Movie Review: “Money Monster”

Starring
George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito
Director
Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster‘s last directorial effort, the Mel Gibson-led drama “The Beaver,” is a slightly unconventional and often brutal movie. The film proved to be a commercial failure, but then again, it’s hardly a commercial movie. Whether or not it connected with audiences, there was an honesty to “The Beaver” that’s not always present in Foster’s latest feature, the real-time thriller “Money Monster.” Although it’s more of a conventional crowd-pleaser, the film fails to resonate as strongly as it should.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the loud, fast-talking host of “Money Monster,” a finance show in the same vein of “Mad Money.” One day, the show’s filming is interrupted when Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) sneaks onto the set and holds Gates hostage at gunpoint. Kyle partially blames Gates for a bad stock tip that resulted in the loss of his life savings after Ibis Clear Capital inexplicably lost $800 million overnight. Nobody has answers, including Gates, and nobody is asking the important questions until Kyle shows up. With the help of his producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), Gates will do everything he can to get to the bottom of what happened, re-discovering his humanity in the process.

That last line sounds cheesy, I know, and it slightly is in execution. It’s not because of the performances or directing, but because the script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf is treading such familiar territory that character revelations and the big dramatic moments are sometimes more calculated than human. The script is refreshingly efficient — a story that’s cleanly under 100 minutes, especially during the summer, is always a blessing — but it’s almost always serving a formula. Every once in a while, like when Kyle talks to his wife, the story takes a surprising turn, only to find itself back on track towards an inevitable conclusion.

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Movie Review: “Captain America: Civil War”

Starring
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Emily VanCamp
Directors
Anthony & Joe Russo

By all rights, Captain America should be the lamest, worst Avenger. He came of age decades before the topic of segregation was even entertained. Rock & roll hadn’t been invented yet. If Steve Rogers is a real person, he’s likely a racist crank, yelling at the other Avengers to get off his lawn.

Thankfully, the Cap in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is none of those things. Steve Rogers is an open-minded skeptic, for whom Japanese internment camps are still a recent event. (It is not a coincidence that the word ‘internment’ is used in a crucial scene here.) He is mistrustful of the government — and who can blame him, after the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – and therefore loath to see the country he loves overstep its bounds a second time. This makes him a perfect foil for Iron Man/Tony Stark, a man whose genius is eclipsed only by his ego, and for whom reparations and accountability make sense, as long as everyone else pitches in to help him pay his bar tab.

This is the crux of “Captain America: Civil War.” The plot is more streamlined than the ’70s-era, conspiracy-minded “Winter Soldier,” but there are still some unsettling themes at play here, chief among them the concepts of freedom and safety, and the fear of compromising one for the other. The comics on which this film is based were written 10 years ago, presumably to point a finger at the George W. Bush administration for overreaching in terms of surveillance. Sadly, they’re even more prescient now.

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Movie Review: “A Bigger Splash”

Starring
Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
Director
Luca Guadagnino

At first, “A Bigger Splash” is a feast for the senses. The gorgeous locations, thrilling tunes, and nothing but good times with Tilda Swinton’s rock star feels like paradise. Midway through director Luca Guadagono’s hypnotic film, however, the dream begins to turn into an equally exciting and unnerving nightmare.

Marianne Lane (Swinton), unlike her former lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes), is speechless. After the rock star undergoes a potentially career-ruining procedure, she seeks some peace and quiet with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They lie about in the sun, make love any chance they get, and, at least on the surface, the two couldn’t look happier. Their brief moments of peace and quiet are interrupted when Harry stops by with his “daughter” Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Harry, Paul and Marianne all share a history together — one that slowly reveals itself over the course of the narrative.

Until the surprising but inevitable third act, that’s about as much plot as there is in “A Bigger Splash,” a film that’s driven far more by atmosphere and character. David Kajganich’s script may feel like a rambling assortment of scenes, but they’re all of a piece, always serving a purpose or revealing something about the characters. When Harry lets loose to some Rolling Stones in a joyful three-minute dance sequence, we see the man Marianne used to love. That man, the one that always tries to live his life to the fullest, comes and goes throughout the film, like all four of the central characters.

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Movie Review: “Keanu”

Starring
Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Jason Mitchell, Will Forte, Nia Long
Director
Peter Atencio

After gaining popularity with their eponymous Comedy Central sketch show, it was only a matter of time before Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele made the jump to the big screen. The duo’s debut feature “Keanu,” co-written by Peele and frequent collaborator Alex Rubens, may not be as steeped in political and racial humor as some of their funnier skits, but it’s an enjoyable and often hilarious action-comedy that serves as the perfect showcase for Key and Peele’s excellent onscreen chemistry. Apart from perhaps Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, there isn’t a better comedy team in the business, and when combined with a cute-as-a-button tabby kitten that looks adorable even while dodging bullets amid a deadly gangland shootout, it’s no surprise that “Keanu” leaves you with a big smile plastered on your face.

The audience first meets the titular feline during the aforementioned massacre, barely escaping after his drug lord owner is killed by a pair of silent assassins and eventually landing on the doorstep of recently dumped stoner Rell (Peele), whose spirits are quickly lifted by the lovable kitten, which he renames Keanu. A few weeks later, Rell returns home from a night out with his cousin Clarence (Key) to find his place ransacked and Keanu stolen. Following up on a tip from Rell’s drug dealer neighbor (Will Forte), whose apartment was the intended target, the cousins go undercover as a pair of hardened thugs named Tectonic and Shark Tank to retrieve Keanu from the gang responsible for the robbery. Their leader Cheddar (Method Man) has already taken a shine to the kitten, but he agrees to give him up if Rell and Clarence – whom he mistakes for the Allentown Brothers (also played by Key and Peele), the assassins from the opening – tag along with his crew on an upcoming drug deal. Meanwhile, the real Allentown Brothers, who have fallen for the kitten as well (did I mention he’s really cute?), are hot on their trail.

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Movie Review: “Green Room”

Starring
Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Mark Webber, Macon Blair
Director
Jeremy Saulnier

Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore feature “Blue Ruin” established him as a director to keep an eye on. The revenge tale was a brutal, dramatically rich and intense thriller. With his third feature, “Green Room,” Saulnier dials things up a few notches, delivering his most propulsive and unshakeable experience yet.

Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) are members of the punk rock band The Ain’t Rights, a group barely scraping by to get from gig to gig. After an embarrassing performance at a Mexican restaurant, the group gets desperate and, against their better judgement, end up playing at a bar packed with white supremacists, led by the imposing but calm Darcy Banker (Sir Patrick Stewart). After the band members witness a murder in the green room (a.k.a. the waiting room for musicians), they must fight to survive the night with the assistance of Amber (Imogen Poots), a mysterious but incredibly capable and violent friend of the deceased.

With a brisk 95-minute runtime, Saulnier’s film is a well-oiled thriller without a single ounce of fat on it. Every scene, every shot and every character helps build this driving energy, which manages to keep growing throughout the film. There are no narrative pit stops in “Green Room” — it’s just mean and lean storytelling, rarely ever allowing the characters to catch their breath and collect their thoughts. This story is always on the move, even when the lead ensemble is stuck in the green room for a large portion of the film.

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