It's A Crude World Out There -- There Will Be Blood

The ago old Jedi saying is, "Always two there are: A master and an apprentice." If that's the case, it fits the relationship Robert Altman had with director Paul Thomas Anderson perfectly. Anderson cherished being Altman's apprentice, serving as a standby director for Altman's A Prairie Home Companion for insurance purposes, as the elder director was 80 years old at the time. In the last conversation they had, Altman would tell him, "I think this film is something different for you."

He was talking about Anderson's latest movie, There Will Be Blood. Though Altman never got to see the finished product (he passed away in late 2006), his gut feeling proved to be true. There Will Be Blood was nominated for eight Academy Awards and critics agree that this is Anderson's finest work yet. But that's not what Robert Altman meant when he said different.

The movie is set against the turn-of-the-century oil craze in the United States (an American craze that continues to exist but has moved into the Middle East), and shows how the discovery of oil shapes the life of silver prospector Daniel Plainview, portrayed brilliantly Daniel Day-Lewis, who recently won his second Oscar for this role. We follow his life, from the discovery of oil, how it transforms him and how it ultimately ignites a passion that not only doesn't die, but instead shines brighter as the story ends.

Anderson belongs to a generation of VCR filmmakers. These directors learned the craft not in classrooms or through the lens, but through hours of watching movies on videocassettes. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, along with Anderson are a few directors that belong to this school. Most of their movies are ensemble pieces, have intricate storylines and multiple main characters. Their stories are downright gritty, poignant and funny. But most of all, as a whole, their stories have a real quality about them. Though sometimes the plot or setup may be outrageous, an irony of kismet or grand design at work in their stories. And while most of these directors have now an established list of films on their shelves, There Will Be Blood is only Anderson's fifth motion picture. This doesn't mean that he's not been given any chances or is considered risky; Anderson can be credited for reviving the career of Burt Reynolds and transforming Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as A list stars.

The young filmmaker originally set out to write the story of two quarreling families, but was unhappy and lost with the script. It was during this time in London, that he was withdrawn from the script and homesick. Shopping for books, he was drawn to one which showed a Californian oilfield. That book was Oil!, a novel by Upton Sinclair. Though the novel primarily dealt with politics of that day and the political views of Upton himself, Anderson saw the relationships of the characters with each other as the primary crux of the story. Setting the book as an influence, Anderson quickly adapted the theme and the setting and used them to flush out his own story and characters. But there's also something else that was important that made Anderson select that book and that story, and that's perception. "I wonder what people's perception of California is sometimes," he tells LA Weekly. "Do people perceive it as this land of recreation? That's such a misconception, I think. That area, that San Joaquin Valley — on one side of the freeway are all those crops and on the other side are these oil fields. It's amazing — just the leap of a freeway and its two completely different things. And to think, there's oil on one side of it and there isn't on the other."

Daniel Day-Lewis is by far the most talented actor of his time. He's also a very peculiar actor, in the sense that we'll never see him as a villain in the next Spider-Man or Die-Hard movies but we will see him portray characters like Daniel Plainview from this movie. Plainview is the volatile fuel that drives the story, his ambitions and unpredictable behavior draws the rest of the characters in and fits them around himself, like jigsaw pieces.

Paul Dano is part of the supporting cast, portraying not one, but two roles. He plays twin brothers, Paul and Eli Sunday, who cross paths with Plainview. Dano, previously seen in Little Miss Sunshine, plays more of Eli than of Paul. Eli Sunday is first and foremost a fanatic. As the leader of a new church, Eli Sunday thinks he's a man of vision rather than a man of ambition which is what he thinks Plainview to be. Dillon Freasier portrays H.W., the deaf, adoptive, son of Plainview. Though a first time actor, the young Freasier is at complete calm and ease next to his more experienced co-actor, Day-Lewis. Though there are other characters throughout the movie, the only two that really matter are Plainview and Sunday. Even the film's tagline, "There will be greed. There will be vengeance," speaks about Plainview's maniacal greed and Sunday's fanatical vengeance.

So what is it that makes this movie different, as Robert Altman said it would be for Anderson? Well, this is a grand story whose every moment is volatile and far different from the sublime and weirdness of Magnolia. The story more or less revolves around one character, Plainview, unlike Boogie Nights, which was an ensemble piece. And although this movie clocks in more than two and a half hours long, the pacing is much faster than that of his previous movies.

Ultimately, it is different because both Boogie Nights, Magnolia and all of other Anderson's previous work was influenced by his master. Altman knew that There Will Be Blood was Anderson's first and foremost step into becoming a master for himself.

And of course only time will tell when Anderson will complete the journey that will make him into the master Altman was.

Throughout the mid and late-90s, these writer-directors found their niche by studying movies on VCRs. Hence, the eponymous name of the group which comprises of some of the most profound directors of our time, some of which include:

Quentin Tarantino: Though he started out as a writer (Natural Born Killers, True Romance), Tarantino ultimately broke into the ranks of the director elite with Pulp Fiction in 1995.

Kevin Smith: Having sold his entire comic book collection, this director from Jersey set out to write, direct and star in Clerks. An off the wall look at life in a convenience store filled with colourful character commentary on everything from life to Star Wars.

Robert Rodriguez: Starting at the early age of eight, young Robert was fascinated by the addition of the VCR in his home. Needless to say, Robert started being a film-maker at a very young age. So much was his enthusiasm that he has excelled in all parts of movie-making, earning him the nickname of “the one-man film crew.”

(This review was published on the 9th March edition of DAWN Images)

There’s something about Garaj

They’ve been around for a while now, performing locally and even internationally at the Royal Albert Hall as a part of the Earthquake Relief Fund. And after travelling here and there, performing all along the way, they’ve finally released their first self-titled album.

Karam Abbas Khan (lead vocalist) and Imran Ahmed (guitarist) are the two musicians that make Garaj. Karam hails from a family of musicians from the Gawalior Gharana and is the son of the Late Ustaad Ahmad Ali Khan. Whilst Imran handles the rest of the sound, i.e., guitars and such.

The first thing you ask yourself after hearing this album is: What is their sound? Quite frankly, it’s difficult to pin them down, primarily because they’re a fusion act that plays classical, rock, funk, hip-hop and even a hint of trance/electronic. Obviously, when they’re juggling so many genres there are bound to be some casualties.

The album starts to suffer with its first two tracks, Dil Muchlay and Dil Naal Dil. Granted, Karam’s singing is almost hypnotic but it soon becomes annoying and you find yourself reaching to switch to the next track and then again to the third track. Here’s where things get slightly interesting.

Aja Mahi is the song that almost could. We hear the true potential of Karam’s vocal prowess and Imran’s minimalist guitar carries the song through. But what stops this song from becoming possibly the best track on the album is overkill on part of production: a case of too many effects spoiling the track.

Tujh Bin Ghar is the most mediocre track on the album. It sounds like so many other tracks from so many other bands and is clearly the filler piece of the album. Tum Bin Lagay Nahi suffers from weak and almost mouldy lyrics. Mouldy because they are like spoiled cheese but its strength comes from very a very basic sound, something this band should do more often rather than relying on effects and production overkill.

Tum Bin Ik Pal Chain sounds more like an arcade game soundtrack than a proper musical piece. Clearly no serious effort has been put in to fine tune and hone this track. Ajana Morey takes things to an almost retro type beat and although while it’s catchy, it suffers from the same directionless sound heard before on this album.

Jis Din Na Milo Gi and Tanha, Tanha are the purest tracks here. Unadulterated from excessive effects and beats, the almost ghazal-like sound soothes the mood of the listener.

At the end, there’s definitely something about Garaj. But clearly the debut album suffers from lack of direction and excessive production to the tracks. Think the perfect donut but with too much sugar. With proper guidance and fine tuning this album (and this band) could take on the likes of Fuzon or even Jal for that matter. One can only imagine what this album would have sounded like if someone like say Mekaal Hasan had produced it.

As a new band breaking on to the scene, Garaj has to be lauded for talent if not the effort. Ultimately though, it is the fans that will have the final word on Garaj: Will they strike a chord with the masses or wash out like the proverbial baras?