Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There is a certain level of enjoyment you are guaranteed when signing on for a movie that boasts a cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. And that's the precise level of enjoyment you'll get from The Monuments Men — that bare minimum smirk factor inherent the idea that your favorite stars are getting to play together. In FDR-era army helmets, no less. But what we also get from the film is an aura of smug self-confidence from project captain Clooney, who seems all too ready to take for granted that we're perfectly satisfied peering into his backyard clubhouse.
So assured is the director/co-writer that we're happy to be in on the game that there doesn't seem to be any effort taken to refine the product for the benefit of a viewing audience. An introductory speech from art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) sets up the premise straight away: the Nazis are stealing and destroying all of Europe's paintings and sculptures, and by gum we need to stop them! The concept doesn't complicate from there, save for a batting back and forth of the throughline question about whether the preservation of these pieces is "really worth it." Stokes rallies his own Ocean's Seven on a fine arts rescue mission, instigating an old fashioned go-get-'em-boys montage where we learn everything we need to know about the band mates in question: Damon has a wife, Goodman has gumption, Murray doesn't smile, Bob Balaban is uppity, and Jean Dujardin is French.
The closest thing to a character in The Monuments Men comes in the form of Hugh Bonneville, a recovering alcoholic whose motivation to take on the dangerous mission is planted in a festering desire to absolve himself of a lifetime of f**king up. When we're away from Bonneville, the weight disspears, as does most of the joy. Without identifiable characters, even master funnymen like Goodman, Murray, and Balaban don't have much to offer... especially since the movie's jokes feel like first draft placeholders born on a tired night.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
But wait a minute, is this even supposed to be a comedy? After all, it's about World War II. And no matter what Alexandre Desplat's impossibly merry score would have you believe (coupled with The Lego Movie, this opening weekend might be responsible for more musical jubilance than any other since the days of "Make 'Em Laugh!"), warfare, genocide, and desecration of international culture all make for some pretty heavy material. But The Monuments Men's drama is just as fatigued as its humor, clumsily piecing together a collection of mini missions wherein the stakes, somehow, never seem to jump. We're dragged through military bases, battered towns, and salt mines by Clooney and the gang — occasionally jumping over to France to watch Damon work his least effective magic in years on an uptight Cate Blanchett, who holds the key to the scruffy American's mission but doesn't quite trust him... until, for no apparent reason, she suddenly does. We never feel like any of these people matter, not even to each other, so we never really feel like their adventures do.
The Monuments Men doesn't have much of a challenge ahead of it. Its heroes are movie stars, its bad guys are Nazis, and its message is one that nobody's going to refute: art is important — a maxim it pounds home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, through countless scenes of men staring in awe at the works of Michelangelo and Rembrandt. And in this easy endeavor, Clooney decides to coast. How could it possibly go wrong? Just grab hold of the fellas, toss 'em in the trenches, and let the laughs and danger write themselves. "This is what they came to see," Monuments Men insists. "Just us guys havin' a ball." But we never feel in on the game, and it isn't one that looks like that much fun anyhow.
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Election Season is far enough behind us to forget who Barack Obama even ran against (I wanna say it was Matt something?), the World Series has come and gone, and the vociferous campaign for People Magazine's Sexiest Man has landed a much less contested candidate than last year. You might think we have nothing left to debate — no polarizing argument in which to invest ourselves so vehemently to the point of popping veins and losing friendships. But you're overlooking one all-important dichotomy that has plagued our culture for the past several years: Edward Vs. Jacob.
The Twilight Saga heroine Bella Swan might have made her choice in the vampirious Mr. Cullen, but there are doubtlessly many who reserve affection for Edward's werewolf rival. The Team Edward/Team Jacob battle broke out between the installments of the book-turned-film series, plaguing the American populace with an intense animosity for the opposing sides. Some thought Edward to be Bella's meant-to-be, her first love, her soul mate. Others considered Jacob the more suitable partner, purer of heart and more capable of a giving, healthy relationship.
This is a phenomenon that has tread beyond the parameters of Twilight fandom into popular culture, affecting not only Twihards but the human species on the whole. And in its widespread outbreak, this pandemic has affected two particular communities the most: actual people named Edward and Jacob. No longer are these innocent men able to go about their days, enjoying the moniker supplied by loving parents. Now, there are connotations. They are unwittingly thrust into this bloodletting warfare, forced to defend their nomenclature against the opposing side.
But what's in a name? How does one state a case for the superior quality of his given handle? Simple: by citing some of the best examples of figures who have borne that same praenomen. So without further ado, we present to you just that. The ultimate showdown, broken down into nine disparate battles in the form of our very own additions to the Twilight Saga — other Edwards Vs. Jacobs... in pop culture, of course.
The Scorsese Saga: Fast Eddie Felson Vs. Jake LaMotta
Team Edward: Fast Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman in The Color of Money
Powers at His Disposal: The almost unteachable skill of pool hustling, and the rare ability to teach it.
Team Jacob: Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull
Powers: A bull-like rage (also his undoing)
Winner: Jake LaMotta — Raging Bull is a classic (0/1)
The Seven Seas Saga: Blackbeard Vs. Jake of the Never Land Pirates
Team Edward: Real life 18th Century pirate Blackbeard, born Edward Teach
Powers: An iconoclastic reverence among enthusiasts of pirate culture and facial hair alike
Team Jacob: The starring player in the Disney cartoon Jake and the Never Land Pirates
Powers: The greatest power of all: the ability to teach children
Winner: Jake of the Never Land Pirates. It's good to be educational (0/2)
The Journalistic Saga: Edward R. Murrow Vs. Jacob Riis
Team Edward: Cold War-era CBS news reporter Edward R. Murrow
Powers: The ability to take down Joseph McCarthy with a single bound!
Team Jacob: Jacob Riis, turn-of-the-20th Century Danish-American reporter/social reformer
Powers: Laser-powered muckraking!
Winner: Edward R. Murrow... you can thank him for the lack of xenophobic oppression you might be facing today (1/2)
The Lost Saga: Edward Mars Vs. Jacob
Team Edward: Edward Mars (Frederic Lehne), the ill-fated U.S. Marshal assigned to the arrest of Kate Austen
Powers: A superhuman devotion to justice
Team Jacob: Jacob (Mark Pellegrino)... you know, the dude who's pretty much God
Powers: The dude is pretty much God
Winner: You might be surprised by this one, but Edward — at the end of the day, Jacob was kind of a bulls*** artist (2/2)
The Ramis Saga: Cousin Eddie Vs. Joliet Jake Blues
Team Edward: Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) of the National Lampoon's Vacation franchise fame
Powers: The ability to show up, unannounced, anywhere in the country that might provide peril to his cousin Chevy Chase
Team Jacob: Joliet Jake Blues (John Belushi), one half of the titular pair in The Blues Brothers
Powers: Just listen to the music, people
Winner: Belushi all the way, of course (2/3)
The Talking Dog Saga: Eddie McDowd Vs. Jake the Dog
Team Edward: Seth Green's forgettable Nickelodeon antihero from 100 Deeds of Eddie McDowd
Powers: Does shapeshifting count when you can't control it?
Team Jacob: Jake the Dog from the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time
Powers: That arm-stretching thing, and loyalty
Winner: Eddie McDowd, if only for that nostalgia factor with which so many of us are plagued (3/3)
The Sitcom Children Saga: Eddie Munster Vs. Jake Harper
Team Edward: In a strange inversion of fate, this Edward is a werewolf: young Eddie Munster (Butch Patrick) from the classic '60s sitcom The Munsters
Powers: Near immortality, transformation into full-on wolf come full moon, a snazzy fashion sense
Team Jacob: Jake Harper (Angus T. Jones), Jon Cryer's son on Two and a Half Men
Powers: Bodily functions.
Winner: Eddie Munster, because... well, you know (4/3)
The Mutant Pariah Saga: Edward Scissorhands Vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Team Edward: Tim Burton's greatest creation, Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands
Powers: A love unparalleled
Team Jacob: Retired professional wrestler and python wrangler Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Powers: The snake, mostly
Winner: Another obvious victory for the Edwards... man, we all love that movie (5/3)
The Definitely Talented But Kind of Generic White Male Actor Over the Age of 30 Who Has Been in a Bunch of Good Things, Sure, But Hasn't Ever Really Taken Off as a Star — At Least Not Yet, Anyway Saga: Edward Norton Vs. Jake Gyllenhaal
Team Edward: Edward Norton of Fight Club, American History X, and Death to Smoochy
Powers: He used to be able to turn green and smash stuff, but Mark Ruffalo took that from him
Team Jacob: Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, and Zodiac starJake Gyllenhaal
Powers: Those eyes.
Winner: Edward Norton. Go see Moonrise Kingdom, by the way (6/3).
And so, just like in the movies, Team Edward takes the victories. Catch The Twilight Saga's final chapter, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 in theaters on Friday, Nov. 16.
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment]
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