It’s kind of silly to review an MMO, but I have put quite some time into Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I’d like to talk about it. For the record, I played in the two big beta weekends and have a level 35 bounty hunter on the live servers, which means I’ve completed the first act.
There is little that Steven Spielberg hasn’t done in his long, varied career. He’s made movies about everything from aliens, to dinosaurs, to his acclaimed projects centered around WWII, but it wasn’t until now that he’s finally made a film about “The Great War”. Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, which in 2007 became a popular stage play, War Horse is the story of Young Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) and his close relationship with his horse Joey. Set against the gritty backdrop of a WWI ravaged Europe, we watch as Joey finds himself on both sides of the war.
From a glance the whole concpet sounds sappy. Spielberg as gifted a filmmaker as he is has often been criticized over the years for being overly sentimental. War Horse does have a few of those hallmark moments, but for the most part it’s a sincerely made film. I’ve never seen Spielberg’s sentimentality as a crutch or gimmick to pull at our heartstrings. Spielberg simply wants to deliver cinematic escapism and does so in a way that only he can do. I never thought I could care or feel anything about a horse protagonist, but Spielberg is a natural storyteller and continues to accomplishes this with one of the best working teams in hollywood including; cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn, and of course composer John Williams.
With a horse as your protagonist, War Horse doesn’t follow your typical narrative. Joey is a silent protagonist merely trying to function in his environment rather than achieve any specific goal. Initially, I felt this approach would make audiences feel unattached, but the small relationship stories between Joey and the humans that makeup War Horse are emotionally satisfying. Perhaps my favorite portion of the film were the scenes that took place on the battlefield. I can’t recall ever seeing a film about WWI that was this polished. The battle scenes almost made me wish I was just watching a film about people fighting in WWI, but I suppose the small taste of battle combined with the emotional story of a horse gives War Horse a unique blend.
In the grand scheme of things War Horse isn’t one of Spielberg’s more memorable films. I’m not sure I agree with it being considered for awards season either. Yet, War Horse has heart and despite being a big budget hollywood film feels like a film made with love and care and I think that goes far.
On the other end of the spectrum from Shame is the wonderfully light-hearted ode to good old-fashioned Hollywood filmmaking that is The Artist. It was only about a month ago that Martin Scorsese released his own ode to the early days of cinema with Hugo, while French director Michel Hazanavicius takes his love for silent cinema a step further with a full-on black & white silent film. However, I think Hazanavicius is slightly less interested in film history and more enthusiastic about the simple joys that exist in telling a classic love story with the kind of visually inventive techniques that were encouraged before sound came into play.
Storywise, it’s a little hard not to draw parallels to Singin’ In The Rain, as The Artist also centers around Hollywood’s transition from the star-driven silent films of the 1920’s into the talkies of the ’30s. The particular star it centers on is the fictional George Valentin, played with the utmost charm by Jean Darjudin. Valentin finds his star-power quickly starting to dwindle in the wake of the talking pictures, while the young starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a onetime romantic aquaintance of Valentin, is seen rising in popularity.
Both Darjudin and Bejo are pretty fantastic, and display the kind of charisma and comedic timing that you’d think would be hard for modern actors to pull off, but somehow they fit into this archaic style of acting quite effortlessly. And on top of that, you get to see veteran Hollywood actors like John Goodman and James Cromwell have a lot of fun with their roles as well. Also, a lot of the cinematography takes a page out of Citizen Kane, by often using some striking visual symbolism that helps to give the film a little bit of thematic depth without seeming too indulgent.
With it’s crowd-pleasing optimism and undeniable appeal to cinephiles, it’s easy to see why this could be an awards-season favorite. Sure, it’s a film that’s often light as a feather, but sometimes feel-good movies like this are just what the doctor ordered. Also, I’m a little skeptical about how much audiences will really go for such a quaint nostalgia piece, but if there was ever a movie that could rope modern audiences into seeing a silent black & white film, this’d be it.
I guess I’ll take this time to finally get a couple of reviews out of the way, but I’ll probably be brief since I’m still feeling the affects of post-Christmas laziness. Shame is a film that I wasn’t really intending to see since its reviews were a bit mixed, and the film’s tone and subject matter weren’t exactly what I was looking for this holiday season. Still, after sitting through director Steve McQueen’s second collaboration with the increasingly formidable Michael Fassbender, I felt a great amount of satisfaction from the way the film was able to get under my skin with it’s overwhelming sense of despair.
McQueen is often very simple in his technical approach, and the story itself relies on the same kind of intense simplicity. Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, I New York man who is consumed by his sex addiction and seems to spend almost every moment of the film charming women, having sex, wankin’ off, or trying to hide his unruly sexual impulses. Carey Mulligan plays Sullivan’s sister, who shows up at Brandon’s apartment, and decides to stay with him and thus disrupting his self-imposed lifestyle.
What makes the film worth seeing is undoubtedly Fassbender’s unflinching and occasionally terrifying performance of a man who by the end of the film seems to evoke nothing but scorn and pity, despite the fact that he spends much of the film getting laid. I will say that the film’s NC-17 rating is probably rightfully earned due to the unwavering amount of sex and nudity in the film, but make no mistake about it, there’s nothing sexy about the way the film portrays its main character. Also, Carey Mulligan shows she’s more than game for sparring opposite Fassbender, as her performance makes for quite a bit of a departure from the kind of good-natured characters she’s played recently.
The film is filled with a lot of noticeably long takes and a certain kind of detached feeling, which I think for the most part works in favor of a character whose motives are never easy to understand. And despite the film’s artful nature, subtlety is never really something that the film goes for, which gives it the feeling of a film like Precious or Requiem For A Dream where you get this sense of the filmmaker trying to pound into you this message of hopelessness. And for that, I can’t really wholeheartedly recommend the film since it’s probably bound to put you in a morose mood. However, I still applaud the film for being able to pull off that kind of torrid earnestness with a subject as potentially laughable as sex addiction.
Bethesda is among the most ambitious developers in gaming. Time and time again, they try to deliver on the impossible: An open world, brimming with life and opportunity, that a player can interact with however they want. It’s been a few years since they brought their brand of entertainment to the Elder Scrolls universe, having spent the last five years in the desolate wasteland of Fallout. Now fantasy is back with Skyrim, the closest Bethesda has ever been to their objective.
Director Jason Reitman is kind of, sort of becoming an auteur. Through four films now, he’s told unique, character-focused stories full of wit and darkness. Young Adult‘s Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) follows in the footsteps of Nick Naylor, Juno and Ryan Bingham as a character deeply set in her ways, forced to confront the one thing that could actually change her life. Like those characters, Mavis stands in juxtaposition to the world around her. But her arc is much darker and less sympathetic than you might expect.
Mavis is a marginally successful author of a young adult fiction series. She didn’t actually create the series, she just ghost writes the latest entries in it. As she starts work on her latest novel, she immediately begins procrastinating and opens her email. There she finds a message from her old boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his daughter. Mavis interprets this as a sign that he wants her to save him from his wife and newborn and run away together. So she leaves the big city and heads home.
Before she can get to Buddy, Mavis runs into another former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) at a bar. Matt is a fat geek who was badly beaten by a group of jocks who thought he was gay in high school. They may not have gotten along in high school, but now the have a mutual love of alcohol and a mutual hate of their hometown. What they do not agree upon is Mavis’ crazy plan to win back Buddy. Chaos ensues.
Much emphasis is put on Mavis’ daily life. We see her sloppy home, her daily rituals, her writing process. Every day begins with a swig of Diet Coke. Her writing is inspired by crappy teen TV shows and eavesdropping. When necessary, she can clean up too. Clothes shopping, hair pieces, makeup, manicures and pedicures are all utilized to turn her into a super model, to make her stand out in her town of limping Patton Oswalts and poorly-bearded Patrick Wilsons.
By the end of the movie, it’s explained why Mavis is the way she is, why her plan made sense to her. But that actually makes her a less likable character. The big speech at the end is actually hilarious, because it’s the opposite of what I wanted to hear. That’s what makes this movie great, I think. It plays with your expectations, to a degree. Diablo Cody is the writer, but this feels nothing like Juno. It’s much more sincere, and bleak.
But it’s not Up in the Air. I think of all the Jason Reitman movies, this one is the hardest to like. It simply lacks the charm his first three movies had. But this film’s rawness makes it good in its own right. The three leads all give terrific performances, making it all the more enjoyable. Reitman is one of my favorite directors right now because he keeps growing as a filmmaker. This is a worthy step forward.