All the Money in the World (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
We all need money, but there are degrees of desperation. — Anthony Burgess
Christopher Plummer’s eyes are the stars of “All the Money in the World,” a dramatic thriller involving a teenager (Charlie Plummer) kidnapped in Italy during the early 1970s and his grandfather who refuses to pay a cent for his ransom despite the fact that the old man is the most successful capitalist in the history of the world. Fascinating from start to finish, as a character study and as a genre picture, Ridley Scott directs his project with a highly meticulous eye, a great exercise of maintaining tension and breaking it as well as a statement piece of our relationship as a society when it comes to the paper we worship.
The veteran performer plays the character like a sphinx, elegant and full of riddles between the lines. The character, J. Paul Getty, is written in such a way that it is nearly impossible to like him because no amount of money is enough to satiate his craving for it. And yet Plummer has a way about him that makes us wish to know Getty beyond what he values. For instance, during the first act’s important flashbacks, his interpretation of the capitalist is rather grandfatherly with hints of warmth despite the armor he has learned to put on over the years because people consistently wish to take advantage of his wealth.
His level of performance is matched by Michelle Williams as the increasingly determined mother. Notice how she changes her affectations depending on the individuals she is surrounded by. Gail provides the opposite force. Because of where she comes from, which the script is smart not to detail in order to avoid melodrama, she values family over money. Getty knows this, in a way looking down on her for it, and so he finds ways to challenge her ideals. Will she break at the pressures not only coming from the crisis involving her son but also from the man who wishes to cheapen her worth?
Beautifully shot, the film looks as though a heavy fog sits right on top of images thereby muting the colors and creating a cold or detached feeling about it. Initially, I thought the strategy is to mimic the look of crime-thrillers from the ‘70s and not much else. Upon closer inspection, however, I believe such a technique is employed in order to establish an air of unpredictability, that anything can and will happen at a drop of a hat. As the knot begins to tighten, the mother increasingly beleaguered because her billionaire former father-in-law refuses to pay seventeen million dollars, a blip in his earnings, we start to wonder whether the kidnappers value the teenager as much as Getty values his ancient artifacts.
Based on the book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” by John Pearson, “All the Money in the World” offers an international texture about it, like those first-rate Korean and German procedural thrillers where you think you know where it is headed based on the mainstream Hollywood pictures we so often use as compass, but it goes on completely different directions at times. It invites thinking viewers to wade neck-deep into its dramatic presentation.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist for the “Millennium” magazine, had just been ordered by the courts to pay Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg) of an amount that would almost render him bankrupt as remuneration for libel. Meanwhile, Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), one of the most successful businessmen in the country, received yet another picture of a flower from his niece’s killer. Aware of Mikael’s financial situation and public embarrassment, Henrick contacted the journalist for a job involving a bit of investigating and hopefully solving a crime that happened forty years ago. Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, the cold detachment of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” seeped through the pores of every frame yet the screenplay by Steven Zaillian found a way for us to care about Mikael and his eventual partner in solving the mystery, the magnetic and enigmatic Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). There was something great at stake for the both of them. Henrick claimed that, by the end of the investigation, he would give Mikael hard evidence that would lead to his exoneration while Lisbeth was driven by her need to catch a man who had gotten away with sexually molesting and killing women in cold blood. As they became closer to the identity of the killer, the film’s mood felt more portentous and menacing, reflected by more intense winter storms and increasingly sparse score. I was most fascinated with the scenes dedicated to Mikael asking the Vanger family (Stellan Skarsgård, Joely Richardson, Geraldine Jame) all sorts of questions about what happened or what they thought happened to Harriet. Despite the picture not having a lot of obvious chase scenes, there was an adrenaline rush because the chase took place in our minds. We looked at the suspects and ascertained the discrepancies among the pictures provided by Henrick, what the family members had to say about the matter, and how they reacted when certain questions moved toward a more sensitive subject. Watching Mikael inch toward a conclusion was like observing a doctor touching his patient ever so carefully and finding his way to the parts that hurt. We also had a chance to see why Lisbeth was the perfect partner for Mikael. She had her share of difficulties like having to report to an unethical guardian (Yorick van Wageningen), using our heroine for sexual favors every time she needed money. Despite being declared as incompetent to live on her own by the state, Lisbeth was very smart and calculating. She was more than capable of extricating herself from a man who thought he could get away with illicit and immoral activities because he was in a position of power. With Craig’s world-weary, humiliated gaze and Mara’s unpredictable bursts of intense anger, the picture was effective as a procedural and a character-driven work. But what I admired most about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by David Fincher, was its courage in taking the liberty to slightly deviate from the original film for the sake of being a better movie. For instance, compared to “Män som hatar kvinnor,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the ending that this version offered provided more insight on how tough and lonely it was to be in Lisbeth’s leather jacket while luring us to wonder what would happen next.
★★★ / ★★★★
Oliver (Ewan McGregor) was still mourning over his father’s death when he met Anna (Mélanie Laurent) at a costume party, who couldn’t speak at the time due to laryngitis, an actress who was always on the move. Through her, he hoped to determine his place in terms of making a genuine, stable commitment with another person. Along with grief, Oliver felt confusion. His father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), at seventy-five, came out as a gay man right after his wife died. He claimed that he didn’t just want to be “theoretically gay” and he wanted to do something about it. So, he posted an ad and met Andy (Goran Visnjic), a younger man who was able to give Hal happiness for four great years. “Beginners,” written and directed by Mike Mills, seamlessly jumped back and forth between life and death, father and son. Oliver and Hal’s relationship, though sad and somewhat strained, was fascinating to observe. Not once did we get to hear them say, “I love you” to one another yet we felt that unspoken sentiment through their actions. It may come off that Oliver was a bit repelled by his father’s homosexuality. Regardless whether it be the truth or not, I was convinced that he respected his dad. Hal was, essentially, a prisoner his entire life. He was a prisoner of the times and his sexuality before he came out. When he did, he was still a prisoner because he almost immediately learned that he had a tumor in his lungs and that it had metastasized. What I loved about him was the fact that he didn’t allow himself to be a victim. He was a fighter. He faced difficulties with optimism. He didn’t allow the disease to limit who he was. I could look in his eyes and feel that he thought he deserved happiness. Not even his own son, an adult, could get in the way of that. And it shouldn’t. Most of the picture’s source of comedy was Hal telling his son about his adventures like how much fun he had at a gay club. But telling stories over the phone or in person was different than being physically included. When surrounded by gay men, Oliver almost distanced himself. His discomfort was apparent. There were several scenes that involved Oliver’s childhood and his relationship with his mom (Mary Page Keller). He valued the idea of his mother and father being together even though he, as a child, felt like there was something wrong in the marriage. The idea and the fears that came with it was probably why he consistently had trouble staying in a relationship. Unlike his father, I got the impression that he, subconsciously, felt like he didn’t deserve happiness. But he does. He just needed to let go of the rules, relax, and live his life the way he wanted to. He was a product of an American society that characterized itself as having one “right” answer, one “right” way to live. “Beginners” had a defined theme which was adaptation: Hal’s sexuality and cancer, Oliver’s sense of self-worth, and even Arthur, Oliver’s dog that can telepathically communicate, getting used to his new owner. Touching but never too heavy or suffocating, it was able to impart valuable lessons for both young and old.
The New World (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
English settlers landed on Louisiana in 1607. Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) was to be hanged, on the grounds of mutiny, the moment they reached land. But Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) changed his orders because he knew Captain Smith was a good explorer. He just needed to be controlled. When Captain Smith met Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher), daughter of an Indian leader, the two began a forbidden love affair. Written and directed by Terrence Malick, “The New World” moved at a deliberate slow pace in order to highlight man’s relationship with nature. It worked most of the time. I saw beauty in the way the director captured the wind caressing the grass, the way the characters leaned into the magnificent trees, and the elegant movement of the water as the ships heaved its way onto land. Pocahontas had two men in her life and the emotions were dealt with complexity. In the end, I was convinced she loved them both in different ways. When she was with Captain Smith, I noticed that they always looked into each other’s eyes. The way the camera lingered as the captain taught Pocahontas English words held a sweetness and innocence. As their bodies slowly inched closer to one another, we felt their concern that someone could be looking. There was an understated joy when they touched each other’s skin. When Pocahontas was with John Rolfe (Christian Bale), the two spent their time looking at a distance, as if transfixed at the sight of the future. But when they did look into each other’s eyes, they shared an outward passion whether it be in a hut or out in the garden. Through the men in her life, we saw the way she changed. She left her culture because she was a dreamer. But leaving didn’t mean forgetting. She was curious of the life outside of her sphere and she felt as though her sarcrifices were worth it. Like Captain Smith and John Rolfe, she was an explorer. But my favorite scene didn’t have anything to do with a shot involving a gorgeous scenery or her interactions with the two most important men in her life. It was when Pocahontas handed a homeless man a coin and gently touched his cheek. It held a great meaning for me because it was reassuring. Even though her style of clothing and the way in which she carried herself had changed, she was the same person we met in the beginning of the film. She was playful, compassionate, and connected with the Earth. It’s understandable when I hear people say that the film is just too slow for their liking. It wasn’t plot-driven. Most movies are but they don’t need to be. “The New World” was an exercise of the senses and, in my opinion, how we can relate our personal experiences with it. As an immigrant, scenes like Pocahontas smelling a book because she had never seen one before had meaning for me. I grew up in the Philippines not having a computer in my home. When I moved to America, I didn’t know how to type on the keyboard or even use the mouse to click at an icon to go to the internet. In small ways, I saw myself in Pocahontas. Sometimes small is enough.
★★ / ★★★★
A government research facility (led by Max von Sydow) had begun to use psychics to go into people’s dreams and actively stop whatever it was that gave people nightmares. However, some of the psychics weren’t strong enough to withstand certain psyches so the enigmatic facility hired Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) who earned money by using his abilities in the racetracks. On the side, a political leader (Christopher Plummer) wanted to use the research to obtain more power in the government via a president’s (Eddie Albert) assassination. “Dreamscape,” directed by Joseph Ruben, had a lot of great ideas but it was poor in execution so the film turned out average and often lackluster. I didn’t mind the dated special and visual effects because, at least for me, how ideas are put together is what matters most in a science fiction picture. There were far too many glaring distractions such as the unethical romance between the characters of Quaid (the subject) and the Kate Capshaw (the scientist). There could have been more tension between the two if they didn’t end up in bed together but instead they suffered from flirtations that led to dead-ends. It could also have added another dimension to the material because the research oftentimes led to actual dead-ends. The film was at its best when it explored how scary it was to plunge into a stranger’s dreams. It should have taken advantage of the fact that the seemingly innocuous individuals on the outside may have the darkest subconsciousness. Since the subject of the picture had such a high concept, it should have explored the unpredictability of fringe science. Another interesting aspect of the story was the other psychic (David Patrick Kelly) named Tommy who mastered how to navigate through other people’s psyches. As Alex’ rival, Tommy should have been exponentially more menacing. Instead, I found him to be a bit too cartoonish and it was difficult for me to see him as a villainous parasite. And he didn’t need to be so obvious. I think the best villains are the ones who are insidious, the ones who pretend to be the hero’s friend. “Dreamscape” was not a bad movie but it needed a lot of editing (such as getting rid of the annoying music that signaled audiences that a character was a good guy or a bad guy, depending which character was introduced) and sharpening of ideas. I enjoyed that the plot wasn’t too complicated but it needed a bit of edge and more friction between the subjects, the experimenters, and the outside parties. Potential got this film halfway to greatness but it needed something extra–something beyond the conspiracy and the nightmares.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” stars Christopher Plummer as the title character who won a bet against the devil (Tom Waits) and gained immortality. About a thousand years later, Doctor Parnassus now with a daughter (Lily Cole), the devil came back to make another deal. That is, whoever seduced five souls into entering a magical mirror and making certain decisions would win and ultimately keep the girl. Quirky characters played by Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer and Heath Ledger (with a mysterious past) were a part of Dr. Parnassus’ traveling performers. I thought this was a particularly challenging film to watch because the fantastic elements mixed with playing around with time and malleable loyalties of characters were difficult to keep track in one sitting. Added on top of it all was Ledger’s untimely death so Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell had to come in and fill in his shoes whenever Ledger entered the cryptic mirror. While the three did a good job across the board, I thought none of them could match the intensity and fluidity that Ledger put on the table. The visuals were a sight to behold but sometimes the picture got too carried away with the images where it took some power away from the story. I thought the movie functioned best when the story was at the forefront and the visuals were used as an aid to make the players realize something within themselves. For instance, I thought one of the most effective scenes in the movie was when Depp lured a rich lady into stepping onto a boat to meet her fate. There was something about it that was so poetic–almost touching–but at the same time creepy because of the anticipation of what would happen to her next. When the story and the images worked together, the project had me in a vicegrip. Unfortunately, exemplary scenes like that came few and far between. Another problem I had was only toward the end did we get to see what lengths Dr. Parnassus would go through to save his daughter. Most of the time, he was just in the background drinking like there’s no tomorrow while the movie focused on Ledger’s past. I was less interested in the mysterious stranger’s past. I actually wanted to know more about the man who lived for a thousand years and the many things he had to go through and only to meet the devil again at the most inopportune time. In a nutshell, the lead character needed more dimension by means of a more focused writing. Imagination is something that “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” directed by Terry Gilliam, did not lack. However, the execution was ultimately weak and I felt like it could have been so much darker. I wouldn’t mind seeing a remake of this film twenty or thirty years from now because the elements of a great film were certainly there. It’s just that circumstances prevented it from reaching great heights.
★★ / ★★★★
Clocking in under 80 minutes, “9” tells the story of ragdoll-like creatures in a postapocalyptic world who struggle to survive against the machines. When one of the creatures named 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) woke up, he started to ask questions like what had happened in the world, why they had to live in fear, and what they could do so that they would have a better existence. 1 (Christopher Plummer), the leader of the creatures, did not like 9’s questions and they often clashed on how to approach various situations. Other voices included Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly and Fred Tatasciore. Written and directed by Shane Acker, I did like the imagination and the high level of animation in “9” but I felt like the story could have used a lot of work. Only toward the end did it somewhat come together which was not a good thing because I was confused for more than half the picture. It brought up more questions than answers. For instance, it tried to tackle the war between humans and machines, the concept of having a soul, and immortality. Such complex and controversial subjects were merely glossed over when it should really have been discussed and explored. For a movie that was only 80 minutes long, that certainly did not help when it came to having more depth in the story. I admired the action sequences. They were undeniably exciting because I did care for the creatures. Even though they did not look remotely human, I quickly cared about them due to their ability to think like we do and feel like we do, especially 9 because he was capable of moral evaluation. With that said, I don’t think this film was made for children because it was violent, dark and sometimes the characters met a brutal death. I hate to say this because I know this film took a lot of effort to make but I believe that if the filmmakers spent more time adding scenes that could enhance the issues it tried to deal with, “9” would have been a superior animated feature. I do give it credit, however, for not trying to be another cute Pixar movie designed for children. I could easily tell that it was trying to be something more but unfortunately the missing pieces were just too jarring for me to ignore.