"War Horse" is a stirring WWI epic with a strong story and great heart. It carries with it the unique brand of sentimental Spielberg storytelling that makes the characters and environments relatable and hard to forget.
I would say this film follows the "adventures" of Joey the horse but that word seems to imply fun and thrills, and although some moments are light-hearted, others bore straight to the soul. The beginning of the film involves Joey being bought after a war veteran farmer sees potential in the animal, a decision that risks the very livelihood of his family. However, the farmer's son Albert takes up the challenge of whipping Joey into a workhorse, and eventually a friendship between the two develop. Unfortunately, the war forces the two apart as British Calvary buy Joey and prepare him for battle. And here is where the film truly starts.
I was very impressed by the performance of the horse. I understood every emotion Joey went through and was quite moved. He and other horses in the film had a unique human quality to them that were instantly relatable; a challenge that Spielberg accomplished effortlessly. Jeremy Irvine was also great as Albert. He effectively portrayed a strong bond with the horse that really pulled at the heartstrings.
The setting of this film was beautiful. Rolling English countrysides, French meadows, war-torn forests. Every location looked authentic and were shot with great attention to detail. The scene at dusk at the end of the film is breathtaking!
What I enjoyed most about this film were the various stories within Joey's journey, particularly a moment where he ends up on a French farm and cottage where the heart and drama of the film are summed up quite nicely. I believed in the "Miraculous Horse" and the deeper theme of this film that miracles really do change lives, even if for a moment. This miracle just so happened to come in the form of a War Horse.
"True Grit" is a superb western with exceptional performances from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld and a masterfully crafted script from the Cohen Bros.
I really enjoyed watching this film and especially loved the performances by Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld; although that's not to take away from Bridges' certainly deserving spotlight. I was really impressed with Damon's accent. Must be hard to maintain a southern Texas draw, especially when the script calls for a busted mouth! Hailee Steinfeld as the lead, Mattie Ross, was quite exceptional. Something about her performance reminded me of the quirks of the child actors of the thirties, especially Margret O'brien; the quick retorts and intelligent, witty banter. (For any fans of the old "Black and Whites" hopefully you can understand what I mean).
On the same note, the dialog in the script was very fun to follow. With the help of an Arkansas twang, the words really came to life in the characters and were very dated and believable to the time period.
I did, however, feel the film was a little anti-climactic. I was lead into this wild "coon hunt" as Mattie so affectionately calls it, and in the end I wanted her quest for vengeance to be satisfied in one big moment, and I didn't quite get that. But that's a minor bump compared to a worthy remake that has already made waves as a bonafide classic even John Wayne could be proud of.
With strong performances and a well-written script, "The Karate Kid" does well in honoring the original while standing on its own as a soon-to-be classic.
The opening of the film introduces the main character Dre (played by Jaden Smith) and his mother who is being relocated from Detroit, Michigan to China; a major move for a 12-year-old who has a tough time finding his niche in a completely new place.
Enter Jackie Chan as the quietly troubled Mr. Han. After an altercation with some neighborhood bullies connect Smith and Chan's characters, I immediately enjoyed watching their relationship develop as Dre slowly learned the principles of Kung-Fu(Why didn't they just name it "The Kung-Fu Kid"? Money reasons, I'm sure)and more importantly, life.
Chan gave what I thought to be one of his best emotional performances ever, taking the wise mentor-like qualities found in Mr. Miyagi in the original and adding a well-acted emotional heaviness in accordance with the character's revised back story. In a sense, Chan's character becomes less of a wise master of martial arts and more of a slightly above average man with troubles of his own who learns just as much about life from Dre as he teaches to his young pupil.
Adding to the appeal of this film is youngster of Hollywood royalty (the son of Jada and Will Smith), Jaden Smith. I must admit, I was curious to see how well Smith would hold up without his father on the screen simultaneously (as in "Pursuit of Happyness"), but I was thoroughly impressed. He shares his father's comedic timing and, as one critic stated, an "emotional presence" that makes him so likable I was completely vested in Dre's journey as he grew to learn more about life and gaining honor among peers.
Playing the supporting role as Dre's mother, Teraji P. Henson also gave a convincing and fun performance as Dre's mother. The moments in which she scolds her son are enjoyable as I could see much of my parents in her style of discipline.
The cinematography is beautiful as well. I felt completely transported as the film discovered various parts of China, capturing it's mysticism, modernism, and traditional beauty all in one film.
Overall, I think this was a very entertaining film with great action and a warm heart. "The Karate Kid" is a remake that will soon become a classic for its generation as "Shao-Dre" joins "Daniel-son" as a household name.
This year's Oscar-nominated animated shorts aren't exceptionally awe-inspiring. However, they are collectively comedic as each one tells a different yet interesting story. The rating above is my general consensus of the shorts as a whole. The following are my opinions of induvidual shorts. In the film, they also included "honorable mentions", but they were so many and so fleeting I couldn't remember them all. The one's I'm commenting on are all in the race for an Oscar for Best Animated Short.
~"French Roast" - Fabrice O. Joubert (FRANCE, 8 mins)
This short film set in a French cafe tells a great story through it's various characters. The ending is slightly predictable but it ends with a touching and heartwarming gesture which is sure to have been the reason for its nomination. My rating: 7/10.
This animated short is a laugh-out-loud, hilarious farce on the classic Grimm's tale, and a creative twist on the traditional image of grandmothers and bedtime stories. The story and dialogue are great. The voice-over work for the Granny O' Grimm character is well suited and adds to the humor. Over all, a well-concieved story from the Irish company, Brown Bag films. My rating: 8/10.
~ "The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)" - Javier Recio Gracia (SPAIN, 8 mins) -- Produced by Antonio Banderas
This short is quite misleading in the first two minutes. Director Javier Recio Gracia has you believe you will be taking a nostaligic, heart-felt journey into the after-life with an elderly woman as she meets the grim reaper, and then literally rips you back to reality; and then back to the afterlife again.
In the film, the old woman is saved by a heroic, johnny-bravo-esque doctor who brings her back to life. The Lord of Death isn't too happy about that. A tug-of-war plot ensues that feels a little too stylized and contrived. It's not unlike anything you couldn't catch flipping though Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. Of course, it attempts to garner some laughs along the way, which it does, but some are forced and end up falling flat. What's worse is Gracia speeds up the action in this film to draw less attention to the weakly-concieved gags thrown into the mix. Even the sim-like mumbles uttered from the characters get annoying after awhile. However, the ending sort of makes up for deflated jokes but I don't see how this one was even considered in the nomination, except for its first few opening sequences. Antonio Bandaras must have purchased this nomination. My rating: 5/10.
~"Logorama" - Nicolas Schmerkin (ARGENTINA, 16 mins) - featuring the voices of director David Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker
This short was a very creative and imaginative take on the theme of consumerism (if that's a word). It serves as an interesting and humorous allegory of how we are literally drowning in a sea of logos and advertisements when we step out of our front door. I wouldn't be surprised to see this one win the Oscar for best animated short, and so I predict it will take home the award.
Ever wonder what Ronald McDonald does in his spare time? Does the Michelin Man make a good police officer? Is the man on the Pringle box secretly a pervert? This film is a great parody on consumer icons, bringing logos of all companies and generations together in a world of floating MSN butterflies and Grease logo motorcycles. The trademarks are so many in this film, they are hard to count, but fun to recognize nontheless. I almost wonder how a single short was able to get so many companies to agree in letting their logos be used in a film about the negative impact of modern commercialism. My rating: 9/10.
~"A Matter of Loaf and Death" - Nick Park (UNITED KINGDOM, 30 mins)
Wallace and Gromit are back in their visually rich, stop-motion, clay version of little britain. This time, they own a successful bake shop which doubles as their home. Wallace, as bumbling and clueless as ever, has an eye for Piella Bakewell, the poster-girl for another bakery, Bake-O-Lite. An incident of fate cause the two to meet and a comedic romance montage ensues. All the while, there have been various murders in town; all involving the death of a local baker. Soon the plot turns into a murder mystery as the intellegent Gromit becomes suspicious of Piellia and Wallace's relationship.
This film offers everything you expect from a Wallace and Gromit movie; crazy, mechanical contraptions, quirky characters, and a funny yet predictable plot. I personally love britcoms and the british brand of comedy, and I have always been a fan of Wallace And Gromit. That being said, this was my favorite out of all the shorts. My rating: 9/10.
Now, you will notice that the new Pixar short "Partly Cloudy" was not in the running for an Oscar. However it was shown as an honorable mention. I feel with the overwhelming success of "Up", Pixar doesn't need to worry about cornering the market in animated shorts. The shorts that occur before pixar films used to be ground-breaking, animated films that revolutionized and improved the field of computer-generated animation(sorry, the animation geek in me came out for a second. Thats a result of my major.). Today, they are more of a nostaligic tradition that we have come to expect before our feature presentation. I'm not hating on the Pixar short though, the quality in telling a simple and charming story is still there, and serves the purpose of an animated short. I think the Academy did quite well in picking their nominations and that mostly all are quite worthy of an award.
"Red Eye" is a tense phsycological thriller with great performances by Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy, and exceptional directing from the one and only Wes Craven.
Considering that the majority of the events in this film take place on an airplane, I applaud Wes Craven for how he shot within such a relatively small space. Through his techniques in cinematography, he kept the set fresh and allowed me to engage with the characters without feeling too clausterphobic.
Rachel McAdams gives a captivating performance as Lisa Reisert, a hotel manager taking a red-eye flight back home after attending her grandmother's funeral. The way McAdams conveys her emotions in this film felt very real and pulled me in to the story as I sympathized for her character.
And while McAdams was great, I feel the real gem of this film is Cillian Murphy's role as Jackson Rippner, the charming stranger that meets McAdam's character in the airport and later finds himself seated next to her on the plane. A real sense of caution and suspense build through Murphy's cold, blue, penatrating eyes as his character is revealed. It's no wonder he was cast as a villian in "Batman Begins" which was released in the same year as this film.
There is something about danger in enclosed spaces that seem to make people feel especially uneasy. And in a time when this kind of clausterphobic, inescapable tension is most great at 30,000 feet, Craven chooses a great setting to create true fear and helplessness as we follow McAdam's character Lisa Riesert, pleading along with her that the plane finally make a landing.
And although the plot and climax of this film were exceptional and suspenseful, the ending of the film seemed a little too casual and unresolved considering the events that occur throughout.
Despite that, "Red Eye" is a great, entertaining thriller with a story sure to keep you on the edge of your seat!