Monthly Archives: May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 4/5

Rated PG-13. Click here to view the trailer.

When I was in second grade, my doting grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, gave me a bullwhip. While I was pretty good at cracking it (I did cut my eye brow with it when I cracked it a little too close to my face… just like the opening of Last Crusade, seriously), I could never master the art of wrapping the end around a tree limb and swinging to safety ala Raiders of the Lost Ark. Happily, I’m here to report that Henry Jones, Jr. and his whip still have the magic touch in their fourth film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It’s the 1950s and although good ole grizzled Indy (Harrison Ford) is 20 years older, he’s still teaching archaeology (Boredom 101) and is still of interest to nefarious characters. This time it’s the Communists, not to mention a few thickheaded McCarthy-era FBI agentsq. The Ruskies are led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and they believe Indy can guide them to an ancient temple in Peru, one that houses a weapon they’re desperate to get their little Commie hands on.

In between captures, escapes and extraordinarily choreographed car and motorcycle chases, he hooks up with wanna-be greaser, Mutt (Shia LeBeouf) and an old MI-6 agent and they head off to the Amazon to rescue Indy’s love interest from Raiders (Karen Allen). Once there, they find the titular crystal skull and Indy’s now insane mentor, Oxley (John Hurt).

By the way, there may or may not be aliens involved.

It’s a lot to pack into a movie and it has some risky story elements, especially for a new entry in a beloved series. Thankfully, Steven Speilberg and George Lucas didn’t succumb to whatever horrible disease plagued the new Star Wars films and hit the nail on its head.

The script’s tone is spot-on and the dialog, especially between Indy and Mutt, is hilarious. Things do get a little bit National Treasureish and goofy at times (what’s the deal with the prairie dogs?) and the George and Steven worked a little to hard to connect this movie to the original three (“Look, Mister! There’s a crucial prop from Raiders! Didya see it? Didya? Look! Isn’t that an amazing coincidence?”) Of course our heroes dodge a gazillion bullets, but it’s all in the name of good, old fashioned fun, and that’s enough for me. Indiana is, after all, a comic book hero.

Although Crystal Skull is a funny movie and does have a goofy moment or two, it also ups the creepiness factor. There were several times where I literally was on the edge of my seat waiting for some native with a terrifying face to jump out at me, screaming and baring those poorly kept teeth. I also had to look away during a sequence involving some really pissed off fire ants. Maybe I’m just used to the creepy moments in the original trilogy, but I found Crystal Skull to be a step up on the creepy scale.

The cast did a great job recapturing the Indy vibe. Ford tosses knowing one-liners around and is clearly having a great time back in the brown Fedora. LeBeouf just gets more and more likeable (even if he does remind me of Pony from The Outsiders) while Allen remains just as spunky and lovely as ever. Blanchett isn’t exactly the ubervillain you might expect from a rapier-wielding KGB agent, but she (and her accent) are acceptable.

So where does Crystal Skull rank among the original trilogy? Popular opinion has Raiders the clear No.1 and Temple of Doom the clear No. 3, with Last Crusade being neither loved nor hated at No. 2. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the father-son dynamic between Indy and Henry Sr. (Sean Connery), so I actually rank them Last Crusade, Raiders, then Temple of Doom. I’ll have to see Crystal Skull again before I can make a judgment but right know, I’d say it ranks a very close second, just behind Last Crusade (largely because the two movies share the same father-son dynamic… HINT HINT).

The ending also hints at a possible fifth Jones movie, although something tells me it will be starring Shia LeBeouf and not Harrison Ford. If that movie is half as fun at Crystal Skull, I think I could be OK with that.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what to get me for my birthday…

Note: I know you’re supposed suspend some logic in movies like this, but one question keeps bothering me and that is Indy’s religious beliefs. He has the air of a scholarly agnostic and yet throughout his life he has seen first hand near absolute proof that the Judaism is the one true religion (Raiders). Then again, he also saw that some Hindu cult is the truth path (Temple of Doom), but that only before he saw that Christianity has it right (Last Crusade). Now, in Crystal Skull, it appears that _________ is the mighty power of the universe. Which does Indy believe? Is he politically correct enough to think they can all be true?


Three Things You Do NOT Want to Hear From Your A/C Repairman

1) Whoa!
2) What is that?
3) I’ll call you with an estimate.

Just one more reason to love the USPS

Postal Service Honors ‘American Journalists’

Postmaster General Dedicates Stamps, Celebrates National Press Club Centennial

WASHINGTON, DC — They broke barriers, influenced nations, changed American history and played their lives on an international stage.

Five ground-breaking, distinguished reporters were honored today, their work and legacy commemorated by the U.S. Postal Service, as Postmaster General John Potter dedicated the “American Journalists” stamps:

  • Ruben Salazar, the first Mexican-American journalist to have a major voice in mainstream media, whose work chronicled the evolution of Mexican-American politics.
  • Martha Gellhorn, a ground-breaking war correspondent who covered the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War.
  • John Hersey, whose most famous work documented the story of Hiroshima; the book was named the top work of journalism of the 20th century by New York University.
  • George Polk, a CBS radio correspondent who filed hard-hitting reports on the civil strife in Greece in the aftermath of World War II.
  • Eric Sevareid, broadcast journalist, commentator and writer, whose work influenced a generation of reporters.

“These stamps recognize the contributions of American journalists to the betterment of American society, who exposed and explored the people, processes, challenges and accomplishments of a country, its people and its role in the world,” Potter said.

Working in radio, television or print, they reported, often at great personal sacrifice, some of the most important stories of the 20th century. They were drawn to hot spots, and their description of conflicts and issues helped people respond more intelligently to events.

Potter was joined by esteemed journalists who spoke on behalf of the reporters commemorated on the stamps: Eleanor Clift, contributing editor at Newsweek and a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group”; Frank Sotomayor, Pulitzer Prize winner and associate director of USC’s Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism; Daniel Zwerding, Peabody Award recipient for NPR; Jeff Price, foreign correspondent and cousin of George Polk; and Bob Schieffer, anchor of “Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer” and CBS News chief Washington correspondent.

The stamps were dedicated at the National Press Club in recognition of the club’s Centennial Celebration. Donna Leinwand, National Press Club vice president, acknowledged the sacrifices made by journalists, many of who lost their lives covering conflicts around the world and in cities across America.

“The distinguished journalists honored on these stamps deserve this place in American history for having shown great courage in the pursuit of truth,” Leinwand said.

The stamps feature a photo of each journalist and a few lines of types that are meant to suggest newspaper print headlines of articles by or about each reporter. Art director Howard Paine worked with designer Fred Otnes of West Redding, CT, to create the stamp art. The abstract backgrounds were meant to imply the “wordliness” of the subjects, without referring to specific events.

The Postal Service previously has issued stamps honoring other journalists, including Edward R. Murrow, Ernie Pyle, Walter Lippman, Henry Luce, Nellie Bly, Ida May Tarbell, Ethel L. Payne, Marguerite Higgins and publishers Adolph S. Ochs, Henry Luce and Joseph Pulitzer.

Speed Racer, 1/5

Rated PG. Click here to view the trailer.

I knew I was in trouble when the woman and her gaggle of 8-year-old birthday party-goers sat down noisily in front of me. Things only got worse when she started passing out the tacos (seriously) and didn’t offer me one. Once the credits for Speed Racer were over and the movie began, things spiraled into a Technicolor hallucinogenic nosedive into the neon abyss. You know that residual image “burned” into your retina when you use a sparkler? For a whole hour after I left the theater, I had the entire movie ghosted before my eyes. Methinks that the directors, the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix Trilogy) need to up their Ritalin dosage.

And yet despite ADD-feel and the seizure-inducing visuals, this movie drags on and on (and on). If I had to write a punny headline for this review, it would include the phrase, “Slow, Speed Racer, Slow!” (Other candidates: “No, Speed Racer, No!” “Blow, Speed Racer, Blow!” or my personal favorite, “D’oh, Speed, D’oh!”

So slow, in fact, that I’ve tried and tried but can’t remember how the movie began. Somehow, we’re introduced to the uber-vague plot. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) likes to drive futuristic, full-sized Hot Wheels, mostly because his brother, Rex (Scott Porter), does it. Well, that, and his legal name is Speed Racer. He really had no choice: Pop and Mom Racer (John Goodman, looking like Mario, and Susan Sarandon) pretty much decided his destiny for him with that name. Come to think of it, it’s pretty lucky that a guy named Pop married a woman name Mom.

Rex dies in a racing tragedy and the evil, purple clad racing promoter Mr. Royalton (Roger Allam, trying his darndest to be Tim Curry) is trying to recruit Speed, while Matthew Fox’s Racer X (no relation to the Racer clan… or is he?) drives as Speed’s wingman. Fenderman. Whatever.

Christina Ricci plays Trixie, Speed’s gal pal who flies a helicopter while looking disturbingly like a young Sarandon. There’s also a annoying younger brother (Sprinkle? Sprocket? Spider?) and a poo-flinging chimpanzee. That’s right folks, a poo-flinging chimp. There’s also some ninjas thrown in for good measure. “More like nunjas,” cracks Pop Racer. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.

That’s the plot. Now try stretching that into 129 minutes. There’s a “you’re kidding me” moment at least once every ten minutes. I thought the movie was mercifully wrapping up at one point, but no, we still had another act and a half to go.

Speed Racer’s racing scenes should be exciting because, heck, they’re racing scenes plus the word SPEED is in the title. But the ridiculous speed and physics-defying nature of these races sucks any excitement out of the process, if that’s possible. Imagine a driving a high-speed bumper car with strobe lights threatening to blind you, all while someone is throwing Skittles and Fruity Pebbles in your face. There’s absolutely no danger, except that you’ll get a stray Skittle stuck in your eye.

It’d be much more entertaining to watch any NASCAR event (heck, I’d rather watch 129 minutes of this), because at least there’s a vague sense of excitement and danger. The “cars” in this movie ram into each other and fight with various offensive and defensive weapons at hundreds of miles an hour, but not a single car even gets scratched, especially not Speed’s precious Mach 5 (or 6). If a driver is thrown from the car, they’re instantly surrounded in a protective balloon or they parachute to safety, shaking their fist at Speed all the way down.

I suppose you can’t have too much intense or violent action in a PG movie, but maybe that’s the problem. More accurately, it’s ONE of the problems. This could have been an awesome movie if it had been much darker and… I don’t know. Not lame. Quentin Tarantino would have made an AMAZING Speed Racer, even if you held him to a zero body count and made him keep the poo-flinging chimp. I also would have preferred to get a taco.

There were only three things I enjoyed about this movie: 1) Christina Ricci is cute in her bob haircut; 2) I enjoyed the way the Speed Racer theme song was integrated into the sound track and 3) I now know what it’s like to take an LSD trip.

I’ve never seen the original 1967 “cartoon” that inspired the movie, but I doubt that would make a difference in my judgment of this movie. Something tells me kitsch like Speed belongs on collectible lunch boxes, and not the big screen sandwiched between Iron Man and Indiana Jones IV.

Loyal to my alma mater, God bless OBU!

Saturday I was in Hannibal for work and witnessed Hannibal-LaGrange College’s May commencement. It was a beautiful ceremony and I’m not ashamed to say I teared up a little.

I’m a sucker for pomp and circumstance (throw a bagpiper in there and I’m a goner), but 90 percent of the emotions came from remembering my graduation three years ago. It made me infinitely proud to be sitting in Raley Chapel, to hear my father pray on stage in full academic regalia, to shake hands with the university president as I received my sheepskin and to sing the hymn to my now true alma mater. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about OBU in one way or another, usually in the context of using a principle, lesson or mantra that Mr. Todd so lovingly drilled into my head.

With the mushy stuff out of the way, here are some petty reasons OBU is better than HLG:

OBU is way better at sports.
I graduated in a beautiful chapel. They graduated in a field house.
Ka-Rip. ‘Nuff said.
The Bison is a well thought out, historically and culturally appropriate mascot. What the heck do Trojans have to do with a small Baptist School in Mark Twain’s hometown?
For better or worse, OBU has a journalism program. Eat that, HLG.
OBU is more expensive.
OBU has waaaaaay more fun during their chapel services.
OBU’s alumni includes two astronauts.
HLG students never know the joy that is wearing beanies.
OBU is in Oklahoma while HLG is in Missouri and is less than five miles from (GASP!) Illinois!
Green and Gold are infinitely superior to Blue and Red.
OBU shares it’s hometown with Brad Pitt. So there.
They did have a bagpiper (why, nobody knows) to lead their version of The Walk, but that’s nothing compared to OBU’s, where you finish your academic career surrounded by your faculty friends and mentors.
My hymn to the alma mater rocks (click to listen). Theirs? Not so much (it isn’t even posted online).

The Incredible Case of the Super-Sonic Coney Pony

This story just keeps getting funnier each time I read it. God bless those two idiots. (But shame on them for soiling the good name of OBU and stealing from one of my favorites eateries.)

Iron Man, 4.5/5

Rated PG-13. Click here to view the trailer.

I don’t know what the deal is. Either I’ve just seen two of the year’s best movies back to back or my local theater is pumping nitrous through it’s A/C system.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of this comic book phase America seems to be going through, nor have I ever been a big super hero fan, Batman excepted. Heck, I didn’t even like Spider-Man. That makes Iron Man a tough sell, but man I bought it hook line and sinker.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Tony Stark, a trillionaire playboy/weapons manufacturing genius who is just as likeable as he is despicable (he admits to failing to bed January’s Maxim cover girl thus bagging all twelve months, yet we almost feel sorry for him). While in Afghanistan showing off his latest weapon of not-quite-mass destruction, things go awry and he is captured and tortured by a rebel cell (suspiciously armed with Stark’s own weapons).

They demand Stark build them a version of the aforementioned WnqMD but instead he uses his time locked in a cave to build a super suit so he can bust out and return to his fleet of sports cars in Malibu. At the risk of giving too much away, he succeeds, but only with the help of nuclear powered pacemaker. I’ll let you guess if that turns out to be important later on as Robo-Stark inevitably begins to fight evil.

Once home, Stark renounces weapons manufacturing and retires to his basement where he proceeds to build a new and improved super suit, ironically manufacturing the ultimate weapon (with some help from some very amusing and eager-to-please robots). Now he can investigate how the bad guys got his arms in the first place, an investigation that leads right up to the company’s executive suites. Hmm. How intriguing. Somewhere in there a super villain emerges, but it’s a little goofy and feels more like a forced formality than a natural progression. Then again, what good is a superhero without an arch nemesis?

Which brings us to Robert Downey, Jr. I don’t want to get all fan boy on you, but Mr. Downey is freakin’ awesome and he only gets better when he slips into character and dons a sleazy mustache and bionic super suit. He’s a remarkably funny actor and it’s his dialog and timing that makes the movie. If I were to come into several billion dollars over night, I would fund a remake of every super hero movie ever made, each starring my man RDJ. I wouldn’t want to be Tony Stark, but I bet he’d throw one hell of a bachelor party.

But only if he had help from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, who is Stark’s Girl Friday (and Saturday, Sunday all the rest of the days of the week). Paltrow plays Potts with spunk and humor. She tolerates Stark’s playboy antics, but relishes showing his conquests the door the next morning. It’s obvious she is infatuated with Starks, but she keeps it interesting by remaining aloof and not fawning over him like a blithering idiot. Like I said, I wouldn’t want to be Tony Stark, but I’d kill for an assistant with Paltrow’s red hair, freckles and giggle.

Iron Man isn’t perfect and there a certainly a few chinks in the armor. The movie takes a long time to get going and Jon Favreau telegraphs certain plot points, but he has such great time doing it, it’s easy to overlook any faults. The final climatic battle between Iron Man and Requisite Super Villain is pretty bland and ordinary, especially when compared to the tone and humor of the rest of the movie.

I haven’t read the original Iron Man comics, so I have no idea if they had a political agenda or not. The movie tries to expose an innate evil and corruption in the military-industrial complex, but seeing as how movie humanity will ultimately rely on said complex to save the movie world, the message gets a little blurry.

Also, Ozzie’s classic song, Iron Man, doesn’t make an appearance, unless you count the incredibly weak cover over the ending credits. Back in Black gets airtime during the opening sequence, what a shame they didn’t roll the dice and use Iron Man regardless.

The movie isn’t brilliant art and it isn’t the best thing ever committed to celluloid, but it is a thoroughly entertaining movie and that’s good enough for me. Spring for popcorn and have a heck of a night.