Another Oscars update

War Horse

Director: Steven Speilberg

Now I love the play and have read the book as well. Initially I had reservations about a film adaptation but I went to the cinema with an open mind. I came out having enjoyed the film but saying, “well it wasn’t as good as the play” and a desire to go and see the play again.

While there are some scenes or sequences that have really benefitted the move to the big screen – Joey’s epic run through No Man’s Land is the stand out moment of the whole film for me – it just doesn’t have the magic that the play does. So much of that magic comes from the outstanding puppetry and the fact that the puppeteers make the horses so lifelike and I think you automatically lose some of that by using a real horse.

And just as there are elements that flourished on the big screen there are equally elements that suffered from being on the big screen. Mainly the relationships between the characters. And especially the central key relationship between Albert and Joey. It felt as though not enough time was dedicated to their relationship which resulted in not really understanding just how extraordinarily  strong their bond is without some prior knowledge of the story. There were characters and scenes added into the film which do not exist in the play and equally there were characters left out from the play. Admittedly these only have any sort of relevance if you have seen the play as well.

Tom Hiddleston again makes a brief but shining performance as Captain Nicholls (and should really have won the BAFTA Rising Star award!) as does Benedict Cumberbatch, another exceptionally talented rising actor. Jeremy Irvine did an alright job as Albert but i didn’t really connect with him in the way that I should have. It was lovely to see Michael Morpurgo in a cameo role though not everyone will realize it is him.

John Williams does a very good job with the soundtrack managing to create something new for the film that still has ties to the music of the play. Indeed there are moments when the music was so close to that in the play that I was questioning whether it actually was. And I was overjoyed to hear The Scarlet and the Blue.

Like I say the film is good in its own right and yet it has nothing on the play. It would be interesting to know what people think of the film if they have not previously seen the play.

Real Steel

Director: Shawn Levy

The second robots hitting robots film nominated in the Visual Effects category, so you can’t help but compare it to the Transformers film. Set in the near future it transposes robots into a Fight Club situation complete with a seedy underground scene. There’s some schmaltz while father and son do some reconnecting and bonding but ultimately it’s about robots beating the crap out of other robots.

Hugh Jackman gives a solid performance as the no good father, Charlie, a down on his luck ex-boxer promoter with a gambling habit. His performance is a very physical one, especially once he starts teaching Atom to box, and he does it very convincingly. Dakota Goyo as Charlie’s 11-year-old son, Max, is actually pretty good. And that’s high praise coming from me as I often detest boy actors and yet this wasn’t the case in Real Steel. Goyo manages to play a young boy left with the father who abandoned him with the right amount of anger and hope that he will be able to have a relationship with his dad.

Atom is a great robot – solid rather than flashy with a rather enigmatic smile. The visual effects are strong and have more of a grounding in the real world. The robots in the underground fight scene are gritty, dented, broken, beat up and worn compared to the robots in the Robot Boxing League who are flashy, shiny and high-tech. The league robots are the ones that have more in common with the Autobots in the Transformers films.

I enjoyed Real Steel. It didn’t try to be anything more than what it is – a father son relationship set to the background of fighting robots. I found it to be a heartwarming story that made me smile with stunning visual effects.

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

I said when the nominations were announced that there was an incredible amount of hype surrounding this film and it had the potential to win a number of awards. And it has already, picking up numerous BAFTAS including the big 3 of Best Actor, Director and Picture.

The music is outstanding but then it has to be as it is the driving force of the narrative in an otherwise silent film. The costumes are divine though I just adore the fashion from the 1920s. I find it extremely glamorous. There is a much more physical comedy to the performances as obviously verbal comedy doesn’t come across in a silent film, however it isn’t slap stick. The moments of heightened sound in George’s nightmare lend a surreal edge to it and actually make me think of radio plays.

Jean Dujardin as George gives a solid performance and charts the downward slide of a star unwilling to embrace the advent of new technology well although I’m not sure the performance is Oscar worthy, especially when put alongside the other nominees this year. He has the sort of charm and style of the stars of yesteryear like Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant. He also reminds me a bit of Gene Kelly with his twinkley smile and his dancing. The dog is adorable! Berenice Bejo is beautiful as the rising young star Peppy Miller. Her story and George’s are polar opposites. She has a meteoric rise to fame and yet at the same time there is a sadness to her, especially when she is with George. Both Peppy and George’s stories are cautionary tales about fame. Peppy’s shows that fame cannot buy you happiness while George’s shows that fame and wealth are fleeting and you shouldn’t take anything for granted.

I can’t see what all the fuss is about really. In actual fact I see it as a step back in film production as it doesn’t utilize all the tools available to it. I can understand how some people would argue that The Artist is a return to a purer form of filmmaking but I disagree. There was obviously a reason why silent films have not endured in the same way as ‘talkies’ have. I do see why people have been raving about it as The Artist is a film unlike any other being made at this time but I don’t think that it is really all that special. It’s not a film I would watch multiple times. I find the dialogue cut-aways irritating and not nearly consistent enough. I would prefer subtitles despite them not being in keeping with the style of the film. And I really dislike the fact that there is dialogue in the final 5 minutes. It’s almost as if it doesn’t have faith in its own identity as a silent film.

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