The Immortal Beard: #5 — E.T.

#5

For a while, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had a nice friendly game of box office tennis going on.  First, Spielberg took the crown of highest-grossing film of all time with Jaws in 1975.  Then Lucas grabbed it in 1977 with Star Wars.  Spielberg took it back in 1982 with E.T.  Lucas edged Star Wars ahead with the Special Edition release in 1997.  Then James Cameron came along and bought the tennis court and the game was pretty much over.  But for a time, the all-time box office Top Ten looked like a Lucas/Spielberg filmography.

E.T. wasn’t the kind of blockbuster like we see today, ones that make over $100 million in their opening weekend, blitz their way to $200 or $300 million in a week or two, and then plummet down the charts when the next big thing comes along.  E.T. opened in June of 1982, and ranked no worse than #2 in weekend box office totals all the way into October.  It didn’t drop out of the Top Ten until February of the following year, and was managing to creep back into it as late as May 1983.  I mentioned the frenzy over Jurassic Park in 1993, but while that was a sort of redemption, E.T. was a coronation.  People didn’t just think this was a great fun movie, they loved the thing.   There was genuine anger in some circles when it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Gandhi; I remember our local movie critic titling his Oscar commentary, “Hollywood Snobs Turn Oscar Into Peace Prize.”  This  adorably ugly little alien tapped into the feelings of everyone from kids to adults; we even managed to drag my grandmother to see it.  It was that most sought-after of Hollywood commodities:  the four-quadrant film, one that appeals to everybody.  And in 1982, it sure seemed like everybody went to see it.

For all the great films Spielberg has under his belt, E.T. may have the most perfectly crafted script of the lot.  The film isn’t even two hours long, and there’s not a wasted scene or bit of dialog in the thing.  There’s no time taken to explain where E.T. came from or why his ship was here.  We don’t get a detailed explanation of how his mental link with Elliot works, or exactly how his communicator functions.  There’s not a moment that doesn’t develop a character or move the story forward.  In fact, it’s such a well-built cinematic machine, you could conceivably take all the dialog out and still clearly understand what’s going on.  I’m sitting here thinking of the scenes that stick out most for me, and it’s the ones that have almost no words:  E.T.’s pursuit and abandonment; Halloween night; the bike chase; that grand, operatic finale.  Where some would take the chance to insert clunky exposition or easy jokes, Spielberg is confident enough in his visual storytelling to just let things be.  It’s remarkable.

Take for example the character of “Keys.”  For much of the film, we don’t even see his face.  He’s nothing more than a jangling set of keys on a belt, and we know he’s chasing E.T. for some reason.  All it takes is the sight of those keys and some ominous notes from John Williams for us to feel a sense of foreboding.  Yet when the character is finally revealed, his entire backstory is summed up in one line of dialog:  “Elliot, he came to me too. I’ve been wishing for this since I was 10 years old.  I don’t want him to die.”  Three simple sentences that reveal the motivation behind everything we’ve seen so far, and which deftly change a threatening presence to a friendly one, an Elliot who never found his E.T., and doesn’t want our Elliot to lose his.  Melissa Mathison easily deserves as much credit as Spielberg for just how great this film is.

What’s also great is that you could easily make a much more somber reading of this film.  We watch the end and feel all happy inside because E.T. is going home, but re-watching this a few months ago, my perception shifted a bit.  Part of the reason for the strong bond between Elliot and E.T. is that Elliot is a pretty lonely kid.  His father has left the picture, which has put a strain on the whole family.  He’s too old to play with his younger sister, and not old enough to really fit in with his older brother and his friends.  We really don’t see him with any friends of his own outside his siblings; even in school, he seems like a bit of a loner.  So the scene where he shows off all his toys to E.T., while on one hand simply the excitement of sharing things with a new friend, also comes across as a bit of a desperate happiness to finally have someone else to show these things to.  He’s bringing a blank slate into his world, someone who has no preconceptions about him, who he can make into the kind of friend he’s always wanted.  He’s also kind of possessive; it’s not hard to imagine him feeling a little jealous when he finds out his sister has been dressing E.T. up in doll’s clothes.  With all this in mind, the ending becomes even more bittersweet.  Elliot’s best, perfect friend is leaving him, just like his dad did.  But at least this time, Elliot gets to say good-bye.

For better or worse, E.T. would forever mark Spielberg’s career, the benchmark for comparison for all his films for nearly 11 years.  He himself would go on to acknowledge this when he produced Gremlins in 1984;  it’s no coincidence that when the evil Stripe emerges from a bunch of toy animals, it’s a stuffed E.T. he pushes out of the way.

Tomorrow:  Next time, try sculpture.

Oh Captain, My Captain

Well, the last of the Avengers prequels is upon us.  Oh, don’t be fooled by how it’s cleverly titled Captain America, because Marvel doesn’t want to leave you any doubt that this is just prologue to the movie they really want you to see next summer.  Through Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk and Thor and now this, we’ve basically been told that we’ve just been warming up for the main event, but if anything, all this build up has just made me weary of the whole idea.  Whereas in the wake of the first Iron Man movie I would have sat down and watched an Avengers film right that second, now I’m like, “Just release the damn thing and get it over with already.”  It’s sort of like  a summer movie coming out in August but whose trailers start running in May.  Except we’ve been seeing trailers for three years now.

It’s the insistence on tying everything into Marvel’s 2012 tent pole that gets Captain America off on the absolute wrong foot.  As soon as I saw what looked like modern vehicles driving through the snow, I was hoping against hope the film wasn’t going where I thought it was, but no, there we are in the present and the discovery of Cap’s frozen shield and “Better call the Colonel.”  It’s getting to the point where Marvel might as well call their films The Nick Fury Saga, as much as his presence hovers over them.  And to make matters worse, we then cut to what should have been the opening of the film, a “Norway 1942” title card and a fantastic introduction to Hugo Weaving’s magnificent Johann Schmidt.  In tone, style and feel, it’s so different from the first scene that you think they might have accidentally started showing the wrong movie for five minutes or so.  I felt like the ship was righting itself, and once we got into the meat of Cap’s origin, we seemed to be fully back on course.  Chris Evans (with some special effects assistance) does a great job conveying Steve Rogers’  inner strength and intelligence hidden in his scrawny frame, qualities that make him the perfect candidate on which to test the government’s new Super Solider program.  When Rogers shouts for them to continue with the Super Soldier procedure despite his cries of pain, it’s as heroic as anything else in the film, because it’s not a battle he wins with physical strength, but sheer will.  We see in that moment what made him a hero long before he got his upgraded new body.  Not that he’s not a hero in the new body; his pursuit of an enemy spy shortly after his transformation is also thrillingly done, played with just the right balance of elation and trepidation, as Cap gets the hang of just what he’s capable of.

But then comes a difficult stretch of the film for me.  It’s a sequence that I think has tons of energy and gets tons of stuff right — it may be my favorite part of the film — but that I also think takes away time that could have been better used later on.  The enemy spy has destroyed both the lab that housed the Super Soldier technology and the scientist who created it.  Deprived of its promise of rank after rank of Super Soldiers, the Army is ready to write Rogers off, but a canny senator sees the huge propaganda value in a heroic blonde, blue-eyed kid from Brooklyn.  And so “Captain America” is born as a war bonds salesman, complete with a dead-on recreation of Cap’s costume from the original comics, played for all its inherently goofy patriotism.  But this isn’t the war Rogers thought he’d be fighting, a point driven home when his routine draws jeers from soldiers who have seen actual combat.  When he learns that an old friend is among a group of soldiers captured by Schmidt, Rogers is finally motivated to take direct action, and thus the hero is truly born.

All of which would make for a rousing ending to a pretty great origin film.  The only problem is, this happens about halfway through.  We’ve still got Cap’s campaign against Schmidt — now revealed as the Red Skull — to set up and resolve.  And with the running time that’s left, this part of the film feels awfully compressed.  We see a montage of successful battles, one mission in detail that ends successfully but tragically, and then it feels like we’re on to a final confrontation that really hasn’t been built up to.  I feel like we needed to see at least one of Cap’s raids on the Red Skull fully play out, to show us Cap’s skill as a leader and to heighten the stakes between him and Schmidt.  As it is, they’re adversaries simply because the Skull is a less-successful product of the same procedure that created Captain America.  There’s also a missed opportunity to show us the true scale of the threat the Red Skull poses.  We’re told of the incredible power he possesses, we’re told it can annihilate entire cities, but we’re only ever shown it used to disintegrate soldiers and knock down walls. What was needed here was for Cap to  fail to stop a Red Skull attack on one of his targets, not only to show us just what the outcome would be should the Skull prevail, but to give us some more conflict for Cap himself.  It would be a chance for him to question himself and his abilities, raising the stakes all around for the inevitable third act showdown.  Which is rousing enough when it finally comes, but lacks the impact it could have had it been built to properly.

In the end, the film follows comic lore pretty much by the book.  Cap sacrifices himself to save the day, ending up entombed in ice only to awaken 70 years later in a once-familiar city that is now a stranger to him.  Although this reveal is pretty much telegraphed by the opening scene, and therefore its impact somewhat diminished,  it’s still done fairly well, up until Colonel Exposition arrives to explain everything and remind us what Marvel had in mind for this film all along:  “Are you ready for The Avengers yet?”

This isn’t a bad film by any stretch.  It’s got a good performance from Evans as Cap and a great performance by Weaving as the Red Skull, vividly demonstrating the two ways the acquisition of great power can go.  Director Joe Johnston, no stranger to the time period and style thanks to his work on The Rocketeer 20 years ago, strikes just the right tone of earnest patriotism without descending into corny flag-waving or ironic commentary.  Part of the appeal of Captain America is his tried and true red-white-and-blueness regardless of the time period in which he finds himself, and it’s great to see this played as a virtue rather than an outdated philosophy.  And the film looks fantastic, from the convincingly period designs to the visual effects to the way the film is shot and put together.*  It’s a quality production, just one that, frustratingly, never gave me that sense in my gut I get when I know a great film well and truly has me in its grip.  It’s certainly the best super-hero movie of the summer though, and easily better than anything Marvel Studios has done up to this point (I’ve really cooled on Iron Man in the time since its release).  I really wish I liked it more than I do.

*Against my will, I saw this in 3D.  I’m staunchly against the process, both because of its gimmicky nature and because of how it unnecessarily dims the image you’re watching; theater projectors are dim enough without sticking two filters in the way.  I didn’t think Captain America benefited much from the process, but I don’t think it really detracted either.  There were a few scenes where it did add some height and depth that helped convey certain moods, but nothing that merited the extra cost of seeing it in the 3D format.

The Immortal Beard: #6 — Schindler’s List

#6

I’m sort of torn about where Schindler’s List ended up in my rankings.  On the one hand, it’s easily among the two best films Spielberg has ever done, a startling blast of maturity and restraint that we hadn’t seen from him up to that point.  On the other, the experience is so exhausting, so emotionally and mentally draining, that it’s a film I don’t find myself going back to as often as the films that rank above it.  So I guess in a sense I’m putting entertainment over artistry here, and that bothers me just a bit.  It’s a film I feel I’m supposed to rank higher than sixth, rather than actually wanting to.  But lists like these are funny things:  putting numbers next to films is a pretty subjective exercise.  Two films (Sugarland Express and Amistad) changed positions from my original rankings once I watched them again, and as I progressed I read what I was writing on some films and thought, “Why is this film here given what I’m saying about it?”  I could do this again next year and probably have none of these films in the same spot they are now.  Except Hook, of course.  So maybe it’s a testament to how great Schindler’s List is that I’m conflicted about ranking it sixth out of twenty-five films.

Okay, enough with the hand-wringing, on to the film.  A lot’s been said about the almost documentary-like way in which Spielberg shot the film, and it’s one of the film’s greatest strengths.  None of the horrific things we see in the film are really lingered upon, or sometimes even focused upon; sometimes they happen in the periphery, like the camera is ashamed to even be recording them.  It’s as if we’re meant to see how these acts piled one on top of the other until it reached a point where even the victims looked on them as commonplace, an accepted part of life, numb to their horror.  It’s a macabre extension of the attitude of the Jews when they were first moved into the ghetto:  “It can’t possibly get any worse.”  At first, it’s a statement about keeping their chins up, that nothing can shake them as long as they have their families and their identities, that this too will pass.  But as time goes on, that acceptance becomes acquiescence becomes obedience becomes slavery.  It does not pass.

Shooting in black and white was such a smart choice here.  Not only does it add to the documentary feel, not only does it add to the sense of lifeless, plodding oppression, but it also plays on our collective memories of World War II.  For most of us, our perception of that war comes from old newsreel footage and photographs, scenes that we know happened in a real world full of color but that in our minds are forever etched in black and white.  So I think we subconsciously tend to associate black and white with history and lend it bit more unintentional validity in our minds than we would if we saw the same things in color.  So Schindler’s List being in black and white gives it a feeling of veracity that I don’t think would be as strong if it had been presented in the typical Hollywood (and Spielberg) style.  We’d certainly have an initial, visceral reaction to the violence, but it wouldn’t have the same resonance.

It also struck me how quiet this film is.  If Spielberg was restraining himself, John Williams must have had his arms strapped to his sides, because this is the least score-heavy collaboration the two have ever had.  The images Spielberg presents don’t need the traditional orchestral tweaking, and either he asked Williams to lay back or Williams made the decision himself.  Either way, it’s absolutely right, so that when music does appear, it’s almost like a sigh of relief, some finally beautiful thing amid the evil we’re watching.

I know some people gripe about Schindler’s breakdown at the end, where he says he wishes he could have done more.  The one lone nod to Spielberg’s sensibilities, they say, but I don’t really see it that way.  Throughout most of the first half of the film, Schindler’s protection of his Jewish workers is purely selfish.  They’re an inexpensive source of labor that help his venture turn a profit.  If he saves a life or two along the way, that’s not humanitarianism, it’s just good business.  It’s only as the Holocaust intensifies that he finds himself saving lives for the sake of the lives themselves, and even then as much because he’s in too deep to stop now as it is out of benevolence.  He really backs into his heroism, having it forced upon him by eventuality and circumstance more than conscious choice.  So his rush of emotion after the war isn’t simply him wishing he’d done more.  It feels like an acknowledgement that he was blind to both the enormity of the events around him and to the power he inadvertently wielded, and that despite the great personal risks he took and sacrifices he made, this small group is all he managed to save.  He’s mourning not the fact that he did too little, but that he did it too late.

Schindler’s List clearly took a lot out of Spielberg.  It would be four years until he released his next film, and being of Jewish descent himself, bringing to life the Holocaust must have been an especially harrowing experience for him.  Besides, he’d just come off of possibly the greatest one-two punch any director has ever had, with the enormous box office success of Jurassic Park and the near-unanimous critical and awards acclaim of Schindler’s List coming within months of each other.  His next two films would be less successful shadows of those two (The Lost World and Amistad in 1997), and after 1993 he’s got more films in the bottom half of this list than in the top, so you could argue that was the year Spielberg peaked.  Then again, there’s one film from this later period we’ve yet to get to that I would say argues against that.

Tomorrow:  I’ll be right here.

Changes A’Comin’…

With The Immortal Beard winding down, it seems like a good time to make a change with this blog that I’ve been planning for a while now.  I’ve gotten a good amount of eyeballs here lately thanks to some very kind people who’ve enjoyed what they’ve read and spread the word, and it’s been making me think I should probably take this a little more seriously.  Not “quit my day job and pound out blog entries all day” seriously, but something like approaching an actual regular schedule.

It also seems like a good time to throw away the Obi-Wan Kenobi quote and make this blog my own thing.  To be honest, Some Damn Fool Idealistic Crusade was more a commentary on my effort to keep this going than on the blog itself, and it just feels like it’s a title that’s run its course.

So, once The Immortal Beard hits #1 and I wrap the whole thing up, this particular damn fool idealistic crusade will come to its end and become…

Don’t worry, it ain’t the DC reboot.  All that’s changing is the title, the look, and the URL.  Everything else will stay the same.  Which may or may not be a selling point…

The Immortal Beard: #7 — A.I.

#7

For all the talk about Spielberg’s tendency for happy endings, I think A.I. is the one film whose ending sparked the most debate.  I remember after it came in 2001, the rest of that summer was filled with endless variations of, “It should have ended with them trapped underwater!”  Of course, a lot of those same people were laboring under the mistaken impression that those were aliens at the end of the film and not highly advanced mechas, even when that’s clearly spelled out in the film.  And they also miss out on the fact that the supposed happy ending here isn’t really that happy at all.

A.I.‘s origins as a Stanley Kubrick project probably didn’t help matters.  Spielberg may be loved, but Kubrick was revered, and there was a feeling that the two directors’ sensibilities just wouldn’t mesh.  So naturally, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary provided by everyone up to and including Kubrick himself, people assumed Spielberg tacked on the happy ending and ruined Kubrick’s vision.  Never mind that Kubrick was on record as saying he felt the story was better suited to Spielberg’s style.  Never mind that the shooting script Kubrick would have used contained the ending as it appeared in the film.  Nope, Kubrick good, Spielberg bad, fie upon your ending.

So let’s look at where they would have left they film.  David and Teddy are trapped underwater beneath the fallen ferris wheel, staring at the Blue Fairy statue.  David’s just had his world pretty much torn apart, meeting his creator and finding out that he’s not unique.  What better, bleaker ending than to have him stuck for all eternity just out of reach of the thing he’s been searching for the whole movie?  Well, one that’s actually in keeping with theme of the film, for starters.  The opening scene pretty much spells out what’s being examined here:  the nature of love.  Can we genuinely love something that’s been programmed to love us back?  And in a sense, aren’t we all programmed to love anyway?  Just with nerves and emotions instead of wires and subroutines.  David’s whole quest to find the Blue Fairy and become a real boy is just part of a larger goal:  to be loved again.  Consigning him to his watery fate is to say that the search for love is ultimately doomed.

But let’s go beyond that, to the ending we did get.  It’s not sunshine and lollipops by any stretch.  First of all, every human being on the now-frozen planet is dead.  So there goes any chance of David being loved again.  The mechas that rescue him and Teddy are so far beyond what he is, and so in awe of what he represents, that he can’t really relate to them.  So he’s alone again.  The version of Monica he gets to spend his one perfect day with is a fake, just as programmed to love him as he is to love her.  So he’s not really getting a genuine conclusion, just a manufactured one.  And then we’re left with the image of Teddy forlornly plopping down on the bed as Monica and David “die” and leave him alone.  So basically, David’s desire for love causes him to abandon the one true friend he’s had.  This entire final sequence is asking us to question whether we just saw a happy reunion or a hollow, empty, selfish facsimile.  And to consider if the how of what David and Monica feel is as important as the fact that they’re feeling it.  It pulls us both ways.  It’s not a simple case of sending the audience home happy.

There’s also a lot going on here with the idea of identity and purpose.  Henry and Monica bring home David because, with their natural son seemingly frozen forever, they still feel the need to identify themselves as parents, only to a child that can actually return their love.  Lord Johnson-Johnson and his followers feel their human identity threatened by existence of the mechas, and so they take delight in their destruction.  And the fugitive mechas simple desire to be useful again, scavenging for spare parts to make them whole, performing their roles right until the very end.  Even  Gigolo Joe’s final words of, “I am!  I was!” are as much a declaration that his existence had meaning as they are a plea for David to remember him.  Throughout the film we see characters dealing with both natural and manufactured roles; some, like Joe, quite at ease with who and what they are; others, like David, wanting to be something more.  It’s interesting to note that it’s the mechas who most often seem to be content with their lot, as if the film is implying that the emotions that separate us from the machines are the very things that fill our lives with strife.  The one exception is David, and, well, as I said above, he doesn’t exactly end up in the happiest of places.

So if you ask me, Spielberg did Kubrick proud.  No, he didn’t make a Kubrick movie; he’s simply not wired that way.  But he did make a film every bit as thought-provoking and visually striking as anything Kubrick did, and without the cold sense of distance that so often permeates Kubrick’s films (and quite appropriately, given their themes).

Tomorrow:  An absolute good.

The Surly Bonds of Earth

“‘Cause it’s next. ‘Cause we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what’s next.”

Sam Seaborn, The West Wing, “Galileo”

A little over thirty years ago, I stood in the parking lot of Union Park Junior High School and watched a tiny white dot start a new era on a column of fire.

This morning, I sat in my TV-glow-lit living room and watched another white dot end that era with the sound of thunder.

As of about 6:00am this morning, the United States is where it was fifty years ago:  grounded and watching others reach for the stars.  Not from a lack of knowledge or experience, but from a lack of foresight and ambition.  And while there’s not a cold war or space race to win, it certainly feels like something has been lost.  Maybe it’s our sense of striving for something great.  Maybe it’s our drive that sent us over the next river, the next mountain, the next ocean.  Whatever it is, we are weaker for its absence.

We threw away the moon.  Now we’re on the verge of throwing away the cosmos itself.  If not going back to the moon was Columbus never returning to the New World, this is him dismantling his ships and never even getting back on the ocean.

We need the challenge of space.  We need the innovations our quest for the stars has produced.  But what’s more, we need the inspiration that comes from seeing mankind embark on an undertaking so vast, so seemingly impossible that, no matter how many times we’ve seen it, it still pulls our gaze to the sky.  The space program has given us awe and wonder and hope and dreams and heroes.

And now it gives us empty launchpads and darkened skies.

For years, there were fewer and fewer of us who could remember a world where the U.S. wasn’t searching skyward.  Sadly, as of today, there will only be more and more.

The Immortal Beard: #8 — Munich

#8

Back in May, when everyone was treating the death of Osama Bin Laden like the U.S. hadjust won the intergalactic Super Bowl, I wrote here that it would be a good day for everybody to sit down and watch Munich.  That the revenge business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, despite the momentary thrill of “We got him!”  Of course, most of the people celebrating that day would have probably missed that and started bragging about how Seal Team 6 would have done a better job.  I talked earlier about how Spielberg indirectly dealt with 9/11 in The Terminal and War of the Worlds.  But it’s impossible to see Munich as anything but a direct commentary on the origins of and our reactions to the attacks, even if the film does so by taking us back to probably the most infamous terrorist incident before 9/11.

Munich is really sneaky about it though.  It builds up our sympathies for the Israelis by starting off with a recreation of the initial attack on the Israeli athletes in the Olympic village.  It gets us invested in the team Avner is put in charge of by giving them all distinct and mostly likeable personalities.  For all intents and purposes, Munich starts off like a classic “men on a mission” film, and our expectations are that we’ll see justice handed out to the terrorists by this crack squad of heroes.  But after the first target is taken down in sloppy fashion, and the team very nearly kills the daughter of the second target by accident, we start to realize that there is nothing thrilling or exciting about any of this.  It’s butcher’s work, bereft of any sense of justice at all.  The strain begins to tear the team apart, their veneer of invincibility is shattered, and Avner is left wondering whether they’ve exacted a price for Munich or simply run up a bill for more violence, this time in the name of revenge for those they’ve killed.  The final shot of the film, of Avner alone with the World Trade Center rising in the distance, makes it clear which one Spielberg thinks is the case.  Both sides have been simply creating martyrs for the other.

One of my main points of contention when talking about the Middle East is how we’re never going to achieve any kind of peace over there until we try to understand what it is about the terrorists that makes walking into a crowded building and blowing themselves a viable option.  It’s not like they’re waking up one day and deciding to become a suicide bomber.  There’s a couple of thousands of years of history (most of which the U.S. wasn’t even involved in) behind the Arab/Israeli conflict, a lot of which seems to lose sight of the fact that what this boils down to is two groups of people who want the right to exist; they just happen to want to exist on the same piece of land.  Which is a roundabout way of pointing out the scene where Avner’s team inadvertently ends up sharing a safe house with a group of PLO members.  We see that in some ways the differences are deeply silly — they can’t agree on what radio station to listen to — but that they’ve got a lot more in common than they might think.  You get the feeling that if the two sides could simply sit down and have a discussion the way Avner does with the PLO member, we’d get a lot further along in the process.

Aside from the politics, one of the things that struck me about Munich is that it feels like it could have come from the 1970s.  It doesn’t have the hyperkinetic pace you see in more modern action films, and it’s not afraid to take its time on some quieter character scenes.  It makes sense it would feel like a 70s film given that it’s set in that decade, but it goes beyond simply production design and costumes.  It’s got a real 70s sensibility to it, like something you’d see playing alongside The French Connection, where there’s grit and grime rather than glitz and glamor.  Spielberg doesn’t restrain himself quite to the extent he did in Schindler’s List, but you can tell he’s muted himself a bit here.

What’s also remarkable about the film is that Spielberg managed to pull this and War of the Worlds off in the same year.  Then again, Spielberg isn’t a stranger to the double-header:  he gave us Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can in the same year, and perhaps the ultimate two-fer in 1993 with Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List.  But those combos lack the thematic unity of War and Munich, where the first one asked us to relive the fear and confusion of 9/11, while the second asked us to examine the fear and confusion of our reaction.  It’s almost as if Spielberg wanted to us to think about which was more troubling.

Tomorrow:  One beard does another a favor.