Posts Tagged ‘Steven Spielberg’

Films, particularly Hollywood films are often criticised for their historical inaccuracy, however for good or for bad they have a place in our image of history. As I listened to the radio on the way to work this morning the commemorations for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings were underway. The morning was full of compelling stories from veterans, most of them in their late teens or early twenties at the time in 1944, now old men in their 80’s and 90’s. Some told of the horror and the terrible loss, some or the heroism, most spoke with unbelievable humility and self deprecation. Fortunately I have no first hand experience of war, so all I thought of as I listened to the stories was films I had seen on the subject. Far more memorable and visceral than anything else on the subject, including documentaries stands one film, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998). Saving Private Ryan

For those who haven’t seen it, the opening twenty-five minutes of Spielberg’s movie depicts the Normandy landings. Concentrating on the assault on one (unnamed) beach, the scene is possibly the best depiction of war on film ever. It shows every aspect of war from the horror, brutality and futility to the heroism. The scene is captivating, enthralling and terrifying, it achieves this despite the fact that it appears at the start of the film before we have met or invested in the characters involved.

The landings, codenamed Operation Neptune were the largest seaborne invasion in history, part of Operation Overlord, the invasion of German-occupied western Europe. They were the beginning of the end of the war in Europe and took place in the early hours of 6th June 1944. The loss of life on both sides was catastrophic. The figures of casualties and fatalities vary depending on the source material, the following quote comes from the D-Day Museum:

“Today, twenty-seven war cemeteries hold the remains of over 110,000 dead from both sides: 77,866 German, 9,386 American, 17,769 British, 5,002 Canadian and 650 Poles.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing. Thousands more fled their homes to escape the fighting.”D day

I am not suggesting we get our history from Hollywood, As good a film as Inglourious Basterds is, I am not convinced it is exactly historically accurate, but I also don’t think we should dismiss movies. A film, even a documentary can never give a total and true picture of an event, especially one in the past. Films are at their best when they capture the mood and the ideas of what they are depicting. This is what was achieved by Saving Private Ryan, Platoon (Oliver Stone – 1986) and They Were Expendable (John Ford – 1945). . If every time we watch such a film we think of the truth behind it, then they have been successful. There is a certain truth in this fiction that ensures we will always remember the sacrifice of a past generation


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While having a conversation about X Men: Days of Future Past I mentioned how impressed I was that the films finale had not reverted to the now standard robots/superhumans hitting each other and blowing shit up. I was met with a some strange looks. It seems everyone I was talking to like the action and explosions and see the talking between them as filler.X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-chess-game

I then asked about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film that combines a 70’s thriller with a modern comic book movie. Most of those who had seen it liked it, but liked it for its action and adventure and not for its character studies and the tension it creates. I mentioned the great conversations between Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Redford. My argument fell on deaf ears.redford-capn-america

I then decided to pull out the big guns; Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg. With the exception of The Showdown at House of Blue Leaves, all the best Tarantino moments have been dialogue and not action based: The diner in Reservoir Dogs, the Royale with cheese conversation in Pulp Fiction, The tavern scene in Inglourious Basterds, all of Jackie Brown.

Then comes Steven Spielberg, the man who gave us: The D Day landings, a T-Rex, a girl in a red coat in an otherwise black and white movie, Harrison Ford being chased by a giant marble. But what is the best scene Spielberg ever directed? Ultimately that is a personal choice, but for me despite all these memorable and iconic moments, there is one scene that stands out to me:

Don’t get me wrong I love action and count Die Hard and Point Break amongst my favourite films, but there is so much more to cinema. If you don’t believe me sir down and watch your favourite Spielberg, Tarantino, Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan movies and try to define what is great about them.

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The Oscar for Cinematography is not a beauty contest, it isn’t about how pretty a film looks, it is about how well it is lit and photographed, in the same vein, the best director Oscar doesn’t go to the best film, that’s what the best film category is for! While, the Best picture Oscar is really the sum total of all the awards, the acting, the music, the photograph, the script, the direction and all the other elements that make up a film, the best director Oscar, is based purely on the process of directing. It is worth remembering that although the winners are selected by the Academy membership as a whole, the nominations are made by the academy’s directing branch. In other words, the nominations come from the directors and their contemporaries.

Michael Haneke Benh Zeitlin Ang Lee Steven Spielberg David O Russell

This years nominations are: Michael Haneke – Amour, Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ang Lee -Life of Pi, Steven Spielberg – Lincoln David O. Russell -Silver Linings Playbook. I am yet to see Lincoln and Amour so will reserve judgment on the strength of the category but have selected five directors I would have liked to have seen nominated:

Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Wes Anderson – Moonrise Kingdom
Ben Affleck – Argo
Sam Mendes – Skyfall
Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight Rises

Each of them has crafted a fantastic movie that would have been run of the mill in lesser hands if they even existed. All would have been worthy winners.

Kathryn Bigelow Wes Anderson Ben Affleck Sam Mendes Christopher Nolan

Should Steven Spielberg win it will put him the elite company of : William Wyler and Frank Capra with three best director Oscars and just one behind John Ford with four. Ang Lee has picked up one win and one other nomination in the category previously (Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon respectively), David O. Russell has been nominated before (The Fighter), it is Michael Haneke’s first nomination. Not only is it Benh Zeitlin’s first nomination, it is his first feature.

Whoever loses, or indeed those who weren’t nominated, it is worth remembering they are in good company, despite thirteen nominations between them Alfred Hitchcock (5), Federico Fellini (4) and Stanley Kubrick (4) didn’t win a single best director Oscar.Alfred Hitchcock Federico Fellini Stanley Kubrick

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After a year of reading Ryan’s Blind Spot Series I have decided to join in for 2013. first up E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is over thirty years old and is much loved by a generation, my generation, however I have never seen it. Many people reading this will know the film better than I do. In this situation, reviewing a film that came out when I was six but didn’t see until I was thirty-six would somehow miss the point. So rather than reviewing the movie I am just going to share a few thoughts including my relationship with the movie.ET

It is not a movie I have avoided or not wanted to see, it is just something that has never happened. As I have mentioned previously on this site, I didn’t go to the cinema very often as a kid, I was a child of the home video generation. Unlike now when a big movie seems to find its way to DVD as soon as it has finished its cinema run things were different back in the 80’s and years passed without ET making it to VHS. It finally made it to VHS in the late 80’s. By this time I was in my early teens and watching movies like The Terminator and Aliens and wasn’t interested in a “Kids Film”. Some time during this period between the cinema and video release my dad borrowed a copy of the video from a friend that obviously turned out to be a pirate copy. The quality was so poor we couldn’t tell what was going on and gave up after ten minutes (possibly less). The film was re-released for the 20th anniversary in 2002. I went along to the one night only screening at my local multiplex to find it sold out and went to see something different.

I hadn’t actually given up on seeing the movie, but didn’t go out of my way to see it. Then two things happened, I signed up for the Blind Spot Series, knowing that ET would have to be on my list as I had previously discussed it with Ryan. And to celebrate the 30th anniversary the movie was shown on TV with a documentary about it. I promptly set my STB to record it and have just watched it, so what did I think of it?


You all know the plot. A group of alien explorers and botanists are collecting samples of plant life from earth when they are disturbed, by the US government. They flea leaving one of their number behind. He is found by a young boy who forms a strong emotional bond with the alien that becomes symbiotic causing great danger for both parties.

Firstly, it isn’t the movie I expected. The subplot of Elliot’s parents separation looms large in the background and with it the subtext of the broken society that was creeping into 70’s and 80’s cinema after the optimism and hope of the 60’s. This dark tone is mirrored by the darkness of the film visually, with a lot of nigh time scenes. But it is in the harsh light of day and of florescent lighting that the movie is thematically at its darkest. In that way, it makes a good companion peace with Jaws that may (or may not depending on which film critic you ask) be about infidelity. The relationship between boy and alien is always doomed, by giving the ET what he wants, what he needs, to return him home, will result in their separation. But all this can be countered by the idea of making the aliens, the monsters, the creatures who are different, good, honest and benevolent. In the time before glasnost, Steven Spielberg was preaching acceptance and friendship. How ever you look at it, it is clearly a very personal film to its director, but I often get the feeling all his films are very personal to him.E-T-The-Extra-Terrestrial drew barrymore

Although it has its moments it is a lot less fun than I expected. The sentimentality is ramped up to eleven with the aid of John Williams’ score, but this isn’t a criticism, the movie achieves what it sets out in this regard. My only real criticism of the movie is that it doesn’t have that one moment you expect from Spielberg to grab hold of you like: Quint’s story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in Jaws, the “snowing” ash in Schindler’s List, the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan or even the T-Rex footsteps in Jurassic Park. There are memorable moments in the movie but they just didn’t grab me.

Never held back by the schmaltz that is clearly present, as it is always balanced with great story telling and darker themes. A supremely well made movie that I enjoyed watching but saw far too late in life to fall in love with the way many people before me have.

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