Documentary 101

•September 27, 2011 • 2 Comments

I’m currently taking a Film Genres and Styles class with a focus on documentary. For our first project, we had to film a subject that did not fit the average American, meaning the subject could not be white, heterosexual, middle class, Judeo-Christian, etc. Even though most documentaries cannot truly be objective as typically the subjects being filmed are aware of the camera and therefore act accordingly, our short film had to be as objective as possible. This meant no narration or voiceover, soundtrack, or real influence from the director (me) when it came to what was on screen. Luckily, staging filming reality still brings the power to change reality into a coherent narrative or message that reflects my own personal opinions and beliefs. A rather tame form of brainwashing my viewers with my views (kudos to me for verbage (irony)).

For my short documentary I chose my roommate and friend, Peter. He is wholly American but has a hispanic background as his parents immigrated from Ecuador in 1988, shortly before he was born. I wanted to show that he is an average human being that is not defined by race or ethnicity. Instead, I wanted him to be viewed as a person that has goals, beliefs, likes, dislikes, family, and opinions that are inherently universal. While I do not feel this film is a work of art by any means as I did not aim for an artsy documentary about the meaning of life, I do believe I accomplished the goal for the class within the guidelines. I’m not super happy with the final product but I did feel I grasped the basic concepts of filmmaking in a documentary style setting. Baby steps.

The New, New Hollywood

•May 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a while since I last posted so I hope I still remember how to write this inglesh english stuff. With the arrival of the summer overpriced, shallow blockbusters soon upon us, I wanted to narrow down my list of favorite movies to one movie per my favorite director. However I am going to focus on up and coming directors that will be taking the reigns from Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg in a few years. This is no easy task, but somebody has to do it by golly.

This list is in no certain order because I don’t really prefer one director over the other when it comes to the cream of the crop of the directing world.  And no, Zach Snyder or M. Night Shyama-lame are on my list.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Best Film: There Will Be Blood

As all of you avid thousands dozens pairs of followers of my blog know, I’ve written on this movie before.  There Will Be Blood is one of the most amazing, underrated movies of the last five years.  Many people I know, even many respected movie enthusiasts, haven’t seen this film or appreciate it’s depth.  Not only does this film have some of the most amazing cinematography of all time, the acting and direction of Anderson makes this a beautiful example of how to make a thematic art film that still appeals to a global audience. Even though Hollywood has become a sequel hungry, cheap oiled machine, a few gems sneak out every few years or so and this film is one of the best by a very new director.

Director: Andrew Dominik

Best Film: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I know, I know, I’ve mentioned this film before too.  It’s so good that I want everyone to see it.  This film really took me by surprise and immediately worked its way into my top five favorite films of all time.  Jesse James may seem slow, but if you give this movie a chance, its soundtrack, acting, and look will keep you enticed the entire time. While I do attribute most of the look of this film to Dominik as the director, I do need to mention the cinematographer, Roger Deakins.  His most recent work was True Grit and it’s apparent he has an eye for giving Westerns a more adult, realistic look.  If you haven’t seen Jesse James, and not the horrific Colin Farrel version, I implore you to rent this film immediately. In blu-ray if you can. If not, that’s okay too. Just watch it. That is all.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Best Film: Memento

Nolan’s first big-ish film is crazyyyy.  Written by his brother, Jonathan Nolan, this film is structured unlike any other film in existence.  By cutting between black and white and color, having the entire film’s narrative move backwards from the end to the beginning, and keeping you on the edge of your seat during every single scene, Nolan created one of the most brilliant, original films that will be considered a cinema classic in the next twenty years. Even with the heady adaptations of the Batman universe and the almost overly complex Inception, Nolan’s most intelligent, thematically challenging is still Memento, hands down.  I don’t want to divulge too much information about the plot because I want to retain the mystery behind the film for those of you that haven’t seen it. Memento is a must see for anyone that considers themselves versed in world of cinema. Remember Sammy Jankis.

Director: Sam Mendes

Best Film: American Beauty

From the opening scene this film embodies the perfect creation of a postmodern drama that doesn’t verge into the Lifetime original melodrama genre.  With a basically flawless screenplay written by Alan Ball, Kevin Spacey’s journey from mundane mediocrity to seeing beauty (hence the name) in everyday life never fails to be interesting.  Mendes is known for capturing the humanity of abstract themes with believable, well developed characters and doesn’t have a bad film to date.  This is another must see for anyone tired of the digital, 3D crap that’s so common in theaters these days.  And having Mendes at the helm for the next Bond film makes me giddy as a school girl.

With these directors just really getting their feet off the ground, there may be hope yet for Hollywood even when the director moguls are gone.

There is actually a legitimate cause that is trying to raise money to send M. Night Shyamalan back to film school. I bet he didn’t see that coming!

Radical Remakes – The Odd Couple

•April 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Once again in film news there is talk about all the remakes currently in production or pre-production, many of which are certainly unnecessary (Superman, Spider-man, the Hulk – see a trend here?).  I actually just found an exclusive picture of the new Hulk in action on set.

I’m here to re-imagine classics with a modern spin that respects the original content while broadening its audience to suit more contemporary viewers.

The second film to radically remake is a classic from the 1960’s starring two comedic icons that my generation probably only knows from Grumpier Old Men.  I hadn’t even seen The Odd Couple until recently and was surprised at how well the comedic conflicting relationship between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau stood the test of time.

Why It Should Be Remade: The reason this film would work again is the reason that movies like Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, and The Hangover are successful – actor pairing.  Even though some of these films may be considered crass, because they are, they wouldn’t work if the right actors weren’t matched together.  I mean, look how funny Cop Out was! Oh wait… .  Jack Lemmon as the OCD “female” set against bachelor slob Walter Matthau allowed their contradictions to play out like a feuding married couple.  Instead of feeding off the bum vs. hardworker, working stoner vs. drug dealer, or immature step brothers, the new Odd Couple would do what original did – find humor in gender role reversal and the dynamic, sometimes complicated relationship between guy friends, or the bromance if you will.  Instead of changing the social themes of the original to appeal to a more modern audience, the new film could easily use the timeless ideals of sexuality and true friendship.  The success of this film would rely on the quality of the actors and their chemistry on screen.

Who Should Direct: Ron Howard

Ron Howard has a surprisingly good list of films under his director’s belt with a few misses here and there (most recently The Dilemma).  However, having grown up in the culture that produced comic hits like The Odd Couple, Some Like it Hot, and His Girl Friday that swapped gender roles and had manly men take on feminine characteristics, Howard knows the foundation of a classic film.  The late director Howard Hawks was a master of this comedy genre and had the ability to take serious men like Cary Grant in Only Angels have Wings and turn them into feminized men in His Girl Friday.  Similar to Howard Hawks, Ron Howard has crafted both serious dramas with warm hearts (Apollo 13) and light comedies (How the Grinch Stole Christmas).  I believe with his experience as an actor that he’d be able to take on current actors to reprise the iconic roles of Jack Lemmon’s Felix Ungar and Walter Matthau’s Oscar Madison.

The New Oscar Madison: John Krasinski

Being a fan of The Office, I look forward to the sarcastic and witty humor of Jim every week episode and how he handles the craziness around him.  Known to talk sports, watch movies, and slay the ladies, Krasinski embodies the ever sought after bachelor life.  He even looks very similar to the younger Matthau wit his goofy yet lovable face and tall stature.  Always being the anchor to reality in The Office, he would be a good polarizing force to the dumped, emotional Felix Ungar that Matthau brought to the screen.  I can just picture Krasinski walking back from reporting on a baseball game, grabbing a cigar and some cheap wine, then having the boys over for poker night all in real life, so him taking on those activities on screen would be no stretch of the imagination.  He’s shown his humorous and caring side in The Office and that he can handle movie roles in both Leatherheads and License to Wed.  Even though both of those films weren’t blockbuster hits or even that good in general, it at least gives Krasinski some credibility behind his jump from the TV realm to movies that not every actor can make.  Walter Matthau’s original Oscar Madison cared about his friends to a fault and then turned around and showed tough love.  John Krasinski has that same emotional range that the character requires while still being easily relatable to the audience.

The New Felix Ungar: Chris Pine

 

Jack Lemmon played an amazingly uptight, emotionally distraught man that balanced his quirkiness and attraction with the audience.  While Chris Pine doesn’t have an extremely long list to support his acting chops, he does have two successful roles that reveal his ability to be both serious and comedic in Star Trek and Smokin’ Aces.  Even though Jack Lemmon had a better track record than Pine and was already a household name by the time the original Odd Couple came out, I feel that Pine would work well against John Krasinski both personality and looks wise.  Part of the attraction to the odd couple of Lemmon and Matthau was their differing looks, Matthau tall and goofy and Lemmon short and well kept.  Pine’s height and ability to play a borderline crazy person would allow him to take on the feminized characteristics of Felix and the well kept working man.  I can’t really see an established comedian taking on the role due to expectations of them living up to their style instead of developing a unique character, and Chris Pine’s  brief stint in acting would allow him to do just that.  While a more prominent A lister may seem like a better choice, I don’t believe an ensemble of popular names always makes good movies, just look at the newest Indiana Jones installment.  I believe it’s time for Chris Pine to cross into the buddy comedy genre and The Odd Couple would fit his acting prowess nicely.  If you’d like someone more settled doing a remake of a classic, by all means consider the joy that is Gulliver’s Travels or Wild Wild West. Or just call Spielberg to carefully handle a heralded piece of cinema.

Spielberg on the left, the Indiana Jones franchise on the right. ‘Nuff said.

Trailers, Teasers, and Disappointment

•April 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Trailers typically determine my interest in going to see the final movie and are cut to draw as much audience attention as possible.  They are a fickle beast though, some bringing me to giddy delight only to have my hopes crushed by the final product.  Other trailers are enough of a tease to get me to pay the outrageous price of going to the theater and actually leave me smiling and satisfied (that’s what she said – Michael Scott).  Regardless of how the actual film turned out, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite trailers and how they relate to the end product.  To keep this post from being too long, I’m simply gonna give the movie an overall letter grade. You’re welcome.

Pineapple Express (2008)

The Trailer:

From the opening scene it’s clear this film is gonna be one of those buddy comedy/action movies with who knows what hilarity will ensue.  Having the type-cast actors of straight man James Franco and goof up Seth Rogen reversed, the trailer shows that this pair may breathe new life into the genre.  Every piece of the trailer reveals enough information about the plot without giving away every funny part before you even see the film.  Also giving screen time to some of the more popular minor characters (Craig Robinson) allows this trailer and people like me to want to go see how things turn out for the stoner duo.  “Paper Planes” blaring at the end fits the tone that Pineapple Express is going for with that fun, care free summer adventure feeling.

The Movie: A-

Watchmen (2009)

The Trailer:

The Smashing Pumpkins “The End is the Beginning is the End” eerily accompanying the cool style of Zack Snyder’s comic book world is a great way to get interest in his first film after the popular 300.  After reading the graphic novel, I was super pumped to see the film version that had been in Hollywood limbo since the 1980’s and this trailer only upped my excitement level.  Cool slow motion action scenes, dark gritty environments, and a seemingly smooth transition from book pages to the big screen – what could go wrong? (One thing the trailer didn’t have that made the movie horrible was a little thing called dialogue)

The Movie: C-

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Trailer:

This is one of those trailers that actually doesn’t show enough for the audience to piece together any major part of the plot, which is how it should be, especially for a Christopher Nolan film.  With the beautiful Hans Zimmer score set with action sequences, swooping views of Chicago Gotham City, and the psychotic appearances of Heath Ledger’s Joker, this trailer was the last straw that sent me over the edge into Batman frenzy.  Just from that trailer alone the suspense already builds and left me wondering what was gonna happen. Really well played.

The Movie: A+

Star Trek (2009)

The Trailer:

J.J. Abrams is the current king of Sci-fi (paying homage to the original master Stephen Spielberg with the upcoming Super 8) and with his first theatrical release he did a pretty good job.  The trailer shows lots of spectacular settings, from a futuristic San Francisco to a Hoth-like snow planet, and shiny space battles with that standard Abrams lens flare.  This trailer also focuses on more of the rebirth of the series instead of what new frontier the Enterprise crew will have to tackle, which is a relief, seeing as there are about 400 previous Star Trek films that are hit or miss. And Simon Pegg as Scotty? C’mon, you can’t not go see how he does filling the shoes of that iconic character.

The Movie: A

Robin Hood (2010)

The Trailer:

Ridley Scott directing with Russell Crowe as the main character and it’s set during the Middle Ages? Are you kidding me? Sign me up to be there opening night! Everything about this trailer screams Gladiator 2, which is more than enough to get my cheap, lazy butt in the theater. I mean Russell Crow lunges out of the ocean in full armor, screaming. That paired with all the booby sneaky traps set in the woods, a frickin elf from Lord of the Rings (Cate Blanchett), and half a minute solely focused on shooting arrows, and this trailer is good enough to be a standalone movie on its own.  And then the movie came out.

The Movie: C+

My thoughts exactly.

The Auteurship of Martin Scorsese

•March 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The idea for the auteur theory derived from France during the period in which young cinema lovers were coming to the age where they wanted to change things for themselves.  This led to the French New Wave and a deep, critical study of American filmmaking.  French cinephiles saw the director of a film as being the sole creative force behind it and therefore they deserved sole credit, or authorship (auteur in French).  While I don’t necessarily agree that the director has personal and complete control over a film’s style or look, I still find myself categorizing movies based on who they’re directed by.  It’s just easier that way and personally, I find it pretty reliable to judge a movie pre-screening just based on who the director is, which is why I’ll never see a film by Uwe Boll – look him up, he’s complete garbage.

One of my all time favorite directors is Martin Scorsese, even though that’s really cliché to say (see how the title of the blog corresponds with what I’m writing now? eh? eh?). Ever since he came on the scene in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s, he’s been a gritty, hyper-reflexive mirror to society and a packs a powerful punch of emotion in the depth of his characters and rock and roll soundtrack.  So, to really show how his personal and unique Scorsesian touch molds every film he’s directed, I’ve compiled a list of some of his best films, and my favorites, that define his auteurship.

5.  Casino (1995) – Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone

This film follows the good life and down fall of two Mobsters that move to Las Vegas and exploit the casino business.  In typical Scorsese style, both Sam (De Niro) and Nicky (Pesci) are propelled by the prospect of fame, fortune, dames, and other various vices.  Because Scorsese dealt with a drug addiction to cocaine during the 1980’s, he began creating characters that deal with the highs (pun) and lows of the drug world.  Drugs become the destructive force in Nicky’s life and lead to his violent outbursts that result in his own murder.  Once again, the soundtrack beautifully reflects the visual elements on screen with rock and roll from the time period that sometimes blatantly comment on themes.  Also Scorsese loves the Rolling Stones and typically puts one of their songs in his films – 1) because he’s a huge fan and 2) because the Stones fit the up beat, wild lifestyle of his characters.

4.  Gangs of New York (2002) – Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis

While not being the most historically accurate period movie ever made, it definitely has a style similar to his modern day take on life in the streets and provides his signature of impressive acting.  I know what you’re thinking – Cameron Diaz was amazing and it’s hard to remember anyone else was even in this film, but personally, I feel that Daniel Day Lewis shines as one of his most exuberant characters.  Life for Irish Americans in the late 1800’s wasn’t one of epic yarns or luxury, and Scorsese, staying true to depicting reality through a gritty lens, makes sure to show the seedy underbelly of the Five Points in New York.  By combining a realistic view of the lower class, having two powerhouses of actors in DiCaprio and Lewis, and not shying away from vulgarity or violence, Scorsese successfully creates a period piece with more modern attributes that are solely his. Also the soundtrack doesn’t feature any rock and roll unless you count that last crappy song  at the end by Bono, but I don’t.

3.  Goodfellas (1990) – Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

The quintessential modern day gangster film, Scorsese broke ground in 1990 by straying away from the popular Arnie and Stallone shoot-em-ups and creating a mobster movie with real depth and universal themes.  His one change from his style is the focus on Ray Liotta as the main character, Henry Hill,  and having the two stars as minor wise guys (not that they’re not important, it’s just that the film is told from Henry’s point of view).  Just as the rock and roll music blares both diegetically and non-diegetically, the plot continually flies forward in a world of greed, drugs, violence, and betrayal.  Scorsese meticulously finds a meaning behind every on screen action and once again reflects on his own struggles with cocaine.  Goodfellas is the  most important gangster movie of the post Godfather 70’s with its dark humor and focus on the shadier side of life.

2.  Taxi Driver (1976) – Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster

Focusing on the after effects of the Vietnam War not too far after the conflict struck a nerve with movie-goers in the 70’s, not because he portrayed the violence of battle like Apocalypse Now, but because he understood the emotional and mental consequences on young men returning to peace time society.  De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a troubled veteran trying to make ends meet by driving a taxi (pretty clever title, huh?). However, he still struggles to convert back to a normal citizen and becomes sexually frustrated and morally confused.  The dichotomy of his psyche creates an inner turmoil between assassinating a local politician or killing the small time pimp of 12-year-old Iris (Foster).  Each one is emotionally satisfying to him but he finally decides to take fate into his own hands and destroy the controlling force over young Iris.  The jazz music throughout the film mimics the flow of Travis’ mind and how sometimes, even though there’s a plan, you need a random note or two to shake things up.

1. Tie between Raging Bull (1980) and The Departed (2006)

I couldn’t decide between the two because they are both masterpieces, each reflecting the ideals and social constructs of the decade they were made in.  De Niro changed the acting game in 1980 by truly transforming into a boxer and ushering in the modern age of method acting (copied later by the likes of Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Adrian Brody). Similar to his gangster movies, Scorsese’s take on the violent world both in and out of the ring holds true to the thematic sense of the darker side of human nature.  These themes carry over into The Departed (once again anchored by a star heavy cast of method actors) and are this time placed in the South Boston criminal underworld environment that has recently become so popular.  The Rolling Stones are called in for musical reinforcements to set the tone and create the mood for each specific scene.  Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” acts as a narrative within a narrative, representing the vulnerability and emotional yearnings of the characters on screen.

Scorsese continually creates a gritty realism on screen that derives from his experience of life on the streets in New York during one of the most culturally transformative times in history.  His love for rock and roll and personal memories influence his direction and creates a similar style in each movie that is uniquely his own.

Now if we could just get some more South Boston movies, that’d be wicked awesome. Oh wait, no it wouldn’t.

The Importance of Music – The Western vs. Crime Drama

•March 21, 2011 • 2 Comments

One of my favorite non-lyrical soundtracks is the music behind The Assassination of Jesse James.  Nick Cave and Warren Ellis beautifully supported the cinematography that captured the depth behind the legend of Jesse James.

Besides the focus on character development instead of action, this film’s most unique characteristic is it’s deviation from the typical Spaghetti Western music you normally hear in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More or Once Upon a Time in the West. Don’t get me wrong, those soundtracks are perfect for those films and a more serious, melodramatic tone would have only played against some of the fictional scenarios that make those films classics.

The Western doesn’t necessarily rely on its soundtrack to command the theme, but the style of music directly affects how the audience perceives the tone, whether it be for seriousness or exaggerated fiction.

Similarly to the Western, the crime drama relies on the soundtrack to create the lyrical ambience behind the narrative.  For instance, Guy Ritchie uses modern rock and roll songs and sometimes underground artists to help blend his combination of multiple characters, serious violent action, and humor in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.  Without the music, these films would end up convoluted, dark, and lacking the up beat style that is uniquely Guy Ritchie.

This scene has that cool vibe partly because of the amazing cinematography but also because of the international hit song “Liar, Liar” by The Castaways.  The throwback to a lesser known group compliments Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels independent style and humor without making the movie fit in to the generic crime genre.  Not that more serious crime movies can’t be entertaining without being original, it’s just that the crime genre needs a new creative breath of fresh air every once and a while and the soundtrack to Guy Ritchie’s films are very refreshing.

One of the best crime drama films, Heat, has a very traditional orchestral soundtrack that is very fitting to the serious undertone.  This film is one of Michael Mann’s masterpieces and even though it didn’t do anything that would be considered ground breaking, it did do everything right.  The dark score reflected the depth behind the cat and mouse game of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro while moving the tone into the realm beyond the simple crime movie and into an emotional drama.

Songs by James Brown might not have captured the intensity of the acting and plot that Michael Mann was aiming for.  But that’s just my amateur opinion.

A Thinking Man’s Thoughts – There Will Be Blood

•March 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

There Will Be Blood, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, centers around a businessman looking to make money off the newly discovered oil deposits along the western half of the United States in the early 1900’s.  This film is a narrative on morality and evil, as Anderson explores two different characters with similar, basic characteristics.  The score and cinematography add to the sense of exploring the complexities of right and wrong in regards to ethical living and religion as a whole.  Throughout the film, the characters act as mediums in which they bring out each other’s true nature, therefore revealing Anderson’s take on morality, the church, and mankind’s basic instincts.

The opening scene sets the tone of the film as there is almost no dialogue of any kind for fifteen minutes and an ominous soundtrack bellows in the background.  The main character, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis), encounters many troubles early on, one involving him breaking his leg, but reveals his determination and tenacity not characteristic of many other individuals.  However, he does show qualities of compassion as he takes on the child of a coworker that was killed during an accident while drilling for oil.  This adoption allows Daniel to use the child, H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier) as a leveraging tool to persuade small towns into letting him drill for oil on their property and for a small price.

This usage of his son as an extension of his business reveals the drive Daniel has for success and the extent that he will go to to get what he desires.  An almost prophetic visit from a stranger brings Daniel to encounter the Sunday family, who are extremely religious and act as a representation of the church as a whole.  The son, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), is the most outgoing religious force of the town and maintains the position of the head of the town church, the Church of the Third Revelation.  His initial dealings with Daniel reveal the same drive and manipulative smarts as Daniel, creating the comparison of immorality in the church with that of the secular man.

As Daniel goes about buying out land from the poor townspeople, the score reflects a dark tone that is very characteristic of Daniel himself.  Through this soundtrack, Anderson gives an insight into the mind of Daniel and his almost neurotic thoughts of destroying any competition and dealing with the desire to be alone.  Without this composed score, the intensity of the thematic elements would be diminished and the audience would lose some connection with both Daniel and Eli as they sink into their unique madness.  The scene of Eli driving a spirit out of an elderly woman with arthritis is an example of how similar, yet different, he and Daniel really are.  Both men use manipulative ploys to trick their victims into believing what they offer, whether it is selling their land or becoming dedicated to a religious following.  A close up of Daniel’s face after the religious debacle shows his amusement with this church and his disbelief in Eli’s supernatural gifts.  One cannot help but compare the devices Eli and Daniel use to get their way, one more exaggerated than other, and really start to understand Anderson’s stance on morality.

Every act he makes throughout the course of the film contains motivation from his pathological desire to have no one be his equal or superior.  This desire is the foundation of his immorality and affects his decision making in every way, to the point that his entire life is consumed by questionable decisions.  In the same way, Eli creates a world in which he views success as having a large religious following, contradictory to the principles of most true, devout religious leaders.  These two driving forces meet for a period and each have everlasting consequences on the other.  Eli forces Daniel to be baptized in front of his church, showing the extreme religious façade that Eli portrays while also revealing Daniel’s awareness of his own sin.  This awareness is what makes Daniel even more sinister as he understands his actions and yet continues to deviate from sanity.  He embodies the abstract idea of greed and vengeance, taking everything he can get and getting rid of anyone that gets in his way.  Even simple interactions with people become a competition for him and in turn, further drive him away from any human contact.

During the baptism, Eli harps on Daniel’s abandonment of his child, forcing him to admit his mistake, and therefore reinforcing his drive to get rid of his competition, Eli.  Even during the baptism, in which many deep emotions come forth, Daniel is still obsessed with the idea that he now will finally have the land he needs to complete his pipeline.  Daniel acts as a physical representation of greed in this way and has no other motivation, desire, or yearning besides that of selfishness and self-fulfillment. The idea that Eli is less moral or as immoral as Daniel is hard to fathom at first, but once his real implications are revealed, Eli becomes another walking ethical complexity.  He builds his standing around a religious sect based on principles, Biblical proverbs, and conservative ideals, but in no way reflects the very teachings he presents to his crowd every week.  Eli has a more subtle evil about him as he disguises his inner turmoil for acceptance and brings forth his emotions during his intense casting out of demons or baptism of church members.

To add to his family troubles, Daniel has to deal with the arrival of his previously unknown brother that wishes to work for him.  Once again, Daniel appears sympathetic as he allows his brother, Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor), to stay with him, but in the end views him as another piece of competition to use and destroy.  Together, the brothers complete an oil pipeline, a triumph at the time for Daniel, and during their celebration Daniel reveals that he knows Henry’s true origins and that they really are not brothers.  Instead, it can be assumed that Daniel had a suspicion all along that Henry was impersonating his brother just to reap the affluence of Daniel, and was only using him until the pipeline was completed.  Daniel shoots and kills Henry, leaving him buried in the woods as another victim sacrificed for Daniel’s gain.  This brutal murder shows the vengeful side of Daniel, as he once again defeated a competitor that was trying to get the better of him.

After many years pass, H.W. returns as a man, looking to start his own oil company with his father’s blessing, and still trying to maintain some form of familial companionship.  Daniel, still frustrated with his son’s disability, now sees his son as a competitor, making it fair game in his mind to get rid of this new opponent.  However, Daniel does not approach this new challenger in the typical business fashion, but tries to assault H.W. emotionally by finally giving him the truth of his birth.  H.W. leaves his father’s mansion with his words of “a bastard in a basket” still ringing in the hallways as Daniel resumes his life of seclusion.  Daniel’s yearning to control every person and every situation once again exemplifies his almost mad state of mind as he lives alone, with the exception of a few butlers, spending time destroying materials he spent his whole life working to afford.  By shooting these objects, the seriousness of Daniel’s mental state comes forth as his only goal was to have the power over his enemies and be able to say that he was better than anyone else.  At this point Daniel has lost any shred of morality he retained and is left with only one more aspiration in life that arrives very shortly.

In the end, Eli, once again revealing his actual insecurity and frailty, approaches Daniel after many years and tries to blackmail him into buying some land.  Daniel coyly agrees to the expensive arrangement, which pleases Eli, until Daniel makes him come to terms with himself in the same way Eli did during the baptism.  These characters once again share a common trait of truly understanding their moral conundrums, but still disregard any piece of ethical prowess.  After Eli is forced to admit that he is a false prophet and God is a superstition, Daniel explains that he already used the oil on the land and is actually not going to pay Eli anything.  In this scenario, Daniel lacks any type of sympathetic attachment as he does not help Eli during the Great Depression, but instead, emotionally manipulates him just for his own enjoyment.  This last act of mental torture truly shows that Daniel lacks any sort of morality, as he gains nothing but a sense of pride from this encounter.

(SPOILER ALERT)

To put an end to any loose ends in his life, Daniel murders Eli with a bowling pin, sits in on the ground with a look of accomplishment, and states to his butler that he’s finished.  Daniel has finally gotten rid of anything in his life that had meaning, acted as a threat, or gave him any feeling inferiority.