After decades of moviemaking years spent honing his craft and sifting through the industry's best collaborators to form a cinematic dream team Steven Spielberg is one of the few directors whose films routinely hit a bar of high quality. Even his more haphazard efforts are competently constructed and executed with unbridled passion reeling in audiences with drama adventure and big screen fun. There really isn't a "bad" Spielberg movie. His latest War Horse isn't in the top tier of the grandmaster's filmography but as a work of pure sentimentality and spectacle the film delivers rousing entertainment. Makes sense: a horse's heart is about eight times the size of a human's and War Horse's is approximately that much bigger than every other movie in 2011.
The titular equine is Joey a horse born in the English countryside in 1914 who triumphantly navigates the ravished European landscape during the first World War. A good hour of the 146 minute film is spent establishing the savvy creature's friendship with his first owner Albert (Jeremy Irvine). A farmer boy with a penchant for animal training Albert copes with his alcoholic father Ted (Peter Mullan) and their homestead's dwindling funds but finds much needed hope in the sprite Joey. After blessing Albert and company with a few miracles Ted makes the wise decision of selling Joey off to the war and the real adventure begins.
Like Forrest Gump of the animal kingdom the lucky stallion finds himself intertwined with an eclectic handful of persons. He encoutners the owner of a British Captain preparing a surprise attack. He becomes the ride for two German army runaways the prized possession of young French girl and her grandfather and the unifier of two warring soldiers in the battlefield's No Man's Land. From the beginning to the end of the war Joey miraculously sees it all all in hopes of one day crossing Albert's path again.
Spielberg avoids any over-the-top Mr. Ed techniques in War Horse but amazingly the horses employed to play Joey deliver a riveting muted "performance" that's alive on screen. The animal is the lead of the movie his human co-stars (including Thor's Tom Hiddleston The Reader's David Kross and Toby Kebbell of Prince of Persia) sprinkled around Joey to complicate his (and our) experience of war.
But even with a stellar cast working at full capacity War Horse falters thanks to its episodic nature. It is a movie of moments—awe-inspiring breathtaking and heartfelt—stuffed with long stretches of underdeveloped characters guiding us through meandering action. Spielberg's longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski makes the varying environments visually enthralling—from the dark blue hues of war to rolling green hills backdropped with stunning sunsets—and John Williams' score matches the film's epic scope but without Albert in the picture's second half War Horse simply gallops around in circles.
Spielberg is a master craftsman and War Horse a masterful craft but the movie lacks a necessary intimacy to hook us into the story's bigger picture. The ensemble's devotion and affection for Joey sporadically resonates—how could it not? Look at that adorable horse!—but even those emotional beats border on goofy (at one point Hiddleston's character decides to sketch Joey a moment I found eerily reminiscent of Jack sketching Rose in Titanic). War Horse really hits its stride when Spielberg pulls back the camera and lets his keen eye for picturesque composition do the talking. Or from Joey's perspective neighing.
January 19, 2004 12:36pm EST
Top Story: Rings Gets Top PGA Honor
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won the Producers Guild's highest honor for a film at the PGA Awards, which took place Saturday night at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. The 2,000-member guild presented producers Peter Jackson, Frances Walsh and Barrie M. Osborne with the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award for The Return of the King. The accolade makes The Return of the King a clear Oscar frontrunner, since 10 of the last 14 producer of the year winners have gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar. The Return of the King has been hailed by several major critics organizations and has won the best film award from the New York City film critics and a best director award for Jackson from the Los Angeles critics. Other PGA winners include the HBO drama Six Feet Under, which took best TV dramatic series and the network's Sex and the City, which was named best comedy series. Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy won best reality or game show series, while My House in Umbria took the top prize for best TV movie or miniseries.
FBI Probes Leaked "Screener" Videos
The FBI is looking into how four video screeners sent to Academy Award voters ended up on the Internet, including the films Something's Gotta Give, The Last Samurai, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Thirteen. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the copies of the four films have been traced by their respective studios to screeners intended for use by character actor Carmine Caridi, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Penalties for an Academy member who fails to safeguard their screeners could be disciplined with expulsion from the Academy, but illegally distributing copyrighted works is also a federal crime that could lead to more severe penalties. Screener copies of House of Sand and Fog and Cold Mountain have also turned up on the Internet but have not been linked to Caridi. Cardini could not be reached for comment.
Mystic River, Seabiscuit Honored
Mystic River and Seabiscuit tied for this year's University of Southern California Scripter Award, which honor the best English-language adaptation. The Associated Press reports the tie will require a runoff between two films with the final results to be announced Thursday. The award will be presented Feb. 15. Nominees this year include: Mystic River-- screenwriter Brian Helgeland/author Dennis Lehane; Seabiscuit screenwriter Gary Ross/author Laura Hillenbrand; Cold Mountain screenwriter Anthony Minghella/author Charles Frazier; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King screenwriters Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson/author J.R.R. Tolkien; and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World screenwriters Peter Weir and John Collee/author Patrick O'Brian.
Jamie Foxx, Sister Enter Not Guilty Pleas
Comedian Jamie Foxx and his younger sister, Deidra Dixon, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges stemming from a fight with police officers and security guards last year at the New Orleans Harrah's Casino. A Feb. 3 trial date was set at the hearing. According to the AP, Foxx and Dixon were arrested April 26 after police said they and a group of their friends refused to show identification at the door, entered the casino and then refused requests to leave. The two were each charged with two counts of battery on a police officer causing injury, a felony, and one misdemeanor count of disturbing the peace. Dixon is also charged with resisting an officer, another misdemeanor.
Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Hello!: Part II
Just when you thought it was finally over, a judge in London granted celebrity magazine Hello! permission Friday to appeal a ruling that it acted improperly in publishing unauthorized photos of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones' extravagant 2000 wedding at New York's Plaza Hotel. According to the AP, Judge John Lindsay also gave the couple permission to appeal part of his decision that publication of the photos didn't infringe on their privacy. In November, Lindsay ordered Hello! to pay the couple $26,000 in damages--far less than the $900,000 Douglas and Zeta-Jones had sought. He also ordered Hello! to pay $1.9 million to rival celeb tabloid OK!, which had an exclusive deal for pictures of the couple's wedding. No date was set for the appeals.
UPN Gets Amish in the City
UPN is preparing a reality series that follows Amish teenagers having their first experiences outside of their society, the AP reports. Members of the Amish religious sect, present in rural Pennsylvania and Ohio, dress simply and shun modern technology. But at the age of 16, Amish teens are allowed to break free of the religion's strict code of conduct to decide whether or not they want to be baptized into the Amish faith. "To have people who don't have television walk down Rodeo Drive and be freaked out by what they see, I think will be interesting television. It will not be denigrating to the Amish," said CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, who also oversees UPN. The Amish series is tentatively scheduled for this summer.
Johnny Rotten Joins I'm a Celebrity
To the shock and dismay of punk fans worldwide, former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten has agreed to appear in the reality s