Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Post (2017)

Jack and I expected to love, and did, this story of Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham and her editor Ben Bradlee struggling to obtain and publish the Pentagon Papers--secret 1971 documents about the Vietnam War, detailing lies from several presidential administrations.

Naturally, Meryl Streep (last blogged for Florence Foster Jenkins) is fabulous as Graham (1917-2001), a woman in a man's world at the dawn of feminism, whose husband Phil was appointed to run the family's newspaper by her father, and then she took over after Phil died in 1963. One biographical note I read tonight tells of Graham's being raised by nannies and then verbally abused by Phil, logical contributors to low self-esteem. Watching Streep fiddle with her reading glasses is worth a thousand words. And. listening to audio tape of the real Graham in an NPR interview followed by Streep's interpretation, I loved that she got the voice just right as expected. As Bradlee, Tom Hanks (most recently in Sully) is perhaps less lovable than usual but we still root for him whole-heartedly, as well as for his wife Tony, played by Sarah Paulson (last in Carol), whose biggest scene is in the trailer. As a feminist myself, I took note of her counting heads, of the reporters working late at their house, and then bringing them trays of sandwiches--hallmarks of 60s housewife behavior.

Then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was a close friend of Graham's. She gave many parties, some of which you will see in all their glory, with McNamara at so many I thought he might be a relative. He was not, but he was a pallbearer at her funeral. Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek: Into Darkness) is also good in the role. Dozens of talented and recognizable actors populate the scenes. Who's going to turn down an opportunity to work with Steven Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks??

Spielberg (most recently in these pages for directing The BFG) apparently rushed this to completion because of our current climate of the administration's clashes with the press. Producer Amy Pascal (Ghostbusters, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Molly's Game, and many coming soon) found Liz Hannah's feature debut script on the 2016 Black List. Spielberg's next release was already in the can but put aside to get this out as soon as possible. Josh Singer (Oscar for co-writing Spotlight) was brought in as a co-writer here.

We enjoyed, as always, the old technology such as the newspaper printers (#19 of my Rules) and, new this time, the mechanical typesetting apparatus.

You may want to wait until after seeing this to read an article or two about the movie and the facts. I'm sure there are many more.

Spielberg's reliable composer John Williams (last scored The BFG) presents us with an orchestral soundtrack, available in its entirety (a whole hour for a movie that's just under two hours of running time) on youtube. Only a few songs (listed here) are added to that score and I'm inspired to create Rule #22: any scene of the Vietnam War (such as the very first shots here) will be accompanied by danceable pop music recognizable to most baby boomers and many others.

Despite six Golden Globe and eight Critics Choice nominations, no wins yet. The Producers Guild and Art Directors Guild have nominated this and the Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday morning. Here's my running list of nominations and wins so far, also available at the right side of every blog page.

It baffles me that, at 88% from critics and 74 from audiences, Rotten Tomatoes averages are lower for this than for Girls Trip. Go figure. And go see it. Or wait for DVD/streaming in the spring.

Girls Trip (2017)

Here's one we disliked. Snowed in on Friday, we paid Amazon Video to see this raunchy comedy about grown women acting like teenagers--no, that gives teenagers a bad name--just acting up. Since we were warm and comfortable we kept at it, waiting for another laugh, but they were few and far between.

Veterans Queen Latifah (last in these pages for The Dilemma), Jada Pinkett Smith (most recently in Bad Moms), and Regina Hall (her first appearance here), are joined by Tiffany Haddish (new to me) in a breakout role that has earned her a bunch of nominations. In fact, her nominations are why we rented it in the first place.

This is the first project I've seen by Malcolm D. Lee, who directs from a scrip by Kenya Barris (best known as the creator/writer of 96 episodes of Black-ish, which Jack and I love) and Tracy Oliver.

Fans may enjoy the list of songs and homage paid to the movie Set It Off (1996), which starred Latifah and Pinkett Smith in another foursome.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics are averaging 90% and its audiences 80. As my mother used to say, that's what makes horse racing. I feel compelled to say that Jack walked by as I was writing this tonight and I showed him the first line of my draft where I wrote, "Here's one we hated." He said, "Hate is a little strong." So I edited it. Now you know everything.

Molly's Game (2017)

We loved this fast-paced story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic downhill skiing hopeful sidelined by injury, who ran high stakes celebrity poker games from 2003-10 and was arrested in 2013. Her memoir, Molly's Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World, was published in 2014 and Aaron Sorkin (last blogged for writing The Social Network), in his directing debut, also adapted the screenplay with his trademark smart and rapid-fire dialogue. Jack and I particularly liked the cinematic skiing scenes with geometry of the sport playing out on screen. Watch for Sorkin hanging out later as an extra at some of the early games (here's his photo).

Jessica Chastain (most recently in The Zookeeper's Wife) is terrific and pulling in nominations as the title character and voiceover. Idris Elba (after voicing the Tiger in The Jungle Book he voiced the police chief in Zootopia) is good as her (fictionalized) lawyer, trading his native British accent for one that we think is supposed to sound like New York. Kevin Costner (last in Hidden Figures) is Molly's father, mostly in flashbacks and one sequence at the end.

Speaking of extras at the poker games, you will recognize several faces, especially Michael Cera (most recently in these pages for This Is the End) as Player X, but the ones you don't are actual professional poker players, who apparently played with cast and crew between takes and took home more money than their day rates.

Daniel Pemberton (just scored All the Money in the World) gives us exciting music (again), which I am streaming as I type by cherry-picking from a youtube playlist.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics, averaging 81%, are slightly behind its audiences at 87. We recommend it on a screen big or small--it's playing everywhere now and is estimated for a March release on DVD and streaming.

I, Tonya (2017)

Jack and I loved this dark comedy about the real Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, her toxic childhood, and not much better adulthood, including the 1994 bashing of her rival Nancy Kerrigan's knee, which Harding did not do herself. That's not a spoiler--look it up.

Margot Robbie (last blogged for Goodbye Christopher Robin) and Allison Janney (after Get On Up we've enjoyed her work in nine episodes of Masters of Sex and almost 100 of Mom) are brilliant as Tonya and her abusive mother LaVona. I mean no disrespect to the fine acting of Sebastian Stan (most recently in The Martian) as her husband Jeff and McKenna Grace (last in Gifted) as young Tonnie. Harding, born in late 1970, is now making the rounds with the stars at the awards ceremonies (photo). The character of Jeff's creepy and delusional best friend Shawn is played by Paul Walter Hauser (new to me but with about 30 credits), apparently very much like the real guy.

Director Craig Gillespie (covered in Million Dollar Arm) keeps the tempo going from the script by Steven Rogers (Hope Floats (1998), Stepmom (1998), and more), which was written with Janney in mind for LaVona and made the 2016 Black List of best unproduced screenplays of the year. Imdb mentions that the movie breaks the fourth wall, which means that the characters speak directly to the camera. That's because the script is adapted from interviews with the actual people.

Reading the imdb trivia items, I learned that, since almost no one else could perform triple axels (Harding's signature feat), the filmmakers employed computer-generated images (CGI). I guess there are a few who can, including one newcomer, but they're a little busy (see article). Also, Janney does not love birds, but had to recreate the original video interviews with LaVona with a pet bird perched on her shoulder and the least bad one, named Little Man, occasionally pecked at her ear while the camera was running. I laughed out loud at Janney's little companion (scroll down to the fourth image) at the Globes.

Peter Nashel's (I did see Bee Season (2005) and a few episodes each of Dirty Sexy Money and all of his 12 of Younger) music isn't well represented on the spotify playlist and you likely will better remember the many songs.

Though the movie has been out for six weeks (we saw it on the 5th) Rotten Tomatoes shows a critics' average of 89% and 96% "want to see." We are big fans. Sufferers of Motion Picture Motion Sickness, or MPMS, be advised to sit in the back and/or medicate, as the camera will swing occasionally. Don't run out of the room (DVD and streaming expected in March) before the credits or you'll miss some of the actual interview footage.

Friday, January 12, 2018

All the Money in the World (2017)

Jack and I really liked this telling of the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty's teenage grandson and its aftermath. Their dysfunctional family, especially the strong personalities of Getty Senior and his daughter-in-law Abigail make a compelling story, well-told after replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer as the old miser, a fitting follow-up to Plummer's Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas. That's not to imply that either of us has seen any of the Spacey footage other than in an early trailer (here are the two trailers back to back). Spacey's accusers (for sexual harassment, etc.) stepped forward at the end of October and, about a week later, Sony and the filmmakers decided to oust him with the movie's December 22 release looming. The reshoots took eight days to film 22 scenes, cost $10 million, and involved Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg having to return to Rome during the Thanksgiving holiday of 2017. Apparently Wahlberg had lost weight for his next role and I remember thinking he looked extra skinny but I didn't notice changes from scene to scene. On another note, to play 80 year old Getty, Plummer at 88 didn't need all the prosthetic makeup that Spacey did at 58.

Plummer has been nominated for a Golden Globe (so far) but bigger kudos go to Williams (just seen in The Greatest Showman and also Golden Globe nominated for this one) for her tightly wound Gail. Charlie Plummer (no relation) is now 18 and played one of Nucky Thompson's nephews in eight episodes of Boardwalk Empire, among other credits, and is good as 16 year old Paul, and so is Romain Duris (last blogged for the genial French boss in Populaire) as the main kidnapper. Wahlberg (after I wrote about him in 2 Guns we saw his a cameo in the Entourage movie) is fine as the agent helping Gail.

Veteran director Ridley Scott (most recently in these pages for helming The Martian) keeps the energy high, working from a script by David Scarpa (his third in 16 years), who adapted the 2015 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson.

Dariusz Wolski (shot The Mexican (2001), several Pirates of the Carribbeans, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Alice in Wonderland, The Rum Diary, Prometheus, The Martian, The Walk, and more) provides beautiful cinematography of exotic locales, sumptuous interiors, and an opening sequence styled after Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960), which also took place in Rome.

I'm streaming the music by music Daniel Pemberton (last scored Steve Jobs) from a spotify playlist as I type and it's tense and evocative. Seven songs are listed on imdb, the most important of which are Time of the Season by The Zombies, The Rolling Stones' Wild Horses, and a cover of James Brown's It's a Man's Man's Man's World in Italian.

Here's a sad article about the real Paul, the kidnap victim. Another book on the topic, Uncommon Youth: The Gilded Life and Tragic Times of J. Paul Getty III, by Charles Fox, was published in 2013 and is the source for an FX mini-series, Trust, set to be released any day now.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics and audiences aren't paying much ransom to see this, averaging 77 and 73% respectively. We thought it was worth the price of admission.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Darkest Hour (2017)

Jack and I loved this look into the month of May 1940 for England's Prime Minister Winston Churchill, struggling to keep the Nazis out of their "island," as they repeatedly call it. Gary Oldman is stunning in the role, already nominated for awards from the Screen Actors Guild, Critics Choice, and Golden Globes, and is on everyone's short list for an Oscar nod (he was last blogged for the Robocop reboot). Kristin Scott Thomas (most recently in My Old Lady) is patient as his wife Clementine. Lily James (last in Baby Driver) is nice as secretary Miss Layton, and I appreciated Ben Mendelsohn (we saw him in Animal Kingdom, Dark Knight Rises, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, though I failed to mention him) as King George VI--Elizabeth's father, with the speech defect. Ronald Pickup (a mischievous geezer in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its predecessor) is also quite good as Neville Chamberlain (John Hurt was supposed to play that part but died before the start of filming). At one point Churchill has a short phone call with President Roosevelt and, after a minute, I recognized David Straithairn's voice.

Apparently this has been a dream project for screenwriter Anthony McCarten (most recently in these pages for The Theory of Everything which earned him an Oscar nomination) and he got to work with director Joe Wright (last blogged for Anna Karenina).

Oh, the makeup! Oldman is transformed with a fat suit weighing half again as much as he does and facial prosthetics that look completely natural. Four people were assigned only to him and I'm not sure whom to credit nor how many hours a day he spent in the chair, but one imdb poster estimates 200 hours over the course of production.

We also loved the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (Oscar-nominated for Amélie (2001) and Inside Llewyn Davis (and two others--no wins), he also shot Infamous (2006), Across the Universe (2007), Dark Shadows, and Big Eyes, to name the ones I have seen) with many shots from above--near, far, and zooming.

Production designer Sarah Greenwood, who has been nominated for four Oscars, including Anna Karenina, and her team have again been nominated by their peers at the Art Directors Guild for Best Period Feature Film. for this one

Composer Dario Marianelli (his one Oscar and two other nominations are all for Joe Wright projects--most recently the nominated score for Anna Karenina) works this time with Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, who is credited for the soundtrack in the spotify and youtube links but not on imdb. Either link will allow you to stream the entire powerful soundtrack with various commercial breaks.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics and audiences are tied at 84% each. We think it's a bit higher than that and definitely worth seeing on a big screen.

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. (2017)

Jack and I enjoyed this dark comedy about a timid woman cutting loose and getting in over her head after her house is robbed. Melanie Lynskey is wonderful as the frustrated Ruth and Elijah Wood equally good as the equally awkward Tony (Lynskey was last blogged for Little Boxes, and after I wrote about Wood in 9 he was in Celeste and Jesse Forever, 49 episodes of Wilfred, and much more). We streamed it on Netflix last week.

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January 2017, it was directed and written by Macon Blair (new to me) who has a cameo as the guy at the bar who makes Ruth's day just a little worse.

There are twenty songs listed on imdb, some of which can be streamed on the spotify playlist, which includes quite a few tracks by the director/writer's brothers Brooke and Will Blair.

Don't watch this late at night because there is some grisly violence. Critics, averaging 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, are more at home with this movie than its audiences, averaging 77. It's pretty good.