Friday, December 30, 2011

Woa, Nellie

            Stephen Spielberg’s new movie, “War Horse,” has jumped the shark, galloped off into the ditch, and in doing so, I think he’s invented a new genre first pioneered by Mel Brooks:  The World’s Worst Mash Up.

            Think, “Springtime for Hitler.” Think “National Velvet's Longest Day.” Think, “Winnie the Pooh in Auschwitz.”

            I mean, before this there’s been children’s stories, then there’s been realistic adult stories about brutal trench warfare in WWI.  But now, thanks to Spielberg, we have a heart-warming PG-13 tale in a new film that combines both! You’ll laugh. You’ll cry.  Mostly you’ll cringe! 

            Worse, Spielberg seems to think his audience consists of dolts so he has long pauses filled with . . . .  meaningful . . . looks: boy gazes soulfully at horse, horse gazes at camera,  English officers gaze at one another as they contemplate death in a muddy ditch or being shot to  pieces on the wires, horses gaze at one another.  All this mooning and staring and gazing is supposed to convey the high “seriousness” of this whole misbegotten project. Oh, and let’s not forget, the endless times when everyone stares at the horse and reminds the audience that that sure is a very special horse, that is. Yessir.
            And did I forget to mention John Williams’ score, there at every possible moment to goose the tear-ducts, in case some inattentive audience member forgot to feel his heart-strings tugged at the pre-designated spots?
            In short, from beginning to the appalling end – lifted straight from “Gone With The Wind.”  You remember that famous, melodramatic tableux, the hyper-saturated blazing orange evening sky, Scarlett O’Hara in silhouette, fist raised holding a radish?  Yes, that one – the movie is utterly dishonest --one long mash-up of rigged clichés, all of them hoary.

            Or utterly phony.  Take the scene of the British cavalry mustering on the training field to practice their sabres-drawn, full battle charges.  It's a bright sunny day.  Not a cloud in the sky.  Suddenly, the screen is filled with fog, out of which thunders the charging horses.  Very dramatic, but . . . fog?  The establishing shot showed it was a bright sunny day.  Where did the fog come from?  Worse,  as the camera pans back we can see the bright sunny sky all around the bellowing patch of fog. Unless the audience is to believe that the British high command would regularly require fake smoke machines during their practice cavalry maneuvers, then the only reason for the fake fog is simply this:  Spielberg goosing the audience with phony, whiz-bang dramatic tableaux simply because it looked waaaaayyy cool.

        This sorry willingness to put an irrestible single swell moment above the coherence of the narrative appears in more apalling form as our heroic horse completes his spectaculrly filmed scenes fleeing across no man's land only to get horribly tangled and trapped in the barbed wire.  There he founders, cut and suffering.  It's an awful moment until both British and German soldiers realize the animal's agonizing entrapment and, under a white flag, go out to cut him free.  When the German soldier calls to his mates for wire cutters, out of the trenches flies a half dozen, into the air to land with comic thumps.  The audience laughs uproariously, utterly forgetting the poor horse, the hero of this film, who is muzzle down in the mud.  And so a powerful dramatic, moving moment was lost because Spielberg couldn't resist a bit of comic business that better belonged in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. And so it went, the fake foundering the real, with silly Spielbergian indulgences breaking the narrative and knocking the willing suspension of disbelief out of the the theatre.
            I should have known.  In his “Schindler’s List,” a work of high seriousness (It was filmed in black and white so we’d know how highly serious it was), Spielberg went for pure kitsch.  In a long-shot of Jews being herded down the street, he colorized the coat on a little girl in near subliminal palest rose.  At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, so I saw the film again.  Nope.  Little girl in palest rose coat, the only color in the scene. It was akin to pasting a huge blinking  neon sign over her in order to make sure the audience got the message: “ Oh, Look, It’s a Pathetic Child. You must weep now.”
            Imagine that scene running again and again and again for well over two hours.  That’s “War Horse.” 
            And it's time that nag was sent to the knacker-man.



Alon Perlman said...

Well wrote, but after all, its Spielberg. Once King of kitsch, now Emperor of emphatic empty empathy.
(oh, just suffer through it)
“Schindler’s list” as I remember it had a few redeeming qualities, cinematically speaking. And I was brought up on unedited unembellished black and white state apparatus reels commissioned by the Reichstag itself -“never forget”. I’d rather not see it again, through your eyes, because miss-telling that story is a crime in itself. Night before last saw “the Debt” (an earlier Israeli version) on “On Demand”, still showing till12/31, Sundance channel.
Saw the warhorse scenes last night in wide angle in a trailer. A lot of brown tinting and galloping. And that “significant gazing” you mentioned. So that just goes on for another 145 minutes? This was just prior to watching Sherlock Holmes II, second and last theater movie seen in 2011, now that was truly enjoyable action period piece, am told it’s better than the first.
In Guy Ritchie’s movie somehow, the tinted scenes and the stop action photography blended in to the suspension of disbelief. Set supposedly two decades before world war one, and having no pretentions of anything other than action entertainment, it suffers lightly from several technological goofs, including the C96 Mauser‘s claim as to be a M712 Schnellfeuer variant which did not appear till1932, a much more serious error than posing a 1896 gun in a “set in 1891” movie. I dare say you might enjoy it.
Moriartie’s last laugh though, is historically accurate, Human greed will inevitably lead to a war that will end all wars. Were there any Global (un-sappy) messages in Warhorse?
What would it take to get the Cannons published again on Tolosa? The wider audience there may benefit from the warning.

Churadogs said...

Alon sez:"So that just goes on for another 145 minutes?"

Yes. Although, to give the devil his due, the night scene over no-man's land, fleeing horse, etc. is spectacularly done (see my amended posting) but then he had to go ruin it with some Bugs Bunny comic business.

and, yes, Sherlock II was bettter than I. Lotta fun.

Re Tolosa or even New Times. They know my phone number.

Alon Perlman said...

No doubt there are additional cinematographic achievements within, I’ll see it when it eventually comes to the little screen. And the academy and or boxoffice, will pile rewards.
Huzza – Off to the glue factory and winter for Poland and France- But is your primary point- by my recollection elaborated even more elsewhere; War is heck, so let’s not glorify it, nor dumb it’s context down.
The only other option the night I saw Holms II, was “We bought a zoo” and this is a review I stumbled on while researching the Historical date setting for Holms- “Reviews of Movies We've Actually Seen, Tears in Heaven, When Animal Movies Attack-
War Horse & We Bought a Zoo: Which Cheesy Animal Movie Should You See This Christmas?
by Ethan Alter” Shades of Disney? Alter notes a scene stealing waddling duck in the early scenes of War horse. And concludes “Will a WWII-set War Horse sequel pit an equine hero against Horse Hitler?”
Anyway, on that note, I saw the Euro version of “The Debt” last night. Amazing to compare the two recent cinematic versions.
Both well done on locations, both had the same cinematographic “feel” and with great acting. Both Butchers of Birkenau superb as baby mangling prison camp experimenters turned caring postwar gynecologists, and showing their true colors when captured by the Mosad agents. The Israeli version falters in a detail- Why is the loss of a straight razor unaccounted for so long? It ends somewhat enigmatically. The unnecessarily longer English version has Helen Mirren and implausible foiled escape plan, justifying a little Bourne conspiracy style escape through East Germany’s Berlin, and ends mawkishly, force feeding the ending, like gray gruel into the mouth of a reluctant prisoner. A very Spielberg ending.
So now I have to find the book-Arghhh
Been nice virtually visiting Los Osos again, at least in spirit.
So Auf Wiedersehen! and For Auld Lang Syne! at least till next year.

Churadogs said...

My point wasn't that War is Heck, but that there was a basic, constantly jarring dissonance in tone and style in this movie, i.e. Winnie the Pooh in Auschwitz. So many of the parts just didn't fit together. Plus, there's a fine line between "heart-warming" and "mawkish."