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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Universal via Everett Collection
Lone Survivor isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a film that beats you down and only lets you up for a few precious moments before the credits roll, but that emotional throttling is what helps make the film such a powerful experience.
Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, primarily focusing on a group of four Navy SEALs who are sent to the mountains of Afganistan to capture or kill a member of the Taliban. The plan goes wrong, and the team has to fight for their lives to escape the enemy-infested area. The film does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension before collapsing into its main action sequence, one that is as thrilling as it is unsettling. The long sequence brings forth memories of the infamous D-Day opening of Saving Private Ryan, except this film's fire-fight stretches out the violence like a medieval torture device. The langourous scene is, at times, hard to sit through. Each moment slips by in coiled tension. It's undoubtedly uncomfortable, and the film makes a point to never make the violence fun or enticing. The action isn't consequence-free, and every bullet fired carries weight, making the scenes brutal and unrelenting because of it. The film takes on the aura of a horror movie that wants you to feel every second that ticks by, and director Berg makes sure that a pressing hopelessness starts to weigh on the viewer just as it does on the soldiers.
Mark Wahlberg is plenty capable as Marcus Lutrell, a member of the SEAL unit that is sent on the mission. The supporting cast plays its parts admirably by believably infusing a diverse set of personalities and values into the soldiers, while still keeping them in tune with the same military culture that governs much of their thoughts and actions. There's a great scene where a difficult decision has to be made, and the viewer gets to see the different directions to which some of the character's moral compasses are tuned. Sometimes the right thing can mean different things to different people when the risk of death is on the table. The real standout in the cast is Ben Foster, whose SO2 Matthew Alexson swirls with barely contained fury. He is darkly intense and has electric screen presence that really starts to manifest when the bullets star flying and things become dire.
Universal via Everett Collection
For all the good will that the film builds up in its first and second act, the final third of the film hits some snags as history demands that the story take itself to a different location, sacrificing some of the tension that it has built up. In the last 30 minutes of the film, there are some odd tonal choices that don't gel with the tension brimming in the first half. A comedic scene involving a language barrier stands out in particular.
The movie makes a point to steer clear of any political judgment, and it doesn't try to lay blame for the botched mission on any one head. And while the film never outwardly states and opinion on the conflicts that America found itself embroiled in during this time period, the searing brutality depicted in the movie highlight that no one should be subjected to the pain that these men were faced with. Made abundantly clear is the soldiers' willingness to drop everything and serve their country the best way they know how. Lone Survivor tries to honor the soldier, but not glorify war.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
Lone Survivor is at its best when it makes you feel the worst. It gives soldiers their due reverence by showcasing the true terror of the battlefield, and while the film does start to sag a bit in its third act, it's still more than worth the experience in order understand the consequences of war, and its toll on the people in the trenches.
Watching Arrested Development is like playing a video game. The more you dedicate yourself to the intricacies, the more you'll be rewarded. Mitch Hurwitz's beloved comedy series regularly rewards its devoted fans with self-directed references that build upon one another as the episodes progress. In short, the more you watch, the more funny the show's jokes become.
Surely, the forthcoming season of AD (which began filming yesterday) is bound to revisit some of the original run's most memorable running gags, from oft repeated one-liners to more intricate plot callbacks. As the new episodes enter production (as proven by star Jason Bateman's Twitter account, revealing photos of the team returning to the set), we can't help but think back on some of our favorite recurring bits through our first three years with the Bluth family. Here's a list of some of our staff's favorite Arrested Development running jokes that we presume, and hope, will find their place in the show's return.
"I've Made a Huge Mistake."
GOB first utters his catchphrase during Arrested Development's fourth episode... twice. First, upon realizing that he might have gotten himself into a trickier situation than he imagined after getting himself locked up in jail. Second, immediately after committing himself romantically to his then-girlfriend (though not for long), Marta.
The Enchanting Mrs. Featherbottom
In an effort to reconnect with his moderately estranged daughter Maeby, Tobias Fünke developed the Mrs. Doubtfire inspired plagiarized alter ego Phylidia Featherbottom in the second season episode "The Immaculate Election." The character's crowning moment came when she plummeted from the second story of the Bluth family home into the living room coffee table, in an effort to bequeath the power of whimsy unto an uninterested Maeby.
Life Lessons from J. Walter Weatherman
As revealed in a flashback in the Season 1 episode "Pier Pressure," George Sr. made a habit of enforcing borderline abusive life lessons unto his young children via the help of friend and amputee J. Walter Weatherman. Over the course of the series' run, JWW helped to teach the Bluth family about leaving notes, not yelling while one's father is driving, and, interestingly, not using people with missing limbs to teach other people lessons.
Sad Charlie Brown Music
Technically, the Charlie Brown musical motif only appeared in one episode — Season 2's "Good Grief" — but made its way into four different scenes, illustrating the sorrows experienced by George Michael, his grandfather George Sr., GOB, and (upon discovering that someone had eaten his hard-boiled eggs) Tobias.
Tobias' Colorful Diction
This isn't so much a running gag as it is a defining characteristic of one of Arrested Development's fan favorite characters. Tobias has a bit of a habit for slipping some pretty shocking innuendo into everyday speech... without even knowing it. It's a big part of why he is so beloved by AD fans. And speaking of colorful...
From the moment she enters their lives in "Let 'em Eat Cake," the members of the Bluth family, Michael especially, make no effort to hide their... unimpressed attitude toward young George Michael's first girlfriend, Ann. Or Bland... Plant. Egg. Annhog. Here's hoping that she makes a thrilling comeback in the new season (perhaps as GOB's girlfriend now?), and is no less receptive to the family's insulting stack of nicknames.
The Literal Doctor
"Let 'em Eat Cake" introduces another much detested character into the lives of the Bluth family... but this one for much better reason: Dr. Fishman, mocked as "Dr. Wordsmith" by Lucille and known to fans primarily as "the Literal Doctor." How did he get this moniker? Perhaps by affirming that Buster would be "all right" after losing his left hand, or by declaring, "It looks like we lost him," after an apparently heart attack-stricken George Sr. sneaked away from his hospital room.
Yeah, the guy in the $4000 suit is going to explain this joke to you. Come on!
The Many Faces of Gene Parmesan
Private detective Gene Parmesan is another element of Arrested Development that only appeared in one episode, but that seems like it spanned the series due to how big an impact it made on fans. Throughout the second season "Amigos," Lucille is shocked (and elated) over and over by the "master of disguise," Gene Parmesan, who is enough of a class act to not even count the money when you pay him for his time.
A HAND-Ful of Buster
After Buster loses his hand in the second season episode "Out on a Limb," Arrested Development takes no caution poking fun at the youngest Bluth sibling's (well, half-sibling/cousin) handicap. Whether he's exasperatedly screaming, "I'm a monster!" or unintentionally puncturing someone... or something... with his hook, Buster's hand jokes are an AD staple.
Introducing Franklin Delano Bluth
The most accomplished member of the Bluth family by far is Franklin: a recording artist and entrepreneur... and a puppet, who GOB first introduced to AD fans in the Season 2 ep "Meat the Veals." Via Franklin, GOB taught the world a lot about living in racial harmony... and about pimping out a prostitute who may or may not be your biological sister.
Although we might not see Charlize Theron return to her role as Michael's "secretly" mentally challenged girlfriend Rita in the new episodes, we can still hope that the family can find its way back to Wee Britain: the California neighborhood that introduced fans to the wild machinations of a yesteryear's James Bond in episodes like "For British Eyes Only," "Notap***y," and, best of all ... "MR. F."
The Fable of Chareth Cutestory: Maritime Lawyer
In an effort to impress a cute prosecutor at a bar in the episode "Altar Egos," Michael decided to make up an identity for himself: Chareth Cutestory. This role also helped Michael live out a longtime dream of actually being a lawyer... a dream that he had ever since taking a role in a school production of The Trial of Captain Hook. The song'll stick in your head like glue.
He Just Likes Cutoffs
No, Tobias. Those do not effectively hide your thunder.
I'll Meet You Down at the Big Yellow Joint
While George Sr.'s twin brother Oscar and son GOB appear to have their share of familiarity with cannabis, neither the family patriarch nor his straight-laced grandson George Michael seem to have much savvy in the realm of narcotics, both affirming awkwardly, "I'm going to smoke the marijuana like a cigarette." Will another comical mismanagement of streetwise lingo work its way into the future of Arrested Development episodes as it did in Season 1's "Pier Pressure" and Season 2's "Sad Sack"? Are we in for a revival of the boardwalk's hit number "Big Yellow Joint"? Just keep Buster's turtle Mother out of the Afternoon Delight box...
”I Just Want My Kids Back.”
Even though Lindsay Fünke might have no idea who Thomas Jane is, most other people do. He’s the star of such blockbusters as the hit family film Homeless Dad, as we saw in the episode “Out on a Limb.” It’s a touching story. He just wants his kids back.
The Family's Grammar Issues
For an affluent, well-to-do clan, the Bluth family doesn't seem to have a great deal of formal education. Especially when it comes to putting together a sentence do they tend to fail, such as seen (most notably) in the Season 3 episode "Forget-Me-Now." Look at banner, reader!
Not too many things seem to bother the guards at George Sr.'s prison. People sneak out of jail, sneak into jail, get stabbed, push each other off balconies, form alliances, teach courses on misguided versions of major religions... but as fans learned in the second episode of the series, "Top Banana," there is one rule that is always enforced: "NO TOUCHING!"
And of course... The Chicken Dance
After making its first triumphant appearance in the Season 1 episode "Staff Infection," GOB's nothing-like-a-chicken chicken dance (used primarily to torment Buster over his cowardice) has become arguably the most beloved element in the entire series. The rest of the family eventually got in on the act: Lindsay, Lucille, and George Sr. each contributed equally brow-raising depictions of the barnyard fowl. Enjoy the clip below, and watch out for Arrested Development's fourth season!
[Photo Credits: Fox]