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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 12, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 02
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Marvelously unsettling Thread a tale of submission, domination and unparalleled genius
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

PHANTOM THREAD
Now playing


Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is one of the finest fashion designers of his day. It is 1955 and London is still attempting to rebuild after the carnage of WWII. But this has not kept countesses, heiresses, movie stars and royal princesses from all over the globe from flocking to his doorstep to be dressed in one of his gowns. Fussy and fastidious, he feels everything as it pertains to each client's wants, desires and dreams, and as such the artistic mental strain he's always under makes it difficult for anyone other than his sister and business manager Cyril (Lesley Manville) to get close to him.

On a brief trip to the countryside to regain mental balance, Reynolds encounters Eastern European immigrant Alma (Vicky Krieps) waiting tables at a small bed and breakfast he likes to frequent while on vacation. Immediately smitten, the pair begin a curious relationship where determining who has the power at any given moment is up for continual debate. She quickly becomes an important muse for the designer, Reynolds conceiving some of his most stunning creations with her in mind. He opens her eyes to a bigger world she wasn't sure existed after living through the horrors of the war, Alma eagerly lapping up everything this creative genius shows her, calmly determining she wants to be a part of his life for the foreseeable future whether he realizes it or not.

Paul Thomas Anderson isn't one to make movies that are what they initially appear to be. Punch-Drunk Love, The Master, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, all of these play at being a certain type of film, all offering up the idea of a familiar narrative thread only to obliterate those notions in order to transform their respective stories into something unique, elaborate and, in most cases, profound. Reuniting with his There Will Be Blood star Day-Lewis, the same can be said for the director's latest Hitchcockian spectacle Phantom Thread. What at first looks to be a straightforward examination of masochistic misogynistic genius run amok subtly proves to be anything but, this explosive examination of artistic imagination, intellectual hubris, sexual need, emotional impotency and familial domination an insidiously provocative drama that grabs the jugular and refuses to let go.

It's intoxicating stuff. Utilizing Johnny Greenwood's (Inherent Vice) score as if it were a hypnotic symphony engineered to mesmerize the audience into believing all is safe and everything is as it appears to be, showcasing visual images that feel as is if they are born straight from the viewer's own consciousness, the spell Anderson conjures gets under the skin right away. Like a Kubrickian dream slowly transforming into a nightmare only to transmogrify into something even more profound, Reynolds' story is as linked to Cyril's as it is to Alma's as the two women see theirs unquestionably connected back to him. It's a triangle of power and control, freedom and responsibility, captivity and escape, each character in desperate need for what the others have to offer even if they don't always want to admit that is indeed the case.

Manville, an exquisite actress, arguably best known for working with Mike Leigh in films like Another Year, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake and Mr. Turner, and a woman who has in my opinion never gotten her full due as a virtuoso talent capable of just about anything, is insanely good. Cyril, while a person of few words and an even icier stare, is maybe the most important piece of the three-person puzzle Anderson has so painstakingly constructed. Manville plays it close to the vest yet at the same time reveals nibbles of interior mechanisms that are constantly in motion, the devoted sister determined to do what she feels is best for her brother even if that means going directly against his passionately expressed wishes. Yet there is also a quiet pain here, a steady melancholy that rips the heart into pieces, the actress giving life to all of this life with a nimble, simplistically refined physicality that's extraordinary.

Then there is Krieps. A relative newcomer who has appeared in films as diverse as Hanna, A Most Wanted Man and Anonymous, it's impossible to overstate just how glorious her performance as Alma proves to be. This young woman initially appears like an icy siren straight out of a Hitchcock classic like Vertigo or Marnie, her haunted yet hopeful facial features so innocently beguiling it's understandable how a driven, narcissistic workaholic like Reynolds could be so instantly enamored with her. But watch closely and one notices how Krieps' eyes are in constant motion. She's relentlessly taking in information, learning all she can as if she is consuming the world around her like it's a four-course meal served on increasingly elegant silver platters. She becomes the film's driving force, her refusal to give up control when she finds a way to grab it for herself only equal to just how willing she is to relinquish it when submission is an even more appropriate course of action to maintain domination.

Submission. Domination. Love. Lust. Turmoil. Peace. These are the core elements that are at play, and it is Alma's arrival into Reynolds' minutely controlled life that causes them to explode in ways the designer isn't initially prepared to deal with. His muse becomes his master, just as he becomes her lord, just as Cyril becomes the one facilitating their relationship, just as the creation of his exquisite gowns becomes even more creatively magnificent; it's a crazy, spiritually astute hedge maze that conceals multiple solutions, each one more unnerving, and yet still breathtakingly rapturous, than the one sitting alongside next to it also proves to be.

Day-Lewis has said this is his last role, that with this film's release he is retiring from acting. If this is indeed the case, Anderson has crafted for the three-time Academy Award winner a role fitting of his legendary talents. Watching him bring Reynolds Woodcock to life, seeing him inhabit this man with such grace, such magnetic radiance, it's as pure a cinematic joy as anything I ever could have hoped for. Which is also the same thing I could say about Phantom Thread itself, this marvelously unsettling foray into the recesses of the human condition another Anderson triumph I'm sure I'll be dissecting and marveling over for many years to come.


Fourth Insidious brings The Further home
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY
Now playing


After her last exhausting trip into The Further to save Quinn Brenner from demonic possession, Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) isn't interested in doing anything that dangerous ever again. But when she receives a call from the terrified Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), as much as she would rather do otherwise, the frazzled psychic cannot turn down his cry for help. Joined once again by paranormal investigators Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), Elise ends up the last place she ever wanted to be. No, not back inside The Further; heading there comes with the job. This time, in order to stop demons from rising and innocence from being corrupted, Dr. Elise Rainier must go back to her childhood home, finally forced to deal with familial traumas she ran out on as a teenager.

Insidious: The Last Key brings the popular horror series created by writer/actor Whannell and producer (and director of Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2) James Wan full circle, this fourth installment connecting directly to the events dealt with in 2010's first film. There's never any doubt as to what the outcome is going to be for, if there was, then Elise's battle to save the Lambert family from total destruction never could have taken place. Still, Whannell's script isn't without its merits, new director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) doing a nice job conjuring up an image or two that sent a few justifiably unsettling shivers up my straightened spine.

Not that I've ever been a huge fan of this series. Heck, if I'm being honest the only one I enjoyed start to finish was 2015's Insidious: Chapter 3, and that was because it focused entirely on Elise and dealt with a case where the outcome could be in doubt as it had nothing to do with the Lambert family. There was genuine suspense to be found inside that story, and even if Whannell's (who made his directorial debut on the prequel) scenario didn't go anywhere surprising, it made far fewer of the comedic tonal missteps that frustratingly marred both of Wan's directorial efforts.

The same could be said about The Last Key. Only problem, by taking Elise back home, by having the focus of the horror be on her and her family alone and no one else, there's no danger that she's going to be harmed or damaged by the time the film comes to an end. It's the inherent problem the majority of prequels end up having to deal with and, as clever as Whannell connects things together, from a dramatic standpoint the overall effect can be slightly stifling. Especially when one rolls in obvious character additions who are inserted into the story only so the series can continue into the future without its primary character if this latest entry proves to be a success, meaning their chance of meeting a grizzly end is roughly the same as Elise's (i.e. nil).

Still, this is a decent enough haunted house tale, and I've always found the concept of The Further to be decidedly creepy. Robitel manages a handful of truly unnerving moments (one of which is frustratingly ruined by the trailer, so don't watch that), while his primary demon is a disgusting monstrosity with keys for claws that's as abhorrent as it is gruesome. There's also a nice little twist involving the ghosts Elise appears to be seeing inside her home, a revelation involving them easily the film's most startling aspect.

There are too many jump scares, especially early on, and as crafty a director as Robitel has already proven to be (his The Taking of Deborah Logan is seriously underrated; if you're a genre fan make sure and check it out), he ends up canceling out one of his best third act shock moments only because he's forced too many similar red herrings on the audience for this character- and narrative-driven one to have the intended effect. He dilutes his own pool, which consequently makes things far less frightening for the audience, and for a story where suspense is the key ingredient, this is understandably something of a problem.

Shaye continues to own this role, however, and watching her find new territories of Elise's interiors to mine is something of a minor joy. She has one justifiably great scene with an otherwise underutilized Bruce Davison in a small country diner where revelations are made and new characters are introduced. It's an unexpectedly tender moment that breaks my heart in two before putting it back together again with otherworldly suddenness. Shaye makes all of this happen with subtle ease, and for one brief, shimmering moment I kind of started to think this latest Insidious was going to be the best one yet.

That doesn't happen. Turns out, Chapter 3 is still my favorite of the series, while the first two entries just as clearly also remain the most vexing entries as their quality wavers so substantially as they progress to a conclusion. So Insidious: The Last Key isn't the worst but it also clearly isn't the best, either. It just sort of rests tenuously in some sort of bland, easily digestible horror middle ground, and as such there's little reason to hate the film even if I can't exactly sing its praises. For what it is, I certainly didn't mind sitting in the theatre while I watched it. Just as importantly, I don't feel the need to give it a second look anytime soon.


Neeson's Commuter beats getting stuck in rush hour traffic
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE COMMUTER
Now playing


Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) has had better days. The former New York detective has been working as a successful insurance agent for the past decade, this job change allowing he and his realtor wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) to get their family back on their feet after the housing and financial crisis of 2008 wiped them out. Just as things were looking up, with their son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman) about to head off to college, out of the blue he's given the sack, sent packing by his employer with him and his family's health insurance covered for the next year as a severance package instead of a cash payout.

On the commuter train home, a trip he has taken every day, back and forth for the past decade, a mysterious woman calling herself Joanna (Vera Farmiga) sits down across from him and offers Michael a perplexing one-time job offer. She'll pay him $100,000 if the ex-cop can figure out who on this train does not belong. They'll be carrying a bag. They'll be getting off at a certain stop near the end of the line. They go by the nickname 'Prin.' That's all the information Joanna offers, and while she's willing to be generous to Michael, she's also not going to let him turn her down, and she'll threaten the lives of his wife and son if she has to in order to get him to do what it is she wants.

The Commuter is a silly B-grade action-thriller with Neeson giving an impassioned performance that, while not exactly all that far removed from his ones in Taken, Non-Stop or Unknown, is still delivered with more grit and gravitas than this inane little scenario deserves. Reuniting with Run All Night director Jaume Collet-Serra for the fourth time, the actor and the filmmaker have an obviously comfortable rapport. Together, they seem to know what works and what doesn't, and as minor as this over-plotted piece of unabashed genre hokum might be, the whole things ends up being far more entertaining and fun to watch than it easily has any right to be.

Not to say this is some minor masterwork people will be falling all over themselves to heap praise on. This is the kind of movie that's very easy to enjoy when you're not paying a first-run ticket price. Seeing it at a bargain matinee at a second run theatre? Heck yes. Watching it on Cable television while you're folding laundry or doing any variety of mundane household chores? Absolutely. But it's unlikely anyone going to an evening show during the first couple weeks of release will feel as if they got their money's worth. It all so mercilessly harebrained and inadvertently humorous there were moments where I felt Neeson and Collet-Serra were making a parody of the sort of thrillers they've had such financial success with these past few years and not something I was supposed to treat with anything resembling seriousness; a bit of an obnoxious problem, if I do say so myself.

Yet I admittedly had a pretty terrific time. Neeson owns characters like Michael, and watching him play off Farmiga in a pair of expertly staged one-on-one bookend scenes is a delicious treat. I also liked the way in which Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle's script works overtime to keep so many plot strands dangling and still finds an amusingly unsophisticated way to tie them all together right at the very end. They take this Hitchcockian premise to its breaking point only to bolt right past it as things literally explode around Michael and the remaining commuters, in the process crafting the illusion that the audience has no idea what is going to happen next when in reality the answers are so blatantly obvious it's almost as if they weren't being concealed at all.

Collet-Serra has always been a technically proficient filmmaker, The Shallows a perfect example of him utilizing every single one of his skills with precision, confidence and tenacity. While not at the top of his game, he still handles himself admirably here. In fact, Collet-Serra stages one elongated bit of fisticuffs between Michael and a mysterious passenger inside an empty train carriage that's extraordinary, if for no other reason than to wonder where the cuts are and when Neeson's stuntman was inserted to do the things the actor wouldn't be physically able to accomplish himself. He and editor Nicolas De Toth (Stoker) do a fine job creating tension while also maintaining a frenetic, if still pleasantly naturalistic, pace, the film's 105-minutes flying by far more quickly than I imagined they were going to when I stepped inside the theatre. Also worthy of mention is Roque BaƱos's (Evil Dead) invigorating score, and even if one major action sequence the music reminded me of Mark Mancina's classic Speed theme, the composer's compositions still manage to become their own character working inside the movie with the same tenacity and fervor Neeson is.

None of which is my way of saying that The Commuter is some sort of January marvel we'll be talking about for the remainder of 2018. Be that as it may, Neeson and Collet-Serra know what they're doing and they've got the formula down pat. For fans of the pair, there are certainly far worse ways to spend a couple of hours. If anything, the movie sure beats getting stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home from work. Make of that what you will.






Oprah Winfrey's Golden Globes speech on receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award
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Awards Season 2018:
Golden Globes bestow Three Billboards with four prizes, Call Me by Your Name receives Writers Guild and BAFTA nominations

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Blues chanteuse Nora Michaels turns 70 with a birthday gig at the Highway 99 Blues Club
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The music of 'Fairy Tales and Fantastic Beasts' takes Capitol Hill
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Music of Remembrance commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day with free concert at Seattle's Benaroya Hall
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New York singer and songwriter Ari Hest to perform at The Triple Door this Sunday, January 14
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'Beyond the Frame: To Be Native'

Seattle Public Library presents Living Cultures Project Photo Exhibits of Pacific Northwest Native and First Nations Cultures

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Children's Film Festival Seattle welcomes all families Jan 25-Feb 10
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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Jonesing for the hits:

Singer-songwriter Howard Jones talks about his love for music and the Northwest ahead of Benaroya Hall performance

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Marvelously unsettling Thread a tale of submission, domination and unparalleled genius
------------------------------
Fourth Insidious brings The Further home
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Neeson's Commuter beats getting stuck in rush hour traffic
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