Money Monster Review: Wall Street Woes


Director: Jodie Foster

Writers: Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden

Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


3/5

Best part: Clooney’s charm.

Worst part: The third-act twists.

Unquestionably, actor/director Jodie Foster is a Hollywood legend of unrivalled industry recognition. With a sterling reputation in front of and behind the camera, the 53-year-old deserves to spearhead her own projects between now and infinity. However, her critical success – based on unique and interesting projects – has never led to major box-office returns. Old-fashioned hostage-thriller Money Monster won’t attract any new fans.

Money Monster presents the high-ego, low-emotion world of financial television. Host Lee Gates (George Clooney), star of TV phenomenon Money Monster, can influence the stock market’s peaks and troughs. The loud financial guru lives and dies with his wacky persona and highfalutin lifestyle. Longtime show director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has had enough, leaving the studio for one across the street. On her last day, during Money Monster‘s latest live telecast, delivery man Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shuffles into the studio. He pulls a gun, holds Gates hostage, and forces him to wear an explosive-laden vest. Budwell had placed his life savings and deceased mother’s inheritance ($60,000) on IBIS Clear Capital stock after Gates’ endorsement. Now, with a trading algorithm glitch costing investors $800 million overnight, he wants answers.

Money Monster ambitiously blends Dog Day Afternoon‘s intensifying hostage-thriller vibe with Network‘s biting media commentary. Foster, coming off Mel Gibson flop The Beaver, delivers a more approachable and straightforward hostage-thriller than expected. The central premise, staging a hostage crisis for the world to see in high-definition, is certainly prescient. The first half is intriguing, developing Gates and Budwell’s uneasy dynamic with Fenn and the production crew watching on. Foster balances light and dark moments throughout, finding a funny side within the madness. However, The second half becomes a derivative and baffling espionage-thriller devoid of tension. The plot is a jumbled mess – throwing in IBIS chief communications officer Diane Lester(Caitriona Balfe)’s investigation of CEO Walt Gamby (Dominic West), bumbling New York police, South Korean programmers, Icelandic hackers, and South African mining strikes.

Money Monster‘s third act delivers several nonsensical twists and turns, lessening the overall impact. More so, Foster pushes a topsy-turvy political agenda. Gates, at first, represents the snobbish and shallow 1% behemoth standing on top of us. However, after some personal confessions, he suddenly turns into the ultimate saviour for the little guy. On the other side of the coin, Budwell kicks off his crusade with a mission – to prove Wall Street jargon cannot pull the wool over our eyes. As his back-story unfolds and antics turn foolish, it becomes difficult to like or feel sorry for him. Thankfully, Clooney is still a charismatic and jazzy leading man. Despite limited screen time together, he and Roberts develop a nice rapport. However, O’Connell delivers an over-the-top performance and laughable ‘New Yawker’ accent.

Sitting between the technical precision and resonance of Inside Man and silly terribleness of Man on a Ledge, Money Monster never transcends or even reinvigorates the hostage-thriller genre. Despite the unexpected little twists, Foster’s latest effort gives strong performers little to work with.

Verdict: A tight yet flawed hostage-thriller.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Review – Jet Lag


Director: Ben Stiller

Writer: Steve Conrad (screenplay), James Thurber (short story)

Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Sean Penn


Release date: December 26th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 114 minutes


 

2½/5 

Best part: The charming performances.

Worst part: The awkward comedic hijinks.

For short periods of time, daydreams detach us from our conscious selves to provide joy, exhilaration, and knowledge. In these intimate moments, the boundaries separating reality and fantasy are blurred. Escaping from mundane situations, people zone out to temporarily experience something else entirely. This broad description illuminates similarities between this particular humanistic action and cinema’s overall purpose. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty director/star Ben Stiller invites us to follow in his larger-than-life footsteps. However, this fantasy-adventure flick becomes as tepid and unexacting as the situations we subconsciously escape from. The movie, though peppered with exciting sequences, may be drowned out by more influential holiday releases. Also, this superficial yet exhilarating comedy-adventure won’t attract newcomers to Stiller’s zippy filmography.

Ben Stiller.

With its ingenious premise, Stiller had the perfect opportunity to make a profoundly engaging and heartening remake. However, as a perfect example of 2½-star entertainment, Walter Mitty is only a utilitarian and concise comedy-adventure. Walter Mitty, despite its commendable intentions and engaging performances, is crushed by Stiller’s immense hubris. In lesser hands, this movie would get a free pass. However, with Stiller’s immense success in front of and behind the camera, the movie never cements his noteworthy talents and courageous oeuvre. Unfortunately, this disappointing yet enlightening adventure hurts more than expected. With an intriguing premise and immaculate big-budget-film-making tools at his disposal, Stiller’s adaptation of James Thurber’s short story becomes a saccharine and uninspired 2-hour Hallmark moment. Being the second big-screen remake after the 1947 Danny-Kaye-starring version, this version proves quality deservedly overshadows quantity. The plot, diverting from Thurber’s influential material, borrows from several genres, movements, and generic action-adventure conventions. This version kicks into gear when office drone and lonely schlub Walter Mitty (Stiller) walks into New York’s LIFE Magazine headquarters. Sadly, with the magazine transitioning from print to online, the majority of employees face the chopping block. Facing constant complaints from transition manager Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), Mitty has little time to impress cute co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).

Kristen Wiig.

Unable to efficiently operate his E-Harmony dating profile, Mitty faces loneliness, unemployment, and a debilitatingly miserable existence. However, his fortunes change thanks to one photonegative. With negative no. 25 missing from photojournalist Sean O. Connell(Sean Penn)’s final LIFE Magazine reel, Mitty takes it upon himself to track down the all-important image. At the behest of mother Edna (Shirley MacLaine) and sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn), Mitty – normally escaping to (dreaming up) fantastical worlds and dangerous situations – embarks on a spiritually transformative journey across the world. As a family-friendly farce, the movie becomes an uninspired and inoffensive Frank Capra-esque trip down memory lane (in multiple ways). However, this version contains several outstanding moments and concepts. Stiller’s creative side occasionally rises above the conventional and manipulative material. With daydreaming a commonplace practice, the first few scenes are, despite the CGI set-pieces and outlandish scenarios, startlingly relatable. His fantasies – ranging from jumping through windows, to saving dogs from explosions, to being a seductive mountaineer crashing into LIFE Magazine headquarters – are suitably charming. However, this movie doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. These dream sequences, though enthralling, add little to the movie’s enlightening narrative. Despite the glorious imagery and sweet touches, the movie’s all-important intricacies are wholly separated from one another. Unfortunately, Walter Mitty is significantly less enthralling than Stiller thinks it is.

Adam Scott.

Underneath its alluring sheen, the story hits familiar beats and dull patches. Sadly, the movie sticks to every Stiller-comedy-movie trope. With underwhelming twists and turns, kooky characters, and unexplored subplots, the movie never reaches its full potential. Sporting major logic leaps and contrivances, the stakes are limited despite Mitty’s stupefying journey. Tonally shifting between specific plot-strands and influences, the movie is also overwhelmed by its self-consciousness and contrarian messages. Throughout this roller-coaster ride, Stiller’s perspective hurriedly switches between each overcooked and excessive idea. Its living-the-dream overtones are overtly and repeatedly touched upon. In addition, this clichéd theme clashes with Stiller’s commentary on the working class hero. Beyond this, it ignorantly dives into the modernity vs. tradition debate. Switching from underdog story to hypocritical Hollywood farce, Walter Mitty is as shaky and bizarre as the titular character’s imagination. Despite the significant flaws, Walter Mitty, dramatically and visually, alludes to several distinctive comedies and influential dramas. As a Boxing Day family-friendly smash, the movie is comparable to Life of Pi. In addition, the movie’s ambitiousness and scope are reminiscent of Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the latter awkwardly referenced here). However, the most relevant influence is Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. This whimsical yet forgettable drama marks Stiller’s most earnest directorial effort yet. With Zoolander and Tropic Thunder being quotable and energetic big-budget comedies, Stiller has proven himself a note-worthy and engaging director.

“I just live by the ABCs: Adventurous, Brave, Creative.” (Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

Sean Penn.

His style normally highlights each project’s most unique and outrageous aspects. However, Walter Mitty‘s visual flourishes and directorial ticks become steadily irritating. Influenced by Michel Gondry, Woody Allen, Danny Boyle, and Robert Zemeckis, Stiller develops a pale concoction of the aforementioned filmmakers’ styles. Unable to deliver the comedic timing, zany visuals, and kinetic pacing of his previous efforts, his style lacks edginess, heart, or creativity. Each trick, awkwardly plastered across the screen for convenience’ sake, decreases the movie’s overall emotional impact. Stiller – pasting words across settings, adding montages at opportune moments, and flooding sunlight into every frame – applies conventionality to his extraordinary narrative. However, Stuart Dryburgh’s immaculate cinematography delivers vertigo-inducing thrills. Iceland, Greenland, New York and, the Himalayas are gorgeous and exhilarating locations. Also, the skateboarding and mountaineering sequences elevate the second half. However, the distracting product placement damages Mitty’s comically charged adventure. Shout-outs to E-Harmony, Papa Johns, American Airlines, and LIFE Magazine contradict the story’s over-arching messages. Despite Stiller’s comedic chops, the hit-and-miss gags provide false notes. Only a handful of clever lines save this otherwise dour dramedy. Despite the cookie-cutter characters, the enlightening performances are refreshing. Stiller, though preoccupied, delivers a gleeful and multi-dimensional performance. Playing a familiar average Joe type, his earnestness fits this intriguing role. Wiig is an engaging presence as Mitty’s quick-witted love interest. Scott ably portrays yet another over-the-top antagonist. Thankfully, Penn and Patton Oswalt bring tenderness and heart to the movie’s final third.

With insurance-advertisement-level depth and Kodak-moment-level visual stimulus, Walter Mitty is an advantageous yet misguided vanity project. With self-affirming shots of Stiller’s face, CGI overload, conventional screenwriting, and engaging performances, Stiller’s latest directorial effort becomes a confusing, pandering, yet engaging fantasy-adventure aiming specifically at common audiences.

Verdict: An awe-inspiring yet underwhelming comedy-adventure.