A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at “The Post,” starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep and the latest from Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the timely historical film “The Post,” starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep and the latest from Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread.”
For his final acting job Daniel Day-Lewis has chosen “Phantom Thread,” a psychosexual story set in the world of fashion. Directed by his “There Will Be Blood” collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson, it’s an unpredictable film that some will find brilliant, others just plain odd.
Set against the backdrop of 1950s London, Day-Lewis plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. A perfectionist, he is an elegant combination of neurosis, talent and impatient whim. “If breakfast isn’t right,” explains sister and secretary Cyril (Lesley Manville), “it’s very hard for him to recover through the rest of the day.” A coiled spring, he puts the haughty into haute couture.
Never married, he has had many relationships with women, tossing them aside when he’s done. “Marriage would make me deceitful,” he says. “I don’t ever want that.” His only real pleasure is derived from his work, the act of creation.
His latest companion is Alma (Vicky Krieps), a delicate country waitress who becomes his muse and lover, even though, as he says, she butters her bread too loudly at breakfast. (To be fair Anderson amps up the sound so the buttering of toast sounds like the Indy 500.) “It’s hard to ignore,” he sneers, “like you just rode a horse across the floor.” Her purpose in Reynolds’s life is purely functional; she is a perfect model for his lithe designs. “You have no breasts,” he says. “It is my job to give you some if I choose to do so.” She wants more and even though her attempts at normalcy are met with scorn, she finds a way to make herself irreplaceable in his life.
“Phantom Thread” almost feels like two movies bound by the same characters. The first hour is a character study turned lush romance. Reynolds displays his controlling ways early on, wiping off Alma’s lipstick with the words, “I want to really see you.” Is it romantic or borderline abusive? Later, still on their first date he gets her out of her clothes and into one of his dresses. She is swept off her feet, despite his callously nonchalant behaviour. We soon learn she is no pushover, daring to stand up to the great man in a battle of wills.
The second half is a study of power and relationships with a menacing twist. Enough said. No spoilers here but it becomes about the need to shed routine in favour of changes and challenges in any pairing. It’s part “Masterpiece Theatre,” part Hitchcock and all Paul Thomas Anderson in his uncompromised glory.
It is luscious, beautifully appointed with production design and clothes that the perfectionist Woodcock himself would appreciate.
Krieps is a poised presence who more than holds her own against Day-Lewis. Subtly graceful with a spine of steel, she is simultaneously powerful and vulnerable. It is tremendous work and a perfect counterpoint to Day-Lewis’s more visceral work.
The three-time Oscar winner does not hand in a showy performance. It’s one built out of small details that radiate both his narcissism and insecurities. His curmudgeonly behaviour is sometimes funny—“Right now I am only admiring my own gallantry,” he says during one argument—but never slips into a tortured artist caricature. He’s a charming snake with a perfectly foppish bowtie and Day-Lewis binds together all the character’s idiosyncrasies to create a person who, on one hand, always sews a lock of his mother’s hair into his suit jackets, just above the heart, while on the other rails at Alma who has the audacity to bring him tea without asking permission. “The tea is going out… but the interruption is staying right here with me.”
Manville, as sister Cyril, earns most of the film’s laughs, perfectly delivering jabs and wilting looks.
In “Phantom Thread” Anderson takes a “Pretty Woman” style premise and elevates it to high art.
Actor Mark Rendall prepared for his new film by not preparing. At least not in the traditional sense.
He co-stars in Algonquin with Nicholas Campbell—who Rendall calls, “a legend.”—in a story about estranged fathers, new found brothers and a young man who discovers what makes family truly important.
Rendall, who has been acting in films like Childstar and TV shows such as Hannibal since the age of ten, calls the new movie “the first dramatic lead I have done at a more mature point in my life.”
More mature physically, but also in life experience.
“I took two years off from acting to go to school and find out what I really wanted,” says the twenty-five year old. “I wanted to explore other things because I had been acting for so long. Algonquin is the first performance I did coming back onto it.
“I did so much in those two years that had I continued acting I wouldn’t have experienced. I feel a good actor is someone who has lived and isn’t pretending to emote or show an experience on screen, but is actually feeling it. Someone who has been there. I needed those experiences and time away to grow in ways that I feel acting would have sheltered me from.”
He continued leading a creative life, just one away from the camera.
“When I wasn’t acting I was taking instrument building classes. That is a real passion of mine. I really respect Daniel Day Lewis for learning how to become a cobbler. I think that is beautiful because one thing you miss when acting is working with your hands or doing really organic artistic endeavors that you’re in control of.
“In the end with instrument making I’m the one editing, directing, buying the material and producing the end result. It’s an individual and personal process, more so than acting, I think. Acting is not a one man operation. It’s a team, it’s like being part of a family for a while with lots of people working to make something. There is always a director and a writer and you’re always kind of portraying someone else’s dream, but to actually be in control of your own dream is amazing.”
When you think of the movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone gut busting action comes to mind. The names Steve Martin and Adam Sandler are forever connected to comedy while Daniel Day Lewis is synonymous with serious drama. Meg Ryan? She’ll always be a romantic comedy star just as the mere mention of Robert Eglund’s can name send a chill down the spine.
But what about Tom Hanks? Hanks is a rarity among a-listers. He’s an actor who has avoided stereotyping by pasting together a resume that includes every almost genre of film.
This weekend he stars in Captain Phillips, a drama based on the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates.
It’s a heroic role—in real life President Obama said Capt. Richard Phillips’ courage “is a model for all Americans.”—but it’s a far cry from his last movie, Cloud Atlas, which saw him play three characters, one of which tossed a critic out of a skyscraper window.
His varied IMDB listing includes everything from comedies like Splash (“What you looking at? You never seen a guy who slept with a fish before?”) to Academy Award winning dramas like Philadelphia, where he played a gay lawyer with AIDS suing his firm for discrimination and Forrest Gump.
In the kid’s classic Toy Story (and its subsequent sequels) he’s Woody, a stuffed pull-string cowboy doll. Director John Lasseter says he wanted Hanks to play the character because of his “ability to take emotions and make them appealing.”
Much darker is Road to Perdition, the 2002 Sam Mendes film that cast Hanks as Michael Sullivan, Sr, an ace hitman who must protect his son from a mob assassin. “I just got this guy,” says Hanks. “If you’re a man, and you’ve got offspring… emotionally, it’s devastating.”
Different still is Nothing in Common, a dramedy that saw Hanks play a successful advertising executive trying to cope with his parents’ (Jackie Gleason and Eva Marie Saint) break up. “[It] has a bit of a split personality,” Hanks said, “because we’re trying to be very funny in the same movie in which we’re trying to be very touching.”
Hanks says, “I’m not looking for any particular kind of story,” and his varied approach to his work hasn’t hurt him one bit. Recently he was named America’s “best-liked movie star,” in a poll by Public Policy Polling.
Seen as a pair “Lincoln” and “War Horse” appear to usher in a new phase in Steven Spielberg’s career. No longer the Young Turk who made “Jaws,” or the blockbuster king of “Indiana Jones” or the family friendly maker of “ET,” he now is entering his golden age, or at least his homage to the golden age of Hollywood and the movies of his old-school heroes.
Despite a running time of two-and-a-half hours, “Lincoln” focuses on a short period of time in the president’s career. Spielberg and “Angel’s in America” writer Tony Kushner have zeroed in on the months surrounding the backroom politics that allowed passage of the 13th Amendment—“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”—through the House of Representatives. Several stories run parallel, but the thrust of the narrative focuses on the passage of this historic document.
The first glimpse of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, feels like watching a Yankee five-dollar bill come to life. Day-Lewis takes a familiar character, seen on money, enshrined in marble at the National Mall in Washington, portrayed on stage and screen*, and brings him to vivid life.
It’s a remarkable performance that blends familiar historical details with personality to create real flesh and blood character, complete with all the iconic traits history has endowed on him, and quirkier qualities—his habit of telling long anecdotes, his occasional prickliness. It falls in line with history’s attempts to bestow sainthood on Honest Abe, but doesn’t ignore the president’s human side.
Day-Lewis’s work brings the myth of the man to life in a film filled with remarkable acting. Despite the worst wig in cinema history Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican who wanted to give voting rights to freed slaves, makes the speeches in legislature sparkle with life and righteous indignation.
Sally Field sheds light on the misunderstood Mary Todd Lincoln–“All anyone will remember of me is that i was crazy and ruined your happiness,” she says—and James Spader provides a much-needed light touch as a proto lobbyist.
The glimpse of backroom politics, 19th century style, is fascinating, although restless viewers may find some of the colourful dialogue daunting. Many of the speeches sounds like Conrad Black on a bafflegab bender, so bring a dictionary if words like pulchritude throw you for a loop.
The final vote is somewhat drawn out for dramatic effect, but considering it is one of the most important ballots in American history–make that human history–it deserves the space to breathe dramatically.
Spielberg’s treatment of the story is respectful, but nuanced. He doesn’t shy away from showing Abe and Mary arguing, for instance, but the well-crafted film feels old-fashioned, like a throwback to another era when epic filmmaking didn’t necessarily mean showing planets exploding but showcasing epic ideas.
*Most famously by Canadian-born Raymond Massey, who played him multiple times on stage and on film. In fact, he was so attached to the character a colleague joked that Massey wouldn’t be satisfied with his Lincoln impression until someone assassinated him
“Nine,” the latest Broadway to big screen outing from director Rob Marshall, is by turns breathtaking and frustrating. A cinematic remounting of the 1982 Tony award-winning musical (which was itself inspired by Federico Fellini’s classic “8 ½”) about an Italian film director in the throws of a mid-life crisis is heavy on the glamour—Kate Hudson’s character tells the director that in his movies “every frame is like a postcard” and that is certainly true here as well—but not heavy enough with story.
When the movie starts world-famous filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is mentally blocked. His latest opus “Italia” is only ten days away from the beginning of production and he has yet to have an idea for the film, let alone write a line of dialogue. Edging ever closer to a nervous breakdown, his entanglements with a variety of women, including his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz), wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) and mother (Sophia Loren), only push him further down his self made rabbit hole.
The first question everyone has about “Nine” is, “Can Daniel Day Lewis sing?” The answer, in a word (actually a few words) is, no, not really. He speak-sings his two songs in a strange baritone that sounds more like a drunk uncle singing with the wedding band than a big-budget musical star, but I can forgive the singing because his brooding presence anchors every scene in the film. In a movie as cotton candy light as this you need something or someone to affix the story to and Day-Lewis is it.
Marshall takes the movie’s thin premise and stretches it to feature length, keeping the eye interested with stylish camera work, scantily clad dancers and great 1960s Italian locations, fashions and period decoration, but he may have taken the words of one of his characters a bit too seriously. “Style is the new content,” coos Stephanie (Kate Hudson). If that is true then “Nine” is the most substantial movie of the year, meaning that it is great to look at, but somehow, the story doesn’t really connect.
If you are just going for the music however, you won’t be disappointed. Marshall has cut several of the tunes from the original score, added several others (by original Broadway composer Maury Yeston) and wallpapered the movie with memorable songs, set pieces and choreography. Highlights include Fergie’s ode to roaming hands, “Be Italian,” “Cinema Italiano” Kate Hudson’s exuberantly fluffy 60’s pop number and “A Call from the Vatican,” Penelope Cruz’s steamy phone sex song.
“Nine’s” glossy veneer over powers whatever story there is but its panache and energy will keep your eye entertained.
In the 1990s Paul Thomas Anderson made his name directing films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia that recalled the sprawling, complex work of Robert Altman. Epic in length, but intimate in detail, those films established him as one of the best of young Hollywood directors. He took a u-turn stylistically with Punch Drunk Love, a briskly paced, but unconventional love story in 2002. And then nothing for almost six years.
It was worth the wait.
There Will be Blood, the story of twin American obsessions of greed and religion told through one man’s rise through the early days oil business is one of the best movies of the last twelve months and is bound to be an Oscar magnet for its star Daniel Day-Lewis.
Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil!, the films begins with a stunning extended scene in an open mine in turn-of-the-last-century California, played completely silent save for the odd grunt or grown from the prospector, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). Suspenseful and tense beyond belief it sets up a sense of foreboding that lasts through the entire film, while at the same time positioning Plainview as a powerhouse character who’ll do anything to succeed.
From this point on Anderson is letter perfect with the tone of the film, expertly juggling both the epic and intimate aspects of the story as he captures Plainview’s aggressive rise from poor prospector to tycoon. It is the quintessential story of power’s ability to corrupt as he amasses wealth and becomes obsessed only with amassing more wealth at any cost.
Plainview slowly becomes a monster who has a complicated relationship with his adopted son, becomes a murderer and uses religious salvation as simply a way of getting a land deed that he needs to drill for more oil. By the end of the film he is a megalomaniacal Charles Foster Kane-like character, alone in a huge mansion, isolated by choice from friends and family; his only companions are servants and money.
Daniel Day-Lewis is devastating in the lead role. His Plainview is one of the architects of America’s transformation from a rural to industrial nation; a man who helped usher in the change, but at a huge personal cost. Day-Lewis handles the changes in Plainview expertly, as he slowly allows the character’s morality to slip until it has almost entirely been eroded away. Vocally he seems to have found the perfect reference point for his character by channeling John Huston’s misanthropic Noah Cross from Chinatown, another great fictional Californian businessman willing to do anything to exploit that state’s natural resources for profit.
Also look for Paul Dano—best known as the mute-by-choice son in Little Miss Sunshine—as a devout preacher who represents the religion that gnaws at Planview’s conscience. The pair are at odds throughout, a physical manifestation of Plainview’s growing lack on scruples as he gradually walks away from the morals he was taught in Sunday School and steps toward the fire and brimstone of his new life. Dano’s powerful performance is at once disturbing and exhilarating, as it ranges from courteous piousness to dancing-with-snakes-religious-fury to submissive schemer.
Layer on top of all that an arresting electronic score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and you have a tour-de-force look at the making of a nation and the individualistic men who created the country.