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+

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

(USA 1996)

“My only love sprung from my only hate.”

—Juliet Capulet

I don’t usually read reviews when I write my entries here, but sometimes I can’t resist checking what critics had to say about older movies when they first hit theaters back in the day. Roger Ebert did not like this one, which he called “a mess” and “a very bad idea” ( I respectfully disagree; Baz Luhrmann’s overblown and over the top take on Shakespeare’s (probably) best known play is, in a word, awesome—even with 20 years’ wear.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet definitely is not your lit teacher’s Shakespeare: set in hyper-paced, decaying fictitious Verona Beach on the verge of the Millennium, Luhrmann reimagines the feuding Montagues and Capulets as two family corporate empires embrolied in a turf war. They act like cartels: Romeo’s cousin Benvolio (Dash Mihok) and Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (John Leguizamo) brawl at a gas station, wrecking havok in the city. Instead of knives, their weapons are guns with brand names “Dagger” and “Sword” embossed on them. Chief of Police Captain Prince (Vondie Curtis-Hall) warns family heads Ted Montague (Brian Dennehy) and Fulgencio Capulet (Paul Sorvino) to get their boys under control, or there will be hell to pay.

That evening, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio), Benvolio, and Mercutio (Harold Perrineau) take ecstasy and crash a costume party at the Capulet mansion, where prima donna Mrs. Capulet (Diane Venora) has arranged an introduction between Juliet (Claire Danes, who you oughta know emulates Alanis Morissette) and governor’s son Dave Paris (Paul Rudd dressed as an astronaut). Drawn to a blacklit aquarium in the bathroom, rolling Romeo, literally a knight in shining armor, sees Juliet in angel wings on the other side. Thus begins the fateful downfall of the star-crossed lovers, aided by Fr. Laurence (Pete Postlewaite).

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet injects new life into a classic. Laying the groundwork for 2000’s Moulin Rouge!, everything about it is bold and flamboyant—especially the choice to stick mostly with the play’s original prose. Luhrmann mixes a headspinning cocktail of English literature, Alexander McQueen, Quentin Tarantino, and MTV to create an apocalyptic assault on the senses. He combines outrageous sets (including a crumbling movie theater on the beach that provides the perfect stage for some of the action), religious imagery, sexy thugs, car chases, a drag performance, newscasts, and hip tunage into a whirl of color, noise, and poetry. Donald M. McAlpine’s cinematography is downright decadent. The soundtrack is strong: it boasts, among other acts, Radiohead, Everclear, Garbage, Butthole Surfers, and of course the Cardigans with their only U.S. chart hit, “Lovefool.”

I can see why purists and old fogies will pass on this adaptation. I, however, love it. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet isn’t perfect, but it’s wickedly clever, fun, and never dull.

120 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+