Archive for May, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (7/10)

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , on May 29, 2008 by Brandon

For the past five or so years, this movie has been in development hell. It was slated for a release some time in the early 2000’s, then rumors popped up that Harrison Ford was donning the cap for 2003, then the entire thing was bumped up to a potential release date in 2005. Harrison Ford as Indy was in and out of the running more times than he’s dyed his hair for film roles, and not until sometime early last year was it finally, officially, definitely confirmed.

It’s understandable that the project should take so long to come about – after all the Indiana Jones series is one of the most beloved action series of all time – proper care would need to be taken to ensure that no travesty was released. So is Indy 4 a travesty? I’m proud to report that it is indeed not, and though it is not as good as the original, it still manages to be a thrilling, if a bit flawed, summer blockbuster.

The plot of the film seems like it’s constructed to follow beat-by-beat what made “Raiders” so fantastic – open with an action scene in an exotic location, go into a little exposition back at the University where good ole’ Indy works, find a couple of clues that lead them to some jungle locales (why is every single old clue in a jungle?), and then boom, you’re at the finale, a moral lesson learned, and onto the next adventure!

Of course, since this is a revival of the series, some extra twists and turns have to be added, including Shia LaBeouf showing up looking like James Dean and trash talking with Indy, and the love interest from Raiders, Karen Allen, back as Marion Ravenwood. While Indy IV’s plot construction may not be rocket science and may even be a little bit of a rip-off of “Raiders”, it still manages to be incredibly fun all the way through.

“National Treasure” has tried to copy the Indy formula twice so far, but Spielberg shows he’s the still the master of globe-trotting clues. This time around Indy is on the trail of something that could have extra-terrestrial origins, but unfortunately for him some Commies (replacing the Nazis of the original trilogy) are after it too, so it’s a race against time as they both hop, skip, and jump away, making sure to stop for the occasional thrilling action scene.

Harrison Ford is just as charismatic as ever as Indy – it’s as if he never left – even considering his age. Of course, because he can’t do as many stunts as he was once able, there’s a lot of obvious stunt work where we conveniently can’t see Ford’s face. It still works, though, and there are even some impressive scenes where Ford is clearly doing all the work.

The supporting cast is decent but not too impressive. Shia LaBeouf as Mutt is a mixed bag – his everyman persona doesn’t translate too well into this bad boy role, and most of the time he comes off like a wanna-be gangster rather than a truly rebellious teen. Karen Allen matches Harrison Ford beat for beat, and she’s the only one who lives up to his charisma. Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, the leader of the group of Commies, ends up being far too comical and not nearly scary enough. Ray Winstone as Indy’s partner-in-crime has almost the same problem as Cate Blanchett – too cheesy.

And that’s what the entire film’s main problem boils down to – too cheesy. In terms of that, it has more in common with “The Last Crusade” than “Raiders.” Some of the action scenes are merely cartoonish instead of exciting – especially a completely useless scene in which Indy and the chasing Commies disturb a carnivorous anthill and end up really really pissing off the ants inside – which then proceed to eat alive some bad guys and even actually drag one of them into the anthill. I’m not even going to go into the rest of the action scenes, but you get the idea.

Cynical and pessimistic viewers probably won’t enjoy this new Indy as much as others will, but if you’re willing to set aside some reservations and lower your expectations a bit, it can turn into a rather fun ride. Even the issue that will leave fans most divided, which is the inclusion of the extra-terrestrial element, works because it feels like the Indy of the 80’s is coming into contact with the 21st century (even though the film technically takes place 50 some odd years ago). Despite its cheese, length, and some action scenes that seriously threaten suspension of disbelief, it is still and Indiana Jones film through and through, and whether you end up liking it or not, if you liked the originals, you should definitely see this one. Regardless, because it’s now looking like Indy 5 and 6 will be a definite possibility (and the film gives us a clear clue as to who will replace Indy), this is the film that Spielberg needed to get out of his system so that he can truly wow us with a fifth one.

Reviews, Trailers, and a Harry Potter Prequel!

Posted in Book Buzz, Movie Buzz with tags , , , , , on May 28, 2008 by Brandon

Here’s the links to my last two stories in the Falcon.

Shultzy’s Sausage Reviews

“Meet Bill” Review

A bittersweet day when I wrote these; relief that they signified that I would soon be done with college, but also a sadness that I would be leaving the paper. I’ve worked at the Falcon for four quarters, and it’s been a blast all along, even when I’ve been working on articles that don’t motivate me too much. I met some really cool people, had the opportunity to take a class doing what I absolutely loved, and just really had a full-on blast. I could share my reviews and my thoughts with readership that wasn’t solely limited to this blog (and the Falcon is probably one of the main reasons I’ve found consistent motivation to be able to do this for so long). I was able to meet cool people, and combine my two greatest passions in this life: movies and writing. Now that it’s over I still plan on regularly updating this blog, and in light of that, here’s a couple of trailers that I’ve found interesting (and not so interesting) lately…

Step Brothers
The last few trailers for this film gave me some chuckles here and there, but on the whole, after Will Ferrell’s disappointing Semi-Pro I wasn’t really looking forward to it. It looked like forced awkwardness up the ying-yang, and I wasn’t ready for it. However, it is directed by Adam McKay (who co-started Funny or Die with Will Ferrell a couple years back), and he did do both Anchorman and Talladega Nights, and though not very many people liked Talladega Nights as a whole, I enjoyed it, so I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that this R-rating will give Adam McKay free reign to be as funny as he can be.

The Mummy 3
So I hate to admit it, but this trailer has doubled my excitement for this third movie. I wasn’t as big a fan of the second as I was of the first, but this trailer actually looks pretty kick-ass. I’m sad that Rachel Weisz isn’t back, but Maria Bello is a damn fine actress and I’m confident her abilities will be suited to the role. In any case, despite the fact that both Mummy movies received pretty bad reviews, I always enjoyed them. This trailer looks to up the action up ten thousand notches – looks like they’re goin’ all over the world, with no-holds barred fun. I mean, in a movie series that has been prime summer blockbusters in the past, though it has never been technically quality, it has always managed to be a rather fun ride. And when all you’re going for is a fun ride, there’s no reason not to make as kick-ass a picture as possible. My only reservation is that the director is Rob Cohen – yes, the Rob Cohen who directed the box-office bomb and universally despised film “Stealth.” I finally saw Stealth – only part of it, but it really is as God-awful as everyone says – don’t go anywhere near it. Michael Bay worthy, actually. So what else has he directed? Hmmm…..xXx, The Fast and the Furious, The Skulls….blech. He did do Dragonheart, though, which I also rather enjoyed. So The Mummy 3 could be either really fun or so stupid that it sucks all the fun out. Jet Li is in it, which is pretty cool, and it’s one of the few summer movies that I’m fairly excited about. We shall see.

And now for the news of the hour…..a Harry Potter prequel!?!
Alas, the news is not as exciting as it sounds. Merely 800 words, and only for a charity auction. Yeesh, how long is she gonna keep tempting us with more writing? First it was Tales of Beedle the Bard and now this? On the other hand, I am kind of relieved that she hasn’t sold out – she’s just writing for charity, not for personal gain at all, and she’s keeping her word about not going back to the Potter world. Regardless, she really needs to write another novel before I go bonkers. I know Harry Potter 7 only barely came out a year ago, but when your first novels are as fantastic as the Harry Potter series was, and you have the whole world practically holding their breath for you to come out with your next novel, it’s not polite to keep the public waiting.

Peace out.

Oh yeah, and my review of Indy 4 should be up soon.

The apocalypse has arrived…

Posted in TV Buzz with tags , , , , , on May 23, 2008 by Brandon

Yeah, you heard right. Jimmy Fallon has been officially signed to take Conan’s spot when he leaves for the Tonight Show. Regular readers of this blog (insert self-deprecating joke here about how many thousands of readers I have) will remember that I posted awhile back how it was a rumor. Well, the dealio has been signed, folks, and it don’t look like it’s gonna change. Ah well, who knows? Maybe Jimmy will prove us all wrong – Conan got all kinds of flack when he first started his hosting gig about fifteen years ago, so we’ll see how it goes.

And apparently Jay is going to be a free agent once this is all said and done with. I’ll keep y’all posted if I hear anything else. Yes, I know this particular news item is nearly a month late, but meh, if you’re reading this blog, you’re not much concerned with pressing news, although I do get the jump on some early projects occasionally.

I’ll be seeing the new Indiana Jones movies tonight and posting a review sometime next week, as well. Stay tuned.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (5/10)

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on May 22, 2008 by Brandon

More battles? Check. More in-your-face CGI? Check. The protagonist who was noble in the last film getting a darker side in this one? Check. Pointless romantic subplot? Check. Greater emphasis on special effects and less emphasis on story? Check. A shorter break at the beginning before the action begins? Check. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is a textbook sequel, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

The movie opens with what it would like us to believe is a bang, in which we learn that, surprise, trouble has beset Narnia, and a then it’s a quick cut to an unnamed London train station, where we see that our “The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe” protagonists aren’t doing so well one year after they left Narnia. Sibling rivalry tiffs erupt here and there, mainly due to Peter missing being a king and wanting to go back where he was respected and admired and not treated like a kid. Apparently this one year gap has affected their acting ability, too, and for the first twenty minutes of the movie their believability as siblings is glaringly lacking.

In any case, Peter gets his wish as a train comes barreling through the station and rips open a gigantic hole in the tunnel through which the children exit to find themselves on a beautiful beach. After narrowly escaping a close encounter with a bear and making friends with a grumpy little dwarf (Peter Dinklage, who outshines everyone else in this movie), the children learn that their one year absence corresponds to a 1300 year passage of time in Narnia, and they must aid a young man named Prince Caspian to regain his rightful place on Narnia’s throne.

Sounds like the set-up for an epic battle movie, don’t it?!? Yes, it does. It sounds exactly like the set-up for at least a dozen other epic battle movies that all of us have seen one too many times. CS Lewis managed to distinguish his book from this ilk by anchoring the story in some strong spiritual themes, not least of which was Narnians’ lack-of-belief in Aslan and the need to prove Narnia that it should never have stopped believing in its true king, but director Andrew Adamson jettisons away everything that he doesn’t see fit to the story and instead focuses on the only thing he really sees fit: Prince Caspian.

Okay, fine, Adamson, I’m with you, but you gotta make me care about this Caspian dude. Adamson fails at this too. Ben Barnes is a decent actor, looking like a young Keanu Reeves, but he hasn’t been in too many films and is easily outshined by William Moseley, who plays Peter. He also has little else to do but look angry in battle scenes, swing his sword in battle scenes, and, uh, scream in battle scenes. That’s what Prince Caspian is – one long, painfully protracted battle scene that, for two hours and twenty minutes, essentially won’t end.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m perfectly fine with movies that have non-stop action; in fact, they’re some of my favorite films out there, but Prince Caspian’s problem is that though it does contain some very fine battle scenes, it’s incredibly derivative and nothing more than a kiddie version of Lord of the Rings. There’s even a scene where a water crossing stops a horde of chasing, evil horsemen. That said, don’t go thinking this PG-rated affair isn’t violent – very often the violence borders on PG-13; in fact this may be one of the most violent PG movies ever made. Rarely ever is a drop of blood spilt, but there are plenty of arrows embedded in flash, barely-concealed neck-slashing with swords, and a hell of a lot of kicks and punches.

The best word to sum-up Prince Caspian? Hum-drum. Most everything that made the first movie enjoyable is violently ripped out, including Aslan, whose great CGI frame has reduced him to pathetic kitty cat, dream-figure, Deus ex Machina status. The main villain is worse than John Malkovich’s turn as the bad guy in “Eragon,” and Tilda Swinton’s icy wickedness as The White Witch will be sorely missed by many. However, it is a better film than most of the fantasy crap that studios are giving us these days, and even though I am being hard on the battle scenes they do go a long way with merely a PG-rating. That doesn’t make it good, though, and in any case, I demand more from my Lewis, and after the tremendously fulfilling “Wardrobe,” I think you should too.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (7/10)

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2008 by Brandon

Before I begin this review, I must state the following. Look briefly around the net, and you’ll find a disturbing trend in the reviews of this movie: a blatant lack of smart, analytical, and thoughtful criticism and a whole heap of hateful, spiteful condemnation that seem to only dismiss the movie based on its conservative foundation, and not on any important part of the movie itself. In my past twenty or so reviews, I have attempted to not really comment on what other people think of the movie, because I have wanted to formulate an opinion of the movie myself without giving some kind reactionary review. The reason I bring up others’ reviews this time is because I feel it is important if we are to look at this documentary in the right light – the message of the movie shouldn’t really matter that much – so long as it presents its message in a thoughtful, non-hateful, and even-handed way. But with Expelled, people don’t seem to care much about the way the story is presented – they write rants and usually find a way to inject their ideological views into the review – proving that they are not basing their review on rational, thoughtful criticism but only on being personally offended. A few years ago, Fahrenheit 9/11 was released – a film that I hated not because of its message (which, yes, I do disagree with, but that’s not my point), but because of the way it manipulatively communicated its message, shamelessly using war victims to tout its views, using back stock edited footage and fabricated stories, and all with a smug, self-assured look about itself. The ironic part was of course that while Moore was condemning Bush for being a liar, a thief, and a general all-around bad person, Moore was making up his own stories and trying to pass them off as Gospel truth. Critics even acknowledged that the documentary was shamelessly manipulative, and yet most of them still liked it – why? The liberal bias of the media. Most documentaries have got to have some kind of liberal message about them, or else critics will be quick to condemn it for being conservative. What I will try to argue in this review is that Expelled is actually a much better film than Fahrenheit 9/11, and highlights a disturbing trend in modern science that should probably not be ignored any longer.

The movie follows Ben Stein as he goes on a semi-globe-trotting near-messianic mission to show the world what’s happening in the classroom and the academia of our society – ideas are being oppressed for no other reason than posing a threat to the status quo.

The movie, thankfully, is quite willing to make fun of itself. In one instance where Stein is speaking with a scientist who was denied his tenure track for publishing an article saying that intelligent design *could* be possible, a clip from “Planet of the Apes” pops up, with one of the apes spraying a human down with a massive hose and yelling at him to shut up. A consistently lighthearted tone runs over the whole affair, and Stein’s self-effacing, deceptively schlumpy look really help to drive home the message and even catch a couple of his interviews with Darwinists off guard. One interview near the end with Richard Dawkins is priceless for how well it’s edited.

It’s certainly a fine piece of craftsmanship – complete with crescendoes of music at just the right moment, dramatic close-ups, self-consciously serious analysis of the facts, and several other filming techniques that will make movie buffs salivate. One thing I was watching for, though, is whether or not these techniques brought out the facts or covered them up pointlessly.

Not surprisingly, I found that the film did both. Many times the movie thinks it’s some kind of savior to the ID movement, and music plays ominously (or grandly depending on the scene), almost literally telling the audience, “Okay, here’s the part where you should feel really scared.” Or, “Now’s the time to feel inspired!” It’s too willing to paint big academia in only the worst possible light, and doesn’t seem to give the benefit of the doubt where it could.

The film’s biggest mistake, though is how it makes Intelligent Design look in relation to Darwinian evolution. Though Expelled would like you to believe that it doesn’t have this kind of agenda behind it, the clues are there if you look: the film believes that ID is some kind of savior-like answer to the evils of Darwinian evolution. There’s a pointless interlude where the film goes out of its way to scream at us the ties between Darwinism and Hitler. Yes, Hitler did believe in Darwinian evolution, and yes, if Darwin had never existed it’s likely 6 million Jews wouldn’t have died – but isn’t this beside the point? Darwin cannot be held responsible for the way people ended up interpreting his theory – if he could, then God would have to be held totally and completely responsible for the way humans have interpreted his commands (to very often disastrous effects) and the film fails to acknowledge this in any ways (even though Stein’s Jewish heritage is used as a manipulative focal point so that we can feel sorry along with Stein that the Holocaust happened). One thing the film does right, though, is acknowledge that it is important that Darwin’s theory of eugenics and natural selection was instrumental in Hitler’s ideology – not that he caused it or that the theories themselves should be discarded, just that they had a hand in it. And this is something which Darwinian evolutionists far too often ignore.

And that’s another thing that Expelled is good at: cutting to the heart of the matter (save for aforementioned Holocaust analysis), and bringing the questions directly to the scientists: what is science? Why should the possibility of an intelligent designer be completely excluded? It’s very very talented at completely overturning audience’s preconceptions about what science means exactly. At one point Stein is conversing with a scientist and asks, “So, let’s say Darwin viewed the cell as a Buick. Based on our scientific understanding of the cell now, how much greater complexity do we see that Darwin didn’t?” To which the scientist immediately responds, “A galaxy.” Militant atheists are quick to point out how our moral zeitgeist shifts and changes, and often use that as a refutation of religion, but they always get very snappy or edgy when you turn that lens back on them – whenever someone tries to touch that holy grail of an atheists’ belief, Darwinian evolution, you can be sure you’ll probably go deaf from their screaming.

All this, though, is beside the point. What is the point, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you, seeing as how you’re reading this review: Expelled is a fun but flawed documentary. It’s far too concerned with its own import, to the point where when it’s clearly trying to make fun of Michael Moore-like tactics, you can’t help but question if it’s unintentionally self-reflective. It paints big science in this terrible light and ID as the lone gunman who walks into the Old West town to take him out because “this town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

But the way Expelled gives its message should not be confused with the good intentions it has at its heart; you can bet that this was a labor of love for Ben Stein and that most of the money came out of his own pocket. It was given extremely limited release in the US and barely released any advertisements anywhere, and looks like it will fade out of theatres within two weeks. We also shouldn’t forget Dr. Alan Grant’s immortal words in that classic piece of action cinema, “Jurassic Park III”: “Some of the worst things imaginable have been made with the best intentions.” Expelled is not one of those worst things – it has talent, spunk, heart, soul (but it’s not a soldier as the end credits inform us), and a sincere desire to push what it believes is right. It IS too manipulative sometimes, it IS quite flawed, and it IS not perfect. If you see a review that’s going too far down one road, saying this is the second coming, or too far down the other, saying it’s the devil incarnate, chances are neither of them is much concerned with movie itself, merely its views. It’s a movie that anyone interested in the ID/evolution debate should see, and like any documentary, needs a few grains of salt to go down smoothly. Besides, it’s not like Stein is the first to question science’s dogma – atheists like Richard Dawkins and PZ Meyers are quick to say that, “if any evidence presented itself against evolution I would immediately discard evolution,” history has shown science to be far more dogmatic than this – once an idea is as entrenched as Darwinism is, you’d need something nearly earth-shattering to shake it loose – not because only some earth-shattering facts would shake Darwinism loose, but because only earth-shattering facts would be able to shake the Darwinists loose. This is what Expelled, is, in essence, all about – it’s not afraid to ask the big questions, it’s not afraid to get right in big science’s face and ask, “Is this really the only way the world can work?” and “Why is YOUR science the ONLY science?” Though it may be sometimes too confident that it holds the answer to everything, it’s a necessary film and one that will probably get the credit it deserves later on down the line.

The Zodiac writer strikes again….

Posted in Movie Buzz with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2008 by Brandon

Here’s some dandily fine news.

For all you regular readers out there (and I know my regular readers must number somewhere in the upper hundreds), you’ll remember that Zodiac was my second favorite movie last year. Even though Ratatouille was my first, I’ll have to say that Zodiac probably had a better script – despite its length, it managed to be chilling, scary, tightly written and delicately paced, with a solid shot of wow factor.

This news makes me really happy. Yup. Zodiac’s script-writer has just turned in a script for Spider-Man 4 and Spider-Man 5 to Sony Studios. I’m really excited to see how it’ll turn out – I have confidence in his abilities, especially when Sam Raimi is still possibly open to direct.

In other fun movie news, Tropic Thunder how has a redband trailer out. Am I the only one who notices that the credits say “Stiller Black Downey Jr.” and that Downey Jr. plays an actor who plays a black man? I wonder if they did it on purpose. I’m really excited for this movie – Zoolander did an excellent job parodying the really really ridiculously good-looking model world in it, and it showed some serious directing chops from Stiller. With him directing this new project it will be at least……three times this big! Oh, and cool, Steve Coogan is in it! I love him – even when he’s in mediocre project he keeps his tongue perfectly in cheek – sounds like the perfect guy for this movie.

And I was gonna post a link to the new Mummy 3 trailer but it looks like the link is down, so I’ll save my thoughts and comments for another day.

Speed Racer and Mario Kart

Posted in Falcon Articles with tags , , on May 14, 2008 by Brandon

So as promised, here are the links to my review of Speed Racer and Mario Kart. I’m quite proud of them – I think they’re a couple of the best reviews I’ve written this quarter. Hopefully you all will enjoy them too. And my Shultzy’s restaurant review has been delayed again – this week’s Falcon was a very tiny issue, just a 12-pager, but it might get squeezed in next week.

Speed Racer

Mario Kart Wii

“Come on, that move was weak!”
-Speed Racer