You don’t have to overtax the Google machine to find negative comments about being on set with Steven Spielberg. Type in “working with Steven Spielberg” and in 0.57 seconds 20,900,000 results appear, including an article where Shia LaBeouf rants, “He’s less a director than he is a f—ing company.”
LaBeouf’s resume is dotted with Spielberg-produced or -directed films like Disturbia, Transformers, Eagle Eye and, most famously, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but if Spielberg ever does the same search it’s unlikely they’ll ever pair up again. “You get there, and you realize you’re not meeting the Spielberg you dream of,” LaBeouf told Variety. “You’re meeting a different Spielberg, who is in a different stage in his career.”
But that’s pretty much it for the negativity. There’s a story about Crispin Glover suing Spielberg for using his likeness in Back to the Future Part II and the critical drone that his films are overly sentimental, but primarily it’s LaBeouf against Spielberg and the world. Most of his other co-workers have nothing but praise for the filmmaker Empire magazine ranked as the greatest film director of all time.
This weekend he returns to theatres with Ready Player One, a sci-fi film that brings a virtual reality world called the OASIS to vivid life. Star Tye Sheridan calls the director a great and passionate collaborator who makes everyone feel equal on set. Co-star Ralph Ineson calls Spielberg “one of the most iconic figures of the last 100 years,” adding that it was difficult to takes notes from him on set. “When he is speaking to you your mind vaguely goes blank the first few times because your internal monologue just goes, ‘My god, Steven Spielberg is giving me a note.’ And then you realize you haven’t actually heard the note.”
All directors give suggestions on set, but it seems it’s the way Spielberg speaks to his actors that sets him apart.
Ed Burns remembers making a mess of several takes on the set of Saving Private Ryan to the point where Tom Hanks said to him, “I’ve seen you act before, and this isn’t acting.” Afraid he would be replaced, he got nervous and continued to blow take after take but Spielberg didn’t offer guidance. Two weeks passed. The cast started laying bets on who would be fired first.
Turns out, no one was fired and Burns learned a lesson he would later take into his own directorial efforts like Sidewalks of New York. The actor reports that Spielberg said, “I like to give my actors three takes to figure it out. If I step in after the first take and give you a note, especially with young actors, you’ll hear me rather than your own voice.”
Burns calls the experience “a life changer” adding it taught him that being a director is “about knowing when to give direction.”
The superstar director says the listening lesson was learned early in life. “From a very young age my parents taught me probably the most valuable lesson of my life: Sometimes it’s better not to talk, but to listen.”
There’s someone else Spielberg keeps in mind when making a film. “I always like to think of the audience when I am directing. Because I am the audience.”
In the latest Jason Bourne movie, Matt Damon will punch, kick and spy master his way to the top of the box office charts.
His previous Bourne films, Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum, were all hits commercially and critically.
Damon says he owes a great deal to the fictional character.
After the early success of Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan and The Talented Mr. Ripley made him a star, a string of flops cooled his box office appeal.
“Right before The Bourne Identity came out,” he said, “I hadn’t been offered a movie in a year.”
Then his career was Bourne again.
“It’s incalculable how much these movies have helped my career,” he told The Telegraph. “Suddenly it put me on a short list of people who could get movies made.”
In the spirit of “one for them, one for me” for every film like The Martian or the new Jason Bourne, Damon has attached himself to smaller, riskier projects.
He lent his star power to The Good Shepherd, a low budget film directed by Robert De Niro. It’s a spy movie without the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from our favorite undercover operatives.
There are no elaborate chase scenes a la James Bond or even the great scenery of the Bourne flicks.
In fact, the only thing The Good Sheperd shares with any of those movies is Damon, who plays Edward Wilson, one of the (fictional) founders of the CIA.
Despite mixed to good reviews — USA Today gave the film three out of four stars—and winning the Silver Bear of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival, the movie barely earned back its production costs at the box office.
Ninety per cent of director Steven Soderbergh’s job on The Informant! was casting this mostly true tale of a highly paid executive-turned-whistleblower who helped uncover a price fixing policy that landed several executives (including himself) in jail.
It’s a tricky balancing act to find an actor who can keep the audience on-board through a tale of corporate malfeasance and personal greed, who can be likeable but is actually a liar and a thief, but Damon is the guy.
The Informant! skewed a tad too far into art house territory to be Soderbergh’s new Erin Brockovich-sized hit, but Damon’s presence kept the story of accounting, paperwork and avarice interesting. Reviews were kind but A Serious Man and The Twilight Saga: New Moon buried the film on its opening weekend.
Damon teamed with John Krasinski to produce and co-write Promised Land, a David and Goliath story that relied on the charm and likability of its cast to sell the idea that fracking is bad and the corporations who dupe cash-strapped farmers into leasing their land are evil.
It’s hard to make talk of water table pollution dramatic but Promised Land makes an attempt by giving much of the heavy lifting to Damon.
Done in by middling reviews and “sobering” box office receipts, this earnest and well-meaning movie might have been better served in documentary form.
With an Oscar on his shelf and more than 70 films on his resume Damon is philosophical about the kinds of films he chooses to make, big or small.
“If people go to those movies, then yes, that’s true, big-time success,” he says.
Usually the scariest thing about Vin Diesel is the amount of money his movies make. The Fast and Furious franchise has raked in more than $4 billion. Add in revenue from Guardians of the Galaxy and Riddick and you have a truly terrifying amount of money.
In his new film, The Last Witch Hunter, the raspy-voiced actor boasts, “You know what I’m afraid of? Nothing,” as he delivers scares playing an immortal warrior who must prevent evil New York witches from destroying the world. The 48-year-old is so convinced the movie will do well, he’s already announced that the studio is developing a sequel.
“The first one doesn’t hit theatres until October 23rd,” he wrote on Facebook in July, “yet they want me to commit and already block out time to film it.”
Before Fast and Furious made him Hollywood’s version of an ATM, Diesel made baby steps towards becoming a superstar. Director Steven Spielberg saw Multi-Facial, Diesel’s self directed, written, produced and scored über low budget short film and was so taken with the young actor he had the role of Private Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan specially written for him. The result was an effective performance that mixed physicality with poignancy. Winning the role, he says, was “like one of those Hollywood fairy tales that you never believed.”
Critics began to take notice. New York Times critic A.O. Scott said he, “may be the sexiest ugly man in movies since Anthony Quinn” as Diesel lent his distinctive gravelly voice to the title character in the animated film The Iron Giant and played streetwise stockbroker Chris Varick in the 2000 stockbroker drama Boiler Room.
His breakout performance came with the sci-fi film Pitch Black. “Richard B. Riddick,” he says by way of introduction. “Escaped convict. Murderer.” Artificial eyes allow Riddick to see in the dark, making him very useful when bloodthirsty creatures attack during a month-long eclipse. The character became a franchise for the actor, spawning sequels, video games and animated films.
“I know it sounds corny but I feel like I learn about myself when I play that character,” said Diesel. “Going to that dark isolated place produces some kind of vision or understanding about myself. He mirrors my own quest for identity, my eternal quest as a child.”
Movies like Knockaround Guys and Babylon A.D. played on his tough guy persona, but with The Pacifier he tried to switch from cracking ribs to tickling funny bones. Playing a Navy Seal assigned to protect a house full of out-of-control kids, he attempted to prove he was more than just a muscle mass that got lucky in pictures. The chaotic comedy made some money, but ultimately proved Diesel’s strength lay in muscle, not mayhem.
Since then he has stayed the course, pumping out action-adventure films — including the soon-to-be relaunched xXx — proving himself to be a great action star. Smarter than Stallone, younger than Schwarzenegger and with even less hair than Bruce Willis, his appeal transcends his biceps, as he also appears to have a brain in his head. Throw in a large dollop of charisma and look out Jason Statham, you’re about to be kick boxed into the old age home.
“Lone Survivor” provides further proof that war is, indeed, hell.
The battle scene that takes up much of the film’s running time is a Hieronymus Bosch style glimpse into the very heart of battle. Grisly and gory, it is about pushing the limits of endurance as far as possible.
But “Lone Survivor” isn’t simply a shoot ‘em up.
Between the bullets is a complex story about morality and the men who put themselves in harm’s way.
The film is based on the real-life SEAL Team 10’s Operation Red Wings, a failed 2005—the movie’s title in itself is a spoiler—War in Afghanistan mission to locate, capture (or eliminate) Taliban leader Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami).
The carefully planned operation goes wrong almost as soon as the team—SO2 Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), LT Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), SO2 Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and SO2 Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster)—touch ground in the Kush Mountains. Their job is hindered by faulty a communication radio, but the mission is undone when they are discovered by an older man and two boys.
The commandoes make the decision to let the four unarmed shepherds go, but their kindness comes back to haunt them when shortly afterwards a Taliban army descends on their position and they are hopelessly outnumbered.
There’s no gunfire in the first hour of “Lone Survivor.” The time is spent getting to know the characters, their situation and absorbing the gravity of the mission at hand. Then, sixty minutes in, it turns into a bullet ballet. But it is those opening minutes that make the payoff of the last hour so potent.
Without getting to know the brotherhood the characters share we won’t buy in later on when their bond and training are the only things that will decide their fate.
The acting is uniformly good. Walhberg is understated but undeniably powerful as the Luttrell. His character is the glue that holds the movie together, and he delivers.
As the sharp-tongued and direct Axelson Ben Foster is, well, Ben Foster. He’s one of the best actors working today and his portrayal is passionate, patriotic but grounded in truth. It takes some doing to deliver a line like, “Did they really shoot me in the ******* head?” with any measure of believability, but Foster manages.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Taylor Kitsch. He had a bad couple of years after becoming a small screen star on “Friday Night Lights.” The promise of a big screen career seemed to evaporate in the trifecta of failure—big budget flops “John Carter,” “Battleship,” “Savages”—but here he finds his groove and reminds us of the charisma that made him a name in the first place.
“Lone Survivor” is a visceral experience. Not since “Saving Private Ryan” has a battle scene been so effectively rendered but at its core it isn’t a propaganda film or a slice of patriotism; instead it’s a stark reminder of the camaraderie of soldiers in the field.
Synopsis: Each year on Nov. 11 we remember and celebrate “the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace.” Remembrance Day is a time to pay respect to the sacrifices brave soldiers have made for our country. In observation The Reel Guys have compiled a list of movies to serve as a backdrop on this solemn day.
Richard: Mark, the first war-themed film to really make an impression on me was The Best Years Of Our Lives. When I was a kid I watched it on television every November and although it’s almost 70 years old the story of servicemen struggling to rebuild their lives after the Second World War is still timely and relevant. Perhaps it feels so authentic because the crew were all Second World War veterans and the main character, who faces discrimination after losing both hands in combat, was played by real-life disabled vet Harold Russell.
Mark: Don’t know the movie, Richard. I grew up in a family of cowards and war movies were forbidden. And I don’t know who said it — probably not Snooki — that “all great war movies are anti-war movies.” That being said, I like the P.O.W. genre, with incarcerated soldiers plotting to get out. The Bridge On the River Kwai is one of the greatest, with a fine performance by Alec Guiness, but let’s also include The Great Escape with Steve McQueen, and a left-field choice, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence starring David Bowie. Waaaay left-field, Richard, if you get my drift.
RC: War films come in all shapes and sizes. If P.O.W. movies are your thing check out The Hill, a little known British film that features one of Sean Connery’s best performances. Set during the Second World War in North Africa, it’s the story of a stockade run by Brits to punish deserters. Connery wedged it in between Goldfinger and Thunderball and it is a stark contrast to the work he was doing in the Bond films at the time. As for your second thought, which I suspect should be attributed to Steven Spielberg and not Snooki, two films pop to mind. Saving Private Ryan and the First World War drama All Quiet on the Western Front. Both are masterfully made films that show the brutal reality of war from the point of view of the soldiers.
MB: I’ve seen The Hill. It’s great. But the best anti-war movie might be Johnny Got His Gun, a minimalist squirmer told from the point of view of a blind, mute quadruple amputee. Fun times! And as far as soldiers on the ground, I would nominate Black Hawk Down, or Platoon, both of which put you right in the centre of a battle you may not be winning.
RC: We can’t talk about war films so close to Remembrance Day without paying tribute to Canadian soldiers on screen. Paul Gross’s Passchendaele is probably our best-known homegrown look at Canadians in battle but Hollywood has never shied away from depicting fighting Canadians. Canuck heroes are portrayed in the Devil’s Brigade, The Battle of Britain and Attack on the Iron Coast among many others.
MB: Yes, Canadians excel in battle. Canadians also excel at harbouring war resisters, but I’ve yet to see THAT movie.
Vin Diesel has been acting since age seven and played many characters on screen, but he is best known by two alter egos.
We’ll have to wait until next year to see him behind the wheel as Dominic Toretto in the new Fast and Furious movie, but this weekend he returns to theatres as Richard B. Riddick, anti-hero of the Pitch Black series of films and video games.
In Riddick, his fourth outing as the mercenary-turned-enforcer, he has been double-crossed and left for dead.
Diesel loves playing Riddick. “I know it sounds corny but I feel like I learn about myself when I play that character,” he says.
But he’s also created some other memorable characters.
Critics and audiences first took notice of Diesel as Private Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan. He says winning the role was “like one of those Hollywood fairy tales that you never believed.”
Director Steven Spielberg saw Multi-Facial, an über low budget short film directed by and starring Diesel.
The ET director was so taken with the young actor’s performance that he had a role specially written for him. The result was an effective performance that mixed physicality with poignancy.
Diesel lent his distinctive gravelly voice to the title character in the animated film The Iron Giant.
Directed by Brad Bird, the story of a lonely boy who discovers a 50-foot, metal-eating robot who fell from space, failed at the box office but has a 97 per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating.
His searing portrayal of streetwise stockbroker Chris Varick in the 2000 stockbroker drama Boiler Room garnered him considerable critical praise.
Roger Ebert wrote, “Diesel is interesting. Something will come of him,” and New York Times critic A.O. Scott said the actor, “may be the sexiest ugly man in movies since Anthony Quinn.”
Knockaround Guys is a coming-of-age story with a gangland twist. The four sons (Vin Diesel, Seth Green, Barry Pepper, and Andrew Davoli) of Brooklyn mobsters band together to reclaim a quarter of a million dollars lost in a small town run by a crooked sheriff (Tom Noonan).
Diesel oozes charisma in a so-so film, tossing off tough guy lines like, “That’s about the only thing you can count on in this life, there’s nobody that wouldn’t hurt you … if it helped them,” with ease.