Movie Review: The Monuments Men

MonumentsMen Synopsis: At the tail end of World War II, art historian Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is tasked with preserving and rescuing much of Europe's great art, sculptures, and buildings from the retreating Nazi forces. He assembles a crack team, known as "The Monuments Men", consisting of artists, architects, and playwrights and the group of aging men head overseas. Once stationed on the front lines, James Granger (Matt Damon) must persuade French historian Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) to trust him and reveal her knowledge while the rest of the group spreads out across Europe in an attempt to locate the thousands of stolen pieces before the Nazis put them all to the flame.

What I Liked: It's hard not to get excited about a cast like this. Clooney and Damon are great in and of themselves but when you add in American Treasures John Goodman and Billy Murray and the criminally underrated Bob Balaban in supporting roles, you know you're bound to see some excellent work no matter how the finished product turns out. And that's what sticks about most about The Monuments Men. You get these bright moments of greatness from one of these performers or another and often the best sequences involve two of them working off of one another. Clooney and Damon have an obvious easy chemistry with each other, Murray and Balaban work delightfully in tandem for quite some time, and Goodman and Jean Dujardin make the most of their time together as well. (Very little of this film includes all of the Monuments Men which is a real bummer obviously.) I think it's fair to say that when The Monuments Men shines, it is because of the rich stock of talent that makes up the cast, though the story itself is interesting and worthy of being told.


What I Didn't Like: I think we're at the point where we have to say that George Clooney as a director can no longer be considered a draw. His first two films (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck which earned him an Oscar nomination) were of the highest quality but his subsequent efforts have fallen off significantly. Leatherheads is horrible and while The Ides of March had its moments (and even brought a nomination for writing), its pursuit of greatness was hamstrung almost from the beginning and the direction had a lot to do with that. Monuments Men is much the same. Great cast (as noted), interesting story, lots of good vibes going in but ultimately it doesn't come anywhere close to achieving its goals. I think all the right pieces are here but the assemblage of said pieces is wrong. The tone is uneven and usually seems slightly off, the first hour is incredibly choppy, and the movie routinely tries to cash in on emotional checks it hasn't yet earned. We're supposed to be invested in Stokes' attachment to a certain piece of art but the development of this plot point (and many others) fails to deliver the same amount of attachment that the character feels. There are numerous, "Oh that's nice" moments that are played for, "This will stick with you for the next 20 years." The score is horrendous and often drives the tone in just enough of the wrong direction that I had trouble staying attuned. And when The Monuments Men works, it seems almost always to be a result of the great talent of the cast and almost in spite of the poor direction.

In Conclusion: I'm not willing to call The Monuments Men a bad movie but it is a far, FAR cry from the classic film that I, and I think everyone involved with this movie too, expected it to be. To me, it's like a puzzle that has been twisted and turned into an assembled whole but the final picture is all wrong. The Monuments Men is passable and decently entertaining but that unfortunately makes it quite a disappointment.

Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for some language and violence)

Movie Review: Elysium

ElysiumPoster In the future, the earth has become overpopulated, polluted, and stricken with disease. To combat this, the world’s wealthier residents build and flee to a ritzy space habitat known as Elysium, leaving earth and the rest of its inhabitants to rot. Max (Matt Damon) always dreamed of leaving earth but when he is given only five days to live, he becomes desperate to reach Elysium and the instant-healing med bays that propagate every home. In order to do so, however, he must take on an extremely dangerous job that draws the ire of Elysium’s secretary of defense (Jodie Foster) and her psychotic security agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley).

I’ve been looking forward to Elysium for quite some time now as it combines two of my favorite things: science-fiction and Matt Damon. It certainly didn’t hurt that the entire concept came from the mind of Neill Blomkamp, who is responsible for 2009’s Oscar-nominated entry District 9 and who stands as one of the rising stars in the genre. I’m not sure that Elysium quite measures up to District 9 but it is still a strong film that holds a place as one of the better entries of the summer. Blomkamp’s strengths as a sci-fi visionary are on full display here and he makes excellent use of the $100 million budget he had to work with by limiting the film’s scale and preventing it from becoming the CGI overload it very easily could have been. Max isn’t particularly challenging or memorable but in true Damon fashion, he makes his character likable and brings the appropriate frenetic energy that the role calls for. Copley is an excellent counterpart for Damon to the point that you find yourself wanting more of their rivalry. And Blomkamp builds an interesting world in which his characters operate, taking Elysium beyond becoming just another sci-fi concept film.


There are definitely flaws that pop up along the way. Foster’s character is poorly written and underdeveloped and the speech pattern that all of the Elysians speak with is maddening. The plot doesn’t always come together seamlessly and Elysium falls into more clichés than I would have liked. But even at its worst, it is still better than most blockbusters of this sort. What really sets the film apart is Blomkamp’s commitment to the development to a rather simple plotline (a desperate man trying to find a way to survive) in a complex environment. The film is not as gritty or dark as District 9 but it’s still telling a weighty story. As such, Elysium retains a measure of power in relation to the central narrative while still maintaining a high entertainment value. Grade: B+ (Rated R for language, violence, and some gruesome imagery)