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Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Film Release Roundup for 24 February and 2 March 2012

Well, OK, actually it's a bunch of movies from this week and only War Horse from last week as I haven't seen the likes of Ghost Rider 2 (indeed, as a big a comics fan as I am, I haven't seen Ghost Rider 1 either), The Devil Inside or Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Still, there are some notable films to talk about anyway... though, of course, not always in a good way.  

War Horse: Taking a look through most film critics' opinions about War Horse, it's either a really beautiful and moving slice of old fashioned storytelling or an unbearable avalanche of manipulative schmaltz. Personally, I lean more towards the former but, honestly, it's really kind of a whole lot of both. There's no two ways about it: War Horse is immensely emotionally manipulative - it's just that it so happens to have been directed by Steven Spielberg, the absolute master of unashamedly tugging at the heart strings. It certainly has its weaknesses in that it is a bit overly long and there's a certain blandness to some of its human characters but, for all that, it is a stirringly emotional film that offers up a somewhat different view of war to which most of us are now acclimated, if not a little bored. By shaping the film around the titular war horse, Spielberg and co-writers Richard Curtis and Lee Hall (and, of course, the author of the book on which it is based, Michael Morpurgo) offer us a multifaceted look at the different sides of a conflict through the viewpoint of something that is intimately involved in the war but is also entirely innocent, uninterested and impartial to the carnage and wasteful destruction going on around it. (8/10)

The Sitter: Or The Shitter, as it should rightly be called. Original and hilarious, I know, but considering how tired and unfunny the film itself is, this bad a joke seems oddly fitting. (2/10)

Rampart: A gritty, thoroughly depressing crime drama about a cop whose professional life soon starts to match the shambles of his personal  life as he becomes the target of an anti-police-brutality campaign. Woody Harrelson is typically excellent and the story is compelling enough but ultimately Rampart doesn't quite earn its right to be as hopeless and nihilistic as it is. (5/10)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Undoubtedly the least deserving nominee of Best Picture at this year's Oscars, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ranges between working as a fairly moving exploration of a young child's attempt to cope with the sudden and violent death of his father and falling flat on its face as it piles on more unbearable quirkiness than even Zooey Deschanel could handle. I have actually read the Jonathan Safron Foer novel on which this film is based and, though it does do everything to escape the conventions and norms of a novel to a point that it does become quite grating at points, it's far less maddening than its cinematic adaptation - though neither are anywhere near as good as his excellent first novel, Everything Is Illuminated.

Quirkiness aside though, the biggest problem with the film is one that has to be approached with no little amount of tact and delicacy. I am already loath to criticize a child actor for their work as it's hard to ever truly escape the feeling that this makes one little more than your average playground bully, but it becomes all the more difficult when the child actor in question is portraying someone whose psychological disorder specifically makes them difficult to like. In this case in point, we have Thomas Horn trying his best to portray a child with aspergers syndrome (or perhaps another kind of autism - it's never made entirely clear) but the resulting performance is more annoying that can perhaps properly be expressed.

And yet, how can I say this without coming across as a jackass who) picks on a young kid-actor who has never done a film before and b) writes off a serious mental disorder (is that still the politically correct phrase, by the way?) as "annoying" and "unlikable"? The only way around this, I suppose, is to say that director Stephen Daldry and his casting director have severely misjudged the material at hand and have cast a total unknown and inexperienced child to bring to life a role that requires a certain deftness of touch and a sensitivity that would allude most experienced adult actors, let alone a child who is a total novice to the world of film making.

As it is, what we're left with is a film that is haltingly moving and never less than sincere but whose very tricky subject matter is ultimately terminally misjudged by its creators. (4/10)      

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