Movie Review ~ Phantom Thread


The Facts
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Synopsis: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rated: R

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: I have to say, for a few years there I was worried that Paul Thomas Anderson and I were going to have to part ways. The director of the stellar Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood had released the frustrating puzzlement that was The Master and then capped it all off with the dreadfully gauche Inherent Vice. Our relationship was on the rocks, no question. When it was announced that PTA was reuniting again with Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis for an untitled tale set in the world of 1950’s fashion, I gotta say I was pretty intrigued.

Then, the worry set in. Oh no, another too serious contemplation on life that cine-snobs would drool over like the last slice of chocolate cake and the rest of us would scratch our heads at. PTA had taken filmgoers to some great places over his career but I didn’t get much out of the last two rides. Then the stakes were raised even higher when Day-Lewis (Lincoln) indicated Phantom Thread would be his last onscreen performance and he would retire from acting. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a movie. Not only does it have to be a nice bell for Day-Lewis to ring on his way out the door but it has to also hold up to the scrutiny of critics left wanting from PTA’s last efforts.

Almost immediately, my initial fears faded as Phantom Thread unspooled.

The House of Woodcock is a renowned couture house in London’s posh fashion district. With his intricate designs and supernatural attention to detail, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) has created a life and thriving business for himself and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, Maleficent) who runs the business side of things. A ‘confirmed bachelor’, Reynolds is a complicated man that has remained unchallenged for most of his adult life. Occasionally haunted by the ghost of his adored mother (literally and figuratively), he sees lasting female companionship as less important than finding inspiration in the fleeting beauty of the women that enter his place of business.

Still, there are women in his life and as the film opens his latest live-in lover/muse has come to the end of her tenure and is silently dispatched by Cyril while Reynolds enjoys a weekend getaway. It’s in the restaurant of a seaside village that he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a ruddy-faced lass that captivates him the moment she shows up to take his order. Acting on impulse, he invites her to dinner and, eventually, into his life. Alma’s arrival into The House of Woodcock creates a ripple effect that threatens to upset the balance of power between brother and sister as well as artist and muse.

In typical PTA fashion, an unspoken darkness begins to envelop the picture as it goes along and we’re never quite sure where these characters are going to end up. Following Alma as she acclimates to her new role as a kept woman who pushes the boundaries of her power, we’re treated to an inside view of the inner-workings of a high fashion house and their celebrity clientele. Royalty get the red carpet treatment from the House of Woodcock and, in an amusing episode, an aging boozy bride to be (Harriet Sansom Harris) pays a price for her very public drunken misuse of her one of a kind hand-made garment.

There is something so calming about the way PTA and Day-Lewis have constructed this multi-leveled central character. Reynolds is part mystery and part petulant child, always determined to get his way no matter who he has to bulldoze over. That attitude makes most people roll over for his every whim but not Cyril who, in one thrilling scene, takes her brother to task between sips of her morning tea. Day-Lewis and Manville work together like gangbusters, the closeness between siblings and their troubling co-dependency is evident, made even more complicated when other people enter the equation.

Krieps is a real find, going toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis (and, to a lesser extent, Manville) and keeping in step with her famously method screen partner. The final act of Phantom Thread calls on Krieps to scale a seemingly insurmountable mountain of a character flaw but climb it she does. Through audiences may be put off by some of her actions and attitude as she struggles to keep Reynolds close, there’s an oddball charm to her methods.  The dynamic between Alma and Cyril could have been explored just a smidge bit more, if only to have a few more scenes to showcase the terrific talents of Krieps and Manville.

PTA’s script is often terrifically witty when it’s not outright funny. This feels like his most accessible movie in ages and while I wouldn’t call it ‘audience pleasing’ it’s surely not the alienating watch some of his films have been over the last few years. Acting as his own cinematographer, the director captures the vibrancy of the era excellently displayed in Mark Tildesley’s (Trance) production design and Mark Bridges (Silver Linings Playbook) stunning period costumes. Special mention must also be made to Johnny Greenwood’s gorgeous score. Setting the mood of the film just as effectively as the writing and performances, it isn’t getting the attention it deserves considering the contribution it’s making.

Time will tell if Phantom Thread is truly the last time we’ll see Daniel Day-Lewis on the big screen. While I hope he’ll be enticed back if the part and process is right, if this is his swan song, it’s an amazing piece of farewell music to a career with few flaws. With its premium performances, well-constructed screenplay, patient direction, and sublime technical elements, Phantom Thread is one of the finest films of the year.

2017 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

Well hello there!  

So here we are about to start the SEVENTH year of this blog!  Hard to believe it and boy, does time fly.  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2017.  As is typically the case, by the time it came to make this list things became a bit of a jumble and I decided to choose the movies that I had the strongest reaction to when I saw them.  I don’t revisit movies often but anything in the Top 5 are films that I’d add to my collection.  

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions leveled off a bit in early 2017 but picked up nicely in the second half of the yearand it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter (@joemnmovieman), and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)


5. The Big Sick – while it didn’t exactly become ‘the little indie that could’ as expected, The Big Sick stuck around for a long time in theaters based on positive word of mouth alone and in Hollywood that kind of buzz is worth more than gold.  Writer/star Kumail Nanjiani’s true story on how he met his future wife and, through a stressful series of events, his future in-laws is a wonderfully comic look at love and family.  In our current political climate, it’s also a deft look at cultural stereotypes within the family structure of immigrants and how the second generations are cutting their own path toward the Great American Dream.

4. Blade Runner 2049 – A forward-thinking sequel to the futuristic 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner 2049 should have done much better at the box office and I’m still puzzled as to why this one fizzled so fast.  Big, bold, and beautiful, I saw this one twice in theaters and could have gone a few more times had the fall not gotten so cramped.  Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario), continues to be a force to be reckoned with and he gathered the best and brightest in front of and behind the camera to create a spectacular sci-fi epic.  Special mention to Dutch breakout Sylvia Hoeks who gets my vote for Best Villain of 2017.

3. Phantom Thread – this one isn’t out in many theaters yet so my full review is pending but this late-breaking film quickly jumped to my Best of the Year list.  I’ve been completely off the Paul Thomas Anderson bandwagon for the last few films (Inherent Vice was on my worst of list in 2015) but I’m applying for membership to his fan club after this strikingly gorgeous beautiful film he’s delivered.  It’s rich on multiple levels, not only in the ornate fashions on display but in the deeply emotional performances from star Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) and two strong female supporting characters Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville (Maleficent).  This one really knocked me over and blew my socks off…really sublime.

2. The Lost City of Z – Released in April 2017, you’d be forgiven if you’ve missed out on The Lost City of Z.  It’s so very, very good that it’s more than a minor heartbreak that it didn’t get the proper attention when it arrived in theaters.  I think the marketing from Amazon Studios really failed this film which should have been delayed to later in the fall for a more prestige release date.  Based on the bestselling novel, The Lost City of Z is a haunting tale of adventure and obsession that has stuck with me ever since I saw it.  The performances are stellar (who knew Pacific Rim’s Charlie Hunnam had it in him or that The Rover’s Robert Pattinson could be so compelling?) and director James Gray’s paces the film so well that the lengthy running time will surely fly by.  Seek this one out at all costs – you’re missing something special!

1. Get Out – Comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut captured lightning in a bottle and has kept that energy going ever since its release almost a year ago.  On its way to Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Screenplay (and perhaps one for Best Director?), Get Out is hands down the most original and entertaining film I saw throughout 2017.  I missed the critics screening for this one so found myself paying for a mid-week showing several weeks after it came out.  The reactions of the packed audience were but a ¼ of the fun to be had, I’ve watched it again at home and it works just as well.  Peele masterfully commands our attention in this Stepford Wives-esque tale of a white girl bringing her black boyfriend home to meet her parents.  Nothing is what it seems on their posh estate and the deeper we dive down Peele’s rabbit hole the more intriguing the picture becomes.  Scary, funny, on message, and supremely timely, Get Out is the kind of authentic filmmaking that’s becoming a rarity in Hollywood.  Just plain perfect.

Honorable Mentions: Atomic Blonde, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Bird, Breathe, Call My By Your Name, Logan, Novitiate, The LEGO Batman Movie, The Post, IT, Wonder Woman, Personal Shopper

5. Goodbye Christopher Robin – I love Winnie-the-Pooh.  I did not love Goodbye Christopher Robin, a syrupy biopic on the man who created the lovable bear that lived in the Hundred-Acre Wood.  According to the filmmakers, A.A. Milne and his wife (a woefully terrible Margot Robie, Suicide Squad) were largely absentee parents that wound up exploiting their only child’s imagination for his stuffed animals for financial gain.  A late breaking and purely cinematic change of heart in Milne is the stuff of trite redemption stories but by the time it arrives the damage has extended too far into our consciousness.

4. mother! – Oh, how I was looking forward to this one.  This is one movie that had all the cards stacked in its favor.  An air of mystery, a celebrated director, a bankable movie star lead, and a supporting cast of solid actors that each have headlined their own film.  How did this one go so wrong?  mother! winds up on this list for being intensely unlikable at its best and practically unwatchable at its worst (which is most of the time).  An intriguing first 45 minutes (featuring the wonderfully feline Michelle Pfeiffer, Grease 2) gives way to utter insanity and culminates with a series of stomach churning developments.  Movies should always have an element of challenge to them but this one pushes the wrong buttons.

3. Roman J. Israel, Esq – Last year Denzel Washington had two movies that debuted to different receptions (Fences and The Magnificent Seven).  In 2017, Washington appeared in but one film, this severely misguided legal drama from writer/director Dan Gilroy (who was at the helm for the superb Nightcrawler in 2014) and the problems it has are too numerous to count.  It’s hackneyed plea for social justice reform reeks of half-baked rewrites and last-minute fixes and the supporting characters are but mere stereotypes. Even the reliable Washington is bizarrely off his game here, the Oscar buzz around his performances is mystifying.

2. Wish Upon – even thinking about this one again makes me mad.  Best to just tell you it’s horrible and barely coherent and leave it there.

1. The Snowman – unquestionably the poorest film released in 2017 and maybe one of the worst films of the last decade, The Snowman is uniquely terrible.  It’s a film that’s awful from almost the first frame and never even makes the effort to better itself.  That it’s filled with A-list stars and based off an international bestseller is bad enough, but most of the reasons it’s the worst of the worst is old fashioned bad filmmaking.  An embarrassingly heinous film and one that I’m sure will quickly be jettisoned from the resumes of everyone involved.  Let this one melt and never be heard from again.

Dis(Honorable) Mentions: Last Flag Flying, A Bad Mom’s Christmas, Home Again, Justice League

Most Misunderstood: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Make no mistake about it, this movie is absolutely bonkers and will likely only appeal to the very (very) open-minded.  I’ve found myself in opposition with critics and spoon-fed audiences that have trouble with these outlandish sci-fi yarns (see my lone-wolf praise for John Carter) but I can also understand where their fears come from.  I wasn’t prepared to love this one but it was so gaga in the visuals department and so unpretentious in its goal to jolt your senses that I had to give it some well-deserved major kudos.
Honorable Mention: Downsizing, The Greatest Showman

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2017 (movies that turned out differently than I expected going in): Darkest Hour – True story, but I was really dreading seeing this slice of life biography on Winston Churchill.  Knowing that it covered the same period that was depicted so masterfully in Dunkirk, I just couldn’t muster any kind of excitement for it even after hearing that Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill was an Oscar shoo-in.  While it isn’t a perfect film due to some pacing issues, director Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) and Oldman gave audiences a rarity: edge-of-your-seat entertainment with a story anyone that has ever taken a history class was already well-aware of.
Honorable Mention: Brad’s Status, Personal Shopper

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should

A Cure for Wellness

All I See Is You

Annabelle: Creation

Beatriz at Dinner

Certain Women

Gifted

God’s Own Country

Ingrid Goes West

Interiors

Life, Animated

Personal Shopper

Southside With You

Stronger

The Florida Project

The Handmaiden

The Lost City of Z

Tickled

Toni Erdmann

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2017
Total Movies Seen in the Theater110
Total Movies Seen at Home176
Grand Total for 2017 (not counting films seen multiple times)278
Where I Saw the Most Movies – Showplace Icon (41!)