Paul Dano

There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)

There Will Be Blood. I don’t know where to start. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is biggest thing in the film–it’s the film, after all. Without Day-Lewis, the film’s not possible. Director Anderson gives Day-Lewis some quiet at the beginning of the picture to establish himself; there’s nothing to do but stare as the music comes up, as Robert Elswit’s photography contains the carefully executed action. Day-Lewis transfixes and never lets go.

But Blood is, beneath all its epic trappings, just a character study. It’s such an intense character study, Anderson is more than willing to let the narrative take a back seat to Day-Lewis’s performance. While the setting and the script are all meticulous, their details are background. Day-Lewis exists in front of them, directly in between the viewer and the story.

At the same time, Anderson goes out of his way with the grandiosity. Between Elswit’s photography, Jonny Greenwood’s music and Jack Fisk’s production design, every moment of Blood has audiovisual impact. Anderson and Elswit do these incredibly complex tracking shots from time to time; they’re breathtaking filmmaking but they never betray the film’s focus. The viewer’s attention is on Day-Lewis.

Anderson’s concentration–the way he forces the viewer to pay attention–mirrors Day-Lewis’s concentration. Just the time he loses that concentration is when Anderson forces the viewer to start re-evaluating things.

Great support from Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier and Ciarán Hinds.

It’s a brilliant film. Every moment’s absolutely perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; screenplay by Anderson, based on a novel by Upton Sinclair; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Jonny Greenwood; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by JoAnne Sellar, Anderson and Daniel Lupi; released by Miramax Films and Paramount Vantage.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Plainview), Paul Dano (Eli Sunday), Kevin J. O’Connor (Henry), Ciarán Hinds (Fletcher) and Dillon Freasier (HW).


Prisoners (2013, Denis Villeneuve)

Director Villeneuve takes a very interesting approach to how a thriller works with Prisoners. He ignores it. During the first act, there are quite a few flirtations with thriller standards. But the film almost always immediately dismisses them–like Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski are holding up a standard, tossing it away. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music helps them through these quick examinations, as does Roger Deakins’s photography. Villeneuve gets some truly astounding shots with Deakins. Many are so good one wonders how Villeneuve resisted showing off. He never does.

That restraint carries over to the performances as well. Prisoners is constantly difficult. In theory, the four primary actors should be Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard. They play two couples who have had their daughters abducted, they should be the leads. Well, them and Jake Gyllenhaal as the primary detective.

But no. And there’s another break–Gyllenhaal doesn’t have a partner. When’s the last time a movie cop didn’t have a partner. But Jackman takes matters into his own hands and the film juxtapositions his pursuit against Gyllenhaal’s. They aren’t alter egos; Guzikowski wouldn’t never be so simplistic. The script’s phenomenal.

Both Jackman and Gyllenhaal are amazing. Gyllenhaal wins out. He has a more complicated role and more screen time.

Great supporting work from Davis and Wayne Duvall. Bello and Howard have the least to do in the film, another of Villeneuve and Guzikowski’s plays on expectations. They’re both good. There’s no weak performances.

Prisoners is truly exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; written by Aaron Guzikowski; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Joel Cox and Gary Roach; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Adam Kolbrenner and Andrew A. Kosove; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Keller Dover), Jake Gyllenhaal (Detective Loki), Viola Davis (Nancy Birch), Maria Bello (Grace Dover), Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch), Melissa Leo (Holly Jones), Paul Dano (Alex Jones), Dylan Minnette (Ralph Dover), Zoe Borde (Eliza Birch), Erin Gerasimovich (Anna Dover), Kyla Drew Simmons (Joy Birch), Wayne Duvall (Captain Richard O’Malley), David Dastmalchian (Bob Taylor) and Len Cariou (Father Patrick Dunn).


Looper (2012, Rian Johnson)

A lot of Looper is a film noir set in the near future. Criminal–but basically good guy–Joseph Gordon-Levitt ends up on a farm, as de facto protector to a young woman (Emily Blunt) and her kid. Except this part comes after Looper is an action movie where Gordon-Levitt teams up with his future self (Bruce Willis) against his criminal associates. And before it’s that action movie, it’s a future movie for a little bit. It’s most fun during the future movie stuff–Paul Dano’s a good lame sidekick to Gordon-Levitt and Jeff Daniels is fun as his boss.

But, as it turns out, director Johnson wasn’t satisfied with a film noir so instead he made a sort of “smart” superhero movie, along with a depressing time travel movie. Basically, he ripped off Twelve Monkeys and Unbreakable… and brought back Bruce Willis.

Gordon-Levitt’s okay in the lead. He’s in a bunch of make-up and it seems to restrict his facial movement. Willis has his moments, but one has to wonder if he remembered how much better Monkeys did at something similar. The real acting powerhouse is Blunt, who’s fantastic in her role.

Johnson tries really, really hard to be profound and instead he’s just annoying. Looper goes on way too long to nowhere near good enough a conclusion. Nathan Johnson’s music is terrible, which especially aggravates at the end when Johnson goes through his five endings.

Looper should’ve been a no-brainer. It’s disappointing.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Rian Johnson; director of photography, Steve Yedlin; edited by Bob Ducsay; music by Nathan Johnson; production designer, Ed Verreaux; produced by Ram Bergman and James D. Stern; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Xu Qing (Old Joe’s Wife), Tracie Thoms (Beatrix) and Garret Dillahunt (Jesse).


For Ellen (2012, So Yong Kim)

I’m not sure what’s more incredulous, director Kim thinking she’s Bob Rafelson or her thinking her For Ellen lead is Jack Nicholson.

Besides the inept, predictable rip-off (or homage) of one of Nicholson and Rafelson’s more famous moments, the only thing distinctive about For Ellen–besides some great photography and location shooting–is Shaylena Mandigo as the title character. Kim gets an exceptional performance out of Mandigo, who’s seven or so. In her scenes with Dano, Mandigo acts circles around him. It’s embarrassing for Dano.

Other than those scenes, Dano is the whole show in Ellen. One has to assume Kim has him ad-libbing some of the more inane exchanges. He’s a struggling musician (it’s never clear if he’s any good, doesn’t seem like it), who travels from Chicago to an undisclosed small midwestern town to sign his divorce papers. There he mets his daughter (Mandigo) for the first time.

But for the first hour, the film’s mostly Dano wandering around. He hangs out with his weird, small town lawyer (Jon Heder in a thankless role). Dano’s not just unlikable, he’s boring. Director Kim must have really thought he was giving a better performance than the one she put on film. Or video. You get the idea.

As for Kim… her composition is great. Her dialogue’s awful, but her direction of talky scenes is good. She tries to be very cute with the exposition, which flops.

Ellen’s got nothing to offer except Mandigo and cinematographer Reed Morano.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by So Yong Kim; director of photography, Reed Morano; edited by Bradley Rust Gray and Kim; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Ryan Warren Smith; produced by Gray, Kim and Jen Gatien; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Paul Dano (Joby), Jon Heder (Mr. Butler), Jena Malone (Susan), Margarita Levieva (Claire Taylor), Julian Gamble (Mr. Hamilton), Dakota Johnson (Cindy) and Shaylena Mandigo (Ellen).


Knight and Day (2010, James Mangold), the extended cut

Cameron Diaz only gets to be unbearably obnoxious–her usual persona–when Tom Cruise is off screen during Knight and Day, which, luckily, isn’t often. Amusingly, Cruise’s absence coincides with supporting cast member Maggie Grace’s principal scene and seeing her and Diaz together is chilling… Attack of the content-less blondes.

Luckily, Cruise is around for most of the film and he makes it a breezy, amusing experience. There are a few concepts at play–it’s a James Bond movie told from the perspective of the good Bond girl, it’s Cruise slightly aping the Mission: Impossible franchise, but mostly it’s just seeing what a movie star can do. I find most of Cruise’s work post-Risky Business and pre-Magnolia to be unbearable (the male Cameron Diaz?), but Knight shows, whatever the hiccups, he’s a movie star and, thankfully, still able to turn in a good performance.

It’s unfortunate it’s not in a better script with a better director (Mangold’s reliance on awful-looking CG composites for action scenes is inexplicable), but couch-jumping has its costs.

Besides Paul Dano, who’s great in a small but essential role, the supporting cast is surprisingly weak. Peter Sarsgaard has a lousy accent, Viola Davis can’t figure out how to play a terribly written role… Marc Blucas is barely in the film, but he gives one of the better performances.

A lot of Knight and Day plays like Romancing the Stone, only less charming (Diaz is most appealing when playing drunk).

It’s up to Cruise to carry it and he does.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; written by Patrick O’Neill; director of photography, Phedon Papamichael; edited by Quincy Z. Gunderson and Michael McCusker; music by John Powell; production designer, Andrew Menzies; produced by Cathy Konrad, Todd Garner and Steve Pink; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Cruise (Roy Miller), Cameron Diaz (June Havens), Peter Sarsgaard (Fitzgerald), Jordi Mollà (Antonio), Viola Davis (Director George), Paul Dano (Simon Feck), Falk Hentschel (Bernhard), Marc Blucas (Rodney), Lennie Loftin (Braces) and Maggie Grace (April Havens).


Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)

Calling Little Miss Sunshine an independent film–regardless of its Fox Searchlight banner at the front–is a misnomer. While the financing might not have come through the traditional channels, it’s got a very high profile cast and its content is about on par with, say, Miramax films of the late 1990s, which means it’s on par with non-Miramax films of every year before 1996 or so. Whenever everyone else gave up. It’s a very traditional story. It doesn’t introduce any new filmmaking techniques and the very nice and effective editing style is probably about forty years old. Maybe even longer, I was only taking Hollywood movies into account.

But–we don’t get to see movies like Little Miss Sunshine much anymore. Independent movies with every adult in this cast–with the exception of Steve Carell I think–go straight to video. All the time. There are a bunch from reasonably well-known filmmakers starring well-known sitting on a shelf in a film can right now. So, a Little Miss Sunshine, with its good writing, good acting, good direction, stands out. It ought to be the norm (and would have been ten years ago) for a adult comedy. I thought about genre a little while watching it and American Pie ushered in new genre labels and Little Miss Sunshine, as IMDb so clearly states is a “comedy / drama.” But it’s not. One of those Alan Arkin scenes is enough to classify it firmly as a comedy.

Why am I saying so little about the film itself? Well, it’s a well-written comedy. There are some too long scenes and some of the plotting is off, but those little things are expected. How’s the acting? Why am I using rhetorical questions (I’m tired). Gee… Toni Collette is great, Alan Arkin is great (though, with the exception of some choice monologues, he’s been playing this role for ten years plus), Greg Kinnear is great. They’re great actors. Steve Carell was initially surprisingly good, but he’s so good I got comfortable with him real fast and am now upset he’s making crappy Hollywood movies. He ought to be doing something else. The kids, Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin, are both really good, but it didn’t occur to me they wouldn’t be good. Little Miss Sunshine is unexceptionally solid. Like I said, it’s what the expected norm for a film starring the people it stars, released by the studio releasing, should be.

That all said… I do think it was a little unfair not to let the viewer get to see Alan Arkin wreck havoc on the beauty pageant organizer.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; written by Michael Arndt; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Pamela Martin; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; produced by Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Greg Kinnear (Richard), Toni Collette (Sheryl), Steve Carell (Frank), Paul Dano (Dwayne), Abigail Breslin (Olive) and Alan Arkin (Grandpa).


The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005, Rebecca Miller)

So… what happened?

Sometime in the first four months of this year, I proclaimed Rebecca Miller the best new filmmaker since… shit, I don’t know, Wes Anderson or somebody. Sure, Wes Anderson. Wes Anderson is the last great filmmaker. Or P.T. One of them, just not Paul W.S. Anyway, this conclusion about Miller was based on Personal Velocity.

I talk a lot–if not at The Stop Button, then in personal conversation–about artists shooting their wad. When they’re done, in other words. There are famous non-wad-shooters like Woody Allen, John Carpenter, John Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Stanley Kubrick and on and on and on. It looks a lot like an Owen Wilson-less Wes Anderson does not produce a wad… Anyway, Rebecca Miller appears to have shot her wad with Personal Velocity.

It’s not that all of Jack and Rose is bad. It’s not. Not all of it. Miller’s reliance on Bob Dylan songs, bad. Miller’s shot composition, excellent. Her dialogue and some of the scenes, also excellent. It’s just that it’s too long for her. I should have known after I read Personal Velocity, the book….

Anyway, there were four good stories in Personal Velocity, the book. Miller put three of them in the movie. The long stories in the book were painful and failed.

Kind of like Jack and Rose. I’m not as upset about the film as I thought I’d be, just because now I realize I should have seen it coming. I should have seen the long narrative as her undoing. Miller’s greatest potential appears to be in doing small stories, like a TV show. I can see her doing a really good TV show. But I’m not holding my breath for her next film.

I hope she proves me wrong.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller; director of photography, Ellen Kuras; edited by Sabine Hoffman; production designer, Mark Ricker; produced by Lemore Syvan; released by IFC Films.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Jack Slavin), Camilla Belle (Rose Slavin), Catherine Keener (Kathleen), Paul Dano (Thaddius), Ryan McDonald (Rodney), Jena Malone (Red Berry), Jason Lee (Gray) and Beau Bridges (Marty Rance).


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