Wednesday, December 27, 2017
All the Money in the World, Downsizing, I Tonya, Call Me By Your Name Reviews
All the Money in the World
Dir. Ridley Scott
The sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey should have ruined All the Money in the World. Playing the third lead in the film, the cold-hearted billionaire J. Paul Getty, Spacey had his career killed a mere two months before its release. In a shocking turn of events, however, director Ridley Scott quickly recasted the character with Christopher Plummer, scrambling to re-shoot and re-edit the film up until mere weeks before landing in theaters. While it would at first appear that Spacey's downfall could have resulted in disaster for this movie, it actually ended up being the best thing as Christopher Plummer's performance is one of the most interesting aspects of the film!
This true story follows the kidnapping of 16-year old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), with his distraught and devoted mother Gail (Michelle Williams) desperately trying to get his grandfather (Christopher Plummer) to pay the ransom. However, Getty Sr. refuses - that cheap prick! - and the captors become increasingly violent. With her son's life on the line, Gail, alongside one of Getty's hired advisors (Mark Wahlberg), must race against the clock to end this cruel twist of fate and prove that "all the money in the world" can't replace family.
As I said earlier, Christopher Plummer is great in this movie and it's a shame his character was not explored in more depth (in my opinion he should've been the main character). His greed is deep-rooted and tied to his psychological security; there's a fantastic dialogue where Plummer discusses how the "things" in his life never change or disappoint, unlike the people around him. It's a sad portrait of a man with everything and yet is hiding his emptiness beneath a warm smile and a twinkle in his eye. I have to imagine the iteration of Getty as played by Spacey would have been completely different - probably more cold and calculating a la Frank Underwood - but Plummer delivers a more nuanced portrait of a greedy man, composed on the outside, probably broken on the inside.
However, this 2.5 hour movie focuses more on the least interesting aspect of this story (to me) - the kidnapping plot. Mark Wahlberg has almost no personality as the "detective" character; I think the filmmakers thought slapping a pair of glasses on him would make him seem cunning. It didn't work. At times I enjoyed Michelle William's frantic determination, and I even thought the awkward relationship between Getty Jr. and his kidnappers was surprisingly funny at points (considering how brutal they eventually are to him), but overall the film feels far too stretched out for its own good. The back-and-forth deal-making gets stale and repetitive after a while.
It's a major achievement how Ridley Scott was able to save this movie and provide it with some last-minute casting intrigue, but ultimately the film lacks much interest or momentum. The figure of J. Paul Getty is incredibly fascinating, and I could see his story being adapted in a sort of "Breaking Bad" or "Wolf of Wall Street" way where we somehow care about a monster that intentionally puts his family in danger. But All the Money is the World is too focused on bland, shallow thrills to make much of an impactful, original statement about greed or capitalism.
Dir. Alexander Payne
Honey, I shrunk Matt Damon! Following in the footsteps of other "small people" movies like The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Borrowers, Downsizing is Alexander Payne's unique, political spin on the genre. As a solution to overpopulation and global warming, scientists in Norway develop a way to shrink humans to 5-inches tall. Years later the concept becomes commercially available to anyone. "Downsizing" seems to be the perfect solution to struggling middle class Nebraskan couple Paul (Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wiig), as the value of the dollar, once shrunk, increases substantially. They decide to abandon their stressed lives and move into a luxurious, "small" community called Leisureland.
This movie features some of the smartest, cleverest "world-building" I've seen this side of Pixar. The way the film visually plays with scale is brilliant, but it also makes some really insightful observations about how our world would react to such a life-changing phenomenon (e.g. foreign prisons shrinking political defectors, "small" terrorism, immigration). It also looks at how behind every seemingly altruistic decision, there's usually some kind of consumist bent. "Going small" may help save overpopulation, but people flock to it to live like kings and queens.
But while the film is steeped in these interesting ideas, the story itself falters once Damon becomes bite-sized. It goes off on unfocused tangents, such as Paul dealing with his bohemian neighbor (Christoph Waltz), getting to know the life struggles of his amputee Vietnamese cleaning woman (Hong Chau), and eventually dealing with information that might signal the end of the world. Matt Damon is utterly uninteresting as the "everyman" lead character, often exclaiming "wow" in the same breathy tone as Owen Wilson in an attempt to be quirkily relatable. It doesn't quite work.
If Downsizing could have shaped its narrative towards a more interesting direction it could have been amazing, but unfortunately it remains a strange, lumpy pile of good ideas.
Dir. Craig Gillespie
This time of year is usually inundated with biopics all vying for that Oscar. While they're generally enjoyable acting showcases, it's not a genre typically known for daring decisions or a willingness to play with the medium. However, I, Tonya, much like its protagonist, plays by different rules. The film tells the story of controversial ice skating Olympian Tonya Harding through documentary-like testimonials of those involved in her story, to varying degrees of truthiness. The result is a messy, contradictory tapestry of Harding's story that, by calling attention to its own biases, becomes one of the most honest, refreshing biopics I've ever seen!
The story follows three key players - all acted superbly. Margot Robbie plays Tonya as an unapologetically "low class" lady who lives for skating but loves her some trucks and guns - not an image loved by the judges. Allison Janney plays Tonya's potty-mouthed mother, LaVona, who subscribes to the "tough love" mentality to an extreme degree. She's the epitome of the "loveable asshole" archetype. And finally Sebastian Stan plays Tonya's on-again off-again abusive husband. Although he's a loose cannon, he and Tonya still have this special, strange, self-destructive, complicated relationship that's never less than fascinating to watch.
Told with the snappy pace of Goodfellas and the self-referential humor and energy of Deadpool, I, Tonya is an absolute blast from start to finish. If you don't know Harding's story (like I did) you'll enjoy the ride, and if you're already familiar with "the incident," your opinion on Harding may completely change. While being a movie about the unreliability of human "witnesses" and abusive relationships, it's also somehow one of the most fun films I've seen this year. GO SEE THIS MOVIE!
Call Me By Your Name
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
There's always some movies each year that receives high praise and awards buzz that I simply don't get. Call Me By Your Name is one of those. It tells the story of a summertime Italian rendezvous in 1983 between 17-year old musician Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his father's American medical school assistant, the much-older Oliver (Armie Hammer). The movie is basically 2+ hours of these two half-naked, shiny-abbed chiseled gay men flouncing around Italy as Elio discovers his sexuality for the first time. There's even a scene where he puts his you-know-what in a peach! What is this, an arthouse American Pie?
I guess I'm not seeing what the critics are seeing. These characters have no real personality (other than maybe "pretentious"), and there's hardly any conflict or tension in this dull film. In comparison to another "gay love affair" movie, Brokeback Mountain did a much better job conveying its characters' burgeoning homosexuality, their relationships among the women in their lives, and the overall social stigma they have to live through. Call Me By Your Name has none of that intrigue, ignores its female characters' thoughts and feelings, and relies entirely on the audience being erotically captivated by glistening male bodies. I just don't find moping, insanely rich beautiful people alone to make for a good movie.