Every Little Stitch of Alma and Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread opens with a simple, stately title card and the emerging sound of a crackling fire.  Soon, a moodily lit young woman (an impeccably unpredictable Vicky Krieps) is providing the introductory voice-over to our cinematic affair.  Right there, Anderson upends our expectations, as this being a Daniel Day Lewis film (and purportedly his last!), one expected if anyone would be narrating this tale, it would have been him.

Daniel Day Lewis is indeed the main focus of attention, a classic Andersonian archetype, the tortured artist/mad genius…a true narcissist who is also somehow sympathetic, likely a result of Lewis’ and Anderson’s own symbiotic genius.  Their finely stitched designer Reynolds Woodcock is the toast of the 1950’s London fashion scene, and his art, those costumes, are to die for.  But the story is told mostly from the point of view of his new love interest, the enigmatic Alma (Krieps), an initially demure waitress he picked up in the British countryside…both actress and environ exquisitely photographed, as is every single thing, by Anderson’s camera lens.

We know there’s more to Alma because of how Anderson frames the story, but we’re never given any exposition on her (and only a modicum of backstory – mostly surrounding his mother – for Reynolds) and thus we’re forced to judge her (and ultimately Reynolds) only by what unfolds on-screen.  We slowly see how Alma takes hold and upends Reynolds’ structured life enmeshed with his sister Cyril (a perfectly reserved but commanding Lesley Manville).  Alma is far more than the typical girl Reynolds and Cyril routinely toss aside like an off-season dress.  In fact, she emerges from her cocoon as another Andersonian archetype…the person willing to do anything to fit into, and keep together, their new makeshift family, no matter how dysfunctional (in ways both comic and tragic) that family becomes. Continue reading

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The Spin on Paul Thomas Anderson

A master schooling a master.

In honor of the release of The Master later this month, The Spin is turning its wheels towards Paul Thomas Anderson – writer/director extraordinaire – a true auteur. The great chronicler of Southern California, cancers both physical and metaphorical, dysfunctional makeshift families, deranged father-figures, damaged sons, melancholy and death is arguably the most ambitious American filmmaker working today. But he has only achieved that status through evolution…through finding his voice. Here we will revisit his three most signature works: Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood and track the course of his discovery.

“This is the film I want them to remember me by.” – Jack Horner, Boogie Nights

On its surface, Boogie Nights – the grand piece of nostalgia celebrating a pre-AIDS, pre-video porntopia – would appear as a lark – a jokey, ballsy, “Look, Ma, I’m a Hipster Director!” type feature designed to showcase a young man’s skill behind the camera and his cocky nerve to tell a scandalous tale. When you look deeper, the film is anything but that.

Continue reading

Revisiting There Will Be Blood – The Best Film of the 2000’s

Most film bloggers and critics raced against time and each other to get in their “Best Films of the Decade” lists after the clock struck midnight and we were suddenly thrust into Arthur C. Clarke’s…dun dun dun…TWO THOUSAND AND TEN.  With the past decade so fresh on our minds, so many films yet to be seen or uncovered, so many to re-watch and re-examine, and the world-famous polling for this decade not to start until April over at Wonders in the Dark…it seems like there is still so much left to say about the 2000’s, or the Noughties as people like to call them now.

Yet all I can think of is one word.

DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAINAGE!

Drainage, my boy!!!!!!!!!!

Looking back, the 2000’s were to my generation what the 1970’s were to my father’s.  It seemed the dawn of a new golden age.  Gone were the nostalgia tinted frames of the 1980’s and 1990’s and here was the first decade to exist completely within the context of my adulthood…under the harsh scrutiny of my ever-evolving critical eye.  This was a decade where film reflected the big ideas, big dreams and previously unimaginable nightmares of the post-millennial, post 9/11 generation.  Continue reading

A Review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood”

The World of Blood and Oil According to Plainview, 6 January 2008
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

There’s a recurring nightmare of mine where I am falling down a well. Our reality is an illusion. This life is simply the dream we have while we are actually falling down a well. It always seemed as if the well was bottomless. After watching “There Will Be Blood” I discovered the well has a bottom. At the bottom of the well is one thing. Oil.

Also falling down this well was “The Performance.” Watching Daniel Day Lewis play the unstoppable, unshakable, unfathomably misanthropic and greedy oil man that is Daniel Plainview, one is left to imagine that “The Performance” was always out there. It always existed somewhere in the ether, in our collective unconscious, in our nightmares and anxieties. It took a visionary auteur like Paul Thomas Anderson to realize that if he did a modern film update of Upton Sinclair’s early 20th century novel “Oil!” and ominously renamed it “There Will Be Blood” then this performance could be channeled onto celluloid as a testament to the defining struggles of 21st century mankind.

Blistering cinematography of stark California landscapes from Robert Elswit, an evocatively organic and haunting music score from Jonny Greenwood (from the rock band Radiohead), and the beautifully fluid movement and framing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s maniacally calculating camera grab you from scene one and never let go. Daniel Day Lewis moves through the film like a cold burning firestorm combining and combusting with the technical elements and the fabulous ensemble cast around him to create a rising tension that is unlike anything experienced in cinema since the golden era of Stanley Kubrick.

The story is multilayered and allegorical. Led to an untapped area floating in dust on rivers of oil by a mysterious young man, Plainview soon comes face to face with that young man’s twin brother, Eli Sunday (a fecklessly manipulative Paul Dano). Eli is a wunderkind preacher at the Church of the Third Revelation and has the town wrapped around his finger with his claims to be a healer and prophet. Eli agrees to let Plainview buy his family’s land for the right price. The profits are to be used to build a bigger church. But when Plainview refuses to let Eli properly bless the drill site, a series of events unfold that Eli trumpets as acts of “God” while Plainview views them as results of meddling people he can scarcely see any good in and must crush.

The heart of the movie lies in Plainview’s relationship with his adopted son H. W. (a wonderfully naturalistic and quietly expressive Dillon Freasier). When the boy is injured on a drilling site and loses his hearing, Plainview, torn by his love for the idea of the boy looking up to him and the friendly face the boy has leant to the family business, abandons him only to latch on to a shady vagabond (Kevin J. O’Connor) who trots into town claiming to be his long lost brother Henry. Plainview’s replacing of a fake son with a fake brother shows his character’s deep-seeded and wounded need to connect to someone when insatiable greed has been his only driving force.

To explore in detail the film’s deeper message and resonance for today’s audience would be to spoil the ending. Suffice it to say, after the slowly infectious, nerve-shattering build-up, the film culminates with a soliloquy from Plainview to Eli that will make your jaw drop. In the end, it lives up to its title. There was blood. Whose was spilled is not a matter of debate, but what that blood says to its 21st century audience will be discussed and argued and studied for years to come. If you want to know what happens when greed guised in religious zealotry falls down a dark seemingly bottomless well with greed blatant as corporate capitalism, look no further than this film. There is a bottom to that well. There is a winner at the finish line. Meanwhile the blood is on the floor, the walls, the desert sand, the silver screen, the nightly news, and pumping through our bodies until we die.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0469494/usercomments-59

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Official site:

http://www.therewillbeblood.com/

For further reading, check out this fascinating discussion of TWBB as political allegory and Kubrick Homage:

http://www.filmbrain.com/filmbrain/2007/12/there-will-be-b.html

For the most in depth and enjoyable to read review of TWBB I have come across yet, check out Wesley Morris’ insightful and energetic treatise from The Boston Globe:

http://www.boston.com/movies/display?display=movie&id=10610