Sunday 16 December 2018

Cinema: Phantom Thread - beautiful, atmospheric and quietly engaging

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Phantom Thread is beautiful, atmospheric and quietly engaging
Phantom Thread is beautiful, atmospheric and quietly engaging
'Makala' is a thought-provoking piece about how others live

Like the previous collaboration between writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread is wonderful and award winning but on the face of it very different. There Will be Blood was about a rough, cruel Texas oilman where Phantom Thread is about an impeccably groomed and mannered English couturier in 1950s London. But Daniel Plainview and Reynolds Woodcock do share a love of power. Not a vast amount happens in this character and relationship study but it is so carefully crafted and conjured by both Anderson and DDL, indeed the entire cast, that it lingers long after you see it.

The story is told around breakfasts, at the first it is clear that the immaculate Reynolds (Day-Lewis) is tiring of a woman called Joanna and his immaculate sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) will manage this as she manages everything. At the second Reynolds becomes enamoured of a young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps) who is swiftly installed as his new muse and love interest. At the third breakfast the initial sparkle of infatuation has dulled and Alma will need managing into the place allocated for muses. But Alma has different ideas and an interesting power struggle ensues.

In what is said to be his last role DDL is extraordinary, no beards or prosthetic noses, just pure acting largely around the question of whether Reynolds is a perfectionist or a bully. Manville got one of the film's six Oscar nominations for her support but Luxembourger Krieps more than held her own amongst the powerhouses. Perhaps too low on action for some, it is beautiful, atmospheric, quietly engaging, and it lasts long after the credits. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Roman J Israel Esq

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Denzel Washington has received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Roman J Israel Esq, a performance unlike any other he has ever given, physically alone the lumbering title character is far removed from anything Washington has done before. Roman is a fascinating character, the premise is promising - and there is Colin Farrell - but Dan Gilroy's follow-up to Nightcrawler doesn't fully realise all of that potential. The film opens with Roman J Israel (Washington) establishing a case against himself, the charge is betrayal of everything he has ever stood for.

The story goes back a few weeks to when the lawyer, who still wears the fashions of the era that formed him and holds true to his belief in law as an instrument of civil rights, discovers that he is out of a job. A savant with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Californian law, but reduced people skills, he at first resists the offer of work from George Pierce (Farrell). Pierce sees law as a business not a vocation, he and Israel could not be more different but circumstances force Israel to change his mind and the men begin to work together. Israel then does something very much out of character and a set of events unfold.

For all Denzel's wonderful work (Farrell and moral compass Carmen Ejogo are good but have less to do) there is not enough in the way of plot to make this film satisfying. Also I found that despite a lot of scenario exposition there was not enough explanation for Israel's out-of-character action so it undermines the film as character study and highlights the lack of plot. Unfulfilled potential alas. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

Journey's End

Cert: 12A; Now showing

War films used to be gripping tales of derring-do where heroic goodness battled tawdry evil. Films about Vietnam marked the point where mainstream cinema moved and war films became anti-war films. Journey's End, although the latest film in this vein, is based on RC Sherriff's 1928 play which was both ahead of its time and still pertinent.

Set over six days in March 1918, it opens with brand new officer Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) joining C Company in the trenches where he finds his old friend Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) much changed. A long-threatened German offensive looms and the film concentrates on the dynamics in the officers' dugout which they share with others (Paul Bettany, Toby Jones, Stephen Graham and Tom Sturridge) who, although officers, are still expendable minions.

Saul Dibb's direction is well-intentioned but slightly patchy, but while it falls down on claustrophobia it does give a strong sense of the layout of trench warfare and is an earnest, worthy, depressing film - as perhaps all war films should be.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Cert: Club; IFI exclusive

French filmmaker Emmanuel Gras's beautiful, almost dreamily shot feature belies the harsh reality of the life it documents. Makala, which means charcoal in Swahili, is what Congolese couple Kabwita and Lydie Kasongo hope will provide the funds for them to build a home. But making charcoal is back-breaking work, on top of which there is an arduous 50-kilometre, three-day trek to sell the product. The film follows this journey, from cutting a massive tree to building a kiln and reaching a market via exhaustion, bandits and a visit to one of the daughters they can only educate if she stays with relatives. Despite no narration, the film does answer most of its own questions in a thought-provoking and sobering glimpse of how others live.  ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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