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Archive for February, 2012

A strange trend has come to my attention in the past month or two – there have been a lot of Facebook ‘sharing’ of these types of posts:

This blog isn’t exactly condemning or condoning these posts but is more interested in a consequence of Facebook’s ‘frictionless sharing’.  These posts originated from a user that posts a picture and a long ‘story’ to go along with it.  Whether or not it’s true, if it theoretically emits an emotional response from the user’s group of friends, it will be shared and brought to view onto the next group’s circle of friends and so on and so forth.  This type of sharing is nothing new to the Facebook community, ever since the advent of the News Feed.  What is relatively new, however, is freely sharing these long-form Facebook-embedded stories as long as the theme and messaging (again, hypothetically) resonate.  What this means is that users are a.) freely posting stories from another Facebook user that is not necessarily their friend and b.) posting content about unverified but interesting stories.

Why are these posts of any importance?  It’s because many of these picture-story Facebook posts may or may not be urban legend or modern-day myths in their own right.  For instance, the above-mentioned story is based on three old false urban legends that originally circulated through e-mail but are recirculating again due to Facebook’s ‘frictionless sharing’ mechanism.  The post has received 116,000 shares and most likely, quite a few impressions.  Even more interesting is the response.  Initially, none of the comments on the actual post (and subsequent shares from my peers) seem to realize that these stories are old urban legends.  On the opposite side of the spectrum is the story below –


Here, the story is actually true and confirmed and resonates in a similar fashion as the previous story with shock and awe.  What is the takeaway?  Of course, a more thorough research study would go back, find out why the original poster decided to turn the news story or urban legend into a Facebook post and find out the leads through how it was shared and the type of responses from the general community.

But at least from a quick glance, I can find nothing better to compare it to than a modern-day form of folklore; a telling of a tale no matter how true or how false and passing it down from one person to another.  Even in this day and age of information knowledge and double-checking of key sources, my guess is that I shouldn’t be that surprised to see users using Facebook to communicate in this way.  Much like in any type of media, folklore is here to stay in some form of another.  It’ll just be interesting to see what the next form of it is.

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The Oscars this year is a mix-mash of the usual more niche content and some cool little surprise inclusions along with the more surprising snubs that have appeared.  I think the final choices aren’t too surprising going in this year but there are some chances for some upsets, so here are the choices for my predicted winners and who I’d like to see win:

Music (Original Song)
“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets
“Real in Rio” from Rio

Most Likely to Win: “Man or Muppet” – Unfortunately, the Academy thought there were few great songs this year and not only narrowed down the list to two but also are not allowing for any performances.  That’s a shame, but at the very least, one of my favorite songs of the year that was snubbed by the Golden Globes appears here as the frontrunner, ‘Man or Muppet’.  There really is no true scientific reason other than a nostalgic factor probably running more in favor for this song (and a possible Muppets’ speech).

Wie’s Choice: “Man or Muppet” – However, for myself, I believe ‘Man or Muppet’ is a brilliant song that was the highlight of the Muppets both because of how smart the song is in it’s humor and implementation.  It’s a bravo moment for Jason Segal, the Muppets, and song-writing.

Music (Original Score)
The Adventures of Tintin – John Williams
The Artist – Ludovic Bource
Hugo – Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Alberto Iglesias
War Horse – John Williams

Most Likely to Win: The Artist – There’s no doubt about it, The Artist has a strong lead coming into the Oscars with nearly a sweep of wins for it’s music in the previous award ceremonies before it.  That isn’t to say it isn’t against some heavyweight musical cometition from the multi-Oscar winning Williams to Shore.  However, according to the momentum, The Artist is most likely a lock.

Wie’s Choice: The Artist – That isn’t to say that the award is unfounded though.  The silent film format makes every other section of the film that much more important and the music in the film is no slouch, having to fill in moments devoid of dialogue and emotionally carrying the film.  It’s a grand spectrum of music that is full of great themes, rarely becomes grating, and thoughtfully made through it’s era.  The only other soundtrack that I believe comes close is War Horse, a classic Williams score that is overbearing but filled with strong, memorable themes.

Actor in a Leading Role
Demián Bichir in A Better Life
George Clooney in The Descendants
Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt in Moneyball

Most Likely to Win: Jean Dujardin – The battle is mainly between the former frontrunner, George Clooney, and the current favorite, Jean Dujardin.  Critics and entertainment journalists had favored Clooney early in the race with rave reviews for his role in The Descendants and what I believe to be his general likability as a speaker and actor.  However, the SAG awards changed much of the momentum shift to Dujardin who has slyly (at least according to press outlets) been gaining steam from Cannes to the Golden Globes when the two nominees were in separate categories.  After a fairly clean sweep thus far, it looks like Dujardin is the man of the hour to beat.

Wie’s Choice: Jean Dujardin – Dujardin is my choice for Best Actor because I believe he readily deserves it.  Working with no dialogue may seem artificially like an easy cop-out but resigning to this line of reasoning without watching Dujardin’s performance is missing out on a fantastic performance of emotions that never feel too far-out or cheesy.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite, with only the occasional sound cue and a beautiful soundtrack, Dujardin expresses himself with depth and elegance without the benefit of dialogue, coming from his body language and facial expressions are which are mainly fantastic.  Coming from a mainly comedy background has served him well as his looks definitely require a bit of exaggerated work but understanding how to limit himself .  I considered Dujardin a modern-day Chaplin and Gable, a mix between the classical Hollywood leading man with the resonating faces and emotions of a silent actor.  His performance in The Artist was nothing short of magnificent.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill in Moneyball
Nick Nolte in Warrior
Christopher Plummer in Beginners
Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Most Likely to Win: Christopher Plummer – Plummer is the favorite going into the Oscar’s for the simple reason that Plummer has swept all the awards during these past few months.  Little else can be said other than the fact that this award is Plummer’s to lose with only Hill and Branagh making up the closest two other roles that might sweep the award away from him (along with the Academy’s inclination to award controversial and great ‘changing’ roles from the norm).

Wie’s Choice: Christopher Plummer – And surely, there is little reason to not believe he won’t win because of a bad performance.  Plummer gives quite an eccentric but caring role in Beginners as a pivotal father figure who represents a love and a lie that has been lacking.  Plummer is so oddly gleeful and fun in this role that it’s hard not to be taken away with his role in the film.  Although I believe his competition is pretty close to the pretty revelatory dramatic role for Hill in Moneyball, I believe Plummer wins out based on the amount of emotional turns that the character convincingly goes through and carries throughout the film.

Actress in a Leading Role
Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis in The Help
Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn

Most Likely to Win: Meryl Streep – The contest is currently hot between Meryl Streep and Viola Davis who have both won in various contests one after the other.  The interesting factor here is divided into two trains of thought.  One side could attest to the fact that Davis’ close counterpart, Spencer, could potentially win an award and spread the award to another film.  The other school of thought could be that Streep is more of a shoe-in as she always has been and that this role probably not being her finest performance, would go to Davis.  I do think that the Academy will go with the former school of thought personally and go with Streep as the final choice.

Wie’s Choice: Viola Davis : But saying that, I believe that Davis deserves the award much more than Streep.  Unfortunately for Streep, while her Thatcher was convincing and multifaceted, I felt that the film unfortunately confined her role too heavily on her later years rather than her much more interesting middle years.  In the end, then, I have to go with Davis who put in a great overall performance in The Help as a serious and hopeful lead and anchored the film with sincerity and a great performance.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Bérénice Bejo in The Artist
Jessica Chastain in The Help
Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer in The Help

Most Likely to Win: Octavia Spencer – This category is much like Plummer’s; it’s Octavia Spencer’s to lose.  She has swept the awards starting from the Golden Globes to the BAFTAs and has the momentum going into the Oscars as the frontrunner.  There are some interesting curveballs in here such as McCarthy that could shift the votes but comedic roles have rarely done well at the Oscars.

Wie’s Choice: Octavia Spencer – And much like Plummer, Spencer is my favorite performance of the grouping here in who I would choose as the best supporting actress this year as well.  There are some terrific performances in here all around from Bejo’s wonderful rising star act in The Artist to McCarthy’s fairly hilarious performance in Bridesmaid but oddly enough, Spencer was both the funniest and sincerest performance here that never outshone her co-star, Davis, but complemented the film and the performances wonderfully in The Help.  Truly, these two actresses were the best aspects of The Help because of such strong performances.

Animated Feature Film
A Cat in Paris – Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
Chico & Rita – Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
Kung Fu Panda 2 – Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Puss in Boots – Chris Miller
Rango -Gore Verbinski

Most Likely to Win: Rango – This year was a weaker year in animation greats.  That isn’t to say many of them didn’t make money (Cars 2 was quite a cash maker for Pixar) but the quality was not up to par.  The nominations this year are a mixture of foreign affairs and some weaker spin-offs for the most part.  The Golden Globe winner, Tintin, isn’t even nominated here so the most likely winner is Rango, which won the Critics Choice Award, Annie’s and BAFTA.

Wie’s Choice: Rango – And it isn’t a terrible choice either.  Rango is a great all-around film, and it’s strange dark humor and uniqe art style take on a wild west story was quirky but consistent enough to leave a good impression by film’s end.  In a year in which most animation studios took to established properties and played it safe with sequels or spin-offs, Rango is definitely the most original and interesting film out of all of them.  (A surprising omission I would gladly have replaced Kung Fu Panda 2 or Puss in Boots is the enjoyable Arthur Christmas.)

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
The Descendants – Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Hugo – Screenplay by John Logan
The Ides of March – Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Moneyball – Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Most Likely to Win: Moneyball – The initial frontrunner, The Descendants, has turned into bigger match between Moneyball and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, each of these two films winning an award each for their screenplays.  However, the edge seems to go more towards the critics’ favorite Moneyball than the much less buzzed (in the US) Tinker Tailor.  Although I do expect a possible upset from The Descendants, the much rewritten and tinkered with screenplay of Moneyball should win the hearts of Academy members.

Wie’s Choice: Moneyball – Out of these grouping of nominees, I think the answer becomes a bit more simple and headed to give the award to  Moneyball.  The film is quick and fascinating for a film mainly about statistics and managerial teams bickering amongst one another.  Even more interesting is how much trouble the screenplay has gone through with rewrites after rewrites.  Much like The Social Network, Sorkin’s fascinating touch with complicated figures make for great content.

Writing (Original Screenplay)
The Artist – Written by Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids – Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Margin Call – Written by J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris – Written by Woody Allen
A Separation – Written by Asghar Farhadi

Most Likely to Win: Midnight in Paris – On the other hand, unlike the Adapted Screenplay competition, the Original Screenplay fight seems a bit more clear as Midnight in Paris seems to be the critics favorite in terms of writing and overall script.  It’s won itself a Golden Globe over Moneyball and The Artist along with the Academy’s heavy respect for veteran Allen with this opportunity being the best to call him up on a favorite film.

Wie’s Choice: Midnight in Paris – Although The Artist would be a close second, it’s understandable why Midnight in Paris would win out due to Allen’s theoretical and witty writing that never lets up in Paris.  Since the main character literally is an embodiment of Allen himself, he holds little back in making his main character a chatty, confused and intellectual man that will rarely lets up and makes for quite an entertaining package.  Along with all the heavy literary figures Allen packs into the film, Midnight in Paris is a delightful script that is fun yet deep without completely losing the audience.

Directing
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants – Alexander Payne
Hugo – Martin Scorsese
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick

Most Likely to Win: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) – It really has been The Artist‘s award season this year as the film has captured  the hearts of critics and nostalgics alike.  The nominees are filled with some fascinating competition, the two biggest coming from Payne and Scorsese.  As Scorsese is most likely not to get much love in any other categories, some are speculating that the Academy may award him with another Hollywood favorite that plays to the hearts of film buffs.  However, as many have also stated, the DGA gave Hazanavicius the award (along with nearly every other major award so far) which has rarely lost (only six times has it been different since 1948).

Wie’s Choice: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)- As much as I have respect for Scorsese’s work in Hugo and really using 3D in a unique way to the film’s effect, it’s difficult for me to go against the brave and brilliant idea and direction of The Artist.  Each actor, whether or not they may have initially seemed right for their roles, comes off as emotional and fully featured along with the intelligence to using the locale, the score and the camera in such unique ways.  I feel that Hazanavicius really does go hand-in-hand with the film’s success and should be rewarded as such.

Best Picture
The Artist – Thomas Langmann, Producer
The Descendants – Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Scott Rudin, Producer
The Help – Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
Hugo – Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
Midnight in Paris – Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
Moneyball – Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
The Tree of Life – Nominees to be determined
“War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

Most Likely to Win: The Artist – Similar to the Best Director award, this competition is a three-way fight between Hugo, The Descendants and The Artist.  And much like the Director award, The Artist has won the Producer and Director’s awards, which has only lost three times in the past two decades.  The other factor here is the anti-sentimental feeling against The Artist that has been growing a bit in the press whether it’s from the unnecessary attention given to Uggie the Dog or the reports of it’s style offending and ‘tricking’ audiences.  However, it really is The Artist’s night to lose.

Wie’s Choice: The Artist – Is it much of a surprise? The Artist was my favorite film of 2011 because not only was it a great and clever film, it showcased the important aspect of film that should never be forgotten – the importance of great content even with the most minimalist of design.  The fact that it’s black-and-white and silent are not just gimmicky choices; they are integral to the plot and the purpose of the film.  No one part is done accidentally or without much thought and should be more than just nostalgic touches, it is a celebration of film and what film should be – a medium for great storytelling unique to itself.

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My 2011 top 10 film list is a bit late due to having just finally caught up with the majority of the 2011 releases and although many have complained of it’s share of disappointments and lackluster ability to push ticket sales, I feel it was a moderately good year of releases with a heavy amount of veteran and new directors showcasing their wares.  As I start to delve into the top 10, as always, please note that I more than likely either missed a few other good films or had a few that were just fell a little shy of my favorites of the year.  Also, one additional piece of information is that I haven’t included any documentaries or foreign films as I haven’t had any time to watch a great majority of them…something I hope to rectify in years going forward.  With that being said, here’s the list:

10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of my biggest surprises of the year.  I had initially gone into the film, likening it to a poor, money-grabbing sequel and was pleasantly blown away by how interesting and fun the final product came out to be.  Although there are still some relatively weak parts of the film, mostly coming from (ironically) the human-focused sections, ‘Rise’ relishes in the evolutions of technology with both a terrific motion-capture performance from the versatile Andy Serkins and the effects work from WETA studio along with a script that really makes us care about the main character – the ape, Caesar.  Very rarely do these bigger studio blockbusters trust their audiences to care about and follow a non-human main character but that is the exact reason Rise works so well.

9. Drive
Drive is one of the year’s best action films, a mix of subtle emotion and visceral impact.  Ironically, however, these two qualities are also two points that are ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ moments, the first half being a quiet mix of character expression and style with the second showcasing it’s heavy action and societal themes.  Luckily for me, I loved both of these qualities and the amazing product that came out of it.  There’s something endearing about the way Ref’n approaches the film, creating rich back stories for many of his main players and intentionally leaving Gosling’s Driver character as a blank and mysterious slate along with an odd 80’s soundtrack that blossoms into a operatic and emotional ballet.  And then there is the action; the few car chases in the film showcase patience and tangibility that are seen within few other action films.  Drive is definitely not meant for everyone but as a whole, it not only accomplishes the purpose it wishes to fulfill, it does so with style and impact.

8. Moneyball
Moneyball stands out as a strange amalgamation of styles that ultimately triumphs with a strong script and it’s leading actors.  On top, the plot is about the underdog, the Oakland A’s, and their ascent from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the best, yet the film is ultimately not really a sports game but a game of numbers and personalities.  These two conflicting styles should create quite a conundrum of a film to make and definitely, looking at the film’s chaotic history of rewrites and cast changes, it was just that. However, powered by a strong Sorkin script and a great chemistry between a subdued Jonah Hill and bitter Brad Pitt, the film makes for a quick-paced and methodical lesson about management and mathematics as well as a great sports film with heart and soul.

7. Shame
Shame is probably one of the most subtle films of the year.  Yes, it includes provocative themes and a hard NC-17 rating but is nuanced in ways that may seem slow and plodding at first yet is intelligently filmed to build up to important and hard-hitting moments.  Director McQueen plays with the notion of shame with repetition, quiet dialogue and juxtaposition and using a strong lead in Fassbender, the story becomes a fascinating tale of individual will versus societal implications.  I believe it’s high praise when one of the best scenes of the film isn’t in it’s many sexual encounters or high dramatic moments, but a simple date between Fassbender and Beharie in which casual conversational dialogue slyly showcases important exposition and characterization moments along with the subtle emotional pulls.  All-in-all, Shame is a film that wants to be explored and rewards those who look further into all it’s nuances.

6. Super 8
This film actually divided audiences in it’s final product.  Was it simply treading too familiar territory coupled with it’s lackluster climax, or did it skillfully balance nostalgia and modern day sensibilities?  I fall into the latter camp.  Taking inspiration from the Goonies to Cloverfield, it’s easy to see where the new and old collided in the film with J.J. Abrams and Spielberg joining forces in this venture, and I thought it was done brilliantly with an invested emotional core, a unique mishmash of combining the old school scare of communism and monster films along with some gorgeous cinematography and art direction.  Several beautiful shots really drive home a sense of scale and nostalgia such as a beautiful far placed camera watching the town residents being pushed into a detainment area.  Interestingly enough, it also contributed to the bigger running theme of the year – looking back at cinema and it’s inspirations.  All-in-all, I thought Super 8 was well worth a look for it’s classy style and interesting cross-section.

5. Midnight in Paris
What do you feel when someone tells you that Woody Allen has created a film with time travel and a trope of unexpected actors?  Of course, many Allen films have that similar strange mish-mash feeling but Midnight in Paris is definitely a bit stranger than his more recent endeavors and yet the final product is still as endearing as ever.  The biggest reason for this is because of the heart and soul injected into the central storyline and the love of the location.  Paris is used as a character and locale of a breadth of famous artists and is about the journey of Wilson’s character in creating inspiration and change.  The film smartly shoos away from having to explain it’s time traveling mechanic and instead explore this zany push-and-pull love with the past and present and lets it’s actors truly embody their larger-than-life counterparts.  It’s fun, witty, and most importantly,  genuinely emotional.

4. Another Earth
The premise of Another Earth might lead some to believe they are in for a science fiction adventure story – a second planet starting to orbit around the Earth and mysteriously having the same attributes as our own planet.  Instead, the film blossoms into an emotional drama that utilizes it’s science fiction premise into interesting theoretical themes about second chances and guilt.  A beautiful and moody soundtrack haunts the proceedings of the film along with a fascinating interaction between the two leads, Marling and Mapother.  Much more impressive, however, is the script that leads the characters in and out of each other’s lives and the pain and misery that they unknowingly share along with some simple and gorgeous imagery of the looming Earth Two in the background, growing closer and closer by film’s end.  It’s a quiet film with real characters in a fairly non-traditional setting that works to make one initially think about it’s premise and theories and then proceeding to peel off each layer one by one.

3. Hugo
I think some people misunderstood Hugo and why many critics were fascinated by the film.  I, personally, believe that the overall film is a ho-hum children’s film that felt overly simplistic and artificially plain.  However, anyone that goes into Hugo must realize that Scorsese has created something much more than just his first ‘family feature’.  Instead, he has created perhaps one of most intelligent uses for 3D and a loving tribute to the origins of plot-based cinema and film itself.  Hugo is a must-see in 3D (which is saying a lot since I usually advise to not see movies in 3D) as it adds to the central theme and the notion of reinventing the old with something new.  Anyone that loves film and knows a bit about it’s history will find pleasure in seeing Scorsese lovingly put his efforts in recreating Melies’ films and bringing them back in 3D is not only done intelligently but showcases the amazement and enjoyment people had with these first films.  There is a great scene in which people get to see the Lumiere brothers’ first film, Arrival of a Train in which people literally were scared and moved out of the way because they had never seen such a feat before.  Although I’m sure few audiences will do the same when watching the film in 3D, Scorsese really makes his film work hand-in-hand to create an educational and fascinating tribute to film.

2. Martha Marcy May Marlene  
This film caught quite a few people by surprise, mostly due to the lack of knowledge about how both Director Durkin and Elizabeth Olsen would do.  The end product, however, is nothing short of a fantastic film all around.  A mix between a dramatic thriller and a psychological study, Martha Marcy May Marlene uses minimalism and strong acting to it’s maximum effect with a tense atmosphere and in-depth characterizations.  Olsen really excels in a role that constantly lurches from a calm and sterile performance to a disturbed and distrustful one along with giving off an intriguing character study of a post-cult life.  A great scene between her, Dancy and Paulson shows these features off all in a matter of minutes during an evening meal, debating societal values, governmental policies and free will.  Even more impressive is the subject matter which interweaves the cultist perspective versus an interpersonal one without ever feeling too over-the-top or unrealistic from keeping audiences disengaged.  Although the film never perhaps veers into the complete psychological realm, Durkin keeps the audience tense in their seats with great characters and deep themes to muse over long after the film is over.

1. The Artist
The Artist really embodies what 2011 felt like for me – a year of throwbacks, homages, and the whole package.  Don’t get me wrong, much like many of the films this year, (and as much of a crowd pleaser The Artist really is), if audiences have problems with black-and-white aesthetics and silent films, this entry won’t necessarily change their minds.  Instead, The Artist really narrows down it’s purpose and plot to have every other element play off of these core concepts.  The black-and-white motif and silent treatment are more than just aesthetic choices, they are integral to the themes and era of the film itself.  The homage is simply icing on the cake.  Even more impressive is how Director Hazanavicius goes further and plays with these concepts in creative ways that are so simple in their implementation but masterful in their execution.  George’s dream sequence is a simple and effective mastery of utilizing the least amount of elements possible yet still extracting real emotions.  Speaking of emotion, although Uggie is getting most of the headlines, there is good reason that Jean Dujardin is also being showered with so much attention as well.  His core comedy background has served him well in creating a humorous yet highly emotional character without nearly a single line of dialogue.  His expressive face and bodily motions really reminded me of Chaplin with the Hollywood look of Clark Gable.  And that isn’t including the smart plot, the catchy but enthralling soundtrack, the diverse set of supporting actors, and the brilliant ending.  The Artist is such a pleasant surprise and really showcases the pure essence of storytelling at it’s finest.

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An effectively emotional film will have you sympathizing with a character or situation without feeling like the film is not subconsciously is making that decision for you; an admirably difficult proposition.  There have been a bevy of techniques over the course of film history to elicit these emotions whether through actual forced techniques or more subtle injections.  These two points are important to note for War Horse as Director Spielberg and his crew attempt to create a very emotional film while adhering to some nostalgic traditions of it’s style.  Unfortunately, when this balancing trick may have worked in another Spielberg-touched film, Super 8, War Horse suffers for it as it’s emotional core is never consistently established and felt, even with the success of the spectacle of both it’s war scenes and main horse character.

War Horse follows Joey the horse, starting with his birth on a nearby ranch near Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who has taken a fascination with the beast.  As Joey is finally ready to be sold off in the market, Albert’s father, Ted (Peter Mullan) also becomes fascinated with the horse and buys him with nearly all the savings in the family.  Albert slowly trains the horse but loses him when the first World War begins and horses are taken for the battlefield.  What ensues is Joey’s journey through various handlers and situations from the British army all the way to France and back again while Albert attempts to find and wait for the horse back at home.

War Horse’s strength comes from it’s amazing spectacles from it’s epic battle scenes to really showcasing the journey of Joey the horse.  Spielberg and his team continue to show their mastery over how to control and create some amazing scenes from it’s execution to choreography.  War Horse is filled with battles and grand scenes, putting the characters through the latter parts of a war-ridden Britain and France.  A triumphant but more complicated-than-it-seems raid against a German camp to a spectacularly staged ride with Joey into dead man’s land are just two of some great highlights in which the camera really zooms out and pans over some majestic and epic scenery.  The World War I setting is definitely seen here in all it’s despair and glory along with some pounding action that is definitely engaging and enthralling.  The effects don’t just end there, however.  Much of what is done with Joey, the horse, is fairly astonishing in what it accomplished.  Through a mix of mostly real horse footage to puppetry (which is nearly impossible to notice), Joey really comes alive as a poor animal who goes through so many lives in a terrible time.  A barbed wire scene especially signifies this well and really holds the film together both in how Joey comes off as real and how the camera and lighting really extenuate the emotional output of the horse.  And although it can be overly bombastic, John Williams’ soundtrack and themes are still melodic and memorable as ever.  The main theme is still in my mind to this day and when appropriate, works with the film.

Unfortunately, the epic feeling and accomplishments are not enough to get past the film’s weakness in it’s other characters and overly melodramatic style choice.  Spielberg had chosen stylistically to go with an older feel both in terms of the content and methodology.  Although this may work aesthetically well, emotionally, the film just doesn’t properly balance out.  The camera, for instance, is too invested in the character’s faces.  A long and drawn out emotional high is given so much exposure that instead of a perhaps nostalgic feeling or interesting insight into a character, the film feels overly melodramatic and campy.  Especially as the film lingers into it’s more dramatic and heavier scenes, the emotional output feels misbalanced and out of place as characters who the audience should be feeling remorse or melancholy for instead feels more like a cartoon.  Although the style is most to blame, the script and actors never fully balance each other out either.  There are some great vignettes, particularly scenes with the friendly group of British army leaders, but most of the other scenes don’t feel as if they made much of an impact whether it’s due to the lack of emotion or care put into the scene.  Joey, himself, is at the very least given enough interesting pull in terms of actions and camerawork but those around him feel either very stereotypical or underdeveloped.  Because of the number of vignettes the film has to introduce, each of these short scenes need to be given an immediate impact and unfortunately, many do not.  These points ultimately impact the overall narrative; the care the audience is supposed to feel in a lasting impression as in a movie about a dog and it’s young owner.  Instead, the audience only feels the affinity towards the animal and when an important scene finally culminates in between the Germans and the British war zones, the audience just doesn’t give enough care into the human story in which the film so tries to artfully interweave with the animal’s story and instead of an emotional pull, there is an emotional detachment.

War Horse is an epic Spielberg film that unfortunately doesn’t trust it’s audience enough emotionally and mismanages it’s time on unnecessary aspects.  There are some fantastic points of interest throughout the film whether it’s some spectacular set pieces or the amazing feat pulled off with Joey the horse both on an emotional and effects level.  However, these triumphs are marred by the over-reliance on melodrama and heavy handed emotional takes along with weak interwoven plots that are never interesting or deep enough to leave a lasting impression.  In the end, what is left is a film made up of some exciting action and some resonance with Joey but little else.  Even as a stylistic decision of the film’s era, substance and character should come first, making War Horse an unfortunate lesser project than it could have been.  

Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 146 Minutes
Rated: PG-13

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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Some of the best films are made with a stylistic or tonality choice in mind, embracing an era or a specific genre focal point and creating something innovative and unique in the process.  However, really embracing the style can also create some problems if it is not carefully measured depending on the subject matter.  The content could become a secondary thought or a film can flounder under it’s true potential.  My Week with Marilyn hints at this locked potential that is never completely embraced.  Instead, Director Curtis and crew lock onto it’s 50s’ style dramatic romance of a film, which works wonderfully in terms of it’s art direction and acting troupe, especially with the wonderful Williams as the anchor, but fails to create anything more engaging or unique with it’s flimsy plot and overall sense of purpose.

My Week with Marilyn follows Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a young man who wants to enter the film industry in London.  He gets his lucky break with the legendary filmmaker, Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and his company in which they have been privileged to obtain Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) for their next film, The Prince and the Showgirl.  Colin begins to work on the set and falls for Marilyn, who in turn is having problems of her own with her method acting and her newly wed husband, Arthur Miller (Dougary Scott).  As she starts to notice Colin, their lives soon intertwine in ways that are frowned upon by various people in the cast and crew.

The film receives it’s accolades mainly from the acting and atmospheric decisions.  The overall movie relishes in it’s time period both in it’s personality and look.  Taking the 50s’ style of film, Director Curtis and crew use it to recreate huge set pieces and behind-the-scenes looks into how films were made and personalities were personified.  The film knows what it wants to be and isn’t afraid to make some lavish scenes that show off the recreated set of The Prince and the Showgirl while showing the old dressing room that the actors utilized.  The film also uses a very slow cinematography style with high bloom lighting to really bring home the era.  More importantly, though, the recreation would not be complete without the actors.  There are some fun performances throughout with standouts in the supporting cast including the Shakespearean Branagh appropriately taking on the bombastic and flawed Olivier.  The best, though, is from Williams who continues to show off her many sides with the wonderful acting challenge of Marilyn Monroe.  From the looks to the mannerisms to the actions, Williams really does feel and act like the past Monroe and because the film is so fantastically fascinated with the era, Williams’ character acting shines as a bright beacon in constantly showcasing the wonderful tone and feeling that the film cherishes.

Unfortunately, this very feeling is also the film’s downfall as it doesn’t do anything much more with the simplistic plot to the overly romanticized feeling.  My Week with Marilyn embraces it’s era but rather than playing with the motifs or digging deeper into inner motivations and struggles, never goes beyond the dramatic romance surface of Marilyn and Colin.  Indeed, the film is more reminiscent of a cheesy romantic film in it’s structure and content than anything more with slow glances and long monologues about both the love they have for each other and the other characters’ reservations or approval of such a relationship.  The hints of depth, such as Marilyn’s drug problem or method acting quarrels, are more expository than revelatory.  Characters, other than Marilyn, come off as one-dimensional or single-headed without much real consequence, a problem that is problematic when it infects the true main character of the story, Colin, who never develops into much more than a boy who swings from one plot point to the next.  The plot arch itself is infected as well with no real surprises even to it’s ending.  Instead, a simple-minded several week romantic plot is fairly and easily read from the beginning.  Finally, the atmosphere is unfortunately overbearing it how romanticized and sentimental it wants to be.  A sweeping but overly bearing soundtrack to a script that has the characters playing back and forth the same romantic theme just feels like lost potential than a good and strong film.  An over reliance on just one if it’s strength is not enough to pull the film through to the end.

My Week with Marilyn knows what type of film it is and relishes in it’s era, although that doesn’t mean the film is much more than that.  The film excels in it’s set design and atmosphere as it flourishes in sets and recreations of The Prince and the Showgirl with loving respect, topped off with a brilliant performance by Michelle Williams as the titular Marilyn Monroe that may initially rile some non-believers but by the end, is one of the best acting performances of 2011.  However, the film’s romanticism with the era and its characters are too much to take as it relies on the sentimental melodrama and overly predictable romantic plot.  Some may argue that this romantic element was the film’s purpose and rightfully so; Director Curtis created a period piece that reflected the 50s’ film era.  However, other than some terrific art design and great acting, the film lacked much more depth, insight or unique qualities that could have tr ascended My Week with Marilyn into something much more involving or thought-provoking material and in the end, lands up with unfortunate lost potential.  

Director: Simon Curtis
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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