Movie Reviews: Money Monster, Love and Friendship, Alice Through the Looking-Glass

This best of this week’s new films in Irish cinemas.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the Money Monster (15A), a financial advice guru whose live TV show is hijacked by Kyle (Jack O’Connell), a young man who bet his shirt on Gates’ tips and saw his life’s savings disappear due to an algorithm ‘glitch’ in a high frequency trading programme that cost investors $800 million. 

With nothing left to lose, Kyle straps an explosive device to Gates and demands to know where all the money has gone - a question for which Gates has no answer. Written by Jamie Linden and Alan DiFiore, and directed by Jodie Foster, Money Monster is a smart thriller (think Dog Day Afternoon meets The King of Comedy) that shines a harsh light on Wall Street malfeasance. 

It’s a slightly awkward beast, in that the story asks important questions about corporate responsibility and greed, and the suicidal Kyle’s plight invests the tale with a mood of impending doom (as the rapid-response team moves into position, Kyle knows he won’t be walking out of the studio); but Foster’s direction occasionally undermines the serious tone by diverting the story into black comedy, such as when Gates’ producer, Patty (Julia Roberts), begins to manipulate Kyle in order to maximise the TV appeal of the hostage-taking.

Clooney is in good form as the clown at the heart of this media circus, although O’Connell’s searing performance steals the show as he portrays Kyle as an intelligent, inarticulate man who instinctively understands that the game is rigged against the little guy. 

The drama is layered on in broad strokes, and the tone is too uneven to persuade us of the theme’s seriousness, but Money Monster is nevertheless hugely entertaining.

Adapted from Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, and directed by Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship (G) opens with Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) arriving in some disgrace at the estate of her in-laws. 

The widowed Lady Susan has something of a tarnished reputation as a siren, which intrigues the young heir Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel); but Lady Susan has more pressing matters than romance to attend to, the most important of which is marrying off her reluctant daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to the rich-but-dim Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). 

It’s a typically Austen whirlwind of love, money and marriage, but Stillman directs the story as something of a French farce, spoofing the conventions of the Regency period drama even as he pays homage. Beckinsale is simply radiant in the lead role, playing an absolute gift of a character: despite the social mores of the time, Lady Susan is brutally (and hilariously) frank about money, men and her ruthlessness in achieving her goals. 

Xavier Samuel, playing her would-be wooer, is an idealistic contrast to the mercenary Lady Susan, and provides the story with its heart, although it’s Tom Bennett who provides the strongest support, his Sir James Martin a delightfully silly upper-class twit who wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a Monty Python sketch. 

It’s a deliciously labyrinthine tale of scheming, conniving and multiple reversals of fortune, and once Stillman has negotiated the rather heavy-handed tone of parody he establishes early on, Love and Friendship evolves into a brisk, charming comedy that joins the first rank of Austen adaptations.

Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG) is a sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), in which Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to the fantasy world to discover that her beloved Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is mourning his family so deeply that he is pining away and is likely to die. In order to save the Hatter’s family from the Jabberwock, Alice must travel back in time - although that means defying both Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and the fearsome Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter).

Tim Burton is on production duties for this Alice, with James Bobin in the director’s chair, and while the movie is a sumptuous visual feast - the scenes set in Time’s palace are particularly impressive - the story itself (adapted again from Lewis Carroll’s books by Linda Wolverton) is far too muddled.

Indeed, the emphasis is placed too strongly on spectacle and CGI effects and not nearly enough on building an emotional connection with the audience: in the rush to send Alice back down the metaphorical rabbit-hole, the filmmakers skip past the intensity of Alice’s relationship with the Mad Hatter, and the fact that Depp’s Hatter is by necessity a wan, lack-lustre character doesn’t help matters. 

As a result, Wasikowska’s Alice is left somewhat stranded, whirling through space and time in pursuit of the next adventure and never really pausing for long enough to convince us that we should care.

Money Monster ****

Love and Friendship ****

Alice Through the Looking-Glass ***


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