All the Money in the World (2017)

all1Here’s the thing about Ridley Scott films- with a catalogue of great or at the very least memorable films to his name, particularly his earliest films like Alien or Blade Runner, or perhaps later efforts like Gladiator, its difficult for any new addition to the list being given a break, or accepted as just being an average movie. There is this weight of expectation attached to them, as if every film he ever makes has to somehow measure up to his greats- sure, it’d be wonderful if they did, but its really an unfair expectation, isn’t it.

Besides, (reduce to a whisper)  I always suspect directors get too much credit anyway, so perhaps its unfair to saddle them wit all the blame too. In just the same way as its the players on the pitch in a game of football who get, or fail to get, a result, as much as the manager on the touchline who gets credited for masterminding a win or blamed/sacked when things go awry, on a movie production there are too many factors that effect how a film turns out for it to be fair that a director gets lauded or pilloried depending on the final product. I suppose much of this treads into auteur theory, with directors treated as the author of movies as if they created a film themselves- I suspect films are much more collaborative than that.

One thing I will say for Ridley Scott films, as I’m speaking clearly as a fan here who has followed his career since 1979 reading interviews in Fantastic Films way back then, is that he is a consummately formidable technician. His later films may not artistically or thematically match his first films, but he shoots them extremely well, speedily and on budget, demonstrating such control its something to marvel at in a world in which so many films go over-schedule or over-budget or dragged down by re-shoots.  Ridley gets the job done. The studios must love having him at the helm- box office be damned, at least they know a film is going to get made on  time and with solid quality, and The Martian has proved he still has hits in him.

That being said of course, All the Money in the World was troubled in post-production and required substantial reshoots,  a scandal involving allegations made against original star Kevin Spacey causing him having be replaced. The fact that, had it not been so well documented, watching the film you would have no idea that Christopher Plummer was a late replacement is a pretty formidable testament to the quality of Ridley Scott’s professionalism. Simply as an exercise in last-minute film-making its pretty jaw-dropping that the film even works.

The film was also pulled into the argument over inequality of pay between actresses and their male co-stars.  When Ridley and the studio decided the film could not be released with Spacey still in the film, he recast with Plummer but this triggered a clause in  Mark Wahlberg’s contract, which had co-star approval. Wahlberg, or his team of lawyers and agents, simply stated that he would not approve Plummer and attend re-shoots without an additional payment of $1.5 million, essentially holding the film to ransom. Co-star Michelle Williams didn’t have that clause in her contract so attended the re-shoots for something like $80 a day. To add further salt in the wound, Williams told the USA Today that “”I said I’d be wherever they needed me, whenever they needed me. And they could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted. Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort.” Thinking about it, this film got such a beating you could argue it was one of those cursed productions you sometimes read about. I read later that Wahlberg donated his fee to Times Up, but I’m sure most of Hollywood wishes they had his management team.

(It might be interesting to note regards the inequality of actors pay that Wahlberg’s original fee for the film was $5 million -itself much less than what he is usually paid-  and Williams $625,000).

all2So having written all that, I realise that I written nothing really about the film itself. Well, considering all the hysterics surrounding it, I must say I was surprised how good it was and how much I enjoyed it. Clearly its one of Ridley’s lesser films but its nonetheless a solid piece of work graced by some fine performances, particularly Plummer who is frankly astonishing considering he was a last-minute replacement in scenes shot in just 10 days. His octogenarian billionaire, at the time the richest man who had ever lived, is a fascinating character and Plummer clearly relishes the role in every moment on screen. Its impossible to say what Spacey originally brought to the role but its hard to imagine the film is any the lesser without him. You might be forgiven for expecting Plummer’s scenes to feel rushed and perhaps feel ‘off’, be technically inferior to the original shoot but they actually become the cold icy heart of the film and its finest asset.

The film is based on  the true story of  the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) in 1973,  and the increasingly desperate struggles of his mother Gail (Michelle Williams) to ensure his release when his grandfather refuses to pay up. While the kidnappers threaten to start sending the boy back in pieces, his grandfather spends his money on paintings instead and his time gleefully monitoring ticker-tape reports of his ever-increasing wealth.

Wahlberg is perhaps miscast in the film. He plays Fletcher Chase, one of Getty Sr’s negotiators who Getty tasks with bringing the boy home without giving the kidnapper’s any money. In a traditional Hollywood thriller with someone like Wahlberg in the role, you’d perhaps expect something like a Taken movie to ensue as the guy does what a guy has to do to bring the boy home and let the body count be damned. But as this is based on a true story and that didn’t happen, it seems a bit of misdirection on the film-makers part. As it is, left without kick-ass action Wahlberg sort of drifts around looking a little lost. Why spend all those millions on him if he’s not doing what he usually gets paid all those millions to do?

WIlliams is very good, with a captivating performance that almost measures up to that of Plummer. Together they rather tease the classic movie that this might have been, but really its not a bad film at all. Ridley Scott captures the sense of period as brilliantly as ever, making it look so easy,  and moves the plot forward with the efficiency he is so famous for now, until the film ends in a climactic hide and seek sequence that almost feels like its from some other movie. The real center of the film is Plummer’s performance and this strange real-life Citizen Kane, which rather unbalances a film whose drama should revolve around the kidnapped boy. I suspect there are two films here, and its that second film made in the re-shoots that steals it.

A Day for Heroes: Patriots Day

patsy.jpg2017.65: Patriots Day (2016)

On the face of it, Patriots Day is a great, taut thriller recounting the dramatic events of the Boston marathon bombing of 2013. Even for viewers fully aware of what happened, the film manages a relentless sense of tension as everything unfolds, and it’s certainly very efficiently staged.

However, it’s also a Hollywood movie, so it’s filled with all sorts of well-known faces, and this may just be my own personal thing, but it always distracts me somewhat from what should be a riveting docu drama account when I see some guy from the latest King Kong film or Justice League or those mobile ads on British tv. It’s no fault of the actors themselves (and indeed it’s great seeing Kevin Bacon doing some proper acting for once), but just seeing their faces pull me out of it all a little, whereas it might be thoroughly engaging with a cast of unknowns. There’s an awful lot of distracting cinematic baggage being carried around in some of these scenes.

Moreover, I clearly have a problem with Mark Wahlberg, a guy who irritates me in most films he appears in, and moreso here when I learned his character is entirely fictional in this film. His character is obviously a construct to enable the narrative flow of the events to centre on one character that the audience can ‘root’ for, but unfortunately it feels… I don’t know; manipulative? All films are manipulative, but a film like this that purports, quite rightfully to some degree, to be very accurate in depicting the events and those real people who were caught up in in it, to then throw up a main antagonist who didn’t exist…. I don’t know. Maybe me real problem is my dislike for Wahlberg. For me he is Wahlberg, always Wahlberg, an extremely limited actor who somehow remains very popular with audiences and is a very successful producer (if only he’s remain behind the camera).  It doesn’t help that some of his speeches here are so on the nose and awkward, or that he always seems to be where something is happening (its as if he has a twin, how he manages to pop up all the time). He’s unnecessary, he’s irritating. It’s like he’s there just to bankroll/sell the movie, which is a shame, the subject should be enough.

So anyway, Patriots Day is, with some reservations regards polemic politics/patriotism and certain casting choices, a very good thriller and a commendable film about recent real-life events. It’s a pity that the British film industry hasn’t yet found it worthy to make a film about similar events in our own country, but films about a bear seem to be an easier sell to a country depressed enough about Brexit etc.

 

 

Deepwater Blues

deep1.jpg2017.21: Deepwater Horizon (2016) – Streaming, HD

Deepwater Horizon seems symptomatic of modern Hollywood to me.  Its fine for what it is, but it is clearly reshaping a tense and disturbing real-life story into a fairly formulaic mainstream entertainment flick with huge stunts and explosions straight out of a standard blockbuster thriller. Its rather a shame, as it begins with a docu-drama approach that ensures some level of reality as it displays the routines of working on drilling rigs; rostered weeks away from home, the transport offshore, the mechanisms of the rig etc. The safety culture and pressures on that from the corporate side, regards making a profit on huge investments. Its interesting, if somewhat mundane in how it is portrayed.

deep2But of course this is no dramatic examination of corporate greed or safety measures being cut; its really a disaster movie. So the film seems to transform midway and it’s an uncomfortable transition. As extraordinary as the visual effects and the set-pieces are when the shit hits the fan, its nonetheless all too much like the ending of a Marvel superhero movie.  Mark Wahlberg is, as always, Mark Wahlberg, and the film fails to recover from the fact that he simply cannot ‘be’ anything other than who he ever is in a film. Maybe that’s just a personal thing of mine, but he seems to be an actor who, well, seems to bring the same personna to every film he does.  He’s supposed to be an Everyman Joe here, but he just seems to be the same guy from that last Transformers movie, complete with similar pyrotechnics. It needed someone like a young Jack Lemmon or Kevin Costner, but to be fair to Wahlberg I guess there is no real depth of character in any of the people portrayed here.

So for me the film really gets scuppered by  its casting and the pressure to ‘wow’ audiences with extreme explosions and spectacular effects. Imagine if Oliver Stone in JFK-mode got hold of a film like this- he’d have ripped the shit out of the corporate hacks involved and really intensified the injustice and tragedy that unfolded during and -most tellingly- after the event, through the ensuing environmental disaster and rather ineffective courtroom investigations that this film rather tritely passes over with hardly a mention.

Thats the biggest crime of this movie- it shows what happened, and quite vicariously too, but it doesn’t actually say anything.  A film like this, it should say something, yes? It doesn’t say anything about the environmental impact or the economic impact on the area or about the nature of human greed or human complacency, or corporate responsibilities. An Oliver Stone movie would have had plenty to say, I’m sure. Make people angry about shit like this, dammit. Don’t make a trite disaster movie, spectacular as it may be.

A different structure, say, starting with the disaster and then following it up with the courtroom stuff examining the procedures, safety issues and the injustices etc may have afforded a more rewarding movie. But that kind of movie isn’t what makes a blockbuster these days. Back in the 1970s, films dared to be political. Not anymore.

Ted 2 (2015)

ted22016.4: Ted 2 (Blu-ray)

Ted 2 continues the story of America’s foul-mouthed answer to our rather more polite Paddington bear, and benefits from it being really his movie, whereas there was a feeling that he was more a supporting character, or at best co-star, of the first film (the irony of writing this about a cgi character is not lost on me). The story of the first film mainly concerned his owner Johnny’s relationship with his long-term girlfriend Lori, culminating in their marriage. The absence of actress Mila Kunis, who played Lori, is swiftly dealt with at the start of the sequel with it established that the marriage is over, Johnny (Mark Wahlberg in fine comedic form here) is back to single life and Lori is out of the picture in more ways than one. Instead its now Ted who is getting married to his human girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and the film focuses on how the marriage fares, their attempts to have a child and Ted’s legal status as an object rather than a person.

But a film like this isn’t really about the story is it? Its about the jokes, and I actually think this film is funnier than the first, certainly in this films unrated edit (I’ve not bothered with the theatrical cut). Focusing mainly on Ted himself is clearly a good move, as its Ted everybody is really interested in- what he does, what he says, how the human cast react to him. The humour is as raunchy and crude and ‘did they really SAY that?’ non-PC as the first film was, and if you are easily offended then this kind of humour is hardly going to impress. Regards theatrical and unrated versions though, as in the case with this film when you get a choice when the disc loads up, does anybody ever bother with the theatrical version when there is an unrated edit included?

Like the first film’s reference to Flash Gordon and its star Sam Jones (who returns in an unfortunately smaller role here), the film has several affectionate nods to geekdom with some nice cameos (you could play a game as the film progresses name-checking them and their geeky credentials), culminating in a climactic set-piece at a New York Comic-Con in which the sky is the limit for geek in-jokes.

ted3I guess this stuff looks deceptively simple, but the voice-acting, the digital character work, the actual jokes and how they are staged and the set-pieces stitched together to become at least some kind of rudimentary plot, are all probably incredibly difficult and its remarkable how well it all comes together. I’m actually of the opinion that this is a better film than the first, and it’s not often you can say that about a sequel.  Seth MacFarlane has done a fine job here and I guess a Ted 3 is inevitable (but if by some miracle you ever read this Seth, I’d much rather you got us a second season of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey...).