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Archive for the ‘Directed by Steven Spielberg’ Category

Bridge Of Spies

27 Oct

Bridge Of Spies – Directed by Steven Spielberg. DocuDrama. 141 Minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: A Russian spy during the Cold war is caught, tried, found guilty, which he was, and imprisoned against the day when he might be traded for an American spy caught by the Russians, a day that soon befalls.

~

Steven Spielberg serves us up another of his Civics Lessons, which he has treated us to for the past twenty years: Schindler’s List, Amistad, Catch Me If You Can, Munich, Flags Of Our Fathers, Letter From Iwo Jima, Empire Of The Sun, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, and now Bridge Of Spies. In each of these he gives us our money‘s worth, and if you don’t think so, you don’t know what your money is worth.

They are richly produced, earnest, valorous, and thorough. There is entertainment value in all these qualities, but the entertainment value of these pieces is not limited to these values. And Spielberg may be getting better as a filmmaker for making them. There is usually something wrong with Spielberg’s endings. But Bridge of Spies escapes this failing, barely.

If you are interested in such things, Bridge Of Spies also presents us with a lesson in variation of acting styles. Tom Hanks plays the lawyer sent to defend the spy in court and eventually to barter his exchange. It a perfect example of one actor, Hanks, playing a role, and another actor, Mark Rylance playing a character.

Hanks is a skilled and judicious actor, likeable and devotedly bourgeois. He brings to the role a notable probity, vital for the role, and rare in actors nowadays, although once evident in Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Joel Macrea, Spencer Tracy. He, like them, is droll in humor. As an actor he gives us every reassurance.

Mark Rylance, raised in America who has made his career on the British stage, is different artist entirely. His job is more acute than Hanks’. Hanks can ride the attention as the principal player, the hero. Rylance has to forge a way of making our attention to Hanks worthwhile. He does this by a series of alienation effects – dull dress, a sniffle, a tick – so that you are turned off by the character at first – in order that you may generate a change of view about him as the movie goes by. Otherwise he would be an object of merchandise, and of less value and interest to us as the exchange piece for Francis Gary Powers, our spy pilot whose plane the Russians shot down.

These two opposing styles do not conflict with or grate upon one another. Nor do they dovetail. What they do is suit the character situation which the story presents, which is that of an ordinary American working to defend the life of an odd duck. A duck so odd, indeed, that it is impossible to read him at all. Which is to the story’s advantage. For, since we know nothing of Rylance’s character, his character begs nothing either from us or from Hanks, except what is common to Hanks and us, mystification. We have zero back story for him. But, boy, does that pay off, since it declines to engage a false sentiment to root for him. Hanks allows Rylance’s character to be as he is. The probity Hanks works from is that of John Adams defending the Boston Massacre British soldiers. Every person deserves a fair trial. The entire ethical level is allowed to play out on the acting level. They are masterful actors who can play their opposing techniques together seamlessly. Every actor deserves a fair performance.

Another thing, if you are interested in acting: ask yourself the question: in the scenes with Hanks and Rylance, which one always has the upper hand? And how does that come about?

Think about it when you’ve seen Bridge of Spies, which I know you shall do. And let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted in Directed by Steven Spielberg, DOCUDRAMA, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, Mark Rylance, Tom Hanks

 

Minority Report

07 Mar

Minority Report – directed by Steven Spielberg. SciFi Action Adventure. A police chief gets caught up in the net he has set to catch murderers. 124 minutes Color 2002.
★★★★
Once again Spielberg fouls up the ending of a movie. Of all his films I have seen none have honest endings. Lincoln and Amistad have weak but workable endings, but all the other endings I have seen throw us into the boiling pot of hackwork. Is he sucking up to public sentiment? This is especially distressing since all that I have ever seen has been, up until then, work of strength, imagination, scenic power, and high craft.

In this case we have triple surprise endings to do the damage.

Now the difficulty with even one surprise ending is that we the audience feel betrayed and made fools of by it. Our trust in the narrative and the commitment we have invested in it are tossed out the window for a screwy twist. While the difficulty of any move is, having set the predicament, to find a way out of it, surprise endings pull the rug out from under, not just us, but the characters before us. Spielberg is a professional person; why doesn’t he know this?

Tom Cruise gives his all to this, over 2-hour, material, and his all amounts to a good deal. For no actor presently before us enjoys acting more, throws his will, and his energy so thoroughly into it as he. His complete investment is why we keep watching him, and he never disappoints.

The story concerns three zombie bodies who can foresee future crimes. And, as the principal talent among them, Samantha Morton is super. You thoroughly believe her half-drowned soul. The excellent Colin Farrell presents Cruise with a rivalry — a rivalry of cute guys, for one thing — but a rivalry set to prove Cruise’s crime prevention methods are flawed. Whatever is the reverse of effervescence would define Max von Sydow — gravitas incarnate; if he were any more grave he’d be in the grave. He is wonderful as the senior operative. But particularly brilliant and richly funny is — worth the entire price of admission — Lois Smith as the inventor of the crime prevention zombies. Her scene with Cruise is priceless. How did Spielberg’s people know to hire her?

The present film is fortified by Spielberg’s old reliables John Williams’ score, and it is filmed as usual by Janusz Kaminski so brilliantly, so beautifully, so imaginatively, that you feel the whole movie is taking place inside a cube of ice. The spectacular action sequences and special effects alone are worth watching the film for, for they are rare and strange and fun.

What a marvelous movie to collapse in on its own excessive final complications.

 

Lincoln

16 Nov

Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg. Docudrama. President Abraham Lincoln is surrounded on all sides as he presses to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment forbidding slavery. 149 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

I was thrilled, stirred, gripped.

I thought beforehand I would not be, for the coming attractions are ill advised.

But, once there, everything about this film surprised, entertained, informed, and moved me.

My first fear was that Daniel Day-Lewis would simply dress himself up in a top hat and shawl and, in the voice of Henry Fonda, perform The Lincoln Memorial.

But what Daniel Day-Lewis has done with Lincoln, is to give him a posture which is stooped, which we know he had, and a short gait, which we couldn’t know he had, but which keeps him in the contemplative present when he moves.

Day-Lewis’s figure is tall and thin, as was Lincoln’s, and his face is long, as was Lincoln’s. He has, as Lincoln had, cold eyes. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice, and that is what the actor contrives for us. The impersonation is beyond exception.

The actor also has the ability to negotiate Lincoln’s remarkable diction, so he is able to manage Lincoln’s speeches and his raconteurism –– everyone said Lincoln was a most entertaining individual, and folks gathered around him to hear him tell jokes and stories –– and this is given full play as is his play with his little son. But the weight of the matters that concern and confront him and how he faces them are the story.

The political shenanigans environing the passage of the 13th Amendment are the setting here, and in this he is beset by his foes and friends alike. Among the foes is Lee Pace, an actor of signal clarity of attack, who leads the Democrats of the day who, like the Republicans of our own, have no agenda but to oppose, in all matters, the person who holds The Presidency.

The complex backstairs bargaining and bribery and bullying to get the amendment through is exciting and involves a lot of first class actors to bring off. Kevin Kline as a wounded soldier, Jared Harris as U.S. Grant, Bruce McGill as Secretary Stanton. We have James Spader as the foul-mouthed operative sent to influence the undecided with sinecures and cash. Hal Holbrook as the peacenik operative whose truce-making might arrest the entire effort. John Hawkes as Robert Latham.

But the big difficulties at the time were two people who were in favor of the amendment. The first was Mary Lincoln, unbalanced by the loss of a previous child and exhausting and distracting Lincoln by indulging herself in grief because of it. This is an astonishing piece of work by an actress who has grown over the years: daring when young, even more daring now: Sally Field.

The second problematic character was Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist so radical his extreme fundamentalism bid fair to upset the applecart. A formidable politico and vituperator, it required an actor no one could out-wily, out-cunning, out-sly. And such an one we have to hand in the person of Tommy Lee Jones. He’s killingly funny and powerful in the role. It’s one of his great film turns.

The filming of story and the direction of it are exactly right, established at once by Janusz Kaminski with a Brahmsian color palette and a scenic arrangement that gives us a view from under the table of the White House goings-on and political dealings that never fall into the staid tableaux of Historical Documentary or the expected or the pat.

But the great credit of all the great credit due is to Tony Kushner who wrote it. He alone of modern playwrights could negotiate the elaborate rhetoric of 19th Century invective, without which the telling of this material would be incomprehensible. Instead of taking out your gun and firing at an insult, you had to stand still to hear it long enough to mount a more suitable riposte than a bullet. Congress in those days was messy, rude, and volatile. We see it all.

Kushner frames the picture with two speeches, and each one is given to us in a surprising way. Historical events with which we are familiar are gestured when they are not integral to the strife within. He knows how to write a scene with lots of words, and the material needs them and welcomes them. You have to lean forward and keep your ears alert, just as these men and women did in their day. You want to. It’s part of your engagement, your learning, your joy, and your satisfaction.

Up close and personal with Lincoln, if you ever imagine yourself so lucky as to be, you sure are here. You give full credence to this actor’s Lincoln. You watch Lincoln, yes, he is available. You still admire him, you are touched by him, you know him as well as you ever will, save you read his letters. A man of great depth of reserve and great humor. Torn, pure in two, but one. Because fair and honest and kind. Smart because he understands human language from aint to art. When has his party put forth for president a person of one tenth his character? Will they ever do so again?

 

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

21 May

The Lost World: Jurassic Park – Directed by Steven Spielberg. Sci-Fi Action. Dinosaurs, still hanging around on a tropical island, draw competing scientists and developers. 2 hours 7 minutes Color 1997.

* * * * *

Pete Postlethwaite devours the screen like a brontosaurus rex whenever he is on it. This is wonderful to behold, because his ruthlessness outstrips the passion of any other character in the movie, and so one loves him for it. The others fare not so well. For the “action sequences” devour character as well as characters. This is true of all such films. David Koepp has written a brilliant script, which means that its wit compliments the wit of the director, and he has made for us characters who have a living eccentricity, in scenes that are beguiling and actable. But all of that is in the beginning of the film. As soon as the dinosaurs start competing with the humans all character is lost as the film bogs down in spectacle, escape, acts of derring-do, mayhem, terror, clumping and munching – in fact, in story- behavior in which, because it is minimally verbal, character, charm, eccentricity, and even motive are devoured. It’s no one’s fault. It’s simply a characteristic of the genre. They all end up this way. The chief consequence of this is that one ceases to love the characters – because they are characters no longer. And too bad too. Because we have the glorious Jeff Goldblum as one of a group of four heros (really five until our beloved Richard Schiff becomes an ors d’oeuvre for a rex). With his bright and wonderful face, and endearing tallness, and supple intelligence, he plays a character who disapproves of everything, in a role which almost becomes thankless because of that. Julianna Moore is delightful in a love scene walking away from him in the middle of a river; she plays a character who approves of everything. And the dewy Vince Vaughan plays a kind of side-car part which is actually underwritten and functions really only to make a certain defunct radio work to save the day (it’s actually night). Never mind. It’s a director’s film, and Spielberg has a witty mind. Never is he unprepared to entertain us. The action sequences unravel with imagination and care and stunning execution. And in this is he ably abetted by the camera of Janusz Kaminsky and the surprising editing of Michael Kahn, who will supply us with a sterling close-up of Moore’s face, for instance, just when you would never expect you would need the relief of it from the action in play. Spielberg always gets his endings wrong, and he does not fail us in this one. It’s a failure of value in him, as, for the wrong reason, he brings the tale around to a city he has not previously established, and so the big bus-wrecking sequences, and so forth, have no connection to us. The ending comes out of nowhere into nowhere. His wit does not fail him, as the rex clomps by an Animal Control vehicle, but his thinking does. This means that the value of actions floats free of the value of settings, streets, a harbor, a ship, and, most important, human inhabitants. However, the film has delivered so much “entertainment” one has to forgive him once again, simply on the grounds that our exhaustion forbids us from sustaining anything more than a sigh of relief that the entertainment is finally over.

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Amistad

27 Feb

Amistad — Directed by Steven Spielberg — High Tragedy. Men on a slave ship revolt, are captured, and brought to trial in 1838. 2 hours 15 minutes Color 1997.

* * * * *

High tragedy, yes, that rare thing in movies, as a great and noble king in exile is brought to the point of death by his captors and rescued by a deus ex macchina in the form of another great and noble king. I have not seen all of Spielberg’s films, but this is the finest I have seen. It is perfectly cast, produced, written, and performed. It is narrated by the director unexceptionably save for the coda of the destruction of the slave fortress in Sierra Leone, which should interlace the main tale itself as a counter-chorus, and not come wagging its tail at us in the end, but then, all Spielberg’s finales are false. The music by John Williams is not as vulgar as that which wrecks The Color Purple, but its Orff-like choruses and excessive swells almost overset the craft a number of times. The great Pete Postlethwaite as the opposing lawyer is concise, real, and fair. As the President, Nigel Hawthorne gives us a man helpless before his own real ignorance. Morgan Freeman stands in reserve as a force of Negro abolition almost out of touch with his original slave past. Matthew McConaughey brings a, perhaps, natural crassness to the part of the young lawyer who takes on the case and he is very convincing as a man whose limited vision and slightly cockeyed rashness moves the case forward. Anthony Hopkins, in his best screen performance, dodders and pots as John Quincy Adams, the old former President, who finally raises the Supreme Court to liberate the Negros and return them to Africa. But the film depends entirely for its power, its movement, and its authenticity on Djimon Hounsou, the leader of the Negros, their particular king. A man of great stature and bearing, he performs with an emotional immediacy and truth and rashness of being that causes him to stand for everything — and not just to stand for  — but to be it in our hearts and souls as we watch — everything that the film means to say. Which is to present under attack the essence of freedom itself in a human being, as though that freedom had never been born or seen before. Anyone who has ever been oppressed, has ever oppressed, or wishes to oppress, wants to see this film, because this actor reveals to us that freedom is inherent in us, not bestowed, not legalized, not purchased, and that its abrogation and annulment by anyone or any agency or any thing is an agony titanic. If this makes the film a civics lesson, so be it, for it is a record of the Exemplary in our American ancestry and in the ancestry of the world, and we benefit and are enlarged by such examples. I am moved by Djimon Hounsou’s soul, and I recommend that you place yourself before it. This is a film which proves what film at its best can do. Give it to yourself somehow.

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