“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

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“Dunkirk”

I’m in the minority with my reaction to Christopher Nolan’s ambitious WWII film, “Dunkirk.” I find myself asking constantly, “Is it Nolan’s masterpiece?”

“Dunkirk” takes place over a week-long period and focuses on the evacuation of the titular beach. In one segment, we have infantry soldiers stranded on the beach (Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles). On the sea, we have a noble civilian sailor Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) leading his son and another boy to rescue soldiers. Finally, from the air, we have an Allied pilot Ferrier (Tom Hardy) attempting to take out Nazi bombers while low on fuel.

Nolan’s no stranger to ambition and is highly ambitious in “Dunkirk.” With a Pg-13-rated, 106-minute-long war film that contains no gore and little dialogue, “Dunkirk” is mildly admirable. However, Nolan’s direction leads the film to some rather underwhelming moments.

The strongest segment of “Dunkirk” is Mr. Dawson’s story. Rylance delivers a terrific performance as a headstrong sailor that isn’t afraid of battle. He wants to save as many soldiers possible since men his age are starting war. Cillian Murphy is also great in this segment as an unnamed soldier who shows signs of PTSD. This sequence hauntingly demonstrates the psychological horrors and nobility in war.

The land sequences with Whitehead and Styles’s characters feature some stunning imagery and harrowing sequences. In one sequence where they nearly drown on a sinking ship, I white-knuckled the arm rests of my chair. The two characters find themselves in several brutal scenarios and have to make tough decisions. Unfortunately, I got bored after a while due to lack of character development. Neither character has any background or arc, so it’s hard to remain invested.

Finally, the air sequences were some of the most amazing air sequences put on film. Nolan uses actual planes instead of CG and each aerial shot is mesmerizing. This segment’s narrative is repetitive since Hardy spends most of it silently noting his fuel capacity. He also spends most of his time behind a mask. Why is he always playing masked characters?

I can see “Dunkirk” being nominated for Best Picture and Best Director among other Oscars. It’s an Oscar-bait movie and I know critics will endorse “Dunkirk” for the awards. I get it, but unlike the critics, I don’t consider “Dunkirk” to be Nolan’s masterpiece.

Grade: B