Friday, December 29, 2017

Rapid Reviews: All the Money in the World and Call Me by Your Name

With the worldwide phenomena of the #MeToo movement engrossing every walk of life, Hollywood was no exception to the unmasking of workplace sexual harassment claims. One unexpected casualty of the movement was Kevin Spacey, a veteran actor with a stunning resume, who faces multiple accusations of unwanted sexual advances. Consequently, director Ridley Scott felt compelled to do the unthinkable with his new film All the Money in the World. A mere six weeks before its official release, Scott recast Academy Award Winner Christopher Plummer in Spacey's role and re-shot 22 scenes in 9 days with the committed aide of his cast and crew members. But how much of an effect would all of these 11th-hour changes have on the overall quality of the film? Truth be told, these last-minute edits are the least of the movie's issues.

All the Money tells the unbelievable true story of oilman John Paul Getty (Plummer), the world's richest man, who refuses to pony up a $17 million cash-ransom demanded by the kidnappers of his 16 year-old grandson Paul (Charlie Plummer, no relation) in 1973 Italy. But when Paul's mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), pleas desperately for Getty's assistance, he enlists the services of personal advisor and ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to take care of matters "as quickly and inexpensively as possible". Pressed for time as Paul's abductors make it clear that they aren't afraid to kill the teen if necessary, Gail and Chase try to scheme a way to cut a deal.

There's a more interesting story embedded somewhere within this broadly told screenplay from David Scarpa. But instead, All the Money muddles its focus and emerges as a thinly-elaborated and thrill-less bout of factual exhaustion. Widely outstretched to nearly 135 minutes of uninspiring and occasionally agonizing narrative, Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer deliver effort-saving performances that are but twinkles of starlight in a dark and empty void of crumbling deficiencies. The film's two most-prominent characters, Gail and Getty, become lost in a sea of meaningless subplots. The lengthy amount of attention given to the kidnappers and their prisoner, Paul, lacks the required tension needed to justify its overwhelming inclusion. Moreover, Mark Wahlberg is so noticeably miscast that it's difficult to tell whether his designed character arc is poorly scripted, terribly acted, or a disastrous combination of both. Either way, this bitter and cold real-life story lacks a genuine purpose. It fails as a suspenseful thriller, it underwhelms as a cheaply-explored character study, and it by no means engages the viewer emotionally. You will find some brilliant examples of skilled acting and a few strong moments of direction sprinkled throughout the film, yet there's very little else to be found inside of Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Although it took a pair of tries to finally get it right, last year's Best Picture award went to Barry Jenkins' poetic and astounding drama, Moonlight. The film focuses on a central character who experiences a life-long journey of uncovering his sexual identity. This underlying similarity also reigns supreme in Luca Guadagnino's critically-adored festival darling, Call Me by Your Name, which makes it categorically impossible to avoid a distinct comparison between these two cinematic achievements. Yet, no matter how much you try to weigh one against the other, much like Barry Jenkins' prestigous award-winner, Call Me by Your Name appears destined to end up as a Best Picture Nominee from the Academy Awards.

Set against the picturesque landscape of Northern Italy circa the early 1980s, Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is a gifted scholar and musician born to a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) who's gathering research during the summer months. And as his father's latest research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer), a strapping American man radiating with confidence and a chiseled build, visits and stays at the family's residence, Elio's sexual curiosity begins to transform from an internal passion to an exterior pursuit. The seventeen year old boy eventually confesses his feelings to Oliver and they embark on an unforgettable summer romance that's doomed by an inescapable expiration date when Oliver must return home to the United States.

Call Me by Your Name is a sweet and subtle examination of first love in all of its beauty and heartache. James Ivory's adapted construction of Elio's sexual evolution from an inward curiosity to an outward plea for Oliver's companionship is a true marvel. And while the film's ability to stir an emotional response occurred more in a meditative retrospect than in the actual moment of viewing, mostly due to an overly detailed and laboring pace, director Luca Guadagnino achieves his ultimate goal and delivers an effective dramatic story. Speaking of Guadagnino, his eye is spectacular as he captures an array of masterful shots that are emboldened by pristine cinematography. These technical and atmospheric accomplishments are further supported by a fantastic lead performance from Golden Globe and SAG Nominee, Timothee Chalamet. The youngster serves as the life-force behind Call Me by Your Name and he effortlessly captures the undulating teenage emotion engulfed by first-time love. And despite my mixed feelings regarding Armie Hammer's onscreen work, perhaps a little off-putting due to the clear age difference between the characters, fellow supporting star Michael Stuhlbarg mesmerizes with an unforgettable closing soliloquy regarding intimacy and the important of discovering love in its purest form. Experiencing Call Me by Your Name can often feel like a chore, wading through the sometimes exhaustive nuance of Luca Guadagnino and James Ivory's storytelling, but it's also a tender and heartfelt journey that's worthy of your patience.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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