Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

The Shape of Water (2017)

I arrived late to the party for The Shape of Water, having finally caught the movie a few weeks ago after months and months of dodging reviews online. Guess I’d better add my voice to the fray, huh? Maybe a piece on how writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s creativity allowed him to get away with a smaller budget…but, no, someone’s already written that. How about an article detailing the Creature from the Black Lagoon-inspired genesis of the film? Damn, that one’s been up for three months. Use of color in the film? Been there. Political subtext? Done that. Seems a movie as rich as this should have a surplus of accoutrements on which to festoon my opinions, should have that pliability typical of great films allowing for different readings, interpretations, criticisms, attitudes and judgments.

The irony, in a way, is that explicit analysis of The Shape of Water is sort of counter to the themes of the film. More than that: forcing words onto Shape, which thrives largely on sight and feeling, might actually be detrimental to one’s enjoyment of and identification with the message at hand. Despite having seen the film only recently and only once, I suspect that removing the words entirely — watching it with the volume muted — wouldn’t take anything away from the overall experience. It might even heighten it, highlighting just how different “words” and “communication” actually are.

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Film & TV News: April 8

News

  • The first trailer for the Star Wars anthology film Rogue One took the internet by storm yesterday, providing the first glimpse of the hotly-anticipated pseudo-spinoff. Two new Star Wars movies within a year of each other, both reinvigorating the franchise after years of dormancy and prequel strife — both Force Awakens and Rogue One are led by tiny gutsy British women, and you’re trying to tell me they’re not related?
  • Cillian Murphy has joined Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, marking the fifth collaboration between actor and director following the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. He’s joining an impeccable cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance and a handful of newcomers. If any team can turn a fresh eye onto a very famous part of history, it’s this one.
  • World’s Most Perfect Human Charlize Theron has been cast in the eighth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise, but for some strange reason they’re not calling it Fast & Furiosa.
  • Relax, you guys: Sherlock Season 4 is now filming.

Continue reading Film & TV News: April 8

Spotlight (2015)

One appreciates how difficult it is to make a successful film like Spotlight. Yes, you have an A-list cast at your disposal, and yes, it’s Oscar season. They’re going for it. You have a true story that is quite literally already recorded for the public eye, plain as day, and besides the revelatory Spotlight newspaper clippings you have a vast backlog of coverage on the coverage, stories about the story. Yes, most of the real people who took part in that story are still alive and willing to participate in making a film about their achievements. And yes, the crucial win is already firmly in place: this is a highly relevant story, stranger than fiction but all the more urgent for being the truth.

Granted, there’s one massive pressure point in the expectations set by the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Director Tom McCarthy (“you” from the first paragraph) must have felt what Adam McKay felt in directing The Big Short, what David O. Russell felt in directing Joy, what Danny Boyle felt with Steve Jobs, what Don Cheadle felt with Miles Ahead. Any director dealing with the poster tagline Based On a True Story must ask “am I getting this right?”

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The Hateful Eight (2015)

Hey — it’s Christmas! Let’s go to the movies. Slug some hot chocolate, throw on your wool hat, follow the colored lights strung from tree to tree on the citywide commons to the movie theater or the cinema or the multiplex or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods. I’ll get the tickets, you get the popcorn. What do you want to see? It’s Christmas, remember, so we need something that will encourage our merriment and warm up our capacity for joy. That disqualifies The Revenant. What about Star Wars for the fifth time? What do you mean you saw it again this morning? Why didn’t you invite me? Whatever, just go get the popcorn.

Here we go: a new Tarantino movie. One would think that a brand spankin’ new flick from Tarantino would, if nothing else, be entertaining. It’s Tarantino. This is the diabolical purveyor of histrionic, action-packed jaunts that bleed style and ooze cool, of movies that have banging soundtracks and automatically generate an Academy Award for Christoph Waltz. This is the director that champions violence in film as fun, responding to the masses that claim violence in film is a potentially toxic influence on viewers with a beautifully composed shot of red blood spewing out of a newly-severed neck. Take that! The violence-is-bad point always reminds me of part of the testimony of famed censorship bogeyman William Gaines during the 1954 hearings on the validity of the violent comic books he produced: “Do we think our children are so evil, so simpleminded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery?” I picture Tarantino saying that, only with a lot more gesticulation and overeagerness and a lot of “alright, you know, okay?” and a lot of averted glances.

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White God (2014)

One of the most egregious snubs in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences concerns last year’s Best Actor trophy, and no, it has nothing to do with Leonardo DiCaprio. Eddie Redmayne walked away with the Oscar for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and indeed his performance was groundbreaking and heartfelt. But it pales in comparison to the tour de force delivered by Body, the Hungarian star of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, in his role as the tortured, tragic, life-loving, revenge-seeking, slobber-mouthed Hagen. Due respect to Redmayne, but Body’s performance is simply one of the most emotional and drool-covered performances in years.

As a young actor Body was met with obstacle after obstacle as he tried to make ends meet while pursuing his craft. He auditioned for some of the most iconic roles of our time and even received a callback for The Beast from The Sandlot, but the dude who played Mr. Mertle claimed Body was “impossible to work with” and cited the Hungarian-English language barrier as a primary qualm. He was an extra in Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch but soon disowned the film and distanced himself from the creative vision of the entire Air Bud series. Body struggled to be taken seriously as an actor, forced to take work in Iams commercials and as a busboy of sorts in the alley behind an L.A. hotspot.

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Jurassic World (2015)

Right before Jurassic World started my seatmate turned to me and inquired after my favorite dinosaur. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I hadn’t thought about what my favorite dinosaur was for a solid few years, that despite my boyish charms I actually wasn’t in third grade. I shrugged and said Tyrannosaurus. Good ol’ T. Rex is what would pop into my head if you approached me and said “dinosaur”, so maybe that kind of bias does qualify the stub-armed carnivore as a darling dino of mine. Seatmate agreed.

The more I weighed this pressing question the more I believed answering it to be a requisite for instant peace of mind. I was, I remembered, quick to raise an eyebrow when that Spinosaurus took down a T. Rex in Jurassic Park III — can they do that? This is T. Rex, Ancient King of the World, and he gets taken out by Dinosauria threequelae? And in the sequel The Lost World, which features a Tyrannosaurus loose on the mainland in the climax, we should really be honest about who we’re rooting for in that scenario. Though it traded the color and wonder of the first film for a considerably darker tone and palette, The Lost World succeeded in taking the bull of the first film and finding a more expensive china shop.

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Film & TV News: June 7

News

  • The limited revival of The X-Files begins shooting this coming week. A strange casting announcement came in the form of Joel McHale, who will apparently be playing a popular news anchor in a guest role. I’m a fan of X-Files and I’m a fan of McHale, but I’m finding it hard to imagine how they’d taste in the same recipe.
  • Stephen King’s The Stand is set for an eight-part miniseries at Showtime followed by a feature film, which at this point is really only dredging up the heretofore-repressed memory of the abysmal 1994 Molly Ringwald version. Thanks, Showtime!
  • The second season of Daredevil is allegedly courting Jason Statham for the role of the assassin Bullseye, which is one of the most perfect comic book casting rumors I’ve heard in a while.
  • Speaking of comic book films, James Wan has been officially announced as the director for DC’s Aquaman.

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Jurassic Park (1993)

One week from today is the wide release of Jurassic World, the highly-anticipated fourth installment in the dinosaur franchise that began with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Early reviews indicate that Colin Trevorrow, World‘s director, has delivered a more worthy successor to the original film than Spielberg’s sequel The Lost World or Joe Johnston’s follow-up Jurassic Park III. If that isn’t enough in and of itself, we might root for World to actually be as good as Park rather than just “better than the crappy ones”.

Short of having actually seen Jurassic World yet (I’d be so biased if I had!), the premise is already more akin to the original tale than to the rehashed visits of the second and third films. We won’t speculate too hard about World, and it will certainly need more than a cool premise to survive sequelitis; still, it’s already obvious that the storytelling mentality is focused on a particular point in time that falls between creation and destruction, and the importance of that theme in the Jurassic franchise shouldn’t be brushed aside. In fact, it’s an significant storytelling element of many of Spielberg’s films, and many of Michael Crichton’s works as well.

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Film & TV News: March 23

News

  • David Lynch stated that season 3 of Twin Peaks may still be “up in the air” despite some series regulars already signing on. We wait with bated breath.
  • Meanwhile, The X-Files‘ limited season seems to be getting closer to a green light at Fox. Don’t expect any more than ten episodes, though, since David Duchovny claims everyone is “too old.” I think Gillian Anderson would beg to differ!
  • Bridge of Spies will be the first of 27 Steven Spielberg films not to feature a John Williams score. This time the honor goes to Thomas Newman, though Williams will return for The BFG.
  • Annapurna Pictures, champion of compelling artistic cinema, has filled out Ana Lily Armipour’s mysterious The Bad Batch with some fascinating names: Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Jason Momoa, and Diego Luna.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Theatre Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a special screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.

Not long ago Steven Soderbergh removed all of the color and sound from Raiders of the Lost Ark in an attempt to better study the visual staging of Steven Spielberg’s massively influential adventure film. The theory – according to Soderbergh – is that “a movie should work with the sound off”, that the coordination and arrangement of the visual elements of the story should, essentially, tell the same story that the dialogue tells. With Raiders, the theory certainly holds water: from the thick rainforest and cobwebbed tunnels of the opening action sequence to the quiet Archaeology classroom of the very next scene, from the snake-infested underground temple to the desert chase, the staging and pacing of the film is continuously surefooted. “No matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are,” Soderbergh writes – and the attention he calls to the visual aspect of Raiders proves that Spielberg’s dedication to a strong sense of story isn’t compromised by a black-and-white color palette or a bass-laden electronica soundtrack.

To put it another way: Indiana Jones, even with these major elements stripped away, is still Indiana Jones. The color is one thing, but you’d think the absence of the iconic “Raiders March” would really shake things up for the worse. The John Williams score is inextricable from Indy, arguably as much a part of the adventurer as his hat or his bullwhip. You wouldn’t take the Bond theme away from James Bond any more than you’d take away his tux or his martini, for fear that the character before you wouldn’t seem like the same familiar spy anymore. Indy seems the same way, seems like a character so reliant on these iconic elements – but while Soderbergh’s exercise proved its point with regards to scene staging, it also pointed out what sets Indy apart.

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