A-Team Tracks Nazi Plunder A-Team Tracks Nazi Plunder Clooney and Company Hunt for Treasures in ‘Monuments Men’ Clooney and Company Hunt for Treasures in ‘Monuments Men’

And here we thought that George Clooney was this era’s Cary Grant even if, with his squinty smile and no-sweat insouciance, he’s really closer to Clark Gable. As it turns out, Mr. Clooney seems to have been harboring a desire to tap into his inner Gregory Peck — noble, stolid, dull — as he does in “The Monuments Men,” which he both directed and stars in. It was Peck who led the team of World War II Allied saboteurs in“The Guns of Navarone,” one of those men-on-a-mission movies, a subgenre that includes everything from “The Dirty Dozen” to the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy, which starred Mr. Clooney in a fizzier, less sanctimonious mode.

MONUMENT MEN cast and review

MONUMENT MEN cast and review

Now it’s Mr. Clooney’s turn as Frank Stokes, an art historian and the story’s hub, to lead a charmingly quirky crew in a World War II operation to rescue Europe’s artistic treasures from the Nazis. Stokes is the man for the job: He enters wrapped in a professorial air, wearing spectacles and a salt-and-pepper beard while lecturing President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the dangers posed to “the greatest historical achievements known to man.” These would be the artworks that the Nazis began systematically to steal — by emptying museums and confiscating work owned by Jewish collectors — soon after Hitler, that famously failed painter and lover of kitsch, took power.

Written by Mr. Clooney and his producing partner, Grant Heslov, “The Monuments Men” slices off a sliver of a great World War II story and turns it into a lightweight entertainment that doesn’t ask you to think too hard. The story’s real-life heroes were a group of curators, restorers, archivists and the like who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, an Allied effort to protect Europe’s cultural heritage. Nicknamed the Monuments Men, this group eventually included 350 or so men and women from 13 countries who were with the unit from 1943 to 1951. Its exploits have been related in various books, including “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” written by Robert M. Edsel, with Bret Witter.

Based on Mr. Edsel’s book, the film whittles the Monuments Men story down to a handful of ideal types, including Stokes, who’s based on George Leslie Stout, a conservator at the Fogg Museum at Harvard. It’s Stokes who rounds up the team members, each of whom is introduced in a short, snappy, comic scene doing what he does best: Matt Damon plays James Granger, a museum man first seen touching up a ceiling (prompting a Michelangelo joke); John Goodman, as a sculptor, Walter Garfield, enters hacking away at a hunk of stone like a John Henry Rodin. Bob Balaban, seen leading a rehearsal, plays Preston Savitz, an effete fussbudget who, I was surprised to learn, was “inspired by” Lincoln Kirstein who, among his many accomplishments, helped found the New York City Ballet.

Mr. Balaban is adorable in that Bob Balaban way, somewhat elfin, and dry as Melba toast. He smiles through jokes and some physical comedy done at his expense, largely from Bill Murray, whose character, Richard Campbell, is a composite of several real Monuments Men including an architect, Robert Kelley Posey. (Mr. Murray plays “Bill Murray” just fine.) A captain, Posey served with Gen. George S. Patton and the Third Army, and was teamed up with Kirstein, a private first class also with the Third. Mr. Edsel describes Posey and Kirstein as an odd couple but brilliantly paired. Mr. Clooney literalizes the Felix and Oscar shtick and turns Savitz and Campbell into sweet, sentimentalized funnymen who all but bumble into their historic moment. There’s nothing brilliant about them.

That’s too bad, because if there’s anyone who you expect to smarten up a joint, it’s Mr. Clooney. The brain trust behind the original Monuments Men was staggering and included individuals who helped run some of America’s greatest cultural institutions. At the very least you expect their fictional counterparts to exchange a little shoptalk and some thoughts on art, literature and the latest restoration techniques or maybe just gossip about Picasso’s latest mistress. Kirstein brought George Balanchine to America (together they founded City Ballet and the School of American Ballet); was friends with the architect Philip Johnson; and was involved in the planning of Lincoln Center. Surely he did more than coo like a baby about the crackers in his care package, as Savitz does.

Mr. Clooney doesn’t just simplify the characters; he also turns them into pleasantly innocuous caricatures that at times edge into cartoons. Despite a passing reference to John Wayne — and what feels like a hopeful invocation of Wayne’s later work with Howard Hawks — the characters are less “El Dorado” types and more like Cutie (Mr. Damon), Goofy (Mr. Murray), Starchy (Mr. Balaban), Boozy (Hugh Bonneville as Donald Jeffries), Frenchy (Jean Dujardin as Jean Claude Clermont) and Jewish Guy (Dimitri Leonidas as Sam Epstein). Cate Blanchett isn’t quite Snow White, but her French frump, Claire Simone, enjoys a princess-at-the ball moment. (The character is a take on Rose Valland, a French museum employee turned Resistance spy who kept records of what the Nazis pilfered.)

It can be nice to spend time with these actors even when you don’t believe their characters for a single second, and there’s no denying this movie’s easy pleasures, including the guaranteed satisfaction that comes in watching, yet again, the Nazis go down in defeat. Yet because Mr. Clooney can’t figure out what kind of story this is, he too often slips into pandering mode, including in his own performance, which is filled with too many smiles and speeches. He also gives himself the worst scene in the film: an encounter with a captured German, Colonel Wegner (Holger Handtke), who being an official villain — he’s a Nazi, kills in cold blood and has thin lips — says something awful about Jews. Don’t worry. Mr. Clooney’s character sets that guy straight because, you know, somebody has to.

“The Monuments Men” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It’s a war movie, if mostly a bloodless one.



With man-child overkill at a crisis point in films and TV shows, any mainstream bro-com focusing on three attractive guys who aren’t leftovers from “The Hangover” or second-stringers from the Apatow buffoon brigade is a relief. There might still be a place for Zach Galifianakis’s unkempt insouciance, but it is nice to see that leading men who hold grown-up jobs and occasionally practice hygiene are making a comeback.


The Awkward moment review

The Awkward moment review

At the very least, the makers of “That Awkward Moment” should get credit for savvy casting, as the opening minutes of this surface-slick slice of post-college life among young male Manhattanites invitingly suggests. WithZac Efron still transitioning from his “High School Musical” teenybopper-dom, it was wise to match him with two talented stars on the rise, Michael B. Jordan of “Fruitvale Station” and Miles Teller of “The Spectacular Now” (of course, some of us have been on the Teller train ever since “Rabbit Hole” and his Willard in the “Footloose” remake).

With Efron as glib alpha male Jason, Jordan as straight man Mikey, and Teller as jokey sidekick Daniel, this bunch initially seems fun hang with. They do boy talk with brash aplomb, drink abundantly with no ill effects, enjoy the kind of hip-chic living quarters that they couldn’t possibly afford (known as “Friends” syndrome) and can make a decent running gag out of how white people don’t know who Morris Chestnut is. You might question Daniel’s presumptuous need to hand out Viagra like breath mints to his pals as they head out on the prowl, but it does lead to one the movie’s best sight gags.

But it doesn’t take long—somewhere between Jason pronouncing how he hates it when a casual bedroom partner suddenly asks where their relationship is going (hence, the “moment” of the title) and Mikey learning that his cheating wife wants a divorce—before it becomes clear that this will be just another rehash of an all-too-familiar manly meme: Commitment-phobes who seek one-night stands without strings yet somehow end up getting tangled in amour.

Declaring solidarity with Mikey’s sudden turn of events, the three take a vow of singlehood–which shouldn’t be difficult, since that is already the path they supposedly have chosen. But then Jason falls for Ellie (British up-and-comer Imogen Poots, all blue saucer eyes, funky blond hair and almost-OK American accent). Daniel suddenly decides to get serious with friend-turned-lover Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis, who proves captivating despite being stuck in one of several underwritten female roles). As for Mikey, all he foolishly wants to do is to woo his wife back.

If comedy is in the details, that is where “That Awkward Moment” falls short, with its plethora of plot holes and lapses in logic. Jason and Daniel are supposed to be genius book-jacket designers, but their art wouldn’t be worthy of posting on a fridge alongside a kid’s crayon scribbles. Meanwhile, Mikey is a doctor at a hospital, yet his schedule hardly oppressive. Ellie invites Jason to a “dress-up” surprise party for her birthday, and instead of donning his good suit, he shows up in an outfit that would make an S&M devotee blush. OK, Jason was confused about what “dress-up” meant. But why would he wear such an embarrassing outfit anyway, knowing that Ellie’s friends and family would be there?

Matters grow more problematic as Efron’s storyline begins to overwhelm that of his cohorts. The more we learn about Jason, it becomes clear that he is a world-class jerk, the kind who declares, “We are the selfish generation,” as if that were a good thing. Is it really that romantic for him and Ellie to pose as a well-off couple interested in an expensive Gramercy Park abode and then steal the key to a private area when the real estate agent isn’t looking?

For a raunchy comedy, there is surprisingly little sex, much of it perfunctory. Once an untimely death occurs and Thanksgiving arrives (apparently our saddest national holiday), all seems lost, and Efron—his hair pouffed perfectly, his facial scruff just so—must summon whatever outward sign of gloom and suffering that he can for the camera. And that is one awkward moment.


How “Frozen” Became The Most Beloved Animated Movie In 20 Year

Frozen is breaking records and warming hearts all over the world. Star Josh Gad explains how this unlikely sister act ignored all the rules and rewrote Disney’s animation playbook.

Disney movie has captivated the youngest of moviegoers

Disney movie has captivated the youngest of moviegoers

By this point, you’ve either contributed to Frozen’s $864 million global box office haul or you know someone who has. Chances are equally high you’ve heard the Oscar-nominated movie’s omnipresent, and also Oscar-nominated, anthem, “Let It Go.”

The extent to which the Disney movie has captivated the youngest of moviegoers was indisputably on display at Los Angeles’ El Capitan theater on Sunday, where 300 children belted out the hook of the instant classic at a sold-out screening of theFrozen Sing-Along as fake snow fell from the ceilings and an Elsa stand-in twirled around a stage.

And the audience not only sang along with the words, but also the character’s intonation.

Frozen has broken multiple records

Frozen Records

When young Anna (Kristel Bell) mumbled, “It doesn’t have to be a snowman” through Elsa’s (Idina Menzel) keyhole, the crowd mumbled. When Anna sang with a chocolate-stuffed mouth, the crowd mimicked her insatiable sweet tooth. And when the aforementioned flurries fell during “Let It Go,” children actually wept with excitement.

Frozen is not about the prince and the princess for once,” Los Angeles native Emma Chaney, who brought her costume-clad daughters to the screening, told BuzzFeed. “It’s not a traditional story between a man or a woman; it’s the sisters who represent true love at the end and that’s an excellent message for my girls.”

And Josh Gad, who voices snowman Olaf in the film, echoed that sentiment before taking the El Capitan stage to introduce the movie. “In Frozen, the idea of true love is explored through the arc of a relationship between siblings,” he told BuzzFeed. “And siblinghood is something that resonates in a very profound way.”

Disney’s films have historically portrayed sisterhood in a negative light (Cinderellabeing the most venomous example), so Anna’s unwavering devotion to Elsa (who, in turn, exiles herself for the safety of her sibling) is one of the many reasons Gad considers the film to be thoroughly modern. “It takes all the traditional elements of what we’ve come to know and love about Disney’s animated movies and, in a way, throws them on their head,” he said. “Thematically, it’s taken all of our expectations and presents them to us through a new prism.”

Gad added that screenwriter Jennifer Lee made an excellent decision to contemporize the humor without injecting era-specific references. “There’s been a lot of ‘wink-wink, nudge-nudge’ movies that modernize fairy tales, but Frozendoesn’t rely on any current pop culture references, so it’s created an entirely new subgenre in many ways that I think makes it timeless.”

Declaring a film as “timeless” while it’s still in theaters may seem a little presumptuous, but Gad sees the overwhelming response he’s getting on a near-daily basis as proof Frozen is destined to become a classic. “I’m being stopped by everyone, from 3-year-olds to 93-years-olds, who are so joyful and so thrilled that this movie relates to them in the way I feel a lot of the second animated golden age [generally considered The Little MermaidAladdinBeauty and the Beast, and The Lion King in the late ’80s and early ’90s] resonated for me.”

“The last time I was this shell-shocked by the response to something I was in was with Book of Mormon,” he said of the outpouring of love and accolades his breakout role in the Tony-winning musical received. “The film has gone above and beyond our wildest expectations because there’s no precedent for this.”

And he’s right. In theaters, Frozen has broken multiple records (the latest accomplishment being this weekend’s box office receipts, where the film earned $9.3 million, putting it only behind Oscar-juggernauts TitanicAvatar, and Slumdog Millionaire when it comes to the 10th week of release sales). It’s also $8 million away from passing Despicable Me 2 as the third-highest grossing animated film of all time (only trailing Toy Story 3 with $415 million and Shrek 2 with $441 million).

On the music charts, the soundtrack has also proved to be unstoppable as it slowly climbed to the top of the Billboard charts before spending three weeks in the No. 1 spot — becoming the first soundtrack to accomplish this feat since High School Musical 2 in 2007. “We’re beating Beyoncé! That’s really shocking,” Gad said. “It’s fair to say it’s been about two decades since there’s been this kind of overwhelmingly positive atmosphere surrounding a musical.”

For Gad, who cut his teeth in stage musicals, Frozen’s success is doubly sweet given all the Broadway DNA it’s infused with. Stars Menzel, Bell, Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), and Santino Fontana (Hans) are all theater-trained performers, while Robert Lopez, who won Tonys for The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q, wrote the songs with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, a Drama Desk Award winner for her musical In Transit.

“The respect and admiration for what came before, musically speaking, is something the creative team was very cognizant of,” Gad said. “They wanted to create an atmosphere that didn’t shy away from the musical qualities. They embraced it head-on, and I don’t think more than two days that have gone by in the last nine weeks where I haven’t been around a stranger humming a song from this movie. There are so many examples where this has transcended the medium and become something completely unforeseen to us.”

That’s why Gad believes Frozen is destined to not only be mentioned in the same breath as those in the second animated golden age, but also, the most iconic Disney musical of all time: Mary Poppins.

“I was attempting to watch the Mary Poppins Sing-Along with my daughter recently, which is a movie from 1964, and all these kids were singing every word,” Gad said. “I flashed forward and had this profound visual of a group of kids watching the 50th anniversary of Frozen and that idea struck me as being one of the great moments of my life. Disney, more than any company, has the ability to create these films that continue to speak to generation after generation because of the timeless themes they address, and I think Frozen might belong in that pantheon of great films. It is an honor and privilege and a joy to have had a role in this film, and I hope 50 years from now, I’m still around to do another interview to celebrate the half-century mark.”

The Frozen Sing-Along is now playing in limited release.


Benedict Cumberbatch Stars In “Sesame Street”

Benedict Cumberbatch stopped by “Sesame Street” for the most delightful of appearances.

In the clip, he found himself face-to-face with his latest enemy, “Murray-arty.”

(This was only the first of many wonderful Sherlockjokes.)

The dastardly Murray-arty challenged him to solve a mathematical puzzle.

Then he pretended to be clueless about counting, which of course was the cutest.

Fortunately, Count von Count was there to help

With the muppet’s help, “Counterbatch” solved the problem and saved the day!

Although he couldn’t convince them that he wasn’tactually Sherlock Holmes.


Man of Tai Chi A young martial artist’s unparalleled Tai Chi skills land him in a highly lucrative underworld fight club.


Man of Tai Chi


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug