Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Bitter Realities of Aging

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

This was a parody, right? Not a sequel.

If you view it as a sequel, and not just that, but a sequel that was 19 years in the making, well, sorry, folks, but it sucks.

So view it as a parody.

This isn't a bad movie, honestly. If you were a fan of National Treasure, The Mummy movies, or Danger Island from the old Banana Splits show, you'll probably love watching this. It's a fun ride, and worth a couple of hours of your time.

But I'm sorry, this isn't just a movie. It's an Indiana Jones movie. This movie set its own bar too high.

Let me start off with my opinion of the Indiana Jones series as a whole. It was one phenomenal first movie, followed by number 2 rushed out to capitalize on the surprise success of the first, and the third vainly attempting to recapture the lost magic of the first.

Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn't just a good movie, it was Iconic. It was Epic. It stands out as one of maybe three or four movies from my youth that truly drove me to the theaters time and time again, driven by the hope that somehow, all the other pap I was sitting through could break through and match the wonder and amazement it opened up in my impressionable little head.

The shame of it all is that I don't think even Spielberg/Lucas realize what it was about "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that made it so damn good. It wasn't the car chases, or the cliffhanging sequences, or the cartoonish bad guys, or the seemingly invincible hero who got out of scrape after scrape more on his luck than his skill. Instead, it was the over-arching sense of Awe that served as the backdrop for the rest of those elements. And not just awe, but GOD-awe.

Throughout the first movie in the series, you had a sense that something greater than us all was at work. You felt like there was an underlying mystery of epic porportions beneath all of the action you witnessed on the screen. Indy's quest had a sense of importance; he didn't seem like some greedy treasure hunter, he seemed like God's unlikely last hope to save mankind from the evil of the Nazis. Even the music conveyed this feeling.

And along with that sense of Awe, there was suspense. Every so often, the action stopped, and you were allowed to just stand and behold something magical and wonderful, with that edge-of-your-seat feeling of "hurry up, Indy!" driving the adrenaline into your bloodstream. (The scene in the maproom comes to mind, or the ending sequence when the Ark was opened.)

By the second film, that magical sense of awe had been completely discarded. Indy was no longer a hero, but a curmudgeon who reluctantly gave in to moral turpitudes in the end, obviously begrudgingly. There were no more stand-and-behold moments. There was just car-chase-shoot-out-fight-scene-Indy-gets-the-girl. Even at age 12, I knew they had lost the magic.

Now here we are, 26 years after the first masterpiece, and I sit once again disappointed. And not just that the magic is gone, but that even the elements that should have been slam dunks were bungled and wasted. The witty banter was forced and uncomfortable to sit through. The scenes of Indy's school-teacher life lacked the warmth and comfort that always contrasted so brilliantly with the danger he later got himself into. The humor was predictable and bland. Even the chase scenes were dull and plodding. It's as if Spielberg has aged even worse than Indy himself. He used to know action like the back of his hand; now you stare disinterestedly at the action like a liver spot on the back of his hand.

And the reunion with Marion? Marion, the ultimate heroin? Marion, with her raspy voice and sexy-tomboyish charm? Marion, who had as much fight in her as any guy in the film? Marion, the heroin who you wanted to see in all of the sequels, instead of the dumb, whiney eye candy they replaced her with?

Yeah, she's a fat dumpy hausfrau now, and her character is entirely useless. She does nothing but ride along. There is no spark or chemistry between her and Indy whatsoever. She might as well have been a mannequin. Even the reunion you have waited 26 years to see was, in the end, a disappointment.

So like I said in the beginning, take this as a parody. If you go in expecting very little other than some goofball characters lampooning a decades-lost greatness, mixed in with some good flash-bang special effects, then you will be entertained. But if you're looking for Indiana Jones's last hurrah to go out with the luster that he came in with, you're only going to learn the sad reality that even the greatest among us just grow old and wither in the end.

I give it a 6 out of 10. That nuke blast was cool.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Speed Racer: Turbo-Charged Eye Candy!

I'm pretty sure I just had a coronary watching this movie, so let me try to calm down as I write this review.

Speed Racer looked like someone shot a bag full of skittle across the surface of a pinball machine with an airgun. If you have ever wondered if live-action anime' could possibly work, wonder no more. The Wachowski Borthers (remember The Matrix?) have proven that it can.

But it's a delicate dance, so before this launches a whole new live-action anime's genre, let me just tell the rest of the directors in Hollywood, "You won't be able to do it like they did, so please don't try."

I had wondered, before going in, why A-List actors like John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Christina Ricci were signed on to appear in a movie that seemed to be so visually-driven from the previews. I mean, you'd think they could have signed on anyone with a heartbeat out of any old Studio Cattle-Call and saved themselves a buck or two. But live-acting an anime' series, without making it look completely ridiculous, is probably one of the more difficult things an actor can pull off in their career, and they found the best cast they could have to do it.

Slap on top of that the best visual effects so far of the year, and you have a checkered flag for the weekend Box Office receipt race. (Hey, it's a racing movie review; as a reviewer I'm obligated to use predictable cliche's, ok?) Borrowing from Tron and improving upon it a hundredfold, it is without hesitation that I call this a "visual delight." The Wachowskis have discovered a whole new frontier in cinematography, one that I hope they contnue to explore.

A few other small things made this movie particularly enjoyable for me, on a personal level: the bad guys were easily identifiable by their bad teeth; they had a chimpanzee in people-clothes, and that's always been one of my favorite things to watch; and someone near the beginning of the movie said "Holy Canoli," and I always say "Holy Canoli."

I give Speed Racer a grade of 8 out of a possible 10; the only real flaw that keeps it from being perfect is in the nature of the film itself. As a racing film, and not just that but a speed racing film, there are two hours of speeding cars throughout the movie, from beginning to end. That unavoidably lessens the climatic effect of the final race, since you feel like you have been watching the climatic race for two hours by the time Speed Racer makes his final pass over the finish line. But if that's all I can find to complain about, then you know it's going to be one hell of a ride.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Iron Man: The Greatest Movie... EVER MADE!

I kid you not... This was the greatest movie ever made.
It had explosions. It had guns. It had epic bad guys and smart-ass heroes. It had robotic fist-fighting and terrorists getting their come-uppance. It had battle-scarred titanium armor, super-models dancing in flight attendant outfits, and it even had JEFF BRIDGES- yes, the BIG LEBOWSKI HIMSELF!

The only thing that could have made it better would have been Gwyneth Paltrow in a slinky, backless evening gown-- WAIT!


THIS is a masterpiece. THIS is why CGI was invented. THIS is why movies are made in the first place.

Ok, am I overstating it? Maybe a little bit, but I don't really think so. Because on top of all the guy-elements that I had expected from this Juggernaut of a comic-book movie, it had another rare treat that blind-sided me:

Robert Downey Jr.

Now listen, I am honestly not much of a comic book reader, and I have never been a huge Iron Man fan in any other incarnation of the character. So I didn't go into this with an proconception of what Tony Stark was supposed to be.

But I can tell you what he was, as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr: He was the greatest Ordinary Man-turned-Super Hero I have ever seen in a movie. He wasn't a dorky Peter Parker or a stiff Clark Kent. He was loose, he was quick-witted, he was human, and above all he was fun to watch OUT of the Iron Man suit, and THAT, my friend, was something I never expected from a movie like this.

I suppose I should give some sort of "plot" synopsis, right? So you know what you're going to see? Ok, here it is: Tony Stark makes a super-suit and becomes Iron Man. The rest of the details don't matter. Just enjoy the ride.

It without hesitation at all that I give this movie a ten out of ten. Yes. My highest rating possible! There might be better causes you can shuffle your nine dollars off to, but as of right now there isn't a better movie out that you can waste it on.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Oh hell yes, am I ever in a great mood. Not even the inch of snow on my front law could dampen my spirits this morning as I left my house and headed off to work just before the crack of dawn. (Yeah, snow on MAY 1st!)

What's got me in such a chipper disposition? SUMMER.

"HappyBack, you idiot," you say to me, "it's only May. Spring has barely sprung. Winter's deathgrip hasn't even loosened its hold on the valley yet. See all that snow? Summer isn't even close!"

First off, don't call me an idiot, or I'll have to bring the smack down on your ass.

Second, summer, my silly friends, isn't determined by the temperature outside, or the date on the calendar. In HappyBack's world, summer starts when the multi-million dollar blockbusters start hitting the theaters!

I'm both giddy with anticipation, and sick with apprehension, at this year's offerings. Two things are absolutely guaranteed to happen this year: I will be blown away and I will be sorely disappointed. But let's try to concentrate on the good rather than the impending fiascoes.

The entire season kicks off tomorrow with Iron Man. I already don't care that the plot will assuredly be weak and the storyline ridiculous, nor that the acting will be horrible. It will have loud noises, fight scenes, and it will blow crap up, and those are the three elements that make for a good movie. I am already close to declaring Iron Man the Greatest Movie Ever Made, just off the previews alone.

As the summer progresses, a handful of guaranteed delights also awaits:
Prince Caspian (May 16)
The Happening
The Incredible Hulk (both June 13)
Get Smart (June 20)
Wall-E (June 27)
Hancock (July 2)
The Dark Knight (July 18)

and to cap it all off, possibly the greatest film to be released all summer:

Hellboy 2 (July 11), which will wrest the title of Greatest Movie Ever Made away from Iron Man, just 2 months into its reign.

Now as with any good thing, the bad will have to be tolerated along with it. For example, you may have noticed one glaring omission from my list of Summer Blockbusters. Yes, folks, I hate to say it, but I am fully expecting the new Indiana Jones installment to be one of the worst disappointments of my life, ranking somewhere between finding out that Santa wasn't real, and seeing Grissom from C.S.I. peeing in a Las Vegas Men's Room.

Frankly, I never much cared for the 2nd or 3rd Indiana Jones movies, so I'm expecting this one to suck like a Hoover vacuum, too. But I'm sure to pay my $9 to see it suck for myself.

So just to prepare you folks, here's a list of movies to avoid this summer:

What Happens In Vegas (May 9)
Sex and the City: The Movie (May 30)
Kung Fu Panda (June 6)
The Love Guru (June 20)
Meet Dave (July 11)
Mamma Mia! (July 18)

and to cap off the summer's suckiness with a bang,

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (August 8)

I kid you not.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants....... 2

Hey, it can't ALL be good, right?

Along with the good and the bad, there are a few coming out that the jury is still out on, like You Don't Mess With The Zohan, and Step Brothers. We'll just have to wait and see what those will end up looking like.

So that's it, people. I know I haven't added much to my film review blog lately, but be prepared for a flurry of activity there this summer. Next to Oscar Season, this is my favorite time of year!