CATCHING UP

 

by Alan Yudman

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Meh. This movie felt too long and too much. They seemed to try to pack in about three movies into one and still it wasn’t enough.. we have to wait for a part two next year. That is unless you were wiped out by Thanos’ finger snap.
These mega blockbuster hero movies are wearing thin on me. The stories are kinda boring. Characters don’t get a chance to fully develop. Really in this movie Thanos is the one character who has an interesting arc. The heroes do hero stuff and not much else.
I prefer the movies that focus on one hero. We learn more about the character and there’s less bombast.
Yes, I’ll see Part 2 just to see how they un-kill everyone.

OCEANS 8

This was a funny movie with a satisfying story and a twist I didn’t see coming. The ensemble is greater than any one character. The weakest link seemed to be Sandra Bullock. She played it very straight. Maybe she was going for George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, but her character lacked some of his charm.
Standouts were Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and James Corden.
Ann Hathaway shined. She played the stereotype of herself and stole the movie.
All in all, a successful sequel.

SOLO

Man the fanboys (and fangirls) didn’t like this movie. A lot. I don’t know what their problem is. And I don’t have a degree in psychology that would enable me to figure it out.
This movie is fine. It was fun. It was entertaining. The challenge here was telling an origin story where we already know the characters, maybe too well. So it could have turned into and eye roll, but it didn’t at all.
Alden Ehrenreich was good. Woody Harrelson was sold as usual.
Emilia Clarke is very good in Game of Thrones. But I keep seeing her in the same type of role. I need to find more movies she’s done because I’m tired of seeing her play this type of character.

DEADPOOL 2

This is what I was talking about in my AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR review. The DEADPOOL movies focus on one guy and the world surrounding him rather than 30 characters in a big universe.
The original DEADPOOL was such a refreshing divergence from the usual hero movie, it would have been easy to rest on laurels and be lazy in DEADPOOL 2. Ryan Reynolds was apparently not going to let that happen. This is just as funny, just a meta, just as surprisingly great as the first movie.
Adding a great actor like James Brolin was the right call. He’s better here than as Thanos. And it has a message about the danger and consequences of revenge.
Should they make a third? They probably will given the financial success, but I’m satisfied if it ends here.

RED SPARROW

A decent cold war spy thriller. Lots of twists and turns and it’s not hard to follow like, oh, a John le Carré novel. Jennifer Lawrence is fine as the ballerina turned Soviet asset. There’s nothing especially great here, but it’s solid. The better Cold War thriller from the past year or so is ATOMIC BLONDE. Much more stylish.
Jeremy Irons is solidly wonderful but I kept hearing Simon Gruber (DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE).
Seemed like a caricature of cold war Russians until you remember.. oh yeah.. 2016 Election meddling.

ISLE OF DOGS

Another great film from Wes Anderson. The animation is a step forward from THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX. The way the dogs’ fur moves in the wind.. the expressions and detail. It’s really spectacular in a very non-Pixar way.
This is a love letter to dogs. The only bad dogs are not really dogs, they’re robots. It’s fun with point about otherness and a commentary on internment.
There are a couple of problems involving race. The main dog Chief, goes from bad to good when he gets a bath and goes from a black dog to a white dog. I don’t think Anderson was intending it as racist, it was more of a way to identify who Chief really was. But I could see where people might have an issue. Some also have a problem with the way the Japanese characters are portrayed. I will leave that for someone else to comment on.
ISLE OF DOGS is a fun and funny ride and is very Wes Anderson. That’s usually a very good thing.

READY PLAYER ONE

Steven Spielberg returns to making a film about aspiration. That couldn’t be more welcome from where I sit. E.T., the Indiana Jones movies, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND were some of the best movies ever made. READY PLAYER ONE shoots for that type of feeling. It doesn’t always hit the mark but it does enough to make you be thankful for Spielberg.
There’s lots of fun ’80’s nostalgia for those of us who are.. um… old.
Seeing Lena Waithe in anything is a treat. The rest of the cast is ok, but Mark Rylance casts a gigantic shadow over everything because he is that much superior to the rest of the actors.
All in all it’s worth your time.

WRINKLE IN TIME

I’ve heard folks who read the book say it is a story that is impossible to turn into a movie. That’s not hard to believe. This was very disappointing given that it was directed by Ava DuVernay. Storm Reid was wonderful as Meg. But the rest of the talented cast was only ok.
Oprah as a god was a little too on point. It just felt meandering and endless which is odd considering it is under two hours. One positive is the visuals. It looks spectacular. But that feels like more of a technical achievement than a creative one.

HEARTS BEAT LOUD

This is a wonderfully charming movie. Nick Offerman as a single, widowed Dad raising a teenage daughter was perfect casting. The fantasy of him trying to hold onto his daughter by trying to start a band with her didn’t feel outrageous or weird in the least. That’s a tribute to the direction of Brett Haley and script by Haley and Marc Basch. Kiersey Clemons as his daughter is a bright shining star in the making. HEARTS BEAT LOUD is fun, touching and entertaining. It’s the small movie that is better because it is small. Definitely worth a rental.

JULIET, NAKED

This is another charming, funny movie that is centered around music. Nick Hornby (ABOUT A BOY, HIGH FIDELITY) wrote the novel and Jesse Peretz directed from a script he co-wrote with his sister Evgenia, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins. Rose Byrne is always delightful in these types of roles. Ethan Hawke as the washed up singer Tucker Crowe is perfectly cast. The best part here for me was Chris O’Dowd as Byrne’s boyfriend who is an obsessive Crowe fan. The music is great, the visuals set on the English coast are gorgeous. The story about second chances is familiar, but the take on it is fresh. This is another small movie with fine performances that is good, but just misses the mark by a hair. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, but felt it could have been a smidge better.

MISS ME?

It’s been a while.

Months actually.

It’s not that I haven’t been seeing movies. It’s just that I haven’t felt like writing about them. It’s not that I haven’t seen some amazing films. I have. I don’t necessarily want to blame it on Trump, but it does feel like the state of our country has sapped nearly every creative impulse from my body.

This has always been a hobby for me. I love movies and I know just enough to share my two cents about them. Maybe I’ve motivated someone to experience a film they wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

I had at times thought about shutting this site down. Move on. Do something else. But, that felt like quitting and I don’t like that feeling.

So, I’m back baby!

I’m not going to post long reviews of all the movies I’ve seen between I FELL PRETTY (as if that didn’t kill my enjoyment of movies entirely) and now.

What you’ll see in the next few days is one post with very brief reviews of what I’ve seen. Some movies deserve a bigger review and you’ll get those too.

This blog isn’t about getting clicks or shares or whatever. It’s about sharing my experience and opinions. Maybe I will get you to see a movie you weren’t planning to see. Maybe you’d like to discuss it with me. Maybe I’m shouting into the void. Doesn’t really matter.

I hope to be here more regularly. And I hope you enjoy what I share.

Alan

I FEEL PRETTY

by Alan Yudman

After seeing I FEEL PRETTY all I could think was, “I Feel Shitty”. Yeah, it’s trite and lame but I couldn’t think of another more appropriate reaction.

Amy Schumer works on the website of an enormous cosmetics company. She sees herself as average looking, and wishes she was beautiful. She uses products, watches YouTube videos and reads magazines all to try to be more attractive. She has two average looking friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips) who commiserate in their averageness.

The MacGuffin here is that Schumer hits her head when she falls off a bike at spin class and whens he wakes up she believes she is beautiful. She’s the only one who sees it. But immediately acts like the beauty she sees in the mirror.

The problem is I saw where this was going almost immediately. That is only a good thing when the movie is executed perfectly, or in such a unique fashion that you look past that flaw. That is not the case here. I knew exactly what was going to happen and what the consequences would be. That made the time pass slowly and excruciatingly.

The message is a good one. Inner beauty is more important than physical beauty. Real friends value you for who you are not what you are. But it is a message mired in a mediocre script and blase direction.

It’s too bad. There are some funny lines and funny scenes. But they never hang together in a story. There are also great performances from Schumer, Michelle Williams as the beautiful CEO of the cosmetics company and Rory Scoville as Schumer’s love interest. The fabulous Aidy Bryant is wasted here. She is not given enough to do. See THE BIG SICK for what she can bring to a small role. Here she is merely the “ugly friend” (and ugly is a stretch).

I FEEL PRETTY could have been so much better. Instead it is pedestrian and poorly executed. I feel pretty certain this is not worth seeing again.

BLOCKERS

by Alan Yudman

If you have daughters, BLOCKERS may not be a movie you want to see. Here’s the premise: Three high school senior girls who have been friends throughout their school years make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. So, yeah. If you have one or more daughters this will stress you out.

But for everyone else, or parents with a sense of humor about it, this is one funny way to spend an evening. I’ve only discussed half the premise. The rest is this: the parents of those three girls find out about #SEXPACT2018 and make it their mission to stop them art all costs. Those three parents are Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena. They are a hilarious threesome. Mann is a single mom whose beautiful, popular daughter is the first to commit to the plan. Barinholtz is a divorced and absent dad whose daughter is reluctant mainly because she knows she is a lesbian. Cena is an overprotective stay-at-home dad who doesn’t even acknowledge what is right in front of him.

Mann is always the perfect comic actor. In this case she thinks she and her daughter are best buds and can’t imagine she wouldn’t have discussed this with her. Barinholtz is the stereotype of the absent Dad— permissive and trying to do what he can to win his daughter’s love. Cena is really finding a niche in comedy. His roles always play off his physique. In this case you’d expect him to be the tough, no-nonsense dad. Instead he is the most sensitive of the three.. crying at every key moment in his daughter’s life. It’s a running joke and works every time.

This isn’t the best comedy ever. It has its flaws. Barinholtz’s motivations aren’t clearly drawn. Cena’s status as a stay-at-home dad is presumed and not defined well. The girls motivations are pretty thin and the individual resolutions to their nights seem a bit unearned. But there are a ton of great scenes and great jokes that make you accept those flaws as minor.

The three girls are all solid. Kathryn Newton is having a year. After supporting roles in two Oscar nominated films (LADY BIRD and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI) her star is definitely on the rise. She does nothing to change that in her role as Mann’s daughter Julie. Gideon Adlon (yes, daughter of Pamela Adlon) is Barinholtz’s gender unsure daughter. But the one who steals the show for me is Geraldine Viswanathan. She plays Cena’s “jock” daughter Kayla. She has to display the most range of the three friends. and Visnawathan nails it all. She is definitely the breakout star in this group.

Kudos to Director Kay Cannon and the writers for a portrayal of a young lesbian character. I’m sure there will be critics of how it is sort of brushed off and not really “dealt” with. Here’s a thought. Maybe that’s progress. Maybe treating it as just another story and not attaching huge political or emotional consequences to it means that we are more accepting. Hey, any sign of hope in the era of Trump is worth noting.

Cannon has plenty of comedy writing credits from 30 ROCK to the PITCH PERFECT films. She does a great job directing the action.. keeping it light most of the time and serious when necessary. Looking forward to her next film.

BLOCKERS isn’t going to win any awards, but if you’re looking for a laugh or a dozen in less than two hours, then this is the movie for you.

BLACK PANTHER

by Alan Yudman

Marvel has taken a shotgun approach to the themes of its movies. From the self-serious (any Captain America movie) to the ponderous (any of the Avengers movies). From the comic (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 & 2) to the meta (Deadpool). Rarely have they touched on any subject that is of great import to current society in a real way. That is until now. BLACK PANTHER checks that box in marvelous fashion.

I’ve spent days attempting to write this review. Then i realized I cannot fully appreciate how great it is or may be. I cannot fully appreciate the messages it is sending about being black in 2018. I never could. I can be empathetic to its message. I can understand the points it is trying to make but I can never feel it in my bones. And this is a film that is deeply felt. Again, that is very weird for a movie in the superhero genre.

Marvel seemed to be taking a chance in handing the reigns of this origin story to Ryan Coogler who has made exactly three full-length feature films. But was it really that much of a risk? He is the young genius behind FRUITVALE STATION and CREED. It should have been safely assumed that this would be the most thoughtful, socially significant Marvel film we’ve seen.

What really helps focus this film is the goals of the heroes. King T’Challa is not trying to save the world, just his little corner of it. We first learned about Wakanda in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. We saw his father die in an attack on the United Nations and learned a little about Wakanda’s rich deposit of Vibranium, the material Cap’s shield is made from.

There are several tension points. T’Challa’s (Black Panther) internal struggle on how to be a good king, a job he was not quite ready to assume. There is pressure from Wakanda’s tribes on what kind of country they want to be. Continue hiding in plain sight from a world that believe it to be a third world African nation or share its secret power to help lift the oppressed. That conflict is put to the test when Eric Killmonger shows up to challenge T’Challa’s right to the throne. Killmonger’s goals may align with those who want Wakanda to reveal itself, but his motivation comes from hate not altruism. This thoughtful script (co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole) raises issues of isolationism, nationalism, jingoism, racism and altruism that are prevalent in modern American society. It is nearly impossible not to notice the parallels.

And all this is wrapped in a great superhero movie. As I’ve written before, one of the things I want to see in these movies is the main guy using his powers. There are several great set pieces featuring Black Panther being his Black Pantherist. There is cool tech on display and the hero being, you know…heroic. They are not destroying worlds or demolishing cities. it’s small and wonderful.

The cast is simply amazing. There is not a weak performance to be seen. Chadwick Boseman does great work as Black Panther. He is thoughtful, but not weak. Confident but not cocky. The other highlights for me were Letitia Wright (T’Challa’s sister Suri, who is also the genius behind Wakandan tech), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira (Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje an all female unit in charge of protecting the King) and Winston Duke. That’s not to diminish the other performaces, but those all were a notch above.

I feel odd talking about it being a nearly all black cast. That shouldn’t be a thing we have to mention, so now that I have I won’t talk about it again other than to say BLACK PANTHER’s shattering of box office records should put to bed any notion that race has any impact on those who buy tickets. If the movie is good, they will show up no matter what.

BLACK PANTHER shatters so many stereotypes, all while being politically current and entertaining. That is what makes it a film you must see.

THE FLORIDA PROJECT

by Alan Yudman

For a movie set in the shadows of Disney World, THE FLORIDA PROJECT owes nothing to any Magic Kingdom. Sean Baker (TANGERINE) has figured out a way to tell a story of people living on the margins. The live near Disney, but that is close as they will ever get to the tourist attraction. Close enough to see, but not be part of the fantasy.

The adults act like children and even though the kids act like children, they are forced to care for themselves like the are adults. These are people left out by the rest of society. Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) are forced to live in a motel located just down the street from Disney World. They have no place else to go. Halley is barely an adult herself and earns what little money she has selling perfume, or hustling stolen park wristbands or just simply hustling. It is a miserable life. Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is the motel manager who is also sort of a de-facto babysitter. He doesn’t want the job, but someone has to keep an eye out for the kids who run around the motel and neighboring businesses with abandon.

The kids start out uber annoying. I kept thinking to myself, “why can’t anyone control them”? But then as things move along, you realize that no one can control them. There is no one to control them. They all are from single parent homes. The parents are working. It’s summer so they have no school to go to. No family to stay with. They would have to scramble and climb just to reach the top of the crack they fell through in society. It is sad and pathetic and gut wrenching. You wait for someone to come to help. But there is no help coming. Only county child welfare officials who are doing whatever they can, but they come off as the bad guys, or the worse guys, because there is no good guy here. Only Bobby seems to be trying to do the right thing, but even his efforts are minuscule in the grand scheme of things.

So you must be wondering by now, why should I watch this pathetic story. Because it is magnificently executed. You hope against hope that things will get better. You root for something good to happen. Baker draws you into this world he’s created and makes you care about these broken people. Brooklynn Prince is amazing. I mean, she is acting like a 6-year-old. How Baker corralled that into such a wonderfully touching performance is a feat to behold. Bria Vinaite is an Instagram star. So how did she land this? I don’t know, but she is fabulous. You feel how much she cares for her daughter, but also how lost she is in the world. Dafoe’s nomination for Supporting Actor is richly deserved. Usually he plays the villain or some kind of oddball psycho. Here he plays the nice guy, totally against type and he is wonderful.

THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a tough movie. It is full of brightly colored buildings and dimly colored people. It is a film i keep thinking about. Thinking about how people could live like this because it is so outside my experience. And great art should make you consider worlds you are not familiar with. It should make you reckon with it. And that’s what makes THE FLORIDA PROJECT such a great film.

THE SHAPE OF WATER

by Alan Yudman

From the first moments, the first frames of film you see, it is obvious THE SHAPE OF WATER is going to be a feast for the eyes. Star Sally Hawkins’ Elisa floats down to her sofa in an apartment apparently full of water. it is balletic and soothing. What is not so obvious right away is how Guillermo del Toro uses that languid beauty to set up a drama that is equal parts romance, monster movie and cold war spy thriller.

Hawkins is a mute janitor at some kind of government ocean research lab. Her life is routine. She wakes up, makes breakfast, takes a bath and goes off to work. She also keeps track of her neighbor, Richard Jenkins. He is another lonely soul in a film loaded with them. One day the lab is buzzing because of the arrival of a new “project”. The mysterious container is wheeled into a lab and a curious Elisa puts her hand on the glass window and something jumps at the glass.
Later Elisa finds out it is some kind of amphibious man that is ominously referred to as “the asset”. Michael Shannon is the government agent in charge of the project. He treats the “asset” without compassion or regard for its wellbeing. He is focused on results, getting something out of it before the Russians discover it. He walks around with an electric cattle prod which he uses viciously in one brutal scene. Michael Stuhlbarg is a scientist in charge of studying this amphibious man.

Elisa finds a connection with the creature. Her non-verbal communication works to her advantage. She is not constrained by language. The connection soon turns to love. And when she learns the creature is doomed, she devises a plan to rescue him with the help of Jenkins and her fellow janitor Octavia Spencer.

At its heart THE SHAPE OF WATER is a romance about lonely outsiders who find each other. Each main character has an “otherness” about them. Elisa is mute. Jenkins is a gay, former graphic artist who apparently had some kind of drinking problem. Spencer is African-American (in this time frame, she is an outsider). Shannon is alone in his own villainy. Stuhlbarg has his own outsider story that is too key to the plot to reveal here. They find themselves intertwined trying to deal with the ultimate outsider, a sentient fish-man. But their interactions are all unique, for love or country or loyalty.

del Toro weaves the three themes I mentioned earlier without a hiccup. The stories come together flawlessly. The message is clear, but he doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The visuals wash over you like the water that is a running idea throughout the film. It is engrossing. You are sucked in by the romance and beauty. You are kept intrigued by the spy thriller elements and the desire to see if love will indeed conquer all.

I had a couple of small issues with the film. One involves what I thought was a completely unnecessary scene where Jenkins hits on a counter-boy at a pie shop. I didn’t need to know more about him. It was a little distracting. The other involves a climactic scene between the creature and Elisa. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it didn’t feel honest to what we had come to learn about her.

The acting is beyond great. Hawkins is marvelous in a role where she doesn’t speak at all. Jenkins is the audience’s conscience, but is a subtle guide. Shannon is menacing and evil. For me, he is what I call a phone book actor. He could read the phone book and I’d show up to watch. Stuhlbarg gives another riveting supporting performance (see CALL ME BY YOUR NAME). And Octavia Spencer is good, but doesn’t get enough to do. And please do not dismiss Doug Jones’ work as the amphibious man. He and Andy Serkis are masters of this type of acting and it should not be overlooked,

del Toro is a genius in the genre of monster movies. The HELLBOY films, PAN’S LABYRINTH and PACIFIC RIM are examples of how he is more about shock and awe. He is about heart and feeling. It really is a wonderfully amazing skill to make these types of films more accessible to everyone. THE SHAPE OF WATER has everything an Oscar voter could want. And that is good news for audiences too.

MOLLY’S GAME

by Alan Yudman

There is little doubt that Aaron Sorkin is among the best screenwriters. But he’s never directed a movie. Until now. Sorkin makes his directorial debut with MOLLY’S GAME. And it mostly works.

Jessica Chastain is Molly Bloom, a former champion moguls skier who is forced to retired after injury. Her plan is to go to law school. She moves to Los Angeles and in need of a job hooks up with a connected guy who runs a back room poker game. She realizes she has an affinity for running the games and a natural camaraderie with the players. She eventually moves on and runs her own high stakes game. Molly is too trusting and that causes her to lose the L.A. game and she moves to New York where she starts over. There are much shadier characters involved and eventually she starts skimming money for herself. That’s where she bumps up agains federal law. Who knew it was legal to run a poker game as long as you didn’t take a piece of the pot. That’s where she got in trouble with the feds.

But this isn’t only about the poker games. In flashbacks we see she was always a rebellious child, testing her demanding father (Kevin Costner) and growing to hate him for pushing her. Side note, her brother is Jeremy Bloom, former Olympic champion who also had a short NFL with the Eagles and Steelers. Molly is kind of out on an island by herself. She has no “muscle” to collect on outstanding debts. The stress has forced her to start taking drugs. It all is going quite sideways when the Feds finally arrest her.

Chastain is fabulous. It’s a great part for her and she is a natural for Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue. She has to carry the movie and it rests easy on her shoulders. Idris Elba plays her lawyer. Man, he is just a great actor. In everything. Even bad movies, he’s the shining light. The Sorkin banter between him and Chastain feels organic, even if the style can seem a bit stilted. MIchael Cera also has a great small role as an anonymous Hollywood actor who plays in Chastain’s game. He’s got a darkness in this role that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen from him.

The script is fabulous. I am biased. I love everything Sorkin writes. I’m envious, jealous and in awe all at the same time. But his directing… well, let’s just say that is a work in progress. His sometimes word heavy dialogue needs some kind of balance from the director. But you don’t get that here. It’s most annoying in the opening scenes of the movie where Chastain is skiing and explaining everything and well, I didn’t get lost but it was a lot of sensory input. When he doesn’t attempt to imprint a style on the direction is when it works best. The movie is also a little long.. could have lost about 20 minutes. Some may not like the emotional payoff between Molly and her father, but it worked for me. I got choked up. Maybe I”m getting soft.

Sorkin’s writing is a sure thing. The directing right now feels a little like he’s bluffing with a pair of 3’s. But sometimes the guy with the worst cards wins the pot. And in this case, MOLLY’S GAME is a safe bet.

THE POST

by Alan Yudman

It is hard not to like THE POST. Spielberg, Hanks, Streep. Its success and quality are pretty much a guarantee. But the question, “does it work?” has been nagging at me for about three weeks. The answer is not cut and dried.

The publicity sells the movie as the story of the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers and a flag waver for journalism. That’s part of it. The other part is the story of Katharine Graham, the late publisher of the Post. Graham inherited the paper from her father, Eugene Meyer. When he stepped down he appointed Katharine’s husband, Phillip Graham as publisher. But in 1963, Graham committed suicide. That left Katharine in charge. She was a Washington, D.C. socialite and while she ran the paper, the movie portrays her as an unsure figurehead who relied heavily on the board of directors for guidance. At the time of the Pentagon Papers, The Post was preparing to go public for the first time. Any controversy could scare off the banks backing the offering.

In the middle of this corporate drama, the New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers. This was a classified analysis ordered by Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara evaluating the U.S. role in Vietnam. Basically, it detailed deception and lying on the part of Presidents going back to Harry Truman about what was really going on in Southeast Asia. And it was buried. But Daniel Ellsberg in a fit of conscience, and some might say patriotism, leaked the contents.

The Washington Post’s irascible editor Ben Bradlee did not like getting beat by the Times, but when a court order prevented the Times from publishing any more of the Papers, they were leaked to the Post.

That long explanation sets up the dramatic tension in the film. Should Graham publish and risk the public offering which will help the financially strapped paper or should she play it conservatively? It’s no spoiler to say The Post published.

The “how the sausage is made” part of the movie is ok, but kinda falls a bit flat when compared with movies like SPOTLIGHT or ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. Those make the process more dramatic. And because that’s not the total focus of the film it doesn’t get enough time to breathe. The part that totally worked for me was Katharine Graham’s story. Her evolution as a leader and a woman in power sent a sublime message, especially in these times where women’s treatment in the workplace is the focus of so many ugly stories. Graham was friends with Robert McNamara, so the dynamic was not just about the Post, but about her breaking free of her circle of privilege. That, plus the overarching message about the necessity of press freedom in the era of Trump made the movie work.

There are great performances all over. Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep. She hits the right notes without making Graham seem too “pearl clutching” or too badass. Bruce Greenwood is fantastic as McNamara. He’s got him nailed. It was a great, yet important small role. Tom Hanks was very good as Bradlee. But it took me a while to come around to that conclusion. First, I cannot think of Bradlee without thinking of Jason Robards’ Oscar winning performance in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. So, it took me a while to forget I was watching Hanks and get into his performance. But like Streep, he is fabulous in just about everything he does.

In the end, I enjoyed the movie very much. It fell flat on a couple of counts for me so I can’t say it was one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. Steven Spielberg put another project on hold to rush THE POST out this year. He thought it was that vital for people to know the story. Maybe if the movie was allowed to bake for another few months, some of the problems could have been ironed out. But given the current political climate it is immensely important.

PHANTOM THREAD

by Alan Yudman

The fist word that comes to mind after seeing PHANTOM THREAD is “luxurious”. The second is “disturbing”. From BOOGIE NIGHTS to INHERENT VICE, the latter is Paul Thomas Anderson’s specialty. Visually stunning works of art that have a darkness just beneath the surface. His latest is no different.

The film washes over you like one of the couture dresses Reynolds Woodcock creates for the best of British society. Daniel Day-Lewis is the fastidious dress designer. He wants his life just so. He must control every aspect of it.. even his his soon to be former belle who confronts him at breakfast one morning and is gone by the afternoon. That so upsets Reynolds that he heads off to his country home. While eating breakfast (the most important meal of the day and of this movie), a waitress catches his eye. He flirts, they have dinner, he makes her a dress.. a romance is born. That waitress is Alma, played by Vicki Krieps in a dazzling performance. She has to match Day-Lewis scene for scene and holds her own dueling with one of history’s greatest actors. Holding Woodcock’s business and life together is his beloved sister Cyril, whom he calls “my old sew and sew”.. get it? Lesley Manville is also marvelous. She knows when to push and when to just go along with Woodcock’s eccentricities for the good of the business. Other characters flit in and out of the film, but it is built around these three.

It’s not hard to identify PHANTOM THREAD as a love story. How Alma falls in love with Reynolds because he lavishes her with beautiful dresses and a fine life. But she bumps up against his anal-retentiveness and tries to change him. That’s where the movie gets dark. But it is done with such style and good humor that you don’t see it coming.

It could be easy for the style to overwhelm the substance here. But Anderson would never let that happen. He uses the style to enhance the substance. The sweeping camera shots in Woodcock’s house/studio. The way the dresses flow land billow like great waves crashing over the film. The production design and cinematography are married to the score and the sound design. Jonny Greenwood’s score is marvelous and brings that sense of style and luxury to ever scene. The sound design is amazing. Every pull of a thread, every piercing of a piece of cloth, every scrape of knife of toast or chewing of food is enhanced and helps set up the tone and story. The art direction, the cinematography (Anderson is the uncredited man behind the lens), the wardrobe. It is all absolutely perfect. Nothing extraneous. Everything serves the story.

Anderson shot this in 70MM. I can’t imagine this in any other format. The use of film over digital is another perfect choice. The warmth and depth of color and imperfections cannot be matched by digital. And they fit this film perfectly.

Day-Lewis announced his retirement earlier this year, meaning that this is his final film. It is a typically outstanding performance. He has all the quirks and mannerisms of an eccentric designer down perfectly. His look, his choices cannot be matched by any other actor. When they take close ups of his hands, you can see scars from being poked by a needle. That is next level preciseness. That’s what makes a great actor. That attention to detail and he will be sorely missed.

PHANTOM THREAD takes a dark and disturbing turn in the final third of the film. It’s not unpleasant, but fits given how it was all set up. It is Anderson’s special genius to tell those kind of stories so well. He wraps the audience in beauty, but somewhere there is a Phantom Threat waiting to be pulled. That’s what makes his movies great. And that’s what makes this film one of the year’s best.