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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Although most Holocaust-themed works present the Jews as victims this true story shows there were small bands who did manage to fight back no matter how difficult the challenge. Starting near the beginning of World War II the film focuses on three Jewish brothers who lead a small but effective resistance against the surging Nazi presence in the forests of Belarussia. Eldest brother Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) returns home to find most of his family murdered. His only surviving siblings are his wild quick-tempered brother Zus (Liev Schreiber) prone to shoot first and ask questions later and his youngest brother Asael (Jamie Bell) whose gentle nature allows to him to act as a buffer between his two older siblings. Crux of the film is the conflict between Zus’ quest for revenge at any cost and Tuvia’s more measured desire to save lives. As they round up more and more Jewish outcasts the Bielskis form a community deep in the woods. But soon Tuvia must rise to the occasion and lead the 1 200 strong group deeper into hiding in order to survive the winter and the lurking Nazi threat. Daniel Craig gets back to his acting roots after two high-profile outings as 007. He’s strong resilient and complex as a man with a criminal past whose mettle is tested when he chooses to become an advocate for life over the prospect of turning into a killing machine. Schreiber is superb as well as the toughest of the brothers -- at least on the outside. His primal urge to survive at all costs by using whatever preemptive force is necessary is apparent throughout his well-detailed portrayal. And finally Bell who more than holds his own as the most innocent of the bunch and the one with the most to learn. Alexa Davalos Iben Hjejle and Mia Wasikowska add needed warmth and emotion as the three very different women or “forest wives ” with whom the brothers romantically bond during their years in hiding. Stand out in the enormous meticulously chosen cast is Mark Feuerstein as an intellectual and Viktor Panchenko as Isyyanov the leader of the People’s Army. Edward Zwick is known for intelligent historically based films like Glory The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond. Defiance follows suit shot on a rather large scale with lots of impressive action sequences buffering an intimate story. Zwick’s co-writer Clayton Frohman stumbled upon the Bielskis’ story while reading a newspaper obituary on one of them. Armed with exhaustive research and an unerring eye for authenticity the director does not present any of these characters as saints. They were flawed conflicted human beings caught up in a extraordinary situation which only highlights their indomitable determination and fortitude to walk out of that forest alive. James Newton Howard’s brilliant score with haunting violin solos from Joshua Bell deserve special mention among the talented artists who made Defiance come to life. This is a must-see movie and another towering cinematic achievement for Zwick his best since Glory.
As the opening song belts out fast cars champagne and caviar are what professional basketball player Jamal Jeffries (played by Miguel A. Nunez Jr.) is all about. In fact Jeffries is so taken by his own success that he doesn't sign autographs but uses a stamp. His Dennis Rodman-style antics however reach a breaking point when he strips during a game in front of millions of fans and flings his jock strap into the seats. The stunt gets him thrown out of the league and before he can say "slam-dunk " Jeffries loses his house his cars and his girlfriend. Desperate to work again at the one thing he does best Jeffries comes up with the mother of all schemes: He shaves his legs dabs on mascara and tries out for the women's league--and it works. But as he builds friendships and gains the trust of the women on his team he feels torn between his obligation to his team the Banshees and his need to return to a normal life. If you've seen the 1982 comedy Tootsie you know exactly how this film plays out. Surprisingly Juwanna Mann is not crammed with bad slapstick humor but is an entertaining twist on an old classic with a delightfully sweet storyline.
Nunez (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) not only pulls off the Jamal/Juwanna character with ease but he pretty much steals the show here. His character comes off as endearing rather than obnoxious because he takes his role as a woman seriously and is never condescending about playing in the women's league. Nunez also delivers some great one-liners the best being when he is fighting off advances from the gold-toothed Puff Smokey Smoke. Vivica A. Fox (Two Can Play That Game) plays Michelle a fellow player whom Jeffries develops feelings for. Although it's hard to buy the sweet and almost delicate Fox in such an athletic role she pulls it off--but there is not all that much chemistry between her and Nunez. As Jeffries' crass sports agent Lorne Daniels Kevin Pollak (3000 Miles to Graceland) is seedy with just the right touch of humanity so his character is not completely despicable. The most cartoonish and unlikable character is Tommy Davidson's (Bamboozled) Puff Smokey Smoke. He has some funny lines but is too far-fetched to be believable.
Jesse Vaughan who directed a season of In Living Color makes his directorial debut with Juwanna Mann. Judging from the trailer I thought the film would be a low-brow comedy with a lot of overdone men-in-heels humor. I was instead pleasantly surprised by the film's storyline which--although it is a complete take on Tootsie--is short sweet and non-offensive. While some characters like Puff Smokey Smoke are a bit over the top Nunez's Jamal/Juwanna character is never clownish and well developed enough that you can't help but feel for his/her predicament. Some scenes appear to have a Klumps influence like the scene in which Jeffries is playing cards with his aunt and a gang of her senior friends but the overall effect is a moderately funny film peppered with some slightly funnier moments. Newcomer Bradley Allenstein had the sense to deliver a sweet comedy screenplay that was short enough and knew when to quit.
Beaming over the tube Sunday night from the Golden Globes was a paragon of Hollywood glamour, civility and elegance where nothing -- neither rambling acceptance speeches nor obvious sartorial bad taste -- was able to penetrate the perfunctory good grace of the show biz types.
But such de facto behavior and unnerved composure was apparently nowhere to be seen at a pre-Globes schmoozefest one day before theceremony.
At least not according to The Daily Record. The London tabloid reported Sunday that a "melee" erupted at the star-studded Hollywood party Saturday night at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. Hosted by the New York-based entertainment and culture monthly Talk magazine, the party curiously degenerated into slow chaos when crazed, rowdy and star-stunned fans (or in the words of the London tab, "gawkers, gropers and gatecrashers") reportedly chased, cornered and groped several Hollywood big names who were in attendance.
The unfortunate prey of such indecent misconduct was none other than supermodel Elizabeth Hurley, whom a liquored-up onlooker reportedly whispered dirty things to (the exact nature of the obscenity has apparently eluded the Record) and whose shoulders the same intruder reportedly "pawed." Hurley, being a '90s woman with both beauty and sass, reportedly defended herself with an uncharacteristically brazen gesture by tossing her unfinished drink in the direction of the said man while boyfriend Hugh Grant (reportedly) called for backups on his cell phone.
The proper British couple -- along with fellow catwalker Claudia Schiffer and her rich British boyfriend Tim Jeffries, who suffered similar distress -- later slipped out of the jam through the underground garage, unharmed and all.
Kevin Spacey, who was nominated for a Globe for best actor (drama), was apparently not as lucky. The famed actor, after he escaped unnoticed from the hotel, was reportedly chased after by a group of intoxicated star-gazers down the posh Sunset Strip (the Mondrian is located on Sunset Boulevard.)
PR folks at Talk magazine were quick to dismiss The Daily Record report relating to the riotous brawl.
"No, I think the Brit paper took it way out of proportion. I was there, and I didn't see it happen. Nobody at the hotel saw it happen. I think it's just a case of bad gossip," said Hilary Bass, publicist for Talkmagazine.
An unnamed source confirmed Bass's statement and added that The Daily Report was not even credentialed to be at the Mondrian event.
Elizabeth Hurley and the Mondrian Hotel were not available for comment.
The morning after the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild of America heated up the awards competition by announcing its nominees for director of the year.
This year's DGA nods went to Globe winner Sam Mendes for "American Beauty,"Spike Jonze for "Being John Malkovich," Frank Darabont for "The Green Mile," Michael Mann for "The Insider" and M. Night Shyamalan for "The Sixth Sense."All are first-time feature-film nominees except for Darabont, who was nominated in 1994 for "The Shawshank Redemption."
The winner of the DGA is practically guaranteed a win for Best Director in the Academy Award race. In its 50-year history, only four winners have not gone on to win the Oscar; Anthony Harvey (in 1968 for "The Lion Winter"), Francis Ford Coppola (in 1972 for "The Godfather"), Steven Spielberg (in 1985 for "The Color Purple") and Ron Howard (in 1995 for "Apollo 13." The winner will be announced March11.
SMOKED 'LAMB': Anthony Hopkins' London house caught on fire Sunday, and 75 percent of the second floor was destroyed. Hopkins no longer lives in the residence; he actually gave it to his wife after they split in 1998, according to London's Sun. But she should not worry; firefighters still managed to save Hopkins' Academy Award for "The Silence of the Lambs."
ÜBERENGAGED: German supermodel Claudia Schiffer is officially off the market again; she's just become engaged to British boyfriend Tim Jeffries.
Jeffries, 37, proposed on one knee during a recent Caribbean holiday, and the model immediately accepted, newspapers reported Monday. The Sun said Schiffer, 29, was displaying her diamond engagement ring at a Golden Globes party over the weekend.
Schiffer was engaged for some six years to magician David Copperfield (they split in September), while Jeffries, an art-gallery owner, was married once to photographer Koo Stark, ex-girlfriend of Britain's Prince Andrew. They hope to marry later this year. No word whether Copperfield will make an appearance -- or disappearance.
THEIR TWO CENTS: The Golden Globes is always a good time to get some scoop, and the stars did some chatting at Hollywood honcho Mike Medavoy's annual pre-Globes party Friday in Los Angeles. According to the New York Daily News, winner Peter Fonda reportedly discussed sister Jane's separation from Ted Turner. "I see a very positive change in Jane now," he said. "When she told me she was separating, her entire face seemed to relax. I think she's going to be a much happier person as a result of this." He added that he hopes his sister will return to acting...
Nominee Kevin Spacey revealed that he had plans to see "Man on the Moon" and "The Hurricane" to catch Jim Carrey and Denzel Washington's respective performances so he'd be able to speak more intelligently to his fellow nominees at the awards.
"I screen-tested for 'Man on the Moon,'" The "American Beauty" star told the paper. "I'm one of the guys who went for it. Then Milos [Forman, the director] called and said he was going with . I understood completely. knew Andy Kaufman. I think he even channeled him, too. How could I competewith that?"
The party also brought a surprise late guest: President Clinton.
GOODBYE, DOLLY: At the Golden Globes on Sunday night, Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award winner Barbra Streisand said she will no longer be doing concerts. The stage-shy Babs plans to do four scheduled concerts in Australia in March, "and maybe two more -- one in Los Angeles and one in New York before calling it quits on the concert stage."
"I just don't like it. I don't enjoy public performances being up on a stage,'' the 57-year-old star said. She also plans to concentrate on directing films, and has no current plans to act. Meanwhile, she and hubby James Brolin stay busy, taking road trips and walking into truck stops. How do the people react? Do they tell her she's like buttah? "They seem fine," Streisand responded.
QUICK TAKES: "American Beauty" picked up another accolade this morning, this time by the Broadcast Film Critics Association at its awards luncheon. The critics group had earlier named 10 top films but withheld its pick for the ceremony. The other contenders were "Being John Malkovich," "The Cider House Rules," "The Green Mile," "The Insider," "Magnolia," "Man on the Moon," "The Sixth Sense," "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Three Kings".
...Playwright Herb Gardner ("I'm Not Rappaport") has been named the recipient of the Writers Guild of America East's Ian McLellan Hunter Award, recognizing lifetime achievement in writing. The award is named in memory of WGAE Council member McLellan, who died in 1991. He will receive the prize at the guild's ceremony on March 5 ...
... Nicolas Cage's 1933 Ford hot rod sold for $77,500 at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction on Sunday. It was purchased by publishing magnate Robert E. Petersen for display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Elvis Presley's 1972 Lincoln Continental sold for $45,000, and Richard Carpenter, half the 1970s singing duo the Carpenters, got $70,000 for his 1957 DeSoto convertible ...
... Rosie O'Donnell will be back for this year's Grammys. The talk-show host will repeat her stint, which earned the awards their second-highest rating in six years, on Feb. 23 in Los Angeles.