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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If there's one thing we should have picked up from Justified by now (besides "never drink the moonshine") it's that happiness is fleeting. Other than Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), no one knows this better than Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), who has been beaten both literally and metaphorically throughout her tumultuous life. Still, the fiery blonde keeps going — and this season, she has seemed poised for success, with a giant rock on her finger, the love of her life by her side, and a suitcase full of cash set for a down payment on a Kentucky McMansion. Unfortunately, as tonight's episode revealed, some loose lips are about to put a dent in all that. [MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
While tonight's biggest reveal came when Raylan realized that Drew Thompson is, in fact, Sheriff Shelby Parlow (Jim Beaver), Boyd and Ava were in for a shock when they found out that Ellen May (Abby Miller), the hooker who holds the key to Ava's potential downfall, is still alive. And according to Carter, it's all downhill from here.
"[Boyd and Ava] really get beat down after this episode," Carter says. "[A happy ending] could be possible, but the way things are going this season — it doesn't seem so."
Sigh. But weren't they so cute when they went house-hunting together? Now that Ellen May has A, turned to Jesus, and B, knows that Ava and Boyd meant to have her killed, Ava's big secret — the fact that she killed the abusive Delroy to protect Ellen May — will not stay secret for long. Plus, there's the Dixie Mafia slash Detroit mob heat coming for Boyd. Finding Drew Thompson before Raylan, and delivering him to Theo Tonin, may be the family's only hope at wads of cash and a clean getaway.
"Now that they've found Drew, it's the chase for who gets him first," Carter says. "Raylan has a reason why he wants him — he wants to further his career for his family. And Boyd needs him to keep his family safe and together. Everyone is going after this guy. [With] Ellen May… unfortunately we have Ron Eldard's character doing Ava and Boyd wrong."
With happiness, and an end to the dangerous, crime-ridden life they've been living in sight, the falling house of cards will be a particularly hard pill to swallow. But according to Carter, Ava will take the first gulp. "You have to hold on to the dream," she says. "I think she holds on to the faith that Boyd has — that he can continue to fix things [for awhile]. But towards the end of the season, she loses the faith sooner than he does."
Murdered 'Justified' Character Talks Shocking Death
Still, regardless of the fact that jail time could be looming on the horizon, Carter says we should never give up on her tenacious alter-ego. "She knew what she signed up for," she explains. "As the seasons go on, [Ava and Boyd] get stronger and stronger, and they have more obstacles against them. It's a struggle to hold on to something that makes them feel true and alive. There is a scene coming up where you really get to see Ava get herself out of a predicament, and show you how strong she is still, even in this place of so much fear and uncertainty."
Sounds great, right? Err... wrong. "In the future there's more fatalities, more hardships, and more at stake," Carter continues.
Oh well. It was sweet while it lasted.
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Prashant Gupta/FX]
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
Sundance Film Festival: one of the few places a person can see over thirty movies in ten days and still walkaway with a lengthy list of regretful misses. This year was full of positive buzz, from rabid studio purchasing to the general thumbs-up public reactions to Park City's packed slate.
While many of the screened movies have their theatrical destinies set before the final night, the Sundance award ceremony often gives a much needed boost to films across the spectrum. Of course, like any "Best of," they also manage to overlook the true gems.
Here were the big winners of the festival along with a guide to who really should have taken home the awards:
Audience Award: Documentary - Buck, directed by Cindy Meeh
Buck has a special place in Sundance founder Robert Redford's heart - the film chronicles the true life story of Buck Brannaman, the real life Horse Whisperer (the basis for Redford's film). Buck is a heartwarming crowd-pleaser, but we're surprised the even gooier Being Elmo, a look behind one man's quest to become a Muppeteer, didn't sweep up this category. Both are must-sees.
Audience Award: Dramatic - Circumstance, directed and written by Maryam Keshavarz
The Iranian lesbian romance drama debuted to positive reviews and we're all for the win - the subject matter will be a tough enough sell for any distributor consdering picking up the film. We expected Sundance veteran Miranda July to pick this award up for her second feature, The Future, an adorable and emotional tale of a couple on the brink of splitting. While we enjoy July's brand of comedy, spreading the love to Circumstance will certainly help that picture's chances at being seen by a wide audience.
Best of NEXT!: Audience Award - to.get.her, directed and written by Erica Dunton
Critically panned by fest-goers, to.get.her, a drama concerning four teen girls' wild night, took the NEXT! category (designed for projects shot on little to no budget) by surprise. We had two favorites that deserved some the bump from winning this award: Bellflower, an off-beat mix of muscle cars and romance, and The Sound of My Voice, a twisted sci-fi/drama about a documentary team infiltrating an underground cult. Both movies transcended their budget limitations to tell engaging stories - we'll have to see if to.get.her commands that kind of attention.
Directing Award: Documentary - Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, directed by Jon Foy.
Resurrect Dead took Jon Foy five years and a significant portion of his own income to complete, but the result is a wild mystery and fun 90-minute ride. It may not be the most expertly directed documentary to play the fest - James Marsh's slick Project Nim or the hilarious Shut Up, Little Man may take that honor - but with so much sweat and blood making its way to the screen (and a thrilling subject matter: the mysterious, sci-fi Toynbee Tiles), Foy is certainly deserved of the prize.
Directing Award: Dramatic - Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed and written by Sean Durkin.
Everyone at the fest thought Sean Durkin's first directorial effort, the terrifying Martha Marcy May Marlene, would take home the top prize, but at this fest the film will have to settle for excellence in directing. There's no doubt Durkin earned it - MMMM is a gracefully paced, unnerving experience, creating a sense of paranoia and dread few of his horror contemporaries could even attempt matching. Thankfully, this one has a distributor and you'll be seeing it soon.
Excellence in Cinematography Award: Dramatic - was presented to Pariah, directed and written by Dee Rees, shot by Bradford Young.
Another fan favorite, Dee Rees' Pariah rejuvenated the tired coming-of-age drama with grounded reality and fully fleshed out characters. Bradford Young's look compliments the feel. Instead of settling for the a gritty, "urban" look of most New York indies, Young's cinematography is diverse and complimentary to the world of the film.
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award - Another Happy Day, directed and written by Sam Levinson.
Sam Levinson, son of famed director Barry Levinson (Rain Man), debuted with a harrowing feature film centered on a family that just can't get it right. Levinson picked up the screenwriting award for his script chock full of Aaron Sorkin-lite dialogue and Diablo Cody-esque pop culture references. It's not a particularly great film, but there's talent there. We would have loved to see Pariah, The Future, HERE or Terri take the prize, but the world isn't perfect.
Grand Jury Prize: Documentary - How to Die in Oregon, directed by Peter D. Richardson.
Once in awhile, a firm punch to the gut is a necessary wake up call to real world problems and issues. How to Die in Oregon is exactly that, rightfully taking top honors in the documentary category and leaving audiences across the fest bawling soon-to-be-frozen tears. The doc unravels the moral debate over Oregon's law to allow for terminally ill or elderly citizens to terminate their own lives and, as you can imagine, it's a tough one to watch. But for every gasp or sniffle, there's a moment of inspiration of hope - for an hour and a half, you're watching people do exactly what they want to do (legally).
Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic - Like Crazy, directed by Drake Doremus
Like Crazy hit home for many fest-goers, some calling the cross-continent relationship drama the new 500 Days of Summer. That might not be a sell for everyone, but for those who caught the picture, starring Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence, it resonated in a smart, true way. There are a handful of films that would seem fit for a win in this category, but a win for Like Crazy will only help its buzz when Paramount releases it sometime this year.
Keep These Films on Your Radar: Kaboom, Project Nim, Pariah, Martha Mary May Marlene, Win Win, My Idiot Brother, Troll Hunter, The Woman, Life in a Day, HERE, Bellflower, How to Die in Oregon, Take Shelter, Resurrect Dead, Submarine, The Future, Letters from the Big Man, Shut Up, Little Man!
The So-So Bunch: Jess + Moss, Uncle Kent, The Music Never Stopped, Hobo with a Shotgun, The Woods, Knuckle, The Sound of My Voice, The Devil's Double, Cedar Rapids,The Details, Terri, Flypaper
The Disappoints of the Fest: Magic Trip, The Ledge, I Melt with You, Homework, Another Earth, Son of No One, Another Happy Day
He-Man is one step closer to the big screen today. Variety reports that Warner Brothers and producer Joel Silver named John Stevenson as the director of the Masters of the Universe film they’ve been working on since 2007.
This will be the Kung Fu Panda director’s first live action flick, which ironically is based on a cartoon and toy line for kids.
The film, penned by Justin Marks and based on a story by Neil Ellice, will feature prince-turned-warrior He-Man and his nemesis Skeletor.
In addition to Silver and his Silver Pictures, Barry Waldo of Mattel will executive produce.
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