'Spielberg' offers entertaining, epic-length profile

Posted 10/6/17

By Kevin McDonough

Like its subject's many films, the two-and-a-half-hour documentary "Spielberg" (9 p.m. Saturday, HBO) blends insight with sheer entertainment.

Filled with clips from many of Steven Spielberg's films, this profile begins with …

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'Spielberg' offers entertaining, epic-length profile

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

Like its subject's many films, the two-and-a-half-hour documentary "Spielberg" (9 p.m. Saturday, HBO) blends insight with sheer entertainment.

Filled with clips from many of Steven Spielberg's films, this profile begins with scenes from another director's movie. Spielberg, who sat for more than 30 hours of interviews for this effort, recalls watching David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" multiple times in 1962 to learn how Lean could bury an intimate character study deep within a wide-screen epic.

And that's what director Susan Lacy does with this extended profile. On one hand, it's a bag of popcorn, featuring endless scenes from "E.T.," "Jaws," Spielberg's early TV work and his historical epics. It also discusses Spielberg's many selves, revealing the lonely kid, the outsider, the storyteller, the nerd, the child of divorce, the perfectionist, the childlike gee-whiz enthusiast, the Orthodox Jew eager to assimilate, the sentimentalist and the artist striving for the respect and acceptance of his peers.

The film makes much of Spielberg's friendships with contemporaries including George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma and how this clique influenced each other's movies and even worked together behind the scenes.

Spielberg's early, almost instant, blockbuster success would earn him accolades as a Boy Wonder - but not of the Orson Welles variety. At a time when his "cool" colleagues were seen as burning down Hollywood and creating "Art," Spielberg was depicted as a studio darling with an unerring eye for mass appeal. Why would such a technical virtuoso settle for kids' stuff?

Along the way, we learn of his parents' eccentricity and their painful divorce that clearly contributed to themes about family dissolution in both "E.T." and "Close Encounters."

While Spielberg and his generation of filmmakers came of age during the era of sex, drugs and rock and roll, Spielberg's films remain conspicuously chaste. His friend Scorsese may have scored his films with jukebox classics, but Spielberg remains one of the few major directors to still make most of his films in collaboration with classically trained composers, almost exclusively John Williams, a man whose influences stretch back to Korngold and Wagner.

Steven Spielberg seems born with a gift for visual storytelling, entirely self-educated as a filmmaker. "Spielberg" makes the case for his place in the history of Hollywood and world cinema.

"Madam Secretary" (10 p.m. Sunday, CBS, TV-14) enters its fourth season with an episode revolving around "fake news" reports about a diplomat's death after meeting with Elizabeth (Tea Leoni), the secretary of state.

With the departure of "The Good Wife" and the establishment of its spin-off "The Good Fight" on the subscription service CBS All Access, "Madam" remains one of the few CBS dramas that is not a police procedural or a spin-off, or both.

"Madam" remains on steadier ground when the action revolves around international diplomacy and White House intrigue. This show's focus on family dynamics and marital pillow talk often seem a tad forced. Even Elizabeth's daughter seems unimpressed by her maternal angst, assuring her that she completely understands why Elizabeth can't drive her to college. "You're the secretary of state, you have more important things to do."

"Episodes" (10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime, TV-MA) wraps up its fifth and final season after only seven episodes. I'm not alone in feeling sad to see it go. A media satire written like a British rom-com, "Episodes" concludes with more than one peculiar romantic resolution.

But as this is a show about writers and writing, the cleverest loose end to be tied up involves a certain script. A throwback comedy, "Episodes" never tried to be anything but funny, and in doing so it hid its intelligence in plain sight.

SATURDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• The Nationals host the Cubs in game two of the National League division series (5:30 p.m., TBS). Playoffs continue with the Dodgers hosting either the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Colorado Rockies (9 p.m., TBS).

College football action includes Alabama at Texas A&M (7:15 p.m., ESPN), Michigan State at Michigan (7:30 p.m., ABC) and Washington State at Oregon (8 p.m., Fox).

• A grieving daughter seeks answers in the 2016 shocker "Stranger in the House" (8 p.m., Lifetime).

• A chili recipe to remember on "Halt and Catch Fire" (9 p.m., AMC, TV-14).

"The Wonder List With Bill Weir" (9 p.m., CNN) examines how a rich American's conservation efforts in Patagonia have enraged local developers.

• Table scraps add up on "My Big Fat Pet Makeover" (10 p.m., Animal Planet).

"The Graham Norton Show" (10 p.m., BBC America, TV-14) welcomes Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Margot Robbie, Reese Witherspoon and Bananarama.

• Gal Gadot hosts "Saturday Night Live" (11:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14), featuring musical guest Sam Smith.

CULT CHOICE

A young couple (Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes) encounters neighbors (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer) with a diabolical agenda in the 1968 shocker "Rosemary's Baby" (9 p.m. Sunday, Starz Encore).

SUNDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• The Houston Texans host the Kansas City Chiefs in NFL action (8:25 p.m., NBC).

• Ross experiences the French Revolution on "Poldark" on "Masterpiece" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings).

• Stark realizations on "Outlander" (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

"Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" (9 p.m., CNN, TV-PG) visits the French Alps.

• Alicia finds a potential friend on "Fear the Walking Dead" (9 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

• A brutal incident inspires Candy to consider a change on "The Deuce" (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

• The fate of humanity is determined on the season finale of "The Last Ship" (10 p.m., TNT, TV-14).

• Security camera footage offers new evidence on "Ten Days in the Valley" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

"This Is Life With Lisa Ling" (10 p.m., CNN) looks at the militia movement.

• Larry offers fashion advice on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (10 p.m., HBO, TV-14).

• Missy needs a favor on "Survivor's Remorse" (10 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

• Kareem Abdul-Jabbar appears on "StarTalk With Neil deGrasse Tyson" (11 p.m., National Geographic, TV-PG).

SATURDAY SERIES

Crowdsourcing on "Wisdom of the Crowd" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * Cradles robbed on "Will & Grace" (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14) * A memorial service on "Superstore" (8:30 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) * A Naval officer down on "NCIS: New Orleans" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) * "48 Hours" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) * A vintage helping of "Saturday Night Live" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

SUNDAY SERIES

New footage shows Tanner's daughter with a new suspect on "Wisdom of the Crowd" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Lisa writes a best-seller on "The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Season 28 begins for "America's Funniest Home Videos" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Trick-or-treating on "Ghosted" (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Undercover banker on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Peter hangs with a cooler clique on "Family Guy" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) * A better cup of coffee on "Shark Tank" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Kristen Wiig guest-stars on "The Last Man on Earth" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

© 2017, United Feature Syndicate