The topic is provocative, the stars top notch, and the director in comfortable command of her craft in Money Monster. In order, they are: a corrupt money investment scheme promoted by a glib cable host, stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, with director Jodie Foster at the helm. On full, ostentatious display is the financial advice show Money Monster.  

Its emcee Lee Gates (Clooney), more an entertainer than a sound analyst, evaluates and recommends capital funds. In Kyle Budwell's case, he invested his entire $60,000 inheritance in Ibis Clear Capital only to watch it tank due to CEO Walt Camby's programmed glitch in the trading algorithm. So Kyle takes a gun and an explosive vest to the television studio, cleverly outfoxes security, and takes Lee hostage with producer Patty Fenn talking to Lee in his earpiece, trying to keep him calm and the situation under control as the SWAT team swoops in.

For thrillers to work, the actors and pace must keep the tension at full throttle with periodic breathing room. At this, director Foster succeeds admirably, with brief cutaways to involve international programmers in Seoul, South Korea, and international exploitation issues in South Africa. She also expertly inserts reaction shots of Fenn, a superb Julia Roberts who, though largely chair bound in the studio control room, adds solid emotional moments. British/Irish actor Jack O'Connell plays Kyle with a feral intensity that has put him on my radar since seeing him in Starred Up and 71. All the supporting players turn in solid performances as well: Dominic West as the slimy CEO, Caitriona Balfe as Ibis Capital's spokesperson, Giancarlo Esposito as Captain Powell, and Lenny Venito as the central cameraman. The depth and expertise of the cast reminds me of old studio films with no weak links in the acting entourage.

That this takes place mainly in a claustrophobic TV studio adds to the pressure cooker atmosphere as Kyle channels some recognizable, perhaps even shared, anger and frustration. In addition, the alternating between an onslaught of noise and a nerve-wracking silence increases a feeling of unease. Suspend disbelief, sign on for the ride, and Money Monster offers a quick, entertaining hour and a half with a few stinging social jabs at culpable media, overwrought financial operations, and the gullibility of viewers. At area cinemas.

 

Writer/director Matt Brown knows a great story when he finds one, and Srinavasa Ramanujan's certainly qualifies. As presented in The Man Who Knew Infinity, the story begins at Trinity College, Cambridge, England as G.H. Hardy, a member of the Royal Academy for his brilliant work in mathematics, remembers his most moving experiences with a formally uneducated shipping clerk from Madras, India. 

As the story proper begins in Madras, India, in voiceover narration Hardy describes his relationship with Ramanujan as "the one romantic incident in my life." But Ramanujan's life in Madras poses sufficient hurdles to his intellectual progress, for even after Hardy invites him to Trinity College, Brahmin culture dictates against Ramanujan's travel. His lack of formal degrees and of thorough mathematical proofs causes further difficulties with his acceptance as his work, nevertheless, continues to astonish the best mathematical minds.

Dramatically profiling a brilliant, theoretical mathematician challenges the best directors, and Brown solves the problem by focusing on the Cambridge community--those supporting and rejecting Ramanujan's ideas. The collaboration between G.H. Hardy and John Littlewood keeps the debates clear, the beginning of WWI adds additional tension, and Bertrand Russell introduces strong ethical commentary.  

The performances by a superb cast provide the solid substance needed to give mathematics the gleam it deserves. As Ramanujan, Dev Patel has a three-dimensional role he can sink his teeth into. Jeremy Irons as G.H. Hardy delivers the gravitas and humanity he always brings. And Stephen Fry, Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam and Devika Bhise are excellent in supporting roles.  

Cinematographer Larry Smith embellishes the India sequences with vivid colors and contrasts this palette with the more somber Cambridge scenes dominated by browns and greys, reflecting Ramanujan's physical isolation, emotional struggles, and tragic ending. The Man Who Knew Infinity brings to life a genius long overdue for recognition. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac and Tivoli cinemas.

 

It's hard to say why Dough doesn't work exactly. Could be that the writers, Jonathan Benson and Jez Freedman, tried to stir too much into one plot. Could be that the director, John Goldschmidt, could not juggle all the stories, which follow political, religious, family, and cultural lines. 

Dough offers religious sensibility when a Muslim man is put to work in a Jewish bakery. The young man, Ayyash, played winsomely by Jerome Holder, has not been able to find work in London, so he has joined with his friends to peddle dope. Both he and his mother are refugees from Darfur, and she works two jobs to keep them fed and bedded. Ayyash comes to this apprenticeship with pre-conceived notions about Jews, but the old baker, Nat, has his own about Muslims. Jonathan Pryce plays Nat with all the dolor and angst necessary. Nat runs his father's bakery and cares a great deal about the family business. His son the lawyer does not.

Widower Nat is also being pursued by a widow woman, played perkily by Pauline Collins from Shirley Valentine and Upstairs Downstairs. Into this mix come a developer and a competitor, each adding his own agenda to Nat's. And into Nat's recipe for muffins goes Ayyash bag of stash, thereby, surprise, creating quite the little business rush for this downwardly mobile concern.

Director Goldschmidt goes back and forth between the Muslim and the Jew, between their prayers and ablutions and families. The plot also dances between drug dealers and developers, When the old man asks the young one if he has any baking experience, the latter says, "I made toast this morning." The old man has his own jokes to tell, too.

Dough is predictable: the two male protagonists become friends and protectors in the end. It has its sweet spots, but the film just never seems to come together. It's hard to say why.

Norwegian director Joachim Trier tackles his first English-language film in Louder Than Bombs. Here the title refers to the impact of war photojournalist Isabelle Reed who has committed suicide in a purposeful automobile accident three years before the present day story begins. Set in a small town in New York state, it focuses on three men in one family.

 

Sing Street has such rich humanity and appealing humor that I applaud writer/director John Carney's nerve. He embraces the "Hey, let's form a band" conventions which he then enlivens with three-dimensional characters and restrained but astute social commentary. It's 1985 Dublin when 14-year-old Connor "Cosmo" Lawler learns that his parents' money crunch means he'll attend a new school.

The priest who runs this nearby Catholic school physically and abusively enforces his rigid ideas of acceptable behavior, and he's just one of Cosmo's tormentors. But Cosmo has a backbone and an imagination, and in short order he approaches THE coolest girl around, Raphina. Cosmo then must recruit other outsiders for the heretofore nonexistent band he's bragged about, promising Raphina a music video as the way to her heart.

The band eventually called Sing Street, becomes enamored of 1980s music videos, as was Carney. As the clueless friends search for their musical and costume style, they imitate, to our delight, the groups they listen to from Duran Duran to The Cure, Depeche Mode to Joe Jackson, with some license as to chronology. They also write a couple good songs of their own as they ricochet from one look and affectation to another.

Best known here for Once and Begin Again, director Carney demonstrates his cinematic expertise. He uses slow motion of the boys walking, never lingers on one musical signature too long, and adds details and dialogue that endears and amuses. For example, one band member loves rabbits and keeps several around. And Carney writes about serious issues extremely well, suggesting much more than he shows.

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Cosmo, Lucy Boynton as Raphina, and Jack Reynor as Brendan deliver thoroughly professional, impressive performances, as do all the band members. Walsh-Peelo is, off screen, a trained opera singer, who convincingly seems to strain for musical expression here. Director Carney clearly deserves credit for so casually capturing scenes that pulse with joy, especially those with college drop out, older brother Brendan.

With its buoyant storytelling, witty exchanges, and charming young characters, Sing Street is an immensely enjoyable film. At a Landmark Theatre.

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