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Spielberg review deft chronicling of an American cinematic giant



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 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.

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Ryan Gosling’s ‘First Man’ is an Awe-inspiring Space Spectacle



Ryan Gosling, Corey Stoll, and Lukas Haas in Damien Chazelle’s First Man.

Image: Warner Bros.

“First Man is a big film about the small things that went into an enormous event.

It’s no spoiler that the climax here is Neil Armstrong’s 1969 walk on the moon. For the first 90 minutes, though, First Man holds back on the inherent drama of that premise.

It follows Neil (Ryan Gosling) as he makes his way through the NASA ranks, and at home as he mourns the death of his young daughter. It spends time on a bunch of promising missions that go nowhere, and on complex questions the engineers will have to solve. There’s some action sprinkled in there, and a few precious moments of euphoria. Mostly, it’s sweating the small stuff.

That choice is puzzling at first, even frustrating: We know the guy gets to the moon, so let’s get on with it already! Why are we wasting time with all this minutiae?

But those tedious concerns and disappointing dead ends are exactly the point. First Man is about work, and more specifically about the enormous amount of work (and luck) that goes into an achievement as momentous as the moon landing. It demands patience, but it gave back what I put into it several times over.

A rocket takes off in First Man.

Image: Warner Bros.

Director Damien Chazelle keeps his eye on the unromantic details that usually get glossed over in retellings of historical events. Literally: Much of this movie is composed of shots of dials, switches, and the top half of Gosling’s face……………………..”

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David Gordon Green’s ‘Halloween’ is a satisfying treat

Charmaine Blake



Laurie Strode and Michael Myers face off once more in the new Halloween.

Image: TIFF

Like most long-running horror franchises, the Halloween series has seen its share of ups and downs over the decades.

But those skeptical of the newest incarnation, directed by David Gordon Green, can put their fears to rest. This one’s good. Really good.

Faced with the challenge of sorting out the messy mythology of the sequels, Green (along with his co-writers, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) doesn’t even try. Although there are references to the others, only the original Halloween is completely canon here, and all of its relevant plot points are recapped in the new Halloween.

That said, it’s still a good idea to (re)watch the 1978 film before going into the 2018 one, because it’ll make the latter all the more satisfying. Green has fun recreating or subverting specific images and sequences from the first film – maybe too much fun, if you were hoping for something more surprising.

The premise is this: 40 years have passed since the first Halloween, and Michael Myers has spent all that time in prison. But he manages to escape just in time for his favorite holiday, and naturally he goes after Laurie Strode, the girl who survived his last killing spree. She, in turn, has spent the past 40 years waiting and preparing for just this occasion.

In that time, Michael’s notoriety has only grown. People are fascinated by this silent enigma, for all sorts of foolish reasons. Is he capable of rehabilitation, or is he an incorrigible force of pure evil? What might he say if he ever spoke? What’s going on in his head? What’s it like to be in his head?

Always nice to see a familiar face.

Image: TIFF………………………………..”

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A Star is Born Review: It Makes a Movie Star out of Lady Gaga and a Star Director out of Bradley Cooper

Charmaine Blake



Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.

Image: Neal Preston / Warner Bros.

“It’s the same story told over and over. All the artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes.”

The character who utters this line in A Star is Born is talking about music, but he may as well be talking about the movie he’s in. This is the third remake of an 81-year-old movie, one whose beats are so familiar that you’ll recognize them even if you’ve never laid eyes on any of the other versions.

There’s the sad celebrity self-medicating with booze and drugs, the talented ingenue who becomes an overnight sensation, the whirlwind romance threatened by the cold, hard light of day. You can see where all of it is headed from two miles away.

But that doesn’t matter, not when Bradley Cooper is executing the formula so well. From the view at TIFF, A Star is Born looks to be a commercial and critical success that’ll have people buzzing all fall, and maybe even into this winter’s awards season. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Lady Gaga is a movie star, baby

That Gaga had pipes worthy of a movie musical was never in doubt. But A Star is Born proves she’s a hell of an actor, too. Her Ally has the more dramatic arc of the movie, evolving from bright-eyed nobody to glamorous pop star, and Gaga’s performance rings true every step of the way. For large swaths of the movie, I forgot that I was watching at one of the most famous musicians in the world – she was just Ally.

2. Bradley Cooper has a bright future as a director

A Star is Born is Bradley Cooper’s debut as a director, but you’d never know it by watching. This film has the surefootedness of someone who’s done this a dozen times before, and made me curious to see what he might get up to next.

Oh, and another of Cooper’s gifts as a director? He’s very good at directing one Bradley Cooper. Jackson Maine is one of Cooper’s most riveting performances – Cooper knows exactly how to bring out the nuances playing across Jack’s face in the many scenes he spends gazing at Ally.

3. The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is

When Jack and Ally meet for the first time, it’s not immediately apparent just how hot this connection is going to run. Cooper gives his characters time to warm up to each other, letting them goof around and reveal their personalities before they fall for each other – so that when they do finally connect, it feels like watching a house catch fire.

4. The music might give you chills

The best moment in A Star is Born is also the best moment from the A Star is Born trailer: The absolute wail that comes from Gaga’s throat during the song “Shallow,” the first time Jack and Ally perform together onstage…………………………..”

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