Film Reviews

THE MONUMENTS MEN

By • Feb 13th, 2014 •

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Here is what enraged me immediately about THE MONUMENTS MEN. Art historian Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is showing a photograph of the mock-up of the Führermuseum, Adolph Hitler’s tribute to himself, which he intends to fill with stolen art the Nazis will take from European museums. The main artifice has the Nazi symbol as its frontispiece.


However, it is the wrong symbol! The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years. Its origin so ancient it is unknown. The sacred and extremely powerful symbol of the swastika, shown here in the left, takes the form of an equilateral cross, with its four arms bent at 90 degrees.


Hitler altered the swastika for his own use as the symbol of Nazism (above on the right). The Nazi symbol (on the left) was a right-facing 45° rotated swastika that was incorporated into the state flag of Germany during the Nazi era. By simply turning it slightly, Hitler altered the profound meaning of the swastika, which has come to mean anti-Semitism, hatred, and murder and is now stigmatized.

It seems no one can tell the difference today between the two symbols! Notably, Clooney’s art direction department.

And while we are at it, how about the European theft of all the great Egyptian art? I’ve been to Egypt several times and what I was told by a local guide was, “They took the best and left the rest behind.” If they could have moved the Sphinx, it would now be in Versailles. You only have to go to The British Museum and The Louvre* to see the vast, gluttonous treasures that were stolen. When will the stolen mummies – their intention was to be buried for eternity according to their religious beliefs – be returned? How would you like to be on display in a glass case in a museum?

My “Send the Mummies Home” rant has no end, so I will digress to discussing the boring misstep of George Clooney’s THE MONUMENTS MEN.

None of the Monuments Men have ever seen it, but they are really on the hunt for one of the most influential painting ever made, The Ghent Altarpiece by Flemish artist Jan van Eyck. Having been stolen repeatedly – once by Napoleon – and sold so many times over, its provenance was murky. The Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I forcibly repatriated The Ghent Altarpiece to Belgium from Germany. Hitler wanted it. And he wanted the Madonna of Bruges.

And, since Hitler’s army was at it, the Nazis decided to take all the really fine art that was in European museums and churches. And if he were to die before a German victory, Hitler ordered all works of art be destroyed. Thank God, Picasso was so prolific!

Why did Clooney and frequent co-writer Grant Heslov become so enamored with this story? They should have produced a documentary instead, explaining why the art was so important. Let’s face it: Have you seen the Ghent Altarpiece or the Madonna of Bruges? What makes them so special? What do these two works of art mean? Oh sure, Stokes keeps drumming it into us that this is our culture, but who would risk their life trying to find someone else’s stuff?

This is supposed to be an adventure story but we never really are made to understand the significance of the art. In a similar scenario in the future, will Americans risk their lives trying to save Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings if they were stolen in a war? These famous paintings essentially are blank, white canvases painted with white house paint! According to art historians, the White Paintings are as significant as the Ghent Altarpiece.

Clooney and Hesloy know how to construct a film, so why put together an adventure thriller starring a bunch of uninteresting characters? The veteran actors assembled here all know a dud when they read the script, but liked the European locations and a salary. The only thing they could do was over-act, mug for the director, and desperately try to make their shallow roles interesting. That is called ham-fisted acting and even Clooney does it!

So, the clock is ticking when finally sexually lonely Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) finally spills the beans on where the stolen art is hidden, but the Monuments Men must get there fast since the Russians are on the way and they want the art for the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg!

You would think James Granger (Matt Damon) would have given willing Claire a mercy evening of pleasure for all the secrets she gave him. It reminds me of that wonderful line from Xander Cage, explaining his reason for having sex with a spy from that classic film XXX: “The things I’m gonna do for my country.”

Granger, maintaining his dignity and being a faithful husband in a time of war, takes the notebook and leaves a dolled-up Claire.
I cringed at Clooney’s direction, especially when we were subjected to Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) taking a shower while the entire camp heard his daughter and grandchildren sing the entire “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” song. I hoped that never really happened.

I thought Bill Murray was notorious for being hard to get?

I also hope Granger stepping on a landmine was an artistic flourish.

If George Clooney wants to continue acting, directing, directing himself, producing and co-writing movies, he should find another co-writer who is not so invested in making him happy and indulging him. George, why not find a role in the next Lars von Tier or Abdellatif Kechiche film and really challenge yourself? Hell, it’s time to call Quentin Tarantino!

*The British Museum in London, England. Excluding the museums of Egypt, The British Museum currently houses more Egyptian artifacts than any other institution. The museum’s collection of Egyptian relics numbers over 100,000. Highlights from the British Museum include: The Rosetta Stone and the Colossal Statues of Ramesses II, and the Colossal Granite Head of Amenhotep III.
The Louvre in Paris, France. The Louvre’s impressive collection of Egyptian relics clocks in at over 50,000 pieces. Twenty rooms of artifacts hold such wonders as mummies, colorful jewelry, child’s games, and clothing. Particularly delightful pieces include: The Great Sphinx of Tanis (This granite sphinx weighs in at over 24 tons, making it one of the biggest sphinxes outside of Egypt) and the Colossal Statue of Ramesses II and the Queen Cleopatra Stele.

The Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany. This expansive museum houses all the Egyptian artifacts in its own section known as the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. Highlights include: the Bust of Nefertiti, Akhenaten and Nefertiti House Altar and the Fayum Mummy Portraits.

POSTSCRIPT:

BERLIN – US actor-director George Clooney on Saturday called for stolen artworks to be returned to their rightful owners, adding that many works looted by the Nazis are still unaccounted for.
“It’s a story that is going to keep coming up,” Clooney said at Berlin’s Berlinale Film Festival, which marks the European launch of his new film The Monuments Men.

“There is a lot of art that is still missing,” he said during a press conference.

The film – directed and co-written by Clooney – is based on the true story of a special US military unit charged with tracking down and protecting art during the World War II.

In his comments, Clooney also backed Greece’s long-running campaign to retrieve antiquities looted by the British – notably the priceless Elgin Marbles currently on display in the British Museum.

“I think (Greece) has a good case to make,” said Clooney. “It would be a very fair and nice thing to happen.”

Clooney is featured in The Monuments Men as Frank Stokes, a bespectacled art historian who leads a mission to shield Europe’s great works of art – not just from Hitler, but also from allied bombing and advancing Soviet forces. Many of the works in question were earmarked for Hitler’s planned Fuehrer Museum and the private collections of top Nazis like Hermann Goering.

“For the first time the victors did not keep the spoils,” said Clooney.

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