“The Monuments Men” is the “Last Vegas” of World War II movies. A roughly true/fictionally embellished account of the efforts of American arts scholars drafted into the Army to preserve the artistic patrimony of Europe from the scourge of combat and theft by the Germans, it is a cute but clunky ensemble piece that director George Clooney rarely bestows with the gravitas and jauntiness this material demanded.
The funniest unintentional laugh in “Labor Day” is the way adaptor/director Jason Reitman treats this eye-rolling, melodramatic romance novel as if he’s got his hands on the works of Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. A genteel escaped convict hides out with a grieving divorcee and offers another chance at love? It’s “The Prisons of Madison County.”
James Thurber’s whimsical short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was about a bored, unassuming married man who escapes his humdrum life through wildly adventurous fantasies in which he becomes a war hero, a test pilot and the like. He avoids the boredom of errands and life’s routine that way.
Unlucky 2013? Some weekends, it seemed that way at the movies. Big bad movies, cheap bad movies, ill-advisedly awful and ignominious efforts. Johnny Depp outstayed his welcome, Adam Sandler sucker punched his enabling fans one last time, Will Smith made a movie so bad people were attaching Scientology recruitment to his motives and Disney made a Pixar spinoff that was the worst thing ever to wear Mouse ears.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s most charismatic performance ever anchors Martin Scorsese’s robust and raunchy lowlifes-of-high-finance comedy “The Wolf of Wall Street.” This is their greatest teaming, a veritable “Citizen Kane” of the post-”greed is good” era — three hours of cocaine and orgies and high-living by the sorts of gauche gamblers who brought that age, and the world economy, to its knees.
The blow-dried hair, the polyester suits and ‘70s-style political incorrectness and facial hair are back in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” The buffoonery goes epic in this sillier-than-silly sequel, a broad, down and dirty comedy overfilled with funny people trying to one-up one another on the set in the classic “best line wins” school of comic improvisation.
It’s a Hollywood legend that Walt Disney felt some sort of malevolent glee in killing Bambi’s mom, and what that animated death would do to the children who saw it. But that’s only a legend. P.L. Travers, the woman who wrote the glorious “Mary Poppins,” was a brittle, snobbish martinet and a humorless control freak. And that’s a fact. Stay through the credits of “Saving Mr. Banks” and hear for yourself.
The holiday movie season has already begun, but dozens of other goodies await under the tree, and some of them are sure to surprise us. This year’s catalog is so crowded with potentially good movies that at least two presumed award contenders — George Clooney’s “Monuments Men” and Nicole Kidman as “Grace of Monaco” — are taking a powder until spring.
Bilbo turns tougher and more cunning and “The Hobbit” turns altogether more entertaining in “The Desolation of Smaug,” Peter Jackson’s livelier, funnier and action-packed middle film in his trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s slight delight of a novel.