Spielberg the 2010s

The Adventures of Tintin Poster
War Horse Poster
Lincoln Poster
Bridge of Spies Poster
The BFG Poster
The Post Poster
Ready Player One Poster

Welcome to Part 5 of my look at Spielberg through the decades. The previous blogs can be found on the following links 1970s1980s1990s and 2000s.

Prologue

I suspect that this will be the most difficult of the 5 decades for me to write due mainly to the amount of research I am going to need to do. Overall I am less familiar with the work of this decade having, at time of writing this prologue, only seen each film once. When I started writing this series of blogs I thought this would be a more straightforward decade as there were fewer films to review, however Spielberg is making films faster than I can write about them and part of the ongoing fascination with the man, who is now in his eighth decade shows no sign of taking retirement, there is not even a hint that he wishes to slow down, take a step back and survey his work. If anything he is more prolific now in 2018 than he has ever been, and what is perhaps even more remarkable is there is not one shred of compromise on the quality that is presented and for that I bow down at the Spielbergian altar for one more decade.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

“There’s a clue to another treasure. How’s your thirst for adventure, Captain?”

The Adventures of Tintin Poster
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

The return of one of Spielberg’s most loved characters in 2008 had not exactly gone the way that he probably envisioned it. Fans were ultimately left disappointed by the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones saga, so much so that Spielberg took a few years off. It meant Spielberg had only made one film in 6 years (unheard of before) by the time he sat back in the directors chair. The Adventures of Tintin, subtitled The Secret of the Unicorn outside North America was Spielberg’s first Cinematic animation. Working closely with Producer and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, Spielberg decided to experiment with motion capture technology for the first time in a film that has more than just a passing resemblance to the Indiana Jones franchise.

As with every blog that I have written on Spielberg there is a film in each decade that is generally overlooked by audiences and fans when discussing his films. In the 2010s there is possibly more than one candidate, but I will go with Tintin for now, not because it is a bad film (nothing could be further from the truth) but it struggled to find a Spielberg Adventure Story Sized Audience (or a SASSA as no-one is calling it) to the point that some people forget he even directed it. The lack of forthcoming sequel has also meant the proposed trilogy with Jackson taking up the directors reigns has dropped off the radar somewhat*.

The Adventures of Tintin is a fantastically, fun, frivolous feature. It is only a fedora and a bullwhip away from being the fifth installment of the World’s favourite Archaeologist. Spielberg has claimed that he became a fan of Tintin when a French cinema review likened Raider of the Lost Ark to the Belgian reporter on release in 1981. The theme of chasing lost treasure is the obvious hook but there is more than a rhythmical similarity in John Williams exciting score that calls to mind Indy. There are further subtle references, such as the library at the start of the film has more than just a passing resemblance to the Venetian library from Last Crusade where X marks the spot. There is an action sequence that involves Tintin having a close shave with a propeller, harking back once again to Indy’s fight with the German brute in Raiders and almost getting chopped into fish food by a boats giant prop in Last Crusade. There is also moments where important items are carried round  in crates and our hero stows away aboard a boat similar to Indy hiding on the German U-Boat in Raiders.

Its not only Indiana Jones that Tintin doffs his peaked hair too, there’s a great visual gag where our protagonist swims up to a sea plane with just the aforementioned follicles poking out above the water, a la Jaws and the opening titles pays homage to Catch Me If You Can. Away from Spielberg there is a moment towards the end that bizarrely I thought was lifted directly from the 1971 Bond film Diamonds are Forever as villain de jour Sakharine is trying to make his escape in a submarine but his cronies can’t seem to control the crane that is operating it leading to Sakharine’s exasperation similar to Blofeld who’s submarine is being smashed into the side of the oil rig by Sean Connery’s Bond. The fact that Sakharine is voiced by current Bond incumbent Daniel Craig just adds to this likely case of coincidence.

Tintin is packed full of the visual flair that was occasionally missing with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Spielberg’s first attempt at using motion capture technology had produced a stunning palette of breathtaking vistas, two scenes in particular demonstrated that Spielberg was comfortable with the new technology. Firstly, a rip roaring sea battle between two enormous sailing ships as Captain Haddock remembers through sobriety the importance of the Secret of the Unicorn. This scene is only better by a quite phenomenal 2 minute continuous shot as our heroes attempt to keep hold of the sacred scrolls as they race through the town of Bagghar. This scene in particular showcases perfectly the capabilities of motion capture. Spielberg would use the technology again to great effect in 2018s Ready Player One (see below).

The film itself is a little loose plot wise, its difficult to remember until repeat viewings exactly what the secret is the Unicorn is hiding, and animation or not it takes some acceptance that Tintin can knock out several towering pirates whilst on his adventures, the likeness to Indiana Jones doesn’t extend to the brawn. However as stated earlier visually there are some touches of sheer wonder, there is a great dissolve from the open ocean to a puddle in the street and the introduction of the intrepid reporter is one of the most meta moments of any Spielberg film.

Overall Tintin is brilliant fun and its a shame that it hasn’t lasted longer in the public consciousness as it provided a healthy alternative to the ongoing cos-playing wise crackers of the Marvel universe.

* latest on the Tintin sequels is that Peter Jackson is heavily in pre-production on The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoner of the Sun but as there is not even a release date recorded I’m not going to move to the edge of my seat just yet.

Why should I watch it?

Spielberg has often been at the forefront of game changing technologies, and here he delivers one of the finer examples of motion capture. Animation is a perfect medium to fully realise Spielberg’s visions. He will later repeat to even greater heights in future CGI heavy releases in The BFG and Ready Player One

War Horse (2011)

We’ll be alright Joey. We’re the lucky ones, you and me. Lucky since the day I met you

War Horse Poster
Jeremy Irvine in War Horse (2011)

2011 was yet another year where Spielberg put two cinematic offerings in front of the eager audience, once again it could be argued with hindsight that there was one aimed at the commercial market, Tintin, and another aimed squarely at the critical audience, War Horse. The similarities with Tintin are not just around the year of release, War Horse is an adaptation of a novel and play, which like Tintin has a very loyal fanbase. These sorts of adaptations would be a feature throughout this decade in Spielberg films with the upcoming BFG and Ready Player One also aimed at tapping into an established market. John Williams received Academy Award nominations for the score on both Tintin and War Horse, ultimately losing out to Ludovic Bource for his work on The Artist.

War Horse is Spielberg at his most melodramatic and sentimental. It is precision film making, every speck of dust has been precisely added to the screen, every blade of grass has meticulously been positioned to ensure that the film, which is set across various European countries, has a Classic Hollywood feel. The comparisons with Gone With the Wind especially in the closing shot are justified and well placed. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski shoots every frame as if catering for every Instagram users favourite filter.

The first hour of War Horse is a bit of a slog and feels drawn out and safe, setting up along the lines of what Brits would refer to Sunday afternoon fodder akin to Call the Midwife. This isn’t helped by a rather underwhelming performance from newcomer Jeremy Irvine who plays young Albert who cares and trains horse Joey before Joey is sent off to help the forces in World War 1. Its a nice performance from Irvine but he never really gets you overly concerned about whether or not he will get to see Joey again, this is no E.T/Elliot relationship.

The film moves on in pace and interest once the action relocates to the front  line in France. Here, away from the human drama, Spielberg seems to be more comfortable without ever pushing the envelope of possibilities to his previous front line war film efforts. Here the battle scenes are impressive if a little functional. There are early career performances for future Marvel alumni, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston and the film really shines when Cumberbatch in particular is pompously rallying the troops.  But there is nothing to get too over excited about here, there are no fresh grounds being broken and there is a slight suggestion that Spielberg may be on auto pilot.

There are some nice touches, the fact that not all “enemy” soldiers are painted as “goose stepping morons”, there is a human element from all of Joey’s owners, from the French grandfather and his orphaned granddaughter Emilie to the German soldier Gunther who uses Joey to assist with his and his younger brother Michael’s desertion of the German army. There is a beautifully played scene where British soldier, played by Toby Kebbell joins forces in the middle of No-Mans Land with a German soldier played by Hinnerk Schönemann to cut away the barbed wire that Joey has ensnared on himself in a desperate attempt to escape the madness.

The action set pieces are well done as you would expect but we are never with one character for long enough to invest our sympathies with, it is one of the few Spielberg films that leaves me a little “so what?”. Not being overly interested in horses also meant that a lot of the emotion was lost on me, whereas if you are the sort of person who has an interest in all things Equine, I would imagine that War Horse is just the ticket.

This is in no way a terrible film, its actually pretty good, it looks flawless, I just didn’t engage with it as much as some of his other films since the turn of the century.

Why should I watch it?

It’s Spielberg at his most luxuriant, and visually compelling. Here he demonstrates that sentimentality can be fine if used correctly and not too heavy handed. What it lacks in substance it more than makes up with its immaculate style

Lincoln (2012)

Buzzard’s guts, man! I am the President of the United States of America! Clothed in immense power! You will procure me these votes.

Lincoln Poster
Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (2012)

Following on from the perfectly serviceable yet somewhat underwhelming War Horse, Spielberg stayed in the historical arena with a film that on paper at least had all the ingredients to become a modern day American classic. America’s most popular and successful director, making a film about arguably America’s most hallowed President with quite possibly the finest actor of his generation in the titular role, all the stars were aligned for a monumental piece of film making.

For those here who are now expecting a giant BUT you’re going to be sadly disappointed as Lincoln delivers on every level. There is however, a however, Lincoln is perhaps not the film that some people going into it will be expecting. It would be wrong to claim that Lincoln was a biopic in the traditional sense as the two and half hour run time focuses squarely on the attempts of the 16th President to sway the House of Representatives towards the 13th amendment that will in effect outlaw slavery. So there is no back story detailing Lincoln’s childhood, no rise to political power and, in what may surprise some being a historical Spielberg film, very little in Civil War battle reenactments on screen. The ongoing war is a constant mention in conversation but save for a brief scene at the beginning there is little exposition shown, the gruesome, blood soaked devastation is kept to a minimum. Any Spielberg fan expecting a war story akin to Saving Private Ryan will be disappointed.

What Lincoln certainly isn’t is boring. Its an enthralling character piece packed to the rafters, unlike any Spielberg film before it, with epic, sprawling speeches and monologues. If that doesn’t sound the most exciting prospect in the World then trust me, it is captivating from start to finish. This is reflected in Spielberg’s direction. Here he realises he doesn’t need the tricks, he just needs to roll the cameras and watch like the rest of us.

Lincoln himself regales his companions and us the audience with a number of witty tales and anecdotes ranging from the tragic to the humorous, one of the films often overlooked delights is the deft and subtle humor found in the sprawling screenplay which at times resembles a Shakespearean play by it’s rambling delivery.

In Daniel Day Lewis we have an actor who transforms into every character that he portrays, here you forget that you are watching actors and like when Scrooge follows the Ghost of Christmas Past in a Christmas Carol, we sit on the outside looking in, witnessing history being made. Its Abraham Lincoln up there on screen in all things but DNA. You feel Spielberg also is enjoying being in the company of these people. In what is an incredibly sumptuous film, the camera is as still as any previous Spielberg film.

Daniel Day Lewis is not the only outstanding double-barreled performer on show here. There is a quite astonishing turn from Tommy Lee Jones as anti-slave campaigner Thaddeus Stevens. The screen literally sizzles when ever Jones’s cratered features scowl across the courtroom, but it is a beautifully played appearance for an actor who is not always remembered for subtlety. In a film that was always going to appeal to the traditional Academy voter, Day Lewis was always going to win but I feel it a crying shame that Tommy Lee Jones was not recognised more for his role here. Sally Field, an actress that I struggle with at times, is also brilliant as the put upon Mary Todd. A scene involving Abe and Mary where Abe announces that he should have sent her to the madhouse is a rare glimpse into the private lives of this publicly solid couple.

So where does Lincoln sit among the Spielberg historical classics? It definitely gets to dine at the top table but I have a feeling that if this had been made say in the 1990s it would be lauded to this day as a piece of classic American cinema. A recurrent theme in this decade for Spielberg is to make films such as Lincoln, the previous War Horse, and the upcoming Bridge of Spies, where audiences perhaps don’t engage as much in this  old fashioned type of film making. There are no wise cracking cos-players here or quick 5 second cuts and edits, but we have an intimate portrait of a man who’s achievements could potentially feel far-fetched on the pages of a comic book. More people need to see this film. It’s traditional film making of the highest order and I feel that Spielberg has never been so intimate.

Why should I watch it?

This could be Spielberg’s most personal character study. It is traditional filmmaking, beautifully performed by an outstanding cast. The real trick is turning what could be described as a court room drama into a gripping spectacle. The illusion is very real

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Would it help?

Bridge of Spies Poster
Tom Hanks and Scott Shepherd in Bridge of Spies (2015)

Despite Spielberg firing out films at an incredible rate of knots in this decade, he still managed to fit in a 3 year break after the critical success of Lincoln. Bridge of Spies to me almost appeared from nowhere in 2015. I confess that the film hadn’t even appeared on my radar until about a month before UK release. I was aware that Spielberg was working on the upcoming BFG, but during post production on the BFG, he sneaked this impressive Cold War thriller under our gleeful noses. From a personal point of view what made me question my dedication of fandom to all things Spielberg was that Bridge of Spies was a reunification with mine (and everyones for that matter) favourite actor Tom Hanks in the lead. How had I missed this?

Hanks himself was having somewhat of a renaissance after a slight slump in the late Naughties and early 2010s. The phenomenal double header of Captain Phillips and Saving Mister Banks had pushed him firmly back into the movie going publics consciousness, not that he had ever gone that far away. Here he was teaming up with Spielberg for the fourth time, equaling Harrison Ford for leading man appearances for Spielberg, albeit unlike Ford, in four hugely different characters.

More on Hanks later in this review, but first to the film itself. Following on from Lincoln this was yet another based on a true story thriller from Spielberg, obviously set in a slightly more contemporary setting. Set in the 1960 paranoid fueled America, Insurance Lawyer James B Donovan (Hanks) is entrusted with negotiating the release of a U.S Air Force Pilot named Gary Powers who was shot down over the Soviet Union and captured. The negotiating will include the release of former KGB spy Rudolph Abel who had been held in captivity in the US.

Famed British stage actor Mark Rylance gives more in his 28 minutes of screen time as Abel than some actors manage in their entire career. Spielberg had wanted to work with Rylance for some time, first approaching him back in the 1980s for a role in Empire of the Sun. Here Rylance brings to the screen a quiet, unassuming steeliness that gets the audience on his side in his first 2 lines of dialogue. It’s a masterclass in understatement, on more than one occasion Hanks’s Donovan remarks that Abel doesn’t seem too worried about the unfolding events to which Abel replies “would it help?” with perfect, deadpan delivery. Rylance always seems in control in this film, with a continually doe-eyed presence that demonstrates he is in total acceptance of Abel’s fate.

The only one fighting his corner is Donovan. In Donovan, Hanks can fill the role of the Spielberg Everyday Man in Extraordinary Situation, the likes we perhaps haven’t really seen since Munich’s Avner 10 years previously. What is sometimes overlooked among Rylance’s brilliance in this film, is Hank’s performance, he is the very heartbeat of the film, and in the face of, on occasions, hostile opposition to his defence of Abel, Donovan rises to the challenge with an air of grace and nobility. The Donovan/Hoffman show down at the start of the film is Hanks demonstrated his restrained bravado as he firmly puts the weasel Hoffman in his place.

Bridge of Spies was nominated for Best Picture but was only ever a ranked outsider as Spielberg once again produced a traditional somewhat old fashioned movie that was lit beautifully and was immaculate in its presentation.  Rylance however triumphed in the Best Supporting Actor category, at both the Academy Awards and BAFTAs. Special mention also goes to Thomas Newman who became only the second person other than John Williams to score a Spielberg theatrical release. Williams was off scoring a small independent movie for Disney at the time called The Force Awakens so was otherwise engaged.

There are clear musical cues from Williams but this is definitely a Newman score packed  full of distinctive soloists and memorable themes. The Score has a sheen of class running through it that does call to mind Williams’s similar score for Lincoln and War Horse. It’s a fantastic score with particular highlights being the haunting “Hall of Trade Unions” up to the patriotic, piano led “Homecoming” leaving an indelible mark. As a lover of all things film score, one can only hope that Spielberg and Newman cross paths again on future projects.

Bridge of Spies was another film from this decade that by Spielberg standards was somewhat ignored by the movie going public. I absolutely loved it but it was the first time where I began to wonder whether Spielberg would ever be able to connect with an audience in the present day as he has done in previous decades. His form of traditional film making, which was never more evident here, is a rarity in these days of multi franchise movies and successful Independent film making. In my mind in this decade there is a question of relevance. The film making is perfect, traditional, clean and as fans we will lap up everything he can offer, but do the wider audiences still get excited about what Spielberg will produce next. If films like Bridge of Spies are anything to go by I truly hope that an audience can still be found for such films.

Why should I watch it?

Because it’s absolutely outstanding in every facet. Bridge of Spies gets better with every viewing. Less films are made like this, these days and a trip back to the values of a Golden Age in Hollywood with traditional film making and story telling will always be welcome.

The BFG (2016)

Your madjester, I am your most humbug servant.

The BFG Poster
Image result for The BFG

November 1983, Children’s BBC, 4:10 pm for one week, Britain’s favourite Twitcher and occasional Goodie, Bill Oddie would sit down to read Roald Dahl’s The BFG on Jackanory for 10 minutes at a time. We talk about the impact movie trailers can have on the excitement of the movie going public, but here CBBC ran a trailer for the latest book in their long running post school story time show………….and it scared me to death. The trailer consisted of Oddie ominously reading the following:

“Sophie allowed her eyes to travel further and further down the street.

Suddenly she froze. There was something coming up the street on the opposite side.

It was something black…..

Something tall and black……

Something very tall, and very black, and very thin…………..” (1)

I was a 6 year old who’s life revolved around Star Wars, football and Lego, I was not interested in books, until now. I had to watch this programme, I had to hear what the tall, black, thin thing was, I had to find out whether Sophie was going to be ok. I sat glued to Jackanory for the next week, I had never watched the show before and it was amazing, partly down to the wonderful Oddie’s delivery but mainly down to the story of the relationship between this giant and this orphan girl. It became the first book I ever bought with my pocket money, I still have the copy I bought over 30 years ago and have read it to my children. It was without doubt my favourite book growing up, I read it dozens of times.

So imagine my sheer exhilaration when I heard that my favourite film director was to adapt The BFG into a new feature film. Brian Cosgrove had made a rather strange musical animated version of The BFG back in 1987 with David Jason providing the voice of the titular giant but I had never warmed to that version and had always longed for a Cinematic adaptation of the story.

I am pleased to report that the majority of my expectations were met.  Firstly and completely front and centre is Mark Rylance who encapsulates exactly how I imagined the character when I first read the book all those years ago. Even taking into account the stunning motion capture it is clearly Rylance beaming between the computerised dots and sensors. Rylance embraces the Giants tenderness without ever sinking too far into slushy sentimentality. As you would expect from one of the World’s greatest Shakespearean actors he manages to roll off his tongue with ease Dahl’s wacky and gobblefunked dialogue with the greatest of ease, leaving me to think, wouldn’t the World be a nicer place if we all spoke like that. He is ably supported by newcomer Ruby Barnhill who plays the level-headed Sophie. The two of them bond quickly after some initial verbal sparring.

For those unfamiliar with the story The BFG kidnaps Sophie after she catches a glimpse of him in the streets of London whilst he is going about his business blowing pleasant dreams through children’s bedroom windows whilst they sleep. He steals her because he doesn’t want “loads a human beans coming to Giant country to find him”. Sophie soon realises that The BFG is one of a kind in Giant Country. He shares this land with a group of despicable, child eating monsters who are twice the size of The BFG, led by the fearsome and gruesomely named Fleshlumpeater (an almost scene stealing turn from Jemaine Clement), they taunt and harass The BFG, even using him as a football in one particular nail biting scene.

As impressive as Clement’s and his cronies performances are, the only disappointment in the film is the characterisation of the nasty Giants. Compared to the book, here they are buffoonish and idiotic as opposed to genuinely scary. Spielberg has removed a lot of the truly grizzly elements of the book and as a result the fear factor is toned down somewhat. There is no real element of peril, and considering the source material and Spielberg’s work on other “family monster films” such as Jurassic Park, I think I was hoping for a little bit more danger. I doubt that someone such as Peter Jackson would have held back as much if adapting the tale, this is reflected in a somewhat disappointing ending that compared to the book is all a little too neat and convenient and without giving away spoilers didn’t actually make sense in line with the rest of the story.

On the grand scheme of things these are minor quibbles. The film itself is an absolute feast for the eyes and the lack of trepidation overall works in its favour, especially if you have not read the book. This is the first truly family film from Spielberg since Hook 25 years previously. This is a film for all ages. Adults and children alike will marvel at the beautiful sets and camera work, which has throw backs to Spielberg’s earlier work and will laugh and fall in love with The BFG from the first words that he utters. I think the best word to sum up the film is charming.

The BFG was a relative box office misstep for Spielberg, failing largely to find an audience in the US, but fared better in the UK and across Europe. Once again it is spotless film making, a demonstration of a master craftsman at work. Anchored by a sublime leading performance The BFG deserves to be seen by more. If you are a fan of the book you may find yourself wanting a little bit more but for family fun, Spielberg hasn’t been this accessible for years.

Why should I watch it?

Spielberg’s most accessible offering of the decade. It’s a real eye pleaser and where as some of the more darker elements of the book have been left out, who doesn’t want to see Queen Elizabeth break wind alongside her Corgi’s?

The Post (2017)

I’m here asking your advice, Bob, not your permission.

The Post Poster
Meryl Streep in The Post (2017)

Sometimes in life you just have to go for it, sometimes you just have to get things done. Here with his 32nd theatrical release, Spielberg demonstrated a level of proficiency rarely demonstrated by film makers. Spielberg had already filmed Ready Player One but took the time in post production of that film to make The Post. Spielberg has noticed a number of parallels between the script and current political “fake news” climate in the U.S and wanted to capitalise on that. It was also somewhat fortunate that “overrated”, 20 time Academy Award nominee Meryl Streep was available to play Katherine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American Newspaper, at such short notice. This remarkably was the first time that Spielberg and Streep had worked up close before, Streep had lent her vocals to the Blue Fairy in Spielberg’s A.I in 2001. Equally remarkable was that Streep had never worked with Tom Hanks before, who fortunately also was available, and was here returning to work with Spielberg for the 5th time as Ben Bradlee the Executive Editor of The Washington Post.

The Post was conceived, shot, edited and released within 9 months in 2017 which is an unprecedented time-frame for a major motion picture. With such a lean production, it would be easy to worry that it would show in the final film, would it feel rushed? The short answer to this is no. This is a film stripped of all its excess but is as clean as a whistle.

Once again, the film is immaculate and captures the essence of the time period and setting perfectly, from the costumes and haircuts the characters sport to the dusty nicotine stained carpets and desk phones the size of a modern laptop. Streep dressed in sharp steel colours throughout to emphasize her determination to dominate the male orientated mahogany boardrooms that she commands. . Spielberg has had strong female characters in his previous films but The Post is his first female led film since 1985’s The Color Purple. Despite another strong performance by Hanks, this is Streep’s film. Her transformation from the patronised, ignored imposter in the opening scenes who is regularly bailed out by Post Chairman Fritz Beebe, to the confident, decisive and assertive figure who puts everything on the line by the end of the film is a joy to behold.

The scene depicted in the above photo is reminiscent of the Speaker at the House Of Commons trying to keep the Government and the Opposition in line, when neither is listening, we see a nervy Streep submit to the feeling that perhaps she shouldn’t be there, this appears to be a strictly male world. However by the end of the picture we have Streep taking full control with a trembling assertiveness among her board members

“This is no longer my father’s company or my husbands, it’s mine and anyone who thinks otherwise perhaps shouldn’t be on the board” (2)

There are a number of similarities between The Post, and Lincoln. Both are based around a monumental piece of American History with the horrors over those events glanced at in the earlier prologues to the rest of the film. Both are dialogue heavy character pieces, with The Post having quick fire, Sorkin-esqe dialogue as opposed to Lincoln’s more staged Shakespearean prose. Both have outstanding leads in Daniel Day Lewis and Meryl Streep and outstanding support from Tommy Lee Jones and Tom Hanks. Like Lincoln, The Post was nominated for Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards and again, similar to Lincoln was probably deemed too traditional to trouble the bigger awards. In fact The Post’s lack of nomination in the Art Direction and Cinematography categories was disappointing, the printing press sequences alone should have gained some recognition.

The scenes in Bradlee’s house as they search through the 4000 pieces of paper and the 6 way phone conference where Katherine has to make the decision as to whether or not to print are masterfully directed. This is Spielberg at his most slick, demonstrating once again that all you need to create unbearable, chest thumping tension is a great script and a telephone.

Then there is the ending, Spielberg embracing film history, with a subtle nod to Alan J Pakula’s All the Presidents Men, a film The Post has been understandably compared to, you could argue that The Post is actually a prequel. Is it as good as All the President’s Men? No of course not but to be fair, very little is. What The Post is a more than adequate companion piece.  it really is a tremendous watch and I would recommend anyone who has even a passing interest in the Pentagon papers regarding the Vietnam War or the newspaper industry in general. This is yet another film from this decade that would appeal to the classic Hollywood fans……more people need to see it.

Why should I watch it?

Spielberg, Streep, Hanks, political intrigue…………….that’s why.

Ready Player One (2018)

“People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.

Ready Player One Poster
Ready Player One (2018)

All the worlds most popular bands or singers with even the slightest hint of longevity will sooner rather than later release a Greatest Hits compilation, usually just before Christmas to meet the maximum exposure and entice nearly fans, who are fond of a few of their singles but never owned a full album, to part with their £12.99 on the best of the best. Die hard fans of such musical artists rarely buy the greatest hits because, they own all the tracks already, religiously purchasing every album that they have released.

So here for Spielberg’s (at time of writing) latest and 32nd cinematic release, we have his adaptation of Ernest Cline’s literary love letter to all things pop culture of the 1980s, and those of you who have read and enjoyed the book will know that Spielberg is one of the great unseen characters, with his films referenced on a number of occasions. So to use some young person vernacular for a moment, it is rather meta that Spielberg would adapt a source material that is so heavily influenced by his own works……..is this Spielberg’s Greatest Hits album?

The answer to that is a non-committal yes and no. Yes because there are clear nods to previous work from the obvious, Deloreon and T-Rex, to the not so obvious, the drones have a more than passing resemblance to Minority Reports Spyders in their movement.

No because there is so much from other films to be enjoyed from subtle hints at the Terminator franchise, Freddy Krueger and King Kong involved in the breathtaking races, to the geekgasm of a central puzzle where Spielberg recreates in perfect detail one of the 1980s most iconic movie sets. I won’t go into more detail on this as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone who has yet to see it but it is breathtakingly delivered and leaves the audience fully engrossed in one of the Greatest of 1980s Cinema Hits.

At the end of my Bridge of Spies review above I questioned whether or not Spielberg was still relevant to audiences, do the latest generation of Cinema goers get excited about Spielberg’s next cinematic release, like those of us who grew up in the Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park era? Ready Player One was perhaps the litmus test for this. This is large blockbuster film making, the likes of which Spielberg hasn’t really indulged in since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Yes he has made family fare since such as Tintin and The BFG but Ready Player One was designed to compete for box office success. In the UK it opened as the meat of a Marvel sandwich to Black Panther’s and Avengers Infinity War’s bread. Would it hold up against those behemoths? Could the old Master himself show that he still had tricks up his sleeve to make audiences gasp?

Yes he can, by producing a film that is bags of fun from start to finish. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how it is going to end from the moment the somewhat intrusive voice over lays out the plot in the first 10 minutes of the film but that is fine, we are here for the ride and what a ride. For fans of movies from the 1980s it is all you could want, as you can tick one reference off after another in your “jotter spotter” notepads. It’s not just for children of that decade, some of the set pieces are white knuckle rides of mayhem. The climactic showdown is reminiscent of some of the more epic Lord of the Rings battles and the opening car chase is as kinetic as Spielberg has been for some time. There is also humourous nods to the Marvel universe with evil henchman I-Rok (a character designed specifically for the film) who looks and acts like he has just stepped off the Guardians of the Galaxy set.

The film’s slight downside is the cast who despite all being perfectly watchable never really last too long in the memory. The one exception being yet another socially awkward performance from Mark Rylance as the Steve Jobs like James Halliday. Tye Sheridan plays the lead Parzival with plenty of gusto but he is found wanting a little with some of the more emotionally heavy scenes. Olivia Cooke, who really reminded me of a young Kate Winslet, packs plenty of attitude as Artemis, Lena Waithe gets all the best lines as the dependable Aech, and Ben Mendelsohn wheels out his now regular snide, hissable bad guy.

Filmed before The Post, Spielberg managed once again to juggle two massively different films at once. There is no real danger of Ready Player One troubling my Spielberg top 10 but what we have here is a film that shows why we love the movies that he makes. You can’t help smile at everything he throws at it. This is Spielberg playing, having fun, enjoying himself. It is worth the investment of your time.

Why should I watch it?

Like all good Greatest Hits albums they are a track by track reminder of why you fell in love with the artist in the 1st place. Ready Player One though is far more than just a compilation of Spielberg moments, it has bags of thrills and excitement and it is great to witness Spielberg appear to be having fun again.

So there we go. All 33 Cinematic releases watched, analysed and written about. It has been an absolute pleasure to analyse films I was already familiar but perhaps more to find the wonders in some of the films I hadn’t watched in a long time or perhaps only seen once.

I will follow this up with a Part 6 shortly just to end the series with my own Greatest Hits compilation. I would really appreciate any thoughts and feedback on what I have written over these past months, I thank each and every one of you who has taken the time to read each one.

Best wishes

Dom

References

All photos and quotes courtesy of http://www.imdb.com

  1. Extract from Roald Dahl’s The BFG
  2. Quote from The Post http://www.imdb.com