Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

I’m not a Trekkie. I’ve only seen maybe three or four episodes of the original series – something I will hopefully amend in the near future – but I enjoyed J.J. Abram’s first venture into the Star Trek universe in the 2009 film quite a bit, so I was anxious to see the sequel, and I liked it. A lot.

Star Trek Into Darkness opens with a scene in which Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise, played by Chris Pine, breaks several Starfleet rules and then lies about it, leading to a lecture from Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) about how Kirk is careless, selfish, and over-confident. In the wake of his punishment, Starfleet is attacked by a mysterious man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), leaving Kirk with no choice but to join his crew and track down this criminal. Along the way, Kirk struggles with making the right decisions and with protecting his crew from harm…and he can’t always do both.

The advantage that this film has over its predecessor is that it’s not an origin story, meaning that here we are dealing with the characters, their struggles, and their growth; the filmmakers didn’t have to establish their characters again because we as an audience are already familiar with them. That being said, Chris Pine does a fine job with communicating all of the conflict of his character to us, humanizing Kirk and showing that he is still a young man who can make mistakes – and makes plenty of them. Zachary Quinto as Spock also brings more to the table in this film; since Kirk and Spock are friends now, we see their relationship build and Spock make decisions based on that friendship rather than on logic. All of the familiar faces – Zoë Saldaña as Uhura, Karl Urban as Bones, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and John Cho as Sulu – do great jobs with their characters as well, with everyone building more on what was established in the first film. The newcomer, Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain John Harrison, brings all of the appropriate menace to the role, making him a formidable foe, and his acting chops are much, much better than Eric Bana’s were as Nero in the first film. I had seen Cumberbatch in Spielberg’s War Horse (my review) and in his BBC television series Sherlock (which is fantastic, by the way), but this was my first experience with him in a major film role, and it was definitely a positive one. His villain is very much multi-dimensional, and I even wondered at one point in the film if he was really the “bad guy” because of the incredible conviction that Cumberbatch plays him with.

The visual effects, as expected, are amazing, with the new worlds introduced to us ranging from bright and colorful to bleak and miserable, but all believable. While I’m normally indifferent to 3D, there was one moment while watching when it bothered me, which was in the very first scene when spears are being thrown in our faces…I think I actually tried to dodge one of them in my seat. However, the 3D is worth suffering through if you get the chance to see it in IMAX 3D – IMAX is always worth it, for any film. Seeing movies like this in IMAX, where everything is done on such a grand scale, only makes it even grander, which is wonderful. The music by Michael Giacchino, like his score to the first one (my review), and like any of his scores, is as expected – magnificent, intimate, and just awesome overall. But more on that later!

I must admit that, after walking out of the theater, I tried to figure out what the story was – how the villain became the villain, how this led to that, why this character did that, etc. I couldn’t tie the plot together…but I decided that I didn’t care. I walked out of that theater having had a blast, and that’s all that really matters to me in the long run…as long as there aren’t any huge problems with the movie elsewhere, and there weren’t. This movie, in my opinion at least, certainly improves upon its predecessor by giving us more – more character development, more destinations, more everything, and it’s entirely in a good way. I know there are lots of people out there who have concerns with J.J. Abrams directing the next Star Wars film, but, really, I think that if he can make such a fine science fiction space adventure film as Star Trek Into Darkness, it can’t turn out so bad. And with a cast that wants so badly to be better than they were in their previous film, succeeding in this attempt, I have high hopes for a Star Trek 3 in the future.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence

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Oscar Predictions 2013

2012 was a fantastic year for film, and, for the first time, I’ve seen a majority of the nominated films, including all nine Best Picture nominees, all five Best Animated Feature nominees, all five Best Live Action Short Film nominees, and all five Best Animated Short Film nominees. I also own and have listened through all five nominated Best Original Scores. Needless to say, I feel relatively prepared enough to type out my own predictions list for this year’s Academy Awards, with a little help from various other people’s lists in the technical area. Just to clarify, though: this does not necessarily reflect my personal favorites (otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen Mychael Danna’s score to Life of Pi for Best Original Score), but it instead shows what I actually think will win.

I’ll give commentary for the first six awards and will simply list the rest.

-Chad

P.S. If something is linked, it’s a link to my personal review of that material, if you’re interested in reading.

Best Picture: Argo

When I first decided that I was going to type up one of these, I argued with myself for a long time over whether or not Argo would win the Oscar for Best Picture, but now I’m almost positive. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, there have only been three instances ever when the winner of the Best Picture Award did not also win the Best Director Award, so, since Ben Affleck isn’t nominated for Best Director, I was leaning more toward Lincoln/Spielberg for the Best Picture/Director awards, but Argo has gotten enough steam built up behind it to snatch the Oscar, and rightfully so.

Best Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Had he been nominated, I think that Ben Affleck would have won this award for directing what is sure to win Best Picture, Argo, but, since he’s not, Spielberg seems to be the best choice. He has a long history of bringing us excellent films, and Lincoln was no exception. However, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Ang Lee received the award for directing Life of Pi, but I don’t expect that’ll happen.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

I wasn’t able to see The Master, but of the other four nominees there is no doubt that all four actors did fantastic jobs in their respective roles, but I think that Day-Lewis will take the cake after his incredible portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s latest film. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get the award, but, if I had to make a second guess, it’d be for Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook

I may have this one completely wrong, as Jessica Chastain also seems to be a popular pick for her role in Zero Dark Thirty (which I don’t agree with), but I think that Lawrence was the definitely the best of those nominated. I must admit to not having seeing The Impossible, but I’m pretty sure that the winner will be either Lawrence or Chastain, and my hope is for Lawrence.

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained

I’ve changed my mind about four times while trying to write this because both Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz in Django Unchained and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln were fantastic and are deserving of the Oscar. However, I do believe that Waltz’s performance shines just a bit brighter than Jones’, putting him at least slightly ahead in my book.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables

I am almost completely confident that Anne Hathaway will win this award. While Sally Field was a great Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacki Weaver did a fine job in Silver Linings Playbook (I haven’t seen The Master or The Sessions, but I’m sure that Amy Adams and Helen Hunt were great as well), but I think that Hathaway’s stunning performance of the classic “I Dreamed a Dream” is reason enough to justify her receiving the Oscar.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke for Amour

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio for Argo

Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

Best Documentary – Feature: Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary – Short Subject: Open Heart

Best Live Action Short Film: Curfew

Best Animated Short Film: Paperman

Best Original Score: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi

Best Original Song: Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth for “Skyfall”

Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

Best Production Design: Les Misérables

Best CinematographyLife of Pi

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Misérables

Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina

Best Film Editing: Argo

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi


Lincoln (2012) – John Williams

Long-time Spielberg collaborator John Williams has a history of composing some of the most iconic scores in film history; Star WarsRaiders of the Lost ArkJawsSupermanE.T. the Extra-TerrestrialJurassic Park, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were all brought to life by his incredible music. In his old age, Williams has slowed down a bit, but his scores to the 2011 films War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin were just as excellent as always. With War Horse, he took a more minimal approach than he typically has in the past, relying on gorgeous strings and warm brass to bring a feeling of intimacy to the film that fit the tone of the film. He uses this same approach with Lincoln, and the result is breathtaking.

The music in Lincoln perfectly embodies the American spirit. There is grandeur, there is majesty, there is conflict and resolution, there is emotion…Williams has captured it all. Much of this album is more solo-oriented, which helps with that intimacy that I mentioned before. The first track, “The People’s House,” opens with a single clarinet melody, low and calm, evoking visions of long hours spent in the Oval Office making decisions for the better of the country. Throughout the soundtrack, we are treated to solos from clarinet (“The People’s House,” “Equality Under the Law”), trumpet (“The Purpose of the Amendment,” “The American Process”), horn (“The Southern Delegation and the Dream,” “Father and Son”), and piano (“The Blue and Grey,” “Remembering Willie”). Each solo instrument brings forth a different emotion, enabling Williams to exploit these associations to accentuate the feelings in a particular scene. These emotions are made even more powerful once the solo instrument is joined by the full orchestra; the strings bring a warmth that reminds me of family and responsibility.

“The Blue and Grey” (obviously referring to the uniform of the Confederate Army) is a somber sort of track that hints at the tension between the Union and the Confederacy, while “With Malice Toward None” conveys Lincoln’s sense of duty to his country. “Father and Son” goes on to highlight Lincoln’s tentative relationship with his son in the midst of his presidential responsibilities, a sentiment that is continued in “Remembering Willie,” a terribly emotional track that echoes the grief felt by a distraught mother and her empathetic husband. “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” captures a grand moment in history with the timidity appropriate for such a solemn occasion, and it also expertly uses a choir to represent the almost spiritual element of the occasion.

Just on a quick aside, there is a short motive heard throughout the film that sounds nearly identical to a similar motive from Randy Newman’s score to the Disney/Pixar film A Bug’s Life. Compare this from “The American Process” to this excerpt from “Flik Leaves” on the soundtrack album for A Bug’s Life. Also, considering the fact that Abraham Lincoln is buried in Illinois, I thought it to be a nice touch that this score was appropriately recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

I could go on and on and on some more about this soundtrack, but I digress. It should be obvious that I think quite highly of Mr. Williams and his music for Lincoln. I think that it perfectly represents all of the complicated aspects of one of America’s most celebrated presidents: his dedication to his country, his love for his family, his moral dilemma in doing the right thing. John Williams’ score to Lincoln is film scoring at its very finest, proving that, even at 83, he’s still got it.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

1. “The People’s House” 3:43
2. “The Purpose of the Amendment” 3:07
3. “Getting Out the Vote” 2:49
4. “The American Process” 3:57
5. “The Blue and Grey” 3:00
6. “With Malice Toward None” 1:51
7. “Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom” 2:17
8. “The Southern Delegation and the Dream” 4:43
9. “Father and Son” 1:42
10. “The Race to the House” 2:42
11. “Equality Under the Law” 3:12
12. “Freedom’s Call” 6:08
13. “Elegy” 2:35
14. “Remembering Willie” 1:51
15. “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” 2:38
16. “The Peterson House and Finale” 11:00
17. “With Malice Toward None (Piano Solo)” 1:31

Total Length: app. 59 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Unfortunately, Indiana Jones was not a household name in my family. As a child, I might have watched bits and pieces of the original trilogy every now and again, but I did not sit down to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark all the way through until I was a sophomore in high school. From the epic boulder chase scene onward, I was hooked, and I’ve been a fan ever since…I even dressed as him for Halloween a while back, and the brown leather jacket that I own and wear regularly is an homage to this iconic character.

The appeal of Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t its storytelling, its special effects, or its score. Though all of these aspects are fantastic, the real appeal of the film is Indiana Jones as a character, and, likewise, Harrison Ford’s performance within that character. A cross between James Bond, Han Solo, and the sort of swashbuckling adventure characters portrayed by Errol Flynn, Professor Henry Jones, Jr., is chock-full of surprises, whether it’s his witty one-liners, his narrow escapes, or his ability to keep track of his hat at all times. He’s not an overly compassionate hero, and he may be a bit of a jerk at times, but his heart is in the right place and we can’t help but love him. Perhaps the coolest part of his character is knowing that he’s a college professor and that his archaeological adventures are just a hobby on the side…imagine if you had a college professor travelling the world and punching bad guys in addition to his teaching position!

The sets in this film are particularly spectacular, with the jungle at the beginning of the film and the Well of Souls being two of my favorites. Seeing Indy travel from a university to a tavern in Nepal to the streets of Cairo is a heck of a ride, and it all feels authentic and epic on a large scale. The action is fun and entirely fitting of Indy’s personality; the car chase scene is probably my favorite action scene of the Indiana Jones franchise, and who could forget the scene where an exhausted Indy shoots the scimitar-wielding Egyptian in the streets of Cairo? The characters on the side, especially John Rhys-Davies as Sallah, are lovable and memorable, with the Nazi villain Toht being one of the creepiest I’ve ever seen.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic for a reason. While George Lucas has proven himself to be a nutcase over the years, his talent for creating an original concept and Spielberg’s talent for bringing life to a movie screen join together for this film, backed by John Williams’ fantastic main theme and score, making one of the most iconic characters and films of all time. When I saw it on the IMAX screen a few months ago, it was as magical as if I was seeing it for the first time, so, in that sense, it is timeless and more and more fun every time I watch it.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG


Lincoln (2012)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 5 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a film that I had been excited for for quite a long time, though I must admit that the main aspect that attracted me was the promise of a new John Williams score. However, that’s not to say that I wasn’t excited for the film itself; history fascinates me, and the story of Abraham Lincoln, arguably the finest president to ever lead our nation, was one that I was anxious to see adapted for the big screen. And at the hands of Spielberg, one of the best filmmakers of all time, what could go wrong?

The correct answer to that question is “very little.” While Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the United States’ 16th president, is not an exciting film or a film that features extended action scenes, I was fascinated throughout. To see the political process behind all of the goings-on in the House of Representatives was interesting, and the look and feel of the movie, including everything from the costumes to the sets to the screenplay, felt genuine and authentic to the time period. The film focuses on the last few months of Lincoln’s life and on his struggle to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the amendment that would abolish slavery in the United States, to pass in the House of Representatives. This issue was one that hit me pretty hard – to imagine people enslaving other people for personal benefit just because of a difference in skin color sickens me, to the point that I actually felt angry at moments in the film. This in itself is a testament to Spielberg’s storytelling skills and to his ability to make the audience truly care about what is happening onscreen.

The film features several fantastic performances from well-known actors. Tommy Lee Jones appears as Thaddeus Stevens, a role in which we see him once again excel at delivering amusing one-liners, but we also see a refreshing depth in character that I, having only seen Jones in two other movies previously, was not expecting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays the president’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln. Though he doesn’t appear in much of the film, his performance is still marked with strong emotion and a powerful sense of purpose. David Straithairn and a handful of other actors also appear and do a fine job.

However, the real stars of this film are Sally Field as the president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Daniel Day-Lewis as the president himself. When the two share the screen together, you feel a combination of sensations pulling you in all directions: you feel the strain that the presidency has put on their marriage, the anguish that they continue to feel over the loss of their son Willie, but, most of all, the love that they have for each other in spite of it all. Day-Lewis conveys all of the complicated emotions felt by the president, whether the emotions deal with his love and dedication to his family, his passion for equality, or the weariness that has taken over him as he struggles to mend the nation at the roughest point in our history.

With such strong performances from the lead actors, a smart script that kept me captivated throughout, and a beautifully respectful musical score by returning Spielberg collaborator John Williams, Lincoln is a film that you don’t want to miss out on. If Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t walk away from the Academy Awards with the Oscar for Best Actor, I’ll be dumbfounded. The film is sure to be nominated in several other categories as well, but don’t wait for the Academy to tell you…go see it!

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – 13 – for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by John Williams, here!


War Horse (2011)

Steven Spielberg brings movie magic to the big screen yet again with his adaptation of the book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. 

One way to think of this film is as a modern-day – well, World War I-era – version of Homer’s The Odyssey, with war obstacles instead of mythical beasts. Joey/Odysseus, the horse, is just trying to find his way back home to Albert/Penelope, but to get there he first wanders through Europe/the Mediterranean Sea, coming into contact with various war scenarios/mythical creatures. Looking at it from that perspective, I enjoyed it even more since I was a big fan of The Odyssey. It’s an epic adventure with a war hero, except this time around he’s a horse, making it all the more touching.

Everything in this film was superbly well-done. Each of the actors and actresses held themselves to a high standard, presenting the audience with genuine, heartfelt emotion: despair that makes us cringe with worry, joy that makes us grin from ear to ear, and love that brings tears to our eyes. One standout performance comes from Jeremy Irvine, who portrays the lead character of Albert. His apparent connection with Joey is believable and warm, making their separation all the more upsetting and their eventual reunion incredibly satisfying.

Another great, albeit short, performance comes from Tom Hiddleston as Captain Nicholls, a man who resolves to look after a horse with as much love and care as was given by the boy he was taken from. Hiddleston, whether as Nicholls or Loki, has an uncanny likability that draws you into caring for him. Benedict Cumberbatch, another rising British star, also makes a brief appearance in the film as Major Stewart. This was the first time I’d ever seen Cumberbatch in anything; what strikes me as remarkable about him is that he seems to almost ooze authority with apparent ease. His stint as a major in the British army is impressive and powerful. Other notable appearances in the film are by Celine Buckens as Emilie, who is a perfect example of innocence, and Niels Arestrup as her grandfather, who delivers a brilliant monologue about how sometimes bravery is never looking down and always looking forward.

Spielberg’s talent for setting scenes in huge ways is very apparent here; the beauty of Europe as a backdrop is made exceptionally clear, contrasting deeply with the images of war and violence seen in the forefront. All of this makes the film feel large but in an intimate way, as if the war is simply the backdrop for the more personal relationship between a young man and his horse.

War Horse is a fantastic film that feels old-fashioned in a marvelous way. Spielberg has combined his natural talent for making dazzling films with an outstanding cast, a heartwarming story of friendship and loyalty, and an extremely beautiful film score by longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams to make the film his best in years.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of war violence