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…

We Bought a Zoo

Six months after his wife dies, Benjamin (Matt Damon) quits his job at an LA newspaper and takes his two kids to live in a crumbling country house with a dilapidated zoo attached. Despite his knowing little about zoos, Benjamin decides to rejuvenate and re open it with the help of the unpaid zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson).

The movie is based on a true story. Directed and co-written by Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous), with screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), the film reflects McKenna’s sense of workplace comedy and Crowe’s emotional scope. While there are some problems: it’s blander than Crowe’s previous work, there are a few moments that are too sentimental, and the storyline between the father and his son is too easily ‘fixed’, it’s a good film. It’s authentic enough to feel for the characters and their stories; it provides a few positive existential messages, such as why ask yourself ‘why?’ Instead, ask yourself, ‘why not?’ and it reminds us that life is as an adventure worth having precisely because of its ups and downs. Ultimately, Crowe’s particular tone of voice, his talent for finding the poetry in everyday life, his ability to construct a poignant atmosphere with likeable characters, and his skill with actors (Matt Damon is good as an ‘everyman’ here, allowing a paunch and his age to show) are all evident here. This is a light, feel-good movie (Thomas Haden Church is hilarious!) with some worthwhile themes and a great soundtrack.

Inside Job
March 13, 2011, 3:47 pm
Filed under: Published film reviews | Tags: , , , ,

Matt Damon narrates this low-key but shrewd documentary outlining the financial scandal of 2008. Through interviews with economists and politicians, this film reveals how close the USA came to the brink of bankruptcy and why it could so easily happen again.

As a result of a mix of banking deregulation in the US and a bonus culture in the UK, the West entered into an era of casino capitalism. Beginning with the bankruptcy of Iceland, a country once labelled the safest financial bet in the world, the film explains how their banks became greedy, over-expanded, and then fell, bringing the country to its knees. This film strips the layers of mystery that surround the banking world and show us that under laboratory conditions, human brains given money for a task will react similarly to cocaine users.

This documentary isn’t  always easy to follow, but that’s part of the fraud: Inside Job tries to show us that the recent crises are not part of an unforeseeable force majeure but the inevitable consequence of a system that manipulates the law at the for the gratification of a few and at the expense of the majority.

Unlike any of Michael Moore’s films that border on the hysterical in their one-sidedness, this is a sharp study of corporate greed in a beautifully restrained attempt to alert us to the robbery that has been, and is, going on in plain sight.

January 24, 2011, 11:37 am
Filed under: Published film reviews | Tags: , , ,

After a near-death experience during a tsunami, French TV journalist reassesses her life. After a car kills his twin-brother, a London boy is desperate to keep the close connection they had. And in San Francisco, lonely George (Matt Damon) is trying to find a way to live with his ‘gift,’ which is the ability to talk with those who have died. Their lives will intersect and each will be forever changed by what they believe does, or doesn’t, exist in the hereafter.

It’s interesting, and a bit frightening for those of us who are devotees of Director Clint Eastwood’s work, that at 81 years old, he should tackle the question of what happens to us after we die. Scriptwriter Peter Morgan is a master dramatist of major true-life political events and figures as seen in his films “The Queen”, “The Last King of Scotland” and “Frost/Nixon,” but this is a more subdued script that culminates in a gentle film full of warmth.

Eastwood is a man who offers a poetic grace to all that he does and ultimately, it’s the fact that he directed, and did the musical score, that are the reasons one should see this film.

Green Zone
April 14, 2010, 12:01 pm
Filed under: Published film reviews | Tags: , , ,

Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is posted to Iraq to justify the US invasion by finding weapons of mass destruction. When his search proves fruitless, he begins asking tricky questions, and soon even his own side are out to kill him.

Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) has always had an eye for hot topics: in the 80’s he wrote a book about an inside story of the M15 so explosive that Thatcher tried to ban it. In this film, Greengrass has combined politics and popcorn – the film provokes thoughts while it thrills with breakneck-speed action. Damon is perfectly cast; he’s playing a patriot, not a left-leaning hand wringer, but a soldier trying to do his duty and struggling with the malice and incompetence around him; and he shows not just the blows to his body, but also to his mind.

This is an honest and smart blockbuster that dares to deliver on several levels.