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‘Monuments Men’ revives old-fashioned cinematic storytelling

May 15, 2014 |

By G. Michael Dobbs

This week we’ll discuss a recent Hollywood film that deserves a second look and a direct to video production that doesn’t pull any punches.

Monuments Men

In a cinematic world that is populated by big budgeted destruction and low comedies, it’s refreshing to find a film that introduces its audiences to something I’m sure they didn’t know and does it in a sure-handed and somewhat old-fashioned manner.

You see, “old fashioned” is not a snarky statement in my book. With so many directors who seem to confuse self-conscious “art” with “telling a story,” I enjoy someone who simply wants to spin a tale.

“Monuments Men” is a huge story and George Clooney proves in my book he is one of our most under-appreciated directors.

Clooney stars in and directs this story about art historians and others who were charged during WWII to recover as much of the art that Nazi troops looted from the countries they invaded. Adolph Hitler had plans to gather all of this art into a huge museum complex.

What created additional tension in this story is that Hitler had issued an order to have all of the art destroyed if Germany fell and that Josef Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, was intent in securing as much of the art himself from the Nazis as reparations.

The story of this unit has been told in several books; the most recent being “The Monuments Men,” and my hope is seeing this movie will spur people to experience the entire story.

Clooney is able to distill the history in an efficient and entertaining way as well as playing the group’s leader. Although there were changes made from the historical record, the theme of saving hundreds of years of culture from a maniacal dictator remains true.

Clooney assembled a great ensemble cast as the Monuments Men (Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin and Dimitri Leonidas) and Cate Blanchett co-stars as the French arts archivist who has assembled an important record of part of the stolen art.

There is humor in the film, but it is appropriately underplayed.

Clooney has demonstrated strength with period films and the design and locations of this production are impressive as well.

“Raze” is a fascinating film. I wasn’t necessarily entertained by the movie but it was riveting and actually thought-provoking.

The premise is about as old school grindhouse as one could get: a group of athletic women have been abducted by a secret organization. They must fight and kill each other with their bare hands for the amusement of an unseen audience. If they refused, a loved one of theirs will be killed. If they lose, that loved one will be killed as well.

At first glance one might think this is yet another version of a gladiator movie, but there is something about “Raze” that is different.

The film stars stuntwoman extraordinaire Zoë Bell as Sabrina. She, like the other fighters, are only participating in the hopes of preventing a murder and Bell turns in a fine acting performance as well as a brutal stunt performance.

Although one would expect nudity and sex to play a role in a production such as this, the film is completely chaste. The emphasis is on the violence and the people who gather to watch it. The fight scenes are so well done that they provoked a reaction in me questioning why violence plays such a major role in popular entertainment.

Most films that aspire to the grindhouse aesthetic use over-the-top violence that becomes cartoon-like. There is nothing like that in this film. I’m not sure if director Josh C. Waller’s intent was for the audience to question its own interest in watching violence, but that is the action he got from me.

Tightly directed, well acted and stunningly choreographed, “Raze” is not a film for everybody.

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