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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At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The Writers Guild of America has announced its nominations for outstanding achievement in screen in 2002.
Antwone Fisher, Bowling for Columbine, Far From Heaven, Gangs of New York and My Big Fat Greek Wedding have been nominated for the WGA's best original screenplay award.
About a Boy, About Schmidt, Adaptation, Chicago and
The Hours meanwhile will contend for best adapted screenplay.
Antwone Fisher, Written by Antwone Fisher; Fox Searchlight
Bowling for Columbine, Written by Michael Moore; United Artists/Alliance Atlantis/Salter Street Films/Dog Eat Dog Films
Far From Heaven, Written by Todd Haynes; Focus Features
Gangs of New York, Screenplay by Jay Cocks and Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, story by Jay Cocks; Miramax Films
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Written by Nia Vardalos; Gold Circle Films/HBO/MPH Entertainment/Playtone
About a Boy, Screenplay by Peter Hedges and Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz, based on the novel by Nick Hornby; Universal Pictures/Studio Canal/Working Title Films/Tribeca Productions
About Schmidt, Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Louis Begley; New Line Cinema
Adaptation, Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, based on the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean; Columbia Pictures
Chicago, Screenplay by Bill Condon, based on the musical play, book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb and the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins; Miramax Films
The Hours, Screenplay by David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham; Paramount Pictures/Miramax Films
Animation--any length--one airing time (new category)
"The Bart Wants What It Wants" (The Simpsons), Written by John Frink & Don Payne; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Blame It on Lisa" (The Simpsons), Written by Bob Bendetson; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Godfellas" (Futurama), Written by Ken Keeler; 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Jaws Wired Shut" (The Simpsons), Written by Matt Selman; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"My Own Private Rodeo" (King of the Hill), Written by Alex Gregory & Peter Huyck; 20th Century Fox Television Productions in association with Deedle-Dee Productions, Judgmental Films and 3 Arts Entertainment; Fox
Santa Baby! Written by Peter Bakalian & Suzanne Collins; Rankin/Bass; Fox
Original Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
Dor to Door, Written by William H. Macy & Steven Schachter; Turner Pages, Inc.; TNT
The Gathering Storm, Teleplay by Hugh Whitemore, Story by Larry Ramin and Hugh Whitemore; a Scott Free Production in association with HBO Films; HBO
Sins of the Father Written by John Pielmeier, based on the magazine article that appeared in Texas Monthly by Pamela Colloff; Artisan; FX
Strange Relations, Written by Tim Kazurinsky; Showtime; Granada Entertainment; Showtime
Adapted Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
"Batogne" (Band of Brothers), Written by Bruce C. McKenna, based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose; DreamWorks/Playtone/HBO; HBO
Hysterical Blindness, Teleplay by Laura Cahill, based on the play by Laura Cahill; Hysterical Films, Inc.; HBO
Last Call, Screenplay by Henry Bromell, based on the memoir Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald by Frances Kroll Ring; Room 520/Barnstorm Films; Showtime
Mark Twain's Roughing It, Teleplay by Steven H. Berman, based on the book Roughing It by Mark Twain; Larry Levinson Productions; Hallmark Channel
Episodic Drama--any length, one airing time
"Game On" (The West Wing), Written by Aaron Sorkin & Paul Redford; John Wells Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television; NBC
"In Place of Anger" (Six Feet Under), Written by Christian Taylor; Six Feet Productions; HBO
"Nino Del Polvo" (Resurrection Boulevard), Written by Robert Eisele; Showtime; Viacom Productions, Inc.; Patagonia House; Showtime
"On the Beach" (ER), Written by John Wells; Constant C Productions; Amblin Television; Warner Bros. Television; NBC
Pilot (The Education of Max Bickford), Written by Dawn Prestwich & Nicole Yorkin; 20th Century Fox Television; CBS
"Whoever Did This" (The Sopranos), Written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess; Soprano Productions, Inc.; HBO
Episodic Comedy--any length, one airing time
"Change of Address" (Sex and the City), Written by Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"I Heart NY" (Sex and the City), Written by Michael Patrick King; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
Pilot (The Bernie Mac Show), Written by Larry Wilmore; Regency Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television; FOX
"My First Day", (pilot, Scrubs), Written by Bill Lawrence; Touchstone Television Productions; NBC
"Plus One is the Loneliest Number" (Sex and the City), Written by Cindy Chupack; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"Rooms With a View" (Frasier), Written by Dan O' Shannon & Lori Kirkland & Bob Daily; Grub Street Productions in association with Paramount Pictures; NBC
"The Wedding" (Ed), Written by Rob Burnett & Jon Beckerman; Viacom Productions in association with Worldwide Pants, Inc. and NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety---Music, Awards, Tributes--Specials--any length
The Kennedy Center Honors Written by Don Baer and George Stevens, Jr., Film Sequences Written by Sara Lukinson; A George Stevens Jr. Presentation - Kennedy Center Television Productions, Inc.; CBS
NBC 75th Anniversary Special, Written by Doug Abeles, James Anderson, Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Charlie Grandy, Steve Higgins, Lorne Michaels, Paula Pell, Herb Sargent, Michael Schur, Michael Shoemaker; Broadway Video in association with NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety--(including talk) Series
Dennis Miller Live, Written by Eddie Feldmann, Jose Arroyo, Richard Dahm, David Feldman, Jim Hanna, Rob Z. Kutner, Kirsten McFarland, Dennis Miller, Jacob Sager Weinstein; Happy Family Productions; HBO
Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Written by Mike Sweeney, Chris Albers, Andy Blitz, Kevin Dorff, Jonathan Glaser, Michael Gordon, Brian Kiley, Michael Koman, Brian McCann, Guy Nicolucci, Conan O'Brien, Andrew Secunda, Allison Silverman, Robert Smigel, Brian Stack, Andrew Weinberg; Broadway Video; NBC
Mad TV, Writing Supervised by Scott King, Written by Dick Blasucci, Garry Campbell, Lauren Dombrowski, Bryan Adams, Bruce McCoy, Michael Hitchcock, Steven Cragg, Chris Cluess, John Crane, Jennifer Joyce, Tami Sagher, Devon Shepard, Rich Talarico, Jim Wise, Kal Clarke, Sultan Pepper, Bill Kelley, Maiya Williams, Dino Stamatopoulos; QDE/Girl Group; FOX
Saturday Night Live, Written by Tina Fey, Doug Abeles, Leo Allen, James Anderson, Max Brooks, James Downey, James Eagan, Hugh Fink, Charlie Grandy, Jack Handey, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Dennis McNicholas, Lorne Michaels, Corwin Moore, Matt Murray, Paula Pell, Matt Piedmont, Ken Scarborough, Michael Schur, Frank Sebastiano, T. Sean Shannon, Eric Slovin, Robert Smigel, Emily Spivey, Andrew Steele, Scott Wainio, Jerry Collins, Tom David; Broadway Video in association with SNL Studios; NBC
Guiding Light, Written by Millee Taggart, Lucky Gold, Christopher Dunn, Tita Bell, Jill Lorie Hurst, Penelope Koechl, David Kreizman, Eleanor Labine, Alan Madison, Danielle Paige, A.J. Pierce, Janet Reed Ahearn, Susan Rice, David Rupel, Melissa Salmons, Eddie Sanchez, Lisa Seidman, David Smilow; Procter & Gamble; CBS
The Young and the Restless, Written by Kay Alden, Trent Jones, John F. Smith, Jerry Birn, Jim Houghton, Natalie Minardi, Janice Ferri, Eric Freiwald, Joshua McCaffrey, Michael Minnis, Rex M. Best; Columbia TriStar; CBS
Elmo's World: Happy Holidays!, Written by Christine Ferraro; Sesame Workshop; PBS
Off Season, Written by Glenn Gers; Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Our America, Teleplay by Gordon Rayfield, Based on the book "Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago" by Lealan Jones, Lloyd Newman and David Isay; Joseph Stern Productions; All Media, Inc.; Showtime
The Red Sneakers, Teleplay by Mark Saltzman, Story by Jeffrey Rubin; Lynch Entertainment, Tom Lynch Company, RS Productions, Ltd., Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Bioterror (Nova), Written by Matthew Collins; A Nova Production by the New York Times/ Granada Factuals USA and Lone Wolf Pictures, Inc., for WGBH/ Boston in association with Channel 4 Television; PBS
The Man Who Knew (Frontline), Written by Michael J. Kirk, Kirk Documentary Group; PBS
9/11, Written by Tom Forman & Greg Kandra; Goldfish Pictures, Inc.; CBS
Rollover: The Hidden Story of the SUV (Frontline), Written by Marc Shaffer & Barak Goodman; 10/20 Productions; PBS
Documentary--Other Than Current Events
America's First River, Part One, Written by Tom Spain; WNET/Educational Broadcasting Corp.; Public Affairs Television; PBS
Empire State Building Ironworker (A Day in their Lives), Written by Peter Hankoff; Termite Art Productions; History Channel; History Channel
Evolution of a Revolution (Founding Brothers), Written by Kelly McPherson and Melissa Jo Peltier & Allison MacEwan; MPH Entertainment Inc.; History Channel; History Channel
Monkey Trial (American Experience), Written by Christine Lesiak; WGBH Educational Foundation; PBS
News--Regularly Scheduled, Bulletin or Breaking Report
Attack on America Written by Jerry Cipriano, Paul Fischer, Thomas Harris, Hugh Heckman, Bruce Meyer; CBS Evening News; CBS
September 11th Controllers, Written by Jonathan W. Kaplan; CBS