Deepwater Horizon Review


Written by Nelson Cumming

I originally didn’t care about seeing Deepwater Horizon until a friend recommended it to me and when I learned about the subject matter. I’m glad I listened and learned. Learning is good. Listening is good. Everything is good. There are good performances, tension, and explosions. Yes, you heard me, explosions. I praised explosions.

Well, explosions are what you expect when you mix gallons and gallons of crude oil spurting out at high pressure with a single spark. This movie is based on the true story of the BP oil spill and the majority of the story consists of the workers trying to escape the oil rig that’s burning down in front of them.

Explosions, Explosions, Explosions

To elaborate on the explosions I believe they helped add narrative stakes to the story. In other words, I believed in the threat of death that the majority of characters are trying to avoid. There are about twenty to thirty minutes of explosions during the narrative climax. That’s enough to make Michael Bay jealous expect that in Deepwater Horizon, the explosions served a purpose.

Dedicated Cinematography

What I also cannot believe is the effort a cinematographer called Enrique Chediak does. He is doing long shots of the oil rig and spins the camera nearly 360 degrees around the large area, he gets the low angle close-up shots of the workers being flung around the room like a ragdoll, he also gets into the ocean and shoots footage of the pipes from the inside struggling to handle the pressure. He was awesome.

A Trinity of Good Acting

The other thing I have to compliment on is the performances of Mark Whalberg, Kurt Russell, and John Malkovich. Whalberg plays his role as the hero with determination, knowledge and empathy for his workers; Russell is the Commander in Chief and he is just a legitimate tough guy when you see what he does under adversity and Malkovich is good at playing the cringeworthy, bad guy. Malkovich plays a BP worker.

There is great chemistry with Malkovich and Russell. You need to see the political game Malkovich tries to play and how much Russell tries to relent. Russell’s reaction to Malkovich when he realizes he caused the explosion was the best part of the story. After all the business pressure and the physical damage, you fully realize Russell is the Winner and Malkovich is the loser. The performances were not Oscar worthy but they were admirable.

Minor Criticisms: I am Picky

Despite all this praise, the movie did have a lot of little problems. Most of which happened in the first quarter The dialogue for the first 20 minutes was boring to say the least and the foreshadowing scenes were so obvious that I nearly felt patronized. They were little things but a lot of them were only mildly annoying like the feeling you get when a fly is buzzing around you constantly. At least it wasn’t as painful as a slap to the face or a kick to the crotch.

Does Deepwater Horizon match up to a lot of the great disaster movies I have seen in recent years: No. Does Deepwater Horizon leave me happy to have seen it: Yes ***1/2

Sully Movie Review

Genre: Drama
Year: 2016
Runtime: 96 minutes
Main Cast: Tom Hanks
Aaron Eckhart
Laura Linney
Main Production Company: Village Roadshow Pictures
Written by: Todd Komarnicki
Directed by: Clint Eastwood


Written by Nelson Cumming

Sully is a movie based on the real-life event of an American Airlines incident where the pilot made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. It is a 206-second incident that was stretched out into 96 minutes which is greatly executed.

Tom Hanks plays the role of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the person who decided to land an American Airlines plane on the Hudson River. None of the 155 passengers on board died, however, there is speculation that Sully and co-pilot Joe Skies (Aaron Eckhart) could have landed the plane safely at another airport. Both Sully and Skies have to prove they did the best possible server under the most unique and dire circumstance.

Hanks and Eckhart are awesome together

I was invested in both these actors roles. Eckhart and Hanks have good chemistry as they play off each other. After London Has Fallen, it is a sigh of relief that Eckhart plays a character that is treated as a significant player in the movie. Both actors didn’t overdo their roles, they were both calm and collected. Hanks was more stoic than Eckhart but Eckhart manages to be lighthearted at the right time and place. It felt that it was crucial to have both these guys together. I believe the movie wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if Hanks was on his own.

The Flashbacks were good, with reservations

Without getting into too much detail, there are multiple flashback sequences of the airplane landing of the Hudson River. I believe that was a smart move as each flashback added a new layer to the story and it is mesmerizing. The good and bad part of the flashbacks is there was a stoic calmness to the way it was handled. It was subtly tense. The great thing about that is it’s a different direction than if everyone was screaming, running around with their heads cut off (which is tiresome and repetitive). The sad that about it is that it undercuts it’s own narrative stakes. Speaking of stakes…

The Stakes. Didn’t work completely, but they sincerely try.

There is sincerity with the narrative stakes but I just didn’t fully buy them. That’s because the way in which Sully professionally handles the plane crash in the series of flashbacks made me believe that the outcome for the main characters was never in doubt. To be fair, “Sully” had the disadvantage of a story with no villain and story that people already know. I personally didn’t know about the real life story, but I knew the outcome was a given with 30 minutes to go.

Therefore I wasn’t biting my nails thinking and asking myself questions like “Does Sully win? Does Sully lose? Will he be seen as a respected hero? Will he be shunned by the media?” They do try to incorporate stakes several times without trying too hard. They did that well, but I couldn’t buy it. It didn’t harm the movie’s quality but it ultimately prevented it from being a classic movie people will talk about once the hype for “Sully” dies down.

“Sully” is worth watching for anyone as it is entertaining throughout, from the acting chemistry between Eckhart and Hanks to the multiple depictions of the plane landing in the river and the short running time of 96 minutes makes it feel short and sweet. The event may have been 206 seconds but “Sully” Stretches it out for 96 solid minutes. It would have been more interesting if “Sully” was released in June. Only the people who saw the movie will get that joke. ****

Sunset Song Review

Genre: Drama
Year: 2016
Runtime: 135 minutes
Rating: MA
Main Cast: Agyness Deyn
Peter Mullan
Kevin Guthrie
Written and directed by Terrance Davis


Written by Nelson Cumming
Movies rarely leave me just sitting there in awe, peacefully taking in what I just witnessed by the end. This was a movie I wanted to see for months now and viewing it matched the level of anticipation. Sunset Song is a movie that seamlessly embeds itself into a story of struggle, life, and loss. It is also a great coming of age film. It is a rare feat that a movie makes you feel that you have experienced that life for yourself.

All of this is done through Terrance Davis’ direction and how he envisions his character developments being influenced by the historical events that play a subtle but major part throughout the plot. It is also helped by the good acting as well. There isn’t a bad performance.

Sunset Song is set in Scotland and starts just before the First World War. It tells the story about a country girl called Chris (Agyness Deyn) who aspires to become a teacher but events in her life take her another way. She is presented as the solid foundation for the film as the people that live with her leave, some return and some don’t. She leaves a mark on each person she lives with and they return in kind.

Above all else, Sunset Song is a film about enduring through suffering, the suffering that makes us learn and mature. It is a story about people who are victims of circumstance and the one woman who deals with it. This is a memorable film fit with so many memorable sequences including a long take that involves woman’s brother who is constantly whipped by her father but never utters a cry, and in doing so, stood up to the abusive relationship he had. Another that was an overhead shot of No Man’s Land where you know a war was fought and you felt the loss of soldiers lives even if you didn’t see the fight.

Another great thing about the movie is the pacing. The pacing is deliberately done slowly. The filmmakers give everything the time it needs for us to sink in the atmosphere and through slow camera moments and fading. It made events in the movie feel seamless The last half an hour of Sunset Song felt like one whole stretch of film despite the fact it is set in two different places. It was just a beautiful piece of filmmaking.

Sunset Song just keeps building up the momentum it needs to make a great film. It starts off ok before going to good, then great, then fantastic. It’s memorable from the first shot where sh is lying on the ground in a field of wheat to the final shot from a Scotsman playing the bagpipes to remember the departed ****1/4

Embrace of the Serpent Review

Genre: Drama
Year: 2016
Rating: M
Runtime: 126 minutes
Main Cast: Jan Bijvoet
Nilbio Torres
Antonio Bolívar
Written By: Ciro Guerra
Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
Directed by: Ciro Guerra


Embrace of the Serpent is a great and unique film. It’s one of those rare films that will have cinematic elements and story threads that you don’t see in many films and has the courage to blend it all into one great scene after another. When I first saw this film, I cannot deny that I was transfixed by it. It has ambition, great themes, and originality. After seeing this, I thought it was great but I wanted to know more about it before I made a final judgment. When I read up on it, I loved it even more.

Ciro Guerra is a great director and I have only seen one of his films (this one!). While plot-wise it sometimes isn’t clear (but easy to understand) it makes it up by the themes, the perspective of the story and the journey towards the yakruna plant. Critics have compared it to Apocalypse Now for its portrayal of the corruption of natives in the jungle, but I would argue that Embrace of the Serpent and Apocalypse Now are similar but different as they explore different dark themes.

The entire story is taken from the from the perspective of Karamakate (Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolívar respectively) but is interwoven between the two time periods from when he is both young and old. It shows Karamakate helping both Theodor and Evan, both in different time periods, find the sacred yakruna plant, each has different motives for the plant and Karamakate helps both of them reluctantly, believing both men are honest.

I believe both Apocalypse Now and Embrace of the Serpent are films that look into the bleak morbid darkness inside the souls of the corrupt and the impact it has on people. While Apocalypse Now does this through the atrocities of war, Embrace of the Serpent explores this through the rape of cultural identity through European Colonialism.

It can be argued that the only good guy in this film is the main character is Karamakate who is the last of his tribe. He, at one point, forgets his entire culture as he has been alone for decades. At this point, he is an old man, a man who is a lone wolf survivor who tries to keep himself and his identity alive even though he is the last man of his tribe. His faith is once tested when a traveler wants him to search for the Yakurna plant “for a lot of money” showing two one-dollar bills. It is the beginning of the corruption and atrocity that ensues from the people and events that surround him.

There are multiple sequences throughout Karamakate’s travels that reveal the horrors of corruption in the Amazon. These themes revolve around torture (Shown in the “buckets of rubber” scene but not actually depicted) religious assimilation and fanaticism, loss of cultural identity, the ignorance of settlers with the lack of respect or understanding of native cultures. As you may have envisioned, this is one of the darkest, yet packed films that is filled with material and ideas. You would expect Embrace of the Serpent to be either too gruesome, preachy, tiresome or crammed. But how the story is executed made it a mesmerizing experience.

The execution of this story is phenomenal. Imagine a film with all those aforementioned themes. Add great acting, black and white cinematography, smooth, visual imagery of the natural landscape, two separate stories and that interweave throughout each other through different times while making it feel effortless. All of that and you get Embrace of the Serpent, a truly unique film.

It feels like a peaceful adventure every time they travel on the river, the violence is shocking but never overdone. It doesn’t gloss anything over. It shows horror and beauty the way it is. Every scene has a purpose and a reason for existing. I kept watching because 1. Karamakate is a wholesomely good character in a bad world and I wanted him to survive it with his integrity intact and 2. The visual splendor of this movie with great detail and the picture quality is detailed and enthralling. Speaking of which, The cinematographer is unbelievable. It reminded me of The Revenant as he smoothly traversed through the wilderness at a steady deliberate pace while constantly being in the right positions that trigger awe-inspiring visuals and captivating moments both the good and the bad.

Finally, I want to say this film is comparable to Apocalypse Now but more accessible as Embrace of the Serpent is slightly less brutal, more organic in the natural splendor, and has a shorter running time. Embrace of the Serpent is not a cathartic as Apocalypse Now, nor is it a poignant film, but it is mesmerizing for what it was and is better when reflected upon. I would guess that it gets better through multiple viewings.

This film and Mustang were two films that were nominated for the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards last year. Neither won. It is starting to show me that the award for best foreign film is more important and prestigious than the award for best picture. Filled with hard-hitting themes combined with a great story and masterful cinematic flair, Embrace of the Serpent will be an absolute classic that will be worshiped by not many people in the English-speaking world. At least Embrace of the Serpent, while insignificant to the many, will be remembered by the few. *****

Me Before You Review

Rating: M
Runtime: 110 minutes
Main Cast: Emilia Clarke
Sam Claflin
Production companies: Sunswept Entertainment
New Line Cinema
Written by: Jojo Moyes
Directed by: Thea Sharrock


Written by Nelson Cumming

You know those movies that aim to constantly be poignant, romantic, yet it feels rushed? Well Me Before You is that kind of movie. Me Before You is a movie that will either attract to repel you depending on your reaction to the posters or trailers. There are things that I liked and the movie and it looked professionally made, but the material is very cheesy. Women will cry (I know. I saw them) and men will groan, but I am in the middle of the fence.

The premise of Me Before You is what you would expect from a romatic drama that tries too hard. Louise Clarke (Emilia Clarke) gets a job taking care of Will Treanor (Sam Claflin) who has recently been a paralytic man from a motorcycle accident. Will has been behaving cynically ever since the accident. Louise, with her perky attitude, tries to cheer Will up. Louise learns of Will’s intentions to be euthanized and tries to show him the bright side of life to prevent him from doing it.

What I learned from Me Before You is what to say to a woman. The scriptwriters were meticulous on Will’s dialogue as he says everything a woman wants to hear. I now know when to say “No, I’ll pay” or “No, I’ll do that job” or “I want to feel like a man who has taken a woman home” or “Take off the scarf, wear that dress with confidence”. Because of the detailed writing that was in the script, the dialogue doesn’t feel lazy. The dialogue was funny and sometimes witty. People may argue about me for that but there is one thing no one can argue: Writer Jojo Moyes committed putting the pen to the paper.

The other good thing about Me Before You is the chemistry between the Clarke and Claflin. They were believable in their acting both when they are on their own and when they are together. I believed that they loved each other and the what they talk about keeps the movie from being stale. There is one really funny scene involving the two talking about horseracing at a horse racing venue. They discuss which one is likely to win. The funniest moment in the movie is when the race starts and Clarke’s reaction to her horse’s performance.

A major issue in Me Before You is how it flippantly treats the subject of euthanasia. I just thought they used it as a plot device to gain sympathy from the audience. I got that from the way they decided only to tackle that theme at the climax. They mention it briefly throughout, but only a one-liner and never coming from the paralytic man himself (As I said, Will only says things women want to hear). Now that I am thinking about it, it was a really cynical move because it used serious material loosely and as a means to an end, and that end is to try and make us cry.

Ultimately, Me Before You has it’s moments and has good acting but it’s constantly hampered by the constant cheesiness that the movie aspires to be. It is not as bad as a Nicholas Sparks movie adaption but nor is it The Fault in Our Stars. I didn’t find Me Before You endearing as it strains so hard to make me care. All great films make caring for the characters effortless. This was not one of those films, not was it stupid film that was empty and devoid of meaning.**1/2

Sing Street Review

Genre: Musical, comedy, drama
Year: 2016
Rating: M
Runtime: 105 minutes
Main Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo
Lucy Boynton
Jack Reynor
Don Wycherley
Main Production Companies: Cosmo Films
Distressed Films
Written by: John Carney
Directed by: John Carney


Written by Nelson Cumming.

If there was a quasi-musical feel-good movie that anyone wanted to see this year, it’s probably going to be Sing Street. This is a great film. It is a movie about a flourishing guy that is living in a dying world. It is not as melodramatic, nor it is as corny. Sing Street has all the makings of what a feel-good movie should be. This movie can be enjoyed by anyone who has had dreams or ambitions. If there is a Pitch Perfect for girls, then this is the Sing Street for guys. In saying that, Sing Street is for nearly any young adult at the very least.

It’s odd writing the premise down as on pen and paper, it sounds like a tired trope. But here it is: The story is about a kid called Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who wants to start a band called Sing Street to get the girl (Lucy Boynton) that he wants, but little does he know that it’s the gateway to something more. He learns through his older brother and his school that there is more to life than living in a miserable environment. It’s the sort of story where you root for the kid from the start and it’s also a movie where you hope everyone finds happiness.

What was so awesome about this movie is that everyone has a moment in the sun. The one person that I applaud in the movie is the older brother Brendan (Jake Reynor) as he teaches Conor about the rock and roll culture and lifestyle. His form of homework is giving his younger brother vinyl records and lecturing about rock and roll philosophy. He does this despite his past failures and dealing with his own struggles. He plays the role that mixes with a no-bullcrap persona mixed in with a genuine care for what is going on around himself. There is also a school bully who looks like a complete meathead and ends up being a fantastic roadie for the band.

Perhaps what is the highlight of this movie is that the character progression of Conor and the band itself which is shown through the evolution of their music and personas. At the start, the band’s costumes are an utterly inconsistent (one is gothic, another is a cowboy, another is a flashy blue suit), their music videos are so campy and are shot with a handheld camera. As the movie progresses, so do their costumes, their videos, and their music. The climax of this evolution occurs at an indoor high school basketball court with about eight dancing girls. The camera is close up to the singer. When the song starts, the camera slowly turns around not to the eight dancing girls, but something that is truly speculator. I have heard this is called the “Prom Sequence” Funny thing is it only occurs at the halfway mark but it’s a moment that will be etched in my mind for months to come and it’s my favorite scene in the movie.

Another great thing about this are the songs. If there is an album for Sing Street I will buy it. All the songs fit perfectly for a movie like this. The songs are from The Clash, A-Ha, Duran Duran and many others. It was catchy and fun to listen to (I was lip singing to the songs that I knew). It’s essentially 70’s and 80’s rock. The music isn’t played with an attitude with middle fingers in the air, but rather a fist in the air of freedom, making the moments in life count and fits with the moments in the story.

If I would sum this movie up to a man on the street I would say “Sing Street is everything a feel-good movie should be” After seeing Sing Street, I went on a bus and as I crossed the Harbor Bridge and looked up at the tall pristine buildings that were glistening by the harbor. It was a mixture of catharsis and ecstasy. At that fleeting moment, I believed that the world was my oyster, just like rock and roll was Colin’s oyster. ****1/2

The BFG Movie Review

Genre: Adventure
Year: 2016
Rating: PG
Length: 117 minutes
Main cast: Mark Rylance
Ruby Barnhill
Penelope Wilton
Written by: Roald Dahl
Christopher Abbott
Melissa Mathison
Directed by: Steven Spielberg


The BFG is a movie suitable for children and for most of those who are familiar with the book. Steven Spielberg puts some of his magic in the movie but he takes his time doing it. When I say Spielberg takes his time, I don’t mean at a leisurely pace where the audience just takes it in. What I mean is that he takes his sweet ass time before he creates momentum and payoffs. At least it’s good when the momentum and payoffs arise.

The BFG is the story of an unlikely friendship between a girl called Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the BFG or the Big Friendly Giant. The BFG kidnaps Sophie because she saw him when he wasn’t meant to be seen. The BFG take Sophie to his home in Giant Country. Sophie and The BFG develop a friendship throughout the movie. However, all the other giants love to eat “human beans” and Sophie and The BFG have to find a way to defeat the giants.

The BFG is a movie where the animations are beautiful and is something that kids are going to love. Spielberg has the talent of making blockbuster adventure movies for both kids and adults. There are scenes in The BFG that are bright, vibrant and colorful such as a dream catching scene and the scene where The BFG disguises himself with his cloak to prevent being seen by humans. The way the animation team has done his movements seem effortless while delivering you into the world of fantasy. It is just a shame that those animation techniques only go so far.

The problem about The BFG is that they take forever to get anywhere. There is lots of dialogue in the movie and it is a hit and miss. You would think the comedic dialogue would fall flat and the dramatic dialogue would be great. The exact opposite happened in this movie which surprised me. There was too much dramatic dialogue making the movie feel long. I honestly believe the movie makers thought it was poignant but it just fizzled out and kept fizzling out where there would be long periods of boredom from me. The movie is 117 minutes long and I don’t feel that a simple kids film like this needed to be that long

What didn’t fizzle out, but made it lively was when the comedic dialogue took the place of the dramatic dialogue. There is one scene involving The BFG, Sophie and the Queen of England having lunch that was the best scene by leaps and bounds. Everything in that scene was perfect. The slapstick worked, the chain of events that made the scene funnier and funnier worked, the dialogue worked, the timing worked and the acting worked. More specifically, It was a scene involving the queen and a green fizzy drink. This scene stood out. If there was an award for best fart joke of 2016, this movie would win it with no hesitation or reservation.

There were other comedic scenes that also worked well for me as well, but the greatest thing about all of them was that the humor was such childish humor that worked so well. The humor was inherently stupid but worked so well that I after I laughed, I was stunned. In hindsight, I how thinking “How the hell did the writers, Spielberg, and the actors make me laugh like that?” but they did and they did it well.

I guess you can say The BFG has lots of things riding on it (acting, comedy, animation) but I wished the movie wasn’t bogged down in slow narrative pacing and excessive dramatic dialogue. I don’t even think the dialogue was that bad, I just felt they didn’t know when to stop. Unfortunately, for me, it hurt the overall quality of the movie significantly despite the fact there are lots of good things in The BFG **3/4


Mustang Movie Review

Genre: Drama
Year: 2016
Rating: M
Starring: Güneş Şensoy
Doğa Doğuşlu
Elit İşcan
Running time: 97 minutes
Country: Turkey, France, Germany
Language: Turkish
Written by:
Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Alice Winocour
Directed by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven


Written by Nelson Cumming

Mustang is the first foreign movie I have reviewed. My first taste of reviewing foreign films has been great. This is a movie with a premise that could have filled with clichés and tiresome movie tropes. But with the direction of Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang manages to portray the characters and themes with a delicate grace and effortless beauty.

Mustang tells the story of these five girls living with their conservative father and grandmother. These girls are at the period in their life where they want fun and liberation from their strict rules and guidelines that they live. They are not allowed games or, phones or any form of entertainment. The movie shows the battle between the girls choosing their destiny and their father and grandmother who want to choose it for them.

I thought the performances from everyone was great, especially the father. I believe that he was important in the story, as was nearly everyone in the movie. It is hard to find a bad performance. The father brought edge-of-your-seat tension in the climatic scene and his young daughter called Lane is a girl that represented the purest form of freedom and wonder. All the young girls want to break free from the traditions of their household, but she plays the guiding light amongst all of them. She plays the role beautifully and with such conviction. She is guided well by a great cinematographer.

Speaking of the cinematography it is a delight to see. The cinematographers David Chizallet Ersin Gok make the whole movie easy to watch as it is either shot in a way that makes you feel relaxed while watching it or he would get better close-up angles that made me understand why these girls want to have fun. The movie shows that fun is natural and you understand why these characters break the rules of their household. The story doesn’t celebrate hedonism. It celebrates freedom as a cathartic experience. The cinematographers aren’t as great at shooting sublime awe-inspiring things like Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, Gravity, The Revenant) but is great at small, minimal things that create beauty and life toward a scene.

The script is also well written. There are lines that deliver great poignancy and emotional payoffs are earned. There are also a couple of comedic lines and quips that worked while not breaking the brevity of the moment. There is a scene where one of the girls is going to be given as a dowry (which she doesn’t want but is being forced to) and she is at the family table with her soon-to-be husband. The grandmother says to her “how well do you know each other” and she responds “by face” with contempt in her body language and facial expression. The scene worked really well by the delivery of the line and it makes me chuckle a little, yet I understood her pain. There are also funny lines that the grandmother says that are just brilliant. She gets one scene to herself and she owns it.

There is an emotional payoff at the end of the movie that was shot so well and it was so uplifting and I thought, “This is a great movie”. No sooner should that thought enter my head that there is an even better emotional payoff at the final shot in the movie. This is a movie that had a premise that could have been overused tripe, but the filmmakers turned it into something that is impressive and so awe-inspiring. This movie is one of the rare exceptions where it is predictable, but you want the movie to go the predictable path because they portray an overused story from a different perspective and turned it on its head. I think if they did twists in the movie, it would have hurt the movie. I was glad that that didn’t happen.

Mustang is a different film that breaks from the mold through its directorial approach. Instead of loud action movies with tons of special effects or a comedy that tries too hard to make us laugh Mustang is a movie that shows simplicity. It gives you air to breathe, it is two hours longs and feels like 90 minutes. It is a movie that is life-affirming despite the dark themes that surround it. Mustang is an undeniably great film. ****3/4

Money Monster

Genre: Action/ drama
Year: 2016
Rating: MA
Length: 98 minutes
Main Cast: George Clooney
Julia Roberts
Jake O’Connell
Main Production Company: The Allegiance Theater
Written By:Alan Di Fiore
Jim Kouf
Jamie Linden
Directed by: Jodie Foster


When I saw Julia Roberts with her natural hair and had a role that required her to be more than one-dimensional it showed how much, Jodie Foster is right now than Gary Marshall who put Roberts in that awful movie called Mother’s Day. Money Monster is a mixture between The Big Short and Captain Phillips as Money Monster uses ideas from these movies. I don’t think those ideas were used to their fullest potential but what Money Monster achieves is an engaging story with good acting and realistic dialogue. Despite the ideas not being fully utilized, I could see what Foster was trying to do. There is a lot to like about the movie and I was one happy customer.

Money Monster starts off with an egocentric broadcast presenter Lee Gates (Clooney) who tries to make news about economics and the future of performances in various markets entertaining with his antics. During a live broadcast, Kyle Budwell (Jake O’Conner), an armed civilian, holds the studio hostage on live television due to Budwell losing everything due to a misinformed tip from Gates about the market. With the Julia Roberts character as the studio executive speaking to Gates on his earpiece, they have to find a way to diffuse the situation.

The elements that are brought in from Captain Phillips was the idea of a man holding up a crew for the majority of the movie only for the gunman to not being a villain but rather a tragic figure who is a victim of circumstance. When worked well, this idea can bring lots of audience engagement through tension and intensity. Money Monster delivers that idea in the first two-thirds of the movie, up until all the characters move outside the studio. There is one moment with an actress called Emily Meade who plays Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend. She talks to Kyle through an audio feed. The dialogue and her execution of that dialogue were so harrowing that it kicked the tension up a whole new level for me, even more so by Kyles reaction to it. It was also the last thing I expected. However, the intensity was weakened the moment everyone went outside, like tension and the gravity of the situation was noticeably deflating, it was still decent, but I was unsatisfied with the payoff to something that built-up so well. It was a 4 and a half star build up with a 3-star payoff.

The ideas that Money Monster presents that are akin to The Big Short are many to which I cannot reveal specifically (I don’t like spoiling it for you readers!) I can say it is about white collar crime and economics (The movie title does say Money Monster for a reason). Foster plays those ideas effectively with Jake O’Conner’s character as he is constantly doing these exposition-like rants about injustice in a capitalistic society throughout. So, as usual, I was pumped for the final pay-off because the build-up was well executed. The payoff is not a great as it could have been as it felt rushed and was secondary to a subplot that I won’t reveal because that too will spoil the ending. I will say that subplot gave character development in George Clooney’s character and gave him a third dimension, but in a movie like Money Monster, I think the power of the economic themes were the most important element to be presented.

So Money Monster is not a great movie as the entire movie was not great, nor is it an average movie with fleeting signs of greatness. It is better than an average movie with a lot of great build-ups, dialogue and chemistry between actors followed by decent emotional payoffs. Even at it’s weakest the movie was good, to which some movies cannot even achieve that. I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. ***3/4

The Lady in the Van Review

Year: 2015

Rating: M

Length: 104 Minutes

Starring: Maggie Smith

Alex Jennings

Jim Broadbent

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Nicholas Hytner





Written By Nelson Cumming

Maggie Smith plays an old homeless lady (that smells) who lives her life in a banged up van in an affluent snobbish neighborhood in The Lady in the Van. She does play a convincing role is a not-completely-convincing movie. The main criticism of this film is it’s slow and tedious plot development at the beginning and the uncertainty on which character is the lead. However, the film eventually gains some traction and ends well. Allen Bennett as the co-lead playing as a playwright and an author. Both Smith and Bennett have some chemistry as Bennett plays the foil to Smith’s character’s antics. However the payoff in the last 20 minutes is predictable but well done, but do not expect to be blown away at this film at all. It is a good film in of itself. I’ll give it credit for that.

Maggie Smith plays an old homeless lady living in her van in an upper-class snobbish neighborhood that mostly frowns upon her homelessness. Not that she succumbs to these insults; she fights back with words and funny dialogue. However throughout the film, she struggles with her moral conscience and is annoyed whenever she classical music (It’s like a trigger reaction). It is inferred in the beginning why she exhibits those emotions and stressful feelings, but it become more explicit at the end. Her only friend in the neighborhood is Allen Bennett, a lonely man who observes her behavior across the street and writes his observations about her in a journal and forms it into his story.

The narrative pacing in the first third of the film is very slow and almost stagnant. I was always asking myself “What is going on? Where is this film going?” I do not know if slow narrative pacing is the style of British filmmaking or if it is just the movie. If it is the former and British audiences like it, then it is a sad day for me to adapt to the sluggish pace. Nevertheless, once when Maggie Smith starts changing the look of the van, things start to pick up a bit.

This film does have its mildly funny moments, but they are few and far between. When one of the snobby neighbors sees Smith’s car parked right next to their driveway, he asks rudely why is parked her van there. She responds along the lines of “I was reading the Christian car manual about how to park a van straight along the curb, and I believe that this spot makes good Christian parking.” If there were more lines like that in the script, it would have been a really good movie. There are a couple of remarks like that but are spread too few and far between to be consistently funny. Nevertheless, her delivery was spot on for her character.

Another criticism is the predictability of the ending. The main plot revolves around several questions that were in my head surrounding the Maggie smith character such as what she has done that is so horrific that she always prays for redemption? And why does she despise listening to music? From what the film infers in the beginning, I could sort of tell how they were going to end it and it was exactly like I predicted. I dislike predictability in lots of movies. Despite saying that, the ending was actually good enough to warrant it as decent.

The final and the most important critique I have are the constant narrations from the Alan Bennett character. This is because it is so constant and his observations from his house are so frequent I began wondering what The Lady in the Van was centering the character along. Was it Maggie Smiths character and the way she lived her life? Or was it Alan Bennett’s character that was observing Maggie Smith’s life through the window? There was little synergy between the two that the plot was almost darting up and down between Alan Bennett and Maggie Smith with the two occasionally meeting up together. That part just didn’t make much sense for me.

The one character that most people want to see in this movie is Maggie Smith. When she is on, she is on. There are a variety of emotions that she has to portray in her role, which is done in her usual charming way. There are moments where she is meant to feel helpless, strong, joyous, frail, afraid and annoyed and she plays around with it effortlessly. Without Question, she is the star of the show.

Despite the fact the plot was slow and predictable and the confusion of who plays the leading role. The lady in the Van sort of mitigates these errors and is given a little life by Maggie Smith’s performance***