Review: Uncut Gems

DIR: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie • WRI: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie • DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin • MUS: Daniel Lopatin • DES: Sam Lisenco • CAST: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett

Benny and Josh Safdie, aka the Safdie brothers, are quickly defining themselves as crown jewels of New York cinema, who can go toe to toe and pound for pound with the greats.  Uncut Gems marks their follow up to their critically acclaimed film Good Time, starring Robert Pattison.

There’s a spontaneity and vitality to Uncut Gems that feels totally improvised, but make no mistake it’s a finely crafted structure; a diamond through and through.  It might have something to do with the Safdies spending a decade honing the script, distilling it down to its absolute purest form. But somehow even this explanation doesn’t cut it. It’s more likely the result of some mysterious unseen process, that’s nothing short of cinematic alchemy. Uncut Gems is an incendiary display of virtuoso, acid-soaked filmmaking. It seems to have been born straight out of the head of Zeus, like a bolt of lightning. The film follows a full-tilt day in the life of jeweller, and chronic high-stakes gambler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler).

There’s a wild glisten in Howard’s eye, a yearning ambition that seems unfathomable in its scope. As Howard traverses the New York diamond district, we’re brought into the sphere of his world.  His working and domestic lives are an interconnected mess, and where one ends and the other begins is impossible to discern.  He settles bets. Trades bets. And pawns goods, only to place more bets. He’s separated from his wife. But has a lover at work. But he has to see his kids. And then, of course, he’s up to his neck in debt. But the values of his relationships rise and crash from moment to moment. It’s a perpetual hell-like dynamic, and his soul’s split in two, as he struggles to balance his insatiable desire, with his paternal responsibilities.  But when Howard’s violently beaten by debtors, he pawns anything and everything, and lays down the bet of a lifetime; and everything hangs in the balance.

The Safdie’s have capitalized on the spiritual essence of Sandler, and utilized it in a way that casts aside any doubters. And Sandler is riveting, his anxious charisma and beating heart have never been this finely tooled.  He grounds Howard with a humanity, and an existential longing which rages through his heart and drives his destabilizing lifestyle. This is the defining performance of Adam Sandler’s career, it’s a masterclass in acting that utilizes his talent to hypnotizing effect.  The cast is rounded out with a wealth of talent including Indina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch and NBA superstar Kevin Garnett.

The Safdie’s turn the New York diamond district into a vista of fluorescent and neon-soaked horror. Their vision is crystallized by the inimitable genius of legendary cinematographer Darius Khondji, who wields his camera and lighting with ferocious honesty. There’s a heightened naturalism and reality to everything that feels more like a documentary. Every second within the frame there’s a tension that anything can happen, and it does; life unfolds, at a dizzying gymnastic pace.

This is complemented with a score courtesy of the Safdies’ regular collaborator Daniel Lopatin. His punchy dance score is a battle of beating synthesizers and brass that are moulded and cast to euphoric effect.  Between the sonic insanity of uncategorizable beats, there’s an impenetrable loneliness that’s so Howard Ratner.

But past the glisten of diamonds and the cocaine mist of Uncut Gems, the Safdie Brothers have a crafted a potent mediation about the cost of our desires. And it’s a mesmerisingly unique human experience. The Howard Ratner experience. His life instantly feels both familiar and unfamiliar, and it’s this paradoxical mystery that won’t let you stop watching. There’s a profound cosmic hunger and melancholy that fuels Howard at the core. He’s magnetically drawn to the chaos of the moment even when he risks gravitating towards destruction. Ultimately, this all adds fuel to fire, making Uncut Gems an open-veined shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

Michael Lee

135′ 21″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Uncut Gems is released 10th January 2020

Uncut Gems – Official Website

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Review: Joker

DIR: Todd Phillips • WRI: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver • DOP: Lawrence Sher • ED: Jeff Groth • DES: Mark Friedberg • PRO: Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Emma Tillinger Koskoff • MUS: Hildur Guðnadóttir • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro

Why do the lonely quiet American boys find themselves drawn to violence? Beneath the mask of a film about one of the most iconic comic book villains, writer-director Todd Phillips has crafted a stark character study that deals with just that. Joker is a powerhouse cinematic odyssey, that descends into the inner psyche of failing comedian, Arthur Fleck. This is the kind of visceral, unfettered filmmaking, that induces states of near-paralysis, as it pushes forward, in a bold, desperate search for catharsis.

The year is 1980, or maybe 81. Arthur(Joaquin Phoenix) brushes white clown makeup on in careful strokes. His face is gaunt and sickly white, his hair, long and disheveled. He studies his face in the mirror and brandishes a smile. His lonely eyes radiate nothing but unsettling anxiety, none of which disappears after he’s viciously mugged on the streets of Gotham. Naturally, none of this helps Arthur’s mental health, which is in dire straits, but he can’t seem to stop laughing, “Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?” he says to his psychologist, but what can she even say.

Arthur lives in a derelict block in a cramped apartment with his mother ( Frances Conroy). She’s frail, withered, and her words are a tangle of hopeless delusions. She’s convinced would-be Mayor, Thomas Wayne, is going to help her and Arthur rise out of destitution. But when a colleague at work gives him a gun for protection, Arthur’s life quickly descends into hellish depths of tragedy. Threatened by a trio of businessmen on the subway he snaps, murdering them with a rain of gunfire. This act is hailed by some as justice for Gotham’s disenfranchised citizens, and riotous mobs gather in the streets, hailing the Clown killer a hero. This growing social unrest and newfound celebrity, only seem to propel Arthur’s prophetic transformation into Joker.

This is a career-defining performance, by one of the best character actors of his generation. Joaquin Phoenix never flinches, as he boldly risks everything to bring Arthur to life. His performance is a nuanced dance, that hovers through a netherworld, between humanity and psychosis to a state of virtuoso insanity.  Phoenix brings a sincerity and empathy to a man who goes over the cliff edge of his own sanity. The cast is rounded out with stellar supporting performances from Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Robert DeNiro, and Marc Maron.

Director Todd Phillips’ cinematic vision has a clear foundation in the language and style of ’70s cinema, owing a clear debt to Taxi Driver in particular. The harsh bleak realism of Joker is balanced with bursts of the surreal. The grit of the streets and back alleys is met with the fluorescent color of Jokers’ transcendent dances. Joker’s Gotham is a darkened landscape of oppressive shadows and tiering skyscrapers. The tightknit lighting and camera work comes courtesy of cinematographer Lawrence Sher.  But all this is elevated by Hildur Guonadottir’s menacing score, which seemingly ignites the embers raging within Arthur’s heart.  And none of this would have been possible, without the Trojan work of production designer Mark Friedberg, and Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges, who both bring the world to life.

Ultimately, Joker is near Shakespearean in its tragic scope. It’s Macbeth for the comic book movie generation, and easily the most morally complex comic book film since The Dark Knight. This isn’t a black and white portrayal of a villain, the moral boundaries here are far more ambiguous. When you strip away all justice, fairness, and equality, and push a mentally sick person to the absolute limit, the result is never going to be a pretty picture. Ultimately, any discomfort or objections to the film will derive from the uncomfortable realization, that most people, given the right circumstances, are capable of some pretty terrible things. But at the end of the day, this is a film about how a monster is made, and what’s terrifying is his humanity, expecting anything less would just be a mistake. And when Joker finally hits his punchline, he gets the last laugh; and it’s electric to watch.

Michael Lee

121′ 38″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Joker is released 4th October 2019

Joker– Official Website

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Review: Mary Queen of Scots

DIR: Josie Rourke • WRI: Beau Willimon • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward • DOP: John Mathieson • ED: Chris Dickens • DES: James Merifield •  MUSIC: Max Richter • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden

Like everything at the minute, Mary Queen of Scots seems to have been tragically sucked into the vortex of politics. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned storytelling? Where people were inspired to write characters they were invested in? Where the characters were organically driven by a need within themselves to attain a goal, and who struggled with their own natures? When and where did it all disappear? And for what?

Behind the mesmerizing performance of one of the best leading women of her generation, Saoirse Ronan, and a spellbinding performance by Margot Robbie, this film is let down by a lacklustre script. It’s forcefully driven by political ideology and no matter how well intended, that ideology does not honour the history faithfully, it’s imposed on the story, and secondly and even more importantly, it doesn’t serve the characters honestly. The first I could accept to a degree, but the second, I can’t.

Mary Queen of Scots marks the theatrical debut of director Josie Rourke, who displays a sophisticated understanding and command of craft, but ultimately she’s bound by the limits of the material. The screenplay was adapted by the exceptionally talented Beau Willimon. Beau Willimon’s writing on ‘House of Cards’ really captured the biting subterfuge and ruthlessness needed in the political sphere, as did The Ides of March, but in these examples, he didn’t force ideology or theme, it always derived organically from the hearts of the characters on screen. But for some reason on this occasion, in Mary Queen of Scots, this process appears to have been reversed and it’s hard for me to interpret the characters here as anything other than the singular voice or opinion of the author or authors. It doesn’t feel honest to me, it feels contrived. My expectations for this film were really high given the historical story and the calibre of the talent involved. The cast is rounded out by powerhouse actors like Margot Robbie and Guy Pearse, but, in the end, it’s a film driven by an agenda that is removed from character and story.

I think all filmmakers have an obligation to be socially responsible and explore complex themes and question the world we live in, but not by imposing historical falsehoods that reflect how we want the world to be. We can’t change history just because we don’t agree with it, there’s nothing honest about that. The social structure presented in Mary Queen of Scots deviates from factual history to a degree where it really damages a more powerful story about an iconic power battle between two exceptional women. If we’re going to learn anything from cinema, then we need a cinema that stares history in the face, that looks at complex characters with unflinching honesty, and, that without ever saying, it tells us, ‘You know what we screwed up back then, we didn’t do it right, and we’re still not doing it right, but maybe we can someday,’ that to me at least has some measure of power, some basic honesty.  When I think of the really great dramas that do that, I think of the likes of Schindler’s List, Dog Day Afternoon, and Lawrence of Arabia. These are fearless films that transcend craft, defy gravity and inspire countless generations, and they do so with bravery and integrity. But sugar coating the past and imposing concepts onto characters seems little more than artifice.

 

Michael Lee

124 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Mary Queen of Scots is released 11th January 2019

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Favourite

DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Fiona Crombie •  CAST: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

The Favourite just might be Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ crowning achievement. Lanthimos initially garnered recognition for his acclaimed film Dogtooth, and has successfully built on this with follow-ups  Alps, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

The Favourite is a monstrous regal satire set during early 18th-century England. And like any Lanthimos film, The Favourite is a strange creature, yet in many ways, it’s probably his most accessible and endearing. We’re immediately brought into a world built on a foundation of royal pomp and carnivorous manners, which lend to the presiding absurdist comic tone. But underneath the veneer of aristocratic fashion and elaborate dances is a world of barbarous cruelty, betrayal, cunning, and cunnilingus. In short, very quickly everything we think we know about the period film is subverted through the brutal absurdity of Lanthimos’ deranged vision.

So it’s the 18th century, and while England is at war with France, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is bedbound, and her closest friend and council the Duchess of Malborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs on her behalf. But this loyalty and love is a subterfuge for the Duchesses’ own quest for power. The Duchess is intent on continuing the war if it guarantees her personal advancement, and will even go as far as to tax the Queen’s people. But the Duchesses’ desire is at odds with esteemed trailblazing Tory and landowner Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who is disgruntled by the proposed land tax and tries to persuade the Queen of this. Of course, then along comes Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a disgraced relative of the Duchess, whom she begs for work.  Abigail impresses the Duchess and rises quickly up the ranks. But when Abigail’s desire earns the favour of the Queen too, this brings the Duchesses’ ambitions into doubt and puts her at odds with Abigail.

 

The script was crafted by writers Deborah Davis and Tony Mcnamara. It’s a  crazed work of royal madness that seems to strike straight to the heart of the zeitgeist. The script is toxically comic, the comedy is opulent yet fiercely dark, but there’s a richness to the absurdity which keeps it grounded in a clear emotional reality, even when logic seems to go out the window.

The savagery of Lanthimos’ vision is served honourably by his confidant in arms, Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Ryan’s cinematography injects a distinct sense of chaos and disorder into the aesthetic decorum and pomp of the 1700s. Together Lanthimos and Ryan boldly shape a perspective of the past that’s grossly distorted, both literally and metaphorically, and the film towers because of it.

The performances are staggering and endearingly comic. Rachel Weisz brings an intoxicating wickedness to her role as the Duchess, and Olivia Colman radiates a triumphant ignorance and warmth as Queen Anne. And then there’s Emma Stone, who just kills it, and brings a fierce sense of charm and duplicity to Abigail. Lanthimos really seems to have struck gold with The Favorite; it’s a terse tale fit for the chaos of the times that’s unrepentant in its originality, it’s like a cross breed of Barry Lyndon meets Doctor Strangelove with perhaps a bit of David Lynch thrown into the mix for good measure, go check it out.

Michael Lee

119 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Favourite is released 1st January 2019

 

 

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Review: Suspiria

DIR: Luca Guadagnino • WRI: David Kajganich • DOP: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom • ED: Walter Fasano • DES: Inbal Weinberg • PRO: Bradley J. Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Marco Morabito, William Sherak, Silvia Venturini Fendi • MUS: Thom Yorke • CAST: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick

Luca Guadagnino catapulted to acclaim when he directed the startling coming of age drama Call Me By Your Name, about an American teenager confronting the nature of his sexuality. Suspiria is his eagerly awaited follow up, itself a remake of the cult Dario Argento horror movie. But Guadagnino’s film, by contrast, is a car crash, and not even the lilting beauty of Thom Yorke’s masterful score can save it.

The updated film follows Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) as an addled teen from the American deep south who ventures to Berlin to escape her Christian upbringing and study at the prestigious Markos Dance Acadamy. Suspiria brings us into a duplicitous world where under the exterior of reality lies a menacing truth. It’s a world where fantasy and reality are at odds with one another and where characters are gradually lured further and further into illusion.

Suspiria is a film lost in its own arrogance and ego, and it’s a shame because its impossible not to acknowledge the potential for a really fresh psychological horror film to have been made here. By all accounts, the updated setting of Berlin 1977, and the political and social backdrop of RAF bombing are seriously great ideas, that really could have elevated it from the original Suspiria, but sadly these ideas are never fully utilized. From the very first scene, this is a film that tries to establish itself as an intellectual work or comment, but there’s no authentic connection or any clear thematic throughline, so the movie implodes under the weight of its own self-imposed seriousness. David Kajganich’s script is sprawling and lacks any coherent thematic focus, its a script so overcooked with intellectual ideas that it loses sight of a simpler more honest approach.

In terms of its visual aesthetic Suspiria excels. Shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, whose masterful lighting creates a profound sense of unease and horror. His work is complemented further by the production design by Inbal Weinberg, which really encapsulates that period in post-war Berlin, the cold muted colour palette of Berlin is nothing short of oppressive.

Susie Bannion is played by Dakota Johnson who brings a yearning desire and sexuality to the part. By contrast, Tilda Swinton plays Madame Blanc with an unsettling mix of militant hostility and affection, she also plays Dr. Klemperer and Helena Markos. They’re supported by a highly dynamic and versatile cast, which includes Chloe Grace Moretz and Mia Goth, among others. The performances are highly impressive, at times they’re death-defying and electric, but ultimately the cast is let down by an emotionally stilted script.

Overall, the use of violence is gratuitous and without any merit, had it been in service of a fully developed story and characters it wouldn’t have been an issue, (Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is a great recent example). But there are no real characters here, just flat caricatures sugar-coated with fake blood and overwrought concepts, and no one with a heart that beats could ever really care about them.

At its core its a film about the cost of illusion, and about how our search for meaning and value is often compromised by investing belief in illusions and desires. But ultimately the script is far too muddled to make this clear. The writer and director, seem to have mistaken abstraction for a lack of emotional clarity, this is a false assumption. Ingmar Bergman’s use of abstraction in cinema has never been bettered, he was a genius, and that’s partly because even when he presented us with something that didn’t make logical narrative sense like in Persona, it made clear emotional sense. This inherent understanding is totally missing at the heart of Suspiria, which is why anyone trying to find deep meaning in it should be wary, or at the very least skeptical. Beneath the guise of its own stylized aesthetic, this film struggles to find any real meaning and it does so at the expense of the audience’s engagement. This isn’t some serious comment on feminism, or motherhood or anything else, this is a film so absorbed in the concept of its own greatness, that it loses sight of its own theme, until it withers and dies on screen before us.

Michael Lee

152 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Suspiria s released 16th November 2018

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Review: You Were Never Really Here

DIR/WRI: Lynne Ramsey •  PRO: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, Lynne Ramsay, James Wilson  DOP: Thomas Townend • ED: Joe Bini • MUS: Jonny Greenwood • DES: Tim Grimes• CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Dante Pereira-Olson, Larry Canady

Lynne Ramsey earned acclaim when she forged a startling psychological drama about the reasonability of parenthood We Need to Talk About Kevin. And after what seems a long hiatus You Were Never Really Here marks Ramsey’s piercing return to cinema, and solidifies her as one of the most potent cinematic forces working today, with a perilous uncompromising vision. The film deservedly earned Ramsey best screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix best actor at Cannes, where the film received much acclaim.
 
Joe waddles down the hotel corridor with blood still under his nails. The approaching sirens wail through the walls. He cracks open the emergency exit and disappears into the cold wet night. Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is an addled gulf war veteran employed as a hitman of sorts. He’s experienced in finding kidnapped victims and bestowing brutal violence on those responsible. In You Were Never Really Here Ramsey has carved out a visceral, hallucinogenic collaboration with Phoenix.
 
The film brings us into the heinous underground world of sex trade. The story is set in motion when the Senator Albert Votto’s daughter Nina is kidnapped. But at its core, this is an intimate character-driven story about the fate of a veteran turned vigilante who seems beyond salvation. A man whose very soul is plagued by the horrors of an abusive past.  His very existence has become one of numbness. And all his efforts are strictly focused on anesthetizing the violent thoughts which haunt him, with acts of merciless violence. But any brief solace the violence offers him must be short-lived, as his consciousness sinks further down into the darkest depths of an abyss of bitter loneliness. His efforts to save Nina from her abusers are, in reality, the battle cry of man’s final attempt to reclaim his consciousness.
 
Ramsey creates a highly subjective experience with her visuals largely mirroring the rocky instability of Joaquin’s Veteran Joe. Everything is calibrated to character and story and consequently loaded with textured sensual images which assist in putting you in Joe’s worn down shoes. You can smell the blood dripping from the hammer, and the dirt, slime, and sludge of the cave-like alleyways and the shadowy annals where evildoers lurk.
 
Joaquin Phoenix is omnipotent, and his performance has an unparalleled fierceness and richness. He inhabits Joe’s submerged heart with an ironclad commitment, bringing a sorrow and gentleness to his otherwise violent nature. This is Joaquin at his best, his most ripe, offering up every fibre of honesty in his bones to the gods; and what’s bestowed upon us is nothing short of a treasure. And Ekaterina Samsonov’s turn as Nina is the perfect counterpoint to Joaquin, bringing a real vitality and light to all the darkness. Phoenix and Samsonov are accompanied by a powerful cast of performers including John Doman, who brings a formal warmth to his character John McCleary, and Alex Manette as Senator Albert Votto, among others.
 
In many ways You Were Never Really Here is an existential genre movie in a similar vein to the early works of Scorsese, Michael Mann and Peckinpah in the 70s. The film wields a bubbling anger and hostility which ultimately gives way to a brutality and bloodlust. The film explores a world of endless vice and corruption, which has a sickening reach and transcends apparent social boundaries, from the slime of the gutter to the polish of government. And much to her credit Ramsey lures us down into the depths of Hades, into the nitty gritty urban underbelly of the beast; and brings us through the chaos and out the other side. It’s a perilous self-sacrificing enterprise, and Ramsey commits wholly in her direction. But make no mistake, it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s a barbaric cinematic feast. In the end, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a shot of straight vodka; it burns the throat, but reassures you that your heart’s still beating.

Michael Lee

18 (See IFCO for details)

89 minutes
You Were Never Really Here is released 9th March 2018

You Were Never Really Here – Official Website

 

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Review: Phantom Thread

DIR: Paul Thomas Anderson • WRI: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan  PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar  DOP: Paul Thomas Anderson • ED: Dylan Tichenor • MUS: Jonny Greenwood • DES: Mark Tildesley • CAST: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville

There’s an otherworldly air to the storytelling. Prophetic writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has forged a gothic romance out of a haunting embrace between two souls; and which by means of either alchemy or witchcraft, has been engraved in celluloid for all eternity. We’re invited into the world of esteemed middle-aged couturier Reynolds Woodcock, during the post-war period of 1950’s London.

Reynolds’ (Daniel Day-Lewis) forces the comb back through his silver and peppery strands of hair. His stone face basks in the morning light. He adjusts his glasses on the rim of his nose before pulling his socks up over his shins. Fully dressed and standing authoritatively at the top of the stairs, Reynolds overlooks the middle-aged women in white coats, as they climb up winding flights to set to work with needle and thread. And Reynolds passionately leads the charge when he isn’t governing employees, or giving orders. The daily inner workings of the illustrious ‘House of Woodcock’ are precision based; it’s a mysterious clockwork operation designing regal garments for the nobility and wealthy patrons of the upper classes. Reynolds treats the work with an unyielding religiousness and zealousness.  And while his efforts have been bountiful in the arena of career, they’ve been less so in the arena of the heart. His romances are never more than fleeting carefully orchestrated affairs. They’re managed by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who’s militant in her casual formal dismal of Reynolds lovers. She brazenly warns him when it’s time to get rid of any romance that strains his concentration. Cyril is Reynolds allegiant comrade, and why wouldn’t she be? As Reynolds says “Cyril is always right.”

The success of Reynolds artistry is founded on a ruthless commitment to the habits and behaviors he’s established over the course of a lifetime, which shield him from change in his iron-clad enclave in London. His ‘House’ of Woodcock is in its own way a fortress, walling enemies out, and trapping those he depends on inside. It’s a world built upon layer upon layer of etiquette and routine, but beneath Reynolds’ silken visage and venomous bite, there’s an aching loneliness and isolation at his core. However while on a spontaneous break to the countryside, Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) and as they’re thrust together she reignites the cold embers of his deadened heart, at least until he begins to tire of her.

Daniel Day- Lewis’ incarnation of Reynolds Woodcock is utterly magnetic, the subtlety and restraint of his performance imbue his character with a dynamic sense a power and weakness. Vicky Krieps is a rarefied gem giving Alma a heavenly compassion and an emboldened wildness. And Lesley Manville’s performance is charged with a riveting electricity and wit, for which she’s been more than deservedly nominated for an academy award.

Anderson offers us a glimpse at the mystique behind the fabric of Reynolds and Alma’s lives, and it is breathtakingly hypnotic. Phantom Thread is a cinematic tapestry, richly textured and hand-woven. On this occasion, Anderson had more direct involvement with the cinematography, and who with the assistance of his trusted gaffer and camera assistants established the distinctive look of the film. The rustic grain and nuanced color palate help immortalize the haunting English landscapes in winter light. There’s nothing humdrum, or run of the mill about it, every single shot is a ravishing sensory feast, and a lush measure of masterful composition.

This is elevated by the exuberant production design. There’s a rich intimacy created by everything from the furnishings and textures, to the molten embers that compliment sedate fireside seductions. And then, of course, there’s the lively colour and pomp of the Chelsea New Year’s Ball. But it would be impossible to write this review without mentioning the glorious Mark Bridges, whose costumes are so integral to the identity of the film; if he doesn’t score an Oscar for this, it’s nothing short of a gross injustice.

All in all, Anderson’s arresting vision is amplified by a haunting romantic score from Mr. Johnny Greenwood. And Johnny Greenwood serves a twofold score that brings a hallucinogenic potency to lush romantic strings. There’s an inseparable union created between the score and the drama, more so perhaps than in any other Anderson film, indeed over 70 percent of the film has score.

And when it comes to the heritage of Phantom Thread, Anderson proudly wears his references on his sleeve. He openly acknowledges that this film, in particular, stems from a rich lineage of gothic romances; such as Gaslight, Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and the David Lean films Brief Encounter, and The Passionate Friends.

The film is perhaps marked by another powerful influence; the work of Max Ophuls, whose distinctive romantic tragedies are infamous for their dynamic movement and their portrayal of women. At the heart of Ophuls’ work is the thematic question of the cost of the illusion, which certainly comes into play here too. Phantom Thread is a film that ultimately looks at the cost of maintaining our dreams and our passions, and how our happiness is possibly built on the necessity of illusions. Phantom Thread is a spiritually woven drama, marked by the gentle violence of tactile performances, and the distinctive vision of a master craftsman; it’s spellbindingly sublime cinema. It’s tantamount to cinematic transubstantiation and Anderson and Day-Lewis deliver, turning blood to bread and water to wine, leaving us all but paralyzed.

Michael Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)

130 minutes
Phantom Thread is released 2nd February 2018

Phantom Thread – Official Website

 

 

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Review: It Comes at Night

 

DIR /WRI: Trey Edward Shults • PRO: David Kaplan, Keetin Mayakara, Andrea Roa • DOP: Drew Daniels • ED: Matthew Hannam, Trey Edward Shults • DES: Karen Murphy • MUS: Brian McOmber • CAST: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo

It Comes at Night kicks off with a piercing dosage of horror, that accelerates with masterful subtlety, heightening tension and walking a directorial high wire with great finesse.  Trey Edward Shults’ second feature clarifies a visionary talent, whose distinctive mixture of narrative discipline and cinematic restraint is a cathartic antidote to the present. The film is something of a cinematic rebirth for mainstream horror, ripping apart every ounce of superficiality, right down to the bone, leaving us with only the raw taste of horror. Veins flow, arteries throb, and hearts scream, exposing a cloud of paranoia. This is America, the land formerly known as the land of the free, now a Hades, a ghostly plane, where the diseased and the desperate seem destined to walk, and die alone.

In the half-light, two figures breakthrough branches and greenery, their appearance more alien than human. Their faces hidden behind gas masks, eyes darkened, voices muted.  They’re dragging something. The withered body of an old man. He’s barely still breathing. They throw him into a freshly dug hole. They look at him remorsefully, his skins putrid, sickly, and covered in sores. His eyes black, venomous.  Bubonic fluid dripping from his lips. One of the masked men douses him in petrol and sets him ablaze.

As they sit around the dinner table, Paul consoles Travis over the loss of his grandfather.  He was sick, Paul says, he could have infected everyone. Paul lives by a brutally conservative code to ensure his family’s survival. But Travis isn’t entirely convinced; he’s more liberal-minded than his father.  Sarah, Paul’s partner, just wishes their son didn’t have to participate in the killing, and tells Paul as much. Now it’s just the three of them. They’re living in seclusion in a forest, totally off the grid, hundreds of miles from the nearest town. It’s a suffocating existence behind boarded-up windows, with confined sleeping quarters and limited food supplies. They’re totally sheltered off from the world, but there’s no choice. There’s something in the air, a disease, a virus. It comes at night. There’s no antidote, no cure, no hope. They haven’t heard from the outside world since the outbreak, all they can do is survive, waiting for the rapture. Unless something comes for them first.

This is potent subjective filmmaking, which boldly brings the audience into an enclosed domestic war zone like no other. Shults and his cinematographer, Drew Daniels, use highly functional cinematography that’s bound to the soul of character and story. They succeed in creating a visual palette which is masterfully subtle, and that is felt rather than noticed. The visual style is further complemented by Brian McOmber’s score, which is an unnerving delight. The arrangements constantly create suspense and elevate the story, adding a heightened sense of spirituality and religiousness to it.

Joel Edgerton wields the fiercest performance of his career as Paul, the domineering patriarch. While in contrast, Kelvin Harrison Jr. brings a warmth and humility to Travis. And Carmen Ejogo dances frantically between love and fear with a raw maternal drive.

Trey Edward Shults carves out a claustrophobic, atmosphere to die for, inviting us straight into the heart of darkness, where law and order have broken down, and lawlessness, thievery and murder reign supreme.  And in these desperate times, desperate people are driven to bloody mercilessness carnage. Often compromising the very values they pertain to support. At its core, the film harbours a pressing theme; if we’re too brutal, the cost is our humanity, but if we’re too idealistic we won’t survive, so what’s the cost of survival? The film seems to yearn for a rational balance between these two realities. Shults has crafted a beautifully intelligent psychological thriller, where the most monstrous and horrific thing is ourselves.

Michael Lee

91 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

It Comes at Night is released 7th July 2017

It Comes at Night – Official Website

 

 

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