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.

Film Review: Piranha 3D (2010)

Release Date: August 20th, 2010
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg
Based on: Piranha by John Sayles
Music by: Michael Wandmacher
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Dina Meyer, Paul Scheer, Eli Roth, Ashlynn Brooke, Bonnie Morgan, Genevieve Alexandra, Gianna Michaels

The Weinstein Company, Atmosphere Entertainment, Chako Film Company, Intellectual Properties Worldwide, Dimension Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Kelly, trust us. It’s never cheating if it’s with another chick.” – Andrew

Well, this was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be: nothing more, nothing less.

There are killer fish, boobies (but not enough), gore (but it’s mostly CGI bullshit), bad science and insane characters. There’s also Elisabeth Shue and she’s a sheriff and well, I love a woman in uniform.

For the most part, this was just a hair above being boring and mundane. The story is weak and it completely misses the social commentary that was worked into the script of the original Joe Dante Piranha movie from 1978.

Okay, I guess there is some commentary here but it is mostly just about how party people are dopey meat heads, figuratively and literally, as they become fish food.

The overabundance of CGI in this film is disappointing. The original worked so well in its use of practical effects. All you need in these sort of films is some bubbly water, a person screaming and fake blood being released all around them. It’s pretty easy to create. But Alexandre Aja, a director I’ve never been a fan of anyway, would rather have people flail around and scream in the water and then just plug in some computerized fish in post-production with effects that reveal how limited the film’s budget really is.

The highlight for me was that the film had cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss but both of their contributions were minimal and didn’t enhance the movie very much.

This just had a terrible script and frankly, a film like this isn’t hard to write. You don’t have to come up with Oscar caliber dialogue or write in a bunch of character development for people that will just get eaten but you should come up with a solid string of action sequences or chaos that keep this film afloat.

Honestly, after about 30 minutes for setup, the remaining two-thirds of the film should have been insanity mixed with gore and boobs. And good gore, not just CGI fish burping up a CGI penis for cheap laughs that didn’t even get laughs. All we got with this film was ten minutes of Spring Break chaos and then a lame sequence of the teen hero trying to save his annoying girlfriend from a sinking yacht.

Making a Piranha movie shouldn’t be rocket science, especially in the 2010s. And the problem is, this wasn’t a bad movie but it also wasn’t a good one. It’s in that sort of limbo that I hate where I can’t praise the film and I can’t enjoy trashing it.

I’ll probably check out the sequel though because I heard its worse and in the case of this emotionless and creative dud, worse would be better.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Any of the Piranha movies: original series, remakes, sequels, etc. However, nothing tops the greatness of the original Joe Dante film.

Film Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Release Date: November 16th, 1977
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Spielberg
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, François Truffaut, Bob Balaban, Lance Henriksen, Carl Weathers

Columbia Pictures, 135 Minutes, 137 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I guess you’ve noticed something a little strange with Dad. It’s okay, though. I’m still Dad.” – Roy Neary

So I went to a special 40th anniversary screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the movie theater really shit the bed, as I couldn’t watch it, they were out of most food and the place was a ghost town other than employees who had no idea what this movie was. I ended up going home to stream it instead.

I hadn’t seen this picture in a really long time but I had fond memories of it as a kid, even though it wasn’t on the level of E.T. and Jaws in the early Spielberg years. The special effects were cool and the use of matte paintings for vast expanses still looks magical and taps into the otherworldlyness of the picture.

However, revisiting it all these years later, it just isn’t something that I have as much love for as Spielberg’s other early works. Looking back, I never rented this movie as much as his other films and I really never thought about it until reflecting on it while watching it. Ultimately, it just doesn’t resonate in the same way or at least not as strongly. Also, compared to his other work, it is fairly dull.

The acting is pretty good and you do care about the characters to an extent but some of the things that happen are either nonsensical or kind of horrible when put into perspective. While it is a cool looking movie about wonder and excitement and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the main character basically goes crazy, scaring away his wife and kids and then abandons them to go away with the aliens and all the while, we’re supposed to feel his amazement and relish in this man’s opportunity to see the stars. Plus, the aliens abduct a child but that’s cool because he comes back seemingly normal. They must be a truly evolved species, stealing kids and other people and then just throwing them back when it suits them.

You kind of don’t care about these details when you’re a kid but as an adult, the film leaves me with more questions than answers. I’m not just going to accept that they are some space travelling further evolved beings and that they can just do whatever they want. Fuck these aliens, they’re assholes. And we’re America, we don’t trust our neighbor.

And who’s to say that these returned people aren’t implanted with a chip that will make them wipe out humanity so that the aliens can steal our limestone to build an amusement park on their homeworld? Our government doesn’t even like our neighbors from the south moving in and they’re just going to be like, “Aw, fuck it… these guys are cool. Besides, we can’t build a wall around the sky.”

In all seriousness, Close Encounters is a pretty good flick with great effects and yes, it does bring out your inner wonder. However, it doesn’t hold up as well as the other Spielberg classics. That’s okay, though. This was a precursor to E.T. and if making this film helped to make E.T. a better picture, it served a noble purpose. I mean, E.T. is pretty close to perfect.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Jaws (1975)

Release Date: June 20th, 1975
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Based on: Jaws by Peter Benchley
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Zanuck/Brown Productions, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” – Quint

Jaws is considered to be one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. It’s usually found in top ten lists and a lot of people I have met throughout my life call it their favorite movie. While it’s not my favorite film nor my favorite Spielberg picture, it holds a special place in my heart.

I wasn’t born when this came out so I never got the big screen experience until this past weekend. However, when I was a kid, it’s VHS box art haunted me in the aisles of every single mom and pop video shop. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I had the balls to watch it. Well, that and the fact that I did it on a dare from my older cousin.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t scared of the film once I saw it. I know that a lot of people were but I was more interested in dangerous wildlife and developed an obsession with sharks and other deadly sea creatures. I also grew up on the Gulf of Mexico and saw sharks all the time, whether at the beach or in my uncle’s boat.

Jaws did spark my interest and love in these type of films. A love that would continue and be further cultivated throughout the 1980s, as Jaws really gave birth to a genre of knockoffs that still exist today. Hell, as I saw this in the theater, right across the hall was 47 Meters Down, another shark attack movie.

Steven Spielberg truly made a masterpiece with Jaws and it would be his first of several. This is the film that put him on the map and led to a series of fantastic and imaginative pictures that he still directs and produces today.

Jaws had a myriad of serious issues during its production but Spielberg still churned out a near perfect picture. The robot shark never really worked right but the film utilized the “less is more” technique in regards to seeing the aquatic beast. Had there been more shark, this film might not have worked as well and thus, not launched Spielberg into the heights he reached. Maybe the production problems were a blessing of sorts. In any event, a lot of unforeseen good came out of those problems.

The film is accented by stellar acting from just about everyone in the cast. Roy Scheider is perfect in just about everything but this is his most famous and iconic role for good reason. Richard Dreyfuss is spectacular and this role led to a lot of great things for the now legendary actor. It is Robert Shaw, however, that really steals the show. Being cast mostly as villainous heavies, earlier in his career, Shaw carved out his own niche later in life and the character of Quint is not only his most famous but one of the most famous in movie history. There are very few characters that could even come close to Quint’s coolness and toughness.

While the film has a few spots with strange editing or strange shot framing, I can’t nitpick about those things, because the positives about Jaws are why it is a classic motion picture that will be cherished till the end of time or until human beings evolve some higher form of consciousness.

Despite those issues, the picture is generally well shot and the cinematography is absolutely awesome. In fact, a lot of the techniques that are employed in this film were “borrowed” by directors and cinematographers for years. In fact, they’re still common techniques used today. The use of shadows, silhouettes, the underwater work, all have been “borrowed” to death. Realistically, it just goes to show how much of an impact Jaws had on the future of filmmaking.

Few movies leave a lasting impression as strong as that of Jaws. There are dozens of motion pictures that have won Picture of the Year at the Oscars that most people wouldn’t even know today. But there is hardly anyone that doesn’t know Jaws.

Rating: 10/10