Michelle Williams

All the Money in the World

 

06/01/18

You have to admire Ridley Scott. At eighty years old, he seems to have levels of energy and commitment that would put younger directors to shame. Having emerged from the disappointment that was Alien Covenant, he threw himself headlong into his next project, the stranger than fiction tale of the abduction of Paul Getty III, nephew of multi-millionaire J Paul Getty. The film was in post-production when the allegations about Kevin Spacey (who was playing J Paul Getty) emerged, and Scott went to the unprecedented lengths of reshooting all of his scenes with a new actor, Christopher Plummer. The fact that Plummer is now being talked up for Oscar nominations speaks volumes about how successfully he has been assimilated into the final product.

It’s 1976 and sixteen year old Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is wandering around Rome, enjoying life, when he is unceremoniously bundled into a van and driven to a remote location in the wilds of Italy. His mother, Gail (Michelle Williams in her latest onscreen transformation), receives a phone call saying that the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of seventeen million dollars and that Gail should approach her father-in-law for the money.

But there’s a problem. J Paul Getty isn’t your usual sort of millionaire. He may be the richest man in history but he still launders his own underwear when he stays in hotels and has even had a coin-operated red telephone box installed in his British mansion for whenever guests wish to use the phone. He outright refuses to pay the ransom and brings in Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to handle negotiations with the kidnappers. As time slips by, Paul’s situation begins to look more and more precarious… and it’s only a matter of time before blood is shed.

Screenwriters David Scarpa and John Pearson have crafted a sprawling, but fascinating story, with details so weird that they really couldn’t pass for fiction. Okay, so some elements have been tweaked for the sake of building suspense – the conclusion of the case was certainly not as nail-bitingly dramatic as it’s portrayed here and occasiona liberties have been taken with the chronology of the story – but it all makes for a compelling narrative and, naturally, Scott makes every frame look gorgeous. Michelle Williams seems to completely reinvent herself from film to film and Plummer is good enough to make you stop caring what sort of a job Spacey might have made of so meaty a role.

Ironically of course, the reshoots have helped to bring this film to wider public attention and, judging by the packed afternoon screening we’re attending, All the Money in the World is destined to do a lot better than its predecessor. It absolutely deserves to.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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The Greatest Showman

03/01/17

Okay, so we need to get one thing clear: The Greatest Showman is in no way a biopic. It may purport to tell the tale of PT Barnum, but it’s so far removed from the insalubrious truth that it’s more accurately filed under fiction. It borrows Barnum’s name, that’s all, and a few details from his life. Otherwise, it’s pure fantasy: a complete reimagining of the infamous freak show.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work; it’s a highly entertaining and lively piece of cinema, beautifully produced and performed with precision and wit. It’s bright and exhilarating, with catchy tunes. No doubt about it: this is fun.

In this version of events, PT Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is a striver: a poor tailor’s son with huge ambitions, who falls in love with Charity (Michelle Williams), a rich, upper-class girl, and is determined to provide her with the lifestyle he believes she deserves. He’s a risk taker and a charlatan, but he’s charming with a big heart, and disarms everyone he meets. When they fall on hard times, he decides to open a circus, showcasing such ‘freaks’ as a bearded lady, conjoined twins, a dwarf and a fat man. In his fictional incarnation, he’s not exploiting them, exactly, although he is making money from their efforts; he’s celebrating them, offering redemption to those society has rejected, helping them to forge a kind of family. And all progresses swimmingly, until he can’t resist the charms of opera singer, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems like a passport into the higher echelons of society. He risks everything to promote her, and it all comes crashing down.

It’s utterly enchanting, even if it isn’t true, and there are some excellent set pieces, such as the freaks’ defiant song of self-determination, This Is Me, led by bearded lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), whose voice is just spectacular. Jackman is very good too, and Michelle Williams proves again that she’s a real chameleon, able to convince – it seems – in almost any role.

I was disappointed, though, to learn that Rebecca Ferguson doesn’t sing her own songs  (she is dubbed by Loren Allred); Ferguson is a fine actress with a face just made for the big screen, but was there really no one available who could deliver the whole deal? It seems a shame to give the part to someone who can’t play it, just because she is a ‘name’. There are enough stars in this film to carry it, surely?

Still, quibbles aside, this is eminently watchable, itself fulfilling (ironically perhaps) what it claims were Barnum’s aims: it’s rare indeed to see such a diverse range of performers given such prominent roles in a movie. It has the feelgood factor in bucketloads, and is eminently suitable for a family audience.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Film Bouquets 2017

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All things considered, 2017 was a pretty good year for film – so much so that we’ve decided to award twelve bouquets – and it still means leaving out some excellent movies. Here, in order of release, are our favourite films of 2017.

Manchester By the Sea

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This bleakly brilliant film got the new year off to a great start. Powered by superb central performances by Casey Affleck and (especially) Michelle Williams, it was a stern viewer indeed who didn’t find themselves reduced to floods of tears.

Moonlight

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An affecting coming-of-age movie chronicling the life of a young black man as he gradually came to terms with his own sexuality, this film, of course, beat La La Land to the best movie Oscar in unforgettable style. It absolutely deserved its success.

Get Out

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A ‘social thriller’ that, despite it’s serious message, enjoyed a lightness of touch that made it a joy to watch. There were shades of The Stepford Wives and this witty calling card from director Jordan Peele suggested that cinema had found a hot new talent.

The Handmaiden: Director’s Cut

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Park Chan-wook’s masterpiece, loosely based on Sarah Water’s novel, Fingersmith, took us into the Korea of the 1930s and kept us spellbound for nearly three hours. Lush cinematography, a genuine sense of eroticism and fine performances from an ensemble cast – what’s not to like?

The Red Turtle

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This stunning animation from Michael Dudok de Wit, co-produced by Japan’s Studio Ghibli,  exemplified the best artistic traditions of east and west – a beautiful allegory about life and love and relationships. A delight to watch and a story that we couldn’t stop thinking about.

Baby Driver

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Edgar Wright’s adrenaline-fuelled chase movie ticked all the right boxes – a great soundtrack, breathless pacing and an intriguing central character in Ansel Elgort’s titular hero. It all added up to an unforgettable movie experience.

God’s Own Country

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This extraordinarily accomplished debut by writer/director Francis Lee played like ‘Brokeback Yorkshire’ but had enough brio to be heralded in its own right. Beak and brutal, it told the story of two farm hands slowly coming to terms with their growing love for each other. Magnificent stuff.

Mother!

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Darren Aronfsky’s absurd fantasy alienated as many viewers as it delighted, but we found ourselves well and truly hooked. From Jennifer Lawrence’s great central performance to the film’s bruising finale, this was definitely a film not to be missed – and one of the year’s most discussed films.

Blade Runner 2049

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We waited thirty years for a sequel to Ridley Scott’s infamous film and I’m glad to say it was worth the wait – a superior slice of dystopian cinema that dutifully referenced the original whilst adding some innovative ideas of its own. Denis Villeneauve handled the director’s reins expertly and Hans Zimmer’s score was also memorable.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Another piece of eerie weirdness from director Yorgos Lanthimos, this film also managed to divide audiences, but for us it was a fascinating tale, expertly told and one that kept us hooked to the final, heart-stopping scene. A unique cinematic experience.

Paddington 2

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Yes, really! The sequel to the equally accomplished Paddington was an object lesson in how to effortlessly please every single member of an audience. Charming, funny and – at one key point – heartbreaking, this also featured a scene-stealing turn from Hugh Grant.

The Florida Project

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Think ‘Ken Loach does Disney’ and you’re halfway there. Sean Baker’s delightful film might just have been our favourite of 2017, a moving story about the tragic underbelly of life in contemporary America. Brooklyn Prince’s performance as six-year-old Moonee announced the arrival of a precocious new talent.

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

Certain Women

08/03/17

Certain Women seems like an appropriate choice for International Women’s Day. Our expectations are buoyed by the stellar cast (and yes, I’m including Kristen Stewart in that; we can’t hold Twilight against her forever), and we are not disappointed. This quiet little film is a lovely, lovely thing.

There are three (largely) unrelated stories here, all set in the same Montana town. First up is Laura (Laura Dern), a stressed-out lawyer with an unhappy client. The hyper-realism of the film means that even the most dramatic moments are beautifully understated: there is no sensationalism, only humanity and warmth. There is nothing so simple as a baddy, just flawed people, doing the best they can – and carrying on when things go wrong. Dern excels as the overworked, harassed professional, berating herself for her failings, and always striving to do more. It’s compelling stuff.

The second tale is Gina’s. Michelle Williams plays the role with customary skill, imbuing the ambitious businesswoman with vulnerability as well as zeal. We know her solid-seeming relationship is flawed, because we’ve already seen her husband (James Le Gros) in the first story, leaving Laura’s bed, but again writer-director Kelly Reichardt eschews the cliched route, and nothing much is made of this. There’s no discovery, no showdown, no climactic denouement. Instead, we are shown the minutiae of their house-building project, the moral compromises they make to source some local stone. It sounds dull, but it isn’t. It’s a real slice of life, a perfect example of a (sandstone) fourth wall being gently lifted so that we can peek inside.

The third story is the best of the bunch, utterly heartbreaking in its simplicity. Kristen Stewart plays Beth, a newly qualified lawyer, who works for the same firm as Laura. In need of extra money, she’s conned into taking an evening job teaching school law in a town that’s a four-hour drive away – an unsustainable arrangement that leaves her exhausted. A lonely rancher (Lily Gladstone) chances on the class – “I just saw the people going in” – and begins to rely on her weekly trips to the diner with her teacher. Gladstone’s beatific smile when Beth rides with her on her horse is so touching it hurts. Her neediness is naked, and her disappointment inevitable. It’s all the more devastating because of the way the narrative confounds our expectations: we are movie literate; we know there’s supposed to be a last-minute knock-on-the-door or change of heart. But there isn’t, of course. Just sorrow for what might have been, and the resumption of routine.

This is a wonderful film, full of sympathy and heart.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Manchester by the Sea

 

08/01/17

Manchester by the Sea is a bleakly brilliant film, far more original and affecting than either the trailer or a synopsis can convey. The plot is fairly conventional fodder: Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is tasked with caring for his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after the boy’s father dies. Lee is not really cut out for the job, and their relationship is fraught with problems, which they have to work to overcome. So far, so ordinary. But there is a rare honesty in the telling of this tale that renders it both raw and authentic, making it one of the most compelling films I have ever seen.

Casey Affleck is extraordinary. He’s closed, inarticulate and conflicted, a reserved, introverted man who’s called upon to fulfil a role he simply can’t take on. There is real pain in his performance, despite its understatement. The gradual revelation of his past trauma is beautifully handled by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, whose script is clearly a gift for the actors in this film.

Michelle Williams, as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, is as exemplary as you’d expect; she only appears in a handful of scenes, but her final conversation with Lee is utterly heartbreaking, without ever straying into sentimentality or sensationalism. And Lucas Hedges, as Patrick, acquits himself well too, absolutely convincing as the grief-stricken, selfish, but ultimately decent teen.

The setting plays a huge part in this movie: the wintry colours of Manchester reflecting the apparent coolness of its residents. The eventual thaw is slow and slight. The cinematography is beautiful, capturing those cold blues and greys with icy precision.

We loved Manchester by the Sea. Do try to catch it; it’d be a real shame to miss this one.

5 stars

Susan Singfield