Posts Tagged ‘Jodie Foster’

It feels like a bit of a coincidence that Jodie Foster’s Money Monster should turn up on UK screens the week after A Hologram for the King, because these are both essentially star vehicles about businessmen having existential crises, with the subtext of the story pretty heavily informed by the aftermath of the financial crisis. Together with The Big Short, I make that three films on the topic this year alone. None of them are actually bad, and I did enjoy The Big Short very much, but why has it taken seven or eight years for Hollywood to get around to addressing this stuff? They were rather quicker off the mark when it came to the September the 11th bombings and the subsequent unpleasantnesses.


Hey ho. Money Monster is certainly the most generic of the three films I’ve mentioned. George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a gonzo stock market commentator and financial tipster who fronts a (quite tacky) daily show on a (presumably fictitious) TV network. He is, as you can probably guess, a deeply flawed, cynical human being, thoughtless towards his co-workers (mainly his director, played by Julia Roberts), full of himself – in other words, ripe for a transformative experience.

And lo, one comes along with immaculate timing, as the show is hijacked by angry viewer Kyle (Jack O’Connell, another instance of that weird thing where someone off Hollyoaks or Emmerdale somehow manages to land a sizeable part in a proper movie). Kyle is not pleased, because having followed Lee’s advice scrupulously, a freak meltdown has wiped out his $60,000 life savings and he would like an explanation. Surmising, probably correctly, that people like him are not often listened to by wealthy financial players, Kyle sticks Lee in a suicide vest and threatens to blow him up unless chapter and verse on what went wrong is forthcoming…

You see what they’ve done there? They’ve come up with a way to have a film which has lots of potentially fruitful character stuff, and addresses important contemporary world issues, but is also built around a time-honoured dramatic staple – in this case, a hostage crisis. All the bits and trappings of this sort of story get wheeled out – the police turn up and start talking to each other using words like ‘perimeter’ and ‘clear shot’, people in bars notice what’s happening on the TV and gather round to watch, you know the drill. A bit of wrinkle this time round is that a lot of this peripheral stuff happens on a global scale – places like Iceland, South Africa, and Korea – and I initially assumed Foster was making a point about the interconnectedness of the modern world. It turns out to be something more specific to the plot, but I think this is still left implied.

Foster orchestrates the story very adroitly, keeping all her plates spinning – there’s the stuff in the studio, the police operation to resolve the situation, and another plotline about an executive (played by Caitriona Balfe) at the company where the freak meltdown occurred trying to discover exactly what happened and getting more than she bargained for. Just for a touch of flavour and to keep things from being too worthy, Foster introduces an element of black comedy into the story that I honestly hadn’t expected – various attempts to sort everything out, which you might expect to have some traction in this kind of film, spectacularly fail with darkly funny consequences.

And it’s all very solidly done – the actors are all on form, the genre elements are well-handled, and the social comment stuff is pertinent without feeling too preachy. To be honest, it kind of feels like the film cops out a bit on this aspect – rather than sticking with the idea that the financial system is inherent flawed and that sooner or later things will fall down and people will suffer as a result, Money Monster reveals that the mini-crash driving the plot has a rather different origin. But then this is a mainstream picture from a big studio, it was never going to be in agreement with the manifesto of Occupy.

The climax of the film strains credulity a bit, and it is perhaps a shame for some elements of the conclusion to be quite so predictable, but on the whole this is an entertaining film with just enough intellectual chewy bits to make you feel good about yourself for watching it. It’s unlikely to go down as a career highlight for any of the major talent involved, but it passes the time very agreeably.


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When someone comes straight out of the trap and makes a brilliant, brilliant film at the first attempt, you’re naturally delighted, but also perhaps a little wary: could they have peaked too soon? How can they live up to the weight of expectation thus created? This was kind of how I felt when Neill Blomkamp announced himself to the world with District 9 four years ago: one of the great SF movies of the 21st century. Now he has returned with Elysium, a film which – if we’re honest – perhaps cleaves a little too closely to District 9 in terms of its content, theme, imagery and style.


On the other hand, this is a major studio release with a big budget and A-list stars, and an accordingly conventional feel in places: which is to say that in places it quotes liberally from the Big Book of SF Cliches, starting with the voice-over explaining how the world went to rack and ruin in the latter part of the 21st century. By the mid 2150s anyone with money and sense has left the planet and is resident on Elysium, a space habitat in Earth orbit, where they all live the life of Riley with swimming pools and non-stop garden parties. Down below on Earth, of course, no-one has even seen a cucumber sandwich in decades, with the majority of the population trapped in vast, squalid slums while a lucky few toil away in degrading, menial jobs. The proles are policed by brutal robot enforcers, backed up by the occasional human operative.

Anyway: our protagonist is Max (Matt Damon, who – bemusingly – was only offered the part after Eminem turned it down), a petty crook turned factory worker. Once he had dreams of moving to Elysium himself along with his friend Frey (Alice Braga), but now he has accepted that it’s just not going to happen and his life is essentially worthless. However, receiving a fatal dose of radiation in an industrial accident leads Max to reconsider this – he has only days to live, unless he can avail himself of the miraculous medical assistance available up on Elysium. But how to get there? Hooking up with an old pal who still has underworld connections, Max agrees to take on the dangerous job of stealing the contents of the brain of a top Elysium tycoon, in return for which he will be smuggled up to the Orbital.

It’s a lot less like Inception than it sounds, I promise. What follows is somewhat complex, mainly due to the political machinations of Elysium’s icy security chief (Jodie Foster) and the violent excesses of her chief agent (Sharlto Copley giving another eye-catching performance), and not without a few improbabilities along the way. But in the end, in many ways it adheres to the District 9 template, in that it is a serious, good-looking SF movie with striking visuals, fun gadgets and technology, and a nice line in violent mayhem. What’s missing is the black humour and the wit and invention of the earlier movie – convoluted though the story gets, the actual throughline in terms of characters arcs is very straightforward, and I guessed the ending about halfway through (and it isn’t even as if I sit there trying to anticipate these things).

I don’t want to be too hard on Elysium as it is a proper SF movie for grown-ups, not a remake, a reboot, a sequel, or too obviously derivative of any other movie in particular: and that really does make it quite distinctive these days. (It’s also arguably the first really good cyberpunk movie in ages, long after Hollywood seemed to have given up on the subgenre and moved on.) The production designs are beautiful and the technology, on the whole, convincing – although Copley’s pocket force-field generator seemed to me to be a little too Star Trek. And central to the advertising, though not really essential to the story, is the cyborg exoskeleton into which Max is plumbed quite early on. I get the impression this was more of an idea Blomkamp thought was cool than anything else, because as plot devices go it doesn’t really do much. (As Damon is surgically bonded with it through his clothes, I found myself wondering what he did when he needed to, er, take his trousers off. The film has loftier concerns, needless to say.)

I suppose that in the end, part of my dissatisfaction with Elysium stems from the slightly hackneyed script, but also because the film does that mildly annoying thing of not wanting to be just a dumb SF action film and then never quite following through on its ambition. It’s a bit like In Time in that you don’t need to be John Clute to figure out that the movie’s world of haves and have-nots, with limitless medical care and support for a few and barely anything for the rest (and the differences between life on Earth and that on the Orbital and presented almost solely in terms of the healthcare available), is a thinly-disguised commentary on the state of healthcare availability in much of the real world. You’re never in doubt that where the film’s heart is at – like any other decent person with a brain and a soul, Blomkamp clearly thinks that free universal healthcare should be a no-brainer for any civilised society worthy of the name. And yet for a film apparently aspiring to address a real-world problem, it doesn’t have anything to offer in terms of real-world solutions. The film’s argument in favour of universal healthcare is almost entirely sentimental, and implied at that – the plot is actually resolved by a big action sequence, a Maguffin, and some computer hacking. Quite what’s going to stop the original status quo being restored PDQ is not made clear, unless the characters at the end of the film are now living in a socialist state governed and enforced solely by machines: an unusual conclusion for an American-financed SF blockbuster, to say the least.

I think I’m being too harsh on a film which is well made, directed, and acted, and the sentiments of which I broadly agree with. And, after all, Elysium is a big-budget socialist cyberpunk movie, which manages to comment on the state of the world’s healthcare while still including men in cyborg exo-skeletons having fistfights in space. So it has a certain sort of uniqueness to its credit, if nothing else. Creditable: that’s a good word for Elysium. It’s no District 9, certainly: but it’s a lot better than the likes of the Total Recall remake, too. I would applaud it for its ambitions rather than dismissing it for failing to realise them perfectly.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 6th 2006: 

Hello again everyone, and welcome to another edition of the film review column that doesn’t know quite as much about the English education system as it thinks it does. This week I was hoping to share with you my thoughts on (the apparently hilarious) Basic Instinct 2, but scheduling problems meant that this hasn’t worked out — hopefully next time [In the end I had to go to Japan to see this movie – A]. Instead, I went to see Spike Lee’s Inside Man, what on paper looks like a rather generic thriller and an odd choice of project for this famously politicised film-maker. However, as in the plot of the movie, not all is as it seems.

On an average day in Manhattan, proceedings at a wealthy and respected bank are disrupted by the appearance of devious mastermind Dalton Russell (Clive Owen doing a reasonable American accent) who leads a crack team of people called Steve in an audacious raid on the institution, barricading themselves inside and taking the staff and customers hostage. The NYPD being really quite sharp, they fairly soon notice what’s going on and send in detective and trained negotiator Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) to try and sort it all out painlessly. However the situation is more complex than Frazier suspects, as the chairman of the bank (Christopher Plummer) has a very personal reason to worry about the crooks ransacking his vault, and sends in ruthless political operator Madeline White (Jodie Foster) to resolve things to his own satisfaction…

Well, the first thing to be said about Inside Man is that it is a tremendously slick and polished, thoroughly solid piece of entertainment. The plot is fairly complex but never obscure, the situation is genuinely involving, and it’s very well performed by a quality cast (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Willem Defoe play two of the other cops backing Washington up). This isn’t the most original scenario for a thriller – Russell Gewirtz’s script acknowledges the debt it owes to Dog Day Afternoon, amongst other things – but the plotline concerning Foster’s character gives it a new spin, and it’s not afraid to lighten things up with moments of dry comedy either. Washington is charismatic and, as ever, believable as a man caught up in machinations he doesn’t entirely understand at first, while Owen is very nearly as good, especially considering he’s playing a character we learn almost nothing about and who spends most of the film masked. The script is playful and deceptive, only losing its pace and focus slightly near the end once the siege at the bank is over and the aftermath of the situation is playing itself out. There is of course a twist in the tale, but I think you would have to have seen virtually every episode of Mission: Impossible to figure out what it is.

In some ways this is a rather old-fashioned, seventies-style movie, and Terence Blanchard’s muscular soundtrack seems to be acknowledging this. But in others this is a very contemporary film and one senses that this is why a fairly radical director like Spike Lee took the movie on. This isn’t an overtly political film but the plot does fundamentally revolve about the exploitation of minority ethnic groups – to say much more would be to spoil the plot. The film seems to ask who is really worse, the bank robber or the corporate raider, and isn’t afraid to load the dice in favour of its preferred answer, going so far as to make Owen’s character seem rather more sympathetic than Plummer’s. Lee can’t resist throwing in a few incidental jabs about modern race relations either – there’s a fairly long sequence where a Sikh who works at the bank gets mistaken for an Arab suicide bomber, roughed up by the police and has his turban confiscated, and another with a droll parody of the Grand Theft Auto franchise and its glorification of the gangsta lifestyle, neither of which is strictly crucial to the plot. Lee directs confidently, with lots of long takes and tracking shots, although at least one of his grand flourishes ends up looking unintentionally funny – at one point a close-up on Washington, supposedly running flat out, looks instead like he’s being wheeled along on a trolley – mainly because he very obviously is!

But this isn’t a heavy or preachy film, and all this stuff is by no means crucial to enjoying what it has to offer. Inside Man is at heart a genre piece, but it’s made with such wit and skill and energy that one almost doesn’t notice this. Very enjoyable indeed – recommended.

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