Tag Archives: george clooney

Animated movies!

TMP

Well, it’s Thursday again. It’s not even 8 am yet and I’m at work when I’d much rather still be sleeping and I’ve already had to resolve one office IT issue and I don’t even work in IT. So I’m feeling a little uninspired this morning. Normally I strive for a little more variety in my picks and try to avoid the obvious choices whenever possible but I love these three films so much that I just can’t help but choose them.

Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo (2003)- When I was 18, my dad chased me down on a road trip for over an hour just because I’d forgot my Lactaid pills. Once we’d made the exchange and my dad drove away, my driver watched him leave and remarked “Now THAT’S a father”. I think of that comment every time I watch Finding Nemo and, since Father’s Day is just three days away, I might as well dedicate this entry to mine. I cry pretty much through this whole movie and am always filled with gratitude for my own family every time I watch this desperate father conquer his own fears of pretty much everything to take on the entire ocean in search of his son, prompting Nigel to remark “What a father!”

Wall-E

Wall-E (2008)- “Computer, define “dancing” made my list of 10 Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away. What I neglected to mention at the time was that this whole movie takes my breath away. Pixar has pushed the envelope so many times and in so many ways but Wall-E, I think, reamins their most ambitious work to date, trusting its audience to stay engaged through the first forty minutes or so where there is virtually no dialogue. Wall-E is entertaining from start to finish while managing to say a lot about how many of us treat our bodies and our planet, even more effectively than those annoying e-mails from Green Peace that I’m always getting.

Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)- Now let’s take a moment to be thankful for Wes Anderson. Anderson is clearly having fun with the stop-motion animation and the family movie format (“Clustercuss”!!!!). Like everything he does, Fantastic Mr. Fox is quirky, outrageous, hilarious, sweet, unmistakeably Anderson. It remains one of my favourites in the Wes canon. Besidies, this is the only film to date to feature the inspired collaboration of Wes Anderson and George Clooney.

Tomorrowland

I was expecting a lot more from Tomorrowland. Brad Bird has been involved in so many good movies in the past, all of which have had fantastical or futuristic elements. Damon Lindelof gave us an amazing first season of Lost (though it was downhill from there as the layers were peeled away). George Clooney is an A-lister who is super reliable and who usually picks his projects well. All the parts seemed to be here for a great movie, or at the very least an interesting one.

But instead of being something memorable, Tomorrowland is entirely forgettable. I really don’t understand how things went so wrong but for a movie about possibilities, there was a distinct lack of imagination or innovation involved in Tomorrowland. It is totally formulaic and by-the-numbers. Which doesn’t make it a bad movie, and it’s not a bad movie, but it left me feeling that an opportunity was missed here.

Going in, I thought the premise was solid one but the way it was handled left me not only wanting more but wanting something entirely different, something closer to what I thought this movie would be after having seen the trailer many, many times in the last six months. I don’t want to spoil things so I can’t really be more specific than to say that Tomorrowland was not at all what we saw in the trailer. And that would have been okay if handled differently but the end result here is that we only end up spending a very small amount of screen time in Tomorrowland when all is said and done, but the scenes of Tomorrowland in the trailer were what I wanted to see lots and lots of.

That’s why the way it played out was so disappointing.  It left me feeling a lot like Lost did, now that I think about it.

Tomorrowland gets a rating of 6 child-sized jetpacks out of ten.

Workplace Movies

TMPThursday Movie Picks, sponsored as ever by Wandering Through the Shelves, is brought to us this week by the letter W – for movies set in the workplace.

Matt

Office gossip can be addictive. Most people wind up spending most of their time talking about work when they spend time with their colleagues outside the office. Actually, three of the Assholes work in the same place and- when we’re not arguing about movies we’re often reminiscing (or ranting) about work. Even people who claim to hate their job tend to find the comedy and drama of any workday pretty interesting. All you need to do is capture that environment in a relatable way and you’ve got a pretty good movie.

The ApartmentThe Apartment (1960)- This has been one of my most significant Blind Spots until this week and it was worth the wait. Jack Lemmon plays an accountant at a big firm who’s just trying to get noticed. Once his superiors find out that he has a modest but nice apartment conveniently located on the Upper West Side, he becomes their go-to guy as they start borrowing his key so they can discreetly cheat on their wives. Director Billy Wilder has a lot to say about the compromises people make in the name of ambition and manages to make a movie that is still funny after all these years while he’s saying it. Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are as charming as can be too.

Office Space (1999)- Turning an animated short into a live action feature-length film could have Office Spacebeen a disaster but Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge turned any old boring day into the office into one of the funniest comedies of the 90s. Re-watching it this week, I laughed loudest when Gary Cole’s Bill Lumbergh- in an effort to pacify the troops- announces that Friday will be Hawaiian Shirt Day. Around our office, they charge us two dollars to wear jeans on Friday. I couldn’t help feeling bad for poor old Milton though.

MargMargin Callin Call (2011)- Yet another movie that I’m thankful to Wanderer for giving me an excuse to finally check out this week. Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, and Kevin Spacey (making my list two weeks in a row) play investment bankers who see the writing on the wall leading up to the 2008 Financial crisis and sit around wondering what to do about it. Director J. C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year) knows how to set the mood and the performances are all stellar.

Jay

Up In The Air – Poor Ryan Bingham is so afraid of real life that he’s made sure his job keeps him in constant motion. His office may be at a cruising altitude of 32 000 feet but he spends a lot of George-Clooney-Whattime visiting other people’s workplaces to tell them they’re no longer employed. This is such a tough job that cash-strapped businesses are still willing to pay big bucks during a recession for him to do it in their place. He sees offices at their very worst, smells the fear and senses the instability, and is the receptacle for sometimes 20 years’ worth of pain and frustration. Our identities can be so wrapped up in our work, and in many ways, Ryan (George Clooney) is the prime example of this. Director Jason Reitman bravely tackles those creeping workplace notions of downsizing and obsolescence and asks some tough questions of the aging American workforce.

The Social Network – I love how you see the growth of the company here, the “offices” originally facebookin a Harvard dorm room, and then graduating quite quickly to the impressive work space that was eventually needed. The movie recounts a very modern invention (hello, Facebook) but its workplace themes are as old as the first profession – loyalty, jealousy, theft, power, the complicated ownership of ideas. Whether friends or enemies, friended or unfriended, colleagues or competition, this project is always work, and everybody wants to get paid.

Brokeback Mountain – The classic office romance. They meet by the photocopier, lock eyes over the  on, thwater cooler, exchange business cards in the elevator…or, you know, not. Don’t you wish your office looked like this? The scenery is breathtaking but mabrokebackke no mistake: these two cowboys meet at work, doing a job that’s not altogether welcoming to “their kind.” When their boss gets an inkling of what’s going on, the work dries up and the two spend the rest of their lives stealing secret moments and steeling themselves with memories of the best job they ever had. monsters

Bonus pick: Monsters, Inc. Sully and Mike are about as close as two colleagues can be. Mike is the more ambitious of the two, but it’s Sully’s talent and skill that make them so successful. The workplace is originally competitive, and tinged with the fear of contamination (they do bio-hazardous work with children). It may be a cartoon about fuzzy monsters, but any joke about paperwork in triplicate is likely to land huge with adult audiences.

Sean:

Since Matt took Office Space and Jay took Up in the Air, I am sticking to familiar territory and making my section an all-lawyer-movie workplace bonanza!

Philadelphia – a great movie about a lawyer getting kicked out of his workplace, and then going to his other workplace, the court, to try to make things right.  Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington absolutely own this movie.  I actually did not see this until last year and I should have seen it way sooner, because it’s excellent.

A Few Good Men – I saw this in theatres, I owned it on VHS, I own it on DVD, and one of my roommates in university recited the “You can’t handle the truth!” speech every time he had more than three drinks.  And I could watch it again tomorrow.  There are so many good lines and so many good characters in here that it remains enjoyable to this day.   And again there are a few workplaces in here, namely the courts and the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

The Firm – Tom Cruise is probably the best lawyer ever, at least if you go by his on-screen performances.  He almost got Dawson and Downey freed and in the Firm he somehow outmaneuvers a whole team of crooked lawyers and the mob while still adhering to his strict ethical code.  Plus he does a lot of really fast running in the Firm which is always the best part of any Tom Cruise performance.  This movie feels really long, because it is, but it’s still a good watch.

Anyone had an office love? Office hook up? Office BFFs?

Father-Daughter Movies

TMPFathers and daughters, a topic rife with the opportunity for Hallmark sap, hard to get right, but so rewarding when it strikes just the right chord. Thanks to Wandering Through the Shelves for hosting another great Thursday Movie Picks theme, from two guys who are neither fathers nor daughters, and one fatherless daughter…because who better to judge?

 

Sean:

lethalweaponLethal Weapon – awarded to the whole series as a body of work. These movies are up-and-down but they are fun stupid films that keep adding more and more extraneous characters as sequelitis sets in. Luckily for me this week, Murtagh has a daughter that factors into the secondary drama of almost every movie, from possible love interest for Riggs in the first one, condom ad star in one of the middle ones, and baby mama to Chris Rock in the last one! And possibly more that I have forgotten. So on the list they all go just to be safe.

Taken – Liam Neeson’s tough old guy shtick started right here as far as I can tell, as the tough old dad of a coed “taken” by European gangsters. And like Liam says in the most awesome phone call ever made to a kidnapper, he uses his skills to track down all involved and kill them good. Spoiler alert: it seems that except for saving his daughter’s life he really hasn’t been a good father, but luckily there are sequels where as far as I know he saves her again, or saves his wife, or something. As usual, they should have stopped after the first one but instead really ran this concept into the ground and made me not care at all anymore.

Star Wars – so we don’t actually know at this point that Leia is Darth Vader’s daughter, and I’m pretty sure George Lucas did not have that plan or even the idea at any point when making this movie. As far as I can remember, though, this movie is the only one of the original 3 films in which this father and daughter “team” share a few scenes, so that’s why it makes the list over Return of the Jedi (where Leia actually learns who’s her daddy). Plus it’s such a classic movie! Even the terrible prequels couldn’t ruin it for me. So it makes the list. Can you tell I struggled this week?

Matt

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner- Back in December, I wrote a post describing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracey)’s conflict with his own values. He raised his daughter (Katharine Houghton) right- no race is superior to another and anyone who thought they were was foolish and ignorant. Matt realizes he may have done a little too good a job when she brings home a charming black doctor played by the great Sidney Poitier whom she wants to marry. While this unexpected situatGuess who's Coming to Dinnerion may expose some hidden bigotry on Matt’s part, mostly he can’t help but admire his new son-in-law to be and mostly objects to the union because of the unimaginable challenges his daughter will surely be facing. Although he’d hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain, he eventually learns to let go and trust his daughter to be strong enough to face the world. The movie can’t help but show its age a little nearly fifty years later but not in the ways that count.

American Beauty- Lester and Jane Burnham (Kevin Spacey and Thora Birch)  aren’t as close as they used to be. In fact, she asks her boyfriend to kill her father in the first scene. Lester’s a little too busy with his middle-aged angst and Jane with her adolescent angst for the two to really connect and Lester only starts taking interest in her life when he develops an obsessive crush on her best friend. He may not deserve a World’s Best Dad mug but I love that his dying thoughts are of her and happy that she thinks she’s in love. Tragically, his last words to her are “You’d better watch yourself or you’re going to become a real bitch just like your mother”.

Kick-Ass- I have serious reservations about Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage)’s parenting style but, unlike Lester, at least he never forgets to tell his daughter (Chloe Moretz) that he loves her. It helps to have common interests. In this case, taking down the D’Amico family and enjoy the sweet taste of bloody revenge with their hot chocolate. Big DKick-Assaddy has turned Hit Girl into one foul-mouthed ass-kicking 11 year-old who knows how to take a shot to the chest.  Marcus may feel that Big Daddy owed his father a childhood but at least he died leaving his daughter the two most important things: the ability to take care of herself and the knowledge that her Daddy loves her.

Jay

The Descendants – This movie is so emotionally loaded and frought, it shreds me to pieces to watch it. Matt’s wife has just been fatally injured in a boat accident. She’s in a coma, waiting to die, while Matt runs around picking up all the pieces. Two really big pieces are his darling daughters who Matt bewilderingly tries to care for though he identifies only as the “back-up parent, the understudy”. The older daughter initially seems to be pretty hostile toward her father, but we soon see she’s really just covering for a secret she’s keeping from him. Turns out coma wife has been unfaithful. So Matt’s already confused and complicated relationships with his daughters become even more so, leaning on the elder for support and understanding, while trying desperately to shield the younger from the ugly truth about her mother as they all struggle to say goodbye amid the complications of anger and blame. Meanwhile, there’s another father-daughter relationship at play: that of coma wife, and her own dear dad, who copes with grief by putting his daughter on a pedestal and lashing out at all others, blaming not just Matt, but his own granddaughters, for his daughter’s not-quite-perfect life. It’s frustrating for we, the viewers, who know that his daughter is far from blameless, and even more difficult for Matt and the oldest daughter who manage to keep the truth to themselves in a show of compassion, allowing him to kiss his little girl goodbye with only the tenderest of feelings.

Crash – You may remember there are a kajillion intersecting plot lines in this movie, most involving some kind of racial prejudice, but I’ll always be thankful to this movie for introducing me to Michael Pena. He plays Daniel, a locksmith who gets cut absolutely no slack by any of his customers because he’s Hispanic, and this makes the white folk (like Sandra Bullock) jumpy. Even the Persian shop owner gives him hell, misunderstanding a bit about a broken door that needs to be replaced, assuming that the locksmith is trying to screw him over. After a hard day’s work, he goes home to a rough neighbourhood where his crazy-cute daughter is hiding under her bed, frightened by the gunfire overheard. He soothes her with a story about an invisible, impenetrable cloak that will keep her safe. When the Persian shop is re-vandalized, the owner gets himself a gun and blames the guy on the work order. He shows up at Daniel’s house and opens fire – just as the little girl jumps into her father’s arms. For a very long moment we – and they – fear that the girl has been shot, but actually, she has saved the day with her heroic magic cape. Okay, not actually true. The real saving grace? Another daughter – the Persian’s – who protected her father the only way she knew how – by loading his gun with blanks.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – Not a straight forward relationship by any means, it’s still clear that father Wink and daughter Hushpuppy have a relationship central to this story. His treatment of her sometimes seems neglectful, even brutal, but is actually pretty typical within the context of their fictional community where children are encouraged to roam free among the livestock and wildlife. In fact, her father’s occasional disappearances seem to be related to his ill-health more than his disinterest. His ways are rough, but he’s really just preparing her for a time when he’s no longer around, and she seeks his approval by being strong and independant – at the tender age of 6. When the big storm comes, he’s there, with a pair of water wings and a shotgun that he fires at the clouds, trying to chase them away and make his daughter feel better. When Wink’s time is almost up, he tries to find her a safe place to go, but she insists on returning to his side, witnessing his remaining heartbeats.

My father-daughter picks IN OUTER SPACE can be found here.

Black and white films since 1970

TMPTime for more Thursday Movie Picks! All the Assholes have assembled Avengers-style to talk about their favourite black and white films made post-1970

Luc

Full disclosure. I hate black and white movies, especially if they were shot past 1917 when Technicolor was invented. Why would anyone want to even go that route? I find it distracting and somewhat pretentious (The Artist comes to mind), I recognize that this is my own personal bias and you may completely disagree with me. That’s fine. That being said, if I was forced to pick some of my favorites, I would have to start with Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

A true cult classic that any obsessive movie goer has surely seen more than once. There’s so clerks1many things to like about this movie! It was shot in black in white in order to save money. This might be the only acceptable reason to shoot in black & white. It’s much cheaper to make a movie this way since lighting issues are non-existent. Post production colour temperature problems? None. Lighting problems? Nope. There’s many advantages to shooting in black & white, but aesthetics is not one of them, in my opinion.

I also admire Kevin Smith’s ambition as a filmmaker. The story goes like this, Kevin smith, who wanted nothing more than to shoot his first feature length, decided to max out his 30,000$ credit card and gave himself 21 days to accomplish this incredibly inspiring goal. How can you not support and admire this feat?

In regards to the movie itself, I find the writing absolutely brilliant, not much actually happens throughout the 122 minutes of conversations about movies, hockey, women, and blowjobs. Now that I think about it, it’s quite amazing that with a cast of friends and family members (hired to save money), this movie did so well.. It grossed over 3 million dollars, was critically acclaimed and really launched Jay & Silent Bob’s career.

This film is about the mundane, daily struggles of an apathetic convenience store clerk (Dante), who seems to have no real direction in life, and his best friend, Randal, a video store clerk, who’s in a similar predicament. Did I mention that Dante and Randall love hockey? Well, they love it so much that their sole purpose throughout the movie is to figure out how they can ditch work in order to play a quick game of pick up hockey on the rooftop of the convenience store and yes, I am talking about two grown men. We also get to meet two great characters, Jay and Silent Bob. Two pot smoking friends who sell marijuana, shoplift and give golden advice on women and relationships.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you might want to get out from under your rock and get on it! Seriously. Sean seconds this nomination and adds that it’s a movie he could really relate to at the age of 18 (and maybe still). “I remember always having similar conversations with my friends to those in the movie, just ridiculous things we threw at each other that led to hours of stupid discussions.”

Back to Luc. My second pick is no other than Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (might sincity03actually be my #1) but the movie was shot in 1948 and all the assholes agreed to choose movies post 1970, I’ll have to go with Frank Miller’s Sin City. I’m not sure this counts as a typical black and white film, considering that some scenes have bright red, yellow and green, but as I said before, I find it somewhat difficult to choose my “favorite” black and white movie since I generally don’t appreciate them. I love the themes that are explored in this movie: crime, corruption, loyalty. The graphics are also pretty stellar. I’ve never actually seen anything quite like it and if you’re familiar with Frank Miller’s graphic novels, you will surely recognize the artistry from beginning to end.

My third favourite black & white movie would have to be Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by no other than George Clooney. Frankly, I can’t remember all that much about the movie other than it being politically driven. You might say “dude, you write for a movie review site, can’t you at least take a couple of hours to watch the damn movie?” And the simplest answer is no. No, I can’t, it’s in black and white.

Matt

The pickings of great black and white movies aren’t as slim as Luc would have you believe. I don’t love black and white movies, I just don’t give a shit. If the filmmakers are telling a good story in an interesting way, I don’t care if it’s in black or white.

In fact, there’s lots of good reasons besides saving money to shoot in black and white. Actually, I would be tempted to argue that saving money is the worst reason. The Artist was a silent film about silent films so Michel Hazanavicius shot in the style of the classics he loved. Martin Scorsese wanted to avoid making a gratuitously bloody boxing movie so he shot Raging Bull in black and white to soften the blow.

Black and white films can feel timeless. Last year’s Ida didn’t feel like a new movie to me. It felt like a classic that had been around for years that I am only now just getting to see. Conversely, Schindler’s List doesn’t look nearly as dated as other films released in 1993.

Good Night, and Good Luck- I hate to say anything against George Clooney but, as a director, good-night-and-good-luck-original1he’s never really come close to living up to the promise he showed in one of the best movies of 2005. To refresh Luc’s memory, it tells the story of news anchor Edward R. Morrow and his fearless coverage of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunt. I don’t know if it needed to be in black and white but, because it recreates live television featuring real footage of McCarthy that would have originally been presented that way, it seems appropriate. It takes a smarter and less dramatic approach than most films that are based on real events and definitely a must-see.

schindlerslistSchindler’s List- Steven Spielberg’s 1993 passion project hasn’t seemed to age a day. I rewatched it for the fifth or sixth time yesterday and couldn’t help feeling that everyone involved from cast to crew to extras shared his passion. It’s a beautiful film from start to finish, with even the controversially sentimentality working for me. I feel a heart-wrenching sadness every time I watch it unlike anything else I’ve experienced at the movies and, when it’s over, I feel almost cleaned out.

Sin City- Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 film is almost a panel-for-panel adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. The comics were black and white (mostly) so the film had to be too. It works mostly thanks to Miller, whose writing ranges from as pulpy as it gets to almost poetic. “When it comes to reassuring a traumatized 19 year-old, I’m about as expert as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench” is my personal favourite. Moments like that are almost enough to make me forgive last year’s disappointing sequel.

Jay

I like wondering  why directors choose to shoot in black or white – what are they trying to tell me paper_moonby presenting their movie in this way? One of Sean’s picks, Paper Moon (Sean says: it’s fun to see Tatum O’Neal as a little grifter, with her real life father helping out while thinking he’s in charge) is a great example of a careful choice. Set in the depression era, the black and white adds an evocative nostalgia factor. As Matt might point out, it’s a movie that refuses to age because it was purposely dated when released. It means to take you back to a “simpler” time, and then make you question what exactly was so simple about people trying so hard not to starve. Cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs uses black and white to great advantage, with a deep focus that keeps everything razor-sharp.

Pleasantville, in my opinion, uses black and white very wisely. It doesn’t just demarcate “old” pleasantville3422and “new” but comes to symbolize enlightenment. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play teenaged siblings who get thrown into a 1950s sitcom, again, the “simpler” times that turn out to be not-so-simple. Although everything is superficially pleasant in grayscale, the two rapidly come to miss the highs and lows of life back home. As they influence the sitcom’s residents to challenge their notions and beliefs, the characters are engulfed in colour. They are set ablaze with their newfound edification but some are ashamed of their obvious (colourful) sophistication and seek to cover it up. Now the black and white is a symbol of repression and shame.

Sean chose Frankenweenie as his third and final film. It’s an animated and touching story of a boy scientist and his resurrected dog that’s sweeter than it has any right to be. Director Tim Burton has said “I find black and white very beautiful. It gives a real sense of emotion. I was FRANKENWEENIEreally excited about seeing this in black and white because there’s a depth to it that I love. It’s not right for every project but when you take the colour out of something, sometimes you start looking at other things, such as textures and characters. I was very happy that the studio [Disney] went along with the idea. If they’d wanted it in colour, I wouldn’t have done it.”

I’m happy to report that this week’s theme made me seek out movies I hadn’t seen before. I following_stills_04watched Chris Nolan’s first feature-length film, Following, and enjoyed trying to pick out early hints of his trademarks. Why did he shoot in black and white? Perhaps to enhance the stylistic look of a film noir, but also, I suspect, like Kevin Smith, because he was shooting on a tight budget. Clerks was big-budget compared to Nolan’s six grand and he made the choice to get the biggest bang for his buck.

Denis Villeneuve, on the other hand, seemed to be more in camp Scorsese. He directed a Canadian film called Polytechnique that’s about the Montreal Massacre – the day a gunman polytechniquedecided to target women and killed 14 of them while they were in school, dismissing their male classmates while voicing his hatred of feminism. It’s a bloody day in Canadian history but Villeneuve seemed to want to minimize the impact of the blood, allowing the audience to think about the killing spree in perhaps a slightly more abstract way. The film rises above the tragedy and is quite cool in its presentation, some might even call it dispassionate.

Joss Whedon made a Shakespeare adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing shot in black and white – maybe to highlight the sexiness that’s supposed to be in the movie, or to make the comedy’s dark side come alive, maybe to help mask and mistake California for Italy, and maybe it’s because it’s as far as he could possibly get from his simultaneous project, The Avengers.

The hardest movie you’ll ever watch is almost certainly Man Bites Dog. A mockumentary that man_bites_dog6shadows a serial killer who engages in increasingly graphic crime, you can’t look away but you’ll want to. It’s hard to swallow but carries an important message. It was shot in gritty black and white, a tip of the hat to cinema verite style, which is falsely considered more objective. In this case, the medium is just as stark as the message.

 

We look forward to hearing all of your picks – be sure to let us know your favourite black and white in the comments!

p.s. You might want to check out last week’s theme, father-son movies.

 

 

The Monuments Men

Based on the “true story” of a motely gang of art historians, museum curators, and the occasional sculptor for balance, who risked their lives to save and protect major works of art that were stolen by Nazis during the second world war, The Monuments Men, as they were called, feels a little like a war-themed Ocean’s 11.

Critics were pretty hard on this movie, but having finally watched it, I feel like that’s unfair. the-monuments-men-2013-movie-title-bannerArt expert Franks Stokes assembles a crack team just as impressive as any of Danny Ocean’s – Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Dimitri Leonidas all give strong performances though they compete for screen time. Bill Murray and Bob Balaban are probably my favourite duo; they play off each other fabulously. The trouble with The Monuments Men is with the tone: this wants to be a light-hearted caper, like Ocean’s 11, but Clooney feels too much reverence for the subject and so throws in another lecture rather than a joke. Truthfully, when George Clooney lectures, I’m going to listen. That man has the twinkliest eyes short of Santa Claus. But this is not exactly playing to his cast’s strength, or his audience’s expectations.

The Monuments Men arrive mostly as the war is winding down, so there aren’t a lot of battle scenes, which is not to say there is no blood. Anyone looking for a typical, action-driven war movie will be out of luck, though it certainly looks like one, with beautiful, crumbly post-war Europe shot and framed with care.  This one is more of an intellectual exercise, with a moral question at its heart: is a human life worth a piece of art?

George Clooney;Matt Damon;Bill Murray;Bob Balaban;John GoodmanClooney’s character answers this rather touchingly, in the end, with an older version of himself visiting a monument he recovered in the 1970s. “Yeah,” he says, eyes twinkling. I wondered for half a second if this was perhaps the real Frank Stokes but it was the twinkle that gave it away. Must be a Clooney, I thought, and so it was (Nick, George’s dad).

George Clooney knows this is a story worth telling, and seeks to honour the men who made it possible. It just feels like maybe this is the wrong medium to do it. Even at two hours, he just barely manages to give each of his actors one big “moment.” The monuments are pretty well served, but to really know the men, maybe a miniseries would have been more appropriate. Next time, George, take it HBO.