Top 5: Spielberg Films

I just returned from our annual trek to the Hollywood Bowl to see the greatest composer of the 20th century, John Williams, conduct the LA Philharmonic in a menu of his best compositions. Williams, of course, works almost exclusively these days for Steven Spielberg which got me to thinking. Remember when a Spielberg film was an event? It didn’t matter what it was about you went because he was THE director. Those days are long past. I don’t think he’s directed an amazing movie since 1998 and only two good ones in the last ten years. I hope he finds his way again, but to me he seems lost in the desert. Ohhhh, but when he was good. So here are my top 5 Spielberg films:

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
3. Schindler’s List (1993)
4. E.T. (1982)
5. Jurassic Park (1993)

Getting Back on Track

Due to a busy weekend and being already absurdly off my original schedule, we’re going to make next week’s RN a double issue and shoot for getting back to the Wednesday original release schedule. I’m sorry for the delays, but life’s not being kind right now and it makes it hard to get up for writing. That’s a rubbish excuse though so I’m going to hit the ground running next week.

God bless,
Dave

Movie Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

DC has been pumping out animated movies now for the last few years at the rate of 2-3 per year. None have been bad, a few have been pretty good, before this though only Justice League: New Frontier was outstanding. Batman Under the Red Hood may be better than that. It’s outstanding animation, voice acting, and tight script (Judd Winnick adapting his story of the same name from the comics) make for an exceptional Batman movie.
The story centers around the second Robin, Jason Todd, his death at the hands of the Joker (played with a cold brilliance by John DeMaggio) and his resurrection by Ras ‘al Ghul. Never entirely stable when he was Robin, Jason takes the Red Hood mantle that was the Joker’s before he became the Joker and starts taking out crime in Gotham in a far more permanent fashion than his predecessor favors. Bruce Greenwood voices Batman and though I never thought I’d ever like anyone but Kevin Conroy doing Batman’s voice, Greenwood is just fantastic. I’d love to see him and DeMaggio do more work in this films if Conroy and Mark Hamil aren’t available to fill their usual roles. The conflict between Batman and his greatest mistake is great stuff. I’m an unapologetic Batfreak and one of the most interesting parts of his psyche is his tendency to surround himself with damaged people to help in his crusade and form a kind of surrogate family for himself to replace the one he lost when he was so young. Jason Todd represents his worst nightmare in that first, he failed to save him from death, and when he returns, now he uses the training he imparted to take more lives. The entire film is taut and filled with drama, but the last 15 minutes during the final showdown between the Red Hood, Joker, and Batman, is up to par with the best Batman stuff ever filmed in any medium.
This is a great film for anyone who loves animation and the superhero genre, and I could not recommend it more highly. If I have any criticism it would be that at 75 minutes, I could have used 20 more minutes of character development because the work done by the entire vocal cast was so good I just wanted more. But leaving ’em wanting more is how it’s supposed to go, eh?
9.5/10

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

I walked out of Scott Pilgrim thinking, “I wonder what someone just wandering in cold with no knowledge of the graphic novels would make of this movie?” From a box office standpoint, I was wondering who exactly was going to go see this and as of week 2….pretty much nobody. Director Edgar Wright’s first two movies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, were not box office hits either and developed a strong following on DVD, but I doubt they cost a fraction of what Scott Pilgrim did. To recap, Scott Pilgrim is the story of a bass playing slacker who falls in love with a girl he meets at a party, but must defeat in battle her seven evil exes before they can be together. That’s really about a succinctly as you can sum up a story that combines music, manga, comics, rapid-fire witticisms, and aracde-style video game boss fights in a way that made the six Scott Pilgrim graphic novels unlike anything on the stands. The movie captures that sprit perfectly. I have some issues with it, but if you liked the graphic novels, you’ll love the movie.

Scott Pilgrim is it’s own movie, it is telling its story the way it wants to, and if you don’t have the geek cred to follow along, you will probably get lost in the dust. My pockets sag with geek cred, but I got a little exhausted by the movie. Not in a wholly bad way, but if you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, you’ll know that Edgar Wright-he shoots a frenetic movie. Cuts every three or four seconds, scene changes slam back and forth, quick lines, quick transitions, and when this meets source material that was frenetic to begin with…you could develop ADD from watching the film. That might be a criticism or not…I’m not sure. My mind is still pinballing around act 3.

What’s good? It’s funny. Scott Pilgrim brings the funny. The battles with the evil exes are just fantastic. They got amazing actors to commit to come in to do a few days of shooting for the fights and among the evil exes you will see Chris Evans (Capt. America) and Brandon Routh (Superman) and a brief cameo by Tom Jane (Punisher). Scott runs a superhero gauntlet here. Chris Evans in particular was hysterical and his boss fight was my favorite. Evans was so good I would say he stole the movie, but Kieran Culkin beat him to it playing Scott’s roommate Wallace. Everytime he was on sceen he just dropped gold. Wallace’s involvement in the story fades as it goes onwards and you miss him.

What’s not so good? I found the main two characters unsympathetic in the graphic novels and that translates over to the movie. Maybe that’s just me, but I don’t particularly like Scott or Ramona so I don’t care what happens to them. I think Michael Cera is great, and I have loved him since Arrested Development, but this time he was miscast. I spent the whole movie just being taken out of it by thinking, “Hey, that’s Michael Cera!” instead of buying him as the character.

If I sound torn, it’s because I am. Technically, it’s outstanding. It’s well-made, well-directed, the cast is fantastic, and it’s completely in tune with its source material. On the other hand, I never felt invested with the main characters and-again-FRENETIC. It certainly deserves attention and to do better at the box office than some of the movies that are beating it, so give it a try and tell me what you think.
8.5/10