Friday, May 27, 2016

"Money Monster" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Money Monster" and the DVDs "An Honest Liar" and "Mustang."  The Book of the Week is "Heart of Glass: A Memoir."  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Trouble in Paradise."]

Money Monster

A hostage situation plays out in real time on live TV.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, arrogant over-the-top host of the financial advice TV show "Money Monster," a circus of a show where he gives out stock tips and financial advice while dancing and wearing outrageous costumes. 

As the film begins, we learn that IBIS, a company that Lee strongly urged his viewers to invest in ("It's as safe as your savings account") has suffered a "computer glitch" which resulted in the loss of 800 million dollars.  Lee is about to go on air to talk via satellite to the CCO, Diane Lester (Catriona Balfe), in lieu of the CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West), who is nowhere to be found.  Just as the show goes on air live, a man posing as a delivery guy, storms onto the set with a gun.  He makes Lee put on a bomb vest and says he will blow him up if the cameras don't keep rolling and he is not allowed to talk on TV live.  Director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) back in the control booth complies and the movie plays out in real time as Gates and Fenn try to figure out what to do.

We learn that the gunman is Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), a young man who has just lost his mother.  He has also just lost the $60,000 he inherited from her when he invested in IBIS as per Lee's assurances it was a safe investment.  Though Lee offers to get his money back for him, Kyle says it's not about the money now.  It's about the American people knowing what crooks the moneymen are and he wants Camby to pay too.  In the meantime, as police swarm all over the studio, Patty is trying to not only find Camby, but also what was really behind that "computer glitch" that lost investors $800,000,000.

Director/actress Jodie Foster (her fourth directorial feature film) manages to keep the tension building and writers Jamie Linden, Jim Kouf and Alan DeFiore manage to mostly avoid the clichés we have seen so many times in these kinds of films.  Just when you think you know where it's going, the film veers.  Though the ending may be unsatisfying to some, it is certainly a realistic one.

Similar to "The Big Short" in its depiction of the financial world with jargon we aren't supposed to understand (and that's how the fat cats get rich), this one doesn't have the humor and sharpness of "Short."  It also has some far-fetched situations and is slow to get started but once it does, it is fast-paced and tense.  It's also an interesting inside view of what goes on behind the scenes at a TV show.

Jack O'Connell as Budwell is a relative newcomer.  He is a British actor who starred as Louis Zamperini in "Unbroken."  Here as the disturbed and depressed Kyle, he puts in another worthy performance. Catriona Balfe as Lester is a striking film presence who fans of "Outlander" may recognize.  I hope to see more of her.

Clooney is also very good here as he makes the transition from an arrogant and clownish host of a financial TV show on a Fox News type channel to a man who understands and cares about his captor.

Julia Roberts is always good, but what is going on with her?  Though this part is larger than her recent one in "Mother's Day," she is definitely supporting Clooney and O'Connell here.  Since director Garry Marshall directed her in "Pretty Woman (which sent her career into the stratosphere)" and she is friends with Clooney, has she decided to help out her friends rather than seeking starring properties for herself?  I would love to see her in a mature romantic comedy.  But at least she isn't wearing a horrendous wig like the one in "Mother's Day," though I question her wardrobe choice here too.  What's with the high water trousers?  Julia, you were a plain Jane in "The Secret in Their Eyes," you looked awful in that wig in "Mother's Day" and here you also dumbed down your looks and you hardly had any moments with Clooney. You talked mostly to the camera crew. We want to see you in something romantic and glamorous!

"Money Monster" is the name of the TV show, but it's also a metaphor for what money, the greed for it and the loss of it, can do to a person.  The film is also a commentary on how not only does the media feed us sensationalism, even when it involves human suffering, but how we viewers gobble it up.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a well-crafted bit of adult entertainment, but you can probably wait for the DVD.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Out on DVD

An Honest Liar (2014)

The life and career of James Randi, who was a magician known as The Amazing Randi but who devoted himself to exposing  so-called psychics, paranormal hoaxes and the very magic tricks he used to perform.

Starting out as a magician - The Amazing Randi - James Randi spent most of his life exposing psychics and so-called mind readers, who he believed were misinforming and cheating the public. He famously said that magicians are the most honest people - they say they are going  to fool you and they do. Randi took issue with anyone who used "magic" for anything other than entertainment. 

Randi debunked bare-handed surgeries which were a big phenomenon in the 70's, aliens, and channelers such as Ramtha.  He was also a fixture on talk shows, showing how magic tricks were done. He even went so far as to create a hoax of his own by grooming his boyfriend, Jose Alvarez, into the medium Carlos, to prove how easy it is to fool the public.  Randi made up the persona and his entire background, and the media gobbled it up and never bothered to check his background. He was able to show how gullible people are just because they so much want to believe in the afterlife. Randi wanted to show that mentalists and psychics were just magicians who wouldn't admit it.

Born in 1928 in Toronto, Canada, Randi was inspired by The Great Blackstone and set out to become a magician.  He joined a carnival and never went home again.  One of his specialties was as an escape artist like Houdini but when he had a close call trying to replicate Houdini's milk can escape, he gave up his act to devote himself to debunking faith healers, psychics and others.  He later helped Alice Cooper with his guillotine illusions.

Uri Geller was a favorite target of Randi's.  Remember him?  He made a career out of mentally bending spoons.  Geller was the darling of researchers and a Stanford study seemed to prove his powers were real. Geller was able to fool the scientists.  It was as if the scientists were transfixed by what Geller did and the force of his personality and thus failed to use scientific methods.  But Randi figured out how he was doing it and helped set Geller up for failure on the Johnny Carson show. Randi was almost obsessed with Geller, because Geller would not admit he was a sham.  Randi wrote a book about him called "The Truth about Uri Geller." Despite Randi's obsession to discredit Geller, Geller strangely provided an interview for this film.

Another favorite target was mentalist and faith healer Peter Popoff who wowed audiences with his abilities to know everything about them and then "cure" them of their ailments. Little did they know that Popoff's wife was feeding him the information he needed through an earpiece.  Of course no one knew that, but when Randi brought a private investigator with him to one of Popoff's performances and the investigator discovered the frequency Popoff was using, he was exposed. Needless to say, Popoff did not provide an interview for this film.

Naturally Randi got backlash.  He was a popular talk show guest in the 70's and 80's, especially on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.  He had a certain arrogance about him that could be off putting and he was a controversial figure, probably because people believe what they want to believe and no amount of facts in their faces will usually change that.

However, it's interesting to note that Randi offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove that psychic and paranormal powers existed and could withstand scrutiny using scientific methods.  Randi is now 86 and no one has ever collected that money.

Penn and Teller, who also like to show the "magic" behind the "magic," and other magicians, as well as scientist Bill Nye weigh in on Randi's life work and his influences.

An honest liar is one who uses deception to conceal the truth or to reveal the truth. Directed by Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein, the film ends with an irony regarding some deceptions in Randi's personal life showing that he could also fall under the spell of believing what he wanted to believe.

"I am a magician.  I know how to deceive people and I know when people are being deceived."

Randi devoted his life to trying to save us all from being hoodwinked but even today, frauds and manipulators flourish, proving that no matter how smart or educated we are, we can be deceived.  Speaking of which, those calls you are getting from the IRS?  Hang up the phone.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating look at a fascinating man who devoted his life to saving people from deception when he himself was being deceived.  If you like documentaries, this is a good one.

Mustang (2015)

Five sisters living in provincial Turkey are imprisoned in their house to protect their virginity while they await arranged marriages.

Five school girls say goodbye to a beloved teacher and head home from their co-educational school with their friends. The girls are sisters who are ophans living with their grandmother and their uncle. On the way home, they all cavort in the sea, the girls getting on the shoulders of the boys to have chicken fights. It's all very innocent, but a nosy neighbor reports to the grandmother what the girls had been doing and tells the grandmother the girls were "pleasuring themselves on the boys' necks."  The grandmother beats the girls, and though the girls are outraged at the misconception and fight back, the uncle calls them whores and locks them in the house.  They also take away their cell phones and computers and anything else that might "pervert" them.  The house is turned into a "wife factory," where they are given "wife lessons," - cooking, sewing and cleaning. They are also taken to the doctor to check on their virginity because virginity is crucial to finding a good husband. 

But these girls are not subservient.  They are defiant and find ways to sneak out of the house. Sonay, the oldest, already has a boyfriend and has been doing a bit of sexual experimentation, but the kind that would still maintain her virginity.   

Lale, the youngest, is the narrator of the story.  She is an avid football fan (soccer to us in the U.S.), so the girls sneak out of the house to get to the game.  Unfortunately, they are seen on the TV by the grandmother and the uncle and when they return home, bars are placed on the windows and finding husbands for the oldest girls begins in earnest.  This is not a big problem for Sonay because her boyfriend asks for her hand and is considered eligible. But Selma, the next oldest, is not so lucky and is matched up with a stranger.  So one girl gets to marry the  boy she loves and is happy.  The other girl has an arranged marriage and is not. There is also the implication of the Uncle molesting one of the girls.  What fate awaits the other sisters?

Written by Deniz Gamze Erguven and Alice Winocour and directed by Erguven, this is a feminist film that says even in a society repressive to women, women and young girls will still fight for their freedom like the wild stallions of the title.  No matter what the culture or the punishments, in this day and age, it is human to want freedom even if it means death.  And where there is a will, women will buck and pull against the reins to try to be free.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a moving story that will make women who do not live in a repressive society thank their lucky stars.
(In Turkish with English subtitles)

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

251 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

A gentleman thief and a lady pickpocket join forces to rob an heiress.

Lily (Miriam Hopkins) and Gaston (Herbert Marshall) meet in Venice.  They are both pretending to be someone they are not.  She calls herself a Countess and he calls himself a Baron, but soon they recognize each other for what they really are:  He is a thief and she is a pickpocket.  Gaston literally shakes down Lily to get his wallet back (it's hidden beneath her dress) and he reveals that he has stolen her garter. Their criminal inclinations turn each other on and they fall in love.

Later, in Paris, it is clear the pair are cohabitating, something that would not be allowed in later films once the censorship of the Hays Office took hold.  The two focus in on a rich perfume heiress, Madame Colet (Kay Francis, a lovely actress who is largely forgotten today).  Gaston steals her expensive purse and returns it later for a large reward.  Despite the fact that she is being courted by ubiquitous veteran character actors Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton, Mme. Colet falls for Gaston not realizing he plans to rob her.  She hires him as her secretary and gives him full rein over her finances.  Gaston hires Lily as his assistant and the two plot to relieve Mme. Colet of her fortune.  However, Gaston becomes romantically entangled with Mme. Colet which threatens to derail his and Lily's plan.

This film is the epitome of the sophisticated romantic comedies for which director Ernst Lubitsch was famous: witty repartee, sexual innuendo and comic situations.  It has been heralded as the quintessential screwball comedy that influenced those that followed: "The Lady Eve," "Bringing Up Baby," and others.

These comedies set in the world of tuxedos, gowns and opulence brought people out of their Great Depression doldrums and let them laugh and live vicariously, even if only for 85 minutes.  Unfortunately, this kind of sophisticated adult comedy was later off limits to audiences as the prudish Hays Office came into being to rid films of sex and anything that might be upsetting.  Even married couples were depicted as sexless, sleeping in twin beds.

Kay Francis  and Miriam Hopkins went on to star in countless melodramas, but it's difficult to remember Herbert Marshall as a romantic comedic leading man as he is here.  He went on to star in serious character roles ("Foreign Correspondent" and "The Razor's Edge") and Baby Boomers would remember him more as a character actor on TV.  

Why it's a Must See: "After his emigration from Europe and arrival in Hollywood at the tail end of the silent era, Ernst Lubitsch quickly established himself as a master of the technical with an ear for comic pacing.  Admirers called his particular talents the 'Lubitsch Touch,"...a sophisticated sensibility...changing the tone of American comedies and leading to the rise of the 'screwball' antics of Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder, both of whom revered him...That famed 'Lubitsch Touch' indicated his deft method of delivering sexual politics with a barely discernible wink, and that meant a clever way with words and stories to subvert, surmount, or gently prod the relatively prudish...American standards."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

I have a soft spot in my heart for these old Depression era films.  I sat watching many of these with my Dad on the late movies that were a staple of late night TV in the 50's.

Rosy the Reviewer says...short, sweet and witty, they don't make movies like this anymore.

***Book of the Week***

Heart of Glass by Wendy Lawless (2016)

A twenty-something young woman tries to find herself in 1980's New York City.

This is the follow-up memoir to Lawless' "Chanel Bonfire," where she chronicled her life growing up with a narcissistic, alcoholic and suicidal mother who made "Mommy Dearest" look like a saint.  Now she is estranged from her mother and has made her escape to New York City, but finds herself adrift.

When she divorced their Dad, her mother had spirited Wendy and her sister, Robin, away from their father and moved them to London.  Now on her own and not sure what to do with her life, Wendy reestablishes her relationship with her father, an actor with some regional theatre fame.  She also discovers that she likes to act too, but don't think having an actor father is an automatic entrée into starring roles.  Wendy pays her dues in summer stock, regional theatres, bit parts in soap operas and making the rounds in the New York theatre world and eventually goes to acting school.

Throughout, Lawless candidly shares her romantic ups and downs, run-ins with the famous and not so famous, what it's like to try to break into acting, her thrift shop wardrobe and her mistakes, as she makes her way around the New York City of the 1980's, before gentrification, when it was a gritty art scene. 

She is funny and self-deprecating, sparing no details as she searches for love and her place in the world.

Side note:  One of my favorite parts of the book was Wendy's dalliance with a fellow named Tarquin.  How many do you know with that name?

Well, I know one...

Rosy the Reviewer says...aspiring actors will enjoy this as will millennials trying to find themselves and Baby Boomers who can remember what it was like to be young in the 80's.


That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

  "What is a True Friend?"

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