Archive for May, 2008

Movie Review: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

May 31, 2008

I saw this flick last weekend at the Somerville Theater…where they serve beer…but it didn’t make the movie any better. George Lucas should have handed over writing abilities to someone much younger than himself who loved Raiders Of The Lost Ark. His moldy, cliched, unsuspenseful writing totally fails his actors, who are trying really effing hard and deliver almost universally strong performances. Lucas’ perspective on mid-century America seems to be gleaned solely from cheesy newsreels depicting greasers, drag racing, Atomic blasts, and trenchcoated G-Men. If Lucas wanted Indiana Jones to be a cartoon superhero, he shouldn’t have let him age.

You know the drill: academic/archeologist Indiana Jones goes on a wacky adventure with a band of zany sidekicks under the guise of fetching something for a museum while simultaenously triumphing over Nazis. Except in this movie, it’s Russians. And that’s just the start of its problems. While charmingly cartoonish, Russians are inherently not as hateable nor as hilarious as Nazis. Cate Blanchett leads the non-Nazi Russians as a fencing bobbed nasty girl with much-touted psychic abilitied that never materialize. Shia LeBoeuf plays the stooge role as a greaser with information. He’s also the source of one of Lucas’ many totally obvious plot twists: Guess who his mother is! Guess who his father is!

Harrison Ford is…I mean he’s good but…I don’t quite know how to tell you this…the man has AGED. He’s good and he tried but it’s ledd Indianan Jones and more president from Air Force One. And Karen Allen has completely forgotten the raw grit that made us all love Marion Ravenwood because she’s channellling sappy soggy Katie from Animal House here.

This movie is fun if you go into it with low (and i mean LOW) expectations. I wanted to revisit the joy I felt when my dad took me to see the first installment back in 1981. There are fun moments and great performances but the script, direction, and unbearable presence of monkeys and groundhogs brings it down.

Grade: C-

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Movie Review: In The Valley Of Elah

May 21, 2008

Based on true events, a young soldier returns from a tour in Iraq and disappears. His worried parents (Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon) begin their own investigation and enlist the help of police detective Charlize Theron to untangle the briar patch of military silence. The film borrows heavily from the legend of David and Goliath as Jones takes on the closed structure of army bureaucracy while Theron fights her way through a hateful, sexist work environment.

Truly excellent performances meld with a bleak production design amid shades of olive drab and gunmetal gray to form a wonderful portrait of a family in crisis and the search for truth. Jones’ military dad is onscreen magic, at once mesmerizing and complex, clinging to the rituals oof discipline while undergoing a raucous disillusionment. In a supporting role, Sarandon delivers the realistic mother so lacking from films: vulnerable, tough as nails, moody, dissatisfied, supportive. Theron wisely slips into the second fiddle role and lets Jones drive, but she’s still very good as the kicked-around single-mother still clinging to a few shredded ideals.

My favorite aspect of this movie however was its visionary Coen-like style: stuck in the 70s, faded, and real, what homes/offices/people actually look like. Occasionally predictable, always focused on the costs of war on the soldiers and their families, In The Valley Of Elah is a great character study on an important timely topic. Grade: B+

Movie Review: Juno

May 6, 2008

Academy-Award-winning Juno is the story of a wise-cracking pregnant teen who decides to give the baby up for adoption. Lauded by critics and hailed as original and thought-provoking, this was last year’s little film that could. I have no idea what people enjoyed about this painfully precious, clangingly written, bizarrely plotted piece of faux indie garbage.

Bankrolled by Fox, bursting with a tired “new” lexicon, and featuring the single most offensive portrait of a women’s clinic ever committed to film, Juno is a thinly veiled hunk of pro-life propaganda so in love with its own cleverness that it’s like watching someone practice making out with their hand. There’s so much terribleness in this attempt to capitalize on new-school feminism, I hardly know where to begin.

Written by Diablo “I’m a stripper so I have street cred” Cody and featuring Ellen “Couldn’t pass for 16 even in a blackout at a nursing home” Page, Juno reads like the diary of a woman who desperately wishes she could relive her teens knowing what she knows now…and who has no concept of what teens are actually into today. If you want to see a decent (albeit imperfect) representation of teen life, rent Thirteen.

Everything from dialogue to set design to costumes is so riddled with historically too-early pop culture references that the protagonist maintains zero credibility. Couple this with her much vocalized love of punk music amid a soundtrack consisting solely of twee folksy crap from Moldy Peaches’ Kimya Dawson, and you’ve got one big empty facade. Plus, the subtle mentions of Jesus and the aforementioned clinic portrait meld into a candy-coated pro-life pill aimed squarely down the throats of Bust Magazine‘s readership. Juno: For poseurs, by poseurs. 

Grade: D.

Movie Review: Eastern Promises

May 6, 2008

I have this rule about full-frontal male nudity: If a movie features it, I almost always end up liking the movie. Thus, I am a big fan of Ewan McGregor’s oeuvre with the unfortunate exception of the odious Velvet Goldmine (don’t get me started; still can’t make it past 40 minutes).

Though Eastern Promises boasts an extended naked fight scene in a Russian bathhouse, with Viggo Mortensen’s meat and two veg getting flung all willy-nilly and then some, it was not enough to counterbalance horrendously written dialogue (“If we give them accents, it doesn’t matter that the script sucks!”) and the miscasting of the truly awful Naomi Watts and her everpresent gap-toothed expression. The ridiculousness of Watts’ London midwife hopping on her kicky motorbike, complete with retro helmet and fighter ace goggles, around the 35-minute mark was enough to drive me into hysterics.

Long story short: A mysterious birth and death inexplicably make a midwife go all Miss Marple and investigate the Russian mob. Whatever. Even typing it makes me feel stupid. Each Russian character is more stereotypical than the last: All making beeg trahbull for moose and squirrel. With merciless amounts of borscht, vodka, and a heavy helping of radical implausibility, Eastern Promises gestates into a wheezing pathetic vision of newly gilded Iron Curtain nonsense.

Grade: D.