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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Former Anthrax star Dan Spitz is struggling to cope raising two autistic children, insisting he feels like a prisoner in his own house because it's a challenge to go anywhere with the kids. The musician, who has five-year-old twin sons Brendan and Jaden with wife Candi, is currently touring the U.S. with Megadeth's Dave Mustaine in support of their 2012 album Red Lamb.
The rocker has opened up about his inspiration behind the record, revealing most of the tracks were borne out the frustration he experienced dealing with the boys' developmental disorder.
He tells Metal Assault Radio, "You feel my pain in all the other songs because it transcended into whatever the topic may be that Dave and I wrote about. It's all a piece of me. The place I was in when I wrote this album is not a good place to be.
"My daily life is hell. We're locked in our house most of the time as prisoners. There are chains on our doors. When our kids get outside they don't know their name - they cannot transition simply from inside the house to getting in the car. They could literally have what we call meltdowns. Someone else's child might have temper tantrums, but ours are brought on very severe, and it could just happen with a change in pattern in their daily lives. The pattern has to be exactly the same. To get themselves in the car is a major transition for them, to the extent that they can really throw themselves on the driveway and try to injure themselves. They can't handle it. The police are called, and they think quite often that we're trying to hit our kid or something like that. It has to be explained to the officer that they have autism."
And Spitz admits he's lucky Mustaine has been so supportive of his difficult family life: "Dave has stayed in my house and he has held our children, so he knows the pain that I live through. He knows what it's all about. He understood that my time can be stopped at any moment when there's a disaster at home that I need to take care of, and that comes first. Other producers might not have understood that because they don't understand the autism world. My world operates differently. So Dave has played a large role in getting the feeling and anger that I feel inside out there."