11 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 116 | June 11, 2010

Derrick and the Dominoes


Our theme this week

Films about oil, and what it does to people

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Giant (1956)
Tuesday         —   The Wages of Fear (1953)
Wednesday    —   The Two Jakes (1990)
Thursday        —   Syriana (2005)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

there will be blood

Paul Thomas Anderson has written and directed five feature films.  Most of them are set in contemporary Southern California, with characters living outside the circle of conventional society, often down on their luck. 

There Will Be Blood has the mark of an Anderson film but is different in a few ways.  It’s an adaptation, Anderson’s first, based on Sinclair Lewis’s 1927 novel, Oil! (Anderson picked up the book when he was out of the country because it had a picture of California on the cover and he was homesick).  The story takes place early in the twentieth century, and its protagonist is a man who is hardly without luck.  Daniel Plainview amasses a great fortune, though he’d be the first to tell you it was hard work, not luck, that made him rich.  Truth is, it also took some cunning—and conning—to make him a wealthy man.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Plainview, a larger-than-life figure who goes from lonely prospector to head of a drilling company to town leader.  Plainview is not just an oilman, he’s the heart of capitalism, as Anderson depicts him, full of greed and obsession, with the proclivity to treat people as tools—useful when they can help him, disposable when they don’t.

Religion gets the Anderson treatment also.  Paul Dano plays Paul Sunday, the ambitious pastor who builds his church in the town of Little Boston and vies with the businessman Plainview for control of the people. 

There Will Be Blood is a title with a promise.  It’s a promise kept, with a violent final scene that takes place years after the main story in a confrontation between Plainview and Eli Sunday, the pastor’s twin brother.

The film was one of the best-reviewed movies of 2007, making numerous critics’ top-ten lists.  It won two Oscars, of eight nominations total, including three for Anderson.  Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor for a memorable and highly deserving performance.


There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson, director
Trailer

 


There Will Be Blood (2007)
Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano
Baptism


There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson, director
“I drink your milkshake!”


Quote of Note
“There’s no great mystery.  I’m an oilman, ladies and gentlemen.  I have numerous concerns spread across this state.  I have many wells flowing at many thousand barrels per day.  I like to think of myself as an oilman.  As an oilman, I hope that you’ll forgive just good, old-fashioned plain-speaking.  Now, this work that we do is very much a family enterprise.  I work side-by-side with my wonderful son, H.W.  I think one or two of you might have met him already.  And I encourage my men to bring their families, as well.  Of course, it makes for an ever so much more rewarding life for them.  Family means children.  Children means education.  So wherever we set up camp, education is a necessity, and we’re just so happy to take care of that.  So let’s build a wonderful school in Little Boston.  These children are the future that we strive for and so they should have the very best of things.  Now something else, and please don’t be insulted if I speak about this, bread.  Let’s talk about bread.  Now to my mind, its an abomination to consider that any man, woman or child in this magnificent country of ours should have to look upon a loaf of bread as a luxury.  We’re going to dig water wells here.  Water wells means irrigation, irrigation means cultivation.  We’re going to raise crops here where before it just simply was impossible.  You’re going to have more grain than you’ll know what to do with.  Bread will be coming right out of your ears, ma’am.  New roads.  Agriculture.  Employment.  Education.  These are just a few of the things we can offer you, and I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that if we do find oil here, and I think there’s a very good chance that we will, this community of yours will not only survive, it will flourish.”
—Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), There Will Be Blood (2007)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 13 Jun 2010 @ 02:55 PM

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 10 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 115 | June 10, 2010

Derrick and the Dominoes


Our theme this week

Films about oil, and what it does to people

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Giant (1956)
Tuesday         —   The Wages of Fear (1953)
Wednesday    —   The Two Jakes (1990)

Syriana (2005)

syriana

Other films about oil this week are personal or local.  This one’s global.  Syriana is a political thriller spanning three continents and multiple storylines.

Oil here is not a diversionary MacGuffin, something just to get the action started, as you might see in a Bond movie.  It’s, as much as anything, the point of the movie:  oil is what makes the world go round.  It’s what everyone’s fighting for—the key to riches, the key to power, the key to control of the political chess board in the game that the master players are playing. 

The action is complicated, not easy to summarize, but what the film lacks in simplicity it makes up for in scope.  Big companies, a Washington law firm, the CIA, and a ruling family in an Arab monarchy are all in on the game.  In the geopolitics of the story, American interests are in jeopardy when a Mideast government grants rights to the Chinese, and the Americans do whatever they can to regain the advantage.  That includes an under-the-table deal to get government approval for a corporate merger and a plot to assassinate an Arab prince who hopes to reform his country’s repressive ways.

The film stars Matt Damon as a globetrotting financial analyst working for an energy company, George Clooney as a CIA officer stationed in the Mideast, Jeffrey Wright as a Washington attorney who makes things happen, Chris Cooper as the head of an oil company, and Alexander Siddig as the would-be reformer in the Gulf emirate.

I’ve seen criticism that Syriana is too far-fetched, the wild imaginings of conspiracy theorists.  The film certainly has a conspiratorial feel, as if pulling back the curtain to show us all how the world really works.  It is fiction, clearly, but is it inconceivable?  I don’t think you’d say so if you’ve been paying attention.


Syriana (2005)
Stephen Gaghan, director


Syriana (2005)
Jeffrey Wright, Tim Blake Nelson


Quote of Note
Prince Nasir Al-Subaai:  What are they thinking, my brother and these American lawyers?
Bryan Woodman:  What are they thinking?  They’re thinking that it’s running out.  It’s running out, and ninety percent of what’s left is in the Middle East.  This is a fight to the death.
—Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig), Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), Syriana (2005)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 05 Jun 2010 @ 08:10 PM

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 09 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 114 | June 9, 2010

Derrick and the Dominoes


Our theme this week

Films about oil, and what it does to people

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Giant (1956)
Tuesday         —   The Wages of Fear (1953)

The Two Jakes (1990)

the two jakes

Robert Towne had the idea for a trilogy, films set in three decades (the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s), chronicling three defining elements of Los Angeles history (water, oil, and the freeway).  The first was Chinatown (1974).  The second was The Two Jakes (1990).  The third, Cloverleaf, was never made.

In today’s feature, Jake Gittes is older and wiser, even wealthier, now a member of a country club.  He’s still a private eye in the divorce racket.  One of his clients is the other Jake, Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel), a real estate developer, who suspects that his wife is having an affair.  A sting at a motel goes all wrong and Berman’s partner ends up dead.  Possibly it’s murder, and Gittes, unwittingly, could be an accessory.  The case from there is a twisted one, leading to, among other things, the corruption behind the booming times in postwar L.A., including its burgeoning oil business.  There’s also a twist involving Katherine Mulwray, the daughter from Chinatown.  Like any noir hero, Gittes has a past.

Jake Gittes is played, of course, by Jack Nicholson, reprising the role.  He also directed, taking over for Towne, who wrote the script.  The film is not considered a classic like Chinatown—but then, what is?  If it weren’t a sequel, The Two Jakes probably would have a better rep than it does.  There’s a lot more to it than your average period piece or crime movie.  The film gets deep into its characters.  It provides a darker, less glamorous view of L.A.’s past than Chinatown, and even if the plot is less tight, The Two Jakes offers a number of memorable scenes, along with other pleasures, as the story unwinds.


The Two Jakes (1990)
Jack Nicholson, director
Trailer


The Two Jakes (1990)
Jack Nicholson
Jake Gittes remembers his past


Quote of Note
“You can follow the action, which gets you good pictures.  You can follow your instincts, which’ll probably get you in trouble.  Or, you can follow the money, which nine times out of ten will get you closer to the truth.”
—Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), The Two Jakes (1990)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 05 Jun 2010 @ 08:14 PM

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 08 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 113 | June 8, 2010

Derrick and the Dominoes


Our theme this week

Films about oil, and what it does to people

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Giant (1956)

The Wages of Fear (1953)

the wages of fear

A classic of European cinema from the 1950s, The Wages of Fear won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the Golden Bear at Berlin, and Best Film at the BAFTA Awards.

An oil well in South America catches fire, and the company that runs it—a U.S. corporation called SOC (those initials ring a bell?)—hires four men to transport nitroglycerin to the well site for the fire to be extinguished.  The men—two Frenchman, a Dutchman, and an Italian—had been stranded in the isolated village of Las Piedras.  The job is their ticket out, and they take it, lured by the promise of high pay—$2,000 per driver.  It’s a perilous journey, across mountain roads in poor condition, with cargo that’s extremely hazardous.  Will the trucks make it?  Will the men survive?  Those are the questions in doubt.

The movie is a thriller, in part, with French director Henri-Georges Clouzot squeezing maximum tension from every scene, every twist and bump of the road.  There’s also a political angle.  The oil company exploits the local workers, then when the accident occurs, they hire nonunion foreign nationals, with little regard for their safety.  Clouzot’s handling of the men’s fate is a not-very-subtle statement.

The acting includes some notewothy portrayals, including Yves Montand as the playboy Mario, and Charles Vanel as ex-gangster Jo.  The director’s wife, Véra Clouzot, who appeared in three of her husband’s movies (most notably, Diabolique), plays one of the local women.

The success of the film led to a couple of American remakes, including Sorcerer, in 1977, directed by William Friedkin and starring Roy Scheider.


The Wages of Fear (Le Salaire de la Peur) (1953)
Henri-Georges Clouzot, director
Trailer


Sorceror (1977)
Remake of The Wages of Fear
William Friedkin, director
Roy Scheider


Quote of Note
O’Brien:  The hell with the union!  There’s plenty of tramps in town, all volunteers.  I’m not worried.  To get that bonus, they’ll carry the entire charge on their backs.
Bradley:  You mean you’re gonna put those bums to work?
O’Brien:  Yes, Mr. Bradley, because those bums don’t have any union, nor any families.  And if they blow up, nobody’ll come around bothering me for any contribution.
—Bill O’Brien (William Tubbs), The Wages of Fear (1953)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 08 Jun 2010 @ 11:08 PM

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Giant

 
 07 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 112 | June 7, 2010

Derrick and the Dominoes

“Drill, baby, drill!” is not an argument meant to win a debate.  It’s a slogan mocking the idea that we should even have a debate.  But like it or not, it’s been the de facto energy policy of the country for many decades.  Presidents for as long as anyone can remember have been promising change.  Nothing happens.  Maybe now the time has come.  We shall see.

I generally don’t aim to be topical with weekly themes, but the story that’s dominating the news is not going away.  Oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico today, and it will again tomorrow, and the day after.  Based on the latest predictions, the gushing will continue until August, if not Christmas.  This isn’t just a news story.  It’s history as it happens.

Before we get to the five films of the week, you may want to look at a clip from the great Robert Flaherty, a filmmaker with a fondness for exotic locations and the people who live in them (Nanook of the North, Man of Aran).  Near the end of his career he filmed Louisiana Story.  A film about life on the bayou, it’s a relatively early depiction of the effects of oil.  When a cajun family finds oil bubbling up in their swamp, they lease the land to an oil company, which erects a derrick to drill 14,000 feet into the earth.  After a blowout, the rig is soon capped, but mostly the film portrays the harmony of industry and nature, and the promise of oil to bring prosperity to the people.  The film won accolades at the time.  It is arfully done, though today it seems somewhat naïve.  There may be a reason for that.  The film was funded by Standard Oil of New Jersey.

The film has value, in any case.  It offers us a glimpse of Louisiana life that doesn’t exist anymore.  There’s no oil derrick in the clip here, just a cajun boy with a lot of courage, and an alligator.

Louisiana Story (1948)
Robert Flaherty, director
Virgil Thomson, composer (the only film score to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music)

 

Our theme this week
Films about oil, and what it does to people

Giant (1956)

giant

Don’t bother to watch the movie unless you have nothing else to do for three hours and twenty-one minutes.  They don’t call it Giant for nothing.

In the last of his three great film performances, James Dean co-stars as Jett Rink, a worker on a ranch in Texas owned by the Benedict family.  When Luz Benedict (Mercedes McCambridge) dies, she leaves a small plot of land to Jett.  Before long, he strikes oil, and that changes everything.  Tensions run high between Jett and the rest of the Benedicts, including Bick and Leslie (Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor), before Jett heads off to start an oil drilling company.  Jett goes from rich to super-rich.  During the war Jett persuades Bick to get into the oil business, and soon Bick and the Benedict family are wealthier than even before.  They are all rolling in it, though not particularly happy, and feuding.  Jett is worst off, ending up a pathetic drunk.  Ain’t oil grand?

More than just a story about the bad fortunes of getting rich, Giant is also a reminder that poor treatment of Mexican Americans has a long history.  The Benedicts are less than enlightened in their attitudes toward immigrants, but after some time—and children, intermarriage, and grandchildren—Bick, at least, has a change of heart.

Adapted from the Edna Ferber novel, the film garnered ten Oscar nominations, including a posthumous nod for Dean, who died before the film opened.  George Stevens won the Best Director prize.  The film did great box office, setting a record for Warner Bros., its top grosser until Superman in 1978.

One casting note, from the “please check that woman’s ID” department:  Elizabeth Taylor played the mother of the late Dennis Hopper and Caroll Baker.  Yet Taylor was only four years older than Hopper, and is a year younger than Baker.


Giant (1956)
George Stevens, director
Trailer

 


Giant (1956)
George Stevens, director
James Dean, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor


Quote of Note
Leslie Benedict:  Money isn’t everything, Jett.
Jett Rink:  Not when you’ve got it.
—Leslie Benedict (Elizabeth Taylor), Jett Rink (James Dean), Giant (1956)

…58…59…60.


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