Posts Tagged ‘Cate Blanchett’

The Monuments Men: Not Monumental Enough—Movie

February 10, 2014

With a top-notch cast of leading men and woman (oh, to be her on the set), the best character actors in the business, a terrific score and a very compelling story, “The Monuments Men” can’t be a complete failure…and it’s not. But it’s not as good as one might expect. Directed by George Clooney with screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, “The Monuments Men,” is the little-known, but true story of the attempted rescue at the end of WWII, of art stolen by the Nazis during the War, with the goal of returning the art to their respective owners.The Monuments Men poster

Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, is the driving force behind the mission, who, under the direction of FDR, assembles a team  called the Monuments Men to go to Europe and track down the stolen art. The men are art historians, architects and artists, all pretty much past their fighting prime, but happy and eager to serve. When they get to Europe they find that not only are they trying to recover the stolen art, but they are faced with what has been called  the “Nero Decree”—in which Hitler ordered that if Germany fell, among other things, “All military transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, as well as anything else of value within Reich territory, which could in any way be used by the enemy immediately or within the foreseeable future for the prosecution of the war, will be destroyed.” This decree included the destruction of the stolen art. In addition, Stokes’ team learns that the Russians are keeping whatever art they discover. Thus, there is a sense of urgency to find and protect as much art as they can, including art known to be housed in churches across Europe, saving them from damage during air raids.

All of this sounds like the basis for a terrific film. The problem with “The Monuments Men” is it that it suffers from a wealth of possibilities. Is it a caper/heist film…a comedy…or an action flick? “Monuments Men” really doesn’t know what it wants to be and tries to be all things to all people and ultimately falls short on all levels…save for the acting. All of the actors are very good…we just don’t get enough of each…to care very much about them.

As all the men go through basic training, your first thought is, “oh, no, will this be “Stripes” all over again?” Funny as that film was, fear, not. That doesn’t happen and the film quickly moves on. “The Monuments Men” pairs the characters and follows their stories, with the cast coming together near the film’s conclusion. Bill Murray and Bob Balaban work surprisingly well together as the film’s “odd couple” and most of the film’s humor comes from their interactions. John Goodman works with Jean Dujardin and the two have an easy-going chemistry. Hugh Bonneville’s character is a tortured soul struggling with alcoholism, who views his service as a shot at redemption.  Finally, Matt Damon spends most of his time in France, working with a museum librarian, portrayed by Cate Blanchett, who is helping the Resistance.

What Clooney does capture perfectly are the details of the era and some of those details are horrific. T’hose gruesome details remind you of the war’s horrors. Additionally, the hair, clothing and most especially Alexandre Desplat’s score, couldn’t be better and give the film a very genuine feel.

The real Monuments Men recovered over five million pieces of art as well as a fortune in gold. It’s a story worth telling, but “The Monuments Men” doesn’t do the men justice. This might be one time that the subject is just too big for a movie and might have better served as an HBO series.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Blue Jasmine: A Beautiful Flower in a Summer Full of Weeds—Movie

August 2, 2013

“Have you ever gotten high on nitrous oxide?”That may be one of the worse pickup lines in the history of pickup lines, but it’s just one of the gems from Woody Allen’s latest, “Blue Jasmine.”

I don’t know how it’s possible, but Woody Allen just gets better with age. “Blue Jasmine” is unlike anything he’s done before and it’s just plain wonderful. The film is like watching a master-class in acting, writing and directing—all in one sitting. Even the selection of the music is spot-on.bluejasmine-poster

“Blue Jasmine” is the bittersweet story of upscale, sophisticated Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who moves from New York City to San Francisco to live with her lower middle-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and her two young sons.

Allen tells Jasmine’s back-story in bits and pieces. We learn that she was happily married…or so she thought…to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), living the good life of dinner parties, high society and excess. When that world crashes down around her, she has a nervous breakdown. Upon recovery, she makes her way to San Francisco to reinvent herself.

While Jasmine’s head is up in the clouds, Ginger is more practical. Jasmine is not content with who or what she is. Ginger, on the other hand, comes to realize that “good enough” can actually be great.

Allen has given actresses some of their most memorable roles, and with Jasmine he has done so again. Cate Blanchett delivers an absolutely mesmerizing performance. Her Jasmine is at times so delicate, that you really worry for her survival. Her character has a number of facets—self-confidence, eccentricity, fragility, creativity and even mental toughness. Blanchett plays them all to perfection.

Sally Hawkins, not as well-known to American audiences as Blanchett, matches her step for step in a less showy role. She’s completely believable as the hard-luck sister, looking for her prince. Her scenes with Andrew Dice Clay (Augie), Bobby Cannavale (Chili) and Louis C.K (Al)…husband, fiancé and suitor respectively…are brilliant. Each relationship is slightly different and extremely genuine. The actors are also very good, particularly Cannavale. His role is not especially likable, but his fine acting wins you over in the end.

Peter Sarsgaard (Dwight) has a small, but important part as Jasmine’s new-found love interest. We’re not sure if he’s too good to be true, and in a weird way, his relationship with Jasmine ends up mirroring that of Ginger and Al.

Alec Baldwin is impeccably cast as Jasmine’s husband, Hal. It would have been easy to make his character just one color, but Allen and Baldwin give him layers. We find out about his true nature early on in the film, but surprises are still in store.

The film’s conclusion is a bit jarring, but like everything else about “Blue Jasmine,” is utterly perfect. To be true to the character and the film, it couldn’t end any other way.

Woody Allen will always be identified with New York, but his most recent films have been done overseas and in this case, California. This shift seems to have given him a new lease on life and movies. It seemed that “Vicky Cristina Barcelona“and “Midnight in Paris” would be hard to beat, but with “Blue Jasmine” Allen has done something completely different and topped them both.

4 nuggets out of 4

Robin Hood—Movie

May 23, 2010

Robin Hood, written by Brian Helgeland and directed by Ridley Scott, provides yet another perspective on the “taketh from the rich, giveth to the poor” hero. Neither the suave Errol Flynn, swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks or Kevin Costner Americanized version, and most especially not the Mel Brooks musical comedy hero, 2010 Robin Hood is perhaps the thinking man’s (or woman’s) champion. As personified by Russell Crowe, this Robin Hood can drink and fight with the best of them…is an archer extraordinaire…has a sly wit…is gentle…and loyal. I have to admit I was smitten by the man and the movie. 

Scott’s Robin Hood gives us the man before he became “Robin of the Hood,” beginning as Robin Longstride, an archer in the Third Crusade under Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). Following Richard’s death in battle, Robin and three of his fellow soldiers, Allan A’Dayle, Will Scarlett, and Little John (Alan Doyle, Scott Grimes and Kevin Durand respectively), are returning home, having spent ten years fighting abroad. Along the way this “merry band of men” happens across an ambush of the King’s guard by Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), an English knight with what seems to be dual French and English citizenship and allegiance. Robin assumes the identity of Robert Loxley, an English lord murdered in the ambush and in possession of  Richard’s crown. Robin/Robert takes the crown and returns it to the king’s brother, Prince John (Oscar Isaac )and then proceeds to Nottingham so he can inform Robert’s father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow), and Robert’s wife, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), of Robert’s death. Walter asks him to continue the false identity and in so doing, Robin becomes engulfed in the troubles between the new king and his subjects as well as the battles between England and France.

In addition to Crowe, the film boasts an eclectic cast with some terrific acting. Von Sydow and Blanchett are very convincing as the elder Loxley and the mature, but spunky Marion. Mark Strong gives another powerful villainous performance and William Hurt, as William Marshall, counselor to the king, and Eileen Watkins as the king’s mother, make strong impressions in their roles. And television viewers may be amused and surprised by some key performances by Kevin Durand and Scott Grimes.

Scott may take liberties with the battle scenes, but they are fun to watch as are all of the archery scenes. The shots of the English countryside are breathtaking and make one long for a visit.

This was a Robin Hood with which I was not familiar, but truly enjoyed getting to know.

 3 nuggets out of 4


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