This weekend, I saw both The LEGO Movie and The Monuments Men. At first, I wasn't sure how I could link the two; after all, one is based on an incredibly popular toy of interlocking bricks and the other details a seemingly-oddball effort to save priceless works of Western art during WW2. But the link is actually an easy one - both films deal with the human drive to create. And honestly, both films do it well.
The LEGO Movie is the one getting most of the press. It seemed like the film would be an hour-and-a-half long commercial for colorful snap-together bricks, but nooooooo! Go see this movie. It's heartwarming, has plenty to keep both the kids and the adults in the audience plugged in and it has some serious things to say about creativity vs. conformity wrapped in those plastic bricks. A vast array of vocal talent (Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, and a host of cameos ranging from Jonah Hill to Bill Dee Williams. Oh, and be on the lookout for Liam Neeson's "Danny Boy") and a solid story. You can create beautiful things by following the rules, but in order to make your efforts truly yours, you have to be willing be a Master Builder with your life. Not a bad lesson to learn. Brought to you by the creative team behind the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you'll leave with the catchy, meaningless pop tune "Everything Is Awesome" caught in your head on an endless loop, but don't blame me for that.
The Monuments Men is based on Robert Edsel's bestselling book and details an incredibly unlikely true story about how a small group of art historians and architects were put together and charged with recovering artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis as WW2 was winding down. Now, war doesn't really become less dangerous as it "winds down," and these unusual soldiers weren't spring chickens. But there were committed to their mission, which they saw as no less than rescuing the soul of what we were fighting for in the first place. Hitler, who by some accounts was a deeply frustrated painter, dreamed of establishing the ultimate museum and had ordered his commanders to strip Europe of its artistic treasures and both private collections and national museums were laid bare. (Mind you, only "proper" art would be displayed - to this day, we don't know how many pieces by "degenerate" artists such as Chagall, Kandinsky, Marc, and Picasso were summarily destroyed for failing to live up to the Nazi aesthetic ideal.) I enjoyed this movie quite a bit - there are several scenes that literally moved me to tears. (I think some critics wanted more Indiana Jones and were miffed that they got something more deliberate and thoughtful - don't let that keep you away. This is an adventure story and the ensemble cast, which includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman, among others) kept me captivated.) Art matters. It has to. And, as absurd as it may sound to try to rescue a sculpture while men are dying, it matters that much. George Clooney, who directed as well as starring in the film, understands that the audience needs a through-line, so he focuses efforts on two particular pieces - a Michelangelo statue of the Madonna and Child (click on the pictures to enlarge) and a medieval altarpiece (a story that began before the war and continues to this day. Click here for details!). It's a moving film about the power of art and the human desire to, if not create beauty, at least to protect it from destruction.
So - whether you want to create your own art with a click-click-click or swing a paintbrush across a canvas - there's something for you in movie theaters this week!