Monday, January 29, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Daniel Day Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson
GENRE: Drama

There is a mindset that we should indulge the "mad geniuses"--and all of their idiosyncracies--because of the contribution they are making to their art, or whatever their chosen field of endeavor may be. Phantom Thread is two plus hours of such indulgence--a character study of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis), dressmaker and designer for the rich and famous in 1950s London, who reveres his deceased mother in a way that suggests he might have been a mama's boy--and that may provide some insight into his difficult nature. He's obsessed with his work, and therefore annoyed by anything that distracts him from it, and will lash out at you on the slightest provocation. 

Woodcock, a confirmed bachelor, is easily bored with women. Until one day he is smitten by a young girl named Alma (Vicky Krieps), whom he brings into his world as his muse and companion. She's an extremely patient girl--she would have to be--and puts up with his crap because she sees something in him that anyone on the outside--such as the film viewer--would miss. But his petulance wears on her after a time, and she discovers a clever but dangerous way of cutting him down to size--of making him human again and realizing how much he really needs her.  Who wears the pants in the family isn't always apparent upon first glance.

Phantom Thread is all about the characters, and they are richly drawn. Daniel Day Lewis goes out with a bang (he says he's retiring from making movies) with this portrayal of a man at war with his own obsessions. Vicky Krieps, a 34 year-old find from Luxembourg, is perfectly cast in her role as his feisty paramour. She has the face of a Madonna (not that one), and she has the rare ability to convey emotion with economy...the long gaze that gives nothing away initially, but indicates the wheels are turning furiously inside her head. And Lesley Manville, as Woodcock's sister and adviser, Cyril. Behind her prim demeanor, she's tough as nails.  

But not having the same emotional investment in Reynolds Woodcock that Alma did, and still having to put up with all of his boorish behavior, I found Phantom Thread to be as tedious as was the relationship between the two of them...just wishing that he would bite the big one so I could scoot out of there and go get some lunch. 

Grade:  C +


I had the pleasure of seeing this film with, not one, but two shrinks who enjoyed these characters' skewered psyches a lot more than I did. The first half was so slow that I feared I'd fall asleep and disturb the audience with a loud and unladylike snore. (But they were probably nodding off, too!)

If Phantom Thread had started the moment our young lovely discovered (and acted upon) a culinary way to chill out her unpredictably cruel lover, I wouldn't have been so droopy-eyed. Still, I would've found more than a thimble full of flaws. My shrink friends were able to enjoy the way the director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson captured the true essence of OCD and sado-masochism. But even they disagreed over whether certain scenes were fantasy or reality. Me, I don't like murky messages; endings that leave the viewer puzzled. (Or, in my case, pissed off!)

Two things I did like: Jonny Greenwood's score (eclectic and a definite mood-setter); and whoever was in charge of the sound. I especially appreciated it when Woodcock would fly off the handle at breakfast because of the noise, i.e. bread being buttered, coffee being poured. These sounds were heightened so we heard them from his ears. A brilliant touch, really.

Still, I'd much rather watch "Project Runway."

Grade: C -

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Esther Garrel
DIRECTOR: Luca Guadagnino
GENRE: Drama/Romance

Northern Italy.!  I'm on board!

Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is a precocious 17 year-old music prodigy, staying with his parents for the summer at their posh Italian villa. He kinda likes a local girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel), and they end up having some naked fun together. But then a bit older American scholar working on his doctorate arrives to intern with Elio's father, the archaeology professor (Michael Stuhlbarg). At first, Elio is somewhat passively/aggressive hostile toward Oliver (Armie Hammer). But as they spend time together, biking around and playfully feeling each other out (no, what you're thinking of comes later), a mutual attraction develops. It's pretty clear the door to Elio's heart swings both ways. Over the course of the summer, Elio discovers that he has indeed found his first love. 

Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful film on many levels. The cinematography, the achingly poignant music score, but most of all the expressiveness and depth of emotion that young Timothee Chalamet is capable of displaying. (He's earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.) There is "one of those scenes" near the end--a conversation between Elio and his father--that I think is destined to be shown in college acting classes as a way of inspiring students to be all that they can be.  

There is nothing terribly graphic in Call Me By Your Name, other than some female breasts (go figure), though the make-out scenes between Chalamet and Armie Hammer--two purportedly straight actors?-- are extremely convincing, and I could have done with fewer of them. There is one scene with a juicy peach that you will either find cringe-worthy or hilarious, depending on how much you liked the warm apple pie bit from American Pie!  

Grade:  A -


I found it interesting that not one male—gay or straight—was in the audience when I went to see this painfully long, painfully self indulgent film. I realize director Luca Guadagnino is trying to be sensitive about a somewhat touchy (and I don't mean touchy-feely) subject. But the lengths he goes to not offend any possible homophobes—who wouldn't be caught dead seeing this film—seems like overkill. The developing 'friendship' between the 24 year-old student and his mentor's 17-year-old son takes forever. (In reel time, at least an hour and a half in a movie that last for two hours and twelve minutes!)

If I had to say something positive about this languid love story it would be to praise the score which almost feels like an actual character in the movie. Interestingly enough, no scorer is listed in the credits. Just a music consultant, a music coordinator and a music supervisor. Hmmmm...

I wish I had liked Call Me By Your Name more.(That title makes absolutely no sense, by the way.) But to sound perfectly cynical, I think the only reason it got a Best Picture nod from The Academy was to be 'politically correct.' (Who wants the gay community picketing outside the Kodak Theater on March 4th?) Not to take away from the Best Actor nomination Timothée Chalamat received which he richly deserves. Still, it ain't no Brokeback Mountain.

Grade:  C

Thursday, January 18, 2018

LADY BIRD (2017)

Rated:  R

STARS:  Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges
DIRECTOR: Greta Gerwig
GENRE: Comedy/Drama

The gap between who we are and who we aspire to be never looms larger than during the waning days of high school, when we courageously decide to follow our dreams...or not. Lady Bird is a coming-of-age tale that almost aspires to be a musical--sort of a cross between Pretty In Pink and Glee

Lady Bird (the girl--whose real name is Christine), is on the cusp of graduation, and has ambitions beyond her local Sacramento area colleges, where her obsessive and controlling mom (Laurie Metcalf) wants her to go. The girl has set her sights on some prominent east coast schools, and the conflict this sets up between mother and daughter is at the heart of Greta Gerwig's impressive directorial debut. They have a complicated bond. They can be fighting one minute and the next going ga-ga together over a dress Christine is trying on. Lady Bird also has to contend with a snarky brother and his girlfriend, who provide some deadpan comic relief in the midst of tense situations. And then there's the issue of losing her virginity, which she seems determined to accomplish before moving onto "bigger" things. 

 Saoirse Ronan--in the title role--is the female Jesse Eisenberg. Forever young. I loved her in Brooklyn, where she assumed a more mature persona, and that was three years ago. Now, at twenty three, she's a high school kid and is so totally believable you'd think that yes, she is seventeen, if you didn't know better. She's already scored a win at the Golden Globes for this performance, and we can safely assume an Oscar nomination will follow. 

Laurie Metcalf, as the mom, deserves kudos as well. She's so goddamned irredeemable in her relentless criticism of her daughter--she's the character you love to hate. (You may have trouble deciding if you hate her or Christopher Plummer in All The Money In The World more!) But she's human after all, and that sets up the ending, which of course I won't give away.

Jon Brion's soundtrack is also worth mentioning. It's right on the mark in terms of bringing out the desired emotional effect of every scene. 

If you like a good coming-of-age story as I do (prolly cuz I'm still somewhere in the middle of that transformation), then Lady Bird won't disappoint.

 Grade:  B +  


Titles can be misleading. Two different friends asked me if Lady Bird was a biopic about Lady Bird Johnson. Far from it! The rebellious teenager in this flick is nothing like our 36th president's progeny Lynda Bird or Lucy Baines. It's a quirky film and one that reeks of originality. But you'd better be on your toes when you watch it. Those quick cuts and edits can sometime leave the viewer asking "What just happened?"

As a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim, I loved the first musical they put on at the very Catholic high school Lady Bird was attending. God bless Gerwig for letting the cast actually sing a lot of the score from "Merrily We Roll Along." ( It got my Broadway toes a'tapping.) There were moments of hilarity alongside moments of pathos. And every character evoked some kind of reaction. From the Mother Superior whose ability to take a joke was refreshing, to the priest aka drama coach whose past finally caught up with him. (I always assume priests don't have pasts!)

If I were to categorize Lady Bird, I'd call it this year's "sleeper." For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a sleeper becomes successful gradually, often with little promotion. Of course now that it's won two Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy; and Best Perfomance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy), they will be promoting it like crazy!

It was hard for me to take Lady Bird's constant brattiness and her mom's unending negativity but high marks go to both Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf for their painfully real performances.

Grade: B

Monday, January 15, 2018

THE POST (2018)

Rated: PG-13

STARS: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
GENRE: Docudrama

In 1971, the Nixon White House tried to quash the publication of what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers--a classified report on the Vietnam War that was leaked to the press--revealing that the public had been lied to about the war and America's prospects of winning it going back, essentially, to day one. It's no coincidence that in 2018, as history repeats and the free press has once again come under  attack from the oval office, that a blockbuster film, The Post-- drawing parallels between then and now--should come along to strike a blow for truth, justice, and the American way.

Taking up the mantle of Clark Kent back in '71 was Ben Bradlee, executive editor at the Washington Post--played here by Tom Hanks in what surely will be regarded as the role of his career. Co-starring with Hanks is Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham, the widowed inheritor of the Post, whose decision it will ultimately be to put her livelihood and even her freedom on the line if she defies a court order that halted the New York Times, which originally broke the story, from further publication of the report.

 I won't be surprised if  Hanks and Streep  both get Oscar nods. Her name is always there come Golden Globes and Oscar time, but she hasn't collected the hardware in a while, and this may be her best shot to get back in the win column. 

The Post has all the earmarks of a Steven Spielberg film--it's high drama drenched in the authenticity of the era, and it's playing to sold out performances. Not so good for claustrophobics like me, but I managed to keep some space between myself and the guy a couple of seats down who had his feet propped up, shoes kicked off (it's these new comfy adjustable seats the theaters are installing now) and halfway through the movie I heard snoring. I expect to see filmgoers showing up in their pajamas soon. 

The Post, however, should keep most viewers wide awake and glued to their seats--it's riveting stuff that also serves as a much needed reminder, in these precarious times, of why freedom of speech and a free press appear at the very top of the Bill Of Rights. 



While we're on the subject of lean-back movie seats, I want to kvetch about the overwhelming smell of french fries and the loud chewers sitting next to me.... I realize that movie theaters are bending over backwards to woo customers—although the first time I tried to see The Post it was sold out—but how I long for the good old days when movie theaters were for watching movies!

I pretty much agree with everything Tim says about this film. The attention to detail that Spielberg is so famous for was outstanding. It made me miss phones you could dial, typeset, the whir of printing presses, etc. And I especially loved the authentic outfits, i.e. Hank's striped shirts, Streep's conservative dresses.  High marks go to costume designer Ann Roth, a veteran of Broadway, whose movie credits include other Tom Hanks/Meryl Streep films such as The Bonfire of the Vanities and Postcards From The Edge.

Not only will the leads in this film garner nods from The Academy on Sunday, March 4th. I'll go out on a limb here and say Hanks will win his third Best Actor Oscar. I might also predict a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Bob Odenkirk, who plays Ben Bagdikian, Bradley's right-hand man at The Post. Odenkirk ("Better Call Saul") is one of my favorites.

I might have cut a bit more of The Post(especially the bedroom scene with Streep and her daughter), as I felt it dragged in spots. And I definitely felt Sarah Paulson's acting talent was wasted as Ben Bradley's dutiful wife. But the audience clapped at the end and people are packing the theaters in southern California. So it's definitely worth seeing. And if you want to be sure of getting a seat? Order one online!

Grade: B +

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams,  Charlie Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
GENRE: Drama/Action-Thriller

I like a good thriller.  Because I know if the film is a little slow in the beginning with background stuff (which All The Money In The World is), it'll pick up later with the action scenes (which All The Money In The World does). So there's your review. want more?  Cheeky bugger!!!

It's 1973 and John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), grandson of the then richest man in the world, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer--no relation), has been kidnapped off the streets of Rome. A ransom of 17 million dollars is being demanded for the teenager's safe return. Only problem is, the old tight-ass doesn't want to fork over one penny, even though it would be a drop in his bucket!  This naturally doesn't set well with Paul's mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), who will spend the entire film trying to save her child's life, with the help of former CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), who has been directed by the elder Getty to figure out another way to rescue the lad without dipping into his precious coffers. Easy for him to say.

I might have been one of the few in the audience who could generate some empathy for the old guy. Few situations are ever black and white. Getty had stated: "I have fourteen grandchildren, and if I pay a penny of ransom, I'll have fourteen kidnapped grandchildren." He had a point. Not to mention that the family and the Italian police thought Paul might be faking his own kidnapping to get funds out of grandpa that he thought he deserved. J. Paul Getty was one of the foremost art collectors in the world, and I think it was what he said about art: that it never disappoints you like people do (he was married and divorced five times) that provided a hint in the direction of explaining the man as being deeper than what showed on the surface, though the movie never quite takes you there.

Christopher Plummer does a sterling (pardon the pun) job of turning J. Paul Getty into the man you love to hate--a turn made even more notable by the fact that it was done on short notice to replace Kevin mean Spacey.  Plummer and Michelle Williams--who's always right on the money--are what raise this film above your run-of-the-mill action/thriller.  Along with a collection of Italian thugs so authentic looking you can almost smell the garlic.

Grade B


Whether it's Michael Douglas' portrayal of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street ("Greed is good") or Christopher Plummer's turn in All The Money In the World, audiences love to see how the rich get richer. (And ultimately get screwed.) Although this movie lagged in spots, it held my interest 95% of the time. And I couldn't help musing that the recasting of 84-year-old Christopher Plummer as the tightwad tycoon was a stroke of pure genius. Kudos go out to screenwriter David Scarpa who managed to create a well-rounded portrait of this very complicated, power-driven art connoisseur.

Without giving too much away, I want to share what I felt was a wonderful twist: one of the sleazy kidnappers (played brilliantly by Romain Duris) begins to develop a relationship with his prisoner. At first, he's a typical Italian gangster, ready to do whatever it takes to get the boy's grandfather to pay the ransom. Over time, however, we see his attitude change. I know it's been done before in films but Duris' characterization was truly noteworthy. For you trivia buffs and acting hopefuls, I looked him up on IMDb and discovered the following: "Appealing actor Romain Duris is the exact example of those who arrived in the movie industry by chance, and to stardom without really desiring it. Discovered by a casting director while he was waiting in front of a high school in Paris, he was offered a role." (Some people have all the luck!)

If I were to nitpick about Money, it would be about young Getty's other siblings who appeared briefly and then completely disappeared. I would've like to have seen how they handled this horrific situation. Nothing major, mind you. But you don't introduce a family-in-crisis and then simply delete some of its members for expediency.

Beautiful score by Daniel Pemberton...breath-taking cinematography thanks to Dariusz Wolski. It's a movie well worth seeing.

Grade: B-