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: Bachelor Party (1984)

Release Date: June 29th, 1984
Directed by: Neal Israel
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Bob Israel
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Tom Hanks, Adrian Zmed, William Tepper, Tawny Kitaen, Michael Dudikoff, George Grizzard, Barbara Stuart, Robert Prescott, Monique Gabrielle

20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes

Review:

“I wish I had someone I could really respect. Hey, look at the cans on that bimbo!” – O’Neill

’80s Tom Hanks was a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, he’s still probably a very fun guy but since the ’80s, he’s been more of a dramatic actor. In fact, he’s become one of the top actors of the last few decades. But going back and revisiting his old school comedy films is always a good experience.

Bachelor Party is really just a big party movie for adults. Unlike mainstream high school movies like the John Hughes stuff, this was a comedy with a much harder edge, boobies, drugs, hookers and a donkey that likes to party hard. This is a pretty absurd film but it worked for the time and it is still really enjoyable nearly thirty-five years later.

Tom Hanks is set to marry Tawny Kitaen, who was the apple of every Whitesnake fan’s eye. However, before the marriage, Hanks needs to have a massive and crazy bachelor party with his buddies. What we get is one of the most insane parties ever put to celluloid.

His entire crew of friends are all unique and enjoyable. Well, except they all pretty much have a one track mind and that’s to party. Well, there is the nutty suicidal friend that just spends his time trying to kill himself. And then there is the jealous ex-boyfriend of Tawny Kitaen, played by Robert Prescott, who does everything he can to try and ruin the party. Of course, this always backfires on him in hilarious ways.

I’ll be honest, this is a stupid f’n movie but I like stupid f’n movies as long as they are fun and make me laugh. Nowadays, this might feel like an old, offensive, sexist relic. But the people who worry about shit like that don’t have a lot of fun in their own lives. This is stupid, harmless, asinine fun in the same vein as MeatballsPorky’sRevenge of the NerdsPrivate SchoolThe Last American Virgin, etc.

This also co-stars Michael Dudikoff, the American Ninja himself. Sadly, he doesn’t kill any evil ninjas in this movie.

Lastly, who doesn’t want to watch a donkey eat several dozen pills and do lines of cocaine?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other ’80s Tom Hanks comedies: SplashVolunteersDragnet, etc. Also, any ’80s party movie.

Film Review: Mazes and Monsters (1982)

Release Date: December 28th, 1982 (TV)
Directed by: Steven Hilliard Stern
Written by: Tom Lazarus
Based on: Mazes and Monsters by Rona Jaffe
Music by: Hagood Hardy
Cast: Tom Hanks, Wendy Crewson, David Wallace, Chris Makepeace, Vera Miles, Murray Hamilton, Kevin Peter Hall, Susan Strasberg

McDermott Productions, Proctor & Gamble Productions, CBS, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Jay Jay, that was really stupid, jumping into the pit without using your sonar first!” – Kate Finch

This film is categorized as drama and fantasy, officially. There really isn’t any fantasy in it and the fact that it considers itself a fantasy movie is misleading and disappointing for someone expecting to see the film come alive in that way. The only fantasy elements in the movie are the fact that the four main characters are playing a game similar to Dungeons & Dragons and that one player hallucinates and sees monsters and other wacky shit.

Once it hit VHS, this was sold as a Tom Hanks movie, even though he starred in it when he was a virtual nobody. Not to knock Hanks, he’s one of the greatest actors of all-time, but this is definitely below his level of talent and being dragged into this muck even made his performance pretty terrible. Luckily he found Splash and Bachelor Party, two years later.

In all fairness, this was a “made for television” movie. It was also based on a novel that was trying to demonize the culture of the kids who played games like Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe the author was a religious nut or she had a son who was obsessed with killing make believe goblins. But the way the culture is represented in this story, is laughable. This is really a tale about mental illness and not being obsessed with D&D.

Come to think of it, maybe my mum watched this movie because she was pretty adamant that I couldn’t play Dungeons & Dragons with my cousins. My mum also believed all the religious propaganda about pop culture when I was a young lad, so I wasn’t even allowed to look at a picture of Ozzy Osbourne in a magazine because he bit heads off of bats and fornicated with demons every time he was on stage. Now my mum is all into Harry Potter, so go figure.

This film looks horrible and it hasn’t aged well but it was a bad movie to begin with, so how else would it age? The cinematography and camera work look like this is a bad soap opera. The music is equally atrocious and doesn’t, in any way, reflect what college kids in 1982 were jamming out to. It’s 1982 but this movie sounds like a television ad for tampons in 1972. They couldn’t throw some Devo in the party scene?

Mazes and Monsters has nothing going right for it. So as is customary with shitty movies, I must run this boring turd through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Nothing really. It’s an odd and pretty terrible film.

 

Film Review: The Green Mile (1999)

Release Date: December 10th, 1999
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on: The Green Mile by Stephen King
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton, William Sadler, Gary Sinise, Dabbs Greer, Jon Polito

Castle Rock Entertainment, Warner Bros., 189 Minutes

Review:

“On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That it was my job? My job?” – Paul Edgecomb

After Frank Darabont made one of the greatest films of all-time when he adapted Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption, he couldn’t have found a more natural followup project than King’s The Green Mile. Both are prison stories and have some similar themes, although The Green Mile is closer to what people are used to from King, as it has a supernatural and magical element to it.

The story follows a prison guard named Paul Edgecomb, played by Tom Hanks with the elderly version played by Dabbs Greer. The story is told as a flashback to 1935 when Edgecomb was running a prison block called the Green Mile. While there, he met John Coffey, a man sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit but who also has special powers. Coffey is a giant black man, accused of raping and murdering two young white girls, as he was found clutching onto their bodies while covered in their blood and crying. As the story progresses, we see an intimate look into life in Edgecomb’s cell block and we also come to discover that Coffey is a gentle giant with the ability to heal the sick and to feel a sort of psychic empathy when others are in pain.

The look of the film is pristine. It has a majestic and magical quality to it while still being grounded in a sort of gritty realism. The cinematography was handled by David Tattersall, who worked on the Star Wars prequel films, as well as The MajesticSpeed RacerCon Air and several other notable films since the early ’90s. He also handled the bulk of cinematography for the entire run of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which was one of the most impressive things to ever hit television screens in the ’90s.

Populating the visually stunning world was a myriad of talented actors. In fact, there are so many great people in front of the camera it is hard to believe that they all worked on this film. Some of them aren’t massive stars like Tom Hanks but they are some of the best people who have worked in Hollywood over the last few decades. The acting is so superb in this that you get pulled in the same way that you do with The Shawshank Redemption. Maybe it’s a testament to how good Darabont is at directing, as he got incredible performances out of every member of this film’s large ensemble. And while I love Michael Clarke Duncan, the man has never been better than he is here.

The Green Mile isn’t a pillar of perfection like The Shawshank Redemption but it is a near flawless companion piece to it.

This film is absolutely stellar in the highest regard. Maybe the running time is a bit long but there isn’t a dull moment within the film. It feels more like a miniseries than a singular motion picture but everything that happens is meticulously crafted and executed and their isn’t an unimportant moment within the film.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: The ‘Burbs (1989)

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Dana Olsen
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Nicky Katt

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, 101 Minutes

Review:

“[finds a femur] Ray, there’s no doubt anymore. This is real. Your neighbors are murdering people. They’re chopping them up. They’re burying them in their backyard. Ray… this is Walter.” – Art Wiengartner

The ‘Burbs is a rare dark comedy that hits all the right notes. Joe Dante was the perfect person to direct the script and the film was also perfectly cast.

While Tom Hanks was already building a name for himself and was a really good comedic performer that could handle more serious or dramatic material, it was this picture that really cemented his status, at least for me.

Hanks wowed people with a dramatic turn in Nothing In Common and even though The ‘Burbs doesn’t get as serious as that film, Hanks could flip the switch from comedy to serious on a dime, which he did here flawlessly. This and Big, which came out just a year prior, are the two films that made me a Tom Hanks fan. Following this up with the underappreciated Joe Versus the Volcano was also a great move by Hanks.

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun – a guy that probably should have had more prominent roles like this. The Klopek family, who were the focal point of suburban curiosity, were played by Henry Gibson – who is always fun, Brother Theodore – who was tailor made for this film, as well as Courtney Gains, who creeped out audiences a few years prior in Children of the Corn. You also get to see a young Nicky Katt, before he would become more recognized in his work with director Richard Linklater. Joe Dante also dips into the well of his regulars and gives us cameos by the great Dick Miller and the awesome Robert Picardo.

Mundane suburban life is at the center of the movie, as it follows three very bored suburban men and their wariness over the strange new neighbors who moved onto their street: the Klopeks. As the story progresses, they suspect the Klopeks are murderers. The plot escalates to the point that they can’t resist the temptation of digging up the Klopek’s yard and breaking into their house when they leave one day.

The film is highly comedic but is also a mystery and a thriller with a touch of horror added in. It is a pretty awesome mix and Dante worked his magic to great results.

It is also a highly stylized picture but in a subtle way. It was filmed on the Universal backlot and utilized some of the houses seen in famous sitcoms and other films. In fact, the house that Hanks lives in was used a few years earlier in another Hanks film, Dragnet. The generic suburban look makes it so that this neighborhood could be any neighborhood but it also has a sort of fantasy feel to it. It’s grounded in reality but it skews reality.

The ‘Burbs is solid, through and through. While it has gotten more popular over time, it wasn’t a critical success in 1989. When I first saw it, most of the kids I talked to hadn’t seen it. As I got older and time rolled on, I found more and more people that loved the film after discovering it on video or cable. Still, it surprisingly only has a 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While not explicitly horror, this is a film I have to pop on almost annually around Halloween.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Dragnet (1987)

Release Date: June 26th, 1987
Directed by: Tom Mankiewicz
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Alan Zweibel, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: Dragnet by Jack Webb
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Tom Hanks, Christopher Plummer, Harry Morgan, Alexandra Paul, Dabney Coleman, Elizabeth Ashley, Jack O’Halloran, Kathleen Freeman

Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Now let me tell you something, Streebeck. There are two things that clearly differentiate the human species from animals. One, we use cutlery. Two, we’re capable of controlling our sexual urges. Now, you might be an exception, but don’t drag me down into your private Hell.” – Friday

Man, I used to really love this movie as a kid. But it is a totally different film when you watch it several years later without the mind of a nine year-old in the 1980s.

Sure, Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks are both great and when put together, they are still pretty great. Unfortunately, the overall humor and the gags in this just don’t work as well in a world thirty years after the film came out.

When this was written, it was supposed to be juvenile and goofy and it still is but I don’t understand what Aykroyd was trying to accomplish. As a kid, I knew what Dragnet was but I wasn’t too interested in old black and white shows that my mum would watch on Nick At Nite in the 80s. This was supposed to bring the franchise to the next generation but it could have just been a buddy cop comedy and didn’t need to carry the Dragnet banner. I can only assume that Aykroyd was a massive fan of the original show.

While I did still enjoy the experience of this movie, it is probably because of nostalgia. It doesn’t come close to being anywhere near the level of Aykroyd’s Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers and it also doesn’t come close to Hanks’ Big or Splash. It sort of just exists as this film where we got to see Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks come together with a little Dabney Coleman thrown in for extra laughs.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an awful film it is just a pretty basic one albeit amusing and endearing for fans of 80s comedies.

I did like the villain group P.A.G.A.N., even if my really religious mum thought it was Satanic and bizarre. The whole scene with the big P.A.G.A.N. ritual was really cool and one of the highlights of the movie.

Another highlight was the inclusion of Harry Morgan in this, as I did grown to become a fan of the original Dragnet, which he was a big part of.

I don’t think that Dragnet is going to be a film that will live on for generations. In fact, most people have forgotten about it or don’t know it exists. It really only works if you are a fan of the people in it and can watch a mostly mindless 80s comedy and enjoy it for what it is.

Rating: 6.5/10