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Catching up on 2017: Josh Reviews All The Money in the World

In 1973, teenager Paul Getty, grandson of the wealthy J. Paul Getty, was kidnapped in Italy.  Paul’s grandfather J. Paul Getty was considered to be not only the richest man on the planet but perhaps the richest man who had ever lived.  And so, the kidnappers thought they could get a small fortune in exchange for young Paul’s return.  Ridley Scott’s film All the Money in the World chronicles these dramatic events, including Paul’s ordeal and the plight of his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams).  With J. Paul Getty unwilling to pay the ransom, Gail was caught between navigating the kidnappers’ demands and her obstinate father-in-law, hoping to find a way to bring her son back alive.

I quite enjoyed All the Money in the World.  I included it on my list of my favorite movies of 2017!  It is a riveting, well put-together drama.  I love watching Ridley Scott’s expansive fantasy or sci-fi films — Mr. Scott can create fully-realized fantasy films like no other — but a film like this reminds us that Mr. Scott is equally adept at crafting entertaining films set in our real world, without the exciting sci-fi trappings.

This film made big news in the weeks before its release because of Mr. Scott’s decision to completely remove Kevin Spacey from the film and reshoot all of his scenes with Christopher Plummer in the role.  This would have been an arduous process in any situation, but even more so because all of this went down just a month before the film’s release.  That Mr. Scott was able to so massively rework his film mere weeks before its worldwide release is an extraordinary accomplishment.  The reshoots and re-editing were done perfectly seamlessly.  You would never know that a huge chunk of this finished film was created in reshoots.

What is even more amazing is that Christopher Plummer is the best thing about this movie!  His performance is incredible; I am not exaggerating to say that the main reason to see this movie is to see Mr. Plummer’s fierce work in the role.  He commands the screen every second he appears.  Every character in the film lives and acts in Getty’s shadow.  Mr. Plummer’s performance makes this real.  He creates in the elderly J. Paul Getty a fearsome, tough-as-nails presence.  It’s extraordinarily compelling.

Michelle Williams is great as Gail Harris, the mother of the kidnapped boy.  Ms Williams shows us her core of toughness, as she finds herself caught between the kidnappers demanding money and J. Paul Getty, who refuses to pay the ransom.  It’s an impossible position, and the film has great empathy for this woman.  Ms Williams’ strong work allows us to feel this … [continued]

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I hope you enjoyed my look back at my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  And now, let’s turn to my Favorite Movies of 2017

As always, there were far more great movies released this year than I had time to see.  Movies that looked great but that I missed include: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Get Out, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour, I Tonya, Wind River, Logan Lucky, Professor Marsten and the Wonder Women, The Lost City of Z, Downsizing, Atomic Blonde, and many more.  So if you’re wondering why any of those movies aren’t on my list, now you know.

Before we begin, I should start by mentioning two incredible 2016 movies that I saw in January 2017, after I had already written my Best Movies of 2016 list:  Lion and Moonlight.  Moonlight, in particular, is a masterpiece that surely would have been in my TOP FIVE of 2016 had I seen it in time.

And now, without any further delay, let’s dive into my list of my Favorite Movies of 2017:

Honorable Mention: Logan Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine brought a satsifying close to his nearly two decades playing the character.  Throwing aside the usual look and feel of a superhero movie, director James Mangold chose instead to make a dark, grim R-rated drama that shocked me with its intensity and its violence.  I loved their choices in making a very different kind of X-Men film, one with no colorful costumes or grandiose musical themes.  This is a drama focused tightly on its characters, and both Hugh Jackman as Logan and Patrick Stewart as Professor X (in which will also likely be his final appearance in the role) give what is probably their very best performances as these characters.  Long-running series rarely get a definitive ending; when one comes, as it did here, it is very special.  (Click here for my full review.)

20. Battle of the Sexes This story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ 1973 tennis match is an enjoyable, beautifully-made recreation of the dramatic events surrounding this televised battle of the genders.  It is also a riveting, very much of this specific time and place film that has a lot to say about equality today.  I was pleasantly surprised that Battle of the Sexes was as much about the struggles of gays and lesbians to live open, free lives as it was about female liberation and the struggle for equality between the sexes.  Both Emma Stone and Steve Carrell are terrific, wonderfully portraying these famous people while also bringing true life to their performances, rather than just giving a robotic act of recreation.  I wasn’t expecting … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Manchester By The Sea

Casey and Ben Affleck both earned my approbation forever with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, a magnificent and heartbreaking piece of work.  That film was Ben Affleck’s directorial debut and Casey played the lead role.  If you haven’t seen it, go see it right now.  I’ve been waiting ever since for either Affleck brother to be able to top their incredible work in that film.  (Both have come close once or twice over the years, Ben with Argo and Casey with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.)  A decade later, Casey Affleck might have finally done it with his extraordinary work in the wrenching and deeply moving Manchester By the Sea.


In Kenneth Lonergan’s film, Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler.  When we first meet Lee in the film, he is working as a janitor on the South Shore (Quincy, MA), living a lonely life consisting of brief, mostly-terse interactions with his building’s tenants and picking bar fights.  Then a call summons Lee back to his home on the North Shore, as his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack.

I’d thought the early death of Lee’s brother would be the central tragedy of the film, but no, that’s not really what the film is about at all.  Although the film takes its time in telling us why Lee is known around town as “that” Lee Chandler, we do eventually learn the heartbreaking details of what has turned Lee into such an empty shell of a person.  It is this that is the defining event of the film, and the reason for telling this story.

Casey Affleck is simply remarkable in the role.  He commands the audience’s attention in every moment that he is on-screen (which is almost the entirety of the film’s 137-minute run-time).  As always, Mr. Affleck eschews movie-star histrionics, instead bringing Lee to life through a series of tiny, quiet moments and his gentle, almost mumbling line-delivery.  With every small action or inaction, with his posture and the look in his eyes, Mr. Affleck fully inhabits this deeply broken man.  My favorite moment in the entire film is the quiet scene in which we see Lee stuffing his clothes in a bag and then, almost reverently, carefully wrapping the three objects (I won’t tell you what they are) he picks up off the top of his chest of drawers.  That’s the whole movie right there.

I knew going in that this would be a somber movie and I was fearful that a two-and-a-half movie about grief, however well-crafted, would be a chore.  But the genius of Kenneth Lonergan’s film is how alive it is.  After two-and-a-half hours, when the credits rolled, … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2012: Take This Waltz

I went into Take This Waltz knowing full well that this wasn’t going to be the usual kind of Seth Rogen film.  Frankly, I was excited by that idea!  I have been a big fan of Seth Rogen since his work as a young kid on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.  And while I haven’t tired of his adolescent-profane schtick in movies (I am eagerly looking forward, for instance, to This is the End), I am always curious to see a comedic actor take on a more straight dramatic role.

In Take This Waltz, Michelle Williams stars as a young woman named Margot.  Margot is a writer, and as the film opens, we see that she has taken a job writing promotional copy for a Sturbridge village type old-timey recreation town.  While wandering around the town, she meets Daniel, a curious and charming young artist.  Sparks fly between the two, and do so again when they see each other on the plane-ride home.  It turns out Daniel lives on Margot’s street, only a few yards down.  This would be the charming “meet-cute” of a lovely romantic comedy, except for one small problem: Margot is married, to a chef named Lou (Seth Rogen).

I really wanted to like Take This Waltz, and I know this film has been very well-reviewed.  But I must confess to having found it to be a total bore.  After an hour, I was totally emotionally disconnected from the film, and I had a very hard time getting through the second half, probably the hardest time I’ve had finishing any movie in recent memory.

At no point in the film was I able to make any connection, as a viewer, with Margot.  The problems for me started early, as right from the opening scenes I just didn’t get her.  She has all sorts of weird, quirky mannerisms, and she seems so on edge and prickly when we meet her, particularly when Daniel initiates a conversation with her.  I wasn’t at all sure what to make of her.  It wasn’t just that I found her mannerisms unlikable (though I did), it’s that I honestly didn’t understand what the heck was going on with this woman.  It wasn’t clear to me why she was at the park, why she acted so weird around Daniel, and whether she really needed a wheelchair.  You see, it turns out that Margot is uncomfortable traveling so she pretends to need a wheelchair on flights so that she can be cared for and shuttled around by the airline crew.  By the time we got that revelation, only 10-15 minutes into the film, I was starting to sort out who this character was, … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Charlie Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (one of my very favorite films, and the film that made me forever a fan of Sam Rockwell), Adaptation (click here for my review), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He also wrote the 2008 film Synecdoche, New York, which he also directed.  (To this day, that is the first and only film Mr. Kaufman has directed.)  Based on Mr. Kaufman’s pedigree, I was of course eager to see Synecdoche, New York when it was released.  But I missed it in theatres, and when I read mixed reviews of the film, my enthusiasm to see it dimmed a bit.  It remained on my list of movies-I-want-to-see, but that is a very LONG list, and so it was only last month when I finally sat down to watch Mr. Kaufman’s movie.

Synecdoche, New York is a very bizarre film.  It is very difficult, at times, to watch (both because of the somewhat confusing narrative but also because I found much of the film’s subject matter to be incredibly depressing).  But it is also very funny in places, and I found the film’s wonderfully weird, almost dreamlike structure to be quite unique and engaging.

From the very beginning, the film is constantly, subtly playing with the idea of what is reality.  At first it seems like we’re watching a sad, quiet relationship drama, not unlike many other small-budget indie films.  We can see that the marriage between the playwright Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his painter wife Adele (Catherine Keener) is crumbling.  But, without fanfare, in the early scenes there are several blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments when the film seems to slip into Caden’s head, and what we see on-screen is not reality but rather what Caden is thinking and feeling.  I’m thinking, most notably, of several amusing instances in which Caden imagines himself in the middle of whatever he is watching on TV.

As the film progresses, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur.  After Adele leaves Caden and heads to London without him, we see Caden reading a magazine, and he comes across a spread in the magazine all about Adele.  At first I assumed that was a moment of fantasy, in which Caden was imagining Adele being completely happy and successful without him in London.  (It must be fantasy, because how could she have a lengthy article written about her only a week after she went to London?)  But later scenes caused me to question my interpretation of that scene.  The sit-up-and-take notice moment, for me, came a few minutes later (about 30 minutes into the film).  We see Caden meet Hazel (Samantha … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews Shutter Island

And so we come at last to the final installment (for now, at least!) of my “Catching Up on 2010” series, in which I’ve been writing about all of the 2010 films that I watched in my very busy January attempt to catch up on as many of the 2010 films that I’d missed as possible.

Martin Scorcese’s new film, Shutter Island, didn’t much interest me when it came out last summer.  But it was a new Scorsese picture, so it automatically had my attention.  I never got around to seeing it in theatres, but I was able to catch up to it on DVD last month.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall dispatched, along with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), to investigate the disappearance of an inmate at Shutter Island, a mental hospital for the criminally insane located off the coast of Massachusetts.  The woman, Rachel, seems to have vanished without a trace from within her locked cell.

Right away from the beginning of the film, I was a bit put off by the over-wrought score.  Every beat in those early moments was punctuated by bombastic, creepy music that seemed to state loudly, just in case we missed it, that SHUTTER ISLAND IS EVIL and something REALLY BAD is going on there!  I felt that the dour overcast skies, the deranged-looking inmates, the imposing architecture, and the unfolding story would have been more than sufficient to establish a suitably fearsome, unsettled vibe, which is clearly what Mr. Scorsese was going for in those opening scenes.  I didn’t think there was any need for the over-the-top score to shove that in our faces.

But once the plot began to unfold I thought the film settled down into a nice rhythm.  There are some great actors at play in this film, and I enjoyed watching the mysteries of the story develop and deepen.  I was also quite struck by the backstory given to Mr. DiCaprio’s character, Teddy.  It turns out that he was involved in the liberation of a concentration camp at the end of WWII, and he is haunted by the atrocities he witnessed — as well as the reprisals against the German soldiers of the camp that he participated in.  That particular story point caught me off-guard.  I had no idea that the Holocaust played any part in the story of Shutter Island.  (The trailers wisely left that tid-bit out.)  I was intrigued by this revelation of Teddy’s back-story.  It indicated to me that perhaps there was far more going on in Shutter Island than just a ghost story, and that Mr. Scorsese and his collaborators (including Laeta Kalogridis, adapting Dennis Lehane’s novel) had … [continued]