The Non-Stop Monuments Men

I also got to see Non-Stop and Monuments Men this past weekend. while neither was great, they were both far better than the other movies I saw (300 Rise of an Empire, Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill).

Non-Stop

 

Non-Stop (2014) – Rated PG-13

An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.

I’m not hijacking this plane. I’m trying to save it! ”

One Line Review: Exciting, generic thriller is enjoyable albeit pointless

Non-Stop was a breath of fresh, yet recycled, air after 300: Rise of an Empire.

Non-Stop is a standard Liam Neeson thriller. As long as he can keep up the quality and they bring in the box office, Neeson’s turns should not devolve into direct-to-DVD fodder like the output from Van Damme, Seagal, Bronson, etc.

The story is nothing, simply made to keep you guessing. It is fun as it goes along but after the climax you’ll be scratching your head realizing so-and-so could not possibly have known about such-and-such. Such and such being many, many different things. The only possible ending that makes sense of the events is a fascinating one that you have to read into the script. I’d love to discuss it at length but I don’t post spoilers.

Liam Neeson is in fine form. They give him a tragic backstory to help propel the plot and appeal to his hangdog demeanor. At one point, Julianne Moore simply blurts out her character’s backstory as an exposition dump but is otherwise fine. Lupita Nyong’O is wasted here in a role that is only exceeded in thanklessness by the played by Shea Whigham. I have to assume that some of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

The Monuments Men

 

The Monuments Men (2014) – Rated PG-13

An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.”

One Line Review: Fascinating story told rather passively and by-the-numbers.

George Clooney has a knack for finding unusual stories and telling them well. Ignoring his acting achievements, Clooney was nominated for both directing and writing for Good Night, and Good Luck. He nominated for writing again with Ides of March.

Clooney co-wrote The Monuments Men with frequent collaborator Grant Heslov. He directs a fabulous, if topical cast: Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and John Goodman all perform well here. Clooney’s direction is assured if not inspired.

So what went wrong? The Monuments Men is too unfocused. Throughout the film, the men are scattered across Europe. There is not enough humor to turn this into a Dirty Dozen, not enough planning for a caper film, and we don’t really feel invested in the characters. Perhaps the narrative is flawed by sticking too close to real events and the book but I never felt invested in the characters.

The Monuments Men is not bad. It just isn’t what it should be, considering the pedigree.

People Watch: Look for Downton Abbey’s own Lord Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as one of the Monuments Men.

An Evening with Kevin Smith – Red State Edition

I am very fond of Kevin Smith. He and his films are foul-mouthed but they have a real resonance. Warning: if you are offended by frank sexual talk and situations, coarse language, and such then none of Kevin Smith’s films are for you.

One Line Review: Disjointed, profane yet intelligent horror based on the Westboro Baptist Church.

Red State (2011) – Rated R

“Director Kevin Smith puts a unique spin on the horror genre in this tale of hormonal urges gone awry. Three high school boys answer an online ad from a woman seeking wild sex and soon find themselves in the hands of some dangerous religious zealots.”

“How much do you think a cross like that costs?” – “You mean in dollars or common sense?”

Red State is Kevin Smith’s follow-up movie to Cop Out. Cop Out was the first film that Smith directed without having also written. Normally directors shouldn’t also be writers but Cop Out was just awful. I had lowered my expectations for Red State wondering if Smith had lost his touch.

I needn’t have worried. Red State is easily Kevin Smith’s darkest film. The script is all over the map as if segments were written at completely different points and with different intentions but each part is fascinating. The Netflix description only touches on how the film begins and every time the film settles into a comfortable niche, it changes direction.

Character actor Michael Parks shines as the charismatic preacher Abin Cooper (named after Green Lantern Abn Sur, Smith is such a comics geek). The role was written specifically for Parks after Smith saw him in From Dusk Til Dawn. The character of Abin Cooper is a very scary re-imagining of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps. Parks also does all of his own singing in this movie and is quite good at that as well.

The federal agents called out are played quite well by John Goodman and Kevin Pollak. For some reason I’m always surprised at how good an actor Goodman can be (probably because I naturally think of Roseanne anytime his name comes up).

If you enjoyed Red State then definitely watch Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell. His talks are normally fascinating (if a little self-indulgent) but this one details his experiences making this film and talking with members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

People Watch: Michael Parks reprises his From Dusk til Dawn role of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in both parts of Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse (Death Proof and Planet Terror). His real life son James Parks plays his Texas Ranger son Edgar McGraw in the Death Proof segment of Grindhouse, Kill Bill volume 1, and From Dusk til Dawn 2 as well as playing Mordecai in Red State.