Posts Tagged ‘movies’

When my wife and I saw Phantom Thread at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany one Saturday afternoon in February, I was not quite sure what the title meant. Was it the secret messages that he sewn into each piece of apparel he makes? Maybe.

Or perhaps it’s the emotional push and pull of the three primary characters. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned dressmaker in 1950s London. The confirmed bachelor decides that his current girlfriend needs to be sent away because her capacity to inspire him has diminished.

Then he meets a somewhat awkward young woman Alma (Vicky Krieps) who he attempts to mold based on his needs. Buttering toast never sounded so loud. But she is more strong-willed than she appears at first.

His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), my favorite character, is his majordomo; almost everything runs through her, which was confusing/frustrating to Alma for a time.

The relationship between Reynolds and Alma operates on two speeds, great love and irritated indifference on his part, the latter tied to his fastidious creative process. Alma understands the latter but obviously prefers the former and does what she needs to foment it. It is, let’s say, a dysfunction romance.

The movie looks marvelous, with great use of color. Reynolds looks great, even when he ought not, and Alma is transformed. I liked it well enough to recommend, though it is at 130 minutes, a little slow, especially in the beginning. Its R rating is for the occasional F-word.

Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth movie, and his second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis, the first being There Will Be Blood (2007), which I did not see. I have seen Andersen’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and Boogie Nights (1997).

Whether or not this turns out to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, he’s deserving of the Oscar nod here, though he will not win. I discovered that I saw him in several films – Gandhi (1984), A Room With a View (1985), and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) – before I really knew his name.

I watched his breakout role in My Left Foot (1989) for which he would win an Oscar. It’s likely I saw The Age of Innocence (1992) and In the Name of the Father (1993) at the Spectrum, but I never saw him again until Lincoln (2012).

All the short films my wife and I saw at the Spectrum in February 2018 were quite good. Dekalb Elementary (USA – 20 minutes) involved a 2013 school shooting incident in Atlanta, GA. It was really intense, but the lead female’s role was remarkable.

The Silent Child (UK – 20 minutes) is about a profoundly deaf four-year-old girl, whose busy middle class family care for her. But she lives in a world of silence until a caring social worker teaches her how to communicate. The arc of this story was very touching, and a bit heartbreaking.

My Nephew Emmett (USA – 19 minutes) is set in 1955 and based on the true story of a Mississippi preacher who tries to protect his 14-year-old nephew. I knew almost immediately, though my wife did not, what this story was all about, which I suppose lessened the impact only slightly.

In The Eleven O’Clock (Australia – 13 minutes), the delusional patient of a psychiatrist believes he is actually the psychiatrist, and they end up analyzing each other. As the only comedy, and a cleverly funny one at that, it broke up the tension in the theater somewhat.

Watu Wote – All of Us (Germany/Kenya – 23 minutes). “For almost a decade Kenya has been targeted by terrorist attacks of the Al-Shabaab. An atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust between Muslims and Christians is growing. Until in December 2015, Muslim bus passengers showed that solidarity can prevail.”

The first, third, and fifth movies all were based on true stories and suggested the possibility of violence. DeKalb was probably my favorite among these, but I suspect Wote Watu will win the Oscar because it’s so timely.

As a teacher of English as a New Language, my wife really related to The Silent Child, knowing children often need advocates when they are “different.”

The one thing I hated in the presentation is that, during the closing credits, they had videos of the filmmakers hearing that they’ve been nominated for Academy Awards. It really ruined the mood, especially the stirring end music of Wote Watu. Now if they’d run the clips AFTER each the credits, it would have been better, serving as a brief respite before another heavy topic.

Nevertheless, a very good crop of films.

When the NBC series Saturday Night Live decided to go with more experienced talent in the 1984-85 season, I realized that Christopher Guest was one of the most anonymous-looking actors in show business. Unlike someone with a strong persona, such as Martin Short or Billy Crystal that season, Guest tended to blend in, which can be an asset in an ensemble cast.

I also remember him as the writer (with Eugene Levy)/director/actor in three films I saw in the cinema at the time: Waiting for Guffman (1996) -“an aspiring director and the marginally talented amateur cast of a hokey small-town Missouri musical production go overboard when they learn that someone from Broadway will be in attendance”; Best in Show (2000), about the human personas at a national dog show; and A Mighty Wind (2003), about the reunion of a 1960s folk trio.

These films had largely the same troupe of performers, including Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Bob Babalan. There was something about the off-kilter sensibilities of these characters that I found, in their mundane absurdity, quite believable. I’ll have to seek out 2006’s For Your Consideration, which I somehow missed.

You might be familiar with Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel – up to 11! – the lead guitarist of the rock band Spinal Tap, in the 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner. The film was written by Reiner, Guest and the other members of the “band”, Michael McKean (vocalist/guitarist David St. Hubbins), and Harry Shearer (bassist Derek Smalls).

This “fake” band has put out two albums that charted, one the title of the film back in ’84 (#121 on the Billboard charts), and Break Like the Wind, which I will admit to owning, that got up to #61 in 1992, when the movie sequel, which I did not see, came out.

But you probably know him best as the villainous Count Tyrone Rugen, The Man with Six Finger, from the movie The Princess Bride, which the family has seen together at the now sadly closed Madison Theater nearby.

Some biographical info I did not know: “Guest holds a hereditary British peerage as the 5th Baron Haden-Guest.” He has dual British and American citizenship. I did know that he has been married to Jamie Lee Curtis since 1984, but not that they have two adopted children.

The first movie my wife and I went to see after the Academy Award nominations were announced was The Shape of Water, which had 13 noms, including Best Picture. Right after we came out of the theater, I ran into a couple of friends of mine, and I utterly failed to describe what the heck this film was.

Was it magic realism? Maybe-ish. It is a cold war drama/civil rights metaphor/science fiction tale/love story. Yeah, right, that’s it. I asked my wife, and she said it was weird. That’s correct too.

Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who cannot speak, presumably because of whatever caused the scars on her throat, is employed as a janitor in a secret high-security government laboratory. She works with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer). They discover something they’re not supposed to know about.

There are a lot of things I liked about the movie. For instance, the relationship between Elisa and the amphibious entity (Doug Jones) who reminded me of the Creature from the Black Lagoon is lovely, especially early on, when they learn to communicate.

My favorite character was Giles (Richard Jenkins), Elisa’s neighbor, an artist who is even more isolated than she is, bemoaning aging as he watched old movies rather than the news. He has an interesting story arch.

What I didn’t much enjoy is the sadistic cartoon villainy of the facilities head, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), though he is involved in the one time I chuckled during the film. (“It’s teal.”)

There’s a sequence near the end, and I won’t describe it. But if I were sitting at home watching it on TV, I’d be screaming at the set, “Don’t do it!” And it plays out most predictably.

Also, there’s a scene where a black couple appears very briefly, designed to Make A Point. Ben Sachs of the Chicago Reader wrote: “The movie‘s worldview is as easy to like as the protagonist and her friends, but [director and co-writer Guillermo] del Toro lays it on so thick that there’s no room for counterargument or even independent thought.”

All good cinema manipulates the viewer, but I felt as though I could see the strings too obviously. I’m glad I saw The Shape of Water, I even recognize why it is so acclaimed, and I bought into the ending. But it was my least favorite of the five nominated films I’ve seen so far (3 Billboards, Lady Bird, The Post, Darkest Hour).

When Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) got tired of the lack of progress regarding the murder of her daughter, she commissions an ad company guy named Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) to put up Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That’s the movie my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany on the Sunday it was touted as Best Picture by the Screen Actors Guild.

Of course, the beloved chief of police William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is not happy to be called out in 20-foot letters, even on a back road. Besides, he has even a bit of an unrelated problem. But one of his officers, Jason Dixon (Oscar nominee Sam Rockwell), who still lives with his mama (Sandy Martin), is a hotheaded bigot who gets even more incensed.

Mildred’s ex, Charlie (John Hawkes) has been spending time with a 19-year old female named Penelope (Samara Weaving). Mildred’s son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, whose last three movies I’ve now seen) is coping with loss.

Three Billboards also stars Amanda Warren and Peter Dinklage.

Lots of people, obviously, really liked this movie and I’m one of them. I appreciated the development of the memorable and distinct characters, which shows that most of us are complicated beings. Occasionally the film is unexpectedly funny, and I laughed aloud more than once. Previous Oscar winner McDormand (Fargo) deserved her nomination, as do Rockwell and previous Oscar nominee Harrelson.

And some critics absolutely hated Three Billboards. A few thought the first part was great and it fell apart, by seemingly redeeming the worst character, which I don’t believe is what happened. Others found the film of little redeeming value, with a deus ex machina ending. What?

I’ve read that the wordplay from Martin McDonagh, who was also the director, was considered too glib and clever for its own good. And some just hate its politics: see, for instance, writer Ken Levine’s scalding take.

A couple other notes: there’s violence, but the murder is not shown, except in photos. In fact, the one time I turned away from the screen momentarily involved a scene practically out of Little Shop of Horrors.

It was a bit nerve-wracking occasionally, though. And if I didn’t realize this on my own, the woman sitting directly behind me let me know by telling her friend that she was so nervous she needed to ear more popcorn.

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