War Horse. There’s nothing that brings out a sense of humanity more than an endangered animal. Audiences all over the world will say “Ho hum” while human soldiers are getting slaughtered left and right, but when a lame horse is going to get put out of its misery, the handkerchiefs come out and they start crying “Not the horse! Don’t shoot the horse!” In the entire rest of the film, there is only one comparable moment where you actually feel for a human being. It’s a close-up of Tom Hiddleston’s face, and in that one close-up is everything you need to know about the stupidity and waste of war. But in true Spielberg fashion, this film is about survivors, not the fallen--it’s the horse version of Schindler’s List. And it’s built like a checklist of emotional buttons: heartless landlord (check), precocious but sickly girl (check), horse-driven echo of the Christmas Truce (check), equine version of Ben-Hur as a galley slave (check), a boy and his horse love affair (check), horses charging machine guns (check and double check). And every button works; it’s like seeing an ex, the one who broke your heart, and watching her get under every piece of armor you’ve built up to protect yourself--and she makes you hate yourself for loving every second of it. In other words, it’s very Disney. How Disney? This movie is so Disney that (my hand to God) the goose does comic relief.
A Dangerous Method. This movie feels like somebody said, “I bet you a million dollars that you can’t make a dull movie about carnal desire and sexual neuroses,” and David Cronenberg went, “You’re on!” I don’t know whether it’s the too-literal translation of the Christopher Hampton play to film, or the fact that the Brit and the Dane are playing the Jews (and the Jew is playing the Swiss guy), or the fact that Cronenberg really needed that million bucks, but this is by far the dullest movie in which you will ever see a half-naked Keira Knightley get spanked, and spanked hard, by a bored Michael Fassbender. I mean hell--Fassbender has more energy and verve in the trailer to X-Men: First Class than he does in this entire movie. And Mortensen underplays Freud so much that he’s within waving distance of Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd. All Vincent Cassel has to do is show up and he steals the entire movie. In other words, don’t go see this when you’re sleepy. But if you do doze off, try to remember what you dreamed, because it’ll be five times more exciting. And ten times more revealing.
Barry Lyndon. The most beautiful badly-acted movie ever made. Hands down. It was at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of their See It Big series, and I swear to God, if this was a silent movie? It would be right up there with Citizen Kane.
Elsinore. A 1964 version of Hamlet which just got released on DVD this fall. I watched it on New Year’s Eve with my friend Meir, and we both agreed that (a) Christopher Plummer’s performance in the lead partakes a little too much of the first syllable of his character’s name, and (2) Robert Shaw as Claudius is the shit. Holy crap, is he good. Also: Michael Caine, in his only filmed Shakespearean performance (I know; right?), makes a perfect Horatio. There are some weird cuts in the script (especially in Act Four: second Ophelia mad scene? Gonzo.) and Plummer, alas, spends most of his time on-screen auditioning to be a member of the Barrymore family. See it for Shaw.
Pina in 3-D. If you’ve seen Pina Bausch live, you need to go see this. If you’ve never seen Pina Bausch live, then you REALLY need to go see this. It deserves (and will get) its own full-length review in the next couple of days, so I’ll just say two things here. Every choreographed move in this film, as in Bausch’s work, springs from an emotional impulse. Which makes almost every movement in this movie so human that it becomes a symphony of carnal music. Go see it, and we'll talk.