All posts by Robbie Jones

A Whole Lotta Spiel-berg: The Sugarland Express (1974)

Welcome back to our journey through the filmography of one of the world’s most iconic directors, Steven Spielberg. We kind of skipped ahead a little but now we’re back tracking to talk about his second feature film, The Sugarland Express.

Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn) breaks her husband Clovis (William Atherton) out of prison so the two can hit the road and retrieve their baby son. However, things don’t quite go to plan and pair find themselves kidnapping a police officer, and bringing him along for the ride while an army of police cars follow after them.

I was surprised to find out this sits at an impressive 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and won an award at the Cannes film festival…

Very surprising, because this is easily one of Spielberg’s worst films. Duel had its issues, but there was a lot to admire about it. This? Not so much. The performances are reasonably good, but nothing ever stands out, and John Williams’ score is pretty cool, plus there’s still a sense of inventiveness on Spielberg’s part. He’s still a young man making a name for himself in film at this point and you can tell he’s trying hard to make something great. Unfortunately, it’s just a massive bore.

For a road movie, it’s surprisingly slow; this is a frequent occurrence amongst Spielberg’s early films but the film moves at the pace of a fucking snail. Even in its action sequences are boring as all hell. The only thing that’s interesting about it is the early use of Spielberg tropes such as cartoons (He was a huge fan of Chuck Jones) and images seen in a side mirror. The story is never as emotionally investing as it should be, the performances aren’t convincing enough to engage you, the characters aren’t interesting enough to keep you going, and it really is just a very weak film.

That is, until the final 20 minutes.

I won’t spoil it, but the climax is most definitely better than everything that precedes it. At long last, a sense of danger comes in (effectively, at least); there’s a little shock, there’s a little excitement, and a touch of poignancy to its closing scenes. It really brings it home in this final chunk of film, and whilst it’s not enough to redeem the entire feature, it really deserves credit for that part alone.

The Sugarland Express does a great job of bringing it home, but the film itself just fails to hit the heights necessary for an entertaining and engaging road movie. Join us next time when Spielberg finally comes into his own as a craftsman and delivers the masterpiece that is Jaws.


The Revenant – DVD and Blu-Ray Review

Memes are a bit of harmless fun that can provide a good laugh here and there. For a while, they’re hilarious. After a while, they get tiresome, and then there are some that just get done to death to the point where they’re irritating as hell.

Case in point: Leonardo Dicaprio’s lack of an Oscar.

If you tried mentioning the guy on the internet, someone would bring it up. Even I did once in an old article. To this day, I still don’t understand how he became the target; sure, he’s had a lot of nominations but at what point did it become frustrating that he didn’t have an Oscar? What did he ever do to suggest that he really wanted it? It baffles me. But it doesn’t matter, because now he fucking has one and everyone has shut up. He couldn’t win it for Gilbert Grape, or The Aviator, or The Wolf of Wall Street, but he picked up a little gold statue for his stunning turn in Alejandro G. Innaritu’s The Revenant, out on DVD and Blu-Ray today.

While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass (Dicaprio) sustains injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back home while avoiding natives on their own hunt. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, Glass treks through the wintry terrain to track down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the former confidant who betrayed and abandoned him.

The Revenant is a brutal experience; there’s a lot of pain, anguish and fear in it’s two and a half hour run time and for the most part, it’s electrifying. The cinematography and direction is absolutely outstanding. It’s packed full of breathtaking imagery, fluid camera-work, and it all makes a for a visceral experience. Innaritu is the first director to win two consecutive Oscars in 65 years, and there was a lot of debate as to whether or not he would after winning for last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman, but one look at this film and you’ll see that it just had to be him that takes the prize.

And if all this wasn’t excellent enough, the cast are a treat too; Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter have small but important performances that they shine in, but it’s definitely DiCaprio and Hardy’s show. Hardy makes for an excellent villain, turning Fitzgerald into a despicable, and aggravating coward, while DiCaprio went through hell to blow everyone away and it was certainly worth it. It’s almost easy to mistake this film for a survival documentary when you see the state he’s in; he’s absolutely broken, but he’s determined. It’s this juxtaposition that makes Hugh Glass one of the most compelling film characters of last year, and what drives this film forward as it forces you to feel his pain and struggle with absolutely no escape.

It’s a mostly excellent film, though it has a couple of issues. Firstly, it’s very slow which for the most part is actually a good thing, as it really allows you to feel the full weight of what’s going on, and it makes the more fast paced sections even more exciting. However, there are times when it feels it could be moving just a little bit faster than it is, and feels more irritating than fascinating. Secondly, it’s definitely not an easily re-watchable film. Much like Birdman, it’s kind of a “one and done” film, especially if you’ve already seen it in cinema, at it’s best possible quality. For some, it might be good for two-three watches but for the most part, it’s quite a struggle.

Nonetheless, The Revenant is a brutal, torturous, yet riveting experience that was worthy of every award it scooped up.


A Whole Lotta Spiel-berg: Duel (1971) – Review

Is it fair to say that Steven Spielberg is the most famous film director of all time? I mean, you could argue Hitchcock, but Spielberg is a guy that people who don’t even watch films regularly know. Say the term “film director”, he’s the first name that usually pops up. He’s used in all sorts of jokes about films, and frequently set as the bar for good film making (“You’re not Steven Spielberg”). He is a man that has made an undeniable impact on cinema as we know it, as whilst he may be considered a stock choice for best director of all time (Or one of them, at least), there’s a reason why stock choices are stock choices: They’re fucking good. I’ve become fascinated with the man recently.

Since this year sees a new release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the release of his new film The BFG in cinemas this July, AND the BFI are celebrating his films with a whole Spielberg season, I thought it would be a great time to revisit the man’s entire body of work, from his first film Duel to his Oscar-winning latest Bridge of Spies, and take a look at the evolution of one of the most passionate men in cinema.

Duel (1971) tells the story of business man David Mann (Dennis Weaver), who is driving to a meeting on a long, empty stretch of road when he suddenly finds himself being chased off the road by a hulking gasoline truck. It’s part chase movie, part monster movie, and the monster movie aspect is handled really well. We never see the driver’s face, nor does he have a name or even a motivation for what he does – He’s just this looming, evil presence that constantly has our hero on edge. It’s definitely a ‘first’ film; there is so much about it that is so unrefined, and so many Spielberg-esque features that would go on to develop as he made more films, such as tracking shots.

For a first go at it, it really is quite decent; it’s very inventive and very lovingly crafted. Straight off the bat, Spielberg was trying his best to make a damn great movie and it didn’t pay off in spades, but the effort is so clearly there. Dennis Weaver gives a pretty damn good performance, especially in the bar scenes in which his paranoia boils and it’s without a doubt the most engrossing moment of the film. The score is great too; the film is full of heavy music that ups the tension and adds real fear to the chase sequences.

Where this film fails is it’s ability to hold interest, and that’s largely due to the length. It’s not even a long film; the original TV cut is 76 minutes long, and the version released to cinemas was 89 minutes, but it’s still too long. After a while, it does kind of feel like you’re watching the same chase sequence over and over again, and whilst they try to interject some character development in between these scenes, it really adds nothing to the film. In fact, the film would arguably be better without any character development. Yes, the bar scene is the best scene in the film, however, this might have played out better as a short film; cut out anything to do with David’s wife and kids, or him in the bar, or absolutely anything, and shred it down to maybe 30-40 minutes at most. See, the character development is unnecessary because it doesn’t really make him any more or less likable as a character. It doesn’t really add any stakes (Apart from him dying and his family being ruined obviously, but the thought of that never really occurs during the film), and we know he’s not strictly a bad guy, so if this film just consisted of one extended car chase, it would be great. The truck is already handled perfectly, and let’s face it, we’re going to immediately side with the seemingly innocent guy who being chased down by that monster of a vehicle, so combine that and JUST that with the excellent camera work and great score, it’d be quite an exciting short.

As far as directorial debuts and TV movies go, Duel is just fine, but it feels like there was a missed opportunity by making it feature length. It’s not fair to say it’s boring, but it definitely could’ve been handled in a more exciting way. Still, it goes to show just how far Spielberg has come. That’s one down, join us next time where we’ll be looking at his second film, another road movie called The Sugarland Express.

DUEL IS ON 1st and 10th JUNE 

The 5th Wave (2016) – DVD and Blu-ray Review

Young adult novels-turned-movies are the thing of today, and they aren’t going anywhere. Some are getting tired of them, and it’s very easy to see why; they’re almost always exactly the same. You can complain about superhero movies and their similarities all you want, but we’ve had so many movies in the last six years about a young protagonist in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic future, thrust into a situation they’re not prepared for and having to survive and fight against powerful/unknown forces, with the help of friends they make along the way and a love triangle thrown in too. That gets far more grating than comic book characters going toe to toe with each other.

Needless to say, The 5th Wave Blu-Ray disc was not the most exciting thing I’ve received in the post…But it certainly wasn’t the worst, either.

Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz) is an ordinary teenage girl living in Ohio with her parents (Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff) and little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) when a strange UFO, controlled by a race referred to as the Others, towers above the city, and before long, four waves of alien forces are sent to wipe out the human race. When the army intervenes, Cassie finds herself alone, and sets out to find Sam before The 5th Wave strikes.

I’m one of the only positive voices in a sea of negativity when it comes to this film, and to be fair, it is flawed; the dialogue is awful. Like, pretty much all of it. For the most part, it’s mostly exposition, and the characters basically just explaining everything to you, and if it’s not exposition, it’s just downright cringe worthy. On top of that, there are certain scenes that are just a bit “ugh” like Cassie spotting Evan Walker (Alex Roe) bathing in a river and apparently having her sexual awakening right there and then.

Not to mention, some of the performances are weak, mainly that of Livingston and Siff. To be fair ,they aren’t given much to do, but the short time they have on screen is very un-impactful (Just like literally every performance Ron Livingston has ever given ever). Beyond that stuff, this is a very solid film. As far as first films go in YA franchises, this is most certainly one of the best. It’s better than the first Twilight, the first Hunger Games and the first Divergent film. (Although let’s be honest, that’s not hard to do).

The best part of the film is arguably the first half an hour, in which Cassie’s narration explains the waves; it’s a very engaging start, and looks magnificent on Blu-Ray. I’m starting to wonder if I was actually sent the 4K disc, because I can’t remember the last time I looked at a film and went “Wow”, and Lord knows I didn’t think it would be for a film like this. The effects are great, and whilst it is almost entirely exposition, it sets the tone of the film really well and explains it all perfectly. Admittedly, the film slows down once Liev Schreiber turns up, and there are some questionable decisions by characters in this first act, but it remains totally solid all throughout.

The performances, bar the aforementioned ones, are pretty decent, with Chloe Grace Moretz turning in her best performance in a while, and Nick Robinson redeeming himself for his terrible output in Jurassic World.

The way the story plays out is also quite interesting; like, Robinson’s character Ben Parish is set up as the love interest very early on, yet he actually goes on to become his own, well rounded character with his own story (Arguably more interesting than Cassie’s too) and a love interest of his own. It’s nice to have two lead characters in a YA film that have balanced roles but aren’t destined to be in love with each other.  The Others make for very interesting villains, and no spoilers, but there is a really great plot development towards the end that sold me on this film being actually good.

Technically, the score is great, adding a nice intensity when need be, the direction and cinematography adds a certain poignancy to some scenes which is quite unexpected, and the ending is satisfying but definitely not complete, leading to some actual excitement for another film.

It’s part of an over-saturated genre, but The 5th Wave is a very decent film that will hopefully lead on to more interesting things.