“Phantom Thread”

Goodbye, Daniel Day Lewis! I’ll miss you. Welcome back, Paul Thomas Anderson! I missed you.

Set in 1950’s London, esteemed fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis) has a routined life. He eats breakfast quietly while sketching his ideas, he walks after work to recharge, and if just one thing is set off, his whole day is ruined. Reynolds’s life becomes complicated when he falls for a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who disrupts his routined life both unknowingly and knowingly.

I’m a huge fan of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. Boogie Nights and There Will be Blood are two of my very favorite films, Magnolia is a misunderstood masterpiece, and I consider Punch-Drunk Love to be one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Anderson’s scientology epic The Master and noir comedy Inherent Vice were fine, but I was fairly underwhelmed during both. Anderson returns to his roots in Phantom Thread.

Like Anderson’s earlier work, Phantom Thread is a period film about dysfunctional relationships. Reynolds is an artist and prioritizes work over his love life. Alma doesn’t understand this at first, but later finds ways for Reynolds to show affection. In one fascinating scene involving a drunken customer ruining Reynold’s dress, Alma convinces an angry Reynolds to steal back the dress he designed, which balances passions for work and Alma. It’s one of many darkly funny character-driven moments.

Krieps brings a nice touch of darkness as Alma. What could have been another cliched underused love interest, is instead a clever, manipulative, and occasionally deadly femme fatale character. She loves Reynolds, but isn’t afraid to put him in his place. Krieps is every bit as good as her costar, Lewis.

In his final performance, Lewis is more subdued as Reynolds. He’s not yelling manically or talking in an overly masculine voice. He speaks quietly and relies more on facial expressions to convey emotion. Lewis captures the complexity of an obsessive artist. I understand his need for order while also understanding his need for solitude (even if he’s being a raging jerk about it). Anderson gives subtle visual queues to let us know when Reynolds loses control when he goes from well-groomed and sharp-dressed to having uncombed hair and a mismatched, wrinkled suit.

The final act of Phantom Thread is a brilliant piece of genre splicing. Though we’re watching a romantic period film, the final act contains moments of dark comedy and psychological horror, resulting in a haunting conclusion. It may drag in places, but Lewis and Krieps make the slow moments rewarding. Phantom Thread is a great return-to-form for Paul Thomas Anderson and a great send-off for Daniel Day Lewis.

Grade: A

“Nocturnal Animals”

You can’t beat two movies for the price of one. Especially when they’re within one, are gorgeous and dark, and have the brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal. “Nocturnal Animals” is that movie.

In “Nocturnal Animals,” Gyllenhaal plays Edward. He’s a romantic writer who sends his ex-wife Susan (Amy Adams) a manuscript of his new novel. It’s a dark and violent novel, which the troubled Susan interprets as a threat on her life.

In “Nocturnal Animals,” Gyllenhaal also plays Tony, the novel’s protagonist. He finds himself in a brutal game of cat-and-mouse with a deranged serial killer (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who murders Tony’s wife and daughter. A seasoned detective (Michael Shannon) takes pity on Tony and helps him seek revenge.

“Nocturnal Animals” is an ambitious, twisted, and beautiful psychological thriller from fashion designer Tom Ford. The movie has Ford’s name all over it, due to the glamorous costumes and mise-en-scene. Ford also demonstrates an impressive knowledge of the Southern Gothic and Film Noir genres within Tony’s story.

Tony’s story is unsettling to watch. We see a timid, naive family man go over the edge when his family is taken from him. Taylor-Johnson’s Ray is a villain from a Flannery O’Connor story. He’s trashy, yet charismatic. Shannon’s Detective Andes is the scene stealer. He’s a dying detective who no longer cares about the law, but rather his own justice.

Susan and Edward’s story is a tragic melodrama, reminiscent of “Blue Valentine.” We see they were a passionate young couple that tore themselves apart due to their egos and ambitions. Sadly, for a story about someone interpreting a book as a threat, there isn’t much intensity.

All of Susan’s reading scenes are redundant. She cringes, rubs her eyes together, and pours a drink. But she doesn’t once lock her door or buy a gun. The cinematography doesn’t even hint at any danger.

There are also a few solid supporting actors in Susan’s story, including Michael Sheen, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, and Jena Malone, but they all well-dressed exposition tools to help us understand Susan’s misery.

Gyllenhaal easily has the best performance, playing two different characters with things in common. Both Tony and Edward are handsome romantics, who lose everything they love and handle it in a dark manner.

Ford has an eye for detail, and it shows in both segments. If you pay close attention to Susan’s appearance, a parked car in the background of Edward and Susan’s main confrontation, and Edward’s back story, these are all carried over to Tony’s story. It’s subtle.

I admired “Nocturnal Animals” for its duality. Sure, it’s uneven, but that’s forgivable.

Grade (Tony’s story): A

Grade (Susan and Edward’s story): C

Grade (overall): B