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+


(UK/Hungary 2016)

“Race and religion are irrelevant. If you’re a dickhead, you’re a dickhead.”


I don’t usually bother with “feel good” movies, which tend to be vapid, cheesy affairs. The basic plot summary of Dough caught my attention. Although it teeters dangerously close to full-on “feel good,” to its credit it doesn’t go all the way. Exhale. Still, not great.

Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce) has owned and single-handedly operated a Jewish bakery in London. It’s a family business that’s lasted for generations but has definitely seen better days. Nat’s livelihood is threatened by a grocery chain that wants to buy him out. The way things are going, the offer looks like the only way to stay above water.

Enter 20-ish African immgrant Ayyash Habimana (Jerome Holder), a Muslim who recently relocated to the neighborhood. Nat hires him to help bake, not realizing…well, that he gets baked. Like, smoking weed. Ganja. Marijuana. Somehow, Ayyash starts churning out muffins that sell like hotcakes.

Dough is a really cute comedy that works on many levels, at least from a narrative perspective. Director John Goldschmidt steers things in a realistic direction, showing that two disparate generational and cultural ideologies are not really all that far apart. The opening scene—at 4:00 a.m.—illustrates the parallels between Nat and Ayyash’s lives and gets Dough off to a great start. I was hooked. It looked like a winner.

Unfortunately, things go downhill fast. Dough quickly turns into amateur hour, with writing (Jez Freedman and Jonathan Benson) and acting that just doesn’t deliver on the potential here. The story is hamfisted, oversimplified, and predictable. Aside from a few sweet scenes, Dough is kind of a dud.

With Philip Davis, Ian Hart, Pauline Collins, Andrew Ellis, Malachi Kirby, Natasha Gordon, Melanie Freeman, Olivia Dayan

Production: Docler Entertainment, Three Coloured Dog Films, Docler DProd, Dough Film, Viva Films

Distribution: Menemsha Films, Margo Cinema, Rialto Distribution, Vertigo Releasing

94 minutes
Not rated

(iTunes rental) C-

Night and the City

(UK/USA 1950)

“Harry is an artist without an art.”

—Adam Dunne

Jules Dassin’s Night and the City is a fine example of classic film noir. Filmed in smoky black and white mostly at nighttime on location in London, Dassin takes us slumming through the seedy underworld of nightlife, wrestling, and organized crime.

Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a hard-bitten, ambitious, streetwise American con artist living in London. Always on the lookout for a quick buck, he can’t seem to catch a break. Ever. Literally running for his life in the opening scene, his latest career endeavor has failed, and his girl, Mary (Gene Tierney), is losing faith in him—stealing from her will do that.

Things brighten one night after a failed hustle at a wrestling match: Harry crosses paths with famous retired Greek wrestler Gregorius the Great (real life professional wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko) and his prodigy, Nikolas of Athens (Ken Richmond), who both walk out of the arena in a huff. Gregorius is furious with his son, Kristo (Herbert Lom), who organized the fight, a low-end sort of WWE-like affair that he finds tacky.

Harry schmoozes Gregorius and learns that Kristo is a mobster who controls wrestling in all of London. He devises a plan to create a promotion startup, aligning himself with Gregorius to get around Kristo. He secures funding by double dealing with Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan), the owner of the Silver Fox Club where Mary works, and Phil’s wife, Helen (Googie Withers). She has plans of her own she doesn’t want Phil to know about.

The whole thing looks like it’s actually going to work despite Kristo’s threats, a plot to murder Harry, and Phil pulling his backing from the project. Harry gets so far as setting up a real fight between Nikolas and the Strangler (Mike Mazurki, also a real life professional wrestler). A miscalculation unravels everything—not just for him but everyone involved.

Jo Eisinger’s screenplay, based on Gerald Kersh’s novel Night and the City with contributions from Austin Dempster and William E. Watts, involves morally bankrupt lowlife characters who lack any redeeming qualities. All of them are scamming for one thing or another, and none of them—except maybe Mary—evokes any sympathy. This plays out nicely with the motifs of money, masculinity, and blind ambition that give this story its dark and bitter hue. It’s suspenseful. Ultimately, evil prevails in this dirty little story, which had to be revolutionary if jarring when this came out.

The backstory here is as interesting as the plot: during the production of Night and the City, Dassin was blacklisted for being a Communist. Pushed into exile, he infuses a strong sense of betrayal and fear into this film (

Night and the City is desperate, chilly, and magnificently bleak—and it looks it thanks to Mutz Greenbaum’s shadowy and dramatic cinematography. Of the nitrate prints that screened this year, this was a standout. According to the festival program, this pre-release print is ten minutes longer than the UK version and 15 minutes longer than the US version.

With Hugh Marlowe, Ada Reeve, Charles Farrell, Edward Chapman, Betty Shale

Production: 20th Century Fox

Distribution: 20th Century Fox, Criterion

111 minutes (pre-release print)
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) B

Nitrate Picture Show


(USA 1995)

“Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.”

—Cher Horowitz

The first screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series is Clueless, a sort of link between ’80s classics like Valley Girl and Heathers and later films like Election, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and even Fox’s current television series Scream Queens. Adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma, which I haven’t read and probably never will, Clueless transmits the novel’s heroine across time and space from outside London in the early Nineteenth Century to Beverly Hills in the late Twentieth. It’s a cute idea that works—I didn’t know until this screening that the story is 200 years old. As if!

“Hymenally challenged” (i.e., virgin) 16 year old California girl Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is vain, popular, and rich. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s incredibly superficial, even if she means well. Her mother died in “a freak accident during a routine liposuction,” leaving her father, brass-balled Type A litigator Mel (Dan Hedaya), to raise her. When Cher gets a bad report card, she enlists her bestie Dionne (Stacey Dash), a hip black version of herself, to help fix up two nerdy tough-grading teachers, Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan). Her plan is simple: she wants to get them laid so they’ll chill out and be receptive to negotiating her grades. Meanwhile, Cher adopts a new student, “tragically unhip” druggie tomboy Tai (Brittany Murphy) as a pet project: Cher plans to make Tai more like Cher. Duh. Semi-crunchy, socially conscious stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd) does not approve of Cher’s antics.

Written and directed by Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘s Amy Heckerling, Clueless feels like an ’80s throwback, but it’s still a lot of fun. Loaded with great zingers and one-liners, I laughed a lot. It also has a ton of references to ’90s pop culture that clearly date the film (Luke Perry? Snapple? A Cranberries CD?! Egads!). Clueless lacks a ceratin bite that makes “mean girl” flicks so, well, biting. I guess a large part is because Cher and Dionne aren’t really mean girls; they’re actually pretty naive. After all, it takes Cher awhile to figure out that Christian (Justin Walker), the guy she lusts after, is a friend of Dorothy. Hello?

With Julie Brown, Jeremy Sisto, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan

Production: Paramount Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA)

97 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Public Chicago) B-

Chicago International Film Festival

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? [Mi yohav otti akhshav?]

(Israel/UK 2016)

Barak and Tomer Heymann’s warm documentary, Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?, takes its title from the first thought that crossed subject Saar Maoz’s mind when he received his HIV diagnosis. A likable middle-aged gay guy (he turns 40 during the course of the film), Maoz relocated to London almost two decades ago after he was kicked out his kibbutz in Israel for being gay. It’s been a source of embarrassment for his religious family, whose respect Maoz seems to have lost. He sets out to change that, going back home and confronting his parents and his siblings. He has to get past their fears, their misconceptions about homosexuality and HIV, and worst of all their judgments of him.

Maoz, who sings in the London Gay Men’s Chorus, is oddly charismatic. Relatively unassuming, he leads a seemingly quiet life and doesn’t exactly stand out from the crowd; in fact, he blends in with the other men in virtually every scene with the Chorus (save for one—I won’t say what it’s about). He’s decent, honest, open, and has a good sense of humor with an imperfect past, all of which probably explain his charm. He could be anyone you know, including yourself. I must admit, I related to him on many levels here: his conflicted feelings about his religion, moving away from home and coming out, his sense of distance with some of his family, filling a void with partying in the early 2000s, being alone for a long period of time. He doesn’t come across as regretful or pitiable, just reflective and forward-focused. Filmed over the course of about five years, the best scenes are the ones with his mother, his father, and an argument in a restaurant with his brother. Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? is an often funny and sometimes heavy reminder that home is where you can be yourself, for better or for worse.

Screening followed by a live discussion with Saar Maoz

84 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B-

Chicago International Film Festival