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VIDEO ESSAY: MAGIC AND LIGHT: THE FILMS OF STEVEN SPIELBERG - Chapter 6: Indiana Jones and the Story of Life

What does it mean to be a father? What does it mean to come of age without a father? These questions have been at the center of many Steven Spielberg films. Both light entertainments and dark historical dramas have considered them. The director’s evolving views on fathers and fatherhood are on surprisingly vivid display in the Indiana Jones series, which were produced by his longtime friend and Star Wars mogul George Lucas. Taken as a whole, the films feel like markers in Spielberg’s maturation.
  • By Aaron Aradillas & Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 30, 2011 10:37 PM
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  • 1 Comment

VIDEO ESSAY: MAGIC AND LIGHT: THE FILMS OF STEVEN SPIELBERG, Chapter 5: Father Figures

Steven Spielberg is the product of The Greatest Generation -- a Baby Boomer raised on idealized images of the nuclear family, progress, and American might. He is also a child of divorce -- a dreamer from a broken home. Spielberg’s attempt to reconcile these two biographical facts—the mythic ideal of the family, and the reality of its dismantling—has been at the heart of many of his films. Spielberg’s movies often focus on a real or makeshift family unit, banding together to fight an outside force that threatens to tear it apart. At the head of this makeshift family, there is often a father figure imparting wisdom to his charges, or being forced to confront his shortcomings as a protector. Often both.
  • By Steven Santos, Aaron Aradillas & Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 23, 2011 6:49 AM
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  • 3 Comments

VIDEO ESSAY: MAGIC AND LIGHT: THE FILMS OF STEVEN SPIELBERG, Chapter 4: Evil and Authority

The antagonist, in Steven Spielberg’s films, has many faces. It can be government scientists involved in seemingly shady plots. It can be unstoppable behemoths such as the shark in Jaws or the tanker truck in Duel. Warped ideologies, as in Schindler’s List. Or the tangled and self-defeating allure of vengeance, as in Munich. What’s essential is that none of these could truly be considered “evil” in the classical -- or theological -- mould. You can’t blame the T-Rex for being a T-Rex in Jurassic Park. You can’t blame a Martian for being a Martian in War of the Worlds. They are what they are. And even in the most menacing moments, even the most outwardly inhuman antagonists display qualities that could even be described as, well, almost human.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz, Ali Arikan & Kevin B. Lee
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  • December 21, 2011 3:18 PM
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  • 2 Comments

VIDEO ESSAY: MAGIC AND LIGHT: THE FILMS OF STEVEN SPIELBERG - Chapter 3: Communication

Steven Spielberg's movies are often described as hopeful, optimistic, sweet -- or, pejoratively, as sentimental, naive, and "feel-good." In some sense, all those adjectives are right. Many of his movies are transcendently cheerful. Even the bleakest offer a shred of hope for humanity, or else lament when it falls short of its potential. And all share an underlying belief: that misunderstandings could be fixed, problems solved, and disasters averted if we could all just learn to get along. And before we can get along, we must communicate. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the first major Spielberg film to put this theme in the foreground. But nearly all his movies touch on it: 1941 and the Indiana Jones films treat it lightheartedly, Close Encounters, E.T. and The Terminal with poignant warmth. In many of the historical dramas, we see both successful and failed attempts at communication depicted in an array of moods and modes. Ironic, hopeful, despairing -- even coolly journalistic.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 19, 2011 2:01 PM
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  • 6 Comments

VIDEO ESSAY: MAGIC AND LIGHT THE FILMS OF STEVEN SPIELBERG Chapter 2: Blood & Pulp

When you think of the films of Steven Spielberg, violence may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But Spielberg’s films wouldn’t be Spielberg’s films if he didn’t show and imply violent actions. Violence is just another color on Spielberg’s palette and he’s not shy about using it, either to excess or with moderation. And the presentation of the violence reveals a lot about Spielberg’s sense of what the audience can handle, and how far he can go as a director. In fact, you can tell what kind of Spielberg film you’re watching based solely on the way he shows violence. As a child, Spielberg used to worship the violent Grand Guignol violence of EC Comics – specifically such lurid titles as Shock Suspense Stories and Weird Science. But he also gorged himself on 1950s network television and old Hollywood movies, which for the most part had a much more circumspect attitude toward violence.
  • By Simon Abrams & Richard Seitz
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  • December 17, 2011 1:41 PM
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  • 1 Comment

SLIDE SHOW: The best TV shows of the year

We’re living in some kind of new Golden Age of scripted TV, and this year’s best offerings were amazing. I decided to be rigorous and restrict myself to just 10 entries. It wasn’t easy. These 10 picks represent what I think were the most creative and consistently satisfying scripted comedies and dramas that aired on American TV during 2011. If I’d expanded the list to account for shows that were somewhat more erratic but that produced terrific individual episodes, this list would have had 30 or maybe even 40 titles on it. If anybody’s curious, I may post the expanded list in the comments section.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 16, 2011 4:36 AM
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  • 0 Comments

MAGIC AND LIGHT: THE FILMS OF STEVEN SPIELBERG: Chapter 1: Introduction

Steven Spielberg is one of the most popular storytellers of all time. Based solely on box-office receipts, that’s an inarguable fact. It's been true since 1975, when the box office take of his breakthrough Jaws redefined the the word "blockbuster." Look at the top grossing movies of all time, and you'll see that a startling number were produced or directed by Spielberg. And yet this almost forty-year streak hasn't been enough to insulate him against charges that he's a frivolous director – or that, at the very least, his success is an example of style, or more accurately technique, over substance. That he does not persuade or even seduce viewers, but that he overwhelms them. With sound. With light. With music. And special effects.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz, Ali Arikan & Serena Bramble.
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  • December 15, 2011 9:34 AM
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  • 18 Comments

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: Where can AMERICAN HORROR STORY go from here?

“Just because we’re dead doesn’t mean we don’t have wants … desires,” said Tate, the pouty, bratty, forever-teenage rubber-suit-wearing, mom-of-the-house raping, suicide pact-making … sorry, I feel like there should be about 12 more adjectives in there, because the ghostly Tate, like most of the characters on FX’s aggressively lurid “American Horror Story,” requires them. But let’s stay focused on Tate’s statement, because it’s key. Yes, of course! He and the other ghosts have wants … desires. And one of the many amazing things about the show is how, over the past few episodes, it has subtly moved the ghosts to the center of the narrative, to the point where the ever-dwindling number of living characters have started to seem like the supporting cast on a show that they were ostensibly the stars of. (Of course, now that they’re all dropping like flies — even money on Constance to bite the dust by the end of season two — they get to be at the center of the story again.) I’ll spare you a detailed recap because if you didn’t see the episode, you shouldn’t be reading this article i
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 15, 2011 2:01 AM
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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: GLEE has a Judy Garland Christmas

All together now, readers: If you hate Glee so much, Matt, why do you keep watching it? I don’t know, folks. At the risk of sounding like a masochistic romantic who’s stuck in a tortuous relationship — Dear diary, I can’t TAKE this anymore, it’s horrible and it’s KILLING me … but OH MY GOD IF YOU COULD HAVE SEEN THE GIFT SHE BOUGHT ME! — I have to go on the record about last night’s Glee Christmas special. It was brilliant. OK, actually, I should qualify that — the middle section was brilliant. The wraparound stuff was the Glee usual: silly, pandering and dull. During the final number — “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” set in a soup kitchen that no doubt was populated by the children of “Glee” cast and crew — even the actors seemed bored, except for Jane Lynch, whose Coach Sylvester was acknowledging the first anniversary of her sister’s death. (Tear cup.) But OH MY GOD IF YOU COULD HAVE SEEN THAT MIDDLE SECTION, DIARY! Presented in black-and-white, it perfectly re-created the set, the tone and even the camera moves of The Judy Garland Show Christmas special from 1963, but with a cultural flash forward/flashback quality, presenting a patchwork quilt vision of America that wouldn’t have gotten past the network censors four decades ago.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 15, 2011 1:46 AM
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  • 0 Comments

Dear HBO: Renew ENLIGHTENED

“Everything can be transformed,” said Laura Dern’s character, Amy Jellicoe, on last night’s first-season finale of “Enlightened,” walking to work and then through the corridors of her office. “Every single thing. Goodness exists. It’s all around. It’s just sleeping. It can be wakened.”
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 12, 2011 6:10 PM
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  • 1 Comment

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