I want to watch ALL the films

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Yes that’s right, every last one of them. One of the least expected symptoms of lockdown that I have experienced is what I refer to as “Watchlist anxiety”. With so many streaming services just a touch of a button away and the lack of anything else to do, other than having an arm wrestle with some guy called Barry over a toilet roll in Tesco, I started to build up some watchlists. Before I knew it, it was massively out of control.

It’s time for some stats

Thinking Math GIF

Now according to Google there are thought to have been approximately 500000 films made. A rather ambitious estimate is that I have seen around 2000 individual films, which is 0.4% of them, so its clear I have some catching up to do. In fact if I was to watch one film a day it would take me a more than likely unachievable 1369 years to watch them all. That is if I watch one a day, which has only really been possible since lockdown. In my normal life I reckon I probably get through about 150 films a year, so I’m looking at around 4000 years to complete. But the other problem is, people keep making films, and I think it would be unreasonable for them to stop just to allow me to catch up.

Kevin Feige: “Guys we’re not going to make any more films for the MCU because Dom has still got 498,000 films to watch, so we’re gonna hang fire so he can catch up”.

The other issue is of course, and I know I’m not the only one here, but I love a good re-watch. I am of course a Spielberg nut, but throw in the MCU and Star Wars and there is at least 60 films there that I have to watch on a regular basis, and the true rub here is, I have to watch them in order, oh yes, if you’re going to do something you have to do it right.

Me: Hey guys I see you’re watching Empire of the Sun

Friend: Yeah that’s right

Me: So what did you guys think of The Color Purple, it’s great isn’t it?

Friend: erm, well we haven’t watched that one yet

Me:

Samuel L Jackson What GIF by Coming to America

The rewatches are my comfort blankets, as much as I love watching new stuff and getting that buzz from new films when they really hit you, I want to go back and watch every Spielberg from Duel (watched again this morning, it is Spielberg day, see below) and watch how his filmmaking changes over the years, likewise the MCU from IronMan onwards, it feels odd to me that you would just select one at random, or maybe I’m just odd.

The Plan

Planning GIF by memecandy

I have a number of subscriptions, Netflix, Disney + and for now anyway, Sky Cinema through Now TV. On top of this I have an extensive DVD/Blu-Ray collection and I tape (its always tape, I’m a child of the 80s) stuff off the TV like Film4 and TCM. Away from the subscriptions I love collections. As already stated I have to watch Spielberg in order, the MCU in order, Star Wars in order and believe it or not I have also in the past 12 months thrown PIXAR and the Disney Classics into the mix, and I haven’t even mentioned Bond yet. The anxiety is caused by making sure I am getting the most out of my subscriptions and also not neglecting my slightly unhealthy fandom.

Therefore I have come up with a rota, a 15 day cycle if you will. A chaos organiser, an anxiety destroyer, and overwhelming overwhelmer.

Courteney Cox Thats Not Even A Word GIF

Day 1 – Netflix – this will invariably be a new film. Yes there is plenty of stuff I have seen before that may be fun to watch, but primarily I need to use it for the new stuff. Netflix is the bully of the group though, as it is the place most likely to pique my interest with new stuff so may shove some of the other days out of the way.

Day 2 – Now TV – I only have this for 6 months, and is quite limiting on what I haven’t seen, although there should be enough to tide me over

Day 3 – Planner – So this is my Sky box, films recorded from places like TCM. This is always a good day as invariably it is a classic film that I have never seen before.

Day 4 – Disney Plus – Now here is the problem, if I take out all the Disney classic cartoons, the PIXAR, Star Wars and the MCU, take out the Documentary’s and all the shorts there are currently still 324 films on Disney Plus, a remarkable amount of those I haven’t seen. I made the decision the other day to start at the top (they do a handy A-Z) and work my through them, so I watched Kirk Douglas in 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the 498K ticked off, you see it works…………… yes I will consider therapy.

Recent news broke that Disney Plus was launching its Star service for more grown up viewers and at least another 250 films on that. At my current rate that is about 5 years worth of watching on its own.

tom hanks comedy GIF by RETRO-FIEND

Day 5 BBC iPlayer/Kanopy – The BBC iPlayer has some fantastic classic cinema on there and Kanopy is a new service for me. It is free because I work for a University and it has a huge library of everything from World Cinema to early cinema, just this week I watched Plan 9 from Outer Space and looking forward to revisiting the Chaplin back catalogue that is on there.

Day 6 – Spielberg day. I don’t care how many times I have watched them all before, I never get bored. Close Encounters of the Third Kind for example, I have to watch that film 2 or 3 times a year and I always notice something new when I watch it. In a World where we need to do things that benefits our wellbeing, then watch what you like…………as long as its in order.

Day 7 – DVD/Blu-ray – I have to justify the collection, it is apparently taking up valuable shelf space, and cupboard space, and wardrobe space, oh and loft space. I have to be seen to be taking that 5 step walk across the living room to the shelf to be selecting one. I have to be careful though, this is the ultimate rewatch policed area

Wife: I don’t know why you have all of them, I bet you only watch about 4 of them

Me: That’s not true, I watch them all, an equal amount (never sounded more unconvincing)

Wife: I can clearly see your Aliens blu-ray in your hand, right this second, and I know you watched that the other night because I heard you say “somebody wake up Hicks” from the other room

Me: I was just putting it back (easily beat the previous level of sounding unconvincing)

Wife: Yeah whatever, by the way I hate that I know that it is an Aliens blu-ray.

Image result for Large dvd collection
Not mine by the way.

Day 8 – Google Play – I have this other account where I don’t own the physical media and they aren’t often on streaming services so I have them on here, e.g. Tim Burton’s Batman (still my favourite Batman film) so once again to justify my outlay the Google Play account gets a turn. Like a kid who has just asked for Roblox vouchers, I actually asked for Google Play vouchers for Christmas just so I could add to the collection,

Animated GIF

Day 9 – Amazon Prime – My least favourite of the streaming services, however occasionally good things turn up on there, such as Fellini’s 8 1/2 and the black and white version of Parasite. I just keep it for the free delivery of the Blu-rays really.

Day 10 – MCU – Again back to the collections, and so I don’t get distracted in my one man, doomed to failure, mission of getting through the Disney Plus back catalogue, a separate day for the MCU.

Day 11 – PIXAR – this is of course followed by PIXAR for the same reason as the MCU, which brings me neatly onto

Day 12 – Disney Classics – There’s 56 of these bad boys so that’s 2 years work right there, assuming I don’t miss a cycle. I wonder if my daughter will still want to watch these with me when she is 55 years old and we’re just getting to Moana.

Day 13 – Bond – I can take or leave Bond if I’m brutally honest but I do own them all on DVD/Blu-ray and similar to Spielberg and the MCU it would be nice to watch them all in order. Anthology you say, ah pish. In fact I think there are some that I have never seen so there we go, I can watch a franchise and chip away at that outstanding 498k. Besides with No Time to Die delayed again, I have time to get up to speed with this James Bond chap.

Day 14 – Film Docs – This can be anything from the monumental Empire of Dreams to a making of doc on a DVD that I have never watched. I always claim to never have the time to watch the extras, well there you go…….BUILT IT INTO THE SCHEDULE!!!!

aint nobody got time for that GIF

Day 15- Star Wars – It’s where it all started, the obsession of Cinema and film is right there in those 2 words. I love all 11 films and I don’t really care how often I see them. They are like old friends, they are my childhood, they are my adulthood and I think we are very fortunate to live in a time when we have almost unlimited access to them.

That’s it that’s the plan, pretty cool eh? If this all sounds a little OCDish then please note that this is very much tongue in cheek, but film fans are notoriously about order, whether that is how you file your DVDs to what order to watch films in. There are entire websites dedicated to the order the Star Wars films should be watched in.

We live in a time when we have never had it so good, regarding access to films, but the amount of times I have sat for an hour just scrolling through streaming services procrastinating over whether to watch Willow for the 80th time or take a punt on The Apple Dumpling Gang (it’s on the list, oh yeah!), when in fact a little bit of order can make that decision for me. If I added up the time I spent scrolling, well that’s probably 20 films or one Lord of the Rings, right there.

futuristic technology GIF
Me arriving for opening night of No Time to Die in 3390

So by the year 3390 I should have caught up, of course by then Cinema will be a totally immersive experience, but I’m sure, Tom Cruise will be making Mission Impossible 83 live from Alpha Centauri and there will be a new Spiderman reboot in the works and there will still be the financial toss up between some pick n mix or a villa in Marbella, rest assured I’m somewhere there will be a watchlist that will require some detailed plan of action

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular, I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4-year-old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life-changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The magical Cinema

Cannon Bolton in Bolton, GB - Cinema Treasures

The rain was coming down heavier now, big old fat rain, the rain that only comes in the summer. The bus had gotten stuck in traffic, the film started in less than 10 minutes, with any luck I would only miss the adverts and trailers. The Bolton Cannon Cinema was showing Star Wars, the original cut as well, for the first time in over 30 years and it was for one night only. I half expected the queue to go half way back into town, like in the days pre-multiplex.

The traffic was not improving, so I decided to make a run for it. It couldn’t have been more than half a mile away. I begged the driver to let me off before the next stop, he grumpily agreed. The rain was lashing down now, I lept over lake size puddles, didn’t fancy sitting for 2 hours with soggy feet no matter how much I wanted to see the film.

I rounded the corner and there it was the old faithful, The Cannon Cinema in Bolton.

I was relieved but at the same time slightly surprised that there was no queue. Counting my luck I dashed into the foyer, checking my watch. I breathlessly stammered to the old man in the ticket office, “One for Star Wars please…….it hasn’t started has it?” With a wink and a smile that almost suggested don’t be silly we were waiting for you, the old man shook his head “No, you are just in time, go right in”.

I walked up the long dark enticing corridor and up a flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs I was actually in the auditorium, with the beautifully imposing giant red curtain bathing the whole room with a glowing expectation. This was my heaven, but it was a strangely quiet heaven. In fact I was the only person in the room. Had I come to the wrong screen?

Before I had time to contemplate, the projector at the back of the room spluttered into life, launching a beam of God light across the cavernous room onto a ginormous red velvet curtain, which almost on queue parted like the the red sea, revealing a 30-45 foot Cinema screen. I moved to a red velvet chair and perched on the edge as the projector clicked into top gear. The familiar site of the Fox searchlight blazed onto the screen with the accompanying fanfare. The screen momentarily went dark and then the following appeared in light blue writing.

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away… | Level Up | by Chris White |  Geek Family Media | Medium

As if a giant fan powered by a thousand trumpets suddenly burst into life forcing me back into my chair the yellow stencilled logo of Star Wars shot across the screen.

  1. Star Wars (1977)
Star Wars Movie Posters | Original Vintage Movie Posters | FilmArt Gallery

As soon as the yellow Star Wars logo disappeared off into the galaxy followed by that oh so familiar yellow text backstory, I sat back into the chair in anticipation for one of the most seminal moments of my life. The following minute of big screen action would give birth to my lifelong addiction to Cinema. Tantive IV raced across the screen being attacked by an invisible foe. Of course it was only momentarily invisible as the old dusty theatre began to rumble and shake as the Imperial Star Destroyer loomed into view. This scene remains as breath-taking now as it was when first viewed as giddy child sat on a chair not too dissimilar to the one I was on now.

I was instantly transported back to my 5 year old self, giddy with excitement. I must have seen Star Wars 50 times. It was my go to VHS during damp School holidays, it was the stuff of my once fervent imagination. The time literally rushed by, I had subconsciously been mouthing along with the dialogue, I knew this film word for word. I had completely forgotten that I was on my own.

The film was approaching its conclusion, General Dondonna had just briefed the rebel troops for their impending attack on the Death Star, Luke and Han had exchanged words about how much the Rebels could use Han, but he had debts to pay off and to be honest the mission was purely a suicide one. Luke climbed into his X-Wing, put on his helmet and then, right on queue a black seat belt shot across my lap and fixed itself to the other side of the chair. Instantly a control panel appeared in front of me, I had a sudden feeling of plummeting through space.

“ARRGGHHHH” I yelled into the void

“Red 5 are you ok?” a voice came from within my headset

“Hello, who, what, Red 5…..me?” I jabbered frantically

“I just lost my starboard engine, get set up to start your attack run” the voice in my head said

“What the hell………I don’t know how to fly one of these things” before I knew it the X-Wing that I was somehow in control of plummeted at great speed and into an all too familiar trench. “Woahhhhh” I shouted as I grabbed the steering controls in front of me. I had two other fighters on either side of me, I assumed these to be Biggs and Wedge. I knew it wasn’t going to end well for either of them. A screen in front of me showed that enemy fighters were closing in. Wedge took a hit and had to bail out, going against the script slightly I didn’t tell him that was ok, if anything I thought it a little bit cowardly.

We carried on down the trench, Biggs was explaining that he would keep the fighters away from me long enough to do what I needed to do, which at this precise moment was desperately go to the toilet. Biggs inevitably met his doom in a shower of explosion. It was just me now, being chased by 3 imperial fighters, one of which was being piloted by a long lost family member maybe.

Without a clue what to do, I felt my time was up. Just then one of the three fighters exploded and a second one lost control and flew into a wall, at the same time knocking the middle guy, the leader spinning out into space. A voice came over the headset

“You’re all clear kid, now lets blow this thing and go home”

“Erm…….ok, er quick question, how do I do that? I asked

“What?” came the slightly put out reply

“Well you see I have never been in one of these things before, and there was very little training so I’m kind of just pleased I’m keeping it in a straight line at the moment”

After a long pause the voice said “Can’t you just use the force or some shit like that?

“Well, you see I was just watching a film and not really sure what is going on”

“You see that red button on the end of the steering wheel?”

“Yes”

“Just press it…..jeez”

I did what the voice told me to and sure enough two proton torpedoes fired out from the gun turrets of my X-Wing, I pulled back on the steering mechanism which lifted me out of the trench and back towards the deepest space. Behind me I heard (which is odd for Space) an enormous explosion that threw me back into my seat. At that precise moment I was back in the standard red velvet chair, Han and Luke were on screen receiving their medals, not sure why Luke was getting one, I’d done all the hard work. I always watch the end titles of any film I watch, I always have. I always thought it was important to look at every name, not just the stars, but every name of every person who had dedicated their time and dedication to making a piece of entertainment, designed to make people smile. All of these names belonged to individuals with greater talent than I could ever dream of.

2. Mary Poppins (1964)

See the Original 'Mary Poppins' and Have Hot Chocolate at Darien Library on  Wednesday, Dec 26 - DarieniteDarienite

Star Wars had finished the screen was now blank. I sat there is stunned silence. What had just happened? What was this place? I had heard of immersive cinema before, but had never been thrown so helplessly ill-prepared straight into the heart of the action. I had just flown an X-Wing, I had just destroyed the Death Star and this was no simulator, I had actually done it. Just as the enormity of it all started to hit me, the projector behind me began to splutter into life again, am I going to be thrown straight into the Empire Strikes Back, which would be partly cool, but also the thought of being attacked by a Wampa, crashing my X-Wing into a swamp or for that matter losing my right hand suddenly had me desperately needing the toilet again.

However it wasn’t the Empire Strikes Back, I was now facing a blue screen with the words Walt Disney presents, closely followed by the words Mary Poppins. Now Mary Poppins was another one of my favourite films growing up, however unlike Star Wars, I had to keep that a secret until I reached adulthood through fear of the playground beatings that come with such a revelation. It was a film that always reminded me of Christmas, probably because it was on BBC 1 every year throughout the 1980s. I had always loved the songs, and the mixture of live action and animation used to blow my mind as a kid (it still does to be honest).

With my experience of watching Star Wars very much fresh in my mind, I did start to wonder whether the same would happen again with Mary Poppins. Even if it did, there was nothing much to fear here surely, I could jump on a carousel if I had to, I would quite happily have a tea party on the ceiling if called upon. Nearly 90 mins and I still haven’t been called, maybe my Star Wars experience was just down to too much cheese before bedtime or some off meat in a sandwich I ate earlier, and I was actually just here to watch and enjoy.

We were now on the rooftops of London and Bert is currently dancing Stepping Time “wiv all iz pals”. Bert continuously shouts instruction to his jolly friends such as “over the rooftops, Step in Time” and his friends would dance over the rooftops. After a magical section of daredevil choreography, Bert approached the screen and shouted “Mary Poppins, Step in Time”. All the dancers on the screen stopped. Bert looking puzzled said again “Mary Poppins, Step in Time”, still nothing. “Come on Mary, Step in Time” – Bert lent a bit closer and through a forced smile and gritted teeth said “You’re holding the film up”. Oh shit. He’s talking to me, but he must be wrong I am a man, I don’t know how to dance, I looked down and saw I was wearing a red velvet floor length coat, covered in soot. I stood up and caught myself in a rooftop window. I was a woman, quite fit one actually, but that’s beside the point.

Mary Poppins | Comédie musicale, Ramoneur, Acteur disney

“Come on Mary, Step in Time” Bert urged, almost pleadingly.

“Its’s ok you carry on, I’ll just watch thanks” I sheepishly responded with a plum English accent that shocked me more than suddenly flying an X-Wing, and pulled away, but there was no getting away. Bert’s chimney sweep friends gathered around me and started their dance again, with me in the middle. I suddenly found myself tapping along, and before I knew I was kicking my knees up in perfect time, it was getting close to my crowning moment, the mid-air twirls, I was going to go for it, this was going to be brilliant. I launched into the twirls. In the film Mary spins at least a dozen times, I knew I could do better and proper went for it. On the 20th spin I started to feel a bit sick, I came crashing down to the rooftop but in fact I landed once again in the velvet chair. Bert and his pals took turns to waltz past the screen, each of them doffing their caps to me as they went by.

The film carried on as if nothing had happened. Dame Julie Andrews was now back on screen where I had moments earlier been. I was starting to think that I was having some sort of psychotic episode, but a strangely enjoyable one.

3. Raider of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark - Paddock Picturehouse

Mary flew away after the wind changed and Mr Banks had learned the lesson that it was more important to spend time with your kids and that money wasn’t everything, I tried to comprehend what had happened to me in the last couple of hours. Was I done now, was I free to go? I hoped not but also feared what would possibly appear next. I didn’t have to wait long. As if someone who knew me was orchestrating all of this from somewhere the Paramount logo appeared on the big screen and then dissolved into the actual mountain. I started to sweat, but it wasn’t a nervous sweat it was brought on by the incredibly heat I was now experiencing, there was a buzz of insects and in the distance the howls of monkey’s dominated the Cinema. Of course I wasn’t in the cinema was I, that’s right, I was in a Peruvian jungle, wearing a fedora with a bullwhip by my side.

Now under any normal circumstances being dressed as Indiana Jones would be awesome, but I wasn’t stood in my living room anymore or in the father/son fancy dress competition at the work summer fair (he was Short Round). I was stood in the Peruvian jungle in front of a rather cobweb filled temple with my rather useless and even more treacherous colleague Satipo. I let out a huge puff of the cheeks. “Ok then lets do this” I reluctantly say and trudged through the entrance.

Satipo stops me to inform that a couple of large spiders are on my back “Ah well, you just wait till you see what is on your back” I inform him with a touch of snark. True to form he turns to realise he has the entire cast of Arachnophobia crawling his personage. We approach the beam of light. I should let him walk into it really as the conniving git is only going to stitch me up later anyway. I’m nice, I don’t do that. We swing across the gap and enter the chamber with the golden idol at the end. Satipo doesn’t know what I know and assumes there is nothing to fear here. Now according to the script I’m supposed to stop him, but sod it

“Yeah go ahead, fetch the gold statue for me”. Satipo gives me a look that suggests I’m not supposed to say that.

“Are you sure Senor?”

“Yeah, it be right” I respond.

Reluctantly Satipo sets off. Two steps in he triggers the booby trap and smack, a poison dart straight through his face.

“Oh dear, nevermind” I say to his lifeless body “I’ll go get it”. Balancing carefully along the cracks I reached the altar and carefully replace the idol with a handy bag of sand that I seemed to suddenly have on me. As the temple begins to slowly implode, i dash through the chamber dodging the poison darts, leap over the chasm and slide under the slowly closing door. I get under the door a bit too easily so I quickly throw the whip through again just so I can swiftly retrieve it before the door crashes to the ground. I have a little giggle at how cool all of this is.

It was at that point that the rocks above my head started to shift, of course the rolling bolder, again the first thought was, this is very cool, I’ll run away from it but maybe throw in a little stumble along the way. Then I thought, these Hovitos are genius’s getting that thing to stay up there in the World’s most elaborate booby trap. However I really should have just got on with it. The bolder was there heading right for me. It was actually a lot faster than it looked. “Oh shit” I turned and pegged it as fast as I could but it was constantly catching me, this was going to be close. I saw the cave entrance and dived full length through a cloud of cobwebs and landed at the feet of the seriously pissed off Hovitos. However I wasn’t at their feet, in fact I was now face down on the floor of the Cinema.

Gathering my bearings I turned to look at the big screen as Indy, now in the more suitable guise of Harrison Ford was heading across the field, with the Hovitos in hot pursuit, yelling to his friend Jack to start the engine. I climbed back into the seat, as Indy’s adventures played out in front of me. A feeling of exhiliration swept through me. A few hours ago, I had blown up the Death Star, danced on a London rooftop with a bunch of chimney sweeps and had now just been Indiana Jones. I never wanted this to end. Talk about your best day ever.

4. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3: The Gang's All Here (Video 2010) - IMDb

As the Ark of the Covenant is wheeled away to be looked after by “top men” I relax in my seat. I should be tired but I’m anything but, I am packed full of nervous tension, what will happen next? I didn’t have to wait long.

Oh fantastic, the Disney castle had just appeared on the screen, but hang on, whatever this is, how am i going to be transported into it. The familiar blue sky with white ice cream clouds appears, it’s Toy Story 3, one of the finest films of the past decade. Script perfection and narrative storytelling has never seemed so effortless, its a work of wonder from the start. The film progresses along at a steady rate, but we are approaching the films climax and I have not been transported yet, then I start to develop an uneasy feeling, I take a quick glance around the Cinema, quickly turn to the screen and shout, to no-one in particular

“the furnace scene!”

I could hear a creaking above me, I looked up at the cavernous ceiling just as a large metal object crashed down onto my face. All was dark, all was quiet, I could still hear the film playing in the background. Slinky Dog was calling out Buzz’s name, he strangely seemed to be getting closer. Then I felt somebody pulling my hands and I slid out from underneath whatever it was (turns out it was a big TV) that had pinned me and came face to face with red haired cowgirl Jesse.

“Buzz are you ok?”

There you go I was Buzz Lightyear and I was in the trash conveyor belt. As we approached the metal crusher at the end of the conveyor belt the call to grab something magnetic to rise to the magnified ceiling went up. Quickly grabbing a discarded lunch box I shot to the ceiling with my new friends. Of course the complete tosser of a bear Lotso abandoned us as we headed straight for the furnace. As the conveyor belt reached it summit we toppled into the mass of discarded metal and headed slowly towards our fiery grave. Despite our best efforts, the game was up, this was it. My friend Woody reached across and grabbed my arm, we shared a moment, a moment of friendship, a moment of togetherness.

I have always fancied the idea of being a writer, but never in my wildest imagination could I possibly write anything with the emotional wallop of what was happening to me now. My plastic arm was starting to gently bubble as we edged ever closer to the PIXAR equivalent of Dante’s Inferno.

As the impending doom approached, a saviour from above arrived as the claw from heaven reached into the down and plucked us all to safety.

I was soon back in my chair. I had just been a cartoon character, bizarrely this one had felt the most real. As the end titles played across the screen, I finally began to feel exhaustion consume me, both physically and mentally.

As the PIXAR lamp jumped across the screen for one final time, the red curtain cruised across the screen and the house lights came on.

5. Avengers Endgame (2019)

Avengers Endgame POSTER Glossy Premium Borderless Movie Poster of Various  Sizes (POSTER - A2 size 23.4 x 16.5 Inch / 594 x 420 mm, Endgame (V1)):  Amazon.co.uk: Kitchen & Home

I collected my thoughts and headed out towards the foyer which was now in total darkness, there was an orange glow coming through the glass square on the front door to the cinema, the smell of destruction wafted through the main door which appeared now to be hanging on by the edge of its hinges. As I approached the door, those hinges gave up the fight and door crashed to the floor.

The rain had stopped, that was for sure, but where the building opposite once stood was the remains of it, reduced to a pile of rubble, with the four corners still sticking out of the ground. In front of me I can see the scorched remains of those corners flames still licking the sides of them the sky is filled with thick dense smoke. What the hell has happened here?

The ground began to shake as a figure approached from within the smog. A giant of a man at least 10 feet tall, he had a bald head and a chin that resembled a purple nutsack. As the giant came into view, i realised that he was not alone. Appearing alongside him was hundreds, no actually thousands of extras, all of whom looked like they didn’t want to ask me any questions, just to tear me apart. I was severely outnumbered, the coward in me suggested I just turned around and run back into the Cinema. The coward won, I turned with the sole intention of sprinting back in to the Cinema, closing the door and hiding under my completely inadequate red velvet chair. Small problem, when I turned round the Cinema had gone, replaced by, you guessed it a huge pile of rubble.

I turned back to look at my soon to be arriving assailant, he was getting close. I suddenly heard a strange gust of wind, out of the corner of my eye I saw something hurtling towards me at great speed, it was coming right for my face. I instinctively put up my hand, with a clanging thump I caught the steel handle of a very familiar hammer. Purple guy was still edging closer to me, as were his hoardes of angry followers. My first thought was “there is something awfully familiar about all of this”. That thought was interrupted by a radio signal that simply said four words “Captain…….on your left”.

To the left of me a bright orange portal appeared, sparking into life like a Catherine Wheel on Bonfire Night. From within it walked T’Challa, Black Panther in all his regal glory flanked by Okoye and Shuri. Over head, strangely accompanied by Alan Silvestri’s rousing score flew Falcon. More and more of the Portals began to appear, heroes were appearing to help me against the purple gonad who was facing me. Spiderman, Dr Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Antman, Zammo from Grange Hill and the entire cast of Rentaghost all arrived in a blaze of glory. Within moments an army had formed that was a match for the opposition. The musical score had reached its climax, there was only one thing left to do. As once again the familiar hammer flew straight towards me, I called all to arms

“Avengers!!!” – thump the hammer landed perfectly in my grasp……..

This blog has been written as part of the “Five-Films Forever” blogathon challenge, created by the brilliant Claire Packer owner of the Cinematic Delights blog page https://cinematicdelights.com/

More details on the Blogathon can be found here:

Claire can be found on Twitter as @C_Packer (https://twitter.com/C_Packer) and catch her reviews at https://letterboxd.com/C_Packer/

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular, I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4-year-old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life-changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The case of two dusty roads

In preparation for the (at time of writing) December 2020 release of Steven Spielberg’s 33rd feature as Director, West Side Story, I have decided to attempt to put some more Spielberg blogs together. I have previously written about how Spielberg’s films, themes and styles changed thorough each of the last 5 decades, you can read some of those here if you wish.

Interestingly enough, I thought one of the few advantages of quarantine would be I could watch more films and write more about them, this hasn’t been the case so far, as looking after easily bored kids take priority when I’m not doing my day job. I am however, the newly crowned house champion at Monopoly and Uno, although I’m trailing in last place in Twister due to being the most inflexible man on Earth.

Anyway onto the blogs, I like the idea of doing a series of Top 10 blogs based around Spielberg, so that is what I will be working on, however, to get me back into the swing of things, a more standard essay on Spielberg’s first two Cinematic films (in Europe at least) Duel and The Sugarland Express.

Both films are road movies, both feature scenes of desperation, one is a no-holds barred, seat of the edge thriller, the other, based on real events, is a story of divided families, mistrust, and a reckless pursuit of potentially unattainable goals.

If we take a look at Duel first, a battle of good against evil, a tale of triumph over considerable adversity, it is the story of man versus technical beast, as Dennis Weaver’s wimpish salesman, David Mann (that’s M.A.N.N) Duel’s the unstoppable, pollution spewing oil tanker, with it’s anonymous driver, culminating with one of them succumbing to a gear crunching, metal- scraping end. That is the simple premise and Duel, originally made and released in the US as a TV movie of the week, never needs to delve any deeper than that, just hold on and with a complete lack of pretension and pointless subplot, Duel just gets on with it. Imagine if you will the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a half hour short and you get the idea

The Sugarland Express on the other hand, allows almost begrudgingly a little bit of character introduction and development. We meet Lou Jean Poplin, an almost annoying Goldie Hawn, as she helps her very slappable husband Clovis, played with particular mardiness by the always watchable and sleaze inducing William Atherton, break out of a minimum security prison to go and reclaim their baby son who has been taken into foster care due to the inept couples various indiscretions. En route they steal a car from the fantastic Mr and Mrs Nocker and kidnap and hold hostage Police Officer Maxwell Slide. The problem with the Poplins, and this is one of Sugarland’s Achilles heals, is that they are very difficult to root for, they are not very nice people and watching it now we are on the side of the authorities.

What characterises both as Spielberg films is a sense of isolation, in Sugarland’s case from Officer Slide, here the latest incarnation of the normal everyday guy caught in extraordinary situations, a staple of Spielberg films that has continued through his entire back catalogue. Both Slide and Mann are caught in situations that neither prepared for and both to a certain extent, (especially Mann) are being toyed with by protagonists and in the case of the Slide in particular, are being used as a bargaining chip to greater goals.

Mann and Slide also share a redemptive journey, they both prove to themselves that they are more than the bookish worms that they start out at the start of the film, again another trait that graces Spielberg work for generations to come, such as Brody overcoming his fear of the water, or Dr Grant embracing his responsibility of surrogate parenting. Don’t forget both Brody and Grant could have left the impending chaos to the experts but choose not to.

Early on in Duel we eavesdrop on a phone call between Mann and his wife, who is haranguing him for not standing up for her whilst being harassed at a party the previous evening, asking Mann to be more manly. Note here how Spielberg point his camera slightly away from Mann whilst he is being berated. We are embarrassed for him, in the way when you can listen into an argument on a bus or a cafe, here Spielberg utilises his favourite shape to help hide the fact that we are listening in.

The Haunted Closet: Spielberg's Duel (1971) and The Incredible ...
We eavesdrop in the hope that he doesn’t notice

So the simple question I always ask myself when watching Duel is, why does he not just turn round? Why does he continue on this path into danger? I feel the answer lies in the fact that David Mann has never stood up to any challenge in his life, this is his chance to prove himself, pass this ridiculous test of manhood.

Likewise, there are a number of opportunities where Slide could have escaped his captives, but over time he starts to bond with them and almost develops a sentimental attachment to them, even though there were numerous occasion where as driver of the car he could have changed the course of the narrative.

From a direction point of view we have Spielberg desperately trying to showcase his abilities, Duel is insanely flashy movie, with Spielberg using every camera trick that he has in his arsenal, from close up tight shots of the petrified Mann to extravagant belong shots of Mann’s car screeching to a terrified stop as viewed from the under carriage of the trucks beast like belly.

Duel (1971)
The Long shot of isolation, a tale of man against beast

Likewise Sugarland contains a wondrous moment midway through when Spielberg produces a tracking shot through two moving vehicles including dialogue between both vehicles. Its a beautiful shot that once again showcases the young directors sheer dexterity with the camera.

Sugarland Express, The - Internet Movie Firearms Database - Guns ...
The dazzling 360 degree camera shot in Sugarland

What also dominates both films, and is in fact a rarely mentioned theme that runs through Spielbergs work in the 1970s in particular, is the Director’s almost disdain for the locals. In both Duel and Sugarland the general American public are almost looked down upon as redneck hicks, who have low IQs and are less that warm and welcoming to strangers. You can also throw in the local fishermen in Jaws and the white trash hill dwellers who Roy Neary of all people, looks down upon in Close Encounters.

Imgur: The magic of the Internet
Low IQ Locals in early Spieberg films

In one of Duel’s most captivating scenes, Mann is sat in cafe trying to figure out who the mysterious driver of the truck might be. In Mann’s head everyone is a suspect, he looks down on these people, he trusts no one, he has an air of superiority to him, he spells out RYE to the waitress in the cafe to ensure she gets his very simple lunch order correct. He ends up confronting a man simply because of the way he dresses.

In Sugarland, we have the previously mentioned Nockers who are easily hoodwinked by the Poplins, who are hardly the greatest of con artists. Add to this Buster Daniels the drunkard who Slide is taking home before he is accosted by the Poplins. What follows is a stream of incompetence from the strong arm of the law to local shopkeepers and townsfolk, who are never portrayed as being too high on the social scale.

The scoring of both films follows similar traits, with John Williams’s whimsical first Spielberg score captures the isolation and open highways in Sugarland perfectly, whereas Billy Goldenberg’s Hermann esq score perfectly adds to the tension and fear of Duel. Goldenberg’s score can be found in its glory on the following link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjEcmWvcmjY

All the Spielberg hallmarks are in both of these films as he hones his craft to enable him to move onto bigger things. What happened next propelled him almost by accident into the stratosphere, but what we witness in these two fraternal films, is a young Director packed full of self belief, something that almost 50 years later is still going strong.

Why we should all be eternally grateful that Spielberg made 1941

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A look at why Spielbergs most flawed film is one of his most important film  making experiences

There is a scene close to the start of 1941, where two young men are working in a restaurant kitchen. One is preparing the food on the grill, whilst the other is pot washing. They are both dancing to early rock n roll in preparation for the big Jitterbug contest that evening. As they dance, their work becomes increasingly erratic, the cook smashes eggs onto the grill, letting them cook with shell, the pancake batter gets sloshed onto the heat plate with reckless abandon and the pot washer sends ornaments crashing into the soapy water without a care in the world. If ever a scene could be used as an example of art imitating production, then this perfectly encapsulates the total chaos that is 1941.

Filming on 1941 started in October 1978. Spielberg coming off two of the biggest commercial and critical hits of the 1970s with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind made him one of the most bankable name in Cinema. Not since Alfred Hitchcock had a movie Director been on Cinema marquees. This was no matinee idol such as Robert Redford, or box office kings such as Burt Reynolds or Jack Nicholson, this was a movie nerd who knew that the record-breaking Jaws and the studio saving Close Encounters gave him pretty much free reign over budget, script, and cast. So when he announced to family and close friends that his next project was to be a comedy based on the Pearl Harbour attacks of 1941, more than a few eyebrows were raised. The material itself is not something that lies to comfortably with Spielberg, he never fully manages to get a handle on it, however, Spielberg’s bravado and self-confidence at this point knew no bounds. There didn’t appear to be anyone to say “no” to him.

The production itself went on for a staggering 257 days and it is reported that Spielberg shot over 1 million feet of film. Michael Kahn, who’s breathtaking work on Close Encounters will be revered for generatrions to come, struggles to weave the spaghetti like threads of plot together and on a film that is crying out for a steady hand on the Editing rudder this is a rare concept album curio performance from the usually dependable pairing of Kahn and Spielberg. Working on a script provided by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (who Spielberg would go on to greater success with Back to the Future in 6 years time), the screenplay was packed full of zany characters, each one displaying a cacophonic paranoia that drowns out any semblance of a cohesive story.

It’s quite stunning that 1941 was nominated for Academy Awards, but the nomination for Best Sound is beyond ludicrous. The one thing that 1941 is, is very loud. The montage cast call at the start of the end credits seems to emphasise this as each character is introduced with them screaming at the camera, only Robert Stack and Lionel Stander, who looks baffled throughout, get away without the scream.

Image result for Frank Mcrae 1941

The film opens with a completely misjudged homage to Jaws, with Susan Backlinie reprising her role as the doomed Chrissie Watkins, only instead of a Shark this time she gets caught on the periscope of a submerged Japanese submarine. This cheesy, self-referential nod to his previous work is something that has thankfully not found its way into Spielberg work since, (with the possible exception of the cringe-inducing pseudonym Steven Spielrock on the production credits for The Flintstones, where Spielberg acted as Executive Producer), Backlinie is not the only Jaws alumni to make an appearance with Murray Hamilton and Lorraine Gary making an appearance. Gary actually screams more into the camera in her 5 minutes of screen time here than in all 4 Jaws films put together. We then move to the previously mentioned dancing chefs, a scene that culminates in a fist fight in the restaurant that results in a soldier having his face plunged into a cream cake. We are then introduced to John Belushi’s drunk, loud American pilot who ultimately has to chase his plane off down the street firing his gun as he goes, and of course he’s shouting. This is all in the first 10 minutes and it is quite apt when Robert Stack, playing Major Stilwell first appears on screen and says, almost to the audience, “this is madness”. The film continues with one eardrum bursting setpiece after another, which more often not culminated in a character screaming wide-eyed into the lens. But, perhaps most criminal of all, it’s just not funny.

Image result for Lorraine Gary 1941

So why do I think this is an important film making experience for Spielberg? The free reign and lack of planning that hampered 1941 were eternally banished, never again would Spielberg go into production so ill prepared. One of the rare criticism I have ever heard labeled at Raiders of the Lost Ark is that some of the action sequences are over choreographed. Well yes, they are and for good reason. Raiders was meticulously planned, with each frame storyboarded and prepared, every fake snake and desert rock had its particular place, each battle-scarred truck had the exact amount of scorch marks, each piece of dialogue had a purpose to the plot. Spielberg was going in prepared, well and truly with no pedestal to preach from, he had to get this film right, on schedule and on budget, the result was an incredibly slick film that rose above its dusty landscapes.

Image result for 1941 screaming cast

Spielberg also realised his own limitations with comedic material and has stayed away from all-out, and in particular, slapstick comedy since. He came close in 2000 when he almost directed Meet the Parents, ultimately being persuaded against the idea by his wife Kate Capshaw. Spielberg films are packed with humour but it is never allowed to dominate or take over. Comedy, along with romance, shares a filing cabinet, labeled “only to be used in case of emergency” in Spielberg’s office.

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There are moments of flair in 1941, but they are often displayed with a spiraling dizzyness that the camera battles in vein to keep up with.
Take the Jitterbug sequence that descends into an all-out brawl. At the end of the sequence the main protagonists, Wally and the downright disgrace of a character that is Stretch lie unconscious through pain and exhaustion, similar to how the audience feels at this stage.

Image result for 1941 (film) cast

However, lessons are clearly learned throughout. Here Spielberg, who let’s not forget has always wanted to make a musical, really throws caution to the wind with an energetic dance contest that lent more than a passing influence to West Side Story and the recent box office smash Grease. Until the chaos rains down on screen, you can see a keen eye for choreography, which was later displayed to a much greater extent but smaller scale in the “Anything Goes” prologue to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In fact, the opening to Doom is an interesting comparison here. Once again we have a musical number that soon turns nasty as Indy crosses and double crosses in negotiations with the treacherous Lao Che. Here Spielberg manages to keep a tighter reign on the fisticuffs, carefully positioning the main protagonists. The utilisation of props to remove the attention away from the many kung-fu extras who have been brought in to swell the melee is expertly done, in particular, a giant gong doubles as a protective shield as Indy makes his escape through a nearby window. This blog was first written in March 2019, when the upcoming West Side Story was still in pre-production, I would like to think when we eventually see that film in December 2021 that it will be more Anything Goes than 1941.

There are moments where things work well in 1941. The scenes involving Robert Stack as Major Stilwell watching Dumbo in the cinema are very affecting, a nod to a rediscovery of childhood innocence, a quiet moment of respite, an escape from the horrors of the outside world, a safe, secure environment, as an audience member, there is a desire to pull down the seat next to Stilwell and sit and watch the rest of Dumbo with him. Spielberg’s more energetic films away from 1941 would often include such a scene, e.g. Quint and Hooper comparing scars on the Orca, or in Saving Private Ryan the squad sit in an abandoned church and tell stories of lost lifestyles back home, or Ray and Rachel share a lullaby in the cellar during a quieter moment in the terrifying War of the Worlds. The Major Stilwell/Dumbo scene was possibly a reminder to Spielberg moving forward that there needs to be a quiet time even in the most crash, boom, bang of films. You need to give the audience an opportunity to catch their breath.

Most importantly, perhaps, is what Spielberg learned as a result of 1941. He was not infallible, he couldn’t surround himself with “yes” men who would fail to have an opinion. He would know what it was like to not fully prepare beforehand and see the results as a consequence. He would know his limitations, and he would never again have a cast member scream into the camera.

For more reading on 1941 and all of Spielberg’s cinematic output please take a look at my 1970s blog.

Thanks for reading.

Dom

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular, I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4-year-old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life-changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The Maestro

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If I was to ask anyone reading this to sing or hum the first film theme that comes into their head, the chances are that they will perform one written by John Williams. It is quite possible that you do not realise that the tune you croon is by John Williams, it is also not entirely inconceivable that you may claim to have never heard of John Williams. I can guarantee however that if the name isn’t overly familiar then the work definitely will be. He is the foremost film composer in Cinematic history, whose work has transcended Cinemas, to firmly embed itself into popular culture. Nominated 51 times for an Academy Award, winning on 5 occasions, when it comes to scores for films, his is the greatest of all Greatest Hits compilations.

There is not a beach open to the public on Planet Earth that hasn’t had a person, at one time or another, stand looking at the sea/ocean going “Dur-dum” in honour of John Williams famous two-note characterisation of a terrifying ocean dwelling monster. This also applies to all swimming pools and lakes across the globe. Even those who have never seen Jaws instantly get the reference of some guy (it’s always a guy) who considers himself a bit of a character who stands on the edge of a lake going “Dur dum”. A loud, annoying laugh usually follows this as the “bit of a character” convinces himself that in the 43 years since Jaws’s release he is the first person to do this.

Dismissed initially by Spielberg who thought it was a joke, the two note masterpiece would quickly help turn Jaws from a disaster that nearly ended Spielberg’s career to becoming one of the most successful films of all time. A temperamental shark meant that Spielberg had barely enough usable footage to keep the audience on their seats, never mind on the edge of them. Enter Williams’s “Dur dum” and the stuff of seafaring nightmares is changed forever, by showing very little, Williams’s score becomes a member of the supporting cast, and a relationship with Spielberg was firmly established.

Spielberg

I am not going to write for too long on the actual Spielberg films themselves as I have covered them in great detail in my previous Spielberg through the decades blogs, instead, I will focus more on what John Williams scores have brought to those films.  Spielberg’s first feature-length cinematic release in 1974, The Sugarland Express, was a small-scale,  road movie that whilst demonstrating a capable filmmaker only gave slight hints as to the wonders that lay ahead. Williams produced an unassuming, relaxed, harmonica based score, that whilst perfectly complimenting the journey through the scorched, bare Texan landscapes, gave a little indication of the multitude of entries into popular culture that was to come, a bit like the film itself for its youthful director. The simplicity of the Sugarland score would be followed by the instantly recognisable and iconic two-note motif of Jaws and the five-note alien communication employed in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

This was the start of over 40 years of collaboration that has produced not only some of the most successful films of that time period but some of the most memorable musical scores of any time period. From the  the action-packed, adventure thrill ride of his scores for the Indiana Jones films to the childlike wonder of watching E.T and Elliot cycle past the moon, (Imagine that scene if you will without Williams’s score) to the mournful, desperation of a single violin on Schindlers List or the respectful brass led orchestrations encapsulated in Saving Private Ryan, Williams’s scores not only captured perfectly the time and mood of each piece but added a different dimension to the stories being told that is often, in lesser hands, taken for granted in movies.

It could be argued that Williams’ scores have lifted even some of the more mundane, or less appreciated Spielberg films above the ordinary. Films such as Hook divided audiences but Williams’s score perfectly captured the pantomime feel of the film, whilst throwing in plenty of soaring orchestral moves to add to the magic of what is, in essence, a fairytale aimed at children. The 2000s, in particular, saw Williams demonstrate a variance in styles to suit the feel of the picture, from the jazz-based score for caper Catch Me If You Can, the jaunty clarinet led score for whimsical romcom The Terminal, to perfectly capturing the terrifying claustrophobia  for the dour and brutal War of the Worlds and Munich.

In the last decade, we have been treated to a number of styles that illustrate his mastery of genre score composition.  The Indiana Jones-inspired score to the Adventures of Tintin, the sprawling historical epicness of both War Horse and Lincoln to the playful jollity of The BFG and tension building configuration that accompanies The Post. It is clear that Spielberg and Williams understand each other, as masterful as I consider Spielberg to be, I do believe without John Williams his films would not have had the emotional and cultural impact that they had and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come, and if you don’t believe me, go stand on a beach next to the Ocean and see what tune comes into your head.

My Top 5 Spielberg related Williams pieces

Some of these are known the world over, some are just smaller pieces embedded in certain films that have always had an emotional resonance with me. The Truth is I could have quite easily picked a different 5 or even a different 500 tracks but the below 5 instantly sprung to mind.

5. Father’s Study – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The swirling central oboe piece makes way for the haunting brass section mixed with Eastern Promise in this short but vital scene close to the start of the Last Crusade. This is the scene that first questions Indy’s belief system. He questions Marcus as to whether he believes the Grail to be real, the glance of the Religious iconographic artwork in Henry’s home coupled with Marcus prophetic response about the perils that potentially lie ahead add to the mystique. For me, the score for the Last Crusade is the strongest of the Indiana Jones films, mixing just the correct amount of sentimentality with rip-roaring adventure.

4. New Beginning – Minority Report

This uplifting piece played at the redemptive finale of one of Spielberg’s more melancholic, yet thrilling movies that graced the start of the 21st Century. 90% performed by the string section, Williams dreamy opening builds up to an ending of optimism and hope that was a refreshing face wipe after a dour and dank film

3. The Face of Pan – Hook

In a film that struggles at times under the sheer weight of its sentimentality, slap bang in the middle of all the chaotic raucousness of the Lost Boys teasing the now adult Pan, there is this brief respite, of quiet reflective exploration that is as moving as this film should have been allowed to get “Oh there you are Peter”.

2. Journey to the Island – Jurassic Park

From its perky, effervescent start that buzzes with adventure and excitement, to its familiar reprise of the now famous Jurassic Park main theme, to its playful interior moments that accompany Dr. Grant’s struggle to fasten a seatbelt, Williams is throwing everything at this almost 9-minute opus. Along with the thrills and spills, there is enough lower tone brass to ensure that we don’t get too comfy and that there is a need to approach carefully. It all culminates in one of the most breathtaking shots in Cinematic history, the introduction of the Brachiosaurus to Drs’ Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm. The music perfectly matches the moment of sheer exhilaration that the audience is feeling and the bewilderment experienced by the characters. The track once again continues as the troop of explorers heads back to the visitor centre, and there is a brief reminder from Williams, that no matter how excited we are feeling about seeing these dinosaurs, assisted by a ferocious looking T-Rex skeleton in the Centre, we must as an audience exercise caution.

1. Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye – E.T

Spielberg recently said, “without John Williams, E.T wouldn’t have been able to fly”. This piece of music is pure childhood. I’ve already talked about exhilaration and adventure in this blog, how can you not when writing about John Williams, but here we have the ultimate musical accessory. Split into 3 parts starting with Elliott and Michael escaping the home with E.T to rendezvous with their friends at the local park. This first segment is filled with peril and tension aided by Michael’s erratic driving and Elliot’s nailbiting tunnel peg removal from the back of the stolen van. As soon as we get on the bikes the second part kicks in with the frenetic strings that elicit pure childhood. The money shot moment kicks in 6:58 as the reprise of the flying theme launches, E.T, Elliot, Michael and their friends across the sunset. The final act of the piece, the emotional goodbye as Elliot and E.T part ways, is never allowed to descend into total mawkishness, but lets be clear here, it is not the intention of either Spielberg or Williams to have any dry eyes in the audience at this point, you cry at this, or else may I suggest you go audition for the role of the Tin Man in the Wizard of OZ as there is clearly a heart needed.

The Star Wars Universe

Away from his work with Steven Spielberg, Williams is perhaps most noted for his work on the Star Wars saga. Recommended to Star Wars creator George Lucas by Spielberg after Williams’ work on Jaws, Williams, and Lucas began yet another one of Hollywood’s great collaborative relationships. I will start by showing the original 1976 trailer for Star Wars to illustrate my point. The trailer conjures an almost unrecognisable atmosphere of the film to the one we know and love. Watching the trailer, you would have no idea that the film would be released in the UK with U certificate, but what is perhaps most intriguing is the lack of John Williams’ imperious classical score. Without the music, Star Wars is marketed as a suspenseful action thriller, almost a horror movie set in space. It is impossible for anyone in my generation to imagine a world before or even without Star Wars but the trailer below demonstrates that without John Williams we are watching a very different film.

Over the 40+ years since Star Wars was unleashed on the popular culture zeitgeist, each installment has been met with either Universal acclaim (Episode 5) to Univeral panning (Episode 2 anyone?) but what has never been in doubt in any Star Wars film has been the scores produced by John Williams. Even Episode 2 has the melodramatic but majestic Across the Stars, which proved that even when dialogue is written and delivered with the poise and guile of a drunk man being tasered whilst carrying a tray of marbles, that form may well be temporary but class is permanent. The music of the Star Wars saga is as much of an importance to our auditory functions as the collection of alien lifeforms or the fantastical worlds are to our visual appeals.

George Lucas created the Star Wars universe but I think John Williams created his own unique world with the variety, dynamism and pure out emotion that accompanies the visuals better than any other film series I can think of.  Fans of the films can listen to the scores from any Star Wars film and instantly be able to pinpoint the part of the film it applies too. Those slightly less devoted can listen to the score and have an entirely different experience as they are taken on a journey through their own imagination that holds no barriers. Here are my 5 favourite pieces from the Star Wars saga, in no particular order.

The Asteroid Field from The Empire Strikes Back

Recently adapted by John Powell for the Score of 2018’s Solo, this piece takes me back to my 4-year-old self who sat in the flea pit, cigarette stained, overflowing toilets and sticky carpet Canon Cinema in Bolton where I was watching a double bill of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back. I don’t remember a great deal about Empire from that showing but I do remember this bit. Leaving all the damp, festering stench of the numerous discarded packs of Peter Stuyvesant Reds behind I was suddenly transported into the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon as we twisted and turned through the Asteroid Field to escape the pursuing Empire. I remember ducking and yelping in a C3PO style voice as the rocks (and occasional potato) flew past the screen. It was pure cinema, pure exhilaration and was the greatest thing this 4-year-old had ever experienced. Adding to this unbridled joy was John Williams who perfectly captured the excitement of this daring race through the stars. After the first 2 minutes of cat and mouse banter between the brass and woodwind section, with Han furiously searching for his Hydro spanners, we finally get to the precipice of the rollercoaster hill climb to be plunged at 2 mins 18 headfirst into ripping cornets and frantic strings. One of the finest demonstrations of film music dropping you right into the action.

Luke Vs Vader – Return of the Jedi

Due to my family being a bit late to the VHS party and not being regular cinema-goers I had to wait an eternal 5 years to finally get to see Return of the Jedi. On the night my dad brought home our first video recorder he had managed to obtain a copy of Jedi from the local video shop and that was me done for the weekend. Food was not necessary, I ran upstairs got my pyjamas on and waited impatiently for the rest of the selfish oafs to finish their Friday night chippy tea. Eventually, they sat with me and we pressed play and my mind was blown. I had read the storybook version of Jedi having received the St Michaels annual for a previous Christmas (see image below) cover to cover dozens of times but never seen the film. This was the one I had waited for, my whole life had led to this moment. I won’t bore you with the time we were told we were to watch it at school as part of our patron saints feast day only to find that the kid who organised it brought The NeverEnding Story instead, counseling did not help.

Image result for St Michaels Return of the Jedi

So finally Jedi, it was everything I’d wanted and more. None more so than Vader’s redemption which occurs just after the piece above. I don’t think it’s the saga’s greatest lightsaber duel but it is the most important to me and that is partly down to John William’s music, which captures the moment where Luke really does get the upper hand for the first time. The main hero and the main “villain” battling possibly to the death. The original trilogy to me was building up to this moment and it is hauntingly beautiful as a result.

Princess Leia theme – Star Wars a New Hope

It is often taken for granted just how much of an emotional punch John Williams brings to the Star Wars saga with his scores. Similar to the Yoda theme, the Princess Leia theme is instantly recognisable to the character that it accompanies. From the “Help me Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope” hologram of a New Hope, to the heartbreaking reprise 2 mins 40 into the Finale from The Last Jedi, as Williams remembers the late, great Carrie Fisher, we know we are in the presence of nobility, a courageous warrior and indefatigable leader. Princess Leia was in so many ways ahead of her time as a character, a shrieking damsel in distress she most certainly wasn’t. From the moment she meets and basically ridicules both Luke and Han at their lame rescue attempts, we have a hero with more than her fair share of guts and steely determination. Watch how she verbally spars with both Vader and Tarkin and how she ruthlessly dispatches stormtroopers whilst Luke faffs around with his makeshift cord/vine that will enable them to swing to safety and that’s just the first film. Williams score, although gentle and melancholic in places also demonstrates that this is no shrinking violet, this is a Force to be reckoned with.

Rey’s Theme – The Force Awakens

There are people on Planet Earth who like pineapple on pizza, who think Cristiano Ronaldo is a better football player than Lionel Messi, who think Queen never made a decent album after News of the World, and those who think that the latest Star Wars films are childhood destroyers and a slight on all of humanity…………..these people are all wrong. The one thing that they will no doubt all agree on, however, is that the music John Williams has produced for the most recent entries into the Star Wars universe is of an unflappable quality that captures the essence of the original and prequel trilogies. Joking aside, regardless of what your tastes of the visual action on screen maybe (and if you hate Episodes VII and VIII, you are and always will be wrong :)), you would be a deemed a pineapple pizza eating monster if you did not revel in William’s scores. Capturing elements from the original scores and mixing in new themes like a master alchemist. This is perhaps none more so illustrated by Rey’s theme, which starts with a solo clarinet which reflects Rey’s solitude before moving onto percussion with the rising strings as the audience surveys Rey’s barren surroundings whilst hinting at the adventure yet to come. Thematically it recalls Luke being called across by Aunt Beru to check that any translator that Uncle Owen may buy can speak Bocce. Packed with nostalgic nods to a Universe we are so comfortable in, here Williams’ score for Episode VII grants us a time to reminisce, whilst embracing new thrills and terrors that will mean just as much to a new generation as the Imperial March did to mine.

Duel of the Fates – The Phantom Menace

Ah, the Phantom Menace, the most eagerly awaited film of all time and possibly the biggest anti-climax. However, I watched it again recently with my kids, and although far from any kind of classic, it isn’t as bad as some would have you believe. In fact, I would go so far as to say compared to Episode II it’s a veritable masterpiece. As I have mentioned already, whatever the artistic merits of the films, one area that has never been questioned are John Williams’s scores for the prequel trilogy. Duel of the Fates was instantly iconic and has become firmly embedded into pop culture history. The piece also accompanies the standout scene of the prequel trilogy as Jedi’s Obi-Wan and Qui-Gonn battle against the devilish Darth Maul (2nd best thing in the prequel trilogy after Williams’ scores), in a literal fight to the death. It’s easy to forget how perfectly choreographed this sequence actually is, and to coin a cliche, is worth the entrance fee alone. The music is a balletic partner to the ferocious battle on screen and is simply brilliant.

Other film work

Of course, there is more to John Williams than Star Wars and Spielberg films. Oscar-nominated 51 times, starting in 1968 for his score in Mark Robson’s The Valley of the Dolls till Brian Percival’s 2014’s The Book Thief, Williams has notched nominations for his work with 23 different directors including the likes of Oliver Stone, Norman Jewison, and Alan Parker. Before his Star Wars and Spielberg, Williams made an impact in a slew of disaster movies that were all the rage in the early 1970s, providing scores for major ensemble works such as the Poseidon Adventure (1973) and the Towering Inferno (1974), both scores were nominated. Following on from his double hitter of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Williams hit big again in 1978 with Superman, yet another score to firmly lodge itself into popular culture psyche for decades to come. The love theme from Superman the Movie (below) is near on perfect and once again is an example of perfect mood and moment capture.

Williams would continue to mix serious politically inspired scores most notably for Oliver Stone’s bruising Vietnam nightmare Born on the 4th of July and his conspiracy theory led JFK, both of which were Oscar nominated, with iconic festive fayre like the theme for Home Alone (see below)

Working with director Christopher Columbus, Williams’ score perfectly captured the magic of Christmas and the childhood wonder of that time of year,  and the menace of the films two main miscreants. There is more of that magic incorporated in the Harry Potter scores that he also produced for Christopher Columbus. Once again Williams was able to produce an instantly recognisable score for a new generation of literary, movie and music fans, best encapsulated perhaps by Hedwig’s theme (see below)

Influences

Not only has John Williams had a profound effect on the lives of audiences the world over, but he has also left indelible impressions on some of the finest film composers working today. All brilliant in their unique way the following have all produced scores of the most exacting beauty of raucous bravado that lends more than just a hint of the John Williams Approval Shadow looming above them.

Thomas Newman

It’s quite unfair to suggest that Thomas Newman lives in the shadow of John Williams as he is a composer of such exceptional quality that I could write a blog about the 14 times Oscar nominated musician in his own right. The reason I mention him here is that I feel he is the closest to Williams of any of his contemporaries. Specialising in large scale percussion led pieces, Newman captures that sense of Americana that has become so familiar to Williams fans. When for only the 2nd time in 40 years, Williams was unable to work on a Spielberg cinematic release with 2015s Bridge of Spies, Newman was the natural choice to take up the reigns and in doing so produced my favourite of this decades Spielberg scores. Never is this more prevalent than the 10:51 epic composed for the Glienicke Bridge sequence, where Newman mixes the orchestral swells of Williams with the almost dainty, dreamlike, piano-led mistiness that had served Newman so well in previous classic scores for the likes of Frank Darabont’s Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

A regular in capturing the playfulness whimsy of a Pixar movie and more recently the urgency of a Bond score, Newman is one of those composers that conjures up imagery of warm cup of coffee in front of a log fire on a cold day.

James Horner

The late, great James Horner who’s life was cut tragically short in a plane crash in June 2015, was a master of musical story telling. A regular collaborator with James Cameron, Horner again had the ability to create other worlds through his music to such a degree that it could be argued in some cases the visuals were matched to his music as opposed to the other way round. A fan of including angelic voices alongside perceived native beats, whether that be the tragedy of the ending of Titanic to the illustration of rusticness in Braveheart to the battle-hardened otherworldly experience of Avatar, Horner rose to prominence providing scores to fantasy films of the 1980s for the likes of Willow, Cocoon, and Krull, so the comparisons with Williams were clear to see.

Michael Giacchino

A fellow Pixar regular, Giacchino cut his composer teeth by providing scores for video games in the 1990s before becoming a regular collaborator with J.J Abrams with 2005 Mission Impossible III. He then went onto score the rebooted Star Trek film series in 2008, and the majestic Spielberg inspired Super 8 in 2011. He made his Pixar debut in 2004 with The Incredibles . A now staple of Pixar, Giacchino has also dipped his conductor’s baton into the Marvel Universe with his 1970s nostalgia inspired Dr. Strange score, which if you haven’t listened to then stop what you are doing right now and listen. Giacchino’s John Williams connection saw him enter the Star Wars universe in 2016 when handed the task of composing the score for the first standalone Star Wars movie, the impressive Rogue One. Filling the sizable Williams shoes in a World that only Williams had previously trod was no doubt a daunting experience, but was handled with a deft touch that perfectly encapsulated the mood of a movie that devotees will know the emotional outcome before it even starts. The piece below could have been written by John Williams himself in one of the earlier Star Wars. I think if I’m still able to string coherent sentences together in 40 years time I may decide to write a blog on Michael Giacchino in the same gushing tones that I am currently doing for John Williams

John Powell

Talking of composers who took the leap into the Star Wars universe I give you John Powell. It could be argued that John Powell’s score for 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars story is the most impressive element of the film, which is a back handed compliment if ever I heard one. I actually really enjoyed the film and think it will be thought of more highly when time becomes the most useful judge. However, there is no denying that Powell’s score is near on perfect. Similar to Giacchino, Powell really came to the fore with a series of action-packed scores for animated hits such as Shrek and the massively underrated, both from a film and score point of view, How to Train Your Dragon series. Powell had demonstrated that he could work music into action set pieces, whilst not being afraid to throw in some curve balls to the listening audience. See below for the rip-roaring and nail-biting Marauders Arrive from the Solo soundtrack, which mixes John Williams’ cues with tribal chants and breakneck pace. John Powell, like Michael Giacchino, will hopefully continue to dazzle us over the next decades as they are the closest I have heard to the mass appeal of John Williams.

The future

With John Williams close to becoming a Nonagenarian it is fair to assume that we are currently witnessing the twilight of his career. However, with Episode IX of Star Wars currently being worked on and a fifth Indiana Jones movie slated for early next decade, there is no sign of him wishing to take it easy. I leave you with the most iconic piece of any movie score and a piece that perfectly encapsulates the brilliance of the brilliant John Williams

The Spielberg Awards

Hi folks, following on from my look at Spielberg through the last 5 decades, blogs that can be found on the following links 2010s 2000s 1990s 1980s 1970s I decided to have a light-hearted look at his films and launch the first and no doubt last annual award ceremony, imaginatively titled “The Spielbergs”.

First up was the Spielberg World Cup where I asked the good people of Twitter to vote in the first round, which consisted of 8 groups of 4 with the top 2 progressing to the Quarter finals, for which the top 2 from 4 groups progressed to the semi-finals and the top 2 from each group produced a final 4 for a climactic battle. Each round was randomly drawn by my 7-year-old daughter so there was no danger of letting my own favourites gaining any advantage. Please note as creater of these polls I was not eligible to vote

Group 1 

Close Encounters 46% 
Saving Private Ryan 33%
Catch Me If You Can 17%
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - 4%
142 votes cast

Catch Me If You Can was an early casualty if drawn in a different group it may well have progressed. The fact it got 17% in such company was a testimony to its appeal. The top 2 were always going to progress here, Crystal Skull was merely making up the numbers.

Group 2

E.T - 72%
Minority Report - 17%
Bridge of Spies - 7%
The Post - 4% 
208 votes cast

A clear favourite going into this one as the result showed. These are 4 exceptional films but I think a lack of familiarity with  Bridge of Spies and The Post saw them score lowly. When the draw was made I thought this would be a tight group……..I was wrong

Group 3 – 

Jaws - 69%
Hook - 13%
Munich - 10%
The Lost World - 8%

162 votes cast
There was only going to be one winner in this group so the intrigue would be who would grab second among three of Spielberg’s more divisive films. Family panto fun triumphed over controversial revenge thriller……but only just.
Group 4
Duel - 36%
The Terminal - 32%
The Color Purple - 23%
Amistad - 9%
174 votes cast
This was a group that allowed some of the more unfancied films to shine and it turned into quite a close contest. With 23% The Color Purple would have progressed in most of the other groups.
Sorry to see Amistad doing so poorly. Very underrated. @TheLoneWolf68
Group 5 – 
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - 54%
War of the Worlds - 22%
The Adventures of Tintin - 19%
Always - 5%
170 votes cast

It was all action and adventure in Group 5. It could be argued that Temple of Doom got a lucky draw here but over 50% of the vote can’t be wrong. Good showing for Tintin here I feel.

Group 6 – 

Jurassic Park - 87%
War Horse - 6%
The BFG - 5%
Sugarland Express - 2%
149 votes cast

The biggest first-round margin of victory was hardly a surprise. A great battle for 2nd place though.

Group 7 – 

Raiders of the Lost Ark - 66%
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 27%
Empire of the Sun - 6%
1941 - 1%
166 votes cast

Tough draw for Empire here, it surely would have done better in a different group. The battle of the Jones’s would be an indicator of how the tournament would progress. Also worth acknowledging the one person who voted for 1941, good for you, whoever you are 🙂

People need to give Empire some love!, it’s one of his best! @smurfman75

Group 8 – 

Schindler's List - 64%
Ready Player One - 18%
Lincoln - 10%
A.I - 8%
148 votes cast

Whereas Schindler’s List’s progression to the quarter-finals was always likely, Ready Player One’s 2nd place ahead of Lincoln was perhaps the surprise of the first round.

QUARTER-FINALS

Group 1 –  

Raiders of the Lost Ark - 53%
E.T - 38%
War of the Worlds - 6%
Ready Player One - 3%
104 votes cast

The top 2 were never really in doubt from the get-go but what might be a surprise to some is how far ahead of E.T Raiders was.

Ready Player One is Spielberg’s worst film!, and he hasn’t had many. @smurfman75

Group 2 –

Jaws - 57%
Schindlers List - 23%
Saving Private Ryan - 18%
Duel - 2%
115 votes cast

This is the dictionary definition of the “Group of Death”. Blame the 7-year-old, not me. Saving Private Ryan is the most high-profile exit of the quarterfinals and surely would have progressed in less prestigious company. Even Duel would have fancied its chances of at least as second place in the next group.

This is why polls are inherently fraught with unintentional bias. You really cannot compare any film with Schindler’s List. @CinemaPhileTX

Group 3

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 67%
Hook - 13%
War Horse - 11%
The Terminal - 9%
97 votes cast

Hook will have annoyed some Spielberg aficionados making it to the semi-finals ahead of films such as Saving Private Ryan, but to coin a famous sporting cliche, you can only beat what is in front of you.

 

Group 4

Jurassic Park - 49%
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 28%
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - 15%
Minority Report - 8%
123 votes cast

Similar to the first round another strong Jurassic performance, this time in much more esteemed company, Close Encounters in its second tough draw continues to hold its own, whilst Temple of Doom and Minority Report had to settle for making up the numbers here.

Argh! Toughest one. How can anyone choose between temple of doom and close encounters? @patrickdeudon

Close Encounters every time…For me of course – Rob @thebeardedtrio

SEMI-FINALS

At this stage of the competition I had in my mind the 4 films that would progress to the final, regardless of the draw, I was wrong and quite shocked if honest.

Group 1

E.T - 31%
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 30%
Schindler's List - 21%
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 18%
311 votes cast

You could argue that Indiana Jones has a larger fanbase than Schindler’s List but with over 300 votes cast, you would have thought that Schindler’s, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest pieces of modern cinema would have pulled through. At this stage, though we really are splitting hairs, as all 4 are wondrous pieces of filmmaking

That was tough between close encounters and last crusade but I have to give it to last crusade. By far the best Indy movie and even though I love close encounters… Connery+Ford=gold. @RoadRaider3

How can you separate these…its the Sophies Choice of the movie world @filmbuffbaker

Look forward to the second group. If Jaws, Jurassic Park and Raiders are in the final, there’s no way I can choose. May have to close my eyes and just blind tap. @BoxOfficeBeyond

Group 2

Jaws - 41%
Raiders of the Lost Ark - 29%
Jurassic Park - 25%
Hook - 5%
367 votes cast

The battle of the franchises saw Jurassic Park fall at the last hurdle. Jaw’s margin of victory coupled with a potential split vote for Indiana Jones fans in the final, surely meant that Jaws went into the final as the clear favourite. Hook’s fun ride to the semi’s predictably ended there.

Where did you get the nerve to ask such impossible questions???@OakAyling

Raiders-not only his best, but THE best. In. Tha. World. @BossyToo

THE FINAL

Raiders of the Lost Ark - 35%
Jaws - 32%
E.T - 22%
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 11%
313 votes cast

So the winner is…….Raiders of the Lost Ark. The final four demonstrated what I have always suspected that Spielberg fans have tremendous taste. The split vote didn’t happen and Raiders just pipped Jaws to the grand prize.

Arrrghh!!! This is so hard. Jaws….No! Raiders….No….Yes…No…Arrghhh! Voted for Jaws in the end. It gets my vote, just. Don’t put me through that again. I feel like I’ve cheated on the other three now. – Rob @thebeardedtrio 

My decision for ‘Raiders’ is in part totally subjective (in the mid 1980s, I made a Super8 short film with a couple of friends and was having the time of my life). The other part is the brilliant cast & perfect Spielberg mix made of adventure, action, suspense, awe and humor. @SpielbergChron

Image result for Raiders of  the Lost Ark

Following on from the World Cup which crowned everyone’s favourite Archaeology teacher’s first screen adventure as the Greatest Spielberg Film, I decided to run a few more polls to answer the questions about Spielberg films that quite frankly nobody had ever contemplated or felt the need to ask.

Twitter limits every poll to 4 options, which means that I had to leave some strong contenders out of some of the categories, some of them even caused me to have sleepless nights as names popped into my head that I hadn’t even considered. This was never more apparent than in this first category

Best supporting actor in a Spielberg film

Image result for Robert Shaw Jaws Robert Shaw Jaws 58%

Related image Sean Connery Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 19%

Image result for christopher walken catch me if you can Christopher Walken Catch Me If You Can 17%

Image result for tommy lee jones lincoln Tommy Lee Jones Lincoln 6%

Robert Shaw’s cantankerous old sea dog has always been a Spielberg favourite. On reflection, the four men above would have been all worthy winners, but just take a look at some of the outstanding men I left out/forgot about before the poll was launched. Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, Anthony Hopkins Amistad, Robert MacNaughton E.T, Jeff Goldblum Jurassic Park, and perhaps the most glaring oversight Ralph Fiennes in Schindlers List.

This could be close.. and in this short of race, there’s no shilver medal for finishing shecond..!@_ThatFilmGeek_

Best supporting actress in a Spielberg film

 

Image result for drew barrymore e.t Drew Barrymore E.T 41%

Image result for teri garr close encounters third kind Teri Garr Close Encounters of the Third Kind 25%

Image result for samantha morton minority report Samantha Morton Minority Report 19%

Image result for margaret avery color purple Margaret Avery The Color Purple 15%

In E.T Drew Barrymore gives the impression that she doesn’t even realise she is in a film. The story is happening around her the childlike wonder she displays is reflected in the emotion that the audience goes through. Teri Garr is possibly the standout performance in Close Encounters as the doubting Thomas figure who is presumably left to explain all of this to the three children. Its great to see both Samantha Morton and Margaret Avery score reasonable percentages in two breathtaking performances.

Not the four performances I would’ve chosen to represent this category, I don’t think. But from this group I guess it’s got to be Garr. Drew comes close, though. Great performance at that age. @853_OKG

Whilst we are looking at acting performances, let’s see what you voted as best lead performances

Best Performance by a Leading Actress

Image result for whoopi goldberg color purple Whoopi Goldberg The Color Purple 48%

Related image Meryl Streep The Post 24%

Image result for goldie hawn sugarland express Goldie Hawn The Sugarland Express 14%

Image result for holly hunter always Holly Hunter Always 14%

All 4 of these women would have been a worthy winner here but what a delightful surprise to see Whoopi Goldberg’s astonishing debut get the lion’s share of the vote in this category. As for the “overrated” Meryl, she can do no wrong in my eyes, Goldie Hawn “Aw shucks” her way through Sugarland Express and Holly Hunter is beyond adorable and by quite some distance the best thing about Always.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor

Image result for daniel day lewis lincoln Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln 52%

Image result for richard dreyfuss close encounters Richard Dreyfuss Close Encounters of the Third Kind 36%

Image result for tom hanks saving private ryan Tom Hanks Saving Private Ryan 12%

Image result for eric bana munich Eric Bana Munich 0% 😦

When putting these polls together I anticipated that Day-Lewis would win regardless of who I put him up against and I was proved correct with his powerhouse performance as America’s 16th president. Dreyfuss treads the line between excitable and maniacal in Close Encounters, whereas Hanks probably gives the most human performance out of the nominees. Spare a thought for Eric Bana who didn’t receive a single vote which is massively unfair as he is the very heart and soul of Munich, one Spielberg film that requires further reflection. Also just outside the top 4 were the likes of Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List, Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds, Hanks for The Terminal and even Henry Thomas for E.T, but more about him next.

Best performance by a child in a Spielberg film

Image result for henry thomas et Henry Thomas E.T 51%

Image result for christian bale empire of the sun Christian Bale Empire of the Sun 38%

Image result for dakota fanning war of the worlds Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds 8%

Image result for ruby barnhill the bfg Ruby Barnhill The BFG 3%

The best child performance in a Spielberg film is Haley Joel Osment (A.I.), but out of the four you chose to highlight, I’d go with Henry Thomas.  

Out of all the categories I ran, I had more comments over who I had left out than any other category. The opinion from @ViverdeCinema was just many who claimed the Haley Joel Osment should have been on this list. I could have also quite easily had had Drew Barrymore and Robert MacNaughton from E.T, Jonathan Ke Quan from Temple of Doom, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello from Jurassic Park, or how about Carey Guffey who played Barry in Close Encounters. Spielberg’s ability to bring out very believable performances from youngsters is all too apparent. Out of the 4 I did go for, Henry Thomas is the standout. His performance, in my opinion, is right up there with the very best from any actor in a Spielberg film.

Ok, lets now take a look at the bad guys.

Best non-human villain

Image result for shark from jaws “Bruce” the Shark from Jaws 39%

Image result for t-rex from jurassic park T-Rex from Jurassic Park 23%

Image result for velociraptor from jurassic park Velociraptor from Jurassic Park 19%

Image result for truck from duel The Truck from Duel 19%

One of the more closely fought contests, with “Bruce” proving once and for all that things that don’t work quite as they should are actually terrifying. The iconic T-Rex turns in some ways, from monster to hero by the end of Jurassic Park but she wouldn’t thank you for saying that. The sinister Raptors probably scored less than the T-Rex because nobody likes clever clogs. As for the truck, well it can rest in the knowledge that without it there probably wouldn’t have been any of the others and I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog (stop cheering at the back).

Most despicable Human villain

Image result for amon goeth schindler Amon Goeth Schindler’s List 88%

Image result for captain hook hook Captain Hook Hook 6%

Image result for sorrento ready player one Sorrento Ready Player One 3%

Image result for mola ram Mola Ram Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 3%

The biggest “winner” in any category voted on, as its widely regarded as one of the biggest bastards in history was realistically portrayed in Schindler’s List. Fiennes depiction of pure evil was so accurate that when survivor Mila Pfefferberg was introduced to Ralph Fiennes on the set, she began shaking uncontrollably, as he reminded her too much of the real Amon Goeth.

as is terrible, he has no redeeming qualities at all! He’s pure evil, and unfortunately ‘s depiction is historically accurate… 

After that bunch of evildoers, I wanted to take a more light-hearted look at some of Spielberg’s characters.

Most slappable character in a Spielberg film

Image result for ray winstone crystal skull Mac Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 56%

Image result for willie scott temple of doom Willie Scott Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 32%

Image result for clovis sugarland express Clovis The Sugarland Express 8%

Image result for hollis p wood 1941 Hollis P Wood 1941 4%

Ok firstly in the case of 2 of these I am not criticising the performance, as I think Kate Capshaw is fantastic in Temple of Doom, also William Atherton in Sugarland gives an early precursor to future whiny slimeballs that we see in Ghostbusters and Die Hard, just that their characters are so frustrating as in need of a good wedgie. Ray Winstone plays the same character in EVERYTHING and the last thing Indiana Jones is a cockney gangster who one-half suspects is going to break the fourth wall and give me the latest odds on whether Indy is likely to get out of his next tight spot. As for Slim Pickens in 1941, well to say he is the loudest and most annoying person in 1941 pretty much says it all about what I think of him in that film.

Hollis P Wood? Slim Pickens? Slappable? NO! He’s one of my favorite characters in 1941.

If we want to slap the four above which of the following females makes us want to punch the air with their stunning exploits

Most kickass female character in a Spielberg film

Image result for marion raiders of the lost ark Marion Raiders of the Lost Ark 60%

Image result for dr sattler jurassic park Dr. Sattler Jurassic Park 20%

Image result for artemis ready player one Art3mis Ready Player One 10%

Image result for sarah harding jurassic Sarah Harding The Lost World 4%

Marion from Raiders has long been a fans favourite but I am still surprised how large her winning margin was against Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park who for my money is the ultimate Spielberg action hero, smart, witty with an edge of vulnerability that prevents her from requiring a cape.

No contest. Marion. Hands down. @kkcorby14

I’m now going to take a look at the moments that make Spielberg, well, Spielberg, starting with scenes that shook us to our core.

Most harrowing scene in a Spielberg film

Image result for liquidation of ghetto schindler's list Liquidation of Ghetto Schindler’s List 48%

Image result for omaha beach saving private ryan Omaha Beach Saving Private Ryan 39%

Image result for monica abandons david a.i Monica abandons David A.I 13%

Image result for amistad boat scene thrown overboard Below the deck Amistad 0%

A close run thing here between the two World War Two epics. The thing with all four of the scenes listed above, the viewer wishes to turn away from the screen but we can’t. On Omaha Beach we feel that we are in amongst the battle, ducking to avoid the bullets and shrapnel heading our way. The liquidation of the Ghetto is a different type of desperation, we want to help, we want to know why the cameraman isn’t stopping to help, can’t they see what is happening, why are they filming this? Monica abandoning David perhaps hits home more to parents, especially those who have dropped a screaming child off at nursery, but in this film, there is no glass of milk and a Spot the Dog story to pacify David, and we know Monica is not coming back 4 hours later to collect. As for Amistad receiving 0%, well it’s possibly the most brutal scene of the lot but the least relatable hence the zero votes.

So the flip side to the most harrowing, what is the most wondrous scene.

Most Wondrous Scene in a Spielberg film

Image result for mothership lands close encounters Mothership lands Close Encounters 34%

Image result for raiders of the lost ark opening scene Opening scene Raiders of the Lost Ark 31%

Image result for t rex attack jurassic park T-Rex attack Jurassic Park 20%

Image result for dolly zoom scene jaws Alex Kittner beach scene Jaws 15%

So with this one, I was looking for the scene that best epitomizes Spielberg and his films and as you can see it was a very close contest. For me, the last 30 minutes of Close Encounters is the finest piece of Cinema ever put together, whereas the opening of Raiders is possibly the finest opening to any film. The T-Rex attack has Spielberg at his most terrifying and the Alex Kittner scene in Jaws is the dictionary definition of the slow build, littered with red herrings and exquisite camera work.

It’s the Kitner scene, the way he draws u in to different characters who u believe will be the sharks next victim is brilliant!. The zoom in shot on Brody, splashing of water, and the final death of Alex who so happened to be wearing red which stood out but no one noticed @smurfman75

If those scenes were breathtaking, I wanted to know if there was one particular image that stood out as the most iconic in a Spielberg film.

Most iconic image in a Spielberg film

Image result for e.t fly past moon E.T and Elliot fly past the moon E.T 75%

Image result for The Aliens arrive Close encounter The orange doorway Close Encounters of the Third Kind 10%

Image result for red coat schindler's list The girl in the red coat Schindler’s List 8%

Image result for jurassic park glasses of water The glasses of water Jurassic Park 7%

All four images are instantly recognisable and emotive for very different reasons. Nothing captures that feeling of childlike wonder and amazement, however, than E.T and Elliot flying past the moon, it’s debatable whether there is a more iconic image in the history of cinema.

I’m now going to take a look at some of the very familiar faces who have appeared in Spielberg films who have either gone on to bigger and better things or already had achieved monumental things before appearing in a Spielberg film.

Best before they were famous performance in a Spielberg film

Image result for oprah winfrey color purple Oprah Winfrey The Color Purple 54%

Related image Samuel L Jackson Jurassic Park 33%

Image result for benedict cumberbatch war horse Benedict Cumberbatch War Horse 11%

Image result for ben stiller empire of the sun Ben Stiller Empire of the Sun 2%

Samuel L Jackson was a successful actor before Jurassic Park having starred in Menace to Society, Coming to America and Goodfellas but this pre- Pulp Fiction starrer as the chain-smoking technician Arnold was the first time he really put a stamp on a film. It’s sometimes easy to forget how good a performance Oprah gives in the Color Purple. Here the majority of you seem to agree.

I love Cumberbatch in that film but I gotta go with Oprah. @kkcorby14

Best after they were famous performance in a Spielberg film

Image result for richard attenborough jurassic park Richard Attenborough Jurassic Park 51%

Related image Francois Truffaut Close Encounters 32%

Image result for audrey hepburn always Audrey Hepburn Always 15%

Image result for michael lonsdale munich Michael Lonsdale Munich 2%

Big winner here for Richard Attenborough who played the often misinterpreted genius, John Hammond. Spielberg spoke about his nervousness of working with one of his heroes in Truffaut in Close Encounters but Truffaut is the audiences representative in this film with his sense of wide-eyed wonder and excitement. The stunt casting of Audrey Hepburn pays off with a charming little cameo in Always and ex-Bond villain Michael Lonsdale add a certain gravitas to Munich

Can’t measure with existing technology how fabulous Truffaut was for CE3K. His demeanor, his sense of wonder … so essential! ~P @Sibling_Cinema

Next up I want to take a look at his possibly misunderstood or lesser known films

Most derided Spielberg film which is actually pretty good and deserves a second chance.

Related image A.I Artificial Intelligence 40%

Image result for hook poster Hook 34%

Image result for indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull movie poster Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 15%

Image result for 1941 movie poster 1941 11%

There was actually quite a lot of love shown to each of these films, they all obviously have fans, but they do also have a number of critics. There is no doubt in my mind that A.I is a stunning piece of work and should be respected by a much wider audience. Hook is a lot of fun and is great family entertainment, Crystal Skull is seen by many as the biggest disappointment in Spielberg’s career but that could be down to expectation more than anything else. As for 1941, well 11% are willing to stick up for it………good for you 🙂

if anyone says AI is bad, they have zero knowledge of filmmaking. AI is immortal! @CinemaPhileTX

Hook, A.I. Crystal Skull all could easily be deserving of this vote. But A.I. is a truly incredible movie that is criminally underrated. It gets my vote. @853_OKG

Best Spielberg film that nobody has seen but really should

Image result for always movie poster Always 30%

Image result for The Terminal movie poster The Terminal 26%

Image result for Amistad movie poster Amistad 25%

Image result for Sugarland Express movie poster The Sugarland Express 19%

Another close run contest this one. I am very fond of all of these movies and they should all be seen by a wider audience as each one tells a very different story of Spielberg’s career at the particular point of which they were made. In my opinion, The Terminal, in particular, is a charming film that was a rare lighter effort from Spielberg in a post Millenium decade where he was at his darkest

I voted Always. Saw it years ago when it first came out but had forgotten much about it. Rewatched on the recommendation of a friend and it was lovely and heartwarming. Holly Hunter was terrific. @kkcorby14

All are great films but Amistad is also important. A message that resounds especially today. @aillsley3

I’m now going to take a look at the sounds that we remember from Spielberg films by giving out awards for the best one-liner and the best music score

Best One-Liner

Image result for you're gonna need a bigger boat “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” Jaws 62%

Image result for life finds a way jurassic park quote “Life uh finds a way” Jurassic Park 23%

Image result for She talks in her sleep Indiana Jones quote “She talks in her sleep” IJ and the Last Crusade 15%

Image result for would it help bridge of spies “Would it help?” Bridge of Spies 0%

The often misquoted “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was always going to win this one and to be fair why the hell not, it’s almost as iconic as the film itself. Ian Malcolm’s realisation in Jurassic Park is the culmination of one of the finest scripted scenes in a Spielberg film. Connery’s piece of perfect improvisation is possibly my favourite line ever and as for the 0% Bridge of Spies quote, well hopefully longevity will see this line immortalised in time to come.

Best Score

Image result for jaws theme sheet music Jaws main theme 37%

Image result for welcome to jurassic park sheet music Welcome to Jurassic Park 29%

Image result for the raiders march sheet music The Raiders March 24%

Image result for e.t flying theme sheet music E.T Flying theme 10%

I have to be honest I would be lost without the music of John Williams in my life. I listen to it daily, it has got me through some tough times, I feel it is a privilege that I am able to hear such wondrous music. It truly is a part of the cinematic experience. I want all readers to imagine for a moment what Elliot and E.T flying past the moon would be like without the music. Williams’s music has almost at times become a character in some of the movies, never more so than when his two-note motif in Jaws still to this day can send a shiver up the spine of all potential ocean paddlers, more than a malfunctioning rubber shark could ever want to.

I’d say Jaws. For me personally, I was familiar with the idea of a dorsal fin above the water accompanied by “daa dum” long before I had seen Jaws and even before I knew who John Williams was! I’d know a lot of other people who’d say the same thing. @JWilliams_Fan

Personally, Jurassic Park’s main theme gives the chills everytime. Raiders theme means pure adventure, but Jaws is the most iconic simply due to how pervasive it has been. People that haven’t even seen Jaws know it. It’s been used in endless parodies etc. @BoxOfficeBeyond

My final category involves a group of people who most people who have read this far will know the name but maybe not the face.

Spielberg’s unsung hero

Image result for michael kahn editor Michael Kahn Editor 39%

Image result for kathleen kennedy Kathleen Kennedy Producer 22%

Image result for janusz kaminski Janusz Kaminski Cinematography 22%

Image result for kate capshaw Kate Capshaw Wife 17%

All 4 of the above have played an integral part in the career of Steven Spielberg. He would possibly be half the filmmaker without one or more of them offering guidance and support. I salute them all.

Kahn is the man. Being an editor it is a very hard job to make the edit invisible. That is the brilliance of a film editor. Michael Kahn has done that for decades with Spielberg. @theburbsman

A tough one, but I have to go with Michael Kahn. The work of editors is often discussed/critiqued in reviews, but the editors themselves often go unmentioned. In a way, they’re like sculptors. What they do is nothing short of amazing and Kahn certainly has his mark on that. @GoNerdYourself

So there we go that is it for my Spielberg blogs, for now at least. I hope you have all enjoyed reading them. I have certainly enjoyed writing them, especially the research side of it.

As with all good award ceremonies and quite frankly some bad ones, I have some thank yous. I want to thank in particular the following people who have retweeted and promoted my blogs over the past year, and have also on occasion helped me with certain detail. They are Paul Bullock @apaulbullock, The guys at the Bearded Trio @thebeardedtrio  , the Spielberg Chronicles @SpielbergChron and all the following who have contributed in some way. 

If you like to follow people on Twitter who have intelligent, humourous and occasionally excitable conversations about film, you could do a lot worse than to give the following fine people a follow Darren Murphy @smurfman75  , KK @kkcorby14  , Marc Uren @uren_marc , That Film Geek @_ThatFilmGeek_ , EasyRidingRagingPodcast @ERRPodcast  , The CinemaPhile @CinemaPhileTX, Music By John Williams @JWilliams_Fan, Stephen Haller @theburbsman, Jim Rockford @853_OKG, Go Nerd Yourself @GoNerdYourself, A Film Club @afilmclub Amblin Road @AmblinRoad.

Thanks mainly go to anyone who has taken the time to have a read of these blogs, you’re all excellent people, and also thank you to Mr Spielberg for continuing to produce pieces of cinema that just put a smile upon my face. Here’s to many more over the coming years.

 

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

Spielberg the 2000s

Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001) Minority Report (2002) Catch Me If You Can (2002) Tom Hanks in The Terminal (2004) War of the Worlds (2005) Munich (2005) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Welcome to Part 4 of my look at Spielberg through the decades. Following on from my previous blogs of Spielberg through the 1970s the 1980s and the 1990s we now enter what could be Spielberg’s most misunderstood decade. I personally see it as his most creative, showcasing brave ideas and taking risks that now the critical acclaim matched the audience love, he was willing to take. The one thing to say about the naughties as I refer to them is that the fluffiness has definitely gone, to paraphrase the opening crawl of the Empire Strikes Back, these are indeed dark times. The line up of posters at the top of the blog with the two obvious exceptions are a paradigm of murkiness. There are some issues, Spielberg doesn’t fully remove the crowd pleasing shackles, he can’t resist a couple of “see it’s all ok in the end” type endings, one in particular is very punchable but overall the impression I get is that finally Spielberg feels he has the freedom to make the films that he wants to make. This is certainly the case with the first of his 2st Century films.

A.I Artificial Intelligence (2001)

“Why do you wanna leave me? Why do you wanna leave me? I’m sorry I’m not real. If you let me, I’ll be so real for you.”

Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001) Haley Joel Osment in Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)

There are some who claim that Spielberg has not made a truly great film since Saving Private Ryan in 1998. However from 2000 onwards we have a collection of films that, whilst maybe not as commercially accessible or appealing as what has gone before, reward those willing to be challenged and open to new directions from Spielberg. This is no more apparent than A.I Artificial Intelligence, a film that requires patience and repeat viewings before a true and fair opinion can be formed.

The origins of the film date back to the 1970s when Stanley Kubrick bought the rights and attempted to adapt the short story “Supertoys last all Summer Long” written by Brian Aldiss in 1969. Concerned that the main role was too much emotionally for a young child to play, Kubrick delayed the production until he felt the technology was available to create the character of David digitally. As the decades went by Kubrick passed over the project to Spielberg as he thought it matched more of his sensibilities, but Spielberg worked with the majority of Kubrick’s ideas to form the film. Kubrick, who died in 1999 never saw the finished piece.

A.I is the story of David a Mecha that resembles a human child who is sent to Henry and Monica Swinton as a “replacement” for their son Martin who is suffering from an incurable disease and is currently being held in isolation. Monica, played by Frances O’Connor, is wary of David at first but slowly begins to grow towards him until she activates his imprinting protocol which means David now recognises her as his mother and will provide a child like love to her. All is going well until Martin, now out of suspended isolation, returns home and develops a sibling rivalry with David which culminates in David almost drowning Martin in an act of self-defence. Henry asks that Monica takes David back to his creator where he will be destroyed. However Monica abandons David in a forest in a hope that he will be able to defend for himself. David then embarks on a 2000 year quest to be reunited with his “mother” seeking out the fabled Blue Fairy who he believes will turn him into a real life boy.

I mentioned at the top of this segment that A.I requires patience. I remember being left dumbfounded on first viewing at the cinema, confused about what I had just witnessed, its ultimately a matriarchal love story, but it can also be an allegory for social distrust and prejudice, witness the gladiatorial baiting audience at the flesh fair or David’s treatment at the hands of Martin and his friends. David is looking for love but the larger picture here is the acceptance of the Mecha community as equals, which of course is a well trodden Cinematic story arc. Here’s the thing, A.I makes no secret of its influences and it takes repeat viewings to fully embrace this. The most obvious is Pinocchio, a film that Spielberg has referenced on occasions before most notably in Close Encounters, but there are clear nods to Blade Runner, and even touches of Cronenberg particularly in the aforementioned Flesh Fair.

However the biggest influence is clearly Kubrick. The opening hour, whilst not quite horror, has a spooky, eerie feel to it. The introduction of David is an unnerving experience not just for Monica but the audience as well. Played with eye-piercing perfection by Hayley Joel Osment, the young robot boy appears with an unblinking porcelain stare, he follows Monica around the apartment, appearing silently, always watching, he is more a robotic stalker than a loving child. Spielberg’s chooses to initially leave David ambiguous, he is often shot with angelic shapes around him. At the dinner table he is shot from above through the circular light fitting. The calming, blue and whites of Davids eyes and clothing give him an ethereal, robotic but angelic presence. His appearance states there is nothing to fear here, his actions and mannerisms suggest otherwise. The character of Monica follows the time honoured tradition of struggling parentage, this time the mother is the parent that the main protagonists desperately wants to engage and be with, when this isn’t possible David, similar to Jim in Empire of the Sun, settles for two surrogate fathers to guide him. Firstly we have an animatronic teddy bear, a childs toy (voiced brilliantly by Jack Angel) who scowls at the initial suggestion that he is a toy who like Jiminy Cricket in the much referenced Pinochhio is David’s conscious, exercising caution at every turn. Whereas Jude Law’s robotic Gigolo Joe is more interested in opening David’s eyes to the world, Empires Basie to Teddy’s Dr Rawlings if you will.

Haley Joel Osment in Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)

I don’t think Spielberg has ever made a more beautiful film, every frame glistens. Dismissed on its release, it was classed as an oddity in Spielberg’s filmography as audiences found the over emotional David too sentimental a character to fully invest time in, but this is a dark film. The first hour is a psychological, uncomfortable, in an intriguing way, watch, but the final half hour is second only to Close Encounters for sheer spectacle when viewed again. This is Spielberg’s second chance film, from its taut thriller opening act to the visually stunning 2nd I implore all readers who had previously dismissed A.I as sentimental hogwash to revisit and take in every inch of the screen.

Why should you watch it?

Because more than any other Spielberg film, A.I rewards repeat viewings. If you have only seen A.I once and found it difficult and cold, watch again, take it all in, there has never been so much beauty in a Spielberg film. This could be his most misunderstood masterpiece.

Minority Report (2002)

“You don’t have to chase me.”

Minority Report (2002)  Tom Cruise and Samantha Morton in Minority Report (2002)

You could argue that with the exception of casting Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg up until this point has never gone for the most obvious marquee name to star in his film, Spielberg himself was always the main draw. Even Saving Private Ryan was sold more on the subject matter in hand as opposed to the fact that Tom Hanks took the lead role. Dreyfuss was a big star in the days of Close Encounters but not really the same box office draw as the likes of Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson all who were considered for Neary. This was to change with Minority Report a film set in 2054 where pre-crime cognitives work alongside the Washington D.C. Police force to prevent murders before they happen. The twist here is that the Chief of Pre-crime himself John Anderton is accused of murder of a man that he has never met, forcing Anderton to go on the run.

Cast as Anderton, Spielberg worked for the first time with bona-fide Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise. The pair had been friends for some time and had waited for the right project to collaborate. The fast action, science fiction setting ticked both of their wish lists, the character back story of Anderton would also give Cruise the opportunity to stretch his often underrated emotional range as he deals with the impact of  being a grieving parent, the first of many similarities between Minority Report and the previous A.I. A facial disfigurement half way through the film would also prove that this was no vanity project for the often gleaming grin wearing Cruise.

Opening with a terrific prologue that fully demonstrates Pre-Crime in all its finery, the films tone is set by the prevention of Howard Marks murdering his adulterous wife and her lover. This scene sets the pace for the entire film, there is very little standing around, it really is the quintessential chase movie. The colours of the film follow on from the more desperate parts of A.I with lots of blues and silvers dominating the landscape of a city where it appears to be almost always raining. This is a grim look at a not too distant future.

Since Schindler’s List Janusz Kaminski has been Spielberg’s go to cinematographer, the opening three Spielbergs films of the 21st Century show a Director and Cinematographer in perfect sync with each other. After the glistening beauty of A.I, we have a damp, grubby world, perfectly summed up by the interior of the apartment of the black market doctor who performs an illegal eye transplant on Anderton to help him escape detection whilst moving through the city.

The warmness is only really achieved at the films conclusion, a conclusion that left some audiences frustrated, by its neatness and optimism, something that is glaringly absent in the preceding 2 hours.

The film itself balances film noir with modern day thriller, it raises questions about free will versus determinism, if an individual is aware of their own future, can they change it or is it set in stone. Does governmental interference, in this case to prevent murder, actually lead to a more harmonious society? The evidence on display in Minority Report is no. People still have extra marital affairs, people are still dependent on illegal substances, Anderton scores drugs to help deal with the loss of his son. The general public still rush around barely noticing each other whilst being bombarded with adverts in a perpetual world of unstoppable traffic that now slides down the side of buildings as there is no further road space available. This is a grim vision of a possible future world.

Cruise is excellent as Chief Anderton and he is ably supported by a slimy “is he good or is he bad” turn from Colin Farrell. The shining light for me though is Samantha Morton as Pre-Cog Agatha, who displays vulnerability and strength in equal measure.

The film has some stunning set pieces, the aforementioned prevention of Marks murdering his wife is one, the scene where Anderton confronts his own future is Spielberg demonstrating that he doesn’t need a T-Rex or Shark to get the edge of the audience’s seat get ever nearer to their bottoms. The crowning moment however is a single take shot just over a minute long where the camera follows the robotic Spyders as they go from apartment to apartment to carry out retinal identification on the residents. The camera offers a birds eye view of the crumbling, filthy apartment block, bobbing between apartments, it is a masterful moment in what is a brilliant yet astonishingly downbeat film. The 2000s had started with two films that had less than a sanguine view of the future packed full of edginess and tension. It was time to head back into the near past to lighten the mood.

Why should you watch it?

You should watch it because it is fantastic. Spielberg demonstrates all his artistic flair whilst never compromising on thrills and spills. The ending may seem a little bit of a cop-out but overall this is top end action sci-fi

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

“Dear Dad, you always told me that an honest man has nothing to fear, so I’m trying my best not to be afraid”

Catch Me If You Can (2002)  Leonardo DiCaprio, Lidia Sabljic, Karrie MacLaine, and Hilary Rose Zalman in Catch Me If You Can (2002)

The opening three films of the 21st Century for Spielberg have a multitude of cross over themes which have led some Spielberg devotees to unofficially dub the three as the “chase/on the run/running man” trilogy. In A.I mecha David, abandoned by his “mother” goes on the run to find her again, in Minority Report Chief John Anderton is on the run to prove his innocence from a crime he is yet to commit, and finally we have the third part, Catch Me If You Can, the story of a 19 year old fraudster being chased across continents by the FBI. Catch Me If You Can is a classic caper based on a true story and is easily the lightest in tone and possibly the most accessible to a wider audience of this unofficial trilogy.

Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jnr, who over a 5 year period executed a number of elaborate cons including impersonating a Pan-AM pilot, a French teacher and a doctor. However he became most adept at check fraud, in fact he became so good at it that the FBI hired him after his prison sentence to help ensnare and capture other forgers. Leonardo DiCaprio at the start of his impressive post-Titanic career plays Frank with a youthful exuberance that demonstrates that he was more than just a poster boy for thousands of youngsters world wide after his tragic turn in Titanic. There are hints here of what’s to come for DiCaprio, leading the hedonistic lifestyle similar to Jordan Belford in The Wolf of Wall Street and holding his own against more seasoned actors such as working alongside Jack Nicholson in The Departed.

There is a wonderfully rounded supporting cast, headed up by a marvelously goofy performance from Tom Hanks as FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who leads the chase to apprehend Frank. Hanks is quite happy here to stay in the background and until his second appearance almost 40 mins in you forget that he is in the film at all. Hanks appears to be having a great time and it is refreshing to see him play a lighter role after such a tortured turn in Saving Private Ryan. Witness the scene where Carl discovers a red garment has been mixed with his washing at the launderette to see Hanks at his most playful. The film is also noted for an early scene stealing performance from Amy Adams as the naive fiancee. However it’s Christopher Walken who leaves the audience heartbroken, playing the outwardly over confident but ultimate failure that is Frank Snr. A father who is a failure in a Spielberg film, now where have we seen that before. Walken, who in my mind has always had an unusual screen presence, provides Frank Snr with edgy ticks that manages to convey a man who knows that everything is unravelling around him whilst lending a reassuring presence to Frank Jnr that all is well. Its at equal parts a powerhouse performance mixed with a sentimental subtlety from Walken. A particular stand out lunch scene between Franks Snr and Jnr is beautifully played by Walken and DiCaprio respectively. When the cast is on such form, as is evident throughout the movie, then Spielberg doesn’t have an awful lot to do. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but one thing I feel Spielberg has developed more in the 21st Century, is knowing when to just let the camera roll and allow the actors to get on with it. Catch Me If You Can was the first time I properly noticed this and is evident in future works such as Lincoln and The Post.

However, this is without doubt the most fun he has had since the turn of the century and this is reflected in his relaxed process to his direction, he finally gets to realise one of his long held ambitions, albeit fleetingly, with a brief homage to James Bond, Aston Martin DB5 et al. The film is shot mainly in a bright orange hew to demonstrate the overall lightness of tone, but the darkness that has followed Spielberg around since the year 2000 is never too far away. Frank Snr’s demise is one thing, the film also touches on abortion and infidelity but overall this is the sort of Spielberg film that you would quite happily recommend to your parents to watch. Spielberg would continue to go with a lighter shade of pale with his next offering.

Why should you watch it?

It demonstrates that Spielberg still had a fun side. It showcased that he was still the master of being able to pace a film without ever going too far in one direction. It also has the best opening credits sequence of any Spielberg film.

The Terminal (2004)

You say you are waiting for something. And I say to you, “Yes, yes. We all wait”.

Tom Hanks in The Terminal (2004)  Tom Hanks in The Terminal (2004)

So we reach that point in my blog where we talk about the film in each decade that is often ignored when discussing Spielberg films. Here in the Naughties we move onto The Terminal, a bittersweet tale about a man named Viktor Navorski played by Tom Hanks who’s home country of (the fictional) Krakhozia falls to a military coup whilst Viktor is somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean meaning that he is now a resident of nowhere and therefore cannot enter the United States of America or return to the now non-existent Krakhozia. Therefore Viktor is stuck at JFK airport………indefinitely. This sounds like a rather dour premise for a film but what follows is a rather charming tale about humanity and acceptance, strong recurring themes in the Spielberg cannon.

The Terminal slapstick style of humour is a joy to watch, not least Kumar Pallana’s sneaky airport caretaker who takes great pleasure on watching people slip on his deliberately soaked floors. Further to this, Hanks himself channeling some of his earlier physical comedy that hadn’t really been seen since the late 1980s. There is a Chaplin-esq quality to Hanks throughout in what is a hugely underrated performance from a man who always seems to be at the top of his game.

I suppose the question remains however whether Hanks should have been cast at all. I’m not sure if The Terminal was made now that he would have been (forget his age for a moment). As good as Hanks is in this film and that is undeniable, it seems the safe, quick and easy casting decision. I am the biggest Tom Hanks fan on my street, I host an annual Hanksgiving event each November where we* celebrate the brilliance of the man but even I would be intrigued to see a European actor in the lead role here and I think if made today that would have happened.

The other stand out in this film is Stanley Tucci as the uptight airport immigration official Frank Dixon, his resentment growing with each passing scene. Catherine Zeta Jones is very pretty but little else as the air hostess who catches Viktor’s eye in an unnecessary romantic subplot that ends just as it would in reality, which I suppose is something. Of far more interest is the romantic subplot between Diego Luna’s immigrant airport worker and a young Zoe Saldana who plays an immigration officer.

The Terminal is loosely based on the true life case of an Iranian, Merhan Karimi Nasseri, who still lived in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport at the time of filming and became a tired, frail and lonely individual. The Terminal doesn’t go there but it may have been interesting to see how Viktor’s mental health would have been effected over time, he was after all stuck at the airport for 9 months which surely would have tested anyone’s sanity. Spielberg plays it safe and bearing in mind his other output in the 2000s that’s probably not a bad idea.

The fact that The Terminal is not mentioned more positively among fans is actually a great shame as this is Spielberg at his most crowd pleasing and there is lots to be enjoyed here. This is his equivalent to playing an easy listening album on a Sunday afternoon. You are able to allow The Terminal to largely wash over you and makes few demands of the audience other than to not take yourself too seriously for the next couple of hours. There are issues with the film and it has no danger of ever troubling my Spielberg top 10 but this is as inoffensive as Spielberg gets and I laughed throughout and occasionally even had to remove that annoying dust that one sometimes gets in their eyes. Its also worth noting that if any readers are watching Spielberg films chronologically as I am (of course you all are ha ha) then enjoy The Terminal whilst it lasts as the rest of this decade is not pretty and the darkness on the horizon will have you longing for Viktor’s charm and warmth.

* Its basically just me sat watching Forrest Gump on repeat for 24 hours on the last Friday of November.

Why should you watch it?

At time of writing this is the closest Spielberg has got to really nailing a romantic comedy. Its a vastly underrated piece and was largely overlooked on release. Whilst never attempting to change the World, it deserves to find a wider audience.

War of the Worlds (2005)

“This… This machine it just started… torching everyone… killing everything.”

War of the Worlds (2005)  

Spielberg was back to his old tricks in 2005 with a double cinematic release, one aimed at the Blockbuster audience, War of the Worlds and another more serious, award baiting affair the upcoming Munich. However the main difference here is that there are no smooth edges, no crowd pleasing triumphs and quite frankly a lack of humour. This is Spielberg’s darkest hour. War of the Worlds is a fascinating entry in the Spielberg cannon, its quite possibly his bleakest film, the sense of loss and impending doom is quite startling. I remember watching at the cinema thinking being a Spielberg film starring Tom Cruise it will all be alright in the end, and frustratingly it kind of is (more on the ending later) but this is no happy shiny summer blockbuster with wise cracking buddies exchanging quips and uploading computer viruses into Alien spacecraft, this is an intense and at times disturbing experience for all involved.

Unusually for a Spielberg adventure tale, there is very little preamble or prologue, the aliens are introduced within the first 20 minutes, this is a tale about survival and the audience are thrown straight into the action of highways exploding and vehicles plummeting through the air as the alien crafts destroy everything in its path. There is no cosy suburban build up to this, Ray (Cruise) lives in a dull, grey street surrounded by downtrodden folk in a house that is bland and in dire need of a clean. We feel the apprehension of Robbie and Rachel, Ray’s estranged children, as they visit for a weekend submitting to the impending boredom and frustration. Ray is a poor father and role model (hmm we’ve been here before) but will redeem himself somewhat by the end.

Away from the spectacle it is some of the quieter moments where the tension and fear is raised up a notch in War of the Worlds. Notice in particular a quick scene in Robbie and Rachel’s mums kitchen where Ray aggressively attempts to make peanut butter sandwiches for their on-going journey. Here Cruise walks the fine line between attempting to remain calm and not totally losing his mind as he struggles to comprehend what has just happened to him. Food related panic is a Spielberg trait often overlooked see Roy building his mash potato mountain in Close Encounters and the effect that has on the others at the dining table, Elliot announcing to all that his dad is in Mexico with Sally, or Lex’s lime jelly wobble uncontrollably as the silhouette of the Raptor is seen behind the curtain in Jurassic Park, or David’s shocking unprovoked laugh at the dinner table in A.I.

The sandwich making scene is just the start of the quieter psychological scramblers on display here. The whole basement sequence with a menacingly sinister Tim Robbins almost stealing the show as the self proclaimed preacher Ogilvy, is right up there in the tension stakes alongside the Raptor attack in Jurassic Park or even the slow ascent up the hill of David Mann in his fuel sapped car in Duel whilst the truck closes in. The difference here is that there is no escape. The basement is grim, damp, and dark, the set wouldn’t look out of place in an Eli Roth film. Together with scenes of car jacking, capsizing ferry’s and a river filled with dead bodies, a sunny disposition filled blockbuster this certainly isn’t.

It is not a pleasurable experience watching War of the Worlds but it is a fascinating one. Some of the visuals on show are mind boggling and people should not underestimate Tom Cruise here. He has this film in the palm of his hand from the very opening and is on top form throughout. Dakota Fanning who plays the young Rachel is also fantastic. Yet again another non-annoying child performance showing a level of acting maturity. without you ever forgetting that she is a young child.

What prevents War of the Worlds from joining the pantheons of Spielbergs truly great films is a last 5 minutes which is as disappointing an ending as Spielberg has ever submitted. Maybe he too found the previous 100 minutes too dark and desired to leave the audience with a more optimistic conclusion. My problem is that I had invested time in these characters, I had bought into and accepted the choices they had made during the intensity of the battle in the film, I assumed they were a done deal so it was disappointing to have the rug somewhat pulled out from beneath me in what still feels an unnecessary epilogue.

Why should you watch it?

War of the Worlds is the grimmest of grimness in a very grim decade from Spielberg. For those who doubt Spielberg still had the capacity to be edgy and subversive, they need to watch this. There is nothing happy about this film, apart from a brief unnecessary post script. I watched again recently and was unnerved by its darkness. I think this film has got better with age and like a lot of Spielberg’s early Millenium output requires retrospective reviews. This is gripping stuff

Munich (2005)

We have 11 Palestinian names. Each had a hand in planning Munich. You’re going to kill them, 11 men, one by one

Munich (2005)  Munich (2005)

Once again in 2005 Spielberg graced cinema with two releases, however where you usually find a crowd pleasing mainstream blockbuster alongside a hard hitting drama, in 2005 you could be forgiven for thinking that Spielberg was on somewhat of a downer. The less than optimistic War of the Worlds was followed up by Munich, a film that rejects lightness of tone like no other Spielberg film. It’s an uncompromising piece of fiction based loosely on real events and is far removed from the crowd pleasing Spielberg as is thought possible. This is unflinching stuff and its flippin’ brilliant.

Controversial from inception to release, critics rounded on the moralistic message of the film, this is “eye for an eye” storytelling, we know as an audience who we are rooting for as long as we don’t focus to centrally on what they are actually doing. What we have here is on the face of it an espionage thriller, as Avner ,played with piercing realism by Eric Bana works alongside his team consisting of driver, a slightly out of place pre-Bond Daniel Craig, bomb makers, a wonderful Mathieu Kassovitz who really should be in more films, and clean up man played imperiously by the ever dependable Ciaran Hinds.

What sets this aside from your John Le Carre’s and Ian Flemings of this World, is that this is no slick operation, its hardly a glamorous existence, there is not a Milk Tray man insight. We are left in no doubt from the start of that the team are not cold bloodied assassins, they are there to do a job and they display all the signs of individuals who know that they are undertaking a horrific task. The set pieces are as taut as a snare drum in particular a booby trap phone that nearly takes out the young daughter of the named target and a bed bomb that takes out more than the team bargained for in more ways than one.

Going against the Spielberg grain somewhat there is plenty of focus on the human side of the story. Avner is not an absent father, more due to circumstance he’s an absent husband. Avner’s main focus throughout the film is his family and with each “successful” mission he seems to be further away from home, a call back to Tom Hank’s Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan.

Munich is exhilarating stuff and wrongly gets overlooked when discussing Spielberg’s top end dramatic films. Its possibly his most unsentimental film, it starts bleak and never rises above greasy grime. There is no triumphant walk off into the sunset for our protagonists here, instead a hot and sweaty descent into paranoia and regret. Spielberg has rarely been this pessimistic in his denouement and Munich is all the more authentic as a result. It really is Spielberg at his most fascinating and is perfectly in line with the more darker, dare I say it interesting films that have characterized his work up to this point in the 21st Century.

After the double hitter of 2005, his 6th since 2001, Spielberg would now go on to only make one film in the next six years and that would be a somewhat surprising return to an old trusted friend.

Why should you watch it?

Tense, claustrophobic, depressing, dark and gloomy. Spielberg’s output in 2005 was in stark contrast to his popcorn days of the 70s and 80s. Here we have a more intimate story set on a backdrop of paranoia. Munich’s moral see-saw adds a new dimension to Spielberg, who up until this point in his career had largely stayed clear of controversy. Munich enthralls and grips from the start, and is challenge for the viewer. Its essential Spielberg.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

It’s not the years, it’s the mileage

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)  Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, and Shia LaBeouf in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Talking about triumphant rides off into the sunset, the last time we saw Indiana Jones in the cinemas, he was riding off with his father and two of his closest friends in perfect silhouette in one of Spielberg’s most satisfying closing shots. That was 19 years previous and following on from a Millenial desire to nostalgically revisit former glories that included the divisive yet phenomenally successful Star Wars prequels, the announcement in 2006 that a new Indiana Jones film was to be made was met with delight and excitement possibly never felt for a Spielberg film, particularly in the internet age.

The delight and excitement of course led to one word, expectation. Artistically it could be argued that Spielberg had never been in as rich a vein of form as he had enjoyed in the preceding 10 years. Executive Producer and Indiana Jones originator George Lucas also had had enormous financial success with the aforementioned Star Wars prequels so it seemed to make perfect sense to revisit the crowd favourite. If anything it was the third part of the essential Indiana Jones triumvirate that perhaps needed to revisit the character the most. Without a recognised box office success since 2000s What Lies Beneath, Harrison Ford was probably in greater need than Spielberg and Lucas to make this delayed 4th installment a success.

Lucas had allayed fears of an older Indiana Jones by stating that there was nothing to stop the character continuing to have adventures in his later years and so the decision was made to keep with the Indiana Jones timeline by setting the film in the Cold War paranoia of the 1950s. The themes of paranoia had dominated the majority of Spielberg films of the 2000s, whether this was a response to 9/11 or a genuine desire to tell these tales is unclear.

By moving Indy to the 1950s the film makers were able to use the anxiety of post war America. Gone were the Nazis and the Religious artifacts, replaced by robotic Russians and Roswell inspired Alien creatures. The film plays on the ageing process as Dr Jones is plunged head first into the birth of rock n roll, with nods to Laslo Benedeks’s The Wild One, and Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog making it clear that time has moved on since we last spent time with him. This is a promising set up and its nice to see one of Cinema’s most familiar characters in this rather unfamiliar setting.

There are touches of the old magic on show as well. A fantastic motor cycle chase through the grounds of Harvard University would have not felt out of place in the any of the original three films and its clear to see that Ford has slipped effortlessly into the old leather jacket with ease. Its the second half of the film where it sadly loses its way, with misjudged set pieces and an over reliance on CGI which is made worse by the fact that in a number of shots, it doesn’t look quite finished, exhibit 1, Mutt sword fighting in between two jeeps in the jungle with extending legs.

Spielberg and Lucas were understandably able to attract a fine cast to work alongside Ford but the names on the call sheet appear to have added to the weight of expectation that was tightening around the productions neck. Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is amazing in everything but here feels miscast as a Russian villain who is neither Molaram scary or Belloq intimidating. The legendary John Hurt shows up as Indy’s old mentor Oxley but he’s given so little to do it looks like he thinks he’s in a completely different film to everyone else. These two however pale into insignificance when compared to a truly dreadful performance from perennially dreadful Ray Winstone, who plays a cockney double or triple agent who is annoying from the moment he is on screen with his cheeky “Oi Jonesy” schtick. The biggest disappointment for me is that by the end of the film he is still around.

Then of course there is the much maligned Shia LaBeouf, an actor who has suffered more than anyone at the internet keyboard warriors over the years. Yes he has not helped himself with a personal life that seems to bounce from indiscretion to indiscretion, however I think he is not that bad in this film. Yes his cockiness makes you long for the naive innocence of Short Round, or the comforting presence of Salah but the characters flaws can’t be pointed solely at LaBeouf.

Despite the casting/character problems it is a joy when Karen Allen makes her first appearance on screen as the returning Marion. She may have lost some of the confident spark but she certainly hasn’t lost her undoubted sassyness. Indy’s reaction on their reunion is pure delight and it is a feeling felt among the audience. There is also a touching cameo from Jim Broadbent who partially fills the gap left by long departed Denholm Elliot and the unable to be persuaded out of retirement Sean Connery.

So onto the Aliens and the nuclear protecting fridge. To be fair neither bothered me too much, Indiana Jones has always been a series of films where otherworldly treasures and unlikely situations arise, that has always been part of the fun. Is surviving a nuclear blast in a lead lined fridge anymore unlikely than falling 20000 feet from a plane with just a rubber dingy to land on, or for that matter, aliens visiting and storing treasures on Earth more fantastically bonkers than a cup that gives everlasting life?

Through the unrealistic expectations prior to release it was at times for some people difficult to remember that these were adventure tales not set in reality. Whilst never reaching the dizzying heights of the original three films there was still plenty to enjoy. It definitely demands a second watch if one hasn’t already taken place. For those who dismissed it on release it might be time to revisit and you never know you may be surprised.

Why should you watch it?

Because its not as bad as you think, the first half in particular is terrific. Yes there are missteps and it never sits snuggly with the rest of the series, but the weight of expectation that burdened it should be put to one side now and the film judged on its own merits. Like all of Spielberg’s 2000 decade output, it deserves a second chance.

Summary

So overall a rather inauspicious end to what I believe to be from a creative point of view, Spielberg’s most intriguing decade. It is a decade that is full of films that audiences have been known to approach with suspicion and dismiss on initial release. They all warrant and deserve repeat viewings. The first half of the decade in particular has some of the most impressive, off the leash, artistic works of his career.

He has now moved onto the current decade where film making has returned in part to a more classical approach, whilst still demonstrating that he is willing to experiment and challenge himself in areas of new exploration.

All images courtesy of http://www.imdb.com

90th Academy Awards

Good evening all, whilst part 4 of my Spielberg through the ages blog is currently being produced I thought I would just put some of my thoughts together on last nights Oscars’ the Academy’s 90th annual back-slapathon. It is a date in the diary that I always look forward to, the announced nominees, the mad scramble to get at least all the Best Picture nominees watched (I managed all 9 this year), the booking of leave so that I can record and watch the show the following morning without suffering any spoilers, and the hope that the kids School boilers don’t break this year (that happened 2 years ago).

This years Best Picture nominees were a mix of what I would normally consider “my sort of thing”, (Dunkirk, The Post, Three Billboards) and films that would be more a curiosity (Call Me By Your Name, Ladybird etc). Unlike some years I actually found that I could take at least something from each of the 9 so I was looking forward to the ceremony with an open mind without really having a clear allegiance to any one film. I obviously would have liked The Post to have been recognised further but it became clear early in the campaign that it would have to be satisfied with its nominations.

So onto the event itself, it was a night of few shocks as the clear bookie favourites in the acting categories were triumphant, and to be honest it would be very difficult to argue against any of them, although Margot Robbie and Laurie Metcalf in Best Actress and Supporting Actress respectively would surely have won in any other year. Likewise both the magnetic Daniel Kaluuya and the elf like Timothee Chalamet have huge futures ahead of them.

Guillermo Del Toro’s director nod was richly deserved. I would have loved to have seen Nolan recognised and I hope he doesn’t end up getting a sympathy Oscar in 30 years time to make up for past mistakes a la Scorsese and the Departed. Elsewhere Roger Deakins finally rewarded for an astonishing career, winning Best Cinematographer at the twelfth time of asking for his work on Blade Runner 2049 ( a film that I shamefully have yet to see) but if Deakins’ work here matches up to his previous nominations then I have no doubt it will be more than warranted. Special mention also to Best Live Action Short Film “The Silent Child” written and directed by former Hollyoaks (British teen soap) actors Rachel Shenton and Chris Overton showing that there is life after soap opera.

Away from the awards, I’ve always enjoyed the more quirky sides of the ceremony and this year had more than enough to keep me entertained. Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue, although politically charged as not as sharp as last years, still had its moments, his gag that Timothee Chalamat was missing Paw Patrol to attend the ceremony was spot on as was his advice to all announced winners to take their time to get to the stage to allow the organisers to “double check”. Kimmel is an excellent host, displaying enough here to suggest he could be host for a number of years yet. It didn’t all hit the mark, his ongoing jet ski gag got boring and his trip across the road to interrupt a public screening of the upcoming Disney film A Wrinkle in Time, where Oscar stars such as Gal Gadot and Mark Hamill delivered treats and hotdogs to the unsuspecting punters went on a bit long but overall he kept the tempo and humour just right.

Obviously the main topic of conversation leading up to the ceremony was the #MeToo movement and the ceremony fully embraced this with a diverse line up of presenters mixing up and coming stars, Margot Robbie, with more established legends of the screens such as the irrepressible Jodie Foster. Of course we all love a presenter that can make us laugh and this year was no exception. Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani made an impression presenting production design but stealing the show was Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish presenting the Documentary awards. It was also fantastic to see Rita Moreno and Eva Marie Saint practically illuminating up the stage. Frances McDormand majestic speech where she asked every female nominee in the room to stand with her in unity was an undoubted highlight and one of those Oscar moments that will be played over and over at future ceremonies, and rightly so.

Ultimately the only non-cut and dried award of the evening appeared to be Best Picture, with 4 or 5 of the nominees in with a genuine chance of being the victor. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were back to make up for last years La La Land/Moonlight fiasco. This time they read out only one name and crowned The Shape of Water as the 2018 Best Picture winner.

As this was the 90th ceremony there was a very nostalgic feel to a number of the montages that the organisers had arranged, one in particular that was around thanking the audience for paying and watching movies for the past 90 years was particularly well pitched, I confess to shedding a tear at the brilliance and beauty of the clip as it brought home why I love the immersive world of the cinema and all the magnificent joy and wonder that it brings. There are those who knock the Academy Awards as irrelevant, an unnecessary congratulate between multi-millionaires that in economic hard times is at best out of touch and at worst serious bad taste, but in a World where children need to know that dreams can be realised regardless of background and opportunity. More importantly it is a celebration of something that we all love……the world of Cinema. Here’s to next year.

 

Spielberg the 1990s

Hook Poster  Schindler's List Poster The Lost World: Jurassic Park Poster Amistad Poster Saving Private Ryan Poster

Following on from my previous blogs of Spielberg through the 1970s and the 1980s I now arrive at Part 3 of my journey through his career, and if push came to shove, my personal favourite, the 1990s. It was a particularly golden era of Cinema for me, it was the decade thanks to a successful driving test that allowed me off my own back to become a regular cinema goer. It was the decade that I began to earn money so could supplement the regular cinema trips by beginning to build an extensive VHS collection. It was also the decade of Cool Britannia, the launch of the Premier League and my University years.

Pretty much every Friday night my friends and I would head across to the Warner Brothers multiplex cinema in Pilsworth Bury, (Bolton didn’t have a multiplex at that time so we had to drive and take risks in war-torn Bury to get a decent cinema seat). On occasions I didn’t go with friends…………oh yes on occasions I went with a girl. The world was indeed an exciting place.

There was an abundance of variety on offer on the big screen as well, with hardly any hint of a wisecracking superhero or pointless remake.

It was also the decade that I finally started to join the dots regarding Spielberg. Jurassic Park was the film that made me realise, that this was the same guy who made Indiana Jones, Jaws, E.T and Close Encounters……….I loved all those films, and now he is making one about dinosaurs. The 90s was the decade that would finally reward him with critical approval, and rightly so, with 2 astonishing pieces of Cinema about World War 2 which are faultless in their execution and hugely immersive for the audience. It was also a decade that still showcased his fun side, and that is where we now begin.

Hook (1991)

Have to fly, have to fight, have to crow, have to save Maggie, have to save Jack, Hook is back.

Hook Poster  Image result for hook movie

I’m going to throw this straight out there……….I like Hook, I like it a lot. One of Spielberg’s most derided films has struggled to win fans in the past three decades, even Spielberg has publicly cited Hook as the one film of his that he struggles to enjoy. Critics have labelled Hook as over bloated, over stylised, overlong and bizarrely when you consider this is a Peter Pan film, over-acted.

Initially conceived as a musical with Michael Jackson in the lead, the idea was scrapped with Jackson not interested in playing a “grown-up” Peter Pan and John Williams songwriting not hitting the right creative path that Williams and Spielberg had envisioned. Ironically, in my opinion, Williams actually produced one of his most underrated Spielberg scores for Hook, catching the finished films actions, childlike humour and emotions perfectly.

As stated earlier I am a big fan of Hook but there are clearly issues. It’s overlong, at 2 hours 20 mins for what is essentially a kids film, it could quite conceivably lose 40-50 mins. Most of that chop could come from the ponderous opening act. Yes, there is a need for a backstory, there is a need for character development but Hook takes too long to get going. I recently watched Hook with my kids and you are almost 40 minutes in before you glimpse Neverland and the youngest, in particular, was beginning to lose interest. That’s not to say that adults won’t find things to enjoy in this extended first act. The immaculate Maggie Smith lends the film gravitas and the film sparkles whenever she is on. Caroline Goodall also is enchanting if a little underused as Moira.

Once the action relocates to Neverland the film really does come into its own. Spectacular sets that do lend to the earlier conceived musical ideas, glorious matte backdrops that transport viewers into the pantomime surroundings of Neverland. This in my mind is Spielberg setting his stall out. If you don’t like Hook at this point then leave now as you never will.

The colour that streams from the screen, the ping-pong dialogue between Williams and Hoffman, the Lost Boys (not as annoying as they clearly could have been) are fantastic entertainment, and in the middle of all that you have the indefatigable Bob Hoskins having the time of his life as the bumbling Smee.

Yes, it’s over sentimental, (remember this is a kids film), yes Julia Roberts has nothing of any note to do and yes it is too long. However, there is so much to love, such as the food fight, the finding of Peter’s face and, a personal favourite, Hook’s suicide attempt. Special mention must go to Charlie Korsmo, who stands out in a movie full of kids, as Jack.

Hook is divisive amongst Spielberg fans but for me, it achieves what it sets out to do. Its fun-filled, action-packed and was a film genuinely aimed at all the family. When compared to future re-tellings of the story it stands head and shoulders above P.J Hogan’s 2003 Peter Pan and Joe Wright’s awful 2015 Pan.

Hook was a relative box office flop and this followed on from a rather nondescript few years for Spielberg. Indiana Jones films aside, Spielberg had not really hit his box office mojo since E.T in 1982. That was all about to come to an end.

Spielberg admitted to being disappointed with final result of the movie. He had such a hard time working with the rebellious crew of young actors that he later said, only somewhat kiddingly, that the experience made him wonder if he wanted to have any more kids. He also felt guilty that he wasn’t able to find an economical method to filming the many complex human-flight sequences in the film. However, after Robin William’s death, Spielberg says he is now thankful he made the film, as that was how he met Williams and became good friends with him. (1)

Why should you watch it?

Dismissed at the time of being over-blown, that is now with hindsight one of its main strengths. How do you make a Peter Pan film without throwing every color of the rainbow at the screen? A bit ponderous to start with, but once it establishes its confidence it is rip-roaring entertainment that rewards those who are willing to give it a second chance.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

 

Christmas Day 1990, 3:15pm, the Queen has just finished her annual, televised address to the nation and the BBC is about to show the World television premiere of E.T. Spielberg had always been fiercely protective of his most personal film. The video release of E.T was not until 1989, 6 years after the theatrical release. The BBC was allowed to show E.T on the proviso that they didn’t make any cuts, hence the line “it was nothing like that penis-breath” remaining in the broadcast, despite the time of broadcast not normally allowing such “language”. The reason I mention this is a further indication of the power of Spielberg. The BBC wanted the world exclusive and were willing to bend their own stringent censor rules to get the film. The power of Spielberg is that what may be deemed unacceptable for other filmmakers doesn’t apply to him.

Take Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, for example, a film rated as a PG in the UK but when all said and done considerably more violent than films such as Tim Burton’s Batman which was rated as a 12 in the cinema and 15 on home video.

Jurassic Park itself whilst not a graphically violent film, is incredibly tense and fraught with peril from the off.  In the UK it received a PG certificate whilst films like James Cameron’s The Abyss and the Spielberg produced Arachnophobia received a 12. I know which one scared me the most. There is a thought that if Jurassic Park was made by any other director then the 12 certificate would have been applied.

So onto the film itself, on paper, it is a match made in heaven. Spielberg and dinosaurs, in reality……….it is a match made in heaven. I’ve mentioned the tension already but it’s worth mentioning again, as this is the most white-knuckle, sweat dripping, edge of the seat terror-inducing Spielberg film since Jaws. I can remember watching it in the cinema as an annoying 16-year-old and being scared beyond belief from the Dilophosaurus attack to the Velociraptor siege at the conclusion of the film. The T-Rex attack on the Jeep is the films stand out set piece and is nerve shredding good. It starts with one of Spielberg’s most iconic, yet simplest special effects, a tepid glass of water sat on the dashboard of the Jeep, a distant thud creating a tantalizing ripple on the water. The audience knows to get itself ready……this is not going to end well.

Spielberg is a master of the off-camera menace, take the first hour of Jaws where the shark is never seen but the terror is always there, or the build-up to the climactic scene in Saving Private Ryan, where the sound of German artillery is heard approaching the compound, we know this isn’t going to be a comfortable watch.

In the T-Rex scene the thuds continue, “Can you hear that?” asks Tim “Maybe they’re trying to turn the power back on” replies blood sucking lawyer Donald Gennaro ambivalently. No its nothing like that Donald, prepare yourself for an unscheduled trip to the toilet, where quite frankly the lack of toilet paper will be the least of your worries. Once again employing the power of suggestion alongside groundbreaking animatronics, the brilliance of this scene is that here are the main protagonists, cars stopped in the middle of a thunderstorm and somewhere there is this ginormous beast, but the cast and the audience don’t know where it is. John Williams drops his score completely as if he too is sat frozen in fear waiting for the next resounding THUD!

When the T-Rex does finally emerge the scale and sheer power of the dinosaur is captured perfectly from the giant footsteps to the destruction of the Jeep with Tim and Lex still inside. The moment where Spielberg shows the kids screaming and clinging onto each other as the mighty T-Rex squishes the Jeep further into the mud with its enormous foot is so terrifying for all involved (cast and audience) that you have to remind yourself this is a PG film. I can remember vividly watching that scene in the cinema, it was as if the audience were unable to breathe. This is what Cinema is about, there doesn’t have to be fountains of blood to make an audience scared, just tap into inherent fears of the human psyche and then push them to the edge.

“My early exposure to all the leviathans of the Saturday matinee creature features inspired me, when I grew up, to make ‘Jurassic Park.'” (2)

If the T-Rex scene is all out terror then Spielberg demonstrates his more sinister side with the more suspenseful Raptor chase. Where the T-Rex is a beast who will hunt to satisfy his hunger, the Raptors are painted as more calculated. They are described as being in it for the chase, for the thrill of it. In many ways, the Raptors harp back to Yul Bryner’s Gunslinger in Michael Crichton’s other “theme park gone wrong” thriller, Westworld or even the T-800 in James Cameron’s The Terminator. The difference here is that the Raptors work as a team, displaying acts of cunning and guile, remember they never attack the same part of fence twice. Whereas the T-Rex attack harks back to the monster horror movie, the Raptor attack is more a psychological thriller designed to keep even the most anti-nail biter chewing down to the bone.

If I’m honest the end is a bit anti-climactic but as an audience, we have been through enough to wheeze a huge sigh of relief. As for the performances, they are all top-notch. Sam Neill is amazing in everything and one shot in particular displays the greatest “eye-acting” ever captured on film when he first sets eyes on the Brachiosaurus, a scene that 25 years on is still as breathtaking now as when Dr. Grant first grabbed and turned Dr. Sattler’s head to share the moment.

Jeff Goldblum plays the chaos theory mathematician Ian Malcolm, who is the first to notice that all is not all merchandising and day passes in the park. If there is one disappointment in the film is that Malcolm spends the final third of the film incapacitated and with little to do. His banter with Richard Attenborough’s Hammond is playful and gives the film some of its lighter moments. The children once again are less annoying than they could have been, Joseph Mazzello’s Tim is particularly charming. There is also a great turn from Samuel L Jackson as the chain-smoking Computer operator Arnold.

The stand out performance for me though is Laura Dern as Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler. Here is a female lead who is a match for any of her male counterparts in the movie. She is smart, gutsy and takes risks for the bigger picture. In a decade that launched the phrase “Girl Power” into the public psyche, here is a character who is an early icon of the movement. She is the complete antithesis to, Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott in Temple of Doom.

Jurassic Park was huge in every way, a box office behemoth which Spielberg actually needed after, Indiana Jones aside, a few disappointing years. It was generally loved by critics, but of course not in that way, it was, of course, a popcorn peddlers dream. As for Spielberg himself, the post-production of Jurassic Park became a catharsis as he was about to go on the most personal experience of his career.

Why should you watch it?

Copying somewhat the less is more blueprint that was so accidentally fundamental about the scares of Jaws, here Jurassic Park again toys with some of the more inherent human fears and puts the audience through the emotional ringer, at times gasping for air. A petrifying study of when “science goes wrong” that 25 years on is as fresh and tense now as it was then.

Schindler’s List (1993)

Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

Schindler's List Poster Oliwia Dabrowska in Schindler's List (1993)

In 1989 Spielberg directed and prepared two films for cinematic release, the bombastic blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the quieter, more intimate Always. If 1989 was a practice run, then 1993 was the main event. This is the first real example of what has become somewhat of a Spielberg trademark, the one for the fans and the one for himself. 1993 is possibly Spielberg’s crowning glory. Box office demolition thanks to Jurassic Park and then, finally, universal critical approval for one of the most astonishing pieces of Cinema anyone has ever produced.

I watched Schindler’s List again recently in order to be able to put this blog together, it had been a few years since I had sat through it. And that is exactly the point, we helplessly sit through it. There are times when it scarily feels that you are watching a documentary, this is helped in parts by the black and white cinematography and that approximately 40% of the film was done using hand-held cameras. The shoot was relatively quick, just 72 days, and was a personal immersion for Spielberg who had owned the rights to the source material since 1982 but had waited until he felt he was mature enough as a film-maker to be able to do the material justice.

“The Holocaust was life without light. For me the symbol of life is color. That’s why a film about the Holocaust has to be in black-and-white.” (3)

In Empire of the Sun, Spielberg hinted at the brutality of war but never really showed anything other than carefully constructed shots to illustrate the point. In order to do the subject of the Holocaust justice, Spielberg removes the shackles and shows us everything. At times as a viewer I found myself wanting to cry out in exasperation, mainly to the cameraman to stop showing this now, or even more strangely, ask them why aren’t you helping? We are shown in unflinching detail the desperation of the people as they search to survive against the evil regime that is bent on destroying their home, their town, their religion, their people.

A relative unknown at the time Liam Neeson lends a noble gravitas to the philandering, arrogant Schindler. When we first meet Schindler it is hard for us as the audience to warm to him but after he witnesses the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto, we see a more vulnerable side to the profoundly effected Schindler as the true horrors consume him. In the first half of the film, it is difficult to truly like Schindler, we sympathise greatly with Mrs. Schindler, a small but effective part played by Caroline Goodall whose performance of loyal displeasure illustrates how the audience feels towards Schindler at first.

The frustrations that we feel towards Schindler pale into monochrome insignificance once we meet the execrable Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes with enough intimidation as to make Voldemort cower with fear in the corner. The main difference, of course, is that Goeth is based on a real person, so his depiction makes the evil that he purports all the more heinous. Fiennes fixes Goeth a steely gaze that freezes the audience as we once again beg the cameraman to stop filming as he carries out his cold-blooded executions.

For all the terror that the realism of Goeth brings to the screen, there is hope in the form of Ben Kingsley’s Ishtak Stern who acts as Schindler’s alter-ego and conscience. Stern is the voice of reason, the man who appeals to Schindler’s frugality by pointing him in the direction of the cheaper Jewish workforce. In turn, Stern ensures that many workers are needed to help the German war effort and by doing so helped save hundreds of lives. Kingsley is perfect in the role and is the warm presence on screen that the audience needs to help deal with what they are witnessing.

Schindler’s List was rewarded with 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Spielberg. On occasions Academy Awards are presented to individuals for a body of work as opposed to their most recent output, e.g. Martin Scorsese belated win for The Departed, which whilst a good film is not really in the same league as his earlier work, but here there was no doubt that Spielberg was being rewarded for Schindlers List. The critical acclaim had finally arrived for Spielberg after so long being treated with a sniffy upward-turned nose by his peers and well deserved it was.

However, perhaps more importantly for Spielberg, the film was a personal tour-de-force, an emotional pilgrimage that introspectively examined his somewhat lapsed Jewish faith. Spielberg was not paid for his contribution to the film and the Shoah foundation was established to further the remembrance of the Holocaust in World War 2.

In order to remove himself from the emotional bombardment of the filming process, Spielberg would edit Jurassic Park in the evenings to help lighten the mood. He had his friend the late Robin Williams ring the set regularly and perform some of his stand up routine to try to increase the morale of cast and crew

The question remains about whether as a viewer you can “enjoy” Schindlers List? I think enjoy is the wrong word, but there are lots to admire and as a piece of cinematic art it is peerless. Whilst it’s clearly not a film to sit around with your friends over beer and pizza looking for light giggles and thrills, neither should one feel guilty about appreciating and immersing oneself into one of the late 20th Century’s most complete pieces of Cinema.

Why should you watch it?

It is Spielberg’s most complete work. Yes, it is an ordeal at times and has moments of such unflinching brutality, but to sugar coat some of the events would be a disservice. It is film making of the highest calibre. Not one for  a regular re-watch but it is Spielberg at his artistic best. Quite simply one of the finest pieces of Cinema ever made.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997)

Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park Poster Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Moore in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

After the emotional rollercoaster of the critical success and personal enlightenment of 1993, for the first time in his career, Spielberg took a sabbatical from the director’s chair. Four years was the longest that he had gone without a major cinematic release as director. When he decided to return he followed a path that had previously been trodden in 1989 and again in 1993 by releasing two films almost back to back. The one for the fans and the one for me was never more evident than the 1997 blockbusting Jurassic Park sequel and the intense, historical courtroom drama about true life events of the Spanish slave ship Amistad (which I will come onto shortly).

With The Lost World, it was argued that Spielberg was easing himself gently back into the director’s chair and on reflection, it is easy to concur with such thoughts. The Lost World, whilst entertaining in places is Spielberg on auto-pilot. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is a lack of effort on display here but I don’t get the feeling that the director is overly enthusiastic about the job at hand. Spielberg himself has mentioned that perhaps his heart wasn’t fully in it

“I beat myself up… growing more and more impatient with myself… It made me wistful about doing a talking picture, because sometimes I got the feeling I was just making this big silent-roar movie… I found myself saying, ‘Is that all there is? It’s not enough for me.'” (4)

It’s not all bad though. What you have is still a fairly entertaining dinosaur movie and if we are honest with ourselves there is still tremendous fun to be had here. The cliff-top caravan vs T-Rex scene is outstanding, in particular, the slowly cracking glass separating Julianne Moore from plummeting to a watery grave is a quintessential Spielberg moment. If the director is bored and longing for more, he certainly isn’t showing it at this point.

There is also a beautifully shot Velociraptor chase through tall grass that sends shivers down the spine and the majestic Pete Postlethwaite who pretty much improves any film that he is in, is a more despicable, hissing big game hunter upgrade on the first films more skeptical Robert Muldoon played by Bob Peck. Despite the film lacking the strong presence of a Dr. Grant figure, (played with wide-eyed calmness in the first film by Sam Neill) it is good to see Jeff Goldblum front and centre as the wily chaotician, Ian Malcolm.

A pointless subplot involving Malcolm’s stow-away daughter is a Spielberg touch too far and adds nothing of any significance other than to add yet another struggling father figure to the Spielberg canon.

The problem that the film has before its even started is to still find wonder in the dinosaurs. I noted earlier in this blog when reviewing Jurassic Park that the first glimpse of the Brachiosaurus and the T-Rex attacks in particular still stand the sense of wonder today. There are no such money shots in the Lost World, the dinosaurs are introduced within the first 15 mins and they are there for the entirety. There is no real sense of menace, and Spielberg addresses this by turning the hunted into the hunters. There is a mean core that runs through the characters of the Lost World none more so illustrated by Peter Stormare’s latest European thug who gets his comeuppance from a pack of hungry Compsognathus.

The film climaxes in downtown San Diego where the hunting party has brought their captured T-Rex to be displayed at the San Diego Zoo. Needless to say, all doesn’t go to plan. Now what was quite an intriguing idea and what must have seemed like a fun concept on paper is quite frankly all over the place. This is the most out of control from a directorial point of view Spielberg has been since the dark days of 1941 (the film not the year).

I don’t hate this film but I realise there is plenty wrong with it. I feel this was a time when Spielberg felt he had to remind the world that he could still pedal the popcorn and make a film for the fans. I think this is the last film, with the possible exception of 2008’s Crystal Skull where he actually bowed to the easier option. It’s maybe the only film in his entire back catalogue where you could think that any number of directors could have made this.

Why should you watch it?

Despite its flaws it is still massively watchable. Yes there is a sense of phoning it in by Spielberg, but for sheer popcorn entertainment it can’t be faulted. 

Amistad (1997)

Give us, us free. Give us, us free. Give us, us free. Give us, us free. Give us, us free.

Amistad Poster Djimon Hounsou in Amistad (1997)

As stated in the previous blogs every decade of work has a film that somewhat passes under the radar, a Spielberg film that sits quietly in the corner observing more illustrious or attention-grabbing bedfellows. In the 1990s we have Amistad a story of a slave mutiny on board a Spanish vessel on a trip from Cuba to the United States. Amistad often gets lost in the back catalogue of Spielberg historical dramas and that is actually a great shame as once again there is much to admire and digest.

Amistad is essentially an old-fashioned courtroom drama, but instead of a lonely accused sitting in the dock whilst free wheeling lawyers grandstand against each other in attempt to win the favour of a balanced jury, here we have 60 slaves crammed into the dock, none of them understand the language that is used to help determine their future existence. The courtroom scenes are interspersed with touches of light comic relief, the language barrier and an argument on where best to place a table are fun interludes. There are also moments of horrific torture and punishment on the Amistad itself, where slaves are seen scraping the food off each other’s faces to fight the terrible hunger they are suffering from.

The 10 minute scene halfway through the movie where Cinque, played with indomitable power by the marvellous Djimon Hounsou, recollects his experiences of the Amistad that culminates in rocks being tied to the feet of the already chained together petrified slaves as they are thrown over the side of the boat into the ocean is as brutal as any scene up until that point that Spielberg had ever put on-screen. As powerful as that scene is, it’s not really in keeping with the rest of the movie and adds little more than shock value.

This may be the problem for Amistad, the experiences of life before and on the boat for Cinque are never fully explored, with Spielberg instead focussing more on the court case. My feeling is that this would have been a better epilogue to the more interesting story and considering this is a film about the persecution of black slaves, the film paints the two white leads, an albeit excellent Anthony Hopkins as the brusk yet moral abiding president John Quincy Adams and Matthew McConaughey’s young impressionable lawyer, whose impressive hairstyle is the most memorable thing about him as the heroes of the piece. Morgan Freeman is criminally underused in a role that gives him very little to do other than stand around looking like he wants to join in more.

As previously stated Hounsou is an extraordinary screen presence and its near on impossible to tear your eyes away from him when he is on the screen. Hopkins also appears to be having a great time and almost steals the show with his impassioned 10-minute plea to the Supreme Court to find in favour of the Africans.

After the cruise control of The Lost World, Spielberg was back in serious mode, this being his first directorial release for his newly formed studio Dreamworks but again there is a feeling that he perhaps has his eyes on other projects. At times the film seems a little preachy and it possibly all ties up a little too neatly at the end.

The Academy who had been falling over themselves to reward Spielberg for his harrowing depiction of Holocaust brutality equally turned a blind eye to a depiction of a more direct American atrocity. With the exception of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Anthony Hopkins, there was only a couple of nominations in technical categories. No Best Picture nomination in a year that saw Boogie Nights also snubbed in favour of the farcical The Full Monty and the lightweight and ever so dreary As Good As It Gets. Whilst the horrors of the Holocaust happened thousands of miles away the issues of slavery happened right on their own patch. Not only was Spielberg’s film largely underappreciated, it may have also have been largely unwanted.

Why should you watch it?

Amistad feels shockingly relevant today and more people need to see it. It could have done with focussing more on the back story of Cinque and his cohorts and it is all a bit too neat and tidy, but it is a subject matter that should not be undersold and should have been seared into the consciousness of the cinematic going public. 

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I just know that every man I kill the farther away from home I feel.

Saving Private Ryan Poster Saving Private Ryan (1998)

After a busy yet somewhat underwhelming 1997, a year that saw the release of two films that were perfectly serviceable but somewhat nondescript, Spielberg returned to a familiar subject for his next Cinematic release, World War 2.

Saving Private Ryan is the story of a battalion of American soldiers who are tasked with a mission to find a paratrooper whose three brothers had all been killed in action. This simple premise is all the set up that you need as you get launched straight into the middle of a blistering attack on the senses. For anyone who has not seen Saving Private Ryan then it is worth noting that this film is not for the faint of heart, with Spielberg at his brutal visceral best that will leave the audience trying to contain themselves through some of the most realistic depictions of warfare captured on film.

Most people familiar with the film will talk about the Omaha Beach landing scene which dominates the first 25 minutes. There is very little that I can add that has not already been written about this opening battle in the last 20 years other than to say I can distinctly remember that in a scene that is so loud and unflinching in its ferocity, there was unadulterated silence in the cinema as it unfolded in front of us. Myself and the friends I was with were numbed to our seats as the horror and emotion engulfed us.

As was often the way back then, my cinema-going friends and I would go for dinner and possibly a few beers before catching the late night movie and I remember this was one such occasion. So we were probably in quite high spirits as we sat through the trailers and the excitement began to build as we waited for the latest Spielberg epic to begin. That first 25 minutes was the most sobering experience I had ever had with a piece of Cinema. This wasn’t the place to give that knowing elbow to the friend on the right of you, you know the one where 20 minutes into a film, you give them a nudge that is the universally recognised body signal that this film is great. No, we sat, staring at what was happening. Then the reality hit home, and in retrospect, this was part of the Spielberg genius, the reality hit home that this was the reenactment of a real event. However it was more than that, the realisation hit that these were not trained soldiers, these were normal men sent to do an extraordinary and inexplicable thing, these were your local teacher, your baker, your local store owner…………your grandfathers. None of these men had signed up for this but here they were making the ultimate sacrifice to allow us to lead the lives we now do, allow me even to write this. This is the genius of Spielberg, it’s just a film but it feels so real. Before the Germans even fire a single bullet there is a brief scene aboard the approaching boats to Omaha, where Spielberg shows a couple of extras huddling beneath the decks, with looks of abject terror on their faces…………these are not soldiers…………these are ordinary, petrified men who are quite literally moments away from going through hell.

It is easy to dismiss, and many have tried over the past 20 years, Saving Private Ryan as just being 25 minutes of brilliance and then two and half hours of trudging. I’m here to reaffirm that they are truly wrong. I will talk about the closing battle, protecting the town of Ramelle shortly but before we get to that there is plenty going on to ensure that this film is not just a one-act special.

The Jackson vs clocktower sniper had Spielberg at his most imaginative and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski at his most searing. This is followed by an attempt to capture a German machine gun post that goes horrifically and tragically wrong. It is here that the often overlooked character development of the film. The fall out from the failed machine gun capture sees the squad slowly begin to turn on each other and dissolve as a coherent unit. They are pulled back together by Captain John Miller played by Tom Hanks who was making his debut in a Spielberg film. Hanks was at the time the most bankable leading man in Hollywood, having secured two best actor Oscars in the previous 4 years and countless box office smashes. He was the quintessential Spielberg leading man, an everyday man put in the most extraordinary situations. The Spielberg/Hanks working relationship is still going strong two decades later.

I made ‘Saving Private Ryan’ for my father. He’s the one who filled my head with war stories when I was growing up (5)

Hanks gives an exceptional performance, he is the glue that is holding the whole hellish world together. He is joined by a superb cast who are all at the top of their game, especially Tom Sizemore who plays the robust but curmudgeon Sgt Horvath and Giovanni Ribisi who plays the sensitive medic, Wade. There are also early career performances from Vin Diesel and Matt Damon. However, the stand out for me of the supporting cast is Jeremy Davies who plays bookish interpreter Upham. He shines the brightest in a cast that rarely puts a foot wrong.

So onto the climactic battle protecting the town of Ramelle. Once again there is a bombardment of the senses, however, unlike Omaha, this is a slow build. Reminiscent of the T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park where we hear the impending doom before we see it, here Spielberg employs the power of rumbling sound to tap into the nerves of the soldiers and the audience. We hear the German tanks for a full 2 minutes before we see it, once the tank arrives we are back into the inferno of the hell of the Omaha beach, only this time in a more claustrophobic, rubble piled setting. Some of the violence in the Ramelle battle is more distressing for the audience, at this point we have invested two and half hours in getting to know these men, these heroes, we want to see them survive. But in a war there is no fairytale script, a particularly harrowing knife fight ends in agonising slow motion as one combatant finally gets the upper hand after an exhaustive struggle. The battle of Ramelle in my mind is equally as effective as the Omaha Beach landing and further shows that Saving Private Ryan is not just the sum of its opening 25-minute salvo.

Criticism labeled at the film was that it was too American, that once again America thinks it won the war on its own. I’m pretty sure that no one wins the war in this film, and besides anyone who watched any of the British war films of the 1950s would be led to believe that not only did Britain win the war on their own but they were the only ones in it.

Saving Private Ryan’s success and enduring longevity is testament alone to the legacy that the film has. It was Best Director Oscar number two for Spielberg, whereas the Best Picture award bizarrely went elsewhere. Those who watched the Academy Awards that year will probably never forget the look on Harrison Ford’s face as he read out the name Shakespeare in Love.

Why should you watch it?

Because it is so much more than just the opening 25 minutes. The character development and notion of brotherhood between the main protagonists is one of Spielberg’s finest depictions of togetherness and bonding. As viscerally blinding as this film is, at the heart of it is a truly human story.

As the 1990s came to a close, Spielberg had visually matured as a filmmaker. He had finally been accepted by his peers, with critical acclaim for two of the most groundbreaking depictions of World War, whilst still demonstrating a flair for the fantasy and wonder with Jurassic Park.

Spielberg would move into the 21st Century once again at the top of his game. As the world became used to life after 9/11, Spielberg would start to explore darker issues, the fluffy friendly family fodder would become few and far between, things were about to get creatively very interesting.

footnotes:
1. Trivia item from imdb.com
2. http://www.azquotes.com
3. www,wikipedia.com
4. http://www.imdb.com
5. http://www.imdb.com