Monday, January 30, 2012

Bare-Knuckle Boxes with Wolves

In Taken they kidnapped Liam Neeson's daughter. In Unknown they stole his identity. In this film, they take... his wife, his civilization and his body heat? As awkward as comparisons get, it's an apt one for Neeson's newest thriller, The Grey. Once known for his thinking man's roles, Neeson has reinvented himself as an action hero these past couple of years. While the actor has more than enough talent to be believable in such roles, I commented last year how the trope of taking things from his characters in order to elicit payback was already getting a bit old. So when The Grey promised to deliver that same plot thread - taking everything away from Neeson while pitting him against man-eating wolves - one could be forgiven for thinking that things would not be so different. Sure, Neeson's great white hunter is plopped in the wintry wilds of Alaska with little enough to keep him vertical, but with all that, isn't this just another film where we take stuff from him to see what happens? Haven't we seen all this before? As it so happens, perhaps not.

A failed proposal for a seventh Lost season
John Ottoway (Neeson) is a security guard at a remote Alaskan oil drilling site, protecting the workers from the hunting wolves who creep into the territory. He hasn't been happy since his wife left him, and considers it his lot to live amongst the ex-cons and assholes who inhabit this type of workplace in the middle of nowhere. On the last day on the job, he and several of his crew are flying back to civilization when their plane crashes amid a wild snow storm, it is up to the survivalist Ottoway to lead the other survivors to safety. It's not just the sub-freezing temperatures and the lack of food that threatens to shorten their lifespans however, as the half-dozen men find themselves relentlessly hunted by a large pack of predatory wolves, who are happy to pick the men off one by one to fill their own bellies.

You won't recognize those faces after they've been ripped clean off
Based on the Ian Mackenzie short story "Ghost Walker", The Grey reunites Neeson with director Joe Carnahan, who was the creative force behind 2010's underrated The A-Team. Unlike that exciting popcorn action thriller, however, things are a bit more believable in this go around. Though the tale has its fair share of close calls, there are no mid-air escapes from flying aircraft in parachuting tanks. By grounding the story firmly in reality, Carnahan had to do an excellent job to avoid the entire narrative becoming "party goes to point A, character X dies, party goes to point B" throughout. Thankfully, Carnahan was indeed up to the job, and he does some amazing things by using weather elements to obscure attacking wolves and creating tension through obscuring what the audience can see to only slightly more than the characters can. He even lines up some beautiful shots when given the option, though that's kept thankfully to a minimum to make the wide open spaces of the outside world feel extremely claustrophobic. Despite the talent involved, it's mother nature that becomes the true star of The Grey; every time we find our eyes searching an entire shot for potential dangers, the film has succeeded in scaring the living crap out of us, seemingly without trying.

Is there no problem booze can't solve?
Back to the talent, however; this might be the best performance I've seen from Neeson in years, and John Ottoway is easily the best of his action-themed characters, with flaws, demons, and burdens to overcome beyond the physical. Neeson is actually allowed to express depth in his character beyond displaying a throaty growl when annoyed, and the effect is staggering: Ottoway becomes easy to root for and sympathize with, even as his backstory is slowly plumbed through over the course of the film. Another surprising development is how many of the secondary characters are actually detailed to the point of likable, especially Frank Grillo as Diaz, a hard-shelled bastard and chief rival of Ottoway. Also managing to stand out were Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson (who I last saw in the great 2010 film The Crazies) and Dallas Roberts as fellow survivors caught in an unbelievable scenario. What impressed me most was that Carnahan did not just allow these characters to be disposable stand-ins and let Neeson run the show. While those who get in-depth introspection do so only after a few of their fellows have become dog chow, the levels to which they are risen to is remarkable, and by the end you're hoping your favorite can make that leap, can escape those sharp teeth just a little while longer.

Next stop for these guys: Cancun!
Another nice addition was the question of faith, and how people can believe in an almighty God or an afterlife even in the face of such disaster (or in the case of some characters, their inability to embrace the idea). It's no minor plot thread, as the film's hardships are as much spiritual as they are physical. In one scene, Ottoway curses God, demanding that he offer some proof of his existence so that he can believe in something, only to bitterly come to the conclusion that he can only rely on himself. The elements of fear and fighting for survival also play major parts, and none of these things feel forced or out of place when actively present in the film. These characters aren't planning to survive for the plain sake of surviving, and it's refreshing to see that here.

Yup, he's getting too old for this shit...
But in the end, it's Neeson's show, as we all knew it would be. What we didn't know was that for all intents and purposes, The Grey would raise Neeson to new heights. The aging star expects that he'll work these kinds of films for another year or so (as long as his knees can handle it, he says). If his action films could all be up to the same caliber as The Grey, I'd have no cause to argue. Far better than much of his recent work, it's the #2 movie of 2012. It's not just an action flick. It's not just a Liam Neeson vehicle. It's quality cinema, and well worth your time.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Weavings are Here!

Welcome to the first annual Hello Mr. Anderson Awards post, also to be known as “The Weavings!”

Before we get started, I just wanted to say “Thank You.” When I began this writing exercise back in December of 2009 (with a DVD review of the defunct television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), I never expected that my continued efforts in reviewing movies (and occasionally TV shows and video games) would bring me to this point. I mean, I never thought I would be hosting my own awards post on what was once a stalled comic book review site, The Latest Issue. And I honestly couldn’t have done it without your help. Without the support of friends, family, and a loyal reader base, I would have likely given up this venture months if not years ago. I owe you guys everything, and while I’ve stolen the spotlight from the celebrities climbing over one another to collect their Weavings, I just wanted to make some dedications of my own, and express thanks to friends and family who made this possible. Thank you “Southland” Dan, Addy, Megan “The Opinioness“, Kawana, “Moving Picture Trash” cohort Brian, Steve, Elmo, Dan S., “Formerly Loyal Sidekick” Anne, Brooke, Ryan & Stephanie (who won the technical award for “Best Wedding of 2011”), Jen ("Fassy was Robbed!"), Peter, Carole, Shannon and everyone who has helped me spread the Gospel of Mr. Anderson through either words or deeds. Your kindness and support has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Also, I’d like to thank my wonderful parents, who succeeded in raising a talented (and handsome!) young man who really enjoys what he does. And I would be remiss not to thank my sister Catherine and a purportedly blood-related family of wacky supporters who ask me at every opportunity what they should see (or suggest things I haven’t) at the theater. You are what keeps me going, and I hope you realize that.

Secondly, I’d just like to say “Damn, this was DIFFICULT!” I’m not complaining, but I discovered far too late how complex this whole process was going to be, and by that time it was a mad scramble to figure out nominees and winners from what I had seen in 2011. On top of that, I’ll likely have to push 2012’s ceremony into next February to account for the few titles that get nominated for awards every year that come to my local theaters too late for me to include them. Sorry in advance to Glenn Close, Tilda Swinton, everyone involved with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Janet McTeer, Michelle Williams and Demian Bichir for being unable to see your films before I got this out. Even if you wouldn’t have been guaranteed a nomination or win, I feel you needed to be mentioned, as I can’t seem to escape the feeling that I’ve failed you by not supporting your performances more openly. I do hope to see them all in the near future, though by then it will be far too late for me to give them proper recognition. But without further ado, let’s look at our nominees and winner for 2011!

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are...

Jim Broadbent - Iron Lady
Albert Brooks - Drive
Jared Harris - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Bill Nighy - Arthur Christmas
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Patton Oswalt - Young Adult

And the winner is...

It’s difficult to recapture lost glory, and especially so when you’re coming back from personal demons that have seemingly derailed your career. It can be done however; Mickey Rourke proved that in recent years, and now Nick Nolte might be vying to do the same with his outstanding return in Warrior. In perhaps a parallel to his own history with alcohol, Nolte is stellar in his role as a recovering alcoholic trying to regain a connection to his fractured children. Warrior’s failure at the box office might have staggered Nolte’s comeback, but hopefully he’ll have gained some recognition and respect along the way.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees are...

Jessica Chastain (twice) - The Help, Tree of Life
Angelica Huston - 50/50
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Chloe Moretz - Hugo
Octavia Spencer - The Help
Shelaine Woodley - The Descendants
And the winner is...

This was a tough one. While I want to celebrate McCarthy’s role in making Bridesmaids the comedic juggernaut it was, every argument I tried to make had me coming back to Spencer. Even in the trailers for The Help, it was obvious Octavia Spencer was something special, and while I thought on the whole The Help was a wonderful film, it would have been less so had anyone but Spencer been cast in the role of scrupled, smart-mouthed Minnie Jackson. Spencer has had a long career, and is probably overdue for this kind of attention. Hopefully it will translate into an even better career for her in the near future.

Best Musical Score
The nominees are...

Drive - Cliff Martinez
Hanna - The Chemical Brothers
Midnight in Paris - Stephane Wrembel
The Artist - Ludovic Bource
The Descendants - Dondi Bastone, Richard Ford, Eugene Kulikov
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The Muppets - Christophe Beck

And the winner is...

Sometimes the best film scoring is not such that it’s a brazen assault on the eardrums to express discord and chaos, or even something so familiar and friendly as to evoke a response from every nostalgic bone in your body. Sometimes, the best film scoring is so perfectly set that you barely notice it’s there until the final credits roll, and you realize how excellent the music was at laying the foundation for the story you just witnessed. That’s the case with The Descendants, which perfectly melded classic Hawaiian music into a perfect mix that helped the film become one of the year’s best.

Best Special Effects

The nominees are...

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Super 8
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

And the winner is...

It’s really no surprise. Spend the most money, create the best effects. Michael Bay is legendary for demanding things “to be awesome” and he doesn’t scrimp for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, that turned out to become the second largest grossing movie of his directorial career (third if you adjust for inflation). Say what you want about the Transformers film franchise under his guidance, but there’s little to argue with when you look at the results. THIS is why studios will continue to target the 18-49 male audience, despite cries against this business strategy.

Best Leading Actor in a Comedy

The nominees are...

Charlie Day - Horrible Bosses
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Paul Giamatti - Win Win
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (twice) - 50/50, Hesher
Ryan Gosling - Crazy Stupid Love
Owen Wilson - Midnight in Paris

And the winner is...

When you look at the nominees, there are quite a few proven talents competing for the prize. Yet even before he had uttered his two spoken words in The Artist, Jean Dujardin had captivated audiences across the country. Facing the difficulty of performing in the completely opposite style of the latest Transformers film is no easy task; Dujardin had to become one of the best all-time silent film actors to pull this off, and he does so in such spectacular fashion that you wonder what else French cinema has to offer. I don’t know if this superb talent will go the Hollywood route in coming years, but I’ll be very excited to see whatever he does to follow up his incredible work here.

Best Leading Actress in a Comedy

The nominees are...

Bernice Bejo - The Artist
Marion Cotillard - Midnight in Paris
Jodie Foster - Carnage
Anna Kendrick - 50/50
Charlize Theron - Young Adult
Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids
Kate Winslett - Carnage

And the winner is...

It really takes something to rise above everything else a film has to offer. Though I thought Young Adult to be a misguided, pretentious slog, one of the few bright points proved to be Theron, who shone so brightly she might as well have been a second sun. Her performance helps create the character study that the film was going for, and anything less would have undoubtedly sunk the entire process into irredeemable territory. It doesn’t hurt that Theron’s role was at times funny, charming and honest, simple enough to get a feeling for at first glance but complex enough to really make you wonder at the sophistication present. Theron's one of those actresses who will pop up out of nowhere with a breathtaking performance before slinking into obscurity, but here's hoping she has a strong follow-up to what amounts to a great performance in an otherwise mediocre release.

Best Leading Actor in a Drama

The nominees are...

George Clooney - The Descendants
Leonardo Dicaprio - J. Edgar
Michael Fassbender - Shame
Ryan Gosling - Drive
Rhys Ifans - Anonymous
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball

And the winner is...

It’s so good to be proven right. When I saw him leading in 2010’s small-market film Centurion, I knew Michael Fassbender was going to go places. One year later, and he has overnight become one of Hollywood’s biggest names, and has eclipsed even my wildest expectation. Shame is not your usual tale of addiction, and Fassbender’s performance is a major reason you won’t look at that world in the same way again. The truly scary thing is that we might just be seeing the edges of Fassbender’s abilities. Now that he’s done some particularly wild things in this disturbing film, who’s to say what his limits will be in anything he does in the future?

Best Leading Actress in a Drama

The nominees are...

Jessica Chastain - The Debt
Viola Davis - The Help
Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Helen Mirren - The Debt
Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meryl Streep - Iron Lady
Mia Wasikowska - Jane Eyre

And the winner is...

Sadly, without Close and Swinton, this wasn’t much of a challenge. Let’s face facts: Meryl Streep has been in award-worthy performances almost every year of her career for over three decades now. Even when her films are not necessarily craze-worthy, she usually turns out to be the best thing you’ve seen at any given time. Iron Lady is more of this, as she tackles he challenge of divisive former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the same determination, charm and strength she has approached every single one of her acting roles. Here, like in all others, she is by far the best thing you've likely seen. Free Meryl! Give her that third Oscar!

Actor of the Year

The Actor and Actress of the Year awards were designed to celebrate an actor’s body of work over the course of the year. If a performer has only one spectacular role, they are still eligible for nomination. However, if they have more than one, even better.

The nominees are...

George Clooney - Ides of March, The Descendants
Matt Damon - Contagion, The Adjustment Bureau, We Bought a Zoo
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Michael Fassbender - Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men First Class
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - 50/50, Hesher
Ryan Gosling - Crazy Stupid Love, Drive, Ides of March
Andy Serkis - Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin

And the winner is...

Okay, MAYBE I just wanted to post a pic of Fassbender in X-Duds. With this award, Michael Fassbender officially becomes the first ever person to win two Weavings for his hard work in cinema. It’s not just his performance strengths that earned him this award, but also the variety of his performances; in 2011, he starred in a classic period piece, a rousing superhero movie, and an emotional art house film, all of which were among the year’s best entries. It’s this versatility that has rightfully gained him so much attention, and will likely do so for years to come.

Actress of the Year

The nominees are...

Rose Byrne - Bridesmaids, Insidious, X-Men First Class
Jessica Chastain - The Debt, The Help, Tree of Life
Rooney Mara - Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Helen Mirren - Arthur, The Debt
Emma Stone - Crazy Stupid Love, The Help
Meryl Streep - Iron Lady
Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids, Paul

And the winner is...

Where did SHE come from?? Unknown to casual audiences a year ago, Jessica Chastain appeared in seven (SEVEN!) films in 2011, and for nearly all of them, she has received rave reviews for her performances. I can’t speak for all of them, but in the three films I watched her blossom, she has earned every accolade twice over. It’s difficult to imagine her keeping up so hectic a pace in future years, but I’ll still be happy to watch anything she does in the meanwhile. I’ve never seen a young actress with such potential in my life, and can't help but feel that she's destined for big things.

Best Film - Genre/Superhero
With the influx of quality superhero films this year and the general lack of support from the awards industry for action, sci-fi and horror films, I just HAD to create a category to celebrate the best films that a certain segment of the movie-going public automatically discounts.

The nominees are...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Super 8
The Adjustment Bureau
X-Men First Class

And the winner is...

What was the best part of Hanna? Was it the action, which made sure nobody was safe around a certain sixteen-year-old girl? Was it the liberal addition of humor that softened its often razor-sharp edges? Was it the excellent soundtrack by the electronic duo The Chemical Brothers? Sporting a strong cast, believable action and more than enough excitement, Hanna proves that you don’t need to be part of an established franchise to not only aspire to greatness, but achieve it.

Best Film - Animated

The nominees are...

Arthur Christmas
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

And the winner is...

Every year you expect that the Pixar film is going to run away with the prize, and most years they’d be right to do so. But with Cars 2 falling short and the other major animation studios firing blanks, it’s nice to see British animation studio Aardman come through with this unlikely gem. Christmas films tend to get more attention after they’ve been playing over the holiday season for a few years, but Arthur Christmas is the perfect mix of honesty, faith and amusement that has made Aardman a successful if not particularly well known animation studio. Even though the holiday season has passed, if you haven’t seen it yet it’s worth a look.

Best Director

The nominees are...

Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
Michael Hazanavicius - The Artist
Tom McCarthy - Win Win
Steve McQueen - Shame
Alexander Payne - The Descendants
Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive
Martin Scorcese - Hugo

And the winner is...

With it’s sweeping scenes, amazing cinematography and casting brilliance, Drive became one of the most talked about films before its release, and with good reason. Nicolas Winding Refn’s eye for quality would have made him a household name this past fall had Drive not fallen victim to the 3D re-release of The Lion King the same weekend. Still, Refn seems to have come out of the situation unscathed, and his expert eye is already hard at work on the remake of Logan’s Run, due out in 2014.

Best Film - Comedy

The nominees are...

Crazy Stupid Love
Midnight in Paris
The Artist
The Muppets
Win Win

And the winner is...

This should come as a shock to no one, as I’ve stated outright since its release that The Artist was the best movie of 2011. Even if you discount the idea that a silent picture about the end of the silent picture industry is purely a gimmick, that idea is trounced by the superb level of performances by actors Dujardin and Bejo, an exceptionally talented canine, and a tender, bittersweet tale that dashed hopes right before raising them to brand new heights. It hasn't been universally accepted yet, but I challenge any who have not seen this wonderful film to not be moved by its beauty.

Best Film - Drama

The nominees are...

The Descendants
The Help

And the winner is...

It was a pretty good year for dramas, with several easily exceeding my early modest expectations. But only one was had enormously high expectations thrust upon it, and not only came away unscathed but managed to soar above that level. Drive is probably the best film you didn’t see in 2011. It’s okay, a lot of people missed this gem. To be fair, the gratuitous violence isn’t for everybody, and the story is much more mature than most releases you’ve witnessed in the past decade. That said, anybody who claims to be a fan of modern film as a medium really should have this on their radars, and you should put it on your “Must See” lists when it arrives on DVD this Tuesday.

This concludes the first annual Hello, Mr. Anderson Awards! Congratulations to all the winners! Hello, Mr. Anderson will return Monday to its regular thrice-weekly reviews of new movies, and occasionally glimpses into other pop culture items that might catch my interest. Thank you again for tuning in, I hope you keep reading, and good night!

... you know, because this probably took all day for you to read.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Ass-Kicking of 2012

The career of director Steven Soderbergh has been a strange one. After his debut film Sex Lies and Videotape made him a household name (and earned him the Palm D’Or at Cannes) back in 1989, Soderbergh went on to become one of the most popular directors of the modern era, with a filmography that includes Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and the unimaginably successful Oceans trilogy. While some of his work is perhaps a bit overrated (the mediocre Contagion comes to mind), anyone should be able to appreciate the boundaries he attempts to breach with his filmmaking. That creativity of his has become more pronounced in recent years, as 2008’s Che was so long it had to be split into two parts for theatrical release, and he took an enormous chance in hiring then-active porn star Sasha Grey to headline his street-level look of humanity in The Girlfriend Experience. He’s even the director behind the Channing Tatum stripper biopic Magic Mike, due out later this year. But the most anticipated of his new films, at least in my eyes, has been the female-centric action film Haywire, starring former MMA fighter Gina Carano. Carano had been approached by Soderbergh to star in his new action film back in 2009, and as she had just lost a high-profile match to Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos and was looking to get out of the MMA spotlight, she took him up on the offer. It would not be her first film appearance (That would be the cult film Ring Girls), but this would be the first major motion picture to feature the potential action star out in front, where the world could see what so far only a few had actually witnessed of her abilities.

Gun play thankfully is kept to a minimum
Told in flashbacks, Haywire relates the story of how mercenary Mallory Kane (Carano) has come to be on the run from her former employers after they framed her for a crime she did not commit. The scion of a military family and a former marine in her own right, Mallory was the best agent the firm had, and was just about to take her earnings an move on to more relaxing climes. Now she must fight her way through a private army of goons, assassins and generally unlikable sorts to learn why she has been betrayed, and attempt to reclaim her old life by any means necessary.

Yes, our old friend (and Oscar snub) Fassbender is here...
There’s one important thing to remember when watching Haywire: if a character other than Mallory has an ass, it’s most likely going to get itself kicked. Soderbergh designed Mallory to be a versatile weapon of mass destruction, and Carano fills that gap admirably by beating up anybody that gets between her and victory. Mallory is also shown as being extremely dedicated, living by a moral code, incredibly intelligent and knowing exactly what she wants and how to get it. The only real flaw with Mallory is that she really HAS no flaws, with only the diminutive stature she brings against her larger, male opponents anything close to a weakness. Seeing her in action, it’s apparent that slight edge doesn’t last long, and as one character advises another, thinking of Mallory (or Carano, for that matter) as just a woman “would be a mistake.” With amazing camera work, Soderbergh captures elements both beautiful and ugly in the fight scenes, moving between graceful athleticism and brute force whenever necessary. There are precious few action heroines in the business, and Carano’s addition is one not to be taken lightly, even for a moment.

Turning an Uzi into a blowtorch in six easy steps...
Speaking of Miss Carano, I would have settled for her performance to be dry, dull, and propped up by the more experienced names on the cast list. I honestly wasn't sure an untrained actress would be able to carry such a burden on her first major attempt, and figured that the reason Soderbergh surrounded her with such talent was to offset her own limitations. Silly me. Carano, while not always perfect, still manages to do a whole lot correctly, turning Mallory from a potential black hole of personality into an real life character, one with all the strengths I listed earlier. I don't doubt that the offers will start rolling in, and Carano will amass a decent film career thanks to this amazing start. That said, her supporting cast slouches only slightly, and while not everyone is worth their weight in gold, they do enough to help propel the story forward. Ewan McGregor is smarmy and sly in the main antagonist role, a reversal put to good effect in the case of his usually charming demeanor. In small roles, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Bill Paxton do their share of adding to the film when need be. And Michael Douglas chews the appropriate amount of scenery as a government suit. Despite a sagging Antonio Banderas, this is a well-acted film with deep characters and believable interactions, and is as great as it is thanks to Carano being able to carry it on her shoulders for most of the time.

Guess who'll win this one
Despite a well-told and fast-paced tale, a few details still manage to go missing, and some leaps in the film's logic aren't always cleanly explained when they are. Regardless, Haywire should be considered a success both in the final product and in the casting of Carano in a leading role. What the MMA hoarded for four years is finally out of the box, and I'll be sorely disappointed if this talented young woman doesn't go from being the "Face of Women's MMA" to the face on movie posters across the nation. There are a few female action stars in Hollywood right now, but I have little doubt that this woman has the strength, charisma and determination to best them all. At least for now, she stars in the #1 film of 2012.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Quick Bite

I really like my new sidekick.

After my first "loyal" partner in cinematic crime decided to go all Nightwing and embark on a solo career due to those pesky "irreconcilable differences", I've been forced to go out in search for her potential replacement; the Flixmobile won't drive itself, after all. Well, my Jason Todd (no, that's not her real name) has finally arrived, and so far she seems perfectly suited to the role of following me around to watch films all the time (seriously, what does your sidekick do?). The big reason we've meshed so far is that, like me, she's a total sci-fi and comic book geek. Ask her anything about Babylon 5, Supernatural, or Doctor Doom and there's a good chance she'll be able to tell you the answer. That's why she and I saw Underworld: Awakening this past Saturday: it was HER idea, and my mind was blown. For me, this would be the first revisit to the modern-day vampire action series since 2003's release of Underworld in theaters. Despite some universally poor critical reviews, the film was hugely successful, enough to spawn off an even more disliked and profitable sequel and a prequel that broke records despite not featuring franchise star Kate Beckinsale. This new release (entirely in 3D, since that's apparently the new standard) takes place after the events of Underworld Evolution, promising some interesting, if not entirely original material for the audience to sink its teeth into.

You might want to get rid of that Axe body spray, boys
After Selene's (Beckinsale) actions in the previous films throw the remaining Vampires and Lycans (werewolves, for the uninitiated) into disarray, things pretty much go downhill. After centuries of remaining hidden from the human population, these supernatural creatures suddenly find themselves at war with their nominal food source. The sheer force the living bring down on the undead is staggering, and before long the few Vampires and Lycan left are hidden as deeply as they can to avoid detection. In attempting to leave the city with her hybrid love Michael, Selene and he are discovered and captured. Twelve years later, Selene awakes from cryogenic suspension to a world she barely recognizes, and the ongoing war between three foes has barely abated, leaving Selene to seek a new purpose in her unlife while trying to locate Michael once more.

Yes, the catsuit is back
Another Underworld film, another case of character development hell. Beckinsale is once again playing the role that arguably made her a star (yes, I know Pearl Harbor and Serendipity came out first; do you actually remember her in those?), and she returns to it as though to a second skin. Or second catsuit, whichever one might be tighter. Getting past the part where Beckinsale is indeed quite the visual masterpiece, her command of the role of Selene is the real reason to see this film. Her icy, commanding tone and suave and determined body language take charge and allow the film to successfully revolve entirely around her, a feat few performers can pull off. However, there's little here you haven't seen in her previous outings, and Selene's near-continuous search for Michael undermines her role as a strong woman to be reckoned with. Still, she's easily the strongest part of the film, for good or ill.

I doubt that pea shooter will do much...
It's too bad the rest of the cast has a difficult time keeping up with Becks. The closest in quality are almost polar opposites. Charles Dance plays a Vampire Elder who is distrustful of Selene's presence in the world, and wants to keep hiding until the Vamps can regain the strength they once had. India Eisley is Eve, a mysterious girl who is a hybrid (shares traits of both Vampires and Werewolves) like Michael, whose presence is thankfully explained quickly (if you've sight unseen already guessed where she came from, I guarantee you're right). While Dance is classic British theater and plays the role brilliantly as one, Eisley is far more raw, which allows her some interesting moments that are very different than her regular role on The Secret Life of the American Teenager. But the rest of the cast falls flat, from the young and excitable vampire David, played without conviction by Theo James, to Steven Rea as the film's uninspired antagonist, to Michael Ealy as a human police officer with deeper involvement than he'll let on. None of these characters inspire much in the way of interest, strength or intelligence, and if none of them return in future installments, I'll be quite happy with that.

Pregnant teenagers have NOTHING on this!
Let me just say how bad this movie is... no, I'm well aware how bad Underworld was. However poor you might think the original, at least the stylistic, moody settings and Vampire/Lycan backstory set it apart from a mythology that had been running on fumes of late. All of that is recycled in Underworld: Awakening, but piled on top are retreads of older, better sci-fi themes. The motherhood aspects of Aliens or Terminator 2? Yup, that's there. How about Resident Evil's evil super-corporation? Yeah, that's a major factor. In all, you could probably point to any scene and state what influenced that exact moment and how it was better in the original. It's not all bad, though: give credit to the series for never making an ass-kicking Selene boring, and the copious amounts of blood and gore present are the most realistic seen thus far. So for what it's worth, the serious lack of plot and believability (which would usually be a deal-breaker) are reliably replaced by purely aesthetic enjoyability, thanks to greenhorn directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein.

Whatever you do, Kate, don't turn those to your right
After such a successful opening weekend, I wouldn't be surprised if this was not the last time we saw Selene and her bloodthirsty cohorts on the big screen. While it lacks in anything resembling depth or originality, I still had a lot of fun with Underworld: Awakening, and the 3D IMAX theater in which I watched it was the perfect atmosphere to take it all in. It also helps when the person you see a bad sci-fi flick with is also super-excited about what you both have just seen. But even if YOU don't have a loyal, sci-fi-loving sidekick, this film will soothe that nervous tick that only a full-bore action title can cure. It's the #2 film of 2012.

A reminder that this weekend is the Mr. Anderson Awards. Full honors will be posted Saturday, January 28'th, celebrating the best that 2011 had to offer! I hope to see you all there!

Monday, January 23, 2012

War Games

Well, it’s finally here. After twenty-three years, George Lucas has at last released Red Tails, his film celebrating the Tuskegee Airmen, a squadron of all-black fighter pilots who flew over Europe in World War II and are relative unknown in this day and age. In a recent interview on John Stewart’s The Daily Show, Lucas (who is credited as the film’s executive producer) revealed that in fact the reason it took so long to make Red Tails was in fact due to the fact that major movie studios balked at financing it, not knowing how to promote the title to an overseas audience, from which a movie will make about sixty percent of its profit. After so long a time, it’s remarkable that it was finally made, but is it true? Is a film like Red Tails not as marketable when other war films can all but walk away with guaranteed grosses? It wasn’t all that long ago that Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor came in and capitalized on major WWII pride to the tune of a combined $400 million. Saving Private Ryan especially has resonated, to the tune of eleven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Director award for Steven Spielberg. But did those films deserve that level of appreciation, and is there really that much difference between Red Tails and the enjoyable but far overrated Ryan?

Oh, yeah, he's a star
Well, one difference would be each film’s plots. While Saving Private Ryan focused on an obscure war rule to set up a tale of men versus long odds, Red Tails by comparison has a far more important tale, that of an all-black fighter squadron who undergo discrimination in the air and back home, where racism keeps the pilots far from the front lines. The best these beleaguered pilots can hope for is to mop up where white units have already stopped patrolling. Their commanding officer, Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard), has been hard lobbying for the unit to have a more active role in the war in Europe, and that has finally paid off when bomber squadrons need escorts to protect them in delivering payloads deep into Nazi-occupied Germany. Fighting through a sky full of Luftwaffe and preconceptions about their abilities, the pilots manage to prove their ability to both themselves and the rest of two opposing armies certain they will fail.

Here they are; recognize any of them?

There’s not a whole lot of difference outside the general story however.  As a director, Anthony Hemingway has nothing akin to the experience that Spielberg had before Ryan was released in 1998. Hemingway, who has directed episodes of cable shows Battlestar Galactica, The Wire and Treme, has never before directed a major motion picture, and that is readily apparent when you stand back and watch him in action. While competently done, the story gets bogged down by cliches that are as natural to a war film as guns, bullets and death. Nobody likes to mention how many of those cliches made their way into Spielberg’s release however, and for a war film the stock characters, obvious plot lines, predictable outcomes and nick-of-time rescues are no more prevalent in Red Tails than any major WWII title of the past two decades. Hemingway’s work on The Wire and Treme also means he’s used to working with a black cast, several of whom he worked with on those two shows. Say what you want about George Lucas, but he knew enough that he couldn’t get the job done in the director's chair in the same way that Hemingway would.

The best pilots you've never heard of
What the characters may lack in depth, they make up for in exuberance from the film’s acting corps. Terrence Howard is the unrivaled star of the film, despite the fact that he doesn’t once enter the cockpit of a P-51 fighter. When Howard enters the room, he demands attention, and when Colonel Bullard tells a racist superior officer that he and his men don’t care what he thinks, the entire audience rallies behind him. Despite his singular acting strengths, it’s the pilots who are the focus of the story, and fortunately most of them are very good actors deserving of their shot at prime time here. David Oyelowo had a good 2011 with American audiences, with supporting roles in The Help and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, two very good films that showed his flexibility as a performer. Here he’s a cocky fighter jockey who look for trouble and love in equal doses. Other standouts include Nate Parker as an alcoholic flight leader with daddy issues, The Wire and 90210’s Tristan Wilds as a young pilot desperate to prove himself, and Andre Royo as a cantankerous mechanic. Even while most of the others are not especially detailed characters, the sheer joy the actors take with them on the set is infectious and translates to a strong communal personality that overrides the inability to sometimes tell the secondary pilots apart. Not that there aren’t disappointments, especially Cuba Gooding Jr. as Bullard’s second in command, who has a few too many scenes and gets overshadowed by the talent of just about everyone else.

Ooh, that's going to hurt
An unfortunate side effect to making a movie about WWII in this day and age is that it’s usually cheaper to create all the action in CGI than the old methods, which usually involved building replica machines of what was actually used at the time. So instead of rebuilding a squadron of P-51 fighters and dozens of B-19 bombers to shoot aerial dogfights, not to mention dozens of German fighter planes, the entirety of sky battles are fought in a computer program. While the visuals themselves are beautiful and chaotic in their execution, they do sometimes feel a little off, especially when a plane is shot down. It’s a little disappointing when you look at some of the best special effects of the past few years, but considering that Red Tails has a much lower budget than most of those special effects juggernauts, what they do show is really not all that bad.

I may not know how to pronounce his name, but Oyelowo deserves to be a star
So what is the real difference between Red Tails and other war movies? On the surface, the all-black cast is definitely unique for a major motion picture. If it does well that would certainly separate it from Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna, another movie about a segregated WWII unit that was a box office bomb and a main argument against these variety of films. Other than the color of the actors’ skins, however, there is absolutely no reason to go to any other WWII film over Red Tails. While this is by no means a GREAT film, it is an enjoyable one, and doubtlessly an IMPORTANT one to see on the big screen. There’s no reason Saving Private Ryan can make over $200 million all by itself and be so lauded, just for similar movies like Red Tails to be so ignored by audiences. There are few enough minority stars in this business that when such a concentrated effort is made to put them forward, especially in such a strong manner, it says a lot about us when we don’t bother to support it. Don’t make that mistake now. See Red Tails when you can. Even if it’s no more than an enjoyable action movie, that should be reason enough to want to see it.

For now at least, it's the #1 film of 2012.

Friday, January 20, 2012

More Drama

A caveat: If I had remembered before I bought my ticket that my newest review topic Carnage had been directed by Roman Polanski, I would have kept right on walking. This isn't any criticism of Polanski's talent, which is unquestioned. What I do have a problem with is supporting the career of a convicted child rapist who fled the country at the first sign that his plea bargain wasn't going to be everything he dreamed of. I'm not even sure how respected (and a few not so respected) actors can stand to be in the same room with him, let alone work with him in a professional setting, as there is no doubt that he is a fugitive from justice. I'm not a legitimate movie reviewer. I don't get paid to write what you read three times a week. I do this because I want to. That means every time I pay for movie ticket to a movie, I'm doing so because it's a film I for some reason want to see, or at least don't have any major objections for doing so (yes, even Bad Teacher and Red Riding Hood). In sitting through Carnage, I went through with what would normally be a deal breaker: supporting a movie I didn't feel deserved my hard earned money.

Any minute now...
That being said, Polanski's latest effort - based on the award-winning God of Carnage by French playwright Yasmina Reza - is a talent packed comedy about two sets of parents who attempt to come together in a conciliatory fashion after the son of Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) gets into a fight with the son of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster)  and strikes him with a stick, knocking out two of the boy's teeth. In the Longstreet's New York apartment, the four start out in a pleasant enough manner that gets becomes increasingly strained as the four eventually and dramatically vent their issues with one another. This isn't limited to the argument between the couples, as each spouse turns on one another as well in their own version of the schoolyard squabble.

Aaaaany minute....
Whether or not you've seen The God of Carnage on stage, you have to admit that Polanski does a very good job bringing the popular play to the silver screen. As a film that takes place in real time, with no obvious breaks, we're treated to the entirety of the story's battle of egos, as none of the combatants are eager to let their enemy have the last say. I was reminded in the first few minutes of Sartre's No Exit, in which the characters stay in one room, the entire time, with no ability to leave no matter how much they might wish to. Early on it is coincidence and good intentions that keep these four people in the same apartment together. Later on it's a less wholesome mix of pure arrogance, pride and booze. I loved that the film leaves no breathing time to allow the characters to visibly deflate, and that the slow, anxious beginning actually leads SOMEWHERE; before the four actors began bickering I was sure the film was headed towards sheer boredom.

There it is!
When the film gets to that point, it's the actors who make it happen, and if this were a battle of the sexes, the ladies would walk away with it all. Don't get me wrong, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly do more than just fine in their roles. Waltz plays a lawyer whose whole existence would be on a business call if he could help it, and is as smarmy and repulsive as you would expect a sleazy lawyer type to be. And Reilly plays the buffoonish self-made man well enough, especially when the whiskey comes out and he does his best imitation of friend Will Ferrell. But it's truly the actresses who make themselves stand out, from Kate Winslet's privileged woman constantly annoyed by her husband's constant business and his disregard for their son's behavior to Jodie Foster's human rights author who is the only one who really believes there could be a peaceful reconciliation between the sons. Foster especially is engaging, and when she really brings the volume you can see veins throbbing in her neck., so dedicated is her performance. Winslet is not far behind, and especially towards the end does she stand out, at times even dominating Foster in pure screen presence. My only complaint is that while all four are portrayed as juvenile and unlikable, it seemed to me that the script intentionally allows the women to be far more forgivable in their hysterics, while the men are simply portrayed as assholes. In what would have been a great story about four unsavory people, the subtle reverse sexism is not unbelievable, but perhaps just a little unfair.

Yeah, well, he had it coming
Of course, there's not much more to Carnage than adults arguing inside the walls of their living area. Fortunately, this simple concept works enormously well, and thanks especially to some great acting from the film's cast, it's one pulled off so perfectly that it almost makes up for an agonizingly slow start and a knee-jerk ending that would works on a stage but feels completely out of place on the screen. If you want to see something a little different in the theater now, and you have no problem paying money to see the product of a child abuse fugitive on the big screen, then Carnage might be worth a couple of hours of your time. Otherwise, you're just as well off seeing it later, or perhaps seeing the stage play and skipping this altogether. I can't tell you what to do with your money; I just wish I'd been more judicious with mine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Iron Maiden! Woo!

Wait...this film ISN'T the long awaited documentary of the lives and times of the iconic metal band founded back in 1975? Bummer.

Anyway, Iron Lady is the biopic of Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain's longest-reigning Prime Minister of the twentieth century. The Weinstein Company is obviously hoping that in producing Iron Lady they can repeat recent history in their attempt to portray this controversial British political figure; it was this same company that made the much lauded and Academy Award winning The King's Speech last year. Still, Thatcher presents a much larger challenge than the stuttering monarch did in 2010. While I'm not as up on how that particular nation views it's political figures (does anyone actually have a bad thing to say about King George VI?), I do know that the woman who eventually became known as the "Iron :Lady" was not universally beloved by the people around her, either by the conservatives with whom she worked nor the citizens she led. Another major obstacle would be the woman hired to portray Thatcher. While Meryl Streep is doubtlessly among the best and most talented actresses the world has ever seen, and this film will likely prove to be the fourth movie in the past six years (The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt and Julie & Julia being the previous three) to see her nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, one wonders whether she can harness the humanity of a woman who is hated by half of her homeland.

Practicing her acceptance speech
In her late years, Margaret Thatcher (Streep) is not doing exceptionally well. While the proud woman is far from infirm, she is fussed over by those in charge of keeping her safe, and is haunted by hallucinatory visions of her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), who passed away some years ago. Finally bringing herself to get rid of his old things, the elderly Thatcher strolls down memory lane, remembering the path of her life from politician's shopgirl daughter to the only female member of Parliament, to her ambitious and successful bid to become Prime Minister of England, and the peaks and valleys of holding that position through eleven years of strife, economic turbulence and war.

Yes, all the images I could find were of Meryl...
If you're looking for a new King's Speech in this, you might be out of luck, but one thing Iron Lady shares with last year's Oscar winner is the presence of a dominant lead performer. Simply, there is no more perfect actress than Meryl Streep when it comes to this role. The film neither vilifies Thatcher nor unnecessarily praises her, but it DOES celebrate what she was and the difficult road it took to reach her career apex. In carrying this out, Streep can not do just one or two things right to master the part; she must perfect every side to this controversial woman in what is - no surprise here - an emotionally deep, strident character with very real convictions that go along with very real flaws. Her voice is not just some pitch-perfect imitation either; Streep absolutely blew me and most of the audience around me away by melding into this public figure with her absolute essence and spirit radiating not Meryl, but Margaret. While it's easy to focus on Meryl's strengths, Jim Broadbent is a close second in the battle for audience attention. While the flashback scenes tend to keep Denis Thatcher more on the sidelines in lieu of focusing on the film's muse, his appearances as the elderly Thatcher's hallucinatory image are always welcome and often hilarious, sweet and bittersweet all at the same time.

Its a maaaaayan's woooorld!
Unfortunately, once you get outside the idea of Streep being amazing, there's just not a whole lot left to look at. Director Phyllida Lloyd does a decent job of objectively looking at Thatcher's political career and not declaring her politics as right or wrong (though she does show the British peoples' objections to Thatcher's hard-line brand of governing), but often times the film itself feels disjointed, especially in the breaks between modern day and flashbacks. Between that and several rushed scenes, it feels as if a lot of important information was glossed over in portraying Margaret Thatcher as anything more than a female politician, albeit an important one. When your only other major theatrical release to date is the musical Mama Mia, such a serious drama might seem like a huge change of gears, and despite not being a bad film at all, it's obvious the gap was a little too large for Lloyd to cross completely. Another major problem is the lack of compelling secondary characters. While everyone was obviously based on real historical figures, almost none of them are explored beyond talking heads, and only a couple are detailed in any way. Nicholas Farrell and Anthony Head play important supporters in Thatcher's political career, but both are sidelined often and shown in passing, playing no legitimate role in the film.

Arched eyebrows will only gain you so many votes...
While as a film it might not hold the same essence that made The King's Speech such an unmitigated hit, Iron Lady at least has it's own bona fide superstar to raise it above the level of a BBC made for television film. If there's any justice, Streep will win her third Academy Award on February 26'th. Disagree? Sure, Thatcher as a role is potentially less popular with Oscar voters than say, Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, but there's a lot that's in Meryl's favor. For one, she's already won major acclaim and awards for playing this part. Secondly, she's a more respected actress than the talented but young Williams, who was nominated last year for the excellent Blue Valentine. Finally, as a perennially-nominated actress who last won an Oscar in 1983 for Sophie's Choice, Streep's due for a win. She's been passed over in better years, and it's "put up or shut up" time for the Academy. If Hollywood wants to insist that Meryl Streep is one of the most talented actresses to grace the silver screen, they need to recognize it now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Equus Rex

When the Golden Globe nominations were announced in December, there were more than a few surprises. Sure, I was happy to see nominations for the likes of George Clooney, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ryan Gosling, all of whom deserved to be recognized. Sure, I was certain that most of the deserving nominees would get their just rewards (and with a few upsets, I was right), but there were still some interesting picks to ponder over. One of those was War Horse, nominated for Best Drama (won Sunday night by The Descendants). First brought to my attention by my equine-loving friend Adrianne, I was struck by the professionalism of the product, even if the content wasn't entirely to my liking (or comprehension, as the teaser had almost no actual plot information, only a horse running around WWI trenches and under fire). Then his name popped up, "Directed by Steven Spielberg", and it all made perfect sense. Only a few directors could center an entire film around one horse and get away with it, and even fewer could go the family-friendly route in doing so. Spielberg, who doesn't really make "amazing" movies anymore, still lives mostly off the nostalgia of yesteryear, and thoroughly okay to good movies like Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park are seen through rose-tinted glasses as classics. Because his movies are so successful, Spielberg is given massive budgets by film companies so he can continue to do the same mediocre things over an over again. That's what made his animated debut The Adventures of Tintin such a pleasant surprise, even if it didn't quite grasp the attentions of American audiences. So now I'm reviewing War Horse in the vain hope that it will at least compare favorably with Spielberg's other December release and, alongside producing the great Super 8, present a renewed sense of quality from this director during 2011.

"They can never know of our secret love..."
Devon, England in the early twentieth century is a boring place. It's apparently so boring a place that Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) has nothing better to do with his time than watch horses play in the fields near his home. When his drunken sot of a father brings home Joey, a young horse too small to do the plow work the farm needs, Albert trains Joey and the pair defy the odds, allowing their family to try and keep hold of their farm a little longer. Then England goes to war with Germany, Albert's father is forced to sell Joey to the Army, and an adventure is clinically rigged in place for Joey and Albert to find one another, over the war torn remains of Western Europe during World War I.

Enjoy your new owner Joey; he won't last long
If I sound a little cynical in my plot synopsis above, it's because War Horse brings out that reaction in me. "Best Drama" indeed; War Horse is a derivative tale of the human spirit and the torments of war, with the only unique characteristic being that it's largely told through the eyes of Joey. That would be remarkable enough IF it had been an original concept. No, the film is actually based on the 1982 children's novel by Michael Morpurgo and the 2007 Tony Award-winning stage play, both of the same name, meaning that any mental strain the filmmakers had to exert to bring this story to the big screen was minimal at best. Sure, there are some beautiful shots (Spielberg might be called lazy, but he's not blind), but for the most part even great cinematography can't help but be overshadowed by the fact that you're watching a movie in which a horse is not only the central character, but the most interesting one. Spielberg and company do what they can to "humanize" Joey as much as possible (including what I'm certain were especially bad CGI eyes in some scenes), but when you limit yourself so much, there's only so much to be done. Joey is easy to root for, but eventually you wish there was something else to distract you.

One of War Horse's better moments...
Don't get me wrong, there are a few scenes in War Horse so wonderful that they momentarily fool me into thinking that there's a better movie sitting just below the surface. As Joey and Topthorn (another horse) move from owner to owner throughout the course of the film, most are boring enough to dry up any of the potential emotion the scenes could have had. That's true until the pair wind up in the windmill of an elderly French grandfather (Niels Arestrup) and his precocious granddaughter Emilie (Celine Buckens, in her feature film debut). It's a sequence that is entirely too short, but manages to do everything right that almost the rest of War Horse gets dead wrong. One helpful aspect is the actual depth in character that these two possess, while their respective acting talents rise above many of those lesser in the cast. They are also helped by being in one of the few parts of the film not entirely shrouded by war and darkness, sometimes light-hearted and funny, with only a few emotionally down moments moving onto the next part of the story. Another great scene has Joey alone and trapped in barbed wire in the middle of no-man's land between the German and British trenches. In this one, a British and German soldier both brave the war zone to work together to free Joey, and their conversation powers the scene and drives home the point that there is very little difference between soldiers in war (or at least in this war). If every scene in the film could have lived up to these two standouts, War Horse would have been my #1 film of the year.

No, thank you, we don't need any horses right now...
Unfortunately, they don't, and the blame for that equally falls on the wooden character models and the creative directors who failed to accommodate for that. Most of the people depicted in the film, from German teen soldiers who go AWOL to the officers of a British cavalry brigade, have no personality beyond their basic motivations. Even the supposed human heroes are dull as dishwater, with Irvine playing Albert as a typical awe-struck teen and Peter Mullen playing his crippled, alcoholic father without stretching out even in the slightest. And if he's such a booze hound, why does the mother (Emily Watson), the strong leader of the family, even let him do ANYTHING? Tom Hiddleston, who wowed us with his talent in Thor, barely charms us here as a young cavalry officer. With the exception of a few people, most notably Arestrup and Buckens, there really aren't any standout characters who can help carry the story forward. Irvine is the worst, and when the story occasionally shifts to his narrative (which is thankfully kept to a minimum), it's among the worst War Horse has to offer. He's way too much Samwise Gamgee to Joey's mute Frodo Baggins, if you get my meaning.

Ah, soldiers of war, ready to die for their country. And then there's the men riding them.
Characters are not the film's only problems, naturally. While Spielberg has all the money in the world to create great sets and imagery, the story is as boring as it is pointless, as any number of films over the years could come up with similar tales. On top of that is the music of another legend, composer John Williams. Yes, Williams is a film score hero, with legendary themes to Star Wars and Jurassic Park on his resume. However, he never ventures far from what works, a fact especially true these days. You can always tell when he is scoring a film because the music you hear is unique to itself while at the same time annoyingly similar to his previous works.

Hey, no peeking!
When War Horse was nominated for Golden Globes, I wondered what made this title so awesome that it attained that honor. Today, I still don't get it. War Horse is not a BAD film per se, but it appears only Spielberg's name keeps this title afloat as one of the most overrated titles released in 2011. Even horse enthusiasts should be wary, as while a couple of scenes full of wonder do make themselves known, it's not enough to ever allow me to recommend it, even as a family trip. If you're lucky, The Adventures of Tintin might still be playing at a theater near you. If it is, that's the Spielberg movie you want to take your kids to see, or even enjoy all by your lonesome. But not this. Never this.