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The month’s end draws close, so that can only mean it’s time for another round-up of movies what we have done watched and that. Join us as we talk the heck out of All The Money In The World, Molly’s Game, Phantom Thread, and The Titan.
I fully expected this film to be a yarn about ghosts, and so was roundly disappointed to find this latest PT Anderson joint focusing on the relationship between Daniel Day Lewis’ fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock and the former waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps) who becomes his assistant and lover, and the dark turns that it perhaps unexpectedly takes.
The production design is as immaculate as we’ve come to expect from Anderson, and Lewis’ character commitment is, as always, remarkable. However, the travails of the Downton Abbey set to me can only be expressed on the world’s tiniest violin, and so this film rather bounced off me.
That said, it’s another powerhouse performance from Day Lewis, and if you find that character a bit less repellant than I do, it will perhaps hold some enjoyment.
Jessica Chastain’s Molly Bloom seemed to have her life pretty well planned out for a teenager. As demanded by her father Larry (Kevin Costner), her lifelong training brings her to the edge of qualifying for the Olympic ski team, and her academic results should see her follow that up with law school. However, a freak accident sees her hope vanquished, and she decides to take a year off to recuperate in LA.
So, she was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when she meets us, and soon after meets property developer and all-round prick Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), who hires her as a PA / scream recipient. Things take a different path when she’s asked to run Keith’s regular high-stakes, mainly legal poker nights, where some of Hollywood’s most powerful play, including Michael Cera’s Player X, an amalgam of some of rich actor pricks, but apparently mainly Toby McGuire.
So it goes, with Bloom learning the game and improving her hosting, making sizable tips in the process, and also learning some of the secrets of the powerbrokers. She gets so good at this that, when an irrational Keith fires her, she steals the poker game and players away with her to a plush hotel suite, doing a much better job and making more money as a result. Her new priority is keeping Player X happy by finding a steady stream of other players for him to dominate, because, again, he’s a prick who acts like someone is continually pissing in his cornflakes.
Eventually that falls apart once Player X’s ego gets in the way for the last time, and Molly takes her game to New York, running even higher stake games at the same time as she’s running herself into the ground. Some seemingly minor drug-addled mistakes lead, in a roundabout way, to the framing device of the film, her defence in a wide ranging criminal investigation into organised crime that sees a now-broke, asset-seized Molly hire elite fictional lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) as defence attorney and exposition sounding board.
Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut sees him working off of his own adaptation of Molly Bloom’s autobiography, and it appears as though he’s been paying attention to the directors he’s worked with to produce a very solid outing. Nothing, perhaps, stands out as overtly awe-inspiring moments of brilliance, but I don’t recall any clunking mis-steps either, so smatterings of applause all round.
Without the flash to distract, then, it’s mostly hanging on the strengths of the script and the performances, and thankfully that’s sturdy enough to carry the film. Chastain gives an assured interpretation of the character, although one I took a while to warm to. I’d been thinking that she’s not a tremendously sympathetic character, until it dawned on me that she’s not actually asking for any sympathy, just telling us what happened. That works pretty well, apart from the one seen in the final act where she reunites with her estranged father that I’m going to guess is an invention, mainly because it seems to have been written in to balance a largely emotionless retelling of the story. It’s a fine scene in isolation, but seems alien to its surroundings.
It’s definitely Jessica Chastain’s show, and is all the better for it, but the supporting cast are uniformly solid too. I keep using that word. It’s about as good a description of the film that I can think of. It’s a good story, well told, and an agreeable way to spend a couple of hours. I’m not going to pretend that I was blown away by any particular aspect of it – it’s very much the sum of its parts, but all those parts are pretty good, so there’s no shame in that game. Recommendation: watch it.
When the grandson of John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), the world’s richest man at the time, is kidnapped, efforts by his fixer Fletcher Chase (Marky Mark) and the kid’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) are hampered by the old man’s penny-pinching and intransigence.
It’s probably doomed to be remembered mainly as “that film they cut Kevin Spacey out of”, which is a slightly unfair diminishing. Particularly when it’s done so seamlessly, and also when you look at the photos of Spacey in the role, looking like a almagamation of the Statler and Waldorf muppets, but less realistically human. That doesn’t seem like a great fit for this role, and Plummer seems a much better choice.
It’s an oddly focused film in many ways – I’d expect a kidnapping drama to perhaps focus on the strange bonds between kidnapper and victim. There’s a bit of that. Or on the efforts to retrieve him. There’s a bit of that. Negotiating with a rich old geezer to secure the ransom payment? Well, perhaps wouldn’t expect that, but there’s a bit of that here too. All of these parts are individually fine, but don’t mesh together brilliantly. Well enough, to be sure, but after it finished it did seem somewhat disjointed.
That said, unquestionably Getty Snr. is the most interesting character in the film and it’s no wonder that we spend more time with him than anyone else. Unfortunately, not enough time to get a proper handle on him, and that’s a touch frustrating.
It’s another solid but unspectacular outing for Ridley Scott, and overall one that’s worth watching but certainly not as any kind of priority.
In the not-that-distant future of Netflix’s latest sci-fi offering, the Earth is ruined. Resources are depleted, and humanity is warring for the scraps. Our last hope is to get off this rock, but we don’t have the technology to terraform other planets, so an audacious experiment to drastically alter humans instead is cooked up by Tom Wilkinson’s Dr. Collingwood. He sequesters an international bunch of military peeps, including his friend, Sam Worthington’s Lt. Rick Janssen, who have in the past survived extreme situations to a military base and explains, loosely, what’s going to happen to them.
We’ve found that a moon of Saturn, Titan that seems an ideal holiday home, apart from the extreme cold and the nitrogen/methane atmosphere and so on. So, as mentioned, it’s time for some gene therapy to mould humans to fit Titan, conveyed here by Janssen falling sick then swimming really fast and freaking out his wife, Taylor Schilling’s Dr. Abi Janssen, who’s then motivated to find out exactly what Collingwood’s up to, and why subjects are starting to die, or worse, kill others. The answers will surprise you! At least if you were expecting something sensible.
I forget where I heard this, so in the absence of attribution I’ll say it’s commonly held that you get one big ask for free in science fiction. So for instance, Star Trek and many like it say that faster than light travel is feasible, and with that easy access to an infinite universe, habitable planets, existence of aliens et al seems reasonable. The Titan‘s problem may well be that it doesn’t go far enough, early enough. I’m no expert, of course, but it seems like if we had cause to we could put people anywhere in the solar system, given the time, and the money, and the incentive. Going to Titan doesn’t seem like something that needs special pleading.
And, at least as it’s first introduced to us, the gene therapy spoken of seems within current medical knowledge’s event horizon, at least in the middle distant future. This kind of lures you into thinking that The Titan is a broadly speaking “hard” sci-fi endeavour, a rough variant of what the excellent Gattaca served up a few decades ago. At least, until, very abruptly, it is revealed to not be “hard” sci-fi at all, or “firm” sci fi, or “melted to a puddle” sci-fi, or even “sci”. By the time it’s revealed that, and, well, spoiler warning, I suppose, the scientific experiments here reduce to selecting a random animal and splicing their genes into folks to see what happens, the swing from serious to seriously stupid is too abrupt to maintain a straight face.
You have to ask, what, precisely, was the end goal in all of this? To spend a ridiculous amount of time, money, and lives to send one big blue bastardised semi-human to float about on a distant planet by themselves? How does that save the human race? How can this nonsense be replicated when resources are dwindling to nothing? What on Titan was the point of all this?
It’s a shame really, as there’s a good, not stupid film in here if the last act’s excesses were excised. There’s a token consideration to the ethics of this sort of experimentation balanced with the apparent vital need for the work that to a boring old git like me would be a perfect thing to explore in the final stretches of this, rather than the Blue Man Group Action Unspectacular that’s foisted on us here.
And it has the cast for it, too – Tom Wilkinson is a dependable hand, and so is Sam Worthington on the smaller scale stuff – let’s politely gloss over his awful turns as an action lead in dreck like Avatar and Terminator: Salvation. For that first half they’re doing quite well, too, Worthington portraying the effects of the treatment believably enough, and Wilkinson suitably assured but raising enough of an eyebrow at his motives and methods. Taylor Schilling and Nathalie Emmanuel give decent support, Schilling in particular proving empathetic.
It’s a pity it’s all in support of such errant nonsense, in the final product. It’s all very disappointing. I was quite enjoying it until I realised it was dreadful. I’ve been rope-a-doped. Another mark in the “garbage” column of Netflix’s productions.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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