The Conversation

In San Francisco, profession surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is working on his latest assignment, recording a discussion between a man and a woman in a busy courtyard. Having successfully recorded their conversation, Harry begins to grow suspicious that passing on the recordings to his employer may result in some dire consequences for those involved, as happened to Harry on another job sometime ago, which directly caused the murders of three people.
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Raiders of the Lost Ark

I think I may be approaching the 1001 Movies List (and the other lists I’m going through) from something of a skewed perspective, in that I may be crossing off a few too many of the “better” movies before I get to the ones I’m not looking forward to as much. Bearing in mind yesterday I reviewed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and today sees me tackling Raiders of the Lost Ark, I need to make sure I don’t eat all of my dessert before getting to the vegetables, as I also recently crossed off Back to the Future, Taxi Driver, RoboCop, To Kill A Mockingbird, Fargo and Boogie Nights as well. That being said, Bueller and Raiders made for a most enjoyable weekend of movie watching, with a little Jurassic Park: The Lost World thrown in for good measure (I’ll be writing something about that for French Toast Sunday this weekend, where we’re celebrating July with a month dedicated to Steven Spielberg, hence the Raiders viewing). Spielberg is one of my favourite directors, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering he’s the guy behind Jurassic Park, the greatest movie ever made, but now I get the chance to talk about another one of the masterpieces he brought into cinemas. Continue reading

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Yep, the questionably necessary fourth Indiana Jones instalment is on the List. And if anyone has any problem with that (like me, for example) then the only place to point the finger of blame is at the public, as the List it appears on is the one voted for by Empire readers. Granted, the film came out in 2008, the year the poll was taken, so many readers who may have only ever seen 10 films would have been forced to put it in their top 10. This also explains the inclusion of Transformers and Juno on the same list, and it’s pretty much assured that if the poll were taken again, these films would be unlikely to retain their positions. But the important thing is that the film is on there, and I had to watch it.

When I first saw the film in the cinema, on the weekend it was released, I didn’t actually think it was that terrible. Hell, if anything I enjoyed it, and left the theatre happy and fulfilled. Granted, it was certainly no Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even The Last Crusade, but it was a damn sight more fun than The Temple of Doom. I was somewhat shocked to discover that these feelings were not necessarily shared by the rest of the world, but now, after a couple more viewings, I have realised my mistake.
For me, the film has four main problems, all of which I’m sure have been covered many times before, but not by me. Firstly, the movie seems to be completely devoid of a strong narrative path. It’s more like a bunch of scenes that the writers thought would look cool, all strung together without really flowing into one another. On their own, or within a more cohesive plot, some of them would work fine. Case in point: the opening, in which Indy (Harrison Ford) and his ally Mac (Ray Winstone) are taken to the warehouse at the end of Raiders in search of a sporadically magnetic alien skull, is in itself a pretty entertaining scene, and a great way to start off the film. The use of Indiana’s instantly recognisable profile (when he’s wearing the hat, anyway) is well implemented, and the eventual chase through the warehouse is frenetic and action-packed, even if Ford no longer looks like he’s quite as capable of offing army thugs as he used to be. After this scene, we go straight into the now infamous fridge-nuke catastrophe, a scene which has no place in any film, let alone directly after a really fun, if a little silly, opening action sequence. This problem occurs again later, when some pages from a low-budget 80s B-movie are accidentally stapled in, when out hero finds himself in quicksand, a genre staple that I’m fairly sure has been made illegal.

The second problem, and this is a big one, is Shia LaBoeuf. The man is a scourge to cinema. Every film he touches becomes a travesty. Seriously, look down the guy’s resume and you’ll find some of the worst reviewed films of the past few years: the Transformers sequels, Charlie’s Angels 2, Dumb and Dumberer. If he’s the sidekick or plays only a small part in the film, he’s the worst character or in the worst part (I, Robot, Constantine, Bobby) and yet, he still makes movies. In fact, he’s soon to appear in Lawless, in which I can only imagine Tom Hardy will overshadow him in every way possible as the two play brothers. Honestly, the film is going to put LaBeouf up against Gary Oldman! Though I sincerely hope that Shia’s performance in Lawless blows me away, insomuch as he wins an academy award for it, I highly doubt this will be the case, and it may even ruin that film, that I’m otherwise looking forward to, for me. In Crystal Skull, LaBeouf plays Mutt Williams. If you’re a fan of the Indy franchise, it should come as no surprise that (SPOILER) Mutt is Indy’s son, mainly because Indiana is famously named after his own father’s dog, and Mutt is of course another term for a canine. From his costume, it’s clear LaBeouf is foolishly attempting to emulate Marlon Brando from The Wild One, which he pulls off to absolutely no effect, and if anything it’s a reminder of just how terrible LaBeouf is. The fact that there were rumours suggesting this film would see the handing over of the reigns from Ford to LaBeouf to continue the saga still give me nightmares to this day. I’m almost tempted to announce Mutt as being more annoying than Short Round. Almost.

The Mutt/Indy connection brings me on to my third issue. Crystal Skull tries far too hard to be a member of the Indiana Jones family. I’ve got nothing against a sequel making subtle references to it’s predecessors, offering knowing nods and winks to fans, but here there is far too much time spent to this effect. Whilst Karen Allen, returning as Raiders’ love interest Marion Ravenwood, Mutt’s mother, is a nice touch and offers a believable romance with Indy that you are willing to at times root for, there were all too many moments and scenes that felt like the film-makers were just trying too hard to make it an Indy film. Unfortunately, they only succeeded in making it seem more like the parodies of the Indiana films that filled the gap during it’s 21-year hiatus. This felt far more like National Treasure 3 or The Mummy 4 than an Indy film.
Finally, there’s just too many characters and subplots fighting for screen time. Jim Broadbent filled in for the sadly departed Denholm Elliot as Indy’s fellow university staff member, and John Hurt was a nice inclusion as a crazy old former colleague, but both felt very sidelined, as did Ray Winstone, who should have been pretty integral to the plot. Sadly, they, and Cate Blanchett’s questionably accented Ukrainian skull-hunter were at times almost forgotten in favour of Jones’ relationships with Marion and Mutt.
There were ways that the film could have been fixed. Raiders and Crusade proved that Indy doesn’t need a sidekick, and Temple proved that he shouldn’t have one, so nixing Mutt is pretty much a given. At least 2 scenes should have been cut, as the film feels like it runs at half an hour longer than it’s two hour runtime. I’d suggest the fridge and the diner scene with Mutt. Keep Marion, but make her be in love with John Hurt’s Oxley or Winstone’s Mac, to give Indy a bit of rivalry, and change that goddamn ending. About five minutes before the end of the film, when I first saw it in cinemas I burst out with raucous laughter at how ridiculous the climax was, and this time around it felt even more ludicrous.All that being said, it’s not exactly a horrible film, there are some entertaining sequences – I really enjoyed the jungle-set car chase, up until Mutt starts swinging with the CGI monkeys for no reason whatsoever – and it’s always thrilling to see Harrison Ford wearing a fedora, even if its not the only thing looking a bit dusty these days. I always used to defend the film for being good, just not when compared to the rest of the franchise, but I now know that even if you take it on it’s own, it still really isn’t worth it.

Choose life 5/10

Cowboys and Aliens

Apologies again for the lack of recent posts. I’ve been in hospital again for the past few days (where I managed to watch this film but do little else). All being well my extended medical excursions are now complete, and I can get back to watching films and writing posts. Hopefully there’ll be a steady slew of posts over the next week or so, as there’s about twenty from the List that I’ve watched recently and haven’t reviewed yet. Right, back to today’s feature:

With a title like Cowboys & Aliens, a certain level of expectation is accrued before watching. Along with approximately equal parts ranch hands and space travellers; their respective genres of horse opera and sci-fi melded neatly together, there surely must be a hefty dollop of fun, because the premise is more than a little ridiculous. Yes, it’s just as plausible as any other alien invasion flick, for why necessarily would beings from another planet arrive in present day, but the very notion of cowboys on horseback, with lassos and pistols, taking on intergalactic creatures capable of space travel and ray guns is just insane. So whilst I’d heard mediocre reviews elsewhere of this film, I at least expected to be entertained and amused throughout.

Chances are, this would have had a better chance of happening with a different cast. Though the film’s marketing and other reviewers have revelled in the idea of Bond and Indy together again (The Last Crusade famously saw Sean Connery, the one true Bond, playing Indiana Jones’ father) what director Jon Favreau doesn’t seem to realise is that an older, eye-twinkle-free Harrison Ford and a stoic, seldom talking Daniel Craig just aren’t funny, and have next to no chemistry together.

Craig’s Jake Lonergan awakes in the desert with nought but a photograph of a lady, a strange wound on his side and an even stranger chunky bracelet clamped to his arm. He can’t remember his name or anything else, so after seeing to a trio of miscreants, he heads into the nearby town of Absolution, terrorised by Ford’s bitter cattle baron Dolarhyde. The first half hour or so is easily the best in the film, setting up what looks like an interesting traditional western – albeit significantly more polished and brighter than others made recently, and even once the aliens attack, in a gripping sky-lasso sequence, it stays on the rails. Afterwards however, once every named character has either been snatched by the creatures or sets out after them, it loses it’s way.

Lonergan and Dolarhyde’s posse – for it is they that lead the hunt – is made up of some nameless alien-fodder, and is joined by a rag-tag bunch of townsfolk, including Sam Rockwell’s meek doctor-come-bartender and Olivia Wilde’s mysterious stranger. Wilde and Craig look entirely out of place in the Old West, their piercing eyes, clear skin and complete lack of cragginess juxtaposing with the entirety of the rest of the cast, including the likes of Ford, Keith Carradine and Clancy Brown, who appear to have been born to wear a stetson and chaps.

The best characters are easily Rockwell’s doc and Paul Dano’s Percy, Dolarhyde’s obnoxious son, so it’s puzzling just why they were sidelined quite so much. Had they been the central pairing, this could have been a far greater, more entertaining and interesting picture. The aliens, too, were disappointing. Their design isn’t anything overly creative – other than a chest cavity that opens up to reveal two small arms for delicate work – and they had a confusing blend of advanced weaponry and primitive pounce-and-flail combat techniques. They also had absolutely no characterisation, and quite frankly the notion that they invaded to steal gold is beyond ridiculous, and was the point at which I gave up on the film.

It’s my own fault for going in with high hopes after reading middling reviews, but I feel this is a great concept that was floundered on the wrong cast. Favreau as a director seemed a perfect choice, but he forgot to bring the funny. Yes, Craig’s impassiveness did cause humour at times, mainly when he caused people pain, but all-in-all this was a missed opportunity for a great film.

Choose life 5/10

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Within the Indiana Jones saga, each of the films has a specific role. Raiders is the leader, the well rounded, talented, good looking jock that everyone likes, admires and wants to be friends with. Crusade is the jokester, a tad immature, but loyal and loveable nonetheless. Skull is the one no-one wants to admit is in the gang, the sci-fi nerd with the stupid theories that tags along despite being the butt of all the jokes. And Temple takes life a bit more seriously, is a bit more intense, or so I’ve always remembered. When I’ve thought of it, I tend to remember the dark, mythological plot, involving sacred stones, voodoo, mass child kidnapping and slavery, yet upon rewatching I picked up on the lighter notes, the offsetting of this darkness with two of the series’ more comic (and irritating) supporting characters, various light-hearted moments (generally involving elephants) and a physics/logic defying rollercoaster minecart ride.
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