A George and a Noir

I’m afraid I must start this post with another preamble. I need to confess that I love  George Clooney.

I want to share an experience I recently had with George’s most recent foray into directing, Midnight Sky. And I want to ask George, should he ever read this post, not to take this personally. It’s just a matter of artistic preference.

I saw two films this week whose musical scores struck me in completely opposite ways. The score to Midnight Sky ruined my experience of the movie. But then I saw a movie that restored my faith in movie scores–a film noir called Pitfall, from 1948.

Midnight Sky

Where to stream: Netflix

Plot: It’s Armageddon, 2049. Earth is falling apart and everyone is leaving the space station in the Arctic except for scientist Augustine Lofthouse  (George Clooney). He insists on staying so that he can warn a current space mission not to return to earth because it is uninhabitable. After everyone leaves he finds a mute little girl who was left behind by mistake. The movie switches among settings, mostly between earth with Lofthouse and the girl and the spaceship that’s heading to earth without knowledge of the catastrophe that has struck. Members of the crew are played by, among others: David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler.

It’s based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

The New York Times

Review by Glenn Kenny

Bottom Line: Cinematically, it’s impressive. Plot-wise, not so much. It’s a “real everything-but-the-kitchen-sink science-fiction saga. The only thing missing is an evil alien or malevolent extraterrestrial organism, but that would not be germane.” Although there are “glaring implausibilities” in the second half, the actors still manage to produce an emotional ending.

Spoilers Skimmable? No. When it comes to spoilers, reviews of The NY Times rivals those of The New Yorker: Rampant raging unending spoilers.

RogerEbert.com

Review by Brian Tallerico

Bottom Line: 2/5 stars. Tallerico says that it’s great to see George back on screen, but this movie misses the mark. It’s a completely derivative movie with nothing original to contribute.

Best Line:

“He’s a welcome presence in his first on-screen performance since 2016, but Clooney’s direction is as cold as the landscape his character travels, never once finding anything that feels organic or character-driven. It looks good. It sounds great. It’s as hollow as can be.”

In a parenthetical, Tellerico says something that resonates with me: “Although the film doesn’t have nearly enough quiet moments, thanks in part to an aggressive score by Alexandre Desplat.” 

About That Score:

The Hollywood Reporter

Article by Scott Roxborough

The Hollywood Reporter describes Midnight Sky’s score “as central a character in the science fiction drama as Clooney’s protagonist Augustine.”

In fact, Clooney wanted the music to be like another character, because the girl doesn’t talk and there’s no communication between Lofthouse and the space mission.

“Remember,” Clooney tells The Hollywood Reporter, “these are also about people who can’t communicate, they can’t talk to one another and can’t hear from one another. And so music has to be our language.”

Best Line: George says–

“I thought this was an opportunity for us to do something where the music is a character, a central character in the film, not just highlighting moments of sadness or terror, but also carrying the emotion all the way through from the very beginning.”

My take: the score has a heavy presence-it’s grating. It’s like Donald Trump. Insisting on being the focus, competing with the other noise on screen.

My experience: Whenever the music started, the actors seemed to fade away, as I tried to figure out what emotion the music was trying to evoke. Matching the music with the action was so distracting that it took my attention away from what was happening on screen.

Here’s a sample of the score, in this trailer. The music is relentless. I advise you to just listen to solely the first 33 seconds, so that you are not bombarded by the spoilers. Unless you don’t mind spoilers…then go ahead, listen to the whole thing. Or unless you don’t plan to see the movie…

And now I turn to a film with a perfect musical score. I review a contemporary movie review and a movie review from the time of the film’s release, 1948.

Pitfall

Plot: Poor John Forbes (Dick Powell). He’s got a lovely wife (Jane Wyatt) and a delightful young son (Jimmy Hunt), but his life is all ho hum. Will Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott) give his life the pizzazz that he needs? Intrigue and murder follow. (It’s a noir!)

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

Slant Magazine 2015 Review by Chuck Bowen

Modern Interpretation:

Bowen deems Pitfall “an underappreciated quasi-feminist gem” because the character of Mona would normally be a femme fatale whose charms cause the demise of the man she ensnares, but this isn’t the case. Mona is layered and a victim herself.

Good acting:

“Powell’s unsentimental performance is the film’s boldest stroke. Most noir heroes encourage the audience to identify with their hungers, vicariously enjoying sex with rarefied women, but Powell establishes John as a bitter mediocrity who spits his lines out in short, direct, nearly staccato bursts.”

New York Times 1948 Review

1948 Interpretation: John Forbes falls prey to the toxic attractiveness of Mona–in other words, she indeed is a femme fatale.

Ennui or bad acting?

“The acting is generally sound, even though Mr Powell’s performance is not always as incisive and varied as one might desire.”

Marital Morality Play: the review notes that it is a comment on marital problems and better solutions.

And now see how a good score fits perfectly into a movie. The score is not CONSTANT throughout the action (as opposed to that of Midnight Sky.) It is silent at times. Watch the first few seconds of this scene. Don’t watch the scene through. Instead, watch the whole movie through!

Review of Reviews: What happened, George?

The importance of being earnest
The importance of being earnest

George is back. He’s back and he’s bad. 34% bad.

Were you as excited as I was to see Monuments Men? It seemed to have it all: Our man George who co-wrote, directed and stars in; a great plot (Geeks join the US army in its effort to recover art masterpieces before Hitler grabs them for possible burning or to add to his underground collection; and an amazing cast (Bill Murray, Cate Blanchette, Matt Damon, John Goodman and the NBC exec who was obsessed with Elaine on Seinfeld).

But it didn’t work out. Only 56% of the audience like it. I read three reviews to find out how this happened:

1. David Edelstein: critic for New York Magazine, Vulture.com and NPR’s Fresh Air

Rape-of-EuropaSpoilers: Too many that are not so easy to skim.

Edelstein believes that Clooney didn’t take enough risks. It’s a mediocre movie that could have been done much better and, in fact, the same story has been told much better by two movies: The 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa and The Train, a 1964 drama directed by John Frankenheimer starring Paul Scofield and Burt Lancaster.

As for Monument Men, Edelstein opines that there is too much proselytizing (apparently a common objection) about the value of art to society. D Edelstein thinks it’s because George has no faith in his audiences: he doesn’t think they would understand without a straight-forward explanation.

Edelstein’s conclusion:

The Monuments Men isn’t terrible. Coming in the wake of wars that have been far more morally confusing, it’s an earnest tribute to decency, to good taste. The movie could have been called, The Dainty Dozen

(Love that!)

2. David Denby (The New Yorker)

Spoilers: A twofer!  Denby also mentions 1964’s The Train. Within the spoiler-laden review of Monuments Men is a spoiler-laden description of The Train.

I would love to see The Train so I skipped most of the first long paragraph that mentions this movie.

Also like Edelstein, Denby thinks there are too many diatribes. He goes further and finds it ironic that Clooney’s character talks about the worth of art to civilization, yet “you realize that most of the works will be returned to private collections. Those paintings weren’t part of a publicly shared heritage.”

I must disagree with D Denby. That the paintings went to private collections is irrelevant, both to what Clooney’s character lectures about and to the paintings’s part of a “publicly shared heritage.” Someone has to own these paintings in the first place!Many owners lend or bequeath them to museums.

Moving on–

the trainI like how Denby shows that the movie is formulaic:

[At the beginning of the movie Clooney’s character] rounds up his crew–like Ocean’s Eleven….and one of those large-scale films from decades ago about misfits operating behind enemy lines, like The Dirty Dozen. (“crazy guys as war genre” has recently been blown over the top by Quentin Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds,  and parodied by Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder.)

Note that Edelstein also refers to The Dirty Dozen with his moniker for the movie, The Dainty Dozen. Those Davids do seem to think alike.

Denby’s recognition that the plot is inauthentic and Clooney’s direction erratic is also interesting:

For long stretches, the tone is self-mocking….blundering out of shape guys tripping into history, but then suddenly Clooney will throw in a young soldier dying in a welter of blood.

Denby concludes, It is hard to take them seriously so we’ve just about lost the pleasures of heroism.

3. Jake Coyle, ABC news. (He also writes about film for the AP)

Spoilers: He too mentions The Train and gives up some spoilers, but his spoilers are different from Denby’s. Coyle’s are not as bad. He tells the plot line with a a little too much detail for my taste, but it’s not horrible.) However, both men have unwittingly conspired to give me much too much info about The Train.  (Using methodology I discovered on ehow.com, I am about to erase all spoilers from my memory.)

To Coyle, the movie is too pat. It feels like “it’s only a third act, lacking any buildup of tension or character development.”

Coyle describes the real story that the film is based on:

In truth, more than 300 Allied servicemen and women worked in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program in the final years of the war. They helped lead to the recovery of about 6 million objects (estimates vary). Most of the names in the film have been changed, and the mission has been made significantly more romantic.

Coyle mentions all of the movies Clooney directed and co wrote–I didn’t know that about some of them–and that George’s potential has not being fulfilled. In fact his later movies aren’t as good as his earlier ones.

Here’s what Coyle writes about the movies  Clooney directed:

He began with two stories about television’s power, both to distort reality (“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” about “Gong Show” host Chuck Barris) and to reveal it (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” about Edward R. Murrow). Neither was perfect, but the films showed tremendous potential, particularly the latter, with its thick clouds of paranoia and cigarette smoke.

But Clooney has gone somewhat astray, with the football comedy “Leatherheads,” the political thriller “The Ides of March” and now “The Monuments Men.” They’re not bad

obliged mm
Obligatory picture