Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West
Release date: June 2nd, 2016
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Running time: 98 minutes
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.
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper
Release date: December 27th, 2013
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Running time: 120 minutes
Best part: The biting dialogue.
Worst part: Streep’s hammy turn.
I believe it was the influential American author F. Scott Fitzgerald who famously said:”Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material”. If that’s the case, then both families in August: Osage County follow Fitzgerald’s words to the letter. With the Weston and Aiken families holding certain incidences and issues against one another, this moody yet insightful dramedy turns into a brash and unrelenting 2-hour thrill-ride. With its stellar cast, pitch-perfect dialogue, and alluring visual style, this movie surprises, frustrates, and shines when required. Just don’t tell anyone I talked about these people behind their backs. Yeesh!
Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts.
Based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage Country is an honest, brutal, and claustrophobic adaption. With Letts taking control of his productions’ adaptations, his guiding hand proves useful, effecting, and practical. Here, like with previous adaptation Killer Joe, his characters are trapped in certain settings and situations. Trust me – his characters are unenviable, childish, and torturous! No one would ever want to spend a weekend away with these people! So, efficiently, Letts brings his characters straight to us. However, despite the flaws, August: Osage County‘s performers make this adaptation somewhat tolerable. This meandering dramedy begins with the Westons living in complete disarray. Hiring a Native American nurse/housekeeper, Johnna Monevata (Misty Upham), Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) relays personal stories to her about life, loss, regret, and literature. To his cancerous (in multiple ways) wife Violet(Meryl Streep)’s dismay, Johnna listens intently to Beverly’s every word. However, as Beverly’s sudden disappearance becomes a major hurdle, Johnna, despite Violet’s irritating attitude, must care for her. Soon enough, the Weston and Aiken clans show up to give Violet their best wishes. Violet’s three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis), follow one another back to their old home. With memories, tempers, and heat-waves flaring, the three sisters band together to overcome each other’s burgeoning problems. Barbara, separated from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), struggles to control their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Not to be outdone, Karen’s hotshot fiancée Steve Huberbrecht (Dermot Mulroney) breezes into town with his bright red Ferrari and interminable personality in tow.
Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, and Abigail Breslin.
If that wasn’t enough, Violet’s sister Mattie Fae Aiken (Margot Martindale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper), and their son ‘Little’ Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) throw themselves into this sprawling recipe for disaster. To continue on with this family reunion/meal theme, August Osage County is chock-a-block with characters willing, but unable, to stir the pot before its contents boil over. All family reunion movies have the potential to knock themselves for a loop. With multiple characters, story-lines, messages, and hurtful one-liners flying across comforting settings, The Big Chill is still seen as a meaningful fluke. Letts’ writing style, made famous by the play, places personalities and ideologies against one another. Director John Wells (The Company Men) ably adapts to the egos and auras floating through his ambitious projects. Handling impressive ensembles competently, Wells is undoubtedly an actor’s director. His attentive style elevates mediocre characters from the doldrums whilst shining spotlights in their eyes. Despite the previous comment’s darkness, Wells’ controlling direction and attention to detail elevates this otherwise frustrating affair. However, Wells can’t detach this project from its stage-based roots. Walking an uneasy line between stage and screen, the movie’s scope, subtext, and characterisations are pushed overboard. Unfortunately, Wells and Letts butt heads over this movie’s intentions. Showcasing Oaklahoma’s countryside at opportune moments, Wells seems intent on separating this narrative from the play’s restrictions. However, Letts sticks to his creation’s most claustrophobic aspects. Sadly, this confrontation throws this dramedy’s tone off balance. With Wells and Letts’ visions not reaching their true potential, this dramedy awkwardly mixes Secrets & Lies‘ dramatic beats withDeath at a Funeral‘s farcical hijinks. Despite the narrative’s faults, August: Osage County hurriedly sweeps up its audience. Targeted at 40-something women, the movie, after its sombre epilogue, delves into modern romantic-drama’s typical and uninspired traits.
“Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” (Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts), August: Osage County).
Meryl Streep, Margot Martindale, and Julianne Nicholson.
With its familial dramatic moments, strong-willed women, and picturesque cast, the movie acknowledges its monstrous advantages compared to similar Oscar-starved fare. However, with Letts’ piercing dialogue steering his thought-provoking story, the movie becomes a cynical, cold, and visceral black comedy. Like most families, August: Osage County crackles whilst set around the dinner table. Two table sequences – elevated by smashed plates, cruel jokes, punishing insults, and physical violence – switch from elaborate set pieces to hysterical and identifiable shouting matches. Charlie’s woeful attempt to say grace is met with kooky ringtones, rolling eyeballs, and mean-spirited laughter. Like most family gatherings, startling revelations, broken relationships, detailed anecdotes, and shattered perspectives define this movie. Several harsh one-liners are burned into the consciousness. Beverly, accepting of his alcoholism-controlled sanity, is inexplicably told to: “F#cking f#ck a sow’s ass!”. Unfortunately, the symbolism goes overboard from the opening frame. Violet, stepping out from the shadows during her first appearance, is defined by obvious idiosyncrasies. Receiving pharmaceutical-based relief from mouth cancer, this matriarchal character is disgracefully over-the-top and unlikeable. Unfortunately, Streep’s overt impersonation of Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There spectacularly misfires. Thankfully, everyone else is top notch. Roberts provides her best performance since Erin Brockovich. As a stranded-in-denial character, Roberts’ intensity and verve elevate certain sequences. In addition, Martindale and Nicholson provide scintillating turns in valuable roles. Meanwhile, the male performers become witty, kooky, and insightful comic reliefs. Cooper and McGregor steal scenes as the resilient husband-and-father figures. Mulroney and Cumberbatch provide impressive performances in understated roles.
Lacking Festen‘s dramatic weight and You’re Next‘s brutal murders, August: Osage County lacks subtlety and uniqueness. Despite the movie’s overt metaphors and broad characters, the emotionally resonant moments, cutting one-liners, and solid performances boost this intriguing and kinetic dramedy. Ironically, this movie is perfect for lazy days on the couch…at home…with the family.
Writers: Marc Klein, Jason Keller (screenplay), The Brothers Grimm (fairytale)
Stars: Julia Roberts, Lilly Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane
Release date: March 20th, 2012
Distributors: Relativity Media, 20th Century Fox
Running time: 106 minutes
Best part: Lilly Collins.
Worst part: Julia Roberts.
Interpretations of classic fairy tales seem to be part of a new Hollywood trend. Among them comes a surprising number of re-tellings of the Grimm Brother’s story Snow White. With Snow White and the Huntsman out in the coming months, we first arrive at a seemingly lighter retelling with Mirror Mirror. This kid friendly, bombastic affair will remind you of the fun animated Disney adventures significant to our childhoods through the eye popping visual style of special effects master Tarsem Singh Dhanwar (Immortals).
A fresh look at a stale story is what we see here as we are told by the stuck up and disgruntled evil Queen (Julia Roberts) that her version of events is far more enthralling than Snow White(Lily Collins)’s. We are thrown into the story as the Queen’s wicked ways push Snow over the edge, to the point of leaving the confines of the castle in search of adventure. The Queen’s destructive rule over the village forces Snow to stand against her. Banished to the woods, Snow recruits seven wacky yet resourceful dwarves, all the while charmed by the presence of courageous yet modest Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer).
Along With Tim Burton and Michael Bay, Singh has a keen eye for visual imagery but is unable to extend his reach towards convincing storytelling. With all the charm and flair of a musical, Singh’s visual direction in Mirror Mirror attains wondrous new heights. Particularly impressive is the ball sequence in which the castle is flooded with patrons dressed as members of the animal kingdom. His style allows the main characters to stand out in bright colours against plain colour settings, such as Snow’s visit to the decayed village in bright yellow, to illustrate the importance of Snow White’s journey of defiance. The costume design by the late Eiko Ishioka, CGI effects augmenting the wacky slapstick gags and zany fight sequences and the set designs uniquely representing the light of the castle and dark of the woods create an ingenious third dimension for the film without the use of 3D. While a cheerful and catchy song and dance number provides an extra surprise for this already enchanting visual splendour. The use of a brilliant 3D animated exposition sequence, keeping one up to date with the legend, will make you question whether displaying the whole film in this style would lift the film above a dull story told by a somewhat incapable director. This retelling makes a fatal mistake in focusing on the evil Queen. Mirror Mirror is noticeably awkward during scenes involving the Queen in all her pampered glory.
“It’s important to know when you’ve been beaten. Yes?” (The Queen (Julia Roberts), Mirror Mirror).
Despite the clever use of the mirror providing a guardian angel in the Queen’s own form, the castle scenes, involving awkward slapstick comedy and unending scenes of dialogue, only add to the desire to return to the classic story of Snow White and her band of height challenged compatriots. Not to mention, an uncomfortably flat performance from Julia Roberts is a clear sign of her inability to be anything more than her usual charming self in films like Erin Brockovich and Pretty Woman. Nathan Lane does however provide some much needed comic genius as the mistreated yet amusing boot licker Brighton. Thankfully, and ironically, scenes involving the dwarves never fall short. With differing personalities than usually depicted in the Snow White legend, their comedic delivery and natural chemistry create the true heart of the film. The training of Snow White in becoming a bandit is handled with the wit sorely lacking in the majority of the film. Both good looking and charismatic actors, Hammer and Lily create a funny and light hearted relationship though their enjoyable performances. The chemistry between Prince Alcott and Snow White works wonders for several of the otherwise bland dialogue sequences while their sword fight may be one of the most engaging and expertly choreographed in recent memory.
Mirror Mirror, piggy backing off the current fairytale adaptation trend, certainly wears its influences on its well-pressed sleeves. Despite the spirited cast and gorgeous production design, a certain aura of unoriginality fills the air throughout.