The weekend was another one of camping out at the Writers Guild Theater where I saw another couple of upcoming movies. And though officially "capsule reviews," I do stretch the definition of "capsule" by going into significantly more detail with the first one for what will be obvious reasons, related more to the making of the film rather than how the movie was itself. At least when discussing my thoughts on how the movie was I'm in the realm of "capsule..."
That first movie is All the Money in the World, which came a great deal of attention recently when it did what is the near-impossible. With Kevin Spacey in a major role, the filmmakers realized the movie risked being a huge backlash, so with only a couple months before the movie's scheduled release...they cut Spacey out of the film, recast the role with Christopher Plummer, got all the actors to commit to participate, reorganized their schedules to be available, redid the sets and costumes, got much of the same crew to re-up, and Ridley Scott re-shot all of Spacey's scenes with Plummer. And got it all done in time to meet the deadline.
Now for the "capsule" part. The movie tells the true story about the 1973 kidnapping of the grandson of J. Paul Getty, at the time the richest man in the world, apparently hewing pretty close though with some loose fudging of the story. The film is quite good, though mostly in its focus on Getty and his relationship with his estranged ex-daughter-in-law, played by Michelle Williams. The kidnap aspect of the film is good, though oddly not as compelling to me as the other story, perhaps because that's not only less-known than the kidnapping, but also not something we generally see in kidnapping stories. The acting was all fine, some very good, but remarkably with almost no time for preparation, it's Plummer's portrayal that leaps out and steals the movie. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets an Oscar nomination.
We now leave the capsule portion of the evening (for this film at least) and head over to the WGA Theater where screenwriter David Scarpa did a Q&A afterwards. I don't always stay for such thngs, but this I wanted to hear. He said he was in awe at what Ridley Scott pulled off with the involvement of the actors. That's because throughout filming, which only began nine months ago, he had been told that everything had to be rushed because there as no time at all in the schedule -- none -- for reshooting anything if they were to make their release date that was looming so close. So, when he heard about dropping Spacey, Scarpa was sure the film was doomed -- after having already shot and edited it! It was only when director Scott told him he could do it that Scarpa gave the effort any hope. And quite an undertaking it was given that Getty's scenes takes place in several countries, on several continents, they only had maybe two weeks to rush shooting, and director Scott is 80 years old and actor Plummer is 88. Interestingly, Scarpa said that he thinks the film is actually better now. There had been things that didn't work in early test screenings that they cut -- but with Plummer, they tried them again, and they did work, so they were put them back in. (One thing I wonder about that is Spacey strikes me as a much-too-young choice. He's 58, Getty was 81 at the time, and Plummer is 88. So, Spacey probably had a lot of makeup, which might have helped make Plummer's more-natural fit for the role work better on many levels. Perhaps. Or not.) There was rewriting that some of the actors and other filmmakers suggested, now that they had a second chance to see what had worked and didn't work in the original cut, though the editor said that if they wanted to meet their release date, they really couldn't change much and had to stick pretty close to what they had before so that it could basically be "inserted" into the already-edited movie and fit in the "slots" where it was needed.
Here's the trailer. It makes the movie look MUCH more like an intense, high-octane driven thriller than it is. As I said, the most compelling aspect of the story (to me) was not action, but the relationship between patriarch and former daughter-in-law which is given short shrift here --
And for fun, here's the original trailer before Plummer took over the role! It's completely different in tone -- closer to that of the movie, though still without much about the grandfather-mother relationship. And there's little of Kevin Spacey. Note that the first shot of him in the desert (this picture below, in fact) is a flashback of sorts, when the character is much younger. And there's still a lot of makeup. When he finally appears around the two-minute mark, he is indeed in very heavy make-up. And I can see that being far more distracting than Plummer's more natural fit.
The second film was The Greatest Showman, another true story, this of P.T. Barnum -- though with much less interest in following reality all that closely. But I found that (unlike usually with me) that didn't bother me because, knowing the true story somewhat, they kept it in focus with the main points, and instead were clearly telling something larger with a thematic point, and I was willing to accept what they were trying to tell, even if it wasn't the exact truth. (Hey, this is P.T. Barnum, after all...!) And most imiportantly, they made that point with great sizzle and bravado. Stylistically, it's somewhat in the vein of Moulin Rouge a few years back, though more substantive and with less razzle-dazzle. Though it does play loose with the story and skirts along the surface for much of the film, I found myself having a wonderful time. They're trying to make a serious film, not merely splash, and do a dazzling job. (And I must note director Michael Gracey for that -- who not only has put together a vibrantly flamboyant film, but...it's his directing debut. Watch for more from him.) Fun too is to watch Hugh Jackman show that he isn't just an actor who can sing, but is an actual musical-comedy star, from his many Broadway and West End stage roles. He's very much in his element and is terrific. The others here, including Zac Efron and Zendaya, all give very nice, and surprisingly understated performances -- and it must have been The Michelle Williams Weekend, because she shows up again, this time as Barnum's wife, Charity. The songs are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who not only won an Oscar for their work on La La Land, but also a Tony for last season's Dear Evan Hansen. Honestly, I was not a fan of the score to La La Land, and find some of the same issues here, as well, with the songs being effective but unmemorable. BUT...I liked them a good deal more in The Greatest Showman. They fit the story and characters much better, and help define and move things along nicely. And even if I can't quite remember them well, there were about four songs that stood out -- something like, "My Wish," "Not Enough," "This is Me" and a nice ballad that Charity Barnum sings. (I suspect "Not Enough" and/or "This is Me" could get Oscar nominations -- I particularly liked the former, though the latter, being more thematic to the film, probably will get more attention.)
Here's the second trailer for the film. The initial trailer tells the story well, but I think this one comes a little closer to the sensibility of the movie.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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