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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)


Going In

The truth is, I’m just not that interested in seeing Call Me By Your Name. Might as well get that out of the way right up front. But the thing about film criticism is that a responsible critic doesn’t just watch the movies that they might like. Appreciation for cinematic excellence must exist outside of one’s preferences, and so here I sit, about to take in a story about a sensual romance between a 24-year old man and 17-year old boy. The age gap in this story is a big concern, as is Hollywood’s tendency to label sexual lust and desire as “love,” but I refuse to judge this book (adaptation) by its cover. Many critics have raved and gone so far as to label  Luca Guadagnino’s film “a masterpiece,” and that alone makes it essential viewing, regardless of my resulting opinion.

2 Hours and 12 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

In many ways, Call Me By Your Name earns its place among the best films of the year. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography is gorgeous.  Whether it’s the landscapes of the Italian countryside or perfectly angled interiors, every shot captures a feeling of authenticity to the era. Under Guadagnino’s direction, the details are captured everywhere, in a glance here or brush of the hand there, and the beginnings of Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio’s (Timothée Chalamet) romance can be noticed ever so subtly if one just pays enough attention. The acting in the film is also to be commended. Chalamet rightfully deserves all praise and award consideration coming his way after turning in one of the best performances of the year. His boyish charm comes through brightly on the screen, and when he hurts it is impossible not to feel that in your soul. Hammer, who never disappoints, plays the older American visitor pitch perfect. The nuance in his hints of romantic interest are delicately balanced against his boisterous personality until the moment he lets go to release a torrent of built up passion.  The chemistry between the two leads is palpable and the growing desire between them practically drips off of the screen like the beads of sweat on their shirtless chests. And then there’s Michael Stuhlbarg, playing Elio’s father, who is quietly effective for most of the film leading up to one incredibly powerful Oscar-worthy scene in which he must do a thing every parent wishes would never be necessary – comfort a hurting child. 

Call Me By Your Name could have been a moving, romantic coming-of-age tale about first love, if not for its two glaring problems. Why the majority of critics have seemed to overlook these issues is worrisome. Legally, there is nothing wrong with the relationship as it is portrayed. A 17-year old boy in early 1980’s Italy was past the age of consent and could make decisions as an adult. But just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. Hammer is a large man and he physically towers over Chalamet, presenting the appearance of an age gap closer to the actual 10-years between the actors than the 7 between the characters. Elio is shown to be young, still living with his parents, following their rules, and laying his head in their laps for nightly book readings. Oliver, in contrast, is in control of every emotion and hides his carnal urges toward Elio for quite some time before ultimately giving in to the younger boy’s increasing persuasions. The relationship feels much more like a dominating one than one of equally experienced adults giving consent. Oliver is a sexually mature world-traveler. Elio is the opposite, inexperienced and unsure of himself and his sexuality. It increasingly feels like Oliver is controlling the situation and feeding his own passion and desire in the moment without any long-term concern for its effect on Elio. Does he care about Elio? Probably, but that’s another fault of the film. Love is shown in action and sacrifice, not just physical interaction, and we see neither of these in the choices made in Call Me By Your Name.

Also concerning is the way in which both Oliver and Elio treat women. Elio is in a relationship with the sweet, same-aged Marzia (played by the stunning Esther Garrel), but as he struggles with his sexuality the result is that she becomes used for his pleasure and nothing more . While the film focuses extensively on the emotional toll his feelings to toward Oliver have on Elio, it merely skims over how horribly treated Marzia is and what the repercussions could be on her own psyche. Oliver, meanwhile, has his own skeletons in the closet that speak to his in appropriate treatment of women. It’s all washed away, seemingly, because the film promotes the boys’ relationship and sexual exploration as positive. Even Elio’s parents support and encourage the relationship between their visiting research assistant and teenage son. It’s as if Guadagnino believes that the feelings of passion Oliver and Elio shared were worth it no matter who got hurt in the process.

I can’t help but wonder just how this movie might play with a 24-year old man and 17-year old girl, instead of two men. Would as many people be overlooking this troublesome relationship? In contrast to the caring, loving actions shown in the relationship between Kevin and Chiron in Moonlight, Oliver and Elio’s summer romance feels like nothing more than a brief sexual fling, and I’m going to need a lot more depth than that if you want me to care for these characters.

Verdict

Despite being a beautifully made film that features fantastic performances, Call Me By Your Name‘s inappropriate romance and resulting treatment of those affected by it make this film impossible to recommend. Sex and lust are not the same thing as love, and though the film captures the feeling of desire, its all made dirty due to the age difference and unequal stature of the two men at its center. The film’s craftsmanship is simply undeniable, but its offenses are equally unforgivable.

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: Song to Song

Song to Song (2017)

Song to Song is the latest film from auteur Terrence Malick, one of Hollywood’s most reclusive and polarizing directors. It’s story follows a young guitarist named Faye (Rooney Mara) who begins an affair with hotshot record producer Cook (Michael Fassbender), secretly hoping that his name and influence will result in a boon to her career. Soon after, she meets BV (Ryan Gosling), a singer-songwriter working with Cook, and begins a relationship with him that blossoms into something more real than anything Cook could ever provide. Over the course of the film these three interact to varying degrees. We see romance, love gained, love lost, fear, jealousy, lies, depression, and a wealth of poor choices. It is a powerful look at the pitfalls which can come with power and fame, and the dangers of building your life around those who have it. In the end, though, the film offers a sense of hope and understanding that is profoundly moving.

It has been written that Song to Song is narratively sparse, but I must wholeheartedly disagree. In fact, I consider the film to have one of the best scripts of the year. Malick’s style can be jarring at times, certainly, as he aggressively cuts between perspective and time with no explanation whatsoever, but I never found the film difficult to follow.  Whereas most films feature lengthy scenes to progress plot, what Malick does is utilize brief moments with perfectly spoken dialogue to convey where on the emotional journey a character is at a given time. These emotional changes from scene to scene serve as markers that move the story forward. When combined with the incredible, masterful cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, this creates a film that viewers can connect with and relate to, recalling fleeting memories from their own past. You won’t have to have walked the exact path of the characters in Song to Song to resonate with their experiences.

The title of Song to Song couldn’t be more appropriate. Malick’s film flows like a record as it takes you on this realistic life journey. It begins with the powerful electronic beats of South African hip hop group Die Antwood and ends with an orchestral composition from classical composer Claude Debussy. It is incredible just how well the soundtrack transitions between musical styles, all of which seem to perfectly compliment the particular scene in which they appear. And like a soundtrack, the visual cuts and editing style of Song to Song are reminiscent of listening to a soundtrack, sometimes skipping ahead… from song to song.

Where the film truly develops into something special, though, is in its final 10-20 minutes. Here the film comes together and pays off the journey by offering hope. Forgiveness and mercy are learned, and love is finally understood. The language used even evokes the well-known Biblical parable of the prodigal son. It could as much reference the return to a commitment of faith as that of a realized devotion to true love. It is in this redemption that we see the state of happiness we endlessly search for can be achieved, it just may not look like we thought it would.

Verdict

For those willing to meet Malick halfway and open themselves to engaging with the film, Song to Song offers an emotionally visceral experience. Its dialogue is lyrical poetry that works perfectly in concert with Lubezki’s stunning cinematography, an expertly balanced soundtrack, and fine acting performances all around. This may be some of the least abstract and aimless work Malick has ever produced, while also being among his best. Song to Song is a film that needs to be more than just seen, it demands to be felt.

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: Columbus

Columbus (2017)

“I was going for something subtle,” Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) says to her mother while discussing a dinner recipe. This line, spoken early in the film, informs us of what video essayist turned first-time director Kogonada has planned, and is one of the films many moments of self-awareness. The film hardly even has a plot. Two people meet (as strangers sharing a cigarette) and talk (mostly about architecture and sometimes about themselves). Kogonada’s focus isn’t on what happens to the characters weeks or months down the line, but rather on capturing everyday moments between them. During a conversation between Casey and co-worker/semi-romantic interest Gabriel (Rory Culkin) about how individual interests affect attention spans, the latter even says “Are we losing interest in everyday life?” Columbus is a quiet introspective, made for viewers who wish to observe, think, and feel. For those who want to stop and smells the roses.

While Casey and Jin (John Cho) are the two primary characters of the film, at its heart is architecture. Columbus, Indiana is known for its stunning modern designs and Kogonada ensures that we are given a wonderful tour with many highlights which results in some of the most beautiful imagery in a film this year. Every building, from the public library where Casey works to a tall-spired church to bridges and archways and walls made of glass, inspire the conversation. They are as much a part of the narrative as they are a backdrop. The detailed nature of discussions is at times informative and points to a filmmaker who understands the artistry of these unique designs.

Cho is fantastic as a resentful son who doesn’t wish to be present for his father’s potential death. He holds a strong grudge against the man, an architecture expert, who prioritized his work over his children. It is ironic then that Jin should meet Casey, a young woman fresh out of college who is obsessed with the very thing that his father’s love of caused so much hurt. Jin also is tired of his native Korean traditions and would give anything to be rid of them, while Casey won’t stop taking care of her recovering addict mother despite dreaming of leaving the city for college. This is a lonely pair of souls looking for a spark, but their bonding occurs slowly and naturally. They are drawn to each other through conversations and intelligence. In a world where romance is overshadowed by “hook-up culture,” the innocence of their relationship is refreshing.

Richardson, I must say, is a revelation. Her previous roles in The Edge of Seventeen and Split both showed talent, but she was overshadowed by incredible lead performances by other women. Here she trades charisma and screen presence for a world-weary look as a young woman smarter than her circumstances allow her to show. She can really act and her star is definitely bright.

Verdict

Columbus, as much as any film in 2017, made me feel. The passion of its director is evident in every frame. Cinematographer Elisha Christian drew me in through gorgeous cinematography underscored by a soothing ambient electronic score by Hammock, and the subtle yet brilliant performances by Cho and Richardson anchored me in this world of theirs that I did not want to leave. Its visuals may get the lion’s share of attention, but this is a complete package, a unique and moving experience that will linger in your thoughts if only you pause and give it your full attention.

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 25: Safety Not Guaranteed

July’s Donor Pick Episode is here and FF contributor Steve Clifton joins us to talk about a movie he loves. This quirky romantic time travel film offers us a chance to talk about how nostalgia affects our lives and much more. Our listeners picked a good one and we have a great conversation about it.

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MOVIE REVIEW: A Ghost Story

Might as well get this out of the way. A Ghost Story is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine any middle ground here. You’re gonna love it, or hate it. Personally, count me as a “love it.” The film worked for me on every happy, sad, frustrating, mournful, tedious, emotional level. Writer/Director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) has crafted one of the most atmospheric, surreal cinematic experiences to hit theaters in a long time.

So what happens when we die? In this universe, Lowery posits that we have a choice to make. We can move on, wherever that leads us, or hang on, searching for ways to reconnect with what and who we’ve left behind. In A Ghost Story, our leading man is known only as C (Casey Affleck), and he’s chosen door #2 after a sudden death leaves him caught between this world and whatever comes next. He has left behind M (Rooney Mara), broken by the grief she feels over C’s loss. What transpires over the course of the next hour plus is a deeply affecting emotional journey designed to make the viewer feel….something. Your milage may vary on what that something truly is.

The film is shot with the intention of making things awkward and frustrating. You are expected to react, positively OR negatively, but at the very least, honestly. There are a couple of ways Lowery succeeds here…

First off, with death typically comes grief; perhaps the most personal of emotional responses. How we manage grief as individuals is a variable, not a singular experience shared by the greater whole. We spend a lot of time with M immediately following C’s death, and the camera of cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo lingers on her, sometimes for an uncomfortable amount of time. M’s emptiness- her broken soul- is palpable, and it’s sometimes difficult to fixate on her, feeling guilty for intruding in such a personal experience. There is a standout scene in which we watch M eat a pie, left for her by a neighbor. And when I say we watch her eat a pie, I mean the WHOLE pie. And I mean a solid five minutes of a singular shot as M devours this pie, and though she never looks up, we can sense her sorrow…her anger…her incessant need to do something to regain a sense of control, even if that involves something as simple as engaging in a gluttonous display of stress eating. I got more emotional resonance from this scene than I did in some full movies I’ve seen this year.  It’s important to point out how affecting this scene is and how wonderful Mara is in pulling it off. For us as viewers, it serves as the point of no return regarding whether or not we’ll decide to see it all through.

Secondly, there is a concept of time which serves as the central theme in A Ghost Story. More specifically, the passage of time, and the infinite loneliness saddled within it. How, pardon the pun, haunting must it be to be caught in a no man’s land, unable to communicate with the people right in front of you, unable to do anything other than watch them move on from you. You are literally watching yourself being erased and there is nothing to be done about it. Eventually, you have forgotten what it is you were even looking for. This is how C spends his endless moments. Standing, staring, existing. Affleck doesn’t have much heavy lifting to do here.  He spends the bulk of the film under a sheet with black eye holes, but somehow this never feels like a cheap parlor trick. It could’ve easily been a cheesy gimmick, like some sort of link to a Charlie Brown Halloween, but it ends up working well.

Eventually, Lowery explores some interesting ideas around time continuum, adding elements to his narrative which expand on the concept of existing with the burden of infinite purposelessness. The atmosphere, one of quiet stillness, where at times you could easily hear a pin drop, is aided by the soft, funeral score of Daniel  Hart.  On occasion, Lowery provides a jolt as the living world intersects with the lingering spirits on screen, and yes, I said spirits. I won’t give anything away, but yes, C might have to carry the burden of loneliness, but he isn’t always alone.

Movies like this are why the art house was invented. I’ll say this… if you can’t get yourself past the pie scene without rolling your eyes in frustration, just cut the chord and go for tacos. If you can hang on though, be prepared for an unique experience; one which may occupy your thoughts for quite a while. I’d be curious to hear from someone who has recently lost someone close, and to see how the film resonates with them. There is sadness in abundance, but also glimpses of hope, and perhaps even catharsis.

Rating:

 

 

Feelin’ It: A Ghost Story

(SPOILER FREE) We do our best to tell you what A Ghost Story is, and isn’t, so that you can decide if it’s worth your time. It will either frustrate you or leave you haunted. Listen now to find out which you’ll be.

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Intro/Outro Music – “Seeing the Future” by Dexter Britain

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Episode 052: The Notebook

We boldly go where Feelin’ Film has not gone before – into the romance zone. This week we’re talking about a beloved romantic classic, based on a book by celebrated author Nicholas Sparks, it’s The Notebook. Our conversation leads places we didn’t expect that it would and we discover a depth to this story that really resonated with us both. It’s a week unlike any other so sit back and enjoy the discussion.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:01

(Patrick – The People vs. O.J. Simpson)

(Aaron – Creed, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Bond films)

The Notebook Review – 0:15:01

The Connecting Point – 1:08:56

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