[Film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg, 1977]
Spielberg Before the Sentiment:

Discord and Discovery in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind

 

Introduction:

Steven Spielberg - Close Encounters of the Third Kind - epistemology, knowledgeIn the study of film, the group ready to identify Steven Spielberg as an immensely influential, clever, and popular director, but not a particularly artistic filmmaker, is no minority. The reasons for this are not all that difficult to figure out, after you are familiar with a large number of his films.

Spielberg’s dramas are often overwhelmingly saccharine; his action films often sacrifice tension to safety and predictability; his historical films play loose with the facts and the tone, often in the interest of either the aforementioned sentimentality or else American nationalism; and many of his films across all genres rely on reductive, trite moralizing. A prime example of many of these issues is fan-favorite Saving Private Ryan, which represents at times a relentless, graphic, unsentimental portrait of armed conflict, but which is interspersed with and ends with a clarification that the film loves a good soldier, loves America, and loves any war America should happen to fight.

Praising and Criticizing Spielberg:

With all that stated and recognized, however, I do not count myself among those who dismiss Spielberg as a creator of blockbusters, and nothing more. Even if I would agree that many of his films (even many of his most popular films) do not stand up well under scrutiny, I think that some of his films do pass beyond the (unjustly maligned) category of entertainment, and into the hallowed category of art.
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[Film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg, 1977]
Spielberg Before the Sentiment:

Discord and Discovery in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind

was last modified: April 28th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Clue, Jonathan Lynn, 1985]
Parody Done Right:

Jonathan Lynn’s Clue and its Tasteful Lampooning of the Mystery Genre

 

Introduction:

Clue movie poster - parody, mystery genreFor film fans the world over, yesterday marked a definitive step into the future, as it was the day of Marty McFly’s forward leap in the iconic Back to the Future franchise. For Your Thursday Theater this week, however, I want to talk about a film with both feet squarely in the past. In the same year that the original Back to the Future was released, 1985, Christopher Lloyd (who played McFly’s frenetic sage Doc Brown) also played a somewhat more composed intellectual named Professor Plum in a cult classic comedic mystery: Jonathan Lynn’s Clue.

Lynn, who later directed the highly-regarded legal drama My Cousin Vinny, both wrote and directed this film (with some story collaboration from director John Landis—whose work includes The Blues Brothers, Animal House, and Trading Places). Christopher Lloyd was joined in an ensemble cast by a slew of other gifted character actors, including Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, and Martin Mull. This is a film with humble ambitions that surpasses expectations; it is a film which was cared about and well-executed at every level, and which cleverly presents a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the entire mystery genre.

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[Film: Clue, Jonathan Lynn, 1985]
Parody Done Right:

Jonathan Lynn’s Clue and its Tasteful Lampooning of the Mystery Genre

was last modified: December 21st, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Ghost, Jerry Zucker, 1990]
A Ghastly Script:

The Mediocrity of Jerry Zucker’s Romantic Classic, Ghost

 

Whoopi Goldberg Sketch by M.R.P. - Ghost, Patrick Swayze, negative review

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

A month ago, I wrote an article in praise of The Sixth Sense, a movie from the 1990s which covers the ghost myth perfectly, with just the right amounts of ambiguity and consistency so that the viewers’ credulity is not strained. The gimmicks are kept to a minimum and the actors, including the child actor at the film’s center, put in nuanced and subtle performances. In contrast, the winner of the 1990 Oscar for best original screenplay, Ghost, also puts its best foot forward as a ghost-centric drama, but gets pretty much all of those same details graphically wrong.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Ghost, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film.

Ghost is a movie that boasts two things working in its favor: the memorable romantic pottery scene, and most of the performance by Whoopi Goldberg. Every other aspect of this movie is as forgettable as it is hackneyed. Taken as a 90s comedy, Ghost is intermittently passable; but taken as the romantic fantasy “thriller” or “drama” it is billed as, Ghost is abysmal.

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[Film: Ghost, Jerry Zucker, 1990]
A Ghastly Script:

The Mediocrity of Jerry Zucker’s Romantic Classic, Ghost

was last modified: December 30th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: The Blob, Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., 1958]
A Repurposed Drive-in Delight:

Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.’s The Blob, and How a Horror Movie Becomes a Comedy

 

The Blob movie poster - unintentional comedy

Introduction:

Almost everyone is familiar with some instance of the so-bad-it’s-good phenomenon of watching movies that are enjoyable because of how terrible they are. There is fame and fortune for anyone who sincerely tries and laughably fails to make a good movie. But today I want to talk about a subtly different phenomenon: movies which were good in their time, but which have aged into a different genre (usually comedy) or else not aged well. One such film which has undergone this comedic fermentation process is The Blob, a short 1950s drive-in science-fiction movie.

A film loved by audiences in its time (if not by critics), The Blob still offers viewers a very enjoyable experience, but for very different reasons. What was once a semi-horror, science-fiction creature feature (with Red Scare political allegory undertones) has become a schlocky, humorous melodrama.

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[Film: The Blob, Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., 1958]
A Repurposed Drive-in Delight:

Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.’s The Blob, and How a Horror Movie Becomes a Comedy

was last modified: October 6th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Red State, Kevin Smith, 2011]
A True View Askew:

On the Merits of Kevin Smith’s Red State

 

Michael Parks Sketch by M.R.P. - Red State, recommendation, Kevin Smith

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

Kevin Smith’s personal anecdotes are more entertaining to me than any of his supposedly comedic films. I like his attitude, and I like his perspective, but I don’t like his writing. When his writing is not pandering to below the lowest common denominator or disproportionately praising George Lucas’ weakest films, it is still generally a set of superficial observations about malaise or adulthood dressed up as profound insights. But Red State is a curious case.

Red State, the story of a group of teenagers’ run-in with a fanatical and violent cult, is totally unique among Smith’s films. For one thing, unlike nearly every Kevin Smith movie, it’s quite good. It’s tense, interesting, and there are only two or three minor actors who don’t give excellent performances. Further, it is one of the few films in his filmography which do not take place in the meandering boredom of his so-called ‘View Askewniverse.’ Red State fails as both an action movie and a horror movie, but it succeeds as an interesting film.

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[Film: Red State, Kevin Smith, 2011]
A True View Askew:

On the Merits of Kevin Smith’s Red State

was last modified: February 28th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski