Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Director George Clooney’s war epic about historians racing to save art from the Nazis looks and feels like it was just taken out of a time capsule buried in 1958.

The Monuments Men is quite breezy for a war movie, peppered with laughs provided by a strong cast, including Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and John Goodman. They all play men trying to thwart Hitler’s plan for a giant museum. The film has one of those whistle-infused soundtracks, and it doesn’t hurt that Clooney and Dujardin look like Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly.

The movie moves briskly, and is perhaps a bit too weightless for a movie with such a heavy subject at its heart. It also has a useless subplot involving Damon and Cate Blanchett that is deserving of the cutting-room floor.

Still, Clooney has great command of the camera here; the ensemble shines (especially Murray and Goodman); and it’s fun to watch.

This is an interesting piece of World War II history, and it’s great that somebody has made a decent movie to cover this chapter of Hitler’s insanity.

The Monuments Men is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Neill Blomkamp follows up District 9 with another solid sci-fi effort in Elysium, a film that delivers terrific action—along with a reasonable amount of smarts.

Unfortunately, Elysium is also a little on the stupid and illogical side, especially during its ending. Yes, I just complimented the film for being smart—so it’s possible to be both dumb and brilliant in the same movie. (Heck, Guillermo del Toro did just that with his Pacific Rim earlier this summer.)

It’s about 140 years in the future, and man has, not surprisingly, screwed up the planet. It’s one big garbage heap (shades of WALL-E and Idiocracy), and the planet’s wealthy people have abandoned Earth for a bitchin’ space station in the sky.

This space station, Elysium, has everything a rich bitch would want: It’s got mansions, pools, sweet landscaping, 10 different kinds of tacos and, most notably, healing booths. These healing booths don’t just fix a bruised knee or a paper cut: They cure cancer, and can even reconstruct one’s face after it has been blown apart by an explosive.

Matt Damon shaved his head to play Max, an ex-con factory worker who puts together droids that police the decrepit Earth. One morning, he gets sassy with one of these very droids—and gets his arm broken for the effort. Then, while working under the watchful eye of the worst boss ever (William Fichtner, who is earning some cool points back after his dreadful turn in The Lone Ranger), Max microwaves himself and suffers radiation poisoning.

With only five days to live, only one thing can save him: a trip to Elysium.

While Elysium has the healing chambers, the snoots in the sky don’t allow Earth residents to use them—so Max can’t just hop on a space shuttle and get fixed up. After a visit to Spider (Wagner Moura), his former crime boss, Max gets a weaponized skeleton welded to his body (echoes of Robocop) and must agree to download a bunch of secret stuff into his brain in order earn a trip to the space station.

Yes, it’s all a little far-fetched—far-fetched and enjoyable, thanks to a stellar performance from Damon and some of the year’s best special effects. The dirty planet, the pristine space station … it’s all spectacularly done.

Sharlto Copley plays against type as a bad guy who is hunting Max. Copley is many miles away from his affable stooge in District 9; he’s a seriously awful beast here, with a fantastic and crazy accent. Jodie Foster gets some of her best work in years as Delacourt, the defense minister for Elysium. She also has a great accent, and has no problem shooting down ships full of Earth residents who are trying to enter Elysium.

Elysium displays super-cool gadgetry and brainy sci-fi—up until its finale, when the whole thing nearly falls apart. I won’t give away the ending, but it is rather dumb and illogical for a movie that had been so smart. That’s not the only issue: Blomkamp, who had delivered terrific action scenes throughout, settles for frantic Michael Bay-type editing for the final showdown.

Still, Elysium is till well worth your time, and establishes Blomkamp as one of the modern era’s kings of cinematic sci-fi. He gets sole credit for the screenplay, so its combined brilliance and silliness rest entirely in his creative hands.

As for Damon, he looks pretty badass with a steel skeleton grafted to his body and a computer drilled into his head. With this, and his turn in Behind the Candelabra, the actor is having a banner year.

Elysium is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director Steven Soderbergh has said Behind the Candelabra, based on the memoirs of Liberace’s former lover Scott Thorson, would be his last film. If so, he’s going out on a great note. (I find it hard to believe that Soderbergh will never direct again but, hey, you never know.)

Michael Douglas plays the legendary pianist and will certainly be in contention for an Emmy after this, one of his best performances. He captures that funny, overly happy, flamboyant personality that many of us who lived through the 1970s remember so well. He gives one of show business’ greatest caricatures a soul.

As Thorson, one of Liberace’s last boyfriends, Matt Damon is as good, if not better, than Douglas. The two—with Soderbergh’s help, of course—make Liberace and Thorson one of the more compelling screen couples this year.

I was surprised at how funny the film is. Rob Lowe is terrific as Dr. Jack Startz, the facial architect who masterminded Liberace and Thorson’s plastic surgeries. One of the film’s more nightmarish elements is how freaky Liberace, Startz and Thorson look after these procedures. Thorson, who was a very young man when he began his relationship with Liberace, got many unnecessary surgeries, allegedly to achieve a look Liberace found most attractive. For example, he got a dimple put in his chin for the hell of it.

Soderbergh wanted this to be a theatrical release, but has publicly stated that the major studios turned down the film because it’s “too gay.” What a shame. It contains some work that would’ve qualified for Oscar contention. Not only are the performances stellar; the costumes are worthy of accolades as well. Those fur coats and capes are to die for.

Kudos to HBO for backing the project when others wouldn’t. This is a great story for cinema, and it’s good that it found a venue. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Promised Land wants to be a message movie, but it's too messy to deliver that message coherently.

Originally slated to be Matt Damon's directorial debut, it was instead directed by his pal Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), who, with this and last year's mawkish Restless, finds himself in a bit of a slump. Although Damon relinquished the director's chair, he shared screenwriting duties with John Krasinski, and both have big roles in the film.

Damon plays Steve Butler, a likable corporate pawn for a natural-gas company who is sent to a farming town with a mandate to sell the community on allowing its presence. That presence would mean a lot of "fracking," a natural-gas extraction process that involves deep drilling—and some possible environmental side effects.

Steve is presented as a virtuous fellow who looks to do well and get ahead. He's just about to get a big promotion, and with a wisecracking co-worker at his side (Frances McDormand), he's set to sell fracking to a town filled with differing opinions on what to do with the land. Some, like Paul (Lucas Black), are looking for a big payday, while others, like Frank (a well-placed Hal Holbrook), look to get in Steve's way.

Also looking to get in Steve's way is Dustin (Krasinski), an environmentalist who claims that fracking wrecks farms and kills livestock. He posts pictures of dead cows around town and playfully intimidates Steve at local bars. He even makes a move on Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), the small-town girl Steve has his eyes on.

Is Promised Land trying to preach that fracking and natural gas are bad choices? I really couldn't tell you. The film is more preoccupied with giving us a nice, happy, pleasant outcome for Steve. Van Sant wants you to leave this movie thinking Damon's Steve is just swell—even if he did put people's livelihoods and land in jeopardy.

There's also a big twist that is nothing but a screenwriting stunt to throw viewers off-course. It completely undermines any "message" the film is trying to deliver, and comes off as something that would never, ever happen.

It's too bad. I liked the idea of Van Sant tackling a simple farm-town story—but the Damon/Krasinski screenplay betrays him in the end. Damn your pen, Matt Damon!

Damon's acting is OK. He's playing somebody similar in mannerisms to the character he played in We Bought a Zoo. (He wrote Promised Land with Krasinski while taking breaks from making Zoo.) His acting is better than his writing. The same can't be said for Krasinski, who both writes and acts badly here. Love the dude on The Office, but I'm lukewarm on him at the movies thus far.

As for McDormand, she rises above the material and makes her moments worth watching. The same can be said for DeWitt, who made a habit this year of showing her face in movies unworthy of her. She also starred in the mediocre Nobody Walks, the lousy The Odd Life of Timothy Green and The Watch. (I am one of the few critics who actually liked that one.)

Promised Land left me feeling weird, and I don't think that was its intention. Sure, it made me curious about fracking, but the film chickened out and failed to deliver a meaningful statement on anything. Van Sant has made an awkward movie that will be fracking forgotten by this time next year.

Promised Land is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews
Jeremy Renner replaces Matt Damon at the center of the Bourne franchise, and the studio should've just left well enough alone.

The events of The Bourne Legacy take place at the same time as Damon's last Bourne outing, The Bourne Ultimatum. We know this because Matt Damon's character is mentioned on occasion, and his image shows up during TV news telecasts. It's just a reminder of how much more fun the franchise was with Damon starring.

Renner plays Aaron Cross, who, like Damon's Bourne, is part of a superagent experiment. He's a superstrong, supersmart agent thanks to some magic drugs and outlandish writing. Renner is a decent enough actor, but he's no Matt Damon. Consequently, Aaron Cross is no Jason Bourne.

Edward Norton is new to the series as a suspicious retired colonel, and Rachel Weisz is cast as well. Both barely register. Yes, the Bourne movies made a lot of money, but when Damon basically refused to soldier on, it would've been a good idea to let things lie for a while. This one feels rushed and unimportant.

There was some talk of Damon and Renner teaming for a future chapter. I'm doubting that will ever happen, but it's not a bad idea. Damon needs a hit, and Renner needs some help.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get a director's commentary with Tony Gilroy, deleted scenes and some making-of featurettes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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