Money Monster

November 12, 2016 at 8:57 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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While we primarily know her from her extensive acting career, Jodie Foster has also established herself as a skilled director and producer (“Little Man Tate,” “The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys,” “Home for the Holidays”). Her films have tended to be heartwarming, funny and intimate portraits of how people try to find meaning/ fit into the world. But that is not the case here. “Money Monster” is a flashy Hollywood production with top-tier stars, action and very little depth. George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a tv personality and financial advisor, who is a thinly veiled Jim Cramer character (his show is even called “Money Monster,” which is an obvious reference to Cramer’s “Mad Money”). In the middle of filming a live episode, a disgruntled young man with a bomb enters the studio and takes Lee hostage. The young man, played by Jack O’Connell (the British star of the fantastic film “’71” and Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken”), has a message he wants to share about the evils of rogue corporate interests and the plight of the little guy. This is another post-financial crisis movie but, unlike “The Big Short” or “Margin Call,” it sheds no light. The crisis is simply a cheap tool used to give a certain superficial relate-ability to O’Connell’s character. In fact, that is what I thought of the film, in general: it never went deep, or even tried to. It was always willing to simply move the story along. These are one-dimensional characters (well, maybe two-dimensional) who exist only to entertain the audience. That’s not a bad thing. Many films are pure escapism. I had just been under the impression that there would be more than that here. The film moves along quickly and, at barely more than an hour and a half, is over before you know it. It isn’t an unpleasant way to spend your down time. Just don’t show up expecting insight, catharsis, or any depth of emotion at all. This movie, for good or bad, is just a slick, glossy, thrill ride.

 

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Hail, Caesar!

February 11, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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It’s hard to argue with the brilliance of Joel and Ethan Coen. Their collective genius is behind such films as “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Blood Simple,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”… (and the list goes on). Yet, for all of that, they do have their missteps. They have proven themselves to be masters at dark, nihilistic, taut dramas (see above) and they have also shown that they can have a keen eye for ridiculous, laugh-out-loud comedy (see also the above). But sometimes their humor (which can be described as a bit wacky on its best days) can sometimes stray into the outright silly; silly, in fact, to the point of inconsequential.  Perhaps their best work, as in “Blood Simple” or “Fargo” is darkness with a bite. Here, however, there is neither any darkness or any real bite. They do stray into some light commentary about the film industry, following one’s passions, etc. But it is all so light, it evaporates without even being noticed. Instead, this film tries to be good-natured fun, with an extra helping of goofy, just to make sure you chuckle. And, like most of the Coens’ other goofier works (“Burn Before Reading,” “The Lady Killers”), this one just leaves no lasting impression. It was mildly funny in parts and even really funny a few times (relative unknown, Alden Ehrenreich, is a real scene stealer) but it never once left me wanting more. By the time the credits rolled, my mind was already on to other things. That may be par for the course for most directors but, when it’s the Coens, one can’t help but be disappointed.

Gravity

October 6, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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I was astonished at the level of drama, tension and pathos that could be created in a film with only two actors. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are the only people we see and almost the only people we hear for 90 minutes and yet the audience is never bored and, in fact, we were often on the edge of our seats.  Director Alfonso Cuarón (“Y Tu Mama También,” “Children of Men”) has already proven himself to be a master of mood and here proves he is also a master of suspense.   Apparently Cuarón came up with a new way of filming weightlessness as both actors are entirely weightless in every scene.  The effect is stunning as are all the visuals.  Cuarón manages to make space look both expansive and claustrophobic, serene and dangerous at the same time.  While Clooney and Bullock are both reliable actors and portray their roles admirably, the magic of this movie is all Cuarón.  I really cannot overstate how visually arresting this film is.  The tension starts almost from the first moments and sustains without a break until the very end.  My one complaint was with the soundtrack, which was very run-of-the-mill and often too heavy-handed.  The film would have been better served with silence, utilizing that emptiness (that absence) in the same way Cuarón used emptiness in his visuals to portray danger and tension.

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