Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill
In recent years Joel and Ethan Coen have largely put comedy to one side to focus on existential explorations in more serious films like Inside Llewyn Davis and A Serious Man. While this has resulted in some great work, with Hail, Caesar! it is exciting to see the brothers return to the mode which brought us the likes of Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou. Unfortunately, this farce set in the golden age of studio Hollywood does not end up reaching those heights.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is Head of Physical Production at Capitol Pictures. His job is to solve problems, to keep their productions on track and their stars in line. His number one priority is chaperoning their latest prestige picture, a Ben-Hur like swords and sandals biblical epic called ‘Hail, Caesar!: A Tale of the Christ,’ safely through production. But things threaten to be derailed when Capitol Picture’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) vanishes, kidnapped by a group describing themselves as “The Future” and demanding $100,000 in ransom. Continue reading
Director: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas
The most significant moments in our history are made up of many, many stories. These stories provide the colour and the detail that give the greater narrative its significance. The story of the Monuments Men, a small group of experts who headed into war torn Europe to preserve a culture, is one of these stories and it has been brought to the screen by actor/director George Clooney.
As the Third Reich marched through Europe in the Second World War they collected important artworks and cultural artefacts from churches, museums and homes with the intention of displaying them in the planned Führer Museum in Hitler’s hometown of Linz. By 1944 the tide had turned in the War, the Nazi’s were retreating and fears started to arise that they would destroy their stockpiles of artworks as they moved out. “You can wipe out an entire generation,” explains Clooney’s Frank Stokes, “You can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed.” Even with the War seemingly all but won, were a history to be lost in its final stages the victory would be an incomplete one. So Roosevelt green-lit the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, in which a small team of art historians, architects and curators were sent into the warzone with the job of finding, retrieving and returning the stolen works.
The Monuments Men is George Clooney’s fifth feature film as a director. It has an old-fashioned adventure story feel to it. They are, after all, treasure hunters. But in creating this tone, Clooney seems to have sacrificed his own unique style in favour of something which feels like it is merely trying to imitate an older form. The narrative is episodic in nature. As the Monuments Men split up and head to different points of the European continent on different missions we move between their different stories. Some of these episodes are amusing, some are touching, some are exciting. However, with our attention being split between eight co-protagonists, none of the characters are given enough time or depth to really engage us. There are simply too many of them for a two hour movie. That being said, Clooney has assembled an all-star cast, with the likes of Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett and, of course, Mr Clooney himself. While it may not have the wow factor of the Ocean’s 11 cast, it is none the less an impressive collection of talent and it is the charisma of these actors, more so than their characters, which keeps you engaged in the film and represents its greatest strength.
The Monuments Men looks great. It is beautifully shot by Pheldon Papamichael and the production design is top notch. It focuses in on a really fascinating and unique story, but unfortunately it fails to reach the heights that story deserves. It is not quite as funny and irreverent as it could have been – especially considering its cast – but neither is it as serious and gritty as it could have been. Instead we are left with a very earnest and sentimental film which at times is just a bit bland.
Rating: – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men stands alongside Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and Duncan Jones’s Moon as one of the most interesting science fiction offerings since the turn of the century. Soon after the release of that film he went into pre-production on an even more ambitious science fiction project, Gravity. After a long wait, and going through a couple of studios and numerous casting changes, that film has finally hit the screen and with it Cuarón has stepped into the realm of the truly visionary. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has been thrown around by a number of critics as a point of comparison and rightly so. As was the case with Kubrick’s film in the late 1960s, Gravity a massive step forward in terms of creating an experience for the viewer and giving us some idea of what it must be like to be in space.
The simple narrative follows two astronauts, the rookie Ryan Stone (Bullock) and the experienced Matt Kowalski (Clooney), who are doing maintenance work on the Hubble Telescope when a field of debris from an exploded Russian satellite comes their way. Travelling so fast that it orbits the world every ninety minutes, the debris tears through everything in its path, destroying the Hubble, their shuttle and killing their crew. Stone and Kowalski are left floating in orbit, without radio contact with Earth, to try and get themselves back home. A classic survival tale, peculiarly the film is as much about being willing to let go as it is about fighting to hold on.
While the screenplay and the performances from Bullock and Clooney are solid, it is the visuals; the cinematography and digital effects, that make Gravity something special. Together with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón manages to make space simultaneously terrifying and mesmerizingly beautiful. Lubezki, who was also responsible for the stunning photography of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, gives Gravity a number of moments where the power of the image alone will make you say “Wow.” The film starts with one continuous, 13 minute shot in which the scenario for the film is set up, and this sets the stylistic tone. Gravity employs a number of long shots to great effect, drifting with the characters, giving the camera the same sense of weightless movement as the protagonists. The film also seamlessly moves between points-of-view. A shot may start from within the helmet of one of our characters, looking out, but then move out, turning to catch their reaction to what we’ve just seen.
To get the full experience, Gravity is a film you need to see at the cinema and you need to see it in 3D. I’m not generally a huge fan of the 3D medium. Nine times out of ten it is an unnecessary gimmick used as an excuse to add a couple of dollars to ticket prices and inflate box office revenue. But there are some films, that remaining one out of ten, for which the 3D medium really works and Gravity is such a film. Cuarón’s film is experiential, it is about feeling the experience of being adrift in space, and the 3D helps to immerse you in that.
Gravity is a glorious, profound piece of cinema, and while it is not perfect – there are one or two points at which the spell is momentarily broken – it is unlike any experience you will have at the movies this year.
Rating – ★★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean