Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Baffling Fourth Installment

All right after a slight delay due to a brownout situation I was finally able to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Now, I have been ruminating over this fourth installment in the saga for the last two days, running over the events in the film, and of course comparing it to the original three. I think what I'm going to do is write this review like a compliment sandwich: first I'll say something I liked, then something I didn't like, followed by (you guessed it) something I liked. What you can infer from this is that I have mixed emotions about the film and that I am devilishly handsome. You can also infer that there will be spoilers aplenty. Well maybe you can't infer it, but I'm telling you anyway.

First of all we will explore the goodness. What really struck me were some of the action scenes. There were some classic, honest to goodness, plain old-fashioned Indy action scenes. Take, for example, the opening scene in the Area 51 bunker. Even though Indiana is obviously older my suspension of disbelief (and I will be using this term quite frequently) allowed me to enjoy him climbing over crates, swinging from rafters, and just generally raising hell with the Russians. That whole scene was awesome. And then the big Russian dude with the chain beating the shit out of the aging archeaologist only to have the tables turned on him: classic. When the movie started off this way I thought "Okay. This could still be good." I was pumped. I was excited.

And then Indy escaped to the atomic testing site and (hold on to your fedoras) SURVIVED A NUCLEAR BLAST! The only thing that didn't survive was my suspension of disbelief. But wait. He was in a lead-lined fridge, and the bomb wasn't dropped directly on the city, and the fridge was blown far away. Okay. Suspension of disbelief might be ressurected if Indy doesn't do anything like that again. Anyway, as I was saying, excellent old-school Indy action. The motorcycle chase: great. Indy fighting crazy mask-wearing natives: great. Dr. Jones in a classic fist-fight against a big guy with a foreign accent whilst surrounded by flesh-eating ants: priceless. The old guy still knows how to rumble. I thought it was great how Indiana Jones was basically this force of nature that was unleashed on the bad guys (see: Indy jumping onto a vehicle full of Russians and knocking them all over like a bunch of bowling pins. Evil communist bowling pins.).

OK now for something I didn't like. Special effects. Yeah, I had the sneaking suspicion that Lucas would want to fuck up the movie with crazy special effects but I figured Spielberg would have kept him in line. How wrong I was. The best example (and by best I mean worst) is Mutt swinging through the jungle with his new monkey friends. Computer animated monkey friends. My question is: Why? Why would they want to subject us to this level of shititude? There are several other examples of this throughout the film (SURVIVED A NUCLEAR FUCKING BLAST!) but the creme de la creme, the cherry on the shit-cake was the final scene of the movie (not counting the wedding which felt so tacked-on). First of all they show us the alien, then the crazy ship which lays waste to the entire place. But it looked so... un-Indiana Jones-like. And I'm not trying to be a wet blanket here. If you look back at the first three movies there is always some kind of supernatural power, although the other ones were spiritual. So honestly aliens aren't that far of a stretch, and fuck you if you think that it is. The special effects just seemed so out of place and you just knew that the actors were just standing in front of a green screen. Even in some of the action sequences (see jungle chase scene) the in-your-face special effects really made it tough for me to enjoy what I was watching.

Okay now for something good. There were a bunch of nods to the other movies. The picture of Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr. (now deceased), the Ark in the warehouse, and the statue of Brody really invoked that sense of nostalgia for the originals. Of course the flip side to this is that it felt like the movie was trying too hard to connect itself to the originals, like it needed to prove it was an Indiana Jones movie. It was kind of like a teenager with a fake I.D. trying to convince the bartender to give him a drink, and then the bartender looks down and says "Sorry, no Crystal Skulls allowed in here" and he goes into the corner and cries.

The acting was good, and there were some memorable scenes, but overall it was just good. Not great. I was surprised and relieved to find that Shia LaBeouf did not ruin the entire movie. I don't know why but I just have a hate-on for this kid. I've only ever seen him in Transformers and he had a solid performance and I know there's no reason for me to dislike him, but everytime I see him I just want to punch him square in the face. Just fucking unleash on the kid. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just an angry person. But he did a pretty good job. Karen Allen was a little less entertaining. Was it just me or was she smiling the whole time? I mean even when they go over the giant waterfall ("Drop three times." Suspension of disbelief fading... fading...) and she's sitting on the shore holding the wheel from the crazy communist car-boat she's still smiling like she's wearing a pair of vibrating underwear. I could have swallowed a lot more of the movie a lot easier if the actors had sold it a bit more. Even in the most dangerous moments a lot of the main characters didn't seem all that concerned (see: Karen Allen smiling like she's high on crack).

John Hurt was impeccable as always. It doesn't matter what he does he does a great job. Cate Blanchett was a good choice. She did a good job as the bad guy and it looked like she was having some fun with the role. Now I've loved Ray Winstone ever since I saw him in Sexy Beast ("Oh, yeah. Bloody hell. I'm sweating in here. Roasting. Boiling. Baking. Sweltering.") but his character didn't seem all that fleshed out. This is not Ray's fault. Ray did a great job. But for a main antagonist I just didn't get a good feel for the character or his motivation, or why Indiana kept him around until the very end! Is he a triple agent? It must be the senility kicking in.

Last but not least was the Big Whip himself, Harrison Ford. Now there were some times in the movie when it felt like old times, but then there were times when it felt less like Indiana Jones and more like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. There was some good work on Ford's part as we saw into Henry Jones Jr.'s professional life and to see the kind of lonely, old professor he had become. Although he had the Dean who resigned to protect him (and with barely a word of thanks from Indy. Or a promise to help him and his wife financially. For god's sake man, this guy was willing to quit his job for you, at least buy him a coke or get him a hooker or something.). While not quite up to par, I think Ford still gave a solid performance.

I'm just about to wrap this up because I realize that I've been going on for some time. The reason is I think I'm so torn about this movie. There was so much that I liked (I hope when I travel I can get the magic Red Line of Power to trace my path) and so much that I wanted to like because it was Indiana jones, but there was also so much that tested my faith. I mean I could forgive SURVIVING A NUCLEAR BLAST!, the crazy Mummy-style antics (Bugs that eat people whole? You can't tell me that you didn't think of Brendan Fraser during that whole scene. Or Ray Winstone trying to steal all that stuff at the end just like the douche bag Beni in the Mummy. Yeah, who cares what his real name is.) the selective magnetism of the Crystal Skull, and the over the top humour, and the whole lack of follow-up on the CIA investigating Indy thread, but on the other hand I shouldn't have to do all this forgiving to enjoy a movie.

This is the kind of movie that I think I'm going to enjoy a lot more the second time I see it. As far as twenty-year-later sequels go, it is definitely better than that piece of crap Live Fee or Die Hard but not quite as poignant as Rocky Balboa. I mean the last scene of The Last Crusade was this iconic riding off into the sunset and this sort of reconciliation between father and son. Now the series leaves off with a cheesy wedding scene? This fourth movie just seemed to lack the scope of the first three. Would I recommend seeing this movie? Yes. It is still Indiana Jones, and although it is definitely the worst of the series, the worst Indiana Jones movie is still better than most of the crap that comes out these days. Rating: 7/10 = Glowing Crystal Skull

Monday, May 12, 2008

Summer Movie Season 2008

The hits just keep on coming. The summer started off with a bang with the awesomeness of Ironman and it looks like the trend will continue. Well hopefully. While I am definitely looking forward to Indianna Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (I love the trend towards succinct movie titles these days. Yeah I'm looking at you X-Men Origins: Wolverine) it is with great trepidation that I await its release on May 22. While it is without question that I will pay my hard-earned cash to see the movie because I am a consumer whore I think my worries about 20 year old sequels is at least slightly justified. Take, for example, Live Free or Die Hard. I would choose to live free: free from shitty, money-grab sequels that leave me with the aftertaste of a steamed testicle sandwich. I think it would be shorter to list everything that was good about that steaming pile of crap than to include the laundry list of sickeningly awful garbage that made up the bulk of the film.

There are several reasons I think the new Indy flick will not succomb to the same trap. First of all there is the god of sci-fi geeks everywhere, his majesty George Lucas. It seems everything this man touches turns to liquid money that flows right into his bank account. I mean even with his constant (and often bafflling) desire to alienate his devoted fans with suicide-inducingly annoying characters like Jar-Jar Binks and scene altering of his own holy teachings (Greedo shooting first? WTF?) he continues to make money hand over fist. The second reason is Steven Spielberg. Who among us has not been touched at some point by one of his magical movies? From classics like Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind (so close encounters of the fourth kind... some kind of anal penetration?) to movies that just blew your fucking mind when you saw them like Jurassic Park or Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg has more than proven his ability to direct the shit out of a movie. And while we can agree that Mr. Lucas is a cinematic visionary, he can't hold a candle to Senior Spielbergo when it come to directing (and congratulations to those of you who picked up on the Simpsons reference). The final reason is, of course, Harrison Ford who is a great actor and has helped create, dare I say it, the greatest on-screen action adventure character in the history of the universe? (Sorry Jesus).

The next movie, titled The Incredible Hulk, follows the tale of a simple man who seeks only compassion and understanding in the world. And when he doesn't find it WHAM! he turns into a giant green monster who will smash you and eat your kids for breakfast. While there is absolutely no logical reason why I should look forward to this movie following the mind-raping I sustained from the last Hulk movie (simply titled Hulk) I am still excited about this film. First of all they have Ed Norton, whom I love as an actor (and as a life-partner if he'd ever return my calls. What happened to us Ed?). This will also be the second independently produced film from Marvel, the first being Iron Man. Now after seeing that movie a glimmer of hope shone in my eye that they might produce... (wait for it)... a Hulk movie that didn't suck balls.

But of course the icing on the proverbial cake (mmmm.... cake) for any sane, semi-intelligent, red-blooded movie-goer this season is The Dark Knight. I mean unless you've been living under a rock or are deaf, dumb, and blind (and that's still no excuse) you have to have heard of this movie. If you are a fan of good superhero movies, or good movies in general then you must be in tune with the Batman. This movie has to be awesome. It just has to. Everything I believe to be true and good in my life is based on the fact that The Dark Knight will be amazing. If it's not I don't know what I'll do. I will have to reconsider every decision I have ever made in my life. Up is down, black is white, Grease was actually the best movie ever made. From what I've seen and read so far this movie is going to rock, and rock hard.
The first reason is one word: Christian Bale. OK, it's actually two words, but if Christian Bale told be two words was one word I'd believe him because he is a great actor and all-around better person than me. In my opinion I think Christian Bale is hands down the best actor working in Hollywood today. Who can play Batman? Christian Bale. Movie about Stephen Hawking? Christian Bale. Bio-pic about Rosa Parks? Call up Christian Bale. Second is the late Heath Ledger. Truly a great talent and from what I've seen of the Joker so far I am impressed. This Joker is a scary, murdering psychopath. In other words a true villain. Then you have Christopher Nolan in the director's seat. I don't know but after Memento I would trust this guy not only with any movie project but also the life and the life of my family (there's always a babysitting job ready for you at my house if this whole movie thing doesn't work out). Then he comes out with Batman Begins and The Prestige, the old double-whammy. Superb, just superb.

So there it is, my hope for the future (Well, the immediate future. Well, the immediate future of movies anyway). If you don't agree you can go sit on a cattle prod because unfortunately here in the Western Hemisphere we have the right to free speech, and until that changes (support Proposition 92!) I am still free to voice my opinion on a wide range of topics from movies to... something else I get excited about. BBQ maybe? Until next time I hope you enjoy the 2008 summer movie season.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Awesomeness that is Iron Man

I was recently witness to a cinematic experience that renewed my faith in both God and man. And yes, as you can guess by the title of this article, that film was Iron Man. As Marvel's first time out of the gate with a movie produced entirely by themselves without the interference, er, I mean partnership with a major motion picture studio it was an unquestionable success. Of course only time and box office numbers will tell if Iron Man is a success in the true sense of the word (ie. money) but as an obsessive moviewatcher, casual comic book reader (very little background in reading Iron Man comics), and general fan of awesomeness, I was definitely impressed. The special effects were superbly blended with the live action actors, the plot was well-thought out, and Robert Downey Jr. did a fantastic job as usual. And of course there is the wonderful direction of Jon Favreau (yeah, that guy from Swingers).

The casting obviously was a major part of what made this movie great. Cudos to Robert Downey Jr. for playing himself: a drunken, womanizing celebrity who exudes charisma from virtually every bodily oriface. He did a fantastic job of portraying Tony Stark, mixing the right amounts of humour, arrogance and humanity that made him so accessible to the audience. This was a great character study of a "flawed" hero. His chronic drinking (I mean, who brings alcohol to a weapons deal? I'm no expert, but ever since my uncle lost his leg after my cousin's 17th birthday party I have been a big supporter of the philosophy that "Booze and guns don't mix" let alone "Booze and weapons of mass destruction don't mix), and inability to commit to a serious adult relationship (Banging the reporter who questioned your ethical obligations as a weapons manifacturer: priceless) really brought him to the level of a mortal man, rather than some kind of goody-goody, indestructible super man.

Of course it was great seeing Jeff Bridges playing a bad guy. Ever since The Big Lebowski I have loved that guy. Of course after that flick I always think of Jeff Bridges as The Dude (He was a lazy man, and my personal hero) and it's difficult for me to reconcile the fact that he doesn't have a white russian in one hand, a roach in the other, and a flabby stoner's body, but he does an excellent job in Iron Man as the antagonist Obadiah Stane. Gwyneth Paltrow, who I was very surprised to see in this type of film, did an excellent job as usual. I've always loved Gwyneth (that's right, we're on a first name basis). She has an elegant beauty and she carries herself with such grace, not to mention the fact that she can act circles around most so-called actors today. It was also really cool to see Jon Favreau giving himself a small cameo in the movie. I mean, come on, wouldn't you?

As far as plot goes, this movie was lightyears better than several other superhero movies (need I remind you of the abomination that was Punisher?) The movie takes no time in getting into Iron Man's origin. It was pretty hardcore, what with Tony Stark being kept alive with a car battery at one point and crazy exploratoy surgery in some dank cave in Afganistan. I particularly enjoyed the lack of a sappy love story, although I did enjoy the interplay between Tony and Penny. I think that Jon Favreau really handled Tony Stark's motivation for becoming the metallic hero very well, not getting too cheesy, or having Tony suddenly swing from horny-drunken-millionaire-playboy to ultra-noble-tights-wearing-boyscout. Of course there was plenty of ass-kicking action leading up to the final metal-suit-wearing-man on metal-suit-wearing-man action. I don't know but watching giant metal humanoids fight each other to the death always makes me blow my load (thanks again Transformers for getting me through so many lonely, lonely nights). And thank you Iron Man for helping clean out my pipes again.

So overall impressions of this film? Excellent. Is it my favourite superhero movie of all time? Sorry to Mr. Stark and Mr. Favreau, but no. I can't really think of anything wrong with the movie ("The truth is.... I am Iron Man.") I still don't think it's quite as good as Spider-Man 2 or my personal favourite Batman Begins (which I'm sure will be knocked down to number two once I see The Dark Knight). But if this is a sign of things to come from Marvel's new line of independently-produced movies then I am definitely sold. It also gives me hope for the new Hulk movie. Overall I was very impressed and can't wait to own this puppy on DVD (or Blu-Ray now I guess). What a great start to the 2008 summer movie season. Let's hope it's a sign of things to come, because I just bought a bunch of new underwear just waiting to be creamed in.
Rating 8.5/10 = Shining Metal Helmet of Heroism