Tuesday, May 20, 2008
AZ/UT vacation, INDY 4 REVIEW, NARNIA, SPEED RACER, EMMA SMITH REVIEWS
Alright, a lot of good stuff this week, including my review of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL! WOO-HOO!
This actually comes from the second Narnia movie, Prince Caspian (the Narnia tales, of course, are Christian allegories). Speaking of Aslan (who represents Christ), two of the children have the following conversation:
PETER- "I just wish he'd give us some type of proof that he's coming."
LUCY- "Maybe we're the ones who are supposed to prove ourselves to him."
Gives me the chills (in a good way).
For both LDS Church members and not, this is the definitive biography of Church founder Joseph Smith. Thorough, respectful, fair, yet unflinching, this is an in-depth look at the man and the prophet, his virtues and his weaknesses. Written by Richard Bushman, the recently retired Dean of History at Columbia University (and former Harvard professor), this is one I cannot recommend highly enough. It has the single best counterargument to anti-Mormon claims of racism in The Book of Mormon that I have ever read, and that only takes two pages! Bushman is both a practicing Latter-Day Saint and a respected academic, and his "warts and all" approach reveals a flawed (but great) man who did remarkable things in the name of God.
THE REST OF MY ARIZONA TRIP!
Oh, what's to tell? I had In-N-Out burger with a friend who visited Jerusalem, Gethsemane, The Garden Tomb, Golgotha, etc. She told me wonderful, faith-promoting experiences about her time walking where the Savior walked. Most of my family met at Chuck-E-Cheese for games, food, and visiting. Eric kicked my butt at air hockey and shooting hoops, but Adam let me drive his Audi convertible, so it was a good night. I love my siblings, their spouses, and their kids. I went with my uncles Ross and Rick, as well as my grandparents, to check out the various family cabins in the Mogollon Rim. Great job, Dad, Carol, and company for the design job you did on our place. It's gorgeous!
Of course Rick and Joanne's place (not seen here) is less a cabin and more a resort. Three stories? Six bedrooms? Two huge flatscreen TV's with surround sound? Satellite reception? Pool table? Ping pong? Fooseball? Their own playground and playhouse? Grass field for football and wuffleball? Basketball court? Jacuzzi on the way? The place is an oasis!
It was bittersweet to spend time with my grandparents, seeing Grandpa fading from Alzheimers like he is. But he and Grandma are still very much in love and keep trudging along! I spent the night with Shanon and Jared. I went with Shan to Abby and Jake's swim lessons (Jake's aquaphobia and repeated cries of "I want out!" were simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious).
MY UTAH TRIP!
Flew from AZ to UT, went to Alan and Megan's wedding and the surrounding events (dinner at Chef's Table, reception at a home and gardening place; bizarre, yes, to be eating cake at a place that sells manure and lawn fixtures, but the acres of flowers and white lights made it very pretty). Alan, for those who don't know, is my ex-roommate and my costar and director in CTU Provo.
After the wedding dinner, Charan, Ryan Croker, and I went to Barnes and Noble, where Charan, who is Indian, was picking up a copy of Kama Sutra for the happy couple, as "a gift from his people."
I had some fun, however, when Charan was waiting in line to buy the book. Here at a bookstore in conservative Provo, he hid the book's cover from the view of the fellow customers in line. I walked up and pretended that I hadn't seen him in forever, and the following exchange took place:
ME (super loud): Charan! Charan Prabhakar! No way! How are you man? It's been forever!
CHARAN: Uh, Jono...hi? What're you doi-
ME: Man, fancy seeing you at a bookstore, of all places! What're you buying?
I took the book from his hand and read the title
ME: "The Complete...Ka...ma...Su...tra?" What's this?
Heads turn, ears perk up.
CHARAN: Uh, Jono, you kno-
I open the book and look inside.
ME: Is this some sort of cultural...oh! OH MY GOSH!!! Dude, do you know what this is? Sick, man! You're not even married! I expected more out of...Well (awkwardly), I gotta run. Good to see you.
Hahaha! Yes! I am awesome! People were giving him the "stink eye!"
So, they got sealed in the Mt. Timpanogos temple, and the ceremony was beautiful. There was a great spirit there, and my testimony of the Gospel and God's love for us was once again confirmed by the Holy Ghost. The next day, Charan and I met up with our friends Kelsey, Kim, and Mike (Kim's husband) at Lagoon for a day of fun in the sun!
Every time we go, we do the bungee swing (70 foot free-fall followed by a flying swing out over the entire park, from over a 100 feet up). We tried to take a picture of Charan pretending to have fainted from fear afterwards, but the Lagoon employees took it serious and nearly called an ambulance, so we opted out of the picture to show that Charan was indeed alright.
On Sunday I went to my old ward at BYU, then ate dinner with Charan's family, who always took care of me back when I lived in Provo. I had dessert with my friend Carrie, and we watched "The Office" season finale. I saw a lot of my old Divine Comedy friends (even saw Taylor at Lagoon!), and very much enjoyed laughing with them again. One of our favorite things to do is watch Rifftrax (we did the I AM LEGEND one this week). If you don't know what Rifftrax are, go to http://www.rifftrax.com and click on some free samples! I swear, they make me laugh so hard. For best results, choose a crappy movie instead of a good one. Daredevil, Eragon, and Reign of Fire are my top recommendations for whole movie downloads.
Anyway, in the rest of my time in Provo, I went to the Provo Temple, hung out with friends, and just plain relaxed. Now I'm back in Auburn, and have hit the ground running with classes and work.
MOVIE REVIEW: SPEED RACER
For such an silly, fluffy movie, Speed Racer needed more self-aware campy humor to be enjoyable. As it is, it bores in stretches and can't decide whether to take itself too seriously or not seriously at all. Had it fully embraced the latter, it could have been a lot of fun. As it is, the visuals are inventive and impressive, Lost's Matthew Fox is awesome (he alone, as the deep-voiced and impossibly macho "Racer X", seems to understand the type of cheesy fun this movie should be), and Christina Ricci has never looked hotter, so it's not a total loss. It's just not a movie that I'd watch again. **1/2 (out of five)
MOVIE REVIEW: THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA- PRINCE CASPIAN
While I enjoyed the first film's story more (it was so clearly an allegory for The Atonement, The Resurrection, the Battle of Armageddon, and the Millennium), this one is better made, better written, and better acted. Plus, it has a healthy share of Christian symbolism itself, some rockin' battle sequences (how this is only PG baffles me; the intensity of the action has PG-13 written all over it), and some of the best effects I've ever seen (the badger, in particular, is photo-real). The idea that the kids actually grew up in Narnia, then returned to their world while retaining all their knowledge and maturity intrigued me (and it makes their battle skills more believable). All that said, I still didn't find myself nearly as emotionally invested or involved in this as I was with The Lord of the Rings, the standard with which it will always, perhaps unfairly, be compared. Why Narnian humans have Italian accents now is beyond me, and some of the jokes fall flat, but all in all it was very good; better than the first in terms of storytelling, character, and filmmaking. ***1/2 (out of five).
MOVIE REVIEW: EMMA SMITH- MY STORY
There is a companion novel to Orson Scott Card's classic Ender's Game, called Ender's Shadow, which tells the exact same story from the perspective of a different character. Similarly, the surprisingly solid Emma Smith: My Story can be seen as a companion film to the current temple square movie Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration. Featuring the same cast, the same writer, and the same director as that film (even incorporating unused scenes from it), this excellent biographical take on Emma's life was made by the Joseph Smith and Emma Hale Historical Society, with full participation by both the LDS Church and the Community of Christ. Well acted, gorgeously shot, and full of historical and spiritual insight, this film covers the life of this "elect lady," focusing on her faithfulness during the events of the Restoration, but also covering (quite fairly, I might add) such hot-button topics as her later years and her reaction to the revelation on plural marriage. The result is a fascinating and testimony-building look at an oft-misunderstood figure in Church history, not only as the Prophet's wife, but as a remarkable woman in her own right. **** (out of five).
MOVIE REVIEW: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
Where do I start? For nearly twenty years, the original trilogy has stood alone, nearly perfect, and repeat viewings have cemented its virtues in the minds of nerds everywhere. For at least a decade, rumors of a fourth film have had fans salivating, anticipating, and hoping. This film had an uphill battle from the start: how do you measure up to ten years of rabid anticipation?
You can't. So here is: The Bad News- this is the weakest film of the series. The Good News: it's still more fun than most movies you'll see this year. The Great News: Ladies and gentlemen, Harrison Ford has got his groove back!
That's right, having not had a hit since 2000's What Lies Beneath, the a**-kicking, wisecracking, scoundrel with a heart of gold that you grew up with is back in fine form. Gone is the grumpy old coot who has phoned in performances in roles not worthy of him. Back is the iconic actor who thrilled you as Han Solo, Indy, Jack Ryan, and The Fugitive. Harrison Ford actually gives a hoot. Not only that, but dude has been working out! He's in better shape in his 60's than most of us are in our 20's and 30's, and his action work in this movie will make you a believer. In spite of whatever flaws the film may have, the triumphant return of the Harrison Ford you know and love is reason enough to see the movie.
So, to end the review with the virtues of the film, I'll address right now the primary concern: lower your expectations. Deflate the hype and just enjoy the ride. See, the problem with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not that it's bad. In fact, it's quite good. But the series had (theoretically) ended on such a high note with Last Crusade, it's a bit disheartening to see the series finish with a very good movie instead of a great one. Unlike the excellent Rocky Balboa, which redeemed that franchise by rescuing it from the awful Rocky V, Indiana Jones was not a franchise in need of redemption. However, if you're Jonesin' for a good new Indy adventure, this'll meet your needs.
Some things that might be percieved as flaws in the film may actually just be departures from formula that I might appreciate more with repeat viewings. Specifically, the artifact in question is not a religious one, as in the previous films, and the narrative and tonal direction the film takes might be jarring to fans. In fact, the entire main plot is only so-so, and the climax, while visually stunning, seems out of place in an Indy film. It would fit just as well in National Treasure, The Mummy, or even The X-Files, and doesn't carry the emotional or visceral punch of its predecessors. Plus, the film drags in the middle and some of it just doesn't make sense (though the type of power the Russians are seeking, though seemingly farfetched, is actually a power they really pursued).
So what does work? A lot, actually! First of all, the action is up to par, no small feat given Ford's age and the fact that he did much of his own stuntwork. There is a fistfight with a big Russian that hearkened back to the old days and made me very happy. And, as each Indy film reveals something new about the character, the portrayal of an older, wiser, and more kindly Indiana Jones (who still kicks butt) is fascinating. As is the removal of the character from the 1930's and relocating him to the 1950's. He emerges here as a truly American hero, and the provided backstory of his life in the years since we last saw him (after all, WWII happened in that time) is wonderful. I enjoyed the Russian villains. Shia Labeuf does just fine, and his chemistry with Ford is amusing. One returning character is most welcome, giving the film the emotional boost it needs. The post-climatic finale is sweet and crowd-pleasing, and while a few jokes fall flat, a lot of them stick, and I found myself chuckling often and enjoying a sprinkling of belly laughs throughout.
The use of CGI is not distracting, as it is primarily limited to shots where miniatures, stop-motion animation, and matte paintings would have been used in the original trilogy. We still get great, real-life stunts and giant, constructed sets. The creepy-crawlers are up to par with the previous films (spiders, snakes, bugs, rats, bats...now what? You'll see!) Cate Blanchett is chewing scenery and fun as heck as a Russian villain. Warning: you do have to get into the mindset of enjoying over-the-top action for this. Like in Temple of Doom, where they jump out of a plane using a self-inflating river-raft as a parachute? Or Last Crusade, when the plane follows the car into a tunnel? Yeah, be prepared for some cheesy scenes that'll make you roll your eyes unless you've got a fun, go with the flow attitude.
But when all is said and done...it comes back to Ford. The man is Indiana Jones, and it's good to see him in the fedora and jacket, bullwhip in hand. The script may stumble a bit, the storyline may be a departure from formula, but with Ford at the helm (and clearly, for the first time in a long time, having fun!), the movie works. It has enough of the classic elements in place to qualify as an Indiana Jones film and earn its rightful place in the canon. *** (out of five).