Steven Spielberg

[ 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
[ 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. ]

[ 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
[ review ]

[ 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
[ review ]

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
[ review ]

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
[ review ]

The Color Purple
[ 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
[ 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). ]

[ 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
[ 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
[ 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
[ review ]

The Lost World
[ 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. ]

[ 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
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

[ review ]

Minority Report
[ review ]

Catch Me If You Can
[ review ]

The Terminal
[ review ]

War of the Worlds
[ review ]

[ review ]

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

The Adventures of Tintin
[  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
[ review ]

[ review ]

Bridge of Spies
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

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

The Post
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Ready Player One
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]