FS, Contributing Writer
“The Monuments Men”
A fascinating story is tepidly told in George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” (wide release), a fact-based film about a group of art experts who enlisted in the U.S. army in the waning days of World War II in order to save surviving cultural artifacts from destruction and track down items that had been stolen by the Nazis.
Clooney, who also stars as the leader of the dedicated crew, directed and co-wrote the picture, and it doesn’t show him at his best in any of those roles. The screenplay is episodic and tonally off, with serious scenes clumsily juxtaposed with comic bits; the staging is slack; and Clooney gives such a laid-back performance that his natural charisma fails to come through.
Even the presence of a starry supporting cast — Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin — doesn’t help matters. Except for Murray and Balaban, who do a nice old-couple routine, they’re wasted in clichéd, underwritten roles.
The picture has been handsomely mounted, but that’s no compensation for Clooney’s inability either to do justice to the historical material or to transform it into an engaging Hollywood take on the subject.
Fortunately, one can always turn to “The Rape of Europa,” a fine 2007 documentary in which the work of the real ‘monuments men’ is covered more effectively.
“The Lego Movie”
Movies based on popular toy lines are usually terrible — the “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” franchises are obvious examples. But “The Lego Movie” (wide release) is the exception to the rule, successfully celebrating the little plastic building-blocks while gently chiding fans who become obsessed with them.
The central plot of the inventive, fast-moving animated flick is essentially a take-off of “The Matrix,” with a worker drone being singled out as the hero who alone can foil the dastardly plan of wicked President Business to destroy Legoland by gluing all the pieces together. But a host of familiar figures, ranging from a self-deprecatory version of Gandalf to a preening, egotistical Batman, joins forces with him to save the cycle of constructing and demolishing that the game has always invited.
The result is 100 minutes of wild and crazy slapstick, machine-gun gags and pop-culture references that should amuse both children and adults, even if they’re not big fans of the toys. And a live-action coda adds some sentimental sugar to the spice.
“The Lego Movie” is one of the rare instances in which what might seem to be an awful idea turns out to be a pretty good one after all.
Moviegoers who have seen all nine of this year’s Oscar-nominated pictures might consider venturing off the beaten path to take in the 10 nominees in the short-film categories. The five animated efforts and five live-action ones are now showing in two packages at the Magnolia Theatre.
The only one of the bunch anyone is likely to have seen is Disney’s Mickey-Mouse cartoon “Get a Horse!”, which was shown on the big screen as an appetizer before “Frozen.” It will probably win in the animated category, but another of the five, “Room on the Broom,” is also first-rate, and the remaining three — a Japanese ode to umbrellas, a French vision of a dystopian future and a brooding piece about a feral child — all have their moments.
The live-action group is less strong, but “The Voorman Problem,” a comedy about an institutionalized man who claims to be God, and “Just Before Losing Everything,” a minute-by-minute account of a woman’s attempt to escape an abusive husband, are intriguing.
Short films used to be largely ignored, but they’ve gotten more attention in recent years, and the Magnolia is to be congratulated for giving Dallas audiences the opportunity to sample some of the best of them.