by Marc Glassman.
Mad Money. Callie Khouri, director. Glenn Gers, script. Starring: Diane Keaton (Bridget), Ted Danson (Don), Queen Latifah (Nina), Katie Holmes (Jackie), Roger Cross (Barry)
Steep. Mark Obenhaus, director. Feature doc on extreme skiers starring: Doug Coombs, Bill Briggs, Eric Pehota, Glenn Plake
What Hollywood doesn’t destroy, it domesticates. Some of the finest talent in the world goes to La-la-la land intent on making great work and what happens? All too often, they compromise and make films like Mad Money, which, ironically, would be a good title for a wicked parody on the conventional studio system. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for that movie.
This Mad Money is a caper film in which attractive women take matters into their own hands in a bid for freedom. Sound familiar? It’s a genre that took off in the ‘90s after the success of Thelma and Louise. Of course, that film was hardly fluffy: you identified with the characters and their increasingly tragic tale. However, it’s interesting to note that the Oscar winning scriptwriter of Thelma and Louise is Callie Khouri, the director of Mad Money. No wonder she gets well-known actresses!
The plot of Mad Money has so many holes it could fill a dozen donuts. Formerly upper crust Bridget (Diane Keaton), single mom Nina (Queen Latifah) and biker chick Jackie (Katie Holmes) all, quite improbably, have menial jobs at a Federal Reserve Bank, where old money is destroyed. Within days of finding work as a cleaning lady, Bridget figures out how to beat the high security system and “rescue” those doomed dollars.
It takes her even less time to round up two willing accomplices, Nina and Jackie. Despite obvious cultural, economic and age-related differences between the three, they immediately work brilliantly as a team—so brilliantly that they decide to rob the bank, over and over again.
Even when Federal government agents begin to suspect the larcenous trio, they can’t pin anything on them because the money Nina, Bridget and Jackie are using has been withdrawn from circulation. (Um, no. The dollars would still have their numbers on them and would be quite identifiable.)
Do the women in Mad Money suffer the fate of Thelma and Louise? You’re kidding, right?
Diane Keaton, who heads up the cast, used to be a superb actress. Those of us with long memories—or a reasonable DVD library—will always recall with fondness Keaton’s accomplished efforts in some of the finest films of the ‘70s. She was brilliant as the ditsy Annie Hall; terrific as Kay, moving from innocence to abused sorrow, as the wife of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in the first two Godfather movies and extraordinary as the neurotic, promiscuous nightclubber in Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
Since the early ‘90s, sadly, Keaton has confined herself to playing increasingly safe “mature” roles as mothers in The Family Stone and Father of the Bride. Even in her one true success of recent years, Something’s Got to Give, Keaton seemed trapped by her mannerisms–stumbling over words, acting jumpy, moving her hands manically, in a strange imitation of what felt natural in Annie Hall.
As Bridget In Mad Money, Keaton dials down her eccentricities but finds little else to do with the character. To be fair, there’s not much in the script for Keaton to use; Bridget, as written, isn’t very interesting. That might explain the lack of chemistry between Bridget and her downsized corporate husband, played by Ted Danson. Both seem to be searching for some connection to their roles or to each other, with little results.
In fact, given that the film is being hyped through its A-list cast, there’s little positive to note about the characters played by Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes. Latifah has the most sympathetic role as a single mom who falls in love, eventually, with co-worker Barry. But the sassy exuberance, which marks the best of Latifah isn’t in view; her role is too conventional for such a fine, bravura player.
Worse, Katie Holmes is given very little to do with her part as Jackie, the youngest and “craziest” of the three women. Mainly, she gets to dance along to music on her I-Pod. I’m happy to report that she dances quite well.
If you have a great fondness for Keaton, Holmes or Queen Latifah, Mad Money provides passable entertainment. If not, wait for the DVD.
Extreme skiing is a breathtakingly beautiful, incredibly dangerous sport. Instead of heading down the usual groomed and charted slopes, these skiers revel in danger, while charting new paths down mountains. Begun in the early ‘70s and decried by most governments except the French, extreme skiing has its advocates but is quite controversial due to the high number of fatalities, which continue to occur.
Mark Obenhaus’ gorgeously shot feature documentary Steep conveys the exhilaration the skiers feel while going down the rugged terrain of the world’s greatest mountains. The views are extraordinary—and this doc captures them well, while concentrating on the stories of some of the athletes who have made the sport famous.
There’s Bill Briggs, who popularized the sport back in America in ’71, by skiing down the Grand Teton in Wyoming, despite having a fused hip. Mohawked Glen Plake is a genuine wild and crazy guy, whose entire lifestyle is extreme, including the skiing. Canadian Eric Pehota is charming and articulate as he describes skiing in the West Coast, turning on a generation of Canuck athletes to the sport.
Steep eventually focuses on Doug Coombs, a thoughtful and gifted athlete. An American, he had recently moved to La Grave, France with his wife, a former skier, and their 2 year-old son. In a moving interview, Coombs talks about the possibility of death, which looms over all of the athletes profiled in the film.
Just days after being filmed, Coombs died in an accident in La Grave. Obenhaus’ Steep makes it clear that Coombs and his colleagues would have it no other way; indeed, his widow endorses the manner of his death, trying to save a friend on the slopes. Like gunslingers and other frontiersmen, these athletes relish freedom and enjoy staring death in the face.
Steep, in its own way, is a profound film. Certainly, it’s much more than a standard nature doc. Local note: the film is dedicated to Canadian (and American) broadcasting legend Peter Jennings, who mentored Obenhaus and producers Gabrielle Tenenbaum and fellow Canadian Jordan Kronick. A skiing film during winter—what could be more natural—or Canadian?