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
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.
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.
Release Date: May 8th, 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Written by: Brad Grey, Tony Maylam, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Peter Lawrence
Music by: Rick Wakeman
Cast: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter
Miramax Films, Filmways Pictures, 91 Minutes
“You’re crazy.” – Karen, “Yeah, I know. Crazy for you.” – Eddy
Sure, The Burning was made to cash in on the success of the previous year’s smash hit, Friday the 13th. In fact, the whole 1980s slasher genre was just riding on the coattails of Friday the 13th and Halloween but that doesn’t take away the fact that The Burning is a pretty good film in its genre and I would dare say, a classic.
Sadly, it is underappreciated today and maybe it wasn’t even that appreciated when it came out, as it was one of many Friday the 13th clones lost in a sea of teenage blood.
In this slasher picture, there is a summer camp caretaker named Cropsy. Some teenage boys decide to play a prank on him late at night. The prank has disastrous results, as the frightened Cropsy accidentally sets himself and his home on fire. He nearly burns to death but falls into the river. Years later, he returns to the camp to get murderous revenge. Of course, he doesn’t just look for the teens who pranked him, he just goes on a killing spree of all teenagers because that’s what you do in a slasher film.
There are a few highlights to this film. The first being the cast.
Several people here would go on to be pretty notable stars. George Costanza himself, Jason Alexander, is in this, slimmed down and with a full head of hair. It is actually weird seeing him very un-Costanza-like. He is almost a cool jock type, which is pretty amusing.
The film also features Leah Ayres, who might be more recognizable as the leading lady in the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport. There’s also Brian Backer, who I will always love for his role as “Rat” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and his one-off appearance in Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol. You have Fisher Stevens, who would star in the two Short Circuit movies and play the villain in Hackers. Ned Eisenberg, a guy who is in just about everything, plays the generic teen asshole that exists in every proper slasher flick. I also have to point out Carrick Glenn, who didn’t do very many movies, but really steals the show in this and not just because of her bare boobs. The biggest star of this thing, other than Alexander, is Holly Hunter. While her role here is far from massive, she would go on to have a hell of a career.
Another highlight is the special effects and the makeup. This thing was essentially made on a limited budget but the practical effects are absolutely top notch. I actually think the effects in this are superior to the much more famous Friday the 13th. The burnt flesh of Cropsy is fantastic and his face is truly disgusting without looking cheesy or having to be visually obscured to hide some sort of cosmetic imperfection. The raft murder scene is particularly well done, especially the killer’s point-of-view shot where he chops off Fisher Stevens’ fingers.
While so many slasher flicks miss the mark, The Burning just gets it. I’m kind of surprised that this didn’t generate sequels, as Cropsy was a spectacular slasher, his origin story was simple but well-handled and the overall vibe of the picture was a good balance of creepy and fun.
That final pursuit scene, through the woods, is one of the best in the genre, even if Brian Backer was the intended victim and not a damsel in distress. Granted, he was still a damsel in distress and required rescuing from the bad ass male hero. But the ending does make it rather unique, as there isn’t a scream queen present.
The Burning is a remarkable picture for what it is. While it isn’t as beloved, to me, as the entirety of the Friday the 13th film series, I do enjoy it more than the first couple movies in that franchise. It is kind of hard to top Friday the 13th parts IV and VI. However, The Burning is an example of how good a slasher picture can be, even if the vast majority of them are just rehashes of a few that came early in the genre.
Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Michael Showalter
Written by: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Music by: Michael Andrews
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher
FilmNation Entertainment, Apatow Productions, Amazon Studios, Lionsgate, 124 Minutes
I really wanted to see this film a lot sooner but I had to travel for work over the last month and then I had to catch all the movies that were coming out, as it was summer. I finally got to a week where I had a nice break in the schedule, so that I could check this out instead of dreck like The Dark Tower and Valerian.
I first discovered Kumail Nanjiani when he popped up as a waiter in an episode of Portlandia. Ever since then, I’ve been a fan of the guy. Whether seeing him in HBO’s Silicon Valley or Comedy Central’s The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail or hell… an Old Navy commercial, I am always entertained.
The Big Sick, while still a comedy, is the most serious thing I have seen Kumail Nanjiani do. That being said, he was pretty damn amazing in it. Granted, he was really playing himself and the story was about his real life situation with the woman who would eventually become his wife. There was more drama here though than a standard romantic comedy and everyone held their own.
The movie’s plot is about Kumail and Emily falling in love and the challenges that arise with Kumail being from a family of Pakistani immigrants who have very strict rules that they must adhere to. Things get disastrous for the couple but ultimately, Emily gets really sick, is put into a medically induced coma and Kumail, along with her parents, never leaves her side. All the while, Kumail is trying to make it in stand-up comedy and develops a great bond with Emily’s parents. When Emily finally awakes, she is still in the same mental place she was in when her and Kumail were on the outs.
The film is written by Kumail and his wife, Emily V. Gordon. However, Emily does not play herself. Instead, she is played by the super talented and charming Zoe Kazan. Her parents were played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Both of them were beyond stellar and Romano was especially great. He got to expand beyond his typical comedic forte as he played a guy who tries to be funny but isn’t. Romano also has some of the best dramatic scenes in the film, which was cool to see. Weirdly, I was never a big fan of Everybody Loves Raymond but I always liked the man behind it.
Well acted, with a cast that has amazing chemistry, The Big Sick is an entertaining and moving picture. It is also quite sweet and heartwarming. I went into this knowing it had a happy ending but that didn’t detract from the emotional weight of the story. Everything about it felt genuine and real. This was something that truly came from the writers’ hearts and experiences and it was cool seeing at least one of them get to also star in it.
As much as I already liked Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick takes him to a whole new level. While he has already broken into Hollywood, this was a giant leap forward and I hope it opens even more doors for him.
Release Date: March 19th, 2016 (Auditorio Nacional premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Scoot McNairy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohan, Patrick Wilson, Kevin Costner, Carla Gugino
DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes
*Written in 2016.
I finally got around to seeing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I wasn’t in a rush to see it and I was debating if I was going to check it out in the theater at all. The trailers did nothing for me and Zack Snyder has a pretty lackluster track record. However, after seeing it today, in a nice quiet theater, I’m glad I saw it on the big screen.
It wasn’t as bad of an experience as I had anticipated. But then again, it is more of the same if you have already witnessed Zack Snyder’s mostly awful Man of Steel. Sure, it has new stuff added in and it is that new stuff that gives this mostly dull film some life but once the big battle with Doomsday starts, it becomes Snyder style destruction porn to the tune of mediocre special effects and overly stylized dirty shots. I don’t think Snyder will be satisfied until he destroys the universe ten times over.
Let me point out the positives before I turn into a total dick, however.
Ben Affleck IS Batman. Okay, maybe Michael Keaton still has the edge for me but Affleck represents the Caped Crusader in a way that the previous Batman, Christian Bale, just couldn’t. The growly voice is gone and replaced with a much more plausible voice changer. His facial expressions and demeanor are just on point and I feel like I am watching a angrier, more mature version of the Dark Knight from the perfect Batman: The Animated Series. There are weird and uncharacteristic things that Batman does, but I will get into that later and it still doesn’t diminish what Ben Affleck did with this character.
Gal Gadot is pretty good as Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman. She isn’t in the film enough to guarantee that she is made for the role but from what I saw, I think she’s a good choice. Although she was overly sexualized with armor that gave her bigger boobs and a few perfectly timed crotch and ass shots of glory. But Zack Snyder is kind of a “lowest common denominator” director, so tits and ass for the masses!
Henry Cavill is a fine Superman, even though he has to portray the role in these incredibly flawed films. His Clark Kent is passable but you never see very much of Clark and therefore aren’t able to get a sense of the character’s two sides. In fact, his two personas are mostly pointless in this film, other than having Clark meet Bruce at a Lex Luthor shindig and to have someone for Perry White to wonder where they ran off to again.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane is okay. I feel like we got the most we were going to get out of her in Man of Steel and she doesn’t feel like a true Lois to me. I think the director just went for the biggest name he could get at the time and she does come with critical acclaim.
Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth is kind of intriguing. I liked the chemistry between Alfred and Bruce and it will be interesting to see him have more time to play the character when a solo Batman film comes out.
The film’s score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL was pretty damned good. Wonder Woman’s theme was especially bad ass.
Another big positive for me, is that the film starts twenty years into Batman’s legacy. He is already well established and his rogue’s gallery is out there causing havoc in Gotham City. It’s refreshing to not have to sit through another two and a half hour origin story for the umpteenth time.
Now on to the bad.
Lex Luthor is fucking shit. This isn’t a knock against Jesse Eisenberg for what he did, it is a knock against the filmmakers for casting him in the first place. And shaving him bald in the end doesn’t make up for the unpainted Nolan Joker-esque look of the character. He is whimsical, crazy and too bizarre to ever become the future President of the United States. His plot was idiotic, his execution was terrible and there was nothing even interesting about him. In fact, he reminded me of Lex Luthor’s annoying nephew Lenny from the horrendous Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. You know, the character played by Ducky from Pretty In Pink as an amped up more strange version of Ducky. I’m hoping, that in a future film, it is revealed that he was just Lenny Luthor playing with his uncle’s empire until his uncle gets back from where ever he is – maybe hanging out with Darkseid.
Speaking of Darkseid, it is obvious he is coming due to Batman having visions about it. But when the hell did Batman become a psychic with special visions? Is this Batman a metahuman with special powers? It’s weird and it doesn’t fit the character unless he’s been huffing gases from Scarecrow’s evil warehouse or spending too much time around Axis Chemicals.
Also, Batman murders the fuck out of people. Zack Snyder defended this in an interview by pointing out that Batman has killed before. Well, yes, he has. However, it’s never been his intention and he’s never been so reckless and careless about it. It is kind of Batman’s code not to kill. Zack Snyder, between this, Batman’s mystic eye, Batman branding criminals with his logo – giving them a death sentence – and the fact that he has to shoot a gun every time there is one on the set just proves that Snyder doesn’t give a fuck about source material and has probably never read a Batman comic other than the Frank Miller stuff he claims he based this off of. And even then, it still doesn’t fit the Frank Miller Batman mold.
The Batman versus Superman showdown is pretty awesome when it happens but it just doesn’t get to where you hope it would. Ultimately, Batman decides not to kill Superman at the last second, because his mom is also named Martha. “You’re mom’s name is Martha?” “Yep!” “Did we just become best friends?!” “Yep!”
Doomsday is a pile of shit whose sole purpose is to destroy the entire world, which he nearly accomplishes until Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman beat him. Superman gets mortally wounded and dies. But it’s obviously an homage to his comic book encounter with Doomsday, who killed him. Superman will be back, just like in the comics and his death in the film is neither a shocking moment or anything that you feel will be permanent. It plays more like “Oh, they did that? Whatever. See you next movie, Supes.”
And why was everything so dark and depressing throughout this entire film? Where is the yin to the yang? This was just yang and yang. Superman and Batman are great in the comics together because there is a clear difference between them. There was no real difference in this film. Both are vigilantes, both take the law into their own hands and both are tortured depressing characters hellbent on destroying each other. Superman is the all-American good guy. Batman is the antihero. In this film, they’re both just angry, damaged forces of nature destined to collide and there is no real contrast between them.
I will say that the film is more refreshing than the cookie cutter Marvel-Disney shit lately. I wouldn’t call it a better film than the Marvel stuff but it is different and not trying to emulate it too much.
I don’t have much excitement for what’s next but I hope I am pleasantly surprised. There was more good than bad in this film. I just hope that Zack Snyder is never allowed to direct again but he’s attached to direct the follow-up to this picture. Ultimately, I’m more interested in the solo hero films than the big Justice League movies coming first.