Montreal Film Journal

THE DIRECTORS SERIES (9)


1971
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. ]

1974
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. ]

1975
Jaws 78
[ You had to be there, I guess. Watching this more than a quarter of a century after it exploded as the first modern Hollywood blockbuster, one can appreciate 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, but it doesn't have the visceral impact it must have had back then. It's still pretty badass! ]



1977
Close Encounters of the Third Kind 91
[ review ]

1979
"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. ]



1981
Raiders of the Lost Ark 93
[ review ]



1982
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 97
[ review ]



1984
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 94
[ review ]

1985
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. ]

1987
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" or "Saving Private Ryan", 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). ]

1989
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 ]

1991
Hook 33
[ Admittedly, I thought it was fun and lively enough when it came out (I was 11!), but even then I thought Robin Williams and the brat playing his son were 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 but not magical enough. ]

1993
Jurassic Park 61
[ The casting of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum is inspired and there are definitely a few riveting set pieces, but the kids are annoying and the then-groundbreaking special effects used to create the dinosaurs are a bit blah today. Decent entertainment, but not on the level of Spielberg's best work. ]



Schindler's List 95
[ review ]

1997
The Lost World 60
[ 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 bullshit and the characters aren't exceptional, but it's still entertaining thanks to Spielberg's magical touch. The FX are great, much better than in the first film. And there are a whole lot more dinosaurs! The attack scenes are awesome, with some neat suspense and clever details. The cast is good, but interesting actors like Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore are wasted in nothing roles; Jeff Goldblum remains kinda cool. One of the things I dug the most is the people getting eaten, smashed or killed by the dinos: there is a lot of blood for a PG-13 film! I liked the way they put gore in the film without really showing it so the film wouldn't be R-rated. The Godzilla-style scene in San Diego is great as well. This movie isn't a masterpiece, but it 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. ]



1998
Saving Private Ryan 57
[ review ]



2001
A.I. 41
[ review ]



2002
Minority Report 93
[ review ]



Catch Me If You Can 91
[ review ]



2004
The Terminal 63
[ review ]



2005
War of the Worlds 87
[ review ]



Munich 90
[ review ]



2008
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 91
[ review ]


NEXT: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN : THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (2011)