MPW-115163Money Monster (2016).

D: Jodie Foster. DP: Matthew Libatique. W: Jamie Linden. Starring: Julia Roberts/George Clooney/Jack O’Connell/Caitriona Balfe/Dominic West/Christopher Denham/Condola Rashad/Giancarlo Esposito.

Hot off the boat from its Cannes Film Festival premiere arrives the Jodie Foster directed thriller Money Monster. With star wattage in front and behind the camera the film works well to engross you in a topical story of financial loss.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) hosts a daily financial fluff show that features him gyrating to rap songs and hitting special effects buttons around the studio. The Money Monster show is produced by Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) who sits with an all male crew in a booth directing her staff as well as Gates through a typical ear piece. It is a day like any other when begrudged Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) poses as a delivery man and enters the studio. He interrupts the show to place a bomb triggered vest on Gates while the two hash out the recent stock crash of company Gates’ had recommended. Essentially a three handler the story navigates the threat of the bomb and coming face to face with the man responsible for the financial collapse of these stocks.

Foster seems confident in her actors to get the job done. These are faces we know well and their looks illustrate an old friendship that has already weathered a few tides. Clooney’s natural cheesy good looks fit well as a show host. He pulls off the more tender connective moments with O’Connell’s Kyle well, which helps you to ignore O’Connell’s thickly layered Queens accent attempt. It is refreshing to see Roberts take command of a narrative not capitalizing on her looks like say her new film Mother’s Day (that wig!). You believe their friendship, which keeps the investment in the action secure. Acting through screens and ear pieces the group produce a television segment that is more successful than the noisy attempts of law enforcement.

The three are supported by a nearly always great Dominic West whose Grinch like grin is a good choice for mogul Walt Bamby. His company’s communications head is newcomer Caitriona Balfe who has the hard narrative task of being the character trying to find all the answers. Christopher Denham as taskmaster producer Ron gives the film its humor as does Condola Rashad who plays an assistant. Give that gal a network show stat.

Jamie Linden keeps the pace up in his screenplay, a different kind of tempo for the writer who adapted Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John as well as writing football true story We Are Marshall. The pacing keeps you invested in this three handler of a story and helps hide some technical impossibilities along the way. Matthew Libatique (Straight Outta Compton, Ruby Sparks, Black Swan) plays around with screens and camera angles to get inside the studio and eventually with story as it literally moves.

Money Monster does not achieve anything exceptionally new, but it keeps your attention from start to finish. The film best belongs in a festival day that would also screen The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street. We could call it: Representations of the American Financial Crisis Onscreen! A whole other day could be spent on how these stories continue to be homogeneously white and male. Yet, I digress. Money Monster is an attentive commercial thriller at best and it makes me intrigued to see what Foster does next with her storytelling.

Let’s Homage!

March 30, 2016

v1Hail, Caesar!

D/W: Ethan and Joel Coen. DP: Roger Deakins. Starring: George Clooney/Josh Brolin/Channing Tatum/Scarlett Johansson/Alden Ehrenreich/Jonah Hill/Tilda Swinton/Ralph Fiennes/Frances McDormand/Alison Pill.

The newest effort from the Coen brothers abandons the dark bleakness of 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis for the bright world of studio era film-making. Even more recently the pair wrote the script for Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies and continue to executive produce the FX series Fargo based on their original 1996 film. Here Hail, Caesar! is set in the bright Los Angeles sunshine with an undercurrent of communist meetings and production craziness, but lacks any true center. Much like the sprawling city itself.

The film, complete with a Michael Gambon voice-over, follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who is a physical production head at the fictional studio in the 1950s as he deals with an on set crisis. The crisis is the abduction of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) from his Roman epic set. His ransom is orchestrated by a communist group think that Clooney sits in with while the studio goes up in arms to find him. Within this story is a smaller one of Western success Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) being placed in a costume drama directed by a serious Ralph Fiennes as Lawrence Laurence. Along with various smaller storylines the film is an interweaving series of events housed within the same studio family.

Hail, Ceasar! is enjoyable as a homage to studio era films and the nods to those stars are such fun. Will the average movie goer get them? Probably not, but hearing Hobie ask Carmen Miranda based character Carlotta Valdez about “balancing bananers on her head” makes it worth it. Even Scarlett Johansson’s character of DeaAnna Moran as a rip of famous water ballet star Esther Williams is great though she reuses her Jersey accent from Don Jon. Channing Tatum’s knock on Gene Kelly might make you forget the plot for a minute and as a musical fan I wouldn’t mind seeing Tatum in a dancing film. Tilda Swinton is oddly placed as twin sister gossip columnists, but overall the female characters are limited to their historical archetypes from that era. The standout is clearly Ehrenreich as Hobie, his accent is as thick as butter and his comic timing well played. Clooney is a snooze.

Yet the major problem is that the film feels gimmicky. The story is built so Mannix has an excuse to visit different sets on this lot and nod to the stars of old. Thus the plot runs thin and does not have the scope of the films it pays respect to nor is as memorable character wise as other Coen ventures. The film was shot by veteran Roger Deakins who last year was responsible for Sicario yet with an entirely different tone here is able to give pop to an era Trumbo made silly. However, overall Hail, Casear! lacks cohesion and a center so if you miss the references you might as well miss the film.

For anyone following the trajectory of Britt Robertson’s (Under the Dome, The Secret Circle, Life Unexpected) career over the past few years, this is a big step for her. Here is the new trailer from Disney for their project also starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. Very long, I would suggest watching half so you don’t ‘see the entire film in 2.5 minutes.’


Fortunes & Misfortunes

December 23, 2011

The Descendants (2011).

D: Alexander Payne. DP: Phedon Papamichael. W: Payne/Nat Faxon/Jim Rash (based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings). Starring: George Clooney/Shailene Woodley/Amara Miller/Nick Krause/Beau Bridges/Matthew Lillard/Judy Greer/Mary Birdsong/Rob Huebel/Robert Forster.

Hot from the festival circuit, Alexander Payne’s new film, The Descendants, has found nice footing at movie theaters across the country. The only true test will be how it fairs through award season.

Since 2004’s Sideways, this is the first project that Payne has both written and directed and he does the story credit here. The Descendants is a multi-layered story that thankfully doesn’t try to be too complex in its delivery. Following George Clooney’s Matt King as he grapples with the pending decision of whether or not to sell his family’s virgin Hawaiian land, the story also finds Clooney’s character dealing with his wife’s accident that leaves her in a serious coma. Top it all off Clooney finds out said wife has been cheating on him and decides to bring home his teenage daughter to be with him, help him, and be at her mother’s bedside.

Clooney does well here, not only is the actor aging gracefully, but his lovable, yet defunct dad role offers Clooney some moments of tenderness and quiet restraint audiences haven’t seen in awhile. However, no one has to do too much. Payne uses the Hawaiian locations well, doesn’t over indulge in his use of voice-over, and thankfully allows both of Clooney’s daughters in the film to be fully realized characters rather than shallow archetypes. Specifically, Shailene Woodley as Clooney’s teenage daughter Alexandra shines. She feels fresh, with just enough rebellion in her. Woodley, although statuesque and gorgeous by any comparison, is not dolled up or overdone, giving her character a realistic feel matched by her younger sister Scottie (Amara Miller).

The betrayal aspect of the plot is handled with the right amount of anger, fear, and curiosity that makes the film engaging and heart wrenching at the same time. One of my few complaints is at times the pace really slows down and the whole film could have been a bit tighter. Also, the other couple met in act three feels a bit archetypal next to such a well rounded family (and friend in Nick Krause’s Sid). Regardless though, The Descendants ends up feeling cathartic in a way. A lot of pain and decisions rest on one man who is quickly learning how fast one’s life can be re-focused and the repercussions those decisions have in and outside of his life. Hopefully, we all figure this out before its too late.