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.

Cabinet Of Curiosities

April 13, 2008

Eight Corner Globe

At this weekend’s Great International Beer Festival in Providence, RI, we had the great luck to be located next to the fiendishly glamourous twosome pictured above and their traveling sideshow of curiosities. What a treat they were, in a sea of drunken beerfestery. Between sessions, they led us to Cuban Revolution along with the kids from The Tap, and there was much laughing, shouting, and hysterical innuendo. Hopefully, we will see them at events to come, although they tend to limit their humorous Barnum-style theatricality to the tattoo and adult convention circuit. If deformed fetuses, two-headed ducklings (that’s what Professor Badger is holding in the pic above), assorted animal scrotum/penis bones, killer live spiders, and human skulls with horns ring your bell, check out Eight Corner Globe.

More Mad Men, Please

April 9, 2008

How long must I wait, AMC? Bring me Don Draper!

Movie Review: The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

April 2, 2008

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This DVD sat atop my TV for weeks before I overcame my fear of its 2.5 hour running time: That’s a lot of movie for a weeknight. But last night, I conquered! And lo, what spoils awaited me! This fairly lengthy but totally un-boring portrait of the central figures of one of the most famous crime syndicates in American history explores issues of trust, family, violence, intimacy, age, isolation, and the nature of celebrity. Stylishly filmed with scattered shots evoking the impression of wavy glass, The Assassination Of Jesse James… creates a dangerous rural landscape, littered with well-dressed thugs with impressive vocabularies and murderous tendencies. It’s the James brothers’ last score and they’ve hired a ragged band of local hooligans to assist. Casey Affleck portrays Robert Ford, the youngest and most ambitious hooligan, obsessed with possessing and becoming Brad Pitt’s Jesse James. The chemistry between these two actors is unique, palpable, and beguiling; but smartly, the film keeps its focus on Ford. Watching Affleck deliver what has got to be the performance of his young career, is like staring at the lit fuse on a bottle rocket: This kid is going to be huge. I haven’t felt this optimistic about an actor’s potential since I spotted Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko. Pitt embodies James with the smoldering intensity and refined subtlety typically reserved for David Fincher’s projects. Acting also as executive producer, Pitt was a vital supporter of this film: His affection for the script and concept are obvious and well-represented. Grade: A- 

Movie Review: Rude Boy

March 21, 2008
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Set amid the tumultuous political, economic, social, and racial unrest of 1978 England, Rude Boy follows Ray, a 20-year-old sex shop clerk who becomes a roadie for The Clash and falls prey to the forces of alcohol, The National Front, and life on the dole. While The Clash was strongly opposed to this movie when it was originally released, I found it to be an innovative and thrilling time capsule. The concert footage is some of the best I’ve seen, particularly the Rock Against Racism concert and some club footage wherein the band was basically chased off the stage by an aggressive crowd. The studio moments where Strummer records his vocal track for White Riot, though I’d seen them in Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, were the high points for me. And through it all, the filmmakers give us a subtly nuanced doomed protagonist who, like so many of his fellow youth, just doesn’t get it: He fails to grasp The Clash’s socio-economic messages, and descends into a self-medicated haze. An honest representation of tour life, street life, and the hopeless desperation that led to the rise of the monstrous Margaret Thatcher, Rude Boy captures public moments that should not be forgotten. Grade: B+

Movie Review: The Darjeeling Limited

March 21, 2008

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As much as I wanted to love this movie as much as I loved Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, andThe Royal Tenenbaums, I ended up only mildly entertained. With The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson continues his unfortunate slide toward fashioning glorified mix tapes, dotted with quirky dioramas, masked as films. The feature kicked off with a lousy short film entitled The Hotel Chevalier, a horrendous bit of eye candy that seemed scraped from the cutting room floor. I will never forgive Anderson for inflicting Where Do You Go To, My Lovely? on me repeatedly. Finally, the feature film starts with obvious journey overtones and excessively boxy characterizations of the three lead roles, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzmann. They’re all neurotic, secretive, and distrustful, on a train traversing India after their father’s death. Predictably, the three protagonists experience a spiritual awakening by film’s end, and all the difficult loose ends get neatly tied up. It’s a challenge to accept the rose-colored ending though after such emotional darkness amid Anderson’s trademark Technicolor set design. I also was a bit unsettled with the heavy hand Anderson took with injecting music into the film: he apparently listened to a lot of The Kinks and watched loads of Merchant-Ivory films while conceptualizing this one. The Darjeeling Limited is a light confection with deceptively depressing characters: it satisfies the sweet tooth while leaving the body malnourished. Grade: C+

Movie Review: This Is England

March 12, 2008

This Is England poster

Set amid the depressed and desperate suburban squalor of Thatcherian England circa 1983, this semi-autobiographical film details the misguided adventures of a lonely boy who falls in with a band of skinheads. With a dead soldier father, an overwrought mother, and a lot of bullies at school, outsider Shawn, portrayed superbly by Thomas Turgoose, responds to the kindness offered by skinhead leader Woody (played by the lovely Joseph Gilgun. More of him, please!) and slips snugly into the welcoming multicultural family-like group. All goes straight to hell when Stephen Graham’s hate-filled Combo gets out of jail and returns to what he sees as his rightful role as leader. His introduction of fierce racial hatred masked as nationalistic pride shatters the group and sends the film careening toward its ultimate (and fairly predictable) conclusion. With such powerful subject matter, it’s disappointing that this film wasn’t better. But this is the first film I’ve seen that marks the differences between what skinheads originally were (a nonviolent social group that evolved out of the Mods and dressed in boots and classic working-class details) and what they became once their image was appropriated and perverted by neo-Nazis. The film deftly shows the contrast between the mischievous semi-innocent skinheads playing boardgames and breaking windows versus the organized antisocial bigoted seriousness of the supposed nationalist future. Grade: C