The Chronological Spielberg: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Like many children of the 80s, I am a huge fan of the Indiana Jones movies. I actually like them all (yes all) and have a special affinity for Temple of Doom that I’ll get to after making my way through a few more Spielberg movies. As a young kid I didn’t have a ton of movies on VHS and yet I remember seeing the Indy movies as well as the Star Wars trilogy a lot on cable back then. I eventually got the box set form my grandparents while in college but haven’t really watched them a lot since then. Still, I like having my favorite movies in my possession so I can watch them whenever I do feel like it.

A few years ago, my wife and I did watch one of the Indy movies, I can’t remember exactly which one, but I think it was Raiders. Anyway, I was struck by how damn good the movie is. It should haven’t been a surprise, but I wasn’t sure if it was one of those things where the movie basically lived in an awesome space in my brain because I saw when I was young. I was glad to find that it really is an expertly put together film that not only pays homage to old adventure films, but also reinvented the genre using Spielberg’s ridiculous knowledge of film and film making.

Take the introduction of Indiana Jones for instance. We keep getting glances of him in bits and pieces, but never the full look until we’re granted something epic showing how cool and brave he is. But, the point of the film isn’t to show a perfect hero, so we see him get screwed over a few times and then in his school environment where, even though he’s handsome and the ladies love him, he’s still kind of awkward. This is not his true environment and it shows. And of course, not long after this he gets ANOTHER awesome reveal when he shows up at Marion’s bar as a gigantic, looming, context-filled shadow. Boom.

Which brings me to another wonderful aspect of this movie: Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. She’s brave and powerful and vulnerable and resourceful and can drink like a damn champion, all qualities that don’t just appeal to me but make her incredibly human and real. She’s not one of these one-not female characters who either plays the damsel or needs no man to help her, she’s a rounded, full character, one that I’m drawn to. I was really excited when I found out she was involved in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and enjoy how that story ended up.

I also want to talk about something I almost never do when writing about movies: sound effects. I realized while watching this movie again that the effects for certain things in this movie are ingrained in my thinking. When I think of someone punching someone, I think of Indy punching a guy. Of course, the crack of the whip is in there too, but so is the sound of that propeller plane. That’s a pretty incredible impact the more I think about it.

All of this is even more impressive when you think about how uneven and mark-missing 1941 was (at least in my opinion). While I barely cared about anyone in that film, I don’t think there was a character in this movie that I didn’t love or hate or feel something in between for. This is the Spielberg who made the incredible Close Encounters and Jaws, this is a Spielberg who understands his strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to create a hero that has proven to stand the test of time, something most people dream of. I wonder how much of that came from screenwriters George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan and how much was Spielberg, but regardless of the breakdown, it shows wonderfully on screen.

For what it’s worth Lucy seemed to get pretty caught up in the story as well, so that’s something.

I Watch A Lot Of Movies: The Beach, Glory Daze, House II & Take Me Home Tonight

The Beach (2000) is one of those movies that I remember coming out, but don’t remember hearing much about. For some reason I thought it had a sci-fi element to it, but instead it’s about a secret island split between a bunch of hippie pot farmers and some bad ass dudes with guns. Leonardo DiCaprio finds out about the island and sneaks his way in where he soon becomes part of the gang. It’s kind of an interesting idea that gets really weird towards the end.

See, Leo left a map with someone and that’s a problem because the guys with guns don’t want anymore people to join the hippies. The boss lady finds out about this and stations Leo on a ledge so he can watch for newcomers. While doing this, Leo loses his damn mind.

The problem isn’t so much in the story or the turn it takes at the end, but in how long the movie goes in one direction showing how life on the island is and THEN switches to this descent into madness kind of thing. The meandering part is kind of fun to look at as you get interested in how life on the island works, but then the tone and mood shift and it’s almost like you’re watching another movie set in the same world as the first. At the end of the day, the performances are solid and Leo does well with an uneven script, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend checking The Beach out if you haven’t already seen it.

We’ve all got types of movies and stories that we’re suckers for and Glory Daze (1995) fits like three of my preferred subgenres. First off it’s got Ben Affleck, an actor I seem to like no matter what he’s in. Second, it’s an “end of college” movie which I’ve been a sucker for since I saw PCU and Animal House. And finally, it’s a 90s movie about the kind of existential crises Gen Xers had when looking at their future in the real world.

Affleck plays a tormented art student who lives with a group of his friends that include Sam Rockwell and French Stewart in a party house. Most of them are on the verge of graduation, but Affleck doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life and tries convincing his friends to stay on for one more year in the house to party and put off joining the real world.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies, but I think it’s actually pretty good. Affleck hits a lot of the same notes that he would go on to hit in Chasing Amy (the movies actually shares some similar themes and beats at times) and the movie is funny, but there is a heart in it that I found appealing. It’s about fear of the unknown, discovering the truth of the world and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Sure, it’s formulaic at times, but it reminds me of a lot of the movies I liked in my high school days.

As I said in today’s Ad It Up, I know I saw and enjoyed the first House movie, but I don’t actually remember much about it. I think it had a dude fighting monsters in another dimension after opening a door in his house. House II: The Second Story (1986) one is about a guy moving into his treasure hunting great grandfather’s house that’s decked out in Incan stuff, finding his undead grandfather and trying to keep a crystal skull out of the hands of some demons. Or something.

The poster, which is awesome, might make the movie seem like a creepy horror movie, but it really feels like a campy family friendly romp. The main guy and his friend just kind of run around with a zombie as different rooms in their house turn into crazy locales.

The film also has a pretty fantastic cameo by John Ratzenberger as a repairman who doesn’t bat an eye when an Incan warrior tries to kill him and also fights it off like a boss. Also, there’s a tiny green dog-bug thing that I wish was my pet.

It’s so, so goofy, but if you like that kind of thing, do yourself a favor and check out House II on Netflix Instant.

When I saw trailers for the 80s-set Take Me Home Tonight (2011), I figured it would be your average throwback with lots jokes that are only funny if you’re living in 2011 and the kind of attitude that pokes more fun than pays homage. Thankfully that’s not the case. There are only a few of those anachronistic-style jokes, but for the most part, it’s a coming-of-age, finding-yourself story that just so happens to be set in the late 80s. They don’t even seem to look down on the decade that gave us big hair, strange clothes and rolled up jacket sleeves. Those things are in the movie, but they’re not the focus. It’d be dishonest if they weren’t there.

I was also happy with how some of the usual tropes of this kind of “telling my high school sweetheart I like her story” were handled. You’ve got Topher Grace telling a lie after meeting the girl of his dreams that comes back to bite him in the ass. But, he actually has a really good argument for why he lied. It’s an honest conversation that you rarely see handled so well in this kind of thing.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and really liked the performances by Grace (who I’ve liked since That 70s Show), Anna Faris who I didn’t even recognize with brown hair at first, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt and Michael Biehn. Add in a setting that’s not usually handled this way and I’m in. Give it a look.

Halloween Scene: Waxwork (1988)

You ever watch a movie and turn it off partway through because it’s not really giving you what you want? That’s what my pal Rickey and I did a few years back when he came to my inlaws’ for Thanksgiving and we took full advantage of their On Demand free movie section. We put Waxwork on and figured it would just be a series of vignettes, kind of like an anthology, where these kids go into a spooky waxworks and wind up living out some version of a well-known horror story. That didn’t seem very interesting and as Rickey reminded me on Twitter, we were looking for gore, so we turned the thing off during an obvious Dracula take-off.

So, when I saw the movie was on Netflix Instant as well as its sequel, I figured I’d give it a watch yesterday. Not only were we wrong about the movie’s premise, but that boring vampire scene actually ended in a pretty damn bloody finale. As it turns out the movie is WAY more intricate than we assume. Not only do you get all the vignettes, but also something about the waxwork owner selling his soul to the devil and trying to capture people inside the displays in order to bring back the souls of 18 evil people whose artifacts he stole from the main guy’s grandfather.

When I say “intricate” I really mean confusing. I was watching Lucy, working and doing a few other things while watching this movie which meant I didn’t give it my full attention, as such, I didn’t catch all these details and had to look them up on Wiki. I looked up and they were out of the waxworks house and I had no idea what was going on, then I think I got caught up only to get confused again pretty soon after.

But, even though I didn’t catch it all, I can recognize that there’s a pretty interesting, maybe overcomplicated, but also fun and quirky movie in there that’s worth another look when I’ve got more time to really focus. The vignettes are pretty interesting and it’s fun to see different kinds of movies done in one flick but with an actual through line. Plus the battle at the very end is kind of amazing. If you’ve ever wanted to see an army of machete and axe-wielding villages attacking a group of monsters and villains that includes a slasher, vampire and other staples from horror movies, this is a good movie to see. It also stars Zach Galligan who I will always have an affinity for his role as Billy in Gremlins and Gremlins 2.

Fellows With Rings Part 1

2008-10-20
2:36:08 pm

Not seeing The Lord of the Rings has turned into the new “not seeing Star Wars” sense of shock and awe amongst the geek community. Up until Saturday, I had never seen the first of Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books. I had actually seen the second one in college with some friends on a whim. I found it pretty boring.

When I was a kid all my friends read The Hobbit and the Rings books. I tried reading The Hobbit in fifth grade or so and found it so boring that I couldn’t get through it. I’ve never been much a fan of fantasy literature or movies, with a few exceptions here and there. So when Jackson’s first LOTR flick came out, I just didn’t care. But Em did and she’s been trying to get me to watch the DVDs of which she has all three (the regular ones, not the super-nerdy editions, thank goodness).

It was pretty good. I didn’t fall in love with it or anything, but the story’s compelling and the performances are great. I’m impressed with the cast to be honest. I mean, they got Leatherface: TCM3’s Viggo Mortensen for goodness sake. But seriously, they did a great job.

What didn’t impress me, though were the CGI special effects. Some, like Ballroq were really cool, but others just didn’t look right. I know it’s hard to do things like a giant squid monster as a practical effect, but it’s no impossible, especially when considering how much thought and effort Jackson put into things like the hobbit feet (which rarely show up on screen) and the shire (which he apparently built a year before shooting to get the right feel).

I’m not going to get into a rehash of the plot, but it was engaging although long. And I hate when people complain about the length of a movie (Dark Knight for instance), but there did seem to be a good amount of padding (read: walking). I’m not really looking forward to watching the second movie because I remember a LOT of walking. Even the trees walk! Em even offered to skip it, but I’m nothing if not thorough, so we’ll see how this goes.

As it stands, I’ve got to agree with Randall from Clerks 2 about Star Wars being the better trilogy, but we’ll see how things go. (SPOILER: there’s no way I’m going to say LOTR is better than SW.)