Saturday, April 30, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XXVI: If there's a flaw, it's human—it always is


Much smarter in some ways than others, Minority Report is just smart enough for you to avoid thinking about it too much while one pure image after another lands upon your eyes.  But, hey, if you do want to think about it—well, that's okay too!

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Scott Frank and John Cohen (based on the story by Philip K. Dick)
With Tom Cruise (Chief John Anderton), Samantha Morton (Agatha), Steve Harris (Officer Jad), Neal McDonough (Officer Fletcher), Patrick Kilpatrick (Officer Knott), Jessica Capshaw (Officer Evanna), Daniel London (Wally the Caretaker), Kathryn Morris (Lara Clarke), Colin Farrell (Danny Witwer), Lois Smith (Dr. Iris Hineman), Peter Stormare (Dr. Solomon Eddie), and Max von Sydow (Director Lamar Burgess)

Spoiler alert: high, and severe for the source material

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XXV: I am! I was...


The collision of two of cinema's all-time greatest artists results in a strange but intoxicating blend of aesthetics and attitudes, and as obnoxiously mixed-up as it sometimes gets, Spielberg pulls off something unique and wonderful and timeless.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Ian Watson, Brian Aldiss, and Steven Spielberg (based on the short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss)
With Haley Joel Osment (David), Jack Angel (Teddy), Jude Law (Gigolo Joe), Frances O'Connor (Monica Swinton), Sam Robards (Henry Swinton), Jake Thomas (Martin Swinton), Brendan Gleeson (Lord Johnson-Johnson), William Hurt (Prof. Allen Hobby), and Ben Kingsley (Narrationbot 4000)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XXIV: D-Day Plus 26,051


I said to myself, "Self, let's not focus on the opening 21 minute battle sequence, because everyone else has already done that."  So, go ahead and just guess what the first thousand words are about.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Robert Rodat
With Tom Hanks (Capt. Miller), Tom Sizemore (Sgt. Horvath), Edward Burns (Pvt. Reiben), Barry Pepper (Pvt. Jackson), Adam Goldberg (Pvt. Mellish), Vin Diesel (Pvt. Caparzo), Giovanni Ribisi (T/4 Medic Wade), Jeremy Davies (Cpl. Upham), Dennis Farina (Lt. Col. Anderson), Paul Giamatti (Sgt. Hill), Ted Danson (Capt. Hamill), Jeorg Stadler ("Steamboat Willie"), Nathan Fillion (Pvt. James F. Ryan of Minnesota), and Matt Damon (Pvt. James F. Ryan of Iowa)

Spoiler alert: high

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XIII: The sun will rise


Movies about existential terror don't come much better than this one, and in the rare case they actually do, it's only because they're the same movie, except set in space.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by William Broyles, Jr.
With Tom Hanks (Chuck Noland), Helen Hunt (Kelly Frears), Chris Noth (Dr. Jerry Lovett), and Wilson (himself) (yes, he's really credited)

Spoiler alert: high

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XII: The lady in the water


Robert Zemeckis turns an abject lack of surprise into a decent-enough thriller, with one scene that's truly worthy of a master; but, otherwise, the very best that What Lies Beneath ever offers is only its sense of comfortable familiarity.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Clark Gregg and Sarah Kernochan
With Michelle Pfeiffer (Claire Spencer), Harrison Ford (Norman Spencer), Miranda Otto (Mary Feur), James Remar (Warren Feur), Diana Scarwid (Jody), Joe Morton (Dr. Drayton), and Amber Valletta (Madison Frank)

Spoiler alert: moderate, unless you've never seen a movie before, in which case "high"

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part XI: HITLER LIVES ON VEGA


Contact is perhaps not the best film it could possibly be, but that doesn't stop it from being the best film to tell its kind of story since 2001 itself.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by James V. Hard and Michael Goldenberg (based on the novel by Dr. Carl Sagan, as well as the original screenplay by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan)
With Jodie Foster/Jena Malone (Dr. Ellie Arroway), Matthew McConaughey (Palmer Joss), William Fichtner (Kent), John Hurt (S.R. Hadden), Tom Skerritt (David Drumlin), Angela Bassett (Rachel Constantine), James Woods (Michael Kitz), Rob Lowe (Richard Rank), Jake Busey (Joseph), and Ted Arroway (David Morse)

Spoiler alert: severe

Monday, April 18, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part X: Dear God, make me a bird


All its layers of sometimes-contradictory meaning aside, Forrest Gump remains a superb and moving work of cinema, devoted to our ongoing failure to understand the journey without a goal that we've decided to call "life."

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Eric Roth (based on the novel by Winston Groom)
With Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Sally Field (Mrs. Gump), Robin Wright (Jenny Curran), Haley Joel Osment (Forrest Gump, Jr.), Mykelti Williamson (Bubba Blue), and Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan Taylor)

Spoiler alert: high

Friday, April 15, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XXIII: This... is how far I've come


Our director takes on slavery, and it's far better than you likely remember.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by David Franzoni
With Djimon Hounsou (Cinque), Matthew McConaughey (Roger Sherman Baldwin), Morgan Freeman (Theodore Joadson), Stellan Skarsgaard (Lewis Tappan), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Ens. James Covey), Anthony Hopkins (Sen. John Quincy Adams), Razaaq Adati (Yamba), Peter Firth (Capt. Fitzgerald), Jeremy Northam (Judge Coglin), Pete Postlethwaite (U.S. District Attorney William S. Holabird), Anna Paquin (Queen Isabella II of Spain), and Nigel Hawthorne (Pres. Martin Van Buren)

Spoiler alert: N/A

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XXII: If we so much as bend a blade of grass...


Sure it's awful, but you gotta laugh.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by David Koepp (based on the novel by Michael Crichton)
With Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Ian Malcom), Julianne Moore (Dr. Sarah Harding), Vince Vaughn (Nick Van Owen), Vanessa Lee Chester (Kelly Curtis), Richard Attenborough (John Hammond), and Pete Postlethwaite (Roland Tembo)

Spoiler alert: high
Note: this is a re-edited version of a review posted in June 2015, to commemorate the release of the rather bad fourth film in the Jurassic Park series, Jurassic World.  Annoyingly, The Lost World somehow manages to be significantly worse than even its distant, degraded sequel.  (So thank God for Jurassic Park III, am I right?  That movie's a Goddamned pip!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XXI: I could have done more


The Serious Spielberg's magnum opus comes also in the form of one of his most profound and powerful emotion machines, in what can only be called one of the greatest historical dramas ever made.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Steven Zaillian (based on the novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally)
With Liam Neeson (Oskar Schindler), Ben Kingsley (Itzhak Stern), Caroline Goodall (Emilie Schindler), Embeth Davidtz (Helen Hirsch), and Ralph Fiennes (SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Amon Goeth)

Spoiler alert:  N/A

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XX: Okay, some expense might have been spared


One of the strongest arguments for auteur theory there is, Jurassic Park is an undeniable classic, founded almost entirely upon the strength of its director's personality.  (Well, that, and the raddest dinosaur rampage ever seen up till that point in film history.)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by David Koepp and Michael Crichton (based on the novel by Michael Crichton)
With Sam Neill (Dr. Alan Grant), Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Ian Malcolm), Laura Dern (Dr. Ellie Sattler), Ariana Richards (Lex Murphy), Joseph Mazzello (Tim Murphy), and Richard Attenborough (John Hammond)

Spoiler alert: moderate
Note: This is a re-redited version of a review posted in June 2015, to commemorate the release of the rather bad fourth film in the Jurassic Park series, Jurassic World.  But let's forget that, and go back to where it all began.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Señor Spielbergo film


A disappointingly arid genre exercise that takes its cues from two amazing filmmakers, and comes up so short of their average it's almost as pathetic as it is aggravating.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
With Jaeden Lieberher (Alton Meyer), Michael Shannon (Roy Tomlin), Kirsten Dunst (Sarah Tomlin), Joel Edgerton (Lucas), and Adam Driver (Paul Sevier)

Spoiler alert: mild

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part IX: The aging process


An hour plus of the finest possible Zemeckian slapstick sadly becomes a strident harangue in its final act; yet there's too much here that's good and even great to let this one go without a fight.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Martin Donovan and David Koepp
With Meryl Streep (Madeline Ashton), Goldie Hawn (Helen Sharp), Bruce Willis (Dr. Ernest Menville), and Isabella Rossellini (Lisle Von Ruhman)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XIX: Why doesn't he fly? Is he not Peter Pan?


Our director returns to the kid's adventure, but this time starring an adult, and one urgently wonders if that was really the best idea, even if one mostly likes what came out of it.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by James Hart, Malia Scotch Marmo, and Nick Castle (based on characters created by J.M. Barrie)
With Robin Williams (Peter Banning), Maggie Smith (Wendy Darling), Caroline Goodall (Moira Banning), Charlie Korsmo (Jack Banning), Amber Scott (Maggie Banning), Julia Roberts (Tinkerbell), Dante Basco (Rufio), Bob Hoskins (Smee), and Dustin Hoffman (Captain James Hook)

Spoiler alert: high

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XVIII: Spyder, spyder, burning bright


At the halfway mark of our Steven Spielberg retrospective, we consider his influence upon the industry not only as a director but as a businessman; although, if we're honest with ourselves, we're mainly in it for the GODDAM SPIDER.

Directed by Frank Marshall
Written by Don Jakoby, Al Williams, and Wesley Strick
With Jeff Daniels (Dr. Ross Jennings), Harley Jane Kozak (Molly Jennings), Dr. James Atherton (Julian Sands), Mark L. Taylor (Jerry Manley), Henry Jones (Dr. Sam Metcalf), Stuart Pankin (Sheriff Lloyd Parsons), and John Goodman (Delbert McClintock)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part VIII: Tempus quiescit


Back to the Future takes a vacation in the Old West, which doesn't seem like it should be the summing up of a box office-shattering, pop culture-redefining trilogy, and guess what?  It really isn'tbut there we have it, and there's no changing it now.  And yet it's still an awful lot of fun on its own lessened terms, and that doesn't just count for something; it's damned near the whole ball of wax.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis
With Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly and Seamus McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Mary Steenburgen (Clara Clayton), and Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen and Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen)

Spoiler alert: severe

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XVII: Enter the void


Spielberg tries his hand at straight-up romantic fantasyand falls flat on his face with the worst film (so far, anyway) of his whole feature career.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Jerry Benson and Diane Thomas (based on the screenplay A Guy Named Joe by Dalton Trumbo and Frederick Hazlitt Brennan)
With Richard Dreyfuss (Pete Sandich), Holly Hunter (Dorinda Durich), John Goodman (Al Yackey), Brad Johnson (Ted Baker), and Audrey Hepburn (Hap)

Spoiler alert: high

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Robert Zemeckis, part VII: Tempus sulcat


Back to the Future jumps right up its own ass—and, somehow, this makes it even better than it already was.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis
With Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly, Marty McFly, Jr., and Marlene McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker), Lea Thompson (Lorraine McFly nee Baines), Jeffrey Weisman (George McFly), and Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen and Griff Tannen)

Spoiler alert: severe

Friday, April 1, 2016

Steven Spielberg, part XVI: And this time he's bringing his dad


With our director returning to his most popular franchise, we arrive at what is—in many important respects—the least of Indiana Jones' original trilogy, and the one that undeniably breaks from the tone and tenor of its two predecessors.  Yet somehow The Last Crusade makes a solid claim to operating on the same rarefied level, albeit in a very different way.  It claws its way back to the pinnacle by being the most personal to its maker—not to mention the most human in its achievement.  Yes, this is the Indy film that makes everybody cry.  Or maybe it just makes me cry—but I really hope it's everybody, just so I don't feel as ashamed as I probably ought to be.

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Jeffrey Boam, Menno Meyjes, Tom Stoppard, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg
With Harrison Ford and River Phoenix (Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr.), Sean Connery (Dr. Henry Jones, Sr.), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Richard Young (The Man With the Fedora), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Kevork Malikyan (Kazim), Robert Eddison (The Knight of the Grail), Michael Byrne (SS-Standartenfuhrer Ernst Vogel), Alison Doody (Dr. Elsa Schneider), and Julian Glover (Walter Donovan)

Spoiler alert: and for this one, you've seen it around sixty times, maybe seventy