Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

The Set of 400: #22 – My Favorite Halloween Yoda

Today! Because it’s okay, mom, we’ll check it out –

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x11)

Starring Henry Thomas (x2), Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore (x2), Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, C. Thomas Howell, Erika Eleniak (x2), K.C. Martel, Sean Frye

I enjoy box office records, much like some sports purists live and die with baseball statistics. A small group of us have participated in this box office pool for well over a decade, which added a new fun wrinkle to things, but I’ve followed these numbers for a long, long time. The Scranton Times used to run a weekend Top Ten gross section, which was the only way for me to track this until I subscribed to Entertainment Weekly around 1993. And it would be another five or six years until I got full exposure to this data on the internet, in the form of Box Office Mojo, which I would guess is my fourth or fifth most frequently visited website to this day (alongside the Recent Deaths section of Wikipedia, IMDB, Instagram, and maybe Yahoo Sports, in that order). And for all the formative years of my box office interest, E.T. was the top film. From 1983 to 1997, it was the highest grossing movie ever, unadjusted, and is still in the top twenty, as of this writing. Adjusted, it’s the fourth biggest moneymaker ever, only behind Gone With the Wind (a movie so popular it was one of the top five grossing movies of the years 1939, 1940, 1941, 1947, 1954, 1961, 1967, and 1971), Star Wars, and The Sound of Music.

Atlanta was aflame again with the GWTW premiere in ’39!

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The Set of 400: #61 – My Favorite George Washington Anecdote

Today! Because nothing will make an Englishman shit quicker than the sight of George Washington –

Lincoln (2012)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x10)

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (x3), Sally Field (x2), Tommy Lee Jones (x5), David Strathairn (x4), James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (x2), Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Bruce McGill (x2), Tim Blake Nelson (x2), Jackie Earle Haley (x4), Jared Harris, Lee Pace (x2), Peter McRobbie (x3), Michael Stuhlbarg (x2), Gloria Reuben, Walton Goggins (x3), David Oyelowo (x2), Lukas Haas (x2), Dane DeHaan, Bill Camp, Wayne Duvall (x2), Gregory Itzin (x2), Adam Driver (x2), Christopher Evan Welch (x2), S. Epatha Merkerson (x2), Joseph Cross, Boris McGiver

My favorite movie from one of my favorite years, 2012’s Lincoln almost starred Liam Neeson. Wrap your mind around that for a second. For years there were stories about Spielberg trying to mount this epic Abe biopic, with his Schindler’s List star attached, and I always figured that could work. Neeson has that magisterial presence, and what more would you really need to play Lincoln? But now that we’ve seen the greatest living actor in the role, it’s pretty tough to imagine anyone else in the part. Never mind Neeson’s very recent (as of this writing) issues concerning some racist tendencies from his youth (Has this story blown over? Be sure to go look it up), which would’ve made him donning the big stovepipe a bit awkward.

If you know nothing else about me except my 340 favorite movies so far, it’s probably about time I share that I’ve got a thing for U.S. Commanders in Chief. I’m no presidential scholar – I’m too busy watching movies to dedicate the time required – but the wife and I are committed to visiting every president grave site in the country, along with their adjoining museums/libraries/road side monuments if they exist. Lincoln’s Springfield tomb was one of the few we visited before officially starting on this quest, his being the third president grave we saw, following JFK and Taft in Arlington, VA.

It’s pretty grand and glorious in Springfield, IL

Plus it has an equally classy gift shop – the wife seen here

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The Set of 400: #66 – My Favorite Rolling Gong

Today! Because I always thought that archaeologists were always funny looking men going around looking for their mommies –

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x9)

Starring Harrison Ford (x6), Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan (x2), Amrish Puri, Roy Chiao (x2), David Yip, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone (x2), Dan Aykroyd (x6)

Yes, one of the more surprising reveals to me about my own preferences is that now I’m apparently that guy who likes Temple of Doom more than Last Crusade. I highly doubt this will last, as this ranking has been nothing if not hyper-fluid over the years, but however temporarily I’m taking the oddball non-Nazi Indiana Jones flick as my (spoiler alert) second favorite.

And I think Temple of Doom genuinely gets a bad rap. Why? Because Kate Capshaw’s Willie is a pain in the ass? She’s pretty funny, and manages to hold her own in the later action sequences. What, because Indy is forced to pal around with a kid? Say what you will, but Jonathan Ke Quan was one of the great kid actors of the day, between this and Goonies, and they certainly could’ve done worse for a way younger sidekick (and did, with LeBeouf in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Maybe it’s a dumb choice, but the group makes for a pretty fun team on this outlandish Indian adventure.

I don’t care what you say, Short Round is great

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The Set of 400: #69 – My Favorite Half-Faced Sunburn

Today! Because I know this sounds crazy, but ever since yesterday on the road, I’ve been seeing this shape –

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x8)

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (x2), Melinda Dillon (x4), Teri Garr (x2), Bob Balaban (x3), Francois Truffaut (x2), Roberts Blossom (x3), Cary Guffey, J. Patrick McNamara, Warren J. Kemmerling, Philip Dodds, Lance Henriksen (x3), George DiCenzo

This movie was way too boring for us as kids. Like, I knew it existed, and from seeing the tape cover at the video store I knew there were aliens in it eventually, but whenever I caught a few minutes on TV it was always Richard Dreyfuss doing crazy shit in his house and a bunch of lab coat types in foreign crowds with loud music and singing and none of it made any sense. I don’t know for sure when I finally sat and watched the whole thing, but I want to say it was at least high school or later. Having grown up on alien adventure flicks, nothing about Close Encounters interested me for a long, long time.

Roy was just a little too looney tunes for us kids

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The Set of 400: #71 – My Favorite Misattributed Charlemagne

Today! Because we are on the verge of completing a quest that began almost two thousand years ago –

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x7)

Starring Harrison Ford (x5), Sean Connery (x7), John Rhys-Davies (x3), Denholm Elliott (x2), Alison Doody, Julian Glover, Michael Byrne, River Phoenix (x2), Robert Eddison, Richard Young

In putting this list together in the summer of 2018, I needed to rewatch 60 or 70 films, mainly as it had been a while since I’d seen, say, Switch and The Dream Team. I remembered liking them, but how much did I still like them? And some movies straight missed out due to this rewatching – Lost Horizon, The Secret of NIMH, and Falling Down are not what 12-year-old Joe would’ve had me believe! One thing I didn’t think I would need to rewatch was Last Crusade, as I’d seen this movie a billion times, even if it had been a few years. But I just happened to catch it on TV around this time, and was surprised to find that (as of fall 2017) one of my top 20 films struck me quite differently than expected.

Now, I’d not seen Temple of Doom in a while either, and ended up watching them back-to-back. That may have hurt Last Crusade? Not because Temple of Doom is way better – I genuinely believe it is not – but that Last Crusade feels shockingly tired when viewed immediately after the Raiders’ prequel. It’s still largely what you remember – fun action pieces and terrifically funny scenes between Indy and his dad – but there’s also a lot of lame dialogue and pointless interluding that feel unnecessarily thrown in. I liked the River Phoenix flashback opener, but it feels gimmicky. And Indy meets Hitler?! Come on, have you always been okay with that choice?

“Nuking the Fridge” became a phrase, but it clearly should’ve been “Getting Hitler’s Autograph”

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The Set of 400: #98 – My Favorite Spinach Eating Robot

Today! Because they made us too smart, too quick and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us –

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x6)

Starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law (x3), William Hurt, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, Brendan Gleeson (x2), Robin Williams (x6), Meryl Streep, Chris Rock (x4), Ben Kingsley (x4), Jack Angel, Ken Leung (x2), Clark Gregg (x4), Kevin Sussman, Ashley Scott, Enrico Colantoni (x2), Paula Malcomson (x3), Adrian Grenier, Michael Fishman

Not often mentioned in the same breath as Spielberg’s best, most iconic films, A.I. Artificial Intelligence holds a weird distinction for me, as the hybrid Frankenstein of a movie that it is. When Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, he left unfinished a number of projects, including his proposed epic biography of Napoleon, some (i.e. me) would argue the final edit of Eyes Wide Shut, and his debatably in pre-production sci-fi epic A.I. Now, Kubrick was taking a helluva long time between movies at this point, so “pre-production” is a pretty relative term, but by all indications this was next up, having started and stopped a number of times, including doing some casting and allegedly recording Robin Williams voice role as it exists in the film. Rumors also persist that Kubrick had discussed with Spielberg the possibility of him directing the film instead. So, when Kubrick died, Spielberg was able to pick up and run with what was largely in place already, cranking the whole film out in just over two years.

Oh those Spielberg silhouettes!

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The Set of 400: #109 – My Favorite Loss of Marbles

Today! Because for reasons of good form, I have decided that the so-called Pan will return in three days to commit the arbitrament of the sword. Smee, translate –

Hook (1991)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x5)

Starring Robin Williams (x5), Dustin Hoffman (x4), Julia Roberts (x3), Maggie Smith (x3), Bob Hoskins (x3), Charlie Korsmo (x2), Amber Scott, Caroline Goodall, Dante Basco, Laurel Cronin, Arthur Malet, Don S. Davis (x2), Gwyneth Paltrow (x4), Phil Collins, David Crosby, Tony Burton (x5), Glenn Close (x2), Raushan Hammond

Back-to-back 1991s! A year so dense with favorites that it has now landed 14 movies on the list, but like 1992 before it (on this list, not chronologically, obviously, smart asses) only sees one film crack the top 100! But Hook sure got close. The first sign that my undying ten-year-old’s love for Batman could be cracked, Hook temporarily unseated the Caped Crusader’s ’89 outing as my favorite film, in lists from the day currently missing, but being avidly sought, in the various attic’d boxes of my youth. As yet, no luck. But man did I love Hook. It’s funny and exciting, with some really cool sequences (all of Pirate Neverland) and iconic images (really the whole London stretch in the first act of the film). So what if it feels four hours long watching it today? For kids, Hook is incredible.

But no, I can’t imagine adults feel the same way. There’s weird stuff in the film that just doesn’t work (ahem, everything related to Tinkerbell – every single thing) and there are goofball scenes that may kind of fit the theme, but really undo some of the characters. Most egregious is the period of the film where Peter’s son Jack is, like, playing baseball with the pirates and forgets his parents and life on Earth and starts dressing like Captain Hook – which happens very, very quickly. And they try to shoe-horn in some explanation – this is just what happens in Neverland! – but it doesn’t happen to the daughter, and they are only in Neverland for like a weekend, even though it feels like forever, due to the excessive run time of the film. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #123 – My Favorite Nervous Jell-O

Today! Because you didn’t say the magic word –

Jurassic Park (1993)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x4)

Starring Sam Neill (x2), Laura Dern (x2), Jeff Goldblum (x5), Richard Attenborough (x2), Samuel L. Jackson (x6), Wayne Knight (x3), BD Wong, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero (x2), Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Miguel Sandoval (x2), Richard Kiley (x2)

It’s no stretch to declare Jurassic Park the best dinosaur movie ever made, but I’ll go so far as to say it’s the only good dinosaur movie. It feels like it should be a more robust sub-genre of movies, right? Like, once the technology existed, why didn’t we get buried in stupid T-Rex films? But really, there isn’t much, and what there is isn’t great. They pop up as side characters in like King Kong, okay, but you wouldn’t classify that as a dinosaur movie, would you? You would?! Get the hell out of here!

And I’ll contend that none of the other Jurassic Park movies are anything compared to the original. Jurassic World is fun, but it’s a pretty straight rehash of the first film, not unlike The Force Awakens and A New Hope, really. Hollywood has us figured out, folks! We like the same things packaged in slightly different ways! Superhero movies, all these “live action” Disney remakes (that are really just animated in a different way), reboots, endless Fast and Furious sequels – we like comfortable, predictable, stakes-less excitement!

(Also, is everyone aware that there have been fourteen Land Before Time movies? That seems a touch excessive, no? I think I might have seen the first movie once, but I’m clearly way behind!)

Who’s up for marathoning this shit this weekend?

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The Set of 400: #226 – My Favorite Telephone Bomb

Today! Because there is no peace at the end of this –

Munich (2005)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x3)

Starring Eric Bana, Ciaran Hinds (x2), Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ayelet Zurer, Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Amalric, Lynn Cohen

A great movie almost completely undone in audience’s minds by the bizarre choices in the finale, Munich at first glance appears to be a meditation on hate in the world, and the lengths good people go to in efforts to provide security and peace to their nation. But in reality, it is a straightforward action yarn, a vengeance thriller unlike pretty much any other, and a true story (-ish) to boot. And yes, it ends with the most awkward sex scene ever filmed.

That is one sweaty Bana, ladies and gents

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The Set of 400: #294 – My Favorite Rolling Ferris Wheel

Today! Because I fought your kind in the Great War, and we kicked the living shit out of you –

1941 (1979)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd (x3), Ned Beatty (x2), Christopher Lee (x4), Tim Matheson, Toshiro Mifune (x2), John Candy (x4), Nancy Allen, Lorraine Gary (x2), Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, Robert Stack, Treat Williams, Murray Hamilton (x3), Elisha Cook Jr., Patti LuPone, Eddie Deezen, Perry Lang, Wendie Jo Sperber, Joe Flaherty, David L. Lander, Michael McKean (x3), Don Calfa, Susan Backlinie, Jerry Hardin, Audrey Landers, Dick Miller (x3), Mickey Rourke

For those of you unfamiliar with this movie – can you believe the above cast got together in ’79 and put on an epic war comedy? And under the direction of the king, Steven Spielberg, following his massive success with Jaws and Close Encounters? Doesn’t it make you want to run out and see what this movie could possibly be?? How have you avoided it all these years? Do it!

And for those of you already familiar with this movie, SHUT UP.

I’m not Titanic-level defensive about 1941, but that’s because most people either didn’t see it or don’t remember it enough to argue about it. And look, I know there is a lot wrong with this movie. It only sort of functions as a comedy – it’s like a less funny It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with explosions and extended choreographed fistfights – and sort of functions as a war movie. But the premise is solid enough and the cast is terrific that, even though it doesn’t totally deliver, it’s still a pretty entertaining movie. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #331 – My Favorite Punchable Child Character

Today! Because he’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of the national debt –

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Directed by Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller, and Steven Spielberg

Starring Dan Aykroyd (x2), Albert Brooks (x2), Vic Morrow, John Larroquette (x2), Steven Williams, Scatman Crothers, Selma Diamond, Bill Quinn, Murray Matheson, Kathleen Quinlan, Dick Miller, John Lithgow, Donna Dixon, Burgess Meredith (x3), Abbe Lane, Bill Mumy, Nancy Cartwright, William Schallert, Patricia Barry, Kevin McCarthy, Jeremy Licht, Priscilla Pointer, Martin Garner, Helen Shaw, Charles Hallahan, Doug McGrath

A wildly uneven movie, which is to be expected considering the basis, the highs in Twilight Zone are pretty damn high, while the lows are only mediocre – this is a wall-to-wall watchable movie, even if on paper it seems like it shouldn’t have worked at all. Bringing in the high profile quartet of directors was certainly a good first step – with the only one I tend to skip being Dante’s “It’s a Good Life.” I don’t know, it’s not an episode I particularly enjoy either, so I’m not blaming the way they execute it, I’m just not a huge fan of that asshole kid. It’s pretty meh.

But the other three – pretty solid. The only original story of the group – the Landis directed “Time Out” is a bit heavy-handed, but effectively lead by Vic Morrow (famously killed on the set of this film, requiring a different ending to be concocted). Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” is schmaltzy, but has always been my favorite segment, with its sadly sentimental senior citizens getting one night to be young again. But clearly they saved the stand-out sequence for the finale, as George Miller’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” surpasses the episode it’s based on (the best episode they chose to adapt, too) and gets a dynamite performance from Lithgow as the tortured passenger, seeing a monster on the wing of the plane.

Lithgow is largely not doing well

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The Movie Event of Our Time Arrives July 18th, 2008

A perfect storm of a media blitz, incessant buzz, A-list filmmakers and cast, and being centered around one of the most beloved institutions of popular culture the world has ever known has created what will likely go down as the seminal entertainment event in the lives of everyone currently sucking oxygen on July the 18th.  In a summer that has already born witness to smash critical and commercials hits the like of Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Sex and the City, the granddaddy of them all is about to be unleashed on a ravenous public, and cinema, humanity, the concept of enjoyment, and the sublimity of being are about to be changed forever.

 

Space Chimps blasts off in theaters on July 18th. Continue reading

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