Based on a children’s book that produced one of Broadway’s most imaginative plays, “War Horse” gives Steven Spielberg the kind of story he loves—a heart tugging tale of boy and his horse and the war that tries to come between them. Set in North England in the days before World War One, a prideful somewhat drunk Peter Mullan buys an amazing horse bred for racing rather than farm work. Handsome young Jeremy Irvine bonds with the horse setting up several stirring scenes—including coaxing the animal to plow an impossibly rocky field in order to win a bet and keep the animal. World War One breaks out, and the kid’s father sells the horse to the British. They think the cavalry will win the war. The Germans, however, have invented something that will change everything—the machine gun. One stirring scene begins as the British charge an encampment only to ride into the woods and certain death by machine gun. The horse experiences the horror of war on both sides, and winds up in “No man’s land” tangled in a web of barbed wire. His plight brings out the best from both sides. “War Horse” has the feel of the great family movies of yesterday—a lovely holiday present from the great Spielberg. Does it deliver what it promises? Heart warming story of a boy and his horse. Is it entertaining? A great story. Is it worth the price of admission? Good holiday fare.
Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman famously collaborated on “Juno”—they reunite for “Young Adult”—yet another laugh out loud edgy comedy. 30 something divorced not quite successful Charlize Theron flips when she discovers her high school boyfriend happily married and about to become a father. So she drops everything and returns to her home town to reclaim him. In a bar (she drinks–a lot) she runs into Patton Oswalt—a fellow graduate whom she barely noticed in high school except for the time the school jocks dragged him into the woods and beat him senseless, sentencing him to the life of a broken adult. Oswalt — the great angry stand up comic — turns into this story’s voice of reason — reminding Charlize that she really doesn’t have a good plan working and that maybe a terapist might be in order. “Young Adult” really captures the way people talk and sometimes think and comes to an outrageous comic pain filled conclusion. Not the usual stuff and for that we should thanks. Does it deliver what it promises? Comedy with edge. It is entertaining? Painful and very funny. Is it worth the price of admission? Absolutely.
Gary Oldman stars as John LeClarre’s George Smiley, recalled by the British secret service to investigate a mole—that is, a double agent—in the home office. The story unfolds slowly in a dense hard to follow manner. The plot doesn’t care about the actual secrets bought and sold but rather about the institution and the men who work for it and in one case against it. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” goes long on atmosphere and short on explanations. Gary Oldman makes a great George Smiley. A fine cast includes Colin Firth (last year’s Oscar winner for “The King’s Speech”), Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, and Ciaran Hinds. Some will remember Alec Guinness in the PBS series of this work. But that series lasted for seven or eight hour episodes. I think this boiled down movie version captures the essence. Does it deliver what it promises? Spy mystery at the home office. Is it entertaining? Hard to follow but long on atmosphere. Is it worth the price of admission? For fans of the books.
Keira Knightley grabs your attention in the first frame as a woman in hysterics sent to Carl Jung’s clinic for treatment. Jung—as played by Michael Fassbender—employes his talking treatment—the treatment we come to know as psychoanalysis. Knightley recovers, and becomes an imminent psychiatrist in her own right. She also begins a passionate affair with Jung. Enter Sigmund Freud, as played by Viggo Mortensen, who begins an intellectual bromance with Jung. All of these bonds and triangles seem to bring about the birth of psychoanalysis. “A Dangerous Method” looks gorgeous and takes some interesting twists and turns. So many triangles, alliances, and realliances bring about the psychoanalytical method. The movie concludes with the rest of the story—a historical record that will leave you gasping. Does it deliver what it promises? Interesting and fascinating true story. Is it entertaining? Very interesting. Is it worth the price of admission? A movie for the smart set.
Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe so well that at some point you stop looking at the actress and start watching the character. That’s high praise for an actress playing an icon. “My Week with Marilyn” recreates the period in which Marilyn went to England to film “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Sir Lawrence Olivier — played bigger than life by Kenneth Branagh. The collaboration does not go well. Film fans will tell you “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1956) is considred a high powered misfire. The third assistant director (read go-fer) played by Eddie Redmayne catches Marilyn’s eye. She makes him her constant companion, which includes bringing her out of her deep depressions. The story behind the scenes involves a clash of egos, insecurity, and the irony of Monroe hoping to grow into a great actor while Oliver desires working with her in order to turn him into a movie star—each has what the other wants and can’t quite achieve it. “My Week with Marilyn” tells an interesting story with a performance so good, I expect Williams to get a nomination for Best Actress this season. Does it deliver what it promises? The humanity of Marilyn Monroe. Is it entertaining? So interesting. Is it worth the price of admission? Much better than expected.
Eddie Murphy stands out in this grand old school revenge comedy caper. Ben Stiller begins as the manager of a Trump Tower style condo, leading a staff who cater to the ultra wealthy’s every desire. One day the FBI arrests financial wizard Alan Alda and puts him under house arrest in his penthouse. Alda has pulled a Bernard Madoff style Ponzi scheme and taken the savings, among others, of all of the building employees. Stiller—with an assist from symphetic agent Tea Leoni—figures Alda has cash hidden in his apartment. So the caper begins as Stiller enlists streetwise thief Eddie Murphy to teach him and a gang of bumblers how to steal. The gags build to a high wire climax that had the preview audience screaming with delight. Does it deliver what it promises? Must better than expected comedy. Is it entertaining? Delightful. Is it worth the price of admission? Just for the fun of it.
Elizabeth Olsen (the younger sister of the Olsen twins) makes a stunning debut in this engrossing thriller. We don’t know exactly what has happened in her early years, (divorced parents, death, cut offs?) but we do see her escape an upstate New York cult and telephone her almost extranged sister living with her husband a few hours away in a Connecticut lakehouse. The girls reunite and they (and us) begin to notice her strange behavior—swimming nude in spite of the presence of children and families, coming into her sister’s bedroom and bed in the night as she has sex with her husband. Flashbacks show her involvement in the cult and with charismatic leader John Hawkes. We don’t know how she got the nerve to escape but we see the damage inflicted on her. Olsen is a woman on the verse of breaking. A final shot speaks to her paranoia and also opens the door to further imagined horror. I wish they gave this story a better title so I’ll just call it M4 and tell you it delivers one of the most deeply disturbing experiences of the year—a true horror story and a great debut for Elizabeth Olsen. Does it deliver what it promises? Frightening. Is it entertaining? Compelling. Is it worth the price of admission? a must see for film buffs.
Ryan Gosling lets his driving do the talking in this old school film noir thriller. Working as a movie stunt driver by day, Gosling rents his services to criminals as a getaway driver by night. Drawn to his new neighbor, played by Carrie Mulligan and her young son, he agrees to help her just out of jail husband pay off a mob debt. Things go wrong and Gosling finds himself caught in an underworld web. Gosling’s cool reminds me of young Steve McQueen. What mroe doyou want? “Drive” also gives a grand turn to Albert Brooks as a crooked film producer and Christina Hendricks as an unlucky mob moll. Note the R rating for violence. Does it deliver what it promises? Great story of underworld adventure. Is it entertaining? Compelling. Is it worth the price of admission? A great movie.
Vera Farmiga directs and stars in a compelling story of a young woman’s acceptance into a born again community and her long term struggles with her faith. The storytelling captured me from the opening scene and moves through a turbulent childhood to first love, marriage, and the discovery of the importance of church in some lives. The community begins to limit the creative spirit of this character and to disappoint in small ways. “Higher Ground” treats the religious world with respect but also with clear vision. Vera Farmiga makes us care about the journey of this woman’s life. The story continues to surprise and leaves us to examine our own beliefs. Does it deliver what it promises? A well told story based on truth. Is it entertaining? Always interesting. Is it worth the price of admission? One of this year’s must sees, although note the “R” rating.
A first rate medical thriller directed by the very talented Steven Soderbergh, “Contagion” begins when Gweneth Paltrow picks up a bad germ in Hong Kong and brings it back to the states. Soon she dies and others around her die and the epidemic begins. Doctors race to find a cure and in watching that race give you new respect for the medical profession. A great cast includes Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Lawrence Fishburn. The storytelling fills you with tension, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. A coda after the finale explains it all, and leaves you wanting to cover your mouth and wash your hands. Does it deliver what it promises? First rate medical thriller. Is it entertaining? Tension filled and keeps you interested. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the best thrillers in months.