Skip to main content

I'm sorry, are you suggesting we shoot the star of a TV show live on air, in front of millions of people?

Money Monster
(2016)

(SPOILERS) Although Money Monster was directed by Jodie Foster, it bears all the hallmarks of George Clooney’s faux-‘70s political filmmaking sensibilities. I say faux, because they’re political-lite in every aspect, which makes this movie possibly more irritating than if it were just your bog-standard, shameless Hollywood spectacle. One part post-Financial Crisis commentary and one-part Network-style exploration of the pervasive influence of the im/amoral media circus, it ends up as neither of those things, failing even to lay sufficient groundwork to sacrifice its intentions to standard thriller plotting and emotional pay-offs. It’s resolutely spineless, basically.


For a while there, I was all on board with Clooney’s lofty ideals, in wanting to make movies that had some kind of substance, starting with Three Kings and taking in Fail Safe, Syriana, Michael Clayton, The Informant! and even The Men Who Stare at Goats. But there’s an increasingly equivocal and antiseptic quality to the way his producing credits rip any real anger, vitality and, most of all, danger from the material he’s attached himself to. Whether it’s The Ides of March, or Argo or Our Brand is Crisis (and two of those are decent, if unspectacular, movies), he ensures his oversight molds and packages product in the most palatable and digestible form, and I’d argue the (presumed) trade-off of reaching more viewers isn’t remotely worth the loss of quality and depth. It certainly isn’t the ‘70s way, if you’re looking at the very best ‘70s pictures as a guideline (this hostage taker is more John Q than Dog Day Afternoon).


And Jodie Foster’s feature output falls into that rather listless, ambivalent category too, comfortable movies made by cossetted Hollywood royalty. Foster isn’t remotely a great director, as witnessed by The Beaver, which at least had potential to be really out there until she bludgeoned it into conformity (although, I don’t think she even did that; she was just terribly nice towards it). What Money Monster needed was the kind of apoplectic raging of her character in The Brave One, whose dog got snatched and led to her going bonkos with a gun.


What it is, is your standard studio approach of setting up an interesting issue and proceeding to demolish it with fakery, with ludicrous plot twists and unconvincing (“satisfying”) bringing of the villain to justice; what does it matter that the real financial crisis hasn’t receded, and is due to hit home even harder any day now, when you can make believe that just one guy is to blame? And what does it matter if the hard-pressed hostage-taker is killed, because, well, he was a bit of an idiot anyway? And doesn’t George look appropriately aggrieved at the end, and maybe he’ll even develop a thing with Julia?


There’s something corny and out of touch about the whole set up anyway, with Clooney’s Lee Gates, host of financial tipster show Money Monster, translating as a very ‘90s nightmare media star. So, when you add to that the hostage situation – now Kyle (Jack O’Connell, acting his socks off like it matters, poor guy) would be taking out 20 or 30 people, and we’d all be looking for the false flag involved – nothing in the brew even begins to suspend disbelief. That’s before Lee reveals himself to be an entirely reasonable guy – why couldn’t he be an unreconstituted nightmare, played by R Lee Ermey or JK Simmons – and gets on board with the desperate, sad fool as a pat case of fraud manifests itself. When Lee starts talking about the sham mechanics of the Dow Jones in the first scene, there’s a glimmer that we might be taking on the entire artifice of global capitalism, but that soon succumbs to Dominic West’s simplistically hissable villain, who tried something that didn’t work and won’t even apologise.


There’s a very occasional dramatic uplift, such as the scene in which Kyle’s girlfriend Molly (Emily Meade) launches into a splenetic tirade at her sad-sack bf (“You’re a bitch… Shoot yourself in the head already! Pull the fucking trigger!”), and, if predictable, the set-tos on-set have a certain energy, but once the movie opts to leave the studio and sort things out, it completely lost me.


Money Monster’s ineffectual, and seems almost proud of itself for being so. Foster keeps it moving along, but it’s relentlessly shallow, glib even; perhaps in another’s hands the ending, in which TV news carries cheerfully on as a YouTube mash-up meme of Camby plays, would have had some bite, but in Foster’s take Kyle has been entirely forgotten, and there’s nary a hint of satire in the whole shebang. I suspect Money Monster would only have worked as that; while its makers may not be chumps, on this evidence they’re witless. The movie’s as outmoded as Michael Mann’s Blackhat, suggesting old and out-of-touch moviemakers stumbling around in the dark struggling to locate the light switch of relevance.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

I think we’ve returned to Eden. Surely this is how the World once was in the beginning of time.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
Ridley Scott’s first historical epic (The Duellists was his first historical, and his first feature, but hardly an epic) is also one of his least remembered films. It bombed at the box office (as did the year’s other attempted cash-ins on the discovery of America, including Superman: The Movie producers the Salkinds’ Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) and met with a less than rapturous response from critics. Such shunning is undeserved, as 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a richer and more thought-provoking experience than both the avowedly lowbrow Gladiator and the re-evaluated-but-still-so-so director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. It may stand guilty of presenting an overly sympathetic portrait of Columbus, but it isn’t shy about pressing a critical stance on his legacy.

Sanchez: The truth is, that he now presides over a state of chaos, of degradation, and of madness. From the beginning, Columbus proved himself completely incapable of ruling these islands…

This is bad. Bad for movie stars everywhere.

Trailers Hail, Caesar!
The Coen Brothers’ broader comedies tend to get a mixed response from critics, who prefer their blacker, more caustic affairs (A Serious Man, Barton Fink, Inside Llewyn Davis). Probably only Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou? have been unreservedly clutched to bosoms, so it remains to be seen how Hail, Caesar! fares. The trailer shows it off as big, bold, goofy, shamelessly cheerful and – something that always goes down well with awards ceremonies – down with taking affectionate swipes at Tinseltown. Seeing as how the unabashedly cartoonish The Grand Budapest Hotel swung a host of Oscar nominations (and a couple of wins), I wouldn’t put anything out of the question. Also, as O Brother proved, punctuation marks in titles are a guarantee of acclaim.

I’m an easy sell for Coens fare, though. Burn After Reading is very funny, particularly John Malkovich’s endlessly expressive swearing. Intolerable Cruelty makes me laugh a lot, particularly Clooney’s double t…

Thank you for your co-operation.

Robocop (1987)
Robocop is one of a select group of action movies I watched far too many times during my teenage years. One can over-indulge in the good things, and pallor can be lost through over-familiarity. It’s certainly the case that Paul Verhoeven’s US breakthrough wears its limited resources on its battered metal-plated chest and, in its “Director’s Cut” form at least, occasionally over-indulges his enthusiastic lack of restraint. Yet its shortcomings are minor ones. It remains stylistically impressive and thematically as a sharp as a whistle. This year’s remake may have megabucks and slickness on its side but there is no vision, either in the writing or direction. The lack of focus kills any chance of longevity. Verhoeven knows exactly the film he’s making, moulded to fit his idiosyncratic foibles. It might not be his best executed, but in terms of substance, as he recognises, it is assuredly his best US movie. Alas, given the way he’s been unceremoniously ditched by Hollywood, i…