“I’m not going to forget you. Just like you’re not going to forget me.”
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza feels like a movie from a few decades past, reminiscent of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous with its journey of self discovery in a nostalgic 1970s setting. The ten year age gap between Alana and Gary is uncomfortable — even if Gary is the pursuer, he is just 15 at the outset. Alana’s initial reluctance gives way to jealousy when she sees Gary interested in girls his age, and the inverse would surely be unpalatable. The script is uncritical, seeing Alana as a late bloomer and the coming of age story is really hers, with less of an arc for Gary (who is based on Anderson’s friend, Gary Goetzman). Both leads are newcomers, but display aptitude — Alana Haim conveys much through subtle expressions, whilst Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a regular Anderson collaborator) exudes a caged energy as the permanently hustling salesman. The storyline meanders, sporadically engaging and running a little too long, although it chooses the right moment to end. I can only assume that nostalgia has a great deal to do with the strength of Licorice Pizza‘s critical reception, not only for its setting but the style of filmmaking. I found myself unable to identify with the characters or to find any depth to their inconsequential journey.
“Bronco Henry told me that a man was made by patience and the odds against him.”
The Power of the Dog is a wonderful slow-burn character-driven Western from writer/director Jane Campion. Phil Burbank is an unusual role for Bennedict Cumberbatch, a man seemingly focused more on the corporeal than the intellectual. He is initially introduced as a misogynistic rancher whose acts of dispassionate and deliberate cruelty are unsettling to watch without the need for physical violence, though we discover that he was not always the brutish cowboy and that this is an intentionally cultivated persona. The film’s inciting incident is his brother’s marriage (of which Phil plainly disapproves) but Campion has structured the film obtusely so that, whilst we know some sort of confrontation is inevitable, the narrative direction is never clear to the audience. This proves an effective way to force the viewer simply to appreciate the character development in the moment, rather than pre-empting the arc. There are clear parallels to There Will Be Blood, particularly in the patriarchal friction between powerfully overbearing men who carved out the frontier and subtler educated people who would ultimately succeed them. Campion’s immersive approach is not entirely without fault, with The Power of the Dog oddly sidelining some characters midway through the film, whilst its abrupt conclusion is simultaneously clever and somewhat dissatisfying.
A refreshingly different take on the hired killer movie that stands in stark contrast to the slick professionalism of John Wick, Joe is capable but plagued by the trauma of his work and his past. Joaquin Phoenix is a deliberate and slow-moving burly mass (physically the antithesis of his emaciated Joker) wielding a brutal hammer (think OldBoy). That I couldn’t decide how I felt about You Were Never Really Here whilst watching it is a testament to Lynne Ramsay’s skill at subjective filmmaking — everything is experienced from Joe’s perspective. In particular, this lends itself to a powerful depiction of trauma, bleeding into reality in short bursts of debilitating intrusive thoughts rather than the pop culture staples of narrative flashback or violent outburst. Moments of quiet, ethereal beauty feel equally appropriate. The film ventures into dark territory of child trafficking at the hands of political elite but, although Joe gets embroiled in this intrigue, there is no thriller-like mystery to unravel. Comparisons with Taxi Driver are warranted, particularly in the exploration of social isolation, although Ramsay’s focus is narrower, pared back to the essentials with a running time of under 90 minutes.
“I cannot begin my day with a confrontation, please. I’m delivering the dress today, and I can’t take up space with confrontation. I simply don’t have time for confrontations.”
Its first half is a portrait of a fastidious man against a period backdrop of couture dressmaking with Paul Thomas Anderson’s usual verisimilitude, but this is not a film about fashion. Daniel Day Lewis’ (allegedly final) performance is excellent, and the sound design deftly demonstrates how the external world grates upon him, but the character is less accessible than Tom Ford’s A Single Man. Patience is required until the second half reveals the film’s real focus, which is how a relationship works with such an obsessive, fussy individual — distance, emotional manipulation and codependency.