Spielberg By Numbers – Bridge of Spies

I looove this one!

Bridge of Spies (2015)

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The Plot: (inspired by true events) The story of American lawyer Jim Donovan who is assigned to defend a suspected Russian spy and then becomes instrumental in engineering a tense prisoner exchange when an American soldier is captured by Russia and an American student is captured by Germany, and the only bargaining chip Donovan has is an alleged spy that both sides want.

Seen It Before?: Yep, saw this when it first came out and loved it.

Writing (9): The Cohen Brothers are responsible for a lot of the script’s tightness and rich characterization. It’s a gently paced film, but it never feels slow. The character drama is at the center of the story, and that keeps things moving along nicely. The dialogue feels natural, and the plot beautifully creates tension and uncertainty without it ever feeling overbearing.

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My only issue is that so often things are telegraphed well in advance. Someone will tell a character to avoid groups of ruffians in Germany…and then said character encounters such a group who steals his coat. Or someone will say, “what if this happened?” and then that exact thing happens later on. No script will ever be free of convenient coincidences, but this one makes those coincidences just a bit too obvious at times.

Acting (10): Mark Rylance absolutely deserved that Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His performance is part of what gives this movie its depth and re-watch-ability. He uses subtle hand gestures and facial tics to make his character come alive in such a way that you rarely see in movies. He doesn’t feel like a larger-than-life guy or an ideal in any way, but you care deeply what happens to him, and you can’t stop watching him, even if he’s not really doing anything. I’m glad he works with Spielberg twice more (we’ll get there) because the two of them work VERY well together.

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I’m also a massive fan of Tom Hanks’ character. Now, unlike Abel, Donovan IS an idealized character. He’s the All-American good guy, and perhaps a bit more noble than your average human being, but you can’t help but root for him because Hanks infuses him with so much genuine warmth. What could have been an ordinarily flat character (anyone else would have played him as a Living Constitution) becomes a genuine likable hero that we want to see succeed.

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There are tons of other great performances in here, including Alan Alda (as Watters), Dakin Matthews (as Judge Byers), Austin Stowell (Bowers), and Scott Shepherd (Hoffman).

Visual Style (9): This one uses the washed out colors that we saw in Lincoln and Saving Private Ryan, but it works, giving the film a vintage look that fits VERY well with the 1960s setting. Unlike with Lincoln, this film isn’t quite as shadowy, so the performances of the actors are well-highlighted. The whole thing suggests film noir as well as black and white newscasts, which makes for some fantastic visual moments.

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East Germany is suitably gritty and filled with paranoia while the scenes back in America have the quality of a faded postcard. By this point, Spielberg and cinematographer Janisz Kaminski are basically sharing a brain, and it’s evident.

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Also the scene where the plane crashes is INCREDIBLY shot. It’s completely harrowing and feels new and fresh in ways that many similar scenes in other movies don’t manage.

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Music (9): Now, John Williams didn’t do this one, which is sad, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well Thomas Newman (whose style is very different) works with Spielberg’s visuals. Newman has an ethereal quality to his music, and that does a great job of conveying the tenuous nature of the situation.

One thing that surprised me is how much of the film has no score whatsoever. Newman’s score (which was nominated for an Oscar) is used very sparingly, which keeps the focus on the characters. The music in this case doesn’t tell the story the way it does in War Horse or Schindler’s List. It shows up when it’s needed, but it doesn’t ever take center stage, except for in the end when it closes out the film.

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It’s a beautiful score that brings out different elements of the characters’ stories than Williams does, so it’s nice to hear a different musical palette than we usually do (the last time this happened was with The Color Purple). Still, it’s nice Williams comes back for Spielberg’s next film.

Genre (9): It blends genres, combining John Le Carre-esque espionage with elements of courtroom drama and historical commentary, all of which Spielberg is very good at.

Blending genres is sometimes a risky bet with Spielberg, as we saw in the past, but this one does it very well. I think that’s the result of the amazing script. The shift to James-Bond-esque action with the plane crash feels logical and necessary. Then we find ourselves out of the courtroom and into Germany where there are armed soldiers everywhere and every conversation has an uncertain outcome, and it all fits together nicely.

I think the sense of cohesion and fluid movement is part of why I love this movie so much. It has a confidence to it, but not the brash boldness of a superhero flick. It knows exactly what it’s doing and was obviously well planned out in advance.

Overall Thoughts: An immensely satisfying character drama featuring some fantastic performances.

Total Score: 46/50

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. Saving Private Ryan (48)
  3. Catch Me If You Can (46)
  4. Bridge of Spies (46) This was close, but RT liked Catch Me If You Can a little bit more. But still! Top 5! Whooo!
  5. E.T. (45)
  6. Jurassic Park (44)
  7. The Color Purple (44)
  8. The Adventures of Tintin (44)
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  11. Jaws (42)
  12. War Horse (42)
  13. Empire of the Sun (42)
  14. Minority Report (41)
  15. Munich (41)
  16. Amistad (41)
  17. Lincoln (40)
  18. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
  19. War of the Worlds (39)
  20. The Terminal (39)
  21. Hook (39)
  22. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  23. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  24. The Sugarland Express (35)
  25. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
  26. Always (34)
  27. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  28. 1941 (27)

Next up, things get Disneyfied!

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Marvel By Numbers – Avengers: Infinity War

Hoo Boy. let’s do this. BEWARE SPOILERS!

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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Overview: Thanos rampages across the galaxy collecting the Infinity stones, and Earth’s greatest heroes must set aside their differences and come together to stop him and his army before he assembles all five of the gems and gains the power to control reality.

Writing: 8/10

Seeing as how this movie’s main cast stretches into the double digits, I’m really impressed that they managed to balance all the characters fairly evenly. Some characters get more action than others, but everyone gets good moments.

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There’s a great blend of humor and drama, though I will say that the film’s very nature keeps the ending from hitting as hard as it should. We know there’s going to be a part two, and we know that there are planned films featuring characters who die down the road, so the really emotional beats at the end feel more like a, “Come back next time to learn how this all gets fixed” rather than a shocking, “What? They died!?” moment.

The cliffhanger is genuinely a really good one, probably one of the best cliffhangers to show up in a long time. Kudos to the producers for taking such a bold approach.

I’m also really impressed with how the script balances all the threads it’s juggling. It never really drowns the audience in exposition, assuming that they’ve all seen the films that lead up to it.

Style: 10/10

Up until this point, the MCU has operated in two separate worlds, the technologically enhanced version of Earth where holograms and transparent cell phones are the norm, and the technicolor world of space where wacky aliens and big bads in enormous ships do their thing.

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The Guardians of the Galaxy films and Thor: Ragnarok had a much goofier and more colorful aesthetic than grittier earth-based films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Black Panther, but Infinity War does a great job of bringing those two worlds together in a way that make sense.  We get plenty of sweeping alien vistas as well as lots of Earth locales, but nothing feels rehashed or familiar. We visit Wakanda again, which is always fantastic, but I like how this film takes the action into a more open natural setting rather than the urban destruction we’ve seen so much of already. It feels fresh and visually interesting.

Also, the score is one of the best in the series. The themes all come and go, signalling each hero or group, but the new Thanos themes have all kinds of impact, especially in the end. The end credits (which against form, are played as simple white words against a black background rather than a visual spectacle of iconography and animation) feature very little in the way of heroic fanfare. It’s a funeral dirge, and it just slaps the audience in the face with the inevitability of what just happened. I love how the music is used.

The Villain: 9/10

Thanos is a legitimately well-written villain, and I like how the script devotes a great deal to his arc, to the point where he feels more like the main character and everyone else are supporting players.

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There are a few beats to his character that feel either poorly developed or dependent on more information that we don’t yet have. The main one is his relationship with Gamora. I just can’t believe that he truly loved her to the point where her sacrifice meant anything at all to him. Perhaps she reminds him of someone he lost long ago, and his love for that person is transferred to Gamora to the point where his killing of her is enough to merit getting the soul stone.

Either way, it’s not clear why he felt so drawn to her as a child and why she became so meaningful to her when her sister Nebula holds so little meaning to him that he would violently torture her to convince Gamora to tell him what she knows. A man who is willing to torture his daughters and then kill one to feed his own ambition would have a hard time feeling any real remorse, but he acts as though he’s given up something meaningful to him. I feel like there’s another part of his character we’re not seeing yet. I haven’t read the comics, so I’m not sure where this is heading, but I’m curious to see how Endgame (the rumored title of the next Avengers film) deepens his character.

Explosions: 10/10

There are plenty of spectacular explosions, and they are all absolutely essential to the story.

Favorite Explosion: Not really an explosion per se, but the reignition of the dead star so Thor could forge his new weapon was AWESOME.

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I literally cheered (quietly) when Thor made his heroic return to Earth armed with his new axe.

The Hero’s Journey: 7/10

*takes a deep breath*

Let’s start with the characters who grow or change.

Thor’s redemption arc is wonderful. He gets his weapon back (after his hammer was destroyed) and he finds himself the last member of a rabidly dwindling race. He is motivated and optimistic, but he still addresses the great tragedy that he’s faced. His conversation about how everyone in his family is dead with Rocket is perfect. It’s emotional, but he keeps trying to brush it all off.

Dr. Strange has probably the hardest decision to make. He knows how they can defeat Thanos (it was only one out of 14 billion possibilities) but in doing so, he has to give the time stone to him. I totally believed him when he said that he would let Tony or Peter die to protect the stone, so his giving up the stone to save Tony means that Iron Man is an essential part of defeating Thanos down the road.

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Tony Stark is very much still the conscience of the group, so I like how most of his inner conflict comes from his desire to fix things on his own, coming to realize after the fact that he can’t do anything without others. His acceptance of his death up until Strange trades his life for the time stone is a really powerful moment because I expected him to not survive that at all. He doesn’t have much of an arc, per se, but his characterization si strong and we’re given a lot of insight into his mindset.

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I like how, after being trapped in permanent Hulk mode for so long, Bruce Banner has a hard time getting Hulk to come back. He’s no longer an uncontrolled aspect of his personality, he’s a true alter ego who can choose when to manifest. This means that Bruce is much more in control of his own emotions, but he’s weaker in times of crisis. So we get to see Bruce solving problems with his mind rather than surrendering to the Hulk when he needs something smashed.

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This is definitely Peter Parker’s greatest challenge. He finds himself completely out-classed, and he keeps turning to Tony as a father figure, but Tony ultimately isn’t able to save Peter, which leads to one of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes where a dissolving Peter is clutching at Tony, begging him to save him even though Tony has no idea how to do anything useful.

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Vision also has a great arc since his entire existence stems from an infinity stone, so his life is in danger moreso than anyone else. I like how he is probably one of the most powerful Avengers, but he is the most vulnerable of the bunch. His ultimate death (both of them) is harrowing.

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The rest of the cast isn’t given a whole lot to do, sadly.

Captain America does make his homecoming, but there’s no real consequences to his doing so aside from his call with Ross. It’s not like he would choose not to help if there was a need, so there’s not a whole lot of conflict with him. Though I will say that the dark hair/beard combo is a VERY good look for Steve.

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Black Panther is TRAGICALLY underused. He has a great entrance when they go to Wakanda, obviously, but I’m super mad that he’s sidelined a much as he is during the fighting. Sure he fights, but he’s always in the background like Falcon in Civil War. His movie is still in theaters making tons of money, and I wish he was a more integral part of the script. I know the script couldn’t give equal time to everyone, but he DESERVES  to be an essential part of the story.

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The Guardians of the Galaxy are mostly comic relief except for Rocket, who has that great scene with Thor, and Gamora, who is essential to the plot as Thanos’ daughter. Gamora and Thanos’ interactions and relationship are given a lot of time, even though I feel like there’s an element missing from it, as I said. Groot is strictly a background character aside from one moment where he contributes (an arm) to the plot. Peter Quill is pretty much only there to be a foil for Tony, but he isn’t given much of an arc at all. Drax is…well Drax. Mantis has a cool moment where she tries to subdue Thanos, but that’s about all she has to do.

Black Widow, War Machine, Falcon, and Winter Soldier are basically just there in the background with maybe a few lines each. Sigh.

And…*lip quivers* I don’t want to talk about Loki…

But I know it will be OK eventually. It has to be.

Part 2 is on its way!

Score and Rank

  1. Black Panther (50/50)
  2. Captain America: Civil War (49/50)
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (46/50)
  4. The Avengers (45/50)
  5. Avengers: Infinity War (44/50)  A top 5 contender! Nicely done. Hopefully part two will eventually fill this spot.
  6. Iron Man (43/50)
  7. Thor: Ragnarok (43/50)
  8. Spider-Man: Homecoming (43/50)
  9. Doctor Strange (42/50)
  10. Iron Man 3 (42/50)
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy (41/50)
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (41/50)
  13. Captain America: The First Avenger (40/50)
  14. Thor (39/50)
  15. Avengers: Age of Ultron (39/50)
  16. Ant-Man (38/50)
  17. Thor: The Dark World (36/50)
  18. The Incredible Hulk (34/50)
  19. Iron Man 2 (33/50)

Next up, we’ll be returning to Spielberg By Numbers with The Post

Spielberg By Numbers – Lincoln

I don’t think I know what Daniel Day Lewis looks like in real life…

Lincoln (2012)

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The Plot: (based on true events) a fictionalized portrait of the events leading to the passing of the thirteenth amendment.

Seen It Before?: Yep!

Writing (7): The script is oddly disjointed. I know it does this to give everything a more natural feel, but it feels more like a collection of related scenes in the life of Lincoln’s second term. There’s a lot I like about this film, but I think the script could have been tightened. It introduces new characters throughout the film which makes it difficult to really connect with any except for Lincoln himself.

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And there are some moments that feel too “cute” to really fit such as a scene where soldiers, in an attempt to impress the president, start reciting the Gettysburg Address from memory.

Also, I’m not super fond of how the film rewrites the actual list of voters for the sake of dramatic tension in the climactic scene. For example, the script has Connecticut divited with two congressmen voting for the amendment and two opposing it, when in reality, all four vote in favor. Now, I understand why they chose to have the voting done as a voice ballot (it’s more dramatic on film than the real life paper ballot that was actually done in real life) but changing the actual votes of historical people feels like taking artistic license a bit too far. Character traits can be tweaked, and specific events can be staged differently, but things dealing with public record should be left as is.

However, I am very happy with how the film doesn’t idealize Lincoln himself. It shines a spotlight on his flaws along with his successes, showing how he dangerously walked the line between great leader and dictator.

Acting (9): Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing, and his portrayal of Lincoln is by far the highlight of the film. As far as he’s concerned, the film is a perfect ten. I adore the way he tells stories, as well as all the subtle tics that really keep Lincoln from being a caricature. He feels so real.

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I’m also a HUGE fan of James Spader’s W.N. Bilbo and Jared Harris’ Ulysses S. Grant.

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Tommy Lee Jones has some great lines, but he feels like he just wants to make it to the end of the movie. His trademark grumpiness could have been used to comment on the often fruitless arguments that happen in government, but instead of being a source of commentary, it often looks like he just wants to be done with the movie.

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I felt like Lee Pace got short-changed. He’s an AMAZING actor, but the script doesn’t give him much to do except be a screaming villain, and that’s sad because it would have been cool if we’d gotten to see more sides of Fernando Wood.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another one who seems a bit lost. His character’s struggles and arc is the subbest of subplots and Gordon-Levitt just doesn’t have the time to make us care about the character.

Sally Field is another oddity. Her character is shown to swing from such emotional extremes, going from a strong confident leader to a fragile put-upon housewife. I don’t know if the script just doesn’t give us any sort of satisfying through line for her or if Sally Field’s performance feels uneven.

Visual Style (7): Janusz Kaminski gives the whole thing a nice washed-out look, like a daguerrotype, which is cool. But I think the film could have benefited from more contrasts. So much of the film is gloomy and dark that we lose a lot of the warmness of the characters themselves. I think more of a sepia-toned warmth could have brought out the characters’ personalities more the way it does in the senate scenes.

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The senate scenes are fantastically shot, but the rest of the film has the cast of dry driftwood, which leaves many scenes feeling a bit empty. That technique worked well in Saving Private Ryan, but it doesn’t add a lot to this film except make Lincoln feel cold and detached from the fiery debate happening in the capitol. I’m not sure if that metaphor was intentional, but it doesn’t enhance much.

Music (9): Williams’ score is understated, but it has a subtle presence in the film which works well to create the cultural backdrop to the characters well. Williams’ themes are recognizable and operatic, but they never take over the scene. Unlike War Horse whose visual sweep lent itself well to soaring musical statements, the music in this one feels very personal and has a quiet intimacy which I think adds a nice layer of texture to the quieter moments, especially those where Day-Lewis is commanding the camera’s attention.

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Genre (8): This movie is very much Oscar-bait as was War Horse, and so it seems to hit a series of pre-set poses including a gritty battle scene, scenes of characters angrily yelling at each other, and a sweeping triumphant climax where the “good guys” win.

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As I said before, the film does touch on the gray areas of Lincoln’s actions, but it sets things up as so obviously This Political Party is Good and This Political Party is Evil that a more nuanced story could have had more to stay. But this came out during President Obama’s first term, so it is very obviously a feel-good film designed to congratulate the president of the day by associating him with the positive change brought on by Lincoln’s administration.

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For that reason it plays things safer than I think was interesting. It’s a good movie, but it could have been a much better movie if it had pushed the limits of generic expectations a bit more. There are elements of a much better movie lurking within (such as the gathering of votes via blackmail/manipulation) that could have been a great exploration of breaking rules to do good and the ethical quandaries inherent in that, but it ultimately abandons those themes in favor of a “we won!” climax that ignores the means used to get there.

Overall Thoughts: A fantastic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis elevates this movie beyond the simple feel-good historical celebration it quite often is.

Total Score: 40/50

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. Saving Private Ryan (48)
  3. Catch Me If You Can (46)
  4. E.T. (45)
  5. Jurassic Park (44)
  6. The Color Purple (44)
  7. The Adventures of Tintin (44)
  8. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  9. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  10. Jaws (42)
  11. War Horse (42)
  12. Empire of the Sun (42)
  13. Minority Report (41)
  14. Munich (41)
  15. Amistad (41)
  16. Lincoln (40) I was a little worried that I had ranked it too low, but seeing it in the company of Amistad and Munich, I’m happy with the score.
  17. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
  18. War of the Worlds (39)
  19. The Terminal (39)
  20. Hook (39)
  21. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  22. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  23. The Sugarland Express (35)
  24. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
  25. Always (34)
  26. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  27. 1941 (27)

Next up, it’s Bridge of Spies!

 

Spielberg By Numbers – War Horse

This movie is so freaking pretty, you guys!

War Horse (2011)

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The Plot: (based on the children’s book and play of the same name) Before and during World War I, a boy and his beloved horse become separated, and each endures various trials as the fighting draws them farther and farther away from one another.

Seen It Before?: Nope. This was the first time I watched it.This has got to have been the quietest Spielberg movie ever because I didn’t even know it was his.

Writing (7): There’s some really good writing here and there, but overall, this one feels very paint-by numbers. There are a great many generic cliches that pop up throughout to the point where you feel like this was a film crafted specifically to win an Oscar and nothing else.

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Regardless, there are still some wonderful moments that I really appreciated. The script is very neat and tidy and some recurring elements help to tie everything together in Forrest-Gump fashion.

From what I’ve read, this film made much more of a splash with British audiences because of their closer ties to the events of World War I, so I’m curious if the writing would get a higher score from an English reviewer.

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Acting (8): There are some great performances, especially from Jeremy Irvine (in one of his first roles), Tom Hiddleston, Emily Watson, and Niels Arestrup (who plays a marvelously understated grandfather who just wants to survive the war).

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David Thewlis also makes a great impression as a ruthless landlord.

Overall, the acting is good, but no specific performance leaps out and takes over the film. It’s a great ensemble of talented folks. I just wish the characters were allowed to do more.

Also kudos to the horses who portrayed Joey. The main one was also Seabiscuit a few years prior, so we know he’s a good horse. I think Spielberg could have brought out more of the horse’s personality, but the little moments that have the most emotional impact all come from this beautiful magnificent horse.

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Visual Style (10): Many found the film dull. I liked it, though I understood how they found the constantly changing events and characters alienating.

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But one thing we can all agree on is that this is a BEAUTIFUL movie. Like, Atonement meets Gone With the Wind meets The Searchers levels of beautiful. The camera work is sweeping and grandiose and I definitely want to watch it again just for the landscapes. It’s like a painting.

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So pretty. I’ll leave it there before I lapse into hyerbole.

Music (10): This is by far my favorite John Williams score since War of the Worlds. It has the magnificent sweep of Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan as well as a number of memorable, gorgeous themes a la Star Wars. For the first bit of the film, Williams’ score tells the story as there’s little dialogue, and it’s a beautiful introduction to the story. Since the focus is fully on the horse and the landscapes of England.

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I also adore the piano piece that plays at the very end. It’s understated, elegant, and beautifully emotional. I love when the script backs off enough to let the music and the visuals tell the story (especially when Williams is composing) because Williams and Spielberg work so well together in telling a story. I really want the two of them to make a silent film together someday.

Genre (7): This is very much a sweeping period epic. It plays things very safe in that regards. I think that suits the film well, to be honest. It’s very sure of itself and doesn’t have any moments that stick out as awkward or clunky.

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My only issue is that, in playing things so safe, there’s not a lot of true worry form the audience. We know that war will tear these two characters apart and that they will eventually bring them together. Whereas Saving Private Ryan undercut generic expectations, turning the Heroic Quest into a bleak bloodbath where characters survive by chance rather than heroism, this film stays very firmly entrenched in Inspirational War Movie Land, hitting all the beats it’s supposed to. There’s a Gone With the Wind-esque pull back where we see hundreds of dead bodies scattered about, but it’s so safe and detached that you don’t really FEEL the horrible loss of life that the scene is depicting.

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It is visually stunning, and the story it tells is reasonably emotional, but it’s quite stuffy overall in that it feels like a classic BBC costume drama to be enjoyed and then passed on, rather than something that’s looking to get people thinking about the cost of war. It doesn’t ask any questions. It just tells a pretty story.

The genre can best be described as “nonthreatening,” ultimately.

Overall Thoughts: Crazy beautiful and inspiring, but not super challenging or new in any way.

Total Score: 42/50

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. Saving Private Ryan (48)
  3. Catch Me If You Can (46)
  4. E.T. (45)
  5. Jurassic Park (44)
  6. The Color Purple (44)
  7. The Adventures of Tintin (44)
  8. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  9. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  10. Jaws (42)
  11. War Horse (42) RT likes this one more than Empire of the Sun, but Jaws still has a twenty point lead on it.
  12. Empire of the Sun (42)
  13. Minority Report (41)
  14. Munich (41)
  15. Amistad (41)
  16. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
  17. War of the Worlds (39)
  18. The Terminal (39)
  19. Hook (39)
  20. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  21. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  22. The Sugarland Express (35)
  23. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
  24. Always (34)
  25. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  26. 1941 (27)

Next up, we get to hang out with a President!

 

Marvel By Numbers – Black Panther

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With this movie, the MCU has reached Peak MCU. Let’s hope they don’t trip and fall after this one.

Black Panther (2018)

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Overview: Following his ascension to the throne of Wakanda, T’Challa is challenged by another heir to the throne who thinks Wakanda should rule the world instead of hiding from it.

Writing: 10/10

This film has a crazy complex plot and juggles a lot of elements. Plus, it has to create the culture and feel of Wakanda in a believable way. I was impressed at how well it manages all of this. There’s a LOT to unpack, but everything fits together really well. We get lots of character development (and not just character development of the main character) to the point that it ends up feeling like we’ve spent more time in Wakanda than just one film.

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The plot moves with a breakneck speed and doesn’t ever sacrifice its message or characters for spectacle (even though it has plenty of spectacle).

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Plus we get strong female characters! Who are essential to the story! And have complex personalities and backstories!

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Style: 10/10

This is movie is so freaking pretty. The costume and set design of Wakanda is iconic and gorgeous without ever stooping to orientalism. It’s a respectful homage to the various cultural elements of many African nations, coming together to create a hopeful vision for Africa’s future.

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Plus the cinematography has enough sweeping vistas and landscapes to make The Lord of the Rings jealous. It’s a world you wish you could visit in real life.

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On top of that, the score is stunning and really adds to the texture of Wakanda. Quite often, MCU film scores hit all the right notes, but don’t really jump out and attack you. This one makes itself known, blending technology with traditional rhythms.

The Villain: 10/10

Killmonger sounds, initially, to be a pretty flat villain, but once you get to meet him and learn about who he is as a person, you find yourself wondering if he might be on to something. Sure, he overreaches, and his fixation on revenge rather than positive change is dangerous, but his impetus is admirable.

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I love his final scene where he chooses to die free rather than live in prison. It’s a powerful statement that leaves you asking questions about his intentions rather than just saying, “I’m glad the bad guy was defeated.”

He’s complex, layered, and one of the MCU’s best villains.

Explosions: 10/10

In what other movie can you see armored rhinos blasting through a horde of enemy combatants?

I’m giving this one a perfect score not because the movie is filled with explosions (though there are some cool ones) but because the weapon design of the Wakandans is so freaking cool. I hate to say it, but they beat Asgard in the weapons area.

Favorite explosion: I got crazy giddy every time T’Challa released the stored kinetic energy from his suit and blew everyone up around him.

The Hero’s Journey: 10/10

I love how the hero’s journey in this one isn’t necessarily the standard “how can I be a good hero” plot line we see in many superhero origin stories. Instead he’s already a great hero and already a great king, but then he has all that taken away and he has to fight to reclaim everything, and in the process, comes to understand the noble intentions that lie at the heart of Killmonger’s brutal actions. That way, once he is once again the rightful king, he has a greater respect for that position and seeks out positive change in the world, accepting the responsibility inherent in revealing his nation’s technology to the world and all who might want it.

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We also get the beautiful layers of his relationship with his father. His respect for T’Chaka deepens as he’s able to see his father as a flawed human being rather than the idealized figurehead he always looked up to.

Score and Rank

  1. Black Panther (50/50) I mean, I think it’s safe to say that this film rules entirely. Though poor Ragnarok gets pushed out of its top five position after only one week. Sorry…
  2. Captain America: Civil War (49/50)
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (46/50)
  4. The Avengers (45/50)
  5. Iron Man (43/50)
  6. Thor: Ragnarok (43/50)
  7. Spider-Man: Homecoming (43/50)
  8. Doctor Strange (42/50)
  9. Iron Man 3 (42/50)
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy (41/50)
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (41/50)
  12. Captain America: The First Avenger (40/50)
  13. Thor (39/50)
  14. Avengers: Age of Ultron (39/50)
  15. Ant-Man (38/50)
  16. Thor: The Dark World (36/50)
  17. The Incredible Hulk (34/50)
  18. Iron Man 2 (33/50)

Next week we’re getting back to Spielberg By Numbers and looking forward to the next MCU film, Infinity War (which I’ll review as soon as I see it!).

Marvel By Numbers – Thor: Ragnarok

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And I FINALLY saw this movie, and boy is it a good one!

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Overview: Thor and Loki’s older sister, the death goddess Hela, returns to Asgard, but before Thor can deal with her, he finds himself trapped on a planet where he’s forced to compete in death matches…with the Hulk!

Writing: 9/10

The best part about this one is that it takes a page from Guardians of the Galaxy’s book and just lets itself have a TON of fun. The Thor series has, so far, had a hard time finding a solid style (though the first one is pretty great, in my opinion) but this one mixes EVERYTHING that makes Thor great, juxtaposing humor, crazy cool action, and some fun character arcs.

The dialogue is snappy without feeling overdone, and the the plot juggles multiple elements well without getting bogged down.

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Shout out also to Korg, the giant rock monster who’s super sweet and soft-spoken. Literally everything this dude said was pure gold.

Style: 9/10

I like how each Thor film has explored different elements of the world of Asgard. The first one had a gleaming clean golden aesthetic. The Dark World focused more on the Rivendell-esque  ornateness of the rest of Asgard. This one tears both of those down (literally) and focuses on Asgard as a people, not a place.

Plus we get the crazy fun day-glo world of Sakaar, lorded over by Jeff Goldblum. I mean, his character has a name, but let’s be real here, it’s Jeff Goldblum in a fun costume. It also serves to bridge the gap between Guardians of the Galaxy and the rest of the Avengers in terms of linking the feel of this huge universe to the goings on of Earth.

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I also like how we get those sweeping Lord-of-the-Rings-esque visuals that made The Dark World so cool looking, but the film doesn’t rely on them exclusively. This film doesn’t take itself seriously, except for the few moments when it absolutely has to. Then it goes all out. Valkyrie’s flashback is especially striking and iconic.

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I took off a point because they cut Thor’s hair, and that’s just wrong. I don’t care how CRAZY good he looks with that darker beard. It’s just…he needs his hair.

The Villain: 8/10

Remember in the Fellowship of the Ring when Galadriel almost takes the One Ring but decides against it? I feel like this is the perfect depiction of what would have happened had she actually gotten a hold of the ring.

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Hela is FANTASTIC. The script gives her enough depth that she’s not just a rage-monster who wants to destroy everything. She’s got sass, a killer wardrobe, and looks great walking away from explosions in slow motion (though I’m not sure she actually does that in this one…). But I like the gradient she creates with Thor and Loki. Loki went pretty evil for a while, but he was able to be pulled back from the brink. Hela has gone farther and overreaches, which causes her own downfall.

I wish we’d gotten more inside her head, but the script is juggling a LOT so I understand why we didn’t explore a lot more of her backstory. But she manages to keep the film from reducing her to a simple “Final Boss Battle” that a lot of other MCU films resort to through sheer force of will. Cate Blanchett has so much amazing screen presence and charisma that she suggests all the missing backstory every time she smirks evilly at the camera.

Explosions: 9/10

There are many explosions (I didn’t count) and they are all super essential to the story.

Thor’s discovery of his power and then Loki’s release of Surtur provide the film with some FANTASTIC explodey moments.

Favorite explosion: I hate to admit this, but the destruction of Asgard was pretty freaking cool. The moment was made better by Korg’s bookending comments.

The Hero’s Journey: 8/10

Thor’s journey has come full circle, and it makes me super happy that he finds himself in his father’s shoes by the end of it.

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Throughout the MCU, Thor became the muscle and little else (and since The Hulk was also The Muscle, Thor often felt superfluous). But with this one, we get to return to his overall arc of learning what it is to be a leader. He loses an eye and gains a throne, and throughout it all, is able to make peace with both Odin and Loki. I get the feeling he’ll “retire” somehow after Infinity War, but if that happens, it’s nice to see his story reach a satisfying end in this one.

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Bruce Banner doesn’t have a huge arc, but the Hulk sure does. Since Hulk was in control for two years, he learned to speak a bit better and has developed a more stable personality, which is awesome. I wish it had been made clearer how Bruce ended up so far away and separated from one another. Previous MCU films hinted that the two of them went off together after Age of Ultron, but in this one, it’s suggested that just Thor went off, assuming Bruce had died at the end of the Sokovia event. Maybe I need to re-marathon these movies again…

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Shout out also to Valkyrie and Skurge for have fantastic arcs. Valkyrie’s rediscovery of her confidence and Skurge’s sacrifice for his people following a whole bunch of self-serving cowardice were both excellent.

Score and Rank

  1. Captain America: Civil War (49/50)
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (46/50)
  3. The Avengers (45/50)
  4. Iron Man (43/50)
  5. Thor: Ragnarok (43/50) RT had this one tie with Homecoming, but I enjoyed it a wee bit more. That means we’ve got a new Top Five contender!
  6. Spider-Man: Homecoming (43/50)
  7. Doctor Strange (42/50)
  8. Iron Man 3 (42/50)
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy (41/50)
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (41/50)
  11. Captain America: The First Avenger (40/50)
  12. Thor (39/50)
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (39/50)
  14. Ant-Man (38/50)
  15. Thor: The Dark World (36/50)
  16. The Incredible Hulk (34/50)
  17. Iron Man 2 (33/50)

Next up we’re looking at Black Panther!

 

Spielberg By Numbers – The Adventures of Tintin

Spielberg’s first animated feature!

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

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The Plot: (based on the comics by Hergé) After casually buying a model ship, adventuring Reporter Tintin (and his dog Snowy) finds himself caught up in a centuries-old treasure hunt and his only lead is a drunken sailor who is more interested in whisky than treasure.

Seen It Before?: I’m really upset that I haven’t seen this one before. Like, I wish I could go back in time and force myself to see this when it first came out.

Writing (9): Watching this, I found myself really impressed with the “British-ness” of the script. It’s no surprise that the script comes from the minds of both Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who fame) and Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz/The World’s End fame). Throw in Joe Cornish (who wrote Marvel’s Ant-Man) and you’ve got a tight script that keeps the focus on the characters and moves the plot along with beautiful pacing.

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Interestingly enough, this is a very dialogue heavy film (often unusual for animation) but it’s all the better for it. The characters, especially Haddock, are fantastic and you become that much more invested in the swashbuckling adventure as a result. Since the scriptwriters are all so good at banter and physical comedy, there are also a great deal of genuinely hilarious moments that I was not expecting.

Acting (8): The motion capture technology (which tragically disqualified this film from the Animation Oscar it rightly deserved) really allows the actors to give more than just their voices to their characters. It was the animators who brought the characters to life, but there’s so much in facial expressions and body language that had to come from the actors.

Andy Serkis continually surprises me with how incredible he can be in literally any situation. Captain Haddock is by far my favorite character. He’s warm and likable, but he’s also deeply flawed and in search of a purpose. I also LOVE how he’s more helpful to everyone when he’s drunk. The one scene with a sober Haddock is so weird that Snowy goes out of his way to make sure Haddock gets drunk again.

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Jamie Bell captures the feel of Tintin beautifully, though the character by his very nature is sort of a blank slate. He’s a good guy without many flaws, so naturally everyone else sort of orbits around him.

Daniel Craig (no doubt enjoying a lighthearted break from the intensity of Munich) makes for a great villain. Sure he is quite often a moustache-twirler, but there is enough intelligence and cleverness there that you really wish Sakharine joined up with the good guys. Craig infuses the character with a sly sass that I really appreciate.

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Visual Style (10): It took a few glances at Hergé’s original Tintin comics to appreciate how well this film captures the character models and even the crystal clear line-drawing style. Every character is immediately recognizable (take a look at this original cover featuring Haddock, Tintin and Snowy).

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Everything has a clear brightness to it that just makes this a crazy fun movie to watch for the visuals alone.  Peter Jackson’s involvement in this film (he was one of the main producers ) brought with it Weta’s crazy talented corps of animators and visual artists, and the result is so gorgeous that I found myself wondering why this technology hasn’t been used more often. Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf and The Polar Express come to mind, but they came out in 2007 and 2004. Tintin definitely perfects the model that those films pioneered.

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I also like how the film doesn’t overreach its bounds in terms of the visuals. It feels like a heightened Indiana Jones sort of reality, but it avoids sequences which would have taxed the motion capture technology beyond what would have looked realistic (Beowulf is one such movie wherein the ambition of the visuals leads to some rather cartoonish scenes which stand out amid all the grit and depth of the rest of the film).

Music (8): John Williams clearly had a lot of fun with this one. The score is a great callback to Indiana Jones without repeating itself. The bright fun bounce of the score beautifully matches the bright colors and crystal clear visuals. The main theme for Tintin isn’t as crazy memorable as some of Williams’ other scores, but overall, the score works very well to bring the film to life.

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Genre (9): My experience with Tintin comes from the animated Canadian TV show back in the early 90’s. I didn’t see a lot of it (my devotion belonged to Darkwing Duck and Talespin at that point), but based on what I did see, this film does a really good job of blending the comedy with the swashbuckling adventure stuff.

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There are moments of goofy slapstick comedy and scenes of heightened emotion and tension, and the script blends all of these elements together really well. In terms of its audience, I think adults will enjoy it more than kids (even though there are some great scenes that kids will like) simply because its a lot more violent than kids may be used to (think Princess Mononoke from Studio Ghibli). I think Spielberg adequately makes an animated film that feels very different from the Pixar/Disney/Dreamworks stuff that dominated at that time, but it’s definitely a filmed aimed at older kids.

Overall Thoughts: A crazy enjoyable adventure film that I’m super upset I haven’t seen before.

Total Score: 44/50

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. Saving Private Ryan (48)
  3. Catch Me If You Can (46)
  4. E.T. (45)
  5. Jurassic Park (44)
  6. The Color Purple (44)
  7. The Adventures of Tintin (44) RT loved both Jurassic Park and The Color Purple more than this one, which I can understand.
  8. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  9. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  10. Jaws (42)
  11. Empire of the Sun (42)
  12. Minority Report (41)
  13. Munich (41)
  14. Amistad (41)
  15. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
  16. War of the Worlds (39)
  17. The Terminal (39)
  18. Hook (39)
  19. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  20. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  21. The Sugarland Express (35)
  22. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
  23. Always (34)
  24. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  25. 1941 (27)

Next up, we’ll be catching up with Marvel By Numbers, so Spielberg will be back in two weeks!