Tag Archives: steven spielberg

Amistad – Review

13 May

In 1839, the slave ship La Amistad was taken over in a slave revolt led by Mende captives. This led to a drawn out trial involving many different parties concerning murder charges and property rights, while abolitionists of the time used the trial to prove that these Africans had rights the same as anybody else. While this incident didn’t change the times it did have lasting effects whose ripples could be felt throughout that time in history. It remained a story that seemed overshadowed by other historical events until Steven Spielberg, producer Debbie Allen, and writer David Franzoni resurrected the story for modern audiences. While it isn’t the most historically accurate film in the world, it has a sense of courage and honor that shows there was plenty of good in a time of evil.

After freeing himself from his chains securing him to the slave ship La Amistad, Mende captive Sengbe (Djimon Honsou) leads a revolt against the Spanish slave traders on the ship. Due to their lack of knowing how to properly navigate a ship, Sengbe and the rest of the Africans find themselves landing in an American port and are swiftly arrested by Naval officers. The captives are once again locked in jail where they await trial for murder and cases involving property rights. This attracts the attention of abolitionist Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman) who enlists the help of property lawyer Roger Sherman Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) to represent the captives in a court of law. The proceedings actually keep favoring Baldwin’s arguments, but it doesn’t take long for President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne) to intercede and take the matters to the Supreme Court. With their case quickly spiraling out of control, Joadson, Baldwin, and Sengbe recruit the help of former president John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) to stand up for the Africans’ rights in the highest court of the land.

Amistad is the first film Spielberg made with Dreamworks, and at this point it’s hard to believe there was a time that he wasn’t working with this company. This was the time when Spielberg was really showing what he had to offer. This is epic film making that only got better with Saving Private Ryan. The production design of this movie is top of the line with sets that seem to live and breathe. I am really interested in this time period, so I may be a little bit biased to praise movies that so completely bring this era to life. While the set design and costumes already stand tall, there are other factors that exist to completely draw you into the world of this movie. The first is John Williams’ beautiful and often sweeping score. The other is Janusz Kamiński’s eye catching cinematography that was also put on display with Spielberg’s previous movie, Schindler’s List.

Like I said earlier, Amistad is an epic movie that really takes its time in telling the story and making sure all of the information is clear to the audience. This is both a good and a bad thing. While there is plenty of dramatic momentum moving the story forward, it’s hard to ignore that this can be an overly wordy movie. There are some moments where you have to stop and think of people really talk like the characters in this movie do. The writing is mostly spot on, but there are times when it becomes a little bit too theatrical when a general rule for film making is to show the audience information and not outright tell them. There’s one scene in particular that really stands out. There’s a scene where John Quincy Adams is addressing the Supreme Court, and it’s clear that Spielberg was really into shooting this scene, and for a while it’s incredible. It’s an amazing speech that unfortunately never seems to end. There were at least three different times where I thought that the speech was over, but then the camera would change and Hopkins would continue on. It became almost comical.

While this movie does get a little wordy and bogged down in over the top dramatic soliloquies, the people delivering these lines are all megastars in their own rights. This is a great cast with Freeman, McConaughey, Honsou, and Hopkins all knocking it out of the park. McConaughey and Honsou especially work great together and their getting to learn to understand each other while not speaking the same language is my favorite part of the whole movie. I do feel like Morgan Freeman was underutilized and only has a few memorable scenes where I feel like he was actually given something to do. Finally, Hopkins isn’t in the movie all that much, but when he is it feels like I’m watching the real John Quincy Adams and not an actor playing the part. Few actors can pull that off as well as Hopkins can.

Amistad has all the working of a memorable and epic Steven Spielberg movie. It’s filled with a cast of great actors, excellent music, and fantastic production design. It also is a little bit overdone in some parts, which can either add more of an entertainment quality or come off as something a little less respectable. This isn’t Spielberg’s finest achievement, but it is one that I feel doesn’t get the respect that it deserves. Personally, I thought it was a great movie and it’s one that I’d love to watch again. It tells an excellent story, and while it may not be totally historically accurate, it’s a pretty epic way to spend an afternoon.

Final Grade: A-

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Jurassic World – Review

16 Jun

Since 1993, the Jurassic Park franchise has taken audiences into a world where dinosaurs once again rule parts of the earth, making us humans feel remarkably small. The first entry is obviously the strongest and arguably one of the most important blockbusters of all time, ushering the future of computer generated effects. The two sequels both held their own, in my opinion, to the original and created a very solid trilogy of movies. Now we have the fourth entry, Jurassic World, boasting a name that promises everything to be bigger and better. Well, almost at least. Sort of?

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Being the ultimate proof that people will just never learn, the company InGen has finally opened the first ever dinosaur themed park, featuring rides, exhibits, and shows. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager, practically works around the clock making sure everything runs without fail, even if it means putting off spending time with her nephews that have come to visit and see the park with her. Today is a special day for her, however, with the newest project being officially given the green light for park use, a genetically modified dinosaur named Indominus rex. What no one realized it that this dinosaur is not only highly intelligent, but hell bent on killing, and after it escapes, Claire looks to the Velociraptor trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to devise a plan to stop it or even kill it.

What can I say about this movie? I guess first off I can say that, overall, it was pretty good. It may be a fault of my own in thinking that when I’m watching a movie in the Jurassic Park series, I don’t expect it to just be “pretty good.” This movie has broken multiple international records, beating both The Avengers and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2 for box office sales. It’s easy to see why. It’s Jurassic World and we haven’t seen another movie in this groundbreaking series for 14 years. Unfortunately, the actual movie, other than the excitement to see it and the nostalgia factor, doesn’t really deserve to be breaking any records.

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I want to talk about the positives to this movie first, because there certainly are some to be had. First of all, the whole plot involving Christ Pratt’s character training raptors is a really cool idea and is actually believable. There’s also really tense and exciting scenes with the Indominus rex breaking out and hunting other dinosaurs or people trying to stop it. Seeing its giant head peek out of the camouflage before attacking its victims is classic for this film series. Pretty much all of the scenes involving dinosaurs are great, and the huge dinosaur throw down as the climax is like the ultimate payoff to a movie like this. Surprisingly, there were also some really great uses of practical effects for closeups, and the CGI worked to tell the story, instead of the CGI being the story.

Where this movie fails, and fails hard, is the writing. It’s painful to hear some of the lines spoken in this movie, and I sort of feel bad for the actors who really had to try their best to make them work. Sometimes really cheesy dialogue is written into a movie as a self aware sort of joke, but I believe that everything that was said in Jurassic World that falls into that category was meant to be taken seriously. Not only was the dialogue poorly written, but so were most of the characters. Bryce Dallas Howard isn’t fleshed out enough and Vincent D’Onofrio’s character is just…weird. Finally, Owen Grady doesn’t really get all that important until about 50 minutes into the movie, and he’s the most interesting character. For a while we’re left with two dimensional characters and two kids who are anything but interesting.

Jurassic World is a movie that could definitely have been better, and I don’t claim to be any sort of expert but it’s pretty glaring how some of the flaws are, mainly in the writing. There’s a lot of action and plenty of memorable scenes with all of the dinosaurs, but there’s a period of about 30 minutes where I just didn’t care about what was going on because the characters were so bland. I’m not saying that this is a bad movie, but I’m not saying it’s a great movie. For what it is, this is a pretty good movie with some great scenes, but don’t expect it to meet you expectations at all.

Lincoln – Review

23 Sep

2012 was quite a year for the 16th president of the United States. His first major outing of the year came in the form of the over the top action/horror film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. While I actually thought that movie was quite a laugh, Honest Abe didn’t get quite the treatment he deserved until later on that year with Steven Spielberg’s epic historical drama Lincoln. Now, while this movie is definitely one that revolves around Abraham Lincoln, it is more so the story of his legacy, and finest achievement, passing the crucial 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

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In the year 1865, the Civil War was reaching its conclusion, but to many people, it was far from over. While the battles were raging, a different kind of war was going on in Congress with Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) on the front lines. His goal to abolish slavery was met with much hostility, but he was far from giving up the fight. Unable to unofficially speak to many politicians himself, Lincoln required the help of people like Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) to speak for him, while a team of lobbyists led by William Bilbo (James Spader) worked more covertly to secure the vote. This was a difficult time not only for Lincoln, but also his family as his wife Mary (Sally Field) was still grieving over the death of one of their sons and another of his sons Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) decided to leave school and join the army.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that Lincoln is boring, mainly because Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner decided to put the actual battles of the Civil War on the back burner. The war itself acts as a looming presence over the Congressional hearings, which is the film’s focus along with the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Knowing that going into the movie may make it feel a lot less heavy. That doesn’t change the fact that this movie can feel a little overloaded. Unless you’re an expert of the time period, the politics may be a little hard to keep up with at first, but I soon found myself following along with ease. The film also ends kind of strangely, with what felt like multiple endings, a few feeling a lot better than the actual ending. I’ve heard some people say that the real talent behind the movie isn’t Spielberg, but Kushner for creating such an incredibly written and thoughtful screenplay. I’d have to agree with that, although kudos go to both Spielberg and composer John Williams.

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But while Spielberg, Kushner, and Williams have all worked to create something special, I have to say that the man of the hour, or more so two hand a half hours, is Daniel Day-Lincoln… I mean Lewis. The amazing thing about Daniel Day-Lewis is that no matter what role he takes, he literally seems to transform himself into that character. Just look at his acting in Gangs of New York and There Will be Blood amongst other things. Lincoln is his crowning achievement, though, and won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. His Abraham Lincoln is a quiet and nervous man who enjoys telling stories to pass the time and quoting intellectuals to help prove his points. Though he is nervous, he is also a force to be reckoned with which is made clear in scenes where he gets a bit heated. Watching Lincoln was literally like watching history play out before me.

It’s very easy to just get lost in Lincoln. While the story is very important and well told, I could easily go back a second time and turn off the sound and just watch it. Things are recreated so meticulously that it’s almost ridiculous. For example, the sound of Lincoln’s watch is actually recorded from his actual pocket watch. The rooms of the White House are crafted so well and the scenes of battle we do see are gut wrenching and intense. It’s an amazing looking film that wouldn’t have worked so well if it wasn’t so perfectly constructed.

Lincoln is a masterpiece from a master film maker that was scored by a master composer and written by who I now consider a master writer. This is a film that will go down in history as one of the most important American films ever made. While it does feel a bit too heavy at times and the politics move kind of quickly, it’s still a gripping and moving drama about a man who went beyond what was expected of him to change the course of American history for the better. It took me a while to finally get around to watching this film, but now that I have, I can’t quite get it out of my head.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Review

23 Nov

What can be said about Steven Spielberg? He has this way with movies that can only be described as “immensely imaginative.” You always know when you’re watching one of his movies just by the grand scope matched only by equally memorable characters. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was Spielberg’s second blockbuster after the mega hit Jaws, and further solidified Spielberg’s career.

 

The movie mysteriously begins with a team of investigators finding the planes from Flight 19 which was lost over the Bermuda Triangle in 1944. These investigators, led by Claude Lacombe (Fransçois Truffaut), begin piecing together that extraterrestrial involvement is highly likely and start a process of deciphering their messages in hopes of more advanced communication. The other story involves suburban father and line worker, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), who becomes obsessed with discovering the alien’s secrets after a chance encounter with their ships one late night.

Any nerd or film buff will tell you that this is one of the best science fiction films ever to be made. After the massive amount of alien invasion movies of the 1950s and 1960s, it was probably nice to see a new kind of alien film where the visitors aren’t seeking global invasion, but more interested in scientific curiosity. It also tells a more human story. One where the world isn’t able to fully comprehend what’s happening without going into a state of panic and military control.

 

Speaking of human, Richard Dreyfuss gives a stand out performance. Spielberg said that he wanted someone in touch with the kid inside them, and there isn’t a bigger kid than Dreyfuss. His childlike excitement and fascination with the UFOs is a marvel to watch. Never is he really scared, just confused and excited. François Truffaut also deserves a lot of credit for breaking his language barrier and learning some English for his part. When these two interact together, although it is only a few times, it is natural and sincere.

This is also a beautiful movie with special effects done by Douglas Trumbull, who previously worked with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Trumbull truly outdoes himself with a grand scale finale featuring multiple UFOs and one enormous mothership that is a colorful light show of red and blue, coupled with John Williams’ musical score. It is a scene not easily forgotten and one of the most iconic scenes in film history as the ship slowly rises above Devil’s Tower.

 

Spielberg has crafted a fantastic picture with themes of science, religion, peace, and government cover ups that he has revisited to improve many times. It answers the age old question and shows that we are not alone. I found it easy to compare this movie to E.T., a movie that I have always disliked. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the far superior film with adult content that never loses its grasp on childlike awe. Forget phoning home, and instead enter the ship for intergalactic drama.