Screening Room: ‘Empire of the Sun’

My article on Steven Spielberg’s 1987 epic adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun was published at Eyes Wide Open:

Spielberg chose a story with few chases, a rouge’s gallery of foul characters, no uplift, and a healthy dash of surrealism. British speculative fiction novelist J.G. Ballard’s grim autobiographical novel detailed in stark terms the childhood years he spent in a Japanese prison camp in China during World War II. As adapted by cerebral playwright Tom Stoppard, the story is a chilly one, particularly for a filmmaker who had so shamelessly (and skillfully) plucked heartstrings in the likes of E.T...

Screening Room: ‘The Post’

The year’s big political movie comes with an unlikely cast and director: Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in Steven Spielberg’s The Post. An all-too-timely thriller about the cacophonous showdown over the publishing of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, it opens in limited release on December 22.

My review is at Film Journal International:

For his most taut and dashing movie since Munich, Steven Spielberg chose an unlikely subject: the publishing of the so-called Pentagon Papers in 1971. It’s not history that Spielberg tends to favor. There are no great battles or monumental court cases; well, there is the latter, but Spielberg whips right past it without pausing for gassy Amistad oratory. The heroes are neither grand orators nor men of action. Instead, they’re mostly disputatious ink-stained wretches in off-the-rack suits…

Screening Room: ‘Bridge of Spies’

Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks glare like they mean it in 'Bridge of Spies' (Dreamworks)
Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks glare like they mean it (Dreamworks)

In Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, based on a tangled and fascinating true story, Tom Hanks plays a New York lawyer who gets swept into a Cold War scandal when the CIA needs help rescuing a U-2 spy plane pilot shot down by the Soviets.

Bridge of Spies opens everywhere this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

Bridge of Spies sits at the lit-fuse junction of Cold War paranoia, the legal ethics of treating enemy combatants, the dividing of Berlin, and nuclear holocaust. But the work of three screenwriters—Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen—one of the era’s most astute directors of thoughtful popular cinema, and even Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks operating in pitch-perfect sync can’t wrestle this incredible, fact-based but ungainly moralistic spy saga into shape…

Here’s the trailer:

Now Playing: ‘Like Father, Like Son’

Are You Really My Son?

likefatherlikeson-posterImagine you’re the parents of an adorably well-behaved six-year-old boy. Then the hospital calls and tells you that in fact, your child was switched with another family’s when they were born—your biological son has been raised by somebody else. What do you do? That’s the conversation-sparking premise behind Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s brilliant new melodrama Like Father, Like Son, playing now in limited release.

My review is at Film Racket:

There’s a Lifetime movie lurking not far beneath the deceptively placid surface of this cutting family drama about a Japanese couple who discover that their six-year-old son is actually somebody else’s. Now, not only do they have to come to terms with the realization that their son is not related to them, but that their biological child is still out there, waiting to be met. What is their real son like, and if they haven’t raised him, what makes that boy their real son and not the one they’ve been creating a family with? Over the course of its smartly plotted two hours, writer/director Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s emotionally knotty film raises question after question about this interruption of what seemed initially like domestic bliss. The biggest of them being: Does any of this even matter?…


Like Father, Like Son strangely missed out on this year’s foreign film Oscars, but won the Jury Prize at Cannes, where Steven Spielberg saw the film and nabbed the rights for a perhaps inevitable American remake by Dreamworks.

Here’s the trailer:

Quote of the Day: Richard Matheson

IAmLegend25028Prolific fantasy/horror/science fiction author Richard Matheson passed away last week at the age of 87. He was one of those foundational genre authors who came of professional age during the great age of the pulps and learned to write across a great slew of styles. Matheson made his bones with frequently filmed and ripped-off 1950s novels like The Shrinking Man and I Am Legend that reimagined suburban life as a place of potential horror; adaptations of his work over the years ranged from Twilight Zone to Stephen Spielberg’s debut film, Duel.

Here’s Matheson on how he came up with the idea for I Am Legend while watching the 1931 film of Dracula:

My mind drifted off, and I thought, ‘If one vampire is scary, what if the whole world is full of vampires?

Not bad as premises go. What’s more incredible is the book itself.

Department of Awards: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Best Film of 2012?

zerodarkthirty1This afternoon, the New York Film Critics Online (an august group that I am glad to be a member of) announced their awards for films released in 2012. Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, led a fairly scattered pack, with three awards. Steven Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln and debut filmmaker Benh Zeitlin’s magic-realist Beasts of the Southern Wild were tied at two awards each.

Herewith the full list:

  • Picture – Zero Dark Thirty
  • Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Actress – Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Director – Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Best Supporting Actor – Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
  • Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Breakthrough Performer – Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Debut Director – Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ensemble Cast – Argo
  • Screenplay Zero Dark Thirty
  • Documentary – The Central Park Five
  • Foreign Language – Amour
  • Animated – Chico and Rita
  • Cinematography – Life of Pi
  • Film Music or Score – Django Unchained

This gives Bigelow’s war film an early lead in the oddsmaking for Oscar contention (and for good reason, despite whatever idiot musings come from Bret Easton Ellis these days), as the NYFCO joins other critics groups like New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, and the Boston Film Critics Society in naming it film of the year. Of course, that still leaves plenty of time and other awards to allow early favorites like Les Miserables and Argo to make up some room.