Monday, May 12, 2008

GREETINGS FROM AZ, MOTHER'S DAY, MY INDIANA JONES GUIDE, MORE!

He was smiling right before this, I swear.

Yes! One year down, one to go for graduate school! I'm now in the great state of Arizona, and dry heat never felt so good. In this week's edition, you'll get a recap of the past week (of course), a spiritual thought, a look at some crazy animals, and my in-depth look at the original Indiana Jones trilogy to help you prepare for the big event next week. Let's dive right in!

POSITIVE REVIEWS FOR CTU PROVO!


First of all, two of the biggest international 24 fansites (www.24fans.com, and www.24headquarters.com) have reviewed CTU PROVO and are recommending it to 24 fans around the world. This was yesterday, and the downloads of the movie at our website have already jumped! www.24fans.com had this to say about our movie:

CTU: Provo” is a fanmade ‘parody-homage’ which runs to a full 90 minutes. Don’t be mislead by the word 'fanmade', the film has very impressive production qualities, enjoys an excellent cast, a solid script and direction which at times is more inventive than that shown on the show itself in recent times.

The film follows the team of a CTU field office, a Jack Bauer wannabe and his best-friend as they try to avert an eco-terrorist threat made against the most unlikely of targets, the small town of Provo, Utah. What ensues is at times exciting, funny, or just down-right silly, but always highly entertaining. In short, if you're in need of something to watch while you soldier on through the torturous wait until Series 7, then this is heaven sent and highly recommended."

And www.24headquarters.com has this to add:

"We’ve all seen our fair share of 24 spoofs, but Alan Seawright’s CTU: Provo takes the cake. Seawright spent $15,000 to create the first feature length 24 homage parody. I didn’t want to spoil it, but Donny Osmond! As the bad guy! In Utah! I’m sorry, that made me laugh. Good luck to Seawright and crew on their future endeavors."

If you haven't seen CTU Provo yet, you can download it at www.ctuprovo.com

THIS PAST WEEK
Finished my finals, had two great therapy sessions (one at our clinic, the other at the juvenile detention center), had a great meeting with the Teen Advisory Board (more on that at a later time), and went to the zoo in Montgomery. I was supposed to be observing and taking notes on the behavior of elementary school kids who were there on a field trip, but found myself a little distracted by the animals. Like this one!


Seriously, doesn't this star-backed turtle look like it belongs in the world of Super Mario Brothers? Crazy stuff! In other news, I went with a friend to The Alabama Shakespeare Festival where we had a picnic and went to see a stage version of The Count of Monte Cristo (I know, not one of Shakespeare's work). The play was pretty good (it ended strongly, but the book and the movie tell the tale better), and a fun night. I had dinner with another friend in Atlanta on Saturday, at a delicious but ghetto Chinese place. Our waiter was Mexican, the music was country, and the food Chinese. What the heck? I also spent this week rewatching the original Indiana Jones trilogy with my friends Caitlynn and Tiffany. We fought a thunderstorm to go pick up some Little Ceaser's Pizza, and had a little marathon. More on that later.

ARIZONA BABY!
Caitlynn and Tiffany braved a tornado warning to drive me to the airport early yesterday morning, and I thank them. I'm back, and after just one day I feel so recharged! Zona is Zion! I went almost straight from the airport to Church, then napped and had a delicious Mother's Day dinner that my Dad cooked for Carol. My stepbro, Matt, was there. He and I are the only singles in this family over the age of seven, so we've got to stick together. He's a cool guy, and we get along famously. It's 90 degrees and beautiful here. I'd take 100 degrees in AZ over 80 degrees in Alabama any day!


SPIRITUAL THOUGHT:
This was from a sacrament talk yesterday, given by a teenage boy about lessons learned from his mom: "Be like a sponge. Absorb knowledge." Good advice in general, but he took it one step further, writing those words on the inside cover of a Book of Mormon he gave to a teacher.

MOTHER'S DAY:
Happy belated one to all who apply. Yesterday Dad, Carol, and I went to the cemetery to visit Mom. Carol stayed for a few minutes, then went to visit her own mother's grave, giving Dad and I a moment alone with Mom. If I start writing about her, I won't stop, so I'll keep this simple: I thank Heavenly Father for that fun, selfless, spiritual woman and her continuing influence in my life. As much as I want to return to God's presence, one of the greatest motivators I have to follow the Savior is to see Mom again. While at her grave, a scripture came to mind that describes her perfectly:

" Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her...she will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She girdeth her loins with strength...she stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of the household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her at the gates. " - PROVERBS 31:10-12, 20, 25-31.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Love and miss you. Can't wait to see you again.

NEW HOUSE!
Dad and Carol bought a new place in Mesa. It's huge, it's gorgeous (very Southwest in design), it's in a great neighborhood. There's just one problem: scorpions! The previous owners divorced and moved out, and nobody has lived there for a year to control the arachnids. If you didn't know, scorpions glow in the dark when you shine a black light on them, as you can see below:


Scorpion hunts are great fun; it's dark, there's an element of danger, etc. Once you spot a glowing scorpion, you just smash it with a hammer! The first hunt, several weeks ago, yielded a scorpion kill count of 60! 60! Yeesh. The last time they got about 15. Last night we only found 3 (and one black widow), so this is a good sign for the property. They've almost been weeded out. My sister Shanon, her husband Jared, and their kids Abby, Jake (in the top picture), and Lily came to play with us at the house. The kids love scorpion hunting. They also love piggie-back rides and trying to kill me through play.

JONO'S GUIDE TO THE ORIGINAL INDIANA JONES TRILOGY!


May 22 is only ten days away, marking the glorious return of arguably the silver screen's greatest action hero. I've already got my ticket to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and this past week I rewatched the original three to get myself psyched (it worked: the "Raiders March" has been stuck in my head for days, and I'm just fine with that). The following is my take on each of the original three (including why I've changed my mind about Temple of Doom). As the fourth movie may have some returning characters and plot elements, I've also included a brief plot summary for each movie for those who won't be able to rewatch the trilogy before the 22nd. Here we go!

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)


Plot summary: The year is 1936. Indiana Jones, treasure hunter and professor of archeology, is recruited by the U.S. government to find the biblical Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. Hitler is obsessed with finding religious artifacts with real or symbolic power as he builds steam toward world domination, and the Ark (which contained the Ten Commandments) is recorded in The Bible as parting rivers, leveling mountains, and laying waste to opposing armies. As Indy races the beat the Nazis to the Ark, he is joined by his friend Sallah (an excavator in Egypt) and his ex-flame Marion Ravenwood, with whom he rekindles an old romance. SPOILER ALERT (skip to the review if you don't want to know the ending): The Ark is found, but when the Nazis attempt to use it, they are destroyed by the wrath of God. Indiana brings the Ark to the U.S. government, but is denied in his request to study it. At the end of the film, the Ark is loaded into a crate marked "Top Secret" and is stored in a vast U.S. government warehouse of similar crates, ending the film with a conspiracy theory ("what else is the government hiding?") that would do 'The X-Files' proud.


REVIEW: What can one say about Raiders that hasn't been said? This is, in my opinion, one of the five best action movies ever made (the others? Die Hard, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Matrix, and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy). This movie has it all: a smart story (Hitler actually was looking for the Ark in the 1930's), rich characters, memorable villains, scares, amazing sets, iconic music, solid comedy, a likable and unsentimental romance, fascinating mythology, and some of the greatest stunt/action sequences ever filmed (the opening and the truck chase stand out in particular).


Raiders also benefits from the best leading lady in the series. As Marion Ravenwood, Karen Allen displays a tomboyish charm, spunk, and an unwillingness to simply be a damsel-in-distress (case in point: when locked in the cockpit of a grounded bomber, she calls for Indiana's help for a few seconds, then decides to kill some time by manning the machine gun and mowing down some Nazis!) The scene where she kisses Indy's wounds, which in another movie would be sexualized, is here very tender. Marion is resourceful, smart, and tough, making her the only love interest in the series who is Indy's perfect match.

As Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford completely inhabits the character, creating a man who is both an academic and an adventurer, who is a bit of a scoundrel but also cares about people. Most importantly, he was an action hero who was self-deprecating and imperfect. Up until that point, the James Bonds, the John Waynes, and the Clint Eastwoods were all extremely macho, "men's men" more prone to giving beatings than taking them. Even though Ford's Indiana Jones is tough and intelligent, he's constantly being outsmarted and out-punched. You know he'll win in the end, but usually he'll have to dig deep and use all of his ingenuity, physicality, and luck to to pull it out at the last second. Though John McClane and other heroes have followed the same template, Dr. Jones is the original and the best. * * * * * (out of five)

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)



Plot Summary: The year is 1935. Indiana Jones has recovered a valuable artifact for a Chinese gangster. When the exchange at the gangster's Shanghai night club turns into a double-cross, Indiana takes hostage one of the female performers, Willie Scott. They narrowly escape with the help of Short Round, a Chinese orphan/pickpocket whom Indy has taken under his wing. A series of unfortunate events lands the trio in India, where they happen upon a village whose children have been abducted by a vicious cult. To make matters worse, the cult has stolen a sacred Sankara stone from the village, a stone which incurs the favor of the gods and causes the village to prosper. Without it, the crops have dried up and the people are starving to death. The village views the arrival of Indy and company as an answer to prayer. The trio agree to help out, but only out of selfish desire for the "fortune and glory" the recovery of the stone will bring. Their motives change, however, when they encounter the cult and see with their own eyes its practices of human sacrifice and child slavery. The quest for riches and fame becomes a rescue mission to save the children, destroy the evil cult, and restore the dying village to prosperity. SPOILER ALERT (skip to the review if you don't want to know the ending): basically, the good guys win, and the cult is wiped out by Indiana Jones, British soldiers, and the power of the Hindu god Shiva. There's a big, fat, happy ending when the children and the stone are returned to the village (families are together, the kids are safe, the land is fertile again, Indy gets the girl, Short Round gets an elephant, etc.)


REVIEW: For many, Temple of Doom is such a radical departure from the other two movies that it doesn't sit well. For them, the comedy is too broad, the tone too dark, the action too over the top, and Kate Capshaw too...screamy. Many cite it as their least favorite, and some downright hate the movie. I was one of those people for many years. But just as certain foods are an acquired taste, Temple of Doom's charms have grown on me, and I've done a complete 180 on my opinion of it. That's why I'm calling this review "Give It Another Chance, OR: Why I LOVE Temple of Doom!" and formatting it almost as a legal defense. I will address the regular complaints against the film and show why these perceived weaknesses are actually strengths.


COMPLAINT #1: The film is too violent and dark. WHY THIS IS A STRENGTH: While Raiders and Last Crusade, with discretion, can be enjoyed by the whole family, Temple of Doom is much more scary and intense, which is part of why I didn't like it as a child but do now that I'm older. I've always thought that heroes are so much more heroic when they're facing greater menace (like the Aragorn facing the horrific Uru-Kai in The Lord of the Rings). True, in the other movies Indy is fighting the Nazis (officially as evil as it gets) but those movie Nazis didn't possess the menace of the real ones. We never see them do anything truly terrible. The Thuggee cult, however, is shown engaging in human sacrifice, enslaving and whipping children (this isn't dwelt on, but it happens), using voodoo dolls, and other creepy things. Some say this is too dark, but I say that darkness, when used to contrast the light, makes the light shine brighter. Plus, the dark and harsh portion of the movie only lasts 20 minutes of the films' 120 minute running time! For the first hour, before entering the temple of doom, there's action, fun, creepy critters, booby traps, close escapes... everything you want in an Indy film. Then the humor and sense of fun disappears for 20 minutes as the film descends into hell. It never loses its sense of compassion for the enslaved children, or its notion that the cults' practices are horrific and wrong, but for 20 minutes the audience is treated to a nightmare that lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating. Why is this a good thing? Because it sets up what is, in my opinion, Indy's finest hour. The audience feels for the children, and I get the chills when Willie says: "Indy, let's get out of here," and he replies: "Right...all of us!" The next shot is of a slave-master throwing a child to the ground, about to raise the whip, then looking up to see the silhouette of JUSTICE! (see the image below). In that moment, you know that the terror is over, and that Indy is going to be kicking a** and taking names for the wrongs done deep underground. This sets off one of the great stretches of nonstop action in cinema, as Indy fights to free the children and escape with Short Round and Willie, in a breathtaking 30 minute crescendo of one amazing set piece on top of another. Cap that off with a happy ending, and you have a literal thrill ride that has successfully taken you from entertainment to terror and back to the top again.


COMPLAINT 2: It's too radically different from the other movies, and the action is over the top. WHY THIS IS A STRENGTH: As I get older, I realize that, in terms of plot, Last Crusade is a rehash of Raiders (with a twist, which is why it works, but still). Temple of Doom is bold, trying something radically new. If Raiders' tone is a tribute to the cliffhanger serials of the 1930's, Temple of Doom's tone is a tribute to the horror films of the same era (Frankenstein, Dracula), where the evil villains are over the top and do that crazy villain laugh that is only parodied these days. While Raiders is a smart, plot-driven movie, Temple of Doom was only ever meant to be a rollercoaster. It's dumb fun, but that's what it's going for. The action is over-the-top, but that's part of the fantasy. Plus, while the other Indy movies are all about him preventing something and traveling all over the world, this has him engaged in a rescue mission, stopping an evil that is already occurring, and takes place mostly in the same location. It's a fun departure from formula.

COMPLAINT 3: The comedy is too broad, and Kate Capshaw is too...screamy. WHY THIS IS A STRENGTH: If you look at the movie as a self-aware, campy horror movie with an action hero dropped in the middle, Kate Capshaw's screaming actually fits right in. Some find this annoying when comparing it to Marion's toughness in the first movie, but if you take Temple of Doom on its own terms (as a tongue-in-cheek homage to classic horror, not a tonal sequel to Raiders), it works fine. Also, now that I'm older, I find Kate Capeshaw's performance to be quite funny. She seems to be channeling Lucille Ball a bit. And yes, the comedy is not as witty as Raiders or Last Crusade. It's a bit more campy and silly, but that plays into the film's tone. Like Tremors or Brendan Fraser's The Mummy, Temple of Doom has a charming, self-aware, tongue-in-cheek silliness to it. As was the case of those two movies, it's a type of humor that seemed cheesy when I was younger, but is now funny because I realize that the camp is intentional. Plus, the comedic style also helps balance out the scares because it suggests to the audience that none of this is to be taken too seriously.


In short, Temple of Doom is daring, inventive, and the most thrilling in the series. A movie that opens with a Rogers and Hammerstein-style musical number called "Anything Goes" lives up to that motto, as the film is enjoyably unpredictable; like a good roller-coaster, you never know what's just around the corner. It successfully mixes romance, tender friendship, horror, broad comedy, and truly crazy stuntwork. While the other Indy films are popcorn movies with smarts and substance, this is proudly just a popcorn movie, through and through. But what a ride! * * * * (out of five).

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)



Plot Summary: The year is 1938. Indiana Jones sets out to find his estranged father (played by Sean Connery) who has gone missing in a search for the Holy Grail, which is the cup used by Jesus Christ in the Last Supper and which caught His blood at the crucifixion. Legend holds that the Holy Grail gives immortality to whoever drinks from it. Indy is accompanied by friend and museum curator Marcus Brody and by Sallah (both returning from 'Raiders'), as well as by beautiful female archeologist Elsa Schneider, who was the last person to see Indy's father alive. Indy finds his cantankerous father, and the decades-old bickering resumes as they search for the Grail, outrun Nazis (Hitler really was looking for this, as well), and work out the issues that have kept them apart for so many years. SPOILER ALERT (skip to the review if you don't want to know the ending): They find the Grail, and both Indy and father drink from it, saving the dad's life and granting them both immortality. However, Elsa (who's actually evil) greedily takes the Grail past a forbidden seal, rendering the Joneses mortal again and causing the whole area to collapse in an earthquake. She falls to her death, and Indiana risks the same fate as he tries to recover the Grail, presumably for his father, whose life's work (and reason for parental neglect) has been the quest to acquire it. In a truly touching moment, Indy's father tells him gently to "let it go," suggesting that he cares more about his son's life than the Grail. Their relationship healed (though the comedic bickering, thankfully, remains) father, son, and friends ride into the sunset.


REVIEW: Though the plotline is similar in many respects to Raiders (Indy races the Nazis to an artifact which Hitler wants for world domination), Last Crusade is less about plot and more about character, relationships, and comedy. If Raiders is the smartest film in the trilogy, and Temple of Doom is the biggest thrill ride, Last Crusade is by far both the funniest and the most emotionally involving, rendering it many fans' favorite film of the three (including mine).


The film has the all of the excellent action sequences (in this case, vehicular chases are the norm, with all sorts of stunt-filled highlights involving trains, boats, motorcycles, planes, and tanks), creepy-crawly moments, mysticism, exotic locales, and booby traps that one expects from an Indiana Jones movie. What truly sets it apart is a script that, beginning with the intro of Sean Connery's character 45 minutes in, is loaded with almost nonstop comedy (though the finale is both truly touching and thrilling). What's more, it's not just comedy for the sake of laughter; by and large it establishes the characters' relationships and moves the story along. While both Harrison Ford and Sean Connery are absolutely iconic actors, neither of them has ever, before or since, displayed such prowess with funny dialogue, and it's obvious that both of them are having the time of their life with this.


One of the neat things about the Indiana Jones movies is that each film reveals something new about our hero's character. There are different virtues and flaws on display each time. Raiders gave us a taste of his romantic side, his academic mind, and his tenacity against obstacles. Temple of Doom highlights his capacity for both greed and compassion, as well as a paternal side in his relationship with Short Round. Last Crusade, without laying it on too thick, shows a man who is still aching from a lonely childhood. This larger-than-life hero, who smirks at Nazis and courageously challenges a tank while on horseback (armed with just a pistol!), is vulnerable only to his father's disapproval. He resents the man who "taught him self-reliance" but discovers that he respects and loves that man as well. Of course the movie handles it in a way that is more subtle and less sappy than I've made it sound, but it's there, nonetheless. Connery, on the other hand, plays gloriously against type as a bookish old man, unaccustomed to danger, but still with hidden strength. He and Ford have a glowing chemistry here, and it's their interplay that elevates this from "Very Good" to "Truly Great." * * * * 1/2 (out of five).

MAY 22, 2008: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL


video

OH YEAH!

4 comments:

The Scotts said...

YEA!!! I made the post! Very sweet tribute to the madre. We are glad that you are here in the hottest state. Maybe I should move and then I might love the heat as much as you do. Thanks for the Indiana update. We shall be seeing you some more!

The Drigganator said...

Jono - Props on the movie recognition to you and your 24 gurus...that is awesome! Summer and I often discuss how much of a young stallion you are; especially going back east, away from family to better your future....you're a stud!

Brett said...

Short Round will always hold a special place in my heart.

The Driggs said...

Sorry I didn't get to see you when you were in AZ. I actually drove in the day AFTER you left! Sweet tribute to Mom. She is sorely missed. Glad you could do a scorpion hunt. Mom loved those! The kids are beckoning...gotta go!