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"Money Monster" Review

The most surprising thing about Money Monster is the director: Jodie Foster, making only her fourth feature film in a quarter-century and, omitting 2011's The Beaver (which had its released nuked by star Mel Gibson's image problems despite having good reviews), her first in 21 years. The surprise is compounded by the subject matter and brisk handling its tale requires; nothing she'd done before indicates a taste for such fare.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gate's a Jim Cramer-esque host of a cable TV financial show called Money Monster patterned after Cramer's Mad Money. Schlocky, with sound effects, video clips and even backup dancers, Clooney dishes out stock tips and bromides. However, one hot pick he'd pushed, an outfit called IBIS had experienced what was being called a glitch where its high-frequency trading algorithm supposedly had a problem causing the company's stock to plunge $800 million instantly, severely damaging investors.

One such investor is Kyle (Jack O'Connell), a poor sap who put his meager inheritance into the stock only to be wiped out. Wanting an explanation as to how such a "glitch" could happen, he passes himself off as delivery man and makes his way onto the set where he produces a gun and an explosive vest which he has the hostage Clooney don on live TV.

As the police lock the building down, the show's director Patty (Julia Roberts) tries to track down the MIA CEO of IBIS (Dominic West) in order to appease Kyle. Assisted by IBIS's suspicious communications officer (Caitriona Balfe), the race is on to figure out just how so much money can disappear and no one seems to really care since the ultra-wealthy are still rich and the shlubs like Kyle are invisible to the Masters of the Universe.

Despite some provocative themes - rich vs. poor, connected vs. serfs, rigged vs fair markets - Money Monster doesn't take the path down Occupy Wall Street too far, opting for a swiftly-paced thriller with corporate shenanigans plot on the side. Foster's tempo in the beginning is too brisk as they race onto the set with implausible banter, but once Kyle arrives with his delivery of the plot, things calm down and the pace digs in and the tension ratchets up. When all is revealed, it all seems a bit far-fetched, yet not that unique for a movie. Some valid targets about voyeuristic audiences and how they react to watching life-and-death situations could've had more teeth, but as with the financial games aspects, I don't think they wanted to bite too hard, settling for entertainment over incitement.

Clooney is good enough, though I never really bought his show's shtick. Roberts is good at being tense and drab. O'Connell has a weak hand dealt as a stereotypical lower-class New Yawker and looking at his bio, I see my nagging suspicion as to why he seemed cliched is confirmed: He's another English actor playing an American because we've apparently stopped making actors in NYC. Pffft.

Glossily shot by Matthew Libatique (Iron Man, Straight Outta Compton, The Fountain, Josie and the Pussycats!), Foster's foray into popcorn-level drama is ultimately as insignificant as the DJIA going down 3 points, but there are worse ways to spend an afternoon on the couch watching it.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sully" Review

No, Sully it's a movie about the big blue guy from Monsters, Inc. It's a surprisingly bland and unengaging biopic by Clint Eastwood about Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, pilot of the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight in January 2009 in which he landed his plane with 155 souls on board on the frigid Hudson River (between Manhattan and New Jersey) with no loss of life after a herd of birds knocked out both engines of his Airbus.

Focusing on the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation which is portrayed as a witchhunt seeking to blame Sully for ditching the plane when computer and pilot simulations indicate he couldve made it back to LaGuardia or landed at Teterboro in NJ, Sully jerks around from focusing on his nightmares, sometimes waking, about how it could've crashed in the city, to calling his wife, to coping with strangers going "You're that guy!, to a couple of random flashbacks of his piloting as a youth and in the military, to a recreation of the incident itself (which has some sporadically sub-par CGI VFX). 

Events seem randomly tossed out and there is no real narrative coherence as if Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki really didn't have a central thesis to hang everything else off of. The series of reveals and turnabouts at the culminating public NTSB hearing are clearly intended to rouse the audience to cheer for our hero against the mean government inquisitors, but it beggars belief that it would've gone down this way. It rings phony.

Tom Hanks is good with the limited material he's been provided, conveying the rock solid stoicism that allowed him to pull off such a piloting feat - sure, it's not as spectacular as the crash sequence from Flight, but that was total make-believe - and subsequent self-doubt as to whether perhaps he had screwed up because those government fellers sure seem pretty certain he did. Aaron Eckhart doesn't have much to do as Sully's co-pilot, but he rocks a bitchin' porn 'stache that makes him look like a baseball pitcher.

While competently made, Sully misses the points I suspect it was trying to make about how heroes are treated in a cynical world or something; it's all too scattershot and lackluster to stick, never gripping, just floating along like a plane on a river.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Pet" Review

How many times have we seen a variation of the "creepy stalker dude is obsessed with woman and kidnaps her to make her love him" story? At first blush, it seems that Pet is just another misogynistic torture porn movie until the end of the trailer has an eyebrow-raising moment. But while the trailer for Pet implies one kind of movie and hints at another angle, it manages to not give away its real surprise, which while pretty nifty, is undercut by lackluster and tired execution. They had one bright idea and didn't know how to really handle it.

Dominic Monaghan (Lost, Lord of the Rings) is Seth, a creepy loner who works in an animal shelter. He's obsessed with Holly (Ksenia Solo - Kenzie on Lost Girl; Black Swan), a waitress whom he approaches on the LA bus and then proceeds to pester at her job, following her to the bar, basically creeping her out. As indicated in the trailer, he eventually kidnaps her and puts her in a cage because of course.

While Pet takes its sweet time to set its familiar table, just over halfway through comes the whammy and while I am normally loathe to even spoil that there are twists in movies - it has driven me crazy how movie ads blatantly proclaim there's a twist so you spend the whole time looking for and trying to figure it out before it happens (the upcoming Split by Mr. Movie Twist himself, M. Night Shyalaman is being touted this way) - in this case I'm making an exception because I really didn't see it coming and even if I'd known something was coming, I would never have guessed it.

The problem is that after the twist, it all proceeds pretty predictably. Seth's efforts to hide that he's got a girl caged up in the basement of the shelter under the suspicious eyes of a security guard play out predictably and then there's the issue of Holly's ex-boyfriend or employer never seeming to notice she's been off grid for weeks, especially when Seth's contacts with her were known. No one is looking for her?

Solo is really good as Holly, providing a side of her that wasn't really shown off on Lost Girl. Monaghan is OK, limited by the script by Jeremy Slater. Spanish director Carles Torrens tries to imbue the story with a thin script with some noirish visuals, but mistakes slow pacing for dramatic buildup (a flaw of Denis Villaneuve's films).

If not for the twist and Solo's performance, there's not really much to recommend Pet because it's surrounded by familiar stock elements we've seen too many times before. It's a pity, because there is a bright idea caged up on the medocrity.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

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