Tag Archives: Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread

I fell in love with Punch Drunk Love, and by extension its director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Since I’d already loved Boogie Nights I re-visited Magnolia and found lots to love there too. Punch Drunk Love was the start of my affair with PTA, and also the end. I’ve seen and not really liked everything he’s done since: There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice. It makes me feel like a failed cinephile to admit my inability to get behind these movies and I was itching to break the spell with Phantom Thread. It currently holds a 92% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes and is being lauded for Daniel Day-Lewis’s committed (and final) performance, but no, Phantom Thread did nothing for me.

Set in London, 1950’s, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a genius dressmaker whose fashion house is coveted by all ladies in good standing. His life is rigorously regimented the-phantom-thread-trailer-1e98fcf2-7417-4ff9-bb81-a75e0cabd04band he turns out perfection in taffeta and the finest silk. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) runs his business and his home. Neither tolerate the slightest deviance from their prescribed lifestyle. BUT then a lovely young woman causes a disruption. Alma (Vicky Krieps) turns out to not be the meek muse that Woodcock first took her for, and his world is soon turned more inside out than the discarded gowns on a dressing room floor.

Is Daniel Day-Lewis quite good? Yes he is. His performance is measured and he puts you under his spell – almost. The trouble with Woodcock is that he’s thoroughly detestable. Alma is plain but transformed by his designs, made to feel beautiful and important, but it’s his attention that she desires and his alone. And of course he’s too fastidious, too devoted to his work to give it. But why does she want it? Women, to him, are basically just objects. They’re either housekeepers, muses, or clients – and he’s already got a housekeeper, and loads of clients. So Alma needs to find herself a niche, and she’s not afraid to carve one out herself.

Phantom Thread is undeniably meticulous in its execution, but I found it slow and I felt uninvolved. Not caring for any of the lead characters makes you feel so removed no matter how stirring the colour palette. The dresses were sumptuous and incredible really, but it felt more like flipping through the pages of a beautiful catalogue. The emotions are so inaccessible Alma may as well be a mannequin and not since Today’s Special has that been a compliment. The internet is filled with positive reviews for this movie but this is not one of them.

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Punch-Drunk Love

Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) leads a solitary existence in order to hide his self-hatred, and his violent outbursts. Constantly harangued by his 7 sisters and too insecure to ever stand up for himself, Barry has no coping mechanisms PDL_BAM.jpgand no healthy relationships. But then he starts collecting pudding. It’s only half as strange as it sounds: he discovers a contest loophole where if he buys an enormous amount of pudding, he gets to fly for free. This is the only bright spot in his world of self-loathing until two people pull his life in different directions.

The first is Lena (Emily Watson), a quiet but sweet woman who seems to genuinely like him despite his obliviousness, and let’s be honest, his weirdness. Her tenacity entices him outside of his shell and things are actually  looking up until “Georgia”, a phone sex operator, begins extorting him for all he’s worth.

When Paul Thomas Anderson announced that his follow-up to Magnolia would be “an Adam Sandler comedy”, it was greeted with laughter. When Punch-Drunk Love premiered at Cannes, however, Anderson won the Palm d’Or for imagesr0pkepkodirecting, and Sandler would go on to be nominated for a Golden Globe. Anderson had become somewhat known for his multi-character films and wanted his next work to subvert expectations, and boy did he. He was the first director to cast Adam Sandler and expect great things from him. He gave him real material to work with and Sandler rose to the occasion.

Punch-Drunk Love is a strange little film, even among PTA cannon. It’s gorgeous to look at, completely saturated in brilliant colour schemes emphasized by director of photography Robert Elswit’s use of film stock that allowed him to shoot in underexposed conditions, giving greater depth to the film’s shadowy look.

The sound of the film is distinguished too: Jon Brian composed the music Punch Drunk Love handshake.pngduring the film’s music. The score’s unusual tones and sounds would then be played on set, influencing the atmospheric tone of the film. Anderson brought it Gary Rydstrom on sound mixing, an atypical move as Rydstrom, the chief sound editor for Pixar, normally works on big special effects movies, like Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. All of these abnormal pieces form a whole that’s off-kilter and intoxicating.

And while I could go on all day about my love for PTA, you’ve probably noticed by now that this series is about one thing: Hawaii. Sean and I are in Hawaii, so I’m writing about movies who shot there, and earlier when I said that Barry punch-drunklove_bestbought a lot of pudding in order to see the world? The first place he goes is to Hawaii. His Hawaiian trip, inspired by love, is the first self-actualized thing he does for himself. The framing and composition open up as Barry steps outside of his comfort zone, and the confines of his loneliness. Barry is often shown wearing blue, a blue boy wearing his depression, but in Hawaii, pink becomes the colour of prominence, the colour of sweetness, empowerment, and romance. It literally chases the blues away. Although, to be fair, I think Hawaii has the tendency to do that for everyone.

Just off the Top of O-Ren Ishii’s Head: 10 Death Scenes I Will Never Forget

I’m not really a Final Destination kind of guy but with stock dwindling at my favourite video store just two weeks before it closes, I settled on a movie that my friend had been trying to get me to watch for months. Final Destination 2- so far left on the shelves by eager shoppers looking to take advantage of the store’s Everything Must Go policy- has a death scene that apparently I just had to watch.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t be sure which scene she meant. There were a lot. Could it be the lottery winner who slipped on some spaghetti and got his head smashed in by a falling fire escape? Or the grieving mother who was decaptiated when she got her head caught in an elevator door? Turns out I should have been watching for the teenager who was crushed to death by something- what exactly I can’t be sure, things happen fast in this movie- while chasing away some pigeons. Apparently, if you watch closely, he explodes long before anything falls on him. How does she know? She’s watched it in slow motion. Several times.

final destination

While I may not have even been temptedc to check the tape on that one, it got me thinking of my favourite on-screen passings. After all, we just saw some real beauts in Mad Max: Fury Road on Friday. Here’s my attempt at a Top Ten. I left out a lot out, I know. How about you? What are some of your favourite scenes that I might have missed?

10. Count Laszlo de Almásy  The English Patient (1996)

English Patient

One of the movies that I am most likely to meditate on the finality of death after watching. Once we’re gone, everything we’ve felt, everything we’ve feared, everything we’ve loved die with us. It’s painful to watch Ralph Fiennes suffer from his burns throughout the movie and when Juliette Binoche’s Hana agrees to help him end his agony once and for all, I could almost feel his last breath. Even though, technically, the scene ends before Laszlo does. Before this act of mercy, Hana reads him this.

“We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have entered and swum up like rivers, fears we’ve hidden in like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. We’re the real counttries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps, the names of powerful men”.

9. Phil Groundhog Day (1993)

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Condemned to live a bad day over and over until he gets it right, Phil (Bill Murray) uses this opportunity to try new things without having to wake up with any consequences. He makes a move on the girl he likes and punches the guy he doesn’t. He runs around town playing hero. He even gives dying a try. His suicidal phase is one of the funniest and darkest parts of the movie. (I haven’t seen the movie in awhile so I can’t remember if it’s made clear to us whether Phil is counting on waking up the next morning or hoping not to).

Before my favourite of said suicide “attempts”, Phil calmly walks into the lobby ignoring the pleasantries of the hotel staff and steals their toaster. Phil calmly prepares himself a nice hot bath and takes the toaster in with him. This scene would also make my list of Top Ten Reasons I Love Bill Murray.

8. Captain Frye The Rock (1996)

the rock

Ed Harris’ General Hummell is a madman but he really does think he’s doing the right thing. It’s the mercenaries he brings with him to sieze Alcatraz Island that make me nervous, especially Captain Frye. Played with his usual sneer by character actor Gregory Sporleder, there’s just something not quite right about this guy. He always seems to be wishing he was pushing an old lady down a flight of stairs.

A lot of these guys die for their cause in spectacular fashion but director Michael Bay saves the best for last when chemistry geek/action hero Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) shoves a vial of sarin gas in his mouth and smashes it with his fist. Neither Bay or Cage have gotten much right since but they did good here. This guy had it coming.

7. Sydney Barringer Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia

P. T. Anderson gets our attention right from the start and manages to hold it for Magnolia’s entire three-hour running time. Seventeen year-old Sydney Barringer jumps from the roof of his nine-story apartment building only to have his suicide attempt interrupted both by a safety net installed by some window washers and by a shotgun blast from a sixth floor window that killed him instantly. His unsuccessful suicide became a successful homicide when his own mother accidentally fired a shot while threatening his father during a heated argument.

Anderson didn’t come up with this story on his own. It’s an adaptation of a sort of urban legend that had been circulating for years but it sets up the strange events that follow perfectly.

6. Guy in elevator Drive (2011)

Drive

Ryan Gosling is a charmer. He swept Rachel McAdams off her feet both on and off screen and even taught Steve Carrell how to be a smooth talker. Just don’t get on his bad side. This guy’s not fucking around. He understands the golden rule of action movies. When someone’s giving you trouble, sometimes you’ve just got to stomp on their face until they’re dead. He doesn’t carry a gun much in Drive but why would he? He’s got his boot.

5. Edward Bloom Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish

The deathbed scene in The English Patient inspires me to meditate on death. Big Fish inspires me to reflect on life. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) finally understands the value of myth and the key to good storytelling while seeing his father (Albert Finney) through his final moments. For most of his adult life, Will stubbornly told stories with “all of the facts, none of the flavour” but, when his father asks him to tell him “how he goes”, Will ad-libs a fantastical story fit for Ed’s remarkable life- one that undoubtedly touched so many others, even if the details are a little embellished. I still get chills when I watch it.

4. Cecilia Shepard Zodiac (2007)

zodiac

I feel crass talking about an on-screen depiction of something that actually happened in the same post as the twisted thrills of Drive but there aren’t many scenes in 21st century American film that are more effective. All the recreations of the Zodiac killings in this movie are almost impossible to watch without some temptation to look away but this one at the beach is the most chilling. I felt a wave of anxiety every time I found myself anywhere secluded for weeks after watching this movie. The Zodiac killer was never caught or named but this faceless killer- now probably long gone- still haunts me.

3. Elle Driver Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

kill bill

I only allowed myself one Quentin Tarantino entry on this post and I could have easily done one just on the Top Ten Tarantino Death Scenes. He’s the guy that knows how to do it, whose mind seems to take him to to places most of us wouldn’t dare. Daryl Hannah’s Elle puts up quite a fight against the Bride but the fight’s pretty much over when Uma Thurman’s antihero plucks out her only good eye. Adding insult to injury beyond anything I can imagine, poor Elle hears a sound that can only be Uma crushing it beneath her feet. Good and pissed but with nothing much she can do about it, Elle thrashes about unitl a poisonous Black Mamba finishes her off.

Elle Driver was an assassin and a bit of a sadist but I can’t help but feel just a little bad. What a way to go.

2. Spider Goodfellas (1990)

spider

Everyone has a favourite scene here and I could have probably done a Top Ten just on this one movie but Spider (Michael Imperioli) really gets a raw deal. After finally being able to get back to work after being shot in the foot by Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), the poor waiter finally stands up for himself and tells Tommy to fuck off. Tommy’s gangster buddy love it and tease Tommy until he loses it and empties his clip into the poor guy, shocking his buddies. “What the fuck, Tommy?goodfellas We were just kidding around”.

Tommy’s a funny guy (yes, sort of like a clown) and I sure did miss him after he gets whacked. But he really was a mad dog. It’s probably for the best that he never got made.

1. Lester Burnham American Beauty (1999)

american beauty

This also made my list of Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away. Lester makes it very clear from the start that he won’t survive the movie and the final moments are filled with tension as we wait for something to happen. Writer Alan Ball presents us with three suspects and we’re not sure until after the killing shot is fired who murdered Lester Burnham.

The murder is beside the point anyway. The tragedy is that Lester dies in pretty much the instant that he finds inner peace. His life flashes before his eyes as he reflects on all the beauty  in the world. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry. You will someday”.

Inherent Vice is finally playing in Ottawa!

I couldn’t wait to see this. I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Pynchon’s beautifully written but always entertaining novel and couldn’t wait to see what the always unpredictable writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson was going to do with it. PTA hasn’t been very accessible lately with almost painfully slow and light on dialogue movies like There Will Be Blood and The Master. I have watched and rewatched those movies and think they’re great but will still always prefer his more exciting earlier work (Boogie Nights, Magnolia). Inherent Vice, about an almost constantly stoned hippie private eye working a hopelessly confusing case, seemed like it might be a bit of a return to form.inherent vice 2

Although probably much more engaging to mainstream audiences, Inherent Vice still has more in common with The Master than it does, say, Boogie Nights. It gets our attention immediately with missing ex-girlfriends, frameups, murders, and an ominous message Beware the Golden Fang! It gets more and more demanding as it goes on however, as Doc gets more and more information through a fog of marijuana smoke and it becomes tougher and tougher to tell the reality from the hallucinations.

The mystery held my attention even as I started to lose my way. The cast of interested parties and suspects started to become unmanageable for me and, although all the bizarre supporting characters are well-cast and usually compelling, I lost track of them all at a certain point and even now couldn’t tell you how they all fit in. In fact, I am pretty sure it doesn’t all fit together.

What’s most impressive about Inherent Vice is that I barely noticed how lost I was while I was watching it and it was only when jay asked me afterwards “So, what did happen to Mickey inherent viceWolfmann?” that I realized that I didn’t really know. I just enjoyed watching Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to keep it all straight. The story is really about Doc, a hippie in 1970 when hippies were a dying breed. Its a great character for Joaquin, who plays him as niave in an increasingly cynical world and as surprisingly sharp sometimes, despite being bumbling and as lost as we are most of the time. The situations he finds himself get increasingly absurd and hysterical but there’s always a dark and foreboding tone- sometimes in the background, sometimes front and center- that is made even trippier when seen through Doc’s stoned confusion.

As a whodunnit, Inherent Vice doesn’t make a lot of sense and doesn’t answer the question it raises clearly enough for most people’s taste. For fans of Paul Thomas Anderson, though, it moves his career in a new and interesting direction and I can’t wait to see how he’s going to try to follow this.

Inherent Vice, sort of

A movie theatre is like a womb. It’s dark and ambient, sound thrums from every side.

Including pre- and post-production, a film may take many months to complete, but for the sake inherentviceof argument, let’s say it takes, on average, nine. Not unlike pregnancy, the director has spent 9 months thinking about YOU – about how to tell you this story, how to appeal to you, how confront you, console you. She’s thought about your comfort and your attention span. She’s thought about what you need and what you want, and how much of either you can take. You spend an hour or two under her care and control, in a dark little cocoon, maybe learning something, maybe growing a little as a person. And then you come back out into the world, blinking at the sudden change in light, maybe wiping away some tears. If the film was any good, then you are reborn a slightly changed person.

There’s a slight adjustment that we all make upon exiting the theatre, transitioning from the director’s world where we’ve been immersed back into the real world where bladder concerns and a cold walk to the car need to be addressed. Yesterday evening Matt and I were at Landmark Cinemas taking in Inherent Vice, and upon our egress, I felt slightly off kilter. A man was sitting at a table, eating frozen yogurt and watching the theatre empty. “How was it?” he asked us, and for a couple of film reviewers we were oddly quiet. Sometimes you come out of the theatre mournful and needing a hug, other times jubilant and wanting to celebrate with a drink at Bier House or The 3 Brewers. And sometimes you come out needing time and space to digest what you’ve seen. You need to chew on it a bit before you can pronounce it good, or bad, or ugly.

That’s how I felt, and still feel, about Inherent Vice. Although not as impenetrable as Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, I still feel like the movie was an inside joke to everyone who read the novel, and booey to those of us who hadn’t. I was lost a lot. There’s a lot of characters to keep track of, and so many story lines that PTA doesn’t even bother to wrap them all up. Matt and I laughed, but we laughed alone. There were maybe half a dozen other people at this early showing but if anyone else thought the movie was funny, they kept it to themselves.

But this movie isn’t meant to be watched in a conventional way and it’s not fair to judge it based on plot or logic or basic human understanding. But what then can I say? PTA’s story telling is bold, intuitive, and intentionally hazy. You aren’t meant to watch it in the typical linear fashion of the mainstream, with a start, a middle, and an end; you’re supposed to enjoy each meandering scene as it comes, pausing on the sun-dappled textures, nodding your head in much the same way Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) does throughout the movie. Can you let go and appreciate the lack of structure and cohesiveness?

This movie isn’t for everyone. Frozen yogurt guy, who solicited our opinion, was about to go in and see it himself. Said he picked it because it looked “different.” “It is!” I assured him. It really is.