THE BFG (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action/Peril, some Scary Moments and brief Rude Humor

BFG poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Melissa Mathison

(based on the novel THE BFG by Roald Dahl)

Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall & Bill Hader

Though his novels are magnificently imaginative, author Roald Dahl’s film adaptations seem cursed at the box office. This has occurred numerous times over the decades. Even though it found later success through TV airings and is now considered a timeless classic by many, WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY originally flopped in the theaters (though its lesser Burtonized remake was a success). The same fate befell the creepy THE WITCHES in 1990 and cult favorite JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH in 1996. Not even Steven Spielberg seems immune from the Dahl curse, because his adaptation of THE BFG has recently made headlines for bombing. However, that has nothing to do with the quality of this film itself, because BFG (which stands for Big Friendly Giant, get your mind out of the gutter) is a heartwarming fantasy that’s fun for all ages.

BFG 1

Set in 1980’s London, THE BFG opens with young orphan Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) awake at the witching hour (3 am). Though she’s suspected his presence many times, Sophie has never actually met the “boogeyman” until tonight. This boogeyman turns out to be a big eared, speech impaired giant (Mark Rylance in a motion capture performance) who takes Sophie back to his cave-like home. Unlike other giants in Giant Country, Sophie’s gigantic captor doesn’t eat children. Instead this Big Friendly Giant (or BFG, as Sophie calls him) opts to eat foul-tasting cucumber-like vegetables and catches dreams for sleeping children. Sophie and the BFG become fast friends, but the fearsome brutish giants begin to suspect that BFG is harboring a new pet…and a potential snack for them.

BFG 2

BFG’s biggest (pardon the pun) highlights come from the many scenes between Sophie and the main giant. Mark Rylance (who won Best Supporting Actor for his other recent Spielberg outing) is oddly adorable as the naïve, well-intentioned Big Friendly Giant. Having known in advance that Rylance delivered his performance through motion capture, I distinctly recognized his face on this giant character for the entire running time…even if huge ears, frail hair, and a thin chin were morphed into his CGI looks. You have to wonder how much time Rylance spent on the set though, because a majority of the film seems to have young Ruby Barnhill acting against creatures and environments that aren’t really there. Huge props to this child actress, because she puts in a far better performance than one might expect from a kid acting by themselves. This story almost entirely focuses on the friendship of Sophie and Big Friendly Giant, while supporting characters seem to exist merely for jokes and plot devices.

BFG 3

Weak supporting characters don’t lessen the colorful environments and weird-looking giants that Spielberg brings from the page to the screen. This big-screen BFG is very faithful to the source material, which means that there are magical moments, darker aspects (lines of dialogue referring to the other giants feasting on children), and a timelessly upbeat atmosphere to this fairy tale. That being said, it seems like Spielberg was dialing himself back a bit in THE BFG. With E.T. and his other family films as well as Roald Dahl’s books themselves, there was a sense to treat kids with a level of maturity that was rather unheard of at the time. There were dark, scary threats in these stories (on the page and screen) that made the happy, lighter moments shine even brighter. THE BFG tiptoes around a couple of these more intense areas, with the other giants set up as (literal) big antagonists, but Spielberg seems disinterested in these villains and they seem underused as a result.

THE BFG

Executed with visual flair, charm, and whimsy, THE BFG is a simple and sweet fantasy-adventure that’s bound to entertain kids, captivate grown-ups through impressive imagery, and feels like a throwback to a better time for live-action kid’s entertainment. Although it doesn’t go as far as it could have in certain areas and resorts to fart humor on a couple of occasions (one joke is actually well set up and executed), THE BFG is an all-around good movie. It’s not one of Spielberg’s best films, but it remains an entertaining fantasy that’s likely to please both adults and children.

Grade: B

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

RaidersArk poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan

Starring: Harrison Ford, Paul Freeman, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliott, Wolf Kahler & Alfred Molina

Unlike many film fans, I didn’t grow up with an instant nostalgia for Indiana Jones. I vaguely remember sitting through the original trilogy, but most of my memories revolve around the infamous beating heart scene from TEMPLE OF DOOM and the awesome Disneyland ride. So when RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was announced as a title in this Spring’s Cinemark Classic series, I was pretty excited to experience this acclaimed adventure on the big screen (the way it was meant to be seen). It’s been a full day since watching the film and I’m still reeling from it. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is the cinematic equivalent of an exciting rollercoaster ride!

RaidersArk 1

Set in 1936, Indiana Jones may seem like an average college professor to his colleagues, but has an interest hobby of exploring dangerous places in search of rare artifacts. When some G-Men come knocking to inform Jones that the Nazis are searching for the fabled Ark of the Covenant, Indiana is intrigued by a potential new treasure hunt. In order to keep this mystical relic from falling into occult-obsessed Nazi hands, Indiana Jones makes a perilous trek to Cairo. Finding the Ark is easier said than done as ancient clues must be unearthed, danger lurks around every corner, and a familiar face from Jones’ past reenters his life, former lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).

RaidersArk 2

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is non-stop excitement from its iconic opening to its memorable finale. This film is so fast-paced that the brief breaks it offers in between its many creative action-packed scenarios seem there entirely for the purpose of giving the viewer a quick breather before heading right back into the action. Director Steven Spielberg had a few hits under his belt at this point in his career (JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), but RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK could likely be considered the film that cemented his reputation in Hollywood as an unquestionable force to be reckoned with. The film perfectly balances comedy with action in a way that lets you constantly laugh while remaining on the edge of your seat.

RaidersArk 3

Besides being exciting and funny the whole way through, it should also be noted that RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is surprisingly violent. I was taken aback (in a good way) at how mean this movie was to its villains. While TEMPLE OF DOOM was the film that pretty much invented the PG-13 rating (along with GREMLINS), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK definitely had a hand in making parents scratch their heads at what was getting through the PG rating. People are impaled, stabbed, shot, have their faces melted off, and also get run over by trucks (complete with comically over-the-top hands and legs flying up to emphasize the impact). I’m not complaining (far from it), but I was genuinely surprised at how balls-to-the-wall RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was in its bloody portrayal of death and danger. It also adds the sense that threats are lurking around every corner (from elaborate booby traps to a floor filled with venomous snakes).

RaidersArk 4

It is hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones, even though Tom Selleck was originally offered the part. Eventually, Spielberg convinced a reluctant George Lucas to cast Harrison Ford in the lead role and averted another severely dumb Lucas decision (because we already have plenty of those floating around). Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and nobody else could possibly fill the character’s shoes. Ford is simply the perfect fit for the iconic fedora-wearing explorer!

RaidersArk 5

The film boasts memorable performances on the sidelines as well. The beautiful Karen Allen plays Marion Ravenwood and is slightly more than just another damsel-in-distress (though she finds herself in that position numerous times). She actually aids Jones in fighting off some of the baddies and contributes to one of the film’s most exciting sequences (a battle alongside a grounded plane). Aside from Ravenwood, another great character comes in Egyptian digger Sallah, John Rhys-Davies serving as a comic relief sidekick. The villains are one-dimensional, but entertaining nonetheless. Paul Freeman plays a rival archeologist who isn’t above trying to murder Jones in cold blood and working with the Nazis for personal gain. As far as the German baddies go, Ronald Lacey is unbelievably creepy as a sadistic Gestapo agent.

RaidersArk 6

Stellar production values and an unforgettable John Williams score are icing on the cake. Indiana Jones is one of the biggest heroes in cinema and though I never quite grew up with him in the way that many others have, I completely understand why people love this character! RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is pretty much the perfect adventure film. It never slows down, moves from creative set piece to creative set piece, occasionally might scare some viewers (the opening of the Ark is legitimately creepy), and will thrill you from start to finish. Harrison Ford’s performance as Indiana Jones really sells the whole film, but everything else would make for a stellar movie…even with the absence of Ford’s iconic character. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is a classic adventure for the ages!

Grade: A+

BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Violence and brief Strong Language

BridgeSpies poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Domenick Lombardozzi, Sebastian Koch, Eve Hewson & Peter McRobbie

BRIDGE OF SPIES sounded like a stellar project right from the beginning. You have Steven Spielberg directing Tom Hanks in a script written by the Coen brothers. It sounds like this film couldn’t possibly go wrong even if it tried. Based on a fascinating true story and set during the height of the Cold War, BRIDGE OF SPIES is an enthralling piece of cinema. That’s made even more impressive seeing that the film is made up of a bunch of conversations and people walking to conversations. If this doesn’t sound the least bit intense, then don’t worry, because you’ll be surprised at how suspenseful conversations can be when they involve warring nations and negotiations that might save lives.

BridgeSpies 1

James Donovan is a gifted insurance lawyer living in Brooklyn. He’s very good at his job, so good that his superiors want him to defend a man who they believe no one else could possibly craft a defense for. Donovan’s latest client is Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy. Unsurprisingly, the evidence is overwhelmingly against Abel and mob mentality is calling for the man to be hanged. Donovan tries his very best to keep Abel from getting the death penalty. That turns out to be both a wise and humane move as Russia has captured an American spy of their own. Pilot Gary Powers was shot down in a specialized plane traveling through Soviet territory. So, taking his safety and life into his own hands, Donovan travels across the dangerous borders of East Germany and West Berlin to negotiate a trade of Abel for Powers.

BridgeSpies 2

Unsurprisingly, Tom Hanks delivers yet another stellar performance. The man knows how to emote on a convincing level and he does the same thing here as James Donovan. You can feel that Donovan is a man who just wants to do what’s right and the compassionate side to his character makes him charming to watch. This character can also lay down an articulate verbal beatdown on certain people in this movie who need a good tongue-lashing. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen Mark Rylance in anything that stood out to me, but he’s great as Rudolf Abel. Even though he’s a Soviet spy, I couldn’t bring myself to hate this character. He seems quietly dignified and resigned to his fate, whatever that eventual fate might be. Next to Hanks, I’d argue that Rylance steals the show, even though his scenes are far more plentiful in the first half of the film. The rest of the performances are stellar, but I feel the only other major players come in Austin Stowell as Gary Powers and Scott Shepherd as a CIA agent who is aiding Donovan in his negotiations.

BridgeSpies 3

As far as setting goes, Steven Spielberg captures an era where it seems like it was impossible to feel safe. As idealistically peaceful as certain movies and TV shows paint the 1950’s, it’s more realistic to believe that people were frequently worried that Russia was going to bomb the country or invade small towns. Spielberg successfully gets across the sense of unease that seems to have been a constant during the Cold War. I believed that I was watching an authentic recreation of a certain period in recent history and that becomes even more apparent when the movie goes to Germany for a majority of its second half. It’s all beautifully shot and pain-staking attention to detail seems to have been put into every frame.

BridgeSpies 4

This constant tension also lives within the Coens’ dialogue. Though there are a handful of funny moments and good quotes, I found myself fully engaged in watching a number of different people simply have conversations for two hours about the Cold War and swapping spies. Every time I heard that the plan had hit a “snag” or had a “wrinkle,” I found myself thinking “How are they going to solve this mess now?” It became an automatic response for the plight of these characters and that alone shows that the story was insanely compelling.

BridgeSpies 5

Spielberg arguably doesn’t go as far as he could have in depicting the harsh conditions of Berlin (this is PG-13 after all), but there’s a sense of constant danger here. A couple of speeches made by Hanks in the opening act border on becoming melodramatic, usually revolving around the repeated question of “What makes us American?” However, these are two minor complaints in an otherwise excellent film. BRIDGE OF SPIES is another winner for Spielberg, Hanks, and the Coen brothers. I would love to see these four talented names unite once again for something special in the future. BRIDGE OF SPIES is mature filmmaking that should deeply move those who are up for a movie that’s on the more serious side of things.

Grade: A

JAWS (1975)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

Jaws poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Peter Benchley & Carl Gottlieb

(based on the novel JAWS by Peter Benchley)

Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary & Murray Hamilton

JAWS is the quintessential shark movie. It’s the ultimate killer animal flick. This is the sensation that kicked off the creation of the summer movie season. Based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name, JAWS is a movie bound to make anyone who watches it afraid of sharks. While sharks are already scary as hell in my opinion, Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley capitalized on that with this thrilling adventure! There’s not exactly a lot I can say about JAWS that hasn’t already been said by thousands of other people, but I do feel the need to talk about this film…so I’ll post my thoughts in this review anyway. Because it’s my website and I can talk about whatever movie I want to. Don’t judge me…

Jaws 1

Amity Island is a peaceful little community that makes most of its profit off summer tourism. Plenty of vacationers go out of their way to visit the beautiful beaches for the Fourth of July every year. This Fourth of July celebration might not exactly go over that well as Police Chief Brody discovers that a killer shark has carved out a piece of territory alongside the island. This monster of a fish is eating unlucky folks (including skinny-dipping hippies, hapless sailors, and even a poor little kid). It’s a bad situation that’s made even worse when the reluctant mayor won’t let Brody close the beaches. Aided by Hooper (an oceanographer) and the crazed Quint (who hunts sharks for a living), Brody takes to the ocean to kill the shark before it devours anyone else.

Jaws 2

It would be crazy to say that a simple technical difficulty helped make JAWS the masterpiece that it is, but that’s sort of true. The mechanical shark (nicknamed Bruce) was constantly breaking down and Spielberg was unable to show the giant fish for almost the entire first half of the film. This led to a less-is-more approach where we are shown a simple fin in the water, a shadowy outline or iconic POV shots as the shark moves in for the kill. I’m sure JAWS would have been entertaining and fun even with the shark being shown constantly, but it’s made that much better because the big bad fish isn’t fully revealed until about halfway through the film. What’s even more surprising is this film’s PG rating (which meant something totally different at the time) as it’s graphically violent. The opening shark attack isn’t particularly gory, but it’s still terrifying to watch. We are shown a severed limb and a few bloody body parts as the film progresses. However, JAWS isn’t simply a slasher film with a shark…which it might have become in the wrong hands and JAWS 2 is an example of how badly this could have turned out. Instead, the movie sustains a constant suffocating tension that never grants the viewer any relief until the end credits have rolled.

Jaws 3

Tense feeling in the pit of my stomach be damned, the characters are a blast to watch. These are some of the most well-crafted people to ever grace the silver screen. We know everything we need to know about them through their actions and the way they speak to each other. Chief Brody is a likable protagonist played to perfection by Roy Scheider. Hooper is a kind (and rich) person obsessed with sharks and desperately wants to save the day with Brody. Richard Dreyfuss will always be Hooper to me, even if he’s been in many other movies since. The scene-stealer comes in Robert Shaw’s Quint. He’s a one-of-a-kind hermit-like crazy person. He can be fun in one moment, but unpredictably crazed during the next. It’s all part of who he is. One performance that doesn’t get as much light shone on it (and really should) is the insufferable mayor played by Murray Hamilton. Besides the shark, he feels like the primary antagonist and represents every awful quality in politics. He’s all about image, profit and doesn’t seem to give a damn about who gets hurt in the process until it starts hurting his image. There’s never a scene featuring him where you won’t be furious at this character and that’s exactly how he should have been played.

Jaws

With only three small movies behind him, Steven Spielberg constructed a masterpiece in JAWS. Every scene is a joy to watch and the constant atmosphere of terror is sure to be conjured up whenever anyone speaks the title. Everything about this film is perfect in my opinion and I don’t have a single complaint or negative thing to say about it. JAWS is an expertly crafted blockbuster that helped change the world of filmmaking and also give birth to the summer movie season. To say this is simply the best killer animal movie ever made would be doing the film a disservice as it’s one of the best movies ever made. Rest assured, after watching this, you’ll be afraid to go into the water!

Grade: A+

GREMLINS (1984)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

Gremlins poster

Directed by: Joe Dante

Written by: Chris Columbus

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Howie Mandel & Frank Welker

Out of all the pint-sized monster films (not exactly a subgenre known for its originality and quality) in cinematic history, GREMLINS is likely the best. This horror-comedy is full of creature chaos, dark humor, and silly scenes. Director Joe Dante (who also helmed THE HOWLING and the second-best segment in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE) made an enjoyable monster movie that feels like it would be right at home in the 1950’s…if it weren’t for the impressive practical effects and surprising level of violence. GREMLINS is one of those nostalgic pieces of entertainment that encapsulates what 80’s family classics are made of (ala THE GOONIES and MONSTER SQUAD).

MSDGREM EC029

Inventor Randall Peltzer is searching for a special Christmas present for his son, Billy. When he stumbles across an underground store in Chinatown, it seems that he’s found the perfect gift: a furry, adorable creature called a Mogwai. Billy begins to care for this Mogwai, named Gizmo, as an unusual pet. However, there are three rules that come with Mogwai. You can’t expose them to bright light. You can’t get them wet. Most importantly, you can’t feed them after midnight. Billy accidentally breaks all three of these rules and soon after, reptilian-looking Gremlins are wreaking havoc in his small town on Christmas Eve. It’s up to Billy and Gizmo to put a stop to this monstrous mess.

MSDGREM EC021

Believe it or not, GREMLINS is one of the films that had a significant impact on the MPAA’s rating system (alongside RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and POLTERGEIST). Though it only sports a PG rating, GREMLINS contains some surprisingly dark moments. There are creepy images on display, including cocoons that form before the actual Gremlins emerge. I also like how the movie took a semi-JAWS approach before reveling in the Gremlins themselves. You only catch a few shadows and a very brief glimpse, before the movie goes balls-out in showing off the little monsters. The film is surprisingly violent too, not that I’m complaining. While you don’t necessarily see a lot of people get killed by the Gremlins (there are a couple), the title monsters themselves get it pretty bad. One sequence with Billy’s mother wandering through her house while five Gremlins stalk her is both suspenseful and beyond satisfying as the little monsters bite it in gruesome ways.

MMDGREM EC001

GREMLINS isn’t all good though, because the humor is very hit-or-miss. The movie especially gets a little too stupid in its final third. There are two montages that go on way too long: Gremlins drinking at a bar and Gremlins partying at a movie theater. It’s not as if these ideas are terrible (though the bar thing is dumb), but they drag out and feel tired. While the last third of this movie gets downright comedic, one depressing monologue comes right out of nowhere and is arguably a bit too dark for this film. It’s not like it’s a bad monologue, but it’s oddly placed and doesn’t help the shifting tone of the story. The mixed bag of characters complicate things too. Billy is an okay protagonist, but bland. Meanwhile, Dick Miller is great as a drunk neighbor with a prejudice against foreign machines. Of course, in a monster movie like this one, the characters aren’t supposed to the be the stars. Those would be the Gremlins themselves and they’re fun to watch, even if they can be too ridiculous.

MMDGREM EC008

This is one of those family films that had a big impact on kids growing up during the 80’s and 90’s. The tone of the movie doesn’t exactly stay consistent. Sometimes, it’s all-out comedic (a couple of montages are way too long) and it can also be a bit too dark (a Santa Clause monologue comes right out of nowhere). However, it makes up for its shortcomings though legitimately creepy moments and a risky level of chaos. GREMLINS is enjoyable and easily the best little-monster movie that I’ve ever seen (competing with the likes of GHOULIES and CRITTERS). Recommended!

Grade: B

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

TZone poster

Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller

Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison & Jerome Bixby

Starring: Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd, Vic Morrow, Doug McGrath, Charles Hallahan, Scatman Crothers, Bill Quinn, Martin Gamer, Selma Diamond, Helen Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy & John Lithgow

From 1959 until 1964, Rod Serling made a splash on the small screen with a hugely influential and acclaimed anthology series called THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The episodes could range from scary to heartfelt and almost always had an otherworldly edge around them. During the early 80’s, four influential directors became attached to a big screen adaptation of Serling’s small screen series. Drawing inspiration from original episodes and turning them into four distinct segments of this movie, each director delivers their signature style in a TWILIGHT ZONE story of their own. What results is a sometimes mixed bag, but mostly quality horror/sci-fi anthology. Now, onto the stories themselves…

MCDTWZO EC001

PROLOGUE: This opening segment (running at just under 10 minutes) follows two men driving along a desolated road. When the radio breaks, the pair entertain themselves through casual conversation and little road games, but this all takes a dark turn when one man asks the other if he wants to see something “really scary.” This opening runs a bit too long as it’s just one big set-up for a jump scare that is tame by today’s standards. This brief prologue is not particularly great, but still has its charming qualities. B-

MSDTWZO EC010

TIME OUT: Bill Connor is an ill-tempered bigot. After getting drunk at a bar and going on a verbal insult spree against black people, Asians, and Jews, Bill finds himself stuck in a shifting timeline of hatred as he runs for his life from Nazis, American soldiers in Vietnam, and the KKK. This segment gave the film notoriety after a fatal on-stage accident claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two illegally hired child actors. That tragedy and legal trial overshadow what is a fairly good story with a grim moral message. In spite of never actually completing this segment (which originally had a far more uplifting ending), the continuity blends together well. It’s a dark segment with great acting from Vic Morrow as a hate-filled man forced to sympathize with those he despises. Good moral, good ending, but a horrible on-stage accident casts a shadow over the whole film. A-

MSDTWZO EC006

KICK THE CAN: It’s pretty easy to identify the worst story in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Ironically enough, it comes from the biggest name out of the four directors. Steven Spielberg strays from the dark and eerie tone of the rest of the anthology to tell a charming/cheesy story about old folks in a retirement home recovering their youth in a magical game of Kick the Can. This segment starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into an overly sappy, melodramatic mess. Besides the story going far too over-the-top and not tonally blending in with the rest of the film, the child actors are really bad. It seems that Spielberg had the kids try to imitate elderly people as opposed to just being kids and it doesn’t work at all. C-

MCDTWZO EC003

IT’S A GOOD LIFE: Based on one of the TWILIGHT ZONE’s best episodes, this story follows a schoolteacher who befriends a young child named Anthony. After she driving Anthony to his home, it becomes quickly clear that his living situation is abnormal to say the least. The teacher quickly learns the frightening truth that the saying “If you can dream it, you can do it” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Anthony. This second best installment of the bunch manages to nail down the right balance of over-the-top and scary. It starts off a little slow, but quickly gains momentum with impressive visuals and a crazy storyline. Honestly, I think director Joe Dante would have been right at home doing a whole TWILIGHT ZONE anthology all by himself, but then we wouldn’t have this film’s closing segment (more on that in a moment). A

MSDTWZO EC003

NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET: Talk about going out on a high (no pun intended), NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET is an adaptation that’s actually better than the iconic episode that inspired it. A nervous passenger on an airplane is flying through a turbulent storm. He’s scared out of his wits, but tries to maintain a positive attitude that the plane will land in once piece…that is, until he sees something on the wing of the plane. This story truly is the best this film has to offer. Directed by George Miller (the same man who brought us the MAD MAX series), NIGHMARE AT 20,000 FEET literally feels like a nightmare put onto the screen. To merely call this story intense or creepy would be doing a disservice to the material. Aided by John Lithgow’s stellar performance, Miller manages to capture a sense of claustrophobic chaos that will have you on the edge of your seat through the whole story. Also, there’s a nice call-back to an early segment that will at least get a chuckle out of you (if not a shiver down your spine as well). A+

MSDTWZO EC009

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is, like most anthologies, a bit of a mixed bag. There’s only one really disappointing story (ironically enough, it happens to be from the most accomplished director attached to this project), a decent prologue, and three tales that measure up to varying degrees of greatness. This film is worth seeing if only for the last two segments. Overall, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is an anthology film that’s well worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 3 hours 15 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexuality and Actuality Violence

Schindler poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Steven Zaillian

(based on the novel SCHINDLER’S ARK by Thomas Keneally)

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz & Malgorzata Gebel

Of all the atrocities in human history, the Holocaust certainly makes an argument for being one of the most depressing and depraved acts of evil. However, in times of unspeakable evil, goodness can always shine through in the kind actions of caring individuals. German businessman Oskar Schindler put his life on the line and went above and beyond to save 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler’s heroic actions are brilliantly brought to stark life in SCHINDLER’S LIST, which also serves as director Steven Spielberg’s finest hour. This film is a masterpiece that is absolutely essential viewing.

MBDSCLI EC004

The time is WWII and Jews are systematically being stripped of their basic human rights. It is no wonder why Oskar Schindler has come up with a pretty ingenious, crooked plan to run a new company by employing Jews. Schindler is profiting off slave labor and reaping all the financial benefits. His Jewish assistant, Itzhak Stern, uses Schindler’s company to employ as many Jews as possible…much to Schindler’s dismay as he sees his business as a business instead of a safe haven. Though Schindler starts off as a uncaring businessman, he finds himself changed as the war continues and circumstances get more dire for his workers. This film tells Oskar Schindler’s story in beautiful and tragic detail.

MBDSCLI EC009

SCHINDLER’S LIST is ambitious epic that spans the duration of the Holocaust, detailing each significant step in that horrifying genocide. Despite being made in 1993, the film captures WWII Germany as best as it might ever be captured on the silver screen. There’s no possible way to bring all the real-life horrors to the screen, but Steven Spielberg definitely nails a suffocating atmosphere of despair that most certainly hovered over the concentration camps. Black-and-white cinematography lends to a timeless feeling, but also doesn’t shy from graphic visuals. Be warned, this movie is hard to watch in many places and frequently disturbing, as it should be considering the subject matter. At its heart, this is the story of one good man who did his best to save lives in the face of insurmountable wickedness.

MCDSCLI UV007

Liam Neeson is astounding as Schindler. Before Neeson became the unlikely action star that he is today, there was a quiet dignity around him. This quality shines through in Neeson’s Schindler going through a wholly believable transformation from cold businessman to unlikely hero. You grow to care about Schindler and appreciate every ounce of goodness this man contains in his bones, especially when he explains to skeptical Nazi officers why children and the elderly are essential to his company (thus saving their lives). Ben Kingsley disappears into his role as Stern who gradually becomes a best friend to Schindler as the years go on. Ralph Fiennes dominates his scenes as SS-captain Amon Goeth. Molding his portrayal based on actual testimonies from concentration camp survivors, Fiennes is scary and stone-faced as the Nazi. War can bring out the worst in people, but Goeth seems to have been an utter sociopath enjoying the benefits of killing without repercussions. Scenes between Neeson and Fiennes give some of the heaviest pieces of dialogue in the whole film, including a discussion about what makes real power.

MCDSCLI UV008

SCHINDLER’S LIST encompasses a lot of strong emotions. Oskar Schindler’s journey and selfless actions are inspiring and beautiful. The Holocaust imagery is harrowing and heart-breaking. I cannot think of one single moment where I was ever bored as this film covers a lot of ground with a steady pace that manages to capture years of sorrow in a running time of just over three hours. A scene involving the showers at Auschwitz is an agonizingly intense sequence and the ending is one of the biggest tear-jerking cinematic experiences that I’ve ever seen (I wound up nearly sobbing as a result).

MCDSCLI UV011

SCHINDLER’S LIST is deserving of every single accolade, bit of praise and award it has received since it’s release. Though Spielberg has laid down many cinematic corner stones in his career, this is the masterpiece that he’ll always be remembered for. War certainly brings out the worst in people, but also manages to bring out inherent kindness of genuinely good human beings. SCHINDLER’S LIST is a classic that deserves to go down as one of the greatest films ever made and one of the most important films that you’ll ever watch.

Grade: A+

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sci-Fi Terror and Violence

LostWorld poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: David Koepp

(based on the novel THE LOST WORLD by Michael Crichton)

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard & Peter Stormare

Following the massive success of JURASSIC PARK, there were immediate talks of sequels. So Michael Crichton wrote a sequel novel (a first in his career) and faster than you could say cash-in, there was a script ready (by David Koepp, co-writer of the first film) and Spielberg was helming the entire project. In 1997, after four years of anticipation, audiences were treated to a middle-of-the-road sequel. What exactly makes this second installment so mediocre? Perhaps, it’s that there are many repetitive scenes that were done far better in the first film. One might argue that it could be the silly excuse for a story and hollow characters. Maybe, just maybe, it was the need to be overly excessive and unnecessarily dark in tone. At the end of the day, a combination of iffy factors make for an iffy movie and that’s definitely the case with THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK.

MSDLOWO EC023

Years have passed since the disaster of John Hammond’s prehistoric theme park. Chaos theorist Ian Malcolm is still recovering from the traumatic experience of being chased by man-eating dinosaurs. Imagine his surprise when he’s unwillingly recruited by the now disgraced Hammond to investigate a second island filled with dinosaurs. This mysterious second island was meant to be a natural preserve for the dino-clones. Ian and a ragtag group of researchers find their already dangerous expedition to the second island becoming even more dangerous thanks to a group of hunters led by Hammond’s evil nephew, Peter. Soon tensions between the groups rise and their expedition becomes a struggle to survive from more vicious dinosaurs.

MSDLOWO EC002

A comparison between LOST WORLD and JURASSIC PARK is inevitable, seeing as the second novel wouldn’t even exist without the success of the first movie. This sequel feels like a cash-in. The story is a piss-poor flimsy excuse for more people to get eaten by dinosaurs. Hollow characters don’t help either. Jeff Goldblum was an annoying asshole in the first movie, but that’s who his character was. Here, he feels like he’s forcing comic relief lines and seems distracted by the big paycheck on his mind. Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn are equally as wooden. There’s also the godawful inclusion of an annoying kid character. While the first film had children in peril, those young actors were convincing in their roles and smartly written. The annoying addition of Ian’s smart-aleck, easily frightened child adds nothing but frustration to this film. A scene where she eliminates a Velicoraptor through gymnastics is beyond stupid.

MCDLOWO EC015

As the movie moves from set-piece to set-piece, there are a few neat moments to be had. The tone is far darker than in the original, which lends to more grisly deaths. My favorite of which being Peter Stormare’s ill-fated scumbag coming face to face with a pack of pissed off Compys (small carnivorous scavengers). These little beasties are arguably the best part of the entire film, but only pop up for a handful of scenes. The special effects bringing the dinosaurs to life somehow look less impressive than the first film, but do the job just fine. There’s still some entertainment value to be found in dinosaurs eating people, but the overlong running time (slightly longer than the first movie) drags to a crawl in the final third.

MSDLOWO EC012

Spielberg regarded the T-Rex as the show-stealer of the original, so it seems like he was having a blast in this sequel. More time is devoted to the T-Rex than any other dinosaur. Velociraptors are noticeably absent aside from a brief 10 minute patch of film. While the Compys are a cool new dinosaur, other fresh-faced prehistoric reptiles (including a Stegosaurus) pretty much exist for a brief minute or two and then vanish entirely. The main problem with THE LOST WORLD comes in it feeling so derivative and repetitive with an unnecessary amount of excess. In the original, a scumbag with disregard for the monster in from of him was killed by a scary-as-hell Dilophosaurus. In this sequel, that moment happens twice with Compys and a baby T-Rex. In the first, there was an exciting car chase between three people and a T-Rex. In the sequel, there’s a similar chase on foot where the amount of people running is upped purely for a higher body count. The list of scenes goes on and on. It’s almost as if Spielberg, Koepp, and Crichton tried to clone the original film with more violent sensibilities. The end result is a lackluster, overly familiar disappointment.

MSDLOWO EC028

More dinosaurs, bloodier deaths, and a T-Rex running through the streets of San Diego does not a good sequel make. There is some dumb fun to be found in THE LOST WORLD purely for seeing deserving dumbasses meet their doom at the jaws of dinosaurs, but a boring story and wooden protagonists make this a drag for the most part. When you’re simply counting the seconds until the movie to ends during a would-be exciting climax, there’s a serious problem with your so-called adventure. THE LOST WORLD is a middle-of-the-road monster movie when taken on its own. That doesn’t stop this sequel from being a massive disappointment when viewed after its incredible predecessor.

Grade: C

JURASSIC PARK (1993)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Science Fiction Terror

JurassicP poster

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Michael Crichton & David Koepp

(based on the novel JURASSIC PARK by Michael Crichton)

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight & Samuel L. Jackson

JURASSIC PARK holds a special place in my heart. Aside from a couple of Disney movies, this is one of the first films I have vivid memories of watching. When the movie wasn’t scarring me with its scary moments, I was taken on a cinematic adventure that I enjoyed over and over again (damn near wearing out the VHS copy that my family had). It’s been years since I had seen this 1993 dinosaur flick. I figured it was time to revisit the franchise with an approaching fourth film on the horizon. No sugar-coating in any way, the story of JURASSIC PARK basically boils down to a good, old-fashioned, science-gone-wrong monster movie. The monsters just happen to be dinosaurs and the result just happens to be one of the greatest cinematic adventures ever crafted!

MSDJUPA EC009

In case you’ve somehow been left in the dark about the general premise of this movie, JURASSIC PARK is about a fantastical theme park where dinosaurs literally come to life. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are two romantically involved paleontologists invited by mad scientist Dr. Hammond to certify that his newly created island theme park is safe. Along with a handful of other specialists, the scientist couple are wowed by living, breathing clones of prehistoric animals. However, we wouldn’t have much of an exciting adventure if this movie was merely about a group of folks casually walking through a theme park looking at dinosaur exhibits. So thanks to a security glitch, electric fences shut down and dinosaurs freely roam the park…which leads to people dying. Grant, Sattler, Hammond, and the rest must fight for their lives to survive the massive amusement park turned bloody hunting ground.

MSDJUPA EC003

Make no qualms about it, JURASSIC PARK is a simple story. It’s an effectively crafted one as master filmmaker Steven Spielberg manages to capture the same sense of slow-building suspense that he did in JAWS. We know we will get a glimpse of all of these dinosaurs that we hear details about, but we don’t know exactly when it will happen. The viewer’s patience is constantly rewarded with multiple big reveals spread throughout the film (one of which doesn’t even hit until the final 30 minutes). Without playing all of his cards at once, Spielberg and screenwriters Crichton and Koepp maintain a solid sense of excitement all through the entire film.

MCDJUPA EC006

The 63 million budget (at the time, this number was huge) is brought to the screen as this film feels like a window into another world. The location of Jurassic Park looks real enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone actually stumbled across it. Little details are evident in small set design decisions. The characters populating this world feel genuine. At first, I felt like Alan was a bit of a one-dimensional protagonist at the start of the film. However, the character development given through small interactions and brief comments give all the character information needed about every single person in this story. A perfect example of this comes in Alan’s crotchety attitude towards Hammond’s grandchildren, which seems quietly annoyed upon meeting them and rapidly grows into concern as prehistoric shit hits the fan. I can’t think of a character that I actively disliked or thought was performed poorly by a cast member. A questionable exception would be the game warden’s reaction of saying “clever girl” in the face of imminent death which winds up being silly and awesome at the same time.

MSDJUPA EC001

On the main subject of the dinosaurs themselves, the combination of CGI and practical effects still holds up perfectly. The movie could have simply relied on the carnivores running loose, but there’s equal time devoted to the beautiful herbivore dinosaurs as well (including a great tree-top sequence with a Brachiosaurus). This decision only heightens the frightening encounters with the man-eating monsters. Though Steven Spielberg considered the impressive T-Rex as the “star of the show,” I actually find the smaller beasts to be scary. The poison-spitting Dilophosaurus is given one moment of screen time, but it’s definitely a memorable moment that will have young kids and grown adults screaming in terror. To me, the main attraction of JURASSIC PARK is the Velociraptors. A lot of dialogue and small scenes are devoted to building up these fearsome predators and they certainly don’t disappoint when unleashed at full force, becoming the main antagonists in the final act.

MSDJUPA EC024

JURASSIC PARK is truly one of the huge stand-out moments of film history. Besides introducing revolutionary special effects onto the screen (bringing convincing dinosaurs to life), the story is terrifically exciting and endlessly rewatchable. This is a creature feature, but it’s one of the absolute best. JURASSIC PARK holds up flawlessly as a masterful cinematic adventure to this day!

Grade: A+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑