Phantom Thread

(USA / UK 2017)

“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 ( 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)

130 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B+

The Post

(USA 2017)

Even with the healthy skepticism I have for all things Steven Spielberg, I was looking forward to The Post, His Schmaltziness’s latest historical drama. The subject and the impressive cast built expectations (for me, anyway) along the lines of All the President’s Men ( Turns out that’s not quite what The Post is.

Set in 1971, The Post is a dramatization of newspaper heiress Katharine Graham’s (Meryl Streep) agonizing decision to publish excerpts of the classified Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post — on the eve of the paper’s public stock offering. It was a now-or-never moment with big consequences for her, the paper, and the nation. Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is determined to publish the rest of the story, president and shareholders be damned.

Recall that the Pentagon Papers detailed the shady origins and the federal government’s ongoing misleading of the American public about the efficacy of the Vietnam War. The New York Times broke the story using the same source, former government contractor Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), but was slapped with an injunction that halted its coverage.

The Post is a decent historical thriller, I’ll give it that. Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s screenplay is accurate, at least as far as the events here. The narrative is timely, loaded with dramatic tension and suspence even if the ending is rushed. In typical fashion, though, Spielberg is heavyhanded and overly sentimental. That long shot of Graham walking through a crowd of women of all ages as she leaves the courthouse of the U.S. Supreme Court and her monologue to her daughter are fine examples of what I’m talking about. Gag.

As far as Streep’s performance, I didn’t consider this a standout for her. She’s always good, but I’m probably not going to remember her for this one.

I found The Post overrated. It plays to something obvious. I wasn’t bored, but I wasn’t impressed, either. Bridge of Spies (, which I didn’t love, was more interesting.

With Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts. Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy, John Rue, Rick Holmes, Philip Casnoff, Jessie Mueller, Stark Sands, Michael Cyril Creighton, Will Denton, Deirdre Lovejoy, Michael Devine, Kelly Miller, Jennifer Dundas, Austyn Johnson, Brent Langdon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Deborah Green, Gary Wilmes, Christopher Innvar, Luke Slattery, Justin Swain, Robert McKay, Sasha Spielberg

Production: DreamWorks Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Amblin Entertainment, Participant Media, Pascal Pictures, Star Thrower Entertainment, River Road Entertainment

Distribution: 20th Century Fox (USA / Canada), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (International), United International Pictures (UIP) (International), Entertainment One Benelux (Netherlands), Forum Film Slovakia (Slovakia), NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), Vertical Entertainment (Czech Republic), eOne Films Spain (Spain), Odeon (Greece), Columbia Pictures (Philippines), Toho-Towa (Japan)

116 minutes
Rated PG-13

(AMC River East) C+

Lady Bird

(USA 2017)

“You should just go to City College. You know, with your work ethic, just go to City College and then to jail and then back to City College. And then maybe you’d learn to pull yourself up and not expect everybody to do everything.”

— Marion McPherson

“Lady Bird always says that she lives in on the wrong side of the tracks, but I always thought that that was like a metaphor, but there are actual train tracks.”

— Danny

“You’re going to have so much unspecial sex in your life.”

— Kyle

Lady Bird is not Greta Gerwig’s first time directing; she codirected an earlier film, Nights and Weekends, in 2008. I never heard of that one. However, Lady Bird is her first solo gig, as well as her first hit. I wanted to catch it at the Chicago International Film Festival, but it was impossible to get tickets.

I’ve now seen it in its commercial release. Saoirse Ronan is Christine McPherson, an angsty, unpopular, and rather nerdy but self-assured Catholic high school senior who’s christened herself “Lady Bird.” She lives in a modest home literally “on the wrong side of the tracks” with her parents, her underachiever older brother (Jordan Rodrigues) who graduated from a “good” university but still works as a cashier in a grocery store, and his wife (Marielle Scott).

Christine wants a bigger life than the one she has in Sacramento, and she plans to get it by going away to college. Her perpetually crabby mother (Laurie Metcalf) is not exactly supportive, and her disposition gets worse when her father (Tracy Letts) loses his job.

Set in 2002, Lady Bird is a string of funny and touching episodes about growing up in a lower middle class Catholic home: sex, fitting in, rebellion, and of course Catholicism. I laughed out loud, and did so a lot. Gerwig wrote and directed it, and it’s a solid film even it rings a little familiar. She’s more observant of her characters’ behavior than creating some big dramatic experience. Lady Bird is structured like a lot of teen comedies I’ve seen before, but the acting is good enough to elevate it to a higher level and make it a bit more interesting. More adult, too.

As some friends have pointed out, the main character — Christine — is a refreshing break from the Hollywood archetype of a teenage girl we’ve all seen for more than 30 years now: she’s not a mean girl, a witch, or a slut. This is true, and a big plus here. Still, as much as I enjoyed Lady Bird, I don’t get the awards buzz over it.

With Danny O’Neill, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Odeya Rush, John Karna, Jake McDorman, Bayne Gibby, Laura Marano, Fr. Paul Keller, Myra Turley, Bob Stephenson, Joan Patricia O’Neill, Carla Valentine, Roman Arabia

Production: Scott Rudin Productions, Entertainment 360, IAC Films

Distribution: A24 (USA), Elevation Pictures (Canada), United International Pictures (UIP) (international), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (international)

94 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) B

The Shape of Water

(USA 2017)

“The natives in the Amazon worshipped it like a god. We need to take it apart. Learn how it works.”

— Strickland

I knew only two things walking into The Shape of Water: one, Guillermo del Toro directed it; and two, one of the characters is a sea creature. I expected a dark and fantastical fable with del Toro’s trademark look and feel all over it.

I was right about everything except this being dark; the world where the story is set may be sinister and the color palette may be Cold War drab, but The Shape of Water is an uncharacteristically sweet departure for del Toro, at least what I’ve seen from him.

Set in 1962 Baltimore — far dimmer than the one in the John Waters classic Hairspray — Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute single lady who quietly exists on the fringes. She rents a rundown apartment above a movie theater and works as a janitor in a high-security government laboratory tucked away in a complex somewhere outside town. Her only connections to the world are Giles (Richard Jenkins), her aging homosexual next door neighbor, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a coworker who acts as her interpreter.

Elisa is drawn to a scaly amphibian (Doug Jones) dragged from the Amazon and kept inside a water tank in the lab where she works. She can’t stand the way Strickland (Michael Shannon), a wreckless government agent, treats him. She forges a bond with the creature, feeding him hard boiled eggs on the sly. He grows to trust her, proving to be a gentle soul under all those scales.

Elisa gets wind of what Strickland has in store for the creature — over the objections of Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a marine biologist who tries to dissuade him. Strickland insists. Elisa takes matters into her own hands to save the poor thing.

Written by del Toro with Vanessa Taylor, the screenplay isn’t as dark, intense, or innovative as, say, Pan’s Labyrinth. Nevertheless, it’s got its charm. The Shape of Water is sexually charged, which is interesting (and frankly pretty funny at one point). The story, a romance, is much sweeter than what I tend to go for. The plot elements are familiar: outcasts, forbidden love, a maniacal plan in the name of science, a dangerous rescue, a fish out of water (literally), even a bit of espionage. It all comes together in a magnificently magical if not exactly unexpected finale.

Del Toro’s execution is what makes this film soar. Visually, he recalls Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children and especially Delicatessen). His use of color is clever and often seductive, even with a lot of brown and grey. The amphibian’s costume is cool, straight out of Pan’s Labyrinth (those eyes).

I love the references to other films — Creature from the Black Lagoon, E.T., King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. An astute friend of mine posits that the real love story here involves movies, with all of us mute viewers who fall for the fantastic. I find his interpretation to be the best I’ve heard.

The Shape of Water seems to be a polarizing film, moreso than any other I can think of this year; some of those I’ve talked to loved it, others hated it — with a passion. I fall into the former category. I can see myself coming back to this one from time to time.

With David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Lauren Lee Smith, Martin Roach, Allegra Fulton, John Kapelos, Morgan Kelly, Marvin Kaye, Dru Viergever, Wendy Lyon, Cody Ray Thompson, Madison Ferguson, Jayden Greig

Production: Bull Productions, Double Dare You (DDY), Fox Searchlight Pictures

Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA), 20th Century Fox (International), Hispano Foxfilms S.A.E. (Spain), Big Picture 2 Films (Portugal), Centfox Film (Austria), Forum Hungary (Hungary), Odeon

123 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) B+

Tom of Finland

(Finland / Sweden / Denmark / Germany / USA 2017)

Touko Valio Laaksonen, a.k.a. Tom of Finland, was extraordinary and unconventional. Dome Karukoski’s rather vanilla biopic Tom of Finland is neither.

With Aleksi Bardy’s screenplay, Karukoski lays out a good historical background of the life of the artist, whom Pekka Strang plays convincingly enough, at least until Tom’s later years. The story takes us through WWII, where Tom serves as a closeted solder in the Finnish army and catches the eye of his sargeant (Taisto Oksanen), into his postwar life in conservative Helsinki, where he works as an advertising illustrator, cruises public parks at night (and evades arrest), and sketches “dirty” homoerotic fetish doodles in his spare time. He shares an apartment with his homophobic sister (Jessica Grabowsky), which provides much of the dramatic tension in this story, especially when a cute boarder, dancer Veli (Lauri Tilkanen), moves in. Ultimately, the story leads to 1980s Los Angeles.

For a subject who really pushed the envelope — okay, he rammed it somewhere else altogether — and left his mark, Tom of Finland is a disappointingly conventional, even sappy biopic. The focus is on Tom’s personal struggle to live his life ‘out,’ which is a fine angle. Aside from a scene involving a Russian paratrooper (Siim Maaten) that apparently had a profund effect on Tom, however, Karukoski doesn’t delve deep enough to offer much insight; he seems to want to give an intimate picture but somehow stays at arm’s length from his subject. Too bad. His references are good but his approach is more documentarian or downright clinical. He skips huge chunks of time, which makes for awkward transitions in the film’s latter half. More frustratingly, he starts to raise some interesting points about art, conformity, AIDS, community, and longevity, but opts not to go there. Tom of Finland could have been a much more interesting film.

With Martin Bahne, Þorsteinn Bachmann, Werner Daehn, Jan Böhme, Seumas F. Sargent, Jakob Oftebro, Meri Nenonen, Haymon Maria Buttinger, Martin Bergmann, Niklas Hogner

Production: Helsinki-filmi, Anagram Väst, Fridthjof Film, Neutrinos Pictures, Film Väst, Fresco Film Services

Distribution: Finnkino (Finland), Protagonist Pictures, Cinemien (Netherlands), Kino MFA+ Filmdistribution (Germany), Lorber (USA), Palace Films (Australia), Peccadillo Pictures (UK), Rézo Films (2017) (France) (theatrical)

115 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C+

Angel Unchained [Hell’s Angels Unchained]

(USA 1970)

“Stay? What does ‘stay’ mean?”

— Angel

Lee Madden’s Angel Unchained is the type of ’70s movie that you would see on late night TV during the ’70s. A low budget grindhouse exploitation revenge flick, this one involves bikers and hippies and hicks, oh my. If the title isn’t obvious, Angel Unchained is a prime example of the kind of film that influenced none other than Quentin Tarantino.

After saving leader of the pack Pilot (Larry Bishop) during a bizarre rumble at a children’s amusement park, dumpy bodied restless spirit Angel (Don Stroud) decides to break from his gang of bikers and go his own way. While getting gas somewhere in the Arizona desert, he observes a group of redneck townies hassle a couple of hippies, one of whom is sweet Merilee (a young and soft Tyne Daly). Angel sticks up for the hippies.

He and Merilee are digging each other. She invites him to her farming commune, which is led by Southern buck Jonathan Tremaine (Luke Askew). They live off the land in a remote spot just outside some desert hicktown. The redneck townies don’t care for the hippies, which they make known by driving dune buggies through the hippies’ garden, messing with their livestock, and physically pummelling them. Angel stabs one, head honcho hillbilly Dave (Peter Lawrence), in the arm with a pitchfork as he speeds past him.

After that, Dave gives them all an ultimatum: leave by Saturday, or his posse of rednecks is going to wreak havoc on the commune. This frightens the hippies.

Angel calls on his old gang to save the farm, literally. He persuades Pilot, who grudgingly gets the guys on board. They head out to stay there for a week. Not surprisingly, the bikers clash with the hippies, starting with their diet of alphalpha. Things go south fast: the bikers drink, hit on the ladies, and generally make a mess. The last straw is stealing the batch of cookies — the vague implication is that they’re laced with drugs, probably pot or peyote — that an elderly medicine man (Pedro Regas) bakes in a hut.

Loaded with chases in “vee-hicles,” fistfights, and a good mix of dramatic tension and humor, Angel Unchained isn’t the worst thing. It’s got an odd charm to it, with the desert setting and the fringe dwellers of a long gone era battling the philistines of an even longer gone era. It has a few memorable scenes, such as a brilliantly kooky one in which Pilot has a nice, nothing chat with the sheriff (Aldo Ray) outside the jailhouse. As they talk, they nonchalantly watch the the bikers and the townies beat the crap out of each other in the parking lot in front of them. Another sad scene occurs right after a rape — again, it’s vaguely implied but you know what just happened.

Still, Angel Unchained is pretty silly; its earnestness makes it even moreso. If it has anything to say, it’s exactly what Rodney King would utter 20 years later: “Can we all just get along?” A nice sentiment for sure, but it doesn’t make up for the strained, amateur acting or the monotonous folky (and folksy) score by Randy Sparks.

With T. Max Graham, Jean Marie, Bill McKinney, Jordan Rhodes, Linda Smith, Nita Michaels, J. Cosgrove Butchie, T.C. Ryan, Alan Gibbs, Bud Ekins, Jerry Randall

Production: American International Pictures (AIP)

Distribution: American International Pictures (AIP) (USA), Anglo-EMI Film Distributors (UK), MGM-EMI (UK), Film AB Corona (Sweden)

86 minutes
Rated PG

(Impact) C-