Tag Archives: george clooney

Money Monster – Review

24 May

Last year, Adam McKay’s The Big Short took the financial crisis of 2007 & 2008 and made it into something that is both easy to understand, yet close to impossible to comprehend how something like that could’ve happened. It was a very smart movie that was also sharp with its comedy. We now live in a time where movies based around unfair economic system in America are a great and accessible way to get other people involved and talking. Most recently, we’ve gotten Jodie Foster’s Money Monster. This film isn’t quite as sharp or intelligent as other movies concerning this topic, but it’s still a relevant and entertaining thriller that kept me engaged for most of its run time.

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Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of an off the walls finance show called Money Monster where Gates gives investors all the advice they need to know when it comes to buying and selling stocks. On a day like any other, the show begins and for a while seems to be going just fine, up until a disgruntled investor named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) storms the studio and holds Lee at gunpoint while also strapping a vest armed with a bomb to the terrified host. After the show’s director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), evacuates all the staff not needed to continue the broadcast, Patty and Lee do whatever they can to keep the gunman at bay and also hopefully find the answers he’s looking for before the police decide to enter the studio.

Money Monster is a very topical movie that fits in very well with the world we live in today, especially concerning finances and all the different forms of media from journalism to viral videos. I compared certain elements of this movie with The Big Short, but this movie is very far from being The Big Short. This is a popcorn movie through and through, even though it does have some brain power backing it up. You won’t see any new argument in this movie and it still shows how corrupt Wall Street is, but doesn’t really break new ground. For what Money Monster is, however, that’s completely fine. It’s much more fun looking at this movie as a real time hostage movie that reminded me of something between Dog Day Afternoon and The Negotiator.

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The cast in this movie are perfectly casted, and I really wouldn’t have had it any other way. Clooney still seems to be playing a version of Clooney, but he still is a very believable character and plays all of his scenes with precision acting. Julia Roberts, who I normally really don’t care for, was great here, and a lot of that was due to the way the character was written. Dominic West, who is known for The Wire but is known to me as the hilariously over the top Jigsaw in Punisher: War Zone, doesn’t have much screen time but makes the best of what he has. I recently saw Jack O’Connell in ’71, so I was excited to see him in Money Monster. Needless to say, he did not disappoint. O’Connell is the strongest part of this movie and gives a devastatingly real performance that I could never forget.

There’s a lot of really intense stuff in Money Monster and some of the most shocking and well written things all happen in the confines of the studio. Movies that have stories stuck in one location make things feel really closed in and immediate. Save for a pretty cool third act, there’s a lot of stuff in between that is important to the story, but didn’t really make me feel anything. All of these scenes revolve around a character named Diane Lester, who was the chief of communications for the main antagonist. As she works to learn more of the truth that has been covered up and her scenes get longer and more frequent, I felt more compelled to just speed the movie up just so I could get back to the scenes with Clooney, Roberts, and O’Connell.

Money Monster certainly isn’t here to change anyone’s lives, but there’s a chance that it may come across as acting smarter than it really is. What this movie works at being is a very topical hostage thriller that fits in very well with different problems going on in the world today. It’s a movie that we’ll be able to look back on and compare with worldly events that will better help the viewer analyze the film. Money Monster is full of tension, excitement, and great performances with some weak scenes thrown into the mix just to mess with the audience. It isn’t the best movie you’ll see about Wall Street or corruption, but it’s still a good deal of fun.

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The Thin Red Line – Review

12 May

Terrence Malick is a very strange Hollywood entity that’s made not that many films over the course of over 40 years. His first two films, Badlands and Days of Heaven, were met with huge success. After these two achievements, Malick disappeared off the face of the earth until 1998 when he released his World War II epic The Thin Red Line. This is around the same time that Spielberg released what I consider to be the best war movie ever made, Saving Private Ryan, but there are people who believe that Malick’s film is right up there with it. While I will say that it is one of the most memorable and well made war films to come out of Hollywood, it may also be one of the weirdest.

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After being picked up on an island in the South Pacific after going AWOL, Pvt. Robert Witt (Jim Caviezel) is chewed out by Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) and sent to Guadalcanal to be a part of a siege to secure Henderson Field from the Japanese. While on the island, the mass of soldiers have to secure Hill 210, which causes devastating casualties for the American forces. As the battle rages on and the days begin to pass by even slower, every soldier looks death in the eye through the sights of their guns and has to come to terms with the life that he’s led, the inevitable future that lays ahead,  and the possibility that they may never return home to the world that they know and have created for themselves.

The Thin Red Line is an outstanding example of a war movie, and I’m not sure how many people would deny that. While many war films deal with the European front, this movie deals with the battle that was raging on in the Pacific, specifically on Guadalcanal. This movie takes a really long time to get started, but when the battle finally gets going it doesn’t let up for a really long time. The original cut of this movie goes on for a little over 5 hours, and this is a rare time where I’d actually love to see the full 5 hour version because the 3 hour one that we have is so enthralling I feel like I need to see more. The combat is so intense and realistic that I began feeling anxious for the soldiers onscreen, even though I knew well enough that it was a movie. Not only is this a very intense movie, but the scenes of battle are shot in the most intricate and beautiful of ways. The camera sweeps over the battlefield in such a fashion that I can’t say I ever saw before. That is where Malick’s vision truly shines, and it’s almost blinding.

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So the battle scenes are all excellent and beautifully shot, but also the quieter scenes are shot in such a way that we see all of the beauty of nature that stands idly by as men wage their wars. It’s a pretty strong antiwar message done well, but things do tend to get a little weird. There are parts throughout the movie where the characters give these long winded soliloquies about the turmoil that they face everyday and the toll it’s taking on their lives and their beliefs. Seriously, this movie would gain a lot of points if those voice overs were taken out completely. It’s melodramatic and distracting because people simply don’t talk like that, especially when it’s already been established that it’s definitely not how that character talks normally. It’s just way too over the top, but that’s really my only complaint with this movie.

The Thin Red Line has a very odd story behind the making of it that makes it something of a Frankenstein monster masterpiece. Malick is known for taking an absurd amount of time to edit his movies, and this is a clear example of how far he’ll go to ensure he gets the picture he wants. Adrian Brody’s character went from being a lead to a secondary character who barely even speaks. The opposite goes for Caviezel, who’s character became the main focus of the story. The cast of actors in this movie is huge, but a lot of them end up being only cameos. Like I said, this movie was originally 5 hours long, so a  lot of their screen time got cut. Still, Malick knew what he wanted and the final product is great.

Plain and simply, The Thin Red Line is one of the best war movies ever made. There’s been countless, both old and new, but this movie has a certain beauty to it that Terrence Malick is known for capturing. That’s what really makes it stand out. Unfortunately, the film does lose points for the weird voice overs that more than border on the pretentious side. While that is a flaw, the rest of the movie is an epic masterwork of human drama and war.

The Good German – Review

10 Mar

Steven Soderbergh is one of my absolute favorite directors of all time. I’ve already talked about a few of his movies on here, with the most recent being for his debut film sex, lies, and videotape. Of course, not all of Soderbergh’s movies get much attention, and some of them seem to just fade away into the deepest recesses of his filmography. That’s exactly what happened to his 2006 box office flop, The Good German. After having watched it, I can definitely appreciate it for what it is. Much like the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t ThereThe Good German is a faithful recreation of how movies were made during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Unfortunately, that’s where the success of this movie pretty much ends.

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The year is 1945 and World War II has been ended on the European Front. American war correspondant Jacob Geismar (George Clooney) is sent to Berlin to cover the peace talks at the Potsdam negotiations. Geismar is assigned a young American soldier named Tully (Tobey Maguire) to be his driver, but there are a lot of things about Tully that Jacob has no idea about. For one thing, he’s highly involved in black marketeering and has a strange relationship with Jacob’s ex-lover, a German named Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett). After a brutal murder and robbery happens in Potsdam, supposedly right outside where the peace talks are meant to take place, Jacob begins investigating what actually got this person killed, even if it means going against his American superiors and also creating more tension than there already is with the Soviets occupying Berlin.

So right off the bat, The Good German not only looks convincing in terms of how movies were made in the 1940s, it also just looks beautiful in general. I love the look of noir films with the pitch black shadows and the high contrast light. It really just makes for great dramatic scenes, and this movie had that kind of look to it. It’s clear that Soderbergh was way more concerned with making this movie feel like a classic film in almost obsessive ways. This entire movie was shot on back lots in Los Angeles, only lenses of the time were used on the cameras, and the lighting was all incandescent. There wasn’t even any ADR during the sound editing. Soderbergh really succeeded at making this feel very authentic, and for film lovers that reason alone is enough to check this movie out, but there’s still more I have to say.

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The setting of this movie also really grabbed my attention. It was cool seeing all of these different countries who really don’t trust each other in one city under the weak promise that the war is officially over. Just because the war is technically over didn’t mean that there still wasn’t a lot of shady stuff going down, and this movie plays on that perfectly. It adds a layer of paranoia to the proceedings. So we have a cool setting, but the way things happen is super not cool. The entire time I was watching this movie I felt like I was just moving from one scene to the next because we have to in order for the story to be told and the movie to be over. This is actually a pretty common flaw in some movies, and this one is a prime example. It’s no fun watching a narrative move with such little motivation.

Let’s talk about the acting in this movie because it’s all very surprising. It’s almost like George Clooney and Cate Blanchett only did this as a favor to Steven Soderbergh. It was weird watching these actors just read the lines that were given to them without any sort of emotion backing them up. I get that they’re supposed to be touch talking noir characters, but it really didn’t work. The only thing Blanchett did was an accent, so obviously she’s German but what else. The only person who really put forth any kind of effort was Tobey Maguire. He was great and really seemed to be enjoying himself in the slimy role that was given to him.

The Good German is certainly a minor entry in Soderbergh’s body of work and for good reason. This is film is an exercise of style over substance that would really only appeal to people who are fans of classic cinema and can appreciate everything Soderbergh did to create an authentic feeling movie. The story has potential but ultimately falls flat due to a lack of strong motivation and performances that are very unmemorable. All in all, The Good German works as an experiment but not so much as a strong piece of storytelling.

Hail, Caesar! – Review

11 Feb

The Coen Brothers have one of the most unique voices in film and have often times taken every convention used to make a film and show you how useless they really are. Case and point can be seen in the lack of simple narrative flow and a true chaotic progression in No Country for Old Men, a movie that redefined how movies can be made. I love seeing these guys go crazy with their movies, and I’ve never been truly disappointed by something they’ve done. Thankfully, the same goes for Hail, Caesar!. This is definitely a polarizing movie that the Coen Brothers made for a certain demographic of film goers, and if you fall into that demographic, it will be hard to be disappointed.

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Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works as the head of Capitol Pictures, and also works as a “fixer,” which means that he puts an extra special interest in keeping his actors and studio in line even if that means bending the law a little bit in his favor. On one average day at the studio, Mannix’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is drugged and kidnapped from the set of Capitol Picture’s next epic film, Hail, Caesar!, a film that is also under a strict deadline in terms of its shooting schedule. Now, not only does Mannix have to secure the ransom that is being demanded for the return of Whitlock, but he also has to deal with unruly actors like Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), Deanna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), and Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) while juggling demanding directors and twin tabloid writers (both played by Tilda Swinton). Just another day in Hollywood.

I laughed during this movie. In fact, I laughed a lot during this movie. In my opinion, it’s absolutely hilarious. Anyone who is a fan or has knowledge of post-war Hollywood will get a kick out of all of the inside jokes and references that are sprinkled throughout the film, but will also enjoy the backdrop and atmosphere that Hollywood was in at this time. It was a strange transitional period where everyone was under some sort of watchful eye. Hail, Caesar! captures that perfectly in the most over the top and satirical of ways. The Coen Brothers have successfully lampooned major things that I’ve read about in film history textbooks and have hilariously showed us how ridiculous Hollywood’s worst nightmares were during this time.

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The story, or lack there of, in Hail, Caesar! was a bit jarring at first, but once I got into the groove of the movie, things started falling into place. The movie was advertised as Clooney’s character getting abducted and Brolin’s character having to find him. That’s only one aspect of the movie and not exactly what the movie is about. It’s simpler to look at this film as a series of vignettes that eventually come together to tell a story about Eddie Mannix’s crazy life as a Hollywood fixer. What the Coen Brothers seem more interested in, however, is showing the lifestyle of the time and how crazy the studio system could actually be. The story kind of comes second to the characters and the era.

The only thing that I could say is wrong with the movie is that it does leave a lot of people in the dark, and that’s never a fun thing. There’s a lot of jokes and references you might miss out on unless you have a good understanding of how Hollywood operated at the time and some of the more outlandish things that were taken very seriously. This isn’t the first time the Coen Brothers have made a movie about early Hollywood that made a lot of in jokes. Barton Fink was full of references to the time period, but there was also a lot more that didn’t have to do with Hollywood that other people could get a kick out of. Hail, Caesar!, however, demands a bit more understanding of history.

Hail, Caesar! may be polarizing and cater to a certain demographic of film goers, but this is my personal opinion on the movie and I think it’s pretty brilliant. It certainly doesn’t stand up to other Coen Brothers comedies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo, but it is far from falling into the pits with The Ladykillers and Intolerable CrueltyHail, Caesar! falls nicely in place with Burn After Reading in the mid echelons of the Coen Brothers’ filmography. If you know this history and you have a love for post-war Hollywood, this is a movie made just for you.

The Jacket – Review

4 Apr

There are times when I put on a movie that I know nothing about, and I end up being blown away and wonder to myself why I haven’t watched or known about these movie before. Then there are times where I put on a movie of which I have no knowledge of and wonder why I even bothered watching it in the first place. I can’t say I really shouldn’t have bothered watching The Jacket, but I can’t say that it meets these two feelings halfway. This a movie that thinks it’s smarter than it actually is, but actually leans to the side of generic ludicrous.

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After receiving a head wound in the Gulf War, Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) returns to America with severe amnesia. As luck would have it, Jack is inadvertently involved in the murder of a police officer and is sentenced to a mental institution after he can’t remember what happened or the level of his involvement. While at the institute, Jack becomes part of a sadistic psychological treatment created by Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson). The treatment has Jack getting put in a straightjacket, strapped to a table, injected with experimental drugs, and being locked in a morgue locker. While inside, he begins hallucinating and even travels 15 years into the future where he meets Jackie (Keira Knightley), who he met when she was young. During his trips through time, Jack learns that he will die in 4 days, which leads Jack and Jackie investigating the hospital and the legality of the treatment.

If you take a look at the poster that I put up here you’ll see that one of the taglines is “If you liked Vanilla Sky, Donnie Darko, and 12 Monkeys than you’ll love this film.” OK, lets think about this. I’ve never seen Vanilla Sky, but if you want to compare it to the two other films mentioned, you’ll see some major differences. Donnie Darko and 12 Monkeys are both really intelligent, mind bending science fiction films that really demand the viewer to watch them at least twice. The Jacket really thinks it’s smart, but it turns out to be really convoluted and more so just rehashes the style and certain ideas that were already used in these movies That’s what’s really unfortunate. There is so much room to play around with the plot of this movie, but it turns out to be completely misused.

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This film is the perfect example of a movie that fails almost solely because of the writing. Massy Tadjedin wrote a screenplay that is full of ideas that almost seem to be thrown away for drama that I really don’t care about because I don’t buy how the relationships of the characters form. At the risk of revealing a spoiler, for some reason that is completely beyond me, a romantic relationship forms literally out of nowhere between Jack and Jackie. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in movies. If there doesn’t need to be romance in a movie, don’t put romance in the movie! The relationship between Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh or Adrian Brody and Daniel Craig are much more interesting, but are practically thrown away.

I can’t fault the direction of John Maybury, any of the acting, nor the cinematography of Peter Deming. All of these people were on point with their jobs. The seedy, dirty look of the mental institution is awesome and Maybury gets good performances out of all of his actors, especially Brody, Leigh, and Craig. But let’s go back to the story. Because there isn’t enough focus on the mystery of the time traveling and treatment, nor the aftermath for Dr. Becker, I really can’t connect to the story. I just really can’t deal with the screenplay that Tadjedin has written. It’s really sloppy and I can’t believe George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh put their name on this as producers.

The Jacket is so disappointing because almost everything was in place for this to be a cool psychological science fiction thriller movie. Unfortunately, the screenplay is just so convoluted and often times generic that it all just turned into a bore. There was no attention payed to mystery or to leaving real hard questions for the viewers to answer. All we have is a weak ending that seems like it really wants to spark some debate. Ultimately, the ending and the entire movie is a lot less intelligent and original than it thinks it is.

Gravity – Review

17 Oct

The thought of being lost in the middle of the wilderness with very little hope of getting home is frightening. Take that concept and than multiply it by a thousand and you might match the intensity of Gravity. Can you really find a wildness more vast and bleak as outer space? I think not. To me, the very thought of floating aimlessly in space is absolutely frightening, which would explain why I was pale as a ghost when I left the theater.

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Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mission specialist for NASA who’s been given the job to help with repairs to the Hubble Telescope. While this is her first mission to space, it is veteran Matt Kowalski’s (George Clooney) final space walk. All seems to be going well until news is heard by Mission Control that a Russian missile strike on obsolete equipment has cause debris to come hurtling towards their positions. Disaster strikes fast causing the two astronauts to  be cut loose from their harnesses and begin drifting, caught in the earth’s gravitational orbit. Now, cut off from their harnesses and Mission Control, the two astronauts have to, somehow, find their way back to earth.

What an absolutely incredible movie. Sorry Star Trek Into Darkness. You have been knocked out of first place. Gravity is, in fact, the best movie of the year, hands down. To start with, it’s unbelievable how director Alfonso Cuarón, who has already proved his genius with Children of Men, and the rest of the cast and crew made it really seem like the audience is really in space with them. The combination of the outstanding visual effects, sound design (it’s very quiet up in space), and Cuarón’s typical use of long takes makes the weightlessness of drifting seem closer to home than ever before.

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While it is certain that Gravity will get several award nominations for visual effects, I really hope that Sandra Bullock gets recognized for her performance. My last review I did was I Am Legend, where I compared Smith’s job to that of Tom Hanks in Cast Away and Sandra Bullock’s in, you guessed it, Gravity. For the most part, she is all alone in this movie, with George Clooney only helping her out in a few scenes. The emotional weight of this movie falls on her performance and if we are able to connect with her and buy her as a character. Luckily, she gives a great performance which serves to only push us a little bit closer to the edge of our seat.

Thematically, it’s going to be difficult for someone to top this movie in terms of dread. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, there are scenes of an astronaut drifting in space, but the whole thing is very science fiction, so it’s easy to remember that it’s just a movie. Gravity is science fiction, but very real science fiction. It’s a huge step from 2001. There’s no HAL 9000 or crazy wormhole. This is just earth, two astronauts, and an orbit that keeps them trapped. To me, that’s the worst situation that I have ever seen in a film.

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Gravity stands tall next to Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim. In fact, Gravity holds its own against the greatest science fiction films ever made. This may be debatable thanks to some physical impossibilities and some die hard classic science fiction fans, but in my opinion it’s one of the best. Like I said, I walked out of this movie pale as a ghost, but at the same time I was so excited about what I just saw. Good news is I’m seeing it again this weekend. Be sure to catch this movie in IMAX or in 3D. It really adds a lot to the atmosphere. Make it your main objective to see Gravity, either way. It really is fantastic.

Three Kings – Review

18 Sep

War movies about World War II, the Vietnam War, and most recently the War in Iraq and the entire crisis of the Middle East get pumped out year after year with excellent box office returns. Let’s face it, war is a topic that interests a great many people. Think about this though, how often do you see a war film about the Gulf War? It was a quick conflict that doesn’t get all that much attention. Three Kings examines the tactical and human side of this conflict that is both comedic and difficult.

 

The Gulf War is coming to a close and the soldiers couldn’t be more thrilled. Parties are thrown on bases with alcohol, sex, and music. Determined not to go home empty handed a group of soldiers decide to go on a quest to recover for themselves a portion of the stolen gold bullion of Kuwait. This team is made up of Maj. Archie Gates (George Clooney), Sgt. 1 Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), SSgt. Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), and Pfc. Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze). The personal mission for the golden fortune soon turns into a violent crusade against the Iraq military in an attempt to escort a group of Iraqi citizens over the Iran border, all of this against strict military protocol.

The opening of the film plays out wonderfully as a madcap/screwball kind of comedy. The entire cast has thickly layered characters who have their own personalities that are intentionally or unintentionally funny. All of the actors play very well off each other making the bond that they all have feel strong and the growth of said bond over the film play out truthfully.

 

At a certain point in the movie, however, this shit hits the fan with a harrowing sequence that knocks the viewer back to the real world. I can’t say this happens to me a lot, but I actually began to tear up. I’ve seen lots of violence before in film, but something about this scene and the rest to come made me think of how this isn’t really fictional. Sure, the story may be, but the rest of it is clearly based off of the people’s lives in the Middle East. We only get one life to live, as far as I know, and to spend it in the desert being murdered by your own leader is not a way to spend it.

Along with the exceptional story structure and characters there is a phenomenal display of artistic talent at work. David O. Russell isn’t your average director, he’s well above it. A few of his other films are I Heart Huckabees and the wonderful movie The FighterThree Kings is on a totally different artistic playing field. There was actually a message in the beginning of the film explaining that this movie is loaded with symbols and otherwise unconventional  film making. This shouldn’t have to be there. I understand symbolism and artistic freedom. There is one beautiful low shot of George Clooney with the clouds speeding by above him. It was remarkable.

 

I’ve seen plenty of war movies in my day, and Three Kings is one of my new favorites. It blends drama, action, and comedy just as well as Stanley Kubrick did with his Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket. It’s a side of humanity that I feel people try to ignore in order to get along with their lives just a little more comfortably. If anything, this movie will certainly entertain, but it should hopefully enlighten as well.