Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Phantom Thread

The opening score of Jonny Greenwood's score as we first hear it in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread implies a sense of unease to be expecting for the preceding film. Yes, much of the music is similar in tone to lounge music of the 1950s (when the film's set) but when the chords sharpen, pay attention.

Phantom Thread follows couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he finds a muse and model in waitress Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps). Reynolds has a controlling personality and a near-obsessive demand for his routines, something Alma sees firsthand. But as their relationship deepens, so too does a want for dominance in Alma.

In contrast to some of Anderson's previous films, Phantom Thread is more genteel in nature. Having his earlier work set in the likes of Las Vegas (Hard Eight) and 1970s Los Angeles (Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice), 1950s Britain seems like a decided shift for the director. But with the principal actors involved (Day-Lewis, Krieps, Lesley Manville), that detail practically becomes a lesser one.

Day-Lewis may have gotten the majority of the film's acclaim but that's not to dissuade Krieps' work in Phantom Thread. A relative unknown prior to this, she holds her own against the screen veterans (by no means an easy feat when Day-Lewis is involved). And if we're lucky, we won't be seeing the last of the Luxembourgian actress soon.

Phantom Thread -- much like Anderson's earlier film The Master -- relies on that false feeling of trust. You think the people you've just met are upstanding citizens of the human race but as you get to know them more, you realize there's more to them (and not all of it's good). And that's exactly what happens to both Reynolds and Alma.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, October 25, 2018


The general mood of Cory Finley's Thoroughbreds is one that doesn't feel quite right. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) seem to be comfortable in their privileged home lives. But as the opening scene shows, there's an underlying darkness in both them and the story.

If anything, Thoroughbreds bears resemblance to last year's The Killing of a Sacred Deer: upper-middle-class domesticity shattered by an unspecified mental disorder. (Amanda mentions at one point that her psychiatrist is basically guessing what she's afflicted with.) It's possible that this is how those from stable private lives doesn't always equate to stable frames of mind. (Just look at any serial killer; many of them appeared normal to others.)

Anyway, stories and accusations of "affluenza" have been circulating as of late so that might be what's happening in Thoroughbreds. (Amanda admits that she feels nothing when it comes to emotions.) Lily -- although she seems happy with her life -- is hiding behind a mask of her own so neither woman is of sound mind. But to what extent will their true selves become known?

Cooke and Taylor-Joy are great in Thoroughbreds but Anton Yelchin -- who died before the film's release -- is also someone of note here. (It's dedicated in his memory.) As with many of his roles when he was still alive, he showed promise of a long career ahead of him. Sadly, the events of that June day two years ago made that possibility fade away.

Thoroughbreds shows how some people can behave seemingly unprovoked. Much like Heathers before it, the film depicts how far one can go after being pushed for too long. And boy, the results can be messy.

My Rating: ****

Portrait of Jennie

Early in William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie, starving artist Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) manages to sell a sketch to sympathetic art dealer Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore). Soon after, he meets a peculiar girl named Jennie (Jennifer Jones). Her ways spark a fountain of inspiration in Eben but what's the story on Jennie?

The last of four films starring Cotten and Jones (the other being Since You Went Away, Love Letters, and Duel in the Sun), Portrait of Jennie has a more ethereal ambiance than their previous collaborations. (Seeing as how Dieterle also made the likes of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Devil and Daniel Webster, such a story wasn't too much of a stretch for him.) And bear in mind that this wasn't a big hit upon its release (though it has been vindicated by the passage of time).

Anyway, both Cotten and Jones were big box-office draws at the time (with Jones having several Oscar nominations and a win to her name). And as mentioned before, they've worked together before so the studio (read: most likely David O. Selznick) saw lightning striking again. Though none of the principal players are around anymore, their work lives on.

But what can be said of Portrait of Jennie without giving anything away? Perhaps what could be mentioned is that it's different from the various romances of the decade. It's a gradual build-up with Eben and Jennie's relationship, not an immediate love at first sight scenario. How often did you see that in older films?

Portrait of Jennie was very different from the many films of the era, and its originality makes it stand out among them. A slew of them are generally one-sided with romance but Dieterle makes sure not to do the same. (Doesn't always work but he at least tries.)

My Rating: ****