Thursday, June 25, 2009

In Memoriam

Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y'awl's neighborhood
And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse's shell
The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom
And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the thriller

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blog on a Stick

Yeah... I created another new blog:

Blog on a Stick

It's basically going to be a blog devoted to local restaurant reviews and such. It's a continuation of Twin City Eats, a website I made a few years ago dedicated to, um, local restaurant reviews. We'll see if this one lasts longer than that one.

Check it out and let me know what you think so far.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Blog rating

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets

Created by OnePlusYou - Free Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

* hell (8x)
* shit (6x)
* death (4x)
* gun (3x)
* dick (2x)
* punch (1x)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Still Lost

Just a quick note to say that Shannon and I were up until 2:00 in the morning finishing off the first season of Lost. I'm sure glad I didn't watch that finale when it first aired, because I never would've been able to wait to see how that cliffhanger was resolved.

Anyway, since my last post on the subject, the show was gotten a lot more interesting. It still a bit formulaic, but it's a formula that works very well. It's a good show and the actors are all starting to find their voices and the weird shit keeps getting weirder.

I give the first season an A-.

Friday, June 5, 2009


So I decided to experiment with the idea of possibly maybe turning this blog into a podcast. I recorded one, and it was pretty fun and it turned out... not to be all that terrible as far as these things go. I basically went from my recent review of the new Star Trek movie, intending to read it straight, but took a few asides and digressions and embellishments as the recording went on. By no means do I recommend anybody listen to this thing, but if you are bored and feel some need to listen to me talking about Star Trek for 25 minutes, here you go:

Right click here to download.

And if anybody does listen to it and wants to hear more, let me know.

Get Lost

My girlfriend and I started watching season one of lost earlier this week... and it's good. So far it hasn't struck me as the instant classic many people have claimed, but it's certainly interesting and entertaining, and we are only about twelve episodes in. I'm sure it's going to get better and better as the episodes go on. Still, the series did just finish its fifth season, so we are aware of the huge commitment we've made. It's going to take a while.

But I think we'll do it, since, as I said, it's pretty entertaining, and the story is compelling, for the most part. At this point, it's hard to tell if the show's creators actually have a real story in mind, or if they are just making things up as they go along and plan to sort it all out in the last season. I've been burned by more than a few shows that haven't done that, only to drop the ball at the end (*cough*... Battlestar Galactica... *cough*), but hopefully Lost will pan out.

As it is now, the stories all follow a definite pattern, with something happening on the island that somehow relates to some memory one of the character has of their life before the plane crash, and then there's some big shocker or reveal in the last five seconds of the episode that ensures you'll keep coming back for more. And it works, but it's already starting to get a little old. Also, and I hate to say this, but the stories better get more interesting because the characters all kind of suck.

Well, ok, they don't all suck. I love Sawyer and I think Locke and Sayid are both interesting and fun as well. But the others are all pretty rubbish so far. Matthew Fox is a great actor in my opinion, but his talent and inherent charm are the only things that keep Jack from being completely smug and an insufferable cliche. The same goes for the Hobbit, but unfortunately he's neither as talented nor as charming as Matthew Fox. And Kate has to be one of the most annoying characters ever, but as least she's very lovely. Then again, they all are. I've never been on a plane filled with that many great looking people.

Except for Hurley, the fat guy, who is actually another character I kind of like. He has little to offer beyond comic interest at this point, but at least his comic interest is quite funny. I could see how he could get real annoying real fast, however.

Anyway... Lost. Not much else to say, and I know I'm years behind the times on this one. So... no spoilers in the comments section!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Graveyard Shift

Ok, Donald, you might be thinking, enough with Star Trek, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, and whatever other crap you've been boring us with, what's your opinion on what's happening with the late night talk shows? Talk about something that's actually been on TV or in the theatre within the past decade, jackass.

Ok. What's my opinion on what's going on in the late night scene? Um... no opinion? How's that for an answer?

Honestly, had there not been so much hype (though, to be sure, there hasn't really been that much hype. There certainly hasn't been as much chatter about this than there was back when Jay replaced Johnny, and that was well before the internet) I would've even have noticed any changes. Would most people? I seem to remember a time in my life where I watched late night talk shows, but I honestly can't remember when I stopped. I remember the Dancing Itos, so it must've been sometime after the O.J. Simpson trial. To be honest, the fact that the Dancing Itos is the most indelible memory I have of Jay Leno's show must tell you something.

Though, to be sure, I don't dislike Jay Leno. I think he's a very funny, witty, likable comedian. But I have no interest in watching his show because it's boring and kind of annoying. And that goes for David Letterman too, except that while he's witty and funny, he's not very likable. And Conan is just an entertainment black hole that makes me want to slit my wrists every time I listen to his whiny voice or watch him mug for the camera. Ughh. My opinion of Conan is actually the opposite of the commonly held opinion that he started slow and became something special. I thought he started out ok, and never changed, telling them same jokes, doing the same bits, and generally staying mediocre.

I did watch an episode of his new Tonight Show the other night, however, since I was going through the channels while watching TV in bed and saw that he was introducing Tom Hanks. I like Tom Hanks so I figured I'd watch his interview. And, for the most part, I suppose I'm glad I did. That is to say, I don't regret that I did. Tom Hanks is always funny. I can't say that Conan added anything to the conversation nor do I think he really brought out anything that Hanks wouldn't have brought out on his own. But, you know, it was Tom Hanks on my TV.

Am I going to watch Jay's show? Do I have any predictions about how a talk show will work in prime time? No and no. Jay is a funny guy and I wish him well, but seeing as how I neither watched his Tonight Show nor anything that's currently (or remotely recently) on NBC in that time slot, I won't start now.

How do I feel about Jimmy Fallon's show? Never watched, and can't imagine I ever will since I hated him on SNL and never saw any of his movies. The same goes for Jimmy Kimmel. I have watched a few episodes here and there of that Craig Ferguson guy, and thought he was pretty funny, but not so funny that I actively seek it out. I feel about his show the way I felt about him on Drew Carrey, if it's on, I'll watch, but that's the full extent of my interest.

Anyway, I've talked far too much about an interest in which I have no real interest. Personally, I don't understand talk shows and why they are such a big deal. Sure, it's entertaining to watch a funny, likable host chatting with funny, likable celebrites. But, let's be realistic here. That describes Johnny Carson chatting with Dean Martin and George Gobel, not Jay Leno chatting with the girl from Twilight. Whenever I watch a talk show, I always try to figure out what these hosts are doing to deserve 20 million dollars a year. Not even Johnny Carson was that funny, in my opinion.

Anyway, I only decided to discuss talk shows for one reason: So I could post a clip from my all time favorite, the Joe Franklin Show:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Steven Spielberg Career Retrospective Part II

Hook (1991)
Now this isn't a very good film. Notable for having one of the highest budgets of its time, Hook was a monster hit that has not aged well, which says a lot considering how it wasn't any good to being with. It has the highest of high concepts: What if Peter Pan grew up? Well, most people probably assumed he'd have grown into a better man than this film, which seems to hold the opinion that you are either Peter Pan or an immoral corporate raider who neglects his family and only cares about money. This movie relishes in this dichotomy and heaps irony on top of irony until it stops being the least bit clever.

But it all looks pretty, and some of the child actors were quite good, and you can't beat the inspired casting of Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Bob Hoskins, who all but steals the show in every movie he's ever been in. But when you walk away from a movie thinking, "boy, I wish Bob Hoskins was in more movies," maybe that means the movie you just saw wasn't all that good.

Maybe this works as a kids movie. I certainly remember enjoying it when I first saw it in the theatre. But, as an adult, it's insufferable.
Rating: Skip it

Jurassic Park (1993)
Now this is a movie.

If I were to rank all of the movies in order of how many times I've rewatched them over the years, Jurassic Park would definitely be somewhere in the top five. It's just a ridiculously entertaining film that keeps me enthralled every time I watch it. It's absolutely one of the most brilliant pieces of pure filmmaking the world has ever seen.

Ok, and it's also kind of dumb, but that's ok. It doesn't have the depth of Michael Crichton's novel, but that's ok. I've reread the original novel almost as many times as I've seen the film, and all things considered, the film has aged a lot better. When I was a younger man, I didn't understand why Spielberg excised most of the science from the novel, but as I grew older, I realized that Crichton's science was mostly nonsense. Spielberg made the right decision. But the film is short on story. But that doens't matter since it's a movie about dinosaurs, and it presented the most amazing dinosaurs the world had ever seen.

I love this movie, and so do you.
Rating: Buy it

Schindler's List (1993)
One of the reasons why Steven Spielberg is my favorite director is how he'll follow up a film about genetically bred dinosaurs run amok with a heartfelt film about the Holocaust. Name one other director who could've pulled both of those films off to such critical and fan acclaim? Filmed in stark black and white, Schindler's List is as much a visual feast as any Spielberg film, though that is as much a detriment to the film as it is to its credit. There are a few scenes in this film where Spielberg the visual stylist takes too much power over Spielberg the story teller, such as in the scene where the German plays the piano while the soldiers kill the Jews in the tenament building, or when the gas chambers are revealed to be just showers. These are thrilling scenes, but perhaps a bit too thrilling. Spielberg was maturing, but still unable to always become completely invisible as a director.

Also, and this perhaps too petty of a criticism, but I would rather have had Spielberg direct a Holocaust film that centered around a family of Jews, and not a single, noble German who was the hero. But it was without any doubt a breathtaking, brilliant film. Spielberg's first Oscar wins for Best Picture and Best Director were well deserved, though he had been deserving for other films before this one.
Rating: Buy it

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
And then Spielberg took four years off, and you would've too. He had won and Oscar and directed the most grueling, emotional film of his career, after all. But, all things considered, he probably should've taken a little more time and returned to Hollywood with a better film than this piece of shit.

But that doesn't mean I don't love this movie, I just acknowledge the fact that it's not very good. As a follow up to Jurassic Park, it definitely has more dinosaurs, more thrills, and better computer effects, but it also has a lot less plot and less charm. But that's fitting because Lost World the novel was a huge piece of shit as well, though it wasn't quite as stupid as this movie adaptation. But, again, this movie is about watching dinosaurs eat people, an area in which it delivers better than any movie in history. The scenes of dinosaurs eating people are wonderful, and the film is worth watching just for the scene where the hunters are chasing the dinosaur stampede. That may, in fact, be the coolest scene in movie history, and I'm not exaggerating at all. But, at the end of the day, there's almost as much to hate about this movie as there is to admire, if not more so, actually. The characters are all annoying, the plot is stupid, and the set pieces make absolutely no sense at all. And, really, why is Ian Malcom's daughter black?

Lastly, this film is notable for being the only sequel Spielberg ever directed that wasn't an Indiana Jones film.
Rating: Watch it on TNT

Amistad (1997)
Amistad may very well be subtitled "The Lost Spielberg Film," since nobody ever remembers it. Admit it: Before you started reading this blog (and, of course, I'm humoring myself by pretending that anybody is actually reading this blog) you had completely forgotten about Amistad. As soon as you reached this point, you probably thought to yourself, "oh yeah... that movie!"

And that's a shame because it's actually a pretty good movie. It's not in his top ten to be sure, but it's a good movie all the same. Anyway, it's entertaining, and even quite moving and profound in places. Cinque's "Me wants free" speech in particlar always makes me misty. If for nothing else, this movie gave Djimon Hounsou a career, for which we can all be thankful. Djimon Hounsou is awesome.
Rating: Rent it

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Spielberg won his second Best Director Oscar for this film, though Shakespeare in Love beat it for Best Picture. A lot of people will tell you that was a travesty, but I liked both films a lot. Either of the two deserved the top Oscar, in my opinon, even though I've only seen Shakespeare in Love once while I've seen Ryan about 8 billion times. So maybe it was a travesty after all. Anyway, this movie is awesome. I've already hyped up this film in my list of the ten best war movies, but this film is so good no amount of hype could ever do it justice. Was it perfect? No, but it was still awesome all the same.
Rating: Buy it

Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
A great many people have written a great many detailed, elaborate, scholarly articles explaining why this is one of the most brilliant films ever made. And I've read them all. I know the history of this film. I know that it began as the brainchild of Stanley Kubrick (another one of my favorite directors who will no doubt get his own Dononline retrospective soon enough), who gave Spielberg his blessing to finish it after his death. I know all of the theories and explanations. I've watched this film multiple times to get a better understanding and refined viewpoint. But, at the end of the day, I can't deny the inevitable: I think this movie sucks.

There isn't one sequence, set piece, or idea that works for me. It's all just a huge mess, in my opinion. I don't even find it entertaining. The special effects are wonderful, of course, but this was 2001. All films had special effects that were wonderful by that point. Computers took the special out of effects and just made every movie looks fantastic. I did almost like Jude Law's performance as the Sexbot (would any woman really have intercourse with something called "Gigolo Joe"?), but then I realized that his character, like all the others, served no purpose, learned nothing, and had boring, pointless story arcs.

I just didn't like it. I have no idea why I always feel so apologetic about it, but that's how it is. The main problem with this movie (other than that it sucked?)? There was no real emotional point, in my opinion. David was supposed to be the first robot that could love, and yet the only thing that made him different from the thousand other robots in this movie was that he cried a little bit more. That teddy bear seemed pretty lovable to me. I certainly found him more believable -- not to mention less creepy -- than Haley Joel Osment.

Anyway, I could go on and on about how much I hate this movie, but maybe I'll save that for another time.
Rating: Skip it

Minority Report (2002)
I saw this movie opening day, and I didn't really love it. There were just too many flaws that hurt my enjoyment. There was the bit with the eyes, that let Anderton and is wife sneak around even though he was a registered fellon. There was the ending, which was predictable and cliche. Then was the entire premise, that made no sense because the precogs foresaw a murder "committed" by Anderton even though he never actually killed anybody.

But, many viewings sine then, my feelings have changed and I've warmed up to this movie. In fact, I think it's quite good, if not one of Spielberg's very best. But it is a good science fiction film that's full of action and clever idea. And, no, those "flaws" I mentioned above don't really bother me anymore, since they aren't really deal breakers. It was one of those movies that let me down because it wasn't as brilliant as I was expecting, but when I saw it again, it wasn't as bad as I had remembered.
Rating: Rent it

Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Spielberg's second film with Tom Hanks (and his first with Leo DeCaprio) is an absolute delight. I can't think of any better way to describe this film. It isn't up there with E.T., The Color Purple, or Schindler's List in terms of story content, but it's as entertaining and, well, fun as anything he's ever directed. Throw in Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, and a bunch of cute girls and you've got one of the most entertaining films of his career. But there aren't any dinosaurs or guys who rip hearts out of other guys' chests.
Rating: Buy it

The Terminal (2004)
I like this movie, but I'd be hard pressed to label it as one of Spielberg's big successes. It's a likable, charming comedy that has an easy going tone that is only a little bit trite and only kind of stupid. But, again, I like it. I think it's funny, and while it isn't the most engaging or visual splendid of his films, it's still a Spielberg movie. Spielberg doing light comedy may be a waste of his talent, in my opinion, but it's still entertaining. But it's also a little boring, and even though it's supposedly based on a true story, the entire premise is impossible to believe. That wasn't a deal breaker for me, but I can see how it would be for a good number of people. This movie wasn't a big hit.

This was also Spielberg's third film (and as of this writing, last) collaboration with Tom Hanks, who's fantastic as always.
Rating: Watch it on TNT

War of the Worlds (2005)
Spielberg and Tom Cruise team up a second time to make another science fiction blockbuster, and it's another instant classic. This is just an over the top, exhilarating, balls to the wall disaster movie, and I loved every minute of it. This was probably Spielberg's best pure action movie since Jurassic Park, and he's at his best (or at least, at his most entertaining. I'm not going to argue that this is a better film than Schindler's List) when all he cares about doing is taking the audience on a nonstop thrill ride. This isn't exactly a nonstop thrill ride, since there are actually more than a few character moments where the actors get to talk about their feelings and all that, but for the most part, it's just a lot of stuff blowing up. The beginning section is so strong that the ending really feels like a let down (especially since the ending was so faithful to the novel's, which was already dumb even considering it was 100 years old), but it's still one of my favorites.
Rating: Buy it

Munich (2005)
Munich is a great movie. It might be too soon to tell, but it seems to be a landmark picture that introduced yet another Steven Spielberg to the world: One who was finally able to bridge the gap between the director of thrillers like Raiders and Jaws and the man who made heartfelt dramas like The Color Purple and Schindler's List. Munich has a deep, philosophical storyline that raises more questions than it answers, but it also has thrilling set pieces that almost out Hitchcock Hitchcock. It's a brilliant, soaring success for the director.

But... it's also kind of boring in places, and I'd be lying if I said I really understood everything Spielberg was trying to say. It's not one that I rewatch very often. It's just a little too cold. It's the kind of film I respect on an intellectual level, but don't necessarily love watching on any kind of emotional level.
Rating: Rent it

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
After 20 years, Spielberg, Lucas, and Harris Ford reunited for once more installment in the Indiana Jones franchise, and the world was a better place because of it, in my opinion. I've already reviewed this film in detail here (some might say in too much detail), but needless to say, I loved it. When I first saw it, I merely liked it, but in the time since then I saw it a few more times in the theatre and even more times on DVD, and it has grown on me more and more with each viewing. It's not a perfect film by any means, with a charmless, less than villainous villain and a lackluster finale, but it's still an Indiana Jones film and it still entertains. Every Indiana Jones films has been less spectacular than the one that came before, but that's ok because since the first film was brilliant, even films that get progressively less brilliant are still great. That was a long sentence, but thanks for sticking with me.
Rating: Buy it

And... that's it. That was every major film directed by Steven Spielberg over the course of his career. And, no, I'm not forgetting Poltergeist, but since he isn't actually billed as the director, I'm not going to get into that fiasco. I woudl've rated it as a Watch it on TNT anyway.

Let's see how the films broke down in terms of my rating scale:

Buy it: 12
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Temple of Doom
Last Crusade
Jurassic Park
Schindler's List
Saving Private Ryan
Catch Me if you Can
War of the Worlds
Crystal Skull

Rent it: 6
Sugarland Express
Close Encounters
Empire of the Sun
Minority Report

Watch it on TNT: 5
Twilight Zone: The Movie
The Color Purple
Lost World
The Terminal

Skip it: 3

I would say Spielberg aquited himself very good, and his ouvre definitely proves him to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

Steven Spielberg Career Retrospective

Steven Spielberg: This country's greatest living director, or the greatest living hack? Personally, I vote for "greatest living director," and I hope I can convince you in this career retrospective, where I'll chronologically list and give my (brief) opinions on every major film he's directed. It's going to be a huge pain in the ass, but that's what I do. Anyway, at least he's my favorite director.

Oh, and as much as I love the man, he definitely has directed some shit. But, even then, it's always entertaining shit.

And I'm going to give each film a rating from the following scale that descends from best to worst:

Buy it
Rent it
Watch it on TNT
Skip it

And just for the sake of clarification, you'll have to understand that a rating of "Skip it" from me means it's the absolute worst of the worst (or, at least, that it's just incredibly boring and pointless), since I'll watch just about any piece of shit on TNT. If you've spent more than five minutes reading this blog, you'll have figured that out by now. Anywat, let's get to it:

Duel (1971)
Duel is probably the best Spielberg movie that most people haven't seen. It's also the best TV movie ever made, which helps to explain why most people haven't seen it. Now that Spielberg has risen to the level of certified movie icon, Duel has been released and rereleased a bunch of times on video, DVD, etc, but most people still haven't seen it, which is a shame because it's an absolutely cracking little film. It stars Dennis Weaver (of McCloud fame) as the lonely driver on a long car trip who gets terrorized by a trucker who's face, identity, and motives are never revealed. And that's it. But that's all Spielberg needed to craft one of the tightest, most exciting thrillers of all time. Seriously, this film is brilliant and is an absolute must see.
Rating: Buy it

The Sugarland Express (1974)
After Duel, Spielberg continued to work in TV for a few years, but this was his first release on the big screen... and it's a pretty good one, if not as memorable as his next few. In (very) brief, Goldie Hawn and William Atherton play convicts on the run from the law in Texas. There's a lot more to it than that, but at the end of the day, maybe there actually isn't. Sugarland Express is one of the more subtle and restrained Spielberg films, but it's also very well done. As I said, it just isn't as memorable as everything else he's did, and feels more like one of his earlier TV movies than something that was quite ready for the cinema. But it's a fun, well done little movie by one of the all time great directors.
Rating: Rent it

Jaws (1975)
Jaws, of course, needs no introduction, explanation, or summary. Jaws is one of the biggest, best, and most important movies ever made. It's a perfect film, in my opinion, and one of the many titles I'll give as my answer when people ask if I have a favorite film. It's just... well... one of the most satisfying, exciting, entertaining movies of all time. And it's scary as hell. Even to this day, I can't swim alone in a pool because of how many times I've seen this movie.

Rating: Buy it

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Close Encounters is considered a great film by a great many people, but I'm not really one of them. I consider it an almost great film, however. I think this is a film that is all set up with no real pay off... but the set up is absolutely amazing. This is the film where, as a visual director, Spielberg really became Spielberg. There are so many gorgeous, exhilarating, iconic moments in this film, that it's really worth watching, but you won't miss much if you skip the last half hour to 45 minutes. It just doesn't have a satisfying ending, in my opinion, nor one that makes much sense on any kind of logical or human level.
Rating: Rent it

1941 (1979)
Spielberg's first failure! And a well deserved failure at that, though it is worth watching if only to see Steven Spielberg directing a bunch of WWII era fighter planes. But, as a comedy, this movie completely falls flat. What else is there to say but that it just isn't very funny?
Rating: Watch it on TNT

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Best... movie... ever. As Spielberg enters the 80s, movie history is born with the first Indiana Jones movie. With this movie, both Spielberg and George Lucas prove themselves as certified film gods and not just flukes. Well, Lucas's status as a film god may have diminished as of late, but we'll save that commentary for my Lucas career retrospective (ugh). Anyway, Raiders of the Lost Ark... what else is there to say about this one other than that it's one of my (and the entire world's!) all time favorites? It's just brilliant from start to finish, and hasn't aged a day in my opinion.
Rating: Buy it

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Oh boy, this is a tough one.

This is arguably the best film Steven Spielberg ever directed, with a story that is more heartfelt and better told than any of his later, more "adult" efforts. It's absolutely brilliant and perfect and, dare I say, magical. It's also probably the only film that I love but yet still can't sit through. It's just too god damned sad. It's also a film that I saw for the first time with a childhood friend who is now dead, so it has that added emotional quotient that makes it impossible for me to make it through. Even though I own the DVD. Even though I love it. Even though it has a happy ending (sorta. I mean, it's sad for Elliot, but ET gets home). Can't watch it. Just thinking about that scene where they find ET's body in the forest is almost enough to make me want to run to the kitchen and cut out my heart with a Ginsu.
Rating: Buy it (But never watch it)

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
This almost isn't even worth mentioning. Twilight Zone is actually a pretty good movie containing four different story segments, Spielberg's being the worst of the bunch. Spielberg's reputation as a director of sentimental crap is extremely unfair and unfounded, in my opinion, but this treacly, trite tale of senior citizens who turn into kids certainly doesn't help my defense. But, at the end of the day, it's just boring and pointless. But this film is worth watching for the segments directed by George Miller and Joe Dante.
Rating: Watch it on TNT

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
This is one of those films that can divide any room into those who absolutely love it or hate it. Even Steven Spielberg has gone on record to say that he kind of hates it. Far be it for me to disagree with the man himself, but I think it's awesome. No, it doesn't quite have the charm of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it does have some of the most amazing action sequences in movie history. And it has a cave full of bugs. And it has a villain who rips a guy's heart out of his chest and then shows it to him before he dies. So, yeah, it's a dark film. But it also has a sense of humor. What can I say? I love it.

Rating: Buy it

The Color Purple (1985)
How else to follow up Temple of Doom than with an adaptation of an epistolary novel about two African American women living in Georgia in the 1930s? I mean... why not? This film marked a turning point in Spielberg's career where he made a concerted effort to make films that were more than just big, summer movies. Some critics would accuse this film, and many of his others, as little more than "Oscar bait" but I don't think that's fair. I think Spielberg just wanted to make some films where he didn't have to direct in a room filled with thousands of snakes crawling all over the place. And, again... why not? However... this film doesn't really work for me because Spielberg approached it the way he approached his earlier films: by telling the story with his signature visual flair. This was a gorgeous film to look at, but unfortunately the story didn't really feel fully fleshed out. Also, as engaging as charming as I find Whoopie Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, neither of them really had the acting talent to carry an entire film. Danny Glover is amazing, however. At the end of the day, it's a decent film that entertains, but it wasn't anywhere near as emotionally gripping or satisfying as, say, E.T. or even Sugarland Express.
Rating: Watch it on TNT

Empire of the Sun (1987)
There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who love Christian Bale and think he's a brilliant actor, and then there's me. I just don't get the appeal of this guy. There's a reason why he only plays characters who are pissed off all the time: That's the only emotion he can pull off convincingly. He's just a completely boring, one note actor in my opinion who can completely suck the life out of any movie he's in. Well... almost any movie he's in. He was actually pretty good in this one, back when he was just 13.

But we were going to talk about Empire of the Sun. This is a pretty good movie, although the pacing is off so it drags in more places than it should. It's almost almost three hours long, even though it feels like it's much longer. But... it's good. It's gorgeous and well filmed, of course, but it also has a really great story and some wonderful acting. It's something of a picaresque story with a view different vignettes, some of which are less engaging than others and probably should've been cut to trim down the already bloated running time. But, you know, I liked it. It just doesn't stand out as one of my favorites.
Rating: Rent it

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Last Crusade is the favorite Indiana Jones film for a great many people, and rightly so, since it just exudes charm and good humor. Personally, I prefer Raiders of the Lost Ark by a country mile, but that doesn't diminish this film by any means. I absolutely adore this film and think it's one of the most entertaining films I've ever seen. You know... it's just that the original Indiana Jones film is better. But this film does have Sean Connery as Indy's father, and the return of Sallah, Marcus Brody, and the Nazis. This is definitely the funniest and most broadly appealing Indiana Jones film, but I still prefer the dark, black comedy of Temple of Doom and the creativity and movie-serial, pulp novel inspired tone of Raiders.
Rating: Buy it

Always (1989)
In case you were wondering when we'd finally get to a skip it, here we go!

But don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible movie. In fact, it's even a pretty good movie. It's well written, the cast is great and performs perfectly, and Spielberg's visual dazzle is pretty well on display. The main problem is that the story is so ill-thought out and misguided it's hard to believe this movie was actually made (well, remade, but that's another story). Richard Dryfuss is a hotshot pilot who dies in a spectacular crash and then comes back as a guardian angel of sorts to a younger, up-coming hotshot pilot. The hook is this young pilot falls in love with, and starts to court, the girl Dryfuss used to date!

A clever plot to be sure, but who wants to watch that? Who are we rooting for here? On the one hand, the young guy is such a great character we want him to win Holly Hunter's heart, but, on the other hand, Dryfuss is our hero (I think) and we're forced to watch him suffer. So we feel bad while we watch, and then grow angry at a god who would put one of his angels in this kind of position. I wouldn't want to die and then be forced to come back and watch my wife date some guy who was younger and more handsome than I was.

Then again, maybe Dryfuss is in hell and this is his pennance for a life of misdeeds? If so, that would also be pretty poor story telling since he seemed like a nice guy. So I just think it was a dumb movie with a story that's almost impossible to not find awkward and off-putting, and Spielberg should have known better. It is maybe worth watching, however, if only because it's a Spielberg movie and because all of the actors were so good. How often do you get to see John Goodman, Holly Hunter, or Richard Dryfuss any more?
It's also notable for being the last performance by the always wonderful Audrey Hepburn.

Rating: Skip it

And since that closes out the 80s for Mr. Spielberg, that seems as good a place as any to take a break. After all, I have to go take my laundry out of the dryer. Come back soon for the second part of our Steven Spielberg Career Retrospective.