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The Monuments Men

It’s wartime 1944 and signs of weakness are appearing in the Germans’ stronghold across Europe. The German Armies start to retreat east, back to their homeland – but they don’t leave things as they’ve found them. Their Führer, Adolf Hitler, a lover of fine art, has ordered that all art treasures (mostly paintings and sculptures) across Europe be collected from the churches and galleries in France and Belgium and brought to him in Linz, for his own personal collection and exhibition. His orders are carried out and those pieces that the Germans can’t take with them, they destroy in their wake, leaving a trail of empty halls and wreckage behind them. At the same time, art expert Frank Stokes (played by George Clooney) initiates an operation to find and retrieve as much of the art as he can. He forms a special squad of experts – art restorer James Granger (by Matt Damon), architect Richard Campbell (by Bill Murray) art teacher Jean-Claude Clermont (by Jean Dujardin), sculptor Walter Garfield (by John Goodman), British art expert Donald Jeffries (by Hugh Bonneville) and Preston Savitz (by Bob Balaban). Stokes has worked with all these men before and, although none are in active military service and they’re all out of shape, he knows this is the best team to get the job done. They must get to the front line and rescue the priceless art pieces before the Germans destroy them as they leave or the Russians steal them when they arrive. Quite straightforward really …

I enjoyed this movie. It’s sort of a Boy’s Own wartime jaunt through Europe, crossed with an Indiana Jones style search for art icons that dodges the inevitable Germans, features wartime exploits and is punctuated by strong mateship during combat. A meaningful piece it isn’t, but an enjoyable movie it is. None of the action scenes are believable, but overall the story is there. I’m not really sure what the “cold as ice” French Museum Curator, Claire Simone (played by Cate Blanchett) adds to the story, except perhaps to provide a source for one or two clues in the search and I guess as a token female character, but she plays the role well and does look great in the forties French fashion. The ensemble cast are very entertaining and the script is delectable – I love the way Clooney bounces off Matt Damon in this – as in several movies they’ve done together (obvious examples are “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Twelve”) and of course both Bill Murray and John Goodman are masters at this. It’s refreshing and entertaining to see Hugh Bonneville here, in a role other than his recent efforts as Lord Grantham in television’s “Downton Abbey”, which may well have typecast him. The movie does make some important points about the value of life compared to art, the deep respect and honour amongst soldiers and the futile wastefulness of war.  Even though George Clooney has directed much better movies than this one, it was awarded the 2014 Heartland Film “Truly Moving Picture” award.

Made in 2014. Directed by George Clooney.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Movies

 

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Gravity

Just out past the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, the Hubble Telescope is undergoing maintenance and upgrade. Brilliant medical engineer Doctor Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) has invented a new component for use in medicine, which is now being tested on the Hubble, so she is working remote from the space shuttle to install and configure it. This is her first mission. She’s working alongside long-experienced Commander Matt Kowalsky (by George Clooney) and technical engineer Shariff (by Paul Sharma). Kowalsky is overseeing the operation while Stone works. He’s pretty relaxed out in space – in fact, he quite likes it out here – space walking is like floating (or even flying) and he’s aiming to break a colleague’s long-standing record of the longest space-walk before he retires at the end of this last mission. Suddenly, their routine installation is interrupted by the voice of Mission Control Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) who advises they must pack up immediately to avoid a risk nearby. From this point, things start to go very wrong … Stone and Kowalsky must use all their training and instinct to manage the situation and make sure they all get out alive … as this is no longer a routine mission …..

In a word, this movie is “gripping” – science fiction is not my genre of choice, so it’s saying something that I found this to be great. The performances of both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are very good – particularly Sandra Bullock, whose character has the primary focus of the movie. She is totally involved in this from the outset – as is the audience – and I guess that the production of this movie would have been hard work for both her and George Clooney. As usual, for me the ending is too convenient and implausible, just to finish things off – but I am prepared to live with that given the excellence of the rest of it. The camerawork is exceptional (I saw this in 3D) and the sequencing of the space-walk scenes (I guess you could call it choreography) was great. It boggles my mind how the cinematographers achieved what they did here – the direction is amazing, with camerawork that takes you everywhere the astronauts go – it’s marvellous. The camera seems to float through space with the characters – the utter endlessness of black space envelops you as you watch and feel engulfed by it. It is a mistake to expect a sci fi movie brimming with space monsters or highly visible special effects of animation, but the director really does take you where he wants you to go – and he shows you what he wants you to see – it’s very well done.

Made in 2013. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2013 in Movies

 

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Solaris

Far into the future, Earth is the home base of a corporate enterprise that stretches far beyond the stratosphere. A branch of this organisation is being established to determine its feasibility on a space station that orbits Earth, the enterprise is called Solaris. On Earth, Chris Kelvin (played by George Clooney) is a psychologist with a busy and successful practice. His client list spans both Earth-bound and space-resident people in need of counselling and guidance. One day, Chris gets a strange and worrying video message from his friend Gibarian (by Ulrich Tukur) who is working on Solaris. Gibarian is clearly traumatised and terrified, but doesn’t explain why. He begs Chris to come to Solaris and help.  Chris travels to Solaris to find out what’s happening there and to make sure his friend is safe.  What he finds when he gets there changes his life forever ……  

Although science fiction is not my genre of choice, in fact I usually purposely shy away from it, this movie is excellent.  It teeters on the boundary between plausibility and fantasy so that someone like me can get enjoyment out of it.  As Chris Kelvin, George Clooney exhibits his marvellous acting ability once again.  He is intense, every emotion is clearly shown and he is very good in this wide ranging role.  Steven Soderberg has made a unique movie with a moody, dark setting to match the suspense.  His scene construction develops very well and the scarcity of music and often vast silences are enough to set each scene very well indeed. The cinematography is exquisite, the blur between real-life and hallucination is very well done and the audience is in this every step of the way.  Clooney is very well supported by a small but very strong cast of Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis and Jeremy Davies – these performances are all unique and totally marvellous.  It’s a great movie.

This is a remake of the 1972 movie of the same name by Andrey Tarkovskiy that won the FIPRESCI Prize and Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in the same year.

Made in 2002.  Directed by Steven Soderberg

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Movies

 

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The Perfect Storm

It’s 1991, Captain Billy Tyne (played by George Clooney) is the skipper of the Andrea Gail, working out of the tough port of Gloucester, Massachusetts where commercial deep sea fishing is a highly competitive industry. Billy and his crew have worked these waters for several years, but his operation has had a few rough months recently and Billy really needs to bring in a good catch soon. Although it’s getting very late in the year (October – and the weather can get pretty ugly), he hears that the fish are running and decides the potential harvest offers enough incentive to go out and bring it in. His five loyal crew would much rather stay on shore with their loved ones than venture back into the cold unfriendly Atlantic, but they each decide to join him on this potentially lucrative mission. On board with Billy are young Bobby Shatford (by Mark Wahlberg) who is keen and is in the first exciting flush of new love; Dale ‘Murph’ Murphy (by John C. Reilly) recently divorced and a devoted father; David ‘Sully’ Sullivan (by William Fichtner) a good crewman but hated by Murph; Mike ‘Bugsy’ Moran (by John Hawkes) who is reluctant to leave shore because he’s finally found a woman who likes him; and Alfred Pierre (by Allen Payne) the quietest of them all. As they depart from port, storm warnings start to come through, but they press on to their anticipated catch. Meanwhile, three weather systems collide off the coast of Nova Scotia that create a furious storm with hundred foot waves and fierce winds. It is the “storm of the century” and it strikes with virtually no warning. Out to sea, Billy and his crew have mechanical problems on board and they must change course quickly, which means they are stuck out there with this “perfect storm” between them and safety. They must face the treacherous stormy high-seas and try to make it home, at the same time they pray for rescue …
 
This movie is great – it is a true story. The tough life of working a fishing trawler, the difficulty of intermittent on-shore relationships and the emotional investment in dealing with such dangerous work in the unpredictable sea and forces nature is depicted superbly. Those “left on shore” are played very well by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Diane Lane, Bob Gunton, and Karen Allen – we really feel the anxiety and uncertainty in these people’s lives. I had little knowledge of this true-life event, so the story doesn’t go where I thought it would, but that made it better. It’s a very good movie – I wouldn’t venture onto the high seas again for a while after I saw it. The men in the Andrea Gail are courageous beyond belief.
 
This great drama is based on the best-selling book by Sebastian Junger,

Made in 2000. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Movies

 

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Burn After Reading

In Washington, Osborne Cox (by John Malkovich) is a CIA analyst expert on the Balkans who is suddenly fired from his job due to his drinking problem. He is bitter and throws wild accusations at the CIA, then starts a tell-all memoir about his work and the Agency. He saves all his evidence and background work on a CD, but then he mislays it. At the same time, his wife Katie (by Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with Federal Marshal Harry Pfarrer (by George Clooney). In another part of town, Linda Litzke (by Frances McDormand) is at work at a fitness centre – “Hard Bodies”, but she is so distracted about her looks and determination to get some plastic surgery that she doesn’t realise her boss Ted (by Richard Jenkins) fancies her like mad. Then another “Hard Bodies” fitness instructor, Chad (by Brad Pitt), who is a little slow on the uptake, finds the computer disk belonging to Ossie and views it, He sees what looks like CIA state secrets and when he tells Linda, they decide to run a blackmail scam – then Linda will finally have the money to get her face lift – but things don’t quite go according to plan …

I find the Coen Brothers’ movies are either great or awful.  This one is great – it has a fabulous and well-balanced mix between comedy and thriller.  All the characters work well in this madcap story and it’s very entertaining.  From the outset, John Malkovich’s Ossie is totally unlikeable – he is superb in this bitter and angry role. As Linda, you just want to shake Frances McDormand and get some reality back into her head … George Clooney is perfect as the suave but totally hapless Harry Pfarrer, he and Tilda Swinton are magic together … and Brad Pitt … what can I say? in roles like this he is just too funny … very good and he totally and delightfully inhabits Chad.  It’s really good – one of their best, well done.

Made 2008: Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2012 in Movies

 

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Up in the Air

Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney) is a consultant who hires himself out to organisations who want to fire their employees but don’t want to actually deliver the news themselves. He’s good at this work – he has long experience and he’s well practiced in dealing with the range of reactions he gets from the recipients of this hard message. He does his job by travelling allover the US, he spends 322 days a year out of town, flying (always first class) with the same airline, staying in the same hotel chain, renting the same type of car etc. He does have a home, but it is is sparse and cold as he is rarely there. The same could be said for his personal life. He lives out of a suitcase and likes it that way – it allows him to meet women wherever he goes. In one city, he meets Alex (by Vera Farmiga) who he is attracted to because she lives a similar lifestyle and puts as much kudos as he does on hotel services, frequent flyer points, bonus gifts and super corporate rates available to such business travellers. Ryan has a fairly settled life until the day his boss (by Jason Bateman) hires ambitious 23-year-old graduate Natalie (by Anna Kendrick) who wants to streamline the “firing process” and Ryan with it, which causes Ryan’s entire life to undergo major change.

This movie is clever, smart and elegantly made. George Clooney’s performance is good and he works well with Anna Kendrick. In fact, all the supporting roles are realistically played and I found I really was transported into the lives of the people where I felt their pain at being sacked. There’s real emotion in Ryan’s own life also – not only does he have to deal with the ongoing stress in his job, but he has his own life ups and downs also.

I liked this movie a lot.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Movies

 

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The Descendants

Matt King (played by George Clooney) is a wealthy lawyer running his own practice in Hawaii. His wife Elizabeth has had a serious accident and she lies in hospital in a coma. He must take on an unfamiliar role as primary parent to his 10 year daughter Scottie (by Amara Miller) while his wife is ill. Alongside this, through a quirk of history his family are the descendant owners of a huge parcel of Hawaiian land and, as Trustee, he must decide on the best method to sell the land and share the profits amongst his broader family.

As it becomes clear that Elizabeth won’t survive much longer, Matt has to let family and close friends know so they can say their goodbyes to her. He is heartbroken and when he brings his elder daughter Alex (by Shailene Woodley), back from school to help care for Scottie and for her mother’s final days, she reveals that her mother has been having an affair. From here, the story develops as Matt seeks the truth about his marriage and his wife’s infidelity.

There is a thread of comedy through this movie, which is entertaining – but on the whole it is an emotional story. George Clooney shows his acting prowess in the dramatic roller-coaster role – and he does very well. Both Alex and Scotty are performed nicely also. The grandeur of the Hawaiian Islands is showcased beautifully throughout the story and it is an appropriate backdrop to the various aspects of this drama. The only negative is that the movie is just too long. The story is good but too drawn out – there is no added value in its length (it could easily be 20 minutes shorter without losing any impact) and by the end I was just wishing it would finish. Clooney will deserve the Oscar if he gets it though.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2012 in Movies

 

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