Tag Archives: movie

The Clooney Platoon

Director, star, producer & writer brings true WWII tale to life

George Clooney;Matt Damon;Bill Murray;Bob Balaban;John Goodman

The Monuments Men

Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray & Cate Blanchett

Directed by George Clooney

Rated PG-13, 118 min.

 

This tale of WWII treasure hunters is “monumental” in more ways than one for George Clooney.

To begin with, he’s the star, the director, the writer and the producer. If the movie flies or if it flops, he’ll take the bows—or the boos. And he’s obviously big on the story, based on a 2009 nonfiction book of the same name by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter.

Historically, the Monuments Men were a group of artists, art historians and museum curators commissioned by the American and British armies during World War II to help protect the historic monuments of Europe from Allied bombing. After the war, they fanned out on an even more daunting five-year mission: to recover, catalog and return millions of precious artifacts—paintings, sculptures, tapestries and religious relics—that had been stolen by the Nazis.

The movie takes a few creative liberties with the facts, but it’s mostly true, and the characters are mostly based on, or inspired by, real people. Clooney and his cast mates (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin) make a fine-looking international ensemble, even if sometimes the movie’s star power, combined with overly familiar war-movie scenes, sometimes feels like Oceans 11 plus Saving Private Ryan divided by Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Matt Damon;Cate Blanchett

Matt Damon & Cate Blanchett

The bigger problem, though, is how ironically, in the midst of its “bigness,” so much of the movie seems small. Its series of disjointed, scattered moments never really come together into a larger, dramatic whole. The large cast is confined to playing strictly on the surface—we never really learn anything about any of the characters. The humor is flat, the emotion sappy and the drama tepid; although the Monuments Men are supposed to be on the war’s front lines, they rarely seem to be, or behave like, they’re in any real danger.

The film also treads lightly—too lightly, perhaps—on the terrible human toll of the Holocaust, like in a scene in which the men examine the smoldering frame of a Picasso painting that the Nazis destroyed, then turn to find a barrel filled with gold teeth extracted from slaughtered concentration camp prisoners.

Oh…teeth. Now, back to paintings.

The Monuments Men isn’t going to win any awards, but it does shine a high-profile Hollywood light on a little-known chapter of history—and a fact of wartime looting and cultural pillaging that still happens today.

George Clooney

“Was it worth it?” Clooney’s character is asked at the end of the movie. Thirty years from now, his superiors wonder, will people remember, or appreciate, all that went into recovering some 5 million pieces of priceless European civilization?

Thanks to George Clooney’s big, ambitious movie, perhaps now they—we—will. It’s just too bad that, given such a great group of actors and such a monumental story, it doesn’t do a bit of a better job of it.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Living In The ‘Now’

Young stars shine in fresh, cliche-averse coming-of-age story

THESPECTACULARNOW_still1_rgbThe Spectacular Now

Starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley

Directed by James Ponsoldt

R, 95 min.

Released Aug. 2, 2013

Coming-of-age movies often smack into a column of clichés. But this vibrantly fresh tale, about two high school seniors and what happens when their very different lives intersect, waltzes around them all.

Sutter (Miles Teller) is the carefree life of the party, a glib charmer whose fast-food big-gulp cup barely conceals his secret: He’s been spiking his soda with splashes from a whiskey flask for years. At 18, he’s already well on the road to being an alcoholic.

Sutter’s mantra: Forget the past, and don’t worry about what’s around the corner. “Live in the moment,” he says. Relish the spectacular now.

Aimee (Shailene Woodley) is Sutter’s total opposite: shy, studious, hardworking, always looking ahead, dreaming of tomorrow.

They meet when Sutter wakes up early one morning after a night of extreme partying following a devastating breakup with his girlfriend (Brie Larson). He finds himself sprawled out on a stranger’s front yard, somehow separated from his car. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got there, but he opens his eyes to see Aimee, brushing the hair out of her face, bending over him and asking if he’s OK.

So begins their story, as director James Ponsoldt delicately, tenderly brings these two characters together. The camera hovers around them, lingering, observing as they talk, walk, laugh and get to know each other, slowly becoming more intimate.

They have lunch in the school cafeteria. He asks her to tutor him in geometry, a class he’s in danger of failing, and invites her to a party. In a slow stroll down a wooded pathway, Aimee confesses she’s never had a boyfriend; Sutter, dumfounded, tells her she’s beautiful. He kisses her.

And then he asks her to the prom.

Is he falling in love? Why does he still have feelings for his old girlfriend? Is he only using Aimee, in his “now,” as her wary friends think?

The seemingly simple story has deeper, more complex, more troubling dimensions, too. Both Aimee and Sutter grew up without their fathers; Aimee’s died when she was a child; Sutter’s divorced mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has kept him from having any contact with his. Sutter rebels against her control. But when he finally tracks down his long-estranged father (Kyle Chandler), he understands, and his visit becomes a depressing gaze into what might very well be his own dismal future.

The Spectacular Now started out as a film festival hit and is now making its way into the movie mainstream. If it’s not in your local theater yet, it’s well worth the effort to seek it out.

Based on novelist Tim Tharp’s 2008 young-adult-lit National Book Award finalist, the movie feels more real than fictional, including how it doesn’t conform to the way you might expect a typical young-love story to tie itself into a neat, sweet romantic bow. But the book’s ending does get tweaked with a softer, more ambiguous, and possibly more hopeful pinch of positive.

And Woodley and Teller are amazing: so natural, so relaxed, so at ease in their roles, it’s easy to forget they’re actors playing characters who aren’t really them. Woodley got raves starring with George Clooney in The Descendants, and you might remember Teller from his sidekick role in the remake of Footloose.

They’ll show up together again next year in another movie (a Hunger Games knockoff called Divergent). It may be a big hit, but I’m going to find it hard to forget the lasting impression they made in this bittersweet, unassuming little summer gem, a movie that’s “spectacular” in own simple way.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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