Thursday, December 29, 2011


Sometimes it is really nice to watch a movie just to watch a movie.  A film like Warhorse can’t really be pigeon-holed into a specific genre.  It is a war movie but it’s not just a war movie.  It’s a movie about a horse but it’s not just a horse movie.  It is an old fashioned film that concentrates mainly on the art of story telling itself.  In that, it succeeds beautifully.

Warhorse is simply a story about the life of a horse and the stories of the many lives that intertwine with this remarkable animal.  Against the back drop of World War I, the horse passes from owner to owner, impressing all with its spirit and strength.  The horse effects each life differently but always in a positive manner. 

World War I is an ignored and nearly forgotten war in this country.  Maybe it is because the United States entered the conflict so late but history slides right over this massive, brutal war.  It may have been the most brutal, useless war in the history of this world, especially for the French, British, and Germans.  It was a war fought in trenches for small patches of land covered in pits and barbed wire. Casualties were incredible for the pitiful gains garnered.  A generation of young men was wiped out in Europe for very little purpose.

Director Steven Spielberg pays a lot of attention to the details of war.  Spielberg is as much a historian as he is a film maker, in my opinion.  He educates several generations on the brutality of World War I in this film and in a manner which should draw interest from many types of audiences.  His brilliance at storytelling is on full display in Warhorse.  The story is patient and layered.  The movie flows slowly early on but picks up the pace as the war starts and more characters are added to the pattern of the film’s namesake.  Once the war starts, the story never stalls or falters as it marches through the war.

This film is appropriate for most audiences but there are a few scenes which may cause issues for younger or more sensitive children.  Several adults in the theater also struggled through two or three very emotional scenes as well.  Spielberg shows some of the horrors of this war but refrains from anything too graphic.  Many things are left to the imagination of the audience in a sensitive manner. 

The movie is long and emotional but it is an important film that should ignite some discussions and research about the first word war.  My twelve year old is already asking questions.  The acting is fine and the horse is noble but it is the storytelling that is the key to Warhorse.  Go as a family, get some popcorn, and just enjoy film making as it is supposed to be. 

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Girls With Dragon Tattoos

Usually I read the book before I watch the movie.  The biggest problem with this is the book is almost always significantly better than the movie and this makes the movie less enjoyable to watch.  I thought I would try something different this time.  With the book eagerly awaits my attention from its spot on my bookshelf, I decided to watch the movie first.  To top off everything else, there are two versions of this film, not just one.  I watched the Swedish version earlier this week and went to see the American edition today.  Keep in mind as I compare these two films that I have not read the book and I do not know which is a more faithful translation.

I was totally prepared for the American version to be a watered down, weak, faded copy of the 2009 Swedish film.  That was definitely not the case.  The Swedish film was more of an old fashioned suspense thriller.  While watching it, it seemed a patient, detailed, terrific film.  The American version is faster paced and seemingly more fleshed out.  The Swedish edition spent more time and effort on the investigation of the crime that lead character Mikael Blomkvist was hired to look into.  Its American counterpart tends to delve into the characters a little more – not only the two leads but some of the other characters as well.  The American movie also has a more satisfying wrap-up.

The essential storyline is the same in both films and I assume it is the same one as in the book.  Several details differ in the two versions but none really affect the plot at all.  They are indeed two versions of the same story.  I enjoyed both of them as I watched them separately and their tone and pace are their own.  In my mind, I have a hard time picking one over the other because they each offer key elements which I like – the patient, detailed storytelling in one and the great character development in the other. 

I will say one thing about both.  Each had a couple of brutal rape scenes in them.  To be honest, I was sure the American version would soften these scenes and probably leave most of them to our imagination.  To his credit, director David Fincher did not waiver in presenting these scenes in a tough, gritty, unflinching manner, just as Niels Arden Oplev , the director of the 2009 film, did.  Bravo to both men.  These scenes were not easy to watch but they were imperative in the development of Lisbeth’s character. 

I thought Michael Nyqvist was better, if slightly, than Daniel Craig in the lead role of Mikael Blomkvist.  Rooney Mara surprisingly delivered a credible performance as Lisbeth, even in comparison to Noomi Rapace’s brilliant work.  The role of Erika Berger was a much bigger role in the American version than the Swedish version and so there isn’t much to compare.  I won’t compare some of the other key roles because I want to do nothing to that tips off the ending for those who haven’t watched either film or read the book.  Let’s just leave it at that both set of actors performed extremely well. 

If I were forced to pick one over the other, at this point I would choose the American version on the simple fact that its wrap up was much more complete and detailed.  The end of the Swedish version left me a bit confused as I felt that Lisbeth acted out of character.  It felt incomplete.  The Swedish film did a better job at building up the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael but the American film was better about showing the extended results of that relationship.  If you choose to watch just one, you really won’t go wrong with either one.  Both were really good.  Both a terrifically made films and are enjoyable in and of themselves.  Now, one or the other may gain an advantage once I read the book.  We will just have to see.

I always like to add a note to parents.  Neither version is suitable for children.  Both feature brutal rape scenes, violence, nudity, and a disturbing plot.  They are rated R for very good reason and I strongly recommend caution when deciding about letting children under the age of 16 or 17 view these films.

Thanks for reading and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I have to admit I was totally unprepared for the first Sherlock Holmes movie a couple of years ago.  I was not educated enough on the character himself and that made me react negatively to that film.  Since then, I have acquainted myself better with the Holmes persona and I liked the first movie when I watched it a second time.  When Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was announced, I was excited for its release.  This time, I wasn’t disappointed.

The movie is even quicker and smarter than the first.  It is a rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor.  It’s not that A Game of Shadows doesn’t have its warts; it does and some of them are the same as those that plague the original.  Most of these are relatively minor flaws that do not dent the many good things that make this a terrific flick.

I hate it when writers and directors dumb movies down for the audiences.  This is a great insult to me.  They are assuming we are too stupid to understand a smart and complicated storyline and dialogue.  Director Guy Ritchie doesn’t make that mistake here.  The plot twists and turns, doing justice to a brilliant hero and a genius villain.  The action and dialogue are quick and edgy.  There are no lulls or boring parts and this keeps our attention on the screen at all times.

Robert Downey, Jr. is at his quirky, manic best.  He has always been a terrific actor and he seems more at home in this role than as Iron Man.  He does have a tendency to mumble a few of his lines and his accent makes him hard to understand clearly at times.  This may be the quirky character of Holmes in and of himself but Downey, Jr.’s personality probably isn’t too far from Holmes’.

Jude Law, who was the best part of the first film, follows up as the perfect foil, Dr. Watson, who must be the sane, but loyal voice, to Holmes’ ungoverned behavior.  Law is as smart and snappy as his literary counterpart, downplaying his importance to Holmes’ process.  Jared Harris (Mad Men, Fringe) is eerie and creepy as the villainous genies, Professor James Moriarty.  Harris just exudes intellect and evil in a quiet, subtle way.  His voice is always calm but his words seem to drip hidden venom.  Moriarty is almost an evil intellectual twin for Holmes’ genius.  They are evenly matched and that is the main thing that kept this film smart.

Noomi Rapace gains some post dragon body art exposure as “the girl”.  She plays a mystic gypsy named Simza Heron, who is trying to rescue her wayward brother from the mental clutches of Professor Moriarty.  She joins forces with Holmes and Watson ands holds her own in the action scenes.  Her character lacked levity and I would have liked to see less stoicism from her but for the most part, she held her own against her talented cohorts.

At times, the film felt herky-jerky.  This is due to Ritchie’s preferred directing style. He has a penchant for numerous slow motion segments.  He especially loves to slow down the action scenes and drag them out with overly dramatic slow frames and close ups.  At times, this works just fine, as when are heroes flee through a dense forest.  The slow motion frames of bullets and artillery shells ripping through trees are pretty cool but other times it is just distracting.  It is a nifty signature but he uses it just a little too much.

At times, the dialogue and plot felt just a tad bit too clever; almost like it was being clever just the sake of being clever.  The more I thought about this, the more I think this is a good thing.  It kept the movie intelligent but also served as homage to the character of Sherlock Holmes.  It would be a big mistake to dumb down Holmes, his sidekick, or his villains.  Hopefully, if any more films are made for this series, Ritchie will be at the helm because he gets it.

I enjoyed this movie thoroughly and it garnered applause from the audience as the credits rolled.  There is some violence and salty language but most young teens would find this movie entertaining.  There is enough to draw audiences without falling back on cheap tricks like sex and nudity.  Holmes doesn’t need it and this film doesn’t use.  This film is just fine for any child used to seeing typical PG-13 movies.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The eReader Rip-off

I have always been a reader.  By the time I was twelve, I had been reading massive novels by John Jakes, James Michener, and James Clavell.  I grew up on a farm in a time when we had no video games, no internet, and only three of four television channels.  My nearest friend lived three miles away and if I had the time to play, I had to walk or drive a tractor.  I did both of those things many times.   More often than not though, reading was how I spent my spare time. 

I love books and I love the feel of books.  I never lay my books open and flat because that damages the spines.  I never dog ear my books.  I hate getting rid of my books; I like to reread many books.  I respect and care for my books. 

As happens through time, I am running out of space for books.  In my man cave, all available wall space is covered by book shelves and all those shelves are full.  I am just flat out of space.  On top of all of else, the cost of books continues to rise.  Plus, bookmakers, intent on squeezing every last dime out of us loyal and avid readers, have decided to change the size of paperbacks.  Now there regular paperbacks and hardbacks, extra tall paperbacks and heavy duty, oversized paperbacks.  Many of these new varieties don’t even fit on my book shelves.  A few months ago, I decided that in effort to conserve space, clutter, and money, I would buy an ereader.  It goes against just about everything I believe in but sometimes practicality must rule.  So, I went to the dark side.

With fear and loathing, I set up my ereader and I prepared to start down loading some books.  Imagine my chagrin and astonishment when I discovered it cost more to down load a book from the infinite space that is internet costs more than purchasing a physical book, made of paper, from a store.  At least a physical book has a cost to it in that it has to manufactured, shipped, and stocked to a shelf.  Not only does the author, the publisher, the distributor, and the store need to extract their pound of flesh and profit, but the materials to produce a book, such as paper and ink, cost money as well.  An ebook eliminates many of those items.  An ebook has no ink or paper, and there is no distributor.  Yes, the author needs to be paid for his work, but it doesn’t cost much to publish a book to the internet.  There is no one who has to physical distribute crates of books to stores.  I understand that the publisher does have employees and such and the companies who run the estores have employees and they all need to make money.  I understand how the system works.

It blows my mind that the same book that costs $7.99 at the store costs $9.99 or more online.  What sense does that make?  What is the justification for that?  There is no answer but flat out greed.  This industry is going to bury the workers who manufacture the books, the warehouse folks to distribute books, and those who work in retail stores who stock shelves and sell books.  This industry is looking to destroy another bit of our economy and they are going to make us pay for the privilege.  People wonder why our economy teeters on the brink of collapse with unemployment and the cost of living not improving, well, this is just another reason.  Technology, while more often than not, eases our lives, it also is destroying good parts of our lives.  This is just another example.  The book industry is slowing dying and instead of helping the economy by charging a fair price for a less product, the owners of these estores are charging more than a real, solid, paper and ink book.  As annoyed as I am at the rising costs of real books, not to mention the even more annoying various sizes now, the fact the estores charge even more for a paperless file that contains a book is just unfathomable.

I’m sure someone will argue that these estores offer plenty of free or $.99 books.  This is true.  Books written before copyright laws, some ancient texts that have been translations, are offered for little or no money.  Great.  Thanks.  But if I want to read on my ereader anything from the last few decades, it is going to cost more than going to a book store and purchasing it.  Why do people pay? I’m not going to.  If I can’t get it online cheaper than in the store, I am not going to feed the beast.  I will just have to donate or resell some of my books to make room for new ones.  I am going to do what I have to do.  Sometimes, convenience does not out weigh sense.  We will be in a fine pickle if physical books disappear from our culture.  You may not think it will ever happen but don’t be too sure.

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