A complicated movie, currently being discussed in every publication, so I needn’t bother. He is still The Most Popular Filmmaker Of All Time, and some of the dialogue is really “hit the themes on the head” and “spell out the character motivations” clunky/obvious, yelling out the ideas so nobody can miss them, rather than letting us make connections. But I can’t be mad about it, because even the stuff I knew would be coming was really beautiful on screen… that last five minutes with Lynch/Ford was perfect, and the final shot (re-framing the horizon line) made me gasp.
Tag: Steven Spielberg
None of my notes are useful (see Goodbye Dragon Inn instead) because I assumed I was going to rewatch it with Katy, and maybe someday I will. The lyrics to “America” and “Gee Officer Krupke” are so great, the actors and camera work are swell, and it’s all a Lincoln Center origin story.
The country’s got West Side Story Remake fever, but we’ve stayed home, trying to avoid catching any other kinds of fever – and after pulling the plug on The Terror, I need a new exercise-bike show to watch, so I gave this a try, in two parts. What better way to encourage movement than to watch a propulsive road movie?
Dennis Weaver (TV’s McCloud) is chased and terrorized by a big-ass truck. His thoughts via voiceover try to apply reason to the situation, but there’s no reason to be found – the truck is dangerously toying with him. It tries to push him into a train, drives right through a phone booth where he’s calling the cops (and some roadside snake aquariums), tailgates him at dangerous speeds. Will this emasculated modern man outdrive and outsmart the giant machine? Yes! Not without difficulty – the movie is partly a PSA for proper automotive maintenance, per the advice of your mechanic, so I feel pretty good that I changed both my air filters the day before viewing.
Written by Twilight Zone vet Richard Matheson, and I thought of the Zone a few times, when the world seems to be stacked against Weaver, diner locals and schoolbus children all making fun of him, and only he senses the danger, or is maybe imagining it, and directed to hell and back by young Spielberg.
Katy says the challenges in the book are all about solving complex puzzles, and it sounds like the whole 1980’s obsession is explained better, but we’re at the movies now, so some quick backstory narration and a killer car race will do just fine. Our dude Parzival (Tye Sheridan of Joe and Mud, young Cyclops in the last X-Men) figures out how to cheat at the racecar event and win the first of three keys in a massive contest to gain control over the virtual-reality universe that all the poor suckers on the dying planet of the future spend all their time in, meanwhile falling for Artemis, a hot red avatar his own age who turns out to be an actual hot girl his own age (Olivia Cooke of Thoroughbreds). Parzival’s badass tough-dude engineer buddy H turns out to be Lena Waithe (Master of None) and his ninja friend Sho is actually 11 years old – they’re all kinda okay kids, but I don’t know if it’s a happy ending when they’re handed the keys to the global economy at the end, and besides shuttering the evil company run by lame Ben Mendelsohn, they close the internet for a couple days per week so kids have time to make out.
Alison Willmore calls it an accidental horror movie:
A lot of the pop culture references in the adaptation have been updated, improved, added to, or made more cinematic, including a sequence in which The Shining gets turned into a survival horror experience in a way that’s both blasphemous and easily the most memorable part of the movie. But onscreen, even though familiar characters (Duke Nukem! Gundam! Chucky!) fill the frame, franchises cross, and the legal fees to clear everything must have been astronomical, Ready Player One doesn’t really feel like it’s about nostalgia. Instead, it seems more concerned with escapism, and how much its characters use pop culture as a womb to shelter them from the ugly realities they’ve accepted from the world outside. It’s not about looking back so much as looking away.
Feature film directors (and Meryl Streep) tell the tales of American feature film directors in the 1930’s and 40’s who were sent to war to make documentaries for the homefront… with one of the best motion-graphics-meets-stock-footage opening title sequences. If you’re interested in filmmakers and/or war, the whole thing’s just fascinating.
William Wyler, fresh off the inspirational Mrs. Miniver, rages against racism while Frank Capra is producing Private Snafu cartoons. Working (mostly) under Capra, John Ford and George Stevens are sent to film D-Day. John Huston makes the gritty San Pietro, using mostly reenacted fight footage but real dead bodies. And Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland proves himself a poor director. Stevens went on to film the liberation of concentration camps, while Wyler snuck a trip home and found the holocaust had killed his family and all their neighbors. In the end, Huston’s final work about emotionally wounded soldiers was censored for decades, Ford returned to make They Were Expendable, and Capra/Wyler/Stevens founded their own Liberty Studio, which immediately went broke on the flop It’s a Wonderful Life.
I’d love to watch a bunch of the original documentaries themselves, all available on netflix: Battle of Midway, Report from the Aleutians, San Pietro, Let There Be Light, The Negro Soldier, The Battle of Russia, Nazi Concentration Camps and Memphis Belle. But that’s six hours of WWII docs, and it’s Cannes Month now, and six movies I want to see opened in theaters this week, and a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 just came out, and it’s baseball season…
“You know what the people are. You know that the inner compass that should direct the soul towards justice has ossified in white men and women … White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country’s infinite abundance with Negroes.”
I’m not fully convinced that Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abe Lincoln is realistic – he seems too wise and charming, too capable and upright, too able to manipulate fellow politicians who ought to know better, too perfectly Spielbergian. But that kind of politics sure felt good to watch in the present day when leaders of the “Party of Lincoln” run our government like cartoon villains. This is actually covered in the film when TL Jones dresses down a spineless adversary: “The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you’ve attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself the Democratic Party.” Even after all the acclaim I wasn’t sure it’d be that captivating a film, but every performance is on point, the story is true-ish and meaningful and inspiring, there’s drama and humor and it’s got the best lighting I’ve seen in any movie all year.
Opens unexpectedly with post-battle David Oyelowo talking to the president. Besides Lincoln and his wife Sally Field and son Joey Gordon-Levitt there’s David Strathairn as the hesitant secretary of state, James Spader and John Hawkes as the president’s lobbyists sent to change senators’ minds (via bribery if necessary), Tommy Lee Jones (with a hairpiece so ridiculous he makes a joke of it himself) as a radical leftist senator. Walt Goggins and Adam Driver pop up, and Stephen Henderson of Fences, and Jackie Earle Haley and hundreds more.
Soldiers sent to meet the confederate delegation:
Interesting and (obviously) expertly made and acted drama following U.S. lawyer Donovan hired to defend captured Russian spy Abel in American courts. He gets behind the job more than his bosses expected and is later talked into helping negotiate a trade: his client for an American spy the Russians captured, and possibly also for a student who found himself on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall.
I got mostly a Spielberg/Hanks flavor from it, but Sam Adams caught some good Coen Bros. screenplay moments:
Donovan’s first scene in Bridge of Spies shows him haggling with another lawyer over an insurance settlement – a strangely protracted exchange that bears the mark of the Coens’ habit of falling in love with their own dialogue. But the skirmish between them is linguistic as well as legal: Donovan’s opponent keeps referring to the driver of the car that crashed and injured five men as “your guy”, and Donovan keeps demurring: “We are talking about a guy who’s insured by my client. He’s not my guy.” The issue of whether Abel is or is not “his guy” is later raised in court, and it hangs over the rest of the movie. Is Donovan simply a lawyer doing his appointed duty, or has he actually begun to understand how the world looks from Abel’s point of view?
Now Playing: a Billy Wilder comedy set in West Berlin, the blacklist-busting Spartacus,
British horror with German director, and 1962 West German murder mystery based on British novel:
Appearances by Alan Alda and Amy Ryan. Mark Rylance won an oscar for playing the passive and unflappable captured spy, whose signature line whenever asked why he’s not worrying is “would it help?” Adam Nayman’s Cinema Scope writeup, which I’m too tired to type up here, gets to the bottom of some of my ambivalent feelings about the story and the cold war atmosphere.
So, in the straightforward ending, pre-crime dept. head Max Von Sydow murdered precog Samantha Morton’s inconvenient mother and good cop Colin Farrell, while Cruise’s ex-wife springs him from The Attic to bring justice and a happy ending. But an article Katy found says the ending is too idyllic and perhaps Cruise never awoke from The Attic, but actually dreams the last half hour Brazil-style. I love that the movie works either way.
Highlights: creepy doctor Peter Stormare and the following scene with retina-scanning spiders invading his apartment complex, Cruise escaping via auto assembly line, Morton’s freaked-out performance, the still-exciting technology and how most of it is becoming real. Katy is hung up on the mismatched architecture/design styles of all the interiors.
Futurama season 5 (2002-03)
The first season on Cartoon Network (after the four movies) feels like the show never left. Particularly excellent episodes were the first one (explaining the few years’ absence and the crew’s sorta-survival from a massive crash) and a time-travel story.
The Thick of It season 2 (2007)
A weird “season” in two hour-long chunks, showing our government goons from season one and their opposition group (“the nutters”) who think they’ll be taking power when the prime minister resigns. Fewer jokes, insults and comprehensible situations to someone as dumb about British politics as I am. Season four just aired, exciting.
Screenwipe season 5 (2008)
I can’t seem to stop watching this, even though it’s irrelevant to my life and I don’t get most of the jokes. I just like Charlie Brooker. Best was the episode on children’s programming, less good was the humor-free double-length one on TV writing. Also checked out the special Gameswipe, an unhelpful hour introducing video games to people who are afraid of them.
Patterns (Jan 12, 1955)
A workplace drama that put writer Rod Serling on the map. It was a huge hit, re-broadcast (re-performed, since it’s done live) the next month and turned into a film the following year with the same director, Fielder Cook (from Atlanta).
New executive Staples arrives at the office, gets introduced to big boss Everett Sloane (Welles’s scheming employer in The Lady From Shanghai) and nervous coworker Ed Begley. The boss intends for Staples to take Begley’s place, but has to get rid of Begley first – can’t just fire him, so he tries to force the guy out, finally succeeding when Begley has a heart attack after a ruthless attack at a board meeting. Staples protests, thinks of himself as a good man recognizing corruption in the system, but he and his wife want this position and promotion too badly so he goes along with it. Nicely mobile camera, with bigger sets than Marty.
Ghost Train, the first episode of Amazing Stories, directed by Spielberg in 1985 – which I watched when it premiered. Lukas Haas, the main kid in Mars Attacks! is the boy whose grandpa (Roberts Blossom: scary neighbor in Home Alone) awaits the train that he derailed 75 years ago, killing everyone aboard. The train coming through the family’s house is impressive – the rest is a bit too Spielbergian-lite, but an improvement on his Twilight Zone episode.
Also watched an (cr)apocalyptic double-feature of Cloverfield and The Day After Tomorrow with Rifftrax.