Film Review: LEAN ON PETE (UK 2017) ***1/2

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Lean on Pete Poster

A teenager gets a summer job working for a horse trainer and befriends the fading racehorse, Lean on Pete.


Andrew Haigh


Andrew HaighWilly Vlautin (novel)

LEAN ON PETE is British drama film written for the screen and directed by Andrew Haigh (45 YEARS), based upon the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin.  LEAN ON PETE is also the name of the horse that both changes and challenges the life of 16-year old Charlie (Charlie Plummer). 

The film is about a boy and a horse, but not for the whole duration of the movie.  When the film opens, the audience sees Charlie with his father and new girlfriend.  Being dependent on his father for a limited amount of money, Charlie befriends horse owner Del (Steve Buschemi) for a job.  He is introduced to a horse called LEAN ON PETE.  When the horse loses a race, coming in last, the horse is to be sold off to die.

The film benefits from the performance of its young lead, Charlie Plummer who has already proven himself in the role of the millionaire Paul Getty’s nephew in ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, playing opposite Oscar Winner Christopher Plummer.  Charlie is no relation to Christopher Plummer despite the identical surnames.  Charlie Plummer captures the pain and desperation of a teen unwanted by both parents.  He has still the look of innocence that will have the audience on his side no matter the bad deed he commits.  In one scene, he suspects that he might go to jail, but heaven forbid if he does!  When the film screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival, Plummer won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress. Besides Plummer, Buscemi and Zahn both stand out in their supporting performances.  Both actors reprise their quirky character roles, though their character are very different.

LEAN ON PETE moves at a slow pace during its first two thirds of running time before switching gear with a story twist.  Haigh’s camera loves to linger on the actors.  On the few action scenes, the two punch up scenes and the one where an accident occurs with Pete (the details not to be mentioned in the review as to avoid a major spoiler) are executed with quick edits as to create a shock effect.  This succeeds as the audience is clearly jolted out of their seats the three times.

Haigh’s film suffers from a suitable ending.  He opts for the Charlie running off into the horizon (no sunset here), reminiscent of the famous French classic of youth, Francois Truffaut’s LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS (400 BLOWS) where Truffaut ended his film with young Jean-Pierre Laud running on the beach.

Despite the film’s slow pace and other minor flaws, LEAN ON PETE comes off as a sincere film about a boy’s coming of age .  The story shows that life does not always hands one everything on a silver platter.  Some are born into riches and royalty.  Others like Charlie are less fortunate, born into a broken family.  He learns from his race horse, looking after Pete, the horse reflecting the same poor demise, Charlie the human is going through.  Charlie struggles and makes it at the end.  Haigh’s shows that it is a long and hard journey, but one that is necessary to take.  On these grounds, LEAN ON PETE is a successful film,  evoking the audience’s emotions and sympathy.



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Movie Review: Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)

warcraft.jpgWARCRAFT (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Duncan Jones

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell

Review by Gilbert Seah

The phrase ‘based on a video game’ should scare serious movie goers from this CGI blockbuster extravaganza. Based on the Blizzard Entertainment Warcraft series which consisted of 5 core games, this film is actually based just on the first one. WARCRAFT is set in the human Kingdom of Azeroth, threatened by an Orc invasion before Azeroth was expanded into new continents of Kalimdor, Northrend and Pandaria, allowing the introduction of new characters like the Night Elves.

The story in nutshell involves humans fighting against the Orcs as they invade through a portal. The battle lasts from the start to the end of the film. There are several main characters, humans and good Orcs to distract audiences from a basically non-existent story.

The Orcs come from another world called Draenor to invade Azeroth. The warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel) fights for his king (Dominic Cooper) who relies on the suspicious Guardian, Medivh (Ben Foster) who has taken to the dark side, and is responsible for opening the dreaded portal. Meanwhile, the young warlock Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) lands a hand. The Orcs are led by an evil Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), that a good Orc chieftain recognizes should be stopped. The characters help to liven the video game movie up several notches.

The film is best watched in IMAX 3-D – forget the small extra cost. It is difficult not to get into the action on a film in 3-D IMAX. The special and video effects, production design by Gavin Bocquet) and costume design all look the more convincing. This is director Duncan Jones blockbuster directorial debut after making small films like MOON and SOURCE CODE.
I entered the screening with the lowest expectations after all the bad hype about the movie. But truthfully, WARCRAFT is not bad. It is better watching an expensive blockbuster that is difficult to make than a well reviewed low budget film with maybe just two characters. On has to give credit for effort put in.

WARCRAFT ends with the obvious set-up for a sequel. Judging from other critic reviews so far, WARCRAFT has been panned. But for video game fans, this might be the fun film summer has promised. The film has already made $45 million in China on opening day breaking all records for a weekday opening day. So it looks like a sequel will likely be in the making with Night Elves.

See WARCRAFT for what it is – guilty entertainment with super special CGI effects. And Remember – to see it in 3-D IMAX.