I got some minor surgery for Christmas. As a result I spent a lot of time over the holidays convalescing at the various big releases. Which puts me in an odd position as I don’t feel necessarily able to write about these films objectively but I still wish to talk about them. True I “enjoyed” The War Horse, but I most likely would have enjoyed it more had I not been suffering from a migraine and intense nausea during the second half of the film when the Vicodin wore off. So I’ve decided to split the difference and treat the following four films as capsule reviews. Consider yourself disclaimered!
Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows: (Spoilers) I ended up enjoying this one quiet a bit more than most people did. The first half is a bit unfocused, but Downey and Law’s chemistry keeps it entertaining through out. Jared Harris ended up being superb casting as an understated Moriarty (and is this really the first time we’ve gotten a Big Screen version of this character who is not a cartoon rat played by Vincent Price? Really? Wow!) Ritchie’s film is atmospheric, the action crisp, with a sense of humor that serves well as the films secret weapon and it features a far better understanding of the source material than most give it credit for. On the whole it’s the rare sequel that manages to match the charm of the original. Only the killing of Irene Adler, a rather cheap way to raise the stakes, felt off. It’s not going to change anyone’s life, but it’s more or less exactly what I’m looking for in a Saturday Matinee.
War Horse: And then one day Stephen Spielberg awoke and said, “Hey, what if Au Hasard Balthazar had been directed by John Ford as his follow up to The Quiet Man. And what if it is also a War Movie!” Everybody thought he was joking until after the first day of filming was over.
Still I have to think that Pappy Ford would be proud of what Spielberg has accomplished here (oh those horizons!) Sure The War Horse plays it about as broad and sentimental as humanly possible, but aside from a few moments near the beginning it works. And to write it off as simple histrionics isn’t doing justice to some the true grace of some of Spielberg’s filmmaking. He’s one of the few directors who would have been just fine in the silent era, very few have his ability to communicate yards of narrative with a single shot.
WWI is as far as I’m concerned, one of the hardest subjects to make a film about. Setting aside for a moment that the grim absurdity of the actual fighting of it made Vietnam and Iraqi look about as romantic as boy’s own adventures, anything you can salvage from it comes with the grim knowledge that in twenty years everyone you see is going to be fucked all over again, most likely worse than before. It’s hard to consider something a satisfying conclusion when the best you can hope for is, “Gee I hope their children aren’t killed in the blitz.” But for all it’s flaws, it’s hard not to be moved by Spielberg’s story of hard won innocence. A bit broad at times sure, but it’s a poetic and moving vision all the same.
The Adventures Of Tintin: WHHHHEEEEEE!!!! This is Spielberg at his most playful. Whether recreating one of the most famous action beats of his career with a small white terrier, or displaying a giddy feeling of “Oh why the fuck not.” With the eight minute unbroken chase sequence. This is what happens when you take one of the most imaginative visual minds of the era and completely unfetter it. There’s not a heck of a lot more to it than that. The film’s an intriguing blend of new (Tintin himself falls smack dab in the middle of the uncanny valley more often than not) and charmingly old fashioned, (“It’s funny because he can’t stop drinking.”) All in all it’s pretty Teflon, and doesn’t rank with Spielberg’s truly great adventures. But for what it is, an ambitious experiment, it’s pretty damn fun.
Mission Impossible 4: I’m not going to lie I was pretty spaced for this one. But the impression that I got was that Brad Bird wins live action. Seriously the success of this film should surprise no one. Bird has proven himself time and again to have one of the most audacious imaginations in commercial filmmaking. Mission Impossible 4 is what happens when you let an unabashed film fan make a film. It plays like someone’s dream of a spy movie. Only the disappointing lack of Ving Rhames (They at least fit him in for a cameo at the end. But his absence was distracting particularly when Cruise spent a third of the film trying to get in touch with a mysterious contact I was sure was Rhames.) and a strangely bland villain (especially when compared to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s sociopath in Part 3). Still the set pieces here are gold standard stuff, all big budget filmmaking should be so imaginative, Cruise regains some of his charisma (particularly in a an opening Prison Riot set piece which seemed designed to make the idea of Cruise as Jack Reacher not ridiculous). Like Sherlock Holmes there’s nothing revolutionary here, but what is done is done awfully well.
And over at Son Of Danse Macabre the hits just keep on coming. I just finished my chapter on The Horror Films Of the 90's with a take on The Blair Witch Project. It's my goal to have the whole first draft of this book finished by the end of March, which means the content is going to be flying thick and fast over there for the next two months. Hope you'll join us.