War Horse review

Among the many themes that emerge or converge in the films of director, producer, writer Steven Spielberg are lonely children and war, specifically World War II. From the kids in “E.T”: the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) to the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” (1993),  a black and white film but viewers may remember the little Jewish girl in a red coat, waiting for transport to the Nazi death camps. And from “The Color Purple” (1985) for which he deserved an Oscar, to one of my personal favorite’s, this year’s “Super 8”, Spielberg captures lonely children, or children estranged from, or in tension with, their fathers, as none other.

Saving Private Ryan” (1998), and the TV miniseries “Band of Brothers” (2001) and “Pacific” (2010) and back to cinema with “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006), Spielberg draws the heartbreak of war with the pen of cinematic art as few others, perhaps none other. But I think with “War Horse”, opening in theaters on Christmas Day, is Spielberg’s take on the Academy Award winning 2009 film “The Hurtlocker”, his chance to show how war shreds humanity through the desperate courage and pain of a war horse.

“War Horse” is based on based on a 1982 children’s novel by Michael Marpurgo and has been made into a stage play in 2007 that friends have told me is extremely moving. It is estimated that millions of horses died in World War I from all the armies involved.

A few months before England declared war on Germany in 1914, a horse is born in Devon. Albert Narracott (Jeremy Divine), the only son and of  tenant farmers Ted (Peter Mullan) and Rose (Emily Watson). Ted goes to market to buy a workhorse, presumably a Clydesdale, but is enthralled with the strength and beauty of Joey. He spends money he does not have and takes the horse home, to the derision and disapproval of all except Albert.

Joey proves his worth by plowing an impossibly rocky field but the crop is lost in a rainstorm. When war is declared, soldiers come to the village to buy horses, and an officer promises Albert he will bring Joey home safe if he can.

Joey heads into war with the British soldiers, is lost to the Germans, taken in by a French farmer and his granddaughter but eventually ends up working the German transport lines with Topthorn, a black stallion also captured from the British army.

As the longest, most deadly war in history nears the end, Joey escapes from his cruel masters (though some wranglers were good to the horses) and in a heartbreaking sequence, wrapped in barbed wire, cut and bleeding, makes a run for it through no-mans-land. This is the films’ finest, most poignant, terrifying scene, that culminates with Germans and British units recognizing the transcendent strength of this noble steed, and changing them all, just for a moment.

There are elements of the film that won’t pass muster to the careful viewer. The crop that gets ruined is on a slope; my sister, who has a large garden, said the rain would have run off, not drowned the vegetables.  The crookedly plowed field turns into the perfectly furrowed plot from one scene to another. Albert, who eventually is old enough to go to war, is blinded by gas and then all of a sudden he can see but the audience does not get to see that moment. I wanted to see this because the characters were not well developed; the one with the most interesting potential was Rose, played by Emily Watson.

The film has been nominated for many awards for cinematography, that magical craft of bringing light and camera together, by Janusz Kaminski. Kaminski has worked on many Spielberg movies, winning Oscars for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”.  But I found the digital color “filming” to be over saturated making the characters seem almost as if they were motion-capture animation. Some of the staging of the scenes seemed to have been lifted right out of “Gone with the Wind” and “The Searchers”.

I think the dissonance I am feeling about the film is the extravagant production quality in 3D vis-à-vis a story that was more simple (as in less complex) than the huge production called for.

In the end, “War Horse” is about war and it is about the ways that animals can teach us to be more human. It’s too long, but it is inspiring. The horses, several were used for both Joey and Topthorn, will astonish you.

Everything in the film is true, and some of it did happen.

 

Religious Education Congress 2011: A vibrant human mosaic

The labyrinth

 

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Ask anyone who participated in the Religious Education Congress March 17-20 how they would describe the event in terms of art, and they will tell you: It’s the people. Ask author/speaker Jesuit Fr. James Martin and he will tell you that the congress — not Disneyland across the street — is the happiest place on earth.

Charity Sr. Edith Prendergast, who heads the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Office for Religious Education, told me that she loves the congress for its poetry and beauty. “It is an authentic expression of the life of the church and people come to be enriched.”

At the opening ceremony, people from various cultures and costumes processed in the arena that holds 6,000; there was a lovely liturgical dance, and the music and singing engaged everyone. Prendergast presented our new archbishop, José H. Gomez, “the chief catechist of the archdiocese,” with the illuminated Gospels and Acts of the Apostles from the St. John’s Bible from Liturgical Press. After Gomez opened the congress in prayer, he introduced Prendergast. When she got to the lectern to give her presentation, she said, “You will hear from the archbishop later.” Then she paused and turned back to the archbishop and said, “That is, if it’s OK with you.” It brought down the house.

Click here for the entire article: Religious Education Congress 2011: A vibrant human mosaic.

Mirtha Vespi talks about Congress and Magnificat Ministries

 

 

Teresa Deevy; Lost Works Return to the Stage

Teresa Deevy 1894-1963

Theater aims to rescue Irish Catholic playwright from unmerited obscurity

By Retta Blaney

National Catholic Reporter

She had six plays produced at Dublin, Ireland’s Abbey Theater in six years in the 1930s. When her seventh met with rejection, she began writing for radio, despite having been deaf since 19, the result of Ménière’s disease. In 1954 she was elected to the prestigious Irish Academy of Letters. The Irish Timescalled her one of the most significant Irish playwrights of the 20th century. Yet few people in Ireland today and even fewer in America know the name of Teresa Deevy.

The Mint Theater Company, an award-winning off-Broadway theater in New York City, plans to tackle that obscurity over the next two years with its Teresa Deevy Project, which will produce two of her plays as well as offer readings, recordings and publications.

“I found her because I asked the question, ‘Who were the woman writing plays in the first 50 years of the Abbey?’ ” said Jonathan Bank, the Mint’s artistic director. “I began with the perception that the history of theater in Ireland was a lot of men and then, oh, yeah, there was Lady Gregory.”

He found that other women’s plays had been produced, but only Deevy’s had been published, and then only a few.

“What gets remembered and produced is a little bit arbitrary,” Bank said, sitting in his midtown office one hot summer afternoon during rehearsals for “Wife to James Whelan,” the play rejected by the Abbey in 1937 and subsequently only produced once, in 1956, when it received a critically acclaimed production at the small but influential Studio Theatre Club in Dublin. It has never been seen anywhere since. This should not be criteria for judging the play, Bank said, but many people think that if they haven’t heard of a work, it must not have been good in the first place.

“That’s not a great measure of talent of the playwright and the worth of the play, but once that idea gets set, it’s hard to overcome …

Continue reading here Lost Works Return to Stage

Forbes on Film & Footlights

Forbes banner

 

My friend and colleague Harry Forbes has launched a new blog:

Forbes on Film & Footlights

Harry is a wonderful film critic, and I am glad to see him reviewing the stage, The Great White Way (and other venues), as well.  Be sure to add Harry’s blog to your RSS feed (he sometimes gets to the movies before I do!)

Harry has a wonderful background (this resume is from the “about” section of his blog):

“Harry Forbes has most recently reviewed film, TV, and theater for the Catholic News Service, while head of the national Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting. He has written about theater for Back Stage, Time Out New York, and The Manhattan Spirit, for which he was the principal theater critic for several years. He reviewed theater on television for The Christopher Paul Denis Show.

“He has had an extensive career in broadcasting, including running PBS’s New York press office. He has also held public relations positions at the New York flagship stations of CBS and NBC, as well as Thirteen/WNET.

“He is a member of the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA), the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), and the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs (MAC).” Harry Forbes

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Blogosphere, Harry Forbes!

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