Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster, 1 h 38 min
You can’t have missed the ubiquitous advertisements for Money Monster. It has lots going for it: two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Julia Roberts and George Clooney; a major director, Jodie Foster; and two easy-to-hate villains: the media and Wall Street. But while Money Monster is entertaining, it’s ultimately dishonest.
Lee Gates (Clooney) is the host of a cable TV show, “Money Monster,” that flamboyantly covers the ups and downs of Wall Street, giving daily “guaranteed” stock tips. It's “Mad Money w/ Jim Cramer,” plus disco dancers. Patty Fenn (Roberts) is his director, matching wits with Gates in typical work-place bantering, edgy on the surface, soft in the center.
Their insulated world is blown apart when a working class guy, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), arrives on the set with a gun. Claiming he has lost $60,000 due to one of those guarantees that subsequently tanked, he takes Gates hostage and drapes a bomb vest over his shoulders. At Kyle’s insistence Patty has kept the show on the air. He announces that unless the network cooperates he will blow up the studio. He warns that he has rigged a dead switch that will set off the bomb if his finger comes off the trigger.
What Kyle really wants is to speak to the CEO of IBIS, the company whose stock lost $800 million in value in just one day. He wants to know what happened, for himself and all the other investors that lost money.
You can imagine the mayhem that ensues, but it’s tense and fun watching Lee and Patty trying to appease Kyle, while trying to get answers for themselves from IBIS’s secretive CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West). As it unfolds, the movie becomes a satire and critique of Big Media and Wall Street. With little regard for the consequences, Lee and Patty milk the story, while the scene shifts from the studio to the streets of the financial district. Camry is a not very subtle stereotype of the greedy, manipulative Wall Street swindler.
At this point you don't care how improbable it all is. The characters are interesting, the humor is dark and witty, and the fast-paced plot carries you along. But all movies have to find a resolution, and this one doesn’t work.
I don’t like giving a Spoiler Alert, but without one it’s impossible to explain this movie’s central flaw. Realizing Camby has manipulated the IBIS stock, Lee collaborates with Kyle to get him to City Hall. After Camby admits the swindle, Kyle throws aside the trigger - the bomb was a fake anyway - and is shot dead by the police.
And he is immediately forgotten. The audience gathered in bars and workplaces stops watching. The media moves on to the next piece of “breaking news.” Even Lee and Patty seem unaffected, sharing Chinese take-out and kindling a suppressed romance.
So the film makers have made their point - the little guy always gets screwed by the system and nobody cares. Wall Street bankrupts him, the media exploits him, the police kill him. Then the ADD public moves on, and he disappears, no longer of any use to anyone.
But that version of reality is oversimplified and reckless. A little guy fighting against the system like Kyle would be eulogized in the media for weeks, if not made into a legitimate hero. Camby would be investigated for years, likely ending up in jail and having to pay millions of dollars in fines. There would be outrage and litigation over why the police immediately shot Kyle instead of simply disarming or, at most, wounding him.
And as callous as cable news's on-air talent and management might be, it’s hard to see Lee and Patty just kicking back with fried wonton after their chaotic, life-threatening day. Julia Roberts and George Clooney's mega-stardom and their familiar chemistry obscure their characters. We instinctively like their characters, and now we are expected to despise them because they seem so blasé about Kyle’s tragic death? It’s doesn't ring true.
There are other aspects that don't make sense either. Lee transforms from being a buffoon into serious journalist way too quickly. Patty complains about spending yet another Friday night with take-out in front of the TV. A lonely Julia Roberts - c’mon!
But much more important, Money Monster leaves you feeling manipulated by the same movie makers who have spent the last hour and a half showing you how rampant and hurtful that kind of manipulation is in our society. Unintentionally, they proved their point.
The Nice Guys, directed by Shane Black, 1 h 56 min
Set in Hollywood of the colorful70’s rather than the black and white forties, the film opens with the mysterious death of a pin-up girl with the classic name of Misty Mountains. More downscale Cavalier, than Playboy.
Somehow a young girl named Amelia is involved. Her compulsive aunt insists Misty is still alive and hires a private eye, Holland March (Ryan Gosling), to find her. But Amelia doesn’t want to be found, and she enlists a thug for hire, named Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), to stop March.
March and Healy collide with the inept, but dogged March getting the worst of it. They soon develop the expected bromance, when Amelia’s mother (Kim Basinger with her trademark air of mystery), an attorney with the Justice Department, convinces them to look for Amelia. Their unlikely assistant is Holland’s daughter, played by Angourie Rice, whose witty precociousness steals the film from the more established stars.
The two detectives start to unravel the secrets of Amelia and her mother in an entertaining odyssey through the shadow world of underground films. By far the best scene of the movie is a party March and Holland crash to find a filmmaker who may be behind Amelia’s disappearance. The party revels in its excess with the requisite sex and drugs and rock & roll. The highlight is two topless girls, propelled by their mermaid tails, swimming past a window into a pool.
There are always two basic elements of this type of film: the city itself, overwhelming the characters with its decadence; and a conspiracy at the highest levels of the corrupt power structure. Here it's the flamboyant 70's as well as Hollywood/LA providing the backdrop. Director Shane Black authentically recreates the decade's clothes, gas lines and music that were the hallmark of that experimental, self-involved time.
Gosling is very funny, and Crowe is convincing as, literally, the heavy, but you will remember Miss Rice more than either of them. Nothing profound here, but a good movie to enjoy for what is, not what it’s not.