Tag Archives: Spielberg

Progenitors: The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III

Because that other “Jurassic” movie just went and had the biggest opening release weekend in film history…

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park was directed by an auteur who was a kid at heart and had it in his dreams to create a new pop-fable for the modern age. Having tackled sharks, nazis, and aliens, dinosaurs were really the only foreseeable future in his career, and the rampaging success of Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park was as good an excuse as any to pursue that dino-dreaming. The end result was not a healthy meal, but it was a particularly fizzy soda and buttery popcorn even in its worst moments, and we critics cannot argue with Spielberg when he is using his fullest talents to commandeer the screen and throw us into our worst nightmares.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park, released just four years later, was directed by a crusty old auteur who had better things to do than make pop fluff, and it shows. Spielberg, “the man with Oscars on the mind,” was in full swing in the late 1990s. It wasn’t his best mode, but it devoured both his serious films and his blockbusters in a layer of dreary somnambulism, suffocating whatever energy and zest he had for layering fun onto the screen. The Lost World is a tired motion picture, and even in its best moments, it has a slow-going, self-serious demeanor that coats the film in an unearned sense of importance. It is Spielberg trying to make a wacky puff piece out to be a heavingly serious drama.  Continue reading


Progenitors: Poltergeist (original)

Not any sort of official series, but especially during the summer months, remakes and sequels are, if nothing else, great excuses to review the films that came before. As I am above no excuse to review a film, I must answer the call.

I would like so much to proclaim the original Poltergeist as a fascinatingly accidental volcanic meeting of disparate, jagged minds, the harsh nihilism of director Tobe Hooper jutting out into the heart of the sticky-sweet nostalgia of producer Steven Spielberg, whose nostalgia is in turn engulfing the nihilism of the director. Ideally, the two seminal figures in arguably the first AAA horror film of the early ’80s (the genre’s introduction into the big leagues of crass, craven ’80s consumerism) would have had their nails at each others’ throats like a cage match between a devil-worshiping, corpse-eating, grave-residing raven and an elegant, iconographic American eagle. Even if the two minds burnt each other out, the battle would be a bile-spewing front-row-seater if ever there was one.

At its best, Poltergeist almost gets there. Introducing us to Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) who reside in a regimented, rigid California suburb with their three children: Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O’ Rourke), all of whom bear a grand-old Americana name if ever there was one. Now, most suburbs have their everyday problems…rats, tax collectors, salmon shorts, but ghosts is another story (I must concede, however, that salmon shorts may be the greater evil still). One night, Carole Anne discovers first-hand that something is up, and as time moves on, things begin to bump a little too much in the night for this family to handle.
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Midnight Screamings: The Descent and War of the Worlds

Seriously having difficulty viewing and wrapping my head around one specific film for Midnight Screenings, but I think I have it down for next week. In the meantime, here are two 2005 Midnight-appropriate horrors (one of them never really popularly understood as such, but somehow its Godzilla-sized budget only makes it all the more spectacular that it still has the look and feel of a grainy horror movie). Sorry for the delay. All will be corrected next week. 

The Descent

A stomach-churning introduction to the big leagues for British director Neil Marshall (who has since gone on to underachieve somewhat depressingly), this concrete slab of raw, untamed horror finds skeletons in the human closet and exploits them for gut-churning viscera. Monsters abound, both external and internal, but the film’s claustrophobic environment, a cave rendered with nightmarish use of single-color tints that distort and obfuscate reality, takes center stage, as does gender. Continue reading

I Really Need to Cut it Out With These Waves Puns. This Might be the Last: Jurassic Park

For Steven Spielberg, 1993 was his real coming out. Before-hand, he was one of the most important filmmakers in American cinema, one of the few bright spots of the turgid ’80s. But after 1993, he was a god among filmmakers, and a clear genius of intent, if not necessarily execution, for striving to cover all bases in the world of populist directing. He took advantage of the year to stake out a personal trend for himself, releasing one would-be pop cultural touchstone and, perhaps prefacing any concerns that he was too focused on special effects and teenagers and not making “serious” films, a hearty, honest-to-god crippling drama to go with.  In fact, he’s taken up this path time and time again (monstrous success also breeds complacency and getting stuck in a rut of one’s own release strategy and production style). Most recently, 2011 brought us the schmaltzy Oscar-bait of War Horse and the animated The Adventures of TinTin. 2005 saw the criminally underrated expressionist nightmare of a disaster movie War of the Worlds and the politically ambiguous morality tale Munich, and in 1997 came stuffy  historical drama Amistad  and a serious case of sequelitis in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World. Still, expectations beget expectations, and gifts give way to curses; what he accomplished in 1993, at least in terms of pure commercial and critical success, he never equaled again. Continue reading

American Imperialism New Wave (AKA Ronald Reagan New Wave Part Deux): Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark


Updated June 2016

After the completion of my American New Wave series, I found myself hungry for more, and with the rather stark delineation of mainstream ’70s American and ’80s American cinema, continuing chronologically seemed a fair idea indeed for it’s ease of access without necessarily plumbing the same self-consciously raw, arty cinema I generally stuck with to define American film during the 1970s. This is an opportunity for me to plum an type of film I have almost entirely avoided thus far for the purposes of this blog: classic genre filmmaking, or pop fare as we call it when we’re feeling particularly feisty. The series will continue, albeit with a generally more slap-dash rule set fitting the parameters of the generally lighter, airier cinema of the ’80s like a glove. Essentially, I’ll go by year, but within each year, I can cover one film in depth, or a few in smaller review format, or any mix in between. Whatever suits my boat, for, after-all, personal satisfaction was de rigueur in the halcyon ’80s, wasn’t it?

As for publication schedule, It’ll be more compact, a sort of Holiday treat to myself where I get to focus on “fun” movies in place of all the doom and gloom I force upon myself cinematically (I’m such a masochist aren’t I?). In other words, I want to keep things coming fast and loose, to give myself a filmic sugar rush, and to have a little fun with it. My estimation will be the series will continue into the very early ’90s (being that the first few years of the ’90s were basically the ’80s culturally and cinematically anyway, before the New American Independent bubble really blew up big time mid decade). And I’d like to have it all done by the New Year, or slightly afterward. So that’s one month of the poppiest pop I can find. Survival, without cavities, is not an option. And do excuse the titles; sometimes I like to have fun with myself, even against myself. The titles are Holiday Present Part B. 

Firstly, it must be said before anything else, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a fairly stupendous lark, a work of cheerful insouciance at minimum, and a sky-high stratosphere-piercing pop machine at best.  As a pure action-adventure, it’s an apex of economical storytelling, from-the-hip visual stylization, and  gloriously unstabilized anarchy that owes as much to Chuck Jones (of Looney Tunes fame) as John Huston. This is true not only for its wit and physicality (Chuck Jones was a maestro of movement above all), but in how it is a master-class in editing and framing on-screen action (and it climaxes with a wry, none-too-subtle jab at the protagonist that wouldn’t be out of home in either malevolent John Houston molasses or a spring-stepping Chuck Jones firecracker). Almost unthinkably so thirty years on, it is palpably, vigorously indebted to the Midnight Cinema tradition, the so-called reprobate genres epitomized not only by Jones but more live-bodied directors like Fritz Lang. In straying perilously near the B-serial, it unearths a morbidity that stresses how – 21st century bloodlust aside – children’s entertainment was quite a bit more scarlet in the olden days. Populist though it may be, the thing about Raiders is how it turns the disreputable into the divine.

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Review(s): Summer of 08 Short Reviews Round-up Part 1

Iron Man

For all Marvel’s self-imposed weight as a blockbuster big-wig machine, Iron Man is rather shocking for how it’s essentially a chill-out superhero movie. A good portion of the film, particularly in the middle, has a surprisingly solid time enjoying itself as an old-school “hanging with movie actors” film, where the “event” mostly consists of watching Robert Downey Jr have fun playing with toys on screen and generally being snarkily amused in a way that pings between caustic and genial. It’s not quite a Bill Murray 80’s comedy, but being within reaching distance is pleasing in a way I hadn’t realized I missed. Continue reading

Review(s): The Adventures of Tintin and Super 8

The Adventures of Tintin

2011 was not a particularly notable year for American film. It did, at the least, however, see the return to action of the modern American director who had done the most to influence modern American directing: Steven Spielberg.  Mostly absent for about six years, with only the middling (but quite honestly entirely competent and occasionally inspired) Indiana Jones 4 to wet his whistle in the middle of that period, 2011 saw Spielberg returning to a tried-and-true formula long known to him, and long successful: releasing two films in one year, one a sentimental, somewhat saccharine historical drama for the middlebrows and the other a big ol’ supped-up children’s adventure for the young’ins who find sentiment just a tad too … respectably suburban for their tastes. December brought us both the arch-Oscarbait of War Horse and the self-conscious Indiana Jones pastiche The Adventures of Tintin, itself most notable, if anything, for being marketed to a distinctly more European audience than a normal blockbuster of such import and backing. Naturally, that’s fitting for the material: a family comic series by Belgian artist Herge centering the youthful adventurer Tintin and his band of merry companions all throughout the racialized, Orientalist world. Continue reading