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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Following the success of the “more action stars than you can shake a stick at” formula of 2010’s The Expendables, Lionsgate unleashed The Expendables 2 in 3,316 theaters this weekend, and the results were solid. This time star Sylvester Stallone handed over the directing reins to Simon West (Con Air, Laura Croft: Tomb Raider) so he could concentrate on more ass whuppin’ and less directin’! The first film debuted at number one with $34.8 million and was a surprise mid-August hit, and thus it’s no surprise that this latest installment topped this weekend’s chart with a gross of $28.75 million. There is almost not enough room here to list all of the action stars that take part in the mayhem, including of course Sylvester Stallone and a supporting cast featuring Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
1. The Expendables 2 - $28.75 million (week 1) (LIONSGATE)
2. The Bourne Legacy - $17,019,855/total to date $69,580,935 (week 2) (UNIVERSAL)
3. ParaNorman - $14,008,498/Week 1 (FOCUS FEATURES)
4. The Campaign - $13,385,000/total to date $51,694,000 (week 2) (WARNER BROS.)
5. Sparkle – $12 million (week 1) (SONY)
6. The Dark Knight Rises - $11,140,000/$409,916,000 to date (crossed $400 million mark this weekend) week 5
7. The Odd Life of Timothy Green - $10,909,000/$15,187,000 to date (Opened Wednesday) week 1
Adding to the excitement of this weekend’s action movie leanings was Universal’s The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, in a re-boot of the “Bourne” franchise. Last weekend the film topped the chart with $38.1 million, and it has been holding steady all week in first place — it crossed the $50 million mark on Thursday after just seven days of release. The action re-boot had a second weekend gross of $17 million and a North American total by Sunday night of over $69 million.
Besides The Expendables 2, there were three additional wide release openers that found themselves in a box office traffic jam of sorts, with Focus Features’ stop-action animated Paranorman (in 3-D) leading lead the charge with a gross of $14 million. Produced by Coraline creators Laika, the PG-rated horror adventure performed similarly to that film, which scared up $16.8 million in its third place debut back in February of 2009.
Warner Bros.’ The Campaign starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis did well in the mid-week box office primary, garnering votes in the mid $2 million range daily. As bitter rivals in a North Carolina congressional campaign, Farrell and Galifianakis duke it out on the campaign trail to comedic effect. In this its second weekend, a gross of $13.385 million put it in the thick of a very contentious fight for a spot in the top four.
Also opening this weekend was Sparkle from Sony Pictures, which had a debut of $12 million and thus earned back its modest negative cost in its first three days of release. This is a re-make of the 1976 film, which starred Miami Vice’s Philip Michael Thomas and singer Irene Cara, and was co-written by Joel Schumacher (director of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin). This update stars American Idol Season Six winner Jordin Sparks and the late Whitney Houston in her fifth and final screen role, in a tale of an up and coming girl group in Detroit in the Motown era 1960’s. Both films were inspired by the iconic female singing group The Supremes, and this version amps up the star power and the production values to great effect.
Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight Rises took the number 6 spot with $11.1 million, and a North American total that passed the $400 million mark on Friday.
The fourth film making its debut, Disney’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green, got a head start on the weekend with a Wednesday debut in over 2,551 theaters with $2.3 million. The PG-rated fantasy stars Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton and CJ Adams in the titular role of Timothy Green, a 10 year-old boy who shows up on the doorstep of a couple that has been wishing for a child but unable to conceive. Of course the young boy is much more than he appears to be and strange events ensue. A gross of nearly $11 million for the weekend enabled the family drama to sprout $15.2 million for the Wednesday through Sunday period.
Only three summer box office weekends left (including this one) as we struggle to keep up with last year’s summer pace.
[PHOTO CREDIT: LIONSGATE]
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Following the success of the “more action stars than you can shake a stick at” formula of 2010’s “The Expendables,” Lionsgate unleashes “The Expendables 2” which opens in 3,316 theaters this weekend and the results should be explosive. This time star Sylvester Stallone hands over the directing reins to Simon West (“Con Air,” “Laura Croft: Tomb Raider”) so he can concentrate on more ass whuppin’ and less movie directin’! The first film debuted at number one with $34.8 million and was a surprise mid-August hit and thus it’s no surprise that this latest installment will top this weekend’s chart with a gross of about $40 million. There is almost not enough room here to list all of the action stars that take part in the mayhem including of course Sylvester Stallone and a supporting cast featuring Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Adding to the excitement of this weekend’s action movie leanings is Universal’s “The Bourne Leagacy” starring Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross in this re-boot of the “Bourne” franchise. Last weekend the film topped the chart with $38.1 million and has been holding steady all week in first place and crossed the $50 million mark on Thursday after just seven days of release. Solid word-of-mouth will give it a modest second weekend drop, a gross of around $23 million and a North American total by Sunday night of over $70 million.
Besides “The Expendables 2,” there are three additional wide release openers that may find themselves in a box office traffic jam of sorts with Focus Features’ stop-action animated “Paranorman” in 3-D likely to lead the charge with a gross of around $16 to $17 million. Produced by “Coraline” creators Laika, the PG-rated horror adventure should perform similarly to that film which scared up $16.8 million in its third place debut back in February of 2009.
Also opening this weekend is “Sparkle” from Sony Pictures which should have a debut of around $15 million and thus earn back its modest negative cost in its first three days of release. This is a re-make of the 1976 film which starred “Miami Vice’s” Philip Michael Thomas and singer Irene Cara and was co-written by Joel Schumacher (director of “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin). This update stars American Idol Season Six winner Jordin Sparks and the late Whitney Houston in her fifth and final screen role in a tale of an up and coming girl group in Detroit in the Motown era 1960’s. Both films were inspired by the iconic female singing group The Supremes and this version amps up the star power and the production values to great effect.
Warner Bros.’ “The Campaign” starring comedy Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis has done well in the mid-week box office primary garnering votes in the mid $2 million range daily. As bitter rivals in a North Carolina congressional campaign, Farrell and Galifianakis duke it out on the campaign trail to comedic effect. In this its second weekend an expected mid-teen gross will put it in the thick of a very contentious fight for a spot in the top three this weekend.
The fourth film making its debut has already banked some green: $2.3 million worth as Disney’s “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” gets a head start on the weekend with a Wednesday debut in over 2,551 theaters. The PG-rated fantasy stars Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton and CJ Adams in the titular role of Timothy Green a 10 year-old boy who shows up on the doorstep of a couple that has been wishing for a child but unable to conceive. Of course the young boy is much more than he appears to be and strange events ensue. A likely gross of just over $10 million for the weekend should enable the family drama to sprout $15 million for the Wednesday through Sunday period.
Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” will also vie for a spot in the top 5 with a possible gross in the low teens and a North American total that will pass the $400 million mark on Friday.
Only three summer box office weekends left (including this one) as we struggle to keep up with last year’s summer pace.
The production has raked in a total of $853,846,062 (GBP533,654,039) since its 1997 debut - over $700,000 (GBP437,500) more than Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom.
And President of Disney Theatrical Productions, Thomas Schumacher, is thrilled by the amazing feat, telling the Associated Press, "This accomplishment belongs to our audiences, millions of whom are experiencing their first Broadway show at The Lion King. Surely, introducing so many to the splendor of live theatre is our show's greatest legacy."
The Disney production, which features tunes from Sir Elton John and direction from former Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark visionary Julie Taymor, is the sixth longest-running show on Broadway.
Further clouding the Oscar race, the Las Vegas Film Critics have chosen George Clooney's directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind as this year's best film. Daniel Day-Lewis picked up best actor for Gangs of New York, while Nicole Kidman took best actress for The Hours. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers took four awards, including best director for Peter Jackson. Across the country, the Washington D.C. critics tapped Road to Perdition as the year's best, with Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) and Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven) taking the lead acting prizes. Where it stops, nobody knows.
EW.com reports Six Feet Under star Rachel Griffiths tied the knot on New Year's Eve with artist Andrew Taylor in a small ceremony in Australia. Guests were told to dress "bohemian glam"--the couple printed a statement in the Australian newspaper Melbourne Herald Sun, saying "We wanted to embrace the sensual." Asked why she had no bridesmaids, Griffiths said, "women in their 30s should never appear in matching dresses." It's the first marriage for the 34-year-old actress.
Character actor Royce Applegate, who appeared in many films including Splash and The Rookie, died in a New Year's Day house fire that also left two firefighters seriously burned. The 63-year-old actor, who lived alone in his hillside home in Los Angeles, is believed to have died of smoke inhalation, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office told Reuters. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Television director Ian MacNaughton, best known for directing all but four of the BBC's Monty Python's Flying Circus episodes between 1969 and 1974, died Dec. 10 in Munich, Germany, from injuries sustained in a 2001 car accident. He was 76.
Hot off the success of his latest film, Talk To Her, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is setting his sights on his next film, La mala educacion (Bad Education). The story follows the lives of two boys from their days as students in a 1960s church school to adulthood. Filming will start in April.
The New Mexico Investment Council is shelling out $4.7 million to invest in Val Kilmer's new film Blind Horizon, also starring Neve Campbell and Sam Shepard. "The intent of the film investment program is to invest in projects that hire New Mexicans and help us develop our professional crews," Nancy Everist, director of the state Film Office, told the Associated Press. "We believe we are leveraging our assets to create an environment that will support development of a local film production industry."
Disney has decided to make a change. Coming off the dismal performance of their latest animated film Treasure Planet, Variety reports the Walt Disney Co. has appointed David Stainton, who has been running the studio's television animation division since January 2000, the new head of feature animation. He will replace Thomas Schumacher, who is relocating to Disney's stage operations in New York.
Mississippi University for Women has withdrawn permission for MTV to interview women on their campus for MTV's new reality series Sex in the Itty Bitty City, claiming they didn't know the title of the series when they initially said yes. A spin on HBO's Sex and the City, the series will interview real women, 18-30, about their strategies, successes and failures in looking for Mr. Right.
Bluegrass music legend James McReynolds, who, along with his mandolin-playing brother Jesse, was best known as the Jim & Jesse duo, died Tuesday of cancer at a hospital in Gallatin, Tennessee. He was 75.
After barely six months on the job, Peter Schneider abruptly resigned Wednesday as chairman of Walt Disney Studios. Entertainment analysts immediately speculated that Schneider's departure was the result of box office performances by Pearl Harbor and Atlantis: The Lost Empire that fell far short of expectations. But in an internal memo to Disney staffers published in Thursday's Los Angeles Times, Schneider said his resignation did not occur because of any "blow up, or job not given, or promotion not attained, or failure to deliver on profits or good artistic results." Schneider plans to start an independent theatrical company in New York. Industry executives interviewed by the Times unreservedly criticized Schneider's performance. William Morris Agency chief Jim Wiatt commented that he was not "part of the fabric of the business." Commented S.G. Cowen analyst Edward Hatch: "It may have just been burn-out or being tired of being yelled at" by Disney Chairman Michael Eisner. An unnamed key Disney investor told the Times: "Peter wasn't cut out for the job when he came in the door." A studio announcement said that Schneider's responsibilities will be absorbed for the time being by Disney execs Richard Cook, Thomas Schumacher and Nina Jacobson, but many analysts suspected that Eisner would step up his day-to-day involvement at the studio. Eisner quickly downplayed such speculation, telling Thursday's Wall Street Journal: "For the moment, I just want to be a cheerleader inside the process."