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Archive for January 2nd, 2012

by Sam Juliano

The lush countryside settings recall the poetical works of William Wordsworth and the novels of Thomas Hardy, but the harrowing war scenes appear overseen by the spectre of Erich Maria Remarque.  Steven Spielberg, seemingly mindful of the epic grandeur of David Lean’s epics, -with Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon a possible visual inspiration for cinematographer Janusz Kaminski- has expanded the scope of Michael Morpego’s novel and the acclaimed Tony award-winning Broadway stage play imported from London with a ‘bigger is better’ philosophy that miraculously retains the emotional intimacy that made the work’s previous incaranations so unbearably poignant.  War Horse is a singular triumph even for a director who’s crossed the finish line ahead of his competitors more times than most.

In a plot design that recalls the central deceit in Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, the film follows the exploits of a horse named Joey, who is won in auction by an impoverished farmer, Ted Narracott for  an outlandish thirty guineas, even though the part-thoroughbred colt is useless as a plough horse.  Narracott, who in large measure was out to spite his landlord, who was eying the horse, immediately lands the scorn of his wife Rose, who sees only the folly in his gamut, but his son Albert has been smitten with the creature ever since it was born on a neighboring property. After Joey is eventually trained to plough and saves the farm from closure, Albert enjoys some moments of fleeting idylic bliss, (a honking goose provides some nice comic relief) until the reality of the First World War strips him of the animal he adores, and sets his mind on a quest of re-discovery.  Joey is sold to a noble, but ill-fated calvery officer named Captain Nichols, who tells the tearful Albert he will guard the horse with his life and return it at war’s end.  Albert ties his father’s ‘Boer War’ flag to Joey’s bridle, after he is told he’s too young to enlist.  Physically endowed with perfect bone structure and unique body marks (a star-splashed head and white-socked hooves) the horse deeply affects the lives of all he encounters.  When Nichols is killed in a counter-attack ambush, the horse falls into the hands of a French farmer and his physically compromised but feisty granddaughter, who nearly replicates young Albert’s devotion for the animal before the war again rears its ugly head, winding up briefly in the hands of German soldiers, one of who risks his life to save Joey and a handsome black horse named Tophorn, who dies from exhaustion.  Now possessing a thundering gallop and blistering speed, Joey escapes a tank and winds up on the front lines, where he is eventually felled in a heap of barbed wire, setting the stage for one of the film’s great set pieces. (more…)

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Ruiz's 'Mysteries of Lisbon' seen this week on DVD in it's longest incaranation is one of the year's supreme masterpieces.

by Sam Juliano

The countdown to 2012 has led to wild celebrations in Times Square and all around the world.  Here in the NYC area, television junkies can indulge in 18 hours non-stop of the original The Honeymooners while the good part of having the holiday fall on a Sunday is that the next day (today) in a legal holiday.  So while a most unwelcome return to work for many tomorrow is a reminder of how short-lived the break was, there was at least a breather to follow the domestic festivities.  With the beginning of the new year, many cinephiles are putting the finishing touch on ‘best of’ lists, including Yours Truly, who will be posting his next Monday, January 9th.  The site’s Maurizio Roca will be publishing his own two days later on Wednesday, January 11th, with others including Jamie Uhler and Bob Clark contemplating their own presentations.  Allan Fish usually completes his own list some time in March.

As the site prepares for projects on John Ford and Stanley Kubrick, an extended lull has taken hold during the holiday season.  As such only the continuing series work from Jamie Uhler, Bob Clark and Jim Clark has faithfully appeared (more…)

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