Solo is Star Wars fanfic done right

Early in Solo: A Star Wars Story, our intrepid scoundrel finds himself signing up with the Imperial Forces. Asked for his name, he responds “Han,” but when asked for his second name, he responds that he has none. He has no people. The recruiter looks back at him and says, “No people, eh!?! Guess we’ll just call you Han SOLO then!” (paraphrased), and in one short moment, every fear I had about a Han Solo prequel movie came true. This point is by far the nadir, but basically every important detail of the Han we know, from his last name to meeting Chewie and Lando to getting his conspicuous blaster, is implied to occur within the span of a single adventure. It’s completely unnecessary detail, and its really easy to dismiss Solo as completely unnecessary. But even if its a trifle, damned if it isn’t a good time, effectively using the Star Wars universe as a grimy toybox to make what amounts a fleet piece of fanfic.

Did we need a dramatic fight situation for Han and Chewie to meet? No, and it really just raises questions about why Han spoke Wookie before meeting Chewie, but Chewie quickly becomes the MVP of Solo, so I’ll accept it. Did we need to see the Kessel run in all its glory? No, but it sure is a lot of fun, especially when it ropes in a droid labour revolt. Did we need Han to run into an early form of the Rebel Alliance? No, but its done with the straightest take on the concept of “space western” that Star Wars has ever indulged, and it is marvellous (there’s also a solid train heist, just to really sell it). Did we need to go deeper into the crime syndicates of the outer rim? Actually, yeah, this part of Solo is genuinely interesting and I hope to see it followed up on in the also-probably-unnecessary Fett (in which I seriously hope Han and a certain late-movie character have small-but-significant supporting roles).

Like Rogue One and unlike The Force Awakens and The Last JediSolo does not feel like an event of any sort. It doesn’t evoke a sense of wonder, or have particular artistic merit. But unlike Rogue OneSolo feels coherent, maybe lacking in theme but not lacking in sense. It’s an umambitious popcorn movie, but also not a dumb or condescending one (outside of that one goddamned “Han SOLO, right?!?” moment). It cools down on the fanservice, sticking to references that make sense in Han’s orbit (Jabba gets alluded to, but R2 is nowhere to be found). It’s a minor pleasure, but its pretty damn pleasing.

B

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, and Woody Harrelson
Rotten Tomatoes (71%)

Obligatory updated ranking:

  1. Empire
  2. Star Wars
  3. Jedi, The Last
  4. Jedi, The Return of the
  5. Force Awakens
  6. Solo
  7. Rogue One
  8. Attack of the Clones
  9. Revenge of the Sith
  10. Phantom Menace
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More like Infinity Snore, right folks?

Infinity War is a protracted third act which quickly and cheaply cashes in the often excellent groundwork of the previous installments. 

(SPOILERS)

Avengers: Infinity War lives and dies by its ending. Talking about Infinity War without discussing details about how it all shakes out is tantamount to just spouting niceties about the very nice beards everyone in the movie has, and not just because the ending is legitimately worth talking about (take that as a big giant SPOILER WARNING). Infinity War is constructed in such a way that the ending is the ONLY thing worth talking about, with the previous two hours simply barreling towards the end without really doing anything in themselves. Sure, you can say that about any story to an extent, but Infinity War is a protracted third act which quickly and cheaply cashes in the often excellent groundwork of the previous installments.

Take the trials of Thor in Ragnarok, which I didn’t love but did have an honest-to-goodness arc with meaningful consequences. Infinity War undoes all of it within the first ten minutes. Thor goes on to be one of the better-served characters in Infinity War, thanks to an inspired pairing with Rocket Raccoon, at least before being shipped off to hang out with a kinda-terrible Peter Dinklage in search of a tertiary MacGuffin.

Perhaps most infuriatingly, take the conclusion of Gamora’s storyline. Infinity War is decentralized enough that the character who can best claim to be the “main” character is probably Thanos. To the credit of the movie, Thanos is actually a really good villain (creeping at the edges of the Top Five for the MCU), with clear motivations and a bit of humanity to him. Sure, he’s an abusive genocidal maniac, but he’s coming at it from a place of concern and pain, without quite as much ego as might be expected from his giant gold armor, and with an endearing affinity for bubbles. But when Gamora’s big moments in Infinity War happen with her as a supporting character in Thanos’ story rather than the other way around, it cheapens her development in her own films. Not to mention that the deadly rules for obtaining the Soul Gem transparently play out as if they were originally labelled “INSERT DRAMA HERE” on the script outline.

But for all these faults, Infinity War often succeeds at spectacle. Aside from the mentioned Thor/Rocket dynamic, Doctor Strange is an infinitely more interesting character bounced against Tony Stark than he was in his own movie. Thanos’ henchmen are a memorable crew, particularly the slinky Ebony Maw. After wearing a bit thin in Guardians 2, Drax once again runs away with the whole damn movie every time he shows up here. And, for a brief fleeting moment, I was overjoyed at the thought of never seeing Bucky ever again.

So here’s where we get to the ending. It’s an incredibly bold move on paper, immensely changing the status quo, but immediately cheapens itself by going too far. The Avengers are in need of thinning, as Thanos and much of the audience would agree on, but trying to convince an audience that you’ll completely kill at least three highly profitable franchises is a stretch. It’s an ending that exists only to be undone, and while a final moment between Parker and Stark is touching in the moment, its emotional enormity is overshadowed by the logistical probability of it actually sticking. Infinity War and next year’s Avengers 4 were originally billed as Part 1 and Part 2, and the ending here makes it clear that Infinity War never had a single intention on standing alone. While, as a crossover spectacle, that’s fine, it also leaves Infinity War without anything to be about itself. It’s a 150-minute third act that’s missing any semblance of a conclusion.

C

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, and Josh Brolin
Rotten Tomatoes (84%)

Infinity War MVP Rankings

  1. Thor
  2. Drax
  3. Ebony Maw
  4. Thanos
  5. Gamora
  6. Spiderman
  7. Rocket
  8. Hulk
  9. Scarlet Witch
  10. Proxima Midnight

Tower, The Florida Project, Good Time, and Annihilation are all must-sees

Also, quick thoughts on Gringo and I Tonya, which aren’t

Time to play catch up with some movies I didn’t have a chance to write in full about, thanks to, you know, life and stuff. But there were a few VERY good ones that I’d be remiss about not discussing at least a little bit

Annihilation (2018) / A-

Available only on Netflix is Europe, yet I wish I had a chance to see it again in cinemas, because Annihilation is an audio-visual wonder that my setup didn’t do justice to. It has one of the scariest original setpieces in recent memory and builds to an abstract marvel whose comparisons to 2001 are far from unearned. I kinda wish we got to spend more time with the supporting cast, who never get their full due, but I appreciate the fleetness of it; its contemplative, but rarely languid.

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Tower (2016) / A

“We just fell in love and decided to take anthropology together.” Tower takes a big risk, veering dangerously close to exploitative in animating over real news footage to create a dramatic recreation of the 1966 University of Texas shooting, with talking head interviews with animated subjects whose survival of the events is unknown. But Tower walks that line with such grace, keeping its focus on those affected by the tragedy and refusing to even show the face of the shooter. It’s a deeply affecting, strikingly beautiful, and haunting piece of docu-art. [Available on Netflix and you should watch it.]

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I, Tonya (2017) / C+

I, Tonya has two main desires: redeem Tonya Harding as a person worthy of sympathy and to whom the world gave an unfair shake, and to make an entertaining idiot-criminal movie in the vein of Elmore Leonard. It mostly succeeds at the first, but its failure at the second brings the whole thing down a bit. It may be a case of truth being stranger than fiction, but Harding’s operative-wannabe bodyguard was just too much to take a certain point. While Harding’s voiceover narration is welcome, the multiple talking-heads perspective is a bit pat, particularly in giving anything regarding a sympathetic voice to Harding’s abusive ex-husband. But its portrait of Harding and Margot Robbie’s performance really are quite good, and the first half focusing on Harding and her mother is really engaging.

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Good Time (2017) / A-

Robert Pattinson will win an Oscar one day, and his performance as bleach-blonde slimeball Connie Nikas in Good Time will be at the top of the list of “Reasons Why This Shouldn’t Be a Surprise”. The plot is essentially a string of half-brained schemes whose sole goal is correct the failure of the previous one, but the way Connie obscenely and plainly abuses his charm to keep his head above water is both stomach-churning and fascinating. A scathing and uncomfortable critique of capitalism and white privilege is just under the surface of it, but even as a pure surface experience, Good Time is full of striking imagery, piano-string tension, and a fantastic Oneohtrix Point Never score. If there’s a criticism, its that it knows how clever it is and doesn’t hide it, but when the experience is this visceral, who cares.

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Gringo (2018) / C-

There’s a really fun crime romp for a Saturday afternoon hidden somewhere in Gringo, but damn could it use some editing to get there. It feels like the ever-growing ensemble chaos is building to a huge climax, but instead, the energy fizzles and half the characters just kinda wander off to do their own unrelated thing, like Charlize Theron’s alpha boss getting tanked with Alan Ruck. The odd monologues about The Beatles or the monkey business illusion feel like a ripoff of 1990s Tarantino ripoffs. But its concept is pretty fun when it commits to it, and the cast is game. It really leaves a bad taste with a fat-shaming gag at the end though.

The Florida Project (2017) / A

If I had made my list for 2017 a bit later, The Florida Project would maybe have taken the top spot. Incredibly warm, incredibly funny, just incredible. It’s not not a message movie, but in viewing everything through the eyes of children, it finds a sincere, honest, and pure sense of joy anchored in inevitable pain. Moonee and Jancey forever.

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Ready Player One offers references, not fun

I wouldn’t expect to dislike a big summer movie for its failure to properly consider the democratization of shared online spaces, but welcome to 2018.

I wouldn’t expect to dislike a big summer movie for its failure to properly consider the democratization of shared online spaces, but welcome to 2018.

When Ready Player One, based on an Ernest Cline novel which apparently everyone but me heard of back in 2011, was announced, the conversation surrounding it seemed to revolve in how it would deal with the toxic culture surrounding gamer fandom after GamerGate. On the surface, Ready Player One has painted an inclusive picture of the community, with enough rah-rah community spirit to feel less like a celebration of geeky lonerism. But its a bit of a smoke screen, as it still relies on its audience getting the references with exactly as much subtlety as an episode of Family Guy. Yes, I get the reference of the Holy Hand Grenade, but its not used in any inventive fashion, and its weirdly distancing for those who, understandably, don’t get the often forty-year old references.*

If the Holy Hand Grenade seems like an easy one, how about a piece of tech which is a complete deus ex machina unless you know the name of the director of Back to the Future? For the most part, Ready Player One doesn’t do anything artful with the references, scattering them as background flavour without really engaging with the material. An extended second-act The Shining riff is the sole exception, which filters the CGI action through a film filter and has actual fun with the setting, as an orc-creature avatar unfamiliar with the source material innocuously calls for the elevator. The ending may give us the Mecha-Godzilla vs. The Iron Giant/Gundam tag-team fight we never asked for, but The Lego Movie and Lego Batman did the whole licensed-materials toybox with a lot more creativity earlier.

But if it barely dodges gatekeeperism on its pop-cultural reverence, it falls face-first into a pile of manure on its reverence for silicon valley tech bros. The movie neatly slots cartoonish corporate green into the villainous role for reasons of ease. Of course no one wants an internet with financial interests at the helm, leaving extra room for ad space and ticking away at your bank account through microtransactions. But the movie posits that the only way to fight bad corporate overlords is to impose benevolent nerdy overlords. Not only is this kinda terrifying, particularly within a month of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, but its internally inconsistent. The virtual reality world of The Oasis is portrayed as a wonderful escape, but also one whose penalty for in-world death can be a driver of real-life suicide, and one that has allowed the very corporate baddies that do occupy villainous roles to flourish. Mark Rylance gives a tender performance as the creator of The Oasis, but while his imperfection are admitted, he’s never held to the fire as a responsible party. Society is quickly waking up to the fact that just because you claim to be pro-freedom and pro-democracy doesn’t mean you get a free pass when insidious elements take easy advantage of the structures you provide while you let them line your pockets, and in failing to grapple with this at all, Ready Player One ensures that, in forty years, no one will be making nostalgic references to it.

D+

Ready Player One (2018)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendehlsohn, and Mark Rylance
Rotten Tomatoes (75%)

* That being said, if Ready Player One gets one person to watch The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, it will have been worth it.

My Top 10 Movies of 2017

From travels across the stars and home renovations of biblical proportion, to a different kind of hormonal craving for flesh.

Another year, another list that I’ll probably regret immediately, partially because I still haven’t seen so so many of the movies I want to see from last year, and partially because I’m sure that I’ll see some of these a second time and demand a recount. I did manage to catch a fair chunk of my hit list though, and some distinct patterns emerged, with a full five sci-fi movies making the list (including three that could be characterized as space westerns), three horror movies, and two maybe-autobiographical dramas about asshole artists. And while I’m sure there are tens (tens!) of gems I haven’t seen, there was plenty of magic I did manage to catch.

10. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Rotten Tomatoes 49%, IMDb 6.5)

Apparently I made one very good choice in how I watched Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: I didn’t bother seeing it in English, instead settling for a German-dubbed showing where I understood maybe 10% of the dialogue. Based on the mainstream reception to the movie, I think the remainder was pretty unnecessary. Valerian‘s visual inventiveness and childlike sense of fantasy joy require no translation, setting its space-agents off from one wacky scenario to another and casting Ethan Hawke as someone named Jolly the Pimp. It was a huge flop, of course, but if someone is still willing to give Luc Besson a hundred million dollars to mess around in space again, I’m there.

Recommended pairing: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Rotten Tomatoes 93%, IMDb 7.7)

We’ve reached superhero saturation. When 2008 gave us two high-quality comic book movies in Iron Man and The Dark Knight, it felt like lightening striking twice. Now, well, that seems to be the definition of summer movie season. And it’d be so much easier to hate if most of the movies, particularly the Marvel ones, weren’t so damn good. Sure, they’re all products, but Spiderman Homecoming and Wonder Woman were both fantastically polished entertainment, and while they missed the mark a little for me, Logan and Thor Ragnarok managed to play with the formula in some very clever ways. The only one this year to really provide on both fronts was also one of the first. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is no doubt indebted to its predecessor, but if the first was a much-needed change-up to the Marvel formula, the second shows how that same formula can be used to give low-budget charm a big-budget sheen. Director James Gunn relishes in some gross-out tendencies and over-the-top violence that would fit in more at a midnight showing. We’re still a far cry here from Batman Returns-levels of auteurism, but dammit, its a hell of a start.

Recommended pairing: Sure, Batman Returns.

8. Gerald’s Game (Rotten Tomatoes 91%, IMDb 6.7)

Man, do I wish the last five minutes of Gerald’s Game didn’t exist. The epilogue to this tense, single-location Stephen King thriller nearly turned me against the movie. But the ninety minutes beforehand can’t be overlooked, providing the single nastiest scene in any movie I saw this year and delicate moments of quiet, visual terror that stuck with me after I turned out the lights. Netflix has been trying its hand at bringing in big names and big budgets, but the best film it produced by far last year was this well-crafted, small-scale nailbiter.

Recommended pairing: The Ring.

7. Raw (Rotten Tomatoes 90%, IMDb 7.0)

Like Valerian above, I wasn’t able to watch Raw in English, settling for French audio and German subtitles, hence the lack of a writeup. But Raw told its graphic coming of age story with such visual flair that it enraptured me all the same. At its base, Raw is an effectively nervy cannibalism story, but it sells it through specific links to sexual awakening, the college experience, and familial role models. And it uses its colour palette and soundscape wonderfully, the former perhaps no more starkly than a moment where a blue-and-yellow painted face has a sudden vicious splash of red added.

Recommended pairing: It Follows.

6. Blade Runner 2049 (Rotten Tomatoes 87%, IMDb 8.2)

Can I just say “It was really pretty” and be done with it? It’s obvious from the trailer that Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning, adding to the original’s unmistakable sci-fi noir aesthetic with sweeping vistas and a dusty, forgotten Las Vegas, complete with a half-functioning Elvis hologram. But many mistook the original for a solely technical achievement when it came out, only later (after many edited releases) being recognized as a significant work of storytelling as well. At almost three-hours long, Blade Runner 2049 packs in enough sci-fi gristle to chew on that a second viewing is probably necessary for me to form a solid opinion on whether it reaches the same heights. But damn if I’m not looking forward to sinking myself back into it to find out.

Recommended pairing: Her.

5. The Shape of Water (Rotten Tomatoes 92%, IMDb 7.7)

If Pan’s Labyrinth was Guillermo del Toro’s perfect dark fairy tale, The Shape of Water is his adult fairy tale, fully awake with life’s complications but surprisingly and unabashedly fantastical. It delivers visually from frame one and carries itself with a grace that doesn’t immediately scream “fish-man romance”. It’s pulpier elements are carried out with flair (the fact that its an often-violent cold-war noir half the time is a little underadvertised), but it manages to provide real heart to its silent central duo, giving us the Creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon dance sequence we never knew we needed along the way.

Recommended pairing: A full playthrough of Bioshock.

4. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Rotten Tomatoes 90%, IMDb 7.5)

The Last Jedi is the only movie on this list I had the opportunity to see twice, and it turned out to be a very important second viewing. At first, I took The Last Jedi to be narratively innovative but lacking in big moments or a sense of adventure. But the second time, it struck me that I was looking for big moments in all the wrong places, because we get tons of them, from the way the film uses silence to a beautiful, haunting effect, to the incredibly striking paths of red sand under layer of salt leading to a line of AT-ATs that have never looked more imposing, or the sheer audacity and thoughtfulness of its arc for Luke Skywalker. The chemistry of the leads that carried The Force Awakens is what I expected to keep carrying this trilogy, and The Last Jedi shows that this generation has so much more to offer.

Recommended pairing: The Road Warrior.

3. Phantom Thread (Rotten Tomatoes 91%, IMDb 7.9)

Phantom Thread, being a film about silk and lace, has a quiet and delicate look from the outside. But it quickly proves to be much more, succeeding as a chamber drama about social power struggles but also as damn funny entertainment that you want to crawl into and live inside for a while. Also, its as much about breakfast as it is about fashion, which is a surefire way into my heart.

Recommended pairing: mother!

2. Get Out (Rotten Tomatoes 99%, IMDb 7.7)

Get Out is the perfect horror movie for an alternate-universe 2017 where the new cycle isn’t swamped by barely-disguised white supremacy, where it was pretty easy to live in the suburbs and assume that we were basically in a post-racial society. Get Out‘s commentary is still slick and highly relevant, but perhaps less subversive than it would have been in that other timeline. Regardless, the commentary is what everyone who saw Get Out was well primed for. What I was less prepared for was how masterfully Get Out is crafted, legitimately scary and consistently tense. Jordan Peele got his training in parody, but Get Out is incisive and original.

Recommended pairing: The Invitation.

1. mother! (Rotten Tomatoes 69%, IMDb 6.7)

mother!‘s divisiveness must have been expected in the editing room. If you don’t find its wavelength immediately, it’s either a confused mess or an over-obvious sledgehammer. For whatever reason, mother! grabbed me early and didn’t let go, providing by far the most visceral response I had to a film this year. Part of the fun was teasing out each and every analogy it lays out (very, very bluntly), but this distracted me just enough that when its final act came crashing down, I was unexpectedly carried away by the sheer mayhem of it all. It’s an incredibly forceful tour de force from Aronofsky, and love-it-or-hate-it, its the least compromising wide release in many years.

Recommended pairing: Phantom Thread.

Honourable mentions to the synchronized mayhem of Baby Driver, the slow-motion disaster of The Beguiled, the cocaine-fueled fun of American Made, the sheer oddity of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the underrated crowd-pleaser Battle of the Sexes, the Southern gothic Mudbound, and whatever was going on in Colossal.

I still really need to catch up on lots, but at the top of my list are Good TimeThe Big SickThe Villainess, Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Projectand A Ghost Story. If there are any you want to champion, yell at me in the comments!

Oh, and all reviews, 2017 or otherwise, can be found here.

Black Panther gets slightly undone by the Marvel house style

The villains get the better end of the charisma stick, leaving a bit of a hole at the center.

In Spiderman Homecoming, the far-and-away best scene of the film was staged as a conversation with the villain peering over his shoulder and the hero in the back seat. I remember really liking the Vulture costume design and the high-school setting being a fair bit of fun, but the movie’s lasting legacy in my mind is that nervy little conversation, which feels very much of a piece with director Jon Watts’ previous film, Cop CarGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. II was better as a whole, but its strongest moments still clearly harken to the semi-gross-out subversion of James Gunn’s previous films, such as SlitherThor: Ragnarok was at its best when Taika Waititi was allowed to throw in things like an overly polite Kiwi rock monster straight out of What We Do in the ShadowsIron Man 3 shined when Shane Black got to do his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang thing and let Robert Downey Jr. be a grinch around Christmas, and the most memorable moment from The Avengers was a very Joss Whedon-esque gag about shawarma.

Each director brought a very specific talent to the Marvel films, but notably, few of them had a background in big-budget action movies, skewing towards indie comedy, horror, and suspense. Ryan Coogler, director of Black Panther, has two dramas under his belt, the humanistic Fruitvale Station and the triumphant Creed. Perhaps its no surprise then that some of its most memorable moments are its quietest, whether they take place in an apartment in Oakland or the birch-laden lookout of a hermit king. What’s a bit surprising is the detail and world-building that Coogler puts in, making a film that with a wholly original aesthetic to the other Marvel films, a sort of Afrofuturistic James Bond vibe. Unfortunately, the fall back to Earth stings all the more because of it, and Black Panther winds up less than the sum of its parts with a tiring and overcrowded third act.

It’s a superhero movie, I recognize that fights come with the territory. But Black Panther is so stock full of fantastic creations on its periphery that any break for some action feels like a distraction. Take Coogler mainstay Michael B. Jordan’s Eric Killmonger, who is absolutely a top-tier villain thanks to a performance that gives more than the final cut gives back to him. Killmonger’s philosophy is one of rage and justice, and one that would have benefited from more screen time. Killmonger as a character didn’t just leave me wanting more, but really left me feeling like he should have had at least equal focus as Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa. Indeed, oddly for a Marvel movie, the villains get the better end of the charisma stick here, especially once Andy Serkis’ endlessly enjoyable Ulysses Klaue (pronounced “CLAW”) is thrown into the mix. While Letitia Wright nearly runs away with the whole damn movie as T’Challa’s younger sister, functioning as sort of a Wakandan Q, the heroes just don’t garner the same level of interest, leaving a bit of a hole at the center.

In a bit of a mirror to Thor RagnarokBlack Panther explicitly questions the ramifications of colonialism and privilege of a history of power, and while it follows through on it significantly better than its predecessor, it still loses a lot of its thrust by concluding with large-scale brawl. It strives pointlessly to give every character a capping moment when only T’Challa and Killmonger needed one (why Martin Freeman’s CIA agent factors in at all to the ending is beyond me). Like the sweeping one-take marvel of a fight in Creed, Coogler is best at staging fights in a close-up one-to-one scale, faltering when the scale gets bigger (a one-take casino fight uses its extra space and ends comes away feels entirely artificial). Weirdly, Black Panther very clearly could have told a strong, personal story with a strong political message, but even without the intrusion of infinity stones and Benedict Cumberbatch cameos, cramming in the Marvel house style keeps it from reaching its potential.

C+

Black Panther (2018)
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, and Michael B. Jordan
Rotten Tomatoes (97%)

I really, REALLY enjoyed Phantom Thread

A beautiful, hilarious movie about egoism, dresses, and breakfast

Hey everybody, just an FYI, Phantom Thread is very very good and if you have a chance you should see it. Oh I know, that trailer makes it look like a pretty dry British drama about dressmaking. If you didn’t catch that the director was Paul Thomas Anderson, of Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood fame, you’d be forgiven for writing it off as the beautiful, sparse, dull Oscar bait of the year.

But guys, for real, go see Phantom Thread.

First off, there’s a very strong argument to be made that Phantom Thread is the best romcom of the year. It’s mannered enough to be a bit of a surprise, but it’s a viciously funny piece of work. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is allowed nowhere near the glorious scenery chewing of There Will Be Blood or Gangs of New York, but rather *just* unhinged enough to give the whole piece some bite. Also, his name is Reynolds Woodcock, and people mention the “House of Woodcock” in haughty huffs often, and its never not funny.

Oh yeah, there’s also the “rom” part. This movie is billed as a chamber-drama battle between Woodcock and his mistress Alma, and it very much is that. But even as their duel of manners escalates from toast-scraping and putting too much butter on the asparagus to, well, more nefarious means, there is an undercurrent of care beneath it. This is a twisted love story as far as love stories go, but it is very much a romance. In a strong way, it’s a mirror of this year’s mother!, which explored living with a man who holds their work to a higher importance than their home life, but instead of making the woman in the relationship a reactionary character (necessary for mother!‘s wackadoo metaphor), Phantom Thread is just as interested in Alma’s agency, and even more interested in what each character gains from the other rather than them individually. Throw in Cyril, Woodcock’s sister and partner/fixer, for Alma to jockey for power against and casually utter lines like “I’ll go right through you and it’ll be you who ends up on the floor, understood?“. Cyril is the best.

Oh, and speaking of toast scraping, as much as this is a movie about dresses and romance, it’s also a movie about breakfast. It’s a love story that starts with an order at a countryside diner. It’s a movie that taught me what Welsh rarebit was. It’s a movie where the sound design poured into a spoon hitting a saucer should’ve been nominated for a goddamn Oscar (the wondrous score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood thankfully was). The dresses are very good, don’t get me wrong, but the catering is excellent.

A

Phantom Thread (2017)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville
Rotten Tomatoes (91%)