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Non-Review Review: Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread is certainly a beautiful film.

In many ways it resembles the dresses designed by the artist at its centre. It is elegant, well-composed, stylish. It looks perfect and has just the right texture. Phantom Thread is a meticulously-produced piece of work, with every technical aspect of the film delivered to the highest possible standard. More than that, Phantom Thread is a very clever and incisive film, one that arguably feels much more suited to this particular cultural moment than Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Tailored to the role.

However, Phantom Thread feels like one of Reynolds Woodcock’s dresses in another manner. As fantastic as it might look, it is not designed for living. There is one memorable sequence in the middle of the film where Woodcock actually confiscates the dress from a patron because it is not being treated with the pomp and ceremony that he expects. These are dresses for display, designed to leave observers breathless. It never ignites the same passion as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, never feeling as anchored in appreciable human emotion.

Phantom Thread often feels too much like strolling through Woodcock’s parlour, the audience invited to examine the sheer craft and cleverness of what is being done, but warned in the starkest possible terms not to touch anything. There is beauty, but no feeling.

Make it sew.

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Non-Review Review: Inherent Vice

In many ways, Inherent Vice resembles its central character – former-hippie-turned-private-investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello.

Inherent Vice is prone to ramble and meander, stumbling across its central conspiracies as much by fate as by actual investigation. The logic is fuzzy, but the genius is clear. Navigating a complex web of seventies paranoia, it often seems as if Inherent Vice is playing a game of free association between its themes, stumbling upon some higher meta-physical plane where all the evils of the world (or, at least, Los Angeles) are connected by threads almost imperceptible.

Bad trip...

Bad trip…

Both Inherent Vice and Doc are hooked on their own particular drugs. Over the course of Inherent Vice, Doc makes it quite clear that heroine is just about the only dope he won’t take into his body. Inherent Vice itself is drawn the delightfully trippy far-out prose of Thomas Pynchon, with Paul Thomas Anderson’s script pausing intermittently to dump large quantities of existential musing on to the market. If Pynchon’s prose didn’t flow eloquently from actresses like Katherine Waterston and Jeannie Berlin, the audience might complain.

Running almost two-and-a-half hours, Inherent Vice is more than a little indulgent. Luckily, it is more than a little brilliant as well.

Lawyer up...

Lawyer up…

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My 12 for ’12: The Master & The American Century

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #6

It’s very weird being a popular culture nerd who lives outside the United States. A significant portion of pop culture is exported directly from the United States. I grew up on Star Trek and Batman, two iconic American franchises. I probably know more about American history – filtered through feature films, television shows and other popular forms of entertainment – than school taught me about the origins of my own nation. Even then, it still feels a little strange to watch American film makers commentating on American situations, and to not only recognise but almost understand how those references work within the American subconscious.

The Master is a fascinating exploration of post war America, the period where America well and truly emerged as the defining global power, where the country embraced economic prosperity and manifest destiny no longer referred to expansion out west, but a bold adventure into a promising future. In an article published shortly before America entered the Second World War, Henry R. Luce argued that the twentieth century was “the American century.” If it seemed that way before the conflict, it was all but certain afterwards. Of course, economic prosperity does not always bring with it a sense of peace and tranquillity, and The Master explores the sense of existential ennui that took root in a way that is, if you’ll pardon the pun, masterful.

themaster2

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International On-Line Film Critics’ Poll Nominees Announced…

The nominees for the 2012 International On-Line Film Critics’ Poll 2012 have been announced. Open to all films released in the United States between November 2011 and November 2012, it allows for a slightly different playing field than the Oscars typically does. It also means that I am (as a non-American) far more likely to have seen all the nominees, with only Lincoln yet to see among the Best Picture nominees. Anyway, I will be sending in my ballot soon enough, but take a gander at the full list of nominees below. It’s a strong list, to be sure.

iolfcp1

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Non-Review Review: The Master

The Master is a boldly ambitious picture, if one that’s occasionally difficult to parse. Is it a character study of the two leads, the broken Freddie and dysfunctional Lancaster Dodd? Is it a commentary on the sudden material success and spiritual emptiness of fifties America, in the wake of the Second World War? Is it a study of the phenomenon and psychology of “cult”, with one particular cult in mind? The Master is all these, and probably a great deal more, and its only real flaw is that it never manages to truly fashion these multiple compelling facets into one fully realised whole. Still, that’s a comparatively minor complaint, when dealing with a movie produced with this level of technical craft.

All at sea…

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