Posts Tagged ‘ steven spielberg ’

A Quiet Place (2018)

a-quiet-place-john-krasinski-noah-jupe-millicent-simmonds

Pretty good film. Very suspenseful and tense, and Spielberg-lite at times, channeling the original Jurassic Park quite directly in certain scenes, especially (**SPOILERS**) near the end in the grain silo, and with the kids hiding in the car as the monster alien thing tries to get them. Wasn’t expecting Krasinski would sacrifice himself, though, which was a very nice touch and just about assures he won’t have to pull double duty if he decides to direct the sequel, probably. It was also quite an emotional scene without being corny, wrapping that story element up in a perfect little bow. Well done.

The monsters, though, seemed pretty stupid, and I had a hard time believing humans wouldn’t have figured out a way to kill them before all this. It’s kind of obvious; the monsters have ultrasonic hearing, so maybe turning up the volume to a frequency that would irritate them might be the way to go. It’s not rocket surgery. (**END SPOILERS**)

Anyway, a good film overall. They probably could have milked the suspense a bit more, or done more with the monsters, and some scenes were a bit stupid or didn’t make much sense, like the (**SPOILERS**) water cascading into the sound proof underground booth thing. What the heck was going on there, exactly? All that water came from Blunt’s character leaving the faucet on? Really? And this is the end of the world, you’d think they’d be more careful to not leave potentially valuable water running like that for so long in the first place. (**END SPOILERS**) A really out-of-place moment in an otherwise pretty logically sound film.

But as a film that’s almost entirely silent, and made up of only a handful of characters, it’s incredibly effective, especially thanks to the acting, which is across the board excellent. An effective, entertaining, highly suspenseful little film.

Lincoln (2012) – 4/5

lincoln

Long, well crafted, but somewhat dry film with some fine performances and a plot that focuses more on the political hand-wringing Lincoln and his administration had to go through in their effort to abolish slavery than anything exciting or action packed. The whole movie is mostly made up of politicians giving big speeches and arguing and otherwise trying to persuade one another of this or that or the other thing, or a happy mix of all three. It’s not the most engaging thing to watch for two and a half hours, but it has its moments. And it’s Spielberg so you know you’re in good hands, usually. Still, not exactly what I was expecting.

The film does take a while to get into, about an hour actually, and I did almost fall asleep a few times in the process, but that may have been more to do with general exhaustion on my part than anything the movie failed to do for me. It’s also somewhat confusing at first as a lot of the dialogue is not only dense politically, but crafted in that fancy mid 19th century borderline Shakespeare speak most people love to spend their free time deciphering. But whatever; I understand it’s a political period piece and it’s not supposed to be as straightforward as your average everyday movie. And the thing is ambitious and, considering its success, groundbreaking in a way given that it still manages to be somewhat interesting despite its lack of “standard” action. Spielberg was trying something new here: a big, epic, mainstream historical film where the brunt of the action is more verbal than physical. The plot progresses as people are convinced, extorted, threatened, or bargained with; in other words, it progresses as minds are changed. And that’s very rare to see in a big budget mainstream film, let alone one from Spielberg.

The acting, of course, is good to great, with Daniel Day-Lewis, yes, giving a fantastic performance. The man is a chameleon, what can I say? His voice, his mannerisms, all extremely convincing, especially the voice. How in the hell does he do that? The man has a natural British accent for crying out loud, yet you’d be hard pressed to tell he was anything other than a full blooded American from watching him here. He’s strong and powerful, yet surprisingly restrained. There’s not an ounce of fat in this performance, nothing over the top or excessive like there was in “There Will Be Blood.” Sally Field is also really good, probably the best I’ve ever seen her in anything. She never struck me as being a particularly strong actress, but here, she’s really quite something. Tommy Lee Jones too, man, especially in the later half of the film. Some fine actors really firing on all cylinders. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, though, really doesn’t belong here. He’s in way over his head and utterly unbelievable in almost every scene he’s in, especially when opposite Day-Lewis. He does **SPOILERS** get slapped around a bit by Day-Lewis though, **END SPOILERS** so it’s not a complete loss. But yeah, he stuck out like a sore thumb. Same with James Spader; there was just something off about him here. Must have been all those extra chins.

Overall, decent movie, not for everyone, barely even for me at times. You need to be in a certain mindset before going into it I think, and have some appreciation or interest in history, and even then, it might be a tough watch. The film does get better as it goes along, and features some very good performances, and the cinematography sure is nice to look at. It’s also quite funny at times, even if some of the jokes are occasionally hard to understand given the dialogue. I also thought it odd how all the major black characters in this don’t really look black; it’s almost as though they specifically made sure to choose very light-skinned black actors for fear the audience wouldn’t sympathize with them otherwise, which is quite hypocritical of the film if true. You never know: Hollywood has been known to do such things from time to time. Then again, I could just be seeing racism where none exists.

Anyway, worth a watch, but only if it’s your kind of thing.

 

The Towering Inferno (1974) – 4.5/5

An unnecessarily long and somewhat tedious first act gives way to a pretty great action adventure film full of fire and explosions and people plummeting to their deaths, and all done in a manner more believable than I thought possible given the film’s lack of “modern-day” computer effects. It’s hard to imagine a film like this being made convincingly without the use of some kind of CGI, but here it is, and it looks great, probably better than it would have had they had the technology back then. It’s extremely impressive what they were able to pull off back then, and just how convincing it all ultimately looks. But that first hour sure is a chore to get through, and could easily have been cut by at least a half hour.

The film has a pretty simple plot: a fire starts and spreads atop a highrise. Yet how it all unfolds is great, epic, heart attack inducing. There’s stuff in this film I’d never seen before, even by today’s effects standards. Films have come after trying to imitate of course, but most just pale in comparison. You can tell Steven Spielberg was strongly influenced by this when making his later action adventure films, specifically Jurassic Park; the scene where **SPOILERS** the staircase explodes under Paul Newman and co. and he has to climb down from the ledge, then back up to rescue the little girl, while also having to talk the boy and the woman through making the same climb,**END SPOILERS** felt a lot like the scene in Jurassic Park with the T-Rex and the falling car. Granted it’s completely different in execution, but the basic concept is essentially the same, with their both being relatively small scenes of tense, almost quiet action.

James Cameron also was clearly inspired by this film when making Titanic. That film borrows this one’s same story elements almost beat by beat, even going so far as to use a similar villain type who does almost exactly the same thing Billy Zane’s character does in Titanic to save his hide. It’d be downright plagiarism if Cameron hadn’t chosen to make the love story the main pivot of his film rather than the sinking ship. This film has no real focus here beyond the fire, though it does try to establish a number of lame character side plots at the beginning that, as you can probably guess from my tone, don’t work. But luckily, the film puts them on the side burner once the fire starts and doesn’t really pick them up with any degree of seriousness ever again. And we can thank god for that.

Overall, I really liked this film. It’s great; an action adventure classic, almost a masterpiece of the genre to some extent. Sure, the story isn’t particularly deep or meaningful, the characters are uninteresting, and the first hour is so long and slow that it almost ruins the thing, but once you get through it, man is this thing brilliant. It’s the kind of film that gets progressively more daring as it goes along until it becomes just downright insane by the end, in a good way.

The film pulls no punches either: it’s brutal and demented and entirely devoid of mercy for any of its characters. Some of the imagery here even reminded me a bit of 9/11 at times, which made the thing all the more tense and disturbing. Acting wise, it’s okay. Steve McQueen is great as the larger than life superhero fireman of sorts, doing all sorts of crazy stuff to save people from the flames, including **SPOILERS** using a helicopter to land on top of an outdoor elevator stuck between burning floors. **END SPOILERS** Now that’s impressive. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. He’s the only standout, really. Newman is okay, nothing special.

So yeah, great, great film. A must watch for any fan of exciting high-octane nail-biting action adventure. Can’t recommend it enough, just try not to let the terrible first hour or so discourage you from sticking with it.

 

 

The Color Purple (1985) – 0.5/5

Ughh. Terrible. Truly, unbelievably bad. I’m going to come clean here and admit that I did something with this movie that I usually never do: I stopped watching a little more than half way through. I just couldn’t take it anymore. An hour and a half of this two and a half hour monstrosity was all I could stomach before I had to call it quits lest I lose the remainder of my sanity. There was just so little of it left by the hour and a half mark, I just had to.

But seriously. I can’t remember the last time a movie so irritated me, to the point where the mere thought of continuing to watch it started to make me physically ill. And a Spielberg movie no less, an Academy Award nominated Spielberg movie! Eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture?!? Are you kidding? They’re insane. They’re all insane. Who the hell could honestly say they enjoyed watching this trite, shoddy, poorly written/directed/acted/made garbage, let alone think it worthy of awards? This is Spielberg’s worst movie, and one of the worst I’ve ever seen, by far, my god.

The biggest problem with the film, and there are many, and the reason why it’s such an unpleasant watch, is its tone. What the hell was Spielberg thinking giving a movie about incest, rape, racism, spousal abuse, child abuse, and prostitution a goofy, comical, Disney-esque tone? And not just in one or two scenes, but throughout, even during the rape/incest/abuse scenes. Huh? Who is the audience supposed to be here, exactly? Children? Cause this goofy Mickey Mouse crap certainly isn’t aimed at adults.

I just don’t understand what he was thinking here. It’s the worst possible decision any filmmaker could have made, filming something meant to be tragic and serious in a fun, goofy, comical way. And it’s terrible, god awful, inappropriate and offensive, to a degree I’ve rarely seen in cinema. I get that he had only made entertaining, borderline goofy movies before this and wanted to try doing something more serious, and there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with genre every once in a while, but come on. You don’t have to be a genius to see why turning a grim novel about the misery of a tortured black woman into a slapstick comedy would be inappropriate. So I have to ask, again: what was Spielberg thinking here? Was he thinking?

And the acting, god. Danny Glover is horrible here; over the top, one-dimensional. A perfect cartoon villain, in other words. And the two kids at the beginning, ughhh, and that whole scene where Glover separates them and throws the sister out had to be one of the worst, most horrifically melodramatic, pompous, manipulative things I’ve ever seen in my life. Ughh so so bad, just thinking about it makes me sick.

I’ll give Whoopi Goldberg credit, though; she’s pretty good here. Very believable and sympathetic, and kind of cute in a way. But the shining star of the movie is Oprah Winfrey. I had no idea the woman could act. She steals the show whenever she’s on-screen, and is probably the only thing about this movie that actually deserved any of its award recognition. She ought to have been in more films, actually. She’d have had a good career, not that she needed any more money at that point, or presently for that matter. But a great, powerful performance. A shame it was wasted on such crap.

There are many other problems, too. The writing is awful, the story is unpleasant, the situations are implausible and silly, the cinematography, though beautiful, is inappropriate, and so on and so forth forever and ever amen. Granted I didn’t watch the whole thing, and maybe the moment I stopped it and smashed the DVD to pieces was the moment the movie turned around and became this big amazing masterpiece worthy of all the praise and award nominations, but I doubt it.

Ultimately, it’s crap. Completely schmaltzy, terrible, awful, offensive, poorly made crap. I wouldn’t wish this movie on anyone unless they needed to be tortured for whatever reason, and even then I’d be a bit hesitant to actually go through with it. It’s a truly awful film, one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I recommend you stay as far, far away from it as possible.  Save yourself. Avoid.

 

War Horse (2011) – 4/5

At times schmaltzy, at times genuine and heartfelt little multi-million dollar film that manages to succeed far more often than it fails, mostly thanks to some, as expected, fine direction, beautiful imagery, and a brilliant performance by the horse, or horses, used to portray the title character, assuming the creature wasn’t mostly CGI, that is. It looked like a real horse at least, but who can tell f0r sure nowadays? Either way, someone give that horse an award. The little girl playing the granddaughter of the old guy was also really good, and adorable.

The film is typical Spielbergian pretty lights and closeups and big emotional scenes with brightly lit eyes and people looking at things really intently. It looks great, in other words, but, again, it’s Spielberg; beauty is to be expected. The script is a bit on the iffy side, though, at least initially. The first act or so is really sappy, almost to the point of being rather dull. It does pick up once **SPOILERS** the horse is sold off to a soldier going to war and the film can finally stop focusing on that stupid boring sappy family. God. And what was with that whole plowing scene at the beginning? What a confusing, emotionally manipulative mess that was. **END SPOILERS**

The film’s saving grace is the fact that it chooses to focus on the horse and his many adventures trying to stay alive rather than his experiences with just one family. He meets many interesting people along the way, including a segment with an old man and his granddaughter that is probably the best, most well acted of the lot, though the later war scenes are also pretty great. In fact, the battle scenes in this movie are probably some of the most intense since “Saving Private Ryan.” Bloodless, but still extremely terrifying. And the whole **SPOILERS** horse getting tangled in barbed wire and needing to be rescued by opposing  soldiers was brilliant. **END SPOILERS** Schmaltzy and manipulative, sure, but clever, and visually stunning/metaphoric.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It’s big and pompous as only Spielberg can be, but it’s also enjoyable, emotional, and effective for the most part. And kind of sad too for some reason. Recommended, especially if you’re a fan of big manipulative movies. I know I am.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) – 4.5/5

Overrated crap.

Just kidding. This movie was great! Probably one of the best action films ever made. Non-stop action from the very beginning. And that scene in the temple with the human sacrifice was so disturbing. This is a PG movie?

This, along with Raiders of the Lost Ark, further prove something that I’ve long suspected about Spielberg: he loves horror. He loves to frighten and disturb. Just like the mummy/snake scene in Lost Ark, there’s really no good reason for the sacrifice scene to be as disturbing as it is, or the insect scene to be as freaky, but both are because Spielberg wants to genuinely scare the hell out of his audience, and he does so quite well. I was freaked out. Well done.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – 2/5

What a disappointment, especially given how great the previous two films were. It’s obvious Spielberg was just going through the motions with this one. The script was definitely lacking in story and dialogue, and Sean Connery was surprisingly not very good in the role of Indy’s father. I just didn’t buy what was essentially a poorly constructed and really clichéd father-son relationship. And I understand the principle behind Connery’s having been cast in the role, but he ultimately can’t pull it off, and ends up bringing the movie down.

And to make things worse, the film is all over the place, none of it interesting or logical even in the zany “action movie” sense of the phrase. A shame.

My Left Foot (1989) – 4/5

Good, but not as good as I was expecting. Daniel Day-Lewis is great, naturally. Not only does he play a wheelchair bound, often unintelligible cripple, but he does it all in a swaggering Irish accent. That’s acting, folks.

Everything else about the movie though is a big “eh.” The story is decent enough, but a lot of scenes don’t make any kind of sense, both emotionally and narratively. The ending is a prime example of this. I understand that the filmmakers may have meant it to be more of a symbolic event than a literal one, but it still came out feeling awkward and unrealistic.

It also doesn’t make sense to have Day-Lewis portray a 17-year-old at the beginning of the film. The man looks perpetually 30, with his big bushy eyebrows and strong, manly chin. They weren’t fooling anyone.

There is one scene, though, that I really loved. It was utterly brilliant. It’s about halfway through, and it involves a very drunk Day-Lewis at a restaurant slowly going into hysterics. It reminded me of the scene in “There Will Be Blood” when he’s at a restaurant with his boy and has an “exchange” with some fellow businessmen at another table. I guess filmmakers have figured out the simple fact that a drunk Day-Lewis at a restaurant + disagreeable guests = brilliant, emotionally explosive and Academy Award worthy scene.

Anyway, decent film. Worth watching for the performances, just don’t go in expecting a totally coherent movie.

Super 8 (2011) – 2.5/5

A hoakey, forced mess of a film with occasional touches of creativity and cleverness, mostly in the first act, and mostly in scenes not involving the stupid alien subplot that unfortunately drives most of the story after it’s introduced. Good acting, though, especially from Elle Fanning who is almost as good as her sister and has a successful career ahead of her, I predict, and Kyle Chandler of “Friday Night Lights” fame who was born to play the role of the angry over-protective father. He’s another one to watch. Acting aside though, this is not a good movie.

There is not a genuine bone in this movie’s body. Everything feels so artificial. The beginning first 30 minutes or so are pretty good, to the point where I was actually enjoying what I was seeing, but after the ridiculously over the top CGI train crash sequence things just start going to hell. The very concept of this film is silly, and, ultimately, doesn’t work for me. Even while watching the trailer for this film I remember thinking how stupid of an idea it was; it’s just too disjointed, too needlessly complex, and, ultimately, not very interesting. It’s the type of concept that may work on paper, or maybe as a short story, or even as a novel, but as a film? No.

The group of kids bickering back and forth incessantly was also incredibly annoying. Fanning was good, the best, and really helped ground the film whenever she was on-screen. You can see why the main character would fall for her; she has this maturity and world-weary essence about her that is extremely magnetic, and is the type of actress who can speak volumes about her character with just a glance. A mark of a great actress. A shame she wasn’t the main character as that probably would have made for a much better film.

The real issue though, as I mentioned before, is the story. It’s just not interesting, and often too convoluted for its own good. Most of it doesn’t even work. Maybe if it had been handled by a better director, or written in a more unique, less artificial manner, or even edited more smoothly, they could have pulled it off. As it stands, though, some scenes were just terrible, namely any scene involving Fanning’s father, especially the one near the middle where he ***SPOILERS*** yells at her for having snuck out of the house and she ends up running off and he has to chase after her with his car. **END SPOILERS** What an awful scene: written, directed, acted, just everything. Terrible. I didn’t believe it for a moment.

And the reveal of why her father and the main character’s father, Kyle Chandler, don’t like each other was so idiotic, as was the eventual resolution to that conflict. Come on. Ugh. And what’s with all the stupid lens flares all over the place? I can understand doing it once, maybe, during some cool alien stuff, but in every freaking night scene involving lights? No one editing this movie thought it might be annoying to constantly blind the audience whenever a light was turned on? And don’t give me any of that “director’s stylistic choice” crap; the effect has no meaningful purpose and only serves to annoy the hell out of the audience. It doesn’t even look good.

Overall, not a good movie. At times quite terrible, and at others, merely okay. The beginning was pretty enjoyable at least, the acting was good, and the special effects were decent, except for the stupid lens flare effect which should be destroyed now and forever for the sake of all that is good and decent in the world. The film is a good example of how you can’t force sentiment and nostalgia by just repeating scenes from other films and hoping for the best. You need a good story, good characters, good writing, and good direction, all of which this film lacked. Don’t watch.

Poltergeist (1982) – 4/5

This is one slimy movie. Mud, blood, sweat, inter-dimensional goop: you name it. Just slimy. It certainly appealed to the inner kid in me, (someone whom I had thought good and dead), though why I can’t quite say. It’s not a great movie, at least not the first half, but it gets better as it goes along, and the inclusion of the “false” ending totally took me by surprise. It’s also quite crazy, and the fact that little to anything is explained in any kind of detail, though off-putting at first, serves to only make the film better by the end. Sort of. You can also get a good sense of all the films this inspired, like Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive, just to name a few. This film’s influence is all over those films, as well as many other over the top horror/comedy type films that have been made over the years.

The excessive product placement was extremely annoying though; couldn’t they have at least tried to make it a little more subtle? You know you’ve sunk to a new low as a filmmaker when you have a character in your film essentially stop the action so he can deliberately hold up a bag of chips to the camera for 10 seconds and let the audience in on exactly what brand he’s eating. Come on. And the special effects were extremely dated, though not terrible. Still, the film is very 80s, very Spielberg, and brought back fond memories of “simpler” days, before computers and the internet ruined everything for everyone everywhere forever. Damn childhood stealing technology.

And what a great performance from Zelda Rubinstein. Why didn’t they bring her in earlier? She made the movie. Everything before her appearance was strange and didn’t quite work, but after, wow! Way better. She essentially kick starts the movie, which, unfortunately for us, isn’t until a good hour in. And the little girl was adorable. A shame she died at such a young age. That’s not a spoiler; she actually died a few years after this film was made. And strangely too. As did the girl who plays the teenage daughter in this. The two most adorable people in the movie, in other words. Fun fact to keep in mind while you’re watching. You’re welcome.

Overall, yeah, good movie. Not Spielberg’s best, though he didn’t direct it, or so he claims, and I’m inclined to believe that as it doesn’t quite have that famous Spielberg charm. It looks and sounds like one of his films, but it doesn’t quite feel like it until the last third. Oh, and that scene with the guy in front of the mirror was extremely graphic for a movie aimed at kids. Geez. Definitely worth watching, though, despite the zany plot and buckets and buckets of slime.