Saturday, June 18, 2016

Money Monster

Fostering the Status Quo
Crumbs and Clowns, Not Bread and Circuses

Oh, their hearts are in the right place, those makers of Money Monster. Liberals all, they want to decry how the big-money-guys are destroying the little guy by sucking the shekles out of their retirement accounts (if they have them), pension funds (if they have them), life-savings (if they have them) or any amount of disposable cash by relying on the very greed that made them who they are to obtain the "other people's money" they depend on to get rich themselves. 

It's a shell-game for the selfish. The statistics show that we have such a lop-sided social strata that the top 20% of the people have 85.1% of the assets (the largest section, the bottom 40% of the population own 0.2%). You'd think that something that top-heavy would collapse under its own weight, but it resists crashing (or even trickling down) because that's gravity and gravity is Nature, and money has nothing to do with reality, especially these days. It works only because we agree on it for the purposes of barter, but these days—as the movie points out—money isn't even cash anymore, it's only pixels in theory in denominations of 1's and 0's. A bi-polar demarcation, like the "have's" and the "have-not's."
The barker for this circus is Lee Gates (George Clooney, who might be doing another of his "Idiot" roles for the Coen Brothers), a pompous ass of a guy who goes off-script, off-time, and off-color to shuck and jive his audience by proffering investment advice (think a nightmare blend of Jim Cramer, Glenn Beck, and a sports clown) for the good of the masses when actually his celebrity and clout are mostly used to prop up cronies and folks he can use to prop up the show. If somebody in the audience makes money, hey, it can only help ratings. 
Besides "caveat emptor." He's not saying you should actually buy the stuff. it's your decision and if something goes south, tough luck, there's fine print in the terms and conditions that you should have read if you read the prospectus carefully (if anybody had encouraged you to). The responsibility is all yours.
The show thrives on machismo and surface glamour and bling. Plus, there's the implied threat that you're a wimp if you don't take chances. You don't make the green if you're fifty shades of yellow. That sort of thing. And it's glitzed up like a game show with fast talk, goofy graphics, and bright shiny objects that defy analysis because it's all in fun.
But, Gates is a pain in the wallet. He's been doing this for years and the formula works and why change? He basically goes off-script every time the red light goes on and it drives his producer-director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) nuts. But, she's good, so she can ride the Gates tsunami every night. She's tired of it, though. She's leaving the gig to go direct somewhere else, so that she, rather than watch helplessly in the control room while Gates wings it.
If she thought she had lost control before, it's nothing like the day the movie portrays. In mid-broadcast, while Gates is clowning around, a million-dollar grin on his face, the control room sees a guy hiding behind the backdrops and video-screens. He waits just long enough for Gates to see him and think he's part of some "surprise bit." That is, until Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell) pulls out a gun and threatens Gates (on live television, one might add) with a bullet in the head unless he "gets some answers."

Budwell had invested his inheritance on one of Gates' recommendations, IBIS corporation—all of it, $60,000, to make a "big score" for himself and his pregnant girlfriend—and when the investment went south, he lost everything. Now, he wants answers as to what happened in the transaction, and he instructs Gates to put on a suicide vest (which Budwell holds the trigger to in a "chicken switch" configuration) to get the officers of IBIS on-camera to admit their failures.

The head of the company, Walt Canby (Dominic West), a favorite name Gates likes to drop on the program, cannot be found—he's out of the country. The company's mouth-piece, Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) burbles homilies, platitudes and corporate lines and boiler-plate, but that only causes Budwell to shoot out the video screen she's appearing on. Normally, the talking-head would remove their ear-piece and go have a congratulatory lunch for themselves, but in this fantasy, Lester starts a one woman crusade at IBIS to find answers to what's going on. She doesn't get fired for this, which might make the genre this one is classified under as "science fiction." She makes calls to the original programmers to determine what went wrong with the algorithms of the investment plan. They say there's nothing wrong with the algorithms (proving that they are, indeed, programmers—it's always somebody else's fault) and that something else caused the fund collapse. Lester investigates further, insuring that her pension gets taken away (and forget about a good recommendation).
Meanwhile, locked in the control room, Fenn coordinates with the police, evacuates the studio, negotiates with Budwell, and also has the time to do her own investigating into the IBIS corporate structure and its dealings. I'll bet her salary is a fraction of Gates'.

Gates, for his part, sweats. And, while wearing "the vest of doom" grows something that resembles a conscience, at least under the glare of television lights. He starts back-pedaling and comes up with a plan to take Budwell out of the studio and confront Canby about the apparent fraud.
He should have looked at his own monitor. Money Monster is, itself, a fraud, no "apparent" about it. The movie tries to gin up sympathy by channeling resentment against Wall Street by personifying it with a disgruntled investor who's gone off his rocker and decided to ultimately commit suicide by cop. That's like feeling bad for the Van Heflin character in Airport because he decided to blow a plane up for the insurance (as opposed to the Maureen Stapleton character, who's left behind to pick up the pieces). Thank you, I'd rather have somebody a bit more competent through whom to channel my righteous indignation. But, then, Budwell is always a schmuck throughout this movie, it's only O'Connell's earnestness that makes you take him at all seriously. It's what the movie-makers think of all the consumers of their bright shiny objects and their bread and circuses.
They give lip-service to Budwell's plight, but the sympathies seem to be with the one percenter's among the characters, because, after all, the bad guys still get away with their schemes and Gates gets to continue his job shucking and jiving. How like the economic crisis that the film-makers are wringing their hands about. Unfortunately, wringing your hands is visually indistinguishable from the silent movies' miming for "miserly greed." Frank Capra might have done something with it, making sure that phoniness is pilloried for its cravenness, and the true villains, if not completely thrown to the mob, are, at least, exposed to them. In the end, the movie really has nothing to say other than people are getting screwed, so maybe we ought to pay attention before torch and pitchfork futures go up. In the meantime, that Budwell guy's dead, but, hey, the show must go on. Oh, and Fenn decides to keep her crappy job that she is way too qualified for. Happy ending. All smiles. Cue the "Applause" sign.
The writers might not know better than this crap. But Foster does. Clooney might. Why was this Money Monster of a movie allowed to be released with so little thought attached to it?

Money Monster is a bad investment all the way around, certainly not of somebody's time.

Post-script: it's probably a good idea I had trouble writing this review, because the shooting in Orlando imbues Money Monster with a different perspective, one the writers were insensitive to and should have brought into the mix, if they wanted to make the thing more complex (but one suspects that was never the intention, or else the ending wouldn't be so superficially upbeat. 

Because whatever motivation behind his terrorist attack, Kyle Budwell is a terrorist. What did he think he could accomplish by his actions except suicide? Did he think because his motivations are so transparent, that the actions of the other villain of the piece, Walt Camby, would be equally as transparent? Camby is, after all, in the business of making money from other people's money, and so his motivation is always to keep his machinations in secret, only to reveal the results in an annual report of earnings, the way most businesses do. How they do so, whether it be Volkswagen by rigging emissions tests or Turing Pharmaceuticals (and its reprehensible little wanted poster-creep, Martin Shkreli) raising the price of Daraprim by 5,000% or the private contractors, like Halliburton, bilking the government and the tax-payers by charging $99 to wash a sack of laundry in Iraq, is their business, shady as it is. They do villainous, often obscene, things in order to look like heroes to their stock-holders. They're crooks, one and all, but just because he is victimized by the villains does not make Budwell a hero. He's a villain, too, and a pathetic one.

It's just one more facet to what makes Money Monster a cheat, an empty suit, and a badly thought-out entertainment.

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