With a name that sounds like a thinly veiled critique of Hollywood (or American culture in general) Money Monster opens this week at the Village 8 as an alternative for filmgoers who like tense drama but aren't into the crash-bang formula of superhero flicks. Captain America: Civil War has that angle covered and it does a really decent job. (It's also raking in the cash.)
Money Monster stars George Clooney as Lee Gates, a larger-than-life TV personality who hosts a network financial show and fancies himself some kind of whiz/guru/showman. Mixing reporting and theatrics, he makes people money.
Jack O'Connell (Starred Up) plays a regular guy who listened to Clooney's "expert" advice on a tech stock, invested everything he had, and lost it all on some kind of glitch. So he sneaks a handgun into the TV station, takes Gates hostage and kicks off a tense character drama set amongst the dichotomy of Wall Street corruption and Main Street frustration. Julia Roberts plays the TV producer holding it all together, keeping both men alive in a live-broadcast hostage situation, while simultaneously trying to find answers to just what happened to the kid's money. And the deeper she digs the dirtier it gets.
There are no pre-screenings for Money Monster; it premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday and opens wide the next day. But the fourth film from director Jodie Foster (The Beaver, Little Man Tate) looks to be a pretty intelligent take on the unfortunate blending of entertainment and news in today's media saturated environment. When everyone has access to everything, it's hard to keep their attention with "just the facts." Real journalists who once had serious criteria for how the information they disseminated and the ethics of their jobs are being forced to try vaudevillian gimmicks or purposefully inflammatory opinion pieces just to draw an audience.
"I don't think it is doing any favours for the idea of telling the truth," Foster says in an interview with What the Flick?, a YouTube movie review show that's wracked up 62 million views since 2010. (With numbers like that it's no surprise traditional broadcast is grasping at straws.)
And that sorry state of journalism should come as no surprise to astute film or culture fans either. Marshall McLuhan predicted it when he said, "The medium is the message" back in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, claiming how the news is delivered will be as important as what it actually is. And in 1976 Sidney Lumet directed Network, the classic news-as-entertainment dark comedy about a disgruntled anchorman who threatens to kill himself on air and claims all life is "bullshit." And the ratings go bananas. It was satire in 1976, but longtime readers of this column know we have already scientifically proven that life imitates art, so the underlying link between Network, Money Monster and the pundits of Fox News, that douche Kevin O'Leary, or even Donald Trump ought to be quite apparent. It's hard to see a happy solution to this problem coming anytime soon but here's hoping the classic line from Network becomes a new societal motto to invoke change across both the media and financial institutions: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
Network is the download of the week, but there are lots of other good flicks out there about money, greed and the decline of civilization. Oliver Stone's Wall Street is the most famous, but it was made in 1987, so it's likely there is a new generation out there that's ready for the definitive cinematic take on '80s greed and excess and its ramifications for the future.
The Wolf of Wall Street tackles the same topics through a more contemporary lens but the lesser-known stock trading classic is Boiler Room, a made-in-2000 flick loosely based on the same dude that inspired Wolf. Giovanni Ribisi stars as a college dropout who ends up in a shade brokerage firm cold calling investors and selling them "pump and dump" stocks. Full of Wall Street idolatry and a stacked young cast including Vin Diesel, Scott Caan, Nicky Katt, Jamie Kennedy and Ben Affleck, Boiler Room has snappy dialogue and a hefty punch that holds up even after Scorcese has revisited the same story. Last year's The Big Short is another epic look at how bad it can get.
But the fish-most-foul in the high finance pond is 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross, a flick directed by David Mamet and based on his play of the same name. A look at the lives of four real estate agents at their most desperate and cutthroat, this one is epic for its cast (Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin), its incredible profanity, and its depictions of the lengths to which people will sink to.
Money doesn't talk, it screams.