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

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

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…

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

Monster? We’re British, you know.

Horror Express (1972)
(SPOILERS) This berserk Spanish/British horror boasts Hammer titans Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (both as good guys!) to its name, and cloaked in period trappings (it’s set in 1906), suggests a fairly standard supernatural horror, one with crazy priests and satanic beasts. But, with an alien life form aboard the Trans-Siberian Express bound for Moscow, Horror Express finishes up more akin to The Cassandra Crossing meets The Thing.

Countess Petrovski: The czar will hear of this. I’ll have you sent to Siberia. Captain Kazan: I am in Siberia!
Christopher Lee’s Alexander Saxton, anthropologist and professor of the Royal Geological Society, has retrieved a frozen corpse from Manchuria. Believing it might be the Missing Link he crates it up to transport home via the titular train. Other passengers include his colleague and rival Dr Wells (Cushing), an international spy, and an antic monk called Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza, strikingly lunatic), who for some rea…

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
(SPOILERS) There isn’t, of course, anything left to say about 2001: A Space Odyssey, although the devoted still try, confident in their belief that it’s eternally obliging in offering unfathomable mystery. And it does seem ever responsive to whatever depths one wishes to plumb in analysing it for themes, messages or clues either about what is really going on out there some around Jupiter, or in its director’s head. Albeit, it’s lately become difficult to ascertain which has the more productive cottage industry, 2001 or The Shining, in the latter regard. With Eyes Wide Shut as the curtain call, a final acknowledgement to the devout that, yes, something really emphatic was going under Stanley Kubrick’s hood and it’s there, waiting to be exhumed, if you only look with the right kind of eyes.

Poor A. A. Milne. What a ghastly business.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
The absolutely true story of how P. L. Travers came to allow Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, after 20 years’ persistent begging on the latter’s part. Except, of course, it isn’t true at all. Walt has worked his magic from beyond the grave over a fairly unremarkable tale of mutual disagreement. Which doesn’t really matter if the result is a decent movie that does something interesting or though-provoking by changing the facts… Which I’m not sure it does. But Saving Mr. Banks at least a half-decent movie, and one considerably buoyed by the performances of its lead actors.

Actually, Mr. Banks is buoyed by the performances of its entire cast. It’s the script that frequently lets the side down, laying it on thick when a lighter touch is needed, repeating its message to the point of nausea. And bloating it out not so neatly to the two-hour mark when the story could have been wrapped up quite nicely in a third less time. The title itself could perhaps be seen as rubbi…