Friday, March 16, 2012

Summer loving, bittersweet reunions

(From the Mar. 16-31 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

If cooling down at a nearby cinema is your way of beating the early summer heat, grab some popcorn and catch these surprisingly breezy offerings.

Sleeper hit “The Vow” has been around for weeks, successfully attracting curious moviegoers and exhibiting its post-“love month” longevity with ease. Interestingly, it’s not the usual feelgood date movie, in that it centers on a young couple whose happy marriage is marred by an accident that causes one spouse to suffer partial amnesia.

Rachel McAdams’ Paige is the sculptress wife who wakes up from a coma and fails to recognize her devoted hubby Leo, played by Channing Tatum. Paige only remembers details from her younger years, unsure of her relationship with Leo because he’s not in her resurfacing memories.

“The Vow” ably mines that intriguing conceit, which was inspired by actual events. Paige attempts to retrace her last steps, but only finds emotional connections with her estranged parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), and her ex-fiance (Scott Speedman). The quietly suffering Leo remains supportive, although seeing her regressing to an immature and na├»ve version of the woman he loves does test his patience.

 McAdams typically imbues the role with believable dimension. Tatum is a bit uneven; he’s often surprisingly subtle here, but sometimes, his imprecise emotive outbursts uncomfortably jolt.
   “The Vow’s” reality-inspired and periodically weepy situations do pose challenging questions about the nature of love and chemistry. And while it doesn’t always answer them creatively, it nonetheless connects with its emotionally charged scenarios.

The Steven Spielberg-directed drama “War Horse,” meanwhile, starts as a seemingly regular pet movie, but eventually evolves into a sweeping epic. The titular beast is a colt named Joey, trained by its young owner Albert Narracott (newcomer Jeremy Irvine) in plowing the family’s field. Sold to the army against Albert’s wishes, Joey becomes an active part of war efforts, a silent witness to human hostility.

Much like the musical instrument in 1998’s “The Red Violin,” the horse changes ownership in a span of years, becoming integral to some people’s plans and activities. The strange farm animal becomes one of many horses used in a cavalry’s daring attack on German forces during World War I, and subsequently figures in its different owners’ tales.

“War Horse’s” lush and transporting visuals complement its solid cast of brilliant actors. Irvine, who somewhat resembles a young Ethan Hawke, shows promise, competently balancing out scenes with Emily Watson and Tom Hiddleston, among others. Just as important is the young actor’s rapport with the horse; they do look comfortable with each other.

Running at almost two and a half hours, “War Horse” manages to expound on several characters’ tragic stories, unified by their connection to the majestic animal. This fine film is heartbreaking at certain junctures, but is also heartwarming when one least expects it. 

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