Archive for the ‘Steven Spielberg’ Tag

Poltergeist (1982) 31 Days of Horror: Terror-Thon at the Somerville Theatre   Leave a comment

poltergeist

JoBeth Williams and her husband Craig T. Nelson live an idyllic life. They love each other and their three children and live a comfortable, middle-class life in a suburban subdivision in California. So one day, their youngest daughter, the adorable Heather O’Rourke, gets swallowed up by the television. Uh huh. They call a team of parapsychologists (like you do) led by the wonderful Beatrice Straight, to investigate and soon discover a weird spectral world hanging around their staircase.

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It sounds too silly to work, but the cast which also includes James Karen, and the cooler than cool Zelda Rubinstein makes you believe it. The script, written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor brings the characters to life and gives them great stuff to work with. I’ve seen this film many times and the dialogue and characters never get old for me. They’re too real. I buy into the whole thing. These people are really a family and they’re desperate to believe these spiritual specialists can save their little girl.

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The ghost hunters’ earnest beliefs and their sympathy for the beleaguered family makes the whole thing work. Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem’s Lot) directed Poltergeist wonderfully as a suburban dream turned nightmare. He also it with a sense of humor and some real heart. imdb lists 105 people from Industrial Light and Magic for the visual effects credit. I have no doubt of this. The effects are spectacular. Ghosts, skeletons, and demonic forces run amok and are truly frightening. Seeing Poltergeist in the theatre allowed me to notice something else. The sets look right. The little details ring true even to the wallpaper swatch books leaning against the master bedroom wall. I’ve seldom seen this film on any top ten lists and I’m not sure why. It’s a real gem.

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Clowns are never a good idea.

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Jaws (1975)   6 comments

jawsposter

A series of bizarre deaths plagues a small community. Local officials, unable to deal with an emergency of this magnitude call in the pros from Dover.

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Not these guys.

The imported scientist, sensible law enforcement professional, and smart-ass guy with horse sense team up to thwart the evil ant/spider/squid/gerbil/shark’s plans for world domination or chowing down the locals. People die. At least one person does something massively heroic. Stuff blows up. In one last ditch effort to save the world from the mutant lemming/reindeer/gnat, our plucky hero takes a wild stab and saves the day. The End. I’ve just described the plots to Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Thing From Another Planet, a bunch of less professionally made B-movies from the 1950s/60s, and Jaws. I know. I’ve heard the arguments. Jaws is a drama or an action/buddy picture, but it’s not horror. To that I say, “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” Wait. Of course Jaws is horror. It’s also a drama with comedic moments, a buddy picture, a floor wax, and a dessert topping. Jaws ticks a lot of boxes.

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Harry

Director Steven Spielberg took the biggest novel of the day and its author, Peter Benchley, his actors, crew, and a barely functioning mechanical shark to Martha’s Vineyard to make one of the best movies of the last 40 years. The film opens with the violent death of a young girl in the ocean off fictitious Amity Island. Told by the coroner the cause of death is shark attack, chief of police Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) convinces him to keep them open saying “We need summer dollars.” Meanwhile, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute arrives to consult with Brody as to whether or not they have a shark problem.

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Did you see a shark?

They do. The public deaths of two more people force Vaughn to close the beaches and hire Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark. Brody, Hooper, and Quint head out to sea to catch them a porker. Bonding ensues. There’s also chumming and knot-tying and drunken story-telling and death.

If the story sounds simple, that’s because it is. The simplicity of the story allows Benchley and co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who also plays the local newspaperman, to fill it up with complex characters and great dialogue. When Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) meets Hooper she says, “My husband tells me you’re in sharks.” When Mayor Vaughn stubbornly refuses to listen to Hooper and Brody and says the beaches will stay open Hooper says, ”I’m not going to waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.” Great stuff.

amity
“Amity, as you know, means friendship.”
-Mayor Larry ‘Hot Lunch’ Vaughn

The characters have some depth too. Through their anecdotes and conversations we learn more about Brody, Hooper, and Quint than cop, scientist, and crusty sea-dog. The men indulge in some macho one-upsmanship including a funny scene in which Quint chugs a can of beer (Narragansett, or ‘Gansett in the local parlance) and crushes the can. Hooper drains his drink and crushes a Styrofoam cup. Then there’s THE scene. Brody dumps chum over the side of the boat. He turns to make a smart ass comment to Quint, then turns back just in time to see a huge shark come up beside him. He backs up slowly to Quint in the cabin and says the famous, ad-libbed line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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Surprise!

After a day of shark hunting, the boys toss back a few and the exchange that follows has become one the most famous scenes in modern cinema. According to Steven Spielberg, he first asked Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden to play Quint, but they both turned it down. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown suggested Robert Shaw. I like both Marvin and Hayden, but I can’t think of anyone other than Shaw in the role of Quint. His speech and spot-on delivery about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis is a gorgeous example of story-telling. Writer Howard Sackler (Killer’s Kiss, Fear and Desire) had the idea for the speech. John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now) gets most of the credit, but Robert Shaw, also a writer, polished and delivered it over two nights. Editor Verna Fields pieced together the two readings to make the speech as we know it. She also blended real shark footage with that of Bruce, the mechanical wonder and made it look real…and scary. The rest of the film is a rollicking good time that is better seen than described. Since we’ve gotten to know these three men, we care when we see them in danger. They care too. You see it in their faces.

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Great writing and acting make Jaws a wonderful film. What elevates it to top ten list status is the music. Spielberg chose to work with John Williams in Sugarland Express the year before after hearing Williams’ score for The Reivers. He asked Williams to score Jaws and that choice made the film. The soundtrack moves from ominous and suspenseful to joyous and light-hearted seamlessly and Spielberg uses the music to punctuate his scenes. Spielberg knows a good thing when he hears it. Williams has scored all but two of his films.

The writing, cast, and acting combine with the beautiful location to make Jaws a terrific film, but it’s the little things that make it one of my favorites. I love when Brody knocks over the paintbrushes in the hardware store and grimaces. When he tells his deputy, Jeffrey Kramer to make Beach Closed signs he says, “Let Polly do the printing.” Then there’s that great dolly zoom shot of Brody on the beach.


Perfect.

Later Quint sees Hooper’s high-tech equipment and says, “Jesus H. Christ, what are you some kind of half-assed astronaut?” Perfect. I grew up in Massachusetts and have spent time on the Cape and islands all my life. The phrases and cadence in Jaws are pretty darn good. My dad says Jesus H. Christ on occasion. The accents even pass for the most part. One of the town council sounds more like Maine than the Vineyard, but we’ll let that go. Even Quint’s brogue of sorts fits.

I love Jaws. My top ten changes around as I see new films and re-watch old favorites, but Jaws is always there…looming in the depths.

quint

I wrote this piece for the Spielberg Blogathon hosted by Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled http://kelleepratt.blogspot.com/ on twitter @IrishJayhawk66

Michael It Rains…You Get Wet http://le0pard13.com/ on twitter @le0pard13

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen http://aurorasginjoint.com/ on twitter @CitizenScreen

Thank you!!

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Smile!

blogathon

Jurassic Park (1993)   9 comments

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Billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) owns an island. He wants to turn the island into an amusement park so he mines amber for the dinosaur DNA found in preserved mosquitoes and uses it to make dinosaurs. Of course he does. In the hands of any other director and cast this might come off as the nineties version of Sharknado, but since Steven Spielberg, Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and JEFF GOLDBLUM direct and star, it works. Suspension of disbelief, you say? Oh yes.

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Say what again.

I believed every frame of every scene because Spielberg and company sold me. B.D. Wong plays a smug scientist in a lab coat? Check! Samuel L. Jackson sips a tasty beverage while chain-smoking and writing code? Check! Wayne Knight whines and annoys everyone while sabotaging decades of work? Newman! Check! Martin Ferrero plays a bloodsucking lawyer more interesting in the bottom line than safety or due diligence? Check! Sam Neill and Laura Dern play a couple of PhD dinosaur groupies? Check! Sam Neill and Laura Dern play a couple? Check! Jeff Goldblum plays a hip leather-clad chaos theorist? Check and mate!

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Cue: angelic music.

The coolest member of the cast, Jeff Goldblum stars as Dr. Ian Malcolm who espouses chaos theory, teases Hammond, and questions everything. He even puts the moves on Dern when Neill isn’t looking. Brought to Hammond’s island along with Neill and Dern to give the park his seal of approval and assuage investors’ fears, Goldblum’s Malcolm is funny, skeptical, and charmingly irreverent. In the words of John Hammond to Ferrero’s lawyer, “I bring scientists. You bring a rock star.” Damn straight. Malcolm is a rock star. Fashionably intellectual and fatally attractive in black leather, Malcolm makes key observations about the fault in Hammond’s logic. When told that they control dinosaur breeding in the lab, Malcolm’s not buying it. After arguing with Wong about it Malcolm says “I’m simply saying that life finds a way.” Yup.

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Oops. They bred.

Malcolm has the best lines all through the film. When Hammond asks his opinion of his scientific achievements, Malcolm says, “The lack of humility before nature is staggering.” Hammond mentions his advancements in DNA research to which Malcolm replies, “You wield it like a kid who’s found his dad’s gun.” Hammond points out that he’s created life to which Malcolm replies ”Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Brilliant. We’re supposed to care about Neill and Dern and Hammond’s grandkids played by Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello and we do, but honestly, I wanted to see dinosaurs and Dr. Malcolm. Fangirling much? You could say that, but how can you resist Goldblum, at his hottest I might add, cracking wise and asking Neill whether Dern is single. To explain his question he adds “I’m always on the lookout for the next ex-Mrs. Malcolm.” Fabulous.

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John Williams’ music adds to the mood of the film, as always, and the production values are stellar. Spielberg spared no expense in making the best ‘old rich guy wants to have the coolest theme park so he makes dinosaurs oops they’re eating a guy’ film imaginable. He picked a great crew, a great cast, and a great Michael Crichton concept. Together they made a cool film that never fails to get me hooked. And Jeff Goldblum.

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Goldblumathon3

I wrote this for the Goldblumathon hosted by Barry of Cinema Catharsis fame. Thanks, Barry! Here’s his blog. http://cinematiccatharsis.blogspot.com/

I can be reached on twitter @echidnabot

Please, check out https://prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com/

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