Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Documentary Review: Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (2012)

Release Date: October 5th, 2012
Directed by: Stevan Riley
Music by: various

Passion Pictures, Red Box Films, 98 Minutes

Review:

Who doesn’t want to see a documentary that covers the creation of the literary James Bond, the film James Bond and the long history of the Bond franchise, told by the people who were there all along the way?

Everything or Nothing is just that film.

I guess the thing I like most about this documentary is the stuff about Ian Fleming and his creation of the character, as well as the story behind the partnership of Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who formed Eon Productions a.k.a. “Everything or nothing”.

The family members of Broccoli and Saltzman do a good job of fleshing out the tale and all the interviews feel very candid and real. I think that the partnership at Eon is something that most modern fans aren’t familiar with but it is a very important part of the overall Bond legacy.

We also get to see a lot of the details surrounding all the Bond ownership rights lawsuits over the years, as it is something that has often times put the film franchise on hold.

The documentary also covers some details about every film in the franchise from the original American Casino Royale, through Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Sean Connery again, Roger Moore, Sean Connery yet again, back to Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and up to Daniel Craig. Most of the actors get to spend some time talking about their experiences in these iconic films.

Overall, this is a pretty solid picture and fans of James Bond should definitely check it out.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Logan Lucky (2017)

Release Date: August 9th, 2017 (Knoxville premiere)
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Rebecca Blunt
Music by: David Holmes
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, Daniel Craig, Brian Gleeson, David Denman, LeAnn Rimes, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney

Fingerprint Releasing, Bleecker Street, 119 Minutes

Review:

“Derp! Derp! Derp!” – the whole cast

It wasn’t until I was sitting in my chair that I realized that this was a Soderbergh film. However, while I’ve never been a fan of his work, I’ll give just about anything a chance. Also, I didn’t want to waste my popcorn. Had I known this was Soderbergh’s work, I would’ve gone to see The Hitman’s Bodyguard instead.

However, giving the film an honest chance worked to my disadvantage and about a third of the way into my popcorn, it was stale and ground up shitty bits. At least I got the points on my Regal rewards card though.

This film is essentially a white trash Ocean’s 11. Some people may think that sounds funny or cool but it isn’t. Then again, I’m in the minority in thinking that those Oceans movies are awful. Also, the hillbilly is played up so much that it plays as more ridiculous and offensive than funny. But I guess that has something to do with the direction, over acting and the fact that there aren’t any good jokes in the script. I mean, it tries to be funny and charming but it doesn’t come close. The film is pretty much an emotional dud full of one-dimensional hillbilly caricatures.

I guess critics love this thing though, as it has a 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes at the time that I’m writing this. But Steven Soderbergh is a darling to the elitist film experts that are still, for some reason, impressed with his 1989 debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape – a film that’s status I have never understood. The title was misleading as hell too. When I was twelve, I rented the movie expecting some serious boobage. The film only lives up to the “Lies” part of its title as it wasn’t filmed on “Videotape” and featured no “Sex”. At least, not the supreme boobage that I thought was guaranteed by the title.

Logan Lucky is the least funny attempt at a funny movie that I have seen in quite some time. Also, there just wasn’t that much action and the film was actually quite fucking boring. This didn’t need to be two hours. The film could have been whittled down to 80 minutes and been filled with better jokes and feature a bit of action and it would have been a pretty decent time killer.

I feel bad for the talented cast, having wasted their efforts on this piece of shit. But then again, they work in Hollywood so they probably share the same sentiment that Soderbergh is some sort of auteur mastermind.

All things considered, I have to run this turkey through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Film Review: Spectre (2015)

Release Date: October 26th, 2015 (UK)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 148 Minutes

spectreReview:

*written in 2015

Well, I finally got to see Spectre. Yes, I saw it on opening night, here in the U.S., but this was one of my most anticipated films.

I really liked the previous Bond chapter Skyfall and with the same cast and director returning, I was excited. I was even more stoked for this film with the inclusion of the criminal organization SPECTRE, their first appearance since 1971s Diamonds Are Forever and a brief appearance by Ernst Stavro Blofeld in 1981s For Your Eyes Only.

Even though there were great James Bond movies after SPECTRE disappeared from film canon, none of the other great villains ever felt as dangerous without being aligned with the organization.

The reason for SPECTRE not appearing for so long was due to a battle over the rights to the copyright. That battle waged on for years. So when it was announced that “Spectre” was the name of this film, it was clear that the rights finally belonged to the studio and that the antagonist side of this franchise’s coin was getting a much needed boost of adrenaline.

Spectre picks up after the events of Skyfall. It isn’t clear how much time has passed but you can assume it isn’t much, as James Bond goes off on a rogue mission given to him by the deceased M, the Judy Dench version, on a video he received after her death.

Entering into Skyfall territory, the film fleshes out more of James Bond’s past. It takes more of the mystery away from who he was in the past. While this is something we never knew in any of the previous twenty-two films before Skyfall, I like how it helps you understand Bond better as a character. He isn’t a caricature, as he became in the older films, he is much more human since Sam Mendes started directing the series.

The backstory, as with the previous film, comes back to haunt him. Someone knows about Bond’s childhood life and is doing their damnedest to hurt him. You come to find out that everything bad that has happened to the Daniel Craig incarnation of Bond has been orchestrated by one man and his sinister organization: SPECTRE. All the films have been tied together but until now, the dots weren’t fully connected.

While the villain has the name of Oberhauser, if you know your Bond lore and understand that he is the leader of SPECTRE, it isn’t hard to figure out who he really is. Hell, his jacket when he is giving Bond a tour of his facility is a dead giveaway. And if you haven’t figured it out by that point, the furry white cat that jumps in Bond’s lap is too blatant for it not to be obvious. But I think most of the fans knew who Oberhauser was going to be before even seeing the film. And Christopher Waltz is perfect in this role.

The supporting cast of Bond’s MI-6 crew has never been better. Ralph Fiennes is perfect as M, Naomie Harris takes Moneypenny out from behind the desk and Ben Whishaw’s Q is a refreshing take on the character. I like how they are more active characters than before and how they, like Bond, had to defy orders and go off the grid, in order to save the world.

Andrew Scott, known for playing the evil Moriarty in Sherlock, does a great job as M’s foil by playing his new boss with ties to SPECTRE. Léa Seydoux was lovely as the new Bond girl, Dr. Swann. Monica Bellucci is also in the film but it is nothing more than a two scene cameo. Former WWE wrestler and Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, Dave Bautista shows up as this film’s evil henchman, Mr. Hinx. I’m hoping he isn’t dead. He probably isn’t. He’s the first henchman in a long time that was really cool.

The thing I like most about this film, is that it is really left open ended. Bond saves the day but evil isn’t vanquished. While that is the trend in these movies, you don’t really understand why until this film’s plot unfolds. With the villain living, you know that it will come back to haunt James and his allies.

I like this film the same way I like Skyfall. It has its flaws but it is still a fun and intense Bond flick. I don’t necessarily expect Bond movies to be masterpieces, I expect them to be fun, beautiful, action-packed and sexy. This film was all that and more. While most critics seem to like this less than Skyfall, I think it is a perfect companion to it. Both films are my favorite of the Daniel Craig era.

I hope that Daniel Craig does come back for at least one more picture, even though he seems to be exhausted with playing Bond. I also hope that Mendes directs again and that Waltz returns for payback. SPECTRE can’t just reveal itself in this film and disappear. SPECTRE needs to be a constant antagonist, at least for a little while.

My only complaint, is that SPECTRE should have felt massive. In the Connery era films, they felt immense. While they had a grip on the world in Spectre, they were more hidden and too reserved. I like in the old films how they had massive bases with their logo plastered all over the place. Maybe that would seem corny in today’s world but SPECTRE are proud of who they are and believe in what they do. They are kind of like Cobra in G.I. Joe or Hydra in Marvel Comics.

Ranking the Official James Bond Films

james_bondGrowing up, I was fascinated with James Bond. The same uncle who made me obsessed with Godzilla and Star Trek, also gave me my Bond obsession. Luckily for me, they still make Bond films and the current crop are pretty high quality. Here, I rank all the James Bond films… at least the official ones, anyway.

1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969 – George Lazenby)
2. From Russia With Love (1963 – Sean Connery)
3. Licence to Kill (1989 – Timothy Dalton)
4. Dr. No (1962 – Sean Connery)
5. Skyfall (2012 – Daniel Craig)
6. Live and Let Die (1973 – Roger Moore)
7. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 – Roger Moore)
8. Goldeneye (1995 – Pierce Brosnan)
9. Thunderball (1965 – Sean Connery)
10. Goldfinger (1964 – Sean Connery)
11. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974 – Roger Moore)
12. You Only Live Twice (1967 – Sean Connery)
13. Casino Royale (2006 – Daniel Craig)
14. Spectre (2015 – Daniel Craig)
15. A View to a Kill (1985 – Roger Moore)
16. The Living Daylights (1987 – Timothy Dalton)
17. Quantum of Solace (2008 – Daniel Craig)
18. Diamonds Are Forever (1971 – Sean Connery)
19. Octopussy (1983 – Roger Moore)
20. Moonraker (1979 – Roger Moore)
21. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997 – Pierce Brosnan)
22. For Your Eyes Only (1981 – Roger Moore)
23. The World Is Not Enough (1999 – Pierce Brosnan)
24. Die Another Day (2002 – Pierce Brosnan)

Film Review: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

*Since the second Disney Star Wars film comes out this week, I figured I’d post my review of last year’s The Force Awakens. This is taken from my previous blog.

Release Date: December 14th, 2015 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Greg Grunberg, Simon Pegg, Daniel Craig

Lucasfilm Ltd., Bad Robot Productions, Walt Disney, 136 Minutes

the-force-awakensReview:

“I got a bad feeling about this.” – Han Solo

And here we are! The seventh episode of the Star Wars saga has now arrived! I have seen it! You have probably seen it! And we now know whether or not it was worth the wait, the hype and unrelenting adoration for generations to come!

So did it live up to the hype? Short answer: no. But what could live up to hype that strong? So was it better than the prequels? Yes and no but I will describe why, as I write.

It isn’t as good as the Original Trilogy and that is okay. It is still a nice addition to the overall saga despite its flaws. But I guess you just can’t keep capturing lightning in a bottle.

The problem with this film is that it is very derivative. In fact, it is basically borrowing a bunch of plot points and elements from the same saga it is a part of. This film is a rehash of A New Hope with elements of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Knights of the Old Republic video game series and the Expanded Universe nine part book series Legacy of the Force.

Now I knew that this film was going to look to stories in the EU for inspiration but I didn’t know that it was essentially going to be a remake of A New Hope – extended with new stuff thrown in.

So how is it a rehash of A New Hope?

Well, a hero puts a message in a droid that needs to be delivered to the Resistance (the modern Rebellion). That hero is captured by a black clad Sith lord (or Sith wannabe, I’m not sure). The droid roams a desert planet and meets a stranger that helps it go further on its quest. The hero captured by the Sith is then rescued from the First Order’s (the modern Empire) big Star Destroyer. A new hero meets the desert stranger and they escape the desert planet in the Millennium Falcon. There is an evil General that is a prettier version of Grand Moff Tarkin. Starkiller Base (a bigger, badder version of the Death Star) blows up several planets (not just one). Some half hour filler stuff happens in a cantina full of weird aliens. Sith dude talks to a dude that is pretty much the new version of the Emperor. The heroes then end up at the Resistance base that looks reminiscent of the Rebellion base planet from A New Hope. They decide to destroy Starkiller Base. There is some father/son stuff. Han Solo has to lower the planetary shields so Starkiller Base can be attacked. X-Wings attack the base and fly through its trenches. Big explosion. Ships fly away. People holding hands. No medals handed out though. And Luke Skywalker is hanging out in Ireland and probably doesn’t even have cable. Okay, the Ireland part is new.

Wow, there are actually a lot more similarities than I thought before writing that quick recap.

The best thing that this film has going for it, is that the actors were good and the returning heroes from the Original Trilogy made an impact in the scenes where they showed up. But truthfully, this movie relied too heavily on incorporating everything it could from the Original Trilogy while ignoring the Prequel Trilogy. Furthermore, it didn’t really offer up much of anything new.

Say what you will about the quality of the Prequel Trilogy but at least George Lucas gave us a different story in every chapter. Each film, good or bad, was still something new. There were new imaginative worlds, cool alien species, cool ships, all types of new stuff to look at and experience. This film just wasn’t new and exciting. It was an amalgamation of all the good stuff that came before while trying to make you forget about the bad stuff. That isn’t always a good formula though. It certainly doesn’t work here. Additionally, the rehash of the good stuff isn’t done as well as it was the first time. So what’s the point, then?

The worlds were too similar to worlds we’ve seen already. The ships and vehicles were about the same as the old ones but with new paint schemes. It’s just all been done before and done better.

This film suffers from lazy storytelling and it lacks the imagination of George Lucas. Yes, his imagination was questionable, at times, but again, each installment of his Star Wars was something fresh. And it was his imagination that drove all of us to love the franchise in the first place.

I’m disappointed in J.J. Abrams because he claims to be a huge Star Wars fan and credits it for his journey into filmmaking. He dropped the ball but I don’t really think he’s ever had it and ran with it anyway. His first Star Trek film was also a rehash of sorts of A New Hope. His second Star Trek was a rehash of the original second Star Trek. His kid/alien movie Super 8 was a rehash of E.T. Hell, Lost was the most original thing he did but the last few seasons were awful.

This movie is the antithesis of the Prequel Trilogy. While that might seem great, it is its antithesis in a bad way. It just repackages everything we know and barely gives us anything new to sink our teeth into. If I want the Original Trilogy, I will watch the Original Trilogy. But then again, there are some people that just want the same shit over and over again and if that is you, you will love this movie. It doesn’t try to expand on anything like the Prequels did and it keeps imagination in a safe, tight jar.

This is the least ambitious Star Wars film that has ever been made. It played it safe, it was completely predictable and it didn’t present anything of value to excite you for its upcoming sequels.

The most important thing that The Force Awakens lacked, was fun. It had humor here and there but the film wasn’t a joyous experience, overall.

You see, in the Original Trilogy, Luke was our eyes and ears into a new world. He was excited and dying for adventure. Rey, this film’s equivalent to Luke, was pretty much sad and just yearning to go back to her boring shitty life, not craving adventure and actually running from it until destiny forced her to confront it.

In fact, the film was too much like Rey in that it was dark, brooding and pretty bland tonally.

The thing is, I may be coming off as harsh, but I wanted to like this movie. I have been a die hard Star Wars fan since the time of the Original Trilogy. I do like this film enough to watch it again and it is more enjoyable than the Prequels, even if it is less original, but I can’t honestly say that I like it. But I also don’t dislike it. I just happen to find myself in some weird state of limbo since leaving the theater an hour ago.

Assorted notes:

-The cinematography was weird in places and didn’t match up with the style of the previous six films.

-Abrams also talked about how he was going with more practical effects but there was still an overabundance of CGI.

-After all the hype about how bad ass and cool Captain Phasma was supposed to be, she was a non-event in this movie. She wasn’t even necessary to the plot in any way. But Abrams also needed his Boba Fett. But if he is digging up all the old actors and old plots for nostalgia sake, he could’ve just thrown Boba Fett in the movie.

-Abrams also borrows from the character of Yoda in making a tiny orange female alien that is a thousand years old. She knows the Force but is no Jedi but that doesn’t stop her from mentoring Rey, the Jedi to be. I bet in a future film, it is revealed that she had an association with Yoda.

-Snoke is this film’s Palpatine. For some reason his hologram is a giant sitting on a giant throne. Maybe he will be that big in the flesh but it just came off as weird and that throne room was a bit too much for a place he doesn’t actually sit in. I also suspect that he may be Darth Plagueis.

-I know that the Empire (now First Order) were based off of the Nazis but General Hux’s Hitler-like speech was a bit much.

-Starkiller Base (the new Death Star) is really irritating. It is technically impossible to build something like that in a planet’s surface without having an insane amount of volcanic activity. Also, it sucks power from its sun until it drains out. If that actually happened, the environment on the planet would freeze over, it wouldn’t just turn dark and snow more. And if the base can travel like the Death Star, the environment would alter so much that nothing could live on the planet. Also, the solar energy sucking thing was taken from the Star Forge superweapon in the original Knights of the Old Republic game. Plus, pulling energy like that into a planet’s atmosphere would incinerate everything.

-Finn is clumsy as hell but somehow can hold his ground against a force trained baddie. Also, it wasn’t established that he was a Jedi and therefore it bothers me that he even uses a lightsaber, not to mention that I doubt his Stormtrooper training came with fencing lessons. Also, he left the First Order because he didn’t want to kill strangers (admirable) but he had no qualms blasting his Stormtrooper brothers to bits when escaping with Poe. They are just brainwashed people like he was.

-What’s with the Stormtrooper with the anti-lightsaber weapon? Do they all have those and if so, why? There is only one Jedi in the galaxy. That’s like every cop on the street carrying a bazooka because you never know when a tank may roll into town.

-C-3PO and R2-D2 are barely in the film which misses the whole point of their characters. They are to be the observers of everything and the chroniclers of the Skywalker family saga. R2-D2 was asleep for the first two hours and ten minutes of this movie. And why did Luke leave R2-D2 behind? That was cruel.

-Han’s death was the best scene in the film. Not because I wanted to see Han die but the exchange between him and Kylo Ren was great. For only seeing these two share one scene, you could feel their love and their pain.

-Speaking of Ren, he has certain powers that seem to be greater than Darth Vader but yet he can’t build a lightsaber that isn’t crap? And yes, it still looks stupid. But it isn’t as stupid as Starkiller Base. Plus, he is a total emo bitch and nowhere near as menacing or threatening as any Sith lord before him. But his shuttle is pretty damn cool.

-Rey can’t take off in the Millennium Falcon without trashing everything in sight but she can fly it through a crashed Star Destroyer two minutes later.

-Why couldn’t Chewie drop Rey off at the top of the mountain?

-Even though the Force is what makes destiny happen, things in this film just seem too convenient. Even more convenient than all the other films. This goes back to my earlier point about lazy storytelling.

-Seeing an old planet from a previous film would’ve been nice. Jakku could’ve just been Tatooine, really.

-There should’ve been more of Poe Dameron.

-There was a complete lack of emotion and no feeling of devastation after Starkiller Base’s attack of mass destruction. It was soulless, cheap and irritating like the end of Man of Steel.

-I liked most of these new characters but I’m not completely sold on Ren.

-Rey and Finn’s relationship was a million times less painful to watch than Anakin and Padme’s.

-Leia is fucking great.

-I hope the galaxy expands out more in the next film.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Disney Star Wars movies.