LYT's Film Pick of the Weekend 5-21-08

Film pick of the weekend comes early this week, because when weekends go long, the movies open sooner. And we all know what you're going to go see at midnight tonight.


(Don't tell me that "crystal ass" makes no sense. If Echo and the Bunnymen can sing about shattering your crystal heart, I can move the metaphor to other regions of the body.)

[EDIT: A friend posing as an anonymous reader informed me via my personal blog that the Echo and the Bunnymen lyric I'm thinking of actually says "brittle heart." He's right, and I've been singing it wrong for over 20 years, it seems.]

First, a warning: If you're one of those people who gets all huffy the instant you suspect anything onscreen might be computer-generated -- don't go. If you're one of those people, yet you liked SPEED're either a hypocrite or an inveterate George Lucas-basher. And don't get me wrong, Lucas deserves some of the bashing he's taken, especially as regards changing his older movies with CG that doesn't fit. But as far as I'm concerned, he and Steven Spielberg have earned back a lot of goodwill with this one. It's the only Spielberg movie in over a decade that actually ends when it's supposed to.

In a sly wink at those who may overhype the movie in their minds and thus be disappointed, the movie's traditional dissolving of the Paramount logo almost literally makes a molehill out of a mountain. And then the soundtrack cranks up an Elvis tune -- now that it's age-appropriate for Indiana Jones to be set in the '50s, you get to have rock and roll (music, as opposed to actual rocks that roll, which have always been a constant for Dr. Jones).

The action begins at "Hangar 51" -- located in the middle of a desert populated by the ancestors of the CADDYSHACK gopher --which turns out to be home to the big warehouse at the end of RAIDERS, though the Ark isn't the goal of the evil Commies who infiltrate, dragging along a kidnapped Henry "Indiana" Jones Junior (Harrison Ford, like you didn't know) and his dubious partner Mac (Ray Winstone). Instead, they're looking for a crate from Roswell, New Mexico, and presumably I need say no more on that subject.

Lamenting that the days when "we were younger" and "we had guns" are gone, Indy nonetheless escapes the clutches of crazy psychic Russian bitch Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), and manages to survive a nuclear bomb at nearly ground zero, thanks to a lead-lined refrigerator. One has to assume that drinking from the Holy Grail somehow gave him an immunity to radiation, for even though the blast wave throws the fridge clear, he gets out of it immediately, as a huge mushroom cloud looms in the distance and radioactive ash falls from the sky. But hey, he gets scrubbed down in the shower afterwards (for a cheap laugh at the expense of his old body), and all seems medically okay.

In reality, lead may shield you from radiation, but at that close to ground zero, there's the slight problem of it vaporizing. Nonetheless, the image of Indiana in front of a mushroom cloud serves several symbolic purposes: it establishes that the world has changed, pays tribute to atomic age sci-fi, and yes, lets the audience know that, yes, fuck off, there will be CG in this movie so leave now if you're gonna be a baby about it.

Indy hasn't been living the quiet life of an academic since last we saw him -- he mentions "years we spent spying on the reds" as well as some kind of Berlin escapades. It seems he's a Republican; asked at one point if he has any last words, he responds "I like Ike." (He also says "nucular.") Dad (Sean Connery, seen in a photo) is dead and gone, so the Holy Grail doesn't provide immunity from everything, obviously (just nukes). Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) is gone too, but there's a nice moment during an action sequence that pays tribute to him.

In their place is Jim Broadbent in an Elliott-esque role as a bumbling academic, and Shia La Boeuf as the self-named "Mutt" Williams, a bad boy poseur who's been told by his mom to come find Indiana Jones so he can rescue her and his old college pal Professor Oxley (John Hurt). Much mockery has been had at Shia's expense, and I grant that sometimes the kid is way-miscast (CONSTANTINE and I, ROBOT come to mind), but he nails it here. Yes, there is that rather silly shot of him decked out like Brando in THE WILD ONE, but here's the thing: in the context of the film, it is indeed supposed to be silly, the signifier of a kid who's a total fake badass but will eventually learn what it takes to be the actual kind.

As for who is mom is, well, the movie poster pretty much gives that away. We won't go into who his dad is, but I'm sure you won't be shocked. As for Oxley, he's in South America, held by those same Commie bastards from the beginning (incidentally, that makes it the only beginning sequence in any Indy movie to actually set the main plot in motion). They're looking for the crystal skull, which it takes Indy forever to figure out the origins of, despite the references to Roswell, the fact that it's made from a magnetic form of crystal unlike anything ever seen on Earth, and oh yeah...just looking at it, it's kinda obvious it's meant to be an alien. And that would just seems so implausible to the guy who's seen angels melt people's faces, hung out with a 500-year-old crusader, and been a victim of voodoo and the Black Sleep of Kali.

From there: Capoiera, grave-robbery, giant temple traps, crazy natives, big car chases, lots of monkeys, big ants, and tributes to other Spielberg/Lucas productions, including a crib from YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (which itself borrowed heavily from Indiana Jones, so fair's fair) and a line of dialogue that references another famous Ford role, and gives us, if only for a second, a quick taste of what could have been if only George Lucas weren't so obsessed with prequels.

As a kid, I remember thinking that RAIDERS felt like non-stop action, but revisiting it recently, I was surprised by how slow it seemed in an era that's jaded us on thrill overload. CRYSTAL SKULL, I'm happy to say, has the old Indy charm matched with action sequences that should satisfy today's big action fans as well -- the motorcycle chase you've seen glimpses of in the trailers is the best motorcycle chase I've ever seen, and there's an extended car chase in the jungle that's almost Buster Keaton-like in its inspiration. In addition to losing Denholm Elliott, the world recently dealt with the death of Pat Roach, eternally cast as "Huge Dude who kicks Indy's ass," but Igor Jijikene amply fills in as the super-Soviet Col. Dovchenko.

As for Blanchett, her accent is hilarious, but I'm fairly sure it's supposed to be, Eastern European with the occasional upper-class English vowel enunciation. I'd like to have seen her beat Indy up a little more, but maybe that's just my twisted fantasy.

Now, about those special effects. There is some obvious CG, as well as some matting issues. If those ruin the movie for you, you probably weren't that into it anyway. I mean, look, even at age 6 I knew the face-melting bit involved a wax dummy, and the plane crash in TEMPLE OF DOOM is quite clearly fake. I think the ending here could have used a bit more time, and it's likely to be the most controversial part of the movie ('tis the only way it could have ended, though). But the final coda gives the fans some nice character-based closure bits.

Do I wanna see Shia star in the sequel? Not especially. But if they can make a movie this fun again, I'll be there.


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