Monuments Men

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett
Directed by: George Clooney (“The Ides of March”)
Written by: George Clooney (“The Ides of March”) and Grant Heslov (“The Ides of March”)

Historically speaking, “Monuments Men,” a film about a platoon of art appreciators who put their lives on the line to rescue priceless works of art from the Nazis during World War II, is a fascinating story and one that everyone should definitely be aware of. Cinematically speaking, however, director George Clooney’s latest isn’t the film they should trust to make it a lasting experience. As much as it would like to be considered more of a heist movie than an actual war movie, “Monuments Men” comes up extremely short on both fronts.

Sent on a mission by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to reclaim thousands of famous artworks stolen by the Germans across Europe, art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together his ragtag team of curators and museum directors to save what they can before Hitler puts it in his own museum or burns it. The team includes art dealer Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) and sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman). Other actors joining the bumpy ride are Billy Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas and Bob Balaban. Somewhere along the way, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett are used sparingly, although their story is probably the most compelling part of the entire narrative. Simply put: there are just not enough pages in the script to make them fully-realized characters. There isn’t even enough content for the men on the frontlines themselves, who basically mill around until it’s time for them to uncover the next trove of art.

Despite the impressive cast, Clooney’s cheeky “Ocean’s 11”-style approach to the film wasn’t in the best interest of the narrative in the least bit. The tone is playful throughout, which takes away from the seriousness of the subject at hand. Even when Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov want to break away from the silliness, they fail to give the men any motivation so the characters can pull us in emotionally. Whether it’s during a scene where the men find a burnt frame belonging to a painting of Pablo Picasso, thus confirming the importance of their mission, or a scene where Murray breaks down because he misses his family, none of it rings true.

So far in his directorial career, Clooney has done some impressive work when the subject feels mature. Films like “The Ideas of March” and especially “Good Night, and Good Luck” are proof of that. But here, Clooney attempts to mix and match what he did with those films and what he did with his more lighthearted football-themed comedy “Leatherheads.” The outcome is a mess and one that, we’re sure, Clooney probably won’t be making during his next project.

The Ides of March

October 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: George Clooney (“Good Night, and Good Luck”)
Written by: George Clooney (“Good Night, and Good Luck”), Grant Heslov (“Good Night, and Good Luck”) and Beau Willimon (debut)

Every smile or sentence that comes from a political candidate is calculated. As Matt Damon’s politician character in “The Adjustment Bureau” pointed out, focus groups are employed for even the most mundane details, from determining what the perfect amount of scuff for a pair of dress shoes is to picking a tie that conveys the right message. There is always a crack staff working behind the scenes feeding candidates lines, strategies, and conducting damage control, all to make sure their campaign is unsinkable.  In “The Ides of March,” Ryan Gosling plays a skilled, idealistic young staffer who enters the world of politics as a true believer, but finds out very quickly that winning an election requires more than just having a candidate you believe in.

Adapted from the play “Farragut North,” which draws inspiration from Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, “The Ides of March” follows the primary campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) as he seeks the nomination of the Democratic Party. The Morris campaign is managed by Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), but the real brain of the team is Stephen Myers (brilliantly played by Gosling), a smart and emerging political mind on the campaign trail. When the manager (Paul Giamatti) of the opposing candidate approaches Stephen to try and poach him from the Morris campaign, the news is somehow leaked to the press and an aggressive reporter (Marisa Tomei) won’t stop until she gets the answers she wants. As this story begins to unfold, Stephen uncovers an even bigger scandal that threatens his job, exposes him to blackmail and extortion, and leaves him at the center of a moral and professional dilemma.

The cast of Oscar winners and nominees that director George Clooney has assembled is the strongest pillar of the film. Gosling gives one of the strongest performances of his critically-acclaimed career as a charismatic and ambitious man with everything to lose. Gosling has a particular knack for conveying disbelief and intensity with wide-eyed stares. Hoffman gives the strongest of the supporting roles. His scenes with Gosling contain some of the best interaction seen in a film this year. The interplay between these two commanding actors is the most obvious reminder that the film is based on a play, as one can easily imagine these scenes taking place on a Broadway stage.  Strong performances from Giamatti, Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood are seen, as well as from Clooney who takes a much smaller role in the film in exchange for his work on the script and behind the camera.

While the story is that of a pretty standard political thriller, “The Ides of March” sets itself apart in its execution. The script is sharp, with plenty of devastating and often hilarious quips.  The movie navigates through a potentially redundant concept by maintaining a constant tension and more than enough twists and turns to keep viewers interested.  As the stakes become greater and things spiral out of control, it is fascinating to watch Gosling’s character struggle between what is right and what the implications are for his career.

It might be a tad cliché for a film to depict politics as a dirty profession that can cause even the most ambitious and hardworking individual to become jaded, but the narrative works and feels like an accurate depiction of how a campaign would control a scandal.  With brilliant acting from its stellar cast, “The Ides of March” separates itself from an often-unimaginative genre with powerhouse performances and authentic details.

Men Who Stare at Goats

November 9, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges
Directed by: Grant Heslov (“Par 6”)
Written by: Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”)

Everything unravels pretty early on in “Goats,” the dry comedy directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter/producer Grant Heslov (“Good Night, and Good Luck”). In the film, George Clooney, who has done satirical characters well before, plays Lyn Cassady, a psychic spy for the U.S. military who teams up with a reporter (Ewan McGregor) to go on a quirky adventure through Iraq. Based on an actual secret military program, the story behind “Goats” is one of mystifying science fiction that never gets passed the idea that all these characters are just darn so kitschy. It would have been nice to delve deeper into what makes all of them actually tick, but instead screenwriter Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”) and Heslov decide the funniest thing they could do with “Goats” is get McGregor, who played Obi Wan Kenobi in the most recent “Star Wars” prequels, to overkill Jedi jokes while Clooney caricatures the heck out someone that should have been ten times more fun.