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!
Seriously, does he look any older? The man has still got it!
(Review at the bottom of this post).

SPIRITUAL THOUGHT:

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).


BOOK RECOMMENDATION:


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!



Our neighborhood

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?
CHARAN: Uh...
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!


After the river-rafting ride.


Yes, Charan is an "Indian Indian." That rules.

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).

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!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

CTU Provo Southern Premiere, IRON MAN review, SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEW, more!

Some 30 people attended the CTU PROVO Southern Premiere.
This was taken before the feature started.


Whaddup y'all?

Well, two finals down, one to go, then I'll have my first year of grad school under my belt. What happened this week? Well, we had an Elder's Quorom game night; my team rocked Cranium, but ultimately lost. That's a fun game! We don't do a lot of EQ activities (lots of branch and/or YSA activities), and it was cool to get to know all the other guys better.




I saw a real-life fox running through town yesterday, and true to form, it was clever! I'd never seen an animal actually pause and look both ways before crossing the street until now (hence the roadkill of many other species). This fox actually waited for an opening in traffic! Smart creatures. So ladies, next time a guy calls you a fox, it may not just mean that you're hot...he may be complimenting you for your assets above the neck as well.


My friend Rachel had her birthday dinner at Johnny Carino's. Let's just say that things get out of hand if I drink caffeine.



Let's see, I saw Iron Man (more on that in a second), I helped a friend move, went to a lunch one day and a dinner BBQ the next with my co-workers. The BBQ was at Francesca's house (she's my boss; really smart lady, with a good balance between business sense and personability). I got sucked into playing kickball and trampoline games with the kids (yes, I'm aware of the weight differential and I was careful). I love the South; they'll find any excuse to have a barbeque!



And finally, last night was the East Coast premiere of CTU:PROVO. We piggie-backed onto the end of the institute closing social, and between the YSA's and invited guests, we had about 30 people there for barbeque (once again), swimming, and ultimate frisbee before the movie. The latter was the most fun; my branch president and his wife have some great moves. A girl named Mary brought her big black dog, who got involved in the Ultimate Frisbee game by chasing/catching the frisbee, barking at people, and actually biting a couple of individuals who got too close to its master! It was an exciting and terrifying way to play the game, and reminded me of the scene in Gladiator where they release the tigers to increase the stakes. My team did win, BTW. We then watched the movie on a 12-foot projector screen with great sound. It was well-received, and I'm grateful to all who came and supported. The humor went over well, people were complimentary of the technical aspects, and the final fight drew audible reactions from the crowd (gasping, cheering, etc.), which moistened my heart.


IRON MAN REVIEW AND SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEW:

MOVIE REVIEW: IRON MAN



The Gyst: With hard-hitting action, unsentimental morality, and a fantastic dry wit (courtesy of a great script and Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent delivery), Iron Man is the perfect film to open the summer. Which isn't to say it's a 'perfect film', but its so much fun, you won't care. **** (out of five). PG-13 (bloodless but intense action violence, a five-second makeout/sex scene).



The Full Scoop: The best superhero movies all have three things: a solid script, iconic characters, and great actors. Iron Man is well-stocked for the latter. Just look at the photo above: we're talking Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, and Jeff freaking Bridges! The script is also quite good; it's your standard superhero origin story, but it has more than enough originality (both in its morality and in its snappy dialogue) to give it a boost. And while Iron Man isn't the iconic character that Batman, Superman, or Spiderman is, this movie just might make him so.


Directed by John Favreau (who brought a sense of wonder and brilliant comedy to Elf), Iron Man is set above similar films by its sense of humor and Robert Downey Jr.'s too-cool performance as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Yes, it has awesome effects and some delightfully hard-hitting action, but this is really Robert Downey Jr.'s show. Like Christian Bale, Tobey McGuire, and Johnny Depp before him, this is a decorated actor, well-respected by film-buffs, who is about to become a household superstar thanks to a popcorn movie. His Tony Stark makes the transformation from selfish, hedonistic playboy to moral crusader without losing his coolness or sardonic wit. Like Batman, Iron Man is a self-made superhero, a wealthy mortal with smarts and means but no powers to speak of. And while Batman Begins still holds the title for Best Superhero Movie Ever Made, I dare say that Tony Stark has more fun creating his alter-ego than Bruce Wayne did.


What more can be said about this film than has been said by the nation's critics, who've contributed to its unheard-of 94% approval rating on rottentomatoes.com!?! Obviously, you must see the film. The supporting cast is underused, but well-acted, and I cannot wait to see what they do in the next film (Gwyneth Paltrow, in particular, has fun here, and her chemistry with Downey Jr. is a kick). The action is absolutely rocking. The film's attitude is infectious, its humor: spot-on. But I do wish to emphasize that, despite its critical acclaim, it remains a very good film, but not a truly great one. It lacks the pacing of a Batman Begins, the menace of an X2: X-Men United. The film drags a tiny bit, and while the final action climax is thrilling, it doesn't carry enough emotional weight to feel like anything more than an effects extravaganza (in contrast, an earlier action piece of Iron Man's first real mission is an absolute knockout). Don't get me wrong, there's a place for that sort of "boom-smash entertainment" (Transformers), and it works just fine here. I'm not knocking the film, I'm just saying that now that Iron Man's origin is out of the way, I look forward to a second film where the villain-hero conflict has a whole movie to build some steam. Quibbles aside, Iron Man has more than enough charm, thrills, and emotional gravitas to be the can't miss film of the summer. At least until Indy and Batman pop up. Which brings me to my next item of business:

JONO'S SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEW!
Sitting in the theater on Friday, watching the previews heralding Summer Movie Season (my favorite time of the year, sorry Christmas), I was struck with one thought: this is going to be one fantastic summer. So now, for your consideration, the films on our horizon (note: this list only contains those movies I want to see. Chick flicks are not to be found unless they look any good).

OUT NOW
Son of Rambow: Independent British comedy about two little English boys who see First Blood and set out to make their own Rambo movie. This was a Sundance darling and has been a hit with critics. Looks absolutely adorable, even if you've no love for Stallone.


Baby Mama: Tina Fey? Amy Poehler? Yes please. Looks funny.



MAY 9
Speed Racer: I had no desire to see this movie. Thought it looked stupid. But the latest trailer sold me. Why? Because its obvious that they're not taking this seriously at all! The tongue is firmly planted in cheeck. And that is the only way to do this. Matthew Fox's super low voice cracked me up. Plus, Christinna Ricci looks delicious.



MAY 16
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian- Should be a fun matinee. The actor playing the Prince is obviously tailor-made to draw pre-teenage girls (Oh, those locks! The "sexy-face" posing makes me laugh; reminds me of Zoolander), but I do like fantasy, I do like C.S. Lewis, and I do like Christian allegories, so I'll be there.



MAY 22
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull
: If you're not excited about this, you and I need to talk about the sad direction your life is going. I saw the brand-new trailer on Friday, and danged if Harrison Ford doesn't look five years older than the last movie, instead of twenty! Ford is back, Spielberg is back, Lucas is back (producing, which he actually does well), John Williams is back, and Karen Allen as Marion (the best Indy girl) is back. Add Shia Labeouf (I don't understand the haters; he's great. He was the best thing about Transformers), Cate Blanchett, evil Russians, some possibly alien mythology, and a story that, like Rocky Balboa, wisely ages its hero to reflect reality, and you've got some awesome awesomeness coming atcha!


JUNE 6
Kung-Fu Panda: Trailer didn't do it for me, but its Dreamworks, and it has the vocal talents of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, and Jackie "The Man" Chan. I'll give it a shot. Why not?


You Don't Mess With the Zohan: I like Adam Sandler okay. He's had some great ones (Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer), and some major crappers. But this looks so wonderfully bizarre, and the trailer had me giggling pretty good. Sandler stars as a former Israeli militant who becomes a hair stylist. Looks like goofy fun.



JUNE 13
The Happening: AKA "How Shyamalan Got His Groove Back." Rumor has it that this is hands down the scariest thing he's done since The Sixth Sense, and the awesome trailer (people throwing themselves off of a building?) shows that M. Night is done with children's tales. Mark Wahlberg and Zoey Deschanel (Elf) star. I've heard this may be his first R-rated movie. Sad if true, but I could see how; this is truly scary stuff.



The Incredible Hulk: From the director of The Transporter? Right away, you know this won't have a lot of substance. But then again, it does star Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, and William Hurt, so who knows? All I know is that I need the artsy-fartsy aftertaste washed out of my mouth from Ang Lee's Hulk misfire a few years ago. Hulk smash! Should at the very least be dumb fun.


JUNE 20
Get Smart: I loved this show as a kid. Steve Carrell, Anne Hatheway, The Rock, and Alan Arkin star. Hopefully its got the script to match its talent. Carrell, when he's on, is awesome. As is The Rock (if you're snickering at me, then you haven't seen his performance in The Rundown, which is surprisingly funny.)



JUNE 27
Wall*E: It's Pixar. Need I say more? They have a perfect track record (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, etc.) Plus he looks so cute!


JULY 2
Hancock: Will Smith (AKA the world's last bankable movie star) as a drunken loser of a superhero. Could be hilarious, or it could misfire. We'll see. I like the whale gag, though. AND Arrested Development's Jason Bateman is in it, which is always a good sign.



JULY 11
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army- I wasn't a huge fan of the original Hellboy when I first saw it, but its charm and wink-wink humor, along with fantastically creative design (creatures, sets, wardrobe) have grown on me. I'm pretty stoked for another round, especially since this one seems to be an improvement (a-la Spiderman to Spiderman 2, or X-Men to X2).


JULY 18
The Dark Knight: You've heard of BTS cake? This is poised to be a BTS movie. I'm trying so hard to rein in my expectations. It's only a movie. It's only a movie. It's only a movie. Heath Ledger's final performance is supposed to be one for the ages.


Mama Mia: Meryl Streep, Collin Firth, and Pierce Brosnan? Check? Gorgeous locales? Check. Abba music? Check. Should be fun.


JULY 25
The X-Files: I Want to Believe- I never watched the show growing up, but have since fallen in love with it on DVD. The movie is a standalone adventure to be enjoyed both by die-hard fans and newcomers. I love The X-Files: it's creepy, it's smart, and it has a sharp sense of humor.


AUGUST 1:
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor- I like the Mummy movies okay. This one really has me interested, because we're now dealing with a Chinese mummy, played by Jet Li. Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Supercop, Tomorrow Never Dies) is in it. Brendan Fraser returns, as does the sidekick, but Rachel Weiss has been replaced my Maria Bello (also a great actress, but the continuity error is glaring), and director Rob Cohen (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Fast and the Furious) has stepped in. This is all so bizarre, I can't wait to at least see what comes of it. It could be a colossal failure, it could be fun, it could be both.


MOVIES I DON'T WANT TO SEE

The Love Guru:
I'll be the first to admit, the trailer had me laughing (the Oscar-speech bit was priceless), but it looks like this will be too much like Austin Powers; you'll laugh a lot, but feel guilty for seeing it. Too raunchy.


Wanted: Am I the only one who thinks this looks too stupid for words? I might see it, if its so bad that its good, like The Transporter 2. As it is, this Angelina Jolie vehicle looks crappy, not craptacular. Plus, she needs to eat some cheeseburgers, fast. Looks like she wandered out of a POW camp.


Next week I'm back in AZ baby!