Marc S. Sanders

Boogie Nights was director Paul Thomas Anderson’s second feature following a very different and very quiet film debut with the gambling addiction piece Hard Eight.

Heck, it’s fair to say all of Paul’s films are very different; here is the seediness of porn while later in his career he will focus on the ruthlessness of a wealthy and angry oil man and then an obsessed dressmaker devoid of care for the models who parade his accomplishments. (See There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread.). Paul was definitely striving for recognition with his familial depiction of life in the California pornographic film industry.

What I’ve always liked about Boogie Nights was Anderson’s intent to show the naive innocence of this large cast of characters. Filming blatantly oblivious awful porn scenarios can still be regarded as very proud efforts by its talent.

The main character is Eddie Adams (aka the amazing Dirk Diggler) played with macho pathos by Mark Wahlberg. It’ll likely be the best role of Wahlberg’s entire career. Dirk is proud of his natural talent in front of the camera. He’s even more proud of what God has gifted him. Don Cheadle is another porn star named Buck. He’s also proud of his accomplishments and simply a kind fellow looking to make country cowboy a trendy look for a black man while selling the “Hi-est Fidelity” in stereo equipment on the side. Julianne Moore is Amber Waves, the maternal porn mom of the bunch; very affectionate, very comforting and very reassuring when Dirk shoots his first porn scene. The one individual who really holds all of these misfits together is Burt Reynolds as Jack Horner, the porn film director. He’s the paternal one who believes in his artistic merits of shooting porn but with a story, and only with the integrity of film, and never the cheapness of videotape. So, Jack is like any artist who insists on a certain type of canvas. It might be smut, but he has principles, and he has pride.

Anderson is wise in how he divides up the developments. The film begins in the late 1970s during evening night life and decadence and everything seems fine and innocent and right despite the endless debauchery of reckless sex and drug use on a Disco backdrop. Wahlberg’s character is welcomed lovingly into this world, and nothing appears wrong. It all seems to stay that way for Dirk until New Year’s Eve, 1979. The 80s begin with a gunshot and then Anderson’s cast must pay for the revelry of their sins. A great moment presented on this night is where Amber Waves introduces Dirk to cocaine. Dirk has been thriving, making money, developing a following and now it is jeopardized in one moment thanks to his naivety. Julianne Moore is superb in this particular scene against Wahlberg. She’s the mentor with the peer pressure to pass on her high and keep it running.

Drug addiction, violence, sexual abuse and even changes in pop culture lead to hard times for these likable people.

It’s a hard life. It’s a complicated life. Yet it’s not all necessarily illegal. Morally, it might appear wrong, but it’s a life nonetheless.

Anderson was wise to use (at the time, relatively new) filming techniques of Martin Scorsese with rocking period music and fast edits along with savored moments of great steady cam work. One long cut especially works when the film first begins on the streets of Reseda and on into a crowded night club. This industry doesn’t sleep. So, neither will the camera that follows it. The music must also be celebrated. I do not listen to Night Ranger’s Sister Christian without thinking of firecrackers and a dangerously drug addled Alfred Molina playing Russian roulette. Though I know which came first, I also wonder if Three Dog Night’s Momma Told Me Not To Come and Spill The Wine by Eric Burton & War was written to enhance the celebratory introduction for Dirk when he attends his first party at Jack’s house. It’s another great steady cam moment from a driveway, followed by steps in and out of Jack’s house to simply a bikinied girl’s dive in the swimming pool. As a viewer I was absorbed in the California haze. Superior camera work here.

The cast of unknowns at the time were a blessing to this film. Anderson writes each person with care and attention and dimension. They have lives outside of this world like Amber’s child that we never get to meet, thanks in part to her lifestyle. She might be maternal but that doesn’t make her a good mother. Julianne Moore should have won the Oscar she was nominated for. Burt Reynolds’ own legacy seems to carry his role. His distinguished silver hair and well trimmed beard earn him the respect of every cast member and he performs with a quiet grace of knowledge, and insight, even if he will inevitably be wrong with how things turn out. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the dumb kid Scotty insecure and unsure of his homosexual attraction to Dirk. It’s not easy to play a dumb character when you are not doing it for laughs. Hoffman makes a huge impact with little dialogue but Anderson is wise enough to capitalize on him.

Boogie Nights offers one of the best cast of characters and assembled talents in any film ever made. An individual movie could be made about each of these people, and it’d be interesting and entertaining.

Try to avoid a blush and mock at the industry depicted because then you’ll see how another walk of life truly lives day to day. It might be porn. It might be smut. Yet, it’s still a thriving industry.


By Marc S. Sanders

I remember how much I loved Anderson’s 90s films Boogie Nights and Magnolia as well as the hauntingly genuine There Will Be Blood. (Let’s not talk about Punch Drunk Love.) Still, I never expected to like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, but as soon as it began, I fell in love with it.

Daniel Day Lewis plays a perfectionist dressmaker adept at using women at his behest to sustain and elevate his craft. He’s a ruthless, maybe bipolar, villain and he will remain as one of cinema’s best actors for at least the next hundred years.

Anderson doesn’t just show his characters. He shows their specialties whether it’s dressmaking, porn, show biz or oil. The industry is its own character. Here he masterfully depicted the industry of clothes making.

Anderson offers a convincing education in dress design and fabric construction with the details and measurements it requires. Swatches of fabric never looked sexier amid a mid 20th century European backdrop. The dialogue is uncompromising in its humor, craft and cruelty both from and to its characters.

The ending was very obscure and strange though. Thankfully it happens quickly and is not dragged out, otherwise my opinion might be different.

This Best Picture nominee from 2017 is definitely worth a look.


By Marc S. Sanders

Ernie Anderson was the cool voiceover for the ABC television network that would introduce upcoming programs for years. He was a staple of the television industry from the 1970s through the ‘90s. I promise that you or your parents know his sharp, recognizable tempo. So, it makes sense that his son Paul Thomas Anderson would center his multiple story crossover film Magnolia around the television industry, within a 10-block radius in the Hollywood Area. Magnolia presents the off-chance coincidences that somehow happen and the unusual phenomena that can occur when never expected.

Anderson’s three hour epic offers storylines centered around former and present day game show quiz kids (Jeremy Blackmon, William H Macy), the game show host stricken with cancer (Phillip Baker Hall), the drug addicted daughter he’s estranged from (Melora Walters), the dying game show producer (Jason Robards), the producer’s son who is a motivational speaker for men to sexually conquer women (Tom Cruise), and the producer’s gold digging wife (Julianne Moore).

Because the narrative of the film has a biblical theme specifically referencing Exodus 8:2, there are also two good natured guardian angels involved. John C Reilly as a sweet but clumsy police officer proud of his work, and a sentimental hospice nurse played beautifully with bedside sympathy by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Anderson’s film opens with three stories of random coincidence that resulted in the deaths of three different men. More than likely most people would say these tall tales of legend could only occur in a movie. Yet, the voiceover narrator , Ricky Jay, says they did not, and thus begins one specific day with torrential downpours of rain, where all of these random characters will come in contact with a personal experience of monumental impact that will change their individual lives forever. Oddly enough, all these people are somehow connected to one another and are within blocks of each other located near Magnolia Blvd in the Hollywood Hills.

Like Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson directs a film of very weighty emotions that thematically focuses on the sins of fathers that carried over to the futures of their children. The game show is titled “What Do Kids Know?” which likely symbolizes what they didn’t know while at the behest of their parents during their youth. What they know now about their fathers is a burden to bear in insecurities, drug abuse and outright cruelty for the opposite sex. Every character represents some aspect of this ongoing theme during Magnolia. It’s a lot, a whole of information, but fortunately it moves at a very swift pace with an energetic steady cam and dramatic notes of instrumental soundtracks.

Anderson consistently shows different references to Exodus 8:2 by either using the numbers in clocks or decks of cards or temperature readings of the weather or on marquee signs. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt when seeing the film on a multiple viewings.


“But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs.”

Sure. Most recognize the Bible verse as Moses’ decree to Pharaoh to release the Jews from Egypt. I like to think Anderson used Magnolia to release his beloved, but damaged, characters from their own sins or the sins of their fathers. Set them free even if it could be by means of confession, judgment, offering and begging for forgiveness, or journeying towards a personal salvation.

The smart device that Anderson uses is the angelic music of Aimee Mann. Often I talk about how I love when film characters would spontaneously dance. In Magnolia, the cast surprisingly breaks into song with Mann’s confessional number entitled “Wise Up.” It more or less summarizes each individual plight that all the various characters must endure. Magnolia is only an even better film because of Mann’s music.

Magnolia is a beautiful film that I draw many personal parallels from, especially having now lost both of my parents and being by my father’s bedside during his difficult final days of illness.

It is very touching, sometimes funny, and sometimes a difficult film to watch with a belief in random coincidence that is only stronger after watching it.

Like the film insists “we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” After Magnolia finishes, you won’t be through with Paul Thomas Anderson’s film. It’s a film that will stay with you.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper
My Rating: 7/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 92% Certified Fresh

PLOT: The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.

You know that old saying, “You’ll either love it or hate it”?  I’m afraid that doesn’t apply to Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, Licorice Pizza.  At least not for me.

The plot: Gary, an impossibly precocious and business-savvy 15-year-old child actor, still in high school (the movie opens with him getting his yearbook pictures taken), develops a crush on Alana, a 25-year-old production assistant, and pursues her – and pursues her and pursues her – while she wrestles with her own emotions and the fact that, dude, he’s fifteen years old.  He calls a shaky truce on his emotions so they can remain friends, and in the process they…let me see if I can remember it all…go on several auditions, help Gary’s mom with her public relations business, open their own business selling waterbeds, fly to Texas (?) and back, fall in and out of “like” with each other several times by attempting to form physical relationships with people their own age, meet an actor who is clearly meant to be William Holden, and by the end of the movie they finally seem to be mutually in love with each other.  Sort of.  Maybe.  It depends on your point of view.  But moving on…

For all its faults, Licorice Pizza did keep me grinning for virtually all of its longish running time, and it also made me laugh out loud many times.  Only in a Paul Thomas Anderson – or maybe also a Tarantino movie – could you have a scene where a mixed-race couple (white husband/Asian wife) have a conversation in which the white husband speaks the most atrociously absurd, cringeworthy pidgin Japanese to his wife, and it gets an earned laugh for the sheer audacity of the scene.  Is it offensive?  Certainly, if this happened in real life, the husband would be cancelled faster than an all-Latino sitcom.  (Ba-ZING.)  But I’ve gotta be honest, that was one of the great belly-laughs in the film.  I found it funny in the same way that Robert Downey Jr. in blackface in Tropic Thunder was funny, in that the people committing the offenses are clearly dumber than sacks of sand and so have absolutely no idea they’re being morons.  But I’ll leave the Theory-of-Comedy discussion for another review…

In true P.T. Anderson fashion, the dialogue is as sharply written as anything by Sorkin or Mamet.  Not a second is wasted on unnecessary exposition or explanation.  (Although, to be fair, a LITTLE more explanation would have been preferred…more on that later.)  Each scene gets to the point, either directly or indirectly, with surgical precision.

There are some editing jumps that will keep a viewer on their toes.  The movie shows a scene of Gary testing a waterbed for the first time, then jumps to him hawking them at a “Teen Fair”, then suddenly he has his own storefront, sales reps, and a bank of telephone operators.  We can only assume that he had the capital, the licenses, and the business logistics to not only make this happen but to clearly be successful at it, at least for a while.  I mean, he is fifteen years old, so why wouldn’t he know how to do all this, right?

[Actually, now that I think about it, there IS a precedent for this plot: Rushmore, Wes Anderson’s 1998 film about another precocious 15-year-old boy who falls in love with a much older woman and spends most of the rest of the film attempting to woo her while she wrestles with her emotions and her desire for a relationship with someone who was born in the same decade as she was.  Do with that information what you will.]

When the age gap between Gary and Alana was explained very clearly at the beginning of the film, I was pretty sure the two of them could never be in a relationship, and I was taken out of the movie a little.  However, as the movie progressed, the film’s charm and effortless wit made me forget how far apart they were.  Gary behaves in such a way that I forgot just young he’s supposed to be, and I forgot just how old Alana is supposed to be.  The film expertly took me by the hand and got me rooting for them to be together, despite how – let’s not mince words – illegal it would be for them to be together.



So the movie does its job, that I’ll grant you.  But when the film ends, and Gary and Alana kiss and go running off screen together, and Alana finally says, “I love you, Gary”, and the credits started rolling…I stared at the screen, raised my arms in supplication to the scrolling credits, and said, “Say WHAT…?”  Because it was at that point, after the abrupt ending, that I started to have questions.  Lots and lots and LOTS of questions.

If Gary is a high school student – and he is a high school student – when did he ever go to class?  The film never shows us.  One could make the case of, well, you have to ASSUME he’s going to class.  Okay…but when?  In between auditions and plane flights to a live taping of a musical number in front of a live audience and opening not one but two small businesses where his employees seem to be composed entirely of his school-age buddies?  And one of these businesses involves him buying a large quantity of pinball machines to start an arcade.  Where is this money coming from?!  His acting paychecks?  He’s not a major star.  He’s a minor bit player, at best.  And yet, not only can he finance two small businesses on his own (he has a mother, but we only meet her twice), but the maître d’ at a local restaurant knows him by name and treats him like Hollywood royalty – he even has his own table at this place.

And let’s talk about that ending.  She says, “I love you, Gary”, and they run off screen.  What does this mean?  Does this mean she’s about to embark on a physical relationship with an underage boy?  One could say, “Well, of COURSE she’s not going to start going steady with him or anything.  She’s twenty-five and he’s fifteen!  The idea’s absurd and icky!  No, there’s no way anything like that can happen between the two of them, so this ending is just her affirming her love for him in a platonic way because that’s all they will ever be able to be to each other: devoted friends.”

Yeah, but…are we just supposed to make that assumption out of thin air?  The entire movie has been working on getting these two characters together, and it ends (quite suddenly) with that happening, and…we’re just supposed to think, “Yeah, but they’re not TOGETHER-together”?  If that’s the case, I feel there should have been a little more information to make that clearer.

I’m reminded of something I read where a college professor is teaching film students about Hal Ashby’s prescient film Being There.  MORE SPOILER ALERTS, kind of unavoidable here…but the film ends with a humble gardener with an IQ in the double-digits walking serenely out onto the surface of a lake.  The professor asks his students what this final scene means.  And the students say, well, there’s a sunken pier just out of sight under the water, or the water is quite shallow, or they even theorize that the scene isn’t really happening, it’s just in the gardener’s mind.

The professor pounds on his desk and says, “No, no, NO!  What you see is what you get.  The guy is literally walking on water.  Nothing in the film mentions a sunken pier or low water levels, and we’ve never seen any of his dreams before now.  Any explanations you’re giving for why he’s walking on water, aside from his ability to actually do it, is just you bringing something the scene that isn’t there.

That’s what I think about the ending of Licorice Pizza.  It’s problematic because, to me, it doesn’t matter what I think happens at the end when she proclaims her love and they run off.  The movie is clearly indicating they DO wind up in a relationship.  We can infer all we want about what may have happened after the cameras cut, but we are left with what the film has presented to us.  And that left me feeling weirdly uncomfortable.

To be sure, there are movies out there, acknowledged masterpieces, that depend heavily on the viewer doing some heavy lifting.  The one that comes to mind the most for me is 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film whose ending is suitably awesome and beautiful…but what in the Sam Hill does it MEAN?  Do enough reading and analysis and there are conclusions to be made that make sense and which elevate that film.

But Licorice Pizza is no 2001.  This is just not the kind of movie that lends itself to that kind of theoretical dissection.  If there are buried truths to be discovered, fair enough, but how much digging am I expected to do?  As the great man once said, “If you have to ask what something symbolizes, it doesn’t.”

First impressions are very important. And my first impression of Licorice Pizza is that, while it’s solidly acted and directed, and the dialogue is pitch perfect, the story itself leaves something to be desired.

[P.S.  A friend of mine said that if you were to switch the genders in this movie, it would never have been made.  I might agree, were it not for the fact that there have already been several films already made about that very topic, that is, an adult man in an inappropriate relationship with a much younger or underage woman.  American Beauty, Lolita, Lost in Translation, etcetera.  Maybe Lost in Translation is not the best example, as both characters are legal adults, but you get my point.  Frankly, I thought the gender switching in Licorice Pizza was kinda refreshing…up to a point.]


By Marc S. Sanders

Can you ever imagine topping your pizza with licorice?  Seems weird, odd and just…well…no!  That’s the message of Paul Thomas Anderson’s winning film Licorice Pizza.

As I watched the picture, I knew that many would not get the point.  They may become bored or even think this is a weird movie.  That’s what I thought when I first saw Anderson’s 1999 film, Magnolia.  I loved that film, but that ending is…yeah…waaaaaay out there. 

Anderson’s script centers on a 15-year-old boy named Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman; son of Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and the girl-SCRATCH THAT-woman, I mean, that he becomes enamored with named Alana (Alana Haim).  Gary approaches Alana at his high school where he is about to have his class picture taken.  She’s there working in a dead-end assistant position with the photographer.  Fast dialogue takes place in this opening scene where Alana can’t take this kid seriously even though he’s a seasoned child actor, known throughout the San Fernando/Encino, California landscape among known casting directors and agents.  Eventually, the relationship blossoms as Alana serves as an adult escort for Gary who has to go on a television program.  (Mom was not available to accompany underage Gary; hence the word escort.)  Soon after, it’s established that though Gary seems more mature than a typical 15-year-old because he’s had a career during most of his young life, Alana is in a limbo of not reaching adulthood yet, despite the number of her age.

Gary’s worth as an actor is expiring as he’s not the cute precocious kid that Hollywood is looking for anymore, and so he’s on his way to his next venture, never allowing himself to be set back.  Why not sell the newest innovation of the early 1970’s?  Waterbeds!  Meanwhile, Alana does her best to move on to her next life changing chapter by dating an actor her age.  However, things don’t work out.  He was born Jewish, like her family, but he defiantly announces he’s an atheist over Shabbat dinner and will not recite the kiddush prayers. 

The contrast in Gary and Alana’s progress through life in 1973 couldn’t be further separated from one another.  Anderson writes these two characters as they are going in opposite directions.  They are 10 years in age apart from one another.  Gary doesn’t allow himself to be defeated when one business venture after another doesn’t pan out.  Alana is short tempered and easily stuck in a rut, however, when things don’t go her way.  This is the running theme of Licorice Pizza.

Other folks that I’ve discussed this film with find it weird that a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman are hanging together and drawn to one another.  Yeah, it’s weird, but it happens.  Out there, there are unusual relationships or friendships.  Spend a month working in a community theatre like I have and then tell me weird relationships don’t happen.  Forget about whether they are legal or not.  Forget about if it’s perverted.  (Though, truly it really isn’t depicted in a perverted manner in Anderson’s film.) There’s a relationship between Alana and Gary where romance and attractiveness are certainly tested, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever consummated. 

The fact that the relationship between the two characters is difficult on them and the audience is the point of Licorice Pizza.  Anderson is a brilliant writer/director here because he has an ongoing visual theme happening.  Often during the film, both characters are filmed running towards something.  They are either running towards one another or something else or they are running away from each other.  Gary and Alana seemingly know that this relationship could never come to an intimate, loving, romantic relationship.  After all, he’s fifteen!  She’s twenty-five!  Yet, what Paul Thomas Anderson demonstrates is that no matter how physically fast you can run or how far you can run, these two characters will never, ever catch up to one another. 

Gary yearns for Alana because lust interferes in most boys at age fifteen.  Alana needs Gary, however.  She tries and tries new opportunities to stimulate her daily lifestyle beyond Gary, like volunteering on a politician’s campaign or attempting to get in the good graces of a well-known Hollywood actor (a brief, yet memorable appearance from Sean Penn).  Dating a man closer to her age also doesn’t work out.  She’s outgrowing her Jewish home life that she’s still stuck in as well.  Alas, it doesn’t ever work out for her. 

The actress, Alana Haim, who takes on the role is surprisingly skillful.  She’s tough and sad and lost.  Anderson may have written the character, but Haim evokes the emotions that progress her listless story arc.  Each time, something happens to Alana, I couldn’t help but feel such despair for her.  I’ve been there.  When I graduated high school!  When I graduated college!  When I broke up with a girl!  When I had to move into an apartment!  When I became a father!  How many of us truly go on to the next plateau knowing exactly what to do?  Some folks like Gary, can do that.  Others like Alana just can’t.  I think more people have been in her spot than they care to admit.  Paul Thomas Anderson is brave enough to not present Alana’s triumph so easily or quickly.  Movies don’t always have to show the happily ever after ending.

Gary moves from one chapter to another as well.  Because he’s a well-known kid actor of yesteryear, he’s granted more resources than Alana, even though he’s ten years younger.  He always gets a table at the local restaurant.  He knows all the casting directors.  He knows how to get around and get things started.  Audiences are smarter and likely know that whether Gary is selling waterbeds in a run-down business shop or later turning the place into a pinball arcade (now that pinball machines are legalized; which I never knew they were illegal to begin with), he won’t become such a successful entrepreneur.  Yet, that never fazes Gary.  This is just the next big thing that occurs to Gary.  So, he’ll just give it a go.  The confidence Alana lacks in herself, Anderson gifts with the Gary character.  Cooper Hoffman makes a grand debut with Anderson’s direction and character foresight.  He’s definitely not performing in his father’s shadow here.

Licorice Pizza carries so much symbolism in the point to the story that you might not even realize how apparent it is until later when you reflect back on the film. Obviously, Paul Thomas Anderson is very careful to insist how far apart these two people are, not just in age, but in how they carry themselves and their lifestyles.  However, he does not stop with just the two main leads.  A side gag has a guy who’s the owner of a Japanese restaurant discuss an advertising campaign with Gary’s mother.  A suggestion is proposed by Gary’s mom.  The man then “translates” to the woman simply by repeating the same thing in English with a terribly awful Japanese accent and then the Japanese woman sitting next to the man speaks in her native tongue.  The man carries himself as if he understands the woman and translates back to Gary’s mom in his own Americanized dialect.  It’s shockingly funny how wrong and insulting this guy is.  This guy knows nothing about Japanese cuisine or culture or what they say or what interests them and yet he’s trying to make a business venture out of it.  It’s wrong and highly inappropriate (which makes the scene very funny), but it exists. It’s garish to watch this behavior, but there are thousands of insensitive people doing thousands of insensitive things every day; people who couldn’t be further apart from practicing what they truly were not destined to preach.  If you stop and think for a second, you can’t deny that this is one more weird thing out there in the world that’s odd and yet probably exists somewhere down the street or in another state or another time.  This guy has a connected with a Japanese woman without any concept of understanding or appreciation.

The title of Anderson’s film is never literally addressed.  (Later, I read that Licorice Pizza was actually the name of a popular record store in California way back when.)  Yet, my mind periodically went to its significance while watching the movie.  Try eating pizza with a thick, doughy crust and topped with tough, taffy texture like licorice topped on it.  I’ve never done it, but I’d imagine it’s hard, very hard, to swallow.  So, while Alana and Gary are certainly friends, the hormones of a fifteen-year-old boy and the lonely, lost nature of a twenty-five-year-old woman becoming involved with one another are hard to digest as well.  No matter how Gary and Alana approach their connection to one another it just does not work.  Alana falls off a motorcycle at one point. Gary runs to her.  We see that all the time in movies.  But what’s he going to do when he reaches her to offer aid?  What more can Gary do except to say “Are you okay?”  Gary gets arrested during another time in the film.  Alana runs after the police car Gary is handcuffed in, and tells him it’s going to be okay.  Yet, what is she really going to do?  She doesn’t know anybody like a lawyer or an adult that can help.  She doesn’t have the capability of helping him.

Run as fast as you want.  Run as far as you want.  Gary and Alana can never, and will never, catch up to one another.  They’ll never meet at an appropriate age, always living a decade apart.  They’ll never share a commonality with each other that promises a loving and intimate relationship.  So, while Licorice Pizza has a silly, comedic name, it’s truly a tragic story of impossible love. 

Licorice Pizza is definitely one of the best, most inventive and sensitive films of the year.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 91% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A story of family, religion, hatred, oil, and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.

My first draft of this review got up to nearly 1300 words before I realized I was just spinning my wheels.  This is quite simply one of the most original, most daring, most engrossing films of the new millennium that I have ever seen.  And after a while, my first draft became just a list, ticking off and describing scenes that I feel make it great, rather than a precise review.

So instead of giving a full film summary, which you can find elsewhere online, I’m going to try and instead give an actual review.  I’m going to gush a little bit (no pun intended), because it’s a masterpiece, but I’m just going to have to live with that, I guess.

When I first saw this movie (with my good friend Marc Sanders, as it happens, at a free preview), I remember leaving the theater feeling inspired.  Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-winning performance in There Will Be Blood has, to this day, been in the back of my mind every time I’m on stage, whether it’s a drama, comedy, or whatever.  It genuinely makes me want to be a better actor.  Oh, I’ve seen great performances before from the likes of Nicholson, Hoffman, O’Toole, and the rest, but there’s something about the laser-like intensity of Day-Lewis’s performance as Daniel Plainview that had me gawping at the screen in awe as the film played out.  I can’t fully explain it.  It was, and remains, a religious experience to behold.

(For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Daniel Plainview is a turn-of-the-century prospector who thrives in the early days of the oil boom in America, but when his ambition crosses paths with a fire-and-brimstone preacher named Eli Sunday, things get a little testy.)

So, there you go, the acting is not just top-notch, it’s revelatory.

But then there’s the movie itself, exhibiting a level of craftsmanship I haven’t seen since the heyday of Stanley Kubrick.  The plot itself reads like one of those summaries of films that great directors dreamed of making, but were unable to for various reasons, like Kubrick’s unrealized biography of Napoleon.  I mean, who wants to see a 160-minute movie about oil drilling?  Why would anyone care?  Why should anyone care?

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s ingenuity relies heavily on the acting and casting choices, and of course the ingenious screenplay, but any discussion of the film also has to mention the score.  As much as any other element, the film’s musical score creates and sustains a mood of dread and suspense over such banal scenes as pipeline being laid, oil derricks being built, men surveying land, etcetera.  The atonal and urgent score suggests that what we’re seeing is the prelude to some sort of apocalyptic event or incipient bloodshed.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, as if around the corner an earthquake or mass murder is waiting.

(Sometimes the ABSENCE of the score is just as disturbing, as in the scene in a church when Daniel Plainview is reluctantly baptized, or most of the scenes in the finale, taking place in 1927.)

But ticking off these technical details still feels lacking.  This is the second draft of this review, and I still feel as if I’m not getting across how much this movie works on the viewer.  Or, at least, how it worked on ME.  This was only the third time I’ve watched the movie since first seeing it in 2007, and I was hooked all over again, right from the opening shot, with those dissonant strings playing over a panorama of sunbaked hills and scrub brush.

The movie just FEELS perfect.  It’s anchored by Daniel Day-Lewis, who is in literally every scene except two that I can recall.  But the artistry of everything else at play is just…I am at a loss for words.  It is, as another review puts it, “wholly original.”  There is just nothing else like it.  Sure, it’s definitely inspired by Kubrick, but it takes things to another level.

It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.