by Ken B.
Do you realize how great this movie could have been? The Monuments Men has an extremely compelling story to tell and a cast to do it, but when all is said and done, it doesn’t really achieve the task at hand. It’s about a team of architects, archivists, and artists assigned to retrieve thousands of pieces of priceless European art stolen by the Nazis before they are destroyed in the waning days of World War II.
The idea is suggested by Frank Stokes (director and co-writer George Clooney), and approved by the president. From America, Stokes appoints four men, with the names of Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Preston Salvitz (Bob Balaban), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), and James Granger (Matt Damon). There are two from Europe; from Britain, Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), and from France Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin). The team finds out what has been taken, and figures out where it might be. Along the way, a French curator named Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) becomes vital to locating much of the stolen material. Another supporting character is Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), a Jewish soldier who fled Germany for America with his family in 1938. He’s mostly unseen, but acts as a translator a couple of times.
I had to consult the iMDB for character names. One of the key flaws with The Monuments Men is a disorganized and disheveled way of developing and introducing its characters, to the point where the viewer doesn’t really know who these great actors were playing. I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about better projects the main cast had been in.
The Monuments Men is never at a loss for a well performed scene, but it never really combines into a cohesive or memorable film. This is the fault of the screenplay and possibly the editing. It’s a choppy and jerky affair, hard to follow and even harder to care about most of the time. There are seven “monuments men”, and as the story moves on, the group splits up and it becomes a series of tangents, never a fully flowing narrative until the climax of the third act. It’s a disappointing event of thinking about what the possibilities are, and realizing how they’re never reached to their maximum potential. The 118 minute movie suffers a bit in its pacing, especially at the start, with countless amounts of hasty exposition turned against a general disinterest. You’re greeted with an awful incessant speed. The production design uses every warm color it can find in the interiors, creating a glowing sense of nostalgia, as if to initiate the ghosts of the World War II films of days gone by. It never really feels like a successful tribute to that, or nearly any kind of film. The Monuments Men more often than not comes off as a realm of iconic actors misshapen by the script and odd editing flow.
I really wanted to love this. There are so many excellent components in The Monuments Men that it can be called nothing other than a real, real shame that it should not turn out as anything less than a spectacle. It’s such a sadness to watch this as the end result, occasionally stirring but never consistently. You yearn for more yet can’t handle another minute with the sluggish pacing, you love the actors but can’t remember who they’re playing, you make a point to read Robert Edsel’s book to learn more about this otherwise fascinating part of World War II, and you wonder why you didn’t see that move with the Legos everyone’s been talking about.
by Ken B.
Moonrise Kingdom is as exciting a movie one can imagine that isn’t really billed as such. As typical of director Wes Anderson, everything’s perfect (or maybe “unreal” is the right word) from an aesthetic standpoint. Here, camera shots are precise, dialogue is said without a second thought, exterior scenes are shot with a sepia tinge, and a storm at the end over a near-Nolan blue. But under this, there is a well assembled and admirable movie. It’s become lazy to resort to the word “quirky” when referring to the contents of Anderson’s filmography, but it’s sort of obvious.
Most of the film transpires over three days in September 1965. Sam (JARED GILMAN) is 12 years old and a member of the “Khaki Scouts”, Troop 55. Scout Master Ward (EDWARD NORTON) notices that Sam’s tent is empty one day, and a massive search goes out for him. Where is he? Well, to explain this, we flash back a year and find out about him meeting Suzy (KARA HAYWARD). Through letter correspondence, they realize that the other considers themselves an outcast and concoct a somewhat elaborate scheme to run away together.
Anderson’s script (co-written with Roman Coppola) is intriguing. Each character is fascinating, regardless of their prominence in the film. I was especially interested in Bill Murray will faithfully appear in Anderson’s films does so here. (He plays Suzy’s father). Jason Schwartzman, whose career arguably started due to his involvement in Anderson films, has a small but significant role towards the end.
It’s probably wise not to go into a Wes Anderson film not expecting realism – a hyper-realism-esque deadpan may be a more appropriate descriptor. Open emotion is restricted to a minimum. It is a factor in the background of scenes, and the construction of dialogue, but it is intentionally not overtly displayed as part of the overall output of the scene itself.
Music is a recurring theme in Moonrise Kingdom – the film starts and ends with a 45 rpm containing a voice dissecting an orchestra, and this continues with Alexandre Desplat’s score over the end credits. This almost provides a strange contrast with the mood of the movie itself – music, by nature, is based on an outpouring of emotion.
This is a well done film, no question about it. While it has no lasting impact as anything especially great on me, this is not because of the existence of big, gaping flaws, but just by the fact it doesn’t stand out from other three star movies in terms of overall memorability. That’s not to say that it isn’t different, though. Moonrise Kingdom is very different than most any other movie I’ve reviewed this year. I was excited when I had the chance to look at a Wes Anderson film, as I had heard so much about his movies and his career in general. Now that I have, my conclusion is basically what I hoped for going in – clearly styled, well and uniquely written, acted as mandated, and a recommendable feature.