Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Post and Short Takes on I, Tonya

Remembering The Good Old Days When Justice Actually Prevailed (sometimes ... maybe ...)

                                                        Reviews by Ken Burke

                                 The Post (Steven Spielberg)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Everything you see in this film is based on historical records (although fictionalization certainly enters the picture with private conversations among the various characters) so it’s a bit difficult to determine what a spoiler might be here (but I’ll try to stay aware of possibilities).  This story’s about the leaking by Daniel Ellsberg of the massive Pentagon Papers internal study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, especially our reported battlefield successes, from the Truman through the Johnson administrations, with the bottom line being years of lies about progress and possibilities despite no hope existing for either one.  When the pilfered Papers begin to be printed in The New York Times in early summer 1971 the Nixon team gets an immediate injunction to prevent further publication, leading The Washington Post, under Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, to locate Ellsberg, then prepare their own Papers publication, much to the discomfort of owner Katharine Graham who’s caught between her support for freedom of the press vs. the financial reality of her struggling newspaper possibly being in severe legal/financial/ethical trouble if she’s guilty of defying the courts.  I won’t say anything further about the plot here, if you don’t already know the outcome, but I will highly recommend The Post, marvelously written and produced when it’s highly relevant in this atmosphere of contempt for the press by our current President (a lapel button a friend recently gave me: “I Never Thought I’d Miss Nixon”) with excellent direction by Steven Spielberg, Oscar-nomination-worthy-acting from Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: In 1966 we see State Dept. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) embedded with U.S. troops in the Vietnam War, gauging the progress of American involvement in that bitter, bloody conflict, followed by a quick cut (lots of them in this high-energy-structure, the pace propelled by much scene-shifting among various locations and characters) to an airplane ride where Ellsberg’s analysis leads Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) to admit to President Lyndon Johnson the war’s unwinnable, although Ellsberg’s later angered by McNamara’s public statements saying just the opposite.  Next is a quick summary of a lengthy (47 volumes, 7,000 pages) report commissioned by McNamara—later known as the Pentagon Papers—about the secret activities overseen by Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Johnson regarding U.S. involvement in the affairs of/combat in Vietnam, all counter to the misleading statements about why American support was used to aid the South Vietnamese government, even with the escalating number of our soldiers’ deaths (main real reason: to avoid admitting the humiliation of our defeat).  By 1971 Ellsberg’s working at the Rand Corporation where he secretly copies this massive document, then leaks it to Neil Sheehan (Justin Swain) at The New York Times where some initial publication (June 13, 1971) draws a rapid response from President Richard Nixon (always shown through a window into the Oval Office with his back to us, played by Curzon Dobell with voiceover of Nixon.  [From his infamous tapes?  I don’t know.]), demanding his minions prevent further publication so a court-ordered-injunction’s quickly put in place on June 14.

 In response to all this, along with an initial public offering to take The Washington Post out of family control by Katharine (Kay) Graham (Meryl Streep)a move to increase the presence (as well as financial support) of the paper (somewhat in dire straits because she insists on paying top salaries, assuming excellent journalism leads to increased readership—but not yet)Executive Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is hot to scoop the rival … Times by publishing this very scandalous material.

 However, not only is Graham (supported by … Post board chair Fritz Beebe [Tracy Letts]), opposed to Bradlee’s crusade—assuming the injunction against the … Times applies to the … Post as well, plus the grave financial concern on the part of her legal team that such a controversial, if not outright illegal, move would jeopardize the IPO (the banks have an option of withdrawing funding for various reasons, including extreme controversy)—Bradlee also faces the formidable obstacle of not having access to the Ellsberg material (Graham’s also concerned about his personal motives concerning continuance of the war, given he pulled some journalistic punches to protect President/close friend JFK).  However, part of the problem’s solved when Bradlee reporter Ben Bagdikian (Ben Odenkirk)—I’ve never met him but am aware of his influential book, The Media Monopoly (1983), and how his role as teacher in (1976-1990)/Dean of (1985-1988) the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism was influential on journalist colleagues of mine—finally manages to track down Ellsberg in hiding, receives his own batch of 4,000 of the Pentagon pages, then heads back to D.C. to argue for their publication, injunction or not.  ⇒Despite heated arguments from her lawyers not to move ahead with his dangerous enterprise, Graham finally makes an 11th-hour-decision (more like 11:59:59) for the presses to roll with the story on June 18, 1971, followed, of course, by Attorney General William Rehnquist asking first for the … Post to desist, then (with request ignored) going to a U.S. District Court for another injunction, but this time it's denied so upon an immediate appeal the Supreme Court agrees to convene on June 26, 1971 to resolve the combined … Times… Post cases with their June 30, 1971 decision publication may resume.⇐

 ⇒As this story winds down, we see Graham and Bradlee, relieved all’s been resolved in their favor as well as confident they won’t have to deal with a crisis like the Pentagon Papers-free press vs. government-executive-privlige clash again, only for The Post to end on a night scene (June 17, 1972) at the Watergate complex where a security guard calls in the police because he’s discovered a break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (consult the multi-award-winning All the President’s Men [Alan J. Pakula, 1976] if you wish to continue this even-more-multi-award-winning-newspaper’s crusade against government obstructionism, the later with the focus completely on Nixon’s crew).⇐  Given The Post ends on a clever note as is, there’s also no follow-up on how Ellsberg was charged with theft and conspiracy under the 1917 Espionage Act but due to various governmental misconduct (including illegal wiretapping) all charges were dismissed on May 11, 1973.  While these “based on fact” stories were quite popular as part of Hollywood’s 2017 contributions to world cinema (as evidenced by 4 of the 7 last-year-leftovers I’ve reviewed in 2018 fitting this description), for me The Post is clearly the best of the bunch, a moviehouse visit well worth your time and money for its high production values, impactful acting, ability to build/maintain tension even though the story’s outcome is easily researched (even if you’re not a septuagenarian like me who already remembers it well).  Another item this triumphant film carefully avoids, though, is that even with the Pentagon Papers' revelations (which also appeared in many other newspapers around the U.S. in support of the … Times/… Post bravery) there still wasn’t enough public outcry nor Congressional action to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War until the Paris Peace Accords were signed, also in 1973 (January 27), but that simply led to imposed unification under the government of North Vietnam in 1975 instead of Nixon’s hollow boast about "peace with honor."

So What? I’m not faulting The Post for avoiding these other Pentagon Papers follow-ups (because what’s presented is extremely effective as produced and delivered), but it’s still a bit of a shame such a triumphant victory for America’s free-press-heritage wasn’t enough to bring about the abandonment of that atrocious war any sooner than actually happened, allowing even more carnage of dead Americans and South Vietnamese in jungle warfare as well as scores of North Vietnamese slaughtered by tons of bombs dropped on Hanoi and Haiphong in December 1972.  Admittedly, there was wholesale slaughter of many South Vietnamese as well after their 1975 defeat by the North, but that was likely inevitable from decades before, no matter what any Western forces might have desired, at least the way I see it.  I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who died there after so many years of vicious fighting, but as depicted in Apocalypse Now Redux (Francis Ford Coppola, 2001 [an extended version of his 1979 original]) the ongoing warfare ever since Ho Chi Minh began guerrilla actions against the French in 1946 just spiraled into never-ending chaos, truly "the horror, the horror," (although that specific utterance is in a later scene where Willard kills Kurtz [warning: this clip's quite violent]) despite everything Ellsberg, Sheehan, Bagdikian, Bradlee, Graham, and others tried to do to prevent it from further metastasizing.  At least in the process the unassailable rights of the press in the U.S. were asserted, with hopes it can continue to withstand the assault it currently faces from the Trump perpetrators of “alternative facts,” just as I’m sure The Post will withstand whatever other cinematic contenders that might come my way as I try to compile my Top 10 of 2017 in the near future after I’ve viewed a couple more strong possibilities.

 Spielberg admits he gathered a group of seasoned filmmakers and actors to work with him on the quick accomplishment of getting The Post on screen before 2017 was gone (see the interview with principals of this film’s team as the 2nd entry for The Post in the Related Links section much farther below)—with pre-production beginning in early 2017, shooting in late May, even though the debut was scheduled for roughly the end of last year (it’s almost unheard of for a major motion picture to go through such a fast gestation period, especially becoming as effective as this one is, but it helped that Liz Hannah’s script had been completed in 2016)—simply because he was so dismayed at the constant atrocities of the Trump administration (at least for those, like me, who see these actions in such a light; if not, read on anyway, if you will).  This story had everything the director needed for his response (as well as being an easy-appeal for audiences [again, such as me] ready to embrace a story about the need for truth to be revealed by dedicated journalists and clear-thinking government leaders [in that case, 6 of the 9 Supreme Court justices]) to our current administration attempting to steamroll those determined to value public information over political expediency, even where some beloved former Presidents were concerned.  (Ironically, the Pentagon Papers were about leadership lies concerning the circumstances in [South] Vietnam from 1945-1968, so Nixon wasn’t even included in this lengthy analysis, despite his vehement attempts to suppress publication of the report, yet you can understand his rigid stance not only in light of how he’d later try to cover up his own—equally illegal—actions during the Watergate scandal but also because of his continuance of the sham-battlefield-policies of his predecessors [his “secret plan” to end the war, proffered during the 1968 Presidential campaign, never seemed to come forth, except for that negotiated “peace settlement”—after the death toll of American soldiers got too high for even the “Silent Majority” to bear—that eventually doomed the continuance of South Vietnam, as American public support for the endless, wasteful war completely eroded after Nixon’s resignation].)

 Given all the confused misdirection (“fake news” if there ever was such a thing) created by the Trumpsters (with clear parallels to those official statements that for so long misled the public about the Vietnam War, McNamara a chief architect of that deception from 1961 to 1968, although he finally admits at least some of this in the Oscar-winning documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara [Errol Morris, 2003]), you can easily see why Spielberg wanted to use an acclaimed history lesson about opposition by the press to Presidential malfeasance (without attempting to remake All the President’s Men, with its Oscars for Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Sound, Supporting Actor [Jason Robards]) to take issue with Trump’s disregard for truth, global standing of the United States, environmental safety, and just about anything else he comes in contact with.  The Post answers that need quite well by pitting crusading journalists (Bradlee, Bagdikian) against lawyers concerned for propriety under the Constitution and nervous stockholders not willing to put principle over profit.  When you add to this stirring-drama by also focusing on the strengthened-spine-emergence of publisher Graham, which plays into current concerns about the indignities and inequalities* foisted for so long upon females of any age in our (and all) societies until women’s recent, vocal rejection of such disgraceful behavior by powerful men in all segments of our nation (not just in politics, entertainment, business, etc. but also in the less-reported-but-consistently-found households [planet-wide] where verbal, physical, emotional abuse constantly keeps females of all ages in a stage of siege).  Some might be irritated Graham’s portrayed for so much of the film as timid, unsure, allowing herself to be silenced in board meetings even though she’d been publisher of the The Washington Post since her husband's suicide in 1963, but she admits when her father, Eugene Meyer, turned leadership of the paper over to Philip in 1946 it presented no problem: “Far from troubling me that my father thought of my husband and not me, it pleased me.  In fact, it never crossed my mind that he might have viewed me as someone to take on an important job at the paper” (a citation taken from her autobiography, Personal History [1997]).

*As just one example of such absurdities, see this story about vastly unequal pay for Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for their hastily-arranged All the Money in the World (Ridley Scott, 2017; review in our January 11, 2018 posting) reshoots, with after-the-fact-restitution by Wahlberg.

 Streep does a marvelous job of portraying this inbred-hesitation on Graham’s part (just as she showed how difficult Margaret Thatcher’s struggles were [even though I have little sympathy for Thatcher's policies] within another male-dominated-political-culture in The Iron Lady [Phyllida Lloyd, 2011; review in our February 5, 2012 posting]) with her slowly coming to the decision, despite consistent advice from her lawyers—as well as long-time-good-friend McNamara—that publishing the Pentagon Papers in defiance of the restraining order on the … Times (thereby risking legal proceedings against the … Post, the financial failure of the publication and its affiliated enterprises of TV stations and Newsweek, as well as possible jail time for herself) was the right decision, necessary in a society where (according to the June 30, 1971 statement by Justice Hugo Black) upholding the right of the press to publish information vital to the public is a fundamental obligation.  According to Black: […] every moment’s continuance of the injunctions against these newspapers amounts to a flagrant, indefensible, and continuing violation of the First Amendment. […] the Executive Branch seems to have forgotten the essential purpose and history of the First Amendment. [… supporting] the view that the press must be left free to publish news, whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints. […] The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”   (Sadly, this strong voice on the court would be silenced just a few months later with Black’s death.)  Hanks’ Bradlee makes it clear he shares those views as well, in a performance worthy of Oscar consideration (as is Streep’s although I’ll tentatively predict both will have a hard time adding to their previous trophies given the momentum building collectively toward actors Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [Martin McDonagh, 2017; review in our December 7, 2017 posting] and Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour [Joe Wright, 2017; review in our December 14, 2017 posting]), but I must admit it’s still hard to focus on Hanks as Ben Bradlee having re-watched All the President’s Men recently, making Robard’s characterization of the chief editor of the Post all the more-indelibly-etched on my awareness of that performance, with Hanks—much as I admire him—not quite the equal of Streep in this crisis of Constitutional values.

Bottom Line Final Comments: As you might expect, a film with the attractive-combination of the prestigious accomplishments of Spielberg (along with Streep and Hanks) plus the timely topic of mainstream media taking on an antagonistic President over revelations of government-kept-secrets from the public has gotten a lot of supportive response: Rotten Tomatoes reviews are 88% positive with the usually-lower-numbers at Metacritic at an 83% average (more details on both in Related Links); audience response is building with about $27.9 million at the domestic (U.S.-Canada) box-office (needs a lot more to offset the $50 million production budget plus costs at least that much for marketing and distribution, but despite being in release for a month rollout’s been extremely slow with theater count now up to 2,819 from a mere 36 just a week ago); the Golden Globe journalists were delighted with this film, giving it 6 nominations (Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Director, Best Actress-Drama [Streep], Best Actor-Drama [Hanks], Best Screenplay [Hannah, Josh Singer], Best Original Score [John Williams], although it didn’t win in any of those categories [see those Links down below for the GG results]plus Streep’s nom for Best Actress from the Screen Actors Guild (winners to be cablecast on TNT/TBS Sunday, January 21, 2018) and wins for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Film from the National Board of Review (along with dozens of other nominations), maybe Oscar possibilities in various categories to be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.  Whether the seriousness of this film will be able to keep competing with more escapist-entertainment will just have to be seen (The Post was #2 last weekend, but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle [Jake Kasdan, 2017] has already hit a worldwide level of $674.5 million after its similar month in release [$291.5 of that domestically] while Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Rian Johnson, 2017; review in our December 22, 2017 posting] is up to $1,269 billion total [$596 million domestically], making it #6 on the All-Time Domestic list, #10 of All-Time Worldwide toppers), but if “shithole” comments (and likewise policies) keep manifesting from Washington, D.C. I’ll have to hope our citizenry is interested in embracing this dynamic, fact-based, response of truth to power.

 As usual, I’ll round off this review with my next choice of a Musical Metaphor that approaches what’s just been discussed from one last perspective but with the use of my beloved aural arts.  After lengthy consideration, for an appropriate companion to The Post I decided to use “Long Time Gone” (from the 1969 Crosby, Stills & Nash album), not only for its proximity to the time setting of this film but also for the relevance in the lyrics about “You know there’s something that’s goin’ on around here That surely, surely, surely won’t stand the light of day” (even though David Crosby wrote this song in the wake of the 1968 assassination of then-Presidential-candidate Robert Kennedy, but it all ties into the Vietnam War as RFK—along with Eugene McCarthy—was taking a stand against his own Democratic Party’s involvement in that conflict, although what part he may have played in the horrid suppression of the truth about un-winability for the U.S. during JFK’s administration isn’t clear to me, as I’ve never read details of the Pentagon Papers).  This song’s also relevant in its plea for everyone to “speak out against the madness You got to speak your mind if you dare But don’t, no don’t, no, try 
to get yourself elected If you do you had better cut your hair,” which conjures up an apt metaphor to me for the established authority of the NY Times, the Washington Post, and many other publications that followed their bold lead in revealing the awful lies the American public had been led to believe about that pitiful, deadly quagmire of superpower-by-proxy-conflict, how an intended impact by these time-honored-sources on the American public when divulging the truth was so powerfully effective, even beyond what the millions of us long-haired-“freaks” accomplished in our various protest marches during that era.  For further connotative implications for this Metaphor, I’ll use this video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1_aocVlZIE* which joins the original recording with footage from the famous (Oscar, Best Documentary Feature) Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) film about such counterculture revelry.

*Just to follow through with C,S & N (plus Neil Young), you might also be interested in seeing how they performed "Long Time Gone" at Woodstock (not included in the documentary nor is Young acknowledged because he didn’t want to be filmed [however, he’s credited with being part of their performance on the 1970 Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More 3-LP album]).

 This linked-section of the Woodstock doc noted just above (showing the preparation of building an enormous concert venue in a pasture) was intended to juxtapose the anguish of those counter-culturalists over the Vietnam War, the 1960s political killings, the general rift from Nixon’s “Silent Majority” to the celebratory creation of this massive festival that would become the famed celebration of 3 days of peace and music.  Essentially, these images show the calm before the “anti-storm” storm of the festival—referring to both the rain that turned some of that weekend into a mud bath and the awareness of this event as a “thunderclap statement” against everything the Pentagon Papers would come to represent as the corruption of big government, the loss of faith in institutional leaders, the cultural divide continuing to widen some 50 years later as many of us who hoped for a new direction for our society back then reel now from the daily horrors of the Trump administration, still acknowledging “The darkest hour Is always, always just before the dawn [… but it] Appears to be a long time Such a long, long, long, long time before the [long-hoped-for] dawn,” even as we’re given periodic reminders such as The Post that even entrenched malice and idiocy (especially from “shithole” politicians) will be challenged as long as we do “speak out against the madness,” along with supporting others who do as well, especially the brave bearers of “true news” in our free press along with those who continue to remind us of the crucial value of that aspect of our society such as what’s been accomplished here by Spielberg and company in this current film.
               
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                 
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie)
            
Based in fact (as so many films are now) but with a witty take on the truth, this is a biography of Tonya Harding from childhood to present day with the emphasis on her at-time-spectacular/at-other-times-scandal-ridden skating career, focused largely on how she went from being a respected champion to condemnation for her part (?) in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.

Here’s the trailer:


However, please be aware this is a Red Band trailer with the R-rated language intact; if you’d prefer to observe the same preview material in a bit-less-explicitly-rough-manner here’s an option for you:


       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 (This time I truly had to confine myself to an abbreviated-length of my Short Takes intentions because the logistics of seeing this movie have me up against my own self-imposed-deadline to get this whole thing posted.)  We’re once again in the realm of “Based on Real Events” in the story of the figure-skating-rivalry between Tonya Harding (Margo Robbie [Maizie Smith, Mckenna Grace for the younger scenes]) and Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), resulting in the 1994 attack on U.S. Olympic-team-member Kerrigan plotted by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), with Harding's ongoing denial she helped plan the knee-bashing that almost eliminated Kerrigan from the competition.  I noted this scandal at the time, although it had none of the staying power of the Pentagon Papers-Constitutional-conflict.  However, given the Reality-TV nature of the Harding event, with a supposed-antagonist straight out of the Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996) woodwork—an attitude played to useful effect in I, Tonya’s satirical-mockumentary-style—there’s no surprise it’s capturing some attention: 89% positive RT reviews, a more-usual (still supportive)-lower-average-score of 77% at MC, along with awards considerations (Golden Globe noms for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, lost to Lady Bird [Greta Gerwig, 2017; review in our November 23, 2017 posting] and Robbie as Best Motion Picture Actress-Musical or Comedy, lost to Saoise Ronan [Lady Bird], along with a win for Allison Janney [playing Tonya’s horrid mother, LaVona Golden] as Best Supporting Actress [my Oscar frontrunner], plus many other awards or nominations [including SAG nods for Robbie and Janney respectively for Female Actor in a Leading/Supporting Role]; Writers Guild of America nom for Original Screenplay [Steven Rogers], even a Best Actress win [Robbie] from my local San Francisco Film Critics Circle), although the domestic box-office is weak for 6 weeks in release ($10.9 million), due to a very slow rollout with the movie now in just 517 theaters so an uptick may still be on the way (except for Nancy Kerrigan, who’s expressed no interest in I, Tonya [or, probably Ms. Harding—now Price—either]).  I highly recommend it as one of 2017’s best.

 You can get plenty of Harding’s bio from the 1st link just above (and other sites), but, in brief, redneck “Trashy Tonya” of Portland, OR had excellent skating skills but lacked what judges also look for in presentation (appearance, costumes, makeup, attitude) compared to the more-usual-porcelain-doll-types common to this sport, while Tonya’s grown up under the shadow of a verbally-abusive mother (although when LaVona throws a knife into her daughter’s arm Tonya finally moves out), then finds herself in a physically-abusive-marriage to Jeff so, despite her 1991 U.S. Championship (in which she became the 1st American woman to hit the extremely-difficult triple axel), when her skates aren’t properly fitted for the 1992 Winter Olympics she stumbles a bit, comes in 4th, then it’s back to what she assumes is deadend-waitressing until coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) encourages her to train again for the (surprisingly-scheduled) 1994 Winter games in Norway; however, Jeff gets an idea to send threatening letters to chief rival Kerrigan as a mental distraction but his deluded friend (Tonya’s bodyguard) Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) hires thugs Derrick Smith (Anthony Reynolds) and Shane Slant (Ricky Russert)—the actual assailant—to attack Kerrigan’s kneecap at a practice session in Detroit.  ⇒Although Harding got lots of negative press, assuming her participation in this plot, both she and Kerrigan skated in those Olympics where Nancy won silver (she’s shown pouting about not getting gold) but Tonya (who had infamous-shoelace-trouble during her final routine) came in 8th.  Prior to the competition, the FBI rounded up all involved in the assault, with the guys getting jail time yet Harding (turned on by Gillooly) received lighter penalties that included forced resignation from the U.S. Figure Skating Association, tearfully ending her career on ice (even with a plea to the judge to jail her rather than give up the sport she’d devoted her life to [23 at the time], the only thing she really cared about).⇐

 With intercutting frequently among the main characters, some use of direct address to us, frequent humor despite the misery characterizing Harding’s life, superb skating scenes (many of which actually done by Robbie* after intense training), and constant energy from a pop-tunes-soundtrack, I, Tonya’s a lot of fun to watch with no attempt to resolve the conflicting testimonies about what really happened, who did what to whom, nor whether we’re being led toward sympathy for the devil or if she’s really as innocent as she claims to be although it’s clear that at least at one point in her life she could truly claim to be the best female skater in the world no matter how out of place she was in those more-sophisticated-surroundings.  For a Musical Metaphor, I’ll take 2 songs directly from the soundtrack to illustrate the conflicting points of view we’re presented with in this intriguing film: the Bee Gee’s “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (from their 1971 Trafalgar album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnPNRJ0SG4k in honor of Tonya’s perspective of being the ongoing-victim of all that’s whirled around her (including Mom coming to offer comfort in a time of media frenzy, only for her daughter to discover a cassette tape recorder with which LaVona hoped to sneak away with a valuable confession about Tonya’s involvement in “The Incident”) so the lyrics “How can you mend this broken [woman]? How can a loser ever win? Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again” seem to be Tonya’s underlying plea throughout her on-screen-pseudo-documentary-testimony to us.  However, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” (from their 1977 Rumours album) found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6WsaIbpUTE (including Japanese subtitles) with its condemnation-stance ofRunning in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light” would seem to be the chant from practically all of the other characters (especially Kerrigan) responding to Tonya’s claim of innocence (except for not coming forward with her awareness of Jeff’s involvement in the assault, even if she only found out after the fact), a rejection of her attempt to reinvent herself after so many years of public shame.

*Watch this 2:16 video narrated by director Gillespie about how the skating imagery was shot.

 As I leave you I’ll note I’m still celebrating the ongoing rise in readership for Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark with today’s report from Google about last month’s level now at 68,753, although I’ve been checking on a daily basis recently (just to curiously-monitor this sudden rise in worldwide-connections, especially France) when I found on January 14, 2018 the past-monthly-total was at yet-another-all-time-high of 69,503 so I'll continue to thank all of you for your interest and support.
                
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
             
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2017.

Here’s more information about The Post:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frM75j_qpY8 (32:33 press conference with director Steven Spielberg, actors Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter)



Here’s more information about I, Tonya:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA9oxRuPcYE (5:37 exploration of 5 facts you should know about the 1994 scandal regarding Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms5Xk2vobiM (7:17 footage of some of Harding’s performance at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games)



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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com.  (But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website, https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California  knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.

OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.

Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 68,753; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (again with 5 of my hoped-for-6-continents represented, but still no Africa yet, darn it):

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Molly's Game, Short Takes on All the Money in the World

      “Money can’t buy me love”
      (but it’s quite handy for achieving certain kinds of “respect”)

                                                      Reviews by Ken Burke

                           Molly’s Game (Aaron Sorkin, 2017)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Based (as so many mainstream movies now are) on history, this story chronicles the life of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-skier-hopeful in her childhood days whose plans dramatically changed when injuries derailed her career.  As a young adult moving from Colorado to LA (against her parents’ intentions), she took work where she could find it which resulted in her apprenticeship in the underground world of high-stakes-poker where celebrities of various sorts gambled with tens of thousands of dollars while she provided a comfortable atmosphere, an attractive personal presence, and an openness to the generous tips coming her way.  Soon she’s in charge of the game but has a falling out with Player X (a composite of several movie stars) which leads her to move her game to NYC where more trouble emerges from gangsters, both American and Russian, leading to the federal government confiscating all of her savings, whereupon she writes a “tell-some” (rather than tell-all) book about her life up to that point to tide her over into new options until major trouble again arises with an FBI arrest based on those NYC games.  While you could finish this story yourself with some quick Internet research, I’ll leave it at that for now so the conclusion’s not a spoiler, with my encouragement to see Molly’s Game for its combination of an energetic script, non-stop-action jumping back and forth in time, and terrific acting, especially from Jessica Chastain as Molly along with Idris Elba as her tough-as-nails-lawyer.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: This is another one of those “Based on True Events” stories Hollywood filmmakers have been fascinated with lately, taken from a book partially of the same name (2014) and later events of Molly Bloom's (Jessica Chastain) life—a woman of Russian Jewish ancestry, not Irish, as she explains to friend Doug Downey (Chris O’Dowd), despite sharing a name with a character from James Joyce’s famous novel, Ulysses (1922).  In the structure of this movie we’re constantly jumping around from flashbacks of Molly’s earlier life—both her teenage years (played then by Samantha Isler) and her time running tremendously-successful underground poker games (2004-2011)—to the relatively present day (2013-2014) where she’s under FBI indictment for her involvement with Russian mobsters who participated in some of those games.  To reduce confusion easily resulting from me trying to clarify these temporal switches, I’ll just present the plot events chronologically although the experience of watching this is much more dynamic moving from one period to the other.  Molly’s father, Larry (Kevin Costner), a clinical psychologist and professor at Colorado State U. (Fort Collins), is very demanding of his children living up to their full potential so Molly’s pushed to become a champion Olympic skier, which she easily has the talent to accomplish.  However, tragedy strikes first at age 12 when she’s attacked by rapid-onset scoliosis, requiring her backbones to be reconfigured with a lot of metal. This setback doesn’t inhibit her skiing successes, though, as she’s set to triumph in the 2002 Winter Olympics until an accident at the trials leaves her injured again, but this time her athletic career’s terminated just in her early 20s. 

  Pressure from her parents to shift her focus to law school leads to the minor rebellion of taking a year off to move to southern California where she takes various odd jobs due to no familial support.  In the process, she’s an assistant to real-estate-agent Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), a jerk who’s soon got her handling logistics for his secret high-stakes poker games in which a lot of wealthy A-listers push around a lot of cash on the table, beginning with their initial $10,000 buy-ins.

 Molly's ... narrative follows Bloom’s book (which earned her $35,000, needed because the feds confiscated her NYC $4 million bank account with the—wrongful assumption, she claims—rationale the money’d come to her in illegal fashion [from what little I know or understood from this movie, in that I haven’t read the book, as long as she took no percentage of the table stakes—as a licensed casino would do—but got rich only from her patrons’ tips, she wasn’t breaking any laws because poker’s a game of skill, not chance]) so, as in the written version, most of the players aren’t identified—but the Hollywood actors involved (including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck [and others]) are represented by a fictional-composite, called Player X (Michael Cera), just as Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), is an extremely-fictionalized version of her actual defense attorney, to whom the real Bloom expresses deep gratitude for his work on her part.  With that all established, we’re now back to the movie where Molly’s so successful in her staging of these poker challenges (enticing music, booze, etc., along with her extremely-provocative-presence [although she maintains a no-sex-rule with the players]) she’s soon taken over the entire event with encouragement from Player X to continue recruiting rich patsies who stock his coffers (while Molly flourishes with increasingly-bigger-tips), including terrible-but-persistent hedge-fund-manager Brad (Brian d’Arcy James) who (surprisingly) wins a huge pot one night from pro-poker-champ Harlan Eustice (Bill Camp), adding to X’s enjoyment.  However, a clash with him about capping her tips (he’s miffed she doesn’t show him as much attention as the other players, but coddling was needed to help get them into the room) results in him pulling out completely, thereby ending her LA games.

 Molly moves to NYC where she re-establishes herself for a time before everything goes to crap: she rejects a partnership offer from some New Jersey mobsters, only to be beaten up and robbed in her swanky apartment by their cruel enforcer; she turns to uppers-drugs to stave off sleep, helping her stay active in player-recruitment; Doug encourages her to bring in those (unknown to her) mobster Russians which results in a huge bust by the feds (no arrest for Molly because she hadn’t arrived yet at that night's game yet), the confiscation of her earnings (despite no arrest), and a move back to LA where she writes the book, uses the payment to re-stabilize herself in other careers, but then is shocked by a long-delayed-FBI-action sweeping her up with the Russians who’d long been under scrutiny even though she’d stopped running poker games 2 years ago. While the government would gladly make a deal for the information on the various players contained in her digital files (would even get her stolen money back), she refuses to rat on these people to protect their lives, which continues to build tension for her until Jaffey chastises the feds for their focus on Molly, largely innocent of all she’s accused of.  ⇒She breaks the impasse by pleading guilty after which a sympathetic judge gives her a light sentence of 1-year-probation, $1,000 fine, 200 hours of community service (although she still owes the IRS $200,000 in taxes on her confiscated money, along with the limitations of now being a convicted felon).  Toward the end, there’s an ice-skating-scene where she’s surprised by a visit from her father (still harsh in his assessments of his daughter but weeping in his desire for vengeance against the thug who assaulted her), who helps her see her goal in all this wasn’t asserting control over controlling-men but rather taking control of her own life, so cruelly ripped away from her a few years ago by circumstances totally beyond her command.

So What? After Sorkin’s established career as a writer for both film (A Few Good Men [1992], The Social Network [2010], Moneyball [2011], Steve Jobs [2015]) and TV (Sports Night [1998-2000]The West Wing [1999-2006], Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip [2006-2007], The Newsroom [2012-2014]), Molly’s Game (which he also wrote based on Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker [there’s also a 2017 movie tie-in version: Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World], as well as the dramatic legal events of her life beyond what’s in the book) is his directorial debut, with a pace of interlocking-past-and-present-scenes matching his usual erudite-but-rapidly-delivered-dialogue, sort of Shakespearean at times in that you can ingest the gist of it without being able to repeat back very completely nor concisely what you’ve just heard.  This constant activity (given the brutal scene of Molly being constantly punched by the mobster, far beyond what it should take to get his point across, makes me hesitate to say “assault” in this description, although that’s a frequent term employed to give a sense of how Sorkin’s words—and now his images—can impact an audience) is successful in keeping a viewer locked in on Molly’s travails, especially as her situation (which occurred years ago, then started its cinematic incarnation in 2014) reflects the current justified anger, difficult testimony, and shattered lives of women of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements (as well as some men, regarding accusations against Kevin Spacey noted in the review just below).

 As more and more women, supported by male allies, continue to speak up against abuse by influential men in LA, NYC, Washington D.C., and other centers of financial/political/social power, their testimony makes this somewhat-fictionalized (but ultimately fact-based) story of a woman finding her place within circles of rich, dominating men without succumbing to their basest desires (although playing to such with her alluring, fantasy-fueled image), then seeing her successes undermined by greedy thugs and surface-skimming-government-agents (easily assuming too much about her operations based on slim facts), to be all-too-appropriate for the turbulent culture into which this movie’s now been released.  Whether its relevance to the current gender-status-upheaval becomes more recognized than it already has been by some social commentators will require time to assess in our society but Molly’s Game can be appreciated just for its well-built-tension, active scene flow, and top-notch-acting even if you don’t want to dwell on its harsh sociopolitical subtext.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Although writer-director Sorkin’s been somewhat rewarded already for what he’s accomplished with Molly’s Game (Golden Globe nominations for him [Best Screenplay] and Chastain [Motion Picture Best Actress-Drama], along with a Writers Guild of America nom for the script—despite Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [Martin McDonagh, 2017; review in our December 7, 2017 posting] providing those categories’ Globe winners; WGA results due on February 11, 2018 [In my opinion, Elba could easily be considered in someone’s race for Best Supporting Actor, but he faces strong competition already, including from Christopher Plummer {see my next review farther below}]) along with solid critical support (Rotten Tomatoes reviewers gave Molly ... 81% positive reviews, the normally-lower-folks at Metacritic offered a 71% average score; more details in this posting’s Related Links section much farther below), audience response has been a bit slower in building during the 2 weeks in release, with only about $14 million in domestic (U.S.-Canada) box-office-receipts, but that’s likely to increase because its presence has grown dramatically from only about 300 domestic theaters to 1,608.  (Although it’s clear the bulk of the post-holiday-cash is still going to pure-escapist-fare playing on 3,000-4,000 screens, such as weekly-champ Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle [Jake Kasden, 2017; $248.3 million domestically after 3 weeks; in 3,801 theaters] or 2017’s big winner, Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Rian Johnson, 2017; review in our December 22, 2017 posting] with $574.5 domestic millions, #3 [but still climbing] on the 2017 worldwide list [also #12 on the All-Time worldwide list, #6 as an All-Time domestic winner], with a global total so far of $1,215.3 billion after 4 weeks, now housed in 4,232 domestic theaters.)

 But despite how well Molly’s Game fares during this post-holiday/pre-awards season (with attention now turning to such work as Three Billboards … and The Shape of Water [Guillermo del Toro, 2017; review in our January 4, 2018 posting] after their Golden Globe wins), I find it to a worthy-investment of your moviehouse time and dollars, even though—just as with All the Money in the World, reviewed below—any attempt such as this one to recreate history when the outcome’s already known (or can be easily found through an Internet search) makes it difficult for the involved filmmakers to drum up enough interest in their projects for their movies to be truly memorable unless the action’s intense (Dunkirk [Christopher Nolan, 2017; review in our July 27, 2017 posting]), a performance already seems Oscar-assured (Darkest Hour [Joe Wright, 2017; review in our December 14, 2017 posting]), or the subject matter's so odd/awful car-crash-influenced viewers just have to see what it’s all about (The Disaster Artist [James Franco, 2017; review in our December 22, 2017 posting—although this last one doesn’t hold up for me as well as the others mentioned but may at least provide a sort of 2-for-1 opportunity for those who don’t want to pay to actually get a sense of The Room {Tommy Wiseau, 2003}]).  Those inherent limitations are at work for me regarding both Molly’s Game and All the Money in the World, where intense drama is stirred up on screen, deflated a bit when reading fuller historical accounts, especially one claiming Molly's skiing accident is purely fictional (although, confusingly, she seems to say it's true in the previous link, so I can offer no resolution at this point), leading to my somewhat-reserved 3½-star-ratings, but I still recommend seeing both of these movies because they generally succeed, even as reconstructed-entertainment, especially with such award-caliber-acting from Chastain and Elba in this movie, as well as Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer patiently awaiting your attention.

 The regular readers of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark (Many thanks to all of you!  But, a warm welcome also to anyone now occasionally or newly joining us.) know that I like to finish off each review with a Musical Metaphor, in which I offer one last look at what’s just gone before but from the perspective of the aural arts.  For Molly’s Game my goal was to find something which combines the unpredictable successes and failures of what Leonard Cohen called “the holy game of poker” (in "The Stranger Song" [1967 Songs of Leonard Cohen album; lyrics provided on this link if you like]), a situation so crucial to Ms. Bloom’s rise and fall in her upper-class-secret-society, as well as a song capturing the wizardly-wordsmithing of Sorkin in ramming home a complex set of ideas in a manner forcing you to pay rapt attention during the time of exposure, filing away what you’ve encountered in those ideas toward a bout of reconsideration/ assimilation later when you get a chance to catch your breath (I agree Cohen’s song does this too, but hear me out).  Fortunately, my at-times-foggy-memory recalled just such a piece by one of those talented artists who died much too young (in 1997 at age 52, from substance abuse [and other medical problems], the same road Molly was on until her legal troubles forced her to abandon those habits), Townes Van Zandt (a fellow Texan [from a wealthy family], born in Fort Worth, where I once had a lot of relatives [none even close to wealthy]), who, like Molly, lived in Colorado (but not as long as she did).  He even began his musical career in 1965 in Houston when I was just 50 miles 
away going to high school in Galveston, but I never saw him perform, only learned of his music from it being played by others as I went to college (in the last stage of my post-grad-career we even overlapped, both living in Austin in 1975 but still no connection), with my all-time favorite song of his being “Poncho and Lefty” (1972 album ironically titled The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, but the best-known-version’s by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, which you can find on their 1983 duet album Poncho & Lefty and here).  All of this prelude aside, though, let's go to another, more-appropriate Van Zandt song regarding the plotline of Molly’s Game.

 From the 1972 Townes Van Zandt album High, Low and In Between I'll offer you the singer-songwriter himself performing “Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold” at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=MhVHE5V49oA in which the members of a deck of cards themselves take on personalities as Mudd and Gold duel, with Gold raking it in just like Player X and Harlan Eustice do in Molly’s Game (with Molly herself also becoming fabulously rich, just from the generosity of the players, given that all the money on the table comes from, goes to them) as the sympathetic Queen of Diamonds—with her mighty Ace plus her son, Jack—finally rescues Mudd from his humiliation, just as the actual Molly Bloom now feels her past problems have been largely rectified (see the 3rd entry connected to this movie in that Related Links section far below for comments from her; however, I'll quickly admit Townes’ lyrics may not be that easy to internalize without several listenings [just like the Cohen tune cited above], so if you want to interpret their beauty more easily here they are printed out), allowing me to just close these comments with Van Zandt’s summary: “Now, here’s what this story’s told If you feel like Mud you’ll end up Gold If you feel lost, you’ll end up found So amigo, lay them raises down.”  Now, we’ll turn our attention to J. Paul Getty, a man who seemingly never gambles (even to protect his grandson’s life) but ends up as much more like mud than gold.
                  
(intended as) SHORT TAKES (but hijacked by a verbose kidnapper)
                
            All the Money in the World (Ridley Scott, 2017)
              
Based on, yet fictionalized from, historical events this story explores the 1973 abduction of John Paul (Paolo) Getty III by Italian mobsters, intend on getting a $17 million ransom only to find his billionaire grandfather isn’t willing to pay anything; a former CIA agent is called in to help the teenager’s mother track down the crooks, difficulties emerging for all involved.

Here’s the trailer (actually, trailers—the original one with scandal-tainted Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty, plus the new one with Christopher Plummer in the role resulting from a whirlwind reshoot):


       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 As with Molly’s Game, this movie’s “Inspired by True Events” (there’s not much to shy away from as spoilers, but I’ll be discreet with certain aspects), doing an equally-effective-job of maintaining suspense even though you could easily know its outcome through a Google inquiry (or Yahoo or whatever search engine you prefer; I’m just trying to cozy up to my digital overlords); in fact, if you’d like to get a quick overview of the John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) kidnapping (with the 16-year-old-victim called Paolo here, both to acknowledge how much of his life up to that point had been spent in Italy as well as to differentiate him from his like-named father [Andrew Buchan] and grandfather [Christopher Plummer—no relation to Charlie]), read this NY Times obituary about his eventual death in 2011 (at age 54, largely from substance abuse following his famous ordeal; you can also get more extensive details from other sources, including our old friend, Wikipedia).  Even if you’re already aware of the many minor fictionalizations used in this script (if not, see the second entry connected to All … in Related Links below), I think you can still be kept interested in how Scott pushes your panic buttons as Paolo’s thugs grow increasingly frustrated with the failure of his family to pay even the discounted ransom finally demanded, down from the original $17 million to a “mere” $4 million, but even that was slow in coming from Grandpa J. Paul, so cheap he had a pay phone installed in his English countryside mansion for visitors to use (although you could argue he has a valid point about how, with 14 grandchildren, if he pays any ransom he’ll just keep getting hit up for more; still, considering—as we're told in Paolo’s occasional narration—this tightwad-oil-tycoon-billionaire was not only the richest man in the world in 1973 but also the richest person in history* you can see why he easily falls into the villain role of this story, along with the kidnappers until they get more vicious by cutting off a big chunk of Paolo’s right ear to send as proof of life, also as proof of their seriousness in continually mutilating the boy until their demands are met).⇐ 

*You can consult this site as well as a slightly-more-complicated-version to learn more about how much money’s actually in the world (at least as of autumn, 2016), fascinating explorations in wealth-comprehension but with no attempt to address how such current holdings might compare to the eons-old-scale of riches accrued by leaders of ancient empires in Egypt, China, Persia, Rome or even the contemporary Vatican where “priceless” becomes difficult to calculate in monetary terms.

 By frequently switching the action from the kidnappers’ increasing frustration (especially after the original-criminal-bodysnatchers sell their hostage to a more-determined-Mafia-bargainer, Mammoliti [Marco Leonardi]—with only Cinquanta [Romain Duris] of the original crew still around, taking a sympathetic attitude toward Paolo which allows his ultimate escape [a great scene for cinematic drama but, according to sources I've seen, it's a complete fictionalization]) to the deadends encountered by Paolo’s mother, Gail Harris Getty (Michelle Williams), and ex-CIA “fixer” Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg)—including an escape by Paolo but he's soon recaptured—we’re frequently given every reason to believe history is just “fake news” (which has successfully become the operational mode within the current White House administration), as Paolo seems constantly doomed ⇒because his captors could easily decide to just cut their losses instead of more of their captive’s body parts (despite what we may know of these actual events).⇐   Through flashbacks we’re shown how Grandpa Getty got rich in 1948 by successfully extracting the vast supply of oil in Saudi Arabia (then developing supertankers to transport it to world markets); how essentially-estranged son Paul Jr. (Andrew Buchan) was living a tight-budget-life in NYC with his wife and 3 kids (Paolo a bit older than his sisters) until Dad offers him the chance to move to Rome, heading up Getty Oil’s European operations which leads him to a life of alcohol/drug-fueled-debauchery in Morocco; how Gail files for divorce (including custody of the children, dragging stubborn Paolo back to Italy [from living happily with his father in north Africa] where he becomes a scholastic slacker/bohemian as Gail’s taken only enough of the Getty cash in alimony to pay for child support).

 When the kid’s grabbed into a VW bus in 1973, whisked off to a southern Italian hideout, the only way the ransom could be paid is by filthy-rich-but-duplicitous-Grandpa (years earlier he gave Paolo a supposedly-valuable Hellenistic figurine, but when Gail tries to sell it to help raise ransom money she finds it’s nothing but a trinket from a museum store) who steadfastly refuses to pay anything, although he does send Fletcher on the kid’s trail, at least until they mistakenly come to the early conclusion the kidnapping’s just a hoax by Paolo in a get-rich-quick-scheme.  As months go by, Chase becomes convinced there’s no hoax ⇒(verified by the cut-ear-tactic, sent to a newspaper to guarantee public awareness of the situation)⇐ but even when the demand’s decreased Grandpa’s initially only willing to put up what he can write off for IRS purposes, the remainder loaned to Paul Jr. (with interest); however, after a verbal dressing-down by Chase, the old man pays the full amount (as well as relinquishing custody of the kids back to Gail, a price she had to previously pay to get that partial payment from him) ⇒Gail and Fletcher drop the money off as required in a remote forest area with Paolo left at an arranged site, but he panics, runs to a nearby town even as cops come out of the woodwork (in defiance of the arrangements) so the goons who aren’t immediately captured set out to kill Paolo, although he’s ultimately reunited with Mom even as Grandpa dies of natural causes, cradling an expensive Renaissance painting (which he paid $1.5 million for, even when it seemed his grandson was likely to be toast).⇐   In a final irony, Gail’s recruited to manage the elder Getty’s estate which leads to his new L.A. mansion being turned into the Getty Museum to house all the art (reminiscent of those massive stored objects left at the end of Citizen Kane [Orson Welles, 1941] although no heirs existed to share that loot; Kane’s inspiration in William Randolph Hearst would also find that media mogul’s heirs converting their sprawling San Simeon, CA mansion into a National/California Historical Landmark, open to the public as with Getty’s property).

 Another factor drawing considerable attention to … World, though, is the rapid-response Scott made to the recent public accusations of sexual molestation/harassment against Kevin Spacey, originally cast as the elder Getty, with the footage all shot, in the process of final editing for a late December, 2017 release.  Rather than continue on with the now-discredited actor or waste the previous fine efforts by the rest of the cast and crew, the director took the bold step (with $10 million support from distributor TriStar [Sony]) of reshooting almost all of Spacey’s scenes (a few were changed via digital insertion or kept in wide shot) using Christopher Plummer (here’s a short video explanation of this situation, including interviews with Scott, Plummer, and Williams) in only 10 days, even though that required returning to original sets as well as bringing back several other actors (and crew) because while the character’s not on screen quite as much as Williams or Wahlberg he’s in a lot of this narrative so while technically it’s a supporting role it’s also a good-sized-one demanding a lot of fast work by a dedicated team to allow the new footage to be ready for last-minute-insertion into the final edit, with the original release date pushed back only 3 days to a Christmas Day opening.  While critical reaction to this project’s been reserved (RT has 77% positive reviews, MC offers a close 73% average score), just as audience reception’s been limited thus far ($27.6 million worldwide, only $7.5 million of that from outside the domestic market) despite playing in 2,123 domestic theaters, Plummer’s been highly praised for his contributions (even got a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Golden Globes, although he lost to the primary contender, Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; other … World GG nominees [Williams for Best Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama, Scott for Best Director-Motion Picture] also lost, but you can see all the Golden Globe winners listed in their Related Links entry now found just below).

 To begin wrapping up this posting I’ll return to my opening title, taken from The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” (a big hit, part of their 1964 A Hard Day’s Night movie soundtrack album) at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=srwxJUXPHvE which becomes my Musical Metaphor for All the Money in the World because love seems to have been a commodity in the Getty family even more rare and invaluable than the enormous art collection the patriarch acquired (largely because he’d set up a tax-free family trust that inhibited him from spending large amounts of his fortune—possibly another complication in coming up with the ransom money but never discussed as such in the movie—yet he could invest it; thus, much of that renowned accumulation is now accessible to the public, unlike emotions mostly inaccessible to the bearers of the JPG name).   Although Paolo’s presented as the sort who’d try to profess he “don’t need no diamond ring” (just a regular allowance rather than a job), almost everyone else in this story—except Gail—from Grandpa Getty to his grandson’s abductors is just waiting for someone to say “I’ll give you all I’ve got to give [but I don’t care] If you say you love me too.”  Despite all the material resources available to this family (with Gail reminding the kidnappers, the press, and anyone else who’ll listen she only carries the Getty name by marriage, not heritage) you get the clear sense money “Can’t buy me love”—even in the case of the actual John Paul III (neither a Pope nor a Beatle), whose later life seems to have been ruined by his teenage experience not only of being held captive for so long, then suffering a painful mutilation, but also of finding no relief from his family’s vast holdings when his grandfather was likely making enough each day during the OPEC oil embargo to have paid the original $17 million with hardly a second thought (although he’s shown worrying such a windfall might come to a quick end, thereby destabilizing his luxurious financial position).  All that motivated Granddad was to prove his own haughty father wrong in saying his son wouldn’t amount to much; his progeny seemed intent only in distancing themselves from him as much as possible, despite the miseries they'd endured in the process, always searching “for the kind of thing That money just can’t buy.”

 I’ll close by noting money can’t buy readership of this blog either, especially with none coming in due to the Google ban on us carrying advertising (too crazy to explain; I’d probably draw a technical foul if I tried), therefore none going out from us either (“I may not have a lot to give”) yet readership continues to set new all-time-high numbers, now having reached 60,940 last month (up from 45,628, last week’s count for the previous month; seems to be an ongoing Google measurement even as it might change later in the same day when you check) so thanks again to all of you for your growing interest in Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark.  We truly appreciate all your support!
                  
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
              
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*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2017.

Here’s more information about Molly’s Game:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsnrc34g09A (33:05 press conference with screenwriter-director Aaron Sorkin and actors Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzuXce0OLfo (5:04 interview with Molly Bloom by Ellen DeGeneres)



Here’s more information about All the Money in the World:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxBITsm4rwY (11:33 video comparing facts of the actual kidnapping vs. depictions in the film; this is a very interesting video but here are my 2 caveats: 
(1) You’ll soon see the videomakers had few images to support their presentation so what they 
have quickly becomes repetitious, and (2) the information presented as graphics on screen is 
quite useful, but these blocks of detail move by so quickly you might want to pause each new cluster of words to give yourself adequate time to read them)



Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com(But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website, https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.

OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.

Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 60,940 (yet another All-Time High!); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (very glad to see 5 of my hoped-for 6 continents represented [only Africa missing, no expectations of Antarctica]; merci again to France for your fabulous response):