Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson)

trio

In a film culture dominated – visibly or not – by views inextricably tied to the concept of auteurism, there’s something irresistible about judging films by how they reflect the artistic evolution of their director. In the case of Paul Thomas Anderson, this arc is clear, moving from the wide-ranging ensembles of Boogie Nights and Magnolia to the intent historical studies of There Will Be Blood and The Master. In particular, the latter two films and his latest effort, Phantom Thread, represent a neat trilogy (interrupted by Inherent Vice) of stylistic and thematic development. But at the same time, this film represents something daring in Anderson’s career: something astonishingly shapeshifting, tracing the ebbs and flow of a relationship with an exceeding amount of care, all with a lushness and richness of form that belies an essential, wondrous perversity.

Anderson here works in a setting entirely new to him: the haute couture fashion scene of 1950s London, five thousand miles away from his preferred setting of Southern California. It centers upon Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), an intensely private and controlling acclaimed fashion designer with only his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) as a constant companion. Things quickly change when Reynolds happens upon Alma (Vicky Krieps), a shy, quiet waitress who becomes his muse. To reveal much more would give away some of the most genuine surprises of 2017, but suffice it to say that their relationship is forced into changes that eventually put Alma on an equal footing with the two seemingly indomitable siblings.

duo

Anderson’s attention to detail and mood, especially in period settings, has always been uncannily attuned, and it feels even more heightened here. Much of the film is suffused by returning collaborator Jonny Greenwood’s score, which has a lilting, swooning quality, reminiscent of music far removed from the Hollywood of today, that matches perfectly with the gliding, elusiveness of the cinematography (headed by an uncredited Anderson).

What moves and transports about Phantom Thread is precisely that which cannot be adequately described without foreknowledge of the film’s summed development. Such intensity towards something so ostensibly normal and gentle is rare, especially when combined with a certain sharp wit and humor. Constantly evolving before the viewer’s eyes, it works in both stillness (the gazes of Day-Lewis, Krieps, and Manville) and dynamism (the world that swirls around them) to create something that simply embodies romance.

Advertisements

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017)

Image of Bombshell

Bombshell begins with an arresting and hilariously pointed epigraph from the film’s subject: “Any girl can look glamorous; all she has to do is stand still and look stupid.” The black-and-white still shots that follow show Lamarr looking terribly glamorous and not at all stupid. As image after image of her startlingly beautiful face appears onscreen, ghostly renderings of her own hand-written scientific notations fade in and out of view in the black field framing each photograph. Without a word of dialogue, in its opening seconds the film has already powerfully established one of its key themes: that Lamarr’s role in developing history-changing technologies has, over the decades, faded from view, having unjustly—even shamefully—taken a back seat in the public’s imagination to her beauty and glamour, as well as the numerous scandals that pocked her life. The story that follows is rendered with narrative and cinematic artistry and intelligence; director Alexandra Dean creates a fitting tribute to a figure whose true accomplishments have been too long obscured by history.

Continue reading

The Commuter (2018, Jaume Collet-Serra)

joanna

A far cry from the portentous, franchise-driven blockbusters of today, the oeuvre of Jaume Collet-Serra is one of effectiveness and impacts. In the vein of the classic form of the auteur theory – the manifestation of recurring visual and thematic motifs in a blatantly commercial setting – Collet-Serra has established himself as someone capable of churning out incredibly well-made, visceral mid-budget pictures. His career so far has followed two paths, the first of which is horror, represented by the very fun 2005 remake of House of Wax, the utterly masterful Orphan, and the elementally constructed The Shallows. But the aspect more germane to this review is his series of action films with the resurgent Liam Neeson, all of which are tense and subtly playful works that use restrictions – physical, temporal – for maximum effect.

With The Commuter, this standard has been maintained, albeit in a more crowd-pleasing and unabashedly conventional format. Our Neeson hero this time around is Michael, an ex-cop turned insurance salesman that has taken the Hudson Valley line to Grand Central Station every day for the past ten years. On the way back from being fired, he is approached on the train by a mysterious woman who calls herself Joanna (previous Collet-Serra collaborator Vera Farmiga). In an astoundingly dynamic, extended conversation, the self-described people observer slowly tempts Michael into accepting her offer of $100,000 to find a particular, unfamiliar passenger on the train. As motives are slowly revealed and identities are unmasked, Michael uses his particular set of skills in judicious fashion.

gun

This scenario is closest to what is his perhaps Collet-Serra’s finest film yet, the airplane-set Non-Stop, but the stakes are delineated in sharply different ways. While Neeson was an air marshal in that film, he is clearly set as an everyman, concerned first and foremost with wrestling between his desire for the money – his son is about to go to a college that he can’t afford – and his burgeoning conscience. Collet-Serra takes care to set him against the massive melting pot that is the collected inhabitants of New York City. Especially in the first act of the film, the cars of the train are crammed, and even as more and more passengers exit the almost stage-like confines, there are more than enough riders (and potential targets).

It is worth noting the touches that, at first glance, are not typical of Collet-Serra. Though his films have never been anything approaching dour or self-serious, they have always been relatively sober affairs, especially his previous Neeson collaboration Run All Night. Not so with The Commuter: it boasts at least a few moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, including a delicious flipping of the bird to an arrogant broker, and the eventual derailment of the train is handled with, if not excess, then a flashiness that is atypical.

But in conjunction with this seeming kowtowing to the cultural taste for destruction comes an even greater manifestation of Collet-Serra’s ability to create impact with every single scene. Here, his mode is that of destabilization, of which the opening salvo of an utterly disorienting montage, cutting back and forward in time over a decade of early morning routines, is but the first of gambits. A noticeably shaky use of handheld, impossible CGI tracking shots through the entirety of the train, motivated uses of slow-motion, a bravura one-take fight scene, even an honest-to-God Vertigo zoom: all of these are in Collet-Serra’s toolkit, and he integrates them with his precise style perfectly. If The Commuter is an example of a director’s style triumphing over the standard content that he is given, it matters little: it is genuine and fun, done with a love of craft and film that is nothing short of intoxicating.

Friday January 12 – Thursday January 18

Featured Film:

Phantom Thread at the Egyptian

The final piece of the awards season puzzle finally opens in Seattle this week, exclusively at the Egyptian. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is a departure from his recent sprawling epics of American history and psychosis (There Will be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice) and a return to the oddball romance of Punch-Drunk Love, albeit in disguise as a tasteful costume drama. Literally, in this case, as Daniel Day-Lewis plays a mid-century British fashion designer with a fastidiously controlled life (monitored by his watchful sister (Lesley Manville) who falls for a young waitress (Vicky Krieps) and whisks her away to his life of luxury. Recalling both the Rebecca-style romances of the 1940s and moodier films like Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, it also, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, reminded me of Erich von Stroheim. It’s resolutely pro-breakfast food message is I believe something we can all get behind in these troubled times.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Wolf Guy (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975) Thurs Only

Central Cinema:

Dr. Strangelove… (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) Fri-Mon
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978) Fri-Mon

SIFF Egyptian:

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Century Federal Way:

1987: When the Day Comes (Jang Joonhwan) Fri-Thurs
Agnyaathavaasi – Prince in Exile (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds (Kim Yong-hwa) Fri-Thurs
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) Sun & Tues Only

Grand Cinema:

The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Sat & Weds Only
Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean) Tues Only Our Review

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Square (Ruben Östlund) Sat-Mon, Weds
Saturday Secret Matinee: Alien Invasion! Sat Only 16mm
Thelma (Joachim Trier) Fri-Sun, Tues & Thurs
Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006) Thurs Only 35mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Agnyaathavaasi – Prince in Exile (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Mukkabaaz (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs
Sketch (Vijay Chandar) Fri-Thurs
Thaanaa Serndha Koottam (Vignesh Shivan) Fri-Thurs
Rangula Ratnam (B. N. Reddy) Sat-Thurs
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) Sun & Tues Only

Regal Meridian:

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs
Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

Aida’s Secrets (Alan Schwarz & Saul Schwarz) Fri-Sun
D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage (Lech Kowalski, 1980) Fri-Sun
The Future Perfect (Nele Wohlatz) Sat & Sun Only
Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean) Weds-Sun Our Review
Tom of Finland (Dome Karukoski) Starts Weds
2017 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour Thurs & Sat Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Namiya (Han Jie) Fri-Thurs
Ex Files 3 (Tian Yusheng) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Agnyaathavaasi – Prince in Exile (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Parchi (Azfar Jafri) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Smiles of a Summer Night (Ingmar Bergman, 1955) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

Nordic Lights Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program
Being 17 (André Téchiné) Tues Only

AMC Southcenter:

Condorito: La película (Eduardo Schuldt & Alex Orrelle) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) Sun & Tues Only
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi) Thurs Only

Varsity Theatre:

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) Tues Only

In Wide Release:

The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra) Our Review
The Post (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson) Our Review Our Podcast
Downsizing (Alexander Payne) Our Review
The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro) Our Review
Pitch Perfect 3 (Trish Sie) Our Review
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig) Our Review
The Disaster Artist (James Franco) Our Review
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) Our Review