Movie Review: Money Monster (6/10)

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For some reason, after watching the trailer, I was anticipating a major plot twist in the third act of this film that could have elevated this to the next level.  But it didn’t happen.  Perhaps this was why I was let down by the film as a whole.

The first two acts of the film were quite well made, with a few intense sequences and some suspense pertaining to the overall plot.  There was a conspiracy set up involving a large corporation which could have taken this film in the direction of a thriller like “The Constant Gardener”, or even “The Usual Suspects.”  But it felt as if the filmmakers, including director Jodie Foster, thought that they had delivered the film’s message through the first two acts of the film and just completely dropped by ball on the climax.

Performance-wise, while George Clooney was great during the dramatic portions of the film, he just didn’t sell me as the Jim Cramer stock-market-guru type.  Julia Roberts was solid, adding a lot to her platonic relationship with Clooney’s character.

It’s probably a good catch on Netflix or DVD, not worth going to the theaters.

Oscar Film Review#2: August: Osage County

August Osage County

Based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, the film adaptation of “August: Osage County” plays like a play; the location and set pieces are laid solely to create a stage-like environment for some of Hollywood’s finest actors to put on their best showings in hopes of garnering some attention come awards season.

And it did; Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts received Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.  They were never expected to win, but the nods by the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild (for the aforementioned acting roles as well as Outstanding Cast performance) are signs that these were very strong performances, headlining a large ensemble cast that also features Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard, and others.

It was a good show, but a show, nonetheless, as the film didn’t really feel like a cinematic experience.

The notion of following the film’s plot pretty much goes out the window after half an hour, as the majority of the characters aren’t particularly relatable.  What followed was essentially a series of dialogues where good actors do good acting, while the audience continues to be awed by how dysfunctional one family can be.

The film was slightly darker and more melodramatic than I expected, and that’s okay, as long as there is a good payoff at the end.  The one thing that bothered me most, however, is the serious flaws possessed by one of the characters, whose demeanor.  actions, and reactions reached a jaw-dropping level of absurdity.

I do want to highlight Julia Roberts’ fantastic performance, playing an enigmatic matriarch whose world was crumbling around her.  The film could have reached a whole other level if it centered around her character rather than Streep’s.

“August: Osage County” is worth a watch if you’re the type of audience that enjoys solid acting performances.  There were also a few much needed laugh-out-loud comedic moments.  But save for one brilliant plot point, it breaks no ground, and you might leave the theatre feeling like you’ve just had a huge fight with your own family.

Movie Review: “The Ides Of March”

An excellent adapted screenplay with brisk, well-paced writing.  A fantastic ensemble cast coupled with stellar performances by all, particularly its stars Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and Evan Rachel Wood.  The best part of this film is its subtlety; while Clooney the actor plays a cool but passionate politician hot on the campaign trail, Clooney the director masterfully turns the script into an incredibly realistic and intricate world in a way comparable to “The Wire”.  The subtleness of the film was efficient, as well; we don’t hear any unnecessary dialogues, we are not bombarded by tense background score for no reason.

In another review of this film, the writer claimed that the climax was hardly climatic at all because it happened off-screen.  I believe it was precisely Clooney’s point not to show this scene (along with perhaps one or two others) to the audience because they don’t contribute much in walking us through the story with the background theme that politics is a dirty game and it is no place for anyone who hasn’t cast their morals or ideals aside and do whatever they can to get what they want.

I haven’t seen Ryan Gosling in many films, but it was certain a pleasure to to watch him shine on this film, playing a character struggling to fight his own morals and ideals, and find a medium between coolheaded-ness and panic.

Praises aside, I would point out that this is a fairly straightforward political drama-thriller.  There is nothing too ‘deep’ about this film; the plot, while complex and subtle, isn’t anything groundbreaking or indecipherable.  There are no poetic imagery or allusions, although it does perhaps give us many glimpses of Clooney’s personal political views (that, or he makes his character, a Presidential candidate, say things that he’d like Barack Obama, the current President of the United States, to say).

I am always turned off of politics whenever I see films like “The Ides of March” and shows like “The Wire” because they are so realistic in depicting how dirty it is and pretty much kills any aspirations I might have had in having a life in politics, but it certainly provides the platform for great scripts and damn good entertainment.

Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright

Directed by George Clooney

Adapted screenplay by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon

Don’t Forget About Haiti – A Look at Humanitarianism

Bill Clinton visited the earthquake-striken Haiti, check out this article for more.

Clinton, the co-chair of the commission overseeing Haiti’s reconstruction, has been frustrated at the glacial pace of international aid flowing into the country. And it isn’t that nobody has donated to help the victims of the devastating earthquake, it’s just that the money has been stuck in governments, held up by a certain government maneuvers. In the case of the United States, it is a senatorial hold put in place by Senator Tom Coburn (R – Oklahoma), that is preventing the money from reaching the Haitians.

A representative from Coburn’s office claims that the Senator has been wrongfully criticized for holding the money because he is concerned about what the money would do to America’s deficits. But the thing is, America made a pledge, a pledge to send 1.15 billion dollars in aid to help victims of a horrible natural disaster. This pledge should not be broken because of (maybe) a small dent into the already ridiculous deficit. Maybe Coburn will change his mind if he leaves the comforts of America and see for himself what the Haitians are going through.

People often forget the most fundamental element of what it means to be a humanitarian, or join a humanitarian cause. It is simply to help other human beings who are in need. But this cause is often lost amidst all the media mumbo-jumbo, where petty politics and celebrity appearances eat away at the humanitarian nature of a specific cause.

The first two examples that comes to mind are the two big music hits that came about as a result of the Haiti Earthquake, which are new renditions to the “We are the World”, performed by the most popular musicians in North America today, and K’Naan’s “Waving Flag”, performed by the Young Artists of Canada.

Both songs are moving and brilliantly executed, but seem to miss the bigger picture. Singing a song and raising money is a great way to provide aid and raise awareness to the cause, but it only tells half the story, if that.

At some point in our generation, charity has become something that we do to be recognized as a loving, giving, caring people. While many people, including celebrities and business millionaires, do not receive anything in return for their work / donations, they do gain publicity, which, really, is what they want. This is one kind of charity. The other, more pure kind of charity entails that you give a part of you and expect no personal gains in return, only the betterment of those you are helping. This acts as a personal fulfillment in an abstract sense, and it should be all a charitable person should ask for.

Look no further than Angelina Jolie, an UNHCR ambassador who’s visited Pakistan in September (read the article here) to look into the flood disaster, Bosnia-Herzegovina to work on a plan to bring war-displaced kids back to school in August, and has participated in many humanitarian causes before that. She’s hasn’t gotten a lot of public exposure as a result of her work as a humanitarian; rather, the tabloid media is only interested in digging into her personal life, as if to see when she will snap at a report and create a scandal of some sorts.

George Clooney is another example of a ‘quiet’ humanitarian. Last week, Clooney visited Juba, a little known region in Southern Sudan, to inquire about the region’s independence vote on January 9, and, if the region successfully secedes, the possibility of a civil war breaking out between the North and the South.

The the mainstream news reporting didn’t cover any of this. I wouldn’t have known about it had I not gone on Huffpost and caught a small article about it.

There are subtle differences between the two kinds of humanitarianism I mentioned above, one of which is that the latter kind often actually goes to the area the cause is concerned with and really looks into the problem. I’d very much like to see Miley Cyrus go check things out in Haiti or Justin Bieber to go visit Pakistan.

Selflessness is not easy to achieve, and humanitarianism is a concept ought not to be abused for fame and glory.

George Clooney visits Sudan

Check out the article discussing Sudan’s politics at the HuffingtonPost

It’s nice to see that not all celebrities are busy making money, getting hammered, and being chased by paparazzi.

By the way, here is probably the best way to lose the paparazzi: go to Sudan.

However, it feels to me like Clooney’s efforts this time might be in vain because international humanitarian work usually fall on deaf ears amidst a turbulent economy and tense political environment (ex. Israel & Palestine).

In other news, Agnus T. Jones, who plays Jake Harper in “Two and a Half Men”, signs a two year, 22 episode deal worth $300,000 PER episode (and Charlie Sheen signs for $2 million per episode). Perhaps he should accompany Clooney and see where he could spend some of his fortunes.