The reviews below don’t contain major spoilers
Phantom Thread (2017) (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Best Picture nominee. Do I admire the craft of this film? Yes. Did I connect with it emotionally? To a certain extent. Daniel Day-Lewis plays a man (Reynolds Woodcock) who is difficult and controlling. He has been a bachelor for a long time so is used to getting his own way. It’s not a spoiler to say Reynolds meets a new woman (Alma), yet even the smallest disturbances irritate and distract him. His life is very precise like his dressmaking is. Easily offended, anything surprising and he feels ill at ease. I’ve been around stubborn people and they can be insufferable when they refuse to budge an inch. The story is also about personality- and age difference in a relationship and how that leads to friction. Addresses how thin the line between love and hate can be. If you strip away all the film’s elegance, costumes, production design, music, and 1950s detail, at its core Phantom Thread is really about the messiness of human interaction. Vicky Krieps provides a brilliant, subtle performance and holds her own in the scenes with Day-Lewis. The beautiful score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is a character in itself. An unpredictable plot that showcases the tug-of-war and power dynamics in any relationship.
Favorite quotes: “A house that doesn’t change is a dead house”
”I think it’s the expectations and assumptions of others that cause heartache”
Call Me by Your Name (2017) (Luca Guadagnino)
From the director of A Bigger Splash which I watched last month. A best picture nominee, Guadagnino’s latest is a gay romance and can almost convince you that life in the early 80s was simpler and better before the information overload of phones and the internet. Isn’t full of memorable scenes, but the cinematography and locations are effective in making you feel the slowness and heat of the Italian summer. A great ad for travelling to picturesque Northern Italy.
Love My Way by Psychedelic Furs is the song that I’ll associate the movie with. The characters and dialogues are bit plain sometimes and could have been developed even further. Is purely about being in love, and maybe that’s enough? A film that stays with you, thanks to the performance of Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.
As another letterboxd reviewer put it better than I could: “The coming of age gaze and sexuality of Elio as conjured by Guadagnino and Chalamet is charmingly awkward and utterly recognisable, elevating the material considerably”. Possibly the most moving cinematic love story of 2017.
Favorite quote: “To make yourself feel nothing, is always not to feel anything. What a waste”
Lady Macbeth (2016) (William Oldroyd)
Recommended by dbmoviesblog. Darker and more daring than typical British period dramas. Based on a 1865 novella by Nikolai Leskov. The direction of the story surprised me. I didn’t know how to feel about her. Katherine is a victim of an empty life which the audience can pity, yet in her rebellion she’s reckless. You can understand her to some extent, even if her methods are far from flawless. Set in the 1800s, she is a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and treated as inferior to men. The story works best as a commentary on oppression, condemning those times for not allowing females in her position the opportunity to lead a meaningful life. Florence Pugh shines in a star making performance. What the film is trying to say about contemporary feminism is open to interpretation. I see the character as empowering to women, yet also a cautionary tale about the choices you make.
Logan (2017) (James Mangold)
The best thing about the film is Hugh Jackman’s committed performance as the reluctant hero, you can’t imagine anyone else as Wolverine. Old man Logan and old man Charles Xavier is a good idea but I disliked the way it was handled. An excessively violent entry in the X-Men series. And it wasn’t just the ultra-violence that I found offensive. Jackman uses the f-word multiple times in front of a small child (in particular the comic book scene in the car).
There’s a good chase sequence by the base and the beard cutting scene has warmth, but most of the big moments seem to include off-putting claw stabbing and blood.
My lack of enthusiasm might be because the franchise just has so many movies and I’m a bit tired of X-Men sequels at this point. R rated comic book movies are not my taste.
Daphne (2017) (Peter Mackie Burns)
An underseen British film that is 100% on Rotten Tomatoes yet appears to not have been sufficiently promoted. Now available on dvd, I stumbled across it in Sight & Sound (the December issue is always a worthwhile read because of the year-end lists from critics).
Daphne is a character study of 30something Londoner Daphne (Emily Beecham) who is a mess of uncertainties, she keeps people at a distance emotionally, and has trouble connecting. The story has realistic dialogue and is about being lost and needing to find meaning. But also about being young and how we put up a front and protect ourselves from getting hurt. There isn’t a lot of plot but it quietly creeps up on you as you begin to understand her situation, and to balance the darker aspects there are lighter moments of humor. Beecham’s award winning lead performance impresses, she plays a character who isn’t particularly likeable but who I couldn’t stop watching. Although I would agree with another letterboxd reviewer that other aspects of her life could have been revealed, but that was a choice by the filmmakers to not show everything and let the audience reach their own conclusions as to why she behaves in that way. The song in the end credits by The Velvet Underground is impactful.
Favorite quote: “You know Daphne, we don’t always feel the correct emotions at the right time, that doesn’t make us inhuman. You can still visit him without having big, operatic emotions about it. The action of visiting him, that still counts. Our actions count, even if we don’t think that much of them. Perhaps later on we will. But we don’t need to wait for that to do things”
A Horrible Woman (2017) (Christian Tafdrup)
A conversation starter and arguably the most original and talked about Danish film of 2017. Has been playing at my local cinema for two months. Perfect to go see on Valentines Day, providing you are comfortable with realism and a lack of sugar coating. If you’re single, will make you relieved you are not in a relationship. If you are in a relationship, the film can encourage you and your partner to evaluate how each behaves.
A controversial film, especially due to its depiction of Marie as unsympathetic and her boyfriend Rasmus as a victim of her manipulation.
Writer/director Christian Tafdrup has been accused of misogyny but said the story is autobiographical and shows the weaknesses of both sides.
In some respects, a companion film to Daphne (reviewed above), both are refreshingly honest depictions of modern romance by not shying away from the difficulties of connection. Telling the story from the male perspective, A Horrible Woman taps into the #metoo conversation, as women can also mistreat men.
The Other Side of Hope (2017) (Aki Kaurismäki)
I’m late to Finnish comedies. Apparently Kaurismäki is one of Finland’s most beloved directors/screenwriters. The story expresses a belief in human decency, capturing the times we live in, with a Syrian asylum seeker as the main character and his interaction with the locals.
The dead pan humor has its moments, such as the opening when he escapes the boat and sees a man watching a bizarre TV show about a fluffy animal. The scene when he hides with the dog in the bathroom and afterwards made a remark was also amusing. The film isn’t laugh out loud funny but has a warmth and quirkiness that is endearing. I doubt it’s Kaurismäki’s best, and can feel slightly preachy in its message, but I enjoyed hanging out with these characters.
The Staircase (2004) (Jean-Xavier de Lestrade)
Nostra at myfilmviews rated this true crime documentary 10/10 in his review. That was the reason I watched.
Dragged out to 6 hours, I admit I fast-forwarded over chunks of the mini-series (episode 2-4 in particular). Stopping for the trial scenes and when Michael Peterson appears.
New, surprising evidence is gradually revealed. Whether he was guilty of murdering his wife or she fell down the stairs kept the tension. An oft repeated contention (established early on) is there is too much blood for an accident, so could there be foul play of some kind? The audio of the 911 call is especially chilling (episode 5).
I had issues with the pacing of the first few episodes, but once the series reaches the suspenseful episodes 5-8 I was hooked. Interesting to see the arguments of the defense and prosecution, and eventual outcome. It’s good courtroom TV with the viewer in the same position as the jury, trying to work out if he was guilty or not from the evidence provided. My own theory is her death was not one or the other, a combination of an accident and a beating. Michael Peterson (who pleads innocent) will probably take the truth to his grave. In 2009 an owl theory surfaced which odd as it sounds actually makes sense.
The Staircase II: The Last Chance (2012) (Jean-Xavier de Lestrade)
As another reviewer wrote, this follow-up has a very ”narrow approach”, so narrow in fact that it’s not worth recommending. Two key developments happen. I suggest reading the wikipedia page instead and you’ll find the same chronological developments in the case. Running for 130 minutes, what is presented does have a human element yet could have been told in half the time (or less). There’s not enough new here to warrant a feature length documentary. It feels like a footnote to the superior miniseries from 2004.
Valley Girl (1983) (Martha Coolidge)
There’s a remake out in 2018. I decided to watch the original. The two leads (Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman) have chemistry. Apparently Cage was infatuated with her in real life which must have helped his performance. The best moments involve music, for example the scene (I blogged about recently) when he talks to her in the bathroom with The Psychedelic Furs Love My Way playing in the background at the party. The montage featuring I Melt With You by Modern English also stood out. The fun scene with the girls dancing to Girls Like Me by Bonnie Hayes is memorable. Was directed by a woman and I think it shows, particularly in the interactions between the female characters.
The dad’s speech was a good life lesson: “There are lots of people out there who just ain’t happy unless you live and think the same way they do, and if you don’t (you’re out)”.
Loosely based on a Shakespeare play, Julie’s friends are snobby and have issues with her attraction to a punk. The film does a good job of depicting the pressures of popularity and the difficulty of dating someone who isn’t from the same area. Unfortunately the conflict with her friends isn’t properly resolved. A flawed movie with a silly ending, but I’m almost willing to forgive its weaknesses because of the likeable characters, soundtrack, and enjoyment of watching. The Danish title is amusingly Fingrene væk!! fra min pige (Hands off my girl!)
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome