Archive for May, 2008

What ‘Crystal Skull’ Should’ve Been…(spoilers)

After some discussion with people who either liked Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull more, or less, than I did, I began to realize what the screenplay was lacking. The overall premise of the story shouldn’t really matter, be it the search of crystal skulls, magical stones, or holy cups, rather it’s what lies underneath it. The subtext, if you will. I know, the Indiana Jones series isn’t meant to be taken seriously, they’re just fun throwbacks to the old-school adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s, and I can totally appreciate them for that. The thing is, a sequel needs to be at least as good as the movie that came before it, or else fans of the predecessor will get upset. I think Star Wars, as a series, solidified itself in the pantheon of great films because of The Empire Strikes Back, a film considered to be, story-wise, superior to the original. It was like Lucas was saying, “We know they’re expecting better visuals, but what if we gave them a grander and more personal story, too?”

The Indiana Jones series, I think, faltered a bit with Temple of Doom. While the movie itself was fine, it felt like more of the same, just with a new sidekick (Short Round instead of Sallah), new woman (Mrs. Spielberg…I mean Kate Capshaw replacing Karen Allen), and new location (India instead of the Middle East). While Temple of Doom was darker, I felt it added some real threat to Indy and made him feel less invincible. To this day, I still cringe when he’s tied to that rack and lowered into the pit. I just felt that the movie didn’t advance anything. I personally didn’t feel I learned anything new about Jones.

The redeeming film, for me, was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. On the outside, it was more of the same. Indy’s globe-trotting with Sallah again, and he’s got a beautiful blond German girl along for the ride, in search of the legendary Holy Grail. What made this one stand out was that when they added in Sean Connery as Dr. Jones, Sr., Steven Spielberg really went with it. The last scene where they’re in the Grail’s resting place is pivotal, not just from a plot standpoint, but from a character standpoint. Indy, and in turn the audience, learns a lot about the internal workings of the character not because of the Holy Grail, but through the interactions between him and his father. The filmmakers made us really buy into this relationship.

Now, with Crystal Skull, we’re supposed to buy into these new plot points introduced throughout the movie. I personally don’t have a problem with Mutt being Indy’s son, but it’s not what I wanted the movie’s subtext to focus on. The difference between Crystal Skull and Last Crusade is that more time went by between those two movies, as opposed to just five years with Temple of Doom and Last Crusade. Indy’s older, and though Spielberg and Co. acknowledge this within the first few moments of re-introducing Indy, I don’t think they play it up enough. I want to see a slightly more cautious Indiana Jones, a more reflective one. Again, I understand that these movies are really meant for pure entertainment, but I think that this latest one could have achieved something on the same level that Last Crusade hit: it showed us something about the characters.

Indiana Jones has been through a lot, and at his age he should be more nostalgic. We get a sense of this back at Indy’s house before he and Mutt leave for their grand adventure. However, if the screenplay had just touched upon this a little more, I think it would have a greater impact on future scenes, like when he meets with Marion again, or when he realizes he’s Mutt’s father. When I was mulling this over, I kept thinking about Rocky Balboa the sixth and final film in the Rocky series. I really liked that movie, it was a great bookend to the series and brought everything full-circle. A lot of people make fun of Stallone because he’s old (about as old as Harrison Ford) and he’s still playing these muscle-bound action stars (one of my cousins said he looked like an over-cooked hot dog), but he wasn’t trying to play Rocky Balboa in the final film as an action star. He was very sentimental (somewhat too much), but it brought everything down to earth at a level many of us can relate to. Rocky’s lost his wife, he’s distant from his son, his career is over. He’s now an businessman who’s relegated to re-living his experiences by telling people about them. I think Indy could’ve used a bit of that. It’s not enough to show us pictures of Marcus Brody or Indy’s dad, make us feel sorry for Indy’s loss.

I think that the age should’ve played a factor in some of the action scenes. Maybe then I’d feel more of a threat to his well-being. I know this isn’t the kind of movie where the hero dies, but I didn’t get this sense that Indy was getting hurt. He got pretty banged up in the previous movies, and he was young then. Show him with a black eye, or with a limp, or something that makes me believe that all this violence is taking a toll on his body. He’s sixty years old! I’ll totally buy that a sixty-year-old man is running, punching, swinging, but what I won’t buy is that this old man isn’t going to feel it in the morning. Think of the tension they could’ve built if Indy had some trouble seeing (the character does wear glasses) when he was firing that rocket.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: I still enjoyed Crystal Skull. What I believe didn’t work of many people was the connection. Weird sci-fi stuff aside, this film didn’t have a personal connection with people. The audience watching this will be made up of, primarily, people who have seen and loved the originals. What they were looking for was an acknowledgment of that, something more than just a picture or a run-in with a past character. When Indy walked down the aisle with Marion at the end, it should have felt like Han seeing Leia after being freed from the carbonite, not just a happy storybook ending. Again, still enjoyed the movie and, overall, I liked it more than Temple of Doom. It just lost that connect that Last Crusade established, not just the connection between the characters, but the connection between Indy and the audience.

But, maybe it’s not the fault of the writers or the filmmakers. Roger Ebert said this about The Last Crusade:

“If there is just a shade of disappointment after seeing this movie, it has to be because we will never again have the shock of this material seeming new.”

What I take this to mean is that, even if there will be sequels, it won’t feel fresh anymore because an original is hard to follow and an audience’s expectations run just a little too high. Or maybe it’s because nothing can truly live up to our childhood memories.

(images from Yahoo!)

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May 31, 2008 at 9:04 pm Leave a comment

World’s Smallest Ramen Noodle Bowl

Now all they need to make are the World’s Smallest Chopsticks.
clipped from news.yahoo.com

TOKYO – Japanese scientists say they have used cutting-edge technology to create a noodle bowl so small it can be seen only through a microscope.
Mechanical engineering professor Masayuki Nakao said Thursday he and his students at the University of Tokyo used a carbon-based material to produce a noodle bowl with a diameter 1/25,000 of an inch in a project aimed at developing nanotube-processing technology.
Nanotubes are tube-shaped pieces of carbon, measuring about one-ten-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair.
Carbon nanotubes are being explored for a wide range of uses in electronics and medicine because their structure endows them with powerful physical properties such as a strength greater than steel.
The ramen bowl experiment included a string of “noodles” that measured one-12,500th of an inch in length, with a thickness of one-1.25 millionth of an inch.
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May 29, 2008 at 10:34 pm 1 comment

Once: Spoiler-free Review

Using the phrase ‘Spoiler-free Review’ in the title of this post is kind of unnecessary, since the film Once is a very predictable movie, and you can kind of get where it’s going from the very beginning. That isn’t to say that this film isn’t engaging; on the contrary, every frame is filled with so much emotion and honesty, it doesn’t matter what the story is, you just become so enthralled with these characters.

Once is about two people, a Guy and a Girl (yes, those are their names), that meet, fall in love, and make music, all in the span of a week. The Guy (Glen Hansard) works in his father’s vacuum repair shop during the day, then performs on the street for money at night. While playing one of his original songs, he meets the Girl (Marketa Irglova), who instantly takes a liking to him. She tells him she’s seen him before, and wonders why he doesn’t play original songs during the day. The Guy replies by telling her that most people want to hear songs they already know. This starts a beautiful, if short-lived friendship that shows great insight into human emotion.


This is considered one of the first great musicals of our generation, but it’s very different from most musicals. Most films in this genre use music to support the story (be it a romance, adventure, etc). Here, it’s the story that supports the music. The events that make up the story just serve to be a platform for the music. Since both characters are musicians, it’s pretty believable when they break out into song. For example, the first solo song that the Girl has is when she goes to the store to buys batteries for a CD player that she needs to listen to the Guy’s demo songs. While listening, she begins to create lyrics for the music, thus becoming her first solo. There’s another scene later in the film where they’re recording in a studio for the first time, and it really just looks like they’re recording a song even though it’s another musical number for the movie, but you can tell the excitement they feel by being in a real studio recording one of their songs. It’s completely realistic, since the characters don’t randomly begin singing or breaking out into musical numbers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that this is such a refreshing way to do the musical genre, and I hope that future films experiment with this format.

The music itself is primarily an indie rock or adult contemporary sound. There’s no outlandish musical numbers here, just simple songs primarily with acoustic guitar and piano (Guy playing guitar, Girl playing piano). It’s the lyrics that really shine here, as many of these songs could stand alone as a released single, and while the lyrics don’t exactly follow the ‘story’ of the film, they act as a vehicle for the emotions the characters feel. I recommend buying the soundtrack, since the studio versions of these songs are excellent, and some feature orchestral strings that add a certain warmth to the music.  Oh, and Marketa Irglova kind of sounds like Emilliana Torrini, a singer from Iceland that sang the song from The Two Towers.

Once supposedly only cost the equivalent of $200,000 and shot with two digital cameras. It shows here, as it’s presented in a cinema-verite style that makes it seem like a documentary. According to Marketa Irglova, many fans of the film think it really is a documentary. While the movie may not be the most colorful or beautiful film to look at, the cinematography only adds to the believability of the story. No flashy colors or camera work (except the final shot of the movie), but life sometimes isn’t filled with colors or dramatic crane shots or sweeping pans of the scenery. The drab look only makes the emotion stand out more.

The acting is fine, even though both Glen and Marketa are not professional actors. They both know each other personally, and the director (John Carney) was in the band “The Frames” with Glen, and Glen and Marketa have worked on music under the name “The Swell Season”. This builds a believable repertoire that only true friendship can provide. Both actors claim that they want to focus on music and may not act again, and I somewhat agree. They aren’t bad actors by any means, but their real-life connection gives them something to play off of. Any other performance they could give opposite someone else (like a real actor) may end up looking flat.

I remember listening to the Ebert and Roeper movie podcast (before they stopped producing them for online broadcast) and I believe it was Richard Roeper that said it was a shame it received an ‘R’ rating. Sure, they drop the ‘F’ bomb a few times, but it’s never in a malicious or hateful way. There’s absolutely no sexual acts or violence or anything else that warrant an ‘R’ rating, this is a simple musical that really deserves to be seen by a wider audience and the PG-13 rating would be perfect for it.

On a side note, don’t listen to any of the songs before seeing the movie, it won’t be as enjoyable. I saw Irglova and Hansard perform their winning song at the Oscars and I didn’t like it, but thankfully I gave the film a shot. Now I own the soundtrack and have it playing regularly on my iPod.

Discerning film buffs and musicians owe it to themselves to see this film, it’s absolutely beautiful. Go see it, then fall in love with the story. Then go buy the soundtrack, and fall in love with the music.

9.0/10

If you watch the bonus stuff on the DVD, check out the ‘Webisodes’ featurette. While there’s really only one ‘webisode’ (there could be more hidden ones), it features a song in the movie that wasn’t supposed to be in the movie, and it’s really funny.

May 28, 2008 at 9:41 am Leave a comment

Sydney Pollack Loses Battle With Cancer

He will be missed.
clipped from news.yahoo.com

LOS ANGELES – Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack, a Hollywood mainstay who achieved commercial success and critical acclaim with the gender-bending comedy “Tootsie” and the period drama “Out of Africa, has died. He was 73.
Pollack died of cancer Monday afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, surrounded by family, said his publicist, Leslee Dart. He had been diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago, Dart said.
“Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act,” actor George Clooney said in a statement issued by his publicist.
Pollack’s movies frequently had some of Hollywood’s best actors: “Absence of Malice” with Sally Field and Paul Newman, “The Yakuza” with Robert Mitchum, “Three Days of the Condor” with Robert Redford, and “The Firm” with Tom Cruise, among others.
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May 26, 2008 at 8:21 pm Leave a comment

Summer Movie’s I’m Looking Forward To

The Dark Knight

OK, first thing’s first. I love this title. There’s no ‘II’ or ‘2’, there’s not even ‘Batman’ in the title. But it’s so simple, it’s awesome. I really hope they call the follow-up to Superman Returns simply The Man Of Steel, just because it sounds epic without having too many words. I personally like titles that are maybe one or two words (Armageddon, Star Wars, Ran, and the list goes on).

Batman Begins was a prime example of how to jump start a dying movie franchise. Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, and Co. made Batman’s world believable, giving us a practically brand new series. You’d almost forget that there have been other Batman movies before this one.

Mongol

This German-produced film chronicles the life of Genghis Khan, from slave to conqueror. This film was up for an Oscar earlier this year, but has yet to be released in the States. It receives a limited theatrical run June 6.

Kung-Fu Panda

I’m a sucker for animated films, and this one looks great. Stupid, probably, but funny nonetheless. Pixar still reigns as king of the CG animated movie, but this Paramount release looks like it could be a lot of fun. Watch the first teaser that was released and the newest trailer and try not to laugh. If you don’t, then you have no soul. Just kidding.

The Happening

I love M. Night Shyamalan. I know that people hate him, but I’m one of those that think he is a great writing and directing talent. Even his weaker movies (Lady in the Water) I still enjoy. This one isn’t peaking my interest as much as something like The Village did, but I like the premise (strange occurrence causing people to basically lose certain motor skills). I also am a big enough Mark Wahlberg fan that I would have seen this without the Shyamalan name stuck to it. While I’m not a big Zooey Deschanel fan, I’m sure I won’t find her annoying here (actually, bland is more the term).

Get Smart

Those two words are all you need. I was a kid when I caught the reruns of this show on Nick-at-Nite, and have been a fan ever since. Steve Carell is one of the funniest men in Hollywood, and having him paired with the Anne Hathaway (looking hotter than ever) and The Rock is just a casting dream come true.

Wall-E

C’mon. It’s Pixar. I haven’t seen a bad Pixar movie yet (granted I haven’t seen all of them, still have yet to see Cars). It may also be interesting to see how they can pull off a story with all the classic Pixar charm when the main character barely even talks. Then again, watch the short film Lifted (found on either the Pixar short films collection DVD or the Ratatouille DVD); it’s basically a complete story told in about 5 minutes, with no dialogue.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D

I’m more interested in the 3D than the movie itself, but the movie could still be a lot of fun. And Brendan Fraser is one of my ‘guilty pleasure’ actors.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I wasn’t a huge fan of the first, but I still enjoyed it. This one looks way more exciting than the first, and it’s more of Ron Pearlman.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

I really enjoy the Mummy movies, since they’re like enjoyable second-rate Indy films. I’m glad they’re going beyond Egypt and into some other cultures, and I really want to see a Jet Li VS Michelle Yeoh smackdown. That would absolutely make this movie for me. And again, Brendan Fraser.

Tropic Thunder

The trailer for this had more rolling. I know that Robert Downey, Jr. is getting a bit of flack for his portrayal of an African-American (much like his character in the movie), but he just seems so damn funny here (“I’m just a dude playin’ a dude disguised as another dude!“). Throw in three great actors (well two, I don’t think Ben Stiller is that great of an ‘actor’, but he is funny) playing actors who think they’re making a movie, and that sounds like comic gold to me.

Pineapple Express

Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, and James Franco. That is a winning combination. Really, I don’t know much about this, but I just have a feeling I’ll be laughing my ass off.

Hancock

It’s a superhero movie that isn’t based on a pre-existing superhero, and that sounds like genius to me. This is director Peter Berg’s follow-up to The Kingdom, which was a decent action movie. It’s nice to see a more comic approach to the comic book genre. The movie’s page on Yahoo! says it best, “it’s a bit refreshing to get a look at great power without great responsibility.” Plus, Will Smith and Jason Bateman could be absolutely hilarious together.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

What a way to start off a TV show: make the pilot a movie. Seriously, though, it’s Star Wars and I’m a Star Wars nerd. ‘Nuff said.

HONORABLE MENTION

Wanted

Not too excited for this film, but it does look like it could be a decent action movie (I think it’s based on a graphic novel?).

The X-Files

I was a mild fan of the show and movie, so I’ll probably go check this out.

The Incredible Hulk

Supposedly, the filmmakers took inspiration from the 1970’s TV show with Bill Bixby, a show which I loved (I caught the reruns on Sci-Fi as a kid, it aired either before or after decently-adapted Spider-man TV show). Also, I heard Edward Norton was really fighting to make sure the studio didn’t mess with the movie too much since he really believes in this project. Could be interesting.

Traitor

Not a summer tentpole movie by any means, but that’s a good thing. We need some decent serious thrillers in the midst of superheroes, explosions, and animated comedies.

Eagle Eye

Not exactly a summer movie, since it comes out in September. The idea for this movie came from Steven Spielberg, be he isn’t directing, writing, or even producing it. This is also Shia LeBeouf’s first attempt at a serious adult thriller after spending the past couple of years dodging giant robots, Soviets, and a creepy neighbor.

Bangkok Dangerous

Is Nicholas Cage doing a serious action movie? Who’d have thought? I know this is a remake, but it’s being remade by the guys that did the original, so at least they already understand the source material. This could be either really awesome, or really bad (the Pang Bros. don’t exactly have the best reputation in Asia).

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

The trailer looked mildly funny, but I’m not the biggest Adam Sandler fan. However, I like the concept: a top Israeli commando becomes a hair stylist. So ludicrous it could be hilarious.

(images from Yahoo!)

May 24, 2008 at 1:30 am Leave a comment

Soviets Aren’t Fans of Indy

OK, the last comment in the excerpt below says it’s ‘anti-Soviet’ propaganda…well, duh. The Soviets are the bad guys, there’s nothing redeeming about them, so yes, you could say it’s anti-Soviet propaganda. The full article says that the Communist Party in Russia claims it’s anti-Russian, which the movie is not. These people just want something to complain about because they aren’t in control of their own country anymore (and good thing, too). Maybe next time, they should win a cold war and then they can make whatever movies they want to.
clipped from news.yahoo.com

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) –
Russian Communist Party
members
condemned the new “Indiana Jones” film on Friday as
crude, anti-Soviet propaganda that distorts history and called
for it to be banned from Russian screens.
“What galls is how together with America we defeated
Hitler, and how we sympathized when Bin Laden hit them. But
they go ahead and scare kids with Communists. These people have
no shame,” said Viktor Perov, a Communist Party member in
Russia‘s second city of St. Petersburg.
Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett (are) second-rate actors,
serving as the running dogs of the CIA. We need to deprive
these people of the right of entering the country,” said
another party member, Andrei Gindos.
Vladimir Mukhin, another member of the local Communist
Party, said in comments posted on the Internet site that he
would ask Russia’s Culture Ministry to ban the film for its
“anti-Soviet propaganda.”
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May 24, 2008 at 12:18 am Leave a comment

Spoiler-free Review: Indiana Jones (updated)

Pay no attention to the overly harsh reviews that this movie has been receiving. This is old-fashioned Indy that just happened to be made during the age of CG and 2-second cuts. All the adventure, humor, and charm of the previous 3 Jones movies is present here. And the film moves along at a brisk pace so that you’re never really bored.

What many people have been complaining about is that this movie lacks the ‘charm’ of the originals. While I will admit that there’s something missing in this one that was present in Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade, it’s probably because we’re going in with certain expectations that a movie can’t possibly live up to. Much like watching a movie adaptation of a book after you’ve read the book, what you see on the screen can’t live up to what your imagination has already created.

The movie starts in 1957, and Cold War paranoia has already set in around the country. Indiana and his friend Mac (Ray Winstone) have just been kidnapped by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), a Soviet officer assigned to find supernatural artifacts that may give an edge to the Soviets over the United States. I’d try and explain what happens next, but really, it doesn’t matter. It’s Indiana Jones and all you need to know is Indy cracks his whip, leaps from moving cars, and runs from angry Soviets.

What I admire about this movie is that it really is old-school filmmaking. Spielberg, Lucas, and Co. continued the tradition of updating old 1930’s serials and produced a fun, action-filled movie that should appeal to movie goers of all ages. Fans of the original trilogy will love the nods to the old films, much like the warehouse chase in the beginning (look for a certain crate to partially break open, revealing something from the first film) and how they decided to use the old 1970’s Paramount logo versus the new one with the flying CG stars.

While the story has a bit of an unusual sci-fi twist (looks like someone let George Lucas into the writing room), it works for the most part. Again, the story doesn’t matter since it’s the action and the thrills that drive this series. You’ll find plenty of action here, with a fun motorcycle chase ending in the school library (and a cameo by Chet Hanks, son of Tom Hanks), a very innovative jungle chase that includes swinging from tree branches and a sword fight while standing between two moving vehicles (slightly reminiscent of the brawl on the tank in The Last Crusade). The humor is also amped up a bit, especially between Jones and Marion Ravenwood.

Marion Ravenwood also makes a great return as mother to Shia LeBeouf’s Mutt. It’s nice to see the series come (somewhat) full-circle with the return of Karen Allen. LeBeouf also does a great job as Indy’s new sidekick. While I think I like him more in Michael Bay’s Transformers (I thought the character was a little more ‘believable’), he’s still fun to watch especially when he puts on this fake macho facade. I don’t buy him for a second as a tough guy 1950’s greaser, but as a sidekick, he’s fine.

What didn’t work so well for me was Ray Winstone’s Mac. His character really wasn’t needed and he felt like more of a replacement for John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah from the first and third films. Also, what’s up with Jim Broadbent? Again, another replacement character (Broadbent’s Stanforth replacing the late Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody) that isn’t important to the story, or the background information, primarily because we don’t see how Stanforth or Mac know Indy. I also have a bit of an issue with Blanchett’s character. She has this psychic ability that isn’t used…OK, maybe once, but her powers don’t work, so why bother giving her a power then?

These are minor squabbles, however, as the entire movie is really more designed to wash over you and let you just take in the adventure rather than focus on the small details. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull fits nicely into the series and I’d say is just as good as The Last Crusade, a childhood favorite of mine. While there aren’t any sequences as memorable as the boulder scene from the first or moments like the ‘leap of faith’ scene in the third, this fourth one, as a whole, is just plain fun.

Hopefully moviegoers will have a chance to see this in a packed theatre with an excited audience, since the Indiana Jones movies deserve to be seen that way. I saw it at a midnight showing with a crowd that included the young and the old, the casual fan and the hardcore (complete with costume). When the lights dimmed, there was applause. When the Paramount logo appeared, there was louder applause, and when you see Indiana for the first time, the crowd went absolutely nuts. I haven’t felt electricity run through a room like that since Revenge of the Sith.

I hope Ford, Spielberg, and Lucas will return to make one final installment, since I absolutely loved that ‘riding into the sunset’ shot in The Last Crusade and I feel that Indy deserves one more great send-off before being retired into the annals of film history. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull , however, marks the triumphant return of good old-fashioned adventure, devoid of any seriousness, but filled to the brim with pure fun.

8.5/10

(images from Yahoo!)

May 22, 2008 at 2:32 pm Leave a comment

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