Tag Archives: American Cinema

Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread

“I can’t begin my day with a confrontation.” So says Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a celebrated fashion designer, who lives and works in a quiet London square, and who despises any threat to his lifestyle. His sister Cyril ( Lesley Manvill) helps him to run his business.  One day, Reynolds drives to the coast and arrives at a hotel restaurant. A waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) takes his order, which goes on forever. Alma blushes easily, yet there is no twitch of shyness; she bears herself with confidence, and, when Reynolds invites her to dine with him that night, she accepts the offer.  Thus she enters in to the life of an elite fashion designer. We are back in London. With time, Alma has become his favourite model and muse. At breakfast table, Reynolds sits with his sister. Alma is buttering toast, with firm swipes of the knife but the sound disturbs Reynolds attention. An argument takes place between them.
They bicker constantly and one night when Alma attempts to make him a romantic dinner, Reynolds lashes it out over how the meal is prepared. Alma decides to poison his tea with some wild mushroom she has gathered outside the house. It makes him terminally ill and with Alma’s care, he gets cured. That helps Alma to regain her control in the relationship.  Were they in love? its not sure. There are implications though. However, the woman had agency of her own. The style and manner in which Paul Thomas Anderson uses silence and long takes is ingenious, and it was most likely inspired from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Jonny Greenwood’s music adds another dimension to dramatic moments. The setting has similarity with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.  Unlike Rebecca, here the woman is much stronger. She is well aware of her own position. DDL has always been a good actor but he was never among the best actors as he was made out to be (Something similar to Naseeruddin Shah in Hindi cinema). But with Paul Thomas Anderson, he gave his best performances. Here he repeats the same thing. But Vicky Krieps stole the show. She was successful in portraying all the vulnerable sides of her character.

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Alice doesn’t live here anymore

Alice doesn't live here anymore

It starts with a scene where kid Alice is shown playing with her doll while her mother shouts at her to come back in home. Moving to the next scene,it shows a middle-aged woman named Alice (Ellen Burstyn) shouting at her son to lower the volume of music while her husband keeps shouting at his wife and son both. During this scene, it also shows Alice having fun with her son in a mischievous manner.  During the first 10 minutes, it was clear that Alice lives in a loveless marriage. Her husband is a weird person who neither cares for his wife, nor for his son. But Alice loves her son but the kid naturally doesn’t realise her position in the marriage. When her husband Donald dies unexpectedly, Alice decides to pack up and head out from New Mexico with her son Tommy and restart her singing career .
Alice and her son share an interesting relationship throughout. The kid is naughty and Alice is not uncomfortable while hurling abuses at him. Yet both of them love each other deeply. Along the way, she meets some genuinely good people who help her.  She also meets one psychopath called Ben (played amazingly by Harvey Keitel) . Later, she takes job of a waitress in a restaurant where she runs into a divorced young farmer (played by Kris  Kristofferson).  The death of her husband enables Alice toward some kind of self-awareness and self-sufficiency. The spectacular thing was the way Scorsese created the character called Alice.  I don’t know if  Scorsese was conscious of  it or not but he created a character who is flawed yet she searches for her own identity.  She is like any other regular woman who wants to settle with her partner.  She goes through a lot of struggle in her own life just like many women do in their own way.   Alice is not fiercely independent . She doesn’t understand deep politics of feminism yet her struggle can be linked with feminism.  So here Scorsese consciously or unconsciously creates a character who doesn’t wear the “badge” of feminism on her sleeve. Yet this is a feminist film and that is where lies the beauty and uniqueness of this film.  Ellen  Burstyn has been a spectacular actress . She was fully believable while showcasing vulnerability of her character.  Kris Kristofferson was dependable.

Far From Heaven

 

 

far from heaven

 

Like Sirk before him, Todd Haynes is fascinated with the thin lines that separate the world from a perceived version of reality and the paths of resistance that lie therein. Cathy (Julianne Moore) is a mother of two, married to a rich businessman Frank (Dennis Quaid) who works for a powerful television sales company.  The couple embody everything that is seemingly “perfect” about upper middle-class suburbia. A reporter does a story on Cathy for the local paper and claims that Cathy is “kind to the Negroes”. One day Cathy finds Frank doing sex with another man. She becomes so isolated that her most comforting moments are conversations with their gardener Raymond.  But Raymond is black and that was 1957. Everything about Far from Heaven playfully yet reverently implies to the 1950s as a movie genre.  Mark Friedberg’s production design is outstanding, surpassing his previous works. Sandy Powell’s costumes are superb, especially for Moore herself who is allowed noticeably fuller skirts to wear. As Cathy, Julianne Moore gives a performance that can be called nothing less than outstanding. She is utterly heartbreaking as a good-natured woman, totally bewildered by the curves life is throwing at her while trying to maintain a façade of normalcy. As Frank, Dennis Quaid gives a controlled and restrained performance. Todd Haynes’s film is not socially progressive film. It doesn’t take any specific stand on homosexuality. It is a tribute to 1950s melodramatic films and it is made exactly the way it should have been made during that period.
   

 

 

 

Carrie (1976)

Carrie 4
Telekinesis means the ability to move objects at a distance by mental power, or by other non-physical means. When high school girl Carrie white (Sissy Spacek)  experiences her first period in the gym at school, the other girls make fun of the young woman’s fear and ridicule her.  She lives in a gloomy ruinous house where she is dominated by her mother (Piper Laurie), a sexually repressed religious fanatic.  She has the power to move objects.  Her mother has left Carrie unprepared for a harsh world constantly being pelted with religious fanatical teachings. When Sue (Amy Irving) convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross to take Carrie to the prom to make up for her part in the showers, disgraced popular girl Chris (Nancy Allen) and her abusive boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) take it upon themselves to teach Carrie a lesson. Sissy Spacek’s  performance is easily a standout in the cast rivaled only by Piper Laurie, but the entire cast seems eerily aware that they are in a horror film masquerading as a dark fairy tale – and it works. In this film, De Palma discovered that his destructive sense of humor could be synthesized with his graceful visual sensibilities in a manner that would highlight both. She is not allowed to go outside of the house other than to go to school, she is not allowed to date boys, and she certainly is not allowed to question anything that has to do with her coming maturation into womanhood. As is the case in most De Palma films, the technical credits are superb. The cinematography (by Mario Tosi) is extremely effective; colors and shadows have been shot effectively here. Carrie was also very creepy. The scenes with her mother was really scary.

The man who knew too much (1956)

The man who knew too much 1956

The original “The Man Who Knew Too Much” brought Alfred Hitchcock acclaim for the first time outside of the United Kingdom.  Of course part of the reason for the acclaim was that people marveled how Hitchcock on such a medium budget as compared to lavish Hollywood products was able to provide so much on the screen.  The original film was shot inside a studio. Hitchcock now with an international reputation and a big Hollywood studio behind him (Paramount) decided to see what The Man Who Knew Too Much would be like with a lavish budget. This is shot on location in Marrakesh and London and has two big international names for box office. This was James Stewart’s third of four Hitchcock films and his only teaming with Doris Day. Day and Stewart are on vacation with their son Christopher Olsen in Morocco and they make the acquaintance of Frenchman Daniel Gelin and the aforementioned English couple, Bernard Miles and Brenda DaBanzie. Gelin is stabbed in the back at a market place and just before dying he whispers some words to Stewart about an assassination to take place in Albert Hall in London.
The original film had Peter Lorre playing the villain. This film doesn’t benefit from his presence, unfortunately, but that is made up for by performances from the amazing James Stewart, and Doris Day.  Stewart conveys all the courage, conviction and heartbreak of a man that has lost his child and would do anything to get him back brilliantly. Doris Day was as good as Jimmy Stewart.  I’m enthralled by the enthusiasm and the energy that she puts behind her performance. Hitch mounted an elaborate remake which lacks the original’s crisp pace, but makes up for it with star value, sumptuous colour and sustained suspense.

Hell or High Water

Hell or High water 1

The 2016 feature by David Mackenzie tells the story of 2 brothers who will stop at nothing to save the land of their deceased mother, the last link to their childhood, and the riches that the oil under her land will promise. Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is a Texas lawman weeks before a forced retirement, training Alberto (Gil Birmingham) to be able to take his place. Just when it seems like it will be a quiet couple of weeks before his retirement, a rash of bank robberies occur and Marcus and Alberto take the responsibility to solve the case.  After their mother passed away, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) were faced with the realization that the land on which she lived was being seized by the bank. Toby has a former wife and a child to think about while Tanner is constantly on the run, in and out of jail. All of the performers in this film, right down to the bit players, are quite good, but Bridges shows yet again that he is one of the finest actors in America.
Bridges takes over the film every time he’s on screen. He doesn’t want to give up his job because, we feel, he wants to hold on to a West that no longer exists. . Pine, who usually chooses action hero type roles, makes us question whether he might not be a better character actor. He’s excellent here in part because the weight of the movie isn’t resting on his back.  Ben Foster does a pretty mean impression of a man who looks like he’s spent a week living in a gutter.  One character, a half-Comanche, puts it in perspective when he matter-of-fact observes that, 150 years ago, all this land belonged to his people. Hell or High Water is more of a drama than a thriller, although there are “thriller-type” elements in place. Mackenzie  prefers extended takes and tracking shots which lift the film to great cinematic heights. Mackenzie takes great pains to provide a compelling, credible motive for Toby and Tanner and to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the men pursuing them. In the superbly tense Hell or High Water, New Mexico stands in for Texas and the heist film stands in for a bleak present-day western.

Body Double

Body Double

“Body Double” is an exhilarating exercise in pure filmmaking, a thriller in the                  Hitchcock tradition in which there’s no particular point except that the hero is flawed and we identify with him completely.  The film gives more emphasis on visual storytelling rather than dialogue. Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is a struggling actor who has lost his role as a vampire in a low-budget horror film.  At a method acting class he meets Sam (Gregg Henry) who offers Scully a place to stay.  Sam points out all the sights including a shapely neighbor (Deborah Shelton) who does a nightly striptease dance in front of her open window.  For two nights, he uses a telescope to watch the striptease.  He also begins to suspect that the woman may be in danger. Since the plot is so important in “Body Double,” i won’t reveal very much more of the story. It is a genuinely terrifying thriller. De Palma is at home in this genre. We see some fairly mild porno scenes in this film.  The film opens with a satire on vampire movies, includes a Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse sequence, and even borrows some of the clichés of 1940s film-noirs.   Technically, it’s a marvel of film technique.  Wasson’s claustrophobic attacks are effectively conveyed to the viewer. The infamous drill murder is a terrific setpiece.  Criag Wasson is good as the confused and creepy Scully and Deborah Shelton has a remoteness which fits in well with the dreaminess of some of her scenes.