There are three positive things I will say right off the bat while watching War Horse:
There has never been a director who sat behind a camera in the history of film making that can hold a candle to Spielberg when it comes to shooting war battles. He is the master.
Spielberg breaks the 2 major movie rules: Don’t work with kids and don’t work with animals and he does both successfully.
Spielberg loves John Ford and tries to emulate his shots on several occasions and does that successfully as well.
Those three items are what rated this film a 6. So, what pulls it back from greatness? Well, the usual sappy Spielberg melodrama for starters. Why is it that every time something major happens between the main characters there’s an audience of starry eyed observers? Is there not enough of a dramatic undercurrent and paint by numbers storytelling that we really need a group of people to show us how we’re supposed to feel? That really annoyed me. Also, I get that the whole story is based on the idea that this young man loves his horse so much that he’s willing to join a war and put his life in danger to find him, but, why? Did the horse save his life? No. Did the horse do something that somehow changed the course of his life? Nope. Right from the first shot we’re led to believe that he’s infatuated with the horse. Once his father comes home with the steed, he stares at the animal with a lover’s eyes. It actually comes across as kinda creepy. He’s put in charge of training Joey (the horse’s name) and constantly presses his face to his and stares lovingly in the horse’s eyes while saying shit like, “Oh, c’mon Joey, you can do it. I believe in you.” Who the hell talks to an animal like that? It made me wonder whether he slept in the house or the barn.
Thank God the movie shifted tone about a third of the way through as the horse goes to war. When that happens, the film shifts main characters from the young man who trained him to a British officer, to a young boy and his brother going AWOL, to a young french girl and her Grandpa, and so on. I enjoyed that storytelling approach because we’re seeing the world from very different perspectives and the feeling has less of a Disney film. Where does it rank in the Spielberg filmography? Somewhere in the middle and that’s still better than most filmmakers who take a stab at such emotional material.
In this eerie ghost story, a venerable inn closes after a century in business and the two remaining employees are determined to uncover the truth about longtime rumors that the majestic mansion is haunted — but will they survive their explorations?
Victor – 8 out of 10
This film has already begun to polarize horror film fans. Some find director Ti West’s little ghost film to be too slow, chatty, empty, un-scary and lacking gore and shocks. In a strange and twisted sort of way, for these reasons alone is why I liked the film. Very much. It isn’t flashy, full of empty shocks that do nothing and loud bombastic music. It isn’t gratuitous in it’s gore and there is no nudity at all. But aren’t these things what make up a horror movie? Well, no. It isn’t much to the surprise of us horror fans that are desensitized by all of the above in modern horror films.
Less is more and Ti West proves it very well here. The film’s eerie, title opening of shots of Inns throughout history backed by Jeff Grace’s unnerving score is unsettling and involving. The credits play out smooth and slowly. Already we are asked to slow down and let things unfold. Sara Paxton as the slim and awkward Claire and Pat Healy as the slothy, porn addicted Luke are the two leads who portray slacker employees of The Yankee Pedlar Inn which is on the verge of shutting down due to poor business. They are to hold down the fort by themselves in a reputedly haunting Inn. Their chatter and discourses are smart, witty and natural due to a good, tuned in script by Ti West. We immediately like them though they are hooked on the internet, (where they watch hauntings on video), drink beer, forget towels and try scaring each other with ghost stories. The have chemistry and they bond. So much the better since when things go bump in the hotel we are frightened for them and care for their safety.
Paranormal events start to increase as the days and nights go by. There are strange visitors as well like an estranged wife and her child, a creepy old man that insists on a certain room and there is Kelly McGillis as an actress that may not be all she claims to be. These are just more layered elements that creeps out the viewer. The tragedy of what happened in the Inn unfolds as well as Claire digs into the history of the Inn and asks McGillis for spiritual help to make contact. Which is not a good idea at all. West pleases with scenes full of mood and music. I liked that he plays out sequences with the score playing full out strong, building suspense. Things unravel at the Inn and the glorious camerawork by Eliot Rockett is simplistic and amazing to behold as he frames hallways, staircases and rooms wonderfully.
The Innkeepers has a simple set up, simple story and is self deprecating at times. It’s a haunted Inn movie that really doesn’t feel like a horror picture. It feels like a living and natural piece of cinematic fun that says, “slow down. you won’t find a balls to the walls horror film here.” It’s true, you won’t but it will serve as a reminder that less is more can be ok once in a while. Enjoy.
Juan and Sonia move into the perfect new house with their newborn, but things take an unnerving turn when the baby monitor starts emanating odd sounds. After Juan installs a video monitor, he realizes there’s something else present in their home.
Victor – 7 out of 10
The Baby’s Room is a nifty and capable supernatural thriller from Spain. It unfolds and plays out very nicely like a warped (if that’s possible) episode of The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery. Juan (Javier Gutierrez) and Sonia (Leonor Watling) play a young couple that move in to a large house with their newborn son. They are very good parents and try hard to make it on their own and get out from Juan’s Aunt’s shadow. They fix up their home and make it livable and comfortable. But the house has a strange history which is introduced in a very mysterious and haunting manner in the prologue of the film. A young child is pulled into a puddle of water by his reflection. Very strange and interesting indeed.
As they settle in they Juan purchases a new baby monitor with a TV screen so they can watch over the baby in his room. In typical fashion, things get creepy as Juan begins to hear and see things in the TV monitor. He sees a shadowy figure looming over their newborn. Apparently he is the ONLY one that sees him. Things get strained and frantic as Juan starts to act strange and uneven. He becomes obsessed with finding out what his strange visions are and who the shadowy figure is that is haunting the house and the baby.
The movie sports a nice simple string driven score and some very engaging photography. Director Alex de la Iglesia (The Oxford Murders and The Last Circus) Provides mood, tension and momentum. The house looms large and menacing. As Juan unravels and alienates Sonia, the film gets more tense. Juan purchases multiple monitors and discovers that his home is a gateway to even more otherworldly horrors. As he walks around his home he sees thing through the camera lens that cannot be there but are they? I think this is fine and intriguing premise and the actors, though a bit stiff at first, eventually sell the film with their believable performances. There is no gore and blood but mood. There are a couple of BOO moments that work well. I recommend this film from “6 Films to keep you awake.” The Baby’s Room may just do that.
Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel series leaps to the screen as amnesiac gunslinger Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) stumbles into the Wild West town of Absolution, where he’s confronted by potent enemy Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and a terrifying problem: invading aliens. Aided by the lovely Ella (Olivia Wilde), Jake rallies a posse of the townspeople, Dolarhyde’s minions and local Apache warriors to fight off the extraterrestrial threat.
Brian – 2 out of 10
What an expensive mess of a film. How could they have possibly green-lit this script and lure Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Jon Favreu to work on it? If you’re wondering if the movie is just as disjointed as the title, you’d be right and then some. It literally feels like two different films. Neither have any bit of a fucking story but they’re there. We open with Daniel Craig waking up after an alien abduction and has an alien “friendship bracelet” attached to him. After that, we learn he’s a wanted man, a damn good gun fighter, and a man who’s soft side has been taken away because he lost the woman he loves. Ok, were they serious with this shit? I just described almost every western that ever existed. Now, just to make sure it runs through every cliché possible, Harrison Ford shows up pissed off because his son has been arrested despite shooting a deputy. He’s the bad ass of the town and he’ll be damned if any kin of his has to answer to the law! OMG, that’s shitty writing. So, what does this crack team of top Hollywood writers do when confounded by a script that contains 0% originality? Oh, we’ll just crowbar aliens into this fucking mess! That will solve all of our problems. Uhhh, no it won’t. All that does is make this pile of shit smellier and taller. The thing that makes it even worse is that the first 45 minutes to an hour is a conventional western. So, when the aliens do finally show up, you just stare in disbelief at what a bad idea this whole disaster is. The other main problem is when you have a genre mashing popcorn movie with likeable stars, shouldn’t it be fun? This film is no fun whatsoever and has little to no humor.
I find that quite shocking considering Favreu directed both Iron Man films. But, as you watch this hunk of mule shit, you quickly realize that decision after decision by the director is to play this dead pan serious. To top that off, this films cost a whopping $160 million to make and the special effects aren’t even very good. So, where the hell did that money go? The actors got paid, say 30 mil, maybe 5 for Favreu, the script was about 5 bucks, and the CGI was lame and fake looking. I’m assuming it went towards marketing and advertising because I kept hearing about this movie for months. Well, in your face ads or not, count me as one who thought this was one of the worst Hollywood blockbusters to come out in a long time.
An all-star cast brings to life the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a former jock turned general manager who uses unconventional methods to bring the best players to the Oakland A’s, a major league baseball team struggling against financial hardship.
Brian – 10 out of 10
I was not expecting this. A movie about baseball’s business side directed by a guy who hadn’t made a film in 6 years (Also, only his 3rd directing effort) and co-starring the fat kid from “Superbad” being the best film I’ve seen this year? You bet! “Moneyball” is a smart, sophisticated, and purely enjoyable trip through the life of an MLB general manager who’s desire to win is only matched by his financial limitations within baseball’s monetary system. We’ve all seen it year after year. The big money clubs like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Cardinals make it to the postseason year after year because their budgets are 3X or more than the poorer teams. But, every once in a while a team like the A’s or the Twins make it in. Well, how does that happen in a sport without a salary cap to keep the teams matched competitively Ala the NFL? You have to break apart what makes a winning ball club and see if there’s a way to make your team better by finding undervalued and cheaper alternative players. This film is so brilliant at breaking this down in a way where those who are MLB fanatics as well as those who could care less for baseball will find it interesting and easy to understand. At this point if you’re thinking this is a boring trip down sport’s financial system, think again.
The entire movie is populated with fantastic acting across the board that bring their characters to life. All of the interpersonal relationships within the DNA of a professional sports team are explored in interesting and thought provoking ways. It also explores what makes Brad Pitt’s character tick. We learn about his relationship with his daughter, his own playing career experiences and how they relate to how he handles his job, and how he relates to the the coaches and ball players.I mentioned the performances before but I have to single out Brad Pitt who is growing one of the great movie resumes of all time. He is absolutely note perfect as Billy Beane. He conveys all of his thoughts without even saying a word at times and when he does speak, he brings the business side of baseball to life. I mentioned before that this film is my current pick for film of the year. I’ll take it one step further. It’s one of the greatest sports films ever made.
In 1960s Jackson, Miss., aspiring writer Eugenia Phelan crosses taboo racial lines by conversing with Aibileen Clark about her life as a housekeeper, and their ensuing friendship upsets the fragile dynamic between the haves and the have-nots. When other long-silent black servants begin opening up to Eugenia, the disapproving conservative Southern town soon gets swept up in the turbulence of changing times.
Brian – 4 out of 10
If ever there was a major motion picture that felt like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, this is it. We have the usual cookie cutter good guys and bad guys, the sweeping emotional undercurrent, and the over the top music swells underneath “big speech” moments that are almost “time to cry” signs that light up. I was hoping that wasn’t going to be the case since the story setting had all the possibility in the world of giving us a better glimpse into the American south during the heyday of the civil rights movement. Also, this is the first I can remember that is told primarily from a black feminine perspective. Every, and I mean every, actor is terrific in this film. The casting is spot on and I have to point out Bryce Dallas Howard as being particularly effective in the antagonist role. She’s of course the one who goes to great lengths to keep segregation in place and even build her black maid her own bathroom off the back of the house where she won’t “infect” the rest of the house with her “black diseases.” It is of course to set up immediate and hate towards her character and foster sympathy for black protagonists who are forced to deal with racial inequality and its ugliness.
Now, I completely understand that in a world of right and wrong, that this is an awful and certainly dark time in the history of this country. But, I would have loved to have seen a more enigmatic approach to the material. It is so good guys vs bad guys and right vs wrong that we’re rarely ever given a chance to see any other perspective. I would have loved to have seen more of the genesis of the feelings of the hateful whites. Where did it start? Were their parents hateful and fearful of minorities? Did they make up their mind for themselves? Was it peer pressure amongst friends or colleagues? If you’re going to have a films that’s 2 ½ hours, there’s no reason more of this can’t be explored when you’ve dedicated an enormous chunk to obvious melodrama. So, I can’t recommend “The Help” but I can appreciate the acting and obvious good feelings that went into the project.
Retiring Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) insists on defending his town from a gang of hooligans who are due on the noon train — but he faces the task alone as the cowardly townspeople flee like rats from a sinking ship. Director Fred Zinnemann creates an incredibly tense Western (rightly considered one of the true genre classics) that unfurls in real time — as the clocks on the wall constantly remind us. Grace Kelly and Lloyd Bridges co-star.
Victor – 9 out of 10
High Noon, released in 1952 and directed by Fred Zinneman, is a western about a man that against all odds decides to face his destiny. Gary Cooper brilliantly plays a retiring Sheriff named Will Kane. He is newly married to his Quaker wife, Amy. His wedding is a double celebration as he is getting married and retiring at the same time. All of his deputies and friends urge him to leave for his honeymoon right away. Then news of the release of a convict named Frank Miller reaches the town and things get a bit hairy. While Will and Amy are pushed out of town 3 other bad guys (one of the Lee Van Cleef) await the arrival of Miller at the town’s train station. The train with Miller is due high noon the next day.
Kane, against the wishes of this wife, doubles back with his horse and carriage into town. He feels that he is still responsible for the safety of the town and it’s people. Lloyd Bridges plays the young, eager and hot headed Marshall that was left behind and he has a bone to pick with Kane. Bridges and Cooper are amazing to watch. There is tension in spades between them and they have a great chemistry. But suffice it to say Bridges doesn’t back up Kane. The scenes of Kane trying to get the townspeople to help him and back him up are heart wrenching to watch. Cooper becomes afraid and desperate but never loses his cool head and bravery. No one comes to his aid and they flee or turn away.
This is the quintessential western. It is about good and bad guys. Pretty black and white. No gray areas. It is about a man alone facing insurmountable odds. This script is tight and the gorgeous black and whit photography is iconic as the town is framed with nice open wide shots but then gets more menacing as the film goes along. Shadows, angles and editing are all great to behold in this outstanding western. Characters are well fleshed out and Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado have a great scene together. Lon Chaney Jr is fantastic as Kane’s mentor. His character being tragic and benevolent. Others supporting actors are Harry Morgan, Otto Kruger and Thomas Mitchell. The eventual showdown is classic and the template that all other showdowns are made from. There is also a fantastic fight scene between Cooper and Bridges.
Enjoy this lean, tight, fast and direct western, you won’t be disappointed. A classic on many levels.
In this thriller, Driver (Ryan Gosling), a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver, is lured from his isolated life by a lovely neighbor and her young son. His newfound peace is shattered, however, when her violent husband is released from prison.
Brian – 6 out of 10
It’s hard to get past the hype of a film when so much positive attention has been given its way. I’m sure many of you through either word of mouth or a good review from a publication have heard enough about a film that it made you excited to see it. Then, when it doesn’t live up to your expectations, you feel disappointed. I guess I felt exactly that way after seeing Drive. I had heard a lot about it including its possible inclusion come Oscar time. But, at the end of the day, it grades out as a good crime thriller that never gets close to greatness. A lot of interesting elements are here. The idea of a Hollywood stunt driver working on the side transporting criminals after they rob an establishment is certainly interesting fodder. It opened the door for possible amazing action scenes that are partially delivered and partially not.
The opening is fantastic. We get to see Ryan Gosling’s character listening to a police scanner while evading police by not just out-driving but also out-thinking them. Then, the film takes a detour and steers(these puns are getting out of control) towards a romantic story that never really feels complete. Carey Mulligan is supremely likeable but she’s given so little to work with. Her background is never explored. All we know is her husband just got out of jail, she’s crazy about her son, and she has feelings for Gosling. The rest of the time she’s forced to sit back and watch people in peril but never really reacts very much or even offer her own opinion on the matter. If you’re going to write a film where the romantic connection is supposed to be the anchor to the dramatic arc, you have to create a better sense of who these people are. That brings us to Gosling, who does exactly what’s required from the script but he’s so indelibly creepy that it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to get involved with him. There are long dialogue sequences where he’s completely silent or sitting with a half-cocked grin on his face like he’s a serial killer from a Thomas Harris novel. So, after all my criticism, why is this film a 6? The crime element worked very good. There’s a fair number of scenes that offer a great sense of suspense. I found myself on the edge of my seat whenever he was on a job as a getaway driver. I suppose it’s a film that at the end of the day tried to reach higher than its script would allow and partially delivers.
In this Oscar-nominated drama based on a true story, physically abnormal John Merrick (John Hurt) endures ostracizing, taunting behavior as a sideshow attraction in mid-19th century England. Despite his horribly disfigured face and body and barely perceptible speech, concerned doctor Frederick Treves (Sir Anthony Hopkins) recognizes Merrick to be highly intelligent and works to save the Elephant Man’s dignity. Directed by David Lynch.
Brian – 10 out of 10
There’s a wonderful moment in this film that completely summed up its meaning to me. John Merrick (The Elephant Man) has been invited by his doctor (played by Anthony Hopkins) to have dinner at his home. His disfigurement, normally met with screams of terror is met with a welcome by his doctor’s wife:
His disfigurement, for one brief instance, has evaporated and he feels something he has never felt in his entire life: normal.
The Elephant Man is a wonderful, engaging, smart, beautiful, scary, and heartfelt look at a man who is truly more than meets the eye. It was a fitting decision on the part of David Lynch to shoot this in black and white. It shows the black and white, the ying and yang, of good and evil in the human spirit. We are opened to scenes of horrible cruelty towards John Merrick that are never manipulative. There was no emotional music swells or sad pianos playing. It simply presented the situation as a sad commentary on the darkness that can afflict weak men who use others for their own gain. As the film progresses, and John Merrick meets the doctor who cares for him, we start to learn that behind the disfigurement is the soul of a gentile and artistic man that desires only to be loved.
The performances throughout the entire cast are impeccable. But, it’s John Hurt’s turn as the Elephant Man that is pure magic. Through 20 pounds of makeup and prosthetics, he manages to convey every emotion perfectly through his body language and eyes. We are never in the dark as to what he’s feeling and it takes this film from simply flying to soaring. His journey from fear, to mistrust, to love is one of the rarities in movie history that must be seen to be believed.