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: Back to the Future, Part III (1990)

Also known as: Three (fake working title)
Release Date: May 25th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Donovan Scott

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Listen up, Eastwood! I aim to shoot somebody today and I’d prefer it’d be you. But if you’re just too damn yella, I guess it’ll just have to be your blacksmith friend.” – Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen

The Back to the Future trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. It’s damn near perfect and the films are still just as enjoyable now, as they were thirty years ago.

Each one is a tad bit weaker than the previous but since the first one is an absolute masterpiece, the sequels are still better than 95 percent of all the movies ever made.

Part III is my least favorite chapter in the trilogy but it is still one of the best popcorn movies a film fan could ask for.

This takes the Back to the Future formula and throws it into the Old West. I like that they did this and it opens up the series for some fresh takes on some of its tropes but I also feel like the western twist maybe wasn’t strong enough on its own to carry the whole film. What I liked most about the second film, the one I find to be the most entertaining, is that it jumped around and showed us a variety of different times and alternate timelines.

Also, I feel like going further back in time to the Old West might have worked better in the second film. Like maybe they could have flip-flopped the second and third pictures. Which also could have given us the wonderful Mary Steenburgen in two movies instead of just this one where she was actually a bit underutilized. Sure, you’d have to rework some narrative details.

I am going off on some tangents and most people will probably disagree with my take but in the end, this was still a superb motion picture and one of the best from its era.

While it is still exciting it is a bit bogged down by the scenery and is the slowest of the three films, which also adds to my thoughts on it not being the best choice for the final chapter. This feels more like a second act and when it ends, it ends quite abruptly.

But I love the tone of the film and it still captures the amazing Back to the Future spirit. It also probably would have played better, at least for me, if they kept making these and just didn’t cap it off at three films like every other movie franchise of its time. They could’ve given us two more of these pictures, had they made them shortly after this one and frankly, I’m pretty sure they would have maintained the same quality had they utilized the same creative team.

Back to the Future, Part III is the weakest of the three but the bronze medal winner in the strongman championships is still stronger than just about everyone else in the world.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Back to the Future (1985)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, George DiCenzo, Frances Lee McCain, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jason Hervey, Maia Brewton, Courtney Gains, Huey Lewis (cameo)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” – Dr. Emmett Brown

Back to the Future is a classic, which makes it kind of hard to review. It’s a film I’ve put off reviewing for awhile because I can’t really come up with anything other than paragraphs of praise. It’s perfect.

Do I need to run through all the regular tidbits about it having a great story, script, director, cast, composer, cinematographer, special effects department and everything else under the sun?

I’m reviewing this right after I reviewed RoboCop, which I also gave a 10 out of 10. But don’t take that score lightly, it is really hard for me to give out 10s but this film certainly deserves it and maybe even a score slightly beyond that. The only other movie from my childhood that can really compete for this as the best film from that era is Raiders of the Lost Ark.

While the Roger Eberts, Gene Siskels and Pauline Kaels have their Citizen KaneVertigo and Seven Samurai, I have Raiders of the Lost ArkEmpire Strikes Back and Back to the Future. These are my generation’s classics and even though they are much more modern, their greatness can’t be denied. Well, unless you’re completely devoid of taste.

This film was a perfect storm, even if it had some major production issues early on. But those issues led to this and it’s hard to imagine that a film with a slightly different cast would have been as good as this ended up being.

If you haven’t seen this film already, I don’t understand what you’ve been doing with all of your time on this planet. If you have seen it and don’t like it, we probably won’t be friends.

This is, hands down, one of the absolute best films of the 1980s, regardless of genre or style. There are other movies that one can refer to as “perfect” but how many are actually this fun?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Trespass (1992)

Also known as: The Looters (working title), Die Rap-Gang (Germany)
Release Date: December 25th, 1992
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Bill Paxton, Ice-T, William Sadler, Ice Cube, Art Evans, De’voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson, T.E. Russell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, John Toles-Bey, Byron Minns

Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the beauty of gold. It never tarnishes. Lasts forever, too. You can twist it, pound it, even piss on it but it’s always the same gold. It was here long before we were and it’ll be here a long time after we’re gone. I bet you a lot of men have died for the gold that’s just in this one piece.” – Bradlee

Man, I used to have a really high opinion of this film circa 1993 when I copied the VHS tape after I rented it. I mean, you’ve got two of the best gangster rappers of the era along with Bill Paxton and William Sadler, who forever won my admiration after playing Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, a year or so earlier.

Plus, this was directed by Walter Hill, the guy that did The Driver, The Warriors, The Long RidersStreets of Fire48 Hrs., Another 48 Hrs. and Red Heat. Additionally, the film was produced and written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the creative force behind the Back to the Future trilogy.

But strangely, this just isn’t that great. Sure, it’s definitely okay for killing some time on a rainy day when you want an action film to help you with your low T. I don’t have low T though, my plums are solid and full of octane.

I do like this as more of a novelty thing though. You get to see both rappers named Ice come together at a time when they were both effectively breaking into movies. Ice-T killed it in New Jack City and Ice Cube gave a tremendous performance in Boyz N The Hood. You also get a solid cast of other up and coming black actors from the time: Tiny Lister, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson and De’voreaux White. Also, I have always liked Art Evans, he was great in Fright Night, and this may be my favorite role he’s done.

But still, this just falls really flat.

The plot is about these Arkansas firefighters that acquire a map to a stolen religious treasure. The treasure is hidden in an abandoned factory in East St. Louis. They travel there to look for the long lost gold but quickly find themselves in over their heads as they witness a gang murder. The two firefighters then find themselves holed up in a locked room with a hostage, the head gangster’s little brother, and a homeless man. The rest of the film is mostly a standoff that plays out in a lot of different ways but ultimately, the building is set on fire and we get some solid gun play.

Trespass is certainly watchable and makes for a better than decent early ’90s action flick but there isn’t much to make you care about it. It’s not a classic, by any means. But my problem with it, is that it should have been a classic. Look at the talent in front of and behind the camera.

I do still like this film but for Walter Hill, it’s one of his weakest.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’90s hip-hop heavy action films: Judgment NightGunmenSurviving the Game and Deep Cover.

Film Review: Bordello of Blood (1996)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood (complete title)
Release Date: August 16th, 1996
Directed by: Gilbert Adler
Written by: A. L. Katz, Gilbert Adler, Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Chris Boardman
Cast: Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Chris Sarandon, Corey Feldman, Aubrey Morris, Whoopi Goldberg (cameo), William Sadler (cameo), John Kassir, Phil Fondacaro

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[talking to a she-vampire] I’d rather Crazy Glue my dick to the bullet train than fuck you.” – Rafe Guttman

I recently revisited Tales From the Crypt‘s Demon Knight. So I figured that I’d also go back and revisit Bordello of Blood. I remember not being as fond of this as I was Demon Knight but hey, it’s got Corey Feldman as a vampire in it, which is probably something that every teen girl wanted to see since The Lost Boys came out. I’ve never been a teen girl but I did like The Lost Boys and Corey Feldman.

This also has Dennis Miller in it as Dennis Miller. Well, not really. Miller always seems to play some version of himself though and here, he is Dennis Miller as a private eye trying to woo Playboy model Erika Eleniak. His character’s name is Rafe Guttman, which seems fitting for a Miller character.

Probably the real highlight from a casting perspective is Chris Sarandon, who was a fantastic vampire in the classic Fright Night. Here, he isn’t a vampire he is a guitar-wielding rock star televangelist that runs a megachurch but is somewhat responsible for the vampiric activity in the film. Sarandon plays such a kooky character in this and he’s simply great.

The story was penned by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the guys behind the Back to the Future movies. This is nowhere near the greatness of those films but it is a fun and entertaining movie.

I don’t think this is as good of a picture as Demon Knight but that is mostly because this doesn’t even come close to the level of insanity and intensity that we got in that film. This movie is crazy and has some nice gory bits but Demon Knight was batshit crazy, where this is just more of a wild ride.

This is definitely worth a watch if you’ve got ninety minutes to kill and just want some dumb, mindless, badass fun in your horror. It’s certainly a product of the ’90s and fits well within the Tales From the Crypt franchise.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Anything related to Tales From the Crypt.

Film Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Release Date: June 22nd, 1988
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Based on: Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Joanna Cassidy, Kathleen Turner, Mel Blanc

Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Is he always this funny, or only on days when he’s wanted for murder?” – Dolores

Back in 1988, I saw this movie in the theater. It was a pretty memorable experience, as this was an incredibly unique and enjoyable motion picture. I used to watch this a lot as a kid but I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Watching it again, I realized how much I missed this film. I mean, what’s not to like?

The film uses animated characters in a live action world. When I was young, this was a really cool experience, as I hadn’t seen anything like it before, at least not an entire movie like this. After Roger Rabbit, this would become a technique that was fairly common but this was the first movie to do it on such a large scale.

The really cool thing about the use of animated characters, is that everyone was in on the movie. For the first time, we got to see Disney characters mingle with Warner Bros. characters. One scene, in particular, has both Bugsy Bunny and Mickey Mouse on screen together. The film really is a cool crossover before crossovers even really became a thing.

Roger Rabbit stars Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, as the main human components of the movie. The film provided iconic roles for both men and they hit it out of the park. Hoskins was tailor made to play a noir type private dick while Lloyd had the perfect balance of being sinister, chilling and completely insane when the reveal of his true identity came out.

Charles Fleischer was perfect as the voice of Roger and he instantly made this character a megastar and worthy of a place alongside the great animated stars of the Disney and Looney Tunes characters he shares the screen with. Roger truly felt like he belonged, which wasn’t an easy feat but Fleischer gave the character real life and comedic charm.

Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman wrote a great script that had elements of film-noir, comedy, fantasy and lightheartedness mixed in with some really dark material. The scene where a character gets steamrollered was pretty harsh stuff for a kid but it is counterbalanced by the fantastic absurdity of how that moment plays out. This is truly a living cartoon.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a real classic. It still hits the right notes and being a period piece makes it a pretty timeless motion picture that still works just as well today, as it did in 1988.

Rating: 8.75/10