Tag Archives: Cannes

MONEY MONSTER

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

I’m not sure what movie film critics were watching when they went and sat down for 98 minutes to see Jodie Foster’s Mone Monster because sort of bringing out the knives, sharpening them hungrily, and filleting the thing until it was brisket, they basically savaged it. Personally? I don’t think I saw the reinvention of the wheel. What I did see was a tense little picture that goes by the route of many other hostage pictures, where an everyman gets pushed to the limit and has no other means to express his pain but to lash out and hope someone will listen.

This is the picture that we don’t like to see, that we’d rather not see. We don’t like to see people trampled and chewed by the system, but it happens, all the time. Just last December The Big Short exposed the fiasco that became the housing bubble which consumed an entire nation of homeowners vying for the American Dream and woke up one morning seeing that it had turned into an impossible nightmare. Countless were left homeless and have still not fully recovered, and who’s been convicted? Not a single person. [Iceland did much better, but then again, that’s another story — you may want to check Michael Moore’s documentary Where to Invade Next.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is that TV personality you love to hate. Modeled after Jim Cramer of Mad Money, his show — Money Monster — is loud, rambunctious, with dancers and a lot of flair. He speaks in aggressive, super-self confident terms and knows what stocks are in, which ones are out. He wants you to buy and buy hard, or sell and sell equally hard. No time to waste, you either can move to the level of his manic energy or just GTFO. He’s self-centered, bossy, and has little to none of our sympathies.

So attuned to the cameras and his own hype is Gates that he doesn’t — and we almost don’t — notice a truck pulling into the TV station. Foster cuts back and forth from this innocuous scene to that of Gates to that of the show’s producer (Julia Roberts) who at first can’t quite identify who’s the guy holding two boxes and advancing onto the set while Gates rattles away. Just before you can blink your eyes, the man, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), is on stage, shots are fired, and a tense situation has commenced.

Even then it shows how divorced we can be from what’s a reality show act to what the real thing is: it takes people a little more to realize what’s happening. In the meantime, Kyle begins demanding that they show a clip from March 6 where Gates had sang the praises of this stock from Ibis Cleap Capital (ICC) that he had said could not go wrong. Turns out, it did, and now Kyle is out 60 grand — his entire life savings — but it becomes a little more complicated than it looks. In asking an ICC representative, Diane Lester (Catriona Balfe) who was also a panelist on the show to explain what is going on, she is unable to produce an explanation . . . or the company’s CEO (Dominic West) who is MIA, along with 800 million dollars.

Foster does a pretty good job in bringing Money Monster to vivid life even though she doesn’t attempt complicated shots to enhance suspense or doesn’t vie for pushing the story over the edge, to its minor detriment. Yes, the story is predictable to a fault as it pays homage to two of the great Sidney Lumet movies from the 1970s, Network and Dog Day Afternoon, but it’s sleek, polished entertainment, and that’s sometimes all that matters.

 

THE MEASURE OF A MAN

Trumbo:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Program:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The Measure of a Man:

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

In about 50 years, we’ll regard the events that shaped Hollywood during the Second Red Scare (also known as The McCarthy Years) and threw a bulk of its industry down the blacklist drain with pentimento. How many actors, screenwriters, directors, producers, et cetera, lost their careers, we’ll most likely never know. That others who stood accused but narrowly escaped ignominy were able to continue was nothing short of a miracle; others still would have to travel abroad or wait until the Seventies to re-establish their careers.

And then you have a group of screenwriters who resorted to the unthinkable: having to write screenplays under pseudonyms and get paid in cash in order to survive. One of them, Dalton Trumbo, already an established, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and novelist with a career dating back to the mid-thirties, was blacklisted and denied employment in 1947 after appearing before the HUAC and refusing to name names. He spent a year in Ashland jail. Once out, everyone was anyone in Hollywood shunned Trumbo. He couldn’t find employment anywhere. He was forced at one point to write a screenplay but receive no payment for it. Basically, Dalton Trumbo was ruined goods.

As a movie, Trumbo doesn’t go the typical biopic (and follows a recent trend of biopics that instead of telling a color-by-numbers chronology of events decide to focus more on the essence of a man, what his main conflict was, and the eventual outcome of it — see Steve Jobs, Born to be Blue, and Miles Ahead for other examples). Instead it focuses on his progressive struggle with the HUAC, his decision to survive in a world post-imprisonment by literally erasing his own credit from his screenplays, and his slow rise to retribution by the hands of Kirk Douglas who demanded that his name appear on the credits of the Stanley Kubrick movie Spartacus, a film that would glean Trumbo of a second Academy Award win for Best Screenplay. [His first was for Roman Holiday, a movie he wrote under a ghost name.]

One of the elements that I admired the most of the picture aside from the flawless acting from Oscar-nominated Bryan Cranston who captures the flippant and indomitable spirit of a man is the archetype of the victimized hero that refuses to let his injuries define him. His decision to go into ghost writing is crucial to his character: he writes movies because he loves them, even when they’re essentially garbage. Writing, as opposed to performing, is self-effacing. A writer can be anyone and Trumbo knew that — and used it to his advantage. The fictional Arlen Hird (Louis C. K.), on the other hand, seems to represent the opposite — the writer who believes in greatness and ideologies and can’t remove that from his own self. To be reduced to working in King Films — basically a schlock studio churning grade-Z movies — was an insult. It’s probably why eventually, Hird seems to give  up and give into his disease, while Trumbo barrels ahead, even when it almost destroys his family.

Trumbo is a powerful slice of visual history that presents a slice of history where our own need to protect our freedom, ironically, curtailed it, until one man stood up and refused to be silenced.

A movie that passes a different sort of judgement is Stephen Frears’ The Program. Named for the doping program that Lance Armstrong put himself under in order to produce the stream of victories that virtually made him an unstoppable force, this is a muscular chronicle that presents Lance Armstrong as a man who starts out a competitor in a world of competitors and sees him, after a bout with testicular cancer at age 25, evolve into a superhuman monster without a conscience. Moving at a rapid-fire pace, Frears creates a frenetic, nearly ripped from the headlines retelling of Armstrong’s life, barely stopping to rest as it rushes at breakneck speed to the scandal that rocked the cycling world. Ben Foster channels Lance Armstrong to a chilling degree and is one of the principal reasons to see this movie. His Armstrong is a sociopath, a congenial monster who becomes enamored with the power of victories and his own lies. One chilling scene may reveal just how much he was driven by the need to win — as he practices the lie he will be telling the inquiring public, posing, repeating it over and over, revealing a hint of dramatic tension. It’s as shocking as, for example, Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, asking us, the viewer, “You talkin’ to me? Are you talkin’ to me? ‘Cause I’m the only one here.”

I saw The Measure of a Man (La loi du marche) last year at the New York Film Festival on the heels that it was being presented as something that the Dardennes Brothers may have done. Having seen Two Days, One Night, and The Child already I jumped on the chance. The story of a man who becomes unemployed (and has to endure humiliating video interviews with younger employers who see him as either unemployable or overqualified), the slice-of-life story is almost documentary in its approach. Seeing Vincent Lindon as our Everyman going through the motions of hanging out with his wife, trying to sell their mobile summer home, and landing a job in a supermarket where he oversees attempts at theft is a treat in itself as the man acts ever so subtly, barely releasing any emotion. It’s when he realizes that his job is putting others at risk to getting fired in order to save the company money that one realizes the hypocrisy that his character is up against. It’s a cruel society, it seems, in France, and there is nothing one can do about it.

The First Post…

…is always the most difficult. How do you begin? Welcome to my blog, hope you like what I have to say, grab a coffee, take a sip and peruse through? I don’t know. I barely even know my name at the end of a long day and it’s still Monday evening in New York. Winter seems to be thawing prematurely but as is its wont, December holdovers are all over the place. Even films that have no nominations in any award show are still going strong (I’m talking to you, Lady in the Van. I loved your wit and that thing you did with Alex Jennings playing playwright Alan Bennett, twice, as if he had an invisible twin, or the voice of his own conscience. I thought that there was room in the Best Actress category for Dame Maggie Smith but the academy, it seems, disagreed.)

the-lady-in-the-van
Dame Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van

Youth is still playing. One theater, a few showings, which tells me it will probably exit come Thursday. If the  Quad Cinema were open that is where it would go for a second run among tinier indies. However, I’m afraid this is the last NYC will see of it. Next stop: Netflix, Amazon, et. al.

In a way, all these holdovers aren’t a bad thing: many movie goers don’t want until they know a film is “Oscar Nominated” to go see it and be the judge for themselves if it deserved its accolades or not. They also want and need to be fresh in people’s minds so that cancels any significant new entry. I personally long outgrew that phase. I can’t recall when was the last time I saw a movie for awards it received. Now, its participation in certain film festivals can’t hurt–quite the contrary, the sole mention of Cannes  (in its main or tangential lineups), Venice, Locarno, SXSW, Tribeca, Sundance, Berlinale, New York Film Festival, or New Directors/New Films is more than enough to spark an interest.

Even so, I totally get it. The vast majority seeks out only what has been recognized. That’s where they measure a movie’s quality, an actor’s performance, a director’s choice in light, shadow, and camera movement (or lack thereof). And that’s perfectly fine.

For me, it goes much deeper than that. Year after year I see tiny movies that go completely unnoticed or play under the radar of “what’s hot” in arthouse theaters for months on end. Those are the pictures that I like. Those are the pictures that move me. Sometimes I will be disgusted, or left somewhat perplexed, but seeing an indie or a foreign or a documentary is akin to venturing into another man’s skin. Another time and place. Yes the story may be archetypal, or it might not possess the flair that a 300 million dollar budget would allow, but for me, it’s the journey. Seeing a story told in a smaller scale, reaching the same emotional impact a larger enterprise can give with enough retouching.

Phillippe Garrel's In the Shadow of Women
Phillippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women

January saw a couple of good releases –nothing mind-blowing–but smaller events that still carry a big punch. Both IFC and Lincoln Center played two New York Film Festival selections: Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, and Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Treasure. Both films couldn’t be more different: the former is a story about a couple in trouble, the latter about a man who gets an offer he can ‘t refuse. While I could see both of them in one sitting (combined, both movies total  about 165 minutes), the stories proper are told with so much restraint and deadpan humor i found them somewhat heavy  to endure, even when the end result leaned towards a positive outcome. Perhaps a second view on DVD will bring the scale closer to home. That of,  course, remains to be seen. Both directors have a rather droll visual style, but exert a certain pull for the fabric that composes their stories and I enjoy that very much.

At the moment, I’m looking forward to this lull, then catching up with last week’s premiere of Aferim!  (Romania’s entry to the 88th Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture), and upcoming releases like Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato, Pablo Larrain’s El Club (Chile), and Atom Egoyan’s Remember, followed by the February festival Film Comment Selects which runs February17  – 24 at the Lincoln Center.