A Horse is a Horse Of Course Of Course

…that is of course unless that horse is a War Horse!

People have been crying for years that they don’t make films like they used to, but don’t tell that to Steven Spielberg. That silly Jewish lad from Haddon Township, NJ has been making films like they used to since the 1970’s.  His patented brand of cloying sentimentality perplexed me even as a child (I say BOO to you, Mr. E.T.!) but when he was able to combine that with a true sense of wonder (Close Encounters of a Third Kind, I have always loved yee) or found ways to mature it and place it in the context of history and war (cough cough Saving Private Ryan…sniff sniff Schindler’s List) he catapults himself into the ranks of the greatest of pop-culture entertainers. 

With his latest, War Horse, Spielberg pays homage to the grand Hollywood epics of the 1930’s and 1940’s in the same manner with which he paid homage to the low-budget matinée serials of the 1930’s and 1940’s in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He also conjures up some of that old Spielberg magic by taking the subgenre of the “Horse Tear-jerker” (a female-targeted niche) and serving it up avec “Epic War Movie” to get guys in the seats.  Release it on Christmas Day following a lush marketing campaign targeted to discerning filmgoers of all ages, and gosh dang it, Stevey Old Boy, you’ve done it again!  It’s a bloody crowd pleaser, I say, old chap!

Essentially this is a simple tale of a boy and his horse and their adventures, trials and tribulation during World War I.  Continue reading

Village of the Damned

In the year preceding the start of World War I, a small German village is quietly rocked by a series of cruel events (crimes against the seemingly innocent) committed by unknown culprits in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon.  The town’s children are both potential victims and suspects as the twisted natures of their parents’ sins are soon laid bare.  In the midst of paranoia and gossip (though not as pointedly delicious as Clouzot’s Le Corbeau), a kind schoolteacher woos a sweetly naive nanny, a baron’s marriage disintegrates, a steward’s family crumbles, a pastor spares no rod and a doctor commits the greatest of sins.  Originally conceived as a mini-series, there are many narrative threads and characters to keep track of, and Haneke provides glimpses into the varied lives of the different classes at work in the village and constructs something akin to a psychological case study of the personality types on display.  One wonders how much more some of the stories would’ve opened up had Haneke the luxury of six or more hours to weave his tale.

The biggest problem with a Michael Haneke film is that it’s a Michael Haneke film.  Continue reading