Click on the titles for full reviews
When Sony Pictures decided to abruptly pull their latest film All the Money in the World from AFI Fest in November, people were surprised. Then when director Ridley Scott announced he planned to replace the film’s star Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer a mere month before its scheduled Christmas release date, people were downright shocked. And now, in the most impressive of ways, Scott actually pulled this last minute reshoot off in only nine days!
On one level, Craig Gillespie has grown into a director with an agreeable work ethic. Specifically, I mean that in how he adapts his sensibilities into whatever project he is working on, for better or worse. The first film I saw of his was Lars and the Real Girl during the 43rd Chicago International Film Festival. Gillespie was there for the post-screening Q&A where he mentioned his background in commercial work before transitioning to feature films. Lars was an assured piece of filmmaking; quiet, introspective and smartly laced with delicate humor. I looked forward to seeing how the Gillespie film canon would grow. Unexpectedly, the next film Gillespie made was the remake of the 1980s horror comedy Fright Night, starring Colin Farrell. It in no way shared anything close to the special subtle drama of Lars (although I admit I enjoyed Fright Night on a superficial level, mainly because of my soft spot for vampire films). Since Fright Night, Gillespie switched gears again and did two forgettable live action Disney family films, Million Dollar Arm and The Finest Hours. Alas, after nearly a decade’s worth of studio feature filmmaking, I still had no inkling into what the artistic voice of Gillespie was (or is).
Earlier this week I was reading about how President Donald J. Trump shockingly removed climate change from the list of global threats in the latest rendering of his administration’s national security strategy. “Fake News” has reached critical mass, it would seem. As 2017 comes to a close, and the axis of the Earth and human existence spins wildly closer to extinction, along comes this imperfect, well-meaning, occasionally hilarious, and ultimately touching motion picture from Oscar-winner Alexander Payne. The film is Downsizing and it stars the face of the American white male: Matt Damon. Whatever public relations shit storm Damon may find himself in during the days leading up to the film’s release shouldn’t detract from what really is a golden and quietly surprising performance. This is good work by the former Will Hunting.
I saw Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi yesterday afternoon and I can tell you that it boasts some of the series’ most exciting action sequences, plus some of its most frustrating shortcomings and bafflingly silly moments. They add up to a finished film that shouldn’t be as long as it is in running time, and one that fails to resonate as soundly as the lean, focused and ultimately more emotionally moving Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In short, the Rogue One spinoff ends up being the best entry out of these recent Star Wars outings.
Luca Guadagnino has become the J.D. Salinger of Italian cinema. I mean this in that he tells stories about affluent high society people, with lots of money and resources at their disposal, who still suffer from a failure to establish meaningful connections in their lives. Holden Caulfield felt such a void in Salinger’s “The Catcher in The Rye.” Similarly, Guadagnino’s previous films I Am Love and A Bigger Splash followed protagonists (both played by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton) who were in a purgatory of disenchantment, the former for physical affection and the latter for desired privacy. Guadagnino is not a novelist but fortunately as a filmmaker he knows how to fill the page of the screen, usually with drop dead gorgeous locations and an impeccable ear for using music (remember Ralph Fiennes dancing to “Emotional Rescue” by The Rolling Stones?).