The Monuments Men
Rated PG-13 for violence and smoking
WWII Dramedy Recounts Secret Mission To Retrieve Masterpieces Plundered By Nazis
Most people are probably unaware that while Hitler was sweeping acrossEuropeduring World War II, he simultaneously directed his army to plunder any priceless works of art found in the course of its pillaging. For, believe it or not, the cultural rape of the beleaguered continent was all a part of the Fuhrer’s diabolical plan which not only included conquest and ethnic cleansing but turning his Austrian hometown into the cultural capital of the Third Reich.
Consequently, millions of artifacts were looted from museums, churches and private collections and transported to subterranean sites such as salt mines where they’d be safe from aerial attacks. However, the madman’s demented scheme also called for the destruction of any treasures he deemed degenerate if they conflicted with his propaganda campaign toutingGermany’s racial purity and manifest destiny.
So, toward the end of the war, when the Allies caught wind of what was afoot, they assembled a team of curators, archivists and art historians whose stated mission was to retrieve and preserve as many of the stolen items as possible. With time of the essence, the seven experts started scouring the ravaged countryside in search of missing masterpieces.
That urgent effort is the subject of The Monuments Men, a bittersweet adventure directed by George Clooney. This tragicomic account of the crack platoon’s heroics is very loosely based on Robert Edsel’s relatively sober best seller of the same name, a meticulously-researched, 512-page opus encyclopedic in scope.
The film adaptation, which understandably conflates events and characters as a concession to the cinematic formula, was essentially designed with the masses in mind. Clooney, who stars as Frank Stokes, surrounded himself with a talented cast capable of convincingly executing with perfect aplomb a script which tends to veer back and forth recklessly between suspense and gallows humor.
His A-list ensemble features fellow Academy Award winners Matt Damon (for Good Will Hunting), Cate Blanchett (for The Aviator) and Jean Dujardin (for The Artist), and nominees Bill Murray (for Lost In Translation) and Bob Balaban (for Gosford Park), as well as John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville. Given the palpable chemistry generated by their characters’ camaraderie, it’s a little sad that they don’t all survive the perilous trek behind enemy lines.
A history lesson about an obscure chapter of World War II successfully turned into entertainingHollywoodfare.
Very Good (3 stars)
In English, French, German and Russian with subtitles
Running time: 118 minutes
Kids For Ca$h
Rated PG-13 for profanity and mature themes
Crooked Judges Imprison Minors For Kickbacks In Exposé About Pay-To-Play Scheme
Anybody who needs a new reason to hate lawyers ought to check out this shocking documentary chronicling a pay-to-play scheme whereby a couple of crooked judges, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, enriched themselves at the expense of adolescents unlucky enough to be arrested inLuzerne County,Pennsylvania. The evil pair’s plan involved first condemning the existing juvenile detention center owned by the county.
Next, they took millions of dollars in kickbacks from the private corporation hired to build and then run a larger facility. Furthermore, they secretly signed a contract with the company in which they agreed to continue to help the firm maximize profits by keeping the cells filled with juvenile delinquents.
They subsequently accepted additional checks for each child sent to the prison, most for long stretches of time and for the flimsiest of infractions. Punishment was meted out not only for antisocial behavior like cursing at a bus stop, making fun of the principal on a webpage, and fighting at school, but in cases where the accused was totally innocent, like the boy arrested for riding a stolen scooter that had inadvertently been purchased by his parents, and another arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia that had admittedly been planted by the local police.
These youthful offenders as young as 12 were generally denied their right to an attorney and so fared poorly in the kangaroo court, and far worse behind bars. It comes as no surprise that they often suffered from a combination of depression, anxiety, mood swings and post-traumatic stress disorder, even years after being paroled. Some would become trapped in the criminal justice system’s revolving door and eventually ended up in an adult penitentiary.
All of the above is recounted in distressing detail in Kids For Ca$h, a heartbreaking exposé directed by Robert May about two of the slimiest creeps to ever walk the Earth. Conahan and Ciavarella’s shady shenanigans finally came to light after the ACLU took up the cause of the falsely accused.
But the unrepentant jurists have never shown any remorse, with their stints in country club federal prisons amounting to a slap on the wrist, given the thousands of lives they’ve ruined. We can only pray that a special room in Hell has been reserved for these “scumbags,” as they were called on the steps of the courthouse by the grieving mother of one of their innocent victims who had committed suicide.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 102 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening February 7, 2014
The Lego Movie (PG for mild action and rude humor) Animated adventure revolving around an ordinary mini-figure (Chris Pratt) mistakenly recruited to join the dream team of Master Builders determined to defeat an evil tyrant (Will Ferrell) with a diabolical plan to destroy the Lego universe by gluing all the pieces together. Voice cast includes Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks and Will Forte.
Vampire Academy (PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, violence and bloody images) Screen adaptation of the Richelle Mead fantasy novel of the same name about a couple of teenage BFFs, one, a half-human/half vampire (Zoey Deutch), the other, a princess vampire (Lucy Fry), who find themselves threatened by a race of bloodthirsty vampires while away at boarding school. With Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne and Olga Kurylenko.
7 Boxes (Unrated) Paraguayan action thriller about a 17-year-old pushcart porter (Celso Franco) who inadvertently becomes an accessory to a crime after agreeing to deliver some suspicious packages for a quick $100. With Lali Gonzalez, Victor Sosa and Nico Garcia. (In Spanish and Guarani with subtitles)
Afternoon Of A Faun (Unrated) Reverential biopic about the life and times of Tanaquil Le Clercq (1929-2000), a prima ballerina who wowed audiences as the leading dancer of her day until she was paralyzed by polio at the height of her career. Featuring archival footage of Arthur Mitchell, Jerome Robbins and her husband, George Balanchine.
Demi-Soeur (Unrated) Josiane Balasko wrote, directed and stars in this road flick as a recently orphaned autistic woman who shows up unannounced on the doorstep of the long-lost half-brother she’s never known (Michel Blanc) in the wake of the death of their mother. Cast includes Brigitte Rouan, Francoise Lepine and George Aguilar. (In French with subtitles)
The Last Of The Unjust (PG-13 for mature themes) Holocaust documentary shedding light on the truth about Theresienstadt, a godforsaken concentration camp promoted by Hitler henchman Adolph Eichmann in Nazi propaganda as an idyllic Jewish ghetto. (In German, French and English with subtitles)
Love & Air Sex (Unrated) Twerking comedy about a brokenhearted loser (Michael Stahl-David) who flies to Austin in search of his ex (Ashley Bell) only to arrive in time to enter the World Air Sex Competition. With Sara Paxton, Zach Cregger and Addison Timlin.
Nurse 3-D (R for profanity, gory violence, explicit sexuality and graphic nudity) Gruesome revenge flick revolving around a vigilante nurse (Paz de la Huerta) who moonlights as a temptress to lure cheating dudes to their deaths. High attrition rate cast includes Boris Kodjoe, Judd Nelson, Corbin Bleu and Niecy Nash.
The Pretty One (R for profanity and sexuality) Macabre romantic comedy about a shy and retiring wallflower (Zoe Kazan) who assumes her relatively-vivacious late twin’s identity in order to land a new neighbor (Jake Johnson). With Ron Livingston, Danny Pudi and Frances Shaw.
Welcome To The Jungle (Unrated) Screwball comedy about a corporate retreat to the tropics which turns into a struggle for survival for a group of office workers who find themselves abandoned on a deserted island. Co-starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Adam Brody and Dennis Haysbert.