All posts tagged steven spielberg

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War Horse 2nd Opinion

We love a bit of a film debate here at Culture Slap. Last week we had our Editor give his review of War Horse, and now for a second opinion on the matter, we turn to Matt Adcock who was much less impressed:

War Horse (12a) 

Dir. Steven Spielberg 

Reviewed by Matt Adcock 

Hello horse fans, you join us for the first marathon World War One big screen steeplechase – the going is good to firm but bogged down with far too many soggy areas…

Soft-hearted billionaire director Spielberg turns this children’s novel / hit play into a long-winded film and leisurely crafts a lavish but oddly pedestrian ode to possibly the bravest equine beastie ever.

Spielberg’s film are mostly viewed as cinematic phenomena but War Horse is a bit of a hard sell after it has been worked up with plenty of sentimentality by the likes of Richard ‘Four Weddings’ Curtis. Yes the cinematography is gorgeous and there are a couple of exciting scenes including a stunning Calvary charge thanks to the WWI setting but my son (who’d read the book and was keen to see the film) actually fell asleep about half way through!?

“let slip the erm, horses of war?”
 

So why is War Horse slightly lame rather than the epic thoroughbred it could (should?) have been? It’s certainly not the fault of the lead horse ‘Joey’ – you’d be hard pressed to find a nobler looking or engaging horse – if they gave Oscars to animals he’s be a dead cert to bag it… Nor really can the blame for the dramatic flatness be totally shouldered by the competent cast. What is missing here is the ability of the film to actually connect and make you care more than mildly about anything you’re witnessing.

Joey’s odyssey from humble farm beginnings through to messianic wartime icon certainly had the potential to send shivers down the viewers spines and grab their imaginations, so it’s hard to explain quite why the overall reaction isn’t better. I found the best scene to be the no-man’s-land sequence where a British and a German soldier work together to free Joey from his barbed wire / near death predicament. It really stands out because it feels less ‘forced’ than the most of the other scenes. Eventually the clunky plot limps along to the very Hollywood conclusion, which leaves those audience members who are still awake with a lump in their throats and probably a newfound desire to buy a pony.

This War Horse should have been a cinematic thoroughbred but it falls short in a blub of sentimentality. Overall it’s decent enough but not a classic, maybe Spielberg’s forthcoming Robopocalypse will deliver more?

Culture Slap rating:

3/5


3 (lovely looking horsey droppings)

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War Horse Review

War Horse

Director: Steven Spielberg

I’ll be honest. I haven’t had the best experiences with horses before. When I was six I was violently kicked in the head by one (my mother says it was in fact my brother, but I’m pretty sure it was me) and on my honeymoon in France my wife forced me to take part in some horse riding across some French fields. Suffice to say, hours later, without an health and safety instructions (even if I wouldn’t have understood I’d have liked proper procedure) I’d gained a horse that was more keen on running off from the group than following it, a severely sore bottom and sun burn that made me look like an average cast member from the Only Way is Essex. Since then I’ve had a distinct distrust for Horses. I don’t like their emotionless faces, and any animal that has the potential to be ridden by man and have a giant penis on show, is slightly strange.

It was with great enthusiasm therefore that I settled down to watch Steven Spielberg’s latest epic film War Horse, his adaptation of the classic book (then great stage play) that covered such themes as war, its futility and wastefullness, its exposure of human cruelty, and its capacity to bond as much as divide. Surely those themes could be applied to a huge number of Spielberg films, indeed War Horse sounds like it was written with a Spielberg adaptation in mind. Spielberg delights, no, revels in modern, melodramatic fables with guaranteed cross-generational appeal, and I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for Spielberg (not meant to sound dodgy) so I was more than willing to forgive the central inclusion of a horse.

War Horse begins in a rural English village in Devon, where a horse is born and then auctioned off to a tenant-farmer (Peter Mullan), who buys him out of stubborn pride. His wife (Emily Watson) is appalled, but his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) loves the horsee, whom he names “Joey,” (stupid name if you ask me – Steed of the Devil sounds much cooler). Albert sets out to train Joey. They try to plow rocky ground in hopes that they can stay on the land. The unsympathetic landowner is waiting to take over the property however and all looks lost. World War I is suddenly declared though and the father has to sell Joey to the army, and the horse is sent to war in France. There Joey goes through dreadful experiences taking part in some of the most vicious battles, especially as WW1 was really a place where it literally became mammal versus machine. While war horses were once a major part of war, they became increasing less important in the war effort, Instead, machines, tanks, aircraft, and all and many other vehicles replaced the role of horses for transportation of people and equipment. In WWI there was still mounted cavalry units with some prestige attached to them, but they were rapidly becoming obsolete – and useless up against fire. Because this is a love story though, Joey’s young trainer Albert follows him into war, and of course, destiny prevails (cue weeping into tissues and stroking the hair of the person next to you as if it were a mane).

This epic film about war and horses is told pretty much from the point of view of a horse. Many people come and go during the journey into the hell of war, but the common thread that connects them all is a horse. I’m not sure anyone other than Spielberg could have pulled this off. Indeed the film has many of the hallmarks of a Spielberg production, beautiful cinematography by Janusz Kaminski (including a lovely shot against a sunset near the end of the film) and a great soundtrack by composer John Williams, both longtime collaborators with Spielberg. The film also has top-notch production design by Rick Carter (“Forrest Gump” and “Avatar”) and great art direction from Andrew Ackland-Snow (who did several “Harry Potter” films). The acting is also very solid by all the main actors, including (yes I know it sounds ridiculous) the horses. Although the story doesn’t hang together well in some places, it has plenty of emotional power.

Away from the expecting sentimentality, Spielberg seems far more comfortable in his depiction of the war itself. Perhaps harking back to his time on Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, Spielberg is a master of the battlefield. The first battle marks a welcome, more confident shift in the film’s tone. The depiction of the Somme is accomplished, and one scene in particular – where Joey runs into no man’s land – is breathtaking. But for all his plunges into easy sentimentality, Spielberg also creates genuineness. And there are some unexpected moments: the officer (Tom Hiddleston) who buys Joey is kind to Albert, Joey runs to substitute for his injured friend (yes, horses have horse friends), the soldiers figure out a way to save an injured horse, and a sound from the past brings life-saving recognition. These are scenes of genuine poignancy.

So despite the horrors of war readily on show, I believe that Spielberg tries to transcend them. His movie is bigger than life. We witness a battlefield littered with corpses, but the battle in War Horse is not gore. It’s mostly movement. That a horse caught in wire and wood can be seen as a Christ figure on the field adds touching spirituality, and the fact that Spielberg can turn a horse into a Jesus figure almost had my on my feet neighing and eating sugar cubes with delight. Since some of my favourite films in 2011 ended in angst, nihilism or apolcalypse, I was actually rather happy for some optimism for once. And who better than to provide that than Spielberg? Just next time… Less of the horses please.

Culture Slap Rating: 4/5

Tin Tin Review

Tin Tin – in CGI and in 3D? Can this be any good? Maybe with Spielberg in charge it might…

The Adventures of Tin Tin – The Secret of the Unicorn (PG) 

Dir. Steven Spielberg

Reviewed by Matt Adcock

Rating: 3/5

Hold on to your hats, here’s the big CGI visual ‘leap’ which brings some seriously awesome graphics to the big screen and the result is absolutely jaw dropping.

In the capable hands of Spielberg – his follow up to Indiana Jones 4 – sees high adventure in amazing animated style. The Adventures of Tintin literally jumps from the pages of Hergé’s comic book series. The Secret of the Unicorn is a fun packed, family friendly romp, which has taken a long time to be realised in the manner that only the latest computer power can bring about.

It is a loving homage that I’m sure the original Belgian cartoonist would have been pleased with (alas he died before see this). Spielberg’s Tin Tin project benefits from having a cracking team of writers that include Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. Tin Tin fans who have read ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’, ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’, will recognise the highlight packed plot. The mixture of old school adventure and cutting edge visuals makes for a very enjoyable film – it even managed to amuse my teenage son which isn’t easy for anything other than Youtube or Facebook these days.

So young Tin Tin stumbles onto a secret which could lead to a lost treasure – there are nefarious forces also after the riches, so danger and death defying daring-do are the order of the day. Along for the ride is Tin Tin’s sidekick dog Snowy – who has a handy knack of saving the day, plus whiskey loving Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and the twin Interpol agents Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost).

Bad guy of the piece is the Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) who brings good dastardly counterbalance to the innocent faced Tin Tin and co. The action cracks along at a good pace and there are some lovely references to the original comics. So there really isn’t any good reason not to go and enjoy this rip-roaring adventure – even if it probably won’t be remembered as the classic that the makers were hoping it would be.

It does look like Tin Tin will be back soon though with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson already slated tackle the sequel.

Super 8 Review

Super 8 (12)
Dir. J.J. Abrams
Reviewed by Matt Adcock

How about a major homage to blockbuster science fiction films of Steven Spielberg which, proves that when imitating greatness, a little of the magic can rub off on a new generation.

With Super 8, J.J. ‘Star Trek’ Abrams takes us back to the idyllic summer of 1979 where a group of friends in a small Ohio town witness a catastrophic train crash while making a fun amateur super 8 movie.

The thing is – the crash was not an accident and something very nasty has escaped from the wreckage. Cue unusual disappearances and inexplicable events beginning to take place across the town, as the local populace get involved in some serious close encounters…

The cool cast of kids taking the lead – featuring the star crossed crush of average teen Joe (newcomer Joel Courtney) son of the local deputy sheriff and Alice (the beguilingly talented Elle ‘Somewhere’ Fanning) daughter of the local bad boy, the stage is set for some heart warming sci-fi thrills. Joe and Alice’s chaste romance feels natural and evokes the feel captured by last year’s Let Me In. These are kids who it is fun just to be around.

Think Goonies mixed with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, throw in some great references to films from across the genres and you’ve got the winning recipe for a new breed of classic.

With Spielberg producing it is no surprise to have the heart strings tugged. The set up of young Joe, struggling to come to terms with being left in the custody of his busy dad Jack (Kyle Chandler) after his mother dies, provides the emotional backdrop to the alien monster-em-up action.

The tension is expertly built up at first when the creature is kept mostly unseen – one particular scene of a gas station being attacked shot from behind a big rotating advertisement is a work of cinematic genius.

The alien is revealed before the end and whilst it is nicely realised with good CGi work, it doesn’t quite stand out as a creature that will be remembered as a cinematic icon.

Super 8 is great, not too nasty so that it can be enjoyed by a wide audience and packing plenty of fun alongside the tension and action scenes.

Oh and don’t leave before the credits either as you get to witness the whole of the kids’ super 8 zombie movie which will send you home with a big smile on your face.

Culture Slap: 4/5

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