2018 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Phantom Thread (2018)

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Reynolds Woodcock is a man of particular taste and undeniable talent.  He attracts women with his beautiful dress designs just as sure as he drives them away with the tight control he keeps on his surroundings.  When he meets Alma, there stands the chance that he found the woman able to put up with his dominating life force.  What he doesn't realize is that Alma is just as capable as he, and he is about to find out what life with her leads to.  P.T. Anderson writes the screenplay for and directs Phantom Thread, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville.

Back when P.T. Anderson's films were a high-wire act of tension and pastiche pulled from his favorite artists, he blended a keen sense of humor to his often bleak surroundings.  His films are so saturated in loneliness that his humor kept things from spiraling into despair.  Even as he's moved on to more self-assured productions the humor, sometimes light and often dark, remained.  His last film, Inherent Vice was funny and melancholic in equal measure, and he punctuates the driving darkness of There Will Be Blood with bleak hilarity that - in retrospect - sounds positively Trumpian.

Phantom Thread is nowhere near as elegant and restrained as its advertising might suggest.  Yes, there are several visions of elegance in the dresses Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) creates.  But the elegance shifts away quickly to make room for the throbbing hostilities between Reynolds and whoever occupies his affections at the time.  His childishness also betrays the stiff surroundings, scoffing that he wants, "no more smudgy things" when his soon to be dispatched lover offers him a sweet treat.  It's in this way Anderson plays up the space between the rigid lines of architecture and carefully tailored dresses, he's conditioning us to look for any discrepancy - be it positive or negative - that emerges from the stoic surroundings.


The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

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Humanity is on the brink of global war over dwindling energy supplies.  Ava Hamilton reluctantly joins the crew of the Cloverfield space station hoping to find a conduit to infinite energy through dangerous quantum experiments.  Julius Onah directs The Cloverfield Paradox, with the screenplay written by Oren Uziel, and stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, and Chris O'Dowd.

Be it post-credits sequences setting up later stories, or labyrinthine marketing schemes where lore-heavy diaries are distributed to hardcore fans, it's feeling increasingly like anticipation for the product is the product.  The Cloverfield films aren't patient zero for this phenomenon but producer J.J. Abrams has it clear he will not let an opportunity for marketing go to waste.  The Cloverfield Paradox was kept as tight a secret as possible and went live on Netflix after a trailer aired during last week's Superbowl.  That's a long ways from the time he created several websites to pose many questions about LOST's DHARMA  Initiative that wouldn't be answered, but considering the way internet hounds sniff out the first sentences of upcoming films it was nice to have the product immediately without months of speculation.

Which is a shame for director Julius Onah and screenwriter Oren Uziel.  It's unlikely I would have watched The Cloverfield Paradox without Abrams' marketing, yet its ties to the Cloverfield films are the weakest moments of an otherwise fun film.  Studios are so reluctant to take chances on original properties that any better-than-average science-fiction film has a better chance of being made as part of a franchise than being made at all. Best to cut the losses where I can, appreciate The Cloverfield Paradox for what it is, and celebrate that it exists at all.


The Post (2018)

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The United States government has kept its people in the dark about the long-term disaster of the Vietnam War.  Because of one conscientious citizen, The Washington Post is in a unique position to expose the years of deception if the paper's leaders can work through the road blocks of government officials and financiers alike.  Steven Spielberg directs The Post, with the screenplay written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and stars Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Bob Odenkirk.

One peril of historical dramas is how the storytellers choose to ignore, or incorporate, perspective on the events portrayed.  Our relationship with media - newspapers in particular - has shifted dramatically since the events of The Post took place.  The power of one story no longer (if it ever did) has the effect of making or breaking someone's career.  We need only go back to the 2016 election to see our confirmation bias in action, or look at the current "Me Too" wave of women bringing down men who were able to keep their victims silent for too long.

I am suspicious bordering on hostile toward the rosy, arguably old-fashioned, approach to media Steven Spielberg takes with The Post.  His direction is completely sincere, which is part of the problem.  There's no winking at or hinting toward how the moneyed interests that prove to be stumbling blocks in The Washington Post's plan to publish the Pentagon Papers are the same forces that helped Donald Trump limp over the electoral finish line.  Instead, Spielberg presents the power behind the money as an annoyance, with the true enemy the boorish man in the White House who will go on to win a second term in a historic landslide.