Posts Tagged ‘clooney’

Movie Review: Money Monster (2016)

Posted: September 19, 2016 in Drama
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money-monster

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a television personality, giving stock tips to small investors on FNN, a financial network on cable tv. Lee has been pushing a stock called IBIS Capital, whose stock fell precipitously recently.  IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) says it’s a glitch in the program’s algorithm, and Lee agrees, calling this an opportunity to buy.  Camby cancels an interview with Lee at the last minute, and sends his public relations spokesman, Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) to do the interview with Lee instead.  The interview is interrupted when a delivery man named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) breaks into the building and takes Lee and his director Patty Fenn, (Julia Roberts) and the camera crew hostage.  Kyle is a disgruntled investor who lost money on IBIS, and wants answers. Kyle instructs Lee to put a life jacket on, filled with Semtex plastic explosive.  Lee complies, and the hostage standoff begins.  Lee offers to pay Kyle whatever he lost, Kyle refuses.  Police find Kyle’s girlfriend, Molly (Emily Meade) and Patty pipes her into the studio via video feed.   The plan backfires as Molly rips into Kyle for making matters worse.

Diane Lester contacts Won Joon, (Aaron Yoo) the man who programmed the algorithm, and he says there is nothing wrong with the algorithm, so Diane suspects financial fraud may have occurred.  Meanwhile Patty and her co-workers try to find out what Camby was up to, and when Camby’s plane lands Diane instructs him to go to Federal Hall and clear up all Kyle’s doubts.  Kyle is headed for Federal Hall with Lee and many of the New York City Police Department.  How does the hostage drama end?

If I was Jim Cramer, I would be very angry about Money Monster.  Money Monster copies the style and flash of Cramer’s Mad Money tv show, and it infers that Cramer recommends stocks in return for access to corporate CEO’s.  Besides besmirching Jim Cramer’s reputation, the script has many problems.  It tries to recreate the excitement of movies like Dog Day Afternoon, or Network, but the Network angle doesn’t work because the writers realize that Lee’s request would encourage risky behavior by Wall Street executives.  But, the script has other problems, the story seems to be encouraging vigilantism or domestic terrorism, and it definitely does not want to do that, so as these issues resolve themselves the dramatic tension decreases greatly and the story becomes quite ordinary.  Here’s the issue I have with this story it’s so convoluted, and has so many moving pieces, that it’s not nearly as interesting as the real circumstances of the actual financial crisis. The actual financial crisis involved failures by the banks, Wall Street investment firms, the rating agencies, federal and state regulators and the Federal Reserve bank.  That’s a far more compelling story and better told in the movie, The Big Short.  This movie reminds me more of Inside Man, which Jodie Foster was in, and that movie was a better one than Money Monster.

George Clooney does not have the charisma of Jim Cramer, that is true, but to his credit Clooney does handle the dramatic scenes well, and turns a character that shouldn’t be very likable into a thoughtful and compassionate person.  Julia Roberts does a competent job as the calm director when all around her is going haywire.  However I can’t help but feel like this is a vanity project for both Clooney and Roberts. The worst performance is undoubtedly by O’Connell as Kyle Budwell, he struggles mightily with a New York accent, and the scrip doesn’t do him any favors, portraying him as alternatively a nut, or a loser.  As an actor, he doesn’t have many choices to make in this film.

Jodie Foster tries to capture the mood of an investment show like Cramer’s, actually the production values are better than a low budget cable show.  Foster attempts to show the global reach of one multinational company by showing people from Reykjavik, South Korea, South Africa and of course America, but the opening doesn’t make sense unless you watch the whole movie, so the point is kind of lost.  She tries to keep the suspense going by concentrating most of the action in a cramped television studio.  But the suspense tapers off, and the ending is slow and expected.  The pacing is slow, so a movie that was a little more than an hour and a half seems much longer.  There is no distinctive camera work or editing.

Money Monster:   Boo!

hail caesar

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the head of Capitol Studios, he’s also the studio’s chief fixer.   Deanna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) has a child out of wedlock and Eddie has to find a solution for her.  Superstar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is set to star in the biblical epic Hail, Caesar, when he is kidnapped by two extras (Wayne Knight, Jeff Lewis) for a 100,000 dollar ransom.  To complicate matters, Eddie is being offered a job by an aeronautics executive. Meanwhile, cowboy crooner Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is starring in famed director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) new sophisticated romance, the problem is Hobie can’t act. Can Eddie find Baird before gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) write a tell-all story on Baird?  Can he fix Deanna’s single motherhood issue? Can Eddie get Baird back in time to finish Hail, Caesar?  Will Eddie quit Hollywood altogether and join the aeronautics firm?

Hail, Caesar! is obviously a satire of Ben Hur and Spartacus, but the Coen brothers are not content to showcase one movie, so they attempt to glamorize an entire era of films, the singing cowboy movies of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, the seafaring musicals of Gene Kelly, the aquatic films of Esther Williams, the choreography of Busby Berkely, and the films of Latin star Carmen Miranda.  There is also some subtext of the Hollywood blacklisting scandal and a Hedda Hopper type gossip columnist roaming around.  It also tries to echo the outlandish screwball comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s. In order to create these vignettes and characters, the main story gets diluted and loses its cohesiveness, and the resolution to all the questions seems like an afterthought.  At times the humor was too broad as well, more like David and Jerry Zucker than the Coen brothers.  I expected a little more sophistication here.  It helps that I’ve seen most of these classic movies, if a viewer hasn’t seen those films, they may be lost.

The acting is very good in this film. Josh Brolin is as good as I’ve seen him in anything, he plays a very serious straight man in the middle of two or three different disasters, all of which he’s trying to keep off the pages of the gossip columns.  I’m not a big fan of George Clooney, but he hams it up pretty well here and does a good job as a larger than life Charlton Heston type actor.  There’s something about the Coen brothers that brings out the best in Clooney, he was also very good in O Brother Where Art Thou, as  a small time con-man with a big-time ego.    Scarlett Johannsson is very funny playing a tough-talking swimmer with a baby.  I’ve never seen her take on such a broadly comic role and she was good at it.  I wish she had a bigger role.  Ralph Fiennes was funny as the exasperated arthouse director trying to teach the singing cowboy how to act. Tilda Swinton is quite good as the devilish Thora and Thessaly, competing with each other and threating Eddie by exposing a major scandal.  Swinton is also pretty good at comedy.  Channing Tatum still can’t act, but he can sing, and does a pretty good song and dance here.

Hail Caesar is a wonderfully visual movie, the viewer feels like he/she is watching those classic movies from which the scenes are taken.  The Hail Caesar movie looks very much like Ben Hur.  The scene with three crosses in silhouette is visually shocking for a comedy, but necessarily authentic to mimic the look of a Biblical epic.  The Esther Williams vignette is visually breathtaking, and illustrates the beauty of a Busby Berkely choreographed film.  The Gene Kelly-esque scene is scarily accurate in terms of visuals.  The Coens also get great performances from a stellar cast.  If the writing was as good as the acting and direction, this movie would have been an instant classic.

Hail Caesar.  I come to bury Caesar not praise him.

Movie Review: Tomorrowland (2015)

Posted: November 25, 2015 in Action, Comedy, Drama
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Tomorrowland

Casey Newton (Shiloh Nelson, Brit Robertson) is the inquisitive daughter of a NASA engineer.  She finds a ring from the 1964 World’s Fair, in her father’s night table, and when she touches the ring, she is transported to a futuristic place called Tomorrowland. Just when she is invited to ride on a gravity defying monorail, the ring runs out of power, so Casey goes to Texas to find another ring. There she is trapped by two androids, Hugo (Keegan Michael Key) and Ursula, (Katherine Hahn) but is saved by a mysterious little girl named Athena. (Raffey Cassidy)  Athena says they must find Frank Walker. (Thomas Robinson, George Clooney)  Frank visited Tomorrowland in 1964, when he was a child and he might know how to get back. But Frank built a machine while in Tomorrowland, that he now regrets.  Can Frank get Casey and Athena to Tomorrowland, and can Casey the science whiz turn off the machine before it’s too late?

Tomorrowland tires really hard to be a sophisticated kid friendly movie about the future, but on one hand it’s too complicated for kids to enjoy, and on the other hand it’s too filled with already tired Hollywood tropes, which are too reminiscent of Avatar.  There are two parts to an adventure film, the journey and the destination, in this movie, the journey is cumbersome, and there’s not enough time spent in the destination to enjoy or even understand what goes on there.  I understand what the filmmakers were trying to do, create a film with a young female protagonist, and by so doing, get young girls interested in science.  It’s a laudable ambition, but the story gets too muddled in minutia to have a truly inspiring vision of the future.

George Clooney delivers his lines with the same disinterested monotone that has become his trademark, but this time the audience is supposed to believe that delivery because he’s a secluded curmudgeon, who’s become disillusioned with life.  The trouble is, disillusioned Clooney sounds a lot like regular Clooney, and therein lies the problem. Hugh Laurie is in his first major role after House, I just wish I knew what his character was supposed to represent.  The two young women Brit Robertson and Raffey Cassidy really try hard to breathe life into this movie, but as good as they are, their performances can’t save a sinking storyline.  Cassidy is especially noteworthy for playing a complex character at a relatively young age.

The direction is visually stunning when in Tomorrowland, but pedestrian with all the other scenes, and the vast majority of scenes were not in Tomorrowland.  The pacing really drags in the beginning of the movie, and it doesn’t get much better after that. Director Brad Bird, known for great animated films like Inside Out and Up, gets mediocre performances from Clooney and Laurie.

Tomorrowland:  Lands with a thud.

Movie Review: Gravity (2013)

Posted: July 20, 2014 in Drama
Tags: ,

gravity

Russian space debris strikes the space shuttle and strands an astronaut named Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and a medical engineer, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) stranded in space.  The shuttle is destroyed, and both Kowalski and Stone are running out of oxygen and must get to the International Space station before they run out of oxygen, but what awaits them in the Space Station and beyond?  Does the pair make it back to Earth safely?

Gravity is a technical marvel, the question that arises is, how did director Alfonso Cuaron simulate the space sequences so spectacularly?  Movies are certainly a visual medium, and this movie has some eye-popping visuals, the view of earth from outer space, the debris hitting the Space Shuttle, the scenes in space on the whole are incredible.

But as visually arresting as Gravity is, the story is not credible, and worst of all predictable.  The characters, specifically Stone, goes from disaster to disaster, one step ahead of being blown to smithereens.  There is some thin backstory about Stone losing a child, and questioning her own desire to live, but overall, there is very little character development and plot development, and the question that occurred to me about the story was, doesn’t anybody maintain their space stations?  I’m not going to get into the space flight errors that were made in the story, because I don’t know enough about space vehicles to know better, but I read that there were errors.  In a movie as visual as this, those kind of errors should be kept to a minimum.  But I don’t need to be an astrophysicist to know when a movie is boring.

The acting is fair, but the actors aren’t given a lot to do, Bullock alternates between gasping for air, or screaming helplessly, or just floating there in space, doing summersaults.  Clooney regales Bullock with a series of stories, meant to be amusing but when delivered with Clooney’s trademark monotone, deadpan delivery, the stories turn boring.  The script tries to make light of Clooney’s pretty boy image, but fails. This movie stretches to get to its 90 minute running time, and the story is used as filler for the stunning visuals, and it’s not very entertaining filler.

When I think about the fact that there was a lot of buzz about Gravity winning a Best Picture Oscar that is galling.   Gravity is one-third of a good movie, it’s Cuaron’s visual playground, but the effects are not able to sustain a movie, with no story, and actors with very little to say.  12 Years A Slave on the other hand was based on a true story, had outstanding acting and its share of visual resonance. 12 Years a Slave was a complete film.

Gravity:  Don’t fall for it.

the-monuments-men-

Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is a Harvard art conservationist, who sees the great art of the world being stolen by the Nazis in World War II.  Germany wants to build a museum if the Fuhrer, filled with the stolen artwork from the Louvre.  He brings the story of the art theft to FDR, (Michael Dalton) who in turn asks Stokes to go into Europe, and recover the stolen art.  Stokes puts together a team of older art experts, James Granger (Matt Damon) Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) Walter Garfield (John Goodman) Preston Savitz, (Bob Balaban)  a Frenchman, Jean Clermont (Jean Dujardin) and an Englishman, Donald Jeffries. (Hugh Bonneville) The group must join the army and follow patrols into German cities as they fall.  Granger has to find Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) who probably knows more about the stolen art than anyone in France, but Claire is not talking, because she has been jailed by the French for being a collaborator and doesn’t trust anyone.  The mission takes place with the Nazis in retreat in 1944, but the mission is still fraught with danger.  Jeffries loses his life guarding the Bruges Madonna in Belgium, and what starts as a mission to save the greatest artwork in history, becomes a mission of life and death. Stokes think he knows where the art is kept, but when he gets to the first city in Germany where he thinks the art is kept, there are no art pieces to be found.  Where in Germany is the art being kept?  Can James Granger get any information from Claire Simone?

I have mixed feelings about The Monuments Men, it is an interesting story, one that I knew nothing about, but there doesn’t seem to be enough of a story to sustain two hours of filmmaking, so there are points where the movie drags.  The cast tries to fill the slow spots with comedy, but World War II is still a very serious topic, so there is a limit to how much comedy they can put in a movie like this.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of conflict in the film, the Monuments Men seemingly cruised through Germany with little resistance or hardship of any kind.  With no conflict, there’s no real emotional hook to this movie, it’s a hybrid, it tries to be a movie about art and culture, but it also tries to be a war movie.  But it’s not Schindler’s List, or Saving Private Ryan, or the Great Escape or Stalag 17, it’s not even Inglorious Basterds.

The story is not cohesive, that is both the writer and director’s fault, and since both are George Clooney, he has to shoulder the blame for it. The story skips from the hunt for the art to the subplot between Claire and James, which features a clumsy attempt at romance, which detracts from the main plot, which is not that strong in the first place.

The cast is excellent, they make the material better than it is.  I don’t like Clooney’s dull monotone delivery, but even he has a good scene interrogating a Nazi officer about the lost art, and the officer’s participation in concentration camps.  Matt Damon is very good as Granger, the man trying to cajole information from Claire. Cate Blanchett is good, as Claire, a sweet, librarian type, who has lost her ability to trust.  John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and Jean Dujardin all add comedic flourishes, and make the movie more enjoyable than the material.

I would say this is a good movie to rent, but not good enough for a trip to the theater.

The Monuments Men.  Not Monumental.

 

the men who stare at goats

Reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor)  is desperate for stories, he’s a small town reporter looking for a big story.  He finds one by interviewing Gus Lacey (Stephen Root) Gus tells of an army program called the New Earth Army, that trained army officers to develop extraordinary powers, like psychic powers, the power of suggestion, all used to disarm opponents without using weapons.  The program was developed by Bill Django (Bridges) using a mix of 1960’s flower power and new age thinking. The star of the program was Lyn Cassidy, (Clooney) who found people for the CIA using his borderline mystic powers.  The program was pushed in the 1980’s because the US thought the Russians were developing a similar program, but the program fell out of favor because of the eccentricities of some soldiers, and rivalries between Cassidy, and new recruit Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey)

In 2003 reporter Wilton is in Iraq, after a bad breakup with his girlfriend, trying to prove his manhood and he runs into none other than Cassidy, who’s on another mission.  Little do the idealistic Cassidy and Wilton know that Django is now working for Hooper at a mercenary paramilitary outfit.  Do Cassidy and Wilton rescue Django, does Django redeem himself?

This is an ultimately disappointing movie, because it has such a good satirical premise, and lots of laughs during the first hour, and then during the last half hour the story gets muddled, and maudlin, and it can’t decide if it’s a funny movie or a serious one.  Ewan McGregor gives another good performance, although his American accent needs a loy of work.  Clooney is funny in this movie, although with a mustache, he looks like Tom Selleck. Spacey does what he does best, play a grade A jerk.  Jeff Bridges gives an ok performance, but I think he’s stealing from his own character, “The Dude” in the Big Lebowski, which was a much funnier movie. Too bad this one ran out of steam.

The Men Who Stare At Goats. Not baaaaad, not good either.

Image

Matt King (George Clooney) is a blood relative of the last Hawaiian king, King Kamehameha, and because of that lineage, King owns a huge tract of land on the island of Kauai.  Because of new laws preventing people from holding land in perpetuity, he must sell the land.  King has been made sole trustee of the estate, much to the chagrin of his cousins, who are amply spread throughout the islands.  The land deal is the least of King’s problems, his wife is in a coma, his older daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) is reacting to her mother’s hospitalization by drinking and partying in prep school.  His younger daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller) is reacting to her mother’s absence by bullying girls in grade school.  To top it all off, King finds out from Alex that his wife was carrying on an extramarital affair with local real estate mogul Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) King later learns from his cousin Hugh (Beau Bridges) that Speer will make a ton of money if King sells the property to the wealthy investor he planned to sell it to.  This news makes King even more anxious to meet Speer, so Alexandra, her boyfriend, Sid (Nick Krause) and Matt King all set out to meet the elusive Mr. Speer.  What happens when King meets Speer?

I don’t like this movie.  There are a million things wrong with the story, the oldest child goes from being a wild child to being daddy’s little sweetheart with little or no parenting effort whatsoever.  Matt’s cousins are ubiquitous, can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one of Matt’s cousins, that’s a bit of a recurring joke that doesn’t need to recur.  Does George Clooney look the least bit Hawaiian?  Really?  And am I supposed to be feeling sorry for a multimillionaire living in paradise?  I didn’t, and chances are you won’t either.  The whole structure of the story is slanted, we only hear one side of the string of events, and that’s from Clooney’s point of view, so he is made the victim here, and we see nothing from the wife’s point of view because she is in a coma, and there is no backstory or flashbacks to fill in her side of the story. Finally, it is not a story of redemption because King is written to be flawless.

The acting is ok, especially when Clooney isn’t hogging the camera.  His listless, wan, drab performance makes me wonder if he cares at all about acting.  His monotone delivery is getting to be a staple of his bad performances, and yet critics love the guy, he was nominated as Best Actor for this movie and that truly mystifies me.  He has two facial expressions, bored and annoyed, and neither fit this role, so watching George Clooney trying to emote is painful.  Shailene Woodley is good as Matt’s spunky daughter, but the script makes her increasingly saccharine and she loses the edge that made her character interesting. Lillard plays a soulless creep well, and Nick Krause is a on joke Valley Dude character.

The Descendants:  Low hanging fruit on a big family tree.