Tuesday, January 09, 2018

THE PHANTOM THREAD -- My review

Is there a more perfect analogy for THE PHANTOM THREAD than the Emperor’s New Clothes?

Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed one of my all-time favorite movies, BOOGIE NIGHTS. I mean, it’s in my top ten. And then, everything else he’s ever done since has been a huge disappointment to me. He’s become this plodding studied director who’s traded drama and entertainment for pretension and self-indulgence.

THE PHANTOM THREAD just extends that streak. Of course there are critics fawning all over it. For over two hours you watch this fop with the world’s biggest stick up his ass design dresses and keep the woman who loves him at arm’s length. We’re supposed to care why? Oh, because the great Daniel Day Lewis is playing the fop. And as we all know he’s the greatest actor the world has ever known.

Or… he’s the emperor. I’ve never seen an actor who appears more in love with himself than this guy. The vibe he sends is that every line he delivers is a gift from on-high, every expression a revelation. It would not surprise me if he insisted on a mirror always being on the set.

Yes, he’s very skillful. And he’s done excellent work in the past. But to me the best actors are the ones who lose themselves in a role. With him it’s all about “admire my brilliance and don’t let the story distract you.” This is the danger of reading and believing your press clippings.

Recently he’s made a big deal about retiring – again, drawing as much attention to himself as he can. This is not like the Beatles splitting up or Vin Scully retiring. This is not cause for national mourning. Thanks for some great performances, enjoy your life to the fullest, I wish you nothing but happiness, and the movie industry will muddle on. And fifty dollars says he comes out of retirement.  In less than three years.

The one who really should retire is Paul Thomas Anderson. 

For me, the best part of PHANTOM THREAD was Vicky Krieps, as his girlfriend. She felt very real, especially in those many scenes when she’s clearly annoyed by DDL’s foppish behavior.

I will say this – the story does get going and take some interesting (albeit weird) turns. Unfortunately this comes about 90 minutes in.

And if there's a theme to this tedious test of an audience's endurance is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.   There are at least seventeen breakfast scenes.  And one five-minute scene of Daniel Day Lewis ORDERING breakfast.  This is not a joke.  This is a warning.  

We all have our personal taste and mine is to see a movie that strives to enthrall me and take me on a thrilling journey not witness a potential Masterwork.

It could also be that I’m just not “deep” enough, not “sensitive” enough to appreciate such a work of exquisite complexity and depth. Sorry. Me thought PHANTOM THREAD sucked. 

41 comments :

Glenn said...

I have to agree about Daniel Day Lewis. Talented actor for sure, but the way some of my friends fawn over him is cringe inducing.

Jeremiah Avery said...

Though I have eclectic tastes, when I saw the trailer for this movie before seeing "The Shape of Water" it came across as a rather glaring piece of Oscar Bait. Didn't pique my interest, won't bother to see it.

Regarding, Daniel Day Lewis, an actor spoke of how the two of them stopped speaking after he greeted Lewis at a gym (near where they were filming) and Lewis wouldn't answer unless he was addressed by his character's name. Became too much for the actor, could understand being in-character while on set but 24/7 seemed excessive.

Peter said...

But was it better than THE PHANTOM MENACE?

Barry Traylor said...

I find it interesting that many of the films that critics LOVE are ones that put me to sleep.

Toby the Wonder Horse said...

THE PHANTOM THREAD? That’s not the one with Jar Jar Binks in it, is it?

blinky said...

I would love for you to do a Mystery Science Theater 3000 on The Last Jedi. The movie is so full of incongruities and silliness that it would be a natural. For instance there seems to be gravity and air everywhere in space. Nothing ever floats in zero G and Star Fighters swoop and bank on the space air.
If Jedis can lift boulders with their thoughts why would they ever fight using a light saber when they could just toss their opponents away with a thought.
And so on...

Anthony Strand said...

I think Daniel Day-Lewis's retirement will last a bit longer than three years. After all, he retired once before in 1997 (after "The Boxer") and didn't make a movie for 5 years after that ("Gangs of New York" in 2002).

Andrew said...

Wow, spot on, Ken. I'm not talking about the movie (which I haven't seen) but your description of Daniel Day-Lewis's acting. You expressed exactly what I've been bothered by when I've seen him in other films.

For example, I had the same reaction when watching him in There Will Be Blood. It was certainly a great movie (though overrated), but there was something about his acting which just drew far too much attention to itself. For example, the famous closing scene (the "milkshake" speech) didn't strike me as exceptional acting, but rather pretentious and self-absorbed. You know that he's acting, and that you are one of the initiated to be blessed with his talents.

I just recently watched Godfathers I and II again. Every single actor disappears into their role. These are real people, not actors proving how great they are.

therealshell said...

I still haven't fully recovered from my viewing of "The Master," which (as the English are wont to say) did my head in.

A. Wayne said...

In a universe of standard issue comic book movies and cliches, I appreciated and got into the nuances of this very unusual love story. And that's exactly what it is when you consider it's about a complete control freak who meets his match under... unique conditions. You get the feeling it's very autobiographical about writer/director Anderson himself. Some control freaks find... different ways to relinquish that control. This one's pretty damn interesting.

I don't get the shade for Daniel Day-Lewis. He's strange, for sure, but I don't think it's all narcissist hubris. Like Christian Bale, he has some deep need to vanquish his own persona in a role to the extreme. Here, notice the close up of his hands, scarred and punctured by the needles he uses to sew the dresses. That's an attention (and sacrifice) to detail few actors would commit to. Over-the-top, I may agree, but the man is committed. And probably would be if he didn't have these outlets. I think retiring was an admission he just couldn't handle anymore the Herculean effort he gives to his performances. And he had to make that statement public not out of some 'look at me' grandstand, but as a way to pressure himself to keep that promise for his own salvation.

Just my take, but I did find myself actually getting into a movie about a fastidious control freak dressmaker, and that's an accomplishment for Day-Lewis and Anderson.

Dhruv said...


One of the best lines ever said.... that needs to be published by media and repeated by all when talking about DDL.

Not exact words but something like:

Daniel Day Lewis is not the greatest, but he is the greatest in propagating that thought. - Ken Levine in one of the Friday Questions in 2017.

Thanks Ken, this review made my day.

gottacook said...

I would have thought that most people who liked Boogie Nights would also have enjoyed (or, at least, not loathed) Anderson's follow-up, Magnolia. I can understand why the latter wasn't a commercial success, though.

Nathan said...


The only Oscar host who had the guts to ridicule Daniel Day Lewis was Seth MacFarlane. And the only set of people who hate Daniel Day Lewis, are our host and the people in this comments section.

I love all of you for hating Daniel Day Lewis like me 😍

SiliconValleyTraffic said...

Norm Macdonald on Daniel Day Lewis’s performance in “There Will Be Blood”: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-FWtFXVfhBg

Can’t forgive DDL for Tereza and Sabina.

Chris said...

Amen to everything. And can we please add Dustin Hoffman to the list of self-indulgent actors who say "look at me!" in everything they do?

Cat said...

Agree completely with your assessment of Daniel Day-Lewis. I think the greatest actor of his generation was probably Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Dhruv said...


My apologies for posting here.

There was an argument to yesterday comments between 2 readers. I thought it was a good opportunity to share the music of an Indian genius here.

Posting here since I am not sure if that reader would see yesterday's blog today.
Thanks.

....

Mr flurb,

I don't want to take any sides about Mr. John Williams but for your question

"Name me one film composer of the last thirty years, if you can, whose scores instantly bring back the emotional experience of their movies the way a few notes from JAWS or E.T. or HARRY POTTER or SCHINDLER'S LIST or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS will."

I would name the greatest Musician Mr Ilayaraja - movies, songs, BGM everything... but since he is an Indian (South Indian) - he is not famous. His great work has not been noticed by the west - which is required to be called world famous.

Here are few music scores of his. Hope you like it - not to counter your view, but to just share good music with you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mxL7swlh9M
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA-Z84Uhg7c
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi8vHZxbx8U
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3inrEAo8jCM

many more hundreds of songs and music scores.....

Thanks.

VincentS said...

I haven't seen the movie but I TOTALLY agree with your reading of DDL. He is a great actor who has let his ego get the best of him. His performance in THERE WILL BE BLOOD left no scenery unchewed (he actually DROOLED in one scene)! And he sounded like Elmer Fudd in GANGS OF NEW YORK (which I walked out on) and everybody raved! As for your prediction that he will come out of retirement, Maureen O'Hara said the true test of getting out of the business is firing your agent. I'll bet he hasn't done that. During his "retirement" he might do well to subscribe to Harrison Ford's definition of an actor: ASSISTANT storyteller.

Covarr said...

Daniel Day-Lewis is unique in that he does a good enough job we can see how well he's doing, but not so good that audiences can actually forget they're watching an actor. It's not an actor's job to impress the audience while they're still watching; it draws them out of the actual story.

When I think of the most impressive performances I've seen, one that immediately springs to mind is Josh Brolin in MEN IN BLACK 3. He so thoroughly became the character that I immediately accepted him as K, as Tommy Lee Jones, without a second thought. Yeah, a spot-on impression was part of it, but a bigger part of it was that he let himself really get into the story and the character. Not just the physical mannerisms of the character, not just all the technical elements, but the heart and emotions.

And that's what Day-Lewis lacks. His performances are mechanically excellent, but still mechanical. Despite his reputation for going overboard on 24/7 staying in character, the characters he stays in are clearly constructed to serve his ego and boastful gravitas, and to elicit a specific audience response, rather than to serve the character and enhance the story.

Then again, he's made it big in Hollywood and won three Academy Awards, four BAFTA awards, and two Golden Globe Awards (lol) for best actor among a pool of hundreds of household names, and I've won but a single "Most outstanding performer" award from a rural community theater among a pool of dozens, so clearly he knows something that I don't. How to pander, maybe?

Charlie said...


Stunt Casting.

That's the word that comes to my mind when I see these people cast the same actors, not for their ability but to get noticed by the Academy and get nominated.

The Post too did the same with mulitple Oscar winners.

All these movies can be cast with newer actors, who will do the same job with aplomb. But noooooo..... keep casting Oscar winners and get more nominations.

A vicious cycle this is.

The worst of all is Nolan, who denied stunt casting Harry Styles.

It was exactly that - cast a rockstar and get teenyboppers to the theater, who will otherwise wont come.

All the roles in Dunkirk had minimal work. In a war movie small roles can be used to give new actors a chance. But nooooo.... cast all of them with Oscar nominees so that it gets noticed by Academy.

Even Tom Hardy's role could have been a newcomer. But Nolan wanted an Oscar nominee to give weight to the movie.

A never ending vicious cycle this type of casting is. Never aspire to be an actor......

Karma is a bitch - Nolan didn't win anything at GG despite all such stunt casting 😂😂😂.


Unknown said...

Thanks for taking time to write all the reviews, I’ve always enjoyed them immensely, that and award shows reviews :) I hope you plan to watch and review Call Me By Your Name? It seems to me this movie deserves all the praise, but will fail to win any of the biggest awards simply because the timing for such a movie seems all wrong, what with political situation and sexual harrasment scandals. I would really love to hear your take on the movie.

Marija

David said...


Well said Ken. It's not just you or others here. But there are a lot of people at various blogs, comments on YouTube videos etc... who say the same thing.

It's not like the current generation hates Daniel Day Lewis, but even many of the older generation have found a platform to express their views, which till a decade or so ago was not available.

Daniel didn't deserve both the Oscars.

1. Daniel Day Lewis for My Left Foot. Should have been Tom Cruise for Born on the Fourth of July.
2. Again Viggo Mortensen should have got for Eastern Promises instead of Daniel Day Lewis.
3. Lastly it should have been Joaquin Phoenix or Denzel Washington.

Same with Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump. Should have been Morgan Freeman for Shawshank Redemption.
Movie too - Forrest Gump didn't deserve it, should have been won by Shawshank Redemption or Pulp Fiction.

Many consider it blasphemous and that no one should talk against Daniel day Lewis and Tom Hanks and will comment that a lot of "legend" bashing is going on here. They can't understand that this is a blog where you have given an opinion and others too are giving theirs.

Peter said...

I can't comment on this film as it hasn't opened in the UK yet, but I doubt I'll see a finer performance by an actor this year than Christian Bale in Hostiles. It is such a beautifully nuanced performance and not one second of it looks like acting. Kudos to writer/director Scott Cooper on delivering a fantastic film.

Cheryl Marks said...

Possible Friday question or something to rinse out that bad taste in your mouth.
Did you watch Neil DeGrasse Tyson's interview of Alan Alda about acting and scientific communication? Funny and brilliant IMHO

Kevin from Virginia said...

Ken, I'm not that deep either (just not my kind of movie) so a question. As a former DJ are there songs from the classic rock era that you believe have either been mostly forgotten or just didn't become a hit but should have. A few for me would be, "Fakin It" by Simon and Garfunkel, "The Entertainer" by Billy Joel, "This Flight Tonight" by Nazareth and "Hang on to Your Life" by the Guess Who. Some of Yours?

Pat Reeder said...

I thought this movie was very entertaining until I realized I was watching "The Phantom Toolbooth."

To Marija: I think you're right about "Call Me By Your Name." All the time it was in development, the makers probably thought they were going to clean up in the awards by making a movie about a 17-year-old student experiencing his gay sexual awakening in a relationship with a character played by Armie Hammer, a 31-year-old white male. It was going to hit all the PC sweet spots to be hailed as a beautiful, romantic story of tolerance and inclusion, and sweep the Oscars like "Moonlighting." And then came the Kevin Spacey story. Now I imagine voters must think rewarding that would make Hollywood radioactive. Shows how tough it is to make movies based on promoting cutting edge social mores when those mores can turn on you on a dime and bite you on the ass, like a certain actor I could name.

Josiah said...

Hope you and yours are staying dry and safe today/night. The online videos present an ominous reality.

Tim G said...

Your perspective is refreshing, Ken. DDL is tedious and has been a dealbreaker ever since My Left Foot. The only other actor with such self regard oozing through every performance was the off-putting Kevin Spacey. I just saw an ad for whatever this movie is called and thought maybe I *ought* to watch it (like trying liver every once in a while to see if my taste has changed). Thanks for your review. You saved me some tedium.

Maybe I'll see The Commuter instead.

VP81955 said...

To Kevin from Virginia: A few of my "forgotten/neglected hits" include "Nobody Knows What's Goin' On (In My Mind But Me)" by the Chiffons, "I'm Alive" by the Hollies, "One More Heartache" by Marvin Gaye, "Don't Blame Me" by the Everly Brothers and "Stay Awhile" by Dusty Springfield.

Scott Mumford said...

Ken, I absolutely agree with you about "Boogie Nights". I consider it one of the most entertaining, most re-watchable films ever made. One of my absolute favorites. I could argue it's a perfect film.

But we disagree about "Phantom Thread". I loved it. Enjoyed it more the second viewing.

"Inherent Vice"? Now THAT emperor had no clothes...

Peter said...

Pat,

Moonlighting won an Oscar? I didn't know Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd had made a movie version! :-)

Stubblejumpers Cafe said...

And why, oh why, does IMDB.com call it a "crime" movie?

-Kate

Eric said...

"Boogie Nights" is in my top 10 as well, and I've liked everything else that P.T. Anderson did up to and including "There Will Be Blood". Everything he's done afterward has left me cold. "The Master" was an insomnia cure and "Inherent Vice" was a garbled mess. ("Incoherent Voice" would've been a more accurate title). At this point, Anderson could rip a smelly fart in a roomful of film critics and most of them would say it smells like Chanel No. 5.

One thing I've noticed is that the name of Daniel Day-Lewis's character in "Phantom Thread" is Reynolds Woodcock. Anyone else think that's a thinly-veiled swipe at a certain star of "Boogie Nights" that Anderson had a notorious falling-out with?

My Left Foot for a story! said...

I admire DDL and PTA. But this was a snoozefest of the highest order. Not only a 5 minute scene of him ordering breakfast, but when he decides to go to the country we have to drive with him for what seems like AN ACTUAL DRIVE TO THE COUNTRY! Why?! Why do we need to see 5 minutes of him driving to where already know where he's going??

cadavra said...

I forget who said it, but nowadays they give awards less for Best Acting than for MOST Acting. DDL fits into that category, though unlike others here, I do like him. (Seeing PHANTOM tomorrow.)

MikeN said...

I thought he was great in Last of the Mohicans.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Say what you will Ken, but when DDL eats breakfast in this movie, his chewing is nothing short of remarkable.

Never in the history of film acting has an actor so grasped the quiet, intense power of chewing and swallowing. Good gravy Marie, was riveting. Surely this actor's actor sacrificed hours, staring at himself in the mirror, getting every facial muscle to respond ever so furtively.

And he even made a crunch-crunch noise! How did he do that with eggs? Sure there were crispy veggies in there, but not that crispy. Either he developed facial capabilities especially for omelets, special dental devices were developed especially for his chewing, or legendary Star Wars sound effect wizard Ben Burtt created this intense, unforgettable crunch-crunch. I smell a special technical award.

Pat Reeder said...

To Peter: Just a typo. Although if "Moonlight" had had the protagonist suddenly break out in a chorus of "Good Lovin'," I would have liked it a lot more.

faggghaggg said...

I'm with Ken and most of his readers in disliking DDL's acting, but I think y'all are being unfair to him as a person. The hype is the critics' doing, not his. Watch any of his interviews and you'll see a humble, self-deprecating, and very charming creature. Significantly, he once answered the question of why he goes to such absurd lengths in preparing for a role with (something like) "because I'm not a good enough actor to inhabit a character otherwise".

Donald said...

Ken: I'm surprised you didn't mention Phantom Thread's Frasier connection. Harriet Sansom Harris has a small, but impactful role as one of Reynolds Woodcock's poignantly insecure clients. My Friday question to one who has worked with her: Is there nothing this woman can't do?

cadavra said...

I think the blame for this mess needs to be assigned to Megan Ellison, who has a penchant for producing unpleasant movies full of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things. Both this and THE MASTER are, IMHO, Anderson's two worst films.

As for the origin of Woodcock: The entire movie plays like a riff on VERTIGO, complete with the 1950s setting. And let's not forget that Hitch(Wood)cock's wife was named Alma.