Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.

*THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SPOILERS*

Monday, February 21, 2011

Crank

Year: 2006
Running time: 88 minutes
Certificate: 18
Language: English
Screenplay: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart

Dave.

You're doing it wrong.
There isn't really much to say about Crank other than 'oh dear'. It is a genuinely interesting premise - an assassin named Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is poisoned by a rival and the only way to stay alive is to slow the poison by keeping his heart rate up and his adrenaline pumping. As a result he gets up to increasingly ridiculous things to keep the inevitable at bay. It's like Speed but in a human body. Unfortunately the execution is completely fluffed from the start and it looks like it was made on an even smaller budget that the modest one it was made on. It's further proof (in addition to the also terrible Transporter films) that Jason Statham has no business being an action hero and should have remained a cheeky cockney gangster. Obviously since Crank Statham has been relentlessly pursuing the goal of being the hardest action man in Hollywood and following his part in The Expendables may have finally achieved it, so although he'll always be Bacon (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and Turkish (Snatch) to me, credit is due.

Shagging to stay alive.
The only reasons it scored any points at all are for the lingering shots of his at-home girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) in her lingerie (and yes, I know that is sexist and pervy but I'm struggling for nice things to say) and the stiffy joke half way through.

To sum up, Crank stank.

Score: 3/10

Rachel.

Crank is wank!

Score: 1/10

Erik agrees, but Nick at Empire and I have a rare disagreement.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Indiana Jones

Year: 1981 (Raiders), 1984 (Doom), 1989 (Last Crusade), 2008 (Crystal Skull)
Running time: 115 minutes (Raiders), 118 minutes (Doom), 127 minutes (Last Crusade), 122 minutes (Crystal Skull)
Certificate: PG (Raiders), (Doom), (Last Crusade), 12A (Crystal Skull)
Language: English
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders), Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz (Doom), Jeffrey Boam (Last Crusade), David Koepp (Crystal Skull)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Paul Freeman, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan (Jonathan Ke Quan), Amrish Puri, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, Julian Glover, River Phoenix, Shia LaBeouf, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, Cate Blanchett

Dave.

"Snakes.  Why did it have to be snakes?"
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is the ultimate everyman hero that everyone can love - at least as heroic and iconic as 007 or any comic book hero you care to mention, and without the geek-dom of Han Solo - this is a guy anyone can root for. Even Martin Riggs and John McClane lack the 'making it up as he goes' feeling that always makes Indy look out of his depth when in the thick of the action (which, of course, just makes him more appealing).

From the opening shot of Raiders and one of the best character introductions in cinema history, it's obvious that these films are special. Everything about the story - the mysticism surrounding the Ark of the Covenant, the comedy (the scene where Indy nonchalantly pulls his gun and shoots one of the bad guys is a genius gag born out of necessity, when tight budgets and dysentery among the cast and crew caused the lengthy fight sequence to be canned), Indy's relationship with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, and the second of cinema's great entrances in one film), the love interest who could drink anyone under the table and surely one of the most deserving women to which the word 'spunky' was ever applied, and of course, those villainous Nazis. Obviously, assuming all Nazi soldiers were basically little Hitlers instead of individuals (so it's OK to extinguish their lives left, right and centre) is an appalling assumption to make, but this isn't about reality; it's a family action movie, things are supposed to be kept simple. The Nazis are the bad guys, Indy's the good guy. That's it.

Even after 30 years, the set pieces are utterly stunning (in particular that astonishing truck chase), proving that CGI is often not required at all. The music is also extremely special with John Williams working to the peak of his powers - Raiders March is one of the most recognisable pieces of music in film, and will always remain so.

Doom is very different in tone to Raiders, but still fabulous. This time, in his endless quest for fortune and glory, our heroic archaeologist (before Indiana Jones, surely that was a contradiction in terms?) is in India saving slave children and retrieving magic stones from the evil Thugee cult, being drawn into the murky world of human sacrifice along the way. At times it gets rather dark and nasty, but there is still room for comedy, usually in the shape of Short Round (Ke Huy Quan - the best child sidekick ever? Apart from maybe Hit Girl?) Supposedly, after much negotiation, the MPAA passed a new certificate just for Doom, the PG-13. Only Spielberg, the man who got Saving Private Ryan through the BBFC with a 15 certificate, could have accomplished something like this (a similar story declares the rating was invented for Gremlins, but as that movie was also Spielberg-backed, the point still stands). With the exception of the better ending (the mine cart chase and the cutting of the rope bridge versus 'shut your eyes and let God do all the work'), it's not as good as Raiders, but still excellent, packed with genius action set pieces and another stonking soundtrack.

Hero pose #24.
Last Crusade is very much a return to the lighter adventures of Indiana Jones, with Jones Sr. along for the ride this time. Sean Connery steals the film outright bringing both gravitas and more comedy to the franchise than ever before; particularly the joke about the father and son having slept with the same woman is brilliant comedy. Although the first two films had their share, the action here is just relentless, with Dr. Henry Jones Jr. and Sr. flying, riding, driving and swinging from one set piece to another in their quest for the Holy Grail. In the breathing spaces, time is also made for some wonderful moments between father and son.

The climax is the best of the franchise, with Indy having to face the ultimate questions of God and belief to save his father's life. Even now, when faced with a tough decision, repeating "The penitent man will pass" over and over in my head like a mantra serves to strengthen my resolve, and that's despite being a devout atheist. In the final moments, when Henry Sr. finally gets through to his son by calling him Indiana for the first time and Indy chooses his family over his fortune and glory it is a moment that packs as much of an emotional wallop as almost any moment in film you care to name. Last Crusade ties the series up very nicely. But, in the words of a certain British comedian, they wouldn't let it lie.

So, inevitably, we move to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Well, nobody liked this much, did they? Universally panned on release, you only have to go as far as South Park and see the characters (child and adult) weeping over how Spielberg and Lucas raped our favourite hero in the worst possible way just to make a buck, to see just how derided it was. I found myself having a rather milder reaction to it, and must confess that although some elements didn't sit well with me, and it doesn't measure up to the original trilogy, I didn't think it was too bad. It was actually pretty good. Bear with me.

I find myself disagreeing entirely with the two main criticisms thrown at the film. The first is the unrealistic nature of the action, the 'no way would that work' type of thing. One example is the whole CG monkey Tarzan-esque scene, in which our mini Indy, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) swings on conveniently placed vines to catch up to a high speed car chase in the jungle. Granted, the CG monkeys were terrible, but the vine-swinging? Completely in keeping with an Indy set piece. It's improbable yes, but let's compare with the original classic trilogy. The scene in Raiders when Indy is on the outside of a Nazi submarine about to dive - cut to the sub docking and our hero is fine. So, what, do we infer that he held his breath the whole way? Take Doom and the jump out of a plane in a lifeboat, onto the side of a mountain, off a cliff, into raging rapids. All that happens is the three of them get a bit wet. Or the cutting of the rope bridge. Or the mine cart chase. Just as unlikely, maybe more so. Part of watching Indiana Jones is to take these impossible feats for granted. A second example of this, and the most vehemently complained about, is the nuking of the fridge. Indeed, 'nuking the fridge' has become a filmic equivalent of 'jumping the shark' in some circles. Look, everybody knows it's impossible to survive a nuclear blast inside a lead-lined fridge. Those that complain about this are missing the point entirely. It's just about the best joke in the entire Indy franchise - alluding to all the ridiculous 'duck and cover' guidance in the fifties. Let's face it, you've probably got more chance of surviving in the fridge than you do in a ditch or under a table.
Out of the frying pan...
The second big problem people have is the central story idea. Aliens? In Indiana Jones? Let's forget for a moment that an Indy script idea that has been doing the rounds for years is about 'the saucer people'. Let's consider what the reason might have been for them going with this idea. The original trio were all set in the 30s, and go to some lengths to recreate the feeling of the classic adventure serials from then. Crystal Skull is set in the 50s. A very different world. Filmed through specific filters to give it a 50s look. By the 50s, what had replaced adventure serials as the most popular form of entertainment for young 'uns? Yep; UFOs and B-movies. That's the reason for the look and that's the reason for the aliens (or the inter-dimensional beings, whatever).

Don't get me wrong, despite me disagreeing with the two biggest criticisms, there are things I don't like about it. The ending is naff, and reminded me uncomfortably of The Mummy Returns. The worst thing is that there is way too much CGI used. Remember the truck chase in Raiders? One of the reasons it's better than any of the Crystal Skull set pieces is that is was all real - it was full of stuntmen doing stunts, dust and dirt. This gave it a personality the clinical Crystal Skull just doesn't have. Too many of the moments in Crystal Skull that should have been classic Indy looked clean and unreal - you could tell where the blue screen was. It's not quite enough to make me hate it like so many others though.

Score:
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: 9/10
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: 8/10
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: 9/10
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 6/10

Rachel.

It's hard to review these films without a certain amount of nostalgic bias. As an 80s child, the Indiana Jones films were staples along with The Goonies and Labyrinth. They can still captivate me like they did back then. They have a classic mix of lovable hero versus the slightly goofy bad guys and the all-important mystery - childhood bliss! The fact that they are all a bit predictable and slightly cheesy only adds to their charm as far as I'm concerned and is one reason why they were so attractive to me as a wee sprog. Even as an adult, I can get swept up in the adventure and the magic of the Indiana Jones films - they never seem to go out of style. True classics.

Indy in trouble again.
As for the fourth one, I, like Dave, did not think this was a disgrace to the Indy name and actually quite enjoyed it. Obviously it didn't meet the standards set by the first three, but I thought Indy as a character was true to form and loved the idea of him coming to terms with getting older and the physical limitations it comes with. This is compounded by the addition to the cast of Mutt, Indy's son, at the peak of his physical prowess. The films also had some of the action sequences and humour typical of the brand.

Having said that, I do think the ending was a little disappointing and not very well thought out. It also overuses CGI, which I always think has the opposite of the intended effect, making things look completely unreal.

Overall, I think I would probably rate Crystal Skull lower if it was a standalone film, but given the fact that the character and style are well established and for the sake of nostalgia, I would say it met my expectations.

Score:
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: 8/10
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: 9/10
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: 9/10
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 6/10

It would seem others share my thoughts on Raiders, Doom, Last Crusade & Crystal Skull.