Steven Spielberg

Duel 57
[ Before Stephen King, there was Richard Matheson, who adapted one of his stories into the screenplay of this simple but effective thriller. Like King would later do so well, Matheson takes an ordinary Joe in an ordinary situation (driving on the highway) and turns it into an extraordinary hell ride by having a big-ass diesel truck force him into a deadly chase. The flick would work even better as a half-hour short, but nervous editing and inventive camerawork keep us on the edge of our seats for most of these 90 minutes nonetheless. ]

The Sugarland Express 21
[ More “Smokey and the Bandit” than “Badlands”, this idiotic and unfunny road movie has Goldie Hawn breaking her husband out of prison to get their baby out of a foster home. What follows is an endless, pointless-feeling parade of Texas State Trooper cars, adding up to what must be Spielberg’s most forgettable movie. ]

Jaws 94
[ Watching this again, more than forty years after it exploded as the first modern Hollywood blockbuster, one can appreciate more than ever the way Spielberg keeps the shark unseen for most of the film and how much time and care he puts in developing Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw’s characters and the way they play off each other. This may not have quite the visceral impact it must have had back then, but it’s still totally badass, with so much quotable dialogue, iconic shots, memorable scenes… The first half is a quasi horror movie, with a shark slasher stalking the waters around Amity Island. Then the second half is this awesome adventure film, with the central going out at sea on the Orca to kill that damn Bruce. “Jaws” is pretty much a perfect picture, with confident, gripping storytelling, masterful mise en scène, great performances and that classic John Williams score. One of Spielberg’s all-time best. ]

Close Encounters of the Third Kind 91
[ review ]

“1941” 23
[ Spielberg’s obviously got a thing for World War II, which inspired him a bunch of “Important Films” but also this spectacularly misguided and unfunny comedy about post-Pearl Harbor hysteria around Los Angeles. John Belushi is vaguely amusing as his usual nutcase self, but Dan Aykroyd and the rest of the cast are just dull and annoying – the movie even manages to waste greats like Christopher Lee and Toshiro Mifune. It’s all bad jokes and bad slapstick, and this chaotic and noisy mess goes on for more than two bloated hours. ]

Raiders of the Lost Ark 93
[ review ]

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 97
[ review ]

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 94
[ review ]

The Color Purple 59
[ Whoopi gets impregnated by her daddy, her babies are taken away from her, then she’s forced to marry a mean mofo of a farmer (Danny Glover) who not only cheats on her but brings his mistress home to live with them. But the two women actually become friends, and then there’s something about a long-lost sister in Africa, and there’s Oprah being sent to jail basically because she’s got a mind of her own (and a temper to go with it)… Like many book-to-film adaptations, “The Color Purple” suffers from a scattered narrative that tries to include too many characters and events. You can tell that Spielberg’s got his heart in it but he’s not quite right for the material. The movie uneasily juxtaposes brutality and cuteness, social commentary and corny humor, all of which is drowned in an omnipresent score by Quincy Jones. I still cried like a baby at the end, but overall the picture misses more often than it hits. ]

Empire of the Sun 51
[ Two years after “The Color Purple” left the Oscars empty-handed, Spielberg tries again to make an Important Film, unaware that sci-fi and adventure flicks like “E.T.” or “Raiders” would become American classics of their own, “Important” or not. A then 13 year old Christian Bale stars as a precocious British boy who witnesses the horrors in 1941 Shanghai as the Japanese’s occupation grows more aggressive following Pearl Harbor. Spielberg gives this huge epic an almost intimate quality by always showing events through the eyes of this one kid and he makes effective use of extended dialogue-free sequences but, like “Color Purple”, this attempt at Important Cinema is cutesy and obvious and way too long at 150 minutes. “Empire of the Sun” remains worth seeing for Allen Daviau’s cinematography and for supporting performances by John Malkovich, Joey Pantoliano and Ben Stiller (yes, that Ben Stiller). ]

Always 47
[ Spielberg goes romantic in this remake of 1946’s “A Guy Named Joe” which substitutes WW2 fighter planes with firefighting ones. Richard Dreyfuss plays a pilot who dies while trying to save his partner (the always enjoyable John Goodman) then sticks around to help the woman he loved (Holly Hunter) move on with her life. “Always” is full of good sentiments and well shot aerial sequences, but Dreyfuss and Hunter don’t make a particularly engaging couple and there aren’t enough strong moments to make this into more than an uneven trifle. ]

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 85
[ review ]

Hook 33
[ Admittedly, I thought it was fun and lively enough when it came out (I was 11!), but even then I thought the brat playing Robin Williams’ son was pretty obnoxious. The Peter Pan story is a great one, so that keeps this modern retelling going for the most part, but on the whole it’s too corny and not magical enough. ]

Jurassic Park 68
[ The casting of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum is inspired, the John Williams score is iconic and there are definitely a few riveting set pieces (the first T-rex attack, the velociraptors hunting), but it takes almost an hour of alternately interesting and corny exposition to get to the good stuff. Solid entertainment, but not on the level of Spielberg’s best work. ]

Schindler’s List 95
[ review ]

The Lost World 58
[ This film proves that nobody directs a blockbuster like Steven Spielberg. The script is lame, the storyline is ridiculous, it’s predictable, there is some cheesy sentimental BS, but it’s still mostly entertaining thanks to Spielberg’s magical touch. The special FX are awesome, even better than in the first film. And there are a whole lot more dinosaurs! The attack scenes are killer, with some effective suspense and clever gags. The cast is excellent, even though the likes of Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore are kinda wasted in nothing roles; Jeff Goldblum remains super cool, but his character’s preteen gymnast daughter almost ruins it all. One of the things I dug is the people getting eaten, smashed or killed by dinos – there is a lot of (implied) death for a PG-13 film! One almost-classic Spielberg set piece is the truck-hanging-over-the-cliff bit. The T-rex chase in San Diego is great as well. Definitely flawed, but it still works pretty well as a popcorn movie. ]

Amistad 66
[ The first minutes are gruelling, comparable in intensity to the opening of “Saving Private Ryan”. The trial movie that follows isn’t as riveting, but it’s got important things to say about an unfamiliar (to me at least) chunk of American history and it makes us care deeply about what will happen to these Africans being prosecuted just because they hit back at those who tried to lock them up, put them on a ship and sell them as slaves. Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman and Matthew McConaughey are all compelling actors, but it’s Djimon Hounsou who gives the film its fiery soul. “Amistad” doesn’t reinvent the form, but it’s a moving story, well told. ]

Saving Private Ryan 95
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

A.I. 41
[ review ]

Minority Report 93
[ review ]

Catch Me If You Can 91
[ review ]

The Terminal 63
[ review ]

War of the Worlds 87
[ review ]

Munich 90
[ review ]

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 91
[ review ]

The Adventures of Tintin 65
[  Adapted from Hergé’s beloved series of bandes dessinées, “The Adventures of Tintin” is most notable for how marvellously it uses performance capture and computer animation to strike a perfect balance between photorealism and cartoonishness. After a tediously exposition-heavy first act in which it becomes clear that the goody two shoes, white-bread persona of Tintin (Jamie Bell) can be rather dull on its own, things pick up considerably with the introduction of Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a loudmouthed drunk whose flaws only give him more character. We also get to enjoy some spectacular action sequences, as Tintin, Haddock and brave pooch Snowy travel the world looking for lost pirate treasure in sort of a light version of “Indiana Jones”. Great snakes!   ]

War Horse 91
[   I can already see it. Many, many people are going to love this movie, LOVE it. But there are some, critics mostly, who’ll inevitably pan it. Funny thing is that both sides will do so for basically the same reason. This is a pure Spielberg movie through and through, with the wide-eyed sense of wonder, epic scope and brilliant production values you expect, as well as the fact that it’s blatantly sentimental, which is where the Beard tends to lose grumpier scribes.  Few filmmakers know how to work an audience and push the audience’s emotional buttons as well as Spielberg, and he’s going at it full throttle in “War Horse.” An adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel in which World War I was viewed through the eyes of a horse, the film sometimes superficially resembles “Au Hasard Balthazar” (in which the protagonist was a donkey) , but even though the film is mostly set in France, we’re not so much in Robert Bresson territory here as in the grand old tradition of classic Hollywood prestige pictures. Think John Ford, “Gone with the Wind”, David Lean, a bit of Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”… But think Spielberg, most of all. Starting with the birth of our thoroughbred hero in Devon, England, as witnessed by young Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who’ll name the beast Joey and tame him, the movie then follows the two of them as they struggle to plow a field in order to save the family farm from being reclaimed by the landlord (David Thewlis). That first act is note-perfect, truly involving us in this story of a boy and his horse. Irvine is great as the young lad, who somehow made me think of the fundamentally decent and loyal Samwise as played by Sean Astin in the “LOTR” trilogy, Emily Watson and Peter Mullan are both splendid as his mum and dad, and through the magic of cinema, the horse also delivers a magnificent performance, seemingly conveying all kinds of emotion though his big black eyes (I also loved the goose, heh). A feisty, noble, beautiful creature, Joey is put the test more than ever when the Great War breaks out and he ends up being sold to a British officer (Tom Hiddleston), but also serving in the German army, being adopted by a French jam maker (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter and, in one of the most hauntingly memorable sequences in the film, desperately wandering the No Man’s Land between the British and German trenches… Filled with overwhelming visions of beauty and horror, this tale of a miraculous horse features some relatively long stretches without dialogue, all visual storytelling courtesy of Spielberg and cinematographer extraordinaire Janusz Kamiński, though with the assist of wall-to-wall John Williams… And it all builds up to a wordless sunset finale that won’t leave a dry eye in the house. Expect “War Horse” to win (or at least get nominated for) a whole lot of Oscars.  ]

Lincoln 70
[ This historical drama is not so much a biopic about President Abraham Lincoln as a look at a very specific time in his life, namely the weeks and months leading up to the vote to pass the 13th Amendment that would abolish slavery. At the time, the Civil War was still raging on, but we don’t see that much of the battlefield horrors during the film; most of it takes place in various rooms where politicians argue about issues. This inevitably makes for a talkative and somewhat dry picture, but it remains engrossing and lively enough throughout. The period recreation seems impeccable, for once, and there’s much interest just in looking at all the work done on the costumes, the hair and makeup, the production design and whatnot, all of which are superbly shot. Then there’s the screenplay by Tony Kushner, which almost takes the form of a thriller at times, as we find ourselves worrying about whether or not Lincoln and his team will be able to rally about the support necessary to pass the amendment, even we know through History that they will. Quite a feat! All of the scheming that takes place shows that politics are rarely all about ideals and that hopefully, the end justifies the means. In any case, it’s hard not to believe in what Lincoln says, portrayed as he is by the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis as an amazing orator with a truly commanding presence. The cast also includes the likes of David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones, who all deliver strong work. I particularly enjoyed the trio played by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson, who are given the mission to convince Democrats to vote with the Republicans, in ways that may or may not be legit. Then there’s Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife, plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt and little Gulliver McGrath as his sons, who each take part in the more personal parts of the film, which I found a bit weaker than the political stuff. Altogether, “Lincoln” is a undoubtedly a good film, if not classic Spielberg or anything. ]

Bridge of Spies 62
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Roald Dahl’s The BFG 80
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]