Thursday, January 05, 2012

Last movie seen in 2011, first seen in 2012: My Week With Marilyn and War Horse

If I were really clever, I would likely have made The Adventures of Tintin my last movie of the year for 2011, just to say I finished one year and started the next with new Spielberg films. Looking at previous TWIT posts, this pairing is a step up from last year's Phantom of the Paradise and True Grit '10, well ahead of the 2009/2010 pairing of A Single Man and Broken Embraces, and even further away from 2008/2009's Frost/Nixon and The Spirit. So, a solid end and beginning to the movie-watching year.

Part of the fun with these two movies, though, is the flood of fun character actors to be found. I do suspect that relatively few in the theater were quite so excited about seeing Michael Kitchen of Foyle's War show up in My Week with Marilyn as I was, and I found myself racking my brain over who one guy was in War Horse before recognizing Eddie Marsan.

Not that I was planning on any kind of theme to unite the two; they just had the neat coincidence of having the whole "movies filled with great British actors" thing in common. Of course, now I'll be trying to replicate this next year!

My Week with Marilyn

* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 December 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run)

Though My Week with Marilyn chronicles one star on one specific movie set, I suspect that a number of people in the movie business who never had any interaction at all with Marilyn Monroe or Sir Laurence Olivier watched it and nodded their heads in understanding. The former Norma Jean Baker is, as an individual perhaps as inscrutable as ever when it's done, but we do get a look at the subspecies she represents so perfectly, the movie star.

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the younger scion of a country squire, loves the movies, and uses connections and sheer stubbornness to get an (unpaid) position on the staff of Laurence Olivier's production company. Sir Laurence (Kenneth Branagh) has cast Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) as his female lead in his new movie, the lightest of light comedies about a European prince who falls for an American dancer, but it turns out to be far from smooth sailing: Monroe is thoroughly intimidated by Olivier and England in general, eventually only trusting the rather smitten Colin.

We see this mainly from Colin's point of view - screenwriter Adrian Hodges adapts the real-life Colin Clark's two memoirs - and it's perhaps worth asking if maybe his story of his involvement grew in the telling. Who wouldn't, in the decades that followed, exaggerate how close he got to the sexiest star of the era? There are occasional points where the words of a more experienced, insightful man come out of the mouth of the 23-year-old Colin's mouth, which can be a bit odd, considering that he will soon revert to his previous, naive state. This isn't a bad thing by any means - as a narrator, he seems more reliable than not, and he isn't nearly superfluous as the typical "relatively-ordinary guy meant to be the audience's proxy" character.

Full review at EFC.

War Horse

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 January 2012 in Regal Fenway #8 (first-run)

War Horse is a film about a horse, told from its point of view and those of the people who encounter the animal before and during the First World War. This is both a blessing and a curse, in that it allows director Stephen Spielberg and the other filmmakers to look at war as a phenomenon almost divorced from human goals and motivations, but that distance may not work for everyone.

The horse is a beautiful, fast thoroughbred that captures the imagination of Devon farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), who buys it at auction even though what his family really needs is a strong workhorse. Ted's son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) names it Joey and manages to train it to pull a plow, but a disastrous rain and the looming war finds Joey pressed into army service, though Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) promises Albert that he will make Joey his personal steed and return him safely. It's to a long war, though, which will see Joey encounter German brothers (David Kross and Leonhard Carow), an ailing French girl (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup), and others.

There's something very old-fashioned about War Horse at times; the last scene, for instance, could be tacked on to a John Ford western and not seem out of place other than being in color. And while Spielberg established a standard for realistic portrayals of the battlefield in Saving Private Ryan, he pulls back a little here, often obscuring the actual moment a bullet hits. Though it initially seems like a move meant to preserve a PG-13 rating and make a family-friendly war movie, it soon becomes clear that Spielberg is not presenting a bloodless child's fantasy of war. He's presenting the horse's view, and Joey doesn't really conceive of combat or death here - he's thrust into new situations with new masters without necessarily developing a great deal of understanding or attachment.

Full review at EFC.

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