Review: The Monuments Men

Museum curators wage war against Hitler in George Clooney's The Monuments Men.
Museum curators wage war against Hitler in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men.

The Dirty Half-Dozen
Rating: **

George Clooney is known for his charismatic appearances. This made movies like The Descendants and Up In The Air great, and The Good German and The American bearable. The way he does things onscreen is admirable. The casual flick of a cigarette, the deceiving smile, the immediate cock of an eyebrow when someone downplays him – it’s masterclass. There’s very little to discuss when he’s off-screen and a lot when he’s onscreen. The dude is magnetic!

As a director, he has made movies of several genres ranging from light-hearted comedies (Leatherheads, Confessions of A Dangerous Mind ) to serious dramas (Good Night, Good Luck, Ides of March). But, making a war film is the rite of passage for every director.

Everyone’s dreamt of making a war film as grand as The Longest Day or Paths of Glory, as memorable as Saving Private Ryan or Full Metal Jacket, and as award-worthy as The Hurt Locker or The Deer Hunter.

But, many directors have failed in doing so. Even notable ones such as Brian De Palma (Casualties of War and Redacted), and of course the infamous Michael Cimino (Heaven’s Gate). Although, I will give Mr. Cimino credit for his riveting Vietnam War film, The Deer Hunter.

What is the problem with The Monuments Men? Is it historically inaccurate? Or is it highly fictional like Argo?

Simply put, the direction is hapless. Too many things have been put in the idea box. I don’t think even Clooney knew where the film was going. It ends up like a staple Tamil film where the first half is one story, and the second half is another.

Here’s how it rolls: It’s 1943 and the War against Germany is in its peak. Many historically significant works of art in and around Europe have fallen in the hands of the Nazis. Some are destroyed while others are to be exhibited at the Führer Museum.

Having heard about this, Frank Stokes (Clooney) presents an idea to President Truman. An idea that involves a team of museum curators who head to the frontlines to retrieve the stolen paintings and sculptures, and protect those that are still intact.

The cast includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Ed Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett and good ol’ John Goodman. The cast also includes Jean Dujardin, but I don’t think you will remember him given the shoddy characterizations that ruin the film.

Right from a poorly written French curator (played by Blanchett) to whatever Ed Balaban was supposed to do, you realize that your focus has to shift to the story as these characters have nothing to offer. But, when the story becomes sloppy (screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov), you really don’t have a choice!

The other day, I was watching The Longest Day, an epic war opera that recreated significant scenes from WWII and starred hordes of famous stars. When I was about to watch The Monuments Men, nostalgia filled my mind. I was hoping to pack my bags and sink into another glorious WWII adventure. Sadly, The Monuments Men never really delivered.

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Comedy Dramas galore!

Whether it’s 50/50 or The Descendants, this is a sign that comedy dramas have become the winning stake for independent and art house cinema. Read on…

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in 50/50.

50/50

Rating: ****

As a slowly building male tearjerker, 50/50 connects to the viewers only because of its first-person narrative. And our first person here is a simpleton like the rest of us with a normal job and a stale relationship with his girlfriend and mother. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is as enthralling as he could be. I remember mentioning in my reviews of (500) Days of Summer and Inception that Gordon-Levitt has the charm to carry any role and 50/50 is just another feather in his cap. But, what makes 50/50 so special is that, the protagonist Adam appears undervalued to an extent that when he learns that he’s suffering from cancer, he manages to hold a mental breakdown until the last-minute.

Seth Rogen appears as his usual self, spitting four-letter profanities and providing marijuana. He tries to exhibit his acting skills in a movie that demands more than his usual crankiness. But, his failure in making a commendable supporting actor is covered by Will Reiser’s screenplay that moves rapidly like a comedy, and then freezes like a drama. Hence, 50/50 is a perfectly scripted comedy-drama. Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard co-star in the film and they use the limited space given to them. Huston as Adam’s mother succeeds with her exceptional use of deadpan humor, last noticed in The Addams Family.

A coming-of-age tale that circles on the rediscovery of a cancer-stricken youngster, 50/50 is accompanied by witty humor. The strength of the film lies in Gordon-Levitt’s charismatic performance.

George Clooney and Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.

The Descendants

Rating: ****

Clooney is no stranger to comedies or comedy-dramas. His career is spotlit by many films such as O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading, and most notably Up in The Air (a personal favorite). The Descendants explains why a filmmaker can entrust a dangerously treading role to Clooney. The scene in which he confronts his comatose wife about her affair with an unknown man tops the list of reasons on why The Descendants is a nod to a possible Oscar win.

Shailene Woodley stars as the out-of-control teenage daughter who comes second in terms of acting skills. Shailene’s strength lies in her ability to speak dialogues with frustration. The father-daughter bonding is generally a go-to sign in chick flicks. But, this comedy-drama dwells in that issue and the outcome is a success story for filmmaker Alexander Payne, who is well-known for his films Election and Sideways.

This really is one of the finest films of the year. Clooney deserves the accolades and as far as the movie goes, death shatters the family, but it brings them closer.

Review: Solaris 2002

Solaris Poster
Solaris Poster

Outer Space Story and Down To Earth Script

Solaris (2002) (PG-18)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone

Rating: **


Sci-fi movies can be defined as those in which the extra-ordinary becomes ordinary and the unimaginable becomes easily imaginable. For example, in the first Superman movie (Superman of course is extra-ordinary and unimaginable) Superman flies backwards around the Earth, making time go back by a few seconds so that he could save his ladylove from the quicksand. This may have set an example as people felt that in science fiction movies, one can restore someone’s life. This idea has been used in Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris which released in 2002. George Clooney loses his wife Natascha McElhone in a freak accident and he tries an experiment with NASA which is about the Solaris. He travels on a space shuttle to outer space where they orbit a strange-looking star called Solaris. Clooney is asked to sleep in a specialized room and dream about his wife and as he dreams, we witness her come alive. SHOCKED! Well, it’s science fiction buddy! You gotta believe it! The special effects used here are too normal. The background score is sore and doesn’t change from its melancholy tone. What is good in Solaris, you may ask? Well, it’s a 2hr long drama which has the slowest script, lazier but steadier like the tortoise. It has Clooney who has the most credible acting skills. It has the beautiful Natascha McElhone who cannot change her wide grin which we’ve been seeing since The Truman Show. Frankly, McElhone has put up some effort and has commenced well as an actor. The climax is too old. We’ve seen the same setting and dialogues in many films. It doesn’t confuse us nor do we really care if they’re dead or alive as long as they’re together, what else do we need?

But, on the other side from being a viewer rather than a critic, Solaris is one of those first love-in-space films. The genre is an adapted romantic drama. The production design deserves a merit. And, yes Natascha McElhone is indeed a beautiful woman. Clooney is the right choice as he is the only person to handle these offbeat roles. The film is beautiful for its romance-in-outer space idea. But, you may unnervingly feel bored as the film lacks speed. There isn’t a gripping plot too. It has a lot of loose strings.

Solaris is a love story set beyond the skies. It’s not a feel-good entertainer or a breezy film. It’s got much substance to keep it far from the entertaining genre to a rather serious romantic drama. It’s not a must-watch. But, it can be watched for its peculiar story and setting.