All the Money in the World

February 4, 2018 at 10:05 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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I have to be honest that the only thing that drew me to this movie was curiosity. I have known all the salient information about the Getty kidnapping for many years and was never all that interested. But, I wanted to see how seamless this movie was after having to reshoot the Kevin Spacey scenes a few weeks before the release date. I must say that I was surprised. I had assumed the the JP Getty role must have been an extended cameo with two or three scenes. However, he was one of the film’s three pillars. It is incredibly impressive what Ridley Scott and his actors were able to pull off in so short a time. And, in particular, that Christopher Plummer was able to breathe life into this role with so little prep time, was particularly impressive. In fact, that “gimmick” is impressive enough that it threatens to overshadow the film as a whole. I think it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is actually a pretty good film overall. Covering the 4 months of Paul Getty’s abduction, the film shifts back and forth between it’s three central characters: JP Getty, Paul (his grandson), and his daughter-in-law, Gail. Michelle Williams is the best thing in this film. Her Gail had an unrelenting determination, born of desperation, that drove the entire story. Mark Wahlberg’s Fletcher Chase could have easily been the center of the film, tying the disparate parts together. However, Wahlberg simply isn’t up to the task. Of the lead performances, his was the most wooden; he could have been playing any other character he has ever played. Instead, the energy focuses on Williams who is able to convey a full range of Gail’s emotions with ease: sadness, fear, delight, exasperation, a wry humor… the list goes on. Williams is one of the better actors in Hollywood and it shows every time she’s on screen. Young Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) played the ransomed grandson. I have never seen him before and he has mostly had bit parts until now, but, as Paul, he was vulnerable and very relatable. As for the other Plummer, his JP Getty was steely, calculating and cold. He seemed perfect for the role, but I found it hard not to speculate what Spacey’s performance would have been like in each scene. His “evil” characters tend to be so much more snide and condescending. I hope I can one day see those takes. The story moves along at a steady clip, creating far more drama than I would have thought, given that the outcome was never in doubt. Scott shot the film in lots of yellow light and the screen was a wash of browns, golds, and other soft, warm colors. It had a sense of Italy (where it was shot), but it also had a real sense of the ’70s, like you were looking at one of those old faded photos from the era. I think it’s important to note that the film is a dramatization of real events. In the real world, it was Paul’s father (not his mother) who did all the negotiation with JP Getty. I have no idea why that was changed, other than to highlight the power differential more starkly. And, the entire ending is pure fiction, and not particularly good fiction. I think we would have been better served by a less melodramatic and more honest wrap-up. It’s a shame; the truth is almost always more interesting. This was a solid film. It was well acted, beautifully shot, and well-paced. But it isn’t anywhere close to one of the best of the year. I think most who see it will enjoy it, but I doubt anyone will feel the need to see it twice.


Blade Runner 2049

October 9, 2017 at 10:03 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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There’s a reason Spielberg never made a sequel to “E.T.”  There is just so much at risk when you follow up a beloved film, especially as time passes and that film becomes a classic. There are so many more ways to go wrong than to go right. That is the risk Ridley Scott ran when returning to the “Blade Runner” well. Yet, with the help of the original screenwriter (Hampton Fancher), he manages to pull it off. Scott turned over the directing reigns to  Denis Villeneuve, who is skilled at making both psychologically explosive films (“Incendies,” “Prisoners”) and pensive sci-fi (“Arrival). Villeneuve managed to successfully recreate and add to Scott’s world. This film is stunning in every single scene. From the deeply crowded LA streets to the vast desert wastelands of San Diego and Vegas, everything was a joy to watch. Each detail in the background was so carefully and cleverly constructed. Of equal importance to recreating this world, was recreating the mood of the first film. Ryan Gosling was perfectly cast, matching the world-weary cynical tone that Harrison Ford’s Deckard had. The story is somber and pensive. It could be accused of being a bit slow in part, particularly for viewers who expect high doses of “The Fast & The Furious” in their modern sci fi. But this is not an action film. Deeper themes are being explore here. When are we sentient? What makes us alive? Is it our feelings? Our empathy for others? Our memories and our connection to the past? There is rich stuff getting explored in some very clever ways. We know from the start that Gosling’s K is a replicant. Just like Deckard was in love with a replicant in the first film, K is in love with a hologram, now removing the question of life one-step further out. The complexities of this question are played out beautifully when a giant 3D billboard version of that same hologram talks to him late in the film. It calls him “joe” in a generic way, calling into question the name “Joe” that his girlfriend-hologram gave him earlier. That is brilliant and heady stuff. Much has been said and debated about the various endings to the original film. This one seems to fit with several of those endings (maybe even all of them). The story could have gone in a very obvious, cliché direction. I was sure it was going to and I am so pleased that I was wrong. If there is anything I regret about this film is that there was no Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) character. There was no one nearly as menacing, nor as poetic. Jared Let0’s Niander Wallace comes close. Leto steals every scene he is in (as he does in most of his films) but there are just far too few scenes with him. I would have liked much more of him, which is admittedly difficult in a film that is already creeping towards 3 hours. But, I never felt bored. Not for one minute during that entire time did I wish I were anywhere else. And that may be the best review I can give.

Alien: Covenant

May 21, 2017 at 7:42 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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The genius’s curse. A filmmaker redefines the industry with a groundbreaking film. The second in the series is as good as, or better than, the first. And then it all goes down hill… And we end up with “The Godfather, Part III,” ewoks and Jar Jar Binks, and now “Prometheus” and “Covenant.” In fact, it seems that Ridley Scott has fallen into the same trap that George Lucas did– the need to over explain, and therefore over complicate. Everything was fine when the Force was just the Force and evil aliens wreaked havoc on unsuspecting crew members. But now we have midichlorians and an unbelievably complicated backstory about how humans and the aliens came into being. It is all so ponderous and complex that it cannot help but slow the story down. When this film is focused on the aliens, it works. Scott has faithfully captured HR Giger’s imagery beautifully. We spin through disorientingly similar passageways on spaceships and in dead alien cities. There are some great scary moments and several good jumps to be had, just not nearly enough of them. These scenes, which helped to make the first movies such classics, are painfully few and far between. The rest of the time, we get Michael Fassbender talking to himself about life, morality and who cares what else. Too much of this film was tedious and sometimes baffling. There was an air of weightyness that hung over the whole story, as though Scott has something important he wants to say. Unfortunately, that becomes the focus of the film. The audience would have been better served had he simply made another really good horror film. It seems that, as soon as a director understands that they have created something important, they shouldn’t be allowed to keep working on it. The line between importance and self-importance seems to be an awfully thin one that is just too easy to cross.

The Martian

October 4, 2015 at 7:14 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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It’s always a tricky proposition to see a movie of a book I loved. “The Martian” may well be my favorite novel from the last year and part of it’s fun lay in how wonkish, nerdy and detail-oriented it was. How would that translate to a film? Not so badly, actually. Ridley Scott manages to get in just enough of the scientific details that the audience gets the sense this is sci-fi very much grounded in the real world. Scott is also able to capture the smart-ass humor of the book, which is critical as it helps with pacing but also because it helps to establish the personality that Mark Watney (Matt Damon) needs in order to survive an impossible situation and none seems more impossible than this. Accidentally left for dead on a Mars mission, Watney has to find some way to survive by himself, with no food or water on a desert planet, until the next mission returns in 4 years. That the story can do this credibly is a tribute to author Andy Weir, who did extensive research while writing the novel. Watney’s story is juxtaposed nicely with those of his former crew, now flying home to Earth, and the folks at NASA trying to figure out how to rescue him. This device helps to break up Damon’s screen time, so that the audience never gets bored of just seeing him. There is also plenty of drama as things consistently and disastrously (and realistically) go wrong. One key dramatic scene was cut from the film but, at 2 hours 20 minutes, there was plenty of drama already and it did not suffer from the deletion. This is a sci-fi film for those who don’t like the genre and it’s an action/adventure film for anyone who does like that genre. Clever, fast paced and funny; The Martian was pure entertainment.

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