Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE MONUMENTS MEN"
Originally intended for Academy Awards consideration, this earnest World War II docudrama-like escapade falls far short of Oscar-caliber.
Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham on "Downton Abbey") delivers one of the most memorable performances as an alcoholic British art historian, seeking noble redemption as part of the small, multi-national squad headed by Fogg Museum curator/conservationist Frank Stokes (George Clooney), who is determined to preserve Europe's greatest works of art from acquisition and/or destruction in 1944 by the retreating Nazis.
"If you destroy an entire generation of people's culture, it's as if they never existed," Stokes explains to skeptical President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Working within the newly formed Monuments Fine Arts and Archives program, Stokes' team also includes an art restorer (Matt Damon), architect (Bill Murray), sculptor (John Goodman) and connoisseur (Bob Balaban).
They're charged with advising front-line commanders and recovering masterpieces looted from museums and private Jewish collections, treasures like Michelangelo's Madonna of Bruges and Flemish masters Hubert and Jan van Eyck's 12-panel altarpiece "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb " -- superbly photographed by Phedon Papamichael.
They're aided by a Paris' Jeu du Paume Museum assistant curator/collaborator (Cate Blanchett), Ecole des Beaux-Arts painting instructor (Jean Dujardin) and German-Jewish teenage driver/translator (Dimitri Leonidas).
Episodically adapted from Robert M. Edsel's detailed, true-life account, it's sketchily scripted with too little structure and too many subplots by Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov. Clooney also directed.
The diverse characters should be fascinating, but they aren't because their individual roles are not properly fleshed out. And Edsel's riveting recounting of their battlefield bickering with Army brass has been unduly truncated.
Clooney's father, Nick, appears as elderly Stokes in a 1970s epilogue. And composer Alexandre Desplat does a Resistance worker cameo.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Monuments Men" is a tonally shifting, sermonizing 7 -- given unexpected timeliness by the recent discovery in Germany of yet another hidden art collection.
"THAT AWKWARD MOMENT"
The premise is simple: Three 20-something buddies find themselves at that confusing time in every relationship when their casual sex partner suddenly asks, "So ... where is this going?"
Jason (Zac Efron), Daniel (Miles Teller) and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) are enjoying the good life in Manhattan. Jason and Daniel are both single, designing book covers at the same trendy downtown publishing company, while Mikey is an emergency room doctor. But after Daniel wakes up one morning to discover that his wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas), has cheated on him -- with her lawyer -- and is serving him with divorce papers, he and his callow, commiserating friends make a pact that they will not "date" women. Instead, they plan to mate and vacate, guilt-free, and they vow to avoid serious entanglements for a year.
But then Jason glibly connects with smart and sexy Ellie (Imogen Potts), rescuing her from an insistent suitor at a bar, and Daniel turns to their longtime "wing-woman" platonic friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis). Predictably, both of these supposed one-night stands develop into something more emotionally substantial, while Mikey covertly tries to reconcile with his ex.
Debuting writer/director Tom Gormican, whose previous credit is as producer on the dreadful "Movie 43," sets up a crude, immature male version of the dating experience, often substituting frenetic pace for intelligent insight on the sensitive issue of commitment. So it's not surprising that the female characters are sketchily underwritten and ill-served, while an inordinate amount of screen time is devoted to male genitalia: Viagra-induced, extended erections, a discolored penis and urinating horizontally. In addition, the dialogue only can be described as dopey, and the contrived Thanksgiving Day scene falls flat with a resounding thud.
What's in Gormican's favor is his casting: three hot young actors. Efron has been a heartthrob since "High School Musical," Teller scored with "The Spectacular Now" and Jordan with "Fruitvale Station."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "That Awkward Moment" is a bawdy 4, concluding with a familiar sequence of bloopers.
Since it was published in 1818, Mary Shelley's classic literary creation has had many screen incarnations but few as ridiculous as Stuart Beattie's convoluted concept of using him as an invaluable pawn in the perennial battle between good and evil, represented by gargoyles and demons.
Beginning with the monster (Aaron Eckhart) burying his creator, the story catapults forward to the present-day. Wandering the world alone and pursued by demons, he's dubbed Adam and offered shelter in a massive, medieval Gothic cathedral by Gargoyle Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto), who recognizes him as a fellow outsider, noting, "Humans think of us as mere decoration."
What the fiery-eyed demons covet is the book that Adam carries with him. It's Dr. Victor Frankenstein's handwritten journal, detailing exactly how to create life. Their leader, nefarious Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy), has been collecting an army of soulless human corpses, which he plans to re-animate to obliterate mankind. To that end, he has created an impressive, high-tech laboratory run by an attractive electro-physicist, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski). Not surprisingly, she eventually allies with Adam, who spends an inordinate amount of time skulking in the shadows.
Humorlessly adapted by Australian writer/director Beattie from a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (one of the creators of the "Underworld" franchise), it was filmed two years ago and set for release last February. Then it got pushed back to September and, eventually, dumped into a 2014 slot. Significantly, critics were excluded from all pre-release screenings.
Filled with reams of expository dialogue, choppily-edited fights, an invasive musical score and lots of CGI-enhanced transformations, it resembles an incoherent video game. When demons die, they descend in spiraling fireballs, while defeated gargoyles ascend directly into heaven through rapturous blue lights.
Aside from his glowering, grimacing and growling, Eckhart obviously has spent endless hours at the gym to achieve his admirably ripped physique, and it's apparent that Nighy is just collecting a paycheck.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "I, Frankenstein" is a mind-numbing 2. Mary Shelley must be spinning in her grave.