War Horse Movie Review

The Equine Edition Of, ‘There & Back Again’
A Stephen Spielberg war movie, cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, musical score by John Williams; equals a movie worthy of viewing for those three reasons alone.
I have been fortunate to view some glorious looking movies and War Horse has jockeyed right there for the lead. Shot on location in various rural locations throughout England this is a truly glorious looking movie.  At times the depth of field of the rolling, lush, and rocky hills depicting turn of the 20th century rural farm life is almost three dimensional without any technical trickery.
The look of the movie changes to match the events. So, so gorgeous when it can.  So horrifying when it has to be.
And it makes the contrast of the hellhole that is war mutilated topography that the French countryside has been battered into, all the more shocking to behold. Structurally this movie echoes strongly the story arc of the three Lord Of The Ring movies condensed into one. Warhorse starts out in a bucolic surroundings, moves to progressively worse environments, and then returns back to the peaceful surroundings of an English Shire.
To carry that analogy a bit further, one could think of War Horse as the equine edition of LOTR. It follows the journeys and tribulations of a horse called simply Joey by his first master, a young farmboy named Albert.
Joey provides the narrative thread that ties together all the various tapestries; each an individual vignette about different human characters.  And what a cast Spielberg has gathered together for this movie.  A veritable who’s who of English character actors – many os which were recently seen in the Harry Potter movies – plus actors on the upswing such as the latest TV Sherlock Holmes – Benedict Cumberbatch, Thor’s Loki – Tom Hiddleston, and The Boxer’s – Emily Watson.  Joey’s master is played by with the appropriate turn of the century innocence by newcomer Jeremy Irvine. 
Every cast member is uniformly excellent throughout. It is truly an ensemble piece with small moments of emotional resonances against the backdrop of a world war.  Any shortcomings in the characters are tied into how well their story is tied into with Joey and his journey. 
And that is what Warhorse is about.  Those small moments of humanity that still arise under the harsh, uncaring rigors of war.  Often those moments are lost or crushed beneath the cruel boot heel of conflict. The opening peaceful moments of the movie areso light heart in nature as they play out like moments expected in family type fare.  They are so rapidly and jarringly lost as the war starts.

Yet throughout the war, decency & compassion survives.  Whether it is between comrades, family members, or enemies. Even people and animals.

Spielberg has crafted an old time movie that is simple in concept. In lessor hands this would likely be a far less emotionally resonant viewing experience.  Maudlin even.
In Spielberg’s hands it works.  Those closing scenes; bathed in a yellowy glow, the actors in silohuette; would be cloying if done by another director.
Spielberg elevates the material of a story of a boy and his horse. This is a story of the effects that wars have on everything. 
Before, during, and after.

X-Men: First Class – It Really Is

The Creative Powers That Be behind the latest cinematic comic book incarnation of the X-Men must be hard pressed not to be doing a fair bit of gloating.  Ever since news of this prequel project started to tingle the web threads of the internet; derision and cynicism by all, had been the overwhelming reaction.

Including yours truly.

Especially for a prequel.  Which by their very nature are limited in what can be done story wise. That, and the less than enthusiastic reception the third X-Men movie received, made the odds of X-Men: First Class(XMFC) being a creative and financial failure very high.

But XMFC bucked the odds and surprised many of us. Joyfully surprised us.

XMFC shares many characteristics of Batman: The Dark Knight in that not only is it a great comic book movie, it is a great movie period.

Brian Singer’s signature fingerprints are all over this project.  The themes of being an outsider, a freak, an object of fear and prejudice; echo many of the same themes from the other X-Men movies.  Even though XMFC is treading over previously covered ground it feels fresh because of the time era and the character mixes.

For we see characters who are sworn enemies in the previous movies as friends here.  Most notably Professor Xavier and Magneto.  We are also shown that Xavier and Mystique grew up much like a brother and sister. Mystique harbors deeper feelings for Xavier which he somewhat, in a more youthful callous way than Patrick Stewart’s more mature version would not, dismisses out of hand.

The core of the movie revolves around Xavier and Magneto.  These two are near brothers and equal in almost all aspects.  Their coming together and breaking apart is niftily shown to us in dramatic form during those scary Cold War days between the US and Russia culminating in a climatic battle during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

One of the ongoing problems with the X-Men franchise is a surplus of characters and allotting sufficient screen time to each of them so that they become more than scene dressing.   XMFC does the best job of giving each character more than just one scene or line.  This is more true for the characters that Xavier gathers together than those that follow Kevin Bacon’s – ageless, energy absorbing Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw. Bacon brings a lot of energy and evil menace of a delicious kind to the character whose past is intertwined with that of Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr’s tragic World War II Concentration Camp days.

The movie looks fantastic and that 60’s vibe; which comes off as Futuristic Retro here; looks very sharp, very cool, and very sexy from the buildings to the cars to the bars to the women’s fashions and those crazy cool narrow ties.  It  really does feel like one of early James Bond movie as noted by many others. XMFC also has done a near perfect job of casting.  Not only the big parts but the cameos, expected and unexpected too.  Any picture that can shoehorn in Michael Ironside and Ray Wise – a deliciously wry piece of casting as the Secretary of State giving the go-ahead to escalate hostilities with the Soviet Union – gets automatic bonus points from me.

Of special note casting wise was Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy aka The Beast.  Perfect.  Hoult brought a sense of humility, sensitivity, intelligence and warmth to the character in addition to physically looking the part.  Jennifer Lawrence as Raven Darkholme/Mystique, fresh off the buzz of her performance in the indie picture – Winter’s Bone and the future Katniss Everdeen of the upcoming Hunger Games movie trilogy, seemed a little flat to me.  The most problematic piece of casting scrutiny will no doubt fall on January Jone’s stiff portrayal of Emma Frost.  XMFC really makes these characters feel a part of the world around them rather than apart from it.  The movie avoids the pitfalls of comic book characters by having them inhabit the world like everyone else.  They are in civilian clothes for almost the entire movie.

Much of the film’s success lies with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Xavier and Magneto respectively.  Both excel but Fassbender’s tortured portrayal is a showcase performance.  Magneto is a richly drawn character that provides Fassbender with a star making opportunity.  One he takes full advantage of.  Fassbender feels like a cross of Sean Connery mixed with Louis Jourdan.  There is a sulky smoothness over a raging interior that radiates off the screen.

It is a true mark of a great film that the characters and their stories linger the most after the screen fades to black.  Their individual powers are extensions of the characters.  The characters are not there as placeholders for special effects shots.  The powers get their showcase special effects moments but the strength of the movie is they are there supporting the characters.  Not dominating them.  They are subordinate.

I saw XMFC and Thor in the same day. Kind of a SuperHero Saturday DoubleHeader if you will.   XMFC is the better movie and Thor was a solid experience as well.  With the Green Lantern and Captain America just around the corner; it augers well for a great summer of movies.

XMFC is one of the far too infrequent movie experiences where one’s preconceptions are happily proven wrong.  It is these kind of moments that make one excited for movies all over again.

Fringe Episode Review – 4.07


The Need To Be Seen

“The hours I spend with you I look upon as sort of a perfumed garden, a dim twilight, and a fountain singing to it.  You and you alone make me feel that I am alive.  Other men it is said have seen angels, but I have seen thee and thou art enough.”

George Moore

Timing is so important.  One can take all the proper steps for THE big date; be dressed to the nines, bring a big bouquet of roses, and a box of chocolates but if you show up at the wrong time all your preparatory work can go for naught.

How many refills is this?

Such is the fate of, ‘Wallflower.’  It came on the heels of the previous fantastic installment, ‘And Those We’ve Left Behind.’ Tough enough.  But then to become the unintentional Fall Finale, due to the pushing out of the airing schedule by one week because of baseball’s World Series, is truly a cruel twist of fate.

‘Wallflower,’ also came at a time when expectations were that major traction in the Peter story arc were about to commence.  Instead in this installment Peter was relegated to the sidelines to pin up drawings, provide courting help to Lincoln by giving him glasses fashion advice,  and go on a shopping trip to get various sundry items including underwear.  Not exactly the material of big things hoped for in the Peter story arc.

Though I did love and laugh out loud at the Peter/Olivia – “Hey/Hey” – moment.  

Further to the seeming paralysis in the Peter story pace; the Observers have been lost since the start of the season.  What is going on with September?  What ramnifications of his decision to not eradicate Peter had with the other Observers?  Is September on the road to becoming another August?  And where is the expansion of the Observer mythos promised by the showrunners before the start of the current season?

Episode ‘Patterns’: Add your own in the comments.

  • Olivia suffering migraines has a prescription. How long has this been going on?
  • Lee & Olivia in the diner. Lee freaking out about Fringe events.  Olivia phlegmatic.
  • man attacked and de-pigmentized by Invisible Man – ended up looking like Brent Spiner
  • Peter gets to go on chaperoned shopping trips & gets an allowance
  • Walter munching on beer battered Onion Rings
  • Astrid talks to a shrink everyday about her job.  Olivia’s self worry increases.
  • Eugene in elevator listening to his ‘girlfriend’ most apropos small talking about fall and the changing colors
  • Pigment = Death = Eugene’s desire to be seen = Suicide
  • Walter with the mice – John & Invisible Yoko – made visible with UV Light
  • Facepalm moment – Olivia searches for Eugene alone
  • Eugene’s monologue to Olivia about being seen, being recognized, and connecting emotionally with someone encapsulates Olivia’s issues
  • Eugene makes that connection with Julie in the elevator and then dies
  • Olivia confesses to Nina her doubts and whether her exposure to Cortexiphan has stunted her emotionally
  • Olivia feels she should know her place in life by now, Nina tells her that is not necessarily so
  • Peter gives Lincoln styling glasses.  ‘Trust me.’
  • ‘Hey!’  ‘Hey!’
  • another awkward Olivia/Lincoln moment as they stumble to make a date
  • spurious observation: for her ‘date’ with Lincoln – Olivia decides to keep her hair in a ponytail.  For her ‘date’ with Peter in Season Two’s, ‘Jacksonville,’ Olivia decided to keep her hair down.  Significant? Or not?
  • Nina ruins the ‘date.’  Olivia is gassed and given cortexiphan.
  • Is Nina evil or taking desparate measures, a la Walter, to protect Olivia?

All of the above factored into my initial viewing of the episode.  My expectations were so preset that my initial viewing of ‘Wallflower,’ left a bad taste.  And the preview for the real Fall Finale episode did not help.  Fortunately after a couple of days had passed, I was able to regroup, rewatch the episode, and judge it on its own merits.

And found ‘Wallflower,’ a solid episode.  Much of the mystery surrounding the cold Olivia of this timeline is explained.  My criticism of what Peter was given to do still stands.

The character/case of the week Eugene is borne with a mutation not just on the physical level but on an emotional one too. She has no connections emotionally and even worse, is rarely affected by the Fringe events she is consistently exposed to.   Something that Olivia of this timeline has begun to really wrestle with.  Even more so oddly, or perhaps not oddly at all, since the injection of Peter into the Season 4 timeline.

The reveal that Nina has continued the cortexiphan injections on Olivia explains much. It also, in typical Fringe fashion, raises new questions.  For those that have harbored a long standing distrust of Nina were given vindication.  Nina is evil!

Or is she?

Unquestionably Nina’s methods are reprehensible.  But will we find out that her actions are not nefarious in goal but rather driven by her belief that this is the only way to protect Olivia?  The answer is unclear and certainly there has been enough evidence to paint Nina in a bad light this season.  On the other hand is this another scenario, much like Walter’s crossing over to the other universe to save the other Peter?  Time will tell.

The most impressive accomplishment for me in this episode is that I am now truly emotionally engaged in what happens to this Olivia and Walter in this timeline.  This has been a big point of contention for those that believe these characters are superfluous because they will be wiped away when things are set back to their proper places.  After the direction that has been laid out in these seven episodes it is clear something more amibitious is definitely in play.

Eugene’s final scene in the elevator with Julie was beautifully done.  His joy at achieving recognition, even at the price of death, was truly touching.  As Eugene slid to floor, Fringe music composer Chris Tilton, skillfully composed the emotional underpinnings and poignancy of those final seconds.  

Connection made.

In his last moments who was Eugene meant to parallel then?  

Olivia? Peter?

Maybe both.  Or maybe that moment was his.