Gold (2016)

Rated PG-13. Running Time: 2 hours 1 min.

Our contents Ratings: Violence 2; Language 6; Sex6/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5) 4

 

For where your treasure is,

there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,

and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith

and pierced themselves with many pains.

1 Timothy 6:10

AtStockEx

Mike, Kay, Kenny & Wall Street friends launch their company on the NY Stock Exchange. (c) TWC-Dimension

Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) has inherited his prospector grandfather and father’s love of searching for treasured beneath the ground, as we see in an opening scene. In 1981 he is working in his father’s Reno, Nevada Washoe Mining office using his girlfriend Kay’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) purse as the ground from which such treasure as copper is mined. Out comes a copper item, and then sneaking in a gold watch, he pulls it out and presents it to her. She will become the under-appreciated treasure of his life, though his heart will not be with her later in the film.

Six years go by. Kenny’s father has died, the 1980’s recession has hit their firm so hard that Kenny had to give up the firm’s plush offices and operate out of the bar where Kay now works. Kenny looks like a has-been, sloppily dressed and his disheveled hair-line now receding, and his pot belly making him look pregnant. Most of his former employees also make phone calls from phones in the bar about new mining ventures. No one wants to join in, not even prosperous Clive Colson, the man whom his father once set up in the business. He will not even meet with Kenny, sending two assistants instead.

Kenny has dreams of Indonesia, and then remembers having met geologist Mike Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) years before. His “ring of fire” theory has made the geologist well-known among miners. He believes that tectonic plates in the Pacific Rim rubbing up against each other have created a wealth of minerals, including gold. Telling Kay he will be back in a week or more, Kenny snatches some valuables, including her gold watch, and pawns them so he can fly to Jakarta and meet with Mike. The latter is less than impressed at first by Kenny’s pitch to join forces, but, being desperate himself because he has not struck it rich after years of searching, agrees. Kenny gets on the phone to order his associates to make a new round of pleas to potential investors. This time because of Mike they are successful, though the over a quarter million dollars they raise will only begin to finance the project.

Mike thinks he knows the exact spot up Borneo’s the Busang River to begin digging. The sight of villagers panning gold all along its banks is reassuring as their equipment-laden boat chugs along. The steamy jungle is cleared around the area, and the drilling starts. Day after day they find nothing. Kenny spends weeks sick in bed with malaria. Their native laborers walk off the job when Kenny’s money runs out. Then comes the day when Mike announces that the assayer’s report is positive. They have struck gold. Kenny, clad in his underwear because he is only partially recovered dances with Mike in the mud. They might have the biggest gold strike in the 20th century!

If in Borneo the film reminds one of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, back home, the film morphs into Wall Street. Everyone wants in on the strike, some Wall Street sharks waving a huge pile of money before Kenny in a bid for control of his company. He is disdainful of it because it would reduce him to minority ownership. He also turns down an international gold business owner. Kay has come with him to their posh suite at the Waldorf Astoria, but her initial enthusiasm for their new life of luxury soon fades. Everyone is so insincere, as she learns when she overhears two big shots mocking Kenny as a fool. Kenny allows a woman executive to flirt with him, and so when he will not listen to Kay, she packs up and leaves for Nevada.

I also should mention that the corrupt Indonesian President Sukarno sends his soldiers to take over the mine. Suddenly all of Kenny’s friends have desert him. How he schemes his way back into ownership sounds too far out to believe that the film “is inspired by actual event”—it involves the family black sheep son of Sukarno and the petting of a Bengal tiger that you probably have seen in the film’s trailer. Kenny is up again, and then down again when an independent assayer discovers that the strike is a fraud—and thus the question of why Mike leaves the banquet hall before his friend finishes his speech accepting the miners’ association’s annual award of The Golden Pick Ax. Down and broke again, Kenny must now deal with the FBF investigators and the wrath of his disappointed colleagues, most of whom had invested their life savings in his company.

Director Stephen Gaghan keeps things moving along, using voice-overs to help us understand the film’s jumping back and forth in time and location. Matthew McConaughey must have had a ball as the gregarious, loud mouthed prospector rising and falling two times over in the business world. The upbeat ending of the film feels a bit strained, though perhaps it plays to the desire of the audience. The plot and characters (some are a combination of real life persons) come from Canada’s Bre-X mining scandal in the 1990s, which had a very different ending from that of the film’s. To compare film with history, go the Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bre-X. We might be glad for Kenny, but it certainly leaves some ethical issues up in the air. I wonder what his next step will be after the last scene fades to the credits.

This review with a set of questions will be in the Feb. 2017 issue of VP.

Money Monster (2016)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 38 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

For the love of money is a root for all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich

some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

1 Timothy 6:10

Kyl&Lee

In the studio Kyle threatens to shoot if anyone tries to intervene with his plan to seek restitution. (c) Sony Pictures Releasing

Although director Jody Foster’s film is much in line with Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ attack on the super wealthy, its bite is not nearly as deep, her film being far more of a hostage thriller than a social justice film like 99 Homes or The Big Short. However, this dramedy is well worth watching, especially the 3 minute or so hilarious scene in which young actress Emily Meade practically steals the show from its veteran cast members.

George Clooney is cable news host Lee Gates, patterned after Jim Cramer of CNBC’s “Mad Money.” In the 19th century Lee would be a traveling snake oil salesman. Today the costumed host stages bizarre routines involving hip-hop dancers to introduce each program in which he dispenses stock tips. Embellished with goofy sound effects and film clips, his outlandish show would have fit in well with the weird shows in Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. Indeed when Lee’s producer/director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is lining up a satellite connection with Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) for a story about her Ibis Clear Capital’s current problem, she assures the corporate spokeswoman that the interview will not be a grilling one, “We don’t do ‘gotcha’ journalism here. Hell, we don’t do journalism, period.”

Lee and his staff are preoccupied with their preparations for today’s show, so they do not notice that a deliveryman has managed to sneak by security and is lurking in the wings of the set. Patty does catch a glimpse of him in her monitor, but assumes he is part of her boss’s opening act. After his opening routine, Lee launches into a report that Ibis has just reported a loss of $800 million due to a “glitch.” The company and its loss are so huge that it is has having a ripple effect on the whole stock market. Before Lee can connect with Diane Lester, a young man brandishing a handgun rushes onto the set. The crew also thinks he is part of Lee’s act until the intruder fires into the ceiling to convince everyone that he is serious. The young man is angry at Lee because, based on Lee’s enthusiastic stock tip, he had invested all of his inherited money in Ibis. Lee denies ever having done so, but when the gunman angrily demands that the control room bring up the clip, Patty frantically orders a technician to search for it. Sure enough, Lee not only had pushed the stock, his recommendation was way over the top.

The smooth talking Lee tries to reason with the man while taking in information from Patty on his tiny earbud. He repeats the claim by Ibis that the money loss was due to a “glitch” in the Internet, but the gun brandisher will not accept this. We soon learn that the interloper’s name is Kyle (Jack O’Connell), who has been living in an outlying borough. Trying to build a nest egg for himself and his pregnant girlfriend Molly (Meade), he had followed Lee’s enthusiastic advice, impulsively investing his entire savings of $60 K in Ibis. During his loud rants he keeps saying what is now a signiture charge from both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, “I’m telling you it’s rigged!” Opening the boxes he takes out a vest filled with explosives wired to the detonator he holds in his hand. Forcing Lee to put it on, he explains that the remote he is holding has a dead-man button which, if he lets up on it, will trigger the explosive device.

Other networks pick up the live proceedings, and soon people all around the world are watching, including a code writer in Korea who briefly had written something for Ibis. (We will see more of him later.)The New York Police Department are out in full riot gear and stationing snipers around the building while some sneak inside air ducts and up to a high catwalk where they have clear views of their target. Kyle refuses to talk with a hostage negotiator, demanding instead that the station get the head of Ibis so he can talk with him.

During this period the police bring in Kyle’s girlfriend Molly in the hope that she can plead with him to stand down. This back-fires (in a humorous way, but only to the audience) when the angry young woman curses and roundly berates him for his stupidity, telling him that he is no man, but a born f-p. This tirade only strengthens Kyle’s resolve to continue on. (There is a very sobering moment when Kyle, fully aware that he is being targeted by the snipers, quietly tells Lee that he will not walk out of the studio alive.)

There follows an interview with Diane Lesterm, even though her immediate superior had told her not to go on the air until they could talk with CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West). The executive has been unavailable because he is in the corporate jet returning from an overseas business trip. This is where the film obviously becomes a conspiracy thriller that involves searching the internet by Patty’s hacker friends and a lot more. As the story enlarges beyond just the angry screwed guy seeking justice or retribution, we see Lee beginning to change from a smug jerk to a caring person Lee’s sympathy for Kyle grows as he realizes that the police are trying to get a clear shot of the electronic connector on his vest so that they can then kill Kyle. Through all of this Patty keeps her cool, calmly giving Lee instructions on what he should say and do, while also, like a circus ringmaster. staying in contact with Diane, the camera and stage crew, the police and hackers. She and Lee now are convinced that Kyle is right, that the loss of the money is due to a complicated conspiracy, and not by an accident.

Jack O’Connell as the wronged little guy is as good in his role as are Roberts and Clooney, so we come to care about this young man and his fate. Through him Lee becomes a better human being, thus making this thriller also a character transformation film. It may be dramedy, but the denouement is a mixture of Hollywood fantasy and reality. There is just enough of the latter to touch our hearts and leave us with—well, you go and see it for yourself.

Good preaching/Teaching moment about job dedication: After the film’s climax the cameraman Lenny (Lenny Venito) who could have slipped away numerous times, stays with Lee and Kyle, even grabbing the hand-held one when they leave the studio and travel on foot to Wall Street to confront the CEO of Ibis. When asked why he did not leave the dangerous situation, he responds simply, “It was my job.”

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the June issue of VP.

Blue Jasmine

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V -0; L -4; S/N-5 .

Running time: 1 hour 38 min.

 Jasmine with husband and son (far left) lived a lavish life style in the Hamptons before fall into the impoverished class.  (c) 2013 Sony Pictures Classics

Jasmine with husband and son lived a lavish life
style in the Hamptons before fall into the impoverished class.
(c) 2013 Sony Pictures Classics

‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:24-25

 We hear much in op eds and political debates about America’s class warfare, about how the 1% of Americans who allegedly control as much wealth as the bottom 90% are imbued with a sense of entitlement and superiority. I can think of no better illustration of this than Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine, in which Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of a once wealthy wife is bound to earn her a Best Actress nomination.

Flower lovers will know that the title does not refer to the plant, the flower of which is usually white or blue, but to the mood of the character named after it. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) were raised together as adopted children from different sets of biological parents. Their parents showered more attention on beautiful Jasmine over the plain Ginger, so the latter left home as soon as she could to make her own way. She married working class Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), the two of them producing two boys, both of whom are destined to have weight problems. Then comes the day that they hit the California Lottery big time, winning $200,000. Intending to start his own business, Augie sees this as their way out of their life of living from paycheck to paycheck.

Meanwhile Jasmine has dropped out of college to marry the handsome and wealthy Hal (Alec Baldwin), a rich Wall Street schemer who is always using other people’s money to fund dubious new ventures. As evidence of her upward mobility drive she has changed her name from Janette to the more upscale name of the flower. They have one grown son Danny. Jasmine’s life of conspicuous consumption in the Hamptons is filled with Manhattan shopping sprees, lunches at elegant restaurants, and hosting parties and lavish charity events. They feel put upon when Ginger and Augie pay them a visit during their trip to New York City, but when they learn that the pair have just won a big sum of money, smooth-talking Hal seduces Augie into investing it in what turns out to be a Ponzi scheme. Ginger, who was not enthusiastic about this, becomes even more worried when she spies Hal lunching with and kissing a woman who is not her sister.

All the above is told in a series in intermittent flashbacks as Jasmine, now popping pills and taking frequent sips of vodka from her flask or glass, tries to cope with her new distasteful circumstances. Not only has she finally caught her philandering husband in one of his numerous affairs, but also she precipitates the series of events that leads to Hal’s arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. Unable to cope he has committed suicide. Jasmine’s survival plan involves her moving in with her sister, whose marriage had ended with divorce after they had lost their money. None of this may seem funny, but Allen’s wit is scattered throughout the film.

As has been pointed out by several reviewers, the plot is very much like that of A Streetcar Named Desire, with Ginger’s fiancé Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a lowly (to Jasmine) garage mechanic, quickly developing a passionate hatred for the one he calls “A phony!” Chili is upset that his plans to move in with Ginger have to be put on hold now that Jasmine is there. Ginger feels caught in the middle, her sister loyalty strong despite the way Jasmine has always looked down upon her.

Jasmine wants to start life anew by finishing college and taking a computer course so she can obtain an interior decorator’s license, but has to find work to fund this, reluctantly following Chili’s tip to obtain a receptionist’s job at a dental office. However, this soon ends when Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) tries to follow through on his lust for her. Then she meets the man who could restore her to the status she feels she deserves, the well-heeled wealthy diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). He has long range plans to enter politics and needs a trophy wife like Jasmine. But will her less than wholesome past marriage and tendency to dodge reality and deceive herself and others get in the way?

Every member of the ensemble cast performs well, but Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the once wealthy Jasmine is unforgettable, perhaps the only other portrayal of a Narcissistic neurotic     woman that compares being that of Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara (she also played Blanche!). Her character is so fully defined—nervous tics, almost incessant drinking, tendency to talk out loud inappropriately in public places, disdainful expressions, and elegant dress—that she emerges as a real person. And even though we see what a despicable person she is, we are still drawn to her and, if not root for her, wish that she might achieve a measure of self-understanding. This is a fascinating, detailed study of a woman whose worst enemy is herself. Her fate seems to bear out what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a far different situation, but which applies to Jasmine’s fate, “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice” Although not intended as a social justice film, Mr. Allen’s revelation of the hollow lifestyle of “the rich and famous” as seen in Jasmine could be a midrash of Jesus’ denunciation of the uncaring rich, or of the equally harsh denunciation of the wealthy by the prophet Amos. One of Mr. Allen’s best films in years, this must not to be missed!

The full version with 7 discussion question appears in the Sept/Oct issue of Visual Parables