Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Hobbit chat transcript

Found this interesting webchat with Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro about The Hobbit. Now I'm finally starting to believe they'll actually make it. Still not sure they need to drag it out over two movies, though, since The Hobbit is such a simple children's book and we don't really need to know what Gandalf, Aragorn, etc. were up to between The Hobbit and the start of The Fellowship of the Ring. I prefer some mystery. Can't wait to see the Battle of Five Armies on the big screen, though.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mutt Williams and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

So I just got back from seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and, to be honest, it wasn't bad. I certainly didn't hate it. Warning! Spoilers follow!
I was very worried during the first ten minutes of the film, which frankly didn't feel right to me. Maybe the 1950's setting threw me off, or the fact that they ignored the formula of the other films by not having Indy searching for an artifact that has no connection to the rest of the plot. I liked the dissolve from the paramount logo and it was fun to see the warehouse from Raiders again (which is actually Area 51, and we get a quick glimpse of the Ark) but when it got to the point where Indy survives a nuclear explosion by jumping in a fridge and comes face to face with the dramatic prairie dog (I kid you not) I started to know how the people who hate the Star Wars prequels felt (by the way, I am not one of them).
Luckily, once Indy returns to America and meets Mutt Williams (when you remember Indiana was named after the dog, it's not hard to guess Mutt's true father) the film starts to pick up. I liked the nods to Marcus Brody and Henry Jones, Sr, and the diner fight with greasers and subsequent motorcycle chase are well staged. I soon felt that old Indy magic as we see lines moving across a map as he flies to far-off locations. Admittedly, the storyline soon becomes way too convoluted, but the action and laughs are frequent enough that I didn't mind. Occasionally Spielberg falls into his familiar trap of piling cliffhangers on top of each other until they collapse into silliness, but for the most part it's old school fun.
It was especially nice to see Marion Ravenwood back, proving she was the one leading lady that's a match for Indy. Seeing Indy get saved from sinking into sand by a snake is a priceless moment. The chase scene through the jungle is also a highlight and there's one superbly nasty moment when a Commie villain gets eaten by ants that almost matches the gross-out moments from the previous films. The Close Encounters ending will leave a lot of people scratching their heads, but it's not that different from Indy being reduced to a spectator watching God melt Nazis faces at the end of the first film. The ending wraps everything up pretty well, and I liked how they mock the idea that Mutt Williams could be the new Indiana (his name wouldn't really work in the title, as you can see above) by having his dad take his hat from him when he tries to put it on.
Although the film is a very enjoyable adventure, there is a distinct lack of tension compared to the other films. Despite his age, I never felt Indy was in any danger, especially as in the latter part of the film the Crystal Skull seems to automatically get them out of any trouble.
The acting is fine in the film. Harrison Ford has still got what it takes and Shia LaBeouf makes a fun sidekick. They make a few jokes about Indy's age, but not too many. I was amused that at one point Indy says, "I have a bad feeling about this." Did they get him confused with Han Solo? Karen Allen, Ray Winstone (who doublecrosses and triplecrosses Indy) and John Hurt (as the comic relief) do the best they can with underwritten roles; Cate Blanchett makes an ok villain, despite her dodgy accent and ridiculous psychic powers. The CGI is mostly used well, though there are a few backgrounds that look fake and some cartoonish animals. John Williams nicely reuses all his classic themes, though the new parts of the score don't really stand out.
Overall, it doesn't desecrate the legend of Indy, but neither does it really add anything to the series. It's just a fun film, which after 19 years of waiting is probably the best we could have hoped for.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I am Iron Man!

I totally forgot to post my review of Iron Man after seeing it last week. Short review: one of the best superhero movies in years, with a wisecracking Robert Downey Jr leading a fine ensemble cast. Can't wait for the sequel.
Long review: quite possibly the finest comic book origin story told on screen, as it isn't handicapped by the campiness of Superman: The Movie or the mediocre action of the second half of Spider-Man. The story is nicely updated while keeping all the essential elements of how weapons industrialist Tony Stark is injured in the middle of a war and grows himself a conscience and builds a metal suit(s). Downey Jr is a lot of fun in the role, and it's good to see him put to rest any doubts that he can be a mainstream leading man.
Obadiah Stane (the Iron Monger, who actually appeared much later in the comics continuity) makes a good villain, with Jeff Bridges a surprise casting choice that pays off. Gwyneth Paltrow is more tolerable than in many of her recent roles as Pepper Potts (oh those wacky Marvel names).
Director Jon Favreau does as good a job with the action and special effects as he does with the comedy and human relationships. The film actually reminded me a lot of the Robocop films, especially the second one, with the hero (who is kept alive by machinery) fighting a bigger and badder enemy. There's also a nice surprise cameo after the credits (at least it was a surprise before the film came out) that paves the way for future films where we get to see Marvel heroes actually team up. There's not much to criticise in the film. It knows what it wants to do and does it well.

I hope to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in the next few days, so watch this space!