Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread

Posted on January 11, 2018 at 5:49 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, cigarettes
Violence/ Scariness: Poison
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 22, 2017
Date Released to DVD: April 10, 2018
Copyright 2017 Focus Features

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” is the story of a selfish, headstrong haute couture designer who likes to leave small, secret, embroidered messages concealed within the lining of his meticulously constructed gowns.  If Anderson has left a message within the lining of this meticulously constructed, exquisitely performed, but ultimately self-indulgent and morally vacant film, it is better kept secret.

There is so much potential here. The relationship between the designer and the women who make, model, and wear the gowns brims with intriguing concepts about who is in service to whom. Clothing is art, commerce, and self-expression and it is also practical. It has to fit when one stands, sits, and walks, to protect us from the elements while it defines us and tells the world who we are and at the same time who the designer is as well. Not much of that is explored here, any more than the philosophy side of the charismatic leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Anderson’s “The Master” was. Like that film, this is about the drive of the central character more than the motives or ideas. And so, in a story about a man driven by the impulse to create, it is curiously empty about what it is to have or to struggle with a creative vision. We see more of the designer’s inner life in his jealous reaction to a customer who is buying dresses elsewhere and his irritated reaction to toast being buttered too loudly.

The designer is Reynolds Woodcock, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in what he says is his final role, and reportedly inspired by the European designers of the 1950’s, before designer ready-to-wear began to take over the market. The opening scenes, as a fleet of impeccably smocked seamstresses arrive in the elegant London townhouse that serves as his home, studio, and showroom, is breathtakingly staged and kaleidoscopically entrancing.

We see that Woodcock tires easily of his live-in lady friends, and that it is his omni-capable sister Cyril (a gorgeous performance by the always-brilliant Lesley Manville) who not unkindly informs this latest in what appears to be an endless line rotating in and out that her services are no longer required. Woodcock visits the country where a waitress named Alma (Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps) catches his attention. Soon he is literally taking her measure, fitting a gown to her, and she becomes the next lady to rotate in. She has no intention of rotating out.

Like Elizabeth Taylor with Mercedes McCambridge in “Giant” and Joan Fontaine with Judith Anderson in “Rebecca,” Krieps plays a young, innocent woman who comes into a grand house with a mysterious, imperious, magnetic, and wealthy man only to find that there is already in the house a woman in charge. The dynamic between them would have made a better movie. Instead, we are alerted in a foreshadowing scene as it begins that this is about the relationship between Alma and Woodcock. She says to someone we cannot yet identify, “Reynolds has made my dreams come true. And I have given him what he desires most in return, every piece of me.”

It’s a more literate, better acted, more tastefully presented version of “Fifty Shades of Gray,” all lush settings and “the sub is truly the dom” dynamics. Without some understanding or or even some representation of Woodcock’s aesthetic vision or what creating means to him, he is just a narcissistic diva who adores being adored. The nutso ending really sends it over the cliff.

Day-Lewis is extraordinary, of course. No one commits more fully to a character. It is mesmerizing to see the way he brushes his hair and pulls up his socks, the mercurial shifts from being overwhelmed by having other people near him to a visceral need for attention. Manville’s Cyril is shrewd but not unsympathetic to the people she has to finesse. And Krieps is fine as Alma, who wants to please Woodcock but despite the “every piece of me” line, she wants it the way she wants, not necessarily the way he wants. Like “mother!” though, this is a movie by a self-conscious auteur about how the tortured existence necessary for creation depends on the willingness of devoted, uncomplicated, lissome females that cannot even make a case for the value of the art. If there is a hidden message in the lining, it is just: “Me.”

Parents should know that this film includes some very strong language, sexual references, and very risky behavior with some harm.

Family discussion: Why did Reynolds approve of what Alma was doing? What did Cyril and Alma think about each other? What did Alma mean about “giving him all of myself?”

If you like this, try; “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review

List: Movies About Lincoln

Posted on February 12, 2014 at 8:00 am

Happy birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

lincoln photograph

Celebrate the birthday of our 16th President with some of the classic movies about his life. Reportedly, he has been portrayed more on screen than any other real-life character.  I was honored to be invited to participate in the 272-word project from the Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois.  Each of us was asked to contribute an essay that was, like the Gettysburg Address, just 272 words.  Here’s mine:

Two score and six years after the death of Abraham Lincoln, he was first portrayed in the brand-new medium of film. 102 years and over 300 films later, Lincoln has appeared on screen more than any other historical figure and more than any other character except for Sherlock Holmes. In 2013 alone there were three feature films about Abraham Lincoln, one with an Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg. In another one, he was a vampire slayer. He has been portrayed by Henry Fonda (John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln,” Raymond Massey (“Abe Lincoln in Illinois”), Walter Huston (D.W. Griffith’s “Abraham Lincoln”), and Bing Crosby – in blackface (“Holiday Inn”). The movies have shown us Lincoln defending clients, mourning Ann Rutledge, courting Mary Todd, and serving as President. We have also seen him traveling through time with a couple of California teenagers in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and granting amnesty to Shirley Temple’s Confederate family in “The Littlest Rebel.”

Lincoln is appealingly iconic as a movie character, instantly recognizable as a symbol of America’s most cherished notion of ourselves: unpretentious but aspiring for a better world and able to find both the humor and integrity in troubled times. In every film appearance, even the silliest and most outlandish, he reminds us, as he did in The Gettysburg Address, of what is most essential in the American character: the search for justice.

PS My husband and I waited for two hours outdoors on a frozen January 1 to view the Emancipation Proclamation on its 150th anniversary. When I saw it, I wept. A security guard whispered, “I know how you feel.”

The Steven Spielberg epic, Lincoln, based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, with Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis.

daniel day lewis lincoln

Based on Bill O’Reilly’s book:

Young Mr. Lincoln Directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda, this is an appealing look at Lincoln’s early law practice and his tragic romance with Ann Rutledge. Particularly exciting and moving are the scenes in the courtroom as Lincoln defends two brothers charged with murder. Both have refused to talk about what happened, each thinking he is protecting the other, and Lincoln has to find a way to prove their innocence.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois Raymond Massey in his signature role plays Lincoln from his days as a rail-splitter to his law practice and his debates with Stephen Douglas. Ruth Gordon plays his wife, Mary.raymond massey lincoln

Gore Vidal’s Lincoln Sam Waterston and Mary Tyler Moore star in this miniseries that focuses on Lincoln’s political strategies and personal struggles.


Sandburg’s Lincoln Hal Holbrook plays Lincoln in this miniseries based on the biography by poet Carl Sandberg.




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Based on a true story Holidays Lists

Casting Challenges: Can A Guy With Pierced Ears Play Lincoln?

Posted on March 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

The LA Times has a great article by Rebecca Keegan about the challenges of casting actors in period movies because of changing body types and choices.

With his concave cheekbones, lanky build and grooved brow, Daniel Day-Lewis replicates Abraham Lincoln more accurately than the head of a penny.

His performance in “Lincoln” has earned rousing endorsements from Civil War historians, but close watchers of the film have spotted one glaring anachronism in this otherwise honest Abe — earring holes.

Day-Lewis, a meticulous actor known for disappearing into his roles, had the tattoos on his hands and forearms covered by wardrobe and makeup. He removed gold hoops from his ears. But despite makeup, the piercings were still visible.

Director Ang Lee found it a challenge to cast “Taking Woodstock” because today’s actors are much more toned than the people who attended the Woodstock concert in 1968.  It was also hard for him to find actors who had not removed their body hair.  Keegan describes the same problem with last year’s “Not Fade Away,” also set in the late 60’s.  And “Lincoln’s” problems extended beyond its title character.  There were plenty of Civil War re-enactors in the Richmond area who were happy to be in the movie, but most of them were well-fed or overweight, and, as someone who was working on the movie told me, “There were no fat people in the Civil War.”  Keegan notes, “Teeth whitening, plastic surgery, body piercings, weight training, healthful eating and yoga have made it a challenge to find the perfect period performer.”

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Actors Behind the Scenes


Posted on April 27, 2010 at 8:08 am

High profile director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) has everything he needs to make his ninth movie and more. Much more. It is Italy in the early 1960’s and Guido is a glamorous celebrity, a name brand, a commodity. His production team is ready, including his close friend and adviser, costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench), his star and muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman), and his producers. He also has a devoted wife Luisa (Oscar winner Marianne Cotillard), a mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), a mother (Sophia Loren), a pretty reporter from Vogue named Stephanie who wants more from him than an interview (Kate Hudson), and memories of the first woman to teach him about desire Saraghina (Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas).

What he does not have is a script, or even an idea of where to begin.

Which gives him something in common with director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), because beyond the idea of a director who has too much on his mind and not enough ideas this movie does not have anything to say. Marshall has a great appreciation for female beauty and a lot of style. That’s a great reason to watch a music video but it is not really a reason to make or watch a movie.

Marshall trots out his bevy of international beauties, and each gets a musical number, some of them stunning. Fergie’s deep, rich-throated “Be Italian” and an almost-endless chorus line of tambourine-beating back-up singers, is sheer electricity. But the only one that comes close to reaching that level is Hudson, channeling her mother, Goldie Hawn, in a spangled silver mini-dress and go-go boots.

Cruz finds some sizzle in the notorious “Call from the Vatican” number, though no one can match the late Anita Morris, whose performance was considered too incendiary (and her costume too revealing) for the Tony Awards broadcast in 1982. But the musical numbers are not up to the level of “Chicago” and the lyrics in particular cannot stand up to the loving attention given to them by these actresses. At the end, it’s as empty as its subject.

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