Money Monster (2016)

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An explosive financial thriller, a hostage crisis, a globe-spinning mystery and a potent satire of Wall Street’s television coverage like a professional sport. This is Money Monster. But despite its present-day setting, it feels a little retro – as if it just missed the window for maximum relevance following The Big Short. Except Money Monster marks Jodie Foster’s emergence as the director of a greater and more technically challenging project than anything she’s done before. I came in with low expectations and walked out having experienced a pleasantly dynamic drama and the never failing charisma of George Clooney too.

Money Monster follows a popular stock advice show hosted by George Clooney, as Lee Gates, who relies on flashy sound effects and show business glam to make the daily market as fun as a game show. The story takes a nail-biting turn when young Jack O-Connell, as Kyle, sneaks onto the live television set carrying a gun and a bomb strapped to his chest. After losing his life savings tied in promising stocks, Kyle is left to ask all of the big questions. Strap yourself in for slow and steady tension rising between Lee and his manager Patty, who tirelessly work to keep Kyle calm and compliant.

Foster envisioned fascinating contrasts between the intimate scope of the standoff and the global reach of Money Monster as a television event drawing viewers into the unspoken corruption of Wall Street. In some ways, Money Monster is a strongest critism of the tendency to treat financial journalism as entertainment, and in other ways it is simply a hype-driven coverage of the stock market. Either way, Foster mentions that we are in fact living in an age where the financial industry and entertainment industry are intertwined in ways she has purposefully attempted to satirise throughout the film.

Foster approached Money Monster as a character piece – but one with unique directing impediments … and some funny bits too …

In some ways, it’s an experiment – and I love genre movies – to figure out a way to use the genre as a backdrop and still really have character and a sophisticated dialogue about meaningful topics and have them be in the foreground.”

Money Monster’s greatest strength lies in its portrayal of greed as the ultimate crime, juxtaposed with a disadvantaged minority who lays down his life to bring justice. But Money Monster registers less of an indictment of financial corruption than as an exploration of one man’s greed. It may be a Hollywood melodrama, but it is in the top of the range. It gives Clooney and Roberts every opportunity to demonstrate star power, and the refreshing opportunity to create a picture about anti-heroes rather than super-heroes.

Side Note: Keep an eye out for vines at the end of the film, I promise they will ease any tension or rage you may experience throughout the film.

★★★☆☆

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Spotlight (2015)

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I haven’t posted in yonks, so what better way to come back than with my favourite flick of last year and the much beloved Academy Award Best Picture Winner, Spotlight. As controversial as the Catholic Church paedophilia phenomenon may be, I’m sure we can all agree regardless of our personal stance that this film is just … brilliant. But you need to step outside of your happy bubble to embrace the harsh reality happening just outside your doorstep.

Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has always been a low-key defender of the outsider. His early films marked him out as a craftsman of mature and thoughtful dramas, so when this phenomenon took over the media world, McCarthy was at the very least inspired. Alongside co-writer Josh Singer, Spotlight’s needle-sharp screenplay embraces the mugginess of moral compromise over the cases of paedophilia in the Catholic Church. They illustrate the true story of how the Boston Globe, under its first Jewish editor Marty Baron, took on the entrenched abusive institutions of the church in a city where Catholicism is a way of life, and police and priests are thick as thieves.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

Spotlight shifts the focus away from the church to examine how an entire community can become complicit in an unspoken crime. The journalism thriller draws excitement from joining disparate dots throughout the film, eventually taking shape to form the bigger picture. With its convincingly mundane scenes of journalists bashing phones and trawling through dusty records, McCarthy buries discernible visual styles and cinematography behind the pressing issue of script and story. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that their subject was in fact too important to be aesthetically pleasing. Instead, we’re faced with gut-wrenching stories of victim of abuse head on, and even in one case a complacent paedophile priest. You’ve been warned: this film is hard to swallow.

After his striking role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s Birdman at the last Academy Awards only last year, Michael Keaton returns once more as Walter “Robby” Robinson. He does far quieter work here than in Birdman, taking on the role of Spotlight stalwart, shaken by the extent of the paedophilia scandal. Rachel McAdams, as Sacha Pfeiffer, takes on the role of a compelling reporter who regularly attends mass with grandma, but soon rapidly begins to lose residual connection with the church as the hidden truths unfold. Pfeiffer presents us with beautiful cinematic moments that balance the distant crisis of faith with the real and present courage of conviction. And last but not least Mark Ruffalo, as Mike Renzendes. The strength of his performance is carried by his passion and long-suppressed outbursts of emotion. He gives a brilliantly calibrated physical portrayal of a born investigator.

We see the personal transformation of all of principle members of Spotlight when the truth begins to unfold. But you seriously can’t listen to traumatic abuse stories and not feel impacted. The psychological impact of their traumatic experiences are rarely explored in mainstream cinema – which is what draws me to the film even more.

I’ve come to realise that Spotlight’s greatest strength is in the way it defies being chopped into components. To its core this is an ensemble film with characters harmonising like ingredients in a satisfying meal. We’re presented with the horrible specificity of victim stories and the subsequent negligence of the community. There is really no tidy moral to take away from this film, and that is the enthralling power of this masterpiece. A story like Spotlight shouldn’t end in comfort. Instead, it leaves your skin prickling – both at the despicable business of secret-keeping and the courage and resourcefulness that rivetingly overturns it. On some dark and unspoken level, no one ever wants to know.

Would I recommend this film? Absolutely. This is my 5/5 and my 10/10.

★★★★★

 

The Immigrant (2013)

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The Immigrant isn’t just set in the past, but feels like it’s been rediscovered from another time. The latest film from award-winning director James Gray ignites outdated modes of film making and highlights the perfect details behind a luckless Polish woman’s difficulty in attaining the American dream. The intelligence, maturity and honesty of this work is outstanding and a little bewildering to say the least.

Upon arrival at Ellis Island, Ewa is immediately separated from her beloved sister Magda, ignored by her uncle and threatened with deportation back to Poland. All seems hopeless for Ewa until Bruno comes along with the promise of boarding and work at his theatre, which quickly proves as nothing more than a high-class brothel. However kindness arrives in the form of a charming travelling magician who falls for Ewa, meanwhile causing Bruno to become immensely jealous.

The Immigrant has a melodramatic edge to it, but there remains something too fragile and tense about the actress in the role. The film delivers a performance that’s quite integral and charming, but also surprisingly forceful. You can never predict the behaviour and emotions of characters intertwined in the thick plot. The immigrant is almost a fatuous love story in a world haunted by fear. Bruno and Orlando are grown men with weapons, but their devotion to Ewa doesn’t make their actions feel any less immature. For such a gorgeous, thoughtful film, The Immigrant is more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one – mainly as a result of Ewa’s commiserating but never quite heartbreaking problems.

The Immigrant is a simple love story in an undoubtedly terrifying adult world of hate, fear and abandonment. The film unfolds at its own pace, building slowly, perhaps even tediously towards its emotionally relieving conclusion.  Such an incredible movie – and so cold too.

★★★★☆