Monuments Men: an admirable flop?

the-monuments-men-reviews-george-clooneys-delayed-nazi-art-movie-isnt-that-greatIf George Clooney has a passion project there’s a fair chance it will get made. He’ll recruit a good cast and pick a good story to tell. All these things you can consider crossed off. Done. Dusted. This time round he chose to adapt a book: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel.

The plot, if you’re not familiar, is based on this true story. Ah, a dangerous Hollywood caveat you may cry, for ‘based on’ and what actually happened are often two very different things. But before we get to that, the story as it stands.

Near the end of WWII Frank Stokes (Clooney) persuades US President Roosevelt to let him put together a team to recover works of art stolen by the Nazis, then return said works to the rightful owners. As it’s based on a true story – one that’s crying out to be retold (having been told, in part, in other films before) – you can see why Clooney jumped on it.

It’s a noble and important part of history, one which hasn’t particularly been addressed in modern cinema. It’s also – potentially – epic in scope too. Beautiful locations, with an exciting dramatic need that drives our main characters; a ragtag bunch of unlikely heroes that they are. The pieces are all in place.George Clooney;Matt Damon;John Goodman;Bob Balaban
So… what do we get? A drama? A comedy? A caper? Well, none of these really. Or bits of all of them, depending on your point of view.

It begins with a montage of Art Curators Assemble!, with Stokes putting together an ageing team which, on casting, look to mostly be there for comedy purposes: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman etc. The trailer too, suggests a ‘caper’; Ocean’s Eleven with Nazis or Saving Private Ryan the comedy years perhaps? Puts me in mind of a running gag in ‘Allo ‘Allo! which focused on the Nazis and the French Resistance attempting to keep hold of ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’ by Van Klomp. So it’s a comedy right? Well, no. Not exactly.

What we actually get is a rather plodding and inert tale of a bunch of guys that – upon finding they’ll get no help from superior officers in the field – decide to attempt to protect and recover the art largely on their lonesome. Nothing wrong with that you might say. But it’s tackled in such a pedestrian way that, as a viewer, you find yourself desperate for some jeopardy. Tanks, guns, evil Nazis… something.monuments_men
Perhaps part of the problem is that the main cast spend precious little time together. Once in France they split up and head off across Europe on various missions. It’s not all doom and gloom, there’s some good scenes along the way and the cast do what they can with the moments they have, but it just feels languid and, ultimately, unengaging.

And, as is the way with Hollywood butchering history, there’s a fairly heavy focus on Americans saving the day, largely ignoring the real life efforts by the British in this project. But we’re used to that, and could forgive this lapse if the script had some zip and vigour about it.

Despite all that, it’s important this film was made and the story was told. But maybe a TV miniseries would have given these characters room to breathe. This approach worked incredibly well for Band of Brothers. I guess we’ll never know now… but hats off to Clooney for an admirable effort.

Take your ass back to the trailer park – part 2

blue is the warmest colorWith Oscar season almost upon us, there’s a lot of films out now or soon that should have you racing to the cinema. From drama, action and horror to comedies and a compelling biopic, here’s my pick of marvellous movies you need on your radar.

The Monuments Men (Feb, 2014)
Based on a book of the same name, this film has caper written all over it. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Ocean’s Eleven, as Clooney and Damon again take centre stage. This, however, is based on a true story. Essentially it’s ‘art curators assemble!’, as an unlikely band of misfits team up to recover works of art stolen by the Nazis during the war.

Kill Your Darlings
(Dec, 2013)
Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan play Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr respectively; with the film focusing on the birth of the beat generation’s most well known writers: Ginsberg, Karouac and Burroughs. Despite putting in a respectable turn in The Woman in Black, Radcliffe is still – for some out there – trying to establish himself post Potter. From the looks of it he’s gone some way to achieve that. DeHaan, too, continues to establish himself as a growing talent.

(Nov, 2013)
Rival to Wes Anderson’s quirky crown comes in the form of Alexander Payne; the man behind Sideways and The Descendants and a director on the rise. Here he tells the tale – filmed in black and white – of Bruce Dern’s Woody Grant; a man who think he’s won a million dollars and sets off on a road trip to claim his prize. It’s already won a stack of awards and received lavish praise from critics. If you like quirky, human films it’s a must-see.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Dec, 2013)
Actor, producer, singer, rapper… Luther! Stringer Bell! Stacker Pentecost! Is there anything Idris Elba can’t do? Apparently not as he’s now playing Nelson Mandela in this epic portrayal of the great man’s life. The film’s red carpet release coincided, tragically, with his death. In terms of the film, it looks to be a stirring affair but has received mixed reviews.

(Nov, 2013)
Big cajones… that’s what you need if you’re going to remake a Brian De Palma classic. The 1976 original blew people away being universally praised and rightly so. So big cajones, in this case, comes in the form of Chloë Grace Moretz (fast developing as one of Hollywood’s best young female talents), Julianne Moore and director Kimberly Peirce – best known for her award winning debut Boys Don’t Cry (1999). As far as remakes go, it has promise but received mixed reviews. If you’re a fan of the original and/or Moretz, it’s worth checking out.

Her (Jan, 2014)
Here’s a brave move: take one of the most attractive women in Hollywood – one, Scarlett Johansson – and have her play a role where we only get to hear her voice. Brave or genius? Either way, it’s the sort of thing you expect from enigmatic director Spike Jonze. This film sees Joaquin Phoenix’s lonely writer develop a relationship with an operating system voiced by Scarlett. An intriguing idea – although puts me in mind Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, an episode called ‘Be Right Back‘ starring Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson.

The Raid 2: Berandal
(Mar, 2014)
Welsh director Gareth Evans and breakout star Iko Uwais are back with their sequel… Oh yes! The original film had a simple premise (bunch of cops get trapped in a drug lord’s tower block and have to fight their way out) and the sequel immediately picks up events from the first; with Uwais’s Rama going undercover with gangs to bust corrupt cops. Same old, same old you may say – just watch the trailer.

300: Rise of an Empire
(Mar, 2014)
THIS IS A SEQUEL! Sorry, couldn’t resist. Actually it’s a sequel, prequel and a sort of during-quel in some ways. Covering events before, during and after the 2007 original. Obviously we’ve got no Gerard Butler this time round. Filling the gap looks to be a heroine in the shape of the delicious and delectable Eva Green. What with this and Sin City 2, Eva’s star looks to be on the rise next year. A pleasing thing as she’s a mesmerising screen presence.

Blue Is The Warmest Color
(Nov, 2013)
This French romantic drama is the first film to win a Palme d’Or for both the director and lead actresses. Also the first film adapted from a graphic novel to win the award. Essentially it tells the tale of two female students who fall in and out of love. Critics have heaped praise on it with award winning director Pedro Almodovar naming it in his 12 best films of the year.