Film Review: Money Monster (dir by Jodie Foster)


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In a perfect world, the new film Money Monster would feature a monster that was literally made out of money.  Its name would be Monblar and it would shamble down Wall Street and breathe coins made of fire.

Or, if not featuring a literal Money Monster, the film would at least open with the angry spirit of Andrew Jackson springing out of a twenty and seeking vengeance over being replaced by Harriet Tubman.  In order to defeat the bitter old president, it would be necessary to summon the spirits of both Tubman and currency hottie Alexander Hamilton.  Seriously, that would be a great movie!

Unfortunately, Money Monster is just another boring recession thriller.  I’ve lost track of how many bad movies have been released since 2008, all featuring saintly blue collar workers who are forced to resort to extreme measures as a result of losing all of their money due to corporate greed.  While they seek revenge by either pulling off a tower heist or an assault on wall street, villainous CEOs sit in their offices, smoke cigars, and laugh at the evil of it all.  In between the inevitable gunshots and the collapsing families and the evictions, there’s always time for a didactic speech or two.  And don’t get me wrong.  I’m not fan of Wall Street but I’m also not a fan of preachy movies.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, who has a show called Money Monster where he tells people where they should invest their money.  Lee is charming.  Lee is glib.  Lee’s show features backup dancers, clips from old movies, and a rap theme song that is just so 2002.  At the start of the show, Lee even dances as Money Monster tries to convince us that Lee’s a hyperactive showman despite the fact that he’s being played one of the most laid back actors of all time.  Lee is totally unaware and/or unconcerned about the people who have occasionally lost their life savings due to his advice.

One of those people is a deliveryman named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) and we know he’s a good, honest guy because his name is Kyle Budwell as opposed to Kyle Evilguy.  Kyle follows Lee’s advice to invest his family’s savings in IBIS Global Capital.  (At first, I thought that the company was called ISIS Global Capital and I was like, “Hey, you betray your country, you pay the consequences…”)  One week later, the IBIS stock crashes, Kyle is suddenly dead broke, The Big Short only manages to win one Oscar, and Hillary Clinton defeats Bernie Sanders in the New York primary.  What other choice does Kyle have other than to go on Lee’s show, force Lee to wear a bomb vest, and demand answers!

Yawn.

There’s not a single surprising moment in Money Monster.  I was going to say that you immediately know that IBIS’s CEO is evil because he’s played by Dominic West but actually, you know he’s evil because he’s a CEO and he’s appearing in a movie called Money Monster.  Meanwhile, you know that Kyle isn’t really a bad guy because he looks like likable, clean-cut, and handsome Jack O’Connell.  If Money Monster had any guts, it would have cast some fat 60 year-old slob with bad teeth in the role of Kyle Budwell.  Money Monster ends with a twist that you’ll guess within the first few minutes of film.  It’s an annoying twist, if just because it seems to assume that the audiences can’t handle moral ambiguity.

(Then again, there’s really no reason to assume that audiences can handle moral ambiguity so maybe Money Monster has a point…)

I suppose I should mention that Julia Roberts is also in the movie but there’s really no reason for her to be there.  She plays Lee’s producer, Patty, and there’s nothing about the role that demands it be played by a star.  There is a subplot about how, up until the Kyle takes Lee hostage, Patty had been planning on quitting her job but … well, who cares?  Whenever Patty and Lee talked, I found myself cringing and thinking, “Do we really have to sit through this conversation?”

(In all fairness to Money Monster, that’s actually my reaction to most conversations…)

Money Monster was directed by Jodie Foster.  It’s funny how we always assume that just because someone is a good actor that they’ll also be a good director.  For instance, Angelina Jolie has directed three mediocre films and yet, with the announcement of each new Jolie-directed movie, we still continue to assume that she’s eventually going to win an Oscar for her work behind the camera.  (Remember when Unbroken and By The Sea were being touted as guaranteed Oscar nominees?)  George Clooney has directed five films and none of them are really that good.  (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind only works because of Sam Rockwell’s performance.  Goodnight and Good Luck is overrated.  Leatherheads is boring.  The Ides of March is tedious and The Monuments Men is one of the worst movies that I’ve ever seen.)  Money Monster is Foster’s fourth film as a director and it’s almost as much of a tonal mess as The Beaver.  Then again, The Beaver was at least weird.  Money Monster was just boring.  Foster is an incredibly compelling actress and an incredibly blah director.

That said, you would think that Foster would at least be able to get good performances out of the cast.  As good as they often are, both George Clooney and Julia Roberts have actorly tics that they tend to fall back on whenever they’re working in the absence of a strong directorial vision and let’s just say that this is a very tic-filled film.  Meanwhile, poor Jack O’Connell is running the risk of turning into Taylor Kitsch.

Amazingly enough, Money Monster was this week’s “big” release.  Personally, I would recommend seeing Captain America: Civil War for a second or third time.  Now that was a good movie!

Money Monster

Film Review: Unbroken (dir by Angelina Jolie)


Ultimately, Unbroken is a victim of expectations.

From the start of last year, Oscar watchers and other film critics were united in fully expecting Unbroken to be a great film.  No sooner had 12 Years A Slave won best picture then we were all predicting that Unbroken would be named the best film of 2014 and that Angelina Jolie would be the 2nd woman to win an Oscar for best director.

And can you blame us?

Unbroken seemed to have everything that you would expect to add up to Oscar glory.  Not only was it directed by a celebrity (and, ever since Argo, everyone has been under the impression that all performers can also direct) but it starred an exciting and up-and-coming actor.  It was not only a war film but it was a war film that took place during the only war that everyone agrees was a good one, World War II.  It was based on a true story and what a story!  Louis Zamperini was an Olympic medalist whose athletic career was put on hold when he joined the U.S. Air Force.  After a plane crash, he and two other survivors spent 47 days floating in a lifeboat.  They were finally captured by the Japanese and Louis spent the rest of the war as POW.  During that time, he survived terrible torture.  When the war finally ended, Louis set aside his anger and publicly forgave those who had nearly killed him.  When he was 80 years old, he returned to Japan and carried the Olympic torch.  It’s an incredibly touching story and it should have made for a great movie.

And, ultimately, that’s Unbroken‘s downfall.  It has all the ingredients for being a great movie but instead, it’s only a good one.

That’s certainly not the fault of Jack O’Connell, who plays Louis and gives a strong and sympathetic performance.  Actually, the entire film is well-acted, with everyone fully inhabiting his role.  Perhaps the film’s best performance comes from Miyavi, who plays “The Bird,” the sadistic head of both of the POW camps where Louis is held prisoner.  The dynamic between The Bird and Louis is an interesting one, with the film emphasizing that The Bird is in many ways jealous of Louis’s previous fame and Miyavi plays the character as if he were a high school bully who has suddenly been left in charge of the classroom.

That the cast does well should not be a surprise.  Actors-turned-directors can usually get good performances but often times, they seem to struggle with shaping a narrative and this is where Unbroken struggles.  It’s not that Unbroken doesn’t tell a worthy story.  It’s just that it tells it in such a conventional and predictable way.  The entire film is full of scenes that seem like they were lifted out of other, more memorable movies.  The scenes with Louis growing up and competing in the Olympics feel like they could have come from any “inspiring” sports biopic.  (It doesn’t help that Louis’s brother and coach has been given dialogue that sounds like it should be surrounded by air quotes.)  When Louis is joking around with the guys in the plane, it feels like a hundred other war films.  When Louis is floating in the ocean, it’s hard not to compare the film’s static and draggy approach to what Ang Lee was able to do with Life of Pi or J.C. Chandor with All Is Lost.  Miyavi brings a feeling of real menace and danger to the POW scenes but it’s not enough.  Jolie’s direction is competent but there’s not a single moment that feels spontaneous or truly cinematic.

In fact, I sat through Unbroken totally dry-eyed, which is somewhat amazing considering how easily I cry at the movies.  However, towards the end of the film, there was a clip of the real-life, 80 year-old Louis running down the streets of Tokyo with the Olympic Torch and, at that moment, his story became real for me.  And that’s when the tears came.

I really wish Unbroken had been better because Louis Zamperini seems like someone who deserved to have a great film made about him.  Angelina Jolie’s heart was in the right place but, ultimately, it’s just not enough to make Unbroken the film that it deserves to be.

6 Trailers For 6 Films That 6 People Might Watch in 2015!


So, I should start out by explaining that this is not the latest entry in my soon-to-be-revived series, Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers.  Instead, these are 6 trailers for 6 films that you will have a chance to see in 2015!

Seriously, it’s always good to start a new year with something to look forward to, right?

1) 71

This one look intense, no?  Jack O’Connell plays a British soldier who, during the British occupation of Northern Ireland, finds himself lost behind enemy lines in Belfast.  Jack O’Connell is a rising star and the film won best director at the British Independent Film Awards.

2) Veronika Decides to Die

This was actually filmed in 2008, premiered in Brazil in 2009, played in Germany in 2010, and, seven years later, it’s finally getting a U.S. release.  It’ll premiere in theaters and on VOD on January 20th and then, in March, it’ll be released on DVD.  That would seem to indicate that First Look International, the film’s distributor, doesn’t have much faith in it.  But you know what?  Some of the best films ever made were distributed by people who had no faith.  This could be a challenging, edgy film.  Or it could be crap.

We’ll find out!

3) A Little Chaos

This historical drama stars Kate Winslet and it was directed by Alan Rickman!  The trailer looks gorgeous.  I majored in art history so I have to admit that I will always have a weakness for films like this.

4) Woman in Gold

Will Ryan Reynolds ever star in another good film?  That’s a question that I often find myself pondering.  Reynolds is the type of talented actor who deserves more than co-starring in R.I.P.D. and showing up in a cameo in A Million Ways to Die In The West (BLEH!).

While Woman in Gold does not look to be the type of film that’s going to help re-establish Reynolds as being a rising star, it does look like a film that will give him a chance to remind people that he actually can act.  Undoubtedly, it’ll help that he will be co-starring with Helen Mirren.  Woman in Gold is scheduled to be released on April 3rd.

5) Wild Card

It’s not January unless Jason Statham is killing someone.  2015’s Jason Statham film will be Wild Card.  It’ll be released on January 30th.

6) Blackhat

And finally, we have Blackhat.  It’s scheduled to be released on January 16th.  It’s directed by Michael Mann and stars the official sexiest man alive, Chris Hemsworth.  Apparently, Hemsworth will be helping to capture whoever it was who hacked Sony.

What do you think, Trailer Kitty?

Driving Trailer Kitty

Here Are The Results From Chicago!


Here’s what the Chicago Film Critics picked for being the best of 2014.  A full list of their nominees can be found here.

Picture: “Boyhood”

Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Actor: Michael Keaton, “Birdman”

Actress: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

Original Screenplay: Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Adapted Screenplay: Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”

Animated Feature: “The Lego Movie”

Documentary: “Life Itself”

Foreign: “Force Majeure”

Editing: Tom Cross, “Whiplash”

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman,” and Robert D. Yeoman, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Here Are The Chicago Film Critics Association Nominations!


Happy Valentine's Day!

Finally, from the former hometown of Al Capone and President Obama, here are the Chicago Film Critic Associations Nominations!

BEST PICTURE
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Under the Skin
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

BEST ACTOR
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Scarlett Johannson, Under the Skin
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Laura Dern, Wild
Agata Kulesza, Ida
Emma Stone, Birdman

BEST ORIGNAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Calvary, John Michael McDonagh
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
The Imitation Game, Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
Under the Skin, Walter Campbell
Wild, Nick Hornby

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
Force Majeure
Ida
Mommy
The Raid 2
Two Days, One Night

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Citizenfour
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Last Days in Vietnam
Life Itself
The Overnighters

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Interstellar
Into The Woods
Only Lovers Left Alive
Snowpiercer

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Inherent Vice
Interstellar

BEST EDITING
Birdman
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Whiplash

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Under the Skin

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER
Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle/Beyond the Lights
Jack O’Connell, Starred Up/Unbroken
Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin
Justin Simien, Dear White People

The New York Film Critics Online Have Spoken!


Boyhood

Earlier today, the New York Film Critics Online also announced their picks for the best of 2014!  Check out the winners below:

(h/t to Award Circuit)

Best Picture — Boyhood

Best Ensemble — Birdman

Best Animated Feature Film — The LEGO Movie

Best Documentary Feature — Life Itself

Best Foreign Language Film — Two Days, One Night

Best Actor — Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Best Actress — Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night

Best Director — Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Best Debut Director — Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler

Best Use of Music In A Film — Get On Up

Best Cinematography — Birdman

Best Screenplay — Birdman

Best Supporting Actor — J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress — Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Breakthrough performance — Jack O’Connell in Unbroken

New York Film Critics Online Top 10

Birdman

Boyhood

Guardians of the Galaxy

Imitation Game

Most Violent Year

Mr. Turner

Selma

Theory of Everything

Under the Skin

Whiplash

A Most Violent Year Is A Most Unexpected National Board Of Review Winner!


A Most Violent Year

The National Board of Review has spoken!  They named their picks for the best of 2014 earlier today and — to the shock of many (especially me) — they picked JC Chandor’s crime drama A Most Violent Year as the best film of the year!

I love surprises!

Now, a lot of us were expecting A Most Violent Year to be an Oscar contender, with practically everyone expecting Jessica Chastain to either be nominated for best actress or supporting actress.  (The NBR named her best supporting actress.)  But I think a lot of us were expecting to see the NBR select Boyhood, Birdman, or maybe Selma.

Also of note is that Clint Eastwood won best director for American Sniper, which appears to be coming on strong as a potential Oscar nominee as well.

(Also of note: Foxcatcher was totally ignored by the NBR.)

Here are the NBR winners!

BEST PICTURE
“A Most Violent Year”

BEST DIRECTOR
Clint Eastwood, “American Sniper”

BEST ACTOR (TIE)
Oscar Isaac, “A Most Violent Year”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”

BEST ACTRESS
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Edward Norton, “Birdman”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, “The Lego Movie”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”

BEST ENSEMBLE
“Fury”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 
“Wild Tales”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“Life Itself”

SPOTLIGHT AWARD
Chris Rock for writing, directing, and starring in “Top Five”

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCES
Jack O’Connell, “Starred Up” and “Unbroken”

DEBUT DIRECTOR
Gillian Robespierre, “Obvious Child”

WILLIAM K. EVERSON FILM HISTORY AWARD
Scott Eyman

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
“Rosewater”
“Selma”

BEST PICTURE NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“American Sniper”
“Birdman”
“Boyhood”
“Fury”
“Gone Girl”
“The Imitation Game”
“Inherent Vice”
“The Lego Movie”
“Nightcrawler”
“Unbroken”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“Force Majeure”
“Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem”
“Leviathan”
“Two Days One Night”
“We Are the Best!”

BEST DOCUMENTARY NOMINEES (alphabetical)
“Art and Craft”
“Jodorowsky’s Dune”
“Keep On Keepin’ On”
“The Kill Team”
“Last Days in Vietnam”

BEST INDEPENDENT FILMS (alphabetical)
“Blue Ruin”
“Locke”
“A Most Wanted Man”
“Mr. Turner”
“Obvious Child”
“The Skeleton Twins”,
“Snowpiercer”,
“Stand Clear of the Closing Doors”
“Starred Up”
“Still Alice”