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[February 17, 2014]
The New Review: Film: AND THE REST...
(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Clooney wears his art on his sleeve The Monuments Men (118 mins, 12A) Directed by George Clooney; starring Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney Look at the famous faces adorning the posters for this second world war caper and it's hard to figure out whether they're meant to be stonyfaced or ever-so-slightly smirking. The same is true of the film, which wobbles uneasily between twinkly smiles and schmaltzy frowns, struggling to decide just how seriously to take its subject matter. The premise is promising: a ragtag team of misfits from Europe and America, united by a shared love of art, sent into the field of battle to stop the Nazis plundering and/or destroying the fruits of human culture - paintings, books, sculptures, icons etc. The message is clear - fight people and they fight back; destroy their culture and they cease to exist - and neither Clooney nor co-writer Grant Heslov is afraid to say this out loud, ensuring that no one misses the point. In The Monuments Men, words speak louder than action.
Having proved his directorial mettle with the likes of Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March, which exhibited a Redfordian blend of entertainment and education, Clooney remains dedicated to the principle of making populist movies that mean something. With its A-list cast, handsome historical setting and clearly defined humanist argument, this ought to be a treat, and there is indeed plenty to smile about: Bill Murray and Bob Balaban's odd-couple shtick; John Goodman's gruff avuncularity; Jean Dujardin's thousand-yard smile; Clooney's dashing presence, with hair, 'tache and twinkle channelling Clark Gable. Yet the tonal uncertainty undermines complete engagement, taking the edge off both the drama and the comedy, leaving the film floundering episodically in no-man's-land. A scratchy, sentimental rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas feels unearned, and the sparks spectacularly fail to fly between Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett, the latter unsure how far to push ze European accent, apparently fearful of straying into 'Allo 'Allo! territory. All in all, a revisionist Hollywood hotchpotch; easy on the eye, gentle on the heart, light on the head.
The Lego Movie (100 mins, U) Directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller; voices by Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett The repositioning of luddite Lego bricks as a saleable staple of the digital gaming revolution is one of the greatest marketing coups of the 21st century. Parents who grew up assembling brightly coloured building blocks in the age of the Bakelite telephone were amazed to find their children playing Lego Harry Potter for DS or Lego Star Wars for Wii, the brand name meaning as much to their computer-literate offspring as it did to them. Terrific to report, then, that The Lego Movie does nothing to undermine the Danish dynamo's ongoing reputation as a purveyor of fine entertainment for kids of all ages. While younger viewers will delight in the whiz-bang animation action and hugely likable familiar figures, adults will laugh themselves silly at the smart consumer satire gags and goggle in wonder at the undulating Legoland vistas.
Tipping its head toward the selfaware set-up of Wreck-It Ralph (via the Tour Guide Barbie sequence from Toy Story 2), The Lego Movie casts (un)happy plastic construction worker Emmet (Chris Pratt) as an accidental hero when President Business (Will Ferrell) attempts to obliterate nonconformist creativity with the aid of an instruction manual and some glue. Teaming up with Batman, Wyldstyle and other assorted contrarians, Emmet waves the flag for free-form invention, which appears to be Lego's rallying cry. The denouement may be a super-soppy sales pitch, but the surreal slapstick sensibilities of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs writers/directors Lord and Miller consistently undermine any corporate guff. You'll come out singing theme tune Everything is Awesome in only mildly ironic fashion.
Cuban Fury (98 mins, 15) Directed by James Griffiths; starring Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O'Dowd The extremely likable Nick Frost is the driving force behind this rather lumpen British romcom about a onetime salsa champion slipping back into the alligator shoes in pursuit of love. Frost plays world-weary schlub Bruce Garrett, a man whose only passion appears to be lathes and whose social circle comprises a couple of dorks with whom he plays golf and compares recent sexual failures. Upon discovering that his glamorous new boss (Rashida Jones) has a soft spot for salsa herself, Bruce resolves to get his own act back in gear, but to do so he most overcome the spectre of childhood bullying brought on by excessive sequin wearing.
An early scene of Frost forlornly spooning yoghurt from four minitubs sets expectations high; he's a sure-footed physical comedian whose deadpan timing finds comic detail in the most mundane action. Sadly the film itself is not so nimble, with a creaky script and televisual direction leaving the increasingly contrived narrative flailing around on the dramatic dancefloor. There's no lack of effort from the cast, however, with Olivia Colman in vibrant form as Bruce's brassy, cocktail-mixing sister, Kayvan Novak turning it up to 11 as a flamboyant lover of flat Fanta, and Chris O'Dowd proving thoroughly smackable as the lecherous office wag.
Endless Love (105 mins, 12A) Directed by Shana Feste; starring Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood American critic Roger Ebert astutely described Franco Zeffirelli's 1981 adaptation of Scott Spencer's novel as being "about events [when] it should be about passion". Had Ebert lived to see this commercials-inflected remake, he may have felt the need to reassess Zeffirelli's effort, which appears a towering masterpiece of raw human emotion by comparison. Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde step into the shoes of Martin Hewitt and Brooke Shields as the star-crossed lovers whose relationship incurs parental ire and fiery mishap, although this time the burning down of Daddy's house is robbed of the teenage recklessness that stoked the engines of the original. In its place we have a super-bland tale of love and heartbreak set in a world so soft focus that the strains of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross would seem alarmingly edgy.
Bastards (83 mins, 18) Directed by Claire Denis; starring Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Lola CrEton A force to be reckoned with when on form, Claire Denis comes unstuck with this drearily angst-ridden tale of suicide, sexual violence and incestuous strife, which takes inspiration from Faulkner's Sanctuary and Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well. Apparently. Vincent Lindon growls his way through the role of a ship's captain back on dry land to investigate and avenge the death of his brother-in-law and the decline of his niece. A needlessly jumbled narrative (Denis calls it "a succession of leaps") attempts to add a veneer of profundity to the sordid stodge.
Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy (78 mins, U) Directed by Peggy Holmes; Animation with Mae Whitman, Tom Hiddleston, Christina Hendricks Once again, perfunctory 3D is employed to create the illusion that a straight to DVD title has a reason to be in the cinema. Following on from the equally disappointing Secret of the Wings, this finds errant sprite Zarina (Christina Hendricks) wreaking accidental havoc with colourfully alchemical fairy dust before teaming up with the pre-Peter Pan pirates of Skull Rock. Tom Hiddleston has silvertongued fun as a young Captain Hook, but the results are as unmemorable as they are innocuous.
Captions: The Lego Movie: 'younger viewers will delight in the whiz-bang animation, adults will laugh themselves silly'.; George Clooney's latest film is 'a revisionist Hollywood hotchpotch'.
(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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