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Paul Dano (#110 of 7)

Cannes Film Festival 2017 Bong Joon-ho’s Okja

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Cannes Film Review: Okja

Netflix

Cannes Film Review: Okja

Ten years on from his breakout hit, The Host, South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho seems intent on recreating the crossover appeal of his genre-bending monster flick for a Western audience. Okja, Bong’s Netflix-produced, environmentalist-themed adventure fantasy, also draws from 2013’s Snowpiercer, the filmmaker’s first English-language effort, specifically in its clear contempt for dehumanizing capitalism.

Bong has proven capable of uniting a variety of different tonal ambitions with some razor-sharp satire and impeccable craftsmanship, but Okja feels jarringly disorganized and rudderless for much of its runtime. Even at its best, the film merely musters convincingly imitative set pieces, the highlight of which is a chase scene—cut ironically to the John Denver ballad “Annie’s Song”—that ends with the unimaginative recycling of an action beat from The Host’s funniest sequence. Bong’s filmmaking is so singularly impressive that even at its most derivative, Okja feels like a momentous spectacle, but it’s the first film of his ever to give the impression that the spectacle is masking an otherwise underdeveloped, often incoherent, concept.

A24’s “Farting Corpse Movie” Swiss Army Man Gets First Trailer

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A24’s “Farting Corpse Movie” Swiss Army Man Gets First Trailer

A24

A24’s “Farting Corpse Movie” Swiss Army Man Gets First Trailer

Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a.k.a. DANIELS, the duo behind one of our favorite music videos of 2014, for DJ Snake & Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What,” Swiss Army Man quickly established its cult-movie bona fides at this year’s Sundance, where it won the festival’s directing prize. “The farting corpse comedy,” as it was both affectionately and not-so-affectionately dubbed by festivalgoers, tells the story of a man, Hank (Paul Dano), stranded on a deserted island and how he’s pulled from the edge of suicidal oblivion when a corpse named Manny (Daniel Radscliffe) washes ashore and flatulently paves the way toward Hank’s salvation, and the woman of his dreams (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Below is the trailer for the film, which opens theatrically on June 17.

Sundance Film Festival 2012: For Ellen and The House I Live In

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Sundance Film Festival 2012: <em>For Ellen</em> and <em>The House I Live In</em>
Sundance Film Festival 2012: <em>For Ellen</em> and <em>The House I Live In</em>

So Yong Kim’s latest feature, For Ellen, while certainly not an abject failure, is a disappointment nevertheless, and may cause concern to all those to whom the director’s 2006 debut, In Between Days, was as dear as it remains to this writer. The story concerns a no-good, conspicuously disheveled rock singer, Joby (Paul Dano), who redeems his longstanding neglect of his five-year-old daughter by bonding with her on the eve of divorcing her mom. Joby’s hectic, self-centered lifestyle is rendered in a succession of predominantly shallow-focused long takes of observational persistence as daring as it is tiresome.

Kim’s deliberate diluting of dramatic elements of the plot to the point of its near-obliteration, so highly effective in the case of In Between Days, yields rather emaciated results in For Ellen. The reason is that there’s a barely concealed generic mechanism at play here, built upon a trite premise of a prodigal father slowly winning back the affection of a cute neglected child by means of spontaneously shared fun. Even if Kim may wince at the comparison, she’s not that far from mushy Kramer vs. Kramer territory when Dano wells up at the sight of his cute lil’ girl banging out a garbled version of Für Elise on her electric piano.

A Movie a Day, Day 79: The Extra Man

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A Movie a Day, Day 79: <em>The Extra Man</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 79: <em>The Extra Man</em>

I gave The Extra Man a try last night because I loved American Splendor, a portrait of another eccentric writer co-directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. I guess I should have paid more attention to the source material. American Splendor’s Harvey Pekar looked through his own and other people’s eccentricities, acknowledging them in passing, but focusing on deeper and more interesting things. Jonathan Ames, the co-screenwriter of The Extra Man and author of the book it’s based on, seems mostly interested in the thrill of transgression, defying taboos and examining eccentricity for its own sake.

Drilling for Art: There Will Be Blood, Take 1

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Drilling for Art: <em>There Will Be Blood</em>, Take 1
Drilling for Art: <em>There Will Be Blood</em>, Take 1

Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic drama There Will Be Blood—in which Daniel Day-Lewis’ prospector-turned-robber baron antihero, Daniel Plainview, pick-axes his way toward an oil fortune—isn’t perfect or entirely satisfying, but it’s so singular in its conception and execution that one can no more dismiss it than one can dismiss a volcanic eruption occurring in one’s backyard.

It cannot be diminished—as Hard Eight, Boogie Nights and Magnolia could, and to my mind, rightly were diminished—as another instance of a facile, energetic director hurling homage at the audience.

In Blood, as in Anderson’s fourth, most distinctively original feature, 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, the director lays his influences on the table (in plain view, as it were). But he isn’t content to quote and rearrange with his usual hyperkinetic fussiness. There are moments, scenes, and an entire section that I think veer out of control, and not in a good way. But for the most part, Anderson seems to have absorbed his influences and created a singular work; there are so few tonal or dramatic miscalculations—and so few reversions to the cinematic karaoke machine mode of his first three pictures—that when one does pop up, it’s a such a shock that it takes you out of the movie. From the opening section, in which Daniel the prospector finds and stakes a crude oil claim and inherits the young son of a worker who died in his employ, through the complex, moving, frequently upsetting midsection that depicts Daniel amassing his fortune, acquiring and betraying allies, out-thinking and sometimes terrorizing his rivals, and destroying people he should treasure, Blood becomes as pointed a critique (and celebration) of capitalism as the Godfather movies—and other things besides.

American Crude: There Will Be Blood, Take 2

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American Crude: <em>There Will Be Blood</em>, Take 2
American Crude: <em>There Will Be Blood</em>, Take 2

I caught the latest Paul Thomas Anderson debacle at a press screening on November 28, well before the critical drum circle had risen to its current “Burning Man” pitch. In the clear light of late autumn drizzle, There Will Be Blood appeared to be no more and no less than what it truly is: a bomb, and an overwrought one at that. It may be a tonier work than the detestable Boogie Nights, but Anderson’s underlying crudeness and his overkill “sensibility” haven’t evolved an iota. (Yes, Virginia, I can hear the jihadists singing in the comments section already.) A friend who hated the movie as much as I did asked afterwards, as we dodged rain in the Oaktree Cinema parking lot, “Did that amount to anything beyond a couple of games of one-upmanship?” I confessed I hadn’t thought of Blood in those terms. Still, her question perfectly encapsulated the anorexic one-dimensionality of the picture, and I had to agree.

First things first: I adore Daniel Day-Lewis. Always have. And while it might be nice to hitch my RV to the Dodge pick-up truck of hosannas greeting his Blood work, I must counter that Day-Lewis, in rendering the Texas-for-Central California scenery to mucilaginous mush, turns in the worst performance of his career to date. Granted, Scorsese-phobe that I am, I haven’t subjected myself to Gangs of New York, yet I fail to see how it could be ghastlier than the one-note, one-scale Sean Connery brogue that Day-Lewis affects as wildcatting oilman Daniel Plainview, a frontier charlatan gobbling up all available land, circa the early 1900s, in order to drill, to uglify the landscape and thus line his pockets with filthy lucre.

Yes, it’s true: There Will Be Blood

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Yes, it’s true: <em>There Will Be Blood</em>
Yes, it’s true: <em>There Will Be Blood</em>

The horror that is Paul Thomas Anderson’s fifth feature, There Will Be Blood, is not simply an amplified feeling of distress but distress itself: a seething perpetual pressure, unremitting, brutal, always on the brink of eruption. Yet the threat (or the promise) of the film’s title is a mere hint of the lurking, bubbling terror within.