Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part VI: I hope you're proud of yourself—and those pictures you took


Zemeckis reemerges with one of the most technologically audacious films of all time, a spectacle worth watching over and over again for the sheer complexity of its achievement.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman ("based on" the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf, but at least the book properly punctuates its title)
With Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant), Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit, Benny the Cab, and several weasels), Kathleen Turner (Jessica Rabbit), Lou Hirsch (Baby Herman), Stubby Kate (Marvin Acme), Alan Tivern (R.K. Maroon), and Christopher Lloyd (Judge Doom)

Spoiler alert: forget it, reader, it's Chinatown

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XV: I thought it was Mrs. Victor's soul, going up to heaven


Doubling down on the Oscarbait, we find our director continuing his turn toward subjects "more mature" than magical aliens or Nazi-killing archaeologists.  And yet the severity of Empire of the Sun is met by a director who appears to be as high as a kite on his own sense of whimsy.  Bizarrely, then, the actual result of this weird collision is also the first unambiguously great film the Serious Spielberg ever made.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tom Stoppard and Menno Meyjes (based on the novel by J.G. Ballard)
With Christian Bale (James Graham), Emily Richard (Mary Graham), Rupert Frazer (John Graham), Miranda Richardson (Mrs. Victor), Peter Gale (Mr. Victor), Nigel Havers (Dr. Rawlins), Takataro Kataoka (The Boy Pilot), Masato Ibu (Sgt. Nagata), Joe Pantoliano (Frank), and John Malkovich (Basie)

Spoiler alert: high

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XIV: I want to talk to you seriously for a moment, and, on and off, for the next thirty-one years


The director stumbles into Oscarbait, but the good kind, and comes up with a movie that demonstrates that his powers can be used for edification as well as entertainmentwhile also showcasing a pacey and unfocused screenplay, for almost a full hour longer than it really needs to showcase it.  (The even shorter, snarkier version is, "Welcome to the Spielberg... of the future!")

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Menno Meyjes (based on the novel by Alice Walker)
With Whoopi Goldberg/Desreta Jackson (Celie Johnson, nee Harris), Akosua Busia (Nettie Harris), Oprah Winfrey (Sofia Johnson), Margaret Avery (Shug Avery), Willard E. Pugh (Harpo Johnson), and Danny Glover ("Mister" Albert Johnson)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part V: Tempus fugit


And now, we really find out what we've gotten ourselves into: the uninterrupted run of classics, super-classics, and near-classics that can compete with the work of any director, living or deadnot to mention a great movie, in and of itself, as well as the beginning of something even bigger than just one film, no less than a trilogy worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the mightiest franchises of a singularly-befranchised decade.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis
With Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker), Lea Thompson (Lorraine McFly, nee Baines), Crispin Glover (George McFly), and Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen)

Spoiler alert: severe

Monday, March 21, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XIII: The octopus was very scary!


Hey, Goonies never say die.

Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg
With Sean Astin (Mikey), Josh Brolin (Brand), Ke Huy Quan (Data), Jeff Cohen (Chunk), Corey Feldman (Mouth), Kerri Green (Andy), Martha Plimpton (Stef), John Matuszak (Sloth Fratelli), Joe Pantoliano (Francis Fratelli), Robert Davi (Jake Fratelli), and Anne Ramsay (Mama Fratelli)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XII: Adventure has a name


Look, I know.  All right?  I know.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, and George Lucas
With Harrison Ford (Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr.), Ke Huy Quan (Short Round), Kate Captshaw (Willie Scott), D.R. Nanayakkara (The Village Priest), Roy Chiao (Lao Tse), Roshan Seth (Prime Minister Chattar Lal), Raj Singh (Maharajah Zalim of Pankot), and Amrish Puri (Mola Ram)

Spoiler alert: you may well have seen this a hundred timesbut you have at least seen it once

Friday, March 18, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part IV: That was the end of Grogan—the man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!


Zemeckis goes into the wilderness, and finds a sweet, believable love story where an adventure movie ought to be.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Diane Thomas
With Kathleen Turner (Joan Wilder), Michael Douglas (Jack "Trustworthy" Colton), Danny DeVito (Ralph), Zack Norman (Ira),and Manuel Ojeda (Col. Zolo)

Spoiler alert: mild 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XI: Not only of sight and sound, but of mind


Plumbing his childhood once again, we find Spielberg teaming up with his pal John Landis, as well as Australian action-monger George Miller and rising schlockmeister Joe Dante, in order to bring their beloved TV show back to life.  You'll soon find yourself intently wishing that Spielberg, and especially Landis, hadn't bothered at all.  But then again, there's Miller and Dante, and what you wind up with is an anthology movie that averages out to legitimately awesomeparticularly if you don't look too closely at any of the math you used to arrive at that conclusion.

Directed by John Landis (Prologue, "Time Out"), Steven Spielberg ("Kick the Can"), Joe Dante ("It's a Good Life"), and George Miller ("Nightmare at 20,000 Feet")
Written by John Landis (Prologue, "Time Out"), George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, and Melissa Mathison ("Kick the Can"), Jerome Bixby and Richard Matheson ("It's a Good Life"), and Richard Matheson ("Nightmare at 20,000 Feet")
Prologue: Albert Brooks (The Driver) and Dan Akroyd (The Passenger)
"Time Out": Vic Morrow (Bill Connor)
"Kick the Can": Scatman Crothers (Mr. Bloom)
"It's a Good Life": Kathleen Quinlan (Helen Foley) and Jeremy Licht (Anthony)
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet": John Lithgow (John Valentine)
...and Burgess Meredith (The Narrator)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part X: A boy's life


Spielberg introduces a generation of children to a best friend who might leave them, but would never hurt them, and they show their appreciation by giving him millions and millions and millions of dollars.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Melissa Mathison and Steven Spielberg
With Henry Thomas (Elliott), Robert McNaughton (Michael), Drew Barrymore (Gertie), Dee Wallace (Mary), Peter Coyote (The Man With the Keys), and Pat Welsh/Ben Burtt/Tamara de Treaux/Pat Bilon/Matthew DeMeritt/Caprice Roth (E.T.)

Spoiler alert: high

Monday, March 14, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part IX: But I barely know her geist!


Not the father of all haunted house movies, but more like their richer, cooler stepdad, Poltergeist is where the modern haunting movie came into its ownfor better or worse, there's no Blumhouse without the Freeling house.  More importantly, however, it's also one of the best of its particular breed, still incredibly frightening (and still visually resplendent) to this very day.

Directed by somebody! maybe it was you!
Written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor
With JoBeth Williams (Diane Freeling), Craig T. Nelson (Steve Freeling), Oliver Robins (Robbie Freeling), Heather O'Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling), Beatrice Straight (Dr. Lesh), and Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina)

Spoiler alert: moderate
Note: this is a re-edited version of a review posted in November 2014I have expanded the discussion, partly to include Poltergeist's production history, but mostly to more deeply explore the infamous controversy over who "really" directed the film, an issue which cannot be so easily brushed aside in the context of a career retrospective.  Obviously, if you're up to speed already, please feel free to skip to the actual review.  You can tell when it starts, because it's where that dude's face awesomely falls off.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part VIII: The new hero


No introductions required.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, and Lawrence Kasdan
With Harrison Ford (Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr.), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), George Harris (Capt. Katanga), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Ronald Lacey (Maj. Arnold Toht), Wolf Kahler (Col. Dietrich), and Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq)

Spoiler alert: you have seen this movie fifty times

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part VII, and Robert Zemeckis, part II: Is there anything honorable to destroy in Los Angeles?


The movie that finally explains why Spielberg finds it worthwhile to produce the Transformers franchise—besides those many hundreds of millions of dollars, anyway.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, and John Milius
With Bobby Di Cicco (Wally Stephens), Dianne Kay (Betty Douglas), Treat Williams (Cpl. Chuck "Stretch" Sitarksi), Ned Beatty (Ward Douglas), Lorraine Gray (Joan Douglas), Sgt. Frank Tree (Dan Akroyd), John Candy (Pvt. Foley), Frank McRae (Pvt. Jones), Tim Matheson (Capt. Loomis Birkhead), Nancy Allen (Donna Stratton), Robert Stack (Gen. Joseph Stilwell), John Belushi (Capt. "Wild" Bill Kelso), Christopher Lee (Capt. Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt), and Toshiro Mifune (Cmdr. Akiro Mitamura)

Spoiler alert: mild

I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul


Can this movie even exist?  It obviously can—and yet that doesn't come close to answering why.

Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling (based on the short film by Patrick Jean)
With Adam Sandler (Brenner), Josh Gad (Ludlow), Peter Dinklage (Eddie), Michelle Monaghan (Violet), and Kevin James (Cooper)

Spoiler alert: mild

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part V: What we are dealing with here is a perfect engine


Already the purest monster movie of all time, if you also wanted to call Jaws the greatest, you wouldn't be able to find too many able to muster a particularly passionate argument against that, either.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, and Steven Spielberg (based on the novel by Peter Benchley)
With Roy Scheider (Martin Brody), Robert Shaw (Sam Quint), Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), and Murray Hamilton (Mayor Vaughn)

Spoiler alert: severe

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part IV: They were all in love with dying; they were doing it in Texas


Spielberg dances cautiously around the style and content of the New Hollywood in his first theatrical feature, and the results are very much a mixed bag.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins, and Steven Spielberg
With Goldie Hawn (Lou Jean Sparrow Poplin), William Atherton (Clovis Poplin), Michael Sacks (Officer Maxwell Slide), and Ben Johnson (Capt. Harlan Tanner)

Spoiler alert: N/A, sort of, but let's say high