Monday, June 16, 2008

Indiana Fall Panda Hulk: Movies I've Seen Recently

I have been seeing SO many movies... I'm sorry I've been so thin on the blogging, but I've hardly had time to breathe and develop a coherent thought about any of them. I'll take a moment now and summarize my recent experiences, even if I'm unable to furnish any detailed critique. Hopefully this will get me started reflecting on some parts of my recent cinema journey.

The last few movies I blogged about were My Blueberry Nights, The Forbidden Kingdom, and The Hunger. Since then, I've seen the following, and had the following thoughts about them:

1 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

As much as I enjoyed some of the good lines from Harrison Ford (he can still deliver dialogue), and as much as I approved of Shia LaBouf as Indy's obnoxious protege, the lack of continuity and subtlety in KotCS definitely annoyed me. All the Indy movies are fantasy on some level, but they all take place within the mythological space established by their subject matter... within the religious, tribal, and ritual narrative domains. The whole Space Odyssey alien thing came out of nowhere, and it ran violently counter to the spirit of the series. It makes no sense for an archaeologist to be dealing with aliens... the point of Anthropology and Archeology (always Indy's great quest and motivation) is the knowledge of premodern HUMAN cultures. Aliens just don't fit into the narrative boundaries of the series.

Can I forgive it? Yes, but barely. Kids these days need to be overstimulated, and UFO's and huge apocalyptic explosions are probably essential to getting them interested in Archeology.

2 - The Fall

The critics gave The Fall a lukewarm reception, but I thought it was an excellent little piece of vanity cinema. The relationship that developed between Roy and Alexandria was laden with subtexts of fatherhood, desire, and emasculation, and they played out in Roy's improvised fantasy world in a compelling way. The gravitational center of the story... the ownership of the narrative that provided a shared space where Roy and Alexandria were able to communicate... was a great place for Tarsem to show off his conceptual cinematic style. Sure, it looks a little like a music video, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work for storytelling.

3 - Kung Fu Panda

I have to say, I was a big fan. Jack Black works very well as an animated character... he's not automatically typecast as the goofy, overbearing bumbling best friend, so he has a chance to play a real role. In this case, he was brilliant as a young, dorky, enthusiastic but insecure "chosen one" in a kingdom full of badass animals. This was a film of personalities, including the wavering leader, the sagely master, the good-hearted but overbearing second son, and the epic adversary. Ultimately, it was an ideal showcase for action, good-natured humor, and some classic moral and emotional insights.

4 - The Incredible Hulk

Well-executed and thoroughly enjoyable. I'd give Iron Man a 95%, and I'd give The Increduble Hulk about an 87%. There are a few key elements that made it good, and I'll summarize them. First, the Hulk's actual fight scenes were fairly awe-inspiring... his capacities were pushed further with each successive battle, and he was give the screen time to eventually reveal himself as the epic force of nature that needed so badly to impress the audience. The key moment... his confrontation with the sonic cannons and the gunship... was executed perfectly to make us cheer for the monster, and to give us a sense of his scale and scope. Second -- Edward Norton makes a fantastically nerdy Bruce Banner, a pale academic who's had to become a slippery, quick-witted fugitive to escape from the government. The contrast between Norton's Banner and the momentous force of The Hulk is a key to the authenticity of the film.

And I've watched a couple classics, as well...

1 - The Philadelphia Story

This is an excellent film that shows us how naturally a great actor can deliver sharp, fast-moving dialogue. With Grant, Hepburn, and Stewart on-screen together, we have a study of uniquely American personalities, and the emotional dynamic that develops between them... the shifting psychology and self-awareness of Tracy Lord, in particular... makes for an engaging experience. I'd recommend, however, that you sit down with this movie and give it 150% of your attention, because plot points and character subtleties are slipped into the witty dialogue with very few cues. You have to be quick to keep a handle on these characters.

2 - The Wild Bunch

A powerful movie, mixing the sentimentality of the lost Western consciousness with some really raw, violent conflict. Some research on the director -- Sam Peckinpah -- gives valuable insight into the logic of the film. This is the perfect final product from the mind of a tortured soldier, making films in a time of war and unrest, and reflecting on the turmoil of the world around him. I really dug it.

I've seen a few others... the remake of THX 1138, and Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, in particular. I'll try to check back as I have more experiences. For now, Benefit of the Doubt, signing off.