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Spielberg review deft chronicling of an American cinematic giant

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Susan Lacys HBO documentary unites the directors family, peers, critics and collaborators in an engaging look at his vast body of work

After nearly a half-century making films, Steven Spielbergs reputation is that of a populist rather than a subversive film-maker: a man whose body of work drove audiences to theaters more than it did defy artistic convention. Theres something unseemly about that, since Spielbergs crowning achievement his ability to give moviegoers what they wanted before they knew they wanted it was rooted in pushing the proverbial envelope.

Susan Lacys authorized HBO documentary is intent on revealing the true Spielberg, the artiste. To do so, shes assembled an impressively tenured Greek chorus of film-makers, actors, technicians and critics. There are appearances by the directors film-making peers: Brian de Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. Plus commentary from the stars, producers and collaborators on many of his films (Tom Hanks, John Williams, Janusz Kaminski, Daniel Day-Lewis, Harrison Ford et al). Theres even room for the critics whove both praised and pilloried his work, including Janet Maslin and AO Scott. The result is a panegyric thats at times too saintly but is nonetheless a fascinating exploration of Spielbergs career.

Lacy sketches the directors early life as a Jewish wunderkind from Phoenix, Arizona; the son of divorced parents (his mother Leah Adler was a homemaker, his formerly estranged father an engineer), who nearly abandoned his directorial ambitions after seeing Lawrence of Arabia as a teenager. (The film, as Spielberg explains, intimidated as much as it inspired him.)

But by the age of 20 he was directing Joan Crawford in Rod Serlings Night Gallery; then at 26, Goldie Hawn in The Sugarland Express, which Pauline Kael called phenomenal but said showed no sign of the emergence of a new film artist. At 30, Spielberg was cavorting with the movie brats Coppola, De Palma, Scorsese and Lucas who lavish their former fraternity brother with praise and chart his artistic growth, recounting the directors metamorphosis from boy wonder to box-office moneyspinner to eventual auteur. The kind of movie he had a sense for was also the kind of movie the audience had a sense for, Coppola notes.

Lacy, who previously directed PBSs American Masters series, does the same, in semi-chronological fashion, with most of the Spielberg oeuvre, from Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark to Jurassic Park and Schindlers List, for which the most time is reserved. Making Schindlers List made me reconcile with all the vainglorious reasons I hid from my Jewishness, says Spielberg. I avoided therapy because movies are my therapy.

She pays justifiably cursory attention to his less-loved films like Hook, Always, Amistad, The Terminal and Warhorse before pivoting towards the directors later work, Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, both of which are contextualized as products of his growing interest in democracy and moral rectitude. By omitting some of Spielbergs lesser work, and its attendant criticisms, the film veers dangerously close to hagiography, but while other documentaries, like The Shark is Still Working and Spielberg: Steven On Set, have concerned themselves with smaller slices of his career, in Spielberg you never doubt that theres more than enough material to chew on, and justify the films considerable length it comes in at over two and a half hours.

Spielberg
Spielberg with Tom Hanks on the set of Saving Private Ryan. Photograph: HBO

Spielberg also zeroes in on accomplishments which were groundbreaking at the time though elementary today: the moving dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are compared to the advent of the talkies, the lesbian kiss in The Color Purple is rightfully critiqued for its tepidness, and the red coat in Schindlers List, the movies only burst of color, is hailed as a stroke of crimson genius.

The only real tension in the film is relegated to subtext. When Spielberg, in an interview from the 70s, is asked whether his crowd-pleasing films qualify as real art, he somewhat squeamishly notes the pretension in the very question. Lacy glosses over the directors complicated relationship with his father, too, which took shape in the filial unease of Close Encounters and the tales of torn, suburban families that appear in so much of his work.

Thats not to say Spielberg is all surface-level sycophancy. As a primer for those less familiar with his films a category as spare as those films are abundant it functions quite nicely. And as a history of the advancements of late-20th century American cinema, its also remarkably precise, even though it takes the work of just a single director as its subject.

But thats a testament to the mans outsize influence on film, one that cant be measured in profit or Oscars. Accordingly, Spielberg shows the extraordinary life of a cinephile turned director, whose work has left an indelible mark, one thats perhaps so entrenched that we often fail to notice it. As Dustin Hoffman says near the end of Lacys documentary, Steven Spielberg is like a guy who works with Steven Spielberg. That is to say: curious, learned and zealous, both humble student and consummate master.

  • Spielberg airs on Saturday 7 October on HBO in the US at 8pm EST, and on Sky Atlantic in the UK later this autumn.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/oct/06/spielberg-review-susan-lacy-deft-chronicling-of-an-american-cinematic-giant

New Movie Reviews

‘Incredibles’ is back after 14 years, and it hasn’t missed a step

Charmaine Blake

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Elastigirl is the badass star of Incredibles 2.

Image: Disney / Pixar

“In the 14 years since The Incredibles came out, superhero movies have exploded. Circa 2004, we got maybe two a year; in 2018, Incredibles 2 is the third such film within the past two months.

In that context, it’s easy to imagine Incredibles 2 getting swallowed up by the wave, buried under the meta jokes of Deadpool and the ambitious world-building of Marvel. Instead, however, Incredibles 2 rises above it. Here’s how.

The action is, well, incredible

Incredibles 2 opens with a city-destroying battle of good versus evil that’s become a staple of the genre. But Pixar pulls it off with such style and finesse that it retroactively makes the competition look sloppy.

The choreography is sharp and dynamic, playing with each character’s specific strengths and weaknesses. Elastigirl’s bendiness contrasts and complements Mr. Incredible’s brute force, while Dash’s super-speed combines nicely with Violet’s force fields.

Other superhero movies could stand to learn from Incredibles 2.

Image: Disney / Pixar

Meanwhile, the camerawork and dialogue keep our focus on the characters, not just the spectacle. It serves as quick reintroduction to the leads, their personalities, and their relationships, in case your memory’s grown fuzzy after a decade and a half, and underlines why this particular fight is important to them.

It’s like the best of the Avenger-on-Avenger bits from Captain America: Civil War or Avengers: Infinity War – only better, because….”

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/06/11/incredibles-2-movie-review/

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‘Ocean’s 8’ is a fizzy good time, and not much more

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Round up the gang this one’s a good group hang.

Image: Warner Bros.

“Ocean’s 8 is the LaCroix of movies: It’s sparkly, it’s fizzy, it goes down easy, and there’s not really any there there.

It’s not totally dumb, but nor is it particularly clever. It’s nice enough to look at, thanks to all its glamorous stars and their glitzy costumes, but not especially stylish. 

But just as flavored water can really hit the spot on a hot summer day, so can Ocean’s 8. It’s fun enough to serve as an excuse to chill with some friends, or while away an afternoon in movie theater air-conditioning. 

And for all its shortcomings, it does deliver in some key areas. Here are five reasons to check it out. 

5. The girl-power message, I guess

Ocean’s 8 is for all the little girls out there who want to be jewel thieves when they grow up, or something.

Image: Warner Bros.

The basic premise of Ocean’s 8 is that it’s Ocean’s 11, only with eight women instead of eleven men, and with the Met Gala instead of Las Vegas. In this era of shared universes, of course there’s a narrative link to the earlier films – the ringleader in 8 is Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, sister of George Clooney’s character from the Steven Soderbergh movies.

The act of recasting what was once a “male” property with female leads still feels like a statement in this day and age – even if it all it’s saying are “women are people, too.” Ocean’s 8 occasionally nods in the direction of feminist messaging, having one leading lady point out to another that women get ignored (a plus, when you’re trying to pull off a heist) and another execute a stunt involving the country’s “Founding Mothers.” 

For the most part, though, Ocean’s 8 lets those themes recede into the background. It doesn’t want to tell you how powerful it can be when women band together in a man’s world – it just wants to show you how fun it’d be to round up a girl gang and steal some jewels. In its own way, that’s kind of empowering, too. 

4. The vivid personalities – and fanfic-worthy pairings

Heck yes, Ocean’s 8, I ship it.

Image: WARNER BROS.

Like any good ensemble caper, Ocean’s 8 establishes a cast of colorful personalities, and spends some time sitting back to see what happens when they mix.

There are a few scenes that seem tailor made to inspire fan fiction.

This particular crew does happen to be starrier than usual. In addition to Bullock, there’s Cate Blanchett as….”

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/06/06/oceans-8-review/

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New Movie Reviews

Reviews are in for ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Charmaine Blake

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“The latest installment of the Jurassic Park series sounds like a palatable film for fans of the series but doesn’t offer up a completely enrapturing experience the whole way through.

Reviewers have weighed in on the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the sequel to Jurassic World, and it isn’t getting the most thrilling praise so far. In this movie, a volcano at the Jurassic World theme park has erupted, sending the human protagonists and a handful of dinosaurs away from the island and into normal society which is fine for the humans but not so great for the dinosaurs.

Read on to see what the critics thought of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The visuals don’t disappoint

Matt Chapman, DigitalSpy:

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) guilts Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) into returning to the island to rescue his beloved raptor Blue, before an out of control volcano kills every living thing. What follows is some of the most beautiful destruction you’ll ever see onscreen, with a few heart-in-mouth moments for our intrepid dino wranglers and their support staff, Daniella Pineda’s spunky scientist Zia and Justice Smith’s jumpy tech guru Franklin.

Gav Murphy, IGN:

If you thought there was going to be too much CGI in Fallen Kingdom, you’re wrong. There’s a surprising amount of practical effects on display – in fact, it’s the first time I’ve felt genuinely disgusted by these creatures. From the flies buzzing around Rexy’s stinking sleeping body to the mucus and phlegm we see, there’s an impressive blend of both CGI and practical effects in use that helps bring us closer to the dinosaurs. This closeness helps us either feel more afraid or in the case of Blue, a dramatic medical treatment scene really highlights the bond that Owen has with her. Practical effects and CGI are merged seamlessly here and we end up with a touching sequence that also draws in video flashbacks of Owen raising Blue which are obscenely cute.

Dinosaurs aren’t the main event

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

The film provides plenty of encounters with our stomping, gnashing primeval beastly friends — yet for much of Fallen Kingdom, they are caged, shackled, sedated, wounded, and otherwise subdued. They’re right up there on screen, but too often they don’t feel like the main event….”

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/06/05/jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-review-roundup/

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