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Track the Films You Watch (2013)


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#21 of 74 John Stell

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Posted January 23 2013 - 08:15 AM

Jaws (1975) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: June 20, 1975


It is no exaggeration to say Jaws was a phenomena when it was released.  It became the highest grossing film of the time; it ushered in the "summer blockbuster" mentality; it did for the ocean what Psycho had done for showers; and confirmed a major (relatively) new director had arrived.  In spite of all the behind-the-scenes challenges director Steven Spielberg delivered the perfect popcorn movie and then some.  Jaws remains as exhilarating a film experience today as it was almost thirty years ago.


In the Cape Cod-like town of Amity, a few days before the Fourth of July holiday, a body is discovered on the beach, apparently the victim of a shark attack.  Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) initially bows to political pressure to keep the beach open for the all-important summer tourist trade.  But after more attacks, Brody hires a grizzled seaman named Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt down and kill the beast.  The two men, along with shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), head out to sea to face down the great white shark before it can claim any more victims.


Essentially a sea-bound variation on the director's previous Duel, Jaws is a near-perfect balancing of suspense and thrills, with enough humor thrown in to keep land-bound scenes from suffering in comparison to those involving the shark.  Spielberg makes the best of a bad situation (the shark kept malfunctioning so it is not seen as much as originally intended) by structuring the first couple of acts like the myriad sci-fi thrillers of the 1950s that teased the audience before revealing the "beast."  The fist attack is shot mostly above water with the victim being pulled along by the shark.  The second attack is shown via bloody, shredded raft and a crowds horrified reaction.  A third sequence indicates the shark is about to attack when the broken piece of a pier attached to the shark suddenly turns 180 degrees.  All of the build-up leads to a perfectly executed reveal, as the shark emerges from the water as Brody is chumming.  From then on the film is virtually a non-stop action-thriller, as the heroic trio try to combat what was clearly an underestimated foe.


While Brody is the most fleshed out character, given a family and background, both Hooper and Quint are given just enough back story (Hooper tells of his first shark encounter, Quint recounts his horrifying experience during World War II after being aboard the ship that delivered the atomic bomb) so they don't become two-dimensional stereotypes.  Fine support is given by Lorraine Gary as Brody's wife and Murray Hamilton as the ineffectual mayor.  Add to all of the above John Williams' Oscar-winning, iconic score and you get the perfect summer entertainment.


Jaws landed a Best Picture nomination, as well as Oscar wins for editing and sound, but Spielberg failed to get a nomination for his direction.  Interestingly enough, that situation would be reversed for his next film.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#22 of 74 John Stell

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Posted January 24 2013 - 06:54 AM

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: November 16, 1977


Prior to Close Encounters of the Third Kind most UFO films offered horrific and terrifying visions of what an alien visitation would be like.  From War of the Worlds (1953) to They Came From Beyond Space (1967), the sci-fi craze of 1950s/60s painted a bleak outcome if Earth were ever to be visited.  But Steven Spielberg's intoxicating 1977 classic offers a far more inviting possibility.  In fact Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a truly enchanting experience that believably captures the fear, curiosity, and awe that the film's players experience.


One seemingly ordinary night in Indiana electrician Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is sent to investigate a power outage that has affected much of the state.  Suddenly his truck loses power and he sees a blinding light and witnesses strange aerial phenomena.  Later the UFO abducts the three year old son of Jillian Guiler (Oscar-nominee Melinda Dillon).  Both Roy and Jillian become obsessed with the image of a mountain that they cannot get out of their heads.  Eventually they learn of strange events at Devil's Tower in Wyoming.  There they meet scientist Claude Lacombe (Francios Truffaut) who has been able to communicate with the beings via five musical notes.


From its inspired use of music (John Williams builds a classic score from these simple notes) as a means of communication to its hopeful and visually impressive finale, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one of the director's best and most original films.  By focusing the story around "ordinary citizen" Neary, complete with wife and three kids living in suburbia, the film has an intimacy not common in alien visitation films.  There are many quiet moments to focus on Neary's emotions and reactions to what has happened to him and what he will do next.  While his compulsion is mistaken for madness by his wife and neighbors, we the audience are always in his corner.  There is elation in the final image of a smiling Neary, bathed in light, as he boards the spacecraft.


Furthermore acclaimed French filmmaker Francios Truffaut's Lacombe is not the typical obsessed scientist.  Again the film breaks with the stereotype by having Lacombe be a man of intelligence, warmth, and joy instead of the cold, "all in the name of science" character we are used to seeing.  In fact the only really familiar element here is the military cover-up that accompanies the scheduled alien rendezvous.  Otherwise Close Encounters of the Third Kind offers again and again fresh approaches to the standard elements of science fiction films.


Steven Spielberg received his first Oscar nomination for Best Director, even though the film itself didn't land a Best Picture nod.  Oscars went to Vilmos Zsigmond's beautifully cinematography and Frank E. Warner's sound effects editing.  Additional nominations were received for Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Music (John Williams beat himself by winning for Star Wars), and Editing.  Spielberg and his abilities were finally being taken seriously after delivering back-to-back critical and financial successes.  His next project, however, would bring about a (thankfully temporary) fall from grace.


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#23 of 74 Michael Elliott

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Posted January 24 2013 - 06:21 PM

CEOT3K is another one that I need to revisit. Perhaps in the Sci-Fi Challenge coming up. Which version of it did you watch? I think I've seen the original theatrical cut as well as one of the special editions but I really don't know the film or its history good enough to tell them apart or know which one to really go with.

#24 of 74 JohnS

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Posted January 24 2013 - 08:09 PM

Just watched Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" Never seen it before. It's a good movie. It took a good hour for me to really enjoy it. I loved the dream sequences. The sole reason why I enjoyed this film. The ending was satisfying. But nothing I really want to discuss, as I might spoil it for others.

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#25 of 74 John Stell

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Posted January 25 2013 - 01:17 AM

Originally Posted by Michael Elliott 

CEOT3K is another one that I need to revisit. Perhaps in the Sci-Fi Challenge coming up. Which version of it did you watch? I think I've seen the original theatrical cut as well as one of the special editions but I really don't know the film or its history good enough to tell them apart or know which one to really go with.


I watched the theatrical version although the Blu Ray has all 3.  The IMDB has a link in its entry on CEOT3K to a listing of all the differences.  I picked the theatrical one since I'm trying to evaluate based on what was shown in theaters originally.  Unfortunately I didn't have that option with 1941 as only the director's cut is available.


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#26 of 74 TravisR

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Posted January 25 2013 - 01:45 AM

Much like Jurassic Park, I never got into Close Encounters until seeing it on Blu-ray a few years ago. Seeing it again, I thought it was excellent and one of Spielberg's best movies. For my money, the director's cut (or whatever they call the third version) is the best of the lot. The theatrical cut is solid as well but the director's cut makes good additions and deletions compared to the other two versions. I don't know what it is with Spielberg but I even enjoyed E.T. much more than I ever have when I saw it again a few months ago. Maybe I should rewatch Always. :)

#27 of 74 John Stell

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Posted January 25 2013 - 02:34 AM

1941 (1979) Posted ImagePosted Image1/2


Released: December 14, 1979


Unfocused may be the best way to describe Steven Spielberg's 1979 comedy 1941.  It's so busy with so many characters that the viewer can forget about forming any emotional attachment to anyone here.  Thus the film's success depends solely on its laugh quotient.  Since comedy is so subjective, reactions to this film understandably vary wildly.  This viewer found a few inspired moments of lunacy, some pleasant chuckles, but more often than not was left to enjoy the visuals which, admittedly, are quite impressive.


Based on a real life incident from February 1942 where a false air raid had Los Angeles believing they were under attack, 1941 takes place a few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  A Japanese sub is trying to find Hollywood, California to launch a demoralizing attack against the US.  Meanwhile Wally Stevens (Bobby Di Cicco) is looking forward to a big dance with his favorite gal Betty (Dianne Kay), unaware the dance club will not allow civilians, only armed forces members.  Other subplots include an anti aircraft gun being placed in Betty's family's front lawn and a horny captain (Tim Matheson) trying to score with a woman (Nancy Allen) who only gets aroused if aboard an aircraft.  Plus there are essentially minor parts for John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Slim Pickens, Christopher Lee, Robert Stack, Warren Oates, and Eddie Deezen.  (And any film with a Dick Miller cameo cannot be all bad.)


Thus the viewer is taken on a frantic trip as we hopscotch from one subplot or character bit to another.  Some of these moments are truly great.  The entire Slim Pickens segment is terrific, with Pickens getting big laughs as he refuses to cooperate with the enemy after being kidnapped.  Eddie Deezen is funny as an obnoxious citizen with a ventriloquist's dummy.  There's an extended dance/fight sequence with some "wow" moments and emcee Joe Flaherty gets off some good one-liners.  The chase through a paint factory is visually impressive.  And Robert Stack as General Stilwell watching and being moved by Dumbo is a high point.


But there are other elements that just kinda sit there.  The whole Wally Stevens subplot doesn't really go anywhere.  Aykroyd and Belushi just aren't given enough to do.  John Candy is criminally underused.  The Matheson-Allen arc is a one-joke premise stretched out beyond its potential.  Treat Williams' psychotic Captain Stretch wears out his welcome.  And so on.


Visually though 1941 is a treat.  The aerial photography, the collapsed Ferris wheel, and the final gag involving a house by the seaside are all perfectly executed.  The film is well designed and costumed.  So even if one is not laughing there is usually something on the screen to enjoy.


While many critics were unkind upon its initial release, the film nevertheless was a modest success financially (it made almost $93 million worldwide on $35 million budget).  But since 1941 wasn't the hit his previous two films were director Spielberg found himself accused of delivering a bomb.  For its home video release the film was expanded from its 118 minute run time to 145 minutes.  That the film remains quite watchable at that length shows the film has some merit, even if it doesn't match up to Spielberg's previous two offerings.


Thus 1941 is an amusing but lesser entry in the Spielberg filmography.  It has some big laughs and strong production values.  But it's overly ambitious and cannot sustain its hilarity for the entire run time.  The director, however, would be back on the 'A' list as his next two pictures would become classics and land him his second and third Best Director nominations.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#28 of 74 John Stell

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Posted January 26 2013 - 04:59 AM

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: June 12, 1981


My brother and I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark once a week for the first four weeks it was playing at our nearby movie house (they had only 2 theaters).  It was the movie that made me fall in love with the movies in general because I never realized just how powerful the medium could be.  It is thus a very special film, one that may have taken its inspiration from long-ago serials but resulted in something fresh and exciting.  Raiders of the Lost Ark is a perfect entertainment.


In 1936 Professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is hired by the U.S. government to track down the lost Ark of the Covenant.  Adolph Hitler, obsessed with the occult, has arranged numerous archaeological digs, one of which has apparently succeeded in finding the last know resting place of the Ark in Egypt.  It's a race against time as Dr. Jones arranges his own team, including his former lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), to prevent the Nazis from obtaining the potentially powerful Ark.


The simple plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a means by which director Steven Spielberg can string together one thrilling set piece after another.  The opening sequence is a teaser which has nothing to do with the plot proper, but offers a fine introduction to our hero: fearless, quick with a whip, but not a very good planner.  We also meet Jones' arch nemesis Belloq (Paul Freeman), who steals the treasure Indiana just risked his life to get and will again face him in Egypt.  But its the  booby-trapped cave, the huge rolling stone, and the narrow escapes that really give us an idea of for what we are in store.  There will be gunfights, fist fights, a breath-taking truck chase, seemingly inescapable perils, a shocking finale, snakes, and more as Jones uses his wits and improvisational skills to battle Belloq and the Nazis.  "I'm making this up as I go," he tells Marion at one point.


And that's what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark so thrilling: even though we know all the set pieces are planned and rehearsed, they feel of-the-moment and organic to the story.  Spielberg and his team bring a sense of spontaneity to the proceedings so we wonder how Indiana will survive his latest peril.  Harrison Ford has never been better than his role as archaeologist Indiana Jones, striking just the right balance of physical prowess and vulnerability.  His chemistry with Karen Allen is superb, and we love this couple from the first time they fight the bad guys together at Marion's bar in Nepal.  It's this relationship that makes this first entry in the Indiana Jones films the best of the lot.


Raiders of the Lost Ark was made at time when filmmakers understood you need to be able to follow the action to get wrapped up in the peril.  Too many films today rely on frantic editing to the extent it's almost impossible to get a sense of how the action is flowing and where characters (and vehicles and anything else) are in relation to the threats at hand.  Spielberg and editor Michael Kahn (who won an Oscar) stage the action perfectly so that the audience can follow the sequences with no trouble.  This is one of the many reasons why it's so easy to revisit the film and be caught up in the story all over again.


Recalling the initial viewing over thirty years ago two scenes spring to mind: the hilarious "don't bring a knife to a gunfight" moment and the demise of Belloq and his employers.  The audience got a huge laugh from the former and cried out during the latter.  These unexpected moments are more examples of what seemed so special about this film:  that it could time and time again surprise us, get an audible reaction out of its audience.  One left the theater thrilled, delighted, and wanting to see it again.  Who could imagine that Spielberg's next film would, in many ways, be an even bigger hit.


At the end of the day Raiders of the Lost Ark was a blockbuster, won four Oscars out of its eight nominations, and led to (as of now) three sequels.  It gave us a new action hero and Harrison Ford an iconic role.  It was added to the National Film Registry in 1999.  Raiders of the Lost Ark remains one of the directors greatest films.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#29 of 74 John Stell

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Posted January 29 2013 - 04:36 AM

E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: June 11, 1982


E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial is an important film in the Steven Spielberg cannon because it marks a shift from big-budget spectacle to personal, intimate story telling.  Yes, there are impressive effects present in the film.  But at its heart E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial is a story of children dealing with their parents' break up and how a lost alien brings the family together.


The simple story has a plant-loving alien race visit Earth to sample its landscaping.  One visitor is left behind but finds a friend in Elliott (Henry Thomas), a ten year old who lives with his mom, older brother, and younger sister.  Meanwhile government agents and scientists try to track the life form they correctly suspect is among us.


Themes of broken families, loneliness, and the respect of children come to fruition in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.  Such elements had been present in earlier Spielberg outings:  The Sugarland Express dealt with a couple trying to reclaim their child; Richard Dreyfuss found himself an outsider and his family left him in Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and children can be found playing key roles in nearly all his previous films, such as rescuing Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark or being threatened by the shark of Jaws.  Here, however, the director's focus is almost squarely on the kids, choosing not even to show adult characters' faces (except the kids' mother) until the government take over of the family home.  Thus the audience is solely focused on Elliott and his relationship with E.T.


When we first meet Elliott's family we quickly learn there is tension - that Dad and Mom have separated most likely due the husband's affair with "Sally."  Elliott upsets his mom by mentioning the affair, his older brother Michael angrily scolds Elliott, while little Gertie sits by visibly upset.  But soon after the alien's arrival all the kids are congregating in Elliott's room marveling at their new friend.  Gertie will teach E.T. to talk (with the help of Sesame Street) and Michael will find and rescue a sick and lost E.T. later in the film.  Elliott and E.T. become so close that Elliott forms a psychic link with E.T., experiencing his decline in health.  Of course when the adults get involved E.T. is something to be feared (by mom) and studied.  Elliott sees E.T. as a friend and thus the audience feels the same way.


There is much humor to be found in E.T.'s education.  He tries to eat a toy car, he gets drunk after drinking Coors, and gets an eyeful when he leaves Elliott's home on Halloween and doesn't realize everyone is dressed up.  Throughout the film Spielberg pays homage to Buck Rodgers comics (how E.T. gets the idea to "phone home"); Star Wars (action figures) and Empire Strikes Back (someone in a Yoda costume); the director's own Jaws; and director John Ford (we see a romantic clip from The Quiet Man).  As E.T. is child-like himself much of this is endearing and funny.  But the humor works well within the story and doesn't get too "cute."


Technically speaking Carlo Rambaldi's alien creation is a marvel, with expressive eyes, an extending neck, and an awkward walk.  The talented young cast relates so well to E.T. that the the audience believes in the reality of the alien too.  This is the first of Spielberg's movies that can classified as a heart-tugger, as there's nary a dry eye to be found during The Wizard of Oz-like ending.   Spielberg ultimately had the same success in creating a genuinely moving film just as he had in thrilling us with his previous outings.


E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial received nine Oscar nominations, including Spielberg's third for directing, and, for several years, was the highest grossing film of all time.  Its artistic and commercial success paved the wave for more personal projects for the director which ultimately led to Schindler's List in 1993.  E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial remains yet another classic in the Steven Spielberg filmography.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#30 of 74 John Stell

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Posted January 30 2013 - 05:31 AM

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: June 24, 1983


Steven Spielberg co-produced, as well as directing one of the stories, this homage to the classic Rod Serling series.  The film, however, ran into a promotional nightmare when actor Vic Morrow and two children were killed during a stunt gone bad.  Thus the first segment is not as originally intended and ends unsatisfactorily.  Luckily the rest of the film has much to offer although Spielberg's segment is the least of the remaining three.


Based on the original Twilight Zone episode "Kick the Can" Spielberg's contribution concerns a group of elderly people, living in a rest home, who long for the days of youth, at least to the extent they can run, play, climb, and, um, romance.  Enter Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) who has a magical can that may just offer that possibility.


This is the lightest of the film's offerings and it's pleasant enough.  The cast is great: in addition to the great Scatman we get Murray Matheson, Selma Diamond, and a solid roster of young performers.  The story's lesson about the importance of being young in heart and mind - even if not in body - is obvious but not so much as to dampen the sense of joy the segment offers.  While not top notch Spielberg there is still enjoyment to be found here.  The producer/director would revisit the anthology format for television with Amazing Stories, which was considered a disappointment upon airing during 1985/86 and 1986/87 seasons.


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: May 23, 1984


From its opening dance-turned-brawl number, to its breath-taking bridge climax, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a terrific prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Chock full of amazing action set pieces and humor, the movie rarely lets up.  It's also genuinely scary in places so that the film has a much darker tone than its predecessor.  I'm baffled by some of the negativity directed at this film.  Some don't like Kate Capshaw's whiny female lead versus Karen Allen's strong character in Raiders.  Some were annoyed at the youthful sidekick Short Round.  Some didn't like the violence, which actually did lead to the PG-13 rating.  None of the above bothered this viewer in the least.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has a different feel than the admittedly superior Raiders.  But it is still a splendid entertainment.


In 1935 Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is double crossed during a deal-gone-bad in Shanghai, and finds himself stranded in India.  With him are his trusty compatriot Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) and singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) who unwittingly joined up with Indy during their Shanghai escape.  Finding a decimated village Indy learns that a sacred stone was stolen, as were the children, and is asked by the elders to retrieve the sacred stone.  Little does Dr. Jones realize he's about to uncover the return of the Thuggee, a vicious cult that offers sacrifices to the goddess Kali.


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is brimming with memorable moments.  The entire opening segment is incredible:  a Busby Berkeley dance number gives way to night club brawl, which involves Indy looking for an antidote to poison he's ingested while Willie looks for a lost diamond, both of which of are being kicked about the floor as the patrons flee.  There is gunfire, fisticuffs, and a giant gong that provides protection.  Then we move to a car chase and ultimately an escape from a pilot-less plane involving a raft.  After a brief pause for plot explanation we get a view of giant vampire bats and a near-encounter with a deadly snake.  Then, at the Palace, there's a humorous, gross-out dinner sequence involving eyeball soup, snake surprise, and chilled monkey brains for dessert.  Then it's a fight in Indy's room, an encounter with thousands of bugs, a near death escape in a room with a spiky, collapsing ceiling, a sacrifice involving the removal of a heart, a chilling possession sequence, more elaborate fights, a mine-car chase, and finally a standoff on a bridge.  This movie just never stops.  It's so eager to please.  This viewer never tires of it.


One of the interesting things regarding the film is how Indiana relates to Short Round: he never treats him like a kid.  They are partners - there is never any condescension in the way Indy talks to his young friend.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom continues the Spielberg trait of creating strong young characters.  On the other hand we have Capshaw's Willie, who is decidedly not a "strong" female lead.  But this takes place in 1935, so politically correct this ain't.  This might be offensive except for the facts that Capshaw seems to be having so much fun, and the film itself is not meant to be taken seriously.  There are no pretensions here.  It just wants to be a thrill ride.


During the summer of 1984 the Spielberg-produced Gremlins was also released and had some gruesome bits that some thought warranted the film receiving a R-rating. After the protestations of violence launched against Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins the MPAA introduced the PG-13 rating.  The first film released with the new rating, Red Dawn, opened in August 1984.  Yes, filmmaker Spielberg could now add another accomplishment to his resume - the genesis of a new rating.


Based on mixed reactions it appears Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a matter of taste.  It has elements that seem to annoy and/or turn off people.  But for this viewer Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom remains a perfect white-knuckle thriller.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#31 of 74 John Stell

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Posted January 31 2013 - 07:27 AM

The Color Purple (1985) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: December 18, 1985


Adapted from Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple marks director Steven Spielberg's entry into "serious" film-making. The story focuses on forty years in the life of Celie Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg), a black woman growing up in the first half of the twentieth century.  She is molested by her father, separated from her sister, abused by her husband, and subjected to the prejudices faced by minorities of this time.  She perseveres, however, and the end of her story is ultimately touching and hopeful.  This is not lightweight, escapist entertainment, the kind Spielberg had been doing so well with since the beginning of his career.  He mostly succeeds, but makes a few missteps along the way.


The problems stem from the resistance to make the film too oppressive.  One of the characters, Sofia, played by Oprah Winfrey, has a real issue with being struck by anyone.  She fights back.  Spielberg sets these potential melees up by having characters familiar with her temper make faces and flee at the sign of trouble.  We get close ups of her face and we see the rage building.  It's filmed like a set up to a literal punch line.  The problem comes when this same approach is used in a scene which ultimately leads to Sofia getting struck in the face by the butt of a gun after striking the mayor.   She is then jailed and permanently disfigured.  The shift in tone is so jarring it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  There are other sequences which are filmed with this "light touch" that don't jibe with the story.  As a result it feels as though the director isn't quite committed to dealing with the real horrors of the situation, or at least is fearful of his audience getting too upset.  This "timidness" would change for Spielberg in the coming years.


The strength of the film lies in the performances.  Whoopi Goldberg is impressive in her first major role, giving Celie a quiet dignity.  Given how Celie is treated (beaten, called ugly, not shown any respect) she is an admirable character in her resolve to survive her daily routine.  Other cast members, including  Winfrey and Margaret Avery as Glover's mistress are also strong.  (On the other hand Danny Glover as the abusive husband can be cartoonish at times.)  It's their believability that leads to a truly moving ending that promises joy in Celie's life going forward.  She deserves it.


The Color Purple was a box office hit and Steven Spielberg received his first DGA award (he currently holds the record with three).  The film earned eleven Oscar nominations - but Spielberg as director was not among the nominees.  The film surprisingly came up empty handed at the Oscar ceremony.  But the experience the director gained on The Color Purple no doubt helped him with his future serious endeavors.  The Color Purple may not rank as one of Spielberg's finest directorial achievements, but it still can be enjoyed for its performances and the fact it showcases a director taking chances.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#32 of 74 John Stell

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Posted February 01 2013 - 05:18 AM

Empire of the Sun (1987) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: December 25, 1987


Based on the novel by J.G. Ballard Empire of the Sun is the harrowing story of a young British boy (Christian Bale) separated from his parents and imprisoned during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II.  During his ordeal he learns to fend for himself, help others where needed, and essentially say goodbye to childhood.


In interviews director Steven Spielberg has said he became involved in the project when David Lean asked him to see if rights to the novel were available.  At the time they were not but when the original director left the project Spielberg called Lean with the good news.  Lean, however, had changed his mind and encouraged Spielberg to direct the picture.  Thus this is the second consecutive film (Quincy Jones had talked the director into helming The Color Purple) that Spielberg had been recruited by other people.  Clearly being encouraged by the director of the classic Lawrence of Arabia shows how the director was viewed by his peers.  He was being taken very seriously.


As expected Empire of the Sun boasts unimpeachable technical credits: production design, visual effects, and costumes are all impressive.  And the basic story is of course compelling.  Emotionally though there doesn't seem to be the attachment that we experienced in, say, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial or even an action film like Jaws.  Christian Bale is quite good as teenager Jim and he is surrounded by a fine supporting cast including John Malcovich and Miranda Richardson.  There are the familiar Spielberg themes of a family in trouble and a struggling underdog.  That the story itself is based on fact only gives the events more import.


But Jim doesn't seem to connect with us the same way Elliot did.  And the reason may be that in previous Spielberg films our affection for characters has sprung from their relationships with others:  Elliot and E.T.; Indiana Jones and Marion; Chief Brody and Hooper; and Celie and her family.  We got to know the characters through their interactions with and reactions to others.  We saw them grow and learn not in a vacuum but through experiences with those around them.  In Empire of the Sun, Jim doesn't form any strong relationships.  His closest ally betrays him several times.  Most of the other prisoners view him as a curiosity.  The film is thus seen through the eyes of Jim and Jim alone.  We don't really understand how he feels about what he's going through.  We grow to admire him, but not exactly embrace him.


Thus Empire of the Sun is intriguing and mostly compelling.  The story is well told and fascinating as history.  But the emotional ingredient that typically makes good movies great movies is missing here, which is unusual in Spielberg films since one of his gifts is having his audience emotionally involved in the character's plight.  Empire of the Sun shows that Spielberg, the grand technical master that he is, had not yet melded those abilities with the emotional elements that made his "non-serious" movies the classics they are.  His next project would find him back on more familiar ground.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#33 of 74 JohnS

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Posted February 01 2013 - 05:57 AM

For the first time TCM showed the original The Italian Job. I've never seen it, only it's remake. I love the remake. I found the original to be slightly boring at times. I did like the Mini Cooper scenes. I really hated the ending.

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#34 of 74 John Stell

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Posted February 02 2013 - 04:36 AM

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: May 24, 1989


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade finds the professor-adventurer once again facing the Nazis, this time in their quest for the Holy Grail.  The follow-up to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has a decidedly lighter tone than its predecessor and attempts to recapture the "fun" atmosphere of the original classic.  The humor is more frequent this time around and, as an added bonus, Sean Connery has been cast as Indiana Jones' estranged father.  The film frequently plays as more a father-son story than an all-out adventure tale - which would have been fine if there had been better chemistry between Harrison Ford and Connery.  This viewer just never bought them as father and son, despite the fact that there's nothing wrong with either performance.  This outing also suffers a little bit of deja vu since we've seen Indy fight this villain before.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has many enjoyable moments but it's easily the least of Dr. Jones' first three adventures.


It's 1938 and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) learns his father (Sean Connery), whom he hasn't seen in twenty years, has vanished after being hired by wealthy Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) to find the Holy Grail.  Not coincidentally Jones junior has just received his father's Grail diary in the mail, which holds the cumulative knowledge of the elder Jones' Grail obsession.  Indiana and friend Marcus Brody (Denhom Elliott) meet with Jones senior's assistant Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) in Venice, and the trio begin their hunt for the missing doctor and the Holy Grail.


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade opens with a teaser showing how a younger Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) obtained his hat, his bullwhip abilities, and his fear of snakes.  It also shows how father and son have a somewhat strained relationship.  Dad likes his books and research, son is a person of action.  This sets up the reason for the estrangement:  dad just never understood son's approach to archaeology.  There will be plenty of glares and stares exchanged during the two's adventures which provide much of the film's humor.  There will be set pieces involving a tank, some motorbikes, a castle on fire, a plane crash, and a booby-trapped cavern where father and son will work together to stay alive.  The film is not short on action and warm feelings.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a good film.


But the film falls short of its predecessors because the villains are familiar and weak and Ford and Connery lack real chemistry.  Once again the story line features a rival archaeologist teaming up with the Nazis to seek out a Biblical artifact.  But the excitement present in Raiders of the Lost Ark is just not here.  Connery is only twelve years older than Ford so this may be why they just don't seem like father and son.  Even if this was a deliberate move to demonstrate their uneasy relationship it's taken too far.  Thus what are supposed to be emotional moments at the end don't work very well.  Spielberg wanted and cast Connery to acknowledge Indiana Jones' debt to James Bond.  There was no consideration of chemistry.  And it shows.


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was another mega-hit for director Steven Spielberg and showed he could still make escapist entertainments.  But, for all its strengths, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is second tier Spielberg.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#35 of 74 JohnS

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Posted February 02 2013 - 12:51 PM

The Last Crusade is the Indiana Jones film I remembering lining up for. I've seen all the Indiana Jones films in the theater, but Crusade is the one that still holds a memory. I also remember coming out of the theater past the new people waiting to see it and said in a loud voice, " that ending sucked. I can't believe they killed off Indiana Jones like that." One of my favorite Crusade moments is where Indiana Joes runs into hitler and he sings the book. And if you pay close attention, Hitler spells his name wrong.

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#36 of 74 Ken Volok

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Posted February 02 2013 - 07:07 PM

Feb 2013 1. Night Nurse (1931) **.5 2/2 2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) **** 2/5 3. Imitation of Life (1934) **.5 2/9 4. Imitation of Life (1959) ***.5 2/9 5. Fort Apache (1948) ***.5 2/10 6. Animal Crackers (1930) **** 2/10 7. Star Wars (1977) ***** 2/12 8. The Broadway Melody (1929) *** 2/14 Recaps January 2013 1. Django Unchained (2012) *** 2. Three Women (1977) **** 3. Paging Miss Glory (1936) Feature 1/2 star, curio 4. Paging Miss Glory (1936) cartoon **** 5. Cop Land (1997) **** 1/9/13 6. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) *** 1/ 11/13 7. Margaret (2011) **2/3 1/11/13 8. East of Eden (1955) ***1/2 1/11/13 10. You Can't Take It with You (1938) ***** 1/12/13 11. The Sound of Music (1965) **** 1/13/13 12. The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963) ** 1/13/13 13. Country Cousin (1936) cartoon **1/2 1/15/13 14. Swing Time (1936) *** 1/15/13 15. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (ext.) (2001) ** 1/2 1/16/13 16. LotR: The Two Towers (ext) (2002) *** 1/16/13 17. LotR: The Return of the King (ext) (2003) *** 1/17/13 18. Monkey Business (1952) *** 1/2 1/18/13 19. The Apartment (1960) ***** 1/21/13 20. Funny Girl (1968) ** 1/2 1/22/13 21. For Scent-imental Reasons (1949) Looney Tune ** 1/22 22. The Thin Red Line (1998) ***** 1/23 23. Three Orphan Kittens (1935) Silly Symphony *** 1/26 24. The Ugly Duckling (1939) Silly Symphony **** 1/26 25. Marie Antoinette (2006) ***** 1/26

#37 of 74 Ken Volok

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Posted February 03 2013 - 05:47 AM

Anyone else focusing on Oscar winners/nominees?

#38 of 74 John Stell

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Posted February 04 2013 - 03:26 AM

Always (1989) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image


Released: December 22, 1989


Always juxtaposes stunning aerial sequences and vivid recreations of forest fires with a gentle, touching love story between an angel and his former lover.  Thanks to a great cast and the chemistry between Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter Always is an involving film that fumbles the ball only during the not-quite-convincing finale.  In general though Always is an underrated film.


Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss) is a talented flyer but something of a show off.  He helps put out forest fires from the air and his occasional showmanship irritates his girlfriend Dorinda (Holly Hunter).  When he dies while trying to save his best friend Al (John Goodman), he returns to provide inspiration to fledgling pilot Ted Baker (Brad Johnson), who happens to have fallen in love with Dorinda.


A remake of the 1942 fantasy A Guy Named JoeAlways grabs us early because Dreyfuss and Hunter click so well.  There's an exceptional scene between the two where Dorinda is finally able to vocalize her feelings and fears regarding Pete's flying.  The dialogue is witty and realistic and sets up the rest of the film beautifully.  Even as an angel Pete maintains his rascally sense of humor, such as when he guides Ted to dump fire retardant on Al during a teaching exercise.  Goodman too is in fine form in the "best friend" role, balancing warmth, humor, and concern equally well.  Even Johnson's seemingly clueless Ted is allowed to grow beyond being just the other guy.  It's a truly winning cast that carries us through the film from first frame to last.  Heck it even has Audrey Hepburn, in her final role, as the angel who guides Pete through his transition.  Her casting is a nice nod to older Hollywood romances which seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.


Director Steven Spielberg continues his employment of technical marvels by filming some truly harrowing fire scenes and one breathtaking sequence when Al's plane catches fire.  These bravado moments stand out because much of Always is quiet and intimate, with most other scenes taking place between two people (Pete and Dorinda, Pete and Al, Dorinda and Al, Dorinda and Ted).  Thus the scenes of peril carry real weight because the audience cares what happens to these people.


Unfortunately this ultimately leads to the film's only misstep, a climax which has a character doing something that, although set up somewhat, still isn't quite believable.  As the scene plays out things become even more contrived and thus the movie sputters when it should be soaring.  Pete's ultimate acceptance of having to move on also just seems to happen as a matter of convenience.  It's a shame because up to this point Always is such a high-caliber film.


Still, this viewer looks forward to revisiting Always at some point.  There's great work here and the romance really works.  The director's next project would see his return to themes of childhood and growing up.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#39 of 74 John Stell

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Posted February 05 2013 - 04:02 AM

Hook (1991) Posted ImagePosted Image1/2


Released: December 11, 1991


It must have seemed like a slam dunk.  Cast wild and woolly actor/comedian Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan, which will allow him to play serious and silly.  Have Steven Spielberg direct, as the self-confessed child at heart would perfectly understand the importance of retaining certain elements of childhood when plowing through adulthood.  Hire Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman to play the villain Captain Hook, which should prove a most enjoyable viewing of delicious ham.  And top with the popular Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell since, well, it's Julia Roberts.  Give the film a nice budget to allow for state-of-the-art flying effects and appropriate production design.  A recipe for perfection, right?  So what went wrong?  Why is Hook only cute and moderately entertaining when it should have been a modern classic?  The magic just isn't here.


The problem seems to be twofold: the script and the treatment of the lost boys.  The setup has Peter Banning (Robin Williams), having completely forgotten his past, as an attorney for a company that specializes in mergers and acquisitions.  But he ignores his kids, even missing his son's (Charlie Korsmo) big little league game.  When Peter takes his wife Moira (Caroline Goodall) and their two kids to London to visit Moira's grandma Wendy (Maggie Smith), he spends much of the time on his portable phone haggling business details.  These early scenes of parental neglect are so extreme that the story just feels too obvious.  We know what's coming before the changing event even occurs.  And that event is Captain Hook's (Dustin Hoffman) kidnapping of Peter's kids.  Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) shows up to sprinkle some fairy dust on Peter and take him back to Neverland.  There Peter must learn who he was, find his happy thought, and face Hook once and for all lest Peter lose his kids forever.  But the whole back story has been set up almost like Hook is a farce (over-the-top yelling and screaming, numerous worried looks from Peter's family, a forced scene on an airplane) instead of a fantasy.  Therefore the enjoyment of the film will rest solely on the journey, not the destination.


But the journey is only enjoyable in fits and starts.  The major problem is how the lost boys are handled.  They look cute and scruffy but few if any true personalities emerge.  There is a brief battle with the new leader of the lost boys, Rufio, but this doesn't really lead anywhere.  There is supposed to be this big emotional moment for Rufio during the finale, but the feeling is just not there.  He's made so little of an impression, despite the fact he's given the most screen time of the lost boys.  The "big scene" just fizzles.


Although Dustin Hoffman makes for a terrific Captain Hook, Robin Williams seems almost lifeless as Peter Pan.  The moment where he discovers his happy thought should have had more of an impact.  He seems more amused than joyful.  There is truly something missing here.  And Julia Roberts' Tinkerbell?  Well, she received a Golden Raspberry nomination for Worst Supporting Actress.  So while the film is aided by its Oscar-nominated visual strengths, good-naturedness (it's never mean), and Hoffman's turn as Hook, the story itself falls flat.


While the film did well enough financially Hook was considered a critical disappointment.  It's easy to see why.  Hook just doesn't have the warmth and magic as in, say E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.  This is so surprising since Spielberg is usually so adept in his handling of child roles.  Perhaps the adult cast was too top heavy with stars that the younger cast suffered.  But when the director returned to cinema screens in 1993, he showed a return to form in ways no one could have anticipated.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."

#40 of 74 John Stell

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Posted February 06 2013 - 05:41 AM

Jurassic Park (1993) Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image1/2


Released: June 11, 1993


After some adult diversions and the misstep Hook, director Steven Spielberg came back with a vengeance in 1993.  By the end of the year he'd have the highest grossing film of all time and the picture that would earn him his first directing Oscar.  First up, in the summer of 1993, was Jurassic Park, an outstanding thriller that announced the arrival of computer technology as well as showing the director could still inspire awe and wonder.  While the cast may not be as endearing as those found in some of Spielberg's earlier classics, the dinosaur set pieces have such power that they hold up beautifully today.


Wealthy John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and his team of scientists have discovered a way to clone dinosaurs from the blood found in fossilized mosquitoes.  He has built an amusement park to showcase his dinosaurs, but runs into trouble when a worker is killed.  His investors insist on three outside experts signing off on the park, so Hammond recruits doctors Grant (Sam Neill), Sattler, (Laura Dern), and Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to visit his park.  Also present are Hammonds' grandchildren Tim (Joe Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards).  During the visitors' tour, however, the combination of an approaching tropical storm and some corporate espionage cause the dinosaurs to break free and wreak havoc.


All of the familiar Spielberg traits can be found alive and well in Jurassic Park.  We see the characters shocked reactions to the dinosaurs before we see the creatures.  Neill's Dr. Grant becomes a surrogate father to the children, which is significant given both the kids' parents have recently divorced and Sattler is hinting at having kids with Grant, which he resists.  There are the state of the art technical achievements and break-neck pacing once the park's security measures are thwarted.  Add John Williams soaring music and Jurassic Park feels like the Spielberg of old.


The entire Tyrannosaurus Rex sequence is one of the best terror sequences Spielberg has ever done.  From the first view of Rex finishing his goat snack, to the attack on the jeep, to the final escape, the suspense never lets up.  We are simultaneously awed by the realism of the dinosaur and thrilled by the danger.  The director does one better with the later attack by a pack of Velociraptors during the extended finale, as the beasts pursue the children through the park's kitchen.  Again, the tension is sustained while the effects are flawless.  In between we are treated to more, less harmful, creatures and some nicely done human moments as Hammond frets for his grandkids and his amusement's future.


One of the criticisms of the film is that the human players don't come across as well as those found is Jaws and other Spielberg thrillers.  This viewer found the cast quite good, especially Goldblum as a source of humor and wisdom.  Also enjoyable are Samuel L. Jackson ("Hold on to your butts.") as the park's system's manager and Wayne Knight as the duplicitous computer programmer.  Also, as usual, Spielberg has cast the child roles well.  Neill may be a little bland as Grant but that's a minor nitpick.  The cast is strong enough to engage our sympathies and have us rooting for them.


Jurassic Park marked a return to form for the director who had thrilled us with Jaws and captured our imaginations with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.  But Steven Spielberg had much more to offer in 1993, as a few months later he would deliver his greatest film to date.


"...you would not understand...You do not...have...daughters."




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