I’ve picked up a few of the Universal 100th Anniversary blu-rays that they’ve been releasing this year, highlighting films from the studio’s 100 year history. Two that I’ve watched recently are Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. I’ll be back soon to write about Jaws, today I want to write about Born on the Fourth of July.
After re-watching Platoon a few months ago (click here for my review), I knew I wanted to re-watch Born on the Fourth of July soon. I’d only seen the film once, in college. My friends and I set about to watch a number of films that we hadn’t ever seen but that we felt were important for us to see, and that brought us to Born on the Fourth of July. My recollection was really enjoying the film, though feeling that it was very intense and difficult to watch in places. It wasn’t a film I was rushing to see again, because it was a tough story.
Well, there’s no question that Born on the Fourth of July is tough to watch in places, but I’m glad to have re-watched it. I think it’s a terribly effective film, and one of the greatest anti-war films I’ve ever seen.
Whereas Platoon focused exclusively on the events of a soldier’s one-year tour of duty in Vietnam (based largely upon Mr. Stone’s own experiences), Born on the Fourth of July’s focus is at once more expansive and also far more focused. Based on the true-life story of Vietnam vet Ron Kovic (and the book he wrote about his experiences), the film follows Ron from his childhood through adulthood. We see him as a young boy and as an idealistic high school student, fervently accepting the lesson his family, teachers and community taught him about the importance of doing one’s patriotic duty to serve in the military. We follow Ron through two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he is confronted by the horrors of war and is eventually shot and paralyzed. We stay with Ron during his horrific experiences in a veterans hospital, his attempt to return to his home and family, his terrible depression about his paralyzation and his feelings of isolation from the world that drive him to drinking and drugs, and eventually down to a brothel in Mexico. We see how his anger at the anti-war protesters eventually transforms him into an anti-war protester himself.
The power of Born on the Fourth of July is that it is an epic film, but also a profoundly intimate one, focused with laser-sharpness on the experiences of this one young man throughout the fifties, sixties, and … [continued]
Did you enjoy the new Hobbit trailer I posted last week? If you haven’t seen them, here are all of the other alternate endings to that trailer.
Uh oh. Looks like Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt has dropped out of work on the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, apparently because Fox is rushing the film to meet the release date the studio had chosen. This is not a good sign.
This past weekend, on the eve of Treme’s season 3 premiere came the good news/bad news that HBO had renewed the show for a fourth and final season (four seasons was apparently David Simon’s ideal length for the run of the show), albeit a shortened season. The exact length of this shortened fourth season, what Mr. Simon refers to as “season 3.5,” is TBD. I’m bummed the show couldn’t swing a full final season, but I’m thrilled that HBO is at least giving Mr. Simon and his team some episodes to bring their television masterpiece to a conclusion of their choosing.
Well, now I know why Robot Chicken did a DC Comics special this year, rather than a fourth Star Wars one. It’s because Seth Green and many of the rest of the Robot Chicken gang are working on a whole new Star Wars parody show, Star Wars Detours. This first trailer is funny, though I’m not sure why this is a whole new show and not just more Robot Chicken…
Speaking of Star Wars, it looks like Episode II and Episode III will be getting a 3-D theatrical re-release in 2013. I sat out the Episode I re-release (I must admit I was a little tempted, but that film is just so bad I couldn’t see spending the money, even though I was curious about the look of the 3-D), and I’m not that much more interested in seeing Episode II. But seeing Episode III back on the big screen, and in 3-D? That just might have my ticket. But I am really waiting to see if they re-release the Original Trilogy. Any excuse to see those films on the big screen again is exciting for me, no matter how much new digital fiddling Mr. Lucas and his minions have done…
This is an interesting list of the Top 5 Best-Acted Moments in a Steven Spielberg Film. I definitely agree with numbers 5, 4, and 1, not so sure about 3 and 2…
I was already interested in Judd Apatow’s new film, This is 40, and this interview with Robert Smigel and Albert Brooks, both of whom are appearing in the film, has … [continued]
What a fantastically enjoyable surprise this little movie was! A romantic (but not really romantic) drama that is very funny (but which I wouldn’t really call a comedy), Celeste and Jesse Forever is a wonderful little film for adults. It’s somewhat raunchy and juvenile but also remarkably sophisticated and unexpected, eschewing the usual romantic comedy formula for something a little messier, a little rougher-around-the-edges. I loved it!
The film was written by Rashida Jones (who made her bones on The Office and is now a part of the spectacular ensemble on Parks and Recreation) and her friend Will McCormack (check out this article that explores the pair’s relationship, much of which served as an inspiration for the film’s story), and stars Ms. Jones as the titular Celeste and SNL’s Andy Samberg as Jesse.
Rashida Jones was instantly terrific on The Office, and she’s been pretty great in some supporting film roles recently (such as I Love You, Man — click here for my review, and My Idiot Brother — click here for my review), so it’s great fun to see her take a leading role. She’s spectacular, able to be extremely funny while also able to absolutely convincingly sell the film’s dramatic moments. But she’s been great in everything I just mentioned, so this isn’t a huge surprise. What is a surprise is how fantastic Andy Samberg is. Of course it was clear he could be funny, but I think he gives a terrific performance creating a very fleshed-out character in Jesse. He knows when to flash his huge grin, but he dials back his zaniness to just the right level, creating a character who is a lovable goofball but very much a human being. When it comes to the dramatic moments, he’s every bit Ms. Jones’ equal. I love their chemistry in the film — I could watch these two actors play off of one another all day long. There are some early moments between the two that are so funny (their weird German-accented menu-reading, and of course their off-color lip-balm routine) that it’s pretty impossible not to buy into the idea that these two are soul-mates, made for one another. Which of course is the point. Which makes the fact that the film is all about their NOT being together all the more agonizing. Which, again, is sort of the point.
Obviously I’m not going to spoil the ending (well, at least not before my big spoiler warning a few paragraphs from now), but I am not ruining anything to note that five minutes into the film we learn that Celeste and Jesse are very much not together as a couple. What follows … [continued]
This past weekend I was thrilled to have gotten to see the Complete Indiana Jones Adventures (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — I left before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) back on the big screen! On Monday I wrote about Raiders of the Lost Ark, and on Wednesday I discussed The Temple of Doom, now it’s time to dive into Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
I think the success of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was critical to the enduring life of the Indiana Jones film series. Raiders of the Lost Ark was an extraordinary achievement and a huge critical and commercial success back in 1981, and it still stands as one of the very best movies ever made. But The Temple of Doom, while undeniably a great movie, felt to many (at the time, and still today) as something of a mis-step for the series. Many of the characters and stylistic trappings of Raiders were dropped in favor of a story that was very dark and horrifying.
The genius of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the way it course-corrects the series back to a path that seems more in line with the first film, bringing back many of the characters and elements that fans loved in Raiders while also telling a new and different story. I think for those reasons, Last Crusade is one of the very best movie sequels that I can think of.
I adore the way that, after the opening sequence (which I’ll get to in a moment), the beginning of Last Crusade is structured to echo Raiders. We again see Indy teaching an archaeology class, we again see all of his female students dreamily looking up at him, and we again see Marcus Brody walking into the class with news for Indy. It gives the trilogy a nicely bookended feel, helping the saga to feel like a complete, unified story. It also puts the viewer on nicely comfortable, familiar ground as we begin the third installment.
There are two key creative choices that really help The Last Crusade succeed as well as it does. The first is the choice of macguffin. After having Indy pursue a sacred ancient artifact from Judaism in Raiders, it feels right that now in Last Crusade he should pursue a sacred ancient artifact from Christianity. The Holy Grail is a suitably important and suitably mysterious object to serve as a worthy goal for Indy. One of many reasons why Raiders and Last Crusade are by far the two strongest Indy films is in … [continued]
Magnificent. LOVE the use, as dialogue, of a lyric from Pippin’s mournful song from Return of the King.
See you there!… [continued]
On Monday I wrote about how amazing it was to watch the Complete Indiana Jones Adventures (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — I left before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) back on the big screen! On Monday I wrote about Raiders, now it’s time to dive into Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The first thing we need to notice is that I think Temple of Doom is the first instance of George Lucas’ proclivity for giving terrible, terrible titles to his films. For some reason, Temple of Doom has never bothered me as a title the way some of Lucas’ later titles (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) have. Maybe that’s just because I grew up with Temple of Doom — it’s one of those things that I just never really thought about — the movie was called Temple of Doom and that was that. But I think it’s worth noting here. I am all for the fun of a pulpy title, but Temple of Doom is a bit too simplistic for me.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is often-maligned and I do tend to agree it’s the weakest of the original three Indy films. (Though the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — click here for my review of that abomination — made The Temple of Doom look like Citizen Kane.) But, though it’s not as 100% successful as Raiders or Last Crusade, I still think Temple of Doom is a pretty terrific film.
Watching all three films back to back drives home just how different Temple of Doom is from Raiders and Last Crusade, and that is most likely why it doesn’t sit as well with some audiences. Indy’s familiar supporting characters are all absent in Doom. There’s no Sallah, there’s no Marcus (both of whom would return for Last Crusade) and there’s no Marion.
The palette of the film is very different. Raiders and Last Crusade are both fairly brightly colored films. But Temple of Doom is literally much darker, with the screen dominated by black and red pretty much throughout.
The Temple of Doom is also much darker, thematically, than either Raiders or Last Crusade. This is a pretty brutally violent film, and in particular there is some pretty horrifying violence against children. Mostly it is implied, but there are still some on-screen sequences of children getting beaten and whipped in the mines underneath Pankot Palace that are pretty shocking. What particularly struck me was the … [continued]
I had a tremendous time this past weekend enjoying The Complete Indiana Jones Adventures, back on the big screen! One of my local movie theatres was participating in the national event, screening all four Indiana Jones films back-to-back-t0-back-to-back: Raiders of the Lost Ark (please note that, contrary to what the poster for this event said, the title of this film is NOT Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Naturally, I left before Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so I consider that a moral victory.
What extraordinary fun it was to watch the three great Indiana Jones films back on the big screen! I am a huge fan of the idea of studios giving their great classic films periodic big-screen releases (I had such fun last year when Ghostbusters returned to theatres for a few nights, and also at Universal’s 25th anniversary big-screen re-release of Back to the Future!), and I really wish more studios would get into this business. How could they lose? I know it costs money to restore these films, to make prints, and to advertise, but it’s hard for me to imagine that people wouldn’t eat up the chance to occasionally see a classic film that they love back on the big screen, the way it was meant to be seen.
Watching Raiders through Last Crusade only reinforced what I already knew, that all three films (even the weaker Temple of Doom) are extraordinary achievements, true cinema classics.
Raiders of the Lost Ark – How could anyone argue that this is not one of the most perfect films ever made?? The story unfolds like perfect clockwork, with each scene leading into the next, action sequence after escalating action sequence, as the story builds to its climax. There is no fat on this film — name one scene in the movie that doesn’t HAVE to be there. The stakes are clearly drawn, the characters are sketched with impeccably economy. (We learn about Indy and Marion etc. WHILE they are doing/saying things essential to the plot. The movie doesn’t grind to a halt just so we can get a certain character beat or learn a bit of back-story. It all flows perfectly together.)
The casting is perfection. Obviously, Harrison Ford was born to play this role (even more than Han Solo, in my opinion). He creates a human-sized super-hero the likes of which we have never seen since. Yes, Indy can do extraordinary things like getting dragged under and then behind a truck before pulling himself back on board, but … [continued]
The last of the Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: Enterprise, was over-all a disappointment but the biggest tragedy of the show was that it was cancelled just as it was starting to get good. The series left a number of plot-threads unresolved. Luckily, the authors of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels have taken it upon themselves to pick up and resolve those dangling threads in a very entertaining fashion. Christopher L. Bennett resolved the Temporal Cold War story-line (that had been an aspect of Enterprise since the show’s very first episode) in his novel Watching the Clock (click here for my review). That novel was set in the 24th century, but Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels have been, in a series of novels, continuing the adventures of Captain Archer and the crew of the Enterprise NX-01 in the 22nd century, depicting the adventures we might have seen had the show gotten a fifth season.
In their novels Last Full Measure (which I haven’t read) The Good that Men Do (which I did read, and really enjoyed) and in Kobayashi Maru, which I have just re-read, Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels have set about to do several praiseworthy things. First of all, they have ret-conned the ridiculous, stupid death of Trip, the Enterprise’s chief engineer, that was seen in the series’ final episode “These Are the Voyages”. Second, they have focused in on the story-line begun in the show’s fourth and final season of the first, tentative steps towards the formation of the United Federation of Planets with the creation of a new coalition between Earth, Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar. I was fascinated by that story-line in the show, and in these novels Mr. Martin & Mr. Mangels dig deeply into the politics and struggles of this burgeoning interstellar alliance. Lastly, with Kobayashi Maru in particular, they have begun telling the story that fans of Enterprise always hoped the show would eventually get to: the Romulan War hinted at in the Original Series.
I had read Kobayashi Maru when it was originally published a few years ago, but I hadn’t yet gotten to the two “Romulan War” novels written by Mr. Martin (no longer collaborating with Mr. Mangels, I’m not sure why). Before reading those two books, I decided to go back and re-read Kobayashi Maru. It’s a solid though not quite spectacular novel.
My favorite aspect of the book is its focus on interstellar politics. I love the glimpses we get into the discussions and debates between the ambassadors of the various Coalition planets, as well as the struggles and disagreements between the leaders of each individual world. I love that Mr. Martin … [continued]
So the new Star Trek film is going to be called Star Trek Into Darkness.
Really? That’s not a joke?
Ho boy, that is a bad title. I respect them from trying to shy away from the “Star Trek colon title” model that the Trek sequels had been following for a while now (Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, etc.). But making the words Star Trek be the first words in a phrase as a sort of pun is just silly. It makes the title into a lame joke, which seems like the opposite intent when one of the four words of the title is “darkness,” which seems to indicate a shift into a more serious tone. (I suppose that “darkness” could also refer to space, making Star Trek Into Darkness a sort of parallel to Gene Roddenberry’s famous original concept of the show as a “Wagon Train to the stars.” But a) that seems like I’m giving the title way more merit than it deserves, and b) it still sounds silly, and making the title of one’s big-budget action-adventure film into a dumb joke cannot be what the filmmakers really wanted to do.)
So what approach should the Trek filmmakers have taken with the title for their sequel? They couldn’t just go with numbers, since there already is a pretty famous movie called Star Trek II. Besides, numbering one’s sequels gets lame quickly. Since audiences have been conditioned to expect diminishing quality with sequels, surely the Trek filmmakers didn’t want to start down another countdown to the inevitably lame Star Trek 5.
I love what Chris Nolan’s Batman films did, creating different titles for each film rather than a numbered series. The Dark Knight is a pretty perfect sequel title, since it is not only an iconic phrase very recognizable as belonging to Batman (as is The Man of Steel, the title for the latest Superman film, and a title of which I wholeheartedly approve), but also one that is given great thematic weight due to the events of the film. When the end credits roll, you’re given a whole new perspective on the title. It’s pretty perfect. (Sadly, I don’t have quite the same amount of praise for the title of film 3, the lazily-named The Dark Knight Rises. I think it’s too similar a title to film 2, I think it has a much sillier and superficial connection to the story, and I think it was a cruel what-might-have-been tease to fans like me who would have really preferred a more direct adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns – a title that would have worked perfectly coming after a film … [continued]
“Stories take a person away. If they’re good ones, that is. Is it a good one?”
After concluding his Dark Tower magnum opus in 2004 with the publication of the seventh and final novel, The Dark Tower (click here for my review), I suspect that Stephen King did not intend to ever return to that series. Certainly the story had come to a very definitive conclusion. But I wonder if perhaps his involvement, over the past several years, with Marvel Comics’ comic book series (set during the youth of Roland of Gilead) didn’t spark something in Mr. King. Whatever the origin, Mr. King surprised his readers last year with the announcement that he was working on a new Dark Tower novel. The Wind Through the Keyhole was published last spring, and after re-immersing myself in the world of the Dark Tower via the Marvel Comics this summer, I was extremely excited to read Mr. King’s new novel.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is a terrific novel, but let me say from the outset that I think it’s a mistake to consider it a Dark Tower novel. Well, it’s set in the world of The Dark Tower, that’s true. We get to spend a little more time with the ka-tet from the original novels: Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy. We also get to spend some time with the youthful Roland (who has been the chief protagonist of Marvel’s Dark Tower comics), and the novel is replete with little references and nods to various Dark Tower characters and phrases. But the story doesn’t really have much to do with Roland’s quest that was so central to Mr. King’s original novels. The events in The Wind Through the Keyhole are interesting, but they don’t really impact Roland or his ka-tet in any significant way. Frankly, the events of the much-shorter novella The Little Sisters of Eluria (click here to read my review) are much more significant to Roland’s over-all story.
But while I can’t say that The Wind Through the Keyhole is a tale of great significance in the larger Dark Tower epic, it is nevertheless a marvelously entertaining story. The book has an interesting structure, in that it is three stories nested within one another. We open with Roland and his companions from the Dark Tower novels. This sequence is set immediately after the events of book IV, Wizard and Glass, and before the start of book V, Wolves of the Calla. But after only a few pages with our old friends, they find themselves trapped waiting out a terrible storm, and Roland begins telling a story of his youth. Not long after having earned his guns, … [continued]
The latest release from DC Animation is Superman vs. The Elite, an adaptation of “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” written by Joe Kelly and illustrated by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo . The story was originally published in Action Comics #775, and has been expanded into this latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray release.
In the story, Superman encounters a new group of super-heroes, the Elite. Though they at first seem like potential allies, they quickly come into conflict with Superman when he objects to their willingness to use violence and even kill in their pursuit of justice. In the original story from 2001, the Elite was designed as a parallel to The Authority, the super-team created by Warren Ellis for Wildstorm Comics. For a time, The Authority was an incredibly popular comic book series, and fans seemed to love their brutal, take-no-prisoners brand of super-heroics. Joe Kelly’s story was designed to address head on the issue of whether Superman’s old-fashioned values had any place in a modern world. Was Superman still relevant, or just a relic of a bygone age?
Those questions remain equally interesting a decade later, and Superman vs. the Elite is a compelling super-heroic yarn. Comic-book fans will chuckle at all the parallels to the Authority (the profane, British-flag-wearing leader; the inebriated sorcerer; the teleportation doors; the huge living fortress of an HQ that exists between dimensions, etc.), but it’s not at all necessary to get any of those references in order to enjoy the story. Although the Elite are the villains, I like that they’re not presented as too over-the-top evil. Until the very end, they do seem like they legitimately want to do good, which makes their conflict with Superman more potent.
The film displays some solid though not hugely impressive animation. The action is great, as per usual with these DC Animated films, though the character designs are all over the place. I quite like the designs of the Elite, though Superman/Clark Kent is ridiculously malformed. They went for a weird sort of stylization for Supes that totally didn’t work for me. I found it very distracting.
The voice acting is very strong. It’s great to see George Newbern return to the role of Clark Kent/Superman. Mr. Newbern played Superman for the entire Justice League series, because Tim Daly was unavailable to reprise the role from Superman: The Animated Series. I’ve always really enjoyed Mr. Newbern’s work, and I think it stands equal with Mr. Daly’s iconic portrayal. It’s nice to see Mr. Newbern back in the role. I have never before heard of Pauley Perrette, but she is dynamite as Lois Lane. Her work here is one of my very favorite … [continued]
I stumbled across this yesterday, and it made me laugh and laugh.
(Please be warned, there is some EXTREMELY harsh language in this video. This is not for everyone.)
This makes me so happy:
September 23: I’ll be there. WHY ISN’T EVERYONE WATCHING THE BEST SHOW ON TELEVISION??… [continued]