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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In a nice bit of stunt casting, Prince appeared on the post-Super Bowl episode of New Girl. The story saw The Purple One invitings Zooey Deschanel's Jess and Hannah Simone's Cece to a party at his mansion. According to the show's producers, Prince is such a fan of the show that he contacted them about being included in an episode.
He's certainly not the first music industry icon to show up on a scripted television show, but he might be one of the most unexpected. Having someone of Prince's stature cast himself in a guest spot on a sitcom opens the doors for other legends to jump into parts on the small screen. Here's our wish list pairing other musical royalty with the TV show that we'd like to see them pop up on.
Bruce Springsteen, The Good WifeThe show featured some of The Boss' new music on its January 12 episode in an effort to promote Springsteen's latest release. Know what works even better to promote your music? A real live appearance. Springsteen has been goofing off with Jimmy Fallon recently, so he's not as averse to putting himself out there as he used to be. Springsteen could easily show up in a story line protesting Chris Noth's Peter Florrick's policies as governor… and maybe share a moment with Julianna Margulies' Alicia.
Beyoncé, ScandalKerry Washington's Olivia Pope doesn't have many female friends — or really friends at all — as she manages one crisis or another for her D.C. clientele, so it might be nice to have one of her childhood friends drop in on her. Bey has acted before, most notably in Austin Powers in Goldmember, so we know that she can handle more than just a quick walk-on. Give Mrs. Carter and Washington some ample screen time together and it might be the most glamorous match-up since Dynasty went off the air.
Bono, Parks and RecreationGranted, this might not have been on this list before Amy Poehler decided to make out with the U2 front man after winning her Golden Globe… but now that we've seen that, how can you not want more? Plus, just the idea of Bono being stuck in Indiana is funny. Have his limo break down in Pawnee, let Poehler's Leslie Knope try to recruit him for some cause, and if they happen to end up making out, well, there's nothing wrong with that.
Lady Gaga, GleeShe's hosted Saturday Night Live and joined the Muppets for a holiday special, so Lady Gaga has done her fair share of small screen work. Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy has repeatedly shown how much of a fan of her music he is. With ratings declining for the show, it would be a boon to have Gaga appear as a rival glee club coach and torment Matthew Morrison's Will Schuester.
Justin Bieber, 2 Broke Girls
The kid needs to change his image, that part cannot be denied. When Britney Spears needed some good pub, she did an appearance on How I Met Your Mother. When Miley Cyrus was transitioning to her sexed-up adulthood, she did a stint on Two and a Half Men. Biebs needs to be seen making fun of his image and his missteps. There are worse ways to start the repair work than by taking a tongue lashing from Kat Dennings' Max.
Hurricane? What hurricane? The windy, worrisome ways don't deter Hollywood from making moves and news. So why not use this last bit of power on your laptop and check out everything you missed while you were searching high and low for the last loaf of Wonderbread, shall we? Priorities, you are in-check!
It's A Guest-Star Parade on New Girl!: What happens when Olivia Munn, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Rob Reiner get guest-star arcs on a TV show? Well, for New Girl fans, it's just one piece of an already packed second season of the FOX comedy darling. According to showrunner Liz Meriwether, this new batch of guest stars made quite a mark. Having Reiner on set for the week was a challenge: "I was trying to play it cool, but every time I was around him, I was shaking a little bit! The things that he’s done are so unbelievable," said Meriwether. "I got to yell at Jamie Lee Curtis," explained actress Hannah Simone. And Munn? Well she got hit in the face during a stripper fight. Natch. "We actually just shot this huge stripper fight last night and she got hit in the face!" quipped Meriwether. Just another day with...who's that girl? Oh right, it's Jess. [Hollywood Reporter]
The Voice Changes the Rules: The folks at The Voice are switching things up for Season 3! Much like on their rival X Factor, this season, not every judge needs to have a contestant in the Final Four. Beginning on Nov. 13, the bottom two will be sent home regardless of what team they're on: which is great for viewers and teams with more than one powerhouse, but bad for coaches with subpar contestants, and those hangers-on who just want one more week. [TVLine]
Rebecca Romijn Pilots at TNT: Rebecca Romjin is set to play Michelle Maxwell, one-half of the titled team, King and Maxwell at TNT. Her character is reportedly a former secret services agent charged with investigating politically sensitive cases. Her partner, Sean King, will also apparently provide some sort of romantic element to the relationship. Ooh! Saucy! And, it seems there's a bit of a Homeland element to the whole thing, as Maxwell is seen as a very accomplished investigator that was forced out of the Secret Service and is determined to redeem herself. Paging Carrie Matheson! [EW]
Ethan Embry Enchanted by Once Upon: Another day, another guest star for Once Upon a Time. This time, it's Ethan Embry who has snagged a recurring role, as an out-of-town visitor to Storybrooke. Little else is known about his role, but we're sure it will be simply magical. [TVLine]
Dan Harmon Goes Adult Swimming: Looks like the Community creator will be without a show no longer! Adult Swim confirmed its picked up Rick & Morty, a new animated series slated for release in early 2014. Hopefully there's only one timeline for this show. [Dave Itzkoff]
Josh Lyman Bradley Whitford Marries a Trophy Wife: Excitement abounds for The West Wing fans, as one its most-beloved stars, Bradley Whitford has continued a bit of a career resurgence. The Emmy-winning actor has signed on to star opposite Malin Akerman in Trophy Wife, a single-camera comedy project about a former party girl (Akerman) who falls in love with a man (Whitford) with three manipulative kids and two judgmental ex-wives. [TVLine]
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[Photo Credit: FOX]
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It made perfect sense during last night's episode of New Girl that Nick wanted to get a turtle, his spirit animal, as a pet. Not only do the two bear a striking physical resemblance, but both species move through life at a pace that best suits them and can hide under their shells when they feel threatened or scared. But even if you live with a turtle, or in the case of Schmidt, the elusive Nick Miller for a decade, if you're a sensitive person, their utter lack of care or returned love will eventually wear you down. That's exactly what happened during "Models," an episode that somehow found balance as it see-sawed between spot-on analysis of lifelong friendships and a truly unfortunate product placement scene. While Nick may have wanted a turtle, the last thing he wanted was a cookie. Or, at least, a cookie that was given to him by his best friend of 10 years because said best friend was just thinking about him. Now, I won't begin to pretend to understand the male psyche and how they can be so detached from their feelings, so having a character like Nick to watch is like getting an insightful and terrifying look inside. After Schmidt brings Nick a cookie just because, as friends do, the gesture knocked over the emotional dominoes between the three guys in the apartment. When Nick tells Schmidt he never thinks about him during his day, the admission understandably upsets Schmidt. (In a nice change of character pacing, Max Greenfield got to play a more down-to-Earth, vulnerable side of Schmidt.) Winston takes his side, knowing all too well what it's like trying to break into "The Cold-Hearted Republic of Nick Miller." Nick Miller who can't be bothered to say goodnight, Nick Miller who truly believes "nobody buys anybody a cookie for no reason," Nick Miller who gets upset by the fact that his best friend loves and cares for him too much. Left to the devices of any other actor, Nick would probably look like the biggest jerk on television, but thankfully it's done with understated brilliance by Jake Johnson. Whether you know someone like Nick (I'd venture to guess that New Girl creator Liz Meriwether has a Nick in her life), or you are a Nick, Johnson's performance manages to make a complex character that's both insightful and relatable. Not something that can often be said about a sitcom character. Johnson stole the show last night, both with his hilariously curmudgeon facial reactions to his completely sincere conversations with both Schmidt and Winston, but Jess as well. I'm a sucker for any Jess and Nick moments, flirtatious or otherwise, but their scene in last night's episode was one of my favorites. When the two find themselves in the midst of respective friend fights (more on Jess' in a bit) Nick asks her if she thinks they'd be friends with their old friends if they met them today. (In a flashback we see that a horrendously mustachioed Nick met a Ramen-eating Schmidt in college and against all logic, they became pals.) It's a question anyone with a lifelong friend asks themselves at some point, and Johnson hit all the right notes in the scene. The guys eventually patched things up (as unconventional a sitcom as New Girl may be at times, it's still a sitcom) and all of them had a good cry and a good hug about it. As infuriating as a friend like Nick can be, you can't stay mad at him for too long. After all, under that shell he's just a big ol' softie. Besides, how could you get made at a guy who mistakes eye shadow for shoe polish and says things like this: "The only time a man is allowed to think about another man is when that man is Jay Cutler." "I can't go around saying goodnight to everyone and buying cookies. I am not a titan of finance, sir." "They were out of turtles. I bought a tiny cowboy hat for nothing." "I've got two perfectly good forks at the end of my arms." "You're the only turtle I want." See? Impossible to stay mad at him for long. Jess, on the other hand — well, she can be even tougher to love at times. While the boys were having their own rift, so were Jess and Cece (Hannah Simone.) On Cece's birthday, Jess unwillingly joined her best friend and her admittedly god awful model friends (please, New Girl writers, I beg of you to get rid of the insufferable, unfunny, and indistinguishable Nadia character) for a night on the town. It all goes to hell in a designer handbag when a fed-up Jess airs her grievances about her best friend (namely, that modeling has made her dumber) all within earshot of Cece. This storyline walked the line of totally believable and relatable (best girlfriends absolutely hold onto childhood traditions like watching Clueless and can bounce back from just about any fight) to downright silly (boob fights aren't a thing.) While it packed one of the downright funniest moments ever on New Girl, when we discover that Jess actually resembles a monkey from a (fake, sadly) Russian cracker commercial, it also packed the single-most cringe-inducing. Now, I understand product placement is a thing that happens on TV. It happened on Friends with their massive Diet Coke campaign, it happened when Subway kept Chuck and Cougar Town on the air a little bit longer. But it still didn't make it any more fun to watch Deschanel have to do a demanding physical comedy routine while a veritable Ford commercial played over her. Still, I shouldn't judge. That's the very thing that found Jess in hot water when she judged Cece's life choices, from her diet to her career. But she, like anyone with a lifelong best friend, came to the realization that we don't love our friends in spite of these things that make them them, but because of them. That we often find someone who is different from us (Jess admits Cece is braver than she ever could be) to balance us out. That if we met them today, maybe we wouldn't be friends, but that's exactly why we met them when we did, so we could be friends as fate intended it. New Girl, let's be friends forever. Or at least a solid few more seasons. What did you think of last night's New Girl? Would you agree that Jake Johnson made the episode all his? Is Brian Austin Green your favorite rapper, too? Did you catch that little (500) Days of Summer nod when they played Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams"? Does it seem like the show is emphasizing Zooey Deschanel's sex appeal more and more each week? Share in the comments section, Gigglebangs Ricebowl.
[Photo credit: Greg Gayne/Fox]
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Wuthering Heights is an incredible experience director Andrea Arnold having taken the Emily Brontë novel and turned it on its head in her typically nervy bold style. There's little dialogue it's shot using available natural light and like her previous film Fish Tank stars an unknown actor whose presence commands every scene.
There is moping on the moors in Wuthering Heights but the muddy meditative experience that has almost nothing in common with its predecessors. There's no romantically brooding Olivier or pillow-lipped Tom Hardy here; this is not an experience for teen girls to swoon over. As children Catherine and Heathcliff are odd playmates. Once Mr. Earnshaw dies and Catherine's older brother Hindley takes over the household Heathcliff's life changes drastically for the worse. He's physically and verbally abused and banished to the barn to sleep with the "other animals." It's clear that this is a brand-new nearly incomprehensible world for Healthcliff and it's impossible to not feel empathy for him especially during an aborted attempted at baptizing him. As a teen his relationship with Catherine is magical despite (or because?) how much he risks to just play in the mud with her. An ominous indicator of their lifelong relationship is that she doesn't grasp why her playmate isn't as free as she is to do what she wants. She's sorry that Heathcliff gets beaten for ditching work to play with her but that doesn't stop her from encouraging him. As children they romp like puppies with just a hint of their budding sexuality; they're pure selfish id.
In many ways neither of them outgrow this selfishness. Even when she's married and pregnant Catherine feels Heathcliff betrayed her by leaving. Heathcliff's ruthlessness in his pursuit of revenge is equally childish; we see him torturing dogs that mirrors the actions of Hindley's grubby-faced neglected child. Is it nature or nurture? Is Hindley's child learning by watching the adults around him or should we believe the natural tendency of children is this utterly careless cruelty? Whichever it is there's no doubt that Heathcliff's disavowal of the past and insistence of living in the present — "There's only now " he tells her — has nothing to do with Buddhist mindfulness but a total disregard for how his actions affect others. His initial plan included suicide but this seems much more interesting.
Howson's performance as an adult Heathcliff is remarkable. He's not a sympathetic character — no one is in this film. Although it's not clear whether or not Arnold was specifically looking to cast a person of color for the role of Heathcliff the fact that Howson is black adds an extra layer of complexity to the drama. In the book he's described in such a way that indicates at the very least his ethnic background isn't white but Arnold ups the ante by putting a racial epithet in Hindley's mouth. This drives home the idea of Heathcliff's outsider status; it makes his "otherness" visible.
There's something gentle in Heathcliff's face that belies the nearly sociopathic anger within. When he first seduces Catherine's sister-in-law Isabella as part of his revenge on Catherine it's erotic in a way that makes the viewer complicit in Isabella's eventual destruction. (This serves as an interesting foil to Fish Tank and its ethically troubling but arousing sex scenes with Michael Fassbender and Katie Jarvis.) As the adult Catherine Kaya Scodelario puts in a good performance. Her Catherine looks angelic but is all hard angles underneath those lacy flounces. She is the wild shrieking woman to Heathcliff's cold silence and when she is finally quiet it's only because she's succumbed to the furor of their lifelong struggle.
Throughout Wuthering Heights we are put in Heathcliff's shoes. We see Catherine through his eyes and we understand what it feels like to ride on a horse behind her with her hair whipping in our face and the warm flank under our fingers. We are immersed in this sensual experience of being Heathcliff thanks to the magic of Robbie Ryan's cinematography. (Ryan has worked as a cinematographer on all of Arnold's films including her Oscar-winning short Wasp.) The handheld camera work is intense and occasionally nauseating but its immediacy is crucial to the film. Using available light occasionally works against it as some scenes are so dark it's hard to tell what's actually happening.
Wuthering Heights gives rise to an internal debate. If it was edited down more with less lingering shots of bugs crawling across leaves or birds twinned in the sky as obvious metaphors for Heathcliff and Catherine it would be an entirely different experience. Would it be better maybe more enjoyable easier to sit through? Or is that beside the point? Andrea Arnold's talent lies in pushing the viewer past their normal boundaries of what's romantic or beautiful. In Arnold's world a mother and daughter dancing in a kitchen to "Life's a Bitch" by Nas is as loving and joyful as Heathcliff's frenzied attempts to unearth Catherine's coffin. You either decide you're all in or you're not.