Saturday, May 31, 2008

“Indy, The Torch Is Going Out”: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Ok, I'm not going to pretend that I didn't enjoy certain aspects of the new movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It was fun hearing the familiar John Williams theme again. It was fun seeing Karen Allen again. It was nice to see a tip of the hat given to the late Denholm Elliott and his character of Marcus Brody. It was nice to see Harrison Ford go through the same old how-the-heck-is-he-going-to-get-out-of-this-one routine even though he's getting to the point where he's not exactly young enough to make a convincing action hero. And it was fun to see actress Cate Blanchett play Soviet villainess Irina Spalko, a character whom I kept wanting to call Evil Ninotchka if for no other reason than the fact that she's already inspired way too many Natasha Fatale jokes on the Internet.

Oddly enough, my mother was more eager to see this movie than I was. In fact, she and my sister saw it the day before I did. (In view of the way I had to talk her into seeing the first Indiana Jones movie, I can't help but find that ironic.)

So what didn't I like about the movie? Well, if you have to ask, you obviously haven't seen the movie yet.

No, seriously, there is a lot to dislike in this movie, including the not-so-entertaining secret traitor subplot -- which was only believable if one believes Indy got hit on the head once too often during the course of his career -- and the rather arbitrary Chariots of the Gods subplot. There is even a rather clumsy attempt at political commentary that doesn't quite work as well as one would like. (So much for the suggestion that Spielberg is going to be following in the footsteps of the late Sydney Pollack.)

After seeing how well actress Elisabeth Sladen was photographed in recent episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures, I couldn't help but find it a little disturbing to note how unflattering Ms. Allen (a far younger actress than Ms. Sladen) looked by comparison. Was this just misogynistic camerawork or does Ms. Sladen have a far better makeup crew than Ms. Allen? Inquiring minds wish to know.

Nor did I care for the inevitable illegitimate child subplot though the filmmakers make up for this with a rather nicely done audience-pleasing sequence toward the end of the film. Then there is the fact that none of Indy's Soviet foes -- not even Evil Ninotchka -- are ever as convincingly characterized as the villains in the first Indy movies. (Indeed, even the rather vanilla villains of the last Indiana Jones movie seem like Iago compared to these guys.) There is a rather scary sequence involving a couple of Peruvian graverobbers who had obviously seen Casino Royale once too often. And there also exists the inevitable shout-out to Indy's fear of snakes.

However, the grand finale just didn't grab me the same way the grand finale of the first movie did. Perhaps the film will grow on me the same way the last two Indy movies did. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

And though it might be argued that this Indy movie was better than any of us skeptics initially feared, I could not help thinking as the end credits rolled: all this time and this was the best they could do?

Yes, I know. I'm hard to please.

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Today Is Her Birthday

It's my ex-girlfriend's birthday today.

I guess that means it's a good thing I gotta work tonight...

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Movie Song of the Week: “All You Need Is Love”

From the 1968 flick Yellow Submarine, an edited version of the Beatles' most famous song. My ex-girlfriend's birthday is this Saturday, and the Beatles were one of her favorite groups. So it only seems appropriate to post this clip.

I hope you all like it.

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All the New Movies That I Have Seen

1. 88 Minutes (2007).

My mother and my youngest brother wanted to see a movie for Mother's Day but unfortunately the one movie my mother had her heart set on seeing -- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- wasn't out yet. So we saw this instead.

It wasn't the best movie we could have seen. In fact, I was already glancing at my watch long before the first half-hour was up. The movie was your standard serial-killer flick with the obligatory surprise ending and plot twists that wasn't really all that twisty. Add to that the fact that the flick starts off with what looks like a torture porn sequence for the PG-13 crowd and it's safe to say that it wasn't one of the best movies I ever saw.

Al Pacino has definitely done better work in the past. Let's hope he does far better than this in the future.

2. Iron Man (2008).

There was no way my mother was going to agree to seeing this on Mother's Day but I enjoyed it. The film is not so much Robocop meets Transformers, as one film critic put it, as it was MacGyver meets Charlie Wilson's War. I would not argue that this is the best superhero movie ever made, but considering the fact that it got me emotionally involved in the story of a comic book character I've never been particularly fond of in comic book form, it seems appropriate to say that it's pretty good.

Great acting by all the actors, including Robert Downey, Jr. and Jeff Bridges. Even Gwyneth Paltrow gave a good performance -- though she still reminds me a lot of Lisa Kudrow for some reason.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Movie Scene of the Week

In honor of the late Sydney Pollack, a clip from one of his most famous movies (and, quite incidentally, one of the first Pollack films I ever saw on the big screen), Three Days of the Condor.

I didn't appreciate this movie that much the first time I saw it in my mid-teens but since then, it's grown on me. And this scene, with its definite depiction of the conflict between idealism (represented by the Robert Redford character) and pragmatism (represented by the Cliff Robertson character, natch) has proven more prophetic than I ever dreamed possible.

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R.I.P. Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack, director of such movies as Three Days of the Condor and The Way We Were, passed away Monday at age 73.

He will be missed.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Supernatural: “Pilot”

If subplots involving a missing relative could work for Fox Mulder of X Files fame, why not a similar subplot for the two main characters of the Supernatural series. Better yet, why not toss in a murder mystery involving yet another relative?

Heck, let's start off the series with a charming flashback involving the mother of the two main characters Dean and Sammy. Poor mom doesn't last too long. Just long enough to catch sight of a mysterious stranger -- no reference to Mark Twain intended -- in her infant son's bedroom and then die a very nasty death in a fire that nearly destroys the whole house.

Dean and Sammy survive, of course. Which is a good thing because, after all, they are the two main characters I mentioned earlier. And the boys' father also survives, only to become obsessed with finding out what caused their mother's death. For that matter, the boys become a bit obsessed with finding out what happened to dear old mom for rather obvious reasons.

They never do solve the mystery -- no doubt because then there would be no series -- and eventually the two brothers go their separate ways. Younger brother Sammy chooses to go to college to become a lawyer and old brother Dean chooses to follow in his dad's footsteps as a ghostbuster.

Then one day Dean shows up in Sammy's place with the Mystery of the Missing Dad. Poor Dad didn't die in flames like their mom, but he hasn't been heard from in a while either, and Dean fears the worst.

Sammy, on the other hand, is more worried about an upcoming job interview and his live-in girlfriend. He eventually agrees to help Dean hunt for dear old Dad, but he's not too happy about it.

But first our guys have to solve the Mystery of the Phantom Hitchhiker. Or better yet, the Killer Phantom Hitchhiker. Apparently the last place Dad was heard from is being haunted by an enigmatic Woman in White who appears by the roadside and lures not-so-innocent young men to their doom. The WiW (Woman in White) continually frets about not being able to go home -- not because she's a member of the Shangri-Las -- but because there's a mystery in her house that can't be solved until just after the last commercial break.

In any event, the two brothers eventually solve the Mystery of the Killer Phantom Hitchhiker, only to find -- surprise! -- that the solution brings them no closer to finding out what happened to dear old Dad. However, they do have a clue to yet another mystery involving the vanishing patriarch which will be conveniently explored on next week's episode. And unfortunately, they also have to solve yet another murder mystery involving yet another of their loved ones. However, this particular murder mystery is going to take a while.

Some guys just can't catch a break...

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

R.I.P. Dick Martin

Yet another icon of my childhood has become a victim of the Fickle Finger of Fate.

Dick Martin, former host of Roman & Martin's Laugh-In -- a show that was the Saturday Night Live of its day -- passed away yesterday.

He will be missed.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Movie Song of the Week: “La Marseillaise”

No, it's not really a classic movie song, but for some reason, it seems appropriate this week. Especially as it is used in this clip.

From Casablanca (1942), natch:

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Movie Quote of the Week

Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution.
--Alec Guinness, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Movie Song of the Month: “Remember My Forgotten Man”

I didn't mean to post another Busby Berkeley song again so soon but, hey, Memorial Day is coming up quite soon. And this is the most appropriate movie song I can think of. Even though it was originally written about World War I veterans, it still packs a heck of a wallop today.

From the 1933 movie Gold Diggers of 1933:

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Pop Song of the Week: “We Belong”

Yes, I know. I should have posted something last week but I didn't.

So here as a belated Mother's Day gift my mother may or may not appreciate is Pat Benatar's “We Belong.”


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Movie Song of the Week: “Stereophonic Sound”

Just in time for the start of the summer movie season (and no, I don't know why it's starting in May when May isn't traditionally considered part of summer), a reminder from Fred Astaire and Janis Paige that ridicule of the public's taste in movies didn't exactly begin with the CGI era. (At least these two have a sense of humor about it.)

I know Self-Styled Siren's been singing the praises of yet another number from this same movie (1957's Silk Stockings), but I can't resist giving a shout-out to this number just in case she forgets to mention it in a future post.


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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ten Songs Not to Play on Mother's Day

1. "A Well-Respected Man" -- The Kinks
2. "Because of You" -- Kelly Clarkson
3. "Fancy" -- Reba McEntire
4. "Hell Is for Children" -- Pat Benatar
5. "I Don't Wanna Play House" -- Tammy Wynette
6. "Lady Madonna" -- The Beatles
7. "Mother" -- Pink Floyd
8. "Mother's Little Helper" -- The Rolling Stones
9. "Papa Loved Mama" -- Garth Brooks
10. "The End" -- The Doors

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Mother's Day Movie Quote of the Year

It must have been hard on your mother not having any children.
--Ginger Rogers, 42nd Street (1933)

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Ten Movies Not To Rent for Mother's Day

1. Carrie (1976)
2. Die! Die! My Darling (1965)
3. Heavenly Creatures (1994)
4. Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
5. Mommie Dearest (1981)
6. Mother's Boys (1994)
7. Psycho (1960)
8. The Brood (1979)
9. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
10. The Whole Wide World (1996)

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Movie Song of the Week: “I'm Goin' Shoppin' with You”

I couldn't find any classic movie song that referenced Mother's Day in the way that I wished so I posted this instead.

From the 1935 movie Gold Diggers of 1935, it's a song that among other things proves that Gloria Stuart really was a dish when she was Kate Winslet's age. And, oh, yes, there is at least one reference to mothers as well.


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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins of Hollywood

Okay, religious blogger Tom Hoopes has a less dramatic title for this post, but I kinda like my title better.

All kidding aside, I found his post about the "Seven Mistakes Movies Make" to be actually more thoughtful than the usual conservative boilerplate about how Hollywood is "ruining" America. Just because Hollywood's "immorality" is often exaggerated by professional ax-grinders doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't substantial room for improvement.

Sample quote:

What each of these films recognize, though, is that love isn't an emotion, it's a set of actions. Audiences know that's true; it's one reason Titanic did so well, while Pearl Harbor flopped. Titanic is the biggest money-making movie of all time, in large part because the man dies for the woman; his actions, in the end, show true love -- and girls couldn't see it enough.
--Tom Hoopes, "Seven Mistakes Movies Make"

'Nuff said.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “The Fires of Pompeii”

Yet another reference to how dangerous the Doctor can be. (Oh, geez, if you're going to set us all up for yet another reference to the first series' “Trial of a Timelord,” then go ahead and do so. We get it already. The Doctor can be evil. Because he's all about fighting entropy and stuff.)

And, of course, another episode about my current favorite hija de London, Donna Noble. (Okay, Jackie Tyler was a favorite as well but she doesn't appear on the show anymore.)

And, of course, an interesting mishmash of actual history, pseudo-history and historical fantasy. The show, of course, chose to take the rather controversial position that nasty, evil aliens who want to take over the Earth are a bad thing. How dare they?!

And yes, references to so-and-so being a daughter of London or Dallas or New York are going to be on my mind for some time to come. Just the price you pay for watching this kind of stuff.

I did like that ending though. Donna Noble really is a -- oh, you'll see.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Mr. Trask, it's awful not to be loved. It's the worst thing in the world. Don't ask -- even if you could -- how I know that. I just know it.
--Julie Harris, East of Eden (1955)

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R.I.P. Mildred Loving

Mildred Loving, the black woman who once challenged Virginia's ban on interracial marriage and whose challenge ultimately led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling against such laws, has passed away at age 68.

She will be missed.

Without people with her courage, we Americans would be living in a vastly different society today.

Her husband died in 1975.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “Partners in Crime”

Oh, cool. Donna Noble's back.

I heart Donna Noble.

Donna Noble completes me.

Donna Noble is cool. (Oh, wait, I've said that.)

And, oh, yes, there was a bit of a mystery in this episode, but the story didn't really take off until Donna and the Doctor met.

Although I was a bit disappointed that the inevitable allusions to Ghostbusters did not lead to the reappearance of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Some people just have no sense of history.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Paradise Paradox: Lost Horizon

Ain't it always the same? You finally find the one place on Earth where you really feel comfortable, where the people really seem to get you, and you finally have the opportunity to meet the girl of your dreams. Then, wouldn't you know it? You end up having to leave because of your pesky little brother.

Of course, there is a lot more to Frank Capra's 1937 epic Lost Horizon than that. Yet the gist of the film's plot revolved around a sibling conflict between two characters played by actors Ronald Coleman and John Howard. Coleman played the older brother, Robert Conway, a man who was already famous the world over for his work as a British author and diplomat. Howard played the younger brother, George Conway, who was not so famous and who dwelt for the first part of the film within his brother's shadow. Granted, the two actors for all their talent did not seem all that convincing as siblings especially since Coleman made no effort to disguise his English accent and Howard sounded about as American as Clark Gable.

Perhaps this was intentional, and Capra meant to allude to the age-old relationship between Great Britain and America by casting an English actor to represent the older sibling and an American actor to represent the younger sibling. Perhaps the casting was just a cynical attempt to appeal to both the British and the American film markets. More likely, the casting director had other things on his mind apart from appeasing the tastes of nitpicking movie-goers like myself.

Anyway, as the film began, the brothers Conway were organizing the escape of the last few Western refugees from an Asian city about to be swept under by an oncoming revolution. Scenes of this escape seemed oddly reminiscent of accounts I have read about the Fall of Saigon, especially when it came to the part when the Westerners deliberately tried to prevent the local Asians from trying to board the planes being used for the Westerners' getaways. (Of course, this movie predated the Fall of Saigon by at least three-and-a-half decades, but the parallels are still eerie.)

Being the noble person that Coleman normally played in movies like this, Robert Conway waited until the last plane out before choosing to escape the city. And even then his departure seemed to have more to do with his brother George's efforts -- and the responsibility he felt toward the last three Western refugees -- than his own free will. Once on board, Conway proved to be the only Westerner concerned enough to fret about the fate of the Asians who had been left behind to face the fury of the oncoming rebellion, all the other Westerners being content to congratulate themselves on being the last white people to escape. (Yes, they actually put it that way. But then this was the 1930s, when people were less diplomatic about saying things like that.)

Eventually the refugees found out that their pilot was not the British one they had been expecting but a pistol-toting Asian. Any attempt to retake the plane was immediately smashed by Robert Conway, who pointed out the futility of retaking the plane when the Asian hijacker was the only one on board who knew how to fly a plane.

Then the plane crash-landed and the refugees ended up being taken to a Tibetan lamasery known to the locals as Shangri-La. There they were told about the difficulties of traveling to the outside world due to the surrounding mountains and the harsh climate and about how they would have to stay in Shangri-La for an indefinite period. Needless to say, the five refugees were not happy to hear this about this involuntary layover. However, Robert Conway was more philosophical about the situation than the rest.

Eventually all the refugees save George Conway learned to enjoy life in Shangri-La. Robert Conway himself proved to be the most well-adjusted of them all, not only meeting a kindred spirit in the lamasery's mysterious High Lama (played by Sam Jaffe) but falling in love with an equally enigmatic Western girl named Sondra (played by Jane Wyatt). Unfortunately, his younger sibling was not as content with his surroundings. Even after he fell for yet another mysterious Western woman (played by Mexican actress Margo), George Conway talked of nothing but leaving.

Eventually he not only got his wish but he also talked his older brother into leaving with him despite his brother's best judgment. His departure unfortunately proved to be a mistake when he found that the reason Robert had initially warned against the trip was true. He killed himself in despair and Robert Conway, alas, was left alone to tell the tale. And maybe, just maybe, attempt a return trip...

So what is there for modern audiences to learn from this film? On one hand, I have to salute the much-maligned American Film Institute for actually doing a decent job of restoring as much of the original film as possible. Even a brief nude scene that must have annoyed the heck out of the Hays Office was restored (though it did not seem all that daring by 2008 standards). I must confess that I must found the performances of Ronald Coleman, Jane Wyatt, Thomas Mitchell and the always memorable Edward Everett Horton to be pretty interesting as well. John Howard I did not care for that much -- and not just because he played the obligatory fly in the Tibetan ointment -- and Margo's casting as a Russian character I found to be more eccentric than anything else. (Nice to see that the old Hollywood tradition of the interchangeable ethnic actor still existed back then. Well, I suppose that is why they call it acting -- among other things.)

Yet the philosophy of the film seemed more than a bit over-idealistic, even by Frank Capra standards. I can readily understand the appeal of the film to a country that was then in the midst of the Great Depression and on the brink of World War II. Indeed, I can understand the appeal the film might have to even today's jaded movie-goers. And yet just as some film critics take Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town to task for over-romanticizing the small-town lifestyle of Depression-era America (noting that it couldn't have been that wonderful if so many rural folks abandoned it to go to the big city), I can't help wanting to take this film to task for over-romanticizing the rural lifestyle of 1930s Asia. I especially can't help wondering how accepting of Shangri-La the Western refugees would have been had they been expected to do any of the menial tasks routinely expected of the local Asians. After all, it is easy to pretend you've living in Paradise if you are being waited on hand and foot, but when you are the one who has to scrub the floors and tend the sheep and cook the food and make the beds, then life does not seem all that idyllic.

Nor can I avoid seeing the irony of how many of the refugees wanted to show their appreciation to the hosts of their new-found home by immediately trying to change it. The Horton character wanted to educate the local children in a Western science, the Mitchell character wanted to install a modern system of running water. Even Sondra, who grew up in Shangri-La, chose to instruct the local children in Western ways. In short, the reaction of the Westerners to Shangri-La appeared to be: this place is just perfect... now let's change it.

Then again change is a part of life, and it could be argued that without such change, few of us would ever be truly happy. Perhaps the efforts the Westerners made to change their surroundings were the only way they could have ever been truly content -- which makes me wonder whether the true inspiration for this movie came not so much from the James Hilton novel of the same name as it did from that most legendary of hard-to-please characters, Faust.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Pop Song of the Week: “La Bamba”

Yes, I know. “La Bamba” isn't really an '80s tune because the original version by Ritchie Valens came out in 1958. Plus Los Lobos (who plays the tune in this video) isn't really what most people think of when they think of an '80s band.

Yet I didn't start this blog to post what most people think. I started it to reflect what I think.

And since one of my dearest memories of 1987 involves seeing my favorite first cousin dance an impromptu dance to the last few notes of this song, I can't help but salute that memory with this post.

Wanna argue that the 1987 movie from which this song is derived is maybe a bit pro-assimilation to be politically correct (an argument once made by writer Enrique Fernandez in The Village Voice)? Go ahead.

But I'm not posting this song to salute La Bamba director Luis Valdez's political views. I'm posting it to salute the memory of my favorite first cousin. As well as the memory of all my Mexican and Mexican-American relatives. I'm not sure how much they'd appreciate this post but still...

It's the pensamiento that counts, right?

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