Wednesday, May 11, 2016

“Money Monster”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “Money Monster” starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts and directed by Jodie Foster.


When a poor man loses his life savings in a Wall Street investment, he takes hostage the television host whom he feels gave him poor advice – but when it turns out they’ve both been swindled, can they bring the real culprit to justice?


Lee Gates (Clooney) is The Money Monster – or perhaps more accurately, he’s the host of a television show called “Money Monster”.  As the controversially garish star of a show that frequently blurs the lines between information and entertainment, his success has caused his massive ego to grow out of control, resulting in considerable friction between himself and his long-time producer, Patty Fenn (Roberts), who is secretly planning her exit strategy.  On his show, Gates provides viewers with stock tips and various investment advice.  One of his telecasts included a solid buy recommendation for a financial services company called Ibis, which showed considerable growth potential. 

Kyle (Jack O'Connell), a blue collar deliveryman whose means and education are both limited, took Gates’ recommendation to heart.  With a $60,000 inheritance from his recently deceased mother, Kyle poured the entire amount into Ibis, hoping that it would provide him a secure future upon retirement.  Unfortunately for Kyle and his fellow Ibis investors, the stock took an unexpected downturn; its price dropped from $75 per share to only $8 with little sign it would reverse quickly, if ever.  When questioned about this unforeseen disaster, executives at Ibis would merely say the issue occurred due to a glitch in the software that handles its trades. 

Furious over having lost his nest egg, Kyle sneaks into Gates’ studio during a live broadcast, armed with both a handgun and explosives.  Interrupting that day’s episode of “Money Monster”, Kyle holds both the host and his show hostage until and unless he can get better answers about how such a seemingly secure company could somehow manage to lose $80 million in investors’ money.  As Patty reaches out to Ibis executives to have a representative address Kyle’s concerns and save everyone’s life, she soon learns the company’s CEO may have personally manipulated his company’s fortunes for nefarious purposes.  With that being the case, can Patty risk angering Kyle even further once he discovers the truth or can she and Gates find a way to turn the tables in such a way as to arrive at a safe outcome? 


Acolytes of Vermont Senator and 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will likely flock to see “Money Monster” because it resonates on the theme that the United States economy is a rigged system that benefits only the very rich while punishing The Average Joe.  However, whether or not they will like the movie is an entirely different matter indeed.  The trite dialog and unlikely situations in this film render pedestrian entertainment at best, only given credibility by virtue of the big names attached to the project. 

The film’s show “Money Monster” is clearly based on CNBC’s “Mad Money” with Clooney’s Gates being a considerably more glamorous version of its host Jim Cramer.  The twinkle of that glamor is soon tarnished by a rather drab script with a suspect set-up and predictable ending.  In this post-Great Recession era where movies like “Wolf Of Wall Street” and “The Big Short” are venting the anger and resentment of the hoi polloi who were victimized by greedy Wall Street financiers in the recent past, “Money Monster” will probably not be remembered as among one of the best of that ilk. 

Those expecting to see a romantic involvement between Clooney and Roberts will be severely disappointed; instead, their characters are more like collaborators and effectively business partners who speak in a shorthand only they understand – as such, “Money Monster” is more of a buddy movie for these two mega-stars and any sense of love between them is purely platonic.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with this – except for the director’s uneasy presentation of Clooney’s character as sleazy by tarring him as quite the lothario. 

Money Monster (2016) on IMDb

Monday, May 02, 2016

“A Bigger Splash”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “A Bigger Splash”, starring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson.


When a rock star and her lover have their vacation ruined by her former boyfriend who unexpectedly arrives with his daughter, tensions rise between the two men – but will she be forced to pick one over the other?


Following a grueling tour, rock singer Marianne Lane (Swinton) goes on vacation with her partner, documentary filmmaker Paul (Schoenaerts).  Their vacation, however, is anything but carefree:  it is being taken as per her doctor’s orders.  It seems that her excruciating schedule has taken its toll on Marianne’s voice; if she doesn’t give it a rest for a minimum of two weeks, she may never be able to sing again.  While lounging quietly on a small Italian island, they are surprised when her ex-boyfriend Harry (Fiennes) shows up along with his once-estranged daughter Penelope (Johnson). 

Crashing at Marianne’s villa, Paul is immediately uncomfortable with their presence.  At first, Marianne seems pleased to see Harry again, but his personality soon wears on her nerves, especially when she sees he has an unusual relationship with Penelope since they’ve reconciled.  While Harry tries to smooth over Paul’s hurt feelings, he’s simultaneously trying to find ways to be alone with Marianne for the purpose of stealing her away from Paul.  Meanwhile, Penelope, who’s been a little hostile towards Marianne, seems to have her sights set on seducing Paul. 

One night, when the women go to bed early, Paul and Harry confront each other about what has been unsaid all along:  Paul accuses Harry of trying to push him out of the way in order to win back Marianne and Harry accuses Paul of trying to hook up with Penelope behind his back.  Before long, it escalates into a physical contest with the men stumbling into the backyard pool; continuing their fight in the water, Paul drowns Harry.  Horrified at finding Harry dead the next morning, Marianne calls the police and their investigation begins.  With Marianne suspecting Paul of the murder, will she convince the police of his innocence or can they find sufficient evidence to charge him with the crime?


Although there are a few promising ideas and potential plot twists hinted at in “A Bigger Splash”, none of them are ever fully realized.  Instead, this plodding movie feels considerably longer than its two-hours.  Its biggest problem is that the story doesn’t really start until the end of the second act; before that, there are other elements teased but they all wind up being nothing more than misdirection.  If all you want in a movie is pretty people in a beautiful setting with gorgeous scenery, “A Bigger Splash” will suit nicely.  On the other hand, if you are looking for a film with a compelling story, you’ll be forced to look elsewhere. 

It seems the filmmakers are only interested in spending the first hour and a half faking out the audience – essentially, wasting everyone’s time.  Its screenplay’s structure is in a serious imbalance.  The initial 90 minutes of this motion picture meanders as if the movie itself is on vacation – not in a particular hurry to go anywhere.  It’s not until the final act – and fairly late in that act – that we learn some astounding facts regarding certain characters.  If only these had been introduced earlier!  Impatiently, an audience will understandably ask itself at some point, “Where is this story going?”.  The answer, unfortunately, is both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. 

The only way “A Bigger Splash” will have you on the edge of your seat in a movie theater is if you are contemplating leaving.  In fact, during this screening, approximately a half dozen audience members walked out about half-way through.  They cannot and should not be shamed for this.  Instead, they should be commended for their excellent judgment and time management skills.  One can only imagine how much more interesting this motion picture would have been if its story had gotten started earlier.  As it is, “A Bigger Splash” winds up drowning itself in its own aimlessness. 

A Bigger Splash (2015) on IMDb