Saturday, 14 January 2012

War Horse

Steven Spielberg has been making a number of war films throughout his career. The first was the ill-fated 1941 and this has been followed by such illustrious films as Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. War Horse is his first film set during the First World War and is an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel and the National Theatre play. The story is concerned with Joey, the eponymous horse and his exploits in the said war.

Joey’s story quite usefully explores different facets of the war. We see the use of cavalry at the beginning of the war, the experience of child soldiers, the use of horses to pull large guns and the resultant use of those guns. Trench warfare and the Somme is also depicted along with gas and the use of barbed wire. All useful things to take into account if you’re doing an Open University course that involves the study of total war.

There is as well some beautiful photography. There’s a beautiful image of the horses reflected in the water as they’re ridden to their first battle. Cleverly Spielberg uses a reflection in the Joey’s eye when Emilie discovers him in the windmill. The scenes of Joey running through the trenches and no-man’s land are nothing short of breath taking as well.

There is a lot of emotion in the film as well though. At times I did find it over sentimental. Yes I could see that the boy Albert who reared Joey had a special bond with the horse. But, every ounce of emotion was wrung out of their scenes together, I suppose just to make sure you knew that. You could see that there were supposed to be funny lines at the beginning of the film, yet I only remember laughing twice during the film, this was during the scenes between Emilie was talking to her grandfather.

I think though that the film has more plusses than minuses. This is to be expected with a cast that includes Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Liam Cunningham and Eddie Marsan. Some of the visuals are extraordinary some of the writing I don’t think is. It jarred, for instance, when people made announcements about the beginning and the end of the war. I think if it was tighter in places it could have been a great film and not a good film.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Steve McQueen follows up his first film Hunger, with the story of a man with a different hunger. Brendan, Michael Fassbender, is a successful New Yorker with an ordered and very tidy apartment. He’s an attractive man, we see him flirting with a woman on the subway she seems to respond to his advances, but disappears in the crowd thwarting him. We see him paying a woman for sex and looking at porn on a computer. It soon becomes apparent that Brendan has an addiction to sex.

He seems to have worked out how he can do this and what his priorities are in life. This is all built in an existence built around his addiction. His world is turned upside down with the arrival of his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). She’s an aspiring musician and ends up sleeping on Brendan’s couch and sleeping with his boss.

Throughout the film Brendan is confronted about his addiction, or at least his interaction with the people around him puts his addiction into perspective. The arrival of his sister interrupts his privacy; his married boss spends a lot of time chatting up women in bars. More tellingly maybe is when he goes on a date with a colleague and tells her that he sees no point in having a relationship. With her later on we see the first flickers of regret with his life.

To me it seems that Brendan is a man who wants to isolate himself from other people. It’s as if he doesn’t want to be in a situation where he would have to explain his behaviour to anyone else. In the Basil Dearden film Victim, there’s a scene where Dirk Bogarde confesses to his wife that he’s gay. He does this from the shadows while his wife is in the light. McQueen uses this chiaroscuro throughout the film which is either an indication that Brendan is keeping those around him in the dark, is keeping himself in the dark and therefore deluding himself, or all of the above.

The film is visually arresting, McQueen does so well at designing and creating the images, he did this as well with Hunger. I love the way that he uses images to inform us as to the nature of the character. The first scene of Brendan wandering round his apartment says so much about him. There’s also a beautiful scene of Sissy sings New York, New York and a tear comes to Brandon’s eye. You never know when shame will come and find you, seems to be the message.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Iron Lady

In recent years we’ve had films about George W. Bush and the Queen, TV films about Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown and a couple of TV films about Margaret Thatcher. Now it’s Mrs T’s turn for the cinematic treatment in the Iron Lady.

Here we’re presented initially with Margaret Thatcher’s hinterland as she begins to face life without her husband. Through this she remembers her premiership and the highs and lows of her career. These of course include the Brighton bomb, the Falklands war and admonishing Geoffrey Howe in the Cabinet Room.

Meryl Streep does a decent enough job impersonation of Thatcher in her pomp and as a frail old woman in her dotage. I was slightly irritated by the little noises she kept on making throughout the film, I suppose that’s acting. Olivia Coleman sounded like Carol Thatcher but her prosthetics made her look neither like herself or Ms Thatcher. Jim Broadbent, as ever, gives an honest performance as Denis Thatcher. The interplay between him and Streep was one of the successes of the film; they did well to portray the genuine affection between the couple.

I found the film though to be very gossipy and made with very broad strokes. There could have been a bit more exploration to her political ideology. Was it all based on her father being a shopkeeper and her being a housewife, I think not. All of the flashbacks, as it were, concentrated on personality and nothing deeper at all. In the film Geoffrey Howe resigned because of the aforementioned humiliation, I think there was more to it than that. There was no mention of Westland at all, when Thatcher had her resignation letter in her handbag apparently. The only leader of the Opposition that seemed to be featured in her premiership was Michael Foot, a small foot note I’m sure.

The film is designed to make people feel sorry for this sad old woman who used to be Prime Minister. We’re shown that she misses her husband and misses being Prime Minister. At the beginning of the film she’s shocked to find that a pint of milk is 49p, she prided herself, when PM, on knowing how much a pint of milk, it proving in her mind that she was in touch. The major irony of the film is of course that it’s called The Iron Lady, and we’re quickly apprised of the fact that she’s no longer that.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Well it’s not as good as the Swedish film. Is it? I don’t know I thought that I’d get that out the way first. Anyway this is a happy little tale about Sweden in the early twenty first century. How many themes are there in this film? There’s freedom of information, industrial espionage, cybercrime, incest, Nazism, the abuse of positions of care and power. These are all wrapped up in the central story of a large successful industrial family business. One their member, a 14 year old girl, went missing presumed murdered in 1966.

The head of the family hires a journalist to surreptitiously investigate her murder using the pretext of writing a book about the family. When he begins to uncover evidence of more murders and more missing girls he decides that he needs some help to uncover the truth. This is where he meets Lisbeth; the eponymous girl with the eponymous tattoo.

As with every Fincher film, including Alien3, the audience finds it easy to empathise with his characters. Maybe that’s because of some of the extreme situations they find themselves in. Lisbeth says at one point, ‘there will be blood’, that’s a conservative statement. I was reminded of Seven on a number of occasions.

The way nationality works in cinema as well these days makes for some curious assumptions about the audience’s perceptions as well. That’s not to say that these assumptions are not correct. Most of the actors in this film are British; apparently Britons make more believable Swedes than Americans. There are as well a variety of accents on display, ranging from Daniel Craig’s RP to various attempts at a Swedish accent. There is no mention of a chef though.

I was reminded of the Crow Road, What A Carve Up! and Festen, while watching this, which is no bad thing really. It is an impressive feat of storytelling by Stieg Larsson and Fincher, in the way that the plots and sub-plots are laid out. It does take a while for all the pieces to fall into place as well, along with all the pennies dropping. It’s all beautifully and intricately done.