Quick Hit: A deep dive into the exploration of power dynamics within a relationship.
Apparently this is just the year that I love Best Picture nominees. There are some years where that isn’t necessarily the case, but this year each of the film hits a facet of my film personality that apparently needed scratching. From Del Toro’s love letter to monsters, to a deep, dark black comedy in Three Billboards, to a deconstruction of race dynamics in Get Out, I’ve really enjoyed this year’s crop of films. That continues with Paul Thomas Anderson’s (hereby referred to as PTA) written and directed film Phantom Thread.
Phantom Thread follows dress designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel-Day Lewis) as his life is changed by the discovery of Alma (Vicky Krieps). Reynolds is extremely routine and committed to his work, a character trait that has been nurtured by Cyril (Lesley Manville), his sister. While Reynolds focuses on the design of the dresses, Cyril runs the other aspects of the business. This creates a three-way dynamic between Alma, Cyril and Reynolds, as each struggles to understand their place in each other’s lives.
The film is undeniably a PTA film. Those familiar with his work in Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and The Master will understand what I’m saying with that. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the obvious power struggles that lie in each relationship. The film starts and Alma seems to bend to each and every one of Reynold’s wishes. But Alma has more to her than this, and soon shows a layer of unyielding steel that is lying beneath her surface. This leads to some extremely uncomfortable scenes eventually, ultimately leading to the finale, which is something that has to be seen – if not to understand, only to enjoy.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a film, outside of possible Hush, where I believe that sound played such a huge role. Never before has the scraping of butter onto bread been given so much meaning. It’s almost a character of its own – playing to Reynold’s neuroses, pushing Alma higher, and shares center stage with the three actors… and the score. My, oh my, the score. A frequent collaborator with PTA, Jonny Greenwood has crafted a score that matches the film perfectly. Huge in some moments, swelling to deafening in others, but always leaving enough silence for the sound editing to come back and hit the audience right in the ears, the score is lilting and light, until it isn’t. Just like the relationship between Alma and Reynolds, everything isn’t alright, unless it is.
I wouldn’t be me without mentioning the acting, and oh my is it good. I can’t imagine sharing a screen with the legend that is Daniel-Day Lewis, but Vicky Krieps stands next to him and shares each moment confidently. Alma is a great, enigmatic character – we don’t know much about her history, or anything besides her romantic involvement with Reynolds. Krieps nurses that mysteriousness throughout the film, giving conflict to moments that have no right being conflicted. Ms. Manville also earns her Supporting Actress nod, at times giving us little more than an eyebrow that render entire conversations unnecessary. I actually think that this film would have been interesting if it would have played without dialogue at all – allowing the actor’s expressions and the sound editing and score to carry the film. And Lewis continues to turn in masterful performances, with Reynolds being well-crafted in all moments, and never boring in the slightest.
This film is a slow burn of a film which doesn’t feature explosions, explicit sex, or any of the trademarks of modern blockbusters. But this period drama is fantastic in many ways that go unnoticed in those films, and for that I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Timely and political, Marvel has another hit on its hands.
I’ve sat on this review for a few days, partly because I had to think about all the thoughts I had about and surrounding this movie. Though Civil War approached some of the political climate that we’ve been in since the election in 2016, it’s nothing like Black Panther. I mean at one point, an African-American guy calls a white guy a “Colonizer”. Panther is in your face about what it thinks, going as far as ending with a post credits scene in the United Nations. Now many movies come at you with political agendas, but a lot of them end up less than entertaining. However, as Panther continues to make boatloads of movie at the box office, it’s obvious to all that it’s not just a political movie. Instead, Marvel has made a compelling story, filled with characters that have actual motivations. It’s actually a step up from most super hero fare.
I usually hit upon a bit of the plot, but I’m going to avoid that outside of a few spoilers near the end of the post (you’ve been warned). Suffice it to say that the Ryan Coogler gives us one of the preeminent views of Africa at its finest, invoking simultaneously a technological metropolis and an African Savannah full of wildlife. Along with this, Coogler and his writing team, give us a myriad of characters that don’t feel like African stereotypes. Gone are the Rafikis of the world, and in are characters whose looks are individual, definitive, and, well, normal.
That leads me into the look of the film overall – it’s gorgeous. There are several dream-like sequences in the film, each of them given a certain lens filter in order to focus the light into the purple spectra. There’s also glowing, magnetic trains, vibranium galore, and giant rhinocerous for battles. It’s a visual spectacle that only fails once or twice during the scenes that feature Black Panther fighting on his own against random goons. Outside of that minor flaw, the film contains a definitive vision that usually Marvel films have lacked, outside of Ragnarok and Doctor Strange.
I just want to have a shout out to the amazing African-American women that were in this film – from Lupita Nyong’o, to Danai Gurira, to Letitia Wright, each and every woman has a moment to shine in the film. Whether it’s their bravery, their loyalty, or their intelligence, we see that the women can do more than just support the men. They make choices based on their own merit, and the film is much better for it.
The soundtrack also sets the beat well, and mixes in with the transportation to a whole new world. Wakanda is meant to be different, and the music ties in to that. But all the beautiful music and the gorgeous look of the film would have been tinged if we would have had another Whiplash or another Malekith. Instead, we’re given Kilmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan). Arguably the first villain since Loki to captivate an audience with his every move and every word, Kilmonger is both formidable and vulnerable. He’s the mirror image of what T’challa sees within himself – and now I’m headed into spoiler territory. Check it out after the picture, or scroll to the end to see the rating again.
Ok, still with me?
WHY WOULD YOU KILL HIM???? I understand that death in a comic book universe is pretty fluid, but to have such a lame exit after an incredible battle is a bit lame. I also didn’t enjoy the fact that the exact same formula from Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, etc. etc. is repeated again where we have a villain with arguably the exact same power set as the hero get 1) beat up badly 2) mopes a bit 3) comes back and wins it.
It’s just going to be a bit hard to build forward after this.
Outside of the few hiccups I mentioned, I thought Black Panther was very good, and I shall rate it accordingly. It’s an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: A wonderful performance by Oldman goes a bit unheralded in this biopic.
Gary Oldman is one of those actors that appear in everything, and yet somehow no one really even knows about him. He’s Sirius Black, he’s Mason Verger, he’s the human compound’s commander in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, he’s Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And the reason you never know he’s there is because he falls into the roles he’s given like a chameleon in the trees. In that respect, Darkest Hour is no different. Winston Churchill was known for his oratory ability, and Oldman sells this, and sells it hard.
Hidden beneath prosthetics and makeup, Oldman lands Churchill’s way of speaking, including the trademark lisp and mumbles. Much of the movie focuses on Oldman speaking, walking, and interacting just like Churchill, and in those senses the movie is a rousing success. The best historical portrayals land somewhere between direct imitation and creation, and Oldman recreates Churchill in his best and worst of moments. He also portrays a genuine emotional battle that takes place throughout the movie, as Churchill struggles with the decisions he has to make for the greater good.
I’d also like to point out the striking physical similarity between Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind) and King George VI. King George was another famous Briton with a speech impediment, who notoriously struggled with stuttering. Mendelsohn not only looks the part, but he lands the distinctive voice cues and verbal struggle in the same way as Oldman. Just don’t think he gets enough credit for his admittedly small role in this film, particularly for one emotionally wrought scene in Churchill’s home.
What’s unfortunate about Darkest Hour is just about everything that doesn’t include these two. There’s a lot that’s being discussed here – the war, the inner workings of the British government, the willingness of the government to lie to the people when it believes it suits the people. This is tossed together in a manner that each time Oldman is given a chance to leave the screen, the film suffers. There’s just not enough glue there to hold the story together without a truly magnetic performance.
It’s really odd, I’ve never seen so many Best Picture nominations work together so well. Both Darkest Hour and Dunkirk deal with the British evacuation of Dunkirk beach. One is focused on the activities at home, the other on the beach. As well as Dunkirk, The Post works as a pretty good companion piece here. Both deal with governments keeping from the governed certain military defeats that would sway public opinion in a certain way. All these seem politically motivated in today’s Trumpian climate.
The film itself is average, but the performance is amazing. That leads to a barely above average score in a “C+” from me.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"