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.
S1E2: Pan Am may be one this season’s biggest surprises for me. I expected to hate every second of the ‘60s themed romp in the sky, but it’s managed to weasel its way into my heart with just two episodes. Call it false nostalgia (seeing as the oldest decade I stepped foot in was the ‘80s) or a knack for quoting Doris Day movies alongside James Bond ones, but the new ABC series has me hooked. It’s aesthetically refreshing; the crisp blue uniforms and sterile, yet inviting aircraft interiors contrasted with the lavish digs our Pan Am ladies end up in on the ground pop on the television screen. Plus, the drama ranges from typical ‘60s times-they-are-a-changin’ family problems to international espionage and missing persons. It’s all the fun and intrigue you hope for on a Sunday night – especially when the folks over at Desperate Housewives have clearly lost their touch.
“She should have saved the fare and flown on her broomstick.” –Kate
Let’s start with our main characters – who despite what you’d assume are not played by Christina Ricci. Laura and Kate prepare to leave for Paris together, a trip which is one of Laura’s lifelong dreams, just as Kate is regaling Laura on how she got Laura’s things back from their mother. If we believed her description, we’d be forced to remember their mother as Malificent in dragon form, breathing fire on tiny townspeople.
In reality, she’s just a well-dressed woman who shows up at the airport just as Kate receives instructions from her CIA contact, who’s annoyed that she’s distracted. When she gets on the plane, she confirms it: the woman she was staring at is in fact her mother, and she’s on the plane. Laura and Kate fight over who will serve their mother, with Kate as the unhappy victor after we see a flashback of Kate sticking up for Laura when they mother follwoed them to a diner in attempt to force the fleeing bride to come back home. There’s just one big problem: their mother isn’t there to see Kate. She’s waving around the month-old Life Magazine with Laura’s face on it. Offended, Kate insists Laura take care of her. In the air, her mother sweetens Laura up, tells her how much she misses her, and when they’re on the ground in Paris, they make plans to travel together. Everything’s dandy until she sees why her mother really came: she brought Greg (Laura’s jilted ex-fiancé) to win her back.
When Laura bolts, she runs into Kate who immediately confronts their mother about ruining her only chance to get her daughter back while making sure to guilt her mother for not caring enough about her. Later, her mother comes to her room to show her that her unused passport was issued the summer Kate got her stewardess job, which is great because no one’s mother is as heartless as Kate thought she was. However, before this happy realization, Kate is approached by her contact in mid-conversation with her mother. Her contact is none other than the missing Pan Am stewardess: Bridgette.
Laura meets briefly with Greg, who is apparently the biggest sweetheart in the entire world. Even though she ditched him on their wedding day and bolted after he flew all the way to Paris, he tells her that he once had a dream to go to Mount Kilimanjaro and that if this is her Kilimanjaro, he’s happy for her. Only in the ‘60s were people that insanely sweet.
“I am not included with the price of your ticket.” -Maggie
At inspection, Maggie gets feisty – and we had to know this was coming, she lives in the Village after all. When Mrs. Havemeyer says Laura’s a pound too heavy, Maggie retorts that they ought to way Mrs. Havemeyer to be fair. Just as she’s about to get in a heap of trouble, Ted comes in as works his pilot-rank magic to get them out of inspection and onto the plane.
On the plane, Maggie is getting attention from a leering businessman – something that every stewardess has to learn to deal with – but at some point during the flight Mr. Elkins decides leering just isn’t enough. He seems to think she’s there for his every need. He corners Maggie in the galley and tries to force himself on her until she stabs him with a fork.
This leads to the man complaining – remember, this is the ’60s and things are still in the process of a-changin’ – to Ted, the co-pilot, about “the help.” And here’s where this show earns its worth: being a pretty ‘60s stewardess isn’t all flight bags and fancy hotels. Ted smooths it over and offers the man another drink, but Maggie isn’t satisfied. She makes that known, but all Ted does is say that he likes having her around but that if she doesn’t reel it in, she could get fired.
In Paris at their hotel, Ted sends Maggie a pastry with a fork stuck in it as a joke. He seems honestly ignorant that his actions were wrong, but she finally lets him have it: his actions made it okay for men like Mr. Elkins to try that with other girls. It’s something that at the time wouldn’t seem as urgent to a pilot, but things had to change at some point and I’m glad Pan Am is dealing with it. Of course, it seems that it may also come with a side of will-they-won’t-they romantic undertones.
“She may like her boyfriends, but she loves her husband.” –Collette’s translation
Collette gets a ride to the airport from Dean when her car breaks down, and the spillover of inside jokes and little interactions gets the pilots talking. Is Dean already over Bridgette? It would seem not, but that doesn’t keep him from flirting his blues away with Collette.
On the plane, he mentions a Parisian night club he once went to (with Bridgette, where he witnessed her getting into a tussle with an unidentified man) but he implies he’ll take Collette there. When they get to Paris, he comes to her door and asks her to help him find this club. At the club, he admits that he asked her to come so that she could help him talk to the maître d’ about Bridgette’s whereabouts. The man tries to pretend he doesn’t remember Dean, but ends up saying that Bridgette is actually married.
When Kate meets with Bridgette after their rendezvous, we find that she’s not so much married as she is in big trouble. That night at the club was the beginning of the end. She’d screwed up her orders and the man grabbing her was an MI-6 agent telling her she’d really stepped in it. The box Kate is delivering are her new orders: hiding out in middle America for the rest of her days because her identity was compromised. She warns Kate that this life could mean losing everything, but Kate still wants it and Bridgette says that’s why she recommended her.
Just as this new life is starting, it seems that drunken Dean is moving on as well. He flirts more with Collette and then they dance in the streets of Paris as nuzzles her neck. Man, that was quick.
Pan Am is really taking off, but I just hope that the pre-flight/in-flight/new city formula will get shaken up a bit or it could start to feel a bit stale.