Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Dumb

Here’s a movie that adults will think is made for kids and kids will probably think is made for adults. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull we catch up with an older Indiana Jones. Everything is familiar, but a little different and frankly, just not as good. After adjusting to an aged Harrison Ford running around in the Indy get-up, I realized that if he has gotten older since the last movie, so have the rest of us. For a fantasy movie like this, it was quite a slap of reality.

So how was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? First let me establish my Indiana Jones standards. To me, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the best movies ever. Period. Citizen Cane and The Godfather? Keep them. I’ll take Raiders six ways from Sunday. As Han Solo, Harrison Ford was already “the man”, and then he goes and tops it. Raiders was a nonstop action movie with humor and an element of the supernatural that is hinted throughout the movie, but only truly exposed in the fantastic finale.

The other two Indiana Jones movies never quite lived up to the first one. I remember cringing early on in Temple of Doom. It was far more cutesy and cartoony. They added a little kid as the sidekick Short Round, the Scrappy Doo of the Indiana Jones series. The film was sillier than the first and the action sequences seemed like amusement park rides. The third movie, The Last Crusade, was better than the second, but still nowhere near as good as the original. Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr. provided plenty of comic fodder, but it was more slapstick than anything else. Also, in both sequels, the supernatural element is overdone and they relied far more on CG special effects than the original. The impossible situations were just a little too improbable in the sequels.

Having said that, there I was on Friday night of opening weekend, with a ticket in hand, very excited to see Indiana Jones in action again. The music alone is enough to stir up those old emotions. But rather quickly you realize this is not going to be the movie you were hoping for. The first third of the movie is definitely for the older people in the crowd. There are lots references to the first three movies and tips of the fedora to a couple of beloved characters. As you’ve seen in the trailers, we revisit a very familiar warehouse which we have not seen since the closing shot of Raiders.

The nostalgic nature of the movie is what will keep the old crowd going throughout the rest of the film. Meanwhile, the kids in the crowd will probably enjoy the movie enough, but they won’t appreciate the franchise like their elders do. How many adults do you think are dragging indifferent kids to the theatre while gushing over the wonder and magnificence of Indiana Jones? Meanwhile, these kids have seen more copycat characters of Indy than Indy himself. They probably don’t even realize he is the model in which all of the others were based.

The last two thirds of the movie are definitely geared towards the youngsters in the crowd. The action is outlandish and CG heavy. Indy shares the stage with another young sidekick. (Shia LaBeouf from Transformers.) While most of the supporting characters are forgettable and the plot a little convoluted, there were a couple of highlights. Cate Blanchett is pretty good as the villain, Irina Spalko. For an over-the-top character, she actually acts the most like a person who is experiencing some of the fantastic things that happen in this film. Another bright spot is the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood to the series. No female lead has ever rivaled Marion in the hearts of most Indy fans. (She was in Raiders and Animal House... you gotta love her.)

The bottom line? Keep your expectations very low for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and you will enjoy it just enough. Just be prepared for a ridiculous, special effects laden ending. It’s not a great movie, but because it’s Indiana Jones, it’s passable. I would put it ahead of Temple of Doom and behind Last Crusade.

Monday, May 19, 2008


I’ve been hearing about this new version of 90210 that is supposed to be coming out. Well today I stumbled upon an actual trailer for it on YouTube. I nearly choked on my Mega-Burger when I saw it. Here it is:

New Niner (Click "Back" when you are done to get back here.)

There is no sign of Jennie Garth, who I heard is going to play a guidance counselor at West Beverly. My God, if I had a guidance counselor that looked like Kelly Taylor, I would be seeking guidance all the time.

The only familiar faces in the 90210 trailer were not from the original show. They are Finola Hughes, the mother from Charmed and Jessica Walter, the mother/grandmother from Arrested Development. (Ms. Walter’s presence is the only glimmer of hope gleaned from this trailer.)

From the trailer, this show looks exactly like what I thought it would be; another one of the endless cookie-cutter CW shows about pretty teenagers. This one will just benefit from the brand equity of the original show’s name and legacy. Hell, it works. Just slapping on the name 90210 has gotten my attention.

Hollywood banks on name recognition all the time. Make a zombie movie and it goes straight to DVD. Set it in a mall and call it a remake of Dawn of the Dead, suddenly more people will see it. Take a pedestrian action movie script called Simon Says, make the main character John McClane and you have Diehard with a Vengeance.

Unfortunately, the same reputation that will initially attract viewers is usually the thing that eventually drives them away. There is no way to replicate the cheese and kitsch of the original 90210. They can’t win. We will tune in expecting a new Dylan, Donna and Brenda. We won’t embrace new characters and we will cry “rip off” if they try to clone the old ones.

I guess it’s not impossible to succeed with this kind of thing. Star Trek: The Next Generation managed to pull it off. They tapped into the same Star Trek universe and managed to take it to new and entertaining place. It’s the exception, not the rule. Does anyone remember The New Odd Couple? I didn’t think so.

Let’s face it. We the show we want is 9021-Now. What is Dylan up to these days? Did he marry Kelly, or did he leave her to continue his life-long battle with mobsters. Did Donna and David last? What’s up with the Walsh twins? How old does Andrea Zuckerman look these days? Is the Peach Pit still open, or is it now a Starbucks? Did Steve Sanders end up in jail? Put it on HBO so we can have swearing and nudity.

I smell a hit…. and a Mega-Burger.

Tata for now.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Luvva Luvva, Hubba Hubba

If you see me walking down the street and I suddenly hug you.
If I leave you a sappy voice mail.
If I tell you I love you with a tear in my eye.
If I wear my feelings on my sleeve for a while, please cut me some slack.

I had an epiphany the other day and it has made me take a look at the big picture. I had a near miss. It got me thinking and it’s really weighing on me.

Life is short people. Your life is now. Don’t miss your chances.

What caused this emotional awakening? The other day the news reached me that there was a fire. It was at Pat’s Hubba Hubba in Stamford, CT. No one was injured, but I did not know the extent of the damage. Was it gone? Burned down? Consumed by the Wrath of God?

My mind raced. Had I had my last steak and chili wedge? I broke out in a cold sweat. Did the crowd at Jimmy’s Seaside see their last, late night, drunken chili dog, or pile of chili cheese fries? I was practically panicked.

Sure, I don’t go there that often, but I know it’s always there. And there are certain times that Hubba Hubba is the only thing that will scratch my itch. Now it might be gone. And I did not have a chance to say goodbye. I took it for granted.
Never again.

I am lucky. Hope is not lost. I hear that they are closed for repairs and renovations. They will be back. I cross my fingers and hope for the best; that they reopen and the menu is the same. I can get that fiery chili drizzled on any greasy dish I desire, and I can wash it down with a coke in a tiny, glass bottle.

So people, don’t miss this wake up call. Tell the people in your life that you love them. Write that novel. Take that trip. Kiss that girl. Learn that language. Get that dream job. But most of all, go eat at your favorite places. Eat like there is no tomorrow, because you never know when there won’t be a tomorrow.

Now if you will excuse me, I am heading up to Beverly, Ma to have a large beef with extra sauce at Nick’s Roast Beef.

Before it’s too late.

PS- I love you. (And chili.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I Am Iron Man

Do you know what a Repulsor Ray is? If not, ask a ten year old boy. He may or may not know. Then go ask any guy over 30; your brother, boyfriend, co-worker… any adult American male between 30 and let’s say 45. Chances are he’ll know.

Repulsor Rays are the power beams that shoot out of Iron Man’s gloves. I know this because my generation grew up on superheroes. Even if you did not collect comic books, you have a pretty good grasp of the basics thanks to cartoons, live action shows and the comics at the barbershop.

A year ago, a ten year old probably couldn’t tell you what a Repulsor Ray was, because he probably had no idea who Iron Man was. Even now, if they saw the movie and enjoyed it, it’s just another action/special effects movie. Kids have less of an attachment to superheroes these days. There are too many other options and they move on. When I was a kid, you started with Superman, Batman and Spiderman and then you came know Iron Man, Captain America, Green Lantern, The Hulk, Thor and the X-Men, to name a few. And we never moved on. We are superhero people.

You see, all these superhero movies that come out are adult movies disguised as kid movies. We've been waiting all our lives for feature films based on these characters. Ask a 10 year old if he was excited about the Transformers or the upcoming G.I. Joe movie? Who are they? Now ask a thirty five year old. He’s giddy.

So if you are a superhero person, you have already seen Iron Man and probably liked it. If not, I can tell you I liked it. I thought it was one of the better superhero movies. It is more colorful and flamboyant than the new Batman movies, but it treats the source material with the same respect. And that’s one of the things we superhero guys appreciate.

Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as Tony Stark/Iron Man. He is cocky, funny, sincere and downright entertaining in the role. He makes the movie. Jeff Bridges is also great as the bad guy. You may not even recognize him at first. He is certainly not “The Dude” in this movie. Even Gwyneth Paltrow is good in the lead female role. We superhero guys are usually most critical of the women in these movies, just ask Katie Holmes. (Batman Begins) They cast top notch actors and it shows.

The movie is not perfect, but it certainly is very well done. I’d say it was one of the best comic book movies ever made… definitely in the top ten. Batman Begins and X-Men 2 being two of my favorites, so you can see where I am coming from. Bottom line, I think Iron Man is a really good movie… superhero guys should love it, and the rest of you should enjoy it too.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Don’t Forget Sarah Marshall

4/26/08- Forgetting Sarah Marshall is very funny and definitely not forgettable. It's from Judd Apatow and the gang that is responsible for a number of what might be looked back on as some of this generation's comedy classics; Forty Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad. You can slip Forgetting Sarah Marshall right into the mix if you like any of those movies.

The cast is great from top to bottom. Jason Segel holds his own as the Regular Joe lead that every guy can relate to on some level. He takes some risks in the name of getting a laugh that are pretty courageous and payoff big time. (Five minutes into the movie, you will know what I am talking about.) Kristen Bell is his drop-dead gorgeous celebrity girlfriend who breaks up with him at the beginning of the film. Forgetting Sarah Marshall would be a Herculean task for any guy, but switching to Mila Kunis makes it a whole lot easier. She sheds her Jackie character from That Seventies Show and portrays a beautiful, sweet and approachable girl that may also have some baggage.

Paul Rudd shows up as a stoner surf instructor and, as usual, knocks it out of the park. Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock appears as a naïve newlywed in some of the movie's funniest moments. However it's Russell Brand, who plays Sarah Marshall's new rock star love interest, who practically steals the movie. His pompous and flamboyant antics are hilarious. Bill Hadar (SNL) and Jonah Hill (Superbad) also show up in supporting roles.

I think of this movie a lot like I think of movies like Austin Powers and Anchorman, the over all story is almost incidental to the individual scenes. Every few minutes one or all of the people in my group were laughing out loud, and at times embarrassingly loud. The gags in this movie keep coming and almost always hit the mark.

I don't like to give away too much in a review, but there is a song performed in this movie that still cracks me up when I think about it. There is also a running satire of CSI that was great.
One of the great things about these movies is that they take a typical plot, like a guy with a broken heart stuck on vacation next to his ex-girlfriend and her new flame, and kick it in the groin with humor that can be crude, obnoxious and riotously funny. Like Forty Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, this movie has a heart, but as soon as it starts to wander into date movie territory, someone pulls it back with foul-mouthed dexterity that is to be admired. I'm sure there are some who think these movies are too vulgar. I don't agree. It's just bold. The movie will come close to the line, dance on it, and maybe even hop over it briefly to get the laugh, but it always jumps back in time to keep it from degrading into a tasteless mess.

So don't be the person who misses this movie and then can't join in on the quoting when you are out with your friends. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is definitely worth a few laughs.

I Am Legend... NOT!!

3/29/08- I finally watched the Will Smith version of I Am Legend on DVD after avoiding it in theatres. It’s based on the classic book by Richard Matheson, and this is actually the third time this story has been told on film. It was first done as The Last Man on Earth in 1964 with Vincent Price and as The Omega Man in 1971 with Charlton Heston. Lovers of the book wonder why they had to make this movie a third time. Lovers of the book should not worry. This movie resembles the book as much as Courtney Love resembles Faith Hill.

(I’ll leave out most of the story points, but there will be minor spoilers ahead.)

Lovers of the book, don’t watch this movie expecting to see that story. It ain’t pretty. It’s Courtney, not Faith. Everything you love about the book is missing; the nemesis Ben Cortman, the sexual frustration of the lonely main character and most of all the VAMPIRES. One of the greatest vampire stories ever written is now a feature film that is not about vampires. To Will Smith’s credit, he does a fine job in the Robert Neville role. He is a charismatic stage presence who pulls off both the heartfelt plight of a solitary man and the action sequences without a hitch. (Hitch… get it?)

The most important thing to keep in mind is that this movie was not made for the lovers of the book. This is another case of a Hollywood treatment of a story in order to deliver an accessible blockbuster movie. I can answer the question of why they remade this movie a third time. The time seemed right. Special effects have evolved to the point where you can finally make decent version of some of the more fantastic stories from years ago. I thought The Amityville Horror was a good movie to remake in theory, since the original has not aged well. They screwed that one up even more than this.

Another good reason for the remake is that there are a lot of people who don’t love the book. They don’t love it because they have never read it, or even heard of it. Most of the people I tell about the book or previous films have no idea they exist. I can thank my love of horror movies/stories and the old 4:30 Movie for my familiarity with the material. Ask a 20 year old what the 4:30 Movie is, or who Vincent Price is. You’ll be lucky if they know he does the voiceover in the Thriller video. I Am Legend is not a well known entity to the mainstream.If you accept the changes from the book, the first two thirds of the movie are fine. Will Smith living a lonely and sad existence in a deserted Manhattan is pretty good. As usual, it’s the last act that kills it. The meaning of the title is completely different from the book to the film, and that is the stake in the heart of this vampire-less fiasco. (Read the book if you want to know the meaning of the title.)

The departures from the book might have been more acceptable if the creatures looked better. Instead of vampires, the infected humans are now rabid CG cartoons that look like the love-child of Gollum and Mr. Clean. They don’t speak, they roar. They also jump around and climb like Spiderman on speed. Had they used real actors, they probably could have salvaged this movie and added some real tension. Unfortunately, Roger Rabbit had a more convincing mix of real actors and animation.

If you are not familiar with the source material, you’ll watch this movie and then pretty much shrug and forget about it in a week. It’s just another movie with a lousy ending. If you enjoyed the book, you will be upset that they blew the opportunity to bring the story you love to life. Then again, if you read the book you have probably either seen this already or have boycotted it altogether. You don’t need me telling you how much you’ll hate it.

What’s the bottom line? There is nothing legendary about the film I Am Legend. Now go read the book.