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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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Inside Llewyn Davis

Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer. It’s the early 1960’s in Greenwich Village, New York and Llewyn’s trying to scratch out a living with his music. Things had been starting to go well and he’d cut a record with his partner, Mike. But that was short lived and now Llewyn is a starving artist, dossing with friends and trying to keep body and soul together until he gets his big break. Llewyn’s friends are all quickly losing their patience with him as he moves from the sofa at one place to a floor and hopefully a meal at the next. He’s always borrowing money, too – his best friend, Jean (by Carey Mulligan) is sick of his hopeless ways and she’s also his worst critic. She and her boyfriend Jim (by Justin Timberlake) are doing okay at their music, even Troy Nelson (by Stark Sands) and Al Cody (by Adam Driver) are doing alright. But Llewyn just can’t seem to get a break. One day, after an overnight at the Gorfein’s, pet cat Ulysses escapes from their flat and Llewyn spends half the next day chasing the cat until he can return it to the ever-generous and unflappable Mitch Gorfein (by Ethan Phillips) and his doting wife Lillian (by Robin Bartlett). His luck goes from bad to worse when he wears out his welcome with his sister Joy (by Jeanine Serralles) and his useless agent fails him. So he decides to try a new big-time agent Mel Novikoff (by Jerry Grayson) in Chicago and he hitches a ride there with Roland Turner (by John Goodman) and his driver Johnny Five (by Garrett Hedlund). Roland’s a big-shot and spends the next few hundred miles telling Llewyn his endless stories. In Chicago, Llewyn plays for Mr Novikoff and hopes to get a record deal – things can’t get any worse, right?

In this movie, the Coen brothers are back to their wonderful best. Here, the hapless Llewyn Davis just blunders from one possible but insane scenario to the next. All the characters are truly and deliciously Coen-esque and the incidents are presented as only they could portray them. The dead-pan humour is classic Coen and the bizarre personalities just add to the delight of this movie. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s very entertaining. Even if you don’t know at first it’s one of their movies, you will pick up on it once the movie gets going. Good performances abound here – Oscar Isaac is great, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake are funny in their earnestness, John Goodman is outrageous and great and the terrible outcomes of Llewyn’s decisions and hasty actions are just as you’d expect in real life. For their efforts, the Joel and Ethan Coen won the Grand Prix at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival – well done.

Made in 2013. Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Movies

 

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Argo

In 1979, America acts to protect the deposed Shah of Iran and in an angry reaction a crowd of Iranians storm the American Embassy in Teheran. Six US Consular officials manage to escape and take shelter in the Canadian Embassy. Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck), a highly experienced CIA operative in “extraction” situations like this, must devise a plan to get the six people out of Iran safely and quietly. Most normal practices won’t work in the highly volatile Teheran, but he must do something. He eventually comes up with an idea that is ambitious, in fact some might say far-fetched, but it may just work – and it in involves Hollywood – make-up artist John Chambers (by John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (by Alan Arkin). Like a real life movie script, this is the true story of how his plan plays out, with high reliance on deception, covert activities, false identities, careful split-second timing, courage and luck.

This film is great. Much of the content of the actual story was classified by US Government until 1997, but now the facts of the situation are known, no doubt with some subtle embellishments for effect, but nothing that would detract from the drama faced by these six people and everyone involved at the time. The characters are not deeply explored, not even Tony Mendez, but Ben Affleck continues to create wonderful drama, effective situations and his talent to build suspense is marvellous. We get to know the Hollywood participants Chambers – by John Goodman – and Siegel – by Alan Arkin – the best, perhaps because what happened in Teheran stays with the people involved. Alan Arkin was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in this supporting role. BAFTA and the US Academy surprised and delighted many when Ben Affleck was named winner of the 2013 Academy Award (Oscar) for Motion Picture of the Year, along with Oscars for Best Film Editing and Screenplay. At the time, Tony Mendez was decorated by the US Government for his work and he has written about his experiences in a memoir “Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA” published in 2000. This is a well made and entertaining thriller.

Made in 2012. Directed by Ben Affleck

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2013 in Movies

 

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Oskar Schell (played by Thomas Horn) has a very happy life in New York City. His best friend is his dad Thomas (by Tom Hanks) and they spend lots of time together on adventures and unravelling intriguing “play” mysteries, which Oskar loves to do. Thomas gives boundless time and attention to his special son, to build his confidence so he develops into smart and well-rounded person. Oskar’s mum, Linda (by Sandra Bullock) watches on with pride and adoration as her two favourite men share strong and deep love – her family is happy and complete. One day, Oskar’s class ends very early after a huge catastrophe in New York City. It is September 11th 2001, a terrorist attack stops the city and Oskar’s dad never comes home … Oskar’s world disintegrates. He and Linda face life without Thomas and do their best to keep going without him. By chance, Oskar finds a key amongst his father’s things and he is convinced it holds the one thing he needs most – a link to his father. He starts a quest to unravel this most important mystery of all ….

This is a good movie. Thomas Horn is marvellous as the traumatised Oskar and Tom Hanks is lovely in his portrayal of Thomas, the loving husband and father. I feel so deeply for Oskar – the scenes in the movie bring home the utter devastation and trauma suffered by people on that day and since. Max von Sydow’s character is great, as most of the supporting roles are. I liked Viola Davis’ character as Abby Black and John Goodman as Stan, the doorman, who is lovely. Some of the content is confronting and very difficult, but the story’s actually worthwhile. Oskar is an irritating and selfish child, but you do forgive him for this, given his personality traits and his circumstances. An adaptation from a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, in 2012 the movie was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Motion Picture of the Year and Max von Sydow’s work was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. It’s a good movie with a nice positive ending

Made in 2011. Directed by Stephen Daldry

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Movies

 

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Trouble with the Curve

Gus (played by Clint Eastwood) is a baseball talent scout – baseball has been his entire life and he’s been a scout for the Atlanta Braves since before anyone can remember. He’s starting to feel his age and his club is seeing it too … they wonder whether he’s really up to the task anymore – he’s always had a great eye for talent in the past, but has he still got it? Gus is grumpy .. his eyesight’s failing him and he’s irritated about that – he can’t see very well to drive and he’s worried that technology is going to take what’s left of his enjoyment of his career, so he doesn’t let his shortcomings show – or so he thinks.  His long time friend and colleague, Pete (by John Goodman) can see it and encourages Gus to think about taking it easy, but he won’t have a bar of it.  Instead, Pete persuades Gus’s high-flying lawyer daughter Mickey (by Amy Adams) to accompany him on his latest “scout run” to North Carolina to find the next big baseball thing, but that’s really the last place Gus wants his daughter …..

This movie is okay. Unfortunately I have been spolt by the unquestioned excellence of Clint Eastwood’s directorial work in  “Gran Torino”, “Mystic River”, “Unforgiven”, “Million Dollar Babies”, “The Changeling” (and even “Bridges of Madison County” to a point) over recent years, so I sort of anticipated more of the same wonderful stuff – I was wrong. I understand that this movie is directed by Eastwood’s protege, Robert Lorenz, so that’s my mistake to anticipate his own work – but unfortunately, Eastwood has been typecast into the cantankerous role he’s played a few times lately and it’s getting a little tired. However, the relationship portrayed between himself and Mickey is very well done – in these portions, Eastwood displays some remarkable sensitivity which is great to see.  Amy Adams is very good (and beautiful) as Mickey, but I can’t tell whether Justin Timberlake (he plays Johnny) is acting or just being himself, but he seems very natural here.  John Goodman’s role is done very well, he’s very nice in this. Overall it’s a nice movie, but not a stunner.

Made in 2012.  Directed by Robert Lorenz

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Movies

 

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Sea of Love

Detective Frank Keller (played by Al Pacino) is a New York cop of twenty years’ standing. He’s good at his job, but that (and drinking) is about all he has to do in his life these days since his wife left him for fellow-cop Gruber (by Richard Jenkins) who happens to be from the same precinct. Frank’s disillusioned and should retire from the force, but he just can’t come to terms with his marriage breakdown, so he carries on. A serial killer with a penchant for “lonely hearts” magazine ads and who kills each victim while playing the old record “Sea of Love”, is active and Frank and his partner, Sherman (by John Goodman) investigate. To get closer to a suspect, Frank places his own “lonely hearts” advert and it’s answered, by Helen Cruger (by Ellen Barkin). Frank meets up with her but she’s not what he was expecting … she’s tough, sexy and a headstrong, single mother. Despite her being a suspect, Frank’s loneliness gets the better of his judgement, he is entranced by her and they begin an affair. As Frank gets more involved in his relationship with Helen, his suspicion of her deepens …

This movie will keep you involved all the way through – the plot is compelling and it has great dialogue, strong characters and authentic action sequences. As always, Al Pacino is great – these are the roles where he excels – when he portrays vulnerability, intensity, deep feelings and the self-destructive behaviour of continuing a relationship when it’s clearly not the best idea he’s ever had. He can bring all this to the audience without uttering a word – such is his talent at facial expression, gesture and body language – he’s just marvellous. His character is his well balanced with Ellen Barkin’s portrayal of the enigmatic and classy Helen. They are plausible as a couple, each in it to meet their own needs. John Goodman brings a sense of realism and “down home-ness” to his almost comic character Sherman, which is entertaining. In 1990, both Ellen Barkin and John Goodman were nominated for a Chicago Film Critics Association Award for their performances here and Al Pacino was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work, in the same year. The great script, well constructed scenes and excellent cinematography bring this chaotic urban environment to the audience and we are taken along on this ride quite easily. This is a good movie.

Made in 1989. Directed by Harold Becker

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Movies

 

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Confessions of a Shopaholic

Rebecca Bloomwood (played by Isla Fisher) is living in New York. She is just establishing herself in her career as a journalist but she’s got three problems … a little shopping addiction, a growing debt problem and a huge compulsion to tell lies. Shopping and fashion are the passions of her life, but her debt is crippling and she tells lies to keep herself at arms length from reality. Rebecca has suddenly lost her source of income and must find another job – desperate times! Her best friend Suze (by Krysten Ritter) and her parents (by Joan Cusak and John Goodman) do their best to support her. She wins an interview for her dream job at renowned fashion magazine “Alette”, but things don’t quite go according to plan and she ends up trying to report on current issues for steady and conservative Luke Brandon (by Hugh Dancy) at “Successful Saving”, a finance publication – not exactly the best match for her skills and interests, but she needs a job so she gives it a go anyway. She has some success with her column and as a result she meets and is entranced by Alette Naylor (by Kristin Scott Thomas), the Editor of “Alette“. This fuels her dreams of a life punctuated by designer labels, luxury brands and style, style, style! Meanwhile, debt collector Derek Smeath (by Robert Stanton) is closing in on her so her lies escalate. She tries to build her career, overcome her shopping obsession and stop telling lies, but this becomes more and more difficult as her life and lies threaten to catch up with her.

This romantic comedy is one where you are not sure if the girl is going to be happy (and get the guy) in the end or not. I have one word for this movie … what-evah! Perhaps I should have been warned by the title, but the cast intrigued me enough to give it a go. Alas, it is obviously not aimed at me – it is predictable, tedious and the slapstick comedy leaves me cold. I am sure Isla Fisher could find a much better role than this to play and throughout the movie all I kept thinking about her was “I wish she would wash her hair!”. The supporting characters are all fine – Julie Hagerty is great as Luke’s assistant, John Goodman is endearing as Rebecca’s father and the two key women, Kristin Scott Thomas and Joan Cusak are okay but not particularly significant. One curious role is that of Ms Korsch, the facilitator of the Shopaholics’ Support Group, played by Wendy Malick in bizarre hair and make-up, presumably designed to make her look cold and clinical. Even Hugh Dancy manages to make Luke seem quite insipid. As a pastime, it’s alright, but only if you’ve got nothing better to do.

Made in 2009. Directed by P. J. Hogan

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Movies

 

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