Categories
3 Stars Movies

Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t bargain or negotiate in The Fugitive

Everyone remembers Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive for Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones’ chemistry (despite rarely sharing the screen) and its iconic action pieces (especially the train and dam sequences). But all of this must hang upon a plot framework, and the lopsided movie’s momentum dissipates as it gets bogged down in the details. The first half is so singularly focused on thrills, that it fails to set up the unexciting pharmaceutical company corruption details introduced too late in the game. For a movie like this, the conspiracy should be as interesting as the action.

It’s also hard to overlook the fact that the Marshal’s (Jones) most defining character trait, that the audience is clearly expected to admire, is that he proudly does not bargain or negotiate. Faced with a hostage situation involving a person of color, his solution is to summarily execute. I suppose this is to raise the stakes for the titular fugitive — you’ll be shot dead before you’re arrested — but even to early ’90s audiences, it’s impossible to imagine a U.S. Marshal treating an affluent white felon the same way as a poor black felon. Seems awkward now that this role earned Jones an Academy Award and a sequel.

Categories
2 Stars Movies

Brad Pitt works out his daddy issues in space, in Ad Astra

Maybe this isn’t fair, but I couldn’t help but associate Ad Astra with Joker. If Joker is a shallow remix of Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, Ad Astra is a bland smoothie of Solaris and Apocalypse Now, with a cavalcade of stars you may remember from Space Cowboys and Armageddon. I half expected Harrison Ford to appear, standing in a corner, creepily ordering Brad Pitt to “terminate, with extreme prejudice” — so it’s more Apocalypse Now than 2001: A Space Odyssey, which at least had the decency to have jokes.

But really, Ad Astra is merely the story of an emotionally repressed mope, working through his daddy issues by haphazardly murdering a bunch of people just like his dad did — as if they were mere bureaucratic red tape stopping the only person in the universe that can save the universe from saving the universe — and then, having saved the universe, finally becoming ready to open his heart to Liv Tyler. Anybody out there have any empathy for someone who can’t open their heart to Liv Tyler? Pure fiction!

And as for its pseudo-sciencey verisimilitude, somewhere, Kim Stanley Robinson is banging his head against his writing desk.

Categories
3 Stars Movies

Indiana Jones returns to form in The Last Crusade

In order to catch up on the overwhelming backlog of movies I intend to cover here on this blog, this blogger is going to keep it brief with a few disconnected bullet points:

• Re-watching the original trilogy as an adult is an interesting experience; even the first time around as a kid I was right: Raiders of the Lost Ark is excellent, rip-roaring fun, The Temple of Doom is borderline offensive crap, and The Last Crusade is thankfully a return to form. Gone are the annoying kids and mean-spirited xenophobia, and back are the Nazi-punching and Judeo-Christian overtones.

• After a fun pre-credit sequence set in 1912 Utah (featuring the late River Phoenix doing a brilliant Harrison Ford impression), The Last Crusade is set in 1938. The previous installment was set prior to the first, neatly sidestepping any hint of Indy dumping Marion (Karen Allen). Apparently Spielberg and Lucas stopped caring, and this time just went ahead and implied that he did, after all.

• The biggest area of improvement over the lamentable Temple of Doom is in the “Indy Girl” department. After the spunky Marion and the ditzy Willie, we were due for a third stereotype: the femme fatale. Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) is both a worthy love interest and nemesis to Indiana Jones. And Henry Sr. (Sean Connery) totally hit that! Way to go, old man.

• Why did Elsa wait until the most dramatic moment to reveal her true identity, and capture Indy and the diary? The woman has a knack for melodrama.

• Fun fact: Each film in the series starts with the Paramount logo mirrored in a landscape or prop.

• Must read: Indiana Jones and the Fonts on the Maps, an analysis of the anachronistic typographic choices made in the films’ iconic animated maps (via Daring Fireball).

Categories
4 Stars Movies

They don’t make PG movies anymore like Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark

In order to catch up on the overwhelming backlog of movies I intend to cover here on this blog, this blogger is forced to cover Raiders of the Lost Ark with only a few disconnected bullet points:

  • The 2008 DVD reissues of the classic Indiana Jones trilogy have terribly designed menus; it looks like everything’s been overprocessed with Photoshop’s “Dust and Scratches” filter.
  • The zippy, witty screenplay is by Laurence Kasdan, known to genre geeks as the beloved writer of the best Star Wars script, now and forever: The Empire Strikes Back.
  • Hey, it’s that guy! A young Alfred Molina briefly appears in his first film role. In the DVD bonus features, he recounts an amusing tale involving his lack of difficulty in evoking fear in his performance as a batch of real tarantulas scrambled across his face.
  • Karen Allen is really winning as the hard-drinkin’ Marion, and it’s a pity she never became a bigger star, or at least appeared in the second and third installments. She was robbed!
  • Does the Indiana Jones franchise really give the field of archaeology a good name? Indy is motivated by money; he loots relics without the permission of indigenous peoples, and sells them to a museum associated with the university where he teaches. It’s implied his job or tenure – and that of his boss Marcus – depend on it.
  • I think I had the official coloring book as a kid, and I recall being fascinated by the concept of lost cities buried under sand.
  • For better or for worse, the practical details of the phantasmagoric climax are left unexplained: why is the Ark empty, why does it make bad guys’ heads explode and/or melt, why does it matter if your eyes are open or not, and how does Indy know all this information?
  • There’s lotsa drinking, gunplay, gore, and German profanity – in other words, all the stuff kids love! They don’t make PG movies like this anymore.
  • Kids, the moral of the story is: anyone with a non-American accent is not to be trusted.
Categories
3 Stars Movies

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the second worst Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is ultimately disappointing, especially if one reflects too much on its plot and basic plausibility, but it has some to commend it. It is also far from the worst entry in the franchise (that would be Temple of Doom – blech! stay tuned for our forthcoming teardown of that stinky turd), which admittedly isn’t saying much.

The basic concept (reportedly conceived by producer George Lucas and viewed askance at by director Steven Spielberg and star Harrison Ford) is sound. The original trilogy was set in the 1930s, and as such the first and third films mostly concerned Indy battling the Ratzis. So, whom better for an older Indiana Jones to face off against in the 1950s than Commies and UFOs? No really, sounds like fun to me! Unfortunately, the end result is muddled with bits of business about El Dorado, and saddled with a disappointingly conservative tsk-tsk disapproval of the rascally Indy’s wayward ways with women. But perhaps the focus on marriage and the restoration of a broken nuclear family was also a conscious allusion to the conformist 1950s?

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Vee haff vays of making you talk

Cate Blanchett is far and away the best thing in it, but then again, she usually is. Rocking a severe bob and outrageous accent (the subject of Indy’s best gag: “Well, judging by the way you’re swallowing your wubbleyous, I’m guessing Russian”), Blanchett can take a line as boring as “Take the thing and put it in the car” (I’m paraphrasing) and steal the scene with it. However, this blogger is puzzled by the ubiquity of sudden A-lister Shia LeBeouf. He is not especially handsome, funny, charismatic, or even a skilled action performer. But Stephen Spielberg seems to have a man-crush on him, so here he is. Let’s hope saner heads prevail and don’t make him the star of future sequels. There can only be one Young Indiana Jones; we miss you, River Phoenix. It’s a treat to have Karen Allen back at last. Unfortunately, there’s no John Rhys-Davies or Sean Connery to be had, but in a pinch, Ray Winstone will do fine.

Of course modern action movies get compared to video games all the time (often derisively, mostly deservingly), but The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is one of the most overt offenders I’ve seen yet. Sequences like the one in which the gang must solve puzzles like racing down a spiral staircase as the steps retract and the ground falls away will no doubt translate more or less intact into the film’s official game.

The biggest classic Indy theme missing from Skull is that of religion. In the first film, Indy tracked down the honest-to-Moses Ark of the Convenant. The MacGuffin of the second film was a set of Hindu (well, a derogatorily fictionalized version thereof) sacred stones. The third installment went back to the franchise’s Judeo-Christian roots and had Indy pursue none other than The Holy Grail. Indy sometimes dismisses religious traditions as myth, but usually doesn’t have any trouble accepting that the 10 Commandment tablets and the Grail are anything less than actual objects. There are no mere metaphors for Indiana Jones!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
You never introduced me to your father!

In keeping with the religious overtones, all three parts of the original trilogy end in psychedelic freakouts: witness an empty Ark explode Nazi heads, sacred stones magically relieve a village’s famine, and a Grail cause an earthquake. So as much as I may have hated Skull’s mystifying, CGI-drenched finale in which a bunch of alien corpses become one living being that does something glowy to Irina Spalko and launches his spaceship off into another dimension (all of which is like an unholy love child of the X-Files feature film Fight the Future and Spielberg’s own A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), it is actually in keeping with the endings of the original three films (even the “good one,” of course, Raiders). If you don’t believe me, go back and watch them again.


Must read: Rod Hilton’s hilarious, cutting The Abridged Script.

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