Friday, 31 October 2008

Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review

Harrison Ford returned to the big screen this summer as the daring adventurer/ part time archaeologist to much anticipation, after, wait for it, a 19 year hiatus since the last installment of the franchise, back in 1989. I was still in school. Happy days. A generation of movie goers have grown up without the joys of seeing the old-fashioned hero escaping at the last minute, beating unreasonable odds, and confronting other-wordly terrors. It's time they got an education, and Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford and George Lucas have not disappointed.

I have a confession to make at this point. Truth be told, I grew up on Indiana Jones. I probably watched Raiders of The Lost Ark over 50 times when I was between 9 and 13. The Temple of Doom was a poor follow-up which didn't grab me as much, but the third instalment with its' Nazis and saving the world plot had me gripped again. To have been deprived of the series for the last 2 decades has left me feeling cheated, but I was certainly not disappointed on seeing Ford return in the eponymous role of my boyhood dreams.

So, I'm probably a little biased when I say that I loved this new episode. For fans, it has all the familiar aspects that one would expect, but with some fun twists and subtle differences. There is the Crystal Skull – a mythic object with untold powers. However, although it is linked to an ancient civilisation in the form of the Myans, this time it's ultimate source is from outer space, a theme in keeping with the fifties, that forms the background for this new story. As such, the bad guys this time are Russians, rather than the Nazis that made such compelling baddies in earlier episodes. Taking place in a decade upon which the spectre of nuclear holocaust loomed large over America, the film also touches on this tricky subject and makes it clear that the great world war has now been replaced by a cold war.

With Ford back in the title role at the age of 64, it's fascinating to watch how he carries it off, drawing attention to and having fun with the comic possibilities of his ageing frame, rather than glossing over it. Shia Leboef also holds his own as Jones' heir apparent, styled in the image of Marlon Brando in The Wild One, simultaneously signalling to the viewer that it is a decade since WWII, and the world is moving on. The tension between the two characters provides a great deal of the films' conflict, as the older figure struggles to accept the young upstart, and vice versa. Lucas always said that Jones was a partly a tribute to the matinee shows of the 30s, and part James Bond. Given the ongoing nature of the latter, it seems only fitting that the film clearly leaves open the door for the younger actor to take on the mantle of the great adventurer over from Ford in future films.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is also fascinating for kids who grew up on in the eighties on a diet of Spielberg and Lucas movies for the way in which it ties together major themes from their movies. By bringing together their fascination for sci-fi seen in movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters with the fascination with ancient cultures depicted in earlier Indiana movies, this film provides an interesting commentary on their previous work, uniting it in an unexpected and interesting way.

In the end, while Lucas worked hard on the three Star Wars prequels in the past decade, I felt that they were largely poor and diminished the franchise. In the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on the other hand, Lucas, Spielberg and Ford have made us wait two decades for a film which, while not perfect, is the belated ending that fans deserved. Although I wonder how the old-fashioned cinematic values and narrative will be percieved by a younger audience, as a fan myself, I loved every minute of it.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Life On Mars....US?

So, last Thursday US Network ABC broadcast the American version of the British made international hit series, Life On Mars. As a fan of the time travel story / police procedural, I thought I'd sneek a peek at their version, especially given that no less than Harvey Keitel is in the much loved Philip Glenister role of no nonsense 70s cop.

On the whole, the first episode was largely faithful to the original to a great degree, sharing pretty much the same plot, similar dialogue (minus some of the more extreme stuff that, while ok for hardened UK audiences, probably doesn't cut it with sensitive US advertisers and their sensibilities), and even a lot of visual similarities. Some of the same camera shots at key moments, Sam Tyler's natty leather jacket, and the office of the police station were identical. Makers must have been keen to capture and distill the magic that made the original so loved by audiences across the world.

Sam Tyler is played by Irishman Jason O'Mara in this version, who does a creditable performance as the confused policeman who is run over in a car accident in 2008, and mysteriously wakes up in 1973. The local references of 70s Manchester were transferred to flower power Noo Yawk faithfully, with a background of Vietnam, beautiful people and a funk-soul soundtrack. The pace kept up as the first episode set up Tyler's predicament for the audience.

I understand that in the second episode the story will depart from the original, which seemed to clearly suggest that Tyler was in fact in a coma in a hospital bed in the present day. The remake will be far more ambigious in the variety of possibility of explanations for the detective's apparent predicament, with him writing down 13 different reasons on a blackboard, and each of these being explored over the rest of this first series.

With Life On Mars being a ratings success on its first outing last week, the series is likely to make its way to our shores soon enough. For those who can't wait, here's a taster.....


Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Dark Side Of Fame : Mickey Rourke

Earlier this week, while experiencing some rather frustrating technical problems (my computer was totally stuffed), I was privaledged to see an episode of the BBC's The Dark Side Of Fame With Piers Morgan. I'm no fan of the former Daily Mirror editor, as he and his tabloid brethren are responsible for the misery, and descent into self-destruction of many a talented actor or musician, and for me he represents the ugly, envious gossipy side of English culture.

But at any rate, this Monday's episode featured the great lost eighties icon and heart-throb Mickey Rourke. The weather-beaten star looked sincerely fragile and broken as he talked about a difficult childhood and a descent into self destruction that saw him go from being the brightest potential star in Hollywood into a washed up boxer who had burned all bridges professionally and personally, and was left with virtually no one.

Now on the mend with a recent appearance in 2005's Sin City, he looks like he could produce a prodigal son performance to match his making peace with Hollywood in forthcoming movie The Wrestler, which will be out in December. Anyway, enjoy.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Start Here : An Essential Taster of...Blaxploitation Horror

Blacula (1972)

To most people, Blaxploitation conjures up images of big black dudes with afros, in loud, natty clothes, and a cast of pimps, drug dealers and ladies of the night, all set to a funk/soul soundtrack, set in the ghetto. The US movie genre which began in the early 70s was born out of a new self confidence from the emancipation of a minority, and was kitsch, and definitely loud, black and proud, with notable movies like Shaft, and Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song leaving an indelible mark on popular culture.

A lesser known strand in this genre was the reinvention of existing horror narratives, which began with the release of 1972's Blacula, a commercial success which has since gained status as a kitsch underground classic of the decade that taste forgot.

The story begins with an African prince, Mamuwalde, who calls upon the help of Count Dracula in countering the slave trade. It emerges that Dracula is in fact a racist, and so the evil Count turns the prince into a vampire, christening him with Blacula, and imprisons him in a coffin. Years later, the box is then transported to 70s LA where it has been bought by two gay interior decorators, where it is opened and all hell (literally) breaks loose, and the body count begins piling up.

The film was so successful that it spawn a sequel, and effectively, the whole genre. As the story shows, Blaxploitation's contribution to the history of horror movies is an interesting take which highlights a decade when racial tensions were still rife, where the bogeymen are misunderstood black men, who are typically victims of white society. More importantly, they're a bit silly, and lots of fun.

Next Stop: Dr Black, Mr Hyde (1976) , Blackenstein (1973), Bones (2001).