Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Homecoming is based on a dramatic podcast, and the whole season of ten episodes is directed by Sam Esmail, who created and directed most of Mr. Robot. Oh, and it’s a half-hour drama. All those elements combine to give the show a very unique tone and feel. It’s bold and original. It doesn’t feel like anything else on television right now.

What it does feel like, and this is highly deliberate, especially on Mr. Esmail’s part, is The Parallax View, Capricorn One, The Conversation and other 1970s American paranoid conspiracy thrillers. It’s a total stylistic homage to those films and those directors, incorporating constant visual and aural references, particularly in the camera framing (and use of zooming), score, and title and cross-dissolve motifs. If you’re a fan of such cinema, you’re essentially predisposed to love this.

There’s a lot to love. The story is gripping, the performances – suiting the style – are a lot of fun, and the half-hour format is definitely fresh. Julia Roberts plays a counselor working for a government-contracted Florida-based Veteran’s program, called Homecoming, that aims to aid soldiers returning from the Middle East with their transition back to civilian life. But, of course, something nefarious is afoot. As the very embodiment of that nefariousness, Bobby Cannavle is (and has) a hoot, giving a very Bobby Cannavale performance. If you’ve listened to the podcast version, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment seeing the phone conversations between Roberts and Cannavale’s characters come to life.

But in the end, it is Esmail’s directorial flair, utilizing the cinematography and score, that puts this cool little oddity in the hoop. It just looks and sounds fantastic.

Money Monster

moneymonstersmall*1/2

This  dunderheaded hostage “thriller” wants to evoke Dog Day Afternoon by way of Network and The Big Short, but those excellent films would be offended by such a comparison; they crackle and pop with energy and anger, while Money Monster is about as angry and energetic as a Yorkshire Terrier on Johnny Depp’s jet.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a television stock market analyst in the modern hyper-caffeinated US cable style – i.e., crass. During the live taping of his show, a poor young generically Noo Yawk schlub – incredibly awkwardly played by Brit Jack O’Connell – takes over the set with a gun and a bomb, and Lee and his producer Patty (Julia Roberts) have to figure out how to stay alive until the situation can be defused. Of course, the gunman insists on them staying on the air. Cut to “typical Americans” in bars, workplaces etc watching it unfold – in real time! Gosh!

For those of us who spent the fifteenth of December 2014 glued to our television sets watching how a real hostage crisis goes down on live TV (originating in Martin Place in Sydney), the portrayal here is, naturally, completely artificial and borderline offensive. But everything in the movie is a total fantasy; it’s got a terrible, terrible problem with plausibility. Everyone looks like they’ve stepped out of a costume department onto a set – including the cops, the bystanders, and all those “real Americans” – but the story, and storytelling, is even worse. Time discrepancies, ludicrous character choices and inane dialogue all add up to an infuriating 98 minutes.

Along the way, Jodie Foster seems to give up on directing the film; it staggers and collapses, and the actors are left to wander vaguely, or simply sit down and cease to be. What happened to Dennis Boutsikaris’ character, Avery Goodloe? He must have wandered off to the catering table, and out of the film. Dominic West is wasted as the most generic Rich White Guy we’ve seen since the type became the go-to villain of the 2010s, Roberts is predictable, and Clooney is lumbered with having to deliver painfully unfunny wisecracks in the final act, which veers into comedy (probably realizing it wasn’t cutting it as drama; of course, the comedy tanks). All the cops stink. The only two who rise above the mess are Lenny Venito as Lenny (The Cameraman) – that’s how he’s credited, as though we needed reminding of his trade – and the exquisite Caitriona Balfe as an Evil Corporation’s Decent CCO. Told you it was a fantasy.

Secret In Their Eyes

Secret-in-Their-Eyes-Poster-Chiwetel-Ejiofor****

In 2010, I wrote of El Secreto De Sus Ojos, “It is a superb film, an incredibly rich and moving crime thriller telling a story both in the present and twenty-five years in the past, utilising the streets of Buenos Aires to maximum effect and deploying some of Argentina’s finest actors … [It] transcends its crime-novel beginnings … and resonates as much emotionally as viscerally. Never sordid, gratuitous or dishonest, this is a thoroughly satisfying, big-meal of a movie for adults to savour.”

That film won the Best Foreign Language Oscar that year, beating Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Jaques Audiard’s A Prophet. Considering the artistic and intellectual heft of those films, and the regard in which their directors were held, this was quite something, for we’re talking, at essence, of a police procedural – not usually Oscar material. But this film was special. It had an astonishingly brilliant plot – far, far superior to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was the other pulp novel whose film adaptation(s) transcended the material – and a very particular mood. It was seriously melancholy, full of dashed love as well as bad crime; it was methodical, measured, intellectually stimulating and thoughtful; and it was gorgeously shot. It was one of the film experiences of the year and I’ve never forgotten it.

The good news is that this remake, as completely redundant as it is, honours the tone and spirit of the original and, most importantly, doesn’t screw with the incredibly plotted story. The astonishing twists and turns are all there and I had an excellent couple of hours experiencing them all again, akin to listening to a really good and faithful cover version of a brilliant song. Director Billy Ray aims for that measured, melancholic mood and pretty darn well achieves it, aided immeasurably by a superb lead performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who surely must now be counted as one of our great screen actors, and who gets my vote for the next Bond (because come on, Idris Elba is too big – if Bond can beat up the henchmen, what’s the point of his brain, or the gadgets?)

Nicole Kidman gives admirable support in yet another very smartly chosen role, one that reflects her status as a great maturing beauty with a kind of dignified acknowledgement. On the other hand, the make-up department has gone a little overboard turning Julia Roberts, in a smaller role, into a real Plain Jane. Even cops can be pretty. In fact, in Hollywood remakes, they usually are. This remake may be unnecessary, but it’s good. In fact, it’s very good – even if you fondly remember the original.