Robert Zemeckis

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DrewReiber
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#1 Post by DrewReiber » Sat Nov 17, 2007 8:09 pm

malcolm1980 wrote:[Beowulf is] Zemeckis's worst movie.
Worse than Death Becomes Her? Wow!

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#2 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sat Nov 17, 2007 8:28 pm

I refuse to believe he can do any worse than Death Becomes Her.

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#3 Post by jbeall » Sun Nov 18, 2007 8:16 pm

flyonthewall2983 wrote:I refuse to believe he can do any worse than Death Becomes Her.
I liked Death Becomes Her! It's Zemeckis's darkest, most sarcastic film, and a helluva lot smarter than most of the other stuff he's done. I loved that Goldie's and Meryl's characters remained unredeemably horrible at the end of the movie, lapsing into unintentional self-parody even as they're leaving the memorial service.

It's not a *great* movie by any stretch, but a pretty good dark comedy from someone who's better known for sentimental fluff.

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#4 Post by domino harvey » Sun Nov 18, 2007 8:20 pm

Death Becomes Her is one of those weird movies you watch on HBO at 2:30 in the afternoon as a kid and never once question the film until much later in life.

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#5 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sun Nov 18, 2007 9:08 pm

jbeall wrote:
flyonthewall2983 wrote:I refuse to believe he can do any worse than Death Becomes Her.
I liked Death Becomes Her! It's Zemeckis's darkest, most sarcastic film, and a helluva lot smarter than most of the other stuff he's done. I loved that Goldie's and Meryl's characters remained unredeemably horrible at the end of the movie, lapsing into unintentional self-parody even as they're leaving the memorial service.

It's not a *great* movie by any stretch, but a pretty good dark comedy from someone who's better known for sentimental fluff.
I didn't say it was a bad film. It's just nowhere near his best :D This probably speaks volumes about my background, but if it weren't for watching the Back To The Future movies obsessively as a kid and seeing Forrest Gump on it's theatrical release I doubt I would even be here. He's one of the few filmmakers who can do almost no wrong, in my book.

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#6 Post by jbeall » Sun Nov 18, 2007 11:28 pm

Fair enough. I first saw it when I was around 18, and living in a small town in GA. The pop-culture references that I knew my redneck schoolmates wouldn't get made the film that much more enjoyable.

I usually just enjoy Zemeckis's movies, but I really didn't like The Polar Express, and suspect that I won't care for Beowulf too much, either.

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#7 Post by GoldenPilgrim » Sun Nov 18, 2007 11:35 pm

domino harvey wrote:Death Becomes Her is one of those weird movies you watch on HBO at 2:30 in the afternoon as a kid and never once question the film until much later in life.
It's funny that you say that. I was just thinking, "what's with everybody hating Death Becomes Her," then you go and write that and I realize, hmm I haven't seen that movie since I saw it on tv when I was like 9 years old. Well put.

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#8 Post by malcolm1980 » Mon Nov 19, 2007 12:53 am

DrewReiber wrote:
malcolm1980 wrote:It's Zemeckis's worst movie.
Worse than Death Becomes Her? Wow!
I happen to love Death Becomes Her. I think it's one of his more underrated works.

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#9 Post by DrewReiber » Mon Nov 19, 2007 4:23 am

malcolm1980 wrote:I happen to love Death Becomes Her. I think it's one of his more underrated works.
I wish I could go back in time to when I was a kid just I could walk out of the movie. I remember how completely pissed off I was as the credits rolled, realizing how the movie dragged on for another 10-15 minutes just for more visual effects gags. It's one of those rare occasions, like Hulk, where I just wish to god I could remove the memories and regain every precious minute wasted to do ANYTHING ELSE with my time.

Even though it didn't occur to me with the Back to the Future sequels, Death Becomes Her was the point where I realized that Zemeckis cared more about special effects than storytelling. By Castaway, I distinctly remember telling my friends that it was inevitable that the director would abandon live-action and start making CG animated movies. If only I had bet some money on that.

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#10 Post by jmj713 » Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:10 pm

So when is Zemeckis getting back to making actual films? He was making amazing, visual cinema with Forest Gump, Contact and What Lies Beneath. And now cartoons...

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#11 Post by tavernier » Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:13 pm

Some would call those 3 films (especially Gump) cartoons.

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#12 Post by domino harvey » Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:14 pm

I swear this thread is the first time I've seen anyone talking about Forest Gump for several years. Even my mom grew out of this.

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#13 Post by Michael » Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:46 pm

domino harvey wrote:I swear this thread is the first time I've seen anyone talking about Forest Gump for several years. Even my mom grew out of this.
Unfortunately not my mother. I dated a guy who made me drive him to Savannah from NY (that was about 20 hours drive) just to sit on that damn bench Gump sat on yapping away with chocolates.

I must add that I hate everything Zemeckis makes, touches, whatever. Thinking of Cast Away just now gave me a shudder.

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#14 Post by DrewReiber » Mon Nov 19, 2007 5:34 pm

Michael wrote:Unfortunately not my mother. I dated a guy who made me drive him to Savannah from NY (that was about 20 hours drive) just to sit on that damn bench Gump sat on yapping away with chocolates.
Michael, you have my sympathies. That's a really sad story.
Michael wrote:I must add that I hate everything Zemeckis makes, touches, whatever. Thinking of Cast Away just now gave me a shudder.
Watching Forest Gump with my entire family (cousins too) was one of the most surreal movie going experiences of my teenage years. I remember walking out and thinking it was one of the cheesiest, poorly plotted and contrived "feel good" films I had ever seen. Unfortunately, my family couldn't stop talking about how amazing it was. I don't think any of them have watched that movie again since that time, though I'm pretty sure they all bought the soundtrack.

Castaway was a fantastic ad for Fed-Ex with lots of wonderfully pitiful and oddly placed CG. What Lies Beneath had CG sequences so hilariously inappropriate that I think I would honestly watch it again just for laughs. The only thing more funny than that movie was Zemeckis' statements about how that was the film Hitchcock would have made had the technology been available. Whatever, dude...

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#15 Post by Michael » Mon Nov 19, 2007 6:39 pm

Putting that stupid Gump bench aside, Savannah turned out to be an utterly charming place. Loved the squares, the old houses.. I just loved the "haunted" vibe of the city. Great southern food. And it's also a setting for my favorite Eastwood film.

But that Gump fanatic boyfriend is long gone, more than ten years ago. Thank god. For a period of time, every time I dated a guy, I always made sure to ask him what his favorite movie was. Just to get a basic idea. One guy said Titanic and that was the end of our date. My current hubby of ten years said Amarcord and that was good enough for me. I know it's kind of unfair to judge that way but being a hardcore movie fan, I see why not.

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#16 Post by ogygia avenue » Mon Nov 19, 2007 10:36 pm

domino harvey wrote:I swear this thread is the first time I've seen anyone talking about Forest Gump for several years. Even my mom grew out of this.
My boyfriend's name is Forest with one "r". Every single time we go out, someone will hear his name and just have to bring this stupid movie up. And I have to keep saying "no, he's a member of MENSA, knock it off already."

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#17 Post by Noir of the Night » Tue Nov 20, 2007 12:23 am

Michael wrote:I dated a guy who made me drive him to Savannah from NY (that was about 20 hours drive) just to sit on that damn bench Gump sat on yapping away with chocolates.
You should have left him behind.
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#18 Post by Dylan » Tue Nov 20, 2007 2:42 am

Pauline Kael loved Used Cars.

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#19 Post by tavernier » Tue Nov 20, 2007 11:44 am

That was before Zemeckis became ZEMECKIS.

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#20 Post by John Bored » Thu Nov 22, 2007 1:02 am

noelbotevera wrote:For the record, I liked the Back movies, liked Castaway okay (mainly for Hanks, loathed the finale), liked Used Cars, Wanna Hold Your Hand, his script for 1941 and Death Becomes Her very much, hated that Gump movie (Winston Groom's original novel is a much better picaresque). I love Contact, but for all the wrong reasons--it's so embarrassingly bad I enjoy watching it drunk.
I had no idea Contact was a Zemeckis film, nor that it is trounced among the film elite. What's so bad about it? Not that I've watched it with a close eye but at least it's brave for its view of a reconciliation between science/religion.

Beowulf though looks like garbage, just as Polar Express did. The human face is so complex that anything less than perfect imitation, if it exists, unleashes absurdity.

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#21 Post by noelbotevera » Thu Nov 22, 2007 1:09 am

I'd rather watch, oh, Dr. Who for a reconciliation of religion and science. At least there's wit. And no twitchy Jodie Foster, hamming up the screen.

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#22 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Nov 22, 2007 6:56 am

DrewReiber wrote:Watching Forest Gump with my entire family (cousins too) was one of the most surreal movie going experiences of my teenage years. I remember walking out and thinking it was one of the cheesiest, poorly plotted and contrived "feel good" films I had ever seen. Unfortunately, my family couldn't stop talking about how amazing it was. I don't think any of them have watched that movie again since that time, though I'm pretty sure they all bought the soundtrack.

Castaway was a fantastic ad for Fed-Ex with lots of wonderfully pitiful and oddly placed CG. What Lies Beneath had CG sequences so hilariously inappropriate that I think I would honestly watch it again just for laughs. The only thing more funny than that movie was Zemeckis' statements about how that was the film Hitchcock would have made had the technology been available. Whatever, dude...
Since the thread is also sort of becoming a Zemeckis retrospective thread I'll add my impressions. I have the same attitude to Zemeckis as I did to the Spice Girls or Rownan Keating in pop music - if I hear the music for the first time or while distracted and having forgotten who it is I find myself dancing along, yet when I suddenly realise to whose tune I've been dancing, when a piece of score I recognise or a particular trait shows itself in one of Zemeckis's films (the type of stuff that if I loved the particular artist would have me excited over thematic consistency of his work etc) I suddenly feel guilty and ashamed of myself for being taken in!

However he is probably the leading conservative in attidue filmmaker working simply because many of his best films are engaging. Romancing The Stone and The Jewel In The Nile are extremely exciting but are basically 'westerners under threat from dangerous foreigners' films; Back To The Future is perfectly made but works as an example of how wonderful everything was in the past (apart from some mild references to the role of black people and of women, but they are only small problems that are worked through once Marty gets his mother through her girlish infatuation stage by being the first love himself rather than leaving Lorraine to go doe eyed over his father, and once Marty gives Chuck Berry his famous song!)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit manages to have its cake an eat it by suggesting a real person is responsible for the state of the real world/cartoon murders but instead shows the evil-doer is an other, one of them rather than like us (while it gets close to the colonialist attitude that some cartoons are funny, goofish and likeable but they are also fundamentally different and hold different values) - it also conveniently allows cartoonish violence to the main villain without that horrible feeling of guilt that comes with real pain to real people.

Back To The Future II and III are just riffs on the successful formula of the first, which just go further to prove that the 1950s were the only decent place to live. The future is full of over the top gadgetery and movie theatres full of sequels using the latest over hyped gimmick to promote their films (hey, wait a minute!) and the past is too harsh a place for tender hearted people to live, unless they are able to bring some of their future technology with them to ease the burden.

Forrest Gump is probably the most contrived film ever made and all the more reprehensible for having seeming touched the hearts of a nation. Just the idea of a mentally retarded man-child being conveniently around at every single moment of importance of the twentieth century is a horrendous oversimplification and patronising to all members of the audience in the extreme! So you are a Vietnam vet? Well Forrest was too, did more heroic deeds than any soldier and yet was still able to come home without bitterness and feelings of anger or blame on the government and managed to make something of his life in the future. Then there is the subplot about Forrest's sweetheart being a liberal and managing to go through lots of different liberal causes because she of course is misguided and unsure of what it is that she wants while Forrest is almost saintly in simple assurance of his goals.

What kind of lesson is being imparted by this film? That it is best not to campaign or care too deeply about things as you will only be destroyed? (not only in the case of Jenny, but also in the way Forrest loses all those he loves) That the best tactics in business are the 'simple' ones? (I don't know if business people would be upset that their work is portrayed as so simple Forrest Gump could do it or if they would be happy that their trade secrets were being kept safe by a film making light of the business world?). Many of Zemeckis's films are muddled by wanting to hold conflicting views simultaneously and Forrest Gump is the prime example of wanting to ally itself with the excitement and activism of the liberal left during the 60s yet also wanting to show how great the modern capitalist, commodified world is - and the only way they could do it is through a character who doesn't understand the wider implications of the events he is involved in, while those who do are variously tormented, disabled and destroyed by their knowledge.

At the same time, Forrest Gump seems to be the perfect answer to the question of where all the 60s activists have gone - either ignored or co-opted once it became apparent that nothing in particular was going to change through their actions.

I quite like Contact but again it spends a hilariously huge amount of time debating the science vs God question, which makes me feel that this is another quasi-liberal seeming film which is trying to explain science to believers, with Jodie Foster as the almost emotionless scientist (but with a tragic emotion-filled past of loss) whose heart is warmed by the saintly McConaughey, who questions her about her devotion to science and never really understands why she is doing what she is doing but lets her go her own way and is the only person there for her after her epiphany.

In another attempt to have his cake and eat it Zemeckis tries to explain the love of rationality and science to believers and makes it OK for them to like the film because eventually science and rationality comes around to the believers point of view. To make a religious audience feel more sympathy for Jodie Foster's character she has to be contrasted to Tom Skerritt's prestige and media driven career scientist, who expresses every conservative's fear of vain and egocentric science gleefully destroying the order of things for spurious motives. It therefore makes sense that he is removed from the picture by that most religious of devices, the suicide bomber (used in a way that would be impossible now! An event that is supposed to be shocking but which it also seems that the audience is supposed to be glad for as it frees up Ellie for the next mission. It also adds some action and spectacle at that point)

CastAway is just an extended FedEx ad, showing how commerce actually manages to save Chuck's life and how miserable our lives would be without all the stuff that the commodified world provides us with (while coveniently glossing over the point that it was Chuck's job that tore him away from his family at Christmas and put him on the plane that crashed in the first place)

What Lies Beneath is particularly annoying (and this was another film in which Zemeckis annoyingly said he was doing a film that Hitchcock could never have conceived of with his primitive filmmaking techniques). It seems in its first act to be making a point of how supposed liberals, with the husband working in an academic profession and the use of psychiatrists to talk their problems through, are always meddling in other people's business and being nosy neighbours. The whole first section of the film is less a McGuffin than a cul-de-sac as Pfeiffer becomes obsessed with her neighbours' actions while conveniently forgetting to make sure her own house is in order before meddling with others - but I guess we are supposed to identify with her (hey! she plays Solitaire on her computer just like us!), while her husband proves to have dark secrets that only an imbecile could have been unaware of their partner having - and it needed a ghostly presence to wake Pfeiffer up to it? No wonder the film is two hours long if it takes her so long to cotton on to what is occuring!

Add to that the most convoluted way of trying to kill someone since James Bond was attached to that laser device and we are left with an utterly confused film, trying to pretend its contrivances occur naturally.

After that I didn't bother with The Polar Express!
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#23 Post by noelbotevera » Fri Nov 23, 2007 11:27 pm

Interesting stuff re: Zemecki's political views. Funny you like Contact--it's his looniest, in my view, all the more because it's so much in earnest.

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#24 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Nov 24, 2007 9:35 am

noelbotevera wrote:Interesting stuff re: Zemeckis political views. Funny you like Contact--it's his looniest, in my view, all the more because it's so much in earnest.
I should say that it is only my idea of Zemeckis's political views based on what I've seen in the films, so I've no idea whether it would hold to be true or not, but it does seem that many of the issues dealt with are simplified, sometimes to a patronising extent - almost as if they want to put across conservative views but at the same time without offending a liberal audience too much that they won't come to see the film as well. I feel Back To The Future and the Romancing The Stone films work because they are well constructed as pure entertainment films with the subtext well hidden under all the other stuff going on. I think the problem comes when he tries to make a larger point with his films, either political, historical or moral, and then it feels as if the films are just skimming the surface trying to make contrived characterisations and plotting work at describing complex situations - this is when I usually start to feel patronised and start to feel any messages imparted do not really have any relevance to the reality outside the movie theatre.

For me only What Lies Beneath is a truly terrible film as it expends a long time building up tension with the neighbour that does not truly go anywhere, seems confused in exactly how all the elements of its ghost story fit together and is vastly overextended. All the other films, even Forrest Gump, that I have 'political' problems with I think are quite competently made (though that makes their pat observations even more worrying when they are so effectively packaged and seem to hold a wide appeal - is it any coincidence that Gump celebrates the saintly idiot who seems to have a better understanding of life than those supposedly intelligent, worldly people and then the American public votes for Bush Jnr later? :wink: )

Yes, I have conflicting views over Contact but it strangely is also the Zemeckis film that I like the most, along with Back To The Future. I like the way that there is an attempt to show the excitement of discovery in contrast with all the policitical and bureaucractic problems that would then come about if something like an alien signal were actually found. I found it contrived in a good way, if that makes any sense, to see Ellie pushed nearer and nearer to her space mission - it is never really in doubt that she will be the one to go but I thought the stealing of her limelight by Drumlin and the bombing were quite exciting, if crudely done if seen through today's eyes, and it is always good to see John Hurt floating around and overacting! (Even if he almost unbalances the film, which, as you say, is treading that fine line between a po-faced serious treatment of an absurd subject!)

A lot of the fun in the film comes not only from the special effects but from the actors: I have a crush on Jodie Foster so am fated to like anything she appears in by default but it was also good to see James Woods and Angela Bassett in good supporting roles and David Morse as the father.

However I find the whole science vs religion subplot difficult to handle! Especially the early relationship scenes between Ellie and Palmer. In the end it seems like they are artificially weighting the importance of religious questions through having this character personify them (and Ellie personify pure science) and forcing Ellie to confront these issues only because of this relationship. I would have hoped she would have had these debates within herself before she met Palmer, and thankfully Ellie never really has an enormous crisis of confidence but argues her point of view. The final meeting between Ellie and Palmer, when she is confirmed as being on the mission, is the one I could really have done without, as Palmer is still trying to ask her if this is something she really wants to do, which at that late stage is a bizarre conversation to have - as if Ellie's actions to that point had not confirmed her decision.

I quite like the mission itself, with the Solaris-esque way the aliens use memories from Ellie of her father to appear to her (I wonder if they knew the resonance that held for her, not just of her father but of the way he set her off down the astronomy path as a kid? That is never made clear but that is the kind of resonance screenwriters seem to love and I think it works well, even if I've heard this is the point that some people in the audience got upset - "She travelled all that way just to see her dead father?!"). However while Solaris keeps motives unclear of whether the ocean is actually trying to communicate or whether its manifestations are just unintended due to the astronauts simply being in close proximity to it, Contact by its very title is about a conscious, planned meeting between human and alien worlds.

What I am less interested by is the message of the end of the film, in which Ellie comes to see faith rather than rationality as the most important thing, because she cannot prove that she made her voyage. She and Palmer then leave the hearing and it seems there is an attempt made to show that science and religion in their purest forms are very similar, and it is the way that the politicians inside and the media crowds outside (and the wackos surrounding the first launch pad from earlier in the film) are using science and religion for their own ends that causes all the problems and twists them into being used for bad purposes.

It is a nice message but rather simple when we consider that religion was the most important ruling body throughout history, guiding the actions of kings and their subjects; and that science needs funding from governments to do their research, so there are much more complex issues there that the film doesn't really explore.

Then there is that strange coda of Woods and Bassett talking about how much tape Ellie's camera recorded, which works well for an audience the first time but on later viewings seems to suggest that the filmmakers did not trust enough to leave their simple message ambiguous and had to prove that Ellie actually had been on her trip - this suggests not only that Ellie is fundamentally right but also through association makes her pleas to be believed simply on faith and her relationship with Palmer legitimate, simultaneously suggesting to an audience that science is a good thing and that there is also a greater plan to the Universe that does not disprove the presence of God.

It is a very strange film but I really think this is the nearest Zemeckis has come to a truly great film despite, and at times because of, its flaws. I certainly enjoy revisiting that film, which I couldn't say about the rest of his films other than Back To The Future.

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#25 Post by Polybius » Sun Nov 25, 2007 2:59 am

Dylan wrote:Pauline Kael loved Used Cars.

Actually, so do I. It works as a mean spirited comedy and as a portrait of a country about to lose it's mind and give power over to a slogan spouting simpleton. It's like a more raucous take on the same themes as Being There.

I'll admit, I kind of like Contact. It has it's flaws (McConaughey's Palmer Joss, yet another tiresome reiteration of his perpetual Don Meredith act) and Zemeckis' out of control CGI nonsense, pasting actors into Clinton's cabinet sessions, but it has a certain resonance. Maybe I'm just grading it on a curve.

About MM...it's a bit of a cliché, going back at least as far as The Bostonians, and probably farther, to have a sour and introverted female intellectual made all wobbly-kneed by a strappin', virile guy who is more conservative than she is, but it's still really tiresome.

It's not unknown for a guy like him to be charismatic and interesting (think Lancaster in Elmer Gantry, or, to use a real life example, Jerry Lee Lewis' energetic, if dreadfully warped, evangelist cousin Jimmy Swaggart.) However...in real life, a guy espousing the views Joss does would just as likely be a pinched, sweaty little creep, like Jack Black.

Just once...I'd like to see a filmmaker have the balls to do something like that.

As for the rest of his oeuvre...you guys are being too kind. He's one of several people who will cause me to automatically push the eject button in my seat the instant I see their name up on the screen.

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