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This Week at the Movies: 'War Horse,' 'Pariah' and 'Pina'

2011 ends on a good cinematic note.

Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” is part old-fashioned family drama and part symposium on the horrors of combat.

It is the much preferred of the filmmaker’s two pictures currently out in theaters – the other, of course, being “The Adventures of Tintin,” which I found curiously flat.

The first section of “War Horse,” which is based on the popular Broadway show, sets us up to believe it is the type of family picture suggested by the film’s trailer.

Jeremy Irvine plays a young British lad whose overly proud father (Peter Mullan) nearly bankrupts the family by purchasing the titular horse, not so much for the purpose of helping with the harvest, but to upstage landlord Lyons (David Thewlis) during a bid.

The first 30 minutes of the movie involve the training of the animal and strike notes similar to “Black Beauty” or “National Velvet.”

But World War I arrives at the family’s door and the horse, whose name is Joey, is commandeered by the British army.

For much of the picture’s remainder, Joey is passed from a British lieutenant to two young boys who run away from the German army, a young French girl and her grandfather, soldiers along the war’s frontline and so on.

The picture flirts with clichés, but manages to be genuinely moving, especially in the scenes during which the French girl cares for the horse. A later visit paid to Joey by the girl’s grandfather is equally poignant.

While “War Horse” does not reach the heights of the director’s World War II combat drama “Saving Private Ryan,” it is still an effective epic.

Dee Rees’s “Pariah” is significantly smaller in scope than Spielberg’s picture, but just as powerful.

The film follows the travails of Alike (Adepero Oduye), a Brooklyn teenager who is hiding the fact that she is a lesbian from her overbearing mother and stern, but loving, father.

The picture, which was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, features a cast of unknowns and runs a brief 84 minutes.

But this powerful indie is intimately shot and beautifully performed.

In the film, Alike sneaks around with pal Laura (Pernell Walker), who attempts to help her meet women and, later, becomes romantically involved with schoolmate Bina (Aasha Davis).

While the movie is certainly not the first to deal with LGBT issues, it is one of the rare ones to do so in an inner city setting.

“Pariah” packs a significant amount of genuine emotion into its short running time.

If there’s one film that demands to be seen on the big screen this month, it is Wim Wenders’ avant garde 3D dance documentary “Pina.”

The film is a tribute to late choreographer Pina Bausch, whose work combined dance movements with elaborate and surreal stage sets.

Wenders’ documentary blends voice-over narration by members of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal and eye-popping dance numbers on stages and in natural settings.

Earlier this year, Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” became an unexpected hit and, now, “Pina” appears on its way to being the same, at least, based on the full house at a recent screening I caught.

Herzog and Wenders, both of whom were part of the New German Cinema movement in the late 1960s, have proven this year that 3D technology might have a reason for sticking around a little longer.

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