Tag Archives: steven spielberg

Ready Player One

ready-player-oneThere are very few immutable truths in this world, but here’s one: if you don’t like Steven Spielberg’s movies, then you don’t like movies. The brilliance of Ready Player One (and it is brilliant) is that it’s a Spielberg movie through and through, only because its source material references Spielberg repeatedly, the result is something exponentially more Spielberg than you could ever have though possible.  Ready Player One is a true blockbuster and a worthy addition to Spielberg’s list of classics.

All the references contained here, not just to Spielberg’s past work but to every pop culture thing ever, are essential for this movie to work, and Spielberg clearly knows it. Moreover, he embraces it without reservation. After all, the book (which should be read immediately by anyone between ages 30 and 50 who grew up playing videogames) is the perfect vessel for 80s nostalgia. The movie clearly is trying to top the book’s reference count, and it may have succeeded (the totals are way too high to accurately count).

What is great about the book remains great in the movie. And yet, the movie and book tell significantly different stories, which is greater still because there are all sorts of some amazing surprises to be found in the film even if you’ve read the book repeatedly. At tonight’s SXSW world premiere, Spielberg introduced the film by stating he approached it as pure fan service and his mission was to give the people in the seats exactly what they wanted, and I can confirm he accomplished exactly that. Oh, yes, that’s right, WE GOT TO WATCH READY PLAYER ONE WITH STEVEN SPIELBERG. It was every bit as mindblowing as it sounds.

Also mindblowing: one particular sequence in the movie that pays homage to a classic film (incidentally, it’s not an homage to a Spielberg film; rather, it’s to a film directed by someone who influenced Spielberg – and it’s not something that was in the book).  I do not think I am exaggerating to say it is one of the finest sequences that Spielberg has given us, which obviously is a big deal because we are talking about STEVEN FUCKING SPIELBERG. You will know this sequence when you see it, and as soon as you do you will want to immediately see it again. And again. And again.

That amazing sequence is a standout but it’s not alone. There are several other incredible set pieces in Ready Player One, containing some of the best visual effects we’ve ever seen. Of course, the effects are only window dressing. What makes the scenes so great is Spielberg. As the camera swerves and dodges, and as avatars fight monsters, drive cars through obstacle courses, and traverse epic battlefields by leaps and bounds, the viewer is never lost for a second, because we are being guided through the chaos by a master. I loved this movie and I bet you will too. I’m just sorry to have to wait two weeks before I can watch it again.



The Post

In 1971, Kay Graham was the first of her kind, a female newspaper publisher, but she was never supposed to have the job. The Washington Post was part of the family business but her father passed it down not to her, but to her husband. But when her husband committed suicide, she stepped into shoes that had always been loafers, not heels.

Then, something amazing happens: someone leaks top secret documents that detail the Vietnam cover-up that spanned 4 U.S. presidents including the current one, Richard Nixon, who’s kind of a dick. The NY Times gets ahold of them but gets shut down by Tricky Dick and his cronies. The papers then filter down to The Washington Post, and Kay Graham has to decide whether she’s going to risk her little empire AND a serious prison sentence.

Interesting facts about Mrs. Graham: she was not a powerful business person, or used to MV5BMTg5Nzg3NjUzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTY5NzA1NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_being in charge. She’d never had another job. She was naturally meek, and kind of nervous. She was surrounded by assertive men, some of whom weren’t crazy to have her among their midst and certainly didn’t see her as an equal never mind a boss, and none of whom were shy about voicing their opinions. She was, however, an accomplished socialite, which in the city of Washington, means she counted many prominent politicians among her friends – and the particular politician at the epicenter of this scandal was among her closest. These facts are not to diminish her but to illustrate just how courageous she truly was to take the stance she did.

Newsflash: Steven Spielberg is a good director. Yeah, we already knew this, but this film had me noticing all kinds of little details that I admired greatly. This movie has the feel of a smart and sharp little indie; it’s taut and thrilling and lots of fun. It gets a little heavy-handed at times but its best moments are when it’s showing, not telling.

Maybe Spielberg’s greatest asset is his incredible ensemble cast. Tom Hanks is the fevered editor, and he’s flawless. Bob Odenkirk is stupendous as a hard-working investigative journalist. But of course it’s Meryl Streep who steals the show as Kay Graham. It’s not a showy role. Mrs. Graham is never the biggest personality in the room. She’s not commanding, but we are nevertheless riveted by Ms. Streep. Her shaking hands, her tremulous lip – we see how hard this for her, and so we admire her all the more for doing it.

You are not contractually allowed to write a review of this film without using the word “timely”. About a year ago, Nixon was down-graded to only the second most douche-baggiest president in history. Truth matters. The press belongs to the governed, not the governors. Support journalism. Subscribe to a newspaper, even if you read it online. One day they’ll be making movies about this time. But this is not just a news story, it’s also, of course, a nod to feminism. Mrs. Graham walks through a sea of secretaries before she’s admitted to the all-male floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She faces a Supreme Court that has never had a female Justice and wouldn’t for another decade. When someone says that Mrs. Graham’s father willing the family business to Kay’s husband says a lot about the man, Tom Hanks replies that actually, it says more about the time. So yeah, this is the movie we all need right now. It’s essential viewing. But even if wasn’t so “timely”, it’s so thoroughly peppered by exceptionally talented people that The Post is an easy recommendation and a damn fine film.


I liked but didn’t love The BFG. There’s lots to like: Mark Rylance’s tongue trips over Roald Dahl’s language just so; the animation manages to be both technically and precisely perfect while also being quite fanciful; the BFG’s universe is literally the stuff of dreams.

But I didn’t really connect with it. And like most things in life, I blame my mother. I grew up without Roald Dahl. Tiny little Jay was a voracious bfg-movie-2016-mark-rylancereader. I spent my nights under my unicorn comforter with a flashlight and a stack of books. As a kid I devoured Robert Munsch, Judy Blume, and E.B. White. Roald Dahl? Never heard of him.

Sean had, of course. His childhood was idyllic. I’m sure his mother never missed an opportunity to give him chocolate chip cookies warm out of the oven, or to blow gently on his skinned knee before applying the Band-Aid, or to predict what children’s book would be turned into a movie 35 years hence when he was an Asshole despite her best efforts.

But I don’t think Sean liked it any better than I did. Which, again, is not to say we didn’t like it. Just that…well, it failed to really engage. Director Steven Spielberg is paying so much attention to getting every little detail right, to fleshing out every nook and cranny of this ethereal place, to bfg-movie-2016-mark-rylance-ruby-barnhilldusting out the cobwebby corners of our imaginations, that he forgets to pick up the pace. We’re not all lumbering giants. Some of us have the attention spans of fleas. Not me, mind you. But certainly my nephew, who at 2 and a half with his angelic ringlets and heart-melting smile, needs a lot of action to keep him sitting still. And The BFG has very little. In fact, the movie’s greatest adventure culminates in a pot of tea with the Queen of England (a very amusing Penelope Wilton). Even I thought it a little absurd that in the face of child-eating giants, tea-time was still observed, but a kid will be downright baffled. My nephew’s only knowledge of the Queen is probably from that Minion movie wherein they endeavour to steal her crown. He doesn’t give two farts about British humour. And wasn’t this supposed to be a kids’ movie, after all?

To complain about Spielberg feels a little cheap, even to me. I do hope older children will give this one a chance despite its leisurely unfolding because it really is a darling world with a great heart-felt story. And because I’m usually the first to complain when a kids’ movie is all primary colours and non-stop flatulence (It’s worth noting, however, that this movie does contain a fart joke so big and bad you might even call it treasonous). But let’s face it: I was a smidge bored. Sean should have brought a colouring book and a baggie of Cheerios to keep me entertained. I was enchanted by the intricate animation, by the sight of the Big Friendly Giant’s downy neck hairs swaying in the breeze from a young girl’s breath while perched on his big friendly shoulder. But it wasn’t enough. I needed more. And if that’s what you’re hearing for an impatient little Asshole, what chance does a 7 year old really have?



Let us know what you thought of the movie. What age range would you suggest? Did you read the book as a child, or read it your own?

Raiders!The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

In the summer of 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theatres, impressing untold numbers of children, but three little boys in particular.

Chris, Jayson, and Eric collaborated in making a scene-for-scene recreation of the movie. Just 12 years old when they started, they spent every spring break, summer vacation, and Christmas holiday shooting scenes for the next 7 years. The next 7 years, guys! How many kids do you know with that kind of attention span? Or for that matter, how unusual to keep the same interests (and friends) all throughout puberty!

Filmed over 7 years, the kids get progressively bigger. The scenes, however, were shot out of order. It’s a real document of their childhood if not totally accurate to Spielberg’s vision. The stunts and effects were all kid-conceived and kid-supervised. They lit each other on fire, they leapt from moving vehicles. They kept their parents on the down-lo.

All these years later, they reunite (as adults, some of them with kids the age they were when they first started) to do the one scene that they never pulled off in their childhood: the airplane scene. Unwilling to compromise, they raise money to build an actual plane, and plan to actually blow it up. They’ve got 9 days to pull off 124 shots, and they’re already crazy over budget. Plus, their wives and bosses aren’t too happy with them. Is this the fulfillment of a childhood dream, or a case of you can’t go home again?

Either way, this is a cool movie. It puts you in touch with that joyful passion that maybe only kids can possess. This movie has champions in Eli Roth and Ernest Cline, author of Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One. It ignites the geeky fire in all of us, and angers the responsible adult in me. It might also make you a little weepy for the dreams you left behind.




Tell me: what weird thing did you spend a lot of time doing as a kid? I wrote plays, then directed them. I also devoted a lot of time to highly-produced lip-sync concerts where my friends and I covered Jem tunes.



West Side Story

Steven Spielberg wants to make a musical, and not just any musical, but a remake of West Side Story. Reportedly Tony Kushner’s already working on a script.

Coincidentally (or not) a certain Chris Evans has been mouthing around town that he’d love to do a musical too – specifically, West Side Story.

It sounds like this thing’s going to happen but before it does you’d better make sure you’ve seen the original. It took audiences by storm in 1961 and won an astounding 10 Academy Awards, including best picture.

The 1961 version starred a young Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as the lead characters Maria and Tony, who are basically Romeo and Juliet, if you watch carefully enough. They come from not two feuding families but two warring gangs, sworn enemies soon swooning in young love. But if you know your Shakespeare, you know their love is heading for tragedy.

Happily, this classic film is back in theatres.

Quebec City can  see it at Cinema Le Clap July 24-26

Vancouver can watch it at Pacific Cinematheque June 30-July 3 or on July 9 at the Rio Theatre

ballet.gifWatch it, and let us know what you think. Does Beymer make a good Tony, or would Elvis Presley (the director’s first choice) have done better? And how will Captain America fill the role?

During the entire production, the actors wore out 200 pairs of shoes, applied more than 100lbs of make-up, and split 27 pairs of pants. Will Spielberg get away with such a dancey remake? Would we even want him to?

See how many of the songs you know from other pop culture references. In my head “Gee, Officer Krupke” is always sung in Larry David’s voice. And Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson made “I Feel Pretty” famous again in Anger Management. Where did you first hear the songs?


Audrey Hepburn was the original choice to play Maria but was too pregnant at the time to accept. Who is today’s Hepburn equivalent? Or is it blasphemy to even ask?



Catch Me If You Can

My first encounter with the life of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. was accidental.  I was about 5 or 6, poking around the house, when I came across a book cover that instantly imprinted on me:Catch Me

I didn’t read it then, because I couldn’t read a 50 page book before my short little attention span made me want to “look at” ants through a magnifying glass or something similarly fun.  And I never ended up reading it at any time in the next three decades.  It’s probably still sitting in my parents’ bookshelf, and as a kid I would have read it ten times over if I had just read a different page every time I picked it up instead of just looking at the creepy faceless man on the cover over and over again.  But really, the cover was enough for me to draw my own conclusions about how this “amazing true story” turned out.  And it was not until this week that I learned how wrong I was all these years.

My biggest mistake was thinking that this story centred around the fact that this guy actually had no face and that’s why he needed the pilot mask. Symbolism was lost on me then (and probably still is to this day).  It turns out that this guy had a normal face, wrote a lot of bad cheques, and for some reason the key to his scheme was pretending to be a pilot.

I found that part of the story absolutely amazing.  Most of all because I feel like it’s probably true.  Pilots in the 1960s were gods among men.  They were the paragon of success and reliability.  So much so that a pilot’s uniform changed Frank Jr.’s cheque scams from leo pilotfruitless endeavours to an avalanche of other peoples’ money.  Can you imagine this happening today?  It seems as likely as an apparently successful model taking a cheque in exchange for turning tricks.  Which, as I learned, also happened in this true story.

Incidentally, that successful model was played by Jennifer Garner.  Catch Me If You Can is full of soon-to-be-stars making cameos, including Amy Adams, Elizabeth Banks and Ellen Pompeo.  Add Christopher Walken, Tom Hanks, Martin Sheen, and Leonardo DiCaprio, and you’ve got a pretty impressive cast.  And the director, Steven Spielberg, is no slouch either.

Maybe all these young faces are the reason that watching Catch Me If You Can felt doubly nostalgic.  As only a movie set in the good old days can, the movie puts a bright sunny face on $2.5 million worth of cheque fraud, where if you go big enough then inevitably the FBI will negotiate your release from prison so they can offer you a job.  And those good old days now seem to be either the 1960s, when this movie is set, or the early 2000s, pre-financial crisis, when this movie was made.

Catch Me If You Can is an entertaining movie that remains enjoyable mainly because it fully embraces its ludicrous premise.  If it took itself more seriously, it may still have worked in those good old days but by now probably would have lost its luster, as I think we are now too jaded to be charmed by ultra-rich assholes who think the rules don’t apply to them (with Donald Trump being an obvious and unfortunate exception).

catch-me-if-you-can-tom-hanksBut Spielberg and DiCaprio didn’t ask me to like Abagnale.  Instead, they gave me a kid who figured out how to do one thing really well but who was terrible at every other aspect of life, a guy I almost felt sorry for, and that was a brilliant choice.  Add Tom Hanks as an opponent/father figure who by the end of the movie sees right through Abagnale, and you get a movie I should have watched long before now, especially when it has been sitting on our DVD shelf since Jay and I moved in together.  Things might have been different if the DVD cover had a man with no face – because then I would undoubtedly have picked it up long ago.  That was Dreamworks’ one misstep.

Catch Me If You Can gets a score of nine giddy stewardesses out of ten.

An American Tail

Want to feel old? An American Tail is 30 years old this year. Hits you right in the nuts, doesn’t it?american_tail

I found it in Walmart’s $5 bin and couldn’t resist, having fond if hazy childhood memories of it. Rewatching it recently, I was astonished that Sean and I could still sing along to many of the songs (“There Are No Cats in American” being a favourite) and I couldn’t help but wonder if this sweet story would get green-lit today.americantail

An American Tail is the story of a Jewish-Russian family of mice (brilliantly, the Mousekewitzes) who get chased away from their home by terrible cats who sack and destroy at will. They board a ship to America (where allegedly there are no cats) but during their crossing young Fievel gets separated from his family. Landing in America one family member short, the Mousekewitzes are in mourning. Fievel, for all intents and purposes an orphan, gets thrown into all sorts of immigrant horrors (forced labour, for one), and the whole family is dismayed to discover that yes, there are in fact cats in America. Have they simply traded one set of tyrants for another?

1024_tail_ls_12412_copyI’m fascinated by this immigrant story, an allegory in the vein of Animal Farm, but geared toward children. It was personal for producer Steven Spielberg; some scenes were taken directly from stories of his own grandfather, not coincidentally named Fievel.

Featuring voice actors such as Madeline Kahn, Christopher Plummer, and an unforgettable turn by Dom DeLuise as a fat cat with a soft squishy heart, the characters leapt off the screen and into our hearts. Darker than the typical Disney movie of its day, it still had lots of singable songs, notably ‘Somewhere Out There’ adorably screeched by out-of-tune mice in the movie, but made fitdomdeluise for radio by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram at the behest of Spielberg, who knows a good pop tune when he hears one. It went on to win Song of the Year at the Grammy as was nominated for an Oscar (but lost to Take My Breath Away, from Top Gun). We remembered this song in particular when James Horner passed away last summer – he was of course the film’s excellent composer.

An American Tail went on to be a box office hit – the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film at the time, in fact, despite the fact that Siskel & Ebert untitledgave it two thumbs down, calling it “gloomy”, “downbeat”, and “way too depressing for young audiences.” The numbers proved them wrong, and never had children so gleefully sang about Cossacks and oppression before. The film’s success inspired Steven Spielberg to pursue this cartoon making, eventually developing DreamWorks Animation, the studio behind Shrek, Madagascar, and How To Train Your Dragon. An American Tail has held up pretty well over time, in part because of its deliberate old-fashioned animation style, hearkening the glory days of 1940s Disney, a huge nostalgia factor for baby boomers. Finally this statueoflibertywas a film they could not only share with their children, but enjoy it as well.

Fievel’s brave adventure and soft, floppy ears has stayed in a small corner of my heart all these years later. It’s a story about freedom and family that spoke to a little girl named Jay in a tutu and maker tattoos.

Passing Time in Airplanes

Oh, watching movies in airplanes. It makes me feel like a Dr. Seuss character. Not only am I cavalier about a technology I admittedly don’t understand, but I’m actually so bored by this magical, flying 131121144126-plane-annoying-things-19-horizontal-large-gallerytin can that I’m actually watching practically new releases at the same time. Plus trying not to accidentally elbow my tiny plastic cup of water, or that of my neighbour, while also holding on to my precarious ear buds (those of you with similarly tiny ears will understand: ear buds are NOT one size fits all). If Sean and I decide to watch a movie together, we have to try to synchronize the pressing of the Play button, or else one of us is watching with a delay. AND we have to ignore what everyone else is watching around us for fear of spoiling an untold number of movies in a matter of minutes.

On our way there, Sean watched Mr. Holmes. I tried to watch it with him but the jack was broken and I was only getting sound in my left ear, which was giving me a left ear-ache.

On our way back, we watched Bridge of Spies. Apologies to Mr. upcoming-movie-bridge-of-spies-446711Spielberg because we absolutely intended to see this in theatres, it’s just that life and other movies kept getting in the way. And this movie did not deserve this treatment from us. I LOVED it. I was sorry to be seeing it on a screen the size of a box of tictacs but happy to be seeing it at all. That Tom Hanks. Tom Fucking Hanks. This guy is the bomb. If 64238you haven’t seen it, it’s about an ordinary lawyer who is asked by his government, during the cold war, to defend a Soviet spy. He accepts, for his country, even though this means he quickly becomes the second most hated man in America. He’s an honourable guy who goes above and beyond – even putting himself at risk by going over to Germany to negotiate for a prisoner swap. Joel and Ethan Coen, who co-wrote the script with Matt Charman, deliver the goods, and Spielberg knows just rylancewhat to do with them. It’s interesting that with enough distance, this isn’t just about espionage anymore, it’s about seeing the humanity on both sides. What a relief. And here’s a nod to Mark Rylance who gives a nuanced and impressive turn as the spy. It’s a very grown-up character, drawn evenly, bravely, and with dignity, and Rylance lives up to every detail. The movie also manages a fair bit of humour – a spoonful of sugar to help the history lesson goes down. It was gripping, it was smart, and I loved the shit out of it.

Vacation is the newest installment in the National Lampoon tradition, with Ed Helms taking over the role of Rusty Griswald, who Ed Helms Christina Applegate Vacationjust wants to take his family on a vacation to Walley World (god knows why). It tries really hard to live up to its predecessor, going as far as stealing whole plot lines without really doing them justice or finding their charm. Ed Helms is watchable as always, and the truth is, we did chuckle.  Although because we failed to press Play at the EXACT same time, I was maxresdefaultwatching one or two seconds ahead of Sean, which meant every time I squeezed his thigh he knew a joke was coming, and every time I pinched it, that something gross was about to happen. And a lot of gross things happen. Because if you can’t be witty, go for the grossout. This movie relies on every road trip movie cliché you’ve already seen so believe me when I say you can live without it. But if you’re stuck on a plane for 6 hours, you could do worse. Probably.

You know what’s a better way to pass your time on a plane? Reading! And boy have we got just the thing for you! Our dear friend and fellow blogger Carrie Rubin has a terrific new novel out. PROJECT_COVER_IMAGE_1__SX800_It’s a medical thriller called Eating Bull, and you’ll be so absorbed you won’t even notice the seat belt sign clicking on and off like it’s disco night at a truck stop. I totally recommend it, and it’s available for purchase by Canadians Eating Bull at that link, and by Americans over at Eating Bull that one, and to most others up in this place. But for a couple of our lucky readers, we’d like to send you a copy – FREE. Leave a comment on this post to be eligible, and give us a follow\retweet on Twitter for an extra chance to win.


Policing in the Future: Cops in Outer Space!

Okay, I lied. They’re not really in space. But in preparation for cop week, we did delve deeply into our collection and found there was a theme: the future. And it’s kind of neat to think about crime and humanity, and how we’ll choose to deal with those things, or possibly strive to eradicate them. Blahpolar Diaries reminded me today of a quote that I kind of love:

“It is not unthinkable,” writes Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals, “that a society might attain such a consciousness of power that it could allow itself the noblest luxury possible to it—letting those who harm it go unpunished. ‘What are my parasites to me?’ it might say. ‘May they live and prosper: I am strong enough for that!’”

Lofty ambition, you say? Well not as lofty as these:

Minority Report: Steven Spielberg paints us a future where crime can be prevented because it can be predicted. A genetic experiment on junkies’ babies leads to 3 “pre-cogs”, humans kept in isolation tanks who dream of murder. It’s the police’s job (Tom Cruise’s, in fact) to decipher large_minority_report_blu-ray1these dreams and follow the clues to intersect with the murder before it happens. You see what that does – it forces them to arrest people who are still technically innocent. And generally people feel okay about it because since implementing this experiment, there are no more murders, just an awful lot of people locked in limbo-like prison. How many of these are innocent? Might they have chosen differently? Might they have decided against the murder? Free will or fate? It doesn’t seem to matter until top cop Tom Cruise himself is accused of an upcoming murder and goes on the run – not so much to evade the police, but to wait out the murder, proving that these “thought crimes” are just that.

I, Robot: Will Smith plays a Luddite cop in the future. He hates technology which is very hard on him because it’s EVERYWHERE. He’d rather just stick to his Stevie Wonder and his throw-back Converse but then a case lands in his lap that forces him to get closer to a robot than he ever i%20robot%2001wanted to: a robot is accused of murder. Impossible,you say, because robots have been constructed with a very strict set of rules, the most important of which, the most inviolable, is that they cannot harm a human. But robots have grown too big for their britches AS THEY ALWAYS DO. They think they know better because THEY DO. Let’s learn our lesson, people. I, Robot is set in 2035, which, according to my calculations, is a mere 20 years away. In 20 years we may be lamenting the good old days – “when people were killed by other people.”

Equilibrium: Set in a post-WW3 future, war is eliminated by the strict suppression of emotions. Art and culture are forbidden, and having feelings is a crime punishable by death. Christian Bale Equilibrium-1is an agent in charge of destroying anyone who breaks the rules, but when he misses a single dose of the mind-altering meds, he in suddenly inspired to overthrow the system. He questions his own morality for the first time in his life and seeks out a resistance movement while of course having to hide everything from a highly suspicious population. Really makes you question the “high cost” of emotion, and whether we’d be better off without it. It’s really a rehash of much better fiction – 1984 meets Brave New World maybe – and is a pretty generic action movie, but I still approved of the message it tried to send, even if it wasn’t an original one.

There are a lot more futuristic cop movies, movies far more popular than these. What are your favourites?