Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

Booked to the Future

2015, okay so the self-lacing trainers aren’t with us yet, nor is Jaws 19 or those shocking pink hoverboards, but this year doesn’t just mark the year that Back to the Future Part 2 ‘happens’ it also marks the 30th anniversary of the original. Talk about heavy!

bttf_einstein_019It doesn’t seem five minutes, never mind five years since we were celebrating 25 years of the original Robert Zemeckis classic, yet here we are. What was great then was that I was able to complete my original quad cinema movie poster collection with the re-release poster joining the original release Parts 2 and 3 posters which, like the films themselves, neatly riffed on the iconic original.

The 25th anniversary also saw the film head back into cinemas for a limited time, all cleaned up and looking amazing on the big screen, I’d missed it during its original run and caught it for the first time when it premiered on TV at Christmas and from the wall of ticking clocks was hooked.

marty-mcfly-johnny-b-goodeSeeing it on the big screen after so many years of it on the small screen was a complete revelation and you really haven’t seen films like Back to the Future until you’ve seen them on the big screen, read my original 25th anniversary Back to the Future review here, but for the 30th anniversary we are going back…back to an even bigger experience.

This time we are heading to the Royal Albert Hall for a screening with a live orchestra playing the fantastically rousing Alan Silvestri score as the film unfolds, merging performance and cinema, and for me, delivering a far more vivid experience than the likes of the secret cinema offerings last year.

The Royal Albert Hall experience is part of a wider cinematic music bill, which also sees the venue play host to live performances and screenings of The Godfather, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Titanic, the latter conducted by composer James Horner.

20130306-005558It will be our first time to the Royal Albert Hall, which will be amazing in itself but the real treat will be when on that screen we see the vastness of space give way to the rotating Universal globe as Steven Spielberg presents a Robert Zemeckis film…and the ticking clocks begin as we await the conductor’s  baton to be raised.

The day I met Kris Kringle – remembering Richard Attenborough

I’d always loved the original Miracle on 34th Street, starring Edmund Gwenn, the only actor to ever receive an Oscar for playing Santa, and a young Natalie Wood.

In 1994 I was thrilled then to discover that it was getting the remake treatment for a whole new generation, this time with the loveable Lord Attenborough in the red suit and in the dock, little did I know that only a few years later I would get to meet and chat to Kris Kringle in person…

It’s more than fair to say that I was in awe of Lord Attenborough when I was lucky enough to meet and chat to him for ten minutes almost 15 years ago.

It was the year 2000 and by then, to most of the students he was there to see, he was either John Hammond, the eccentric gent behind Jurassic Park (1993) or Kris Kringle in the John Hughes penned remake of Miracle on 34th Street (1994).

I knew more, knew of the huge breadth of roles, the impressive body of directorial work and was genuinely thrilled to be able to have an audience with this great man whose sprightliness defied his then 75 years, who was warm and happy to listen to my appreciation of his work, mentioning how much I had enjoyed both Chaplin (which I was pleased about as it didn’t do very well at the box office), A Bridge Too Far (one of my favourite war films) and his delightful performance in Miracle on 34th Street.

Dickie_CMYK_print_300dpi (1)It turns out that he is pretty much Kris Kringle, that was certainly my lasting impression when I met him, not just in look (sporting white beard of course) but also in his calming and caring manner where, when he spoke to you it was as if you were at the very centre of his universe and he hung on every word that you said. To him it was almost as if you were the important part of the conversation.

Outside of family pictures the photo of me and ‘Dickie’ is probably one of my most treasured and although that brief encounter happened over 15 years ago it is still as clear as if it only happened yesterday.

Throughout all his personas, whether that be on screen or behind the lens, I practically grew up with Attenborough, whether that be his still mesmerising and iconic turn in Brighton Rock, his supporting roles in The Great Escape (1963) – and I really did think he had gotten away with it, back alongside Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles (1967) and in best supporting actor oscar nominated mode in Dr Dolittle (1968).

He stepped behind the camera the following year for ‘Oh, What a Lovely War’, in what you could say was the start of his love to explore what you could call the ‘modern historical’. Arguably this covers everything from ‘Young Winston’, ‘A Bridge Too Far’, ‘Cry Freedom’, ‘Chaplin’, ‘Shadowlands’ and ‘In Love and War’.

His cinematic pinnacle came with Gandhi, which won eight Academy Awards, storming the box office and was 20 years in the making for Attenborough.

You could almost argue that everything else that he directed was a practice run, from the historical figure biopic of Young Winston, to the epicness of A Bridge Too Far to the social commentary of Oh, What A Lovely War.

Even the off the beaten track Magic, the tale of a possessed ventriloquist’s doll, was done to help raise funds for bankrolling Gandhi, the same reason Attenborough cropped up in John Wayne’s Dirty Harry-lite London set Brannigan.

Clearly, and why not, he was taking a leaf from fellow luvvie and Oh, What a Lovely War actor, Laurence Olivier, and taking some jobs just for the money. The hard work and effort obviously paid off, on both a professional and personal level, bagging two of Gandhi’s eight Oscars for his producing and directing duties.

Attenborough was held in such high regard by fellow filmmakers and directors, he has long been a lynchpin of the British film industry and is credited with introducing independent in the UK and has been a passionate supporter of the next generation, both behind and in front of the screen. And that was the reason I met him at Ravensbourne, he was there supporting the next gen of people in television.

It was Steven Spielberg that managed to coax Attenborough out of acting retirement for Jurassic Park, the director said: “He was the perfect ringmaster to bring dinosaurs back to life.” All of which just shows in what high regard he was held by everybody that he met and that he had a positive impact on.

Fittingly his roles in both Jurassic Park and Miracle on 34th Street capture the essence of the man I was lucky enough to meet on that sunny June day, his sense of wonder and magical glint in his eye. Even today I can still feel the moment he put his arm on my shoulder, he could have just simply shook my hand and stood next to me, but that small and simple action seems to just sum him up so much and all that he stood for and I’ll never forget it.

Gutted, mourning Robin Williams

What Dreams May Come
What Dreams May Come

Sure, Robin Williams, who has been found dead at his home aged 63, had his demons with drugs, drink – and like so many comedians – depression.

But that certainly doesn’t mean his death is any less shattering or was generally met with disbelief when it was the first thing that met my eyes and ears as I awoke to the news. Famously, he cites the death of fellow comedian John Belushi as a wake up call to his drug consumption and he freely admitted that if The Blues Brother hadn’t died then it probably would have been Williams next.

Like many, I grew up with him, first on my TV screen on Mork and Mindy, then on several of his live shows and of course his big screen antics way before he hit it big in Good Morning Vietnam in 1987, which seems like a lifetime ago, but seemed to capture the persona of Williams perfectly – the zany comic against the establishment and the thoughtful man that cared for others. Williams was both of these and pretty much the rest of his output moved between the two with great success in the likes of Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire and even Dead Poets Society.

He’ll, of course, always be remembered for his manic style – an interviewers dream and nightmare no doubt – and his amazingly fast comedic processor that saw improv with hilarious results in such classics as Aladdin, Good Morning Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire, that just shows his sheer diversity there.

But these were tempered with more thoughtful performances in Dead Poets Society, Moscow on the Hudson, and in one of my own personal favourite films, Awakenings. Not to forget his best supporting actor Oscar nod for Good Will Hunting of course, Williams also received nominations for the afore-mentioned Vietnam, Society and The Fisher King.

There was often sadness in this clown’s eyes during his performances, whether that be the desperate father to see his children, the doctor who couldn’t help in Awakenings or the ‘little boy lost’ or ‘boy who never grew up’ figure in the likes of Jack, Jumanji and of course Hook as Peter Pan himself. And in the latter, for me, it was the grown up Peter in the real world that bookended the film that was the most interesting element of that film.

And his performances in darker material such as Insomnia, this time acting against Pacino, and One Hour Photo just showed the man’s range and ability to act, he was no one trick pony. And that range was matched by the diverse range of films and genres that he found himself leading audiences, of course there were always the comedies but I’ll remember him as much for his dramatic roles, roles such as that in What Dreams May Come where he finds himself looking for his wife in the afterlife – which has never looked so vivid and rich – after she has committed suicide. It’s poignancy elevated beyond belief now of course, it is a beautiful film to look at and certainly won’t be easy viewing when it is next watched.

One of his last films to be released will be Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb, scheduled for a Christmas release, again its release will be cloaked in sadness at the talent we have lost. Ironically I was watching the first film the night before his death and he is brilliant as Teddy Roosevelt (essentially in that he is the elder statesman of comedy) and he fills his supporting performance – always making it feel bigger than it actually is – with what makes a Williams performance great, full of warmth, humility and fun. He of course played another President,  Eisenhower, in the recent The Butler (2013).

It’s pleasing (if that is the right word) to see that Sky, the BBC and Channel 4 are all remembering the talent of Williams with a selection of his most beloved films. All, for one reason or another, will be difficult to watch because of the man and the talent that we have lost and many of his performances will now resonate more loudly and deeper than they ever did before.

The ‘zany character’ of Robin Williams that we saw on the big screen, on stage or on the chat show was just that, a character and he played it well and brought so much joy to others of all ages. My favourite ever story though is that when Steven Spielberg was making the harrowing Schindler’s List he’d come back from an emotionally draining day of filming and speak to Williams via video link up who would just cheer him and other crew up, bringing some sunshine back into the darkness. I’m sure all of us who have been made to laugh or been moved by one of his performances just wished that we could have done the same for him.

His light might have dimmed but his power to make us laugh and cry, or even cry with laughter, has just been forever heightened.

The Dad Busters: Celebrating fathers on film

With today being Father’s Day I guess this could have been alternatively called A Good Day to Dad Hard.

This list is in no particular order but for me stand out as some of the key father moments on film. Of course there will be those that don’t get mentioned or that I hadn’t thought of , but that’s the point these are the ones that sprang to mind for me, these are the ones that – on some level – resonate with me as a dad.

Martin Brody in Jaws (1975)

He’s the Chief of Police on Amity Island (in Amity we say yard!) and there is a rogue killer shark on the loose…not bad for a man who hates water. You know what he faces his greatest fear (quite literally) after his eldest son nearly gets taken out by the Great White. His job may be to serve and protect the community but he also wants to do the same for his family.

Jaws is my favourite film of all time, it was made the year I was born and it’s always been a big part of my life, and Roy Scheider as Brody is fantastic as the former New York cop who has moved to the seaside for a quieter life and a better life for his family. In many ways he will see that he has put his family in danger, it is his fault that they have moved in danger’s way. Director Steven Spielberg often makes films with an absent father or films without fathers (take Jurassic Park, E.T., Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for example) due to the break up of his own parents marriage when he was young but the dad plays a major part in this film.

Father wise it’s a small moment for why Jaws is chosen and its one of the film’s brief interludes where his youngest child, Sean Brody, is sat with his dad at the dinner table and his young son copies his each and every move. It’s poignant and full of sheer warmth and is expertly delivered by Spielberg who manages to eek such moments out of young actors. For me is shows how important those little moments are, how attune young kids are and how…no matter what else is going on in the world…they bring you back down to earth and show you what is really important and really matters.

Jor-El in Superman (1978)

You often hear of stories about people going back into burning buildings to save their children or people giving up their lives so that their children can have a chance of survival. It’s weird but until you become a mum or dad you kind of get it but you don’t really understand it, you will do anything to ensure that they are safe and secure, that they will survive.

This brings me to self sacrifice. Kal-El (AKA Superman) survived because of his dad, because he was looking out for him, because he and his wife sacrificed themselves so that they could survive.

Marlon Brando was paid an astounding (nay super) salary of $3.7 million and a percentage of the profits  for  12 days shooting but he was certainly worth every penny with the gravitas he has in his scenes, a gravitas he carries through to Earth when a young Clark Kent is listening to his words of wisdom, the words that he will live by, the words that turn him into a superman.

Our dads all impart words of wisdom to us, why might not always think it is at the time but over time we’ll revisit it and find us using some of those very same words ourselves. Also see Mufasa in The Lion King, another sacrifice and a dad with wise words imparted to his son that are echoed again later.

George Kirk in Star Trek (2009)

Before he was Thor but after he was Kim in Home and Away, Chris Hemsworth played Kirk Snr in the opening of the JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek. Again like with Superman before it this is about sacrifices and although the father and son bond is fleeting – he gets to hear the cry of his new born son moments before his death, a death that saved countless others, including his wife and son.

George Kirk evacuating the crew of the USS Kelvin, including his wife and unborn son, as he sends it into the enemy craft is an amazing piece of cinema as his death is juxtaposed with the birth of his son. It’s a great opening to the film as initially we are only introduced to him as Kirk – so some of the new to Trek audience will think it is James T –  and it is also the birth of a legend, talk about an apt introduction.

It’s the strongest moment of the new Trek universe that has yet to be equalled, nevermind bettered in its execution.

Bryan Mills in Taken (2008)

When I was growing up Brian Mills was a catalogue, now he’s a kick-ass former special ops dad in a leather jacket played by Liam Neeson who acts as a sometime bodyguard for Holly Valance. Neeson himself thought the film to be no more than a straight to video thriller but the central crux of the story, his daughters kidnap into a people trafficking ring in France, and particularly the trailer that features the now famous “I have a certain set of skills….I will find you and I will kill you” dialogue over the phone as he speaks to his daughter’s kidnappers sent it into the stratosphere. It’s the pre-kidnap scene where he is telling his daughter to remain calm, to remember details, to hide under the bed…and to prepare to be taken that is the stand out moment for me.

It really touched a primeval nerve that we would do anything and go anywhere to save our sons or daughters or to avenge what has been done to them. He’s the Jack Bauer and the Paul Kersey in all of us, doing whatever and taking out whoever it takes to get the job done. The same could be also said of Russell Crowe in Gladiator after the murder of his wife and son, although he dies at the end his mission is accomplished and he gets want he wants, to be with his wife and son in the afterlife.

This revenge/avenging role is also used to great effect by Mel Gibson in practically everything where he is a wronged dad – see The Patriot, Ransom and Edge of Darkness for details.

Michael Newman in Click (2006)

Like most of Adam Sandler’s films this has plenty of infantile moments, such as repeatedly farting in David Hasselhoff’s face but this It’s A Wonderful Life-esque comedy also has its fair share of well-handled drama. Christopher Walken hands Sandler’s character a TV remote control that can control life itself, pausing or fast forwarding through life…the pefect tool for the over-worked architect fighting for promotion.

It’s a genuine surprise to find such a funny and touching film that has a real emotional core and an important message about spending time with your family taking precedent over your job. Life is short and it can’t be repeated and moments can’t be recaptured, essential to this are great performances by Henry Winkler as Sandler’s dad and with Sandler himself as he grows older, which culminates in his own moving death scene in the pouring rain trying to conect with his own grown up son outside the hospital. It’s this moment that’s my highlight.

The idea isn’t a new one, you’ve only got to look as far as A Christmas Carol and The Family Man for that, but its mix of humour and heart coupled with its contemporary setting and theme of work/life balance shows us it is perhaps more relevant than it ever was.

More than notable mentions also go out to the “I am your father!” scene in The Empire Strikes Back, the baseball game scene where Kevin Costner ‘meets’ his dad in his former cornfield come baseball diamond in Field of Dreams, the interplay of Henry Jones Jr and Sr in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the moving penultimate scene in the original version of The Omen where Robert Thorn hesitates in killing his adoptive son who just so happens to be the son of the Devil, and the Chariots of Fire-inspired scene onwards of Clark W. Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Perhaps I’ll return to these dads in more detail next year.

Pete Postlethwaite: a celebration

Craggy faced and voiced, the versatile actor, Pete Postlethwaite, who was described by Steven Spielberg, with whom he worked twice, as ‘the greatest actor in the world’ died last month at the age of 64 after a battle with Cancer. Earlier this week his memorial service was held and Dean Newman remembers the man and his movies.

Pete Postlethwaite kept working as he battled the disease, last year alone appearing in everything from Clash of the Titans to Inception and The Town. He first came to world-wide prominence in the Oscar-winning In The Name of the Father, for which he was also nominated, although the eagle eyed may have spotted him amongst the scrum of shaved heads and fellow British thesps in Alien 3 some 12 months earlier.

He cemented his position as one of the cream of British character acting talent however with three very different roles that he will perhaps be most fondly remembered for.

Looking to do for colliery brass band players what The Full Monty did for Sheffield steel workers, Brassed Off saw Postlethwaite deftly mix drama and comedy as the Obi Wan Kenobi of brass band leaders taking, funnily enough, future Obi Wan, Ewan McGregor under his wing.

1996 was a vintage year for the former Royal Shakespeare Society player who was the perfect choice and pillar then for Baz Lurhrmann’s sumptuous Romeo and Juliet with Postlethwaite’s Father Laiurence delivering the memorable ‘two households’ monologue that sets the scene, classic.

From playing an instrument to playing it colourful, Postlethwaite played it cucumber cool as the rather mysterious Mr Kobayashi in the really rather excellent, The Usual Suspects. Hollywood couldn’t really do anything other than sit up and take notice and he worked solidly right up until his untimely death.

Postlethwaite worked across a wide range of genres but he could often be found stepping in and out of the realms of sci-fi, horror and fantasy. Lucky us then. Genre highlights include Dragonheart, The Lost World (clearly channelling Robert Shaw from Jaws), James and the Giant Peach, Aeon Flux, Solomon Kane and the aforementioned Titans, Alien 3 and Inception.

It was almost as if the word gravitas could have been invented for him, a bit like getting Williams to do your score (yes Spacecamp I mean you) or Drew Strazan (hello Masters of the Universe) to whip up a tasty poster for you as no matter how bad the project he would give it that little bit more feeling of class to the proceedings.

The perfect case in point being his memorable turn in The Omen remake, ably filling the dog collar of Patrick Troughton who tries to forewarn Robert Thorn about his Devil son. Heck, I even loved his rhyming voiceover and his musings on mum’s cheesy bake in a certain well known cheese advert!

Being such a presence and class act it’s something of a surprise then that he didn’t pop up at Hogwarts, visit Middle Earth or try to have James Bond bumped off. He would have been perfect in any of them. Rarely bettered in the films he appeared the films themselves were always better for him being there and so was our experience.

Stars in Their Iz #2

Part 2 in a limited series of random images of Izzy that on later viewing appear to replicate a famous person or scene from film, TV or history.

E.T. and Elliot
Gloworm and Izzy

This edition we hark back to Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic, E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial. The film depicts the close bond an alien and young boy have with each other.

It’s a modern classic and features many memorable scenes and images,

 perhaps none more than the moment E.T. and Elliot fly past the moon on their bike. Thankfully Izzy and her gloworm have stayed on terra firma…for now.

Men Vs Beast: Jaws – the making of a modern classic

Jaws, is one of the most iconic, oft-imitated, readily quotable movies ever, but like Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz, its making of is almost as legendary as the movie itself.

It’s hard to think that the then 27 year old Steven Spielberg almost turned down the chance to direct the movie that launched a thousand nightmares and was the first film to smash the $100 million barrier, but at the time the Director felt that the film was too similar to the man versus (mechanical) beast of Duel (1971).

The original schedule of 52 days tripled due to the problems of filming on location, not so much filming at Martha’s Vinyard, which doubled as the quaint Amity Island, but more the filming at sea, which almost left the whole production at sea. Previously most movies set at sea were filmed in giant tanks with a pre-filmed backdrop but being on a real sea, on a real boat it was made the experience that successful.

The 12 hour days were not wholly productive as only four were devoted to actual filming, due to the poor weather and the not wholly co-operative shark (it sank on its first test and practically exploded on its second), but in the end these were the elements that helped make the film the success it was.

The Beast

Initially the Producers, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, thought(!) that they might be able to hire a man to train a Great White to perform a few simple tricks and do the rest with miniatures. Thankfully this route was not pursued and it soon became very clear that there was only one man who could make this monster fish a reality, the retired Bob Mattey, who created the giant squid for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea some 20 years earlier.

Jaws and Christian Bale both might have too many teeth but his strops pale into insignificance next to ‘Bruce’ (the name Spielberg fondly called the shark after his Lawyer) who was cross-eyed and his jaws would not shut. This, however, proved to be Spielberg’s masterstroke as he had to be more inventive and hide the shark behind the camera for as long as possible, its presence suggested by twisting camerawork and the now unmistakable primeval music composed by John Williams, thus allowing the audience’s mind to create the horror of the shark, all 25 feet of him. And of course those rather cannily placed yellow barrels!

No matter how well the shark performed or how well it was hidden when it didn’t the filmmakers knew that the audience would need to see real sharks, and that is exactly what they got with amazing footage from Australian husband and wife diving team, Ron and Valerie Taylor.

Thankfully Great Whites do not grow to 25 feet in length so to make the shark look larger for the Hooper cage dive a smaller cage and midget were used to get some spectacular footage. But the best was yet to come when the shark destroyed the cage, and almost the boat, thankfully the pint size stuntman, Carl Rizzo, was not in it at the time and after seeing the ‘attack’ on the boat promptly locked himself in the toilet. The footage remains in the film, which effectively meant the shark helped rewrite the book and ensure the survival of Richard Dreyfuss’ character.

The Men

The original books author, Peter Benchley, and old pal of Spielberg, Carl Gottlieb, are listed as the screenwriters of the project but beneath the surface of the credits it is revealed that several different people helped stamp their authority on the project.

Benchley had two passes at the script and then the Pulitzer winning playwright (and scuba diver), Howard Sackler, was brought in to beef up the script. One of his greatest additions was the Quint USS Indianapolis monologue. This one moment, more than any other, has been the one that has become fabled in who should take the credit for the powerful moment when Robert Shaw’s character retells his World War 2 shark encounter. Future Apocalypse Now and Conan scribe, John Milius, had a crack at it with Shaw himself, an accomplished playwright, also gave it a polish and honed it to the perfection you see on scream, depending on whose tale you listen to of course.

The great thing about the hours of waiting to film meant that the main actors (Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw) all got to hone their characters, got to know each other and also got to rework their dialogue with co-screenwriter, Gottlieb (who also played opposite Mayor of Sharksville, Murray Hamilton) who often updated dialogue only 24 hours before the shoot, which perhaps goes someway to explaining why these three characters and their words – which even Tarantino would be proud of – and every nuance is so spot on and crisp almost 35 years later.

Other unsung heroes of the movie also had to include camera operator, Michael Chapman, who practically filmed the last third of the movie handheld, which helped give it that realistic, fresh look. And he even saved vital film from a sinking Orca, narrowly saving his skin and the dailies. Finally, there is Editor, Verna Fields, who won one of the three Oscars (it was nominated for four) for the film and edited the movie on location as the footage slowly crept in, not only editing around the underperforming shark but also continuity problems of an ever changing sea and sky, not that you’d notice.

She was also instrumental to adding the ‘head in the boat’ scene that was shot in a swimming pool and added long after filming had wrapped.

Unfortunately due to the many plaudits Fields got for the film, she was seen as its hero, rather than Spielberg, that Oscar can’t have helped either. As a result the two never worked together again.

By the end of the film the shark may have been dead but the blockbuster as we know it today had been born.