A dear friend coined a handy if snotty phrase she employs when she enjoys a film or a play that she doesn’t find particularly cerebral: “It’s not a major work but I liked it.” I’ll borrow her phrase for Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, an engrossing and splashy biopic that doesn’t seem like the nearly three-hour investment it demands.
The story chronicles the rocky relationship of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a girl from the wrong side of the tax, so to speak, who marries up; and Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), her catch: that Gucci, the heir to the fashion dynasty. Her ambition pushes her husband and the family business to unexpected heights but destroys everything else in the process. Every. Single. Thing.
Janty Yates’s costumes are every bit as important to the story as Roberto Bentivegna’s script and Scott’s keen direction. She captures the royal air that (perhaps once) was Gucci. Yates deserves an Oscar. Gaga and Driver deliver standout performances that are worth the investment this film demands. Al Pacino and Jared Leto soar in their supporting roles, sometimes upstaging Gaga and Driver. The casting is a wet dream.
House of Gucci did not touch me or move me. I’m no better for seeing it. The characters are irredeemable. Still, it kept my attention and it entertained me. I would see it again. In a heartbeat.
With Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Jack Huston, Reeve Carney, Camille Cottin, Vincent Riotta, Alexia Muray, Mia McGovern Zaini, Florence Andrews, Madalina Diana Ghenea, Youssef Kerkour, Mehdi Nebbou, Miloud Mourad Benamara, Antonello Annunziata, Catherine Walker, Martino Palmisano
Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bron Creative, Scott Free Productions
Distribution: United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures
“When I was a boy, I started to hide things in the lining of the garments. Things only I knew were there. Secrets.”
— Reynolds Woodcock
“I want you flat on your back. Helpless, tender, open. With only me to help. And then I want you strong again.”
— Alma Elson
London dress designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) wouldn’t be at the center of 1950s British haute couture without the women in his life — and all he has around him are women. He clothes royalty (Lujza Richter), models, and many a grande dame, some of them (Harriet Sansom Harris) crazy, in exquisite opulence he creates in his exclusive House of Woodcock. His stony sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) runs the business end of things. Part of that involves maintaining every detail of his affairs, keeping his life exactly like his clothing: meticulously crafted and custom tailored, just how he likes it.
Reynolds is a genius, but he’s also an insufferable control freak. A diva. A dick. This explains why he’s an “incurable” bachelor.
Women have come and gone, but not one has inspired Reynolds quite like Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps), a rather willful young waitress he meets in a café. He asks her out to dinner, then brings her back to his studio and fits her in a dress. It’s kind of weird and domineering, but it doesn’t repel her.
Alma moves in. Soon, she becomes lover and muse to Reynolds, forced to contend with his bizarre and condescending idiosyncrasies. Cyril takes note. Alma’s presence throws him off, sometimes provoking him to retreat into silence while other times sending him into a fit of rage. Serendipity leads Alma to the anecdote for his noxiousness.
Phantom Thread takes some work to digest — an unintended pun, but apt nonetheless. Writer/director/cinematographer Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay is subtle, which I assume is the reason his pace is so painstakingly measured. The result is a sublime slowburning masterpiece that leaves you pondering long after you’ve taken it all in. I’d like to see it again.
Reynolds struggles against the power that women hold over him, and Day-Lewis adroitly handles the nuance that this role requires. He’s particularly magnificent in a scene involving a hallucination: Reynolds talks to his deceased mother (Emma Clandon), and his dialogue sums up his existence. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role, which showcases his formidable talent. Day-Lewis announced his retirement before Phantom Thread came out (http://variety.com/2017/film/columns/daniel-day-lewis-retiring-1202477843/). Whether he actually does remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a high note in a long, storied, and impressive career.
I would be remiss not to mention Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s haunting score, which is foreboding, minimalist, and eloquent. It’s a perfect fit for the psychological drama that unfolds here.
As a small aside, we had the pleasure of catching Phantom Thread on 70mm. This is how it should be seen. We even got a special program — and I love stuff like that!
With Sue Clark, Joan Brown, Harriet Leitch, Dinah Nicholson, Julie Duck, Maryanne Frost, Elli Banks, Amy Cunningham, Amber Brabant, Geneva Corlett, Juliet Glaves, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, Brian Gleeson, Julia Davis, Nicholas Mander, Philip Franks, Phyllis MacMahon, Silas Carson, Richard Graham, Martin Dew, Ian Harrod, Jane Perry, Leopoldine Hugo
Production: Annapurna Pictures, Focus Features, Ghoulardi Film Company, Perfect World Pictures
Distribution: Focus Features (USA), United International Pictures (UIP) (International), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (International), NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), CinemArt (Czech Republic), Bitters End (Japan), Parco Co. Ltd. (Japan)
“He was way ahead of his time. Just the way we do now with selfies and Snapchat and Facebook — he would have put the little Instagram kids to shame!”
— Amber Valletta
“Kevyn’s biggest motivation to succeed was his abandonment issues. He had this thought that, if I work with you and you become my friend, and I make you pretty, then you won’t abandon me. I absolutely think he was looking for a mother figure in the people that he worked with.”
— Eric Sakas
Superstar makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin lived an enviable life. He was successful doing what he loved — his work was on runways, in music videos, on award shows, and on magazine covers, at one point nine consecutive issues of Vogue. He wrote books and started a line of cosmetics.
On top of that, he hung out with models, legends, and his own idols: Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Paulina Porizkova, Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder, Liza Minnelli, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Cher, and Jennifer Lopez to name a few. Some of them were actual friends (I can only imagine Liza leaving voicemail for me).
Judging from the fact that they all let Aucoin record him with them backstage — on videotape, and not always made up — they must have felt something for him. An affinity? Safety? A debt? Whatever it was, it endeared him. Even in his home videos, he made them look good.
So it’s odd and downright tragic that someone who brought so much beauty to the world, never felt beautiful himself. Perhaps it had to do with his birth mother, Nelda Mae Williams, giving him up for adoption, or all the bullying he got as a teenager. He didn’t like his physical features, which were exaggerated by a condition that went undiagnosed for most of his life: acromegaly, a tumour on the pituitary gland that keeps the brain secreting growth hormones. It’s a painful condition that causes headaches and joint pain, and it got Aucoin addicted to prescription drugs.
A trove of home videos found after his death in 2002 forms the basis for Lori Kaye’s documentary, Kevyn Aucoin Beauty & the Beast in Me. He recorded everything — the aforementioned videos with celebrities, with family members and boyfriends, and even when he was alone. Kaye interviews different people from Aucoin’s life to tell his story, and the interviews range from funny (Andie MacDowell) to sad (ex boyfriend Eric Sakas discusses Aucoin’s downward spiral) to eyeroll-inducing (Williams claims Aucoin would not have been gay had she raised him).
His adoptive parents, Isidore and Thelma Aucoin, accepted him and even dropped out of their church because of its stance on homosexuality. He moved to New York City, and the rest is history.
The celebrity interviews are fun, and some are gushy. Some of the interviewees even cry. They all provide insight into the kind of guy Aucoin was. What Kaye has that makes her documentary special, though, is Aucoin’s tapes, and she incorporates footage from them into the project in a way that lets him tell his own story. It’s an often amusing one with a sad undertone. It also serves, as Cindy Crawford points out, as a time capsule — a really good one. I confess, a few scenes gave me chills.
With Andie MacDowell, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Paulina Porizkova, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amber Valletta, Isidore Aucoin, Nelda Mae Williams, Jed Root, Eric Sakas, Tina Turner, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson
Production: Putti Media
Distribution: Logo Documentary Films (USA), Dogwoof (International)
Some movies you watch just because they start and you’re too damned lazy to see what else is on. Such is the case with The Devil Wears Prada, which served as the end of my Christmas night movie binge.
Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) just finished school and moved to New York City to become a journalist. While seeking employment with more weighty publications like The New Yorker, she snags a one-off interview for Runway magazine. Surprise: she gets the job—working as personal assistant to ball busting editor-in-chief, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). Andy’s job duties and a chance meeting with handsome magazine writer Simon Baker (Christian Thompson) cause friction in her personal relationships, especially her chef boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier). Is a job worth this much hassle?
Director David Frankel does a competent job with Aline Brosh McKenna’s screen adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s novel even if the end result is nothing special. The acting is fine, particularly Stanley Tucci as caddy and nelly designer Nigel. It’s nice to hear Madonna’s “Vogue” in one scene outside Andy’s car. The problem I have is the script, which is formulaic and predictable girl movie stuff: awkward girl in the big city reinvents herself and not just survives but excels in the face of adversity. Of course, there’s a happy ending. The Devil Wears Prada is not my cup of tea: it’s cute, but that’s about it.
Ah, the dark side of genius. Saint Laurent is packed with eye candy and has an awful going on visually—but sadly, that’s all it has going for it. A line from Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) himself sums up the problem concisely: “I like bodies without souls”—the soul of Saint Laurent being somewhere else. Not here in this film.
I was bored, which is a crime considering the real-life material director Bertrand Bonelli had to work with. Some of his choices are puzzling—the temporal chopping effect going back and forth through time is more an annoyance than anything, and I’m at a loss as to why he devotes so much time to seemingly trivial events like a board meeting in New York and a drug trip in an apartment. Who gives a shit, and why would they? Ulliel as young Saint Laurent is charming, full frontal and otherwise; but not even he can elevate this pedestrian slice of an interesting life.
A slice from the life of feisty millionaire fabric lady, NYC socialite, and longtime fashion maven Iris Apfel and her century-old husband, Carl. Crammed with quips and witticisms, observations, and tips on life and fashion, Iris is a much sunnier endeavor than the Maysles’ better-known Grey Gardens. Those bangles, baubles, and beads, oy!
I found Iris the person entertaining and mostly dead-on with her observations about life, but slightly annoying. She shares a birthday with Aaron, Michael Jackson, and John McCain, if that says anything. In any event, she was fun to watch, but Iris ended just before I couldn’t stomach any more.
Frédéric Tchang’s peek behind closed doors at the preparation of designer Raf Simons’ debut for Dior. Oh yeah, and he only has eight weeks to create his collection. Will he pull it off?
Though Dior and I (thankfully) lacks the craziness of Project Runway, we still get to see the inner workings, stress, and low key drama surrounding Simons as he strives to maintain the integrity of the brand while adding his own individual point of view to it. Tchang juxtaposes archival footage of Mr. Dior himself, effectively serving as an homage without coming off as cheesy. And that flower mansion is fucking awesome!
Interviews with Parisian craftsmen working for big names in haute couture—Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent—and their view on the future of fashion. Hand Made with Love in France was interesting and even amusing at points. It shows the massive amount of work and attention to detail that goes into making fine clothing. However, it did not deliver on what it promised, exactly.
The craftsmen discussed the impending death of their craft. While not in itself a bad thing, I expected the focus to be somewhere else—specifically, the cheap quality of today’s so-called “luxury” goods. Faux pas! I thought this would be more fun and less handwringing about tomorrow.