Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Director Jodie Foster goes for a 1970s throwback vibe while approaching a modern financial subject in Money Monster, a valiant but messy effort starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

Clooney plays Lee Gates, host of Money Monster, a sensationalistic financial program that features Gates dancing around the studio and making stock tips. Not all of Gates’ tips are winners—and he’s about to find out about the downside of bad advice.

Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shows up on the set as a delivery boy—but he doesn’t have pizzas. Instead, he’s got an explosive vest for Gates to put on, and a gun that says, “Don’t turn off the cameras; we are going to be here for a while!” Producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has to keep the show rolling as her host is being held hostage. Kyle lost a lot of dough on a Gates tip, and he’s here to tell us all how we are being suckered by “The Man.”

What unfolds is woefully predictable, with Clooney and Roberts laboring to make it all entertaining despite its flatness and many clichés. Obviously, the cold-hearted Gates will see not only the evil in companies he talks about on the air; he will also admit his own clumsiness. His heart will swell for his put-upon captor, and he will join him in solidarity against the evil corporate dictator Walt Camby (Dominic West), who stole Kyle’s money due to a “computer glitch.”

Foster is trying for a modern sort of Dog Day Afternoon, the Sidney Lumet classic featuring Al Pacino’s sympathetic bank robber who becomes a minor TV star as his self-created hostage crisis unfolds. Lumet happened to follow up that stunner with a little film called Network, another movie Money Monster pulls generously from on the media satire side.

Clooney gives it his all as Gates, but his character lacks a certain legitimacy, not to mention likability. The premise—his all-knowing TV host is oblivious to the true reasons for the financial collapse that caused his captivity—and his sympathies for his captor just don’t ring true.

There are many moments in the movie that defy reality. Gates and Kyle head out into the streets in a strange march toward Walt Camby’s headquarters, while New York City dwellers mock them in close proximity—even though Gates is wearing an explosive vest. It’s also strange that the lone cameraman in the studio has time to fire up a handheld and throw on a backward baseball cap in the few seconds it takes for Gates to leave the studio. I really hate stuff like that.

While O’Connell has delivered some knockout performances in the past (’71, Starred Up), he’s all wrong for this movie, utilizing an overcooked New York accent and constipated facial expressions throughout.

Roberts does relatively impressive work as the calm in the storm, although her role requires little more than saying stuff like, “Move that camera,” and “Lee, keep calm.” Roberts looks like she might have the chops to handle a low-key public-access show, so she has some options if the whole acting thing doesn’t work out.

In the end, it isn’t really clear what Foster is trying to say with this movie. Is she putting together an indictment of a society that relies too heavily on TV personalities and mobile devices? If so, big deal, because we’ve heard it all before, and that angle is no surprise. Is she going after big corporate, greedy billionaires who control too much of the country’s wealth? Again … tell us something we don’t already know.

Is she going after TV stars who look stupid dancing around in boxing gear? If so, she’s succeeded, because Clooney often looks like an idiot in this movie.

Money Monster is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Larry Kramer’s semi-autobiographical The Normal Heart, based on his play with the same name, offers up some of the best acting you will see in any movie or TV show.

Mark Ruffalo plays Ned Weeks, a character Kramer loosely based upon himself. He’s a gay journalist with a blasé attitude about love and life. When visiting a party at Fire Island in 1981, one of the revelers falls to his knees, coughing, on the shoreline. In this moment, Ned and his friends are introduced to AIDS.

What follows is a history-based dramatization of what happened to a group of men and doctors trying to raise AIDS awareness against a backdrop of citizen indifference and political blocking. The film addresses the controversial stance taken by New York City mayor Ed Koch, with the Weeks character proclaiming that their (allegedly) closeted gay mayor and politicians like him were essentially out to murder the gay population.

Ruffalo is astoundingly good here, as is Julia Roberts as a lone doctor screaming in the wilderness for people to identify the illness and find a cure. Both performers have moments in this movie that are better than anything else they have ever done.

The same can be said for the likes of Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, BD Wong, Matt Bomer, Alfred Molina and Joe Mantello. Kitsch is especially good as Bruce Niles, a friend of Weeks who essentially becomes his adversary as Weeks’ protesting tactics become more and more controversial.

HBO was already a leader in gay cinema with And the Band Played On (1993) and the amazing Angels in America (2003). This further establishes them as a leader in bold, important cinematic projects.

Who needs movie theaters, right?

Published in TV

Tracy Letts’ play came to the big screen with a big cast featuring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and others.

After a family tragedy, a group of sisters and their husbands/boyfriends return home to Texas and their dying mother (the Oscar-nominated Streep). Mom was mean when they were growing up, and she remains mean in her dying days, much to the annoyance of daughter Barbara (Roberts, also Oscar-nominated); she is doing her best not to follow in mom’s footsteps.

The cast is strong, with most of them turning in great work, including Juliette Lewis, who does her first truly good acting in a long while. The lone exception would be Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the slow sibling. He’s just all wrong for the part.

Sam Shepard makes a brief but memorable appearance as the family patriarch. While his screen time is short, his character plays a large part in the film.

The movie is super-dark and ugly, and full of people acting like true jerks. While the story isn’t anything all that new, the cast makes the film worth seeing.

The ending feels a bit tacked on; in fact, it was tacked on: The studio didn’t find the original ending to be suitable, so they insisted on this new one.

Special Features: There’s a director’s commentary (something that’s been rare on recent Blu-ray releases), deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tracy Letts’ play has come to the big screen with a big cast, including Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and others.

After a family tragedy, a group of sisters, accompanied by their husbands/boyfriends, return home to Texas and their dying mother (played by Streep). Mother was mean when they were growing up—and she remains mean in her dying days, much to the annoyance of daughter Barbara (Roberts), who is doing her best not to follow in mother’s footsteps.

The cast is strong, with most of them turning in great work—including Juliette Lewis, who turns in her first strong performance a long while. The lone exception: Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays a slow member of the family. He’s just all wrong for the part.

The movie is super dark and ugly, and full of people acting like true jerks. While the story isn’t anything new, the cast makes it worth seeing, thanks to the power of their performances.

August: Osage County is playing at the Century Theatres at the River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940); Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 760-323-4466); and the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615).

Published in Reviews

The Palm Springs International Film Festival kicked off over the weekend with some of the fest's biggest events.

On Friday, Jan. 3, the Opening Night Gala Screening, featuring the film Belle, took place at Palm Springs High School. And on Saturday was the biggest event of all: The Black Tie Awards Gala, at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times described the awards affair:

The Palm Springs International Film Festival gala or, as Tom Hanks called it, "This little, intimate, Sonny Bono rec-room chicken dinner get-together for two-and-a-half-thousand people," took place Saturday night. Meryl Streep picked up an award. So did Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Bruce Dern and Matthew McConaughey, among others.

And though they were all seated within a few feet of one another in the airport-hangar-sized Palm Springs Convention Center, these Hollywood stars were more or less allowed to eat their pot-roast dinner in peace.

That's because Bono was in the house.

That's Bono, the singer from the Irish rock band U2, not Mary Bono, the widow of another singer named Bono—Sonny, the man who started the film festival 25 years ago when he was mayor of Palm Springs.

The Independent was there; here are just a few pictures from the events. And watch all week for more coverage of the festival. Enjoy!

Published in Snapshot