March 14, 2018 at 8:15 pm | Posted in 2018 | Leave a comment
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◊ ½

With “Thoroughbreds,” first time director/writer, Cory Finley wants to make his mark on Hollywood with the “Heathers” of this generation. But, as dark as “Heathers” was, you always knew who you were rooting for. It was a scream against self-involved, vapid youth that every uncool kid could relate to. This film feels like the opposite. There is nobody to root for here, because every character is some form of despicable. The vapid, self-involved kids are the stars of this story and I found it impossible to care about them or their actions at all. Amanda and Lily are played by Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and The Dying Girl”) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch,” “Split”), respectively. Over the course of the film, they vie back and forth for which one is the biggest sociopath. Eventually, they rope in the hapless loser Tim, played by Anton Yelchin (“The Green Room,” the newest “Star Trek” films), in sadly one of his last roles before his untimely death. All three are solid actors and they play their characters well. In fact, this film is entirely well-crafted. I have no complaint about any of the acting, the dialogue, the cinematography, the music (or lack of it). The use of sound and silence was particularly interesting in this film. Finley did a great job of creating creepiness. I can see why many people would like this movie. I just despised every single character and every choice they made. Which made it hard to sit through, and even harder to enjoy.


The Party

March 7, 2018 at 7:33 pm | Posted in 2018 | Leave a comment
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This black-and-white British film was small in scope and fairly modest in its intentions. It was not trying to say anything big, nor was it trying to make a cultural impact, nor did it even seem to want to move the audience. In fact, I had a hard time trying to figure out why writer/director Sally Potter made it at all. The only other film of hers I have seen is the brilliant, audacious “Orlando” (1992) that helped make Tilda Swinton a star. She has only made a handle full of other movies in the intervening 25 years. And this one could not be more different from that one. Where “Orlando” spanned centuries and vast distances, “The Party” takes place in one home over one night. It very much reminded me of early 20th Century plays, in which a common trope was to trap people in a house someplace and see was bitterness ruptures forth over the course of a day, a night or a weekend (think O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” Williams’s “The Night of the Iguana,” or Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”). This party is to celebrate Janet’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) promotion to Minister of Health. But, as it turns out, nobody is in the celebrating mood, for various reasons. The party devolves as egos fracture and darkness seeps into the room. By the end, there is a permanent emotional wreckage and an impending rash decision that will likely destroy everything. This is not fun stuff, but it can be powerful and cathartic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Potter never fully commits to the drama. Instead, she attempts to lighten the mood with black humor. Some of it is funny (most of the best lines belong to Patricia Clarkson), but it never becomes funny enough to make this film an effective comedy. All the humor succeeds in doing is blunting the pathos. And, at a slender 71 minutes, it barely gets started before it’s over. Each of the characters had complex stories and complicated relationships, all of which could only be touched on in the short time we had. What a shame. There was some fantastic material here. And a fantastic cast that included, Thomas, Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Cherry Jones, and Bruno Ganz. I didn’t leave the theater feeling like I had wasted my time (it was too short for that). Instead, I left feeling like there was wasted potential. There was a much better movie lying undiscovered just below the surface of this strange little film.


February 26, 2018 at 11:26 am | Posted in 2018 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

As I was leaving the theater, a guy in front of me turned to his friend and said, “I don’t understand it, but I think I’m glad I saw it.” Yeah, I guess that’s about right. I think I’m glad I saw it. It was at times a visually arresting film and the mystery was provocative, right up until the moment it lost me. A meteor has crashed into a lighthouse on the coast somewhere in the U.S.  A resulting bubble, called “the shimmer,” has grown for miles around the lighthouse. Various teams have been sent in and none have returned, until Kane (Oscar Issac) mysteriously does. His wife, Lena (Natalie Portman), is a biologist. She chooses to join a team of 4 other scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gena Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny). Once they enter the shimmer, crazy things start happening. The closer they get to the lighthouse, the weirder things get. In all of that weirdness, there are some really compelling, and sometimes beautiful, images. The mystery builds and I found myself getting more and more invested in the answer. Unfortunately, the final moments were vague and unsatisfactory. With 2016’s “Arrival,” one certainly got the sense that the book was clearer than the film. But, at least, I was able to piece together a cohesive explanation for what was happening. Ultimately, I was unable to do that with “Annihiliation,” and that left me unsatisfied. It’s also worth noting that the book is very significantly different from the film, on almost every level. Core elements of the book are entirely left out (including the key element of the meaning of the title) and various outcomes are completely different. Apparently, what little explanation there is in the film was created by the writer/director (Alex Garland). Given that, I wish he had been clearer. I know he is capable of writing a compelling and complex sci-fi script; he wrote the wonderful “Ex Machina.” This film had it’s fun moments and a couple of genuinely creepy ones. But, when a movie poses a mystery, I feel like it should make a good effort to resolve it. Or at least give a good reason for not doing so. This one was a group of interesting parts that didn’t really add up to a cohesive whole.


Black Panther

February 17, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Posted in 2018 | Leave a comment
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Where to begin? With some films, there is so little I want to say, that I’m not sure I can squeeze a decent review out of them (whether I liked the film or not). For films like this one, I have so much to say, I don’t know how to fit it all in. To call Ryan Coogler’s new film brilliant seems to risk both overhyping it and underselling it; it cannot be categorized so easily with just one word. Coogler, whose other two movies include “Creed” and the stunning “Fruitvale Station,” has deliberately made a Black movie for a Black audience. What makes this film revolutionary is that he has done it within a genre that has been colonized entirely by the White perspective until now. The basic rules of a good superhero movie include: a lot of interesting action, great special effects, powerful (and emotionally complex) heroes, a daunting evil villain, and (more recently) plenty of quips and tie-ins to a larger superhero universe. To that end, this film checks most of those boxes and does so as well as, though not particularly better than, most of the best superhero movies. But evaluating it just on that criteria entirely misses what this film really does. For every other film in this genre, the race of the characters and the director was overwhelmingly White. As a result, the perspective of the entire film was a White one, and the implications of that remained unexamined by almost all of us, myself included. But, in “Black Panther,” the perspective is shifted, the lens turned back on itself, and the limitations within the genre thus far are left exposed. This is not a film made from the White perspective that happens to have an all Black cast; this is a Black film and we, as White viewers, are left on the outside looking in. It’s about time. This is a film whose bones are built on the thing that makes most White Americans uncomfortable with African Americans– their deep and abiding anger. That is why this film is so revolutionary. We have had plenty of films in the past that have explored the complex cultural issues around race, including fantastic Black films by Black artists. But those films have almost always been serious dramas or sly comedies. But superheroes are America’s epic heroes. As with other heroic tropes of the past (cowboys, knights, etc.), they serve as the representation of how we want to view ourselves: bold, noble, self-sacrificing, and the idealized representation of our truest values. When Coogler uses this genre to make us participants in the conversation about racial injustice and anger, he subverts expectations in a way we aren’t prepared for. I noticed my own discomfort when I watch Black people talking about White people behind our backs, so to speak. Typically, when we see this in film, White people remain the ones in power, even in those conversations, even when we aren’t present. Within the realm of comic book fantasy, Coogler is free to imagine a world where Black people are truly, entirely in power. In that world, we see Black people talking about White societies with the same “benign” condescension that we have historically used when discussing African societies; ie what is our responsibility toward the ignorant savages (only, in this case, the savages are the White societies). That that is such a revolutionary perspective, and that it makes me uncomfortable, exposes for me just how entrenched the colonizer’s gaze is. In “Black Panther,” we are shown a beautiful African society, as idealized as many movies have made American society. Coogler’s Wakanda manages to be both a technological supercity and also deeply African. The art, streets, clothing, architecture all have a profound African identity built into them. It is also a truly equitable city, where women serve in all roles of society (in fact, one could argue that this is also the most feminist superhero film made to date). Wakanda is a city built for the Black audience, as a representation of their idealized world. From that perspective, the final scenes of this film are particularly powerful. It feels as though this movie is having a conversation with Black America and, in the final moments, it is inviting the larger world to join that conversation. But (and here is the real revolution), they are not inviting us to a conversation about race on our terms; we are being invited to finally start having the conversation on their terms. I have said much about Coogler as the director and writer and nothing about the cast. It seems flippant to simply say that everyone was fantastic, but they truly were. This is a brilliant cast that includes some of the best of the rising young actors in Hollywood today. I will highlight one performance, though. I do think Michael B. Jordan should get an Oscar nomination for his character Killmonger. Everything about that performance is incendiary and his character is uncompromised from start to finish. His final scene with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was stunningly powerful; I cannot remember ever seeing that much honesty, rage, pride in a comic book film. And, all of that came from the villain. He is one of the best villains in any superhero movie to date; Heath Ledger’s may have been edgier, but Jordan’s is more moving and emotionally real. Now, I must confess my own discomfort reading back over this review. I am cognizant that I am speaking about a world that I’m not a apart of. Mine is not the best voice to interpret this film and its importance; I know that. I share here my perceptions and my desire to be apart of a broader conversation, that should happen on every level, including the arts. Film has a unique ability to reach so many people. That this one uses the framework of a genre we are so familiar with to speak a language that is so unfamiliar to most of us (and yet so comfortable to some), is why I think the only, best word for “Black Panther” is, in the end, simply brilliant.


The Cloverfield Paradox

February 10, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Posted in 2018 | Leave a comment
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My first 2018 film happens to be another Netflix release. I might have been tempted to skip this one, except that it’s part of a series. Ten years after “Cloverfield,” we are getting the third in JJ Abrams’s series. While not as good as the excellent “10 Cloverfield Lane,” this one is on par with the first film. It’s a fast moving, often tense addition to the sci-fi/horror sub-genre. Unfortunately, all trapped-in-a-spaceship movies will forever be compared to “Alien.” If we removed that one from the evaluation, this film fairs about as well as most. Somewhere in the near future, a group of scientists aboard the space station “Cloverfield” try to solve Earth’s energy problems. Oil reserves have virtually run out, nations are fighting over limited resources, economies are collapsing. Through some entirely ill-defined means, the crew of the “Cloverfield” are on the brink of providing limitless power to Earth. Then, of course, things go terribly wrong. The team includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle,” “Concussion”), David Oyelowo (“Selma,” “Queen of Katwe”), Daniel Brühl (“Rush,” “The Alienist”), Chris O’Dowd (“The IT Crowd,” “Calvary”), and Ziyi Zhang (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Memoirs of a Geisha”). This fantastic cast feels a little underutilized. They have all demonstrated an ability to show a complex range of emotions. Here, they are mostly required to be mad or scared, which they all do gamely enough. As the story develops and the tensions build, the details make less and less sense. They make for some interesting visuals and a few decent jumps, but they don’t add up to a consistent whole. One of the reasons “Alien” is so brilliant, is that you have one conceit (an alien on your spaceship) and everything stems beautifully from that one device. Here, it feels like more weirdness keeps getting piled on, whether it fits the “scientific” explanation or not. As a result, it gives the audience a sense that any strange this is possible. That allows for a lot of options, but also robs the film of some of its tension; the danger seems random, rather than sinister. How this film ties in to the first two movies is anyone’s guess. Perhaps this one is providing an explanation for what happened in the first two. Yet, there is not enough connection between the films to really embrace that idea. With the exception of the final seconds of this film (very reminiscent of the previous two), this feels as though it could have  been written and filmed as another movie, and then the studios decided to call it a “Cloverfield” film after the fact. That incredibly loose association of films is an interesting idea. But, ultimately, in order to be a series, it seems to me that a group of films needs to add value to each other, as though seeing them all gives you new insight into each separate film. Perhaps, with the addition of other films, the series will make sense and that sense of connectedness will occur. So far, it has not.

Oscar Predictions – 2017

February 6, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Posted in 2017, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Well, the Oscars are about a month away and I’ve seen all the 2017 films that I’m going to. So, I guess it’s predictions time. Just like #oscarssowhite shaped what was nominated and how Academy members voted last year, I can’t help but think that #metoo and Times Up will have a similar effect. With the exclusion of James Franco from the Best Actor and Best Director categories, we have seen it already shape nominations, so I suspect it will have an influence on voters as well. With all of that in mind, here are my thoughts on who should win and who likely will.

Best Picture

Should be:  Get Out.  This was a tough call for me. I loved several films in this category. But, ultimately, “Get Out” is the most inventive, provocative and brave of all the nominees. I think it is the one most likely to have a lasting effect on future films.

Will be:  The Shape of Water.  This film certainly has all the momentum and it really is an excellent film, even if I was  more moved by several other films on the list. However, I have to consider the possibility of something like last year’s upset. “Lady Bird” could take the award, if Times Up gains enough momentum.

Best Director

Should be:  Jordan Peele for Get Out.  For the same reasons I stated above. I think it took real courage to make this film and I think he made it with no idea it would succeed. My #2 would be “Dunkirk,” which couldn’t be more different. It is just such a classic Hollywood movie. But the scale was immense. I think it took real mastery to create a cogent movie out of all those disparate moving parts.

Will be:  Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water.   Almost certainly.  This is a gorgeous, beautiful movie that is exactly the type of thing modern Hollywood loves. It’s quirky, offbeat, and feels like an “artsy” independent film, despite the fact that it is absolutely not.

Lead Actress

Should be:  Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  Her rage was a vision to behold in this film. This is a tar-black comedy that was perfectly cast. McDormand got inside the skin of this character and gave her just the right amount of sympathy, mixed with bile, sarcasm and violence.

Will be: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri or Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water. I think McDormand has a slight lead, as of now, but Hawkins could easily steal it.

Lead Actor

Should be:  Timothée Chalamet for Call Me by Your Name. His raw, emotional honesty was easily the best piece of acting I saw this year.

Will be:  Gary Oldman for The Darkest Hour.   The Oscars love it when actors play real people; perhaps it makes it easier to measure how good their acting was (eg “he sounded just like Churchill”). And Oldman has been around a while, without an Oscar. It looks like Hollywood thinks it is his time. There have been some murmurs about his treatment of women, but nothing seems to have taken hold. There is an outside chance he won’t get the win for those reasons. If that’s the case, I think the award will go to somebody very safe: the fan favorite Daniel Day-Lewis for his purportedly final movie.

Supporting Actress

Should be:  Allison Janney in I, Tonya.  Without question. She was so fantastic in this role that she is heads and tails above the rest.

Will be: Allison Janney in I, Tonya.  Almost certainly.

Supporting Actor

Should be:  Sam Rockwell in  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Though all the actors in this category did a fine job this year, it could not have been easy to play a character so despicable but still make him human.

Will be: Sam Rockwell in  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This is certainly where all the momentum is.

Adapted Screenplay

Should be: Call Me by Your Name.  Though I also think “The Disaster Artist” was an amazing accomplishment. I was just really moved by this film, and I found the book to be more salacious than sentimental. James Ivory gave real vitality to this story.

Will be:  Call Me by Your Name.  Probably the only Oscar it will take home.

Original Screenplay

Should be:  Get Out. For all the reasons I stated above.

Will be:  The Shape of Water. “Three Billboards” could steal it. “Lady Bird” might even take it if Times Up proves to be very influential with voters this year. Unfortunately, “Get Out” is the least likely candidate to get the win.

Best Animated Feature

Should be:  No answer.  I have only seen one of the films, “Coco,” which was a great film. But, I have heard good things about “The Breadwinner.” So, I don’t feel I have enough info to judge here. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because…

Will be:  Coco.  The easiest prediction of the night.

Best Cinematography

Should be:  Dunkirk. This is a tough call for me. “Blade Runner 2049” had amazing cinematography and I would be perfectly happy if it won. It’s just the massive scope of “Dunkirk” that makes me choose that film. What an undertaking that must have been.

Will be:  The Shape of Water.  Maybe. Though I think almost any film in this category could steal it.

Costume Design

Should be:  Phantom ThreadThose dresses were quite amazing.

Will be:  Phantom Thread.  I suspect this will be the one token Oscar they get.

Visual Effects

Should be:  Blade Runner 2049This was a stunningly beautiful movie full of evocative images that were both reminiscent of the original and also uniquely there own.

Will be:  Blade Runner 2049. I suspect this will be the one nod this movie gets.

Original Song

Should be:  Mystery of Love from Call Me by Your Name. This Sufjan Stevens song was perfect for this story. As were the other two he wrote for the film. They are melancholic and yearning and really beautiful. You can hear this one here.

Will be:  Mighty River from Mudbound. I’m not at all sure of this. I just think they will give it to Mary J. Blige, partly because it’s a powerful song and she did a great job of acting in the film, but won’t get the Oscar. And, partly because this will be the film’s only win.

2017 – The Year in Review

February 4, 2018 at 7:10 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment

Having just seen my final film of 2017, I thought I would give you all my synopsis of the year in film and what I thought were the best and worst of what I saw. I have seen 67 of the films released in 2017. That is just below the 73 I saw last year. And, for the first time, it includes 3 films that were just (or primarily) released on Netflix. I’m not sure how many like these I will include in the future, but, given that one of those films (“Mudbound”) is Oscar-nominated, I feel justified.

People always want to know if I think this was a good year for film. Yes, I do. Though, not quite as good as last year, there were still plenty of films to recommend. That said, I was much harder on films this year. I gave only one 5 ◊ rating, as opposed to 4 last year. Whereas the number of films in my other two top ratings were almost identical to last year. This was a deliberate decision to not rank so many films as “classics.” I’m just not sure if Hollywood produces a half-dozen classics every year. But, maybe.

I was actually surprised as I reviewed my list that I found myself disagreeing with my ratings far more often that usual. Is “Blade Runner 2049” really the best film I saw this year? I don’t think so. I was actually far more moved by “Call Me by Your Name.” But, that said, “Blade Runner” was beautifully and very very clever. Which one will stick with me longer? I’m not sure. My point is: don’t hold me to these ratings. Who knows what I will think next year or 5 years from now.

One rating you can hold me to is my lowest rated film of the year. Fortunately I have no Ø this year, but I do have a measly ½, so I thought I would include it as a cautionary tale.

Enough rambling. Here is the list of my favorites, ranked (roughly) in order, as of right now. I have included all films I ranked as 4 lozenges or higher. Enjoy.


Blade Runner 2049


Call Me by Your Name


Endless Poetry

The Disaster Artist

The Shape of Water

The Florida Project


Patti Cake$


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Get Out


War for the Planet of the Apes


Lost in Paris

Lady Bird

I, Daniel Blake

Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

As with the past several years, you can check out any of my above reviews by clicking on the film title.



February 4, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

Within the first few minutes, I had a clear sense of what this movie was going to be. It starts with Comanches massacring a homesteading family. The screen fades to black and we get the single word “Hostiles,” which fades until only the “I” remains. Just in case it isn’t clear yet that this is a film about how everyone is a hostile (including you and I), the first scene after the title is of white soldiers terrorizing an Apache family. From there, the film moves at a languid pace, interspersed with sudden moments of violence, as it tells the story of a group of soldiers commanded to take a Native American family home, so that the chief can die. They are led by Captain Blocker (Christian Bale), who has killed countless Native Americans and (of course) hates them all with a passion. The film hasn’t really started yet, but we can all see where this is going. Over the long course of 135 minutes, there will be some measure of suffering and redemption for virtually everyone. This is a strong cast, including Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemmons, Jonathan Majors, and Timotheé Chalamet. They all do a good job of being grim, broken, and determined. Few other emotions are required. That said, I was particularly impressed by Rory Cochrane (“Dazed and Confused,” “Empire Records”). I have mostly considered him a comic actor, but his haunted Sgt Metz was particularly effective. The film unfolds over the stunning Montana landscape and director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart,” “Black Mass”) pulls out every stunning “Dances With Wolves” shot he can think of. And, in the end, that’s its biggest problem; there was really nothing new here. Every image shown, every idea explored, has all been done in other films. There is nothing wrong with this story. It just isn’t an original one. On top of that, the final scene was just a little too pat and easy. I’m not sure that much redemption had been earned. This wasn’t a bad film. It just felt like something I would have been impressed by a couple of decades ago.

All the Money in the World

February 4, 2018 at 10:05 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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I have to be honest that the only thing that drew me to this movie was curiosity. I have known all the salient information about the Getty kidnapping for many years and was never all that interested. But, I wanted to see how seamless this movie was after having to reshoot the Kevin Spacey scenes a few weeks before the release date. I must say that I was surprised. I had assumed the the JP Getty role must have been an extended cameo with two or three scenes. However, he was one of the film’s three pillars. It is incredibly impressive what Ridley Scott and his actors were able to pull off in so short a time. And, in particular, that Christopher Plummer was able to breathe life into this role with so little prep time, was particularly impressive. In fact, that “gimmick” is impressive enough that it threatens to overshadow the film as a whole. I think it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is actually a pretty good film overall. Covering the 4 months of Paul Getty’s abduction, the film shifts back and forth between it’s three central characters: JP Getty, Paul (his grandson), and his daughter-in-law, Gail. Michelle Williams is the best thing in this film. Her Gail had an unrelenting determination, born of desperation, that drove the entire story. Mark Wahlberg’s Fletcher Chase could have easily been the center of the film, tying the disparate parts together. However, Wahlberg simply isn’t up to the task. Of the lead performances, his was the most wooden; he could have been playing any other character he has ever played. Instead, the energy focuses on Williams who is able to convey a full range of Gail’s emotions with ease: sadness, fear, delight, exasperation, a wry humor… the list goes on. Williams is one of the better actors in Hollywood and it shows every time she’s on screen. Young Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) played the ransomed grandson. I have never seen him before and he has mostly had bit parts until now, but, as Paul, he was vulnerable and very relatable. As for the other Plummer, his JP Getty was steely, calculating and cold. He seemed perfect for the role, but I found it hard not to speculate what Spacey’s performance would have been like in each scene. His “evil” characters tend to be so much more snide and condescending. I hope I can one day see those takes. The story moves along at a steady clip, creating far more drama than I would have thought, given that the outcome was never in doubt. Scott shot the film in lots of yellow light and the screen was a wash of browns, golds, and other soft, warm colors. It had a sense of Italy (where it was shot), but it also had a real sense of the ’70s, like you were looking at one of those old faded photos from the era. I think it’s important to note that the film is a dramatization of real events. In the real world, it was Paul’s father (not his mother) who did all the negotiation with JP Getty. I have no idea why that was changed, other than to highlight the power differential more starkly. And, the entire ending is pure fiction, and not particularly good fiction. I think we would have been better served by a less melodramatic and more honest wrap-up. It’s a shame; the truth is almost always more interesting. This was a solid film. It was well acted, beautifully shot, and well-paced. But it isn’t anywhere close to one of the best of the year. I think most who see it will enjoy it, but I doubt anyone will feel the need to see it twice.

Phantom Thread

January 31, 2018 at 9:59 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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“Phantom Thread” seems like the type of movie where there is so much more going on than I’m aware of. Continually, I got the sense that things meant more than they appeared to, like the words stitched into hiding places on the dresses. Writer and Director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Inherent Vice,” “Magnolia”) is known for complex, multilayered stories. Yet, this one seemed deceptively simple. Taking place some time in the late ’50s or early ’60s, the story is about the fictional Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). Woodcock is the top fashion designer of his age. He is moody, rigid, aloof, and controlling. He takes on women as his muses/lovers and has his sister get rid of them once he has grown bored. But then, Alma enters his life and slowly begins to get the upper hand. This is a film that looks like a Merchant-Ivory production, but has the heart of a Gillian Anderson novel. There is a dark, twistedness to this story; if you miss it early on, the ending will only baffle you. In fact, even when you catch it, the ending could still leave the audience scratching its collective heads. There is nothing here as blunt as “There Will be Blood” or as overtly weird as “Magnolia,” but it gets under the skin, nevertheless. I’ve said before that I think Day-Lewis is the best male actor alive. He completely becomes his characters (think of the difference between his Christy Brown, Bill The Butcher, and Lincoln). If this truly is his last film, it will be a loss to those of us who love great acting. Here, Day-Lewis inhabits the prim fastidiousness of his character. He is a superficially gentle, soft-spoken man who is wound too tight. Many actors might have tried to show that dichotomy by having his explode in rages. Day-Lewis’s Woodcock never has to do that; we understand his internal world by the slightest shift in pitch, the look in his eyes, the tenseness in his shoulders. This is a subtle performance, full of meaning. I kept thinking of his character Daniel from “There Will Be Blood.” That character was also tightly wound, but Day-Lewis showed us rage beneath the calm exterior, whereas here he gives us exasperation and anxiety. To be able to express those subtle differences just with his body is what makes him a master. Even in a film that felt plodding in many places, it was still a joy to watch him at work. I have to be honest, I prefer every other Day-Lewis film and Anderson film that I have seen. Had the tone of the ending crept into the film earlier, I may have been more engaged. But, as curious as this one was, it never truly gripped me.

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