Bridge of Spies

Directed by Steven Spielberg, US, 2015

Spielberg has gone on a bit of a minimalist streak lately – well if a “streak” consists of three films.  Lincoln (2012) and Bridge of Spies (2015) could work well as stage plays.  War Horse (2011) is a stage play, although both adaptations come from the same novel.  In any event, for the time being the man who popularized the summer, special effects blockbuster has set visual effects aside in favor of character driven drama.

That isn’t to say that Bridge of Spies lacks compelling imagery – it is a compelling and magnificently shot film.  Period pieces and thrillers are notoriously difficult to shoot, and Spielberg makes it look easy.  Even if you are familiar with the back story of the U2 Incident (not to be confused with the U2 album “Songs of Innocence”), the film is suspenseful and intense.

Tom Hanks will get another Oscar nod for his role as real life attorney turned international negotiator, James B. Donovan.  Donovan reluctantly agrees to defend a Soviet spy in the mid 1950’s.   His work as an attorney draws criticism from his family and community, and eventually puts him in the dangerous position of negotiating a resolution to the infamous U2 Incident.

Overall, if you like spy movies, thrillers, Steven Spielberg, or Tom Hanks, go check this one out.

You might like Bridge of Spies if: You want to see a well executed Cold War spy movie.

You might not like Bridge of Spies if: You know everything about the U2 Incident and don’t want or need to see a movie about it.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe


Jurassic World (Review)

Directed by Colin Trevorrow, U.S., 2015

And we’re back!  After taking a post Game of Thrones season break it’s time to talk about some summer blockbusters.  What better way to get back in the saddle than reviewing the highest grossing movie of the year: Jurassic World.

Jurassic Park (1992) has aged exceedingly well.  While some of Spielberg’s classic films may not hold up as well as fans would like (see Doom, Temple of), the special effects alone in Jurassic Park make it both an impressive cinematic achievement and a great ride.

Unfortunately two ill-advised trips to the islands of the dinosaurs dimmed the achievement of Jurassic Park.  Their plots can be summarized as follows:

“Remember that horrifying island of the dinosaurs?  Well let’s go back there for some reason!  Oops, this was a bad idea!”

Thankfully, twenty three years after the original and fourteen after the most recent sequel, we finally have a sequel that lives up to the standard set by the original movie.

That isn’t to say Jurassic World is a better film that Jurassic Park. Most notably, some of the film comes off a bit cheesier than anything in the original.  The pterosaur attack showcased in the trailer, for instance, looks more silly than terrifying.

With a lesser cast this would just be another summer blockbuster to fade into the woodwork.  Fortunately for you, dinosaur-loving movie goer, the cast sets this movie apart from even the first Jurassic Park – Chris Pratt especially.  He channels the best of Harrison Ford’s blockbuster days (before his current, cranky old man days) with a twist of his own goofy charm.

While Pratt is a superstar in the making, the dinosaurs are the real stars of this show.  The main dino-villain, the genetically engineered Indominus Rex, is up there with the best movie monsters of all time.  The raptors are back too – still sans feathers – playing a key role in the plot.

Overall, Jurassic World calls to mind the best of the golden age of blockbusters while avoiding the excesses of recent blockbuster series like Transformers.  So if you haven’t already (and the money this baby has pulled in suggests many of you have), head down to your local theater and go see this one.

You might like Jurassic World if: You long for the days when summer movies were more like Indiana Jones and less like the Matrix sequels.

You might not like Jurassic World if: You demand that your velociraptors have feathers dammit!

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe


Director Profile of the Month – Steven Spielberg

I’m starting a new feature here on Cinema Grand Canyonscope – the director profile of the month.  This month – Steven Spielberg

Ask yourself a question – how many Spielberg movies have you seen?  If you’re like me, the results may surprise you.  I was certain that I had seen more Bergman movies or Scorsese movies (I’ve seen 7 of each).  Maybe in my movie watching life I’d even more Michael Bay films (also 7, mercifully he’s only made 9 features).  I’ve seen twice as many Spielberg movies.

Spielberg’s films have an internal consistency to them, his vision is one of hope triumphing over despair.  I’ve heard people find his worldview too rosy, and it’s true that he can’t resist romanticism.  I don’t think this is always a bad thing, unless you think that every work of art needs to be as dark and gritty as possible.   Spielberg rarely delves that deeply into individual characters to penetrate the dark recesses of the soul like Ingmar Bergman or Stanley Kubrick.   But do we really need him to?

I used to think that Spielberg had such a mastery of the big picture narrative that he couldn’t really make a movie that was completely character driven.  Lincoln (2012) of course, changed my opinion.  While the historical implications of the film’s plot are unquestionably monumental, equally without question is the fact that nothing much happens in the film.  After all, it only takes place over the course of a couple of weeks for the most part.  Even Spielberg’s best film, Schindler’s List (1993) is heavily dependent on plot and a massive narrative arc.  Lincoln, his next best film if you asked me today, while dealing with an important historical figure and event, is almost Ozu-esque in its simplicity (almost being the key word – Spielberg can’t resist a bit of pomp and circumstance during the film’s bookends).

While many great directors struggles outside of a certain genre (Hitchcock after all made almost exclusively thrillers), Spielberg is a notable exception.  The other 8 of his best films include thrillers (Jaws (1975), Jurassic Park (1993), Munich (2005)), adventure stories (E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)), war movies (Saving Private Ryan (1999)), and comedies (Catch Me If You Can (2002)).   Certainly Jaws is as much horror as thriller and Catch Me if You Can is as much an police procedural as comedy, demonstrating that it’s hard to pin down his films into genres at all.

So what makes Spielberg a great director?  His films contain a unique over-arching vision, are incredibly diverse as to style and genre, and extremely well-made.  He is too contemporary to really judge his influence but if young directors such as J.J. Abrams are any indication, his career will cast a long shadow indeed.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe