Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

Movies for Memorial Day 2013

The Big Red One Copyright 1980 Warner Bros.

The Big Red One
Copyright 1980 Warner Bros.

With Memorial Day coming up on Monday 5/27, I would like to thank all veterans and active members of the armed forces for their service and sacrifice.

Every Memorial Day Weekend my ritual is to check the TV listings for the war movies I grew up watching, classic war films I haven’t seen before, and a Band of Brothers marathon.  Judging by this weekend’s TV schedule, most of the films I’ll be watching this weekend will be on Turner Classic Movies and streaming video.

Here’s a list of notable movies this weekend (all times listed are EST):

On Turner Classic Movies:

Saturday, May 25:
Sergeant York (1941) 10:30 PM

Sunday, May 26:
Back to Bataan (1945) 11:00 AM
They Were Expendable (1945) 1:00 PM
The Green Berets (1968) 3:30 PM
Battleground (1949) 8:00 PM

Monday, May 27:
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) 6:15 AM
The Best Years of Our
Lives (1946) 5:00 PM

On Netflix:
The Battle of Britain (1969)
Von Ryan’s Express (1965)

On Amazon Instant Video:
The Big Red One (1980)
Gallipoli (1981)
Sahara (1943)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
We Were Soldiers (2002)
Band of Brothers (2001)
Fixed Bayonets (1950)

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Filmed in Italy: Venice, Summertime and a Last Crusade

In the months leading up to our recent trip to Italy, which included Bologna, Verona, Milan and Lake Como, I couldn’t stop thinking of our upcoming visit to the jewel in Italy’s crown: Venice.

This was my first trip back to Venice since 1979.  I was seven and it was only a day trip, but the city made such an impression on me that even the smallest details of that summer day stayed with me throughout my life.  I had dreamed of going back ever since and I finally had the opportunity this past September.  My faithful sidekick and I took the morning train from Bologna, and the moment we stepped out of the stazione onto the Grand Canal I was struck by the timeless beauty of this city and knew this trip would be worth the wait.

Venice Grand Canal
Copyright Fabrizio Fante

We had a long list of things to see in Venice, including the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s and the islands of Murano and Burano, but our favorite moments involved getting lost in the twists and turns of the beautiful cacophony of Venice’s streets and stopping in the cafes for espressos and pastries, armed with my trusty Pentax K-1000 35mm camera.

We packed a lot into our three days there, but on this leg of our Italy trip I had two places on my own personal list to visit.  I’ve seen many films shot in Venice, including The Talented Mr. Ripley, Bread and TulipsEveryone Says I Love You and The Tourist (please don’t judge me).  But David Lean’s Summertime (starring Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi) and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade are the first two films that come to mind when I think of Venice and for good reason.  Each movie makes full use of the city, bringing out its beauty, mystery and architecture to the point where Venice is a character in each film.  My cinematic mission on this trip was to find two specific movie locations: Rossano Brazzi’s little antique shop in Summertime and the library from Last Crusade.

David Lean’s Summertime was based on Arthur Laurents’ play The Time of the Cuckoo and starred Katharine Hepburn as Jane Hudson, a lonely American secretary from Ohio on her dream vacation to Venice.  Jane explores the streets and canals with her 16mm movie camera and no one to share the moment with except for ten year old local boy Mauro (played by Gaetano Auterio) until she is charmed and seduced by local antique dealer Renato de Rossi, played by the cooler than cool Rossano Brazzi.

Venice Grand Canal
Copyright Fabrizio Fante

Lean shot Summertime in glorious Technicolor on location in Venice in 1954.  There are many memorable shots in the film: Hepburn’s first glimpse of St. Mark’s Square and her first view of the Grand Canal as she walked out of the train station are two  that come to mind.  I always thought the line “Don’t change a thing” by the character Edith McIlhenny as she saw the canal for the first time was a bit hokey, but having seen this view myself (picture above) I can now empathize.  Every alley, bridge, and canal was used to the fullest on the screen, but the location I had to find on the island of Venice was Renato’s antique shop.

Renato’s shop was one of the central locations in the story and the location of the most memorable scene in the film: Jane’s mortifying, accidental plunge into the canal outside of Renato’s shop.  As much as that scene was written for a laugh, the audience can’t help but cringe for Joan as she steps out of the filthy water of the canal, completely soaked and with all eyes on her by the locals and tourists.  Her already fragile self esteem has taken a hit.  One of the stories around this scene was that Hepburn’s lifelong eye problem was caused by this plunge into the canal, but Kevin Brownlow’s David Lean: A Biography points out that the crew set up safeguards for Hepburn to have limited contact with the filth at the bottom of the canal, and that Hepburn had numerous swims in the Grand Canal during the nights they weren’t shooting.

It had been awhile since I’d seen Summertime and I couldn’t remember if there was a specific reference to the neighborhood where the antique shop was located.  We had one morning left in Venice and I wanted to avoid a needle in a haystack situation considering how easy it is to get lost in the side streets.  So we decided to forsake our search for the shop and instead visit Last Crusade’s library location at the church of San Barnaba di Venezia.

As a kid I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark, and after watching this film Indiana Jones quickly became one of my all time favorite film characters (up there coincidentally with Han Solo).  But there’s something about Last Crusade that gets me to watch it more frequently than Raiders.  Part of it is the Grail quest, an even bigger part of it is Harrison Ford’s incredible dynamic with Sean Connery, but the last piece of the puzzle is…you guessed it…Venice.

All of the exterior scenes shot on location in Venice were filmed in one day on August 8, 1988.  Spielberg and the crew had full use of the Grand Canal for six straight hours.  It’s amazing to think of how much they were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.  The exterior of San Barnaba was featured in the scene in which Indy, Marcus, and Elsa discover the entrance to an underground passage leading to the tomb of one of the knights sworn to protect the secret of the Holy Grail.  It was one of many great sequences in the film, leading to a great chase scene on boat through the Grand Canal, but in that library scene only the exterior of San Barnaba was used.  The rest of the scene taking place in the interior of the library was shot on a soundstage.  Nevertheless, it was a location in one of my favorite films and I wanted a picture of it.

And so on our last morning in Venice as my faithful sidekick and I sipped our morning cappuccinos, we located the church of San Barnaba on our city map and set out to see it firsthand.  Funny enough, once I saw the white exterior I instantly recognized it as a church we had passed by at least twice before when we were lost.  So I found a nice angle for a picture and snapped a couple of shots with my Pentax.  But something to the side of the frame caught my eye in the viewfinder…

As I faced San Barnaba, I noticed a small bridge to the left.  Nothing too ornate, but what caught my eye about it was the steps leading to the church side of the small canal had descended in front of a small, inconspicuous shop.  It reminded me of something.

I remembered how in one scene in Summertime Katharine Hepburn had descended the steps of a small bridge as she walked to the door of Renato’s antique shop.  And outside of the shop, on the edge of a canal was a set of steps leading down into the water, or in the case of Joan coming up from her plunge in the canal, out of the water.  The proximity of the bridge, shop and steps got me wondering, so I walked in.

To the right: St. Barnaba from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
To the left: The shop from David Lean’s Summertime
Copyright Fabrizio Fante

There were no antiques, it was a children’s shop, but on the counter was a picture of Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi in the shop window with the same exact view looking out toward the canal.  I asked the shop owner in my rusty Italian if this was indeed the shop in Summertime.  She smiled, said it was the shop from the film, and offered to take a picture of us in the window like Hepburn and Brazzi (I was Brazzi).

“Do many people ask you to take this picture?”  I asked.

She rolled her eyes with a smile and answered, “You have no idea how many times a day I take this picture for the visitors.”

And so my cinematic mission was complete.  Grazie Venezia!

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade can be found on DVD and Blu-Ray, and Kevin Brownlow’s David Lean: A Biography can be found in print and Kindle format on Amazon.  As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  Thank you for your support!

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The Summer of ’82: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Release date: June 11, 1982

Directed by Steven Spielberg; Screenplay by Melissa Mathison

Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Robert McNaughton

See the original trailer here.

How is it Labor Day already?  Seems like just last week I was writing my first post on the Summer of ’82 and screening Conan the Barbarian!

I’ve been putting off writing this post for as long as possible this past week.  Over the last two months I’ve had such a great time revisiting the films of the Summer of ’82, that (like summer vacation) I didn’t want it to end.  This retrospective has brought me back to one of the most memorable summers of my youth, almost as if I’ve been living the summers of 1982 and 2012 in parallel.

Looking back at the lineup of movie releases that summer was mind boggling.  It’s only fitting that I wrap up my personal journey through the films of the Summer of ’82 with that summer’s mega-blockbuster: Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. 

E.T. was one of the only films I had to stand in line halfway down the block for during its opening weekend.  The buzz in the lobby really made it feel like an event, and if I remember correctly our local theater booked E.T. into two of its four screens, a rarity back then.  The crowd was an mix of kids, teenagers and adults, which was a testament to how Steven Spielberg was able to make E.T. accessible across generations.  A couple of posts back I compared Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to the cleanup hitter on a baseball team.  Even though Khan is my favorite film from the Summer of ’82, Spielberg’s record breaking E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial would be the League MVP based on its phenomenal box office  that year ($359 million in North America, $619 million worldwide).

E.T. is one of those movies that had each element hit the right note to create a flawless film.  Screenwriter Melissa Mathison used elements from Spielberg’s unproduced project Night Skies in her screenplay, and wove together the themes of isolation, loneliness and friendship to create a story filled with characters that are more than just caricatures to support the cute little alien.  Spielberg brought out fantastic performances in the young cast led by Henry Thomas as Elliot and supported by Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore as his siblings Michael and Gertie.  And who could forget John Williams’ incredible and inspiring score?

As much as I enjoyed E.T. when it was originally released, I thought that I was a bit too old for it at the time, which is strange when you consider Henry Thomas was also 10 when he played Elliot.  At that young age I was on a steady diet of science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and Outland.  I chuckled when I watched the scene of Elliot’s brother and his friends playing a game that looked similar to Dungeons & Dragons at the beginning of the film.  My first thought was “Looks like those guys are playing Basic D&D.  Hmmmph, we play Advanced D&D!”

When E.T. was re-released in theaters in 2002, several of my friends who were also in their 30’s at that time had planned on seeing it as a group after work one night.  I thought about joining them, but at the time I had a feeling that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the film with the same enthusiasm at age 30.  Even though I now disagree with that original sentiment, I’m glad I didn’t watch E.T. ten years ago because it may have tainted my opinion of it during this retrospective on the Summer of ’82.  And so at age 40 I watched E.T. in the spirit of my ten year old self and enjoyed it even more.

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The Summer of ’82: Poltergeist

Fante’s Inferno revisits the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Poltergeist

Poltergeist
MGM

Release Date: June 4, 1982

Directed by Tobe Hooper; Screenplay by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Beatrice Straight, Zelda Rubinstein

View the original trailer here.

“The house looks just like the one next to it, and the one next to that, and the one next to that.”

I always remembered that line from the original trailer for Poltergeist.  Watching it again this week made me remember why it worked on so many levels.  Jaws could make people afraid of the water.  Poltergeist could make you afraid of your house (or clowns).

As I’ve pointed out in my previous posts on the films of The Summer of ’82, I have a preference for old school special effects over today’s CGI.  Watching Poltergeist 30 years later, I’m amazed at how little there was in terms of special effects for the first two-thirds of the film.  With the exception of an animated hand poking out of the television, it’s mostly flashing lights and invisible wires moving furniture until the cause of the disturbances make themselves known later in the film.  Funny thing is, these low tech effects still hold up very well.  Heck, for most of the movie TV static is one of main elements of the story line, even a character in the film.  Talk about a cheap special effect!

Tobe Hooper is credited as the director of Poltergeist, but there has been some debate over how much of the film he directed.  Produced by Steven Spielberg (he also has a writing credit), Poltergeist could easily be mistaken for one of his directorial efforts.  The Freeling’s neighborhood in the opening credit sequence of Poltergeist looked more like Elliot’s neighborhood in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and several close ups and the use of flashing lights in the film are reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Watching the film this week I noticed for the first time that A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne is playing on Steve and Diane’s bedroom TV early in the film.  Spielberg would remake this film into Always in 1989.

Poltergeist spawned two sequels (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) in 1986 and Poltergeist III in 1988).  Sadly, two members of the original cast suffered untimely deaths: Dominique Dunn (Dana Freeling), the daughter of Dominick Dunne, was murdered prior to her 23rd birthday several months after Poltergeist’s premiere, and Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling) died due to an illness in 1988 at the age of 12.

Watching Poltergeist brought me back to the Summer of ’82 more than the other films I’ve revisited.  It was one of my favorite films that year and I’ve lost track of how many times I watched it on cable TV.  Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams were perfect as Steve and Diane Freeling, and their son Robbie Freeling’s room could have easily been my room growing up with all of the Star Wars and NFL merchandise.  Thirty years later Poltergeist is not as dated as I thought it would be.  Two elements of the film that might be considered dated or confusing to a young viewer would be the opening shot of the Star Spangled Banner playing on a television late at night, and a household that doesn’t have cable TV.

One thing that did make me feel old watching Poltergeist is the fact that both Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams were younger than me when they played their roles in this film.  Sigh.

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