Saturday, March 21, 2009

Movie Journal: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

To tell the truth, I had actually looked forward to Indy 4 for some while; though not excessively enough to find time to view it in theaters. Nevertheless, I was excited. Now that I've actually got around to seeing it, I have to say that not only is "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" the worst Indiana Jones film ever created, but it also happens to be one of the worst action films I have had the misfortune to see.

Now, don't get me wrong. I haven't seen loads of terrible action movies, but I have seen my fair share. And, truth be told, Indy 4 isn't all bad. But it just doesn't succeed where it counts.

Take Jones himself, for instance. As longtime fans of the series, do we not empathize with his situation when the Soviets are forcing him to assist them in their search of the Crystal Skull, which they believe will lead them to the ultimate power? Of course. But Jones' responses to these various situations gives us more of the impression that he's just trying to stay out of trouble instead of being in search of adventure. And who could blame him? He's gotta be at least fifty years old by now, right? It's unfortunate that he's really not the same Indiana we remember and cherish.

In fact, nothing we've cherished from past Indiana films is present here. Marcus? Dead. Jones' father? Dead. And so what we are presented with are a group of mostly new characters, the purpose of these being to replace the old, which never comes to fruition. True, some chords are struck here and there, such as during Shia Labeouf's character's introduction, when he is portrayed as something of a passive thief; a person who takes what he wants without asking, without thinking, and when he feels like it. But that's never really referenced again, and the rest of his character doesn't really reflect that. Also, Karen Allen returns as Indy's long lost G.F. Marion Ravenwood, but the chemistry between her and Ford just isn't there anymore. Not to mention that her character was really badly written this time around.

Perhaps the only character I connected with besides Shi LaBeouf's was Cate Blanchett's. Blanchett did applaudingly well as a Russian villain, and it's a shame because in the end she received the very worst fate among every bad guy in the movie.

The action shines in some moments, but really grinds in the third and perhaps most crucial act of the film. The creators attempt to keep things rolling with cute little domestic inter-character subplots between the main characters, which are badly hatched and executed worse.

Indiana Jones 1, 2, and 3 feature some of the best action scenes ever created, along with superb dialogue and legendary characters to carry it. Indy 4 is the sequel that should never have been made, because then Indy fanatics wouldn't have to pretend for the sake of the series that it didn't exist. Also, I really expected just a little more of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg both. Granted, it's not the worst movie ever made, but it just falls too flat for many people to care for very long.

What I think it comes down to is that, the rest of the series and any expectations aside, even in it's own right The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an ultimately unfulfilling story. It really is a bad movie.

5 out of 10

Friday, March 20, 2009

Movie Journal: True Lies

The first act of the film starts out with a strong, balanced action sequence that sets up the action-oriented element of the plot: that a group of terrorists are currently attempting to smuggle a nuclear warhead into the United States. Then, as the main character spends time at home with his family while the mission is on standby, the movie moves into the second act, the majority of which is a romantic comedy. The fact that these two elements of action and romantic humor can be juggled so effortlessly is in itself a grand feat, rendering True Lies an absolute must-see.

Just three years after the release of the amazing Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold Shwarzenegger returns to take on the role of Harry Tasker, a character who at first glance makes you think of both Rambo and James Bond. Not only is he tough and efficient, but he's got all the cleverness and playfulness of a ladykiller. So it's something of a surprise when he goes home to an ordinary wife and kid, both of which he absolutely adores, even if they don't know it.

They fact is, they both believe that he is a computer salesman. Harry's frequent and necessary lies for the sake of his work have formed something of a disconnection between him and his family. It's the family and marital issues as well as the terrorist threat that are balanced so well and effectively that we have to keep watching to see how things are finally resolved. Also, this is Schwarzenegger at his totally captivating and very best.

The action is best described as very well paced, very well structured, and very well choreographed. It may be of interest to the reader that there are some action shots that are straight out of The Matrix( or rather, there are shots in The Matrix taken straight out of True Lies). For a movie running at 144 minutes long, it's amazing that True Lies successfully has you absolutely gripped by it's over-the-top yet somehow very intense action throughout it's entirety.

As for the adjoining plot involving Harry Tasker's marital problems...I will tell you that the antagonist of this plot is played by none other than Bill Paxton, in one of his most absolutely hilarious roles yet.

Perhaps one of the only major complaints I have is a stylish yet obscenely sexual scene right at the mid-act climax that very nearly bogs down the pace of the film. It's relevant and short, and it's not particularly explicit, but it's just far too gratuitous for my taste. Overall, I guess it's not really a kid movie, if you know what I mean. Other than that, this film is action, romantic, and comedic gold.

8 out of 10

Monday, March 16, 2009

Movie Journal: Red Eye

Here is a film that, chances are, you've heard about at some point, even though you've probably never seen any trailers, posters, or ads for it. Red Eye is in many ways an underrated film, and mostly because people tend to expect it to be something other than what it is: a short, humble yet superbly acted thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Red Eye was released just a month before the thriller Flightplan, which bears many resemblances but is far more remarkable. Rachel McAdams stars as a hotel manager whose father is held ransom in order for her seatmate(Cillian Murphy of Batman Begins fame) to persuade her to adjust which room the senator is to stay in. The course of this conversation takes place aboard an in-flight airplane, and takes up a good majority of the film.

Don't get the wrong idea: Red Eye is every bit the sum of it's parts and more, which include rich, character-oriented dialogue and remarkable acting. Since when can you watch two people sit and talk for minutes at a time and be entertained? Not so often, these days. Usually the filmmakers have to introduce some kind of new element to keep things rolling before people start spacing out. Which is interesting because Red Eye throws little plot twists or surprises to speak of, but I assure you that if it had run much longer than it did my head would have exploded of overstimulation as it is.

Why this movie has such a low average viewer rating on most movie sites is beyond me, because it's truly great. Red Eye is a gripping, intelligent, and worthwhile thriller that deserves at least some of your attention. You will be entertained.

8 out of 10

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gran Torino Review

Though I wasn't sure what exactly to expect, it turns out that Gran Torino is a superb masterpiece, and in many ways a structurally near-perfect story of pain, death, and ultimate salvation.

Yes, Clint Eastwood stars in this movie, and no, it's not a "shoot-em-up". Eastwood plays a bitter Vietnam vet and an elderly widower with a somewhat paranoid contempt for his neighborhood and it's steadily increasing number of Asian immigrants, as well as the lingering new generation of ignorant teens, many of which constitute the proud gangsters prowling the streets. Eastwood's character's bitterness and disapproval is duly noted by his threatening, animal-like growl, as he glances at his teenage granddaughter and happens to sight her pierced bellybutton.

But make no mistake; Eastwood's contempt for the people around him in no way leads to our contempt of him. In fact, his behavior is perfectly charming because we suspect that deep down he's a real teddy bear. And he is. On a case-by-case basis.

For example: when an Asian kid tries to steal his mint-condition Gran Torino, he's not a teddy bear. Anyhow, turns out that the kid was pressured into it by a local gang, who have been haunting the family next door. As one event after another takes place in this man's life, the situation and the events revolving around it grow increasingly intense; from brutal beatings, to rape, and eventual murder.

Sounds rather dim, doesn't it? But despite these dark undertones Gran Torino is a very bright movie that's a great deal of fun all the way through. Though the majority of the supporting actors are brand new and fairly inexperienced(as Clint Eastwood has pointed out himself) their characters come across magnificently, and with a hint of complementary spontaneity that many have falsely accused of being shallow one-dimensionality. Don't listen to them; if anything, these characters come across as all the more authentic.

Eastwood's role is that of a man who struggles both spiritually and physically most of his life, but in the end finds redemption. This isn't just a good film, or a great one either. It's an absolutely superb and ingeniously crafted masterpiece that I'm really glad I didn't miss.

9 out of 10

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Public Enemies Trailer

This is a movie whose premise has me rather intrigued, so of course I've been looking forward to the trailer.

The tone is serious overall, and yet the characters and action are almost stylized to the point of being fitting of a dark superhero comic. Looks glorious.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Movie Journal: Appaloosa

Appaloosa is unlike any other movie of 2008 I've thus far had the opportunity to see. I feel like there's not much to say, but I will say this.

Appaloosa is a movie that has received very mixed reviews. Some say it's stupid, and a complete waste of the talents of both Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris. Read TV Guide's review and you'll see what I mean, and the same goes for Wall Street Journal. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, on the other hand, gave it three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "a potently acted powerhouse that sticks in the mind and the heart," and "gripping entertainment that keeps springing surprises." I disagree on both counts, but I also refuse to side with Maitland Mcdonagh's impression that it is "dull and preposterous." It may be dull, but it's not preposterous. Upon closer inspection the characters are actually very rich and enjoyable to watch.

At the same time, after almost two hours of watching these characters interact as they pursue their innermost goals, I found the eventual conclusion to be anticlimactic and unsatisfying. In the end, Appaloosa is not a truly great movie, though it is an impressive one.

7 out of 10

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Movie Journal: Horton Hears A Who!

This was a somewhat difficult movie to diagnose for me. On the one hand, it is after all based on a very intellectual story by Dr. Seuss exploring not only the concept of believing in things without proper empirical verification(seeing, touching, tasting, or smelling), but also the sacred worth of any form of life, great or minuscule. As Horton so eloquently puts it, "A person's a person, no matter how small." On the other hand, themes and messages aside, the movie itself is not so intellectual. Not only is Horton himself something of an idiot, he's also a boring stereotype, and undergoes little convincing development over the course of the storyline. The result is that his philosophical musings, which happen to be the whole point of the story, appear to be emitting from a talking head more than a character.

All things considered, the real stars are "the Who's": microscopic creatures living inside a small speck that Horton somehow happens upon. In fact, most of the time, Horton the elephant is just filler, as evidenced by an extensive 2D-animated scene of heroism taking place in Horton's mind that shamelessly and inexplicably pokes fun at Japanese anime and culture. Shame on you, Ken Daurio and/or Cinco Paul; whichever one of it's two authors that came up with that scene. Shame! Shame!

Anyhow, it's the elephant who somehow manages to contact the respectable Mayor of Whoville, who hears Horton's booming voice from above. It's a revelation to the Mayor that, as it turns out, his world is nothing but "an infinitesimal speck floating in space." The ramifications are tremendous: seeing as Whoville is small and fragile, the slightest impact could completely obliterate it. It's then Horton's job to find a soft, safe refuge for the world of the Who's.

Visually, Dr. Seuss' own graphic style has been recaptured fantastically. Not to mention that voice-actors Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell, and others do an amazing job of bringing the characters to life. And that's all well and good, but I also can't stand the fact that the plotline itself, aside from Dr. Seuss' original touches, is almost completely uninspired. It may be fun and actually quite entertaining, but somehow I think many of it's creators(aside from the artists and voice-actors) deserve little merit. Seriously: is there some "animated movie" guideline I don't know about that states that unless you're Pixar, at the ending of your movie all the characters must sing a song together? There's nothing worse than uninspired entertainment, so let's just be thankful Seuss had some in emergency reserve.

7 out of 10

Monday, March 2, 2009

Movie Journal: The Family Man

I can't believe I never really heard about this movie before. It's one of those movies whose first act is so well structured and surprising, you figure, "Well, that's just because the author focused solely on the first act, and there will be a drastic decline in quality during the grind of act two." So when the entire second act is just as brilliant as the first, you can't help but think, "Well, they'll botch the ending for sure." But then when the end comes, it works. And it works because the writer structured everything precisely, and everything leading up has been in specific preparation of the plot's climactic conclusion. That's my kind of movie.

One of the reasons the structure works so well is because the ending of the first act(or, "the inciting incident") throws us an almost completely unexpected curveball. Having said that, I had promised myself I would only disclose a very small dose of what the plot looks like in terms of details, because to properly prepare you for it would be robbery. However, I will tell you that Nicholas Cage plays a young man who moves from New York to London in pursuit of a job opportunity. His future wife, played by Tea Leoni, begs him not to leave, fearing that they may slip apart while he's away for a year. He promises that he will never stop loving her.

There. That's as far as I'm going, because the plot is simply too good to spoil. Throughout it's entirety it manages to remain facinating, vivid, and worthwhile, and I'd hate to ruin that. Just know that it is one of the very best movies I have ever seen, and the reason it's so great is because it taps into our basic emotions in an effort to cause us to consider what life is all about. And if, by the time the credits roll, it doesn't cause you to reflect on your life's priorities and values, at least a've got to be dead inside. That, or you are living the perfect life.

9 out of 10