Movie Reviews: War Horse and A Dangerous Method

posted by Rolocop

WAR HORSE – I love Steven Spielberg.  He was probably the first filmmaker I followed when I was growing up.  Several of his movies are in my top 100 of all time: (JAWS, RAIDERS, E.T., TEMPLE OF DOOM, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), and most of his other films are top notch entertainment.  His track record has been a little off in the past 10 years, however.  Even though I think all of his movies have moments of brilliance, I felt like some of them misfired, like: A.I., THE TERMINAL and MUNICH (loved it until it train wrecked at the end).  I was really looking forward to what looked like a return to his old fashioned sense of filmmaking.

The story feels very much like a novel, as it is told in little episodic vignettes, or chapters.  It begins just before WWI in England when a drunken farmer purchases a horse from an auction.  His teenage son Albert grows attached to it, as he ends up raising the horse himself, which is named Joey.  When it seems like Albert’s family will lose the farm, the father sells the horse to the army to be used in the upcoming war.  The rest of the film chronicles Joey’s adventures as he is used in battle, befriends a small farm girl, and even gets acquired by the German army.

Spielberg is no longer in his prime, but it’s really entertaining seeing him try really, really hard to be the director he used to be.  Don’t get the wrong idea, I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit.  The episodic nature and simplistic characters reminded me of the movies Hollywood used to make.  The big melodramatic epics that John Ford would’ve made, like HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.  The acting is hokey (which works), and the movie tries without any excuses to make you cry.  And it succeeded with me on a couple of occasions.

Spielberg also still knows how to stage a set piece.  The war scenes in the last half are spectacular, featuring many long crane and tracking shots.  But my favorite moment might be when Joey is caught in some barbed wire with both German and American  soldiers working together to free him.  The movie lays it on a little thick in the sentimentality department, but I think that’s what Spielberg was going for.  It certainly helps that John Williams score is effectively manipulative.

If I had one major complaint, it would be that some of the shots were so old fashioned, that they were distracting.  Let me explain:  Most of the film has a certain look, but every once in awhile, Spielberg tries to emulate a fakey looking background that they used in movies like GONE WITH THE WIND (especially in the final sequence).  It looks absolutely gorgeous, except that it doesn’t match with the rest of the film, and draws too much attention to itself to the point that it’s distracting.

With it’s faults aside, it’s nice to see a movie like this in the theater.  They just don’t make em’ like this anymore.  It’s a film for all ages.  My 8 year old daughter absolutely loved it and is convinced it’s the best film of the year.  She also was crying through nearly half the film.  So it’ll work for people that will buy into all the sentiment.  Me?  I appreciated the movie, and thought it was fairly entertaining.  Is it great?  No.  But it’s at least good.  Opened on Christmas Day in Wide Release.  Rating:

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A DANGEROUS METHOD – David Cronenberg’s career is a pretty fascinating one.  He started making low budget, but highly effective B-Horror flicks.  Then he started making surreal dramatic pictures like M BUTTERFLY, CRASH and my personal favorite, DEAD RINGERS.  His last 2 films have shown his maturity.  Loved HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, but I felt EASTERN PROMISES wasn’t emotionally involving, though the direction was fantastic.

His latest is even a bigger step into mature moviemaking: A period piece about the famous doctor Sigmund Freud.  Actually, it’s about a protege of his. named Carl Jung, and his patient Sabina.  Sabina (Keira Knightley) is crazy and gets committed to a hospital.  Jung (Michael Fassbender) is the doctor assigned to analyze her.  He helps her, but also gets involved in a pretty intense sexual relationship with her (involving spanking).  He goes to his mentor Freud (Viggo Mortensen) on occasion, for advice.

I thought the first half of the film worked very well.  The relationship between Jung and Sabina is handled very delicately.  It also helps that the two actors have great chemistry together.  Fassbender turns in another terrific performance as Jung.  But for me, it was Knightley who stole the picture.  Now, I’ve talked to a few people who were irritated by her performance, and I can see why.  She makes a bold decision to contort her face, and change her vocal patterns, but it makes sense for the character and what she is going through.  It’s a brave performance that some could see as overacting, but I found it brilliant.  I think it’s her best performance and definitely deserves an Oscar nod.  Mortensen is understated as Freud, but it works.

Cronenberg’s direction is easily the most laid back I have ever seen from him.  Instead of wowing the audience with surreal images, he let’s the story unfold in a simple fashion.  Unfortunately, the second half wasn’t as involving.  That’s because it jumps around years at a time every 10 minutes.  For me, this jagged approach alienated me from the characters and I eventually stopped caring.  By the time the film reached it’s climax, I was disengaged.

Die hard Cronenberg fans will probably want to check this out, but I even think they’ll be surprised by how subdued the film is.  Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing.  I like low key films, but just ones that can engage me for it’s entire running time.  This one didn’t quite do it.  Opened at The Uptown Theater last Friday.  Rating:

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 at 9:57 pm