Tag Archive: Steven Spielberg

If there’s one director working today who can be described as possessing movie magic, it has to be Steven Spielberg. The guy made us terrified of sharks, showed us how an alien can be a boy’s best friend and even convinced us that dinosaurs could once again walk the earth. Lately, his filmography has consisted of more prestige historical dramas, such as Lincoln and Bridge of Spies. While this is fine, I’ve been hoping to see him make a return to the more fantastical stories that made us fall in love with him in the first place. The BFG is definitely a step in that direction; it might not be the great return that we were hoping for, but it certainly has its moments and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job with the material.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a lonely young girl who wanders the halls of her orphanage at night due to her inability to sleep. One night, she hears a strange noise outside and after venturing over to the window for a peek, she spots a giant being (Mark Rylance) wandering the streets. This giant grabs her out of her bed and carries her to giant country. While she is initially frightened by this miraculously tall individual she soon learns that, unlike other giants, he doesn’t actually eat children. This giant is a vegetarian and he’s nicknamed the BFG (Big Friendly Giant). He and Sophie begin to form a close bond that’s put to the test when the two of them are forced to contend with a group of dangerous giants, led by the hateful Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement).

Based on Roald Dahl’s classic 1982 children’s book, The BFG is a solid effort from all involved, featuring humor, heart and great visual effects. The core of the film is the relationship between Sophie and the BFG and the two great performances from Barnhill and Rylance ensures that their friendship feels as real as possible. Barnhill’s Sophie is charming and relatable, giving us a nice point-of-view as we enter this strange world of giants. Rylance excellently captures the unique personality of the BFG and the screenplay from the late Melissa Mathison hilariously showcases his inability to grasp the English language. This is a legitimately funny film, one that will generate laughs from audience members of any age. A third-act sequence in Buckingham Palace is nothing short of delightful and it gives us the rare opportunity to see Spielberg attempt a fart joke and actually succeed.

What ultimately drags the film down is that it’s pretty forgettable and lacks any fun adventure sequences. It opens strong, sags a lot in the middle, before ending on a high note. Maybe this is just because the film feels too long, but adding in more memorable moments of suspense and adventure certainly wouldn’t have hurt. And while everything regarding the BFG’s concoctions of dreams is an essential part of the plot, its portrayal onscreen is pretty boring. Spielberg does the best he can with the material and while it has its problems, more things work than don’t. Spielberg may be getting older, but he hasn’t forgotten how to make a movie for kids.

The BFG receives 3/4


One thing I love about the magic of movies is that the possibilities are endless. You can make a film about dinosaurs terrorizing a theme park, a group of scientists who hunt ghosts, or a special boy in a magical wizarding world. The limits are only as far as the imagination of the filmmakers, so it’s strange that so many films feel completely ordinary. But every once in a while, a film like Midnight Special comes along that truly captures the wonder of cinema. It’s a heartwarming, Spielbergian sci-fi tale that has no shortage of unique ideas. These ideas are firmly handled by writer/director Jeff Nichols, who continues to establish himself as a reliable up-and-coming filmmaker. Its concepts may seem otherworldly, but the father/son relationship at the film’s center couldn’t feel more human.

While most movies deliver exposition and set things up before kicking the plot into high gear, Midnight Special drops you right into the action. It’s a very refreshing change of pace from a director who never spoon feeds his audience information. Roy (Michael Shannon) is on the run from the police with his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). Alton has some form of special abilities that were being exploited by a cult led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). Having stolen his son away from this cult, Roy is on the run from the cult and the FBI, who are interested in Alton’s unique abilities. Along the way, they pick up Alton’s mother (Kirsten Dunst) and hurry towards a secret location that could hold the answers to Alton’s special gifts.

Nichols is able to capture a real sense of wonder as we get wrapped up in this tale of a family on the run. The movie is both large in its ideas and small in its scope and execution. It’s a sci-fi film that doesn’t need hundreds of millions of dollars poured into it. The most important thing here is the relationship between a father and a son, which is executed beautifully. Michael Shannon, usually known for playing villains or off-putting characters, gives one of the best performances of his career as a man willing to sacrifice anything in service of his son. And Jaeden Lieberher is half of this relationship and he nails it as well. There’s definitely something alien about his character, but their relationship feels more real than what most movies are able to achieve.

It’s the film’s final moments where things feel like they really come together, balancing emotions and action with sci-fi ideas and visuals. It’s very reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it’s hard not get choked up watching Roy risk everything for the sake of his son. There are a few hiccups along the way, most notably the subplot involving the cult that seems to go nowhere, but it’s all worth it to get to the memorable conclusion. The sci-fi and adventure elements might be what attract viewers to Midnight Special, but it’s ultimately the personal relationships between the characters that stay with you the most.

Midnight Special receives 3.5/4

Steven Spielberg is a master storyteller. Whether he’s filming giant dinosaurs, creating iconic characters or depicting a particular moment in history, the guy rarely makes a major mistake. So it should come as no surprise that his latest film, Bridge of Spies, is pretty great, but what’s especially surprising is just how great it is. A true story about the Cold War that carries themes that still feel particularly relevant today, the film manages to grab your attention from the get-go and carry you through its long runtime. In the hands of a less capable director, this period piece could have felt like a dry history lesson. But you care about the story in the film because it genuinely feels like Spielberg is excited to tell it.

In 1957, the FBI arrest Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) under the suspicion of being a Soviet spy. Because they want people to know that Abel is receiving a fair trial, they assign him the defense of James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer. Donovan is initially reluctant to take on the case, realizing that most of America will probably hate him for defending a Soviet spy. But he decides that even a potential spy deserves a fair defense, so he gives the case everything he’s got. But things take a turn when an American soldier (Austin Stowell) is captured and detained by the Soviets. Because of his commitment to Abel, the US government tasks Donovan with traveling to East Berlin to initiate a trade of the two prisoners.

This is the fourth collaboration that Spielberg and Hanks have done together and while they may be getting older, they’re still managing to deliver high caliber work. Hanks isn’t reaching the dramatic heights that he was able to achieve with 2013’s Captain Phillips, but he’s perfectly cast in the role. The real standout in the cast is Mark Rylance who effortlessly gives one of the most understated and powerful performances of the year. It’s no surprise that the highlights of the film are the scenes between Hanks and Rylance, so it’s too bad that the majority of their scenes only occupy the first half of the film. The film doesn’t necessarily drop off in quality when Donovan travels to East Berlin, but there’s something about the earlier scenes in the film that I found much more engaging.

With a script that was co-written by the Coen Brothers, it’s no surprise that the film features some great dialogue exchanges and character moments. Along with co-screenwriter Matt Charman, the Coen Brothers also manage to weave in universal themes that feel particularly timely in the 21st century. The cinematography from Janusz Kaminski is unsurprisingly great and the score by Thomas Newman (stepping in for frequent Spielberg collaborator, John Williams) sounds very nice and is never overused. With a runtime that exceeds two hours, the film may feel a little long, but it builds to such a moving ending that’s worth the wait. Even with a dream team in front of an behind the camera, it’s Spielberg himself that makes Bridge of Spies such a great motion picture. The guy sure does know how to make history interesting.

Bridge of Spies receives 3.5/4

The original Jurassic Park is an undisputed classic. Like many people my age, it’s probably the main reason that I became such an avid lover of film. I would watch it over and over again, making it not only a great film, but also a huge part of my childhood. Watching it today I can really appreciate the impeccable craftsmanship that Steven Spielberg brought to the film. I really believe that it’s the greatest blockbuster ever made and one of the greatest films of all time. No other film has been able to capture the sense of wonder like Jurassic Park had. Anyone who watches it is sure to feel like a kid again. Its sequels were unable to match the success of the original, but did anyone really expect them to? How can you possibly top a film like Jurassic Park? The answer is that you obviously can’t. Arriving in theaters almost 15 years after its predecessor and over 20 years after the original, Jurassic World will only be a disappointment to those who are foolish enough to compare it to Spielberg’s original masterpiece. For those that are willing to just sit back and enjoy the ride, this is arguably the best Jurassic sequel and one of the most fun films of the summer.

The events of Jurassic Park may have been horrific, but they weren’t enough to stop the greedy corporate executives at InGen from opening up the park to the world. Today the park is called Jurassic World and it’s fully operational, with thousands of visitors traveling across the globe to see dinosaurs every day. But not everybody is quite as impressed with dinosaurs as they used to be. People have fully accepted the fact that dinosaurs now exist and the childlike wonder that visitors experienced in the original Jurassic Park is mostly gone. To combat this, scientists and executives at InGen have crafted an original dinosaur, called the Indominus Rex. But eventually this massive and incredibly powerful dinosaur escapes from its enclosure and begins heading towards the park’s visitors.

Despite lacking an appearance from any major characters in the original film, Jurassic World feels like the most spiritual successor to Jurassic Park. Neither The Lost World nor Jurassic Park 3 actually took place at the park, instead setting their plots on the second island, where dinosaurs were bred by InGen scientists. Some may view it as a sin to loosely recycle the plot of the first film (a theme park excursion is interrupted by escaped dinosaurs), but I think that there’s enough differentiation here to make it acceptable. It’s an interesting concept to think that people would actually be bored of dinosaurs, but the idea is handle quite well in the film. As a T-Rex mows down on a goat to the amazement of some audience members, a teenage boy talks on his phone with his back turned. Moments like this allow for some humor and establish enough of a reason for the scientists in the film develop the Indominus Rex.

What’s most interesting about this installment of the franchise is that the park is actually open for business. One of the most unique aspects of the original film was that it took place at a theme park, but the park in the original film was still in the testing phases. Here, for the first time, the park is completely operational and it’s great to see all of the different attractions that they’ve cooked up. From the awesome water-dino Seaworld-esque viewing to driving around a field of dinos in a gyrosphere, it’s a total joy to watch all these attractions. As we watch two brothers travel to the island and experience all of the attractions, I truly felt the joy that the youngest brother was feeling. The film captures that feeling of being on vacation and wanting to experience everything in the park while you still have time. When the youngest brother opens the window of his hotel room and John William’s original theme begins to play as the entire park is revealed, I found myself getting emotional because we’ve been waiting over 20 years to see this park in action. I could have just watched a two-hour long visitors guide of the park and I would have been completely enthralled by it.

But of course things have to go wrong because this is a Jurassic Park movie. The Indominus actually escapes from its confinement rather early in the film, probably a sign that director Colin Trevorrow was worried that too much time without a dino attack would test the patience of audience members. It would have been nice to see some more exploration of the park and character development early on in the film, but you can’t really fault the film for quickly delivering what it promises to do. Most of the dinosaur sequences lack the punch that the original film had, but they’re still fun to watch and each sequence is different enough from the other to prevent them from blending together. An attack by the Indominus by two kids in a gyrosphere feels like a direct homage to the original film, as does a scene where our main characters are surrounded by Raptors. The taming and training of the Raptors by Chris Pratt’s character seems pretty ridiculous, but it’s something that we haven’t seen before. Easily the best sequence in the film is an attack by a group of Pterosaurs on the unsuspecting tourists. It’s exhiiatating to watch these creatures pick people off and this sequence feels completely unique to this installment and doesn’t rely on callbacks to any of the original films. It also doesn’t hurt that this sequence features the funniest moment in the entire film (keep your eye out for the man trying to escape while carrying two margaritas).

Chris Pratt proved himself as a leading man in Guardians of the Galaxy, but here he’s not given much to work with. His character is pretty dull, as are most of the characters in the film, although this is no fault of the performers. And with a heavy reliance on CGI over practical effects, the dinosaurs in the film also fail to feel lifelike, especially in comparison to the wonderful effects in the first film. But if you’re able to separate this entry in the series from the masterpiece that started it all, this is actually a really entertaining popcorn-munching summer blockbuster. It’s fast, cool, funny, entertaining, over-the-top, perfectly cheesy and, most importantly, a lot of fun. There’s just something about dinosaurs that brings out the kid in all of us.

Jurassic World receives 3/4