In 2012, it was Les Misérables and Django Unchained. In 2013, it was The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle. In 2014, it was Into the Woods and The Imitation Game. In 2015, there was The Hateful Eight and The Big Short. And last year, 2016, we had Fences and La La Land. Yes, folks, it is that time of year again as I recently embarked on my annual Post-Christmas double feature run with my good friend and fellow film critic Matthew Goudreau of The Young Folks. This is something that we’ve been doing for the past few years now as a way of seeing some of the year’s biggest award contenders. As such, as I’ve done every year, I’ll be doing a quick pair of short reviews for these two films instead of two standard reviews so that I can have more time to start preparing for my annual ‘Top 12 Favorite Films of the Year’ list. But for these past few years, what originally began as a ‘Double Feature’ post soon turned into a ‘Triple Feature’ post because Matt and I often do this around the time of New Year’s Eve. And almost every year on that day, my family and I have a tradition of going to see a film as a nice way of closing out the year. Thus, today on Rhode Island Movie Corner, I’m officially kicking off my 2018 slate of posts* (not counting the second half of my ‘Worst of 2017’ list that was published a few days ago) by delving into the last three new releases that I saw in 2017, beginning with the two films that Matt and I saw on the day before New Year’s Eve.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
First up, we have the latest film from director Guillermo Del Toro. Over the past few years, Del Toro has made quite a name for himself in the film industry particularly thanks to his work in the fantasy genre. This includes the likes of the original Hellboy from 2004, its 2008 sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, which ended up winning three Oscars at that year’s ceremony. And now Del Toro returns to the fantasy genre with another big awards contender, The Shape of Water, which tells the story of a mute woman named Elisa who forms a special bond with a humanoid-looking amphibious creature that’s being held captive at the government facility that she works at. In the process, however, she and the creature find themselves pursued by the vicious colonel who had captured the creature in the first place. All in all, the film is a charming fantasy flick that features some excellent cinematography and visual effects. This is especially worth noting considering the fact that this film was made on a modest budget of under $20 million. The film is also bolstered by a collection of strong performances from its ensemble cast. Sally Hawkins is incredibly charismatic as the mute Elisa while Michael Shannon is delightfully sinister as the main antagonist, Colonel Strickland. Richard Jenkins is also a major standout as Elisa’s closeted artist neighbor Giles as is Michael Stuhlbarg as a Russian scientist who, like Elisa, is more sympathetic to the creature in comparison to Strickland. And, of course, there’s Del Toro regular Doug Jones once again doing a phenomenal job under heavy makeup as the incredibly sympathetic ‘Asset’. With all this in mind, Guillermo Del Toro has very much hit it out of the park with this visually beautiful tale of a Beauty and her Beast.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
This is a film that has certainly attracted quite a lot of media attention these past few months. As many of you know, director Ridley Scott’s newest film, which delves into the true story of the infamous kidnapping of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s grandson John Paul Getty III, originally starred Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty. That all changed, however, when Spacey became just the latest figure in the film industry to be hit with the ‘Weinstein effect’ and be accused of several incidents of sexual assault. Thus, in what was easily one of the most unprecedented moves ever seen in the entire industry, Scott straight-up recast the role and reshot major sequences of the film just one month prior to its release. And so, Christopher Plummer now stars in the role of J. Paul Getty; though, really, this change doesn’t have that much of an effect over the final film (aside from it being a different spin on the character) as Getty’s role in the film is minor at best. Still, Plummer does do an excellent job in the role of the cold and distant billionaire. Equally terrific in the film is Michelle Williams as Gail Harris, Getty’s former daughter-in-law who becomes extremely devoted to the process of finding her kidnapped son. These strong performances are easily the best part of the film, and for the most part, they make up for its biggest shortcoming, its sluggish pacing. Simply put, there are several instances where you can feel the brunt of the film’s near two and a half hour runtime, especially during the second act. That’s not to say, though, that the film doesn’t have its moments; and of course, at the end of the day, Ridley Scott deserves a heck of a lot of credit for managing to completely rework a sizable chunk of the film in such a short amount of time. While it’s by no means the best film that he’s ever done, All the Money in the World is still worth checking out if mainly for the phenomenal performances from Williams and Plummer.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN
And finally, we have the last new film release that I saw in 2017 on New Year’s Eve, The Greatest Showman. This lavish period musical is based on the true story of the origins of the iconic Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus… which ironically closed for good this past May due to decreasing ticket sales. Despite this, however, I was still very much looking forward to this film given the fond memories that I have of going to see the circus when I was younger. With that said, though, I should probably start this review by addressing the big elephant in the room that is this film’s portrayal of the circus’ founder, P.T. Barnum. While the film portrays Barnum as an endearing ‘nobody’ who managed to defy all odds and make a name for himself in the world of entertainment thanks to his circus, several people have pointed out that he was a far more ruthless entrepreneur than the film lets on. But while I do recognize the fact that this film isn’t exactly historically accurate, I still found it to be quite enjoyable thanks to its excellent and well-choreographed musical numbers courtesy of La La Land songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Plus, the film also boasts a terrific ensemble cast highlighted by Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, Michelle Williams (in her second major appearance in today’s post) as Barnum’s loving wife Charity, Zac Efron as a playwright who ends up becoming Barnum’s business partner, and Zendaya as one of the circus’ trapeze artists who falls in love with Efron’s character. In short, it is perfectly understandable if some may find this film’s messages of acceptance to be rather phony given the context of the true story that it’s based on. Still, if you’re just looking for a charming and original feel-good musical, then I have the feeling that you’ll enjoy The Greatest Showman regardless of how much it stretches the truth.