Category: Review

Review: Phantom Thread

As a final performance to end his career, Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned designer of women’s fashion, is fittingly bizarre given the range of his previous roles.

Phantom Thread is perhaps his most unorthodox film, one which could not have successfully cast any other actor in his role, for doing so would have been disastrous. Daniel Day-Lewis does not carry this film, he elevates it to a level that director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson could not have anticipated otherwise.

The most striking aspect of this film is the difficulty of pigeonholing it into a specific genre or subset of cinema. In the blink of an eye, we’ll go from a frenetic fashion show to a potentially fatal love story yet no matter where the narrative leads us, there is an overwhelming sense of normality.

This is in large part to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance but also due to Johnny Greenwood’s enchanting orchestral score. Greenwood, the lead guitarist, and keyboardist of Radiohead who also composes scores for the films of Lynne Ramsey contributes to this fantastical feeling that emanates throughout, his score only ceasing for brief moments before returning in a rousing fashion.

The majority of the film is set in 1950’s London and surrounds Woodcock, a fashion designer who specialises in lavish formalwear and dresses for the rich and royal. Reynolds is inimitably eccentric with an accent that hints at a poorer upbringing than his current quality of life would suggest. Despite his years he has yet to find a wife and has an endless conveyor belt of models who live in his house until he tires of them and he sends them away.

Women are not his love, fashion is and he uses women as nothing more than mannequins, to be used as tools to produce his works, and nothing more. Two exceptions to this rule are his manager and sister Cyril, formidably played by Lesley Manville, and his mother, who appears to be the only woman he has ever loved.

That is until he meets Alma. After his previous live-in model outstays her welcome, Reynolds takes a trip to the country to unwind as she and all her belongings are purged from the house. There, whilst ordering a mammoth breakfast, he falls for the waitress taking his order.

Perhaps another hint towards his poorer upbringing is his disregard for the class differences between the two, her lowly position at the hotel does nothing to dissuade him from flirting with her. And so, before they could share as much as a ‘how do you do’, she moves in with him, the latest of his muses.

The scenes immediately following this are the best of the film. Amongst them is a stunning sequence in which Alma has here measurements taken by Reynolds. “You have no breasts,” he tells her, as his sister writes down the measurements sat in the corner, “it’s my job to give you some if I care to.” The swirling score, razor-sharp dialogue, and superb framing are mixed in just the right way to guide the film and the audience into a next chapter.

However, it is this next chapter where viewers may find themselves left behind or unwilling to follow where Anderson is taking us. The plot descends into a patient-nurse relationship where Alma purposefully poisons Reynolds to allow him to become helpless and open up. Again, if this was any actor other than Daniel Day-Lewis, the benefit of the doubt would not be given but when the climax of the film takes several more unpalatable twists, my patience had run out.

What began as a potential masterpiece ended with a level of masochism last seen in Lynch’s Blue Velvet. There was another, better, film here, and it’s a shame that Daniel Day-Lewis should finish his career with a whimper.

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Review: You Were Never Really Here

Director Lynne Ramsay proves there is still life in the revenge thriller yet with her latest project You Were Never Really Here. Based on the novella by Jonathan Ames, the plot follows Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a former Marine and FBI agent who is tortured by the violence he has witnessed. When he returns from duty he becomes a contract killer who focusses on breaking down paedophile rings and rescuing the young girls who are helplessly trapped within them.

In preparation for the role Phoenix puts of a staggering amount of weight in both fat and muscle and when combined with the mass of facial hair he is almost unrecognisable. Joe has very few lines of dialogue in the film and he instead conveys emotion through body language, facial expression and an intent to his movement that is terrifying. The nature of this role suits Phoenix, who has mastered the skill of evoking so much by doing very little.

Even in the lighter scenes where he is singing a song with his elderly mother, his massive frame and haunting expression keeps me unsettled, always expecting something to be waiting around the corner. In the dark lurks disturbing flashbacks to Joe’s past. Unlike traditional flashbacks that only serve to throw exposition at the audience, the ones here are sliced into fragments and are spattered chaotically to reflect on the character whose memory they depict. We see a hammer-wielding father who beat his wife and son, and the monstrosities he witnessed in the Middle East.

When he picks up a new contract, it turns out that the man ordering the hit is a Senator whose daughter Nina was kidnapped to be a part of a Manhattan-based brothel. “They say that you’re brutal,” the Senator says, after a brooding-filled pause Joe replies “I can be”. The ring that Joe begins to shatter turns out to have far bigger political ties than just the Senator who’s daughter has been taken. It’s sad that such a twisted and evil story can mirror similar events in real life as high profile arrests and accusations of paedophilic activities are not a rarity, even with politicians.

The fantastic editing work done by Ramsay and Joe Bini lays at the core of the film’s success. It keeps the plot ticking over whilst also weaving the nightmarish flashbacks. The effect is almost hallucinatory and exacerbates the metaphorical punch packed. Johnny Greenwood, who composed a sumptuous score for Paul Thomas Anderson’ Phantom Thread, steps in again here but he produces a something very different. Similar to Hans Zimmer’s work for Blade Runner 2049, Greenwood builds a brutalist soundscape that feeds into this hallucinatory feeling. Nothing in this world feels real. Even a simple photograph becomes a horrific reminder of a mass murder.

At a touch under 90 minutes in length, You Were Never Really Here does not overstay its welcome. In fact, you could argue it is too short. There’s so much left unexplored in the character of Joe that the film could double in size and still not drag, a testament to the powerful performance by Phoenix and the deeply visceral viewing experience that Ramsay creates. If you saw Joaquin Phoenix bounding down a corridor wielding a hammer you would truly wish you were never here.

Review: Negative Space

In a moment of reflection, the protagonist of “Negative Space” recounts the way he bonded with his late father whilst growing up, through the art of packing.

Adapted from Ron Koertge’s poem of the same name (2014), film students Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata carefully created a masterpiece worthy of the sorrow and nostalgia that the story carries. The narrator takes us through the steps of perfectly packing his father taught him, each item laying itself out, folding itself up and making its own way into the suitcase, as if animated by a life of their own.

Remembering, the narrator revisits his memories of these times he felt close to his father, together and apart, now forever in the past. The short concentrates on just using Koertge’s short poem for narration, the rest of its message coming through the beauty and attention to detail it possesses. His father now gone, all that is truly left of him is this inherited special knack for making good use of any nooks and crannies, or negative space. Can you blame him for only being able to wish there was not so much wasted space in his father’s coffin?

“Negative Space” is not only a technical marvel, but also a strikingly moving story of lost parents, the characteristics we pick up on as children that make them our parents. The loss of a parent is one almost too painful to bear, yet it is through our memories of them, the traits we inherit from them (good or bad) that allow us to keep hold of something from them.

Review: Revolting Rhymes

Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes” is here brought to life in a two-part animated film co-directed by Jan Lachauer, Jakob Schuh, and Bin-Han To with breath-taking detail and care that gives the entire viewing experience magic. It takes some of our internationally canonical fairy-tales, such as Snow White or Jack and the Beanstalk, and provides a number of delightfully unexpected twists and turns to the original plots.

The first episode of the two opens one rainy evening in a small café, where a middle-aged woman settles in the window booth with her cup of hot tea. A lone, tall wolf dressed in a trench coat and hat follows in tow, asking the woman if he may join her as he waits “for an old friend”. We are as suspicious as the sweet lady, who, perhaps to her own detriment, is too polite and frightened to refuse.

The Wolf notices her book of fairy-tales on the table and, opening it, voices his dislike of Little Red Riding Hood, and pointing out the book’s error in Snow-White’s hair colour. Hence begins a small exchange which gives the premise to the wonderful story-telling we are about to behold.

In this version, the lives of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood intertwine so imperceptibly that one wonders how this is not how the story originally goes. Other fairy tales are merged together throughout the two episodes, and much like a Russian doll, a story seems to naturally come out of another.

With each episode being 28 minutes long, only the first episode was able to be nominated for Best Animated Short, which rules out the second from being taken into consideration. As much of a delight as the first part is, the pure brilliance of the animation comes through when watching both parts as there is a continuity within this special universe where one is not quite sure what is make believe or not.

“Revolting Rhymes” ends with the unexpected, and was an incredibly emotional experience. Its beauty and eloquence were truly astonishing, communicating some truths that may have escaped its predecessors, bringing a perfect balance to the old and the new. Therefore, I am afraid that part one was not intended to be a stand-alone episode, and may suffer from that when it comes to selecting a victor amongst the 5 nominees for the Best Animated Short Oscar.

Review: Garden Party

Garden Party is a sumptuously animated if strange short by a group of French students as their graduation project. It follows a group of frogs as they explore a mansion and it’s surroundings.

The film opens with a small frog leaping into an unkempt pool and immediately we notice the incredibly photorealistic CGI. The attention to detail is exquisite with even the little ripples of the water shown. As we become introduced to more frogs we are given clues as to why the mansion is abandoned; food left to rot, bullet holes in the security camera’s and doors — there has evidently been a shootout.

Nevertheless, the frogs roam around without a care, gorging on the food and generally exploring. One frog jumps onto a control board, buttons that switch on lights, pool jets, and music. With the pool lit up an army of frogs go over, in all shapes and sizes. Suddenly and concluding the short, we see a body rise to the surface, animated in gory detail.

The short is a magnificent display of the possibilities of modern animation yet the peculiar story they chose takes away from that slightly. That final shocking moment seems unnecessary and could have perhaps been presented in a manner more in line with the rest of the short.

Review: Lou

Disney-Pixar has a long history of showing short animated films immediately before one of their major releases and Lou is no different. It was released in June 2017 alongside Cars 3 and follows the guardian of a children’s playground.

Lou, who gets his name from a ‘Lost and Found’ box with the missing letters L, O, and U, is an anthropomorphised collection of random toys and clothing children have forgotten on the playground. When the bell rings and the kids go back inside, he collects everything left behind to return later. One playtime Lou spots a bully taking away the toys from others. With each stolen toy he gets angrier and angrier until he decides to give the bully a taste of his own medicine.

As is the case with all Pixar films, the level of quality and polish is second to none, a neat lesson for children about bullying without being overt. That said, in comparison to shorts that have won the Best Animated Short category in the past for Pixar, such as Geri’s Game or For The Birds, Lou is a tier below. While enjoyable, it lacks that same innovation, that something special that separates the good from the great.

Review: Dear Basketball

On November 29th, 2015 Kobe Bryant wrote a letter for the Player’s Tribune, a media platform for professional sportsmen. It detailed his love for basketball, a love which brought him five NBA Championships and 18 NBA All-Star appearances.

Narrating the film himself, Bryant talks about his upbringing, his determination, and his challenges. About how his work ethic made him become the legendary player we admire today. Accompanying these powerful words is an awe-inspiring animation painstakingly drawn frame by frame with a pencil and then filmed in sequence. Glen Keane, a 2013 Disney Legend, directs the short and is joined by fellow cinema great John Williams who composes a subtle yet powerful score.

The short ends with Bryant saying how, although his heart and mind could play until the day he dies, his body cannot take any more, and this season will be his last. In his final game, against the Utah Jazz, he scored a season-high 60 points. A special end to a special career.

Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of this film is its length, only 5 minutes 21 seconds. Three greats of their respective fields came together to make something beautiful, with such purity and heartfelt sincereness that when the credits appeared I wished for more.