MOVIE REVIEW: Phantom Thread

PHANTOM THREAD (2017)

GOING IN

Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis together again. In 2007, this pair of genius artists gifted the world with There Will Be Blood, one of the finest films of the 21st century, which resulted in Day-Lewis’ second Academy Award for Best Actor. Now, after a career of unrivaled success, Day-Lewis gives his final performance as a renowned dressmaker in 1950’s London who finds his muse, bringing love, creativity, and disruption to his methodical life. Paul Thomas Anderson serves as the film’s writer, director, and cinematographer – a rare feat that is no doubt within his ability. The film will almost certainly look and sound incredible, and in an Anderson script there are sure to be surprises along the way. With Anderson and Day-Lewis’ track record of excellence, it is impossible not to be giddy with excitement to discover the secrets Phantom Thread hides.

2 Hours and 10 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

Reynolds Woodcock. The name of Daniel Day-Lewis’ distinguished dressmaker should have tipped us off. It is a fine, strong name that sounds prestigious enough, but also one that provokes a little private chuckle on the side. And that is exactly what Phantom Thread turns out to be – part period romance melodrama, and part dark personal comedy. At times it felt almost wrong to be letting out an audible laugh when the characters are taking things oh so seriously. Come to find out, though, that is precisely what makes these wonderful moments so funny.

Phantom Thread turns out to be quite unpredictable. In addition to the humor, there is a psychosexual nature to the story that is both fascinating and uncomfortable. Alma (Vicky Krieps) and Reynolds’ relationship quickly becomes something unexpected. Woodcock puts dressmaking first, and Alma soon realizes that her existence is only noticed and appreciated within the routine he allows it to be. What he isn’t prepared for, though, is her push back and willingness to engage and challenge his status quo. Also vying for Reynolds’ attention (though in a much different manner) is Cyril (Lesley Manville), Reynolds’ sister, manager, and closest confidante. This triangle of relationships is always a little uneasy and how they ultimately resolve is the crux of the film.

Anderson’s work as the film’s uncredited cinematographer is incredible. His camera often focuses close-in on the actors’ faces, and much is said in a lingering stare or the slight turn of an upper lip. Though the dialogue is brilliant, so much is conveyed via body language. It speaks to the acting prowess of the entire cast, but also to PTA’s eye for knowing how to capture it perfectly in the frame. The atmosphere and set design of the film is mesmerizing, as well, combining with a beautiful violin and piano based score from Jonny Greenwood to cast a spell on viewers and immerse them in another time and place.

Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the obsessive, controlling Woodcock is pitch perfect. As expected, the method actor whose preparation is the stuff of legend, put in plenty of work to become the sought after dressmaker. For Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis actually learned how to sew, going so far as to hand-stitch a Balenciaga dress from scratch, while his wife (director Rebecca Miller) served as a model. Oh, and he also apprenticed for a year under costume director Marc Happel of the New York City Ballet, sewing 100 buttonholes as he learned the intricacies of the craft. All of this incredible effort leads to a performance that feels perfectly natural. Day-Lewis’ history is so fantastic that it might be easy to compare and call his work in Phantom Thread merely “very good”, but when measured against the rest of the acting field it really is one of the finest performances of the year.

However, it’s not even Day-Lewis that gives the best performance of the film. That honor must go to newcomer Vicky Krieps who is not just his equal, but is able to even outshine him at times. Her patient demeanor is both delicate and fiery, always giving the impression that at any moment she might crumble under Reynolds’ force or powerfully take control of a moment herself. Her acting is exquisite and the ability to emote so much without words makes her performance such a force. Not to be outdone is Lesley Manville, who also holds her own in every scene opposite Day-Lewis as the ever-steady rock of their strange sibling union. Combined these three stars are as good as any other ensemble cast you will see all year. They make every line sing and create characters you won’t easily forget.

VERDICT

Though PTA’s films had never commanded much of my attention before, Phantom Thread captivated me from the opening scene to the end credits and bewitched me unlike any other film experience in 2017. Thematically, it’s exploration of an unconventional romance between the obsessive man and his delicate muse goes in directions you never expect, and never ceases to hold your attention throughout. Cinematically, it is one of the most well-crafted, stunningly beautiful, perfectly scored, impeccably acted dramas I’ve seen in years. PTA’s meticulous attention to detail marries so well with Daniel Day-Lewis’ devotion to character immersion, and newcomer Vicky Krieps owns the screen in every scene. Like the notes left by Reynolds inside the seam of his dresses, Phantom Thread will embed itself in your memory and linger in your thoughts for long after your initial date is over.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Minisode 31: Murder on the Orient Express

In this minisode we discuss Agatha Christie’s often adapted book to film, Murder on the Orient Express, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, along with Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr., Willem Dafoe, and a handful of other people potentially accused of murder. This story is special for a reason and we enjoy talking about the ethics and morality at play, while also gushing over a beautiful visual aesthetic in the film.

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MOVIE REVIEW: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

GOING IN

In all my years of devouring classic literature, I never read a single Agatha Christie novel. A travesty, I know. Arguably her most famous work, Murder on the Orient Express features the famous reoccurring detective Hercule Poirot. The story tells of thirteen stranded strangers on a luxurious train ride, one of them a murderer who Poirot must discover and stop before they kill again. As intriguing as the story is, I’ve intentionally avoided reading the novel or seeing the 1974 film that came before, and therefore will be able to go into this mystery spoiler-free. Branagh’s work is never short on panache and the all-star cast assembled points to an exciting cinematic game of whodunit, reminiscent of the board game Clue.


COMING OUT

For me, the success of movie mysteries is largely measured by the answer to two questions: “was it entertaining” and “did it keep me guessing until the end? ” Unexpectedly, the film is very much not a thriller. The style is theatrical in nature, which should be no surprise with Branagh directing, combined with some modern stylish cinematography. It felt very much like Branagh’s tone in Cinderella and made for a weird experience, which to be honest, did not always work for me. At many times I expected the energy of the film to increase as suspects were considered and the investigation grew nearer to resolution, but aside from one or two scenes this felt more like a stage play minus the heightened drama. And that leads into question number two, because despite not knowing the story and end result, I was certainly not guessing until the end. I’ll admit that I did not know every detail until Poirot’s classic reveal speech, but the clues were easy enough to read that it felt more like I was watching to discover how the detective would deal with the outcome versus whether he would learn the truth or not. The “whodunit” simply wasn’t filmed in such a way that lived up to my expectations for an exciting mystery and at times was downright boring.

So far, by my standards, Murder on the Orient Express does not succeed. What saved the experience for me, however, was the story itself. Though I don’t feel like this is a great adaptation, I was definitely intrigued by the moral implications that arose once the killer’s identity was revealed. The questions about justice, and what is right versus wrong, were compelling and it is easy to see why this is one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved stories. Talking through the implications of the ending on the drive home with my 14-year old made for great conversation.

With regards to the stellar cast, I feel a bit cheated. We simply don’t get enough time with each of the many characters to establish much of a connection. The acting is fine, although I’m quite tired of Johnny Depp as a gangster at this point, but no one really stands out because all of the characters are equal and overshadowed by the hero detective. Branagh really just can’t help himself here and his camera keeps Poirot in focus in almost nearly every scene. Those he isn’t in are filmed from his perspective.  There are so many closeups and monologues that the film starts to feel much more about him and less about the mystery. Branagh is no doubt a stellar actor and his presence serves the character well,  but his direction creates an unevenness to the style in Murder on the Orient Express that makes it feel awkward.

Verdict

I’m glad that I now know the story of Murder on the Orient Express. Christie’s tale is fantastic and is a unique scenario in murder mysteries. It brings up questions about justice, judgment, and forgiveness. Branagh’s adaptation is good, and I don’t regret seeing it, but instead of wanting to re-watch it, I am more compelled to seek out the source material and previous adaptations. Murder on the Orient Express is just an okay film. You can see better, but you could also see a whole lot worse.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Suburbicon

Suburbicon (2017)


Going In

Written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Directed by George Clooney. Starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac. The truth is that I didn’t even need to know the plot to become interested in this film. Despite hearing the word “mediocre” thrown around, I find it difficult to believe that this group of supremely talented artists won’t provide an entertaining time at the movies. From the look of its trailers, Suburbicon appears to be mostly dark comedy, and though I greatly prefer the Coens’ strictly dramatic work over their more comedic efforts, every time I see a white-collar Matt Damon losing his mind and taking on organized crime it makes me grin. I’m holding out hope that there is something of substance that will elevate this beyond just satire.


COMING OUT

Suburbicon is wild. The Coens’ signature dark comedic touch is all over this, and its trailers, come to find out, have been a bit of a misdirection. At first glance you’d think the city of Suburbicon was a clone of Pleasantville. It doesn’t take long for that idea to be blown out of the water, though, as we learn that Suburbicon residents are quite fond of their community demographics and not very accepting of change. The surprises come pretty quickly and the setup for the main plot is intriguing. In fact, if this movie had been more of a straight-forward thriller it could have worked well.

Unfortunately, Suburbicon has no idea what kind of film it is. There are two stories taking place at once and they do not coexist well. Cuts between the two result in an odd tonal shift and the satirical nature of main plot doesn’t mesh with what’s going on in the secondary one. If the movie is trying to say something important, it fails at making that clear. Suburbicon does feature moments of genuine humor and that slick Coen Bros. writing that we know and love so well. In particular, the brief time that Oscar Isaac is on screen stands out. His charisma plays perfectly in the role this film calls for. I also rather enjoyed the twists and turns the story takes, and I probably would have responded positively to the ending if it hadn’t been ruined for me by the trailer. Why they chose to show us something in the trailer that would tip us off to the exact ending of the film 15 minutes before it happens is extremely frustrating. Maybe the studio just counts on us all having very bad memories? Regardless, it was a major mistake that negatively affected my viewing and response to the end.

Verdict

The trailer for Suburbicon, sans extra story-line that didn’t fit in, is a tighter film than the finished product. Despite an incredible amount of star power attached to this project, it simply tries to be too many things at once and the result is a frustrating, confused mess. It’s not all bad, and sections of it show flashes of what could have been, but the finished (I use that word loosely) product is just not something worthy of being recommended.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Snowman

The Snowman (2017)


When one reads the reviews of film critics, chances are that you’ll notice they tend to talk about a film for a bit before getting into what they actually thought about the movie itself. I assume this is because they want people to scroll through the whole thing, maximizing your exposure to their advertisers, so they bury the lede. I’m not a film critic, I’m just a guy who sees a lot of movies, so I don’t really know about all that. What I do know is that The Snowman sucks. It sucks hard.

I should probably tell you about the plot, even though I don’t really want to. Basically someone is killing women and putting their heads on snowmen. Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole (yes, Harry Hole), a drunk detective who teams up with his new co-worker (Rebecca Ferguson) to solve these murders. At the same time, Fassbender is trying to be a father figure to his ex-girlfriend’s son while Ferguson is secretly working hunches of her own on the case due to a connection with where she’s originally from. If I had to find something good to say, I’d commend Fassbender and Ferguson for being as good as you’d expect them to be. The film isn’t terrible because they mailed it in, that’s for sure. Oh, and Val Kilmer shows up for a few minutes, or at least someone who is wearing Val Kilmer’s face. It’s hard to tell, really. To say much more would be to spoil it I suppose, although I’d argue that if the choices are paying to see the film and my spoiling it for you, spoiling it would be the more humane way out. Everything about it was mind-bogglingly stupid. There are several characters that exist exclusively to be suspects, but then the way they’re made to look shady is so heavy handed that no 4 year old child who has ever seen an episode of Blue’s Clues would even entertain the notion that they actually did it. There’s no suspense or intrigue at all. The director, Tomas Alfredson, who has come out and said that 15% of the script wasn’t filmed due to rushed production, compared the finished product to a puzzle that has a few pieces missing. But it would be ridiculous to call this a puzzle. A puzzle builds on itself until all of the pieces working together start to tell a composed picture. This movie doesn’t even come close to demanding any problem solving ability on the part of its audience and it doesn’t build to anything resembling a composed picture. It’s a complete and total mess.

Listen, I don’t want to tell you what to do or how to live your life. You have to make your own decisions. But if you have a couple of hours carved out to go to the movies this weekend, I’d suggest going to something else. Anything else really. Go see something you’ve already seen. Go see something you’ve already seen that you didn’t even like. Get Jack Frost on demand instead! There really aren’t many types of movies that I enjoy more than thrillers about serial killers. I’m pretty easy to please with this genre. I even like the mediocre ones. The Snowman is just bad. Really, really bad.

Rating:


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent (2017)


Occasionally, cinema will give us a film that pushes the boundaries of what has previously existed, either through technical advancement or unique narrative construction. Loving Vincent is such a film and is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. To simply refer to it as animation would be a disservice because what has been accomplished here is far more special than a single word could describe.

Loving Vincent‘s plot is a murder mystery exploring the curious circumstances around the death of Vincent van Gogh. One year after van Gogh’s death, a postman requests that his son Armand personally deliver van Gogh’s last letter to his brother, Theo. After finding Theo has also died, Armand seeks to complete the task by finding someone to deliver the letter to and in the process begins to question van Gogh’s actions, wondering if his suicide was perhaps a homicide instead. Armand discovers more information about Vincent through present conversations and dramatized memories recounted by those he meets. Ultimately, while the questions raised are intriguing, the manner in which this tale is told is quite lackluster. There are no answers here either, only general speculation from characters with varying perspectives. I’ll admit that I learned a bit about van Gogh’s past and personality, but a 94-minute film shouldn’t feel as long as this one does.

Let’s talk about that animation style, though. The story of Loving Vincent’s creation will likely be what is remembered most and rightfully celebrated. Filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman first shot the film in live-action before enlisting a team of 115 painters (the training of some which was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign) to paint over each of the 65,000 frames in oil paint using van Gogh’s signature style. The result is some of the most dazzling, visually stunning animation you will ever see. The film’s vibrant color palette and textured brushstrokes make you feel as if you’re quite literally living inside of a painting, and the transitions of color in the present to black and white during memories was a great visual touch-point for what time period the story was depicting. It all has such an incredible effect, though, that it sadly at times overshadowed the expository story to the point where I was focusing on the visuals and not paying attention to what was being said.

Verdict

Loving Vincent is a step forward for the filmmaking industry and will certainly spawn new attempts at using these methods. It is a magnificent artistic achievement and it’s disappointing that the narrative’s quality did not match the film’s uniquely spectacular animation. That doesn’t, however, mean it’s not worth seeing. If Loving Vincent is playing near you, make it a point to see this on a theater screen and marvel at the incredible beauty of something that has never been done before.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 073: 12 Angry Men

In this episode, we examine a film considered to be a classic but which also has a huge amount of relevance in today’s cultural landscape. Our conversation about the 1957 directorial debut of Sidney Lumet is one we’ve been excited about for quite a while. It is a film that truly does make us feel many different emotions, and connecting with this one was not a problem. We hope you enjoy and would love to hear your thoughts on why 12 Angry Men is special to you.

What We’ve Been Up To 0:01:31

12 Angry Men Review – 0:16:45

The Connecting Point – 1:09:30

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Minisode 24: Detroit

(SPOILER-FREE FIRST 17 MINUTES) Don Shanahan (Every Movie Has a Lesson) and Emmanuel Noisette (E-man’s Movie Reviews) join Aaron to discuss Kathryn Bigelow’s intense new film about the 1967 Detroit riots and Algiers Motel incident.

Full Spoiler Review: 0:17:09

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