Contrarian

A person of substance and experience has seen War Horse and isn’t eating the oats like the others. He got in touch this morning. Here’s his report:

“I have a fairly high tolerance for schmaltz and sentiment. I bought into The Blind Side heart and soul. And as someone who dearly wishes that Steven Spielberg would get back on his game and deliver a winner, I was rooting for War Horse, especially as a potentially high-quality family film.

“But dear Lordy…

“My guard was up immediately when the film opened with the hoariest of cliches — a smitten lad beckoning a testy steed with an apple. When the mustachioed landlord came after the poor family for their back rent, he did everything but twirl his whiskers. By the time the comic-relief goose started squawking, it was clear that Spielberg not only wasn’t raising his bar, he was settling for the trite and true and nothing new.

“He does get probably the most important elements pretty much right: The horses are the best actors on the screen even if one flashes a Barrymore-esque profile shot that would be ridiculous in a silent movie. And the battlefield sequences, especially a cavalry charge massacre and encounters in the trenches, are duly rousing, harrowing and authentic — though not enough to top Paths of Glory or All Quiet on the Western Front.

“But tonally, War Horse is at odds with itself. It seems to be trying for almost a folk-tale feel, somewhat mythic, and then asks us to flinch at the horrors of war. The single most egregious shot is when a spinning windmill coyly hides an act of violence unnecessarily, perhaps protecting the family-friendly rating.

“Even a top-of-the-line cast can’t enliven the material when what they are asked to do is so predictable. That said, for some reason I never felt its length. But I think I was mostly eager to see just what Spielberg was going to try to get away with next.

“I don’t know what’s happened, but the man who made Saving Private Ryan didn’t make this.”

33 thoughts on “Contrarian

  1. clockwork taxi on said:

    Judging from the first paragraph of this review, “a smitten lad beckoning a testy steed with an apple. When the mustachioed landlord came after the poor family for their back rent, he did everything but twirl his whiskers. By the time the comic-relief goose started squawking, it was clear that Spielberg not only wasn’t raising his bar, he was settling for the trite and true and nothing new.”

    I think i’ll pass this person off as an elite pompus a-hole who finds very little pleasure in life.

  2. I feel for all who end up seated near Wells during the critic screening of this… It’s gonna be a seat-shaking, lying-on-the-floor groanathon to end all.

  3. Is that apple scene he describes a cliche? How many movies have that scene?

    I don’t know how people finished The Blind Side. From, Hancock, The Rookie was more worthy

  4. So I take it you DIDN’T read my e-mail request this morning asking you to stop bashing War Horse every chance you get…

  5. ” The horses are the best actors on the screen even if one flashes a Barrymore-esque profile shot that would be ridiculous in a silent movie. And the battlefield sequences, especially a cavalry charge massacre and encounters in the trenches, are duly rousing, harrowing and authentic…”

    You know what…that’s all that matters. Judging by the trailers you know right off the bat that the human characters are nothing but window dressing. Its all about the horse galloping through that 2:35.1 frame. If he did that right then this going to be a monster at the b.o.

  6. Seriously Wells….

    I’m not at all in the bag for this movie, and there’s a definite chance that I’ll find it to be insufferably sappy…. but shit. Way to show your cards.

    It might seem just a bit more fair if you’d stop acting like you’re actively rooting for this movie to suck.

    And of course you adore and promote the “contrarian” when it’s along the lines of your beliefs (hopes) … (unless it’s somebody being contrary to your views regarding everything from shoe color to politics)

  7. I suspect this will be one of Jeff’s “saw the film – not so bad, pleasantly surprised, better than I expected” etc etc initial reactions.

    Then he’ll see it for a second time the following week and promptly file a retraction.

  8. War Whoring – phrase, derogatory – a chronic condition in which a blogger becomes addicted to loathing a film called War Horse.

  9. The movie just started showing and reactions are coming in. This is a daily column and I cover the waterfront so whadaya whadaya? I’ve run one major positive from AICN, an articulate rave from a YouTube guy, an assortment of blurby positives, the view of one hater and the view of one distinguished contrarian (above). The latter, as I said, is a person of substance and experience so why don’t you kiss my ass? The movie didn’t screen last week or the week before — it screened last night and the night before last.

  10. Jeff, whoever wrote you that email is right on. I saw this last night in Beaverton and while I didn’t hate it, it’s not necessarily something I would recommend. If you’re not an avid moviegoer, then “War Horse” is going to feel fresh and may even border on a masterpiece(and the audience I saw it with seemed to think so). To me, it played like “Spielberg’s Greatest Hits” mixed with a bit of Capra.

    There’s a reason the studio is showing it in areas that aren’t considered hotspots for cineastes. Beaverton is only a few minutes from Portland, but the audience “War Horse” would have gotten there would be far more critical of the film than the one that saw it last night.

    I found it interesting that the four individuals who were running the screening made no mention of Spielberg or Dreamworks when introducing the film. Instead, it was all about Disney. This is a Disney production. Disney’s War Horse. The older couple next to me seemed surprised when the lines “Directed by Steven Spielberg” appeared on the screen.

    I do think this is going to play really well with middle America, families and older folk. And, like I said earlier, I didn’t hate the film. But if we’re going to compare it to the rest of Spielberg’s film output, it belongs in the lower tier.

  11. As if Terrence Malick’s War Horse wouldn’t have a scene of the boy enticing the horse with an apple. Followed by wind blowing through wheat fields, then a shot of the horse being born, then one of the cosmos, then an upside-down shot of a tree. Then the horse taking a second bite, the boy smiles. Close-up of the boy’s mother’s eyes, with whispered voice-over questioning our existence. The horse on a hill, open plains, a starry night, a little girl holds a doll…

  12. “As if Terrence Malick’s War Horse wouldn’t have a scene of the boy enticing the horse with an apple”.

    This is a pointless comparison to make, because there would never be a Malick’s War Horse. Spieldberg is the only reputable American director shameless, infantile and populist enough to touch this kind of sappy material.

  13. First off, I guess there’s another “Joe Gillis.” That’s cool, I guess. Though this one never emailed Jeff to tell him to lay off War Horse; something tells me Spielberg’s millions provide all the comfort the Beard needs.

    Main point: I’m guessing no one wants to come right out and say that Wells’ contact “of substance and experience” is probably just Wells himself. Very least, we’re all thinking it, right? To wit:

    1) Calls the source a “person of substance and experience.” Jeff loves proclaiming his own gumption, so that example checks out.

    2) “And as someone who dearly wishes that Steven Spielberg would get back on his game and deliver a winner…” Wells said pretty much that same thing in an article about summer movies when he talked about Super 8 (I can’t source it–hopefully someone else will be able to).

    3) “…It was clear that Spielberg not only wasn’t raising his bar, he was settling for the trite and true and nothing new.” The smoking gun, as far as I’m concerned. That “trite and true and nothing new” turn-of-phrase is Vintage Wells. It alliterates/rhymes and sounds really snappy, even though when you parse it out, it’s this close to being complete nonsense (think Wells coining “crisco-discoed” or “angler-dangler”). Only thing missing is somebody calling Wells out on how silly the phrase actually is, and him retorting with, “Language is a fluid and blah blah blah.”

    So yeah, close the books on this one, people. He’s seen it, doesn’t like it, and won’t/can’t cop to it yet, or he’s made up a contrarian and given him a Very Jeff voice. Your call on which is less unsavory.

  14. What’s amusing reading these reviews is the knowledge that there are people out there who hated- and still hate- TITANIC for all the same reasons.

    Titanic is a manipulative schmaltzfest. But it WORKS.

    That’s all I need to know about this. I don’t need to know if its fucking Eisenstein bearhugging Truffaut. I need to know, DOES IT WORK?

  15. @Ray:

    War Horse works – it will be huge in middle America, and it will be huge with Academy voters.

    And Jeff’s pal “bought into The Blind Side heart and soul,” but he thinks War Horse is crap?

  16. I was able to get into the screening in PA. Going in I did not have any preconceived notions about the story of WAR HORSE. I knew that it was a huge hit on Broadway and I had seen the movie trailer. The trailer pretty much tells us that a lovable horse runs through some war stuff. During the first 30 minutes of the movie I wanted to hang myself. The first act looked like some of the worst “green screen” I have ever seen. The lighting was harsh and uneven. I am pretty sure Helen Keller edited the first part. There is a weird zoom into the mother’ hands while she is knitting that dissolves to a running horse. The effect is so cheesy that I think I heard a few people chuckle. I will toss this up to the possibility that this was not the final cut and hopefully it will be cleaned up before it’s release. Also, the story line and script in the first act are so predictable I readied myself for a big disappointment. But then it all changed. After the agonizing story of WAR HORSE being raised we begin to meet other characters who lives cross with this horse. It is here that we see the real Spielberg. We see various stories about people that have come into contact with this horse. One of the stories involving two brothers fighting in the war is way too long and goes off in an odd direction, but the others are very well done. The scenes from the war are Spielberg at his best.

    MATTAWARDS.COM

  17. I can’t remember if I like him or not, (tanglements with issues and what-not) but damned if Krillian hasn’t been on something of a roll lately.

    Sometimes HE comments are almost Onion AV Club worthy in their goodness.

    I larf at the people who declare they’re “leaving, gosh-darn-it!”.

    In the words of Ty Lookwell, (aka Buzz McCool), “your loss, my friend”

  18. ‘Didn’t feel its length’

    Really? Was it just me that laughed at that?

    Seriously though. Given the state of most modern movies (barely watchable hack jobs) are we really all hoping that a genuinely great film-maker like Spielberg is gonna fail. Even if this turns out to be Spielberg’s worst movie, I guarantee it’ll still be more cinematic, exciting and better crafted than anything JJ Abrams has and, will ever, produce.

    There’s an awful lot of bad film-makers out there more worthy of your bad wishes. Jeff, you should be ashamed, lowering yourself to AICN talkbacker levels of ‘haven’t seen it but I know it’s crap’ criticism.

  19. Ray: “That’s all I need to know about this. I don’t need to know if its fucking Eisenstein bearhugging Truffaut. I need to know, DOES IT WORK?”

    That is the essential point of commercial filmmaking. A movie does not become a blockbuster if the coasts goes nuts and the fly-overs stay home. There are just as many or perhaps even more people who loathe Pulp Fiction than love it.

    If War Horse tugs on the strings, people are going to go nuts over it. And in the modern era nobody knows that better than Spielberg. He is the master of evoking sentiment. Cameron has studied him diligently. Titanic to me is a classic Spielberg film, and look at the result.s As crappy as the dialogue is in that movie, when the boat sinks and the hero dies…it works.

  20. “That’s all I need to know about this. I don’t need to know if its fucking Eisenstein bearhugging Truffaut. I need to know, DOES IT WORK?”

    Same here. That’s all I want to know also. Pet peeve: people, bloggers saying how the film “will play.” They have no idea how it will play. No idea how it will do in the Oscar race. They should just say how they themselves felt about the movie.

  21. Funny that MattAwards mentions the lighting in the first act. I had the same impression and just thought they were projecting it poorly. It had an old-timey look (aka, poorly lit on a soundstage)

  22. I cannot wait for the day that a spammer reposts someone’s negative WH review in the comments, then Jeff reads it and writes something up using that as the basis of a new post. And then another spammer will “comment” on that.

    On that day, the HE singularity will finally arrive.

  23. i don’t know nothin’ bout nothin’ cept this: if a movie is ANY GOOD AT ALL all kinds of things can happen cos most films are shite.

    I saw the trailer for WH and said, “If this pic is ANY GOOD AT ALL it’s the movie to beat for best pic oscar.

    why?

    its the “if this pic is any good at all” theory.

    it worked with social and kings last year.

    they were just simply “any good at all” and awards/crix magic happened.

  24. Ray: “That’s all I need to know about this. I don’t need to know if its fucking Eisenstein bearhugging Truffaut. I need to know, DOES IT WORK?”

    That is the essential point of commercial filmmaking. A movie does not become a blockbuster if the coasts goes nuts and the fly-overs stay home. There are just as many or perhaps even more people who loathe Pulp Fiction than love it.

    If War Horse tugs on the strings, people are going to go nuts over it. And in the modern era nobody knows that better than Spielberg. He is the master of evoking sentiment. Cameron has studied him diligently. Titanic to me is a classic Spielberg film, and look at the result.s As crappy as the dialogue is in that movie, when the boat sinks and the hero dies…it works.

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