23 May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls

I have not seen the original Indiana Jones movies in quite some time. This makes it difficult for me to write an accurate review. I do not remember the original trilogy being so campy. That is my major complaint of the latest installment Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. Now, I am aware that the Kingdom is historical “fact.” It is an actual event in history. As was the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail from the first and third films. I, honestly, cannot remember what the second, or first if you look at it as it was a prequel, one was about or in search of. The Kingdom is my only other complaint though. (See SPOILER below, if you want to)

The movie opens with Indy and his buddy Mac being pulled out of a car and threatened to help the Russians lead by Irina Spalko. Harrison Ford is back in his iconic role and Ray Winstone portrays Mac. Cate Blanchette plays Spalko. The Russians are in search of a magnetized mummy. At this point, Mac is revealed as a double-agent and Indy loses a hard fought battle. After a campy survival from a nuclear blast, Indy’s loyalty is questioned and General Ross, not Thunderbolt Ross from the Hulk movies, comes to his aid. Alan Dale is in this throw away small role that never returns to the screen.

Meanwhile, the university that currently employs Indy as a Professor kicks him out and Jim Broadbent, playing the Dean, stands up for him. We then see Indy packing and learn that his father has passed. This is how they dealt with Sean Connery not returning to the role of Henry Jones, Sr.

Now, Indy is seen leaving on a train but Mutt Williams comes on the scene in search of Prof. Jones. He tells of how his mother and family friend Ox have been kidnapped and it has something to do with a Kingdom of Crystal Skulls. From here, there is plenty of campy adventure, campier adventure, and a scene of human eating ants. There is also a scene of Shia LeBeouf swinging through the trees Tarzan style. We also learn that his mother is Marion Ravenwood, played by the same actress Karen Allen.

Finally, the film winds up in the Mayan temple of the Crystal Skulls and, I warn there is a semi-spoiler here, aliens appear. That’s right, aliens. Then, there is a scene right out of The Mummy with the Earth sucking everything in, and the protagonists trying to escape. Then, I am not lying, there is an alien UFO! At this point, I was glad to see it was the end. This Sci-Fi finale really hurt the film for me. The final scene, however, wrapped up the movie as a stand-alone, but also left it wide open for another film.

I am now going to go back and watch the original trilogy again and see if I do not acquire more love for this “fourquel.” I do not see any reason why I would not go see a fifth if it were ever made. The acting was on par with what you would expect from these actors ad actresses. Shia LeBeouf was a good addition to the cast. Cate Blanchette was a fantastic villain. This movie definitely had the Spielberg feel. I did enjoy myself and this two hour fantasy adventure. Verdict: I highly recommend seeing this in theaters if you are a fan of the franchise, but if you aren’t the home market cannot be that long of a wait in today’s world. Yet, seeing it loud and large is always a good thing when it comes to action and adventure films.

17 May 2008

REDBELT

I was not aware of how many David Mamet films I have seen. I also was not aware that I have not been disappointed by any of them. Redbelt kept the streak alive. Where this was not as layered as The Spanish Prisoner or as twisting as Heist, Redbelt delivers plenty on both levels. It is also imperative to know that this film is not a martial arts film, but a film about martial arts.

Redbelt opens with Laura Black, played by Emily Mortimer, who is a lawyer, side-swiping a car. It turns out, it is the car owned by Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor Mike Terry, played by under appreciated Ejiofor Chiwetel. His whole persona and look on life is one of honor and acceptance. He is a character unlike any I have seen in film in a long time. When Laura comes into the dojo to admit and apologize for the accident, she misfires police officer and student of the gym Joe Collins’s gun shooting out the large window front. Max Martini plays Joe, and is from the tv show The Unit, which is produced by David Mamet. This event marks the start of everything else that goes on in the film.

That night, Terry goes to a bar owned by his brother-in-law Billy, played by 300’s Rodrigo Santoro. While in the bar, we meet fictional action star Chet Frank, portrayed by Tim Allen. This role is unlike any other that Tim Allen has played. It has no comedy to it whatsoever. Chet gets into a bar fight and Terry saves him. This scene sets up the rest of the film.

From here, we are introduced to many characters. All are important, but not important enough to report on here. Terry’s other brother-in-law is a mixed-martial-arts fighter. He uses Brazilian jiu-jitsu as his style. They were trained together when they were younger. Actual MMA fighter, Randy Couture, makes an appearance as a commentator for the fight. Ricky Jay has his usual Mamet cameo as the fights’ promoter, Marty Brown. After a shady deal with Marty Brown and Chet Frank, Terry’s teaching strategies are stolen and used in the fights’ promotion. This is where Terry ends up mixed up with the fights.

At this point, I am going to tell you a few other important facts that need to be known here and then end this review:

  • Joe is a loyal and honorable student testing for his black belt.
  • One of the codes that Terry’s dojo lives up to is never to bring dishonor to the dojo.
  • Another code is, there is always an escape.
  • Terry does not compete because he feels it weakens the fighters.
  • There is only one redbelt, and it goes to the “best.”

The ending of the film was abrupt. It was climactic for sure, but there was nothing past the apex of the journey. The ending was the top. Being a former martial artist, it inspired me to go back to the dojo myself. I found a local judo club and will be going back in the fall. Redbelt was what I was expecting, yet completely different at the same time. I know that makes no sense, but I knew what to expect from a David Mamet film and yet, was surprised. VERDICT: This is a must see for fans of Mamet’s work, martial artists, and anyone who just wants to watch a true film of martial arts not just the Jackie Chan-Jet Li type. I recommend a DVD rent since this film was on such a limited release. If you have the opportunity to see it in theaters, it is worth the matinee price.

09 May 2008

IRON MAN

Iron Man opened this summer season with a monstrous $100 + million weekend and rave reviews. I read reviews touting this film as the best comic book move EVER! That is a bold statement. Yet, I cannot remember the last time that a movie claimed such a high stature, and then had the reviews to back it up. I went in with the highest of expectations. I left a little empty. If I was not expecting the best comic book movie ever, I think that I would have been more than impressed.

Iron Man opens with AC/DC’s “Back in Black” playing and Tony Stark, brilliantly played by Robert Downey Jr, in a military convoy. As he is doing his typical billionaire playboy thing, his convoy is hit and we see him bleeding on the ground. We then go back to hours before the incident. This way of story telling is starting to get old. Why can’t we just tell the story in order? Why show something and then go back to the beginning? This is getting cliché. Anyway, we see Tony not attending an award ceremony. This is our first glimpse at Jim Rhodes, played by Terrence Howard, and Obadiah Stane, played by Jeff Bridges. Stark is busy partying and picking up the ladies in the casino. The next morning, we meet Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. She gets Stark on his plane out to the Middle East where he demonstrates the latest military weapon that he has developed. Shortly after, this is where his convoy is hit.

Now, he is taken prisoner by a radical Afghanistan group and forced to build the same missile that he just demonstrated. With the help of another captive, he is able to fix his wound in his heart and build a suit of armor to escape.

This is where the movie started to make me a little angry. Once Stark is back, he has a change of heart about making weapons, and decides to quit. Obadiah Stane takes over the company as Stark heals, and he continues production of the weapons. After seeing his own weapons hurting the people that he is trying to save, Stark develops a newer suit of armor to help him rid the world of his weapons. Now, this is the exact same story as the Shaquille O’Neil movie Steel used back in 1997. After a test run, more changes are made. Again, the same was done in Steel.

Finally, the suit is completed. Stark then uses it to fly over the Afghanistan and stop a massacre in progress. This catches the eyes of the USAF in the area, and they try to shoot him down. This is where Stark tells Rhodes it is him. As Stark digs to the bottom of the how his weapons are getting sold to the enemy, he discovers it is Obadiah. As Steel dug to the bottom, it turned out to be Burke, his old companion in the military. Weird!

In the end, Obadiah creates Iron Monger, who, after some research spurred by a conversation I had with a co-worker, did make a short appearance in the comic book series and was created by Obadiah Stane. There is a battle of the iron men, and one is victorious. The last line of the movie was a bit rough for me to swallow, but I will leave that up to you.

As for the movie itself, Jon Favreau does a tremendous job in his direction. All the acting is superb. I agree with a few reviews that state that Terrence Howard took this role in order to have a larger one in the sequel. For those of you not familiar with the comic book lore, he becomes War Machine. The visual effects were awesome, but they were done by Industrial Light and Sound. They are the same ones that worked on the Star Wars films. The writers did an excellent job. The script is fast, witty, and hits well. The only real downer to this film is the easy comparisons one can make to the flop Steel. Yes, there is a scene after the credits, but I thought it was kind of stupid. It just helps set up where the franchise and Marvel are going. Verdict: A must see for all the comic book fans. It is a great film for all ages, too. I just do not think that it is the best comic book movie ever.