(On Cable TV, October 2018) Let’s face it—a Paul Thomas Anderson film taking place in the 1950s British haute couture world isn’t exactly the kind of pulse-pounding excitement I prefer from movies. But Phantom Thread does work—by getting us insidiously interested at the quirks of a demanding fashion designer (Daniel Day-Lewis, up to his usual high standards in a familiar role) and then slowly leading us into a spectacularly dysfunctional romance that, we come to understand, is the only kind of love that will be deemed acceptable by such a person. As usual for Anderson’s films, there is a lot more under the surface than the tranquil façade will suggest—when it gets down to business, Phantom Thread has a lot to say about the toxic archetype of the eccentric genius and the toll they take on everyone else in their personal orbit. It may dress it up in fancy clothing, but it remains a character study and a commentary on the kind of OCD superhero (cranky but so competent!) that pop culture obsesses over lately. Amazingly enough, Day-Lewis finds a good sparring partner in relative newcomer Vicky Krieps, with different acting styles and temperaments complementing each other. While the film moves slowly, it does have enough moments of humour and gender-switched Gothic romance to keep things interesting. I can’t say I loved Phantom Thread, but I liked it quite a bit more than I thought I would, and that’s a praise enough for me.
(On Cable TV, August 2013) There are times where I feel guilty of apparently not being able to appreciate the acclaimed genius of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, and then there are times where I’m comfortable not being enthusiastic about his films. The Master clearly falls into the second category, as it meanders all over the place and almost forgets to actually tell a story. Much has been made of the film’s connections to Scientology, but don’t read too much into it: While Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a decent L. Ron Hubbard stand-in, and while much of his cult’s teachings find resonance in Dianetics, Anderson doesn’t try to tell anything close to a true story. The Master instead focuses on a man left adrift after his military service in World War II, and finding some purpose in associating with the burgeoning cult. Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable in the lead role, radiating danger, pain and coiled aggression in nearly every frame. Amy Adams is almost as surprising in a shrewish role far away from her usual good-girl screen personae. And much of The Master’s cinematography is truly remarkable, evoking a deep sense of craft in the way the film is presented. The problem is that none of those interesting things amount to an interesting story. The pacing is deathly slow, the loose ends are numerous and the conclusion can’t be bothered to actually conclude. There’s little here to satisfy fans of sustained narratives, nor clear meaning. I’ll still give a chance to Anderson’s next film.