Thursday, May 19, 2016


The George Clooney & Julia Roberts hostage yarn “Money Monster” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) turns up the heat on Wall Street, but its uneven shifts between comedy and drama make it difficult to take seriously.  Mind you, any movie that skewers the financial services industry is welcome because these opaque institutions need more transparency than they have offered for their enigmatic machinations.  One day, perhaps, we may know what the money brokers are actually doing with our hard earned dollars.  Meantime, Wall Street has always struck me as a crap shoot.  Either you run huge risks to reap huge rewards or your audacity pays off in dirt rather than pay dirt.  “Home for the Holidays” director Jodie Foster and scenarists Jamie Lindon of “Dear John,” Alan DiFiore of TV’s “Grimm,” and Jim Kouf of “National Treasure” make this problem a glaring point in “Money Monster.”  Unfortunately, most of us already know this because we’ve watched either Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” (1987) or his belated sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (201o).  As for the claustrophobic hostage crisis that unfolds for three-fourths of “Money Monster” in the studio of a financial news network before the plot propels the characters out into actual New York City streets, you’ve seen it covered in more compelling movies like Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) or Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” (2006).  Superficial, uneven, but above-average, two-time Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster’s fourth film as a director suffers primarily because the male characters are anemic.  For a change, the guys qualify as airheads, while the gals are pretty astute.  George Clooney, Jack O’Connell, Giancarlo Esposito, and Dominic West amount to nothing less than nitwits.  None of the guys have an inkling about anything, but the women know what to do.  At fade-out, the dames rise above the dudes.  Neither the Wall Street skullduggery nor the logistics of outsmarting an unstable, naive gunman furnish any surprises.  Indeed, the hostage drama is more compelling than the lackluster Wall Street mystery that triggers the gunman into action. If you missed the Oscar-nominated movie “The Big Short,” it details real-life Wall Street chicanery, but it is a far more complicated film to follow.  Nevertheless, despite its toothless nature, “Money Monster” emerges as a suspenseful saga, until certain revelations undercut the tension in the third act.

Lee Gates (George Clooney of “Gravity”) is a cynical Financial News Network commentator, reminiscent of CNBC’s “Mad Money” pundit Jim Cramer, and he cavorts about his studio like a carnival barker.   Meanwhile, Lee's veteran producer & director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts of “Erin Brockovich”), orchestrates the colorful graphics that enliven his on-camera antics as he dispenses stock tips for investors.  Basically, Lee relies on his savvy insights to make educated guesses about monetary matters.  Sadly, Lee’s expertise about all things Wall Street backfires on him.  Before he realizes what has happened, Lee finds himself eye-to-eye with a pugnacious goon poking a pistol in his face.  This intruder, who slipped stealthily past distracted security guards and invaded the FNN studio while the show was ‘live’ on-the-air, demands to know why Lee gave him such appalling information.  Just about everybody in this 98 minute, R-rated thriller gets caught off guard at one point or another.  A discontented, blue-collar, delivery man from Queens, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell of “Unbroken”), knows zilch about the financial industry except what Lee Gates predicts.  He prompts Lee at gunpoint to don a vest packed with enough explosives to flatten a city block.  Kyle brandishes the detonator in his other fist and warns everything about the consequences if he loses his grip.  The only individual in the studio with a clue about what to do is Patty.  She produces and directs Lee’s stock tips show.  She gives Lee his cues and instructs the crew where they must be whether they are operating cameras or loading graphics.  Patty galvanizes not only Lee, but also her crew into action to contend with Kyle as the N.Y.P.D. swarms into the studio with their sniper response unit.  Eventually, Patty convinces Lee that he should play along with Kyle.  Lee sheds his anxiety and struggles to mollify Kyle.  Poor Kyle, it seems, squandered his late mother’s entire nest egg—some $60-thousand—and invested it in Ibis Clear Capital stock.  Lee had hyped Ibis with such enthusiasm that Kyle sank every penny into it.  According to Ibis, a computer glitch occurred, and the company lost $800 million, cleaning Kyle out.  Kyle throws a temper tantrum and threatens to shoot anybody and then possibly blow Lee to smithereens while Lee and Patty scramble to unravel the secret behind Ibis’ meltdown.  Unfortunately, nothing that Lee does satisfies Kyle.  At the same time, the rest of the world has tuned into Lee’s show and is savoring the ‘live’ showdown. 
If Kyle weren’t enough of a nuisance for Lee and Patty, the N.Y.P.D. poses another problem that generates white-knuckled suspense.  When the police aren’t quietly evacuating the FNN staff, they are sneaking into position to end the confrontation with their snipers.  As it turns out, beleaguered Captain Powell (Giancarlo Esposito of “The Scorch Trials”) is stunned when his men want to shoot at the bomb vest that Lee is wearing rather than at Kyle!   The snipers assure Powell that they have an 80 percent chance of success at blasting the detonator off the bomb.  Eventually, word reaches Lee, and he wields Kyle as a shield.  Powell rejects their strategy as outrageous.  Meantime, the globe-trotting, duplicitous, Ibis CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West of “300”) makes the foolish mistake of flying into New York to present his side of the story.  During this chaos, the N.Y.D.P. coaxes Kyle’s wife Molly (Emily Meade of “Trepass”) on-camera in the hope that she will persuade Kyle to put down his pistol.  Instead, an irate Molly berates Kyle without mercy for being asinine.  Altogether, while “Money Monster” provides nothing new about Wall Street’s treachery, but Foster compensates with taut suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat. .


“Neighbors” (*** OUT OF ****) is a riotous, gross-out, comedy of errors.   

The premise is pretty basic: a young, married couple with an infant daughter is settling into a starter home in the suburbs clash with a college fraternity when the frat takes up residence next door.  Rude and crude jokes fly like diarrhea.  Mac Radner (Seth Rogen of “Knocked Up”) and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne of “Bridesmaids”) are experiencing their first bloom of parenthood.  Kelly never strays far from her baby monitor, while Mac performs the dutiful chores as the breadwinner.  Although we don’t know specifically what kind of job he has, Mac has a boss that hates to impose himself as an authority figure on his employees.  Meantime, Mac and his newly divorced best friend Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) like to smoke pot out back during ‘joint file’ breaks.  Mac and Kelly are learning how to orchestrate their lives, particularly time for coitus, around their adorable daughter Stella.  The first scene when Mac and Kelly are humping and bumping in a chair, with Mac sitting and Kelly perched astride him, is amusing.  Stella is watching them intently with her big, round, bright eyes.  Mac gets flustered because Stella is staring at them, and he suggests they turn her around.  No sooner are they back to grinding than Mac notices that Stella has turned around and is eye-balling their every move with infantile fascination.  The trials and tribulations of these young married parents is nothing compared to what awaits them after a college fraternity, Delta Psi Beta, buys the house next door and converts it into a party hardy paradise.  Naturally, Mac and Kelly fear the Greeks will not only keep them awake but also Stella, so they plan to preempt those shenanigans.  Actually, one of my best friends contended with a raucous fraternity that moved next door to them in a residential neighborhood and created pandemonium.  In “Neighbors,” the frats and the young couple repeatedly refer to the distance—ten feet—that lies between them.

Initially, Mac and Kelly, pushing Stella in a stroller, approach the Delta Psi House and introduce themselves to President Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron of “17 Again”), Vice President Pete (David Franco of “21 Jump Street”), and the rest of the kids.  Naturally, everybody finds Stella too cute for words, while the Radners welcome the Deltas but give them subtle warning about keeping it down.  In an earlier scene, Mac and Kelly discussed the various ways they could ask the kids to keep it down.  The first night in the neighborhood, the Deltas stage a blow-out party and invite Mac and Kelly because Teddy is afraid that the couple could create trouble for them.  Mac and Kelly are determined not to behave like ‘old people,’ and they indulge themselves to excess.  Everything goes into the crapper during the second night.  Earlier, Teddy informed them that all they had to do is notify them when the noise got too out of hand.  Teddy doesn’t want them to phone the police.  After several attempts to contact Teddy and company, Mac and Kelly give up and call the police.  Erroneously, they believe that they have made an anonymous call.  They watch as the police, in the form of one cop, Officer Watkins (Hannibal Buress of “The Kings of Summer”), arrives and informs the Deltas that they have having too much fun.  Mac and Kelly watch from their front window and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller frame the shot from their perspective.  Mac and Kelly are horrified when the cop points in their direction and everybody gravitates to their front door and the young married couple is revealed to be the ones who lodged the complaint.  Mac and Kelly withdraw their complaint and the Deltas proceed to make their life a ‘hell on earth.’  

“Neighbors” bristles with pervasive drug use.  The Deltas smoke, toke, and puff with an outlandish variety of paraphernalia.  They stage parties that are virtuously as rowdy as anything that James Belushi and company held in “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”  Like the “Animal House” Delta Tau Chi Fraternity, The Deltas find themselves in hot water with the equivalent of John Vernon’s Dean Vernon Wormer.  Dean Carol Gladstone (Lisa Kudrow of “Romy and Michele's High School Reunion”) doesn’t scheme as much as Wormer did.  Nevertheless, she puts pressure on the Deltas and runs interference when the Radner complain about the Deltas.  A huge part of the problem is that the Deltas, particularly Teddy and Pete, have established new goals since they moved in next door to the Radners.  They want to make history as previous Deltas did that they can plaster on their fraternity board.  Meaning, they want to take partying to the next level.  All of this sparks a war between the Deltas and the Radners, and the oldsters are determined to run off the youngsters.  At one point, Mac and Kelly decide to sabotage the plumbing next door, and Mac manages to smash a water pipe so that the basement floods.  The Radners figure that if they can destroy the house that the Deltas will have to vacate the premises since they will not be able to pay for the improvements.  Incredibly, the Deltas turn their predicament around.  They hole a dildo yard sale and generate more than enough money to pay for their sabotaged plumbing.  Mac and Kelly decide to attack the Deltas by setting them at each other’s throats.  Kelly comes up with a plan to turn Teddy and Pete against each other by getting Pete to bed down with Teddy’s girlfriend.  Of course, the Deltas strike back at the Radners.  One of the funniest gags in “Neighbors” is the use of automobile air bags to surprise the oldsters.  These scenes are totally off the chart hilarious.  

If you love farcical humor, “Neighbors” is good, mindless, fun.  Seth Rogen has no shame, and the competition between the frats and the young married couple is lively.