Saturday, December 31, 2011

War Horse (2011)

"War Horse" is the second of two Steven Spielberg movies to have been released this year, and it's interesting because the man hasn't released two films in a year since 2005 with "Munich" and "War of the Worlds." If you saw my review of "The Adventures of Tintin," you realized that the film had his action-adventure style written all over it. "War Horse," however, displays Spielberg's grand scale style which usually pulls your heart strings that he has demonstrated in films such as "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." And let me tell all of you that "War Horse" is yet another gem in the glorious filmography of Spielberg.

Adapted from the children's book of the same name, in addition to it being adapted into an award-winning Broadway play, the central focus of the film is on a horse named Joey, who is raised by a teenage farm boy (Jeremy Irvine) in the English valley after his father (Peter Mullan). However the dawning of WWI leads to Joey being sold to the British Army, and the horse embarks on an epic journey across a period of four years,as he touches the lives of soldiers on both sides of the war, and also bringing together a more heartwarming relationship between a young girl and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup).

Spielberg and his filmmaking crew used fourteen horses to play the role of Joey, and they all bring a mix of impeccable training and heartwarming appearances to the table. It's been quite a year for "animal acting" during this year for film, but all of the horses manage to nail down the physical emotions in the most authentic way possible.

The human acting in this film is good overall, even though the film does switch in between stories several times in the 146 minute running time. Jeremy Irvine holds his own to a considerable degree as Albert, as he never goes too over-the-top in the "heart string pulling" scenes his character endures. Tom Hiddleston,though in a minor role as a British Army officer, manages to deliver a reserved performance of compassion and grace much like Spielberg's handling of the film.

As far as technicality categories go for this year in film, nothing except for "The Tree of Life" gets much better than this. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is beyond breathtaking as he and Spielberg create shots of immense scale and great attention to detail. The set pieces, especially for the WWI sequences are established in fantastic detail, whether its the variety of colors in the setting, or wide camera angles which expand the film's scope to a greater degree.

With this film, John Williams continues to show why he's the master in creating some of the most emotionally moving scores in cinema history. With scenes that already deliver on the heartwarming family movie scale, Williams takes them further with his soothing and inspiring opuses. Williams may be 80 years old, but he has continued to show decade by decade since the late 1970s on why he's one of the most masterful composers in Hollywood.

Steven Spielberg directs this film with his classic scope for breathtaking set pieces and sharp attention to detail. Even though many of the scenes attempt to emotionally move you, Spielberg succeeds with them unlike most contemporary filmmakers would, because of his long background working with these themes in the past. In addition, Spielberg makes the WWI battle scenes very intense with the tight camera angles, especially during the scenes depicting trench warfare.

While this may stand as another Spielberg gem, it's not a perfect film, though. For example, there's one short story involving two German brothers and the horse that didn't have an emotional or interesting enough impact compared to the rest of the vignettes the horse goes encounters. Additionally, the fact that this film is based on a children's book ends up highlighting numerous instances of lazily written dialogue between characters.

Despite a few minor nit pickets, "War Horse" highlights the magic of director Steven Spielberg's epic scope, in addition to showcasing the illustrious talent of his longtime technicality collaborators. This film is bound to a be an Oscar contender, but the film's huge amount of "heart string pulling" scenes will divide the overall response. However if you're a devoted fan of Spielberg's movies, there's little doubt that you'll be disappointed.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (2011)

The Mission: Impossible series is one that I surprisingly have never bought into during my life as a cinephile. However, I'm up to see just about anything that Tom Cruise stars in. I've always been aware of how his public persona has an overall sharply divided response from the public, but it has never really created a tough effect on me because I mostly focus on his acting instead. The best thing about the Mission: Impossible series is that none of the films are direct sequels of the previous entries, so it's accessible for the average filmgoer to get into this franchise at any one of the "Missions."

IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team composed of Field Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Tech Agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are set up on a mission in Moscow where the Kremlin is bombed, and they're framed for the apparent terrorist attack. The IMF secretary (Tom Wilkinson) and Chief Analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) inform Hunt that the President has initiated "Ghost Protocol", which means the IMF has been disavowed. Hunt and his team, along with the addition of Brandt accept the mission of tracking down the real culprit behind the attack, which takes them on a mission that to exotic locations which include Dubai and India.
 Tom Cruise delivers as Ethan Hunt, mostly due to how accustomed he's become to playing this character in the three previous movies. In addition to nailing down the expected charm and charisma he exhibits in nearly every movie he stars in, he does all of his own stunts including his character scaling the Burj Khalifa (aka The Tallest Building in the World). For an actor who's about to hit 50 and can still do his own stunts in big action movies, Cruise has a lot of guts to do that and it improves on the realism of his character due to the complete lack of stunt doubles. Paula Patton and Simon Pegg hold their own very well alongside Cruise. Patton not only delivers on being the sexy eye candy, but also performs very well as one very badass femme fatale when it comes to her fighting scenes. Simon Pegg provides great comic relief as Benji, and his background as one of the best British comedic actors currently working today enhances his spot-on comedic timing,too. Jeremy Renner though, manages to stand out compared to the rest of the supporting cast. He plays the only character that has an important back-story to the film's plot and he manages to deliver his scenes on a dramatic level that is sufficient enough to this type of film without exaggerating it to a point of pure over-the-top acting.

Brad Bird directs the film with a very solid visual style for a live action film debut as he constructs some of the most adrenaline-fueled action sequences I've seen this year. In addition, he chooses to shoot the action in a serene style like Justin Lin did with "Fast Five", which is a great switch from the majority of the action films we get with the obligatory shaky cam. Usually a 2 hour 13 minute film would drag if not handled well, but Bird's direction creates a fast pace of transitions between scenes that never bore you from the action taking place. 
For an introduction to the Mission: Impossible trilogy, Ghost Protocol could not be any better. The film delivers on the escapist entertainment you'd expect from a film like this, and not expect anything more from its audience. If you do plan on seeing this film during its theatrical run, this is one that must be seen in IMAX format, because the film's action sequences are absolutely stunning to look at, in addition to the base of the sound making your heart pump in the most intense action set pieces.

Final Grade: B+