Thursday, May 24, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story














Arriving in cinemas this weekend after a long stream of discouraging news stories about it's production, audiences seem to be giving Solo: A Star Wars Story a side eye, even perhaps saying, "I've got a bad feeling about this." I'm happy to report that not only is it not a disaster, it may be one of the purely entertaining Star Wars films I've seen in a long time. It's not afraid to just be a rollicking adventure story about the most lovable scoundrel in the Galaxy's formative years and delivered on that level beautifully.

Han Solo (played by Alden Ehrenreich) grew up an orphan, working as a petty thief in exchange for shelter and protection from a sort of intergalactic Fagin, Lady Proxmia (voiced by Linda Hunt), along with Qi'ra (played by Emilia Clarke). Han manages to score an valuable item that they can sell to get off their planet and away from Lady Proxima. Pursued by the gangsters Han stole it from, they manage to narrowly escape except Qi'ra gets captured as they try to board a starship and the two get separated. With no other options, Han joins the Imperial Army, intending to become a pilot and return to rescue Qi'ra. Finding himself dropped into combat as a grunt soldier (he apparently scrubbed out of flight school because he had trouble taking orders). There he meets up with Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson), a thief and smuggler looking to do some looting from the Imperial Army. Before he can escape with them, Han is tossed in a pit as an attempted deserter to be fed to a captive beast. Of course, said beast turns out to be none other than Chewbacca. The two are able to escape with Beckett and his crew, who feel that Chewie could be some good muscle to have on their next job and Han would be a good spare pilot. The job is to steal a load of Hyperspace fuel, a very valuable commodity, for intimidating gangster Dryden Vos (played by Paul Bettany). This proves to be a tougher job with more complications than anticipated, leading the crew to seek out the fastest ship they can find, the Millenium Falcon, and her pilot, Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover).

The history of Han Solo is a fairly well known one among the fans of the Star Wars saga so it was a trick trying to keep the film surprising when most fans knew what the big set pieces already were going to be. Screenwriters Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan, the latter of whom wrote arguably the best Star Wars film (The Empire Strikes Back), strike a nice balance between what the audience expects and presenting it in a way that offers a few surprises along the way. Director Ron Howard does a great job bringing the adventure to life, keeping the film moving at a steady pace. I won't get into specifics because I don't want this to be super spoilery, but two of the major elements of Han Solo lore do get portrayed within the film and I have to admit I was pretty giddy watching them unfold. 

Alden Ehrenreich has had some unfortunate press over the past year, with such stories as him needing an acting coach on set and such. I think those rumors may have been overblown because I rather enjoyed him in the role of Han Solo. I had to remember that this was a younger, more idealistic Han Solo. A novice in the art of thievery and smuggling, and yet there is that same sort of fly by the seat of his pants charm that I always loved about the character that Ehrenreich captures wonderfully. Yet, he wisely makes the part his own and isn't just trying to imitate Harrison Ford's iconic performance. Which makes sense, since this Han isn't yet the cynical grump that we meet in A New Hope. Woody Harrelson makes an entertaining turn as Beckett, a mentor of sorts to Han. There are certain traits that Beckett has that we see in Han down the road in later films, which was fun to see. Donald Glover is one of the best parts of the film as Lando, capturing much of the charisma and charm Billy Dee Williams displayed in both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I also really enjoyed Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Lando's  woke co-pilot droid L3-37, a rebellious droid wanting equal rights for all droids and close companion to Lando (perhaps too close for some, but I won't judge). Emilia Clarke does well as Qi'ra, who when we first meet her is just as idealistic and ambitious as Han, but when we see her again later in the film, she is a very different character who has had to make some difficult choices in the name of survival. Clarke does a great job playing the character and is someone we're never quite sure we can trust or not. 

Going into Solo: A Star Wars Story expecting a deep introspection of the character of Han Solo would be a mistake. This is a character that was happiest when he was in the middle of an adventure, showing off piloting a starship. He's not a deep, tortured character and the film wisely doesn't try to portray him as such. It's a breezy, entertaining adventure romp showing the early days of one of the most beloved Star Wars characters and should be enjoyed in that spirit. I'll be the first to admit it's not one of the best Star Wars films, but it is one of the most fun and that ain't bad.            

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Ready Player One

















Here we are, finally at the finish line with Spielberg's latest film Ready Player One. A visual cornucopia of a film, adapted from the best selling novel by Ernest Cline, offers a unique vision of the future and one that feels incredibly possible. 

The year is 2045 and life in the real world is depressing as society is barely hanging on as much of society is populated within slum-like urban centers. To escape such a dreary existence, people log into an immersive, highly detailed virtual reality world called the OASIS where they can engage in countless activities for work, education or entertainment. It was co-created by James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (played by Simon Pegg), but wound up being owned by Halliday after a falling out between the two. When Halliday, passes away, a new game appears made up of three separate challenges. At the end of the game is the Easter Egg, a prize that gives the winner control over the entire OASIS. Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) is one of the many competing to try and win the Easter Egg. As the film starts, no one has been able to beat the first challenge. The challenge is a racing game with an ever changing track that makes the Rainbow Road track in Mario Kart look like a cake walk. Competing in the race is Wade, along with the other Ghunters (short for Egg Hunters) and others known as Sixers, players playing on behalf of the IOI (Short for Innovative Online Industries) headed by a man named Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn). IOI wants to win so that their company can gain control over the OASIS and reap the massive monetary opportunities that lie within it. To help obtain this goal, they will buy out people's debt and make them work it off in one of their service centers across the country. Wade teams up with his friends Aech (pronounced like the letter H, played by Lena Waithe), Daito (played by Win Morisaki) and Sho (played by Phillip Zhao) and another user known as Artemis (played by Olivia Cooke) to ensure that they beat the IOI to winning the Easter Egg.

When Steven Spielberg came on to direct Ready Player One, which the base novel by Ernest Cline is filled with countless 80's and 90's pop-culture references (as those were the days of Halliday's youth and contained clues to help with the challenges), he set out an edict that things from his own films would not be included, with a notable exception that Wade's OASIS avatar was allowed to drive the Delorean from Back to the Future, which Spielberg produced. Considering how much 80's culture he contributed to, this could have turned into a "Greatest Hits" album of a film very quickly. That being said, I have to hand it to the Special Effects folks because they did not follow this directive and sneaked in references to the likes of Gremlins (which Spielberg also produced) and Raiders of the Lost Ark, among others I no doubt missed. But beyond these fun Easter egg references scattered throughout the film, there is a genuinely fun and interesting sci-fi adventure story that I genuinely enjoyed. It centers on a future America where a large segment of the population is absorbed in this online environment where any and all fantasies can come true. The reason why people do that is because the real world has become a real depressing place to live. The environment is in shambles and most major cities are run down slums. Wade lives in a trailer park called The Stacks, which are Trailer home upon trailer home stacked one on top of the other in elaborate I-Beam racks (and the fact that he lives in a trailer park is a nice allusion to the 80's Video Game movie classic, The Last Starfighter.) It is interesting that people get so absorbed into this make believe world and fight so hard to save it and yet show little concern for the real world around them. Of course, the obvious conclusion to draw here is that people are addicted to the OASIS and the limitless possibilities it allows. When you can buy special suits that allow you to feel other characters touching and interacting with your avatar, the line between fantasy and reality get real blurry real fast as well.

The Special Effects in the film are fantastic. For the scenes taking place in the OASIS, everything was shot with Motion Capture technology and then rendered to represent each actor's online avatar. The surrounding areas were then filled in with CGI animation. As one would expect with a Spielberg film, the effects are top notch and downright incredible. From the races of the first challenge, which are rendered to nearly photo realistic degrees, to what turns out to be the second challenge that is such a delightful surprise that I won't dare spoil here except to say that if you're a Kubrick fan, you're in for a treat. Then, to top it all off, the film has a wonderful Alan Silvestri score (Since this film was coming out only a couple months after The Post, Spielberg mainstay John Williams didn't have time to score both films and went with that film instead). Silvestri composes a wonderful original score, but manages to work in a few allusions to his more iconic 80's film scores, especially Back to the Future.  

The acting in the film is great as well. Mark Rylance has a nice supporting turn as James Halliday, seen primarily in previously recorded footage and flashbacks and crafts a unique character that seems equal parts Steve Jobs and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey's character from Wayne's World). It's an interesting performance that really left an impression on me. Tye Sheridan makes for an appealing hero as Wade Watts and does a good job carrying the film, portraying both his character's more quiet and withdrawn real world self and his more extroverted, confident OASIS self. Olivia Cook has a similar arc with her character as well, saying to Wade at one point that meeting her in the real world would be "disappointing", which adds an interesting layer to their growing relationship throughout the film as they more or less mirror one another. I really enjoyed Lena Waithe's portrayal of Aech, Wade's friend in the OASIS who specializes in creating modified items and also repairs other people's vehicles. Ben Mendelsohn makes for a perfectly despicable villain and really captures the types that would populate the 80's movies this film references so perfectly. Simon Pegg pops up in a small supporting role and I, for one, am always happy when he shows up in movies. I'd like to elaborate further on Pegg's role in the film but it would be a spoiler, so you'll just have to take my word for it. 

Overall, I greatly enjoyed Ready Player One. I've never read the book, so I can't really compare on how faithful it was to the source material. However, as a film, it's a fun and exciting sci-fi adventure story taking place in a not too distant future that could very well be possible. I could easily see something like the OASIS becoming a reality. Whether or not it should is another question entirely. But it's one I felt the film explored in a satisfying way, in addition to being another piece of great Spielberg popcorn entertainment. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Post




















For his next film, Steven Spielberg turned his camera to the world of Journalism, specifically the renowned Washington Post and a groundbreaking case that once again reiterated the power and importance of the free press and it's relation to the Government it reports on, especially in the era of "fake news". 

When the New York Times releases a report on some top secret government documents detailing the truth of the then on-going Vietnam War, Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) wonders why they didn't get it. Meanwhile, the Post's new owner and publisher (after the death of her husband), Katharine Graham (played by Meryl Streep) is preparing to take the paper public on the stock market, a move she recognizes will make the paper for financially stable. She also has to deal with a board of directors of all men, led by the condescending Arthur Parsons (played by Bradley Whitford). When an injunction is filed against The New York Times from publishing any more stories, Bradlee sees a chance to grab the story for themselves as reporter Ben Bagdikian (played by Bob Odekirk) sets out to track down the documents for them through a contact of his that he thinks provided the documents to the New York Times. When Bagdikian is able to locate the documents, Bradlee and Graham have an difficult decision to make. Do they go ahead and publish them, knowing that doing so could not only jeopardize the newly publicly traded Washington Post but possibly land them in jail? 

For a film that takes place in 1971, it sure does feel timely in some surprising ways. The main themes of a free press standing up to the Government and freely reporting on it feels just as relevant today as it did in the era of Richard Milhouse Nixon. Steven Spielberg tackles the material well, keeping the film going at a brisk pace as the intrepid reporters locate the copies of the top secret documents and debate whether or not to publish them. Spielberg and his seasoned crew of veterans shoot the film quite well to keep things visually engaging as John Williams provides another fantastic score to the film as well. There are a few minor quibbles as Spielberg can't help but lay his themes on a little too thick, especially in a scene with Katharine Graham walking out of court past a long line of younger women waiting outside, looking on with admiration. Don't get me wrong, I love the strong feminist message within the film and I love that Katharine Graham finally gets her due for her important role as publisher of the Washington Post after basically being ignored in All the Presidents Men, but that moment was just a little too on the nose and spoon fed for me. 

The acting in the film is, as one would expect with this cast, top notch. Meryl Streep leads the group as Katharine Graham, who does a fantastic job portraying her at a very stressful point in her life. She's trying to figure out how to run this newspaper while also learning what it means to take a company public and deal with this huge and controversial news story that could potentially destroy everything. Streep does a wonderful job portraying someone trying to balance all of that and eventually coming to the crucial decision of do they publish the story or not? Tom Hanks is equally great as Ben Bradlee, the managing editor of the newspaper and is anxious to get ahold of the documents and publish them, but also understands the legal quandry that puts them in if they do, something Hanks portrays quite well. Boid Odenkirk has a good turn as reporter Ben Bagdikian and is quite compelling in the role as his character chases down his leads to locate the top secret documents.

As someone who studied Journalism in college, a film like The Post is probably going to hold more appeal for me than some others. Still, it's a fantastically made film that manages to generate suspense from a historical event that many may already know the outcome of, which in itself is pretty impressive. In it's own wonderful, unexpected ways, the film also manages to make itself an equally compelling companion piece to Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men. Something that became all too clear with the film's final shot, if you catch my drift. On it's own though, it may not be essential Spielberg, but it's still very good Spielberg and I can't ask for much more.   

Friday, April 6, 2018

The BFG














Steven Spielberg made a return to his roots with his next film, The BFG, recapturing the magic and wonder of his earlier films while matching it with cutting edge contemporary effects for a thoroughly charming cinematic experience. 

Sophie (played by Ruby Barnhill) is a 10 year old orphan living in an orphanage in London. She's an insomniac and wanders the Orphanage at night while everyone else is asleep. One night, as she's peering out the window, she catches sight of an actual Giant (played by Mark Rylance). The Giant notices her too and has no choice but to snatch her up and take her with him to Giant Country, a far off and unknown land. Once there, he explains that she has to stay with him because no one can know about the existence of Giants. Furthermore, he tells her she's shouldn't go outside because the island is inhabited by several far less friendly Giants, led by Fleshlumpeater (played by Jemaine Clement), who love to eat people. The two begin to bond as Sophie discovers that the Giant, who she refers to as the BFG (short for Big Friendly Giant), travels to a land called Dream Country, where he captures dreams and then delivers them in the night to sleeping people in London. Sophie also discovers that the BFG is frequently bullied by the other Giants in Giant Country and with the BFG begins to devise a plan to get rid of the other Giants and give the BFG some much deserved peace. 

Steven Spielberg re-teamed with Melissa Mathison in their adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, having previously worked together to great success on E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. They managed to create a film that had just as much charm and heart as their previous collaboration, this time focusing on the unique bond between a young girl and a very unique giant. For the effects, Spielberg once again turned to Motion Capture effects to bring his BFG to life, giving his creation the very unique proportions of a Giant, while also capturing a very lifelike rendering as well. The result is damn near flawless as for the bulk of the movie Sophie and the BFG are sharing every scene together and the live action blends incredibly well with the motion capture animation. 

The performances in the film are quite good as well. Mark Rylance is incredible as the BFG who has his own unique way of speaking that is sort of English, but not quite and is quite endearing in the role. Spielberg knew he had found his BFG when he was working with Rylance on Bridge of Spies and I have to agree. It's wonderful and fun performance that he delivers flawlessly. Ruby Barnhill is fantastic as the wise beyond her years Sophie and portrays the character wonderfully. Penelope Wilton pops up in the second half of the film, playing Queen Elizabeth II no less, and has an amusing turn in the film that I frankly never thought I'd see with the Queen of England. I wouldn't dare spoil it for those who have not seen it but it was amusing enough to make me wonder if the Queen herself had seen it. I know she has a Netflix account and the film is available on there. 

Overall, The BFG recaptures some of the magic of vintage Spielberg in a thoroughly charming film. It has not only dazzling special effects, but a wonderful story and some great acting to back it up. It's not one that found it's audience when it was originally released in theatres in the Summer of 2016, but I can only hope it's found it in the time since then.         

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Bridge of Spies


















Steven Spielberg reunited with Tom Hanks for the fourth time for the Cold War spy drama, Bridge of Spies, an absorbing true story of a captured Russian spy and his unique relationship with his Attorney, who is determined he receive as fair a trial as possible, as well the twists of fate that lie ahead for them in the future. 

In 1957 New York, Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance) is a Russian Spy as well as a talented artist with both paints and drawing. He is arrested and charged with spying for the Soviet Union. Insurance Lawyer James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) is prevailed upon to take up the defense so that the trial will seem fair. Despite the outcome being a forgone conclusion, Donovan is determined to give Abel the best defense possible, all the while dodging the CIA's attempts to get him to break client-attorney confidentiality. Despite his best efforts, Abel is still found guilty but Donovan is able to talk them down from the death penalty to a prison sentence. Meanwhile, Gary Powers (played by Austin Stowell), pilot of the U-2 spy plane is shot down over the Soviet Union. Donovan receives a letter from East Germany that is purportedly from Abel's wife, but the CIA believes it is a back channel message signaling the Soviets are open to swapping Powers for Abel. They ask Donovan to travel to East Germany to try and broker a deal. In an unfamiliar land, Donovan has to rely on his wits to try and broker a deal between two governments that if successful could allow two men to return to their respective homes.

Steven Spielberg, working from a script by Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen, crafts an engrossing and true life spy tale from the height of the Cold War. These masters of filmmaking manage to craft a riveting tale of real life espionage from a story that doesn't have a lot of the typical action set pieces that a spy film we're more accustomed to might have (we're a long ways away from Bond here, folks). Yet, it's in the moments between characters that kept my attention, whether it's Abel and Donovan or Donovan and the East German contact Wolfgang Vogel (played by Sebastian Koch), or the toll this case has on Donovan's home life (his house gets shot at because some people view him as a traitor for defending Abel). 

It's the characters that are a big part of why the film is so compelling. Mark Rylance is fantastic as Rudolf Abel, who is in many ways an ideal spy. Quiet and unassuming, doesn't look or sound Russian (he was born and spent his childhood in Ireland before his family moved to Russia and the accent still stuck). He keeps to himself and is only ever really seen drawing or painting. Donovan is impressed by him and asks him at one point, "Do you ever worry?" to which Abel responds, "Would it help?" Likewise, Ton Hanks gives a reliably good performance as perhaps the least likely person to get involved in Espionage and yet somehow managed to. It's the unique relationship between these two men that really made the film for me. 

Bridge of Spies may not be for everyone. Some may find it a bit more dry and lacking in the sort of suspense the title may suggest, although the film does have a few tense moments. But for those who are interested in a more character driven film based in the reality of what espionage was like in the Cold War days, there is plenty here to enjoy. It's probably not must see Spielberg, but if you're intrigued by the subject matter, there's plenty to enjoy.  

Monday, April 2, 2018

Lincoln



















Following up War Horse was another historical drama for Steven Spielberg, this time a biopic of Abraham Lincoln. Exhaustively researched and cleverly focused, he created a film that breathed new life into that chapter of history unlike any I have seen before.

Abraham Lincoln (played by Daniel Day Lewis) has just begun his second term as President as the Civil War continues to rage on. He had decided now is the time to get the Thirteenth Amendment through the House of Representatives and hopefully bring about the end of slavery and with it an end that bloody war once and for all. Secretary of State William Seward (played by David Strathairn) recruits lobbyists William Bilbo (played by James Spader), Richard Schell (played by Tim Blake Nelson) and Colonel Robert Latham (played by John Hawkes) to help secure the votes needed to get the amendment to pass the House (it had already passed the Senate by this point). Lincoln is also helped by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones), fervent abolitionist.  He also has his own family issues to contend with, his wife Mary (played by Sally Field) is fretting over their son Robert (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt) and his desire to join the Union army. The death of their son Willie still fresh in her mind and she can't bear the thought of losing another son. Meanwhile, youngest son Tad (played by Gulliver McGrath) runs around the White House, treating the entire place as his personal playground. 

Steven Spielberg had wanted to make a film about Abraham Lincoln for a long time but struggled with finding the right approach. Writer Tony Kushner, who had collaborated with Spielberg on Munich, took up the scripting duties for Lincoln and began exhaustively researching the man and his life. The resulting screenplay was a 550 page behemoth of a script and as Spielberg read it, he found the most compelling section was the 70 page section on the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment. They then decided to focus the film on the last four months of Lincoln's life and his determination to pass the amendment and end the Civil War. By doing so, they create a surprisingly intimate look at Lincoln and how the war has worn him down in so many ways but he keeps pushing forward regardless. The film at the same time delves into what it took to get the amendment passed and secure the votes to do so. On the production side of things, the film's look is fantastic, captured once again by Janusz Kaminski. Rick Carter does an incredible job with the production design, recreating the White House of the era with such detail and making everything feel authentic.

The acting in the film is top notch all around. Daniel Day Lewis is nothing short of incredible as Abraham Lincoln. He is so utterly convincing in the role and just completely disappears into it. He brought Lincoln to life in a way that I had not expected. Any sense of the "legendary" Lincoln, the one immortalized on the monument, is not there. He feels tangibly real and relatable. His sleepless nights wandering the halls of the White House, sitting up with the White House wireless operators waiting to hear news reports of the war. His Secretary, Major John Hay (played by Joseph Cross), waking up at night to find Lincoln at the foot of his bed going over pardon requests. After a meeting, him getting down on his knees to fix the fire in the fireplace himself. Those are just some of the wonderful examples of how they managed to capture the real Lincoln and give us a intimate look that I hadn't seen before. And everyone else brings their A game to the film as well. Tommy Lee Jones is exquisite as Thaddeus Stevens and is clearly enjoying the roll, gnashing the wonderful Tony Kushner dialogue with glee. Sally Field is wonderful as Mary Todd Lincoln and has some fantastic moments with Day Lewis. I also have to single out James Spader as William Bilbo, who provides a bit of comic relief to the film as one of the lobbyists trying to secure the votes. Bilbo is a colorful character and Spader is clearly having a lot of fun with the role. Of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg. This film is filled with fantastic actors and they're all doing a great job.     

Lincoln is without a doubt one of Spielberg's best films. Riveting and fantastically acted, with a dash of humor in all the right places. The one little nitpick I'd have with the film is that Spielberg doesn't end the film where he should have and if you've seen the film you'll understand what I mean. There's a perfect spot to end it and instead the film keeps going for another ten minutes. But other than that, the film is perfection and a fantastic look at an important chapter of our nation's history. If you're curious, the film is currently available on Netflix for viewing.  

Sunday, April 1, 2018

War Horse



















Following The Adventures of Tintin by a mere four days, War Horse opened on Christmas Day 2011 to critical acclaim. It was a genuinely moving story of the bond between a boy and his horse told against the backdrop of World War I. 

The story of this film is a unique one as it focuses not on the boy, Albert (played by Jeremy Irvine), but on his horse, Joey as well as their enduring bond with one another. Initially purchased by his father (played by Peter Mullan) to work on their small farm, his mother (played by Emily Watson) is mortified when she sees the horse and is hardly the plow horse they need. Albert has a far more positive reaction and promises to train and work the horse as long as they keep it. Much to their surprise, Joey turns out to be up to the task as the two bond. But catastrophe strikes and the father is forced to sell Joey to the British Army or else they can't make rent on the farm. Albert is devastated but the Officer who buys him, Captain Nicholls (played by Tom Hiddleston), promises to take good care of Joey and return him at the end of the war. From there, the film follows Joey from his time with Captain Nicholls as he makes friends with another horse, Topthorn, who is the mount of another British Officer, Major Jamie Stewart (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), and from the British side to the German side where Joey is taken care of by two brothers, Michael (played by Leonard Carow) and Gunther (played by David Kross), then from there winds up in the care of a young French girl, Emilie (played by Celine Buckens) and her Grandfather (played by Niels Arestrup) and from there onward as Joey makes his way through the war trying to find his way back to Albert. 

Steven Spielberg took a different approach to this film as opposed to other war films, most notably Saving Private Ryan. He makes a sincere effort not to overshadow the epic and moving tale of this incredible horse and the special bond he has with Albert with a lot of extreme violence. The film still has it's intense moments but Spielberg is careful with how it's portrayed in the film. For example, there is a scene in the film where the army on horseback is charging the enemy when suddenly they come across a row of machine guns. We just see the guns fire and then the horses run by without their riders and somehow that was more heartbreaking to me that actually seeing the gore. In the process, they took a very Golden Age of Hollywood approach to how they shot the film with Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, creating shots that immediately reminded me of a John Ford film. The film is absolutely gorgeous and they really let the landscapes and settings help tell the story. The beginning of the film is all bright colors and bold greens of the countryside and then as the film goes on and the war wages on, the scenery gets muddier and darker until we wind up in No Man's Land, which basically looks like the gates of Hell. This is easily one of Spielberg's most visually striking films. 

The film assembled an impressive cast for the film. I loved Albert and his family and they were brought wonderfully to life on screen. Jeremy Irvine makes a great impression as Albert as this idealistic and somewhat naive young man who just falls in love with this horse from the moment he lays eyes on him. He's does well at establishing the strong bond between him and Joey, which is important since his character basically bookends the film in the beginning and then towards the end when he's actually a soldier in the war, looking for Joey and there are some notable differences between the two times we see the character. I really loved the two actors playing his parents, Peter Mullan and Emily Mortimer, especially Mortimer as the far more practical one of the couple. Tom Hiddleston is great as Captain Nicholls, who brings a real sense of kindness and tenderness to his role that I really liked and was surprised by. I also appreciated the care given to the characters of Michael and Gunther and Leonard Carow and David Kross do a great job portraying two brothers facing war together and how they react to it, especially when Gunther made a promise to his parents to keep his younger brother safe. I appreciated the fact that the film transitions between the British and German sides and takes a very even approach to both sides and doesn't outright demonize one or the other entirely. I also greatly enjoyed the performances of Celine Buckens and Niels Arestrup as Emilie and her grandfather. The time the film spends on their farm is a warm and welcome respite from the horrors of war and the two characters wonderfully portrayed by their actors and do a great job showing their very close bond and how it's strengthened by the appearance of Joey and Topthorn in their lives. 

War Horse is a fantastic addition to the filmography of Steven Spielberg as this fantastic epic told from a rather unconventional point of view and with a great deal of style. The film is beautiful both visually and in the story it tells. It's a film that blew me away when I first saw it back in 2011 and it did again when I revisited it now.