Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Comedy,Sci-Fi Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Tom Selleck wept!)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Tom Selleck wept!)

Hollywood seems to be stuck in the revival mode as icons from the 70’s and 80’s are being dusted off for one more chance at box-off gold. 2006’s “Rocky Balboa” and 2008’s “Rambo” scored big coin as audiences were curious to see how Sly Stallone, far removed from his signature roles, would interpret them for the new century. Bruce Willis as John McClain returned for the fourth time die hard-ing as fast as he could in 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard.” While those popular characters garnered impressive bank, it was a no-brainer to make room for the biggest movie icon of the 1980’s, Indiana Jones.

 Indy was never not readied for a comeback; it just took the creative minds to finally agree on a script as the film’s frustrating production goes all the way to 1994.

 1997 briefly saw some movement, but Lucas, Spielberg and Ford could not unanimously agree on a script-production halted. Famous screenwriters of all genres and talents popped up over the years to offer their contributions; Stephan Gagan (Traffic), M Night Shamalan (Sixth Sense, Signs), Chris Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting) and Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) in which Indy’s brother made an appearance; all took a stab to no avail.

 Going by their own rule, if the trio didn’t like the script, the movie would not be made. At different times, Spielberg, Lucas and Ford each exercised their veto powers delaying production almost constantly for over a decade.

 As the years moved on, many felt Indy’s time had passed, the media scoffed that Ford was getting too old and Lucas and Spielberg could not find Indy into their schedules and find a satisfactory script- until early 2007 at the Golden Globe awards when the trio happily announced Indy was back!

 The film opens in the Nevada desert 1957; Elvis Presley is playing on the soundtrack as we are instantly dropped into the post war/cold war paranoia of the atomic age. Indy’s entrance is classic, always in the thick of trouble, as Russian infiltrators pull him and his sidekick, Mac, (Ray Winstone) from the trunk of a car with guns in their faces. Trading barbs and demanding information from Indy, Cate Blanchett struts across the screen in a sexy short black wig and a thick Russian accent as Irina Spalko, Joseph Stalin’s right hand woman armed with something extra- psychic abilities and tries to read Indy’s mind. She has a vested interest in what’s in storage inside the warehouse that may or may not be “Area 51.”

 Indy leads the Russians along just enough to form an escape; his trick of the Russians emptying their ammo is fantastic. As slick as Indy often is, his cluelessness and miscalculations are just as important character trait as it keeps things interesting- no one likes a perfect hero. Indy’s escape leads him to a fake town that turns out to be an atomic testing site. As Indy hears the countdown, he scrambles for cover in a refrigerator. The explosion, one of the film’s best shots, throws him clear and put him under the watchful eye of pissed off CIA agents who question Jones’s patriotism and his loyalty as we learn of what Indy has been up to since the close of “Last Crusade” (war hero, witness to the Roswell crash landing) and his involvement with Russian spies.

 Here again we get historical reference points (Nazis, Cultists, Holy Grail), the Red Scare, Atom Bombs) to set the adventure in motion. Once the cold war was in full swing, rumors swirled that the Russians were using ‘psychic spies’ to gather U.S. information through unconventional tactics. The CIA soon took heed and created its own department training anyone with psychic abilities, notability spies adept at remote viewing that could astrally project ones consciousness across oceans, borders and to the far reaches of space. Truth is often stranger than fiction.

 For those of us not alive at the time, Spielberg and Lucas grew up in that era so they give us a great taste of what the “Red Scare” and the atomic era and the post-war 1950’s were all about. Not unlike our current political climate; paranoia and sheep-like-follow-the-leader behavior dominated. Your loyalties were often questioned if you dared to go against the established credo.

 Some of Ford’s best work in years is in this scene as he gives Jones some welcomed passion; insulted that after all those years of service for his country, he’s treated like a criminal.

 Once Indy is let go, he heads back to work as Professor Jones, when Dean Stanforth (Jim Broadbent) informs him that he’s being given a mandatory leave of absence as the government continues to watch his every move. On a train to New York, he is approached by a young greaser named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) who needs his help in finding their mutual friend, Harold Oxley, played by John Hurt whose been abducted by the Russians. Soon, Indy and Mutt are on their way to South America, where their paths cross with Spalko and her Soviet comrades who are also on the trail of Oxley, the Crystal Skull and a figure from Indy’s past – Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) returns.

Before this review begins I will state that I never nor should anyone with a rational mind expect this to surpass “Raiders,” an incredibly ridiculous expectation to say the least. Movies of that caliber are rarely done twice especially by the same creative team, but what we get is pretty damn good.

 The performances are what really bind the movie together. The best part of the film is the reunion of Indy and Marion. The sparks are still there and they fight like cats and dog. Their bickering continues on so that even the Russians get sick of their noise. They fight because they are too much alike; stubborn, passionate and demanding, both suck all they can from life and unfortunately from each other at times, one minute they curse the day they met, the next they are in a adoring embrace- love is a kooky bitch. The best exchange, as Marion complains saying ‘I bet there were tons of women after me’ and instead of Indy going for the jugular and being a dick, he caves and replies with, “They all had the same problem… They weren’t you baby! Their squabbling harkens back to the best moments of “Raiders” and if the film’s final scene doesn’t make you stand up and say “HELL YEAH!” then you have no reason to be watching.

 

 Ford’s enthusiasm is contagious as Blanchett chews every scene with dominatrix glee; I wished many times that SHE had a whip. All of Indy’s villains have been one-dimensional, Spalko is no different, although she’s way more fun than Mola Ram and Donovan, whilst in Peru there is a fleeting moment where it appears that Indy crushes on the hot commie, who could blame him, the chick is HOT!

 Shia LeBeouf makes an excellent sidekick, he doesn’t hog screen time nor does he crap anything up with clunky one-liners or annoying screeching. He’s a tough kid and follows Jones with no problems. There’s no evidence that he would make a great successor to Ford’s heroic position, but as a team player he works just fine. Like in “Transformers” he takes unbelievable situations and gives them a reality that we accept.

 Jim Broadbent and John Hurt are good, although the former is rather a thankless role as the Dean of Indy’s school. Hurt as Oxley, offers some clever humor and much needed exposition as he’s driven temporarily insane by the Crystal Skull and creates an unintentional geek moment, the elongated skull looks similar to an H.R. Giger creation that recalls Hurt’s character, Kane the chest-bursting incubator from “Alien.”

 Ray Winstone as Mac shows Indy’s lousy ability in picking loyal friends.

The warehouse search with the Russians is worth the price admission alone that ends with a quick appearance of the Ark of the Covenant. THE BEST intro since “Temple“, it’s the perfect example of Indy under pressure and using his wits and environment to form his escape. When he cracks that whip and begins swinging and causing all kinds of destruction, a wonderful sense of calm, and nostalgia hit me- “THAT’S MY INDY! Welcome back, old friend!”

 Much as has been written on Ford’s age with the jokes and snide remarks, but he pulls it off wonderfully. The most astonishing thing for me was seeing Ford smile in almost every scene. It’s the first time in over a decade that he’s been a movie that people actually want to see has made him a happy bastard once again and the fun of playing Jones one more time shines through. Ford has always been a guy who looks at least ten years younger than he is, he’s 65 and sure the lines in his face are little more pronounced now, his hair slightly thinner, gray, but father time has been kind to him. Mutt has a great line that shuts down all the naysayers, “You are pretty good in a fight. What are you like 80?”

 His performance is believable, vigorous and human. Not since “Raiders” has Indy been this interesting and three dimensional.

 Sure, the action is over-the-top, like in all the films, but he doesn’t do anything too unbelievable; this is Indiana Jones for Kirk’s Sake! And that includes taking shelter in a lead-lined refrigerator from a nuclear blast!

 The hiatus has behooved the character as the screenplay acknowledges Indy’s advancing years and the important thing he’s missed out on. The movie’s heart shows through in the best scene in the movie; tears well up in Indy’s eyes as he looks at pictures of his friend/mentor Marcus Brody and his dad lamenting their deaths, “It’s been a tough couple of years; first Dad, then Marcus.” The best line in the film comes from Jim Broadbent as he tells Indy that “At a certain point, life stops giving you things and starts taking them.”

 That’s the theme of the film, LIFE. Indy’s has been steeped in irony, sure, he’s one guy who never let it pass him by as he’s always chosen the big adventures searching for the most sought after artifacts and icons of the world, living the life of ten men, yet the simplest things are the most elusive. Having regrettably passed on it once, he reclaims his lost treasure in the films final scene.

 For those that balk at the sci-fi Mcguffin really need to shut their gobs as the finale is no more “over-the-top” or “preposterous” than hearts being removed while the person remained alive or an eight-hundred year-old knight watching over the Holy Grail. We have selective memories when it comes to what we like and often times look like retard stumps when we refuse to acknowledge what came before. To assign any type of logic or reality to Indy is not what you do when watching these films. They are born from a type of storytelling that relies heavily on, nostalgia, fun and suspension of disbelief. The objective is to have fun and when the audience betrays that, they get exactly what they deserve- so for every harsh retard searching for yet another axe to grind against Lucas, congrats! You win…but not really as life will continue to punch you in the nuts. This is a fun film and needs to be seen as such.

 Even though this is the best story since “Raiders,” (George Lucas) the flaws are apparent and lay solely on David Koepp, who takes the best bits from all the previous drafts, especially Frank Darabont’s “Saucer Men” and fashions his own screenplay that works most of the time, but when it doesn’t, we know who to blame. Having never been impressed with his work, it’s to no surprise that his clumsy handprints are found throughout; dumb jokes like: Tarzan, prairie dogs, the snake as a rope, out of character moments for Jones, Mac’s constant switching of allegiances and a Jungle vehicle chase that lacks the usual white-knuckle tension. The screenplay is too front-loaded, too much talk, not enough show. Indy and Marion should have had a few more quiet scenes together, their meeting is classic, but Lawrence Kasdan’s steady hand is missed, although it is rumored that Lars contributed some of their dialogue. Marion is a welcome addition to the story, but she sort of fades off into the action and doesn’t do much until the end.

 Blaming editor Michael Khan would be easy, but it’s Spielberg and Lucas who have the final say and for as creative as the duo is, they should have known better with the flimsy jungle chase, (recall the tension and speed applied to the speeder chase in “Jedi.”) but ultimately I’m quibbling and really need to shut the hell up.

 Despite all that, Spielberg still knows his shit as action director. The man is untouchable at this point and for reasons well known; he knows the geography of a scene. He’s very much like a dancer; he can hear the music and uses his rhythm to follow along. The man’s most important talent is his visual eye that allows the audience to have an idea where they’re at within the context of the action scene both story-wise and geographically.

 Watch any of his action scenes and you will see how the tension is gradually built putting our heroes in danger and the pay-off is done just as flawlessly as there is no mistake in what has just occurred. His films are cut and shot in a way that you always are able to follow the story, yet the tension still rises, and the editing itself has a musical quality to it, as though when you’re watching a scene from any of his four masterpieces; like the barrel chase in “JAWS“, the towns folk chasing the ships in “Close Encounters..”, the truck chase in “Raiders” or the bicycle chase in “E.T“.; you’re not only listening to a great piece of music you’re watching one as well. To have John Williams scoring his work merely underscores both men’s brilliance.

 Today’s directors have no fucking clue how to film an action scene. There’s no editing rhythm established, no idea where this character is at or what the stakes are; no poetry to the action, no coherency and especially no sense of geography. Turn loose the avid and let hacks like Paul Greengrass shake the camera like Michael J. Fox on “Tilt-a-World.”

 I was thrilled to see Spielberg let loose on the motorcycle chase as it has some impressive shots and a great joke referencing the truck chase from “Raiders” with Indy being pulled inside a pursuing car and escaping on the other. Plenty of other great shots and moments are peppered throughout, Indy’s first ‘shadowy’ entrance, the Warehouse melee, the motorbike chase and the finale with the huge Spaceship. The man is still on fire and when he sends Indy over not one, but three waterfalls, we know he’s having a total blast.

 Part of Spielberg’s genius is that he takes his massive artistic power as a filmmaker and applies it to stuff that’s fun or escapist in nature. What other Director would have made “Raiders of the Lost Ark” having both action adventure sensibility and high art? NONE.

 No matter if the project is Oscar-bait or packed with Dinosaurs, the man injects his soul in everything he does, even the colossal mess of “1941” shows a passionate artist at work, he’s throwing a party and everyone’s invited and for that he will have my unwavering respect.

 And what would Indiana Jones be without his iconic composer, John Williams. For some strange reason he’s not working with the London Symphony Orchestra, still he does deliver a solid score. The standout would be the jaunty, “A Whirl through Academia” that plays during Mutt’s/Indy’s motorbike chase, sounds similar to, “The Basket Game” from “Raiders.”

 Even though the film is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I had a hell of lot of fun with it and to have one of my childhood heroes back on the big screen, that’s good enough for me. I personally never thought I would see Indy’s return, considering I was a Junior in high school when Last Crusade was released, but damn if its not worth the wait.

 The movie does end on a personally sad note because this will most likely be the end of Indy’s adventures and future Spielberg/Lucas/Ford collaborations, which is very sad to think about.

 Indy’s back and he needs to be enjoyed! It would take a cold, joyless soul not to be albe to have fun wih Indy’s return. The thing to remember is to not get enslaved in Nerdstolgia and expect to be transported back in time to when life was so much better as a kid, because frankly, if it was, you are a boring S.O.B.  I didn’t expect or desire anything, but two hours of solid entertainment- Guess what? I got it! 

  All I have to say is, because of Spielberg and Lucas, there was no better time to be a kid who loved movies than in the 1980’s. Thank you!

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