Sunday Short Reviews

Every Sunday, Gill delves into his archive of over 800 movie reviews and randomly selects three for your enjoyment! Here are this week’s…

War Horse
Steven Spielberg is trying to relive a bygone age of movies with War Horse, channeling the tone of horse movies like The Black Stallion and boy-and-his-animal films like Old Yeller. The look and atmosphere of War Horse are both great, and the film has an interesting mix of sweeping cinematic shots as well as theatrical, staged-looking set ups. Where the film falters, however, is in the construction of the plot. The titular horse serves as the through-line through numerous, smaller side-stories, and frankly, I didn’t think the horse had much character. This made it difficult to get invested in what happened to the animal, but even more annoying was the fact that, without the horse to be invested in, I found myself desperate for some human characters to get behind. I loved the segment featuring Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch, but sadly it came early in the film, and once it was over, I longed for those characters to return. Overall, War Horse is a well-made movie that’s rather schmaltzy but still solidly constructed. It’s not a movie that I’m itching to see again any time soon, but it still delivers a high quality of entertainment that we’ve come to expect from Spielberg. It may be weaker Spielberg when compared to the rest of his filmography, but weak Spielberg is still good, strong filmmaking.
3.25 out of 5

The Tree of Life
I find myself struggling to offer a recommendation when it comes to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, because beyond film students, film scholars and films critics, I don’t think many people will latch on to this movie. More of a mood piece than a narrative, The Tree of Life lives or dies based on how much you enjoy watching terrific cinematography. It’s a very ponderous film, but segments like the twenty-minute “creation of the universe” sequence are pretty breathtaking. There are no two ways about it – The Tree of Life is a big-budget art film, and therefore the intended audience is a niche demographic. Fans of films like Koyaanisqatsi will probably adore it, and I could appreciate the intricacies of Malick’s creation, but I’ll also admit that it was tough to get through it. Still – what other 2011 movie can you think of that dedicates a sizeable chunk of its running time to showing you the creation of the universe? There’s something to be said for that.
3 out of 5

The Descendants
George Clooney gives a great performance in this bittersweet yet hopeful drama about a family dealing with the fallout from the impending death of the mother figure. The Descendants is sad, but never so sad that you feel like the movie is a bummer. It’s also quite funny, but never so funny that you feel like it’s belittling the subject matter. In other words, director Alexander Payne has done a terrific job of balancing bittersweet comedy, realistic-feeling family drama, and hopeful optimism in the face of despair. Robert Forster also delivers an awesome turn as Clooney’s character’s father-in-law – a gruff old bastard with a heart behind his tough-as-nails exterior, and Nick Krause deserves some accolades for his performance as Sid, the happy-go-lucky doofus boyfriend of Shailene Woodley’s character. If I have one complaint about The Descendants, it’s that I didn’t feel like Sid got much of a resolution to his story arc, but it’s not something that hurts the movie, and ultimately, The Descendants is a very, very satisfying watch.
4 out of 5

See you next Sunday for three more thrilling short reviews!

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