Monday, June 2, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Well, that could have been much worse. As a franchise, I’ve never held Indiana Jones at all that high a level. I mean there are only 3 movies and one of them is the extremely flawed Temple of Doom. So when it came time for Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, all I wanted was a fun time. And hey that’s what it delivered.

It was nice to see the band back together for one more turn. This is one of the greatest roles in the history of film and Harrison Ford slips back into the fedora like no time has paced. Well, lots of time has passed but Indiana has never been a superhero so watching a man in his mid-60s fumble around and save the day is not that difficult to believe. Plus it is just awesome to hear Harrison deliver all of these lines in that weary seen it all voice. The return of Karen Allen was a big positive. She was always the best of the Indiana Jones females and the chemistry is still there between the two of them. On the other hand, Cate Blanchett is always awesome. This may be her first go around in a big ole summer flick, but she was a great villain. Maybe it was just the fun accent and the use of the sword. Who knows? John Hurt was fantastic in another one of his crazy ass character roles. You need an older actor to play wacked out of his skull? Find John Hurt. I didn’t even have any real beef with Shia LaBeouf; I have no real interest in seeing him take over the franchise but that doesn’t have anything to do with Crystal Skull.

Sadly, there was noticeable CGI creep in this installment. The past films have attempted to film as much as possible in camera. And that works for this type of movie. This is supposed to look and feel like something that was filmed over 50 years ago. Although it was all good work and never came off cheap, did we really need CGI gophers, Shia swinging like Tarzan, inter-dimensional gateways, just overall fricking aliens. I will freely admit that the shot of Indiana standing in the middle of a sandstorm with the mushroom cloud in the background was amazing. The inclusion of Ray Winstone’s Mac also irked me because it begged to be a character that we had already seen. The double/triple agent stuff would have worked better if we had seen their supposed history together. Or maybe I just miss Sallah.

Hopefully, The Dark Knight can find the middle ground in between Iron Man and Indiana Jones. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did not disappoint me but I still have room in my heart for another nearly perfect summer movie. Then again they made a 4th Indiana Jones film nearly 2 decades after the 3rd one. I am thankful for that.

8 out of 10

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

I hope the poor positioning of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian does not stop them from filming the rest of the series. Whoever thought there was money to be made sandwiched between Iron Man and Indiana Jones better have lost their job. It is disappointing to know that the vastly superior movie will end up making significantly less money than the original.

Although I am always in favor of darker more realistic movies, I found it hilarious that Prince Caspian took this so seriously. The movie was practically filmed in perpetually darkness. There were a grand total of 2 scenes that included any significant bright colors. The entire first scene was barely visible. It was perfect. I wouldn’t call the content adult but at the same time it was less about look at all the cute animals and wow they talk, and more about them mythical creatures are about to kick some ass. They even moved past some of the childish elements of the kids this time around. Maybe next time we can actually get a PG-13 rating.

After the first movie, none of the 4 kids left any sort of impression on me. This time around each of them were given their own time to shine. They were able to make the Peter/Miraz swordfight worthwhile even though it was a 16 year-old dueling with a 50 year-old. In fact it was very well done. As for Edmund, I have never read the books but I hope one of them allows him to take front stage. He gets a bunch of great lines, the High King bit, its his sword skills that prove their identity Trumpkin, and he gets to defeat the White Witch. Susan is the archer so she gets multiple scenes to look like a complete badass. Archery has the ability to look amazing in movies, so much so that I would actually look forward to Green Arrow or Hawkeye film. Lucy is still a kid so she gets all the cute moments but even still she was never grating and gets her moment in the sun standing alone on the bridge facing off against the whole army. They were the highlights of the movie. After them, you have Eddie Izzard who was amusing as the Mouse Knight but that’s just voice over work. Peter Dinklage also brought some weight to Goblin Trumpkin but ever since In Bruges all I hear when midgets are on screen are “they’re filming midgets!” That is not helpful. And are you really going to complain when you get to watch centaurs and minotaurs?

The actor playing Prince Caspian was the weak link of the movie. I thought Ben Barnes was decent in Stardust, but this time around he is forgettable. In fact, the whole Caspian/evil humans in Narnia angle weren’t that strong. The palace intrigue was very basic. And the final turn during the duel was funny instead of shocking. “TREACHERY!” Also the similarities to the Lord the Rings, fighting trees, Helm’s Deep type battle, were amusing, nothing to kill the movie though. There were just a bunch of minor annoyances throughout the movie.

I highly doubt that The Chronicles of Narnia will ever become one of my favorite film franchises. Still, Prince Caspian was a fun time and I do look forward to any future chapters. Hopefully starring Edmund and is minotaur buddy.

7 out of 10

Speed Racer

Speed Racer was somehow able to accomplish being a pleasant surprise while still being a bad movie. My level of expectation was at such a low point that I thought I may be walking into one of the worst movies that I will have ever seen. Live action Speed Racer, the Wachowskis going PG rated, the seizure causing trailer, there was nothing to look forward to. Yet Speed Racer was almost a fun time, if completely indecipherable during the races while destroying my ability to see properly for at least a week after the credits rolled.

What the hell was that? I understand that this is based on a cartoon but why did that mean psychedelic flashing lights going really fast? The racing did not make a bit of sense. I couldn’t follow anything onscreen. Then to make matters worse there were all these wacky obstacles on the courses that did nothing but make me scratch my head. In the end it became some sort of pinball machine with cars. Wheeee!

One of the really hilarious parts of Speed Racer was that the storyline was this very adult corporate espionage plot in a movie geared towards 8 year olds. Illegal backroom deals, fixed races to gain corporate contracts, assassination, these are the things all kids see when they sleep. Still, how bout them crazy costumes and pretty colors!

If I were looking to praise anything, it would be the casting choices. Emile Hirsch built up a reservoir of goodwill after Into the Wild, so if this is what he chooses to make then I support him. Hopefully his next choice will not be another waste of time. It is damn near impossible for Christina Ricci not to be painfully cute in every role. Well maybe not Black Snake Moan, there was nothing cute about that. Who doesn’t like John Goodman? I do hope that after 2 more seasons of Lost, Matthew Fox can continue to get roles in big movies like this. Then again after Speed Racer, who knows.

I'm fairly certain this could have been worse but since I could care less about Speed Racer as a franchise, I have no ill will towards this movie. It wasn't good, probably hurt some careers, and generally was a waste of time, but hey it won't be the last movie I see that fills those requirements.

5 out of 5

Iron Man

I’m not burying the lead; Iron Man is getting a perfect score. By the end of the year there may be another film that I place ahead of it, but for the here and now I will be completely satisfied if Iron Man is the best movie released in all of 2008. The expectations that I build up in my mind for summer blockbusters are completely unfair and yet Iron Man delivered on each and every one of them.

This is so much more fun when I get to be negative. But there’s nothing to complain about here. Why is the world so cruel! The storyline was tight; it was able to balance the origin story with the need for a big summer climatic confrontation. Though to be completely honest with you, if I had my wishes the sequel would actually be a prequel about the rise of Tony Stark. The beginning of this movie was so strong that I just wanted more of Tony in cruise control. The drinking, the whoring, the bantering with his friends, the stipper pole on the company plane, Tony Stark rules. Actually to be more specific Robert Downey Jr rules. All of this has been in comic book pages for decades, but it was Downey who brought it perfectly to screen. There was no better man to portray Stark's eccentricities. There is not enough praise to give the man.

10 years ago, if I had to list the comic book characters that would end up looking the best on the big screen, Iron Man would not have been at the top of the list. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to make a man in a futuristic suit of armor look completely legit on film. What they were able to accomplish here completely blew my mind. You see Stark building it piece by piece so when it is completed it looks like something that could be worn by a person. Of course it would be too heavy to move in, but that is where the magical arclight power source saves the day. Comics always have an answer. It got even better once the armor was in action. The flying was sweet, the repulsors looked good, all the weapons on board were fun, and it was even believable when Iron Man was going hand-to-hand. I want my own giant robot suit.

Although nobody was even in Downey’s atmosphere, the rest of Iron Man was cast to perfection. Terrence Howard as James Rhodes and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts are both ridiculous cases of overcastting. I appreciate them bringing class and skill to these parts but it is still funny to seem them show up in a secondary role for a summer popcorn flick. Jeff Bridges was having too much fun as Obadiah Stane. He wore those crazy outfits and shiny bald head with pride. As for Sam showing up after the credits, I think I blacked out for a few minutes after that. If going forward he pops up as Nick Fury in all Marvel movies, best news ever.

I can't wait to own Iron Man on DVD so I can watch it over and over again. Who knew Jon Favreau had this in him? What a pleasant surprise. If this is the beginning of a string of movies building the Marvel universe. good times lay ahead.

10 out of 10