Wednesday, June 28, 2023

INDY 5 Is Better Than CRYSTAL SKULL, But Feels Off

Opening tomorrow at a multiplex near you :

(Dir. James Mangold, 2023)

Warning: This review contains major SPOILERS!

“What are you, 80?” Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams cracks at a 65-year old Harrison Ford in the last, least loved Indiana Jones flick, something about a CRYSTAL SKULL. That was a joke, but now it’s the truth as an 80-year old Ford reprises Dr. Jones for the fifth time in the big summer popcorn movie sequel that opens tomorrow.


I’ll report right off that INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, which releases tomorrow, is better than CRYSTAL SKULL, but how much is debatable as it is still far from the engaging adventures the original trilogy presented. The fluid Spielbergian touch is noticeably missing in action scene after action scene – it simply doesn’t visually pop like even the last bad one did.


It feels off right from the start as it doesn’t have the traditional play on the Paramount mountain that has opened every previous Indy movie. Maybe this is to establish that this is a Mangold take on the franchise, it doesn’t make sense as it’s an established aesthetic, and its omission threw me off. They use the same font for the credits as the others, so why would they change that?


Then the next tradition, Indy’s first close-up, which began with one of the most bad-ass shots in movie history of the man with the fedora and whip stepping out of the shadows in the jungle in the opening moments of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, was spoiled months ago with pictures of how the AI de-aging was going to give us a lengthy opening sequence set in 1944.

The version of the younger Ford running around somewhere in Europe (I forget where) in the dying days of the Third Reich, again punching out Nazis, and saving historic artifacts from their grasp, is very convincing, but the sequence itself, which culminates in a fight on top of a train isn’t particularly exciting. It does effectively set up the film’s MacGuffin, Archimedes’ Dial, and the villain, Nazi physicist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, who fits perfectly into Indy’s world).


Then we’re in New York, 1969, and Indy is a cranky old man, who we regrettably see shirtless, going to tell his hippy neighbors to turn down their stereo blaring the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.” He’s told it’s “Moon Day,” and we also learn that Marion (Karen Allen) has left him, and his son Mutt is out of the picture (thank the Lord!). Dr. Jones is set to retire from Hunter University where the students are falling asleep instead of fawning over him like back in the day.


But the plot doesn’t really kick off until Phoebe Waller-Bridge enters as Indy’s goddaughter, Helena Shaw, who is after the Dial, and wants Indy’s help so she can sell it to the highest bidder – something our grizzled hero doesn’t approve of (of course, because “It belongs in a museum!”).


A reluctant Indy gets roped into the action, and we’re soon taken through a series of high-speed chase sequences starting with a Moon Day Parade scene, in which Indy takes down three assailants in succession, pretty good for an octogenarian!


I’ll refrain from describing any more of the action on screen, but one can guess the back and forth the Dial goes through from good guys to bad guys back to good guys - Jones: “You stole it.” Voller: “Then you stole it.” Helena: “And then I stole it! Its called capitalism.”


The feared image of Ford portraying a broken-down Dr. Jones who is shown up by Waller-Bridge as his energetic, overly-hip goddaughter who even says in her defense that she’s “Beautiful and self-sufficient,” a cringe-worthy line for sure, isn’t entirely accurate, but I was disappointed that our adventure icon’s confidence was lacking. He’s faced death his whole life, and he’s just giving up to drink and watch TV now? Seems a bad choice for the character.

But Ford’s Indy, with his gruff but lovable lived-in persona, will still work, and have weight to folks like me who have known him for four decades. I can’t speak for the younger audiences, nor will I make any predictions about its box office - (I’ve never seen the internet so want a movie to flop like this one - if you don't believe me go to YouTube, and search Indiana Jones, and see what vitriol comes up).


Of course, since this is an Indiana Jones movie, we’ve got to visit dark, spooky, trap-filled caves, and the tomb of Archimedes in Sicily fits that bill. I don’t think it’s a Spoiler to say there’s a time-travel premise as that’s what Archimedes’ ancient artifact dials up, but I will say that it works well as the MacGuffin – i.e. much better than that Crystal Skull of Akator whatnot.


A good choice was bringing Salah (John Rhys-Davies) back for his third time around with Indy, as he gives great gusto to the beloved role, while bringing the movie much needed warmth at times.


Another welcome return is composer John Williams whose iconic scores really brought sonic gravitas to the series, and it greatly helps out here – audiences will surely get goose bumps when it first arrives in the opening.


While Mikkelsen, and Toby Jones as an old WWII friend of Indy’s fit neatly into the world George Lucas and Steven Spielberg created over 40 years ago, and I’m not sure that Antonio Banderas, playing a boat captain, was necessary. Waller-Bridge was too smug for my liking, and the idea that she would continue these adventures herself is really unappealing – I don’t think that even people who dig her in this will be dying for a Helena Shaw franchise.


So with its competent screenplay by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp (who co-wrote CRYSTAL SKULL), and James Mangold, INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY is a good, not great (one of my most used phrases on Film Babble Blog!) film that maybe is most notable for being a big summer movie in 2023 that is headlined by an 80-year old. That was something that was hard to shake at times, as it often felt like an old Harrison Ford film than a true Indiana Jones movie.


Mangold’s approach, direction, and tone for the entry just felt off for too much of the film, but maybe that’s because I re-watched all four Spielberg Indy films leading up to the screening I attended of DIAL. And like I said before, it’s better than the fourth one, but it doesn’t look better – cinematographer Phedon Papamichael is no Janusz Kamiński, I guess.


But I did enjoy this supposed last chapter enough to recommend, and it ends on a decent, if not fully satisfying note.


Now, please, let it end here!

Friday, June 09, 2023

Cutesy Tribute To Kevin Smith’s Problematic ‘90s Rom Com Only Skirts The Surface

Film Babble Blog's first review in months tackles a film which is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival today (actually it has a screening last night), and is also set to screen at Frameline, Bentonville and Provincetown.

CHASING CHASING AMY (Dir. Sav Rodgers, 2023)

This documentary begins with an old school VHS cassette being popped into a VCR, with the year being noted as 2008. As we hear audio from the trailer of Kevin Smith’s 1997 rom com, CHASING AMY, we see graphic novel-style panels (just like in the opening of the original movie) that depict a glasses, backwards-baseball cap-wearing kid plopped down in front of a TV. “Our young hero watches CHASING AMY over and over…and over…and over,” little boxes in the comic panels tell us.


That young hero is filmmaker, writer, producer Sav Rodgers, who has turned his obsession with CHASING AMY into a Ted Talk, and now this film, which explores Rodgers’ journey with the movie from seeing it at age 12, and dealing its problematic reputation in the LGBTQ+ community


In an introductory montage, we get the lowdown – Ben Affleck, and Joey Lauren Adams are the leads in the film that was a breakthrough for Smith after a few minor splashes (the black and white crude comedy CLERKS, and the kinda crappy crude comedy MALLRATS) in the indie scene of the ‘90s. A clip from Late Night with Conan O’Brien features Adams explaining the film’s premise: “It’s about a guy who falls in love with a lesbian, finds out she’s had heterosexual relationships, and can’t deal with that.”


But for its detractors, it’s about how a lesbian can be turned by the ‘right guy.’ When asked if the film is authentic to the LGBTQ community, CHASING AMY Casting Director Shane Lory says, “No, I find it authentic to the straight white dude who happens to fall for the queer woman community.”

Rodgers, who came out as a trans man during the making of this doc, tells his Ted Talk audience, and us, that through tough times being bullied in high school, “I did have this one movie. I had a movie where the gay, and lesbian characters were good; they were intelligent, and funny, and out – they were able to live as their authentic selves. And you know what? The spirit of CHASING AMY kept me alive for years to come despite the suicidal thoughts that began to permeate from the trauma that I was continuously experiencing at school.”


Rodgers’ Ted Talk get some action on Twitter which leads to Adams and Affleck taking notice and retweeting, and then Smith himself contacting our young hero. Rodgers visits Smith at his comic and movie memorabilia-stocked home, and they bond immediately, but it’s not until Smith sits down for an interview, that we get any insight. We learn that Smith’s first film, CLERKS, came out at the same time as Rose Troche’s lesbian drama GO FISH, written by Guinevere Turner, who appears here to say that the films were siblings, and her relationship, or “romantic friendship” (as Turner calls it) with Smith’s friend/collaborator largely informed CHASING AMY.


To tell Rodgers’ story, his doc goes from one interview to another, with clips from the film interjected, but while it’s watchable, and quick-moving, it doesn’t really dive too deep into its subject matter. Even when it comes to the involvement of Miramax producer, Harvey Weinstein, who was later convicted of first-degree criminal sex act, third-degree rape, and is now serving a 23-year prison, it only offers such expected observations like Smith saying, “I can’t undo the fact that my career is tied up with him.”


The most substantial interview segment comes from the film’s leading lady, Adams, who explains that why she’s proud of CHASING AMY, she doesn’t “like looking back at that time,” and still has issues with Smith “making me feel bad for living the life I had lived,” as much of the material was based on his insecurities about her past sexual experiences when they were dating.


Rodgers is likable as he awkwardly shuffles through the film’s original locations, has sone mushy AF hangs with his girlfriend, Riley, and cutely conducts interviews with Smith, but the film can be a gooey tribute that won’t likely be tolerated by folks who dislike Smith (and I’ve known many). Personally I've found the dude to be a bit pleased at his own persona, but still a likable stoner sort. However, after the early promise of his films, a lot of his work (the CLERKS and JAY AND SILENT BOB sequels, TUSK, and especially YOGA HOSERS) has sucked (I did like RED STATE though).

CHASING AMY is the director’s most personal (and probably best) work, and this very personal doc has its touching moments via Rodgers’ sincere gestures of thanks for Smith’s irregular rom com, but it doesn’t have much to say about its stature these days in the LGBTQ+ community. It fills in such spaces with a lot about Rodgers, and his all-too-wonderful relationship with his wife Riley, which, hey, Im happy for them kids, and love n all, but it was a little too much at times.


How CHASING CHASING AMY only skirts the surface of its subject without offering any real thesis can be found in this sound-bite from Princess Weekes (Geek Girl Pop Culture Site, The Mary Sue), “Sometimes, something that’s problematic can still mean a lot in your development.” Well said, but still, duh.

More later...

Thursday, June 08, 2023

The Rialto Is Coming Back And So Is Film Babble Blog

I don't know who Andrew is - this was just the Rialto's marquee yesterday.

After a hiatus that I thought might be much longer, Film Babble Blog is back with some great news. The Rialto Theatre in Raleigh, N.C., is re-opening. I have a personal history with the venue as I worked there from the early 2010’s until it closed last August (I worked the final ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW night, and it was a blast), so I’m elated that it will again be screening movies for local audiences thanks to an investment group, headed by Hayes Permar.

Read Ral today’s write-up about the news:


Rialto Theatre to reopen under new ownership

And here (again) is my video from when the Rialto closed last year:

So like the article says, there’s no word on when the Rialto will re-open, and again serve the community with cinema (and live music – something it hasn’t done in decades), but I’ll keep you posted. I’m thinking of re-applying for my ole usher job – for just a couple of shifts a week maybe. I’m thinking that might help re-ignite my love of movies, and seeing them on the big screen again. 


My movie-loving mojo has been lacking lately, and that might be exactly what I need.

Also, no word whether THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is also coming back.

More later...