Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

2002 Best Movie Bracket

Welcome to 2002. It was a pretty awful year. If you don’t remember, it was the year following the most terrible terrorist attack on human soil. The papal sex abuse scandal was uncovered, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, the DC snipers killed 10 people, No Child Left Behind became law, the world was in political upheaval, wars were beginning, and Chicago won best picture over The Pianist. But at least we found water on Mars.

Perhaps the Academy chose the more brightly colored and glitzy musical over the gritty story of a man who survived the Holocaust because they needed something happy. If you recall, there were talks of cancelling the event or postponing it because we had just invaded Iraq and it didn’t seem right to have a glamorous celebration while we sent our children off to war. Eventually they decided that the show must go on, but they decided to forgo the red carpet with security concerns too high.

#1 – The Pianist

But I see it from the other side. Chicago was the favorite going into the awards. It had 13 nominations and was riding high much like La La Land did last year. However, The Pianist sneaked in to surprise everyone, taking home three of the major prizes of the night: Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. I’m not sure if it would have ever stolen away the Best Picture, it was a big enough surprise that Roman Polanski bested Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. The Pianist might be a bleak story, but it is undeniably beautiful and shows the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. It is truly the film that America needed to weather the dark times.

#2 – Gangs of New York

Some people think this isn’t one of Martin Scorsese’s best films. But what does that say when it was nominated for 10 Oscars. Granted, it was snubbed for all of them but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Daniel Day Lewis is so impressive with his method acting skills. There is a scene where Bill the Butcher taps his glass eye with a knife, Daniel Day Lewis has prosthetic glass put on his eye and learned to actually tap it! That is dedication to your craft.

This also marked the first time that  Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio worked together. That relationship obviously developed and he has gone on to work with him on four more films so far (The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and The Wolf of Wall Street).

#3 – City of God

This could have been called “The Gangs of Rio De Janerio,” because Martin Scorsese seems to have had a big influence on the director of this film, Fernando Meirelles. He uses close ups,  freeze-and-zoom shots, long takes and other trademarks that are easily recognizable to any fan of Scorsese’s work. The film is told through narration by Rocket, a young photographer in the slums. The story charts the growth of several members of the gangs from their childhood as young hoodlums through their transformation into adult drug barons. The final parts of the story focus on the battle within the Cidade De Deus “City of God” between two different groups pressed into an unavoidable confrontation. The result is a powerful story based around real-life events.

City of God is powerful and should be seen by everyone. If you are looking to start watching more foreign language films, start here. It is easily accessible and quickly digestible. In short, this is a superb achievement, and is easily one of the best films of the year.

Just outside the top 3, I have 2 films from legendary director Steven Spielberg, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. I’m sad that I couldn’t fit either of these gems in my top 3. The fact is that I have rated them exactly the same as City of God and Gangs of New York (4 stars). They are both excellent and worth your time if you haven’t seen them. I chose to put the other two higher precisely because I think that less people have seen them and I always want to encourage people to reach outside of their comfort zones to watch movies that they wouldn’t otherwise be likely to see.

So, that’s the Top 5 of the year, but you know I can’t leave you with just that. There are a number of honorable mentions: Adaptation, Punch Drunk Love, Signs, The Bourne Identity, and Bowling for Columbine.

It was also the start of a number of big franchises: Spider-Man, The Bourne Identity, 28 Days Later, Ice Age, Resident Evil, Transporter, and Jackass. But it marked the continuation of even more: Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, Star Wars Episode IIHarry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsMen in Black II, Austin Powers Goldmember, Blade II, and Spy Kids 2.

Did I miss something? Am I way off? let me know in the comments below or on Social media. See you in 2001!

Stranger Things – Must Stream TV

I don’t talk about TV a lot because I generally lose interest in a series after a good season because I struggle to make the leap to the new season the way the same way I struggle to enjoy most sequels. Now, this certainly isn’t always the case. Some shows are serials and their arcs are really just the length of one episode with larger overarching stories that carry through the entire season. I think about great comedies that I have loved like Boston Legal in which we were drawn into a legal case or two that have relevance to the current political or social climate then we get resolution, but during the episode we learned a detail about one of our main characters that gives us deeper insight into who they really are.

Overall, I’m one of those people that trusts the TV creators to know when to call it quits. However, I have been burned so many time by a 3rd or 4th season that wanders aimlessly because the creators wanted to make a dollar off the success of their creativity in the first two seasons but ran our of creative things to do narratively with their characters.

If you are reading this to find out more about the original Netflix series Stranger Things then you may be disappointed because I’m not going to tell you anything about the story or what it’s about. I want you to walk into it blind. I seriously hesitated in even putting the trailer here, but it is good to show you at least the basics of what you’re getting into with this 8 hour saga.

That’s right this is just 8 one-hour long episodes, so it is very binge-able. If you miss an episode, you will be lost, so watch it with your partner or else you will be answering questions half way through when they get sucked in too. I do want to make some comparisons. A lot of people are comparing Stranger Things to Spielberg films like E.T. and The Goonies, and a lot of Stephen King novels. I think the best comparison would be this: Stranger Things is what J.J. Abrams would have done with Super 8 if he had decided to make an 8 hour movie.

What Super 8 did was pay homage to Steven Spielberg’s brand of 1980s storytelling through the eyes of intelligent and adventurous children on the cusp of puberty. Stranger Things brings the same cast chemistry that I loved but with a lot more nostalgia and a fully fleshed out story. I kind of hope that the next season starts completely fresh with a new story and lets this season remain right where is ends, like a Stephen King anthology or Amazing Stories.

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The kids in Stranger Things are fantastic, I don’t want them to be known as “child actors.” They’re smart, fun, and they feel like they’re actual friends which we have captured in this story. Their performance is realistic. I’m sure the actors grew close while filming Stranger Things but it feels like they’ve really grown up together.

I highly recommend Stranger Things. The music, the acting, the story, and its ambition is fantastic. It is the best original show I’ve seen in years. If you’re a fan of Spielberg, Stephen King, or J.J. Abrams (or just a fan of good television), you should watch Stranger Things on Netflix before it gets spoiled for you.

Spielberg’s BFG (2016) Review

The BFG doesn’t waste any time getting us into the action. We are barely introduced to young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who is awake at 3am in her dilapidated London orphanage. After hearing a noise outside, she goes to the balcony and sees something amazing. She spots a giant around 30 feet tall shrouded with a cloak to keep himself hidden. As they meet eyes, she runs back inside to hide under her blanket, and we see a large hand come through the window. Less than 10 minutes into the movie, Sophie is already being whisked away to Giant Country where the giant tells her that he intends to keep her for the remainder of her life.

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Lucky for Sophie, the giant who snatched Sophie away is a Big Friendly Giant who sets off to Dream Country every night to collect dreams and spread them to households while bottling the nightmares away in his lab. He is indeed big, but as we soon learn, the other 9 giants are as much as twice as large as him and they aren’t so friendly. They eat humans, and children are some of their favorite snacks. With imaginative names like Meatdripper, Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, and Gizzardgulper that could only be concocted by Dahl. I was disappointed that Mathison and Spielberg made these supposedly menacing creatures into giant ogres who pose dwarf-sized threats.

Continue reading Spielberg’s BFG (2016) Review

Weekend Outlook: The Purge, Tarzan, The BFG

It is already crowded at the theaters, but this weekend will bring 3 more wide releases and an indie flick expanding its number of theaters. Below you will find a quick overview of the new titles that you will see at your local theaters as well as my prediction for how this weekend will shape up as everyone is swimming to catch up with Dory who this week, just 12 days after release,  became the fastest animated film to reach $300 million and it doesn’t look like much is going to slow her down.

Continue reading Weekend Outlook: The Purge, Tarzan, The BFG

Day 17 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie That Disappointed You

You would think that with 20 years to work on a worthy follow-up to the Indiana Jones Trilogy that Steven Spielberg and his collaborator George Lucas could create an entertaining and exciting film. However, it seems that instead of becoming sweeter with time, this one just became rotten. In Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we see an elderly Indy (or should I say Henry because he is rarely called “Indiana” or “Indy” in this film) in his baggy grandpa pants with locks of grey-white hair peeking out under a crisp and rarely-dirty brown fedora you really don’t get the feeling that you’re watching anything historic. This is a movie that obviously misunderstood its audience, it’s exactly the type of summer blockbuster developed to make money at all costs: things blow up; there are aliens; and an unnecessary youthful sidekick.

The film tries too hard to convince its audience that it’s set in the 1950s. You have Russian spies, nuclear testing, Howdy Doody, and Communist blacklisting all in the first act of the movie. While the earlier Jones films were an attempt to capture the magic of 30s and 40s adventure films, this one is an attempt to capture the feel of a 1950s action romp. You have campy dialogue, Shia LaBoeuf playing the Fonz, and a run-of=the-mill soda fountain brawl that plants this film in that era. In the previous Indy films, even with their date stamps, the adventures that took place are universally exciting and timeless.

The other aspect of the film that disappointed me was the role that extra-terrestrials play. The original trilogy uses religious artifacts as the treasure the Indy is hunting. But as with the abominable Star Trek prequels that George Lucas thrust upon audiences, all of the religion and mysticism was replaced by science-fiction. Why don’t film-makers understand that audiences want to encounter something inexplicable in the theater. We don’t want midichlorians to give a scientific explanation of the force or science to replace our religion. The presence of the aliens is strong, but there is no dialogue between the two parties, much like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The adventure sequences are hit-or-miss. Some of the car chases and fight sequences are good, and a lot of the side jokes are on the mark, but there are times that it’s hard to follow what’s going on as they try to pack too many characters and subplots into a fast-moving sequence. Ultimately, there are too many diversions like the plausibility of surviving a nuclear explosion by climbing in a refrigerator, the CGI prairie dogs, and Mutt’s own private army of monkeys. Dr. Jones doesn’t get very much solo screen time. Everyone around Henry seems to have become more like Indiana Jones, while he has become more cautious in his old age.

Ultimately, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a film that, while not entirely bad, is nowhere near worthy of its lofty pedigree. As generic action films go, it may have provided some level of entertainment in the vein of National Treasure..But with the attachment of “Indiana Jones” to the title and the involvement of Harrison Ford, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg my expectations were raised and my standards were set to a level that these individuals can sadly no longer meet.

What about you? Did you have expectations for a film that fell short? Have previews and the raves of critics left you expecting a masterpiece only to find a film that failed to thrill your cinematic sensibilities? I’d love to hear your rants about these lackluster experiences. Leave a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook.