Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Review: Indiana Jones 4

WARNING: The following review contains SEVERAL plot spoilers. If you haven't yet seen the movie, proceed at your own risk.
OTHER WARNING: I was in severe "geek mode" while writing this so please excuse my endless nerdy ramblings.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was among the top five movies I had been highly anticipating this summer. I resigned myself to the fact that it probably wouldn't live up to my expectations and that it would inevitably be somewhat different from the past Indiana Jones films but of course I still hoped it would at least be good. Prior to seeing it, I set aside all my pre-conceived notions and viewed it with a completely open mind, curious to see what new and (hopefully) exciting directions Spielberg and Lucas were going to take it in.

And here are my thoughts:

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a carelessly constructed mess of a movie, and a HUGE disappointment even for someone who had tried to shed all their expectations. Although there were a couple of fun action sequences and it was great to see Harrison Ford revisiting one of his most famous characters, the film's script was sloppy and idiotic, the characters are underwritten and one-dimensional, the storyline is lazy and predictable, and the ending is absolute nonsense. What should have been an exciting return to form for Spielberg and Lucas turned out to be nothing more than a barely passable, mildly-amusing adventure story with more plot-holes than you can shake a stick at. Which is a shame because Indiana Jones is one of cinema's most beloved action heroes and after a 19 year wait, he deserved better. MUCH better.

Considering the amount of time it took to make this and all the talent involved, there was really no excuse for this to be anything less than well-conceived. For something that's been in development for almost two decades, this movie feels awfully rushed and slapped together. The film is so haphazardly scripted (by hack screenwriter David Koepp) that I can't understand how any sane person would greenlight such a project and pour millions of dollars into it. For example: This time Indiana Jones HELPS the bad guys get what they want instead of trying to outwit them. There is a "surprise" subplot about Indy's son which is IMPOSSIBLE not to guess and which seems to exist only to set up future sequels starring Shia LaBeouf. Marion Ravenwood (Indy's love interest from Raiders of the Lost Ark) returns here but is completely wasted and shoehorned into a romantic subplot that feels forced and contrived. There are multiple scenes of boring exposition that really don't advance the plot all that much. The dialogue is inane and groan-inducing. I could go on and on...

One of my main issues with this film is the unbelievably silly "action" sequences found throughout, which are so outlandish and slapsticky, they could have been pulled straight from a Saturday morning cartoon. Although the original trilogy was frequently over the top, at least those films adhered to the rules they had established within their own universe. Crystal Skull expects us to go way beyond the reasonable suspension of disbelief we gladly allowed in the first three installments and assaults us with repeated scenes of Looney Tunes-type stunts which require enormous leaps of logic. As a result, we never quite become emotionally invested in the story or the characters. There is never any sense of excitement or danger for these characters and nothing ever seems truly at stake. A more well-crafted film would make us wonder how our heros will get out of dangerous situations even though we know they will. But here everybody seems completely indestructible and impervious to any laws of physics or reality and so we never care for them in any way.

For those of you looking for specific examples of what I'm talking about, here are four:

1. At one point, Marion (Karen Allen) intentionally drives her amphibious "boat-jeep" vehicle over a huge cliff, landing perfectly on top of a tree which is growing out of the side of the mountain. The tree then gently lowers the vehicle down into the water below and snaps back up, swatting the bad guys who had begun to descend the mountain on ropes.
2. One scene later, Indy and his sidekicks effortlessly survive THREE MASSIVE waterfalls (all in immediate succession) in their small, roofless boat.
3. Then there's the sequence in the jungle where Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) suddenly learns to swing through the trees like Tarzan after briefly observing some cartoonish CGI monkeys. He then magically leads an army of monkeys as they swing through the jungle and all inexplicably jump out and attack the bad guys just as they were about to run Indy off a cliff.
4. And who can forget the infamous "refrigerator" scene where Indy survives an atomic bomb by hiding in a fridge?

For a movie made by two of the most legendary and talented director/producers of our generation Crystal Skull contains a staggering amount of blatant plot-holes, continuity errors, and abandoned plot-lines that immediately stand out to anyone who's paying the least bit of attention. This is absolutely inexcusable for a major motion picture, ESPECIALLY one made by the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Here are a handful of examples which illustrate the kind of lazy, sloppy writing and complete disregard for continuity that plagues Crystal Skull:

- A plot line involving Col. Spalko (Cate Blanchett) having extrasensory perception is introduced in the opening scene and then completely dropped, never to be mentioned again.
- The film spends it's first 25 minutes setting up a plot line about Indy getting blacklisted for suspected Communist ties, and being forced to leave the country. But once the adventure begins, this is subplot is completely abandoned!! Gone!! Never mentioned again!! And by the end of the film, Indy is magically back in the States living happily ever after with NO mention of his blacklisting. Why would they spend so much time setting this up unless they were going to resolve it or work it into the rest of the story?
- Why would there be a jet car testing facility INSIDE of a giant storage warehouse unless it was put there simply to give Indy a cool way of escaping?
- Why would there be a nuclear testing site within walking distance of that warehouse?
- Why is it that during the debriefing scene, Indy claims to have no knowledge of Spalko aside from a physical description, and even asks the CIA men who she is when not only did she introduce herself to him one scene earlier, but he also calls her by name while making his escape ("Drop the guns or Col. Dr. Spalko is dead!")?
- If the Russians are stalking Indy at the diner and at the school where he works, wouldn't there be someone waiting for him at his house too?
- What kind of "help" would Indy expect Oxley (John Hurt) to get during the quicksand sequence? They're all out in the middle of the jungle with nobody for miles except the bad guys. And given Oxley's mental state, did he REALLY expect him to bring back anyone BUT the Russians???
- While stuck in the quicksand pit, Indy explains to Marion that the suction of the sand is so strong that pulling yourself out of it is like "trying to lift a car." This is immediately followed by Mutt using a live rat snake as a rope to pull them out of it (?????). If that explanation about "lifting a car" was the slightest bit true, that poor snake would have been torn right in half.
- The film establishes that the crystal skull is highly magnetic, but then it inexplicably loses it's magnetism anytime it's placed in a burlap bag.
- We see the Russians plowing their way through the jungle with a huge tree-cutting machine, and then a few minutes later there is a chase scene in that very same jungle which takes place on TWO SEPARATE PARALLEL ROADS!!
- How is it that NOBODY had noticed those enormous temples before? They were completely out in the open and easily visible from the sky.
- How could the ancient Spaniards have entered the alien chamber to steal a skull if the chamber doors can only be unlocked with a skull?
- Once the skull is returned to the chamber and re-attached to the headless skeleton, all of the 13 alien skeletons come to life. If being complete gives them life, how the hell would anyone have been able to steal one of their heads in the first place (even if they HAD made it though the impenetrable chamber doors)?
- If there were 13 alien skeletons, why did they morph together and form only ONE living alien? Why would an alien need 13 skeletons in order to live? The dead alien Spalko recovers earlier didn't split up into 13 skeletons.
- Why did the alien suddenly turn evil and brutally kill Spalko? This is never explained.

Now, a lot of people seem to really hate the fact that this story features aliens. I actually felt that bringing aliens into an Indiana Jones story made perfect sense given the new time period we find him in. This is the 1950's, a time when UFOs and aliens were starting to become part of the popular culture and many films of that era dealt with extraterrestrial beings and "saucer men." Aliens also fit into archeology because they've been used in several archaeological theories such as the building of the Egyptian pyramids, the "ancient astronaut" theories, and the Nazca lines. But somehow Spielberg and Lucas find a way to make this completely uninteresting and ridiculous; having no real payoff whatsoever.

Another major issue I had with this movie was the CGI effects. In spite of Spielberg's claims that CGI was to be used "only when necessary", there is an enormous amount of incredibly shoddy computer-generated effects beginning with the opening shot of the movie which features a distractingly phony-looking CG prairie dog. There are COUNTLESS scenes featuring obvious CGI that could have easily been done with practical effects. One such case is the alien which shows up during the film's climax. This has got to be THE worst looking alien I've EVER seen and I cannot understand why Spielberg didn't make use of his extensive creature effects department and employ an animatronic puppet for those shots.

Anyway, I'm done griping about this movie for now. There are still plenty of potentially fantastic films still to come out this summer which will hopefully erase my memory of this disappointment of a film and actually deliver quality entertainment with some substance. It's just a shame that once again I was let down by some supposedly top-notch filmmakers who resurrected a beloved franchise and then delivered a sub-par product.

*To be fair though, I really should't complain TOO much about this film. After all, ONE good thing did come out of it. That's right. THESE sweet little babies...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Oww!! My Mouth!

I went to the dentist the other day to get a filling repaired and while inserting the novocaine needle into my mouth, he hit a nerve in my jaw. I don't know if you've ever had this happen to you but if you want to know what it feels like, take some live jumper cables (preferably rusty) and clamp them onto your gums. Then ask someone to smash you across the mouth with a steel ratchet. That should approximate the amount of pain I felt.

Needless to say, my mouth is STILL sore from the experience and I can't even open my jaw fully yet. Once again, my theory that all dentists are secretly sadists is strengthened.

Anyway, I await your sympathetic comments below.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Naughty Skeletons

I found this picture in National Geographic. What the hell were those two people doing at the time of their deaths? I'd love to know the story behind this.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

My Review Of Vantage Point

Vantage Point is a film with a fascinating premise, a unique style, and plenty of thrills. Actually, I should rephrase that. The first HALF of Vantage point is a film with a fascinating premise, a unique style, and plenty of thrills. After that, the seams begin to show and the entire movie becomes silly, cliched, and downright boring - despite some very nice explosions, car chases and gunfights.

As the film opens, we learn that the President of the United States (William Hurt) is visiting Salamanca, Spain, where he and some other world leaders are about to publicly sign a counter-terrorism treaty in a town square in front of a huge crowd. Unfortunately for the President, this happens to be the day a group of terrorists decide to assassinate him. The President is attacked, and two large explosions follow. The rest of the film is spent literally rewinding back to the same events over and over, but from different viewpoints of the witnesses.

The problem with this movie is that it begins so promisingly and, like so many other lame mystery/thriller films, piles on the stupid twists and inane, out-of-place action sequences to try to keep the audience's attention instead of just telling a decent fucking story. The beginning part of this movie called to mind the great Oliver Stone film JFK, with it's dissection of a Presidential assassination, it's cast of characters who may or may not be involved in the crime, and it's offering of different viewpoints of the events. But about 40 minutes in, the plot becomes so convoluted and ridiculous, I found myself rolling my eyes more than once. It's hard enough to buy the idea that the President wasn't actually shot and the person who we see murdered in the town square was really just his identical double, but then we're asked to believe that ONE man with a gun was later able to sneak into the hotel which was housing the real President, shoot his way through several floors of Secret Security agents, and then kidnap him by carrying him out on a stretcher covered with a blanket (Oh, by the way, spoiler alert!!)

Nevermind that the film never explains why these people want to kidnap the President. Or why they'd go through the trouble of shooting a man they knew wasn't the real President. Or why they'd spend more manpower on the fake assassination than they did on the kidnapping, which was their main objective.
And then the head Secret Security agent (played quite effectively by Dennis Quaid), who we've come to care about because of his tragic past and his loyalty to protecting the President, suddenly turns into an action hero and engages in an extended car chase through the crowded streets of Salamanca where he not only causes hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage while in pursuit of one car, but also manages to drive through outdoor cafes and street markets without hitting a SINGLE pedestrian. Oh, and did I mention that his car gets rammed by a giant speeding truck, crunched up against a building, and yet he manages to hop right out of the vehicle completely unscathed in order to continue his chase on foot? Yeah. Cuz that happens.

This is a film which could have been great. But unfortunately the film-makers dropped the ball and opted to go the cheesy, overblown route with their story. That's not to say the film isn't fun to watch. But any fun I had while watching this movie was immediately cancelled out by the frustration of knowing these film-makers had the ingredients for a fantastic film, and blew it. Oh well. I think I'll go watch JFK again now.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Little Rant About The 2008 Academy Awards

Okay I just finished watching the Oscars and there are a couple of things I need to get off my chest. These are my biggest gripes and the things that literally got me angry as I watched the ceremony.

1. Diablo Cody ("Juno") won for Best Original Screenplay. This infuriates me to no end. Although "Juno" was funny and quirky and kooky and yadda yadda yadda, it was just NOT award-caliber writing. Although it had flashes of brilliance here and there (particularly with Juno's parents and Jennifer Garner's character) and contained the occasional clever idea, it just seemed like it was more of a platform for Diablo Cody to show off how "hip" and "cool" she could be. She took these characters which could have been great, and completely betrayed them by turning them into pseudo-clever, annoyingly phony slang talking, pop-culture spewing cartoons. The dialogue was not only unrealistic, tiresome and groan-inducing, but flat-out distracting, and it's a sad day for the motion picture industry when their top award goes to a screenplay who's typical lines include things like: "Your eggo is preggo", and which contains such devastatingly irritating repartee such as this:

Leah: Yo Yo Yiggady Yo.
Juno: I'm at suicide risk.
Leah: Juno?
Juno: No, it's Morgan Freeman. Do you have any bones that need collecting?
Leah: Only the one in my pants.
Juno: I'm pregnant.
Leah: What? Honest to blog?
Juno: Yeah. Yeah, it's Bleeker's.
Leah: It's probably just a food baby. Did you have a big lunch?
Juno: No, this is not a food baby all right? I've taken like three pregnancy tests, and I'm forshizz up the spout.

Give me a fucking break. Thank Christ it didn't win Best Picture or else I REALLY would have shit a brick.

Part of constructing a great script is knowing how to balance things like jokes and drama, dialogue and action, quirkiness and reality... And in these departments, Cody is completely inept. I'll admit, "Juno" was not a BAD film. It had it's charms, it was occasionally funny, and it was even somewhat touching. But do these things make it more deserving of an Oscar than "Michael Clayton" or even "The Savages" - two smart, expertly crafted scripts with a MILLION times more substance?? Not by a long shot.

2. Paul Thomas Anderson (director of "There Will Be Blood") didn't win a SINGLE FUCKING AWARD. This is a crime, plain and simple. While I love and adore Joel and Ethan Coen, and I'm happy that they won their awards tonight, I think it was unfair to snub Paul Thomas Anderson and send him home completely empty-handed. "There Will Be Blood" was AS OUTSTANDING as "No Country For Old Men" and PTA deserved SOME kind of award for it. While I feel that "NCFOM" deserved the best adapted screenplay award and possibly even best picture award, PTA did some of the most amazing work I've seen all year and I am very saddened that he lost in all categories.

Anyway, this concludes my grumpy little rant for now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Review: The Films Of 2007

THE BEST: (and of course I HIGHLY recommend each one of these:)
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
3:10 To Yuma
Sweeney Todd
The Hoax
Mr. Brooks
The Assassination of Jesse James..
Michael Clayton
Gone Baby, Gone
American Gangster

Top Films That Everyone Raved About But Just Didn't Impress Me:
Pirates Of The Caribbean 3
Harry Potter Number..Uh..What The Fuck Number Are We On Now? I lost count.
Spiderman 3

Movies That Were Shit But Hey, What Did I Expect?
Ghost Rider
Shrek 3
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
Hannibal Rising
Balls of Fury
30 Days of Night

Movies Which If You've Seen Voluntarily, I MIGHT Not Ever Speak To You Again:
I Know Who Killed Me
Epic Movie
Are We Done Yet

Best Example Of Why Larry The Cable Guy Must Be Assassinated:
Delta Farce

Best Case Of HORRIBLE Special Effects Ruining An Otherwise Okay Movie:
I Am Legend (I can think of NO reason why they couldn't have used real people as the creatures. When will Hollywood learn that video-game graphics = NOT SCARY??)

Best Portrayal Of A Flaming Homosexual By A Tough-Guy Actor:
Robert DeNiro in Stardust

Worst Misuse of Comedic Geniuses In Shitty Films:
Jim Carrey in The Number 23
Eddie Murphy in Norbit

Biggest Career Low-Point For Cuba Gooding Jr. (Of THIS Year):
Daddy Day Camp

Films That Got A Bad Rap But I Actually Kinda Enjoyed:
Rush Hour 3
Kickin' It Old Skool
Hot Rod
Live Free Or Die Hard

Movies That SHOULD Have Been On My "Best" List But Just Didn't Do It For Me:
The Darjeeling Limited
The Mist
The Simpsons Movie
Charlie Wilson's War

Movies That Were Actually OK and Deserve Honorable Mention:
Knocked Up
Ocean's 13
Mr. Bean's Holiday
Walk Hard

Movies I Didn't Even Bother With Because, Come On, Are You Serious?
Wild Hogs
Evan Almighty
The Game Plan
License To Wed
National Treasure 2
Resident Evil: Extinction
The Hills Have Eyes 2
Hostel 2
Good Luck Chuck
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising
Dragon Wars: D-War