[Extraterrestrial Abductions Day] Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg

137 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role [Melinda Dillon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

With today being Extraterrestrial Abductions Day, I wanted to look back at a Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, The BFG) film that I didn’t have much exposure to: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I didn’t see the film until after college, and I didn’t recall liking it very much. So, today, I thought, let’s give it another try.

Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws, Madoff), an electrical lineman in Indiana, is forever changed after he experiences a close encounter with an unidentified flying object while investigating an outage. He develops a thirst to discover exactly what he witnessed that consumes him entirely, causing rifts in his marriage to wife Ronnie (Teri Garr, Tootsie, Aloha, Scooby Doo!) and his children. Roy’s search for answers takes him across the country where he meets Lacombe (Francois Truffaut, The 400 Blows, The Green Room), a French scientist also enamored with the possible discovery of alien life.

My frustrations with Close Encounters of the Third Kind do not lie on the technical side of things. I happen to find the visuals and sound design to be superb, some of the best put to film (coincidentally, the film was released the same as the original Star Wars, which nabbed a number of technical awards at the Oscars). I enjoyed the performances from Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story, Reign Over Me) as Jillian, a single mother who shares in Roy’s journey for answers.

My issues, though, come from Spielberg’s screenplay and how he chose to direct it. Roy does some pretty shitty things in the film, he isn’t a character I like or feel for, and yet Spielberg chooses to give the film such a light-hearted tone. It’s as if to say to his audience, “Look at this funny guy pushing his family away! My, isn’t he strange?” It just didn’t work for me. I want to feel for him and what this journey is doing to him, but I don’t.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a beautiful film, one that furthers the abilities of the artist with its progressive sound design and visual effects, but I just didn’t like the emotional arcs of the characters. An impressive technical marvel to this writer, but one without true substance.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Heather O’Rourke

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

114 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Poltergeist is an interesting film. It is equal parts comedic and utterly chilling, and not without an ounce of controversy.

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From director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mortuary) comes Poltergeist, a tale of the Freelings: Diane (JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Big Year) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson, TV’s Parenthood, The Incredibles). Their new home has been having some issues…issues like a living tree and clown doll trying to kidnap their son,  a closet that warps daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) into some purgatorial dimension, and chairs that slide across the floor. You know, normal new house problems. When Carol Anne is lost somewhere in the house, the Freelings must join together with paranormal researchers to save the young girl.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson command their roles with precision and chemistry as the chief parental units. In fact, the relationships of the entire Freeling clan are what holds this family and the entire film together. If you don’t feel for the family, you don’t feel for the film, and thankfully, this family works. Director Hooper commands a completely different tone for this film than previous efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the tone being more alike Spielberg’s other 1982 work with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but more on that later…

What makes this film a classic is the practical effects. Some of them are still realistically well put together over 30 years later. A few of them are still horrifying, like the mirror dream sequence and the actual skeletons in the pool (seriously, they were real skeletons). All in all, the film is still really shocking, especially for a PG film (the PG-13 didn’t really exist at the time).

So, there was some controversy about who the real director was: Hooper or writer Steven Spielberg (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)? Tonally, it looks to be Spielberg, but reports have surfaced that could go either way. Spielberg does seem like a backseat director to me, but I’m thinking Hooper myself.

Finally, let’s discuss the Curse. This film has often been considered to contain a curse much like the one that the Freelings are attached to (perhaps because of the real skeletons used during filming). Actress Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was killed by a former boyfriend in 1982 after filming completed. Then, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 after surgery to repair a bowel obstruction at the age of 12. She was filming Poltergeist III at the time.

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Poltergeist, a movie with history, permanently engrained in history. While the film does run on a bit longer than it needs, and featuring one too many paranormal investigators, but still a strong horror classic. Check it out, if you haven’t already. There is a reboot/remake on the way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 10th Birthday!] Alexander (2004)

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Director: Oliver Stone

Cast: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins

Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis

175 mins. Rated R for violence and some sexuality/nudity.

 

Ten years ago today, silver screens everywhere were graced with the presence of Oliver Stone’s newest film, a bold epic about Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Winter’s Tale). Audiences and critics alike were in agreement. This was one of the worst films ever. I myself hadn’t seen Alexander until I heard that the 10th anniversary was coming, so I took it upon myself to see if the film has aged well or if perhaps the rest of the world was wrong.

As it turns out, they weren’t.

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This movie is dreck. The plot is unbearably convoluted to sift through, but essentially tells the entire life story of one of the greatest rulers in existence through the word of his general Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal, Noah). We get to see his uncomfortably sensual relationship with his mother (Angelina Jolie, Maleficent, Kung Fu Panda 2), his constant need to kill his father (Val Kilmer, Heat, Palo Alto), his undersensualized sexual relationship with friend Hephaistion (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), and his animalistic relationship with first wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson, Sin City, Cesar Chavez). Seriously, I had no idea what was going on throughout this movie. It jumps around so damn much that I couldn’t quite remember where we were in time, which wasn’t helped with the horrible makeup that showed us that in ancient times, no one actually aged; apparently Angelina Jolie is hot no matter what age she is and Anthony Hopkins was actually born an aged bearded old man (that being said, at least a younger actor was cast to play Hopkins’ role in his flashbacks, that’s about it). I feel like this film should have been released with a light up timeline that people could check off events in the movie as they happen so we knew exactly what the hell was going on.

Colin Farrell kills it in this movie. Wait, I meant to say he killed this movie. If nothing else, I was so pissed to find that he absolutely tried his hardest not to act for the entirety of this three-hour tour. Oh, I didn’t know that Alexander was Irish. Hmmm, interesting.

I also didn’t know that somehow Alexander’s mother Olympias was Russian. It certainly seemed that way from the broken accent work given by Angelina Jolie.

Val Kilmer actually gives a nice enough performance were it not for the atrocious makeup work on his eye. You can literally see the prosthetic piece’s edge. Totally takes away what he could put down.

I actually like Jared Leto’s work as well as that of Rosario Dawson, but I felt like both roles were wasted by having nothing to do (again, I’m not complaining about Rosario’s nude scene, perhaps the only scene in the film worth keeping in the finished film).

And what was going on with Anthony Hopkins in this movie? Was his performance work based on a Roomba, because it seemed to me like he was walking all around his little balcony for 175 minutes bopping back and forth like a screensaver on a DVD player. I kept waiting to see if he would bump into a corner ‘cause I just wanted to see what would happen.

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Honestly, I have never seen a more wasted group of talent. This was one of those films that marked the end of Stone’s career; it really hasn’t moved much in a good direction since. From the opening overlong and boring prologue to the ending that seems to discredit any actual fact in the film, Alexander is a pointless film not worth the three different cuts the film had. Good movies are supposed to have multiple cuts, like Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Lord of the Rings films. It seemed like maybe if they kept recutting the picture, maybe they’d find a version that worked (ultimately, they did not). Avoid at all costs.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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