Saturday, May 24, 2008

Summer Movie Recap I: How Far Can One Fedora Carry You?

To get the bad out of the way, Avants described Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (from now on known as Indy 4 in this space) as “The worst combination of The Mummy Returns, National Treasure 2 and Alien vs. Predator. Or if you want all Steven Spielberg, The Goonies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I think this would accurately describe the plot of Indy 4, which is predictable, fuzzy and loses any sense of logic and reason in the final twenty minutes. While I’m a big-time plot guy and generally complain when it’s lacking (see: the most ballyhooed 2008 Best Picture nominees), the plot in Indy 4 is just a vehicle to get us what everyone went to the theater to see in the first place: more Indiana Jones kicking ass while the music plays.

Complain about the idiocy of connecting Roswell to the Amazon all you want – very few people would take up a stance against you – but if you can’t enjoy Shia LeBeouf and Cate Blanchett dueling on the back of two Soviet jeeps hurtling through the jungle at a breakneck pace, you went to the wrong movie. Could it have been better? Absolutely, as I’d only give it maybe 3 or 3.5 if we’re going out of five stars, but Harrison Ford didn’t disappoint in his reprisal nearly two decades later. Neither did John Williams’ score, the bull whip, the motorcycle chase, the fedora, Karen Allen, the cartoonish-but-awesome quality of Blanchett’s psychic KGB villainous or Shia, who will surely take a lot of criticism for even attempting to pick up the weather-beaten, signature hat, but I think he held his own with a character not particularly well-written. (I think it is safe to say that if George Lucas is in anyway involved with something, the dialogue will alternate between clunky and cringe-worthy.)

There’s part of me that’s disappointed it wasn’t better, but that’s going into it having not seen the originals in a couple of years, thereby limiting myself to idealistic, halcyon memories of them. I’m sure this one won’t come close to Raiders, but what summer movie could, considering it was an action-adventure movie starring Han Solo that almost, and should have, won Best Picture. But when going into it, take the approach of Mr. Roger Ebert, who is so undeniably giddy when reviewing the film that you can’t help but enjoy it as much as he did. After coming home from the midnight screening late, late Wednesday night, I was only slightly pleased with it. After reading Ebert, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Says Mr. Ebert: “Now what else can I tell you, apart from mentioning the blinking red digital countdown, and the moving red line tracing a journey on a map? I can say that if you liked the other Indiana Jones movies, you will like this one, and that if you did not, there is no talking to you.”

A few links I’ve enjoyed in the bevy of Indy stuff that came out this past week. Cinematical’s list of the best Indiana Jones moments, where Number Two is obviously the best, and one of the questions asked by Vulture following a screening of the movie: “How exactly — after watching the Ark of the Covenant melt a squadron of Nazis, and drinking from the Holy Grail — does Indy remain so skeptical about everything? At this point, wouldn't he just shrug and be like, "Sure, aliens, city of gold, why not?"” And perhaps the best of the best, lyrics to the Indiana Jones theme. Loses steam as it goes, but the beginning is brilliant.


I cannot wait for The Love Guru to fail. Everything about it, from the trailers to the awful plug on the Idol finale, has been rancid. When you consider that not only does it feature Jessica Alba, who has literally never held an important role in a good movie, and it’s going up against Steve Carrell, Princess Mia and Dwayne “The Rock/All I Do Is Open Movies At Number One” Johnson, it has to be doomed to a distant second place finish to Get Smart, right? Followed by a tumble further down the charts when Wall*E (guaranteed Pixar awesomeness) and Hancock (which I think is going to make big-time money due to the Independence Day weekend slot and Will Smith’s involvement) opens up?

Overall, I think this is not an overly exciting year for summer movies (unless Wanted, The Incredible Hulk, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Hamlet 2, Tropic Thunder and/or Hell Boy 2 really shine), but as long as Pineapple Express and The Dark Knight are awesome while Love Guru and The Happening fail, I’ll be a pretty happy camper going into a very shiny fall (new Bond and Potter).


Harold and Kumar 2 was just okay, but still an enjoyable matinee flick. I think everyone knew it wasn’t going to be as good as White Castle, if only because it would have to try so much harder than the original, but it certainly had its funny parts. Kal Penn and John Cho were still as enjoyable, and it was nice to have some Daily Show alums (Rob Corddry and Ed Helms) onboard along with the essential Neil Patrick Harris. You know everything is going to work out for the guys, so it plays out as a fantasy for both audience and characters, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The best parts were that the screenwriters knew that when things were getting too sappy or brotacular, so they would write in a random stranger to step forward with an insult towards our heroes. One question after Escape from Guantanamo, that when combined with Sarah Marshall, is the MPAA going to continue the trend of allowing full front nudity in R-rated movies? It’s not hurting anybody, and is good for cringing laughter, but the people who rate movies have always seen way too anal to let stuff like this go.


Iron Man was a great movie to get the summer blockbuster season started, although I question Marvel’s decision to announce nearly a half dozen future projects at once in an attempt to fill out the roster of an Avengers film. Robert Downey, Jr., was awesome as Tony Stark, but they’re going to need top-notch efforts from every single one of their efforts leading up to the Avengers movie, including the upcoming Hulk film that’s reportedly had a lot of behind-the-scenes difficulties, to pull it off. Not having Matthew McConaughey involved with Captain America is a good first step, but I think the Thor movie will be the trickiest by far, just considering the source material is relatively unknown and really weird, even for a comic book movie

Iron Man also provides a solution to the annual whining from the studios that nobody is going to movies anymore: If you make a good blockbuster, people are going to go to it. I can’t remember the last time a well-hyped summer blockbuster got good reviews and didn’t make money. Sometimes you can luck out and cash in on a crappy movie, but if just put talented people (Downey, Jr., Bridges, Paltrow, Howard, Favreau) in with great special effects and decent writing (plot had a bunch of holes, but there was enough shiny stuff blowing up to make them forgivable), you’ll probably have a hit.

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