Victoria Jelinek

The Monuments Men

monuments_menAt the end of WWII, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) puts together a crew of art experts willing to brave the front lines in order to rescue continental Europe’s cultural heritage from the Nazi’s obliteration of the pieces, and the Soviets pillaging of them.

I unabashedly like George Clooney, who also directed and co wrote this film. I know he’s arguably “too earnest,” and a bit “too slick,” but I don’t care – I appreciate his efforts. That said, this latest endeavor was disappointing. It’s a handsome film, and the concept is great – art geeks braving the ruthlessness of war to do the right thing and save our collective treasures. But the film is not focused, making the pieces incoherent and episodic. It wants to be an important film, asking (repeatedly) whether a work of art is worth a human life. It also seems to want to be like the daring Nazi-bashing escapades of yore, with its whistling score. It also seems reminiscent of a Danny Ocean orchestrated heist. Not one of these objectives is successfully accomplished, though, due to a poorly constructed story that does not have one unifying’ job’ that brings all the seams together. It’s a shame, too, ‘cause the idea has potential, there are several excellent scenes, and the cast is talented…

Inside Llewyn Davis

Llewyn Davis poster1961, the West Village, New York. Singer-songwriter Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) skulks at the fringe of the folk-revival scene, bothered by the memory of his dead partner, and hoping for a big break to land in his lap. Meanwhile, the unwelcome pregnancy of a brief liaison with Jean (Carey Mulligan) and the accidental adoption of a cat, create a series of mishaps that lamentably fail to alter anything about Llewyn’s life.

Inspired by the memoir of real-life folk hero, Dave Van Ronk, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen brothers’ serious films. While the film is quirky and darkly comic, primarily via Llewyn’s expressions to the absurd people and circumstances around him, the film is based upon an unsexy musical scene and infused with melancholy. Additionally, its hero is not likeable. For example, he tries to borrow money from a friend (played by Justin Timberlake) for an abortion when the friend is the boyfriend of the said girl. He laments the suicide of his partner in their flourishing musical duo, but he’s the one left suffering, right? He’s a man who doesn’t deign to connect with others, yet he can’t function alone. He takes responsibility for the ginger Tom, but he alienates everyone around him, even long time fans.

That said, Llewyn is captivating. His observation of the absurd injustices in the world around him, is as relevant today as is was then.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

A nine-year-old Francophile, amateur inventor, and pacifist searches Manhattan for the lock that matches a mysterious key left behind by his father, who died in the twin tower bombings on September 11, 2001.

The plot is reminiscent of the film Hugo (an amazing movie by Martin Scorsese, also released this last year), with the great exception that this is about the emotional aftermath of 9/11 through the eyes of a child. Basing a film almost solely on the shoulders of a child actor is very tenuous – the audience will either sympathise with the boy or not. This child, Oskar Schell, is not easy to sympathise with despite his circumstances: he may or may not have Asperger’s; he’s obsessed with puzzle solving, becoming impatient and rude to those who don’t share his obsession; he rattles a tambourine whenever he gets anxious; and he’s often demanding and ‘brattish.’ The cast of actors are capable – Max Von Sydow and John Goodman are especially good, though sorely underused – but fine acting doesn’t save a poorly written script.

Nominated for a Best Picture award at the Oscars this year, this is arguably due to the subject matter, the previous triumphs from director Stephen Daldry, the power of the producer Scott Rudin, and the marketability of Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Because, while some cinemagoers may find this film a universal journey from grief and loss to acceptance and reconciliation, others, like this viewer, will find it manipulative, flat-footed, and just plain boring.