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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review: FREAK SHOW Is Stylish But Sloppy


Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) is fabulous. A gay teenage boy growing up with his hard-drinking wit of a mother (Bette Midler), he was ecstatic. But when his mother goes away, he is left with his father, forced to move down south and attend an ultra-conservative private school. His tendency to dress as a woman - or as one of a variety of richly elaborate costumed identities he comes to school as - quickly alienates him from his classmates, but a savage beating from a handful of bullies that puts him in a temporary coma introduces him to Flip (Ian Nelson), a high school football star who is unusually sensitive -- and happy to be friends with the slowly recovering Billy. Back at school, Billy's social standing doesn't particularly improve, nor does his rocky home life, so when he learns that Lynette, a bullying demagogue of a girl, is running unopposed for Homecoming Queen, he decides to challenge her for the crown.

The film's emotional core -- that Billy can't help but stand out at all times, but he still needs the same love and respect that his classmates deny him -- is where the film works best. Alex Lawther is a dab hand with a catty one-liner, playing his potentially stereotypical gay character so loudly that it circles all the way around cartoonish back to feeling real and earned. Lawther struggles a bit with some of the more emotional material, though part of that has to do with just how blunt that emotional material is. Still, Freak Show is a film that vacillates wildly in its tone, and Lawther is the heart of those shifts, holding together a story that can leap wildly from a 'crazy outfits' montage to a moment of shocking violence, and he mostly pulls it off.

Abigail Breslin is a pretty seasoned young actor at this point, but she can't do a lot to rescue a character as hammy and one-dimensional as Lynette. In the current environment, I understand having a God-fearing, snide Southern girl just coming out and saying things like "Make America Great Again," fits, the character is so slim that she basically only exists as a caricature of a hateful Southern belle. As a concept that certainly works, but it does kind of strand Breslin -- and it doesn't give Billy Bloom a lot to go up against. She's not crafty, not cutting, not clever... as villains go, she doesn't offer much beyond a facile look at modern American conservatism. I'm fine with that, but do something with it; Freak Show never really does. She's obviously the villain, but she's a deeply impersonal villain to end with for a lead who goes through a lot of really bad shit.



Ultimately, the core issues I have with Freak Show come down to its scripting and editing. Important moments are de-emphasized to the point of non-existence, while important characters come from nowhere and vanish for enormous stretches of the film. The big showdown that concludes the film, a race for Homecoming Queen between out-and-proud Billy and Lynette is introduced and resolved within, it seems, the film's final twenty minutes. Indeed, Lynette, who began the film set up as a major antagonist, vanishes for the vast bulk of the film's run time as an enormous chunk of the film's entire midsection is taken up by drama at home.

Look, I get it, adapting novels to film is hard. There's so much material you have to cut, you lose a lot of the interiority of the characters -- or you end up with a ham-fisted voice-over, as we do here. Cut too much, and none of it makes sense; cut too little and the movie can run way too long and feel sluggishly paced. And that's not even getting into structural differences between the two media. But Freak Show runs into so many problems when it comes to adapting its material. Take Mary Jane, for example, who the film introduces out of nowhere to do the typical 'here are all the cliques that will be important to this movie' high school movie thing... and then promptly vanishes. At first, I thought this was supposed to be clever commentary on Billy's self-absorption, but she comes back later in a role that seems semi-important, and Billy's treatment of her is completely ignored, so... why is she in this movie, other than that she had a role in the book? There are a ton of different small moments like this, where it seems clear that three or four different characters really needed to be combined into one, or excised entirely.

The movie Freak Show most reminds me of is 2004's coming-of-age indie, Saved! This was a potent reminder of how easy the Saved! formula can go off the rails. Saved! is another teen coming-of-age movie that dealt with finding your own identity amidst a hyperconservative environment that has a hard time accepting you -- and confronting its own hypocrisy and moral failings. But, where Saved! is incredibly focused, making sure we're reminded of its supporting players regularly and checking in on their conflicts, Freak Show just abandons them until its time for their Big Moment. Why is Bo Bo in this movie? Or Sesame, or Felicia? What impact do they have on the lead? Do they have any arc of their own? Do they want or need anything? Do they even impact the lead's journey? No! They're just... background noise. And that's not even getting into the pointless homages to famous works of art that seem to exist as the weirdest, least relevant outside references I've seen in a film in ages.

Freak Show is, if nothing else, inoffensively pleasant. There are a few moments that I really do love -- the scene where Billy declares that he's running for Homecoming Queen is hilariously overwrought, for example, a weirdly delightful left turn in a movie that had been running a bit on empty for awhile at that point. And it does have one super fun trick up its sleeve, using its extras in a clever way, though it introduces the conceit late in the film and does very little with it in the end. But ultimately, the film just felt a bit too sloppy to really hit home with me. The subject matter is timely and the cast is certainly game, but Freak Show could have been considerably tighter than it ended up being -- and considerably more interesting.



Freak Show is available to rent now on streaming services like Amazon Instant Video. Written by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio adapting a novel by James St. James, Freak Show was directed by Trudie Styler. The movie stars Alex Lawther, Abigail Breslin, and Bette Midler.
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Monday, January 15, 2018

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 213

Batwoman #11
by Michael Cho


 Ice Cream Man #1
by Martin Morazzo


Trinity #17
by Bill Sienkiewicz


Assassinistas #2
by Cara McGee


That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Best Sounding Movies of 2017

We'll have our annual Oscar predictions podcast in a few weeks after the nominees are out, but why not get a head start on figuring out what your picks will be for your Oscar pool? Often the categories that make or break a bet will be the technical awards, and the two sound awards for editing and mixing are among the most mysterious for many. No longer! Here are our picks from our resident sound guy for the best sounding movies of 2017, along with some predictions. For a breakdown of the difference between the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards, check out my picks for 2014's best sounding films.




Baby Driver
Julian Slater - Supervising Sound Editor / Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer
James Peterson, Mary H. Ellis - Sound Mixers
Watson Wu - Car Sound Effects Recordist
Bradley Farmer - Music Editor

It's rare that sound is as crucial as–arguably more important than–the cinematography in a movie, but Baby Driver is certainly one that fits that profile. The film is pumped full of rhythmic sound effects that blend in and out of the soundtrack and create a musical world that the entire movie is set to. Think about the early long-take scene above of Baby getting coffee, when every sound around him, from the sweep of a broom to the beep of an ATM keypad are timed to the music and his movements. We're talking about a movie that literally filmed car chases to live music to ensure everything rhythmically lined up. And since the movie is so car-focused, it was essential that they create some excellent car recordings made specially for the film. It's likely to be nominated for both sound categories, and it stands a very good chance of taking home the editing award for its precise, toe-tapping sound design.




Dunkirk
Richard King - Supervising Sound Editor / Sound Designer
Gary Rizzo, Gregg Landaker - Re-Recording Mixers
Mark Weingarten - Sound Mixer
Alex Gibson - Supervising Music Editor

One of the many incredible things about Nolan's WWII masterpiece Dunkirk is it's sound; in particular the way the music and picture blend together in a perfect rhythmic crescendo that is sure to give viewers a near heart attack by the end. There is music in almost 100% of the film, and the way it is edited together makes it feel like a seamless symphony that never stops building. Another big part of the nonstop intensity of the movie is the extreme and often terrifying sounds of passing gunfire, a fighter plane fading in from a distance for a bombing run, or the side of a ship suddenly bursting open with an explosion. War movies often take home the sound editing award, so it's got a good shot at that one in particular, especially given that Richard King has been nominated five times and won for three of those films (Master and Commander, The Dark Knight, Inception).




Mother!
Craig Henighan - Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
Jill Purdy - Supervising Sound Editor
Paula Fairfield - Sound Designer
Simon Poudrette - Sound Mixer


Mother! is one of my favorite films from 2017, and it's phenomenal sound design is one of my favorite things about it. The film has literally no music, so to fill that aural gap, Henighan and co. create weird soundscapes by amplifying the ambient sounds of the film. Every drop of mysterious medicine mother trickles into her water, every shard of broken glass, and every footstep from a floor above play with unnatural clarity and often ring out in surreal ways that recall the infinitely ringing lobby bell in Barton Fink (another masterclass in sound). All of this heightens the first person perspective of the movie and makes the chaos of the third act all the more intense. The surround mix of the film is also extremely important and well done, as it creates a real sense of space and direction that ties us more intimately to the house in which the entire film takes place. This one might slide under the Academy's radar, but it absolutely deserves nominations in both sound categories. (Soundworks Collection did a great in depth interview with Henighan and Aronofsky about the sound of the movie)




Get Out
Trevor Gates - Supervising Sound Editor
Chase Everett, Jonathan Wales - Re-Recording Mixers
Robert C. Bigelow, Jeffree Bloomer, John D'Aquino - Sound Mixers


Horror movies often get a chance to run wild with over the top sound design, from juicy gore sounds to tense atmospheres, and perhaps this year's best example is Get Out, which masterfully utilizes both big jump scare moments and more subtle sound design. The deer sequence near the beginning of the movie is a great example of how to execute a perfect jump scare, but my favorite sound in the movie comes from it's scariest idea: the Sunken Place. When Chris is hypnotized and his consciousness drops down into a black empty space, all we can hear is the voice of his captor over the dull roar of watered down screams and ambiences. It's incredibly frightening, and the sound perfectly complements the visuals on the complex sequence, and for that it's deserving of some major recognition. (Here's a great podcast where Supervising Sound Editor Trevor Gates talks about Get Out)




Blade Runner: 2049
Mark A. Mangini - Supervising Sound Editor
Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill - Re-Recording Mixers
Mac Ruth, János Csáki Jr. - Sound Mixers


The original Blade Runner is famous for, among other things, its sound, so Villeneuve and his sound team had some big shoes to fill. In addition to its lush synth score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, the 35-years-later sequel manages to capture the sounds of the world in a way that is both faithful to the original and perhaps even more expansive. Supervising Sound Editor Mangini went to great lengths to recreate the musicality of the ambiences by using verbed out chimes and guitars, and the alternating dust and rain of this future is amplified by carefully placed rattles and drips. In Blade Runner: 2049's slow, long take shots, it's often the sound that tells the story while we take in the gorgeous visuals, so for that reason it is almost guaranteed nominations in both categories. Mangini has been nominated for the editing award four times, and won in 2015 for Mad Max: Fury Road, and Doug Hemphill boasts seven nominations and one win (The Last of the Mohicans) for the mixing category, so there's definitely a level or prestige there, too.




Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Matthew Wood - Supervising Sound Editor
Ren Klyce - Sound Designer
David Parker, Michael Semanick - Re-Recording Mixers
Stuart Wilson, Tim White - Sound Mixers


Science-fiction films often have the most room to get creative with sound in ways more grounded films cannot, and there is no greater legacy of sci-fi sound than that of the iconic Star Wars sounds created by Ben Burtt. The Last Jedi is notably the first Star Wars film to not have Burtt at the helm of the sound team, but his replacements are no newcomers between Ren Klyce (David Fincher's regular sound designer and five time Oscar nominee) and Matthew Wood (Wall-E, Super 8, and Rogue One, with three Oscar noms). The Last Jedi has some stunning scenes of lightsaber duels, outer space bombing runs, and rickety speeders, all of which are impeccably sound designed in the grand tradition of Star Wars. Yet it is perhaps the very un-Star Wars decision to use silence during the lightspeed crash sequence that is perhaps the most memorable sound moment in the movie. Nearly every Star Wars film has been nominated for one or both Sound awards, so it will likely be nominated in at least the editing category this year.




The Shape of Water
Nathan Robitaille - Supervising Sound Editor
Christian T. Cooke, Brad Zoern - Re-Recording Mixers
Glen Gauthier, Paul Gosse, Sylvain Arseneault - Sound Mixers


In a film where the protagonists are a mute woman working in a super-secret 1960s government facility and the amphibious creature who is imprisoned there, it's no surprise that the sound team had to work overtime to genuinely create the world of the movie. At the forefront here is the careful sound work on the creature's vocalizations and movements that were created using, among other things, raw meat, pineapples, old 1/4" tape, a rubber lobster, and del Toro's own voice. The whole film, though, puts an emphasis on the importance of sound to convincingly build this world that is equal parts fantasy and real. From the subtle sci-fi laboratory ambiences to the deliberate design of rain storms, The Shape of Water uses sound to tell the story just as much as its dialogue, or anything else. (Read more in this excellent interview with Supervising Sound Editor Nathan Robitaille over at A Sound Effect)
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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: I, TONYA is a Surprising Exploration of Abuse and the Truth


If you were alive in 1994, you remember Tonya Harding, the American ice skating Olympian who, in some form or fashion, caused her main rival Nancy Kerrigan to be attacked during her training. The attack and the pair's athletic rivalry caught the attention of the world and the budding 24-hour news cycle. The story is a strange and confusing one, made all the more so by the conflicting accounts given by Harding and her then husband Jeff Gillooly. In Craig Gillespie's new biopic I, Tonya, he and screenwriter Steven Rogers try to cobble together a coherent story from these accounts, exploring Harding's family history and frustrations as well.

I, Tonya begins with Harding (Margot Robbie) as a toddler, when she first started skating competitively, beating out girls twice her age. Her mother (Allison Janney) is not one to mollycoddle her daughter, often pushing her past her limits and insisting that she "skated best when she was angry." She meets her future husband in Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) as a teenager, and their young romance is fraught with violence and explosive conflict. These troubles are exacerbated by the fact that despite Harding's incredible athletic ability–she was the first woman in history to land the incredibly difficult triple axel jump in competition–she scored below more "traditional" girls that could afford fancy costumes and didn't self-identify as a redneck. All this leads up to the infamous attack on Kerrigan, and the resulting fallout that got Harding banned from competitively skating for life.



The opening text of the film states that the film is based on wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly, and it's this approach that makes the film truly unique. Rather than picking one account or even trying to piece together the truth from multiple sources, I, Tonya instead acknowledges these contradictions and frequently calls them out. There are lots of split screen shots of Harding and Gillooly simultaneously saying the opposite thing, and the film isn't reluctant to show both sides–and they're both equally cringeworthy and heartbreaking in most cases.

One expects going into this movie that you'll get a story of either the white trash skater who planned an attack on her competitor, or (a revision on the popular press's version at the time) that she was an innocent in the whole affair. Instead, we get both, and we also get something entirely unexpected: an exploration of the effects of abuse on both a personal and mass scale.

The film establishes early on the physical and mental abuse that Harding's mother inflicted on her from a very young age, immediately making us feel for the young girl as her mother brutally beats her with a hairbrush after she urinates in her costume on the ice. The innocent romance with Jeff and the hilariously brace-faced Tonya almost immediately turns violently sour as well as he establishes a pattern of physical abuse. It's a shocking moment the first time we see him hit her, because we've been led into the film seeing the humor in Harding's contrast with her competitors. To the film's credit, it never shies away from these uncomfortable moments, instead giving Tonya a fourth-wall-breaking voice during the abuse. It's Tonya's inability to escape these abusive relationships explicitly because abuse is all she's ever known that brings her victimhood into focus, and paves the way for the much larger scale abuse the film posits Tonya received from the press and society in general. In a world where victims are often shamed or disbelieved, this kind of painfully honest portrayal of abuse and its consequences is more important and relevant than ever.




This is all pulled off thanks to some fantastic performances. Robbie burns with fiery passion as Tonya, bringing equal parts humor and pathos to the character with a very real world touch. Janney will be the frontrunner for the film come Oscar time; there's a depth in her cruelty that makes her somewhat understandable, if not at all likable. Stan does a great job of not making Jeff a cartoonish version of the abusive husband; instead, he's the likable guy to the public who seems to be just a little doofy, but who is a hateful, savage man behind closed doors.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about I, Tonya is its masterful editing, the likes of which are only rivaled by perhaps Dunkirk this year. The film's editor, Tatiana S. Riegel, manages to create excitement and fantastic visual parallels throughout the film and creating perfect transitions from the "interview" segments into the story and the meta-commentary by the characters within. Combined with innovative and dynamic cinematography that manages to create an intense intimacy with the characters through constant movement and handheld closeups, the film is a likely overlooked technical marvel as well as incredibly entertaining and engaging. It's a testament to Gillespie and co., too, that the ice skating scenes themselves are full of tension and grace, so when Harding lands that first triple axel you might be tempted to fist pump or stand up and cheer in the theater.



I always expected to enjoy I, Tonya. From the first trailer, it looked hilarious and stylish, and more in line with the feel of Logan Lucky than with fellow 2017 biopic Darkest Hour. What I didn't expect was for it to feel closer to a film like 2016's Amanda Knox in its exploration of what "truth" actually means, and I certainly didn't expect for it to move me emotionally as it did. Perhaps more than any other film this year, I, Tonya presents a striking range, from cool as hell sequences cut to classic rock to heartbreakingly real portrayals of abuse; from the hilarity of 29-year old Robbie playing an orthodontically challenged teenager to the thought-provoking consideration of conflicting testimony and how we treat victims. I, Tonya manages to be funny and stylish without ever taking away from the harsh realities of the story, and for that it's one of my favorite movies of the year.



I, Tonya is directed by Craig Gillespie and stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, and Paul Walter Hauser. It is in theaters now.
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Friday, January 12, 2018

Georgia Film Critics Association chooses LADY BIRD as Best Picture

The second critics organization I belong to, the state-wide Georgia Film Critics Association has chosen its award winners for the year, and to put it plainly, it's a big sweep for Lady Bird in the major categories, as Greta Gerwig wins Best Director, both Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf take the Best Actress prizes, and the film itself wins Best Picture.

Below the line, Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049, two visual stunners, came away with best Cinematography and Best Production design respectively. Hans Zimmer also won Best Score for his work in the former.

But most importantly for my interests, The Square (this year's best film, if you ask me) took home the prize for Best Foreign Language feature. Hurrah!

Check out the full list of nominees below, with winners in bold! Another great year in the books, we'll see what Oscar night brings soon!

Best Picture
  • "Baby Driver"
  • "The Big Sick"
  • "Call Me By Your Name"
  • "The Disaster Artist"
  • "Dunkirk"
  • "The Florida Project"
  • "Get Out"
  • "A Ghost Story"
  • "Lady Bird"
  • "The Shape of Water"
  • "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Best Director

  • "Baby Driver" - Edgar Wright
  • "Dunkirk" - Christopher Nolan
  • "Get Out" - Jordan Peele
  • "Lady Bird" - Greta Gerwig
  • "The Shape of Water" - Guillermo del Toro

Best Actor

  • Timothée Chalamet ("Call Me By Your Name")
  • James Franco ("The Disaster Artist")
  • Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out")
  • Gary Oldman ("Darkest Hour")
  • Andy Serkis ("War for the Planet of the Apes")

Best Actress

  • Jessica Chastain ("Molly's Game")
  • Sally Hawkins ("The Shape of Water")
  • Frances McDormand ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri")
  • Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya")
  • Saoirse Ronan ("Lady Bird")

Best Supporting Actor

  • Willem Dafoe ("The Florida Project")
  • Woody Harrelson ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri")
  • Richard Jenkins ("The Shape of Water")
  • Sam Rockwell ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri")
  • Michael Stuhlbarg ("Call Me By Your Name")

Best Supporting Actress

  • Tiffany Haddish ("Girls Trip")
  • Holly Hunter ("The Big Sick")
  • Allison Janney ("I, Tonya")
  • Tatiana Maslany ("Stronger")
  • Laurie Metcalf ("Lady Bird")
  • Bria Vinaite ("The Florida Project")

Best Original Screenplay

  • "The Big Sick" - Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon
  • "Get Out" - Jordan Peele
  • "Lady Bird" - Greta Gerwig
  • "The Shape of Water" - Guillermo del Toro
  • "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" - Martin McDonagh

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • "Call Me By Your Name" - James Ivory
  • "The Disaster Artist" -Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
  • "Logan" - Scott Frank & James Mangold
  • "Molly's Game" - Aaron Sorkin
  • "Mudbound" - Virgil Williams & Dee Rees

Best Cinematography

  • "Blade Runner 2049" - Roger Deakins
  • "Dunkirk" - Hoyte van Hoytema
  • "The Florida Project" - Alexis Zabe
  • "Mudbound" - Rachel Morrison
  • "The Shape of Water" - Dan Laustsen

Best Production Design

  • "Blade Runner 2049" - Dennis Gassner & Alessandra Querzola
  • "Dunkirk- Nathan Crowley & Gary Fettis
  • "The Post" - Rick Carter, Kim Jennings & Deborah Jensen
  • "The Shape of Water" - Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau & Jeff Melvin
  • "Star Wars: The Last Jedi- Rick Heinrichs

Best Original Score

  • "Blade Runner 2049" - Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch
  • "Darkest Hour" - Dario Marianelli
  • "Dunkirk" - Hans Zimmer
  • "Phantom Thread" - Jonny Greenwood
  • "The Post" - John Williams
  • "The Shape of Water" - Alexandre Desplat
  • "War for the Planet of the Apes" - Michael Giacchino

Best Original Song

  • "I Get Overwhelmed" - Daniel Hart ("A Ghost Story")
  • "Mighty River" - Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq & Taura Stinson ("Mudbound")
  • "Mystery of Love" - Sufjan Stevens ("Call Me By Your Name")
  • "Remember Me" - Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez ("Coco")
  • "This is Me" - Pasek and Paul ("The Greatest Showman")

Best Ensemble

  • "Get Out"
  • "Lady Bird"
  • "Mudbound"
  • "The Post"
  • "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Best Foreign Film

  • "BPM (Beats Per Minute)"
  • "A Fantastic Woman"
  • "In the Fade"
  • "The Square"
  • "Thelma"

Breakthrough Award

  • Timothée Chalamet ("Call Me By Your Name," "Hostiles," "Hot Summer Nights," "Lady Bird")
  • Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird")
  • Tiffany Haddish ("Girls Trip")
  • Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out")
  • Jordan Peele ("Get Out")
  • Brooklynn Prince ("The Florida Project")

Best Animated Film

  • "The Breadwinner"
  • "Coco"
  • "The LEGO Batman Movie"
  • "Loving Vincent"
  • "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea"

Best Documentary Film

  • "Dawson City: Frozen Time"
  • "Jane"
  • "Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton"
  • "Kedi"
  • "LA 92"

Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema

  • "Baby Driver" - Edgar Wright
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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: PHANTOM THREAD is, in a word, spellbinding

I've seen a lot of bad trailers in my years of paying attention to such things, but none seem to have stuck with me the way the marketing for Phantom Thread has in its various television spots especially, and not in a good way. There's something about the way it cuts out on Daniel Day-Lewis' line reading of "You can sew many things into the lining of a dress" CUT "...secrets...". It's a bizarre cut, and while the master thespian's Reynolds Woodcock clearly has more to say, the need for some kind of dramatic punctuation from the team that cut this trailer found that this was probably the best they had to work with.

I bring this up, because it's clear this is a movie that is patently difficult to sell. Its trailers make it look like a lavish costume drama, not far afield from the period pieces that Ang Lee and others made during the Oscar bait hey-day of the 90's. But in truth, that's really only its outside appearance, what Phantom Thread is instead is a difficult to categorize feature that is very much a part of the Paul Thomas Anderson oeuvre that has been harder to classify with each successive outing.

Recently, I saw a quote from Rian Johnson, where he compared each new film from Anderson as akin to the release of a new album from a really great band. I found this particularly astute, especially in how every film he releases is wholly unlike the one before it. My brain, of course, took this to the next extreme (whether logical or not), and opted to compare his work, after seeing the film in question, to the output of Radiohead. The obvious reason for this being Radiohead's chief musical genius, Jonny Greenwood, has been sitting alongside Anderson as his composer since his awards breakthrough in There Will Be Blood. But also, much like Anderson, Radiohead often feels like the last band on the horizon that continues to stretch the boundaries of what they can achieve sonically for an ever hungry fanbase, particularly in a world now more geared to auto-tuned pop stars. Both of these elements make them the immediate point of comparison, to which I tweeted:






In short, There Will Be Blood is that aforementioned critical breakthrough that turned PTA into a force to be reckoned with. The Master is his true masterpiece, rewarding repeat viewings unlike many films of its same timeframe, that also, in turn, divided audiences of the film previous. Inherent Vice is a sparser, much more brusque effort that even his most hardcore fanbase had difficulty reckoning with - though with a few years separating viewers from it, its respective virtues have come to light. And then we finally get to Phantom Thread (no "The"), a work that is strikingly gorgeous, far more tender than his recent efforts, and taking turns into unexpected mood shifts that pulls its viewers right alongside it. There's a very good chance, that for many, this will be their favorite of his works, with admiration growing as time continues on its ever winding path forward.

The centerpiece of Phantom Thread is the (hilariously titled) House of Woodcock, comprised of the world-famous Reynolds and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Reynolds, a talented dressmaker without compare, is of a particularly unusual sort. A creature of habit and stubbornness, and prone to the occasional mood-swings. Yet the work he designs despite his somewhat tyrannical nature is stunning to behold. In short, he is the typical tortured genius artist, drug along by the right side of his brain in all things. Cyril, as much a business manager, as a sister, is his lone confidant, and she rules over all of the non-creative endeavors of their household with an iron fist.

But everything changes the moment he meets a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who he quickly breaks his life of confirmed bachelorhood for, turning her first into his lover/source of inspiration, and then into something far deeper. For her part, Vicky has to navigate both members of this unusual family, in order to affirm her place within their household. And the direction this relationship takes is anything but predictable, while scenes will echo and haunt you for days - and in my case, months.

Phantom Thread is, again, despite its cover, one of the most accessible films Anderson has crafted. Mixing moments of romantic deliverance with some of the funniest line readings in his entire oeuvre. It is literally impossible to overstate just how hilarious Daniel Day-Lewis is in this. It's an utterly unusual final note to go out on, but his performance is transcendent, especially in how he imbues Reynolds with palpable moments of struggle and the ongoing spectre of his deceased mother that continues to cast a pallor over his life, while providing the ongoing source of drive within his work ethic and creative energy. And yet every prickly piece of dialogue both in interaction with his source of stability in Cyril, and his muse in Alma, is funnier than the last. These moments of levity are a bit of a primer for the film's final denouement which verges on black comedy, or perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as blackly romantic. It's strange, but there's a bit of alchemy within the fringes of the narrative, and it slowly peeks it way out every so often, until by the closing moments, it's as if the film's entire world has turned into a hyper-real fantasia. It's the most earned about-face that I've seen in some time.

Of course, the other clear thematic throughline is centered on Alma herself, with Krieps bursting through for American audiences in grand fashion, she is basically a POV character until she no longer is. For a time a victim of some level of emotional torment by Reynolds, Alma in turn learns to adapt to this strange lifestyle that she is whisked into, seeking a method of control in a unique struggle of push and pull with a mind so enraptured by his creative pursuits that it overrides his other instincts. I find the immediate comparison to be Darren Aronofsky's mother!, though unlike the broader allegorical aspects that feature presents, Phantom Thread is much clearer in its intent - that's neither a good or bad thing, but ambiguous this is not, and as such I think it presents a clearer picture regarding the individual dynamics that come into play in these sorts of relationships....or at least CAN come into play.

But the most immediate attractor will be the work's hypnotizing nature. It's without doubt one of Anderson's loveliest films, aided by its attention to swirling fabrics and how the camera floats its way through the impressive architecture of the Woodcock home, following behind guests, models and employees. It creates a bit of a world within a world, and by the time you're surrounded by gaudy costumes and giant masks of a London New Year's Eve party, its as if the spell Anderson has cast has fully taken form of your senses, to the tune of Greenwood's best work in the medium to date.



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Review: THE POST is polished storytelling (with a Spielberg ending)



The president is using threats and lawsuits to keep embarrassing information about his administration from being published, allegedly for the good of the American people. Are we in Trump-era 2018 or Nixon-era 1970s? You'd be forgiven in seeing the extreme parallels between modern day politics and the politics of The Post: the concepts grounding the film feel eerily prescient today, particularly as a beleaguered White House constantly finds itself going head-to-head with the titular publication.

The Post is Steven Spielberg's crack at the microgenre of films dedicated to demonstrating the power of an independent press in keeping the powerful accountable. It's hard not to compare it to a recent effort, Spotlight, which had a similarly sprawling, talented cast of actors chasing a variety of leads until they could break the kind of story that changes history.

The Post focuses on The Washington Post's publisher, Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), who was the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and her working relationship with editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). As Graham prepares to take The Post public on the stock exchange, The New York Times releases information on what we now refer to as The Pentagon Papers - documents that revealed lies about the United States' involvement in Vietnam. These lies spanned decades and several administrations, but when the Nixon administration obtained an injunction against The New York Times from publishing the documents, Bradlee saw an opportunity for The Washington Post to reassert itself as a powerful presence in the fifth estate. While Bradlee pushed to publish the information, Graham's advisers forcibly urged her to stay out of the issue, for fear of endangering the paper during a critical moment in its financial history.


The Post would have felt a bit more revolutionary if not for coming on the heels of Spotlight, which I think was an all around tighter and more focused narrative. Between Streep, Hanks, and Spielberg, The Post feels almost like a reminder of the time period we're in today: it doesn't feel like the 90s were that along ago, but the combination of Hanks, Streep, and Spielberg no longer feel like the actors and director of the moment. The three are more like icons who are in the middle of a transition from contemporary to classic. Hanks and Streep give solid performances, but are also so entrenched as, well, Hanks and Streep, that even the most forced of accents makes it hard to see them as anybody else. It's great to see them do their thing and do it well, but they almost outrank the subtly of the film and its parts.

That said, I thought the highlight performance of the film was from Bob Odenkirk, whose recent work on Better Call Saul, in combination with The Post, has shown him stretch his acting muscles considerably. There are a number of other strong performers in the film, including Carrie Coon, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, and Matthew Rhys, but their parts are too small to really register.

As for Spielberg, I was mostly impressed with his restraint: it dragged at times, but by and large The Post felt like a fairly fresh take for the director. It's a film I wouldn't have identified as his own if I had to pick it out of a line up, which is a credit to Spielberg. There are a few exceptions to this - moments of Streep walking down steps and being adored by an inexplicably primary-female group of onlookers, small exchanges between Streep and unnamed characters just to remind the audience of her strength. And the film's ending, which is a step above a screen full of comments summarizing the events following the film, at least, but still feels very Spielberg - an exclamation mark on an otherwise quiet, reserved sentence.


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