Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - Special Edition DVD Review

The summer of 2008 brings us the release of the highly anticipated, but wholly unnecessary fourth film in the Indiana Jones series, and with such a momentous occasion looming on the horizon, Paramount has seen fit to milk few more bucks out of pop culture afficionados by re-releasing the first three movies in all-new super-fancy special editions. “The first time they’ve been released in special edition format”, as the commercials are quick to point out. Buy them now before they release a four-film box set, and you have to buy them again!

I had planned on revisiting them anyway, so it worked out well for me. It had been a long time since I’d watched any of the Indy flicks, so I was pretty excited. I was ready for adventure, excitement and bare knuckle brawling, but I never anticipated what would happen when I watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Let me dial the clock back a bit to my childhood. I loved Indiana Jones. Still do, in fact. But as a kid, there’s a special kind of magic there, and the oft-maligned Temple of Doom was my favorite film of the three. As I grew older and reached my cynical 20’s, the second Indy film fell out of favor with me. Raiders of the Lost Ark was clearly the superior film, Temple just seemed like a bad joke and I viewed Last Crusade as an attempt to apologize.

To me, Raiders was more pure: an homage to old Republic serials and adventurers like Alan Quartermain and Doc Savage. A fond memory of a bygone era where men were men and the world was full of mystery and high adventure. Dark jungles and scary natives. Mystical objects and, of course, Nazis. I hate those guys.

Temple of Doom, on the other hand, just seemed too shiny, too Hollywood. It had a kid sidekick and an annoying girl, witty banter that lacked any actual humor and a hokey storyline featuring Indy as the “chosen one” of sorts. It featured Kate Capshaw delivering the worst performance ever captured on film (and I’m including every movie Keanu Reeves has ever been in). It was almost like a parody of an Indiana Jones film.

So I watched it again, for the first time in I don’t know how long, and I felt like I was viewing it for the first time. Boy was I wrong about this one! It’s got all the bare-knuckle brawlin’, the high adventure and the escapism of Raiders, and this one’s got elephants too! Yeah, Indy’s got a kid sidekick, but as it turns out, he’s not nearly as annoying as I thought he was. In fact, he was rather funny, and in all honesty, it’s an element that’s actually pretty accurate. Lots of old-timey pulp heroes from the 30’s and 40’s had minority stereotypes as sidekicks. Why should Indiana Jones be any different?

Kate Capshaw’s performance, on the other hand, can not be so easily excused. She was sleeping with the director, and it shows. That woman is an absolute atrocity, and every scene she’s in can be counted among the worst in film history. Blech!

As for the rest of the film: two thumbs up. It’s a crazy, over-the-top roller coaster ride of a movie that starts off with a bang and doesn’t let up until the very end. But you already knew that, right? Because unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades, you’ve already seen this movie. But if you’re like me, and you’ve been giving it a bad rap: give it another chance. Sure, it’s still shiny and Hollywood, but it’s just plain fun. I had a hard time keeping a big silly grin off of my face as I watched this movie.

It looks a lot nicer too. Every time they re-release these films, they clean them up a bit, which is appreciated. As for the special features, they’re pretty cool, but not as in-depth as the stuff that was on the box set that was released a few years ago. There’s a new introduction from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, a little vignette about the various insects used in the film, and a little “on location” documentary. The mine cart chase scene storyboards, photo gallery and Lego Indiana Jones demo are only going to interest a select few though.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm Not There - 2 disc Collector's Edition DVD Review

Perhaps I’m not the best person to write a review of a movie based on Bob Dylan’s life. While I’m definitely a fan of his music, and hold his songwriting ability in high regard, I’m not one of those folks who owns all of the albums, all the bootlegs and has seen Bob in concert a million times. I like most of what I’ve heard from the man, and have been touched by more than a few of his tunes, but I’ll admit to missing the deeper meaning in a lot of his stuff as well. I dig the guy, and respect his talent and his legacy, but I’m not a member of the “Church of Bob” by any means.

On the other hand, maybe I’m the perfect choice? I won’t be watching the film through the eyes of an obsessed Dylan fan, but simply watching a film as a lover of cinema. My review won’t be written through the haze of rose colored glasses or biased in any way due to idol worship. It’ll just be a review of a movie based on a guy I know a little about, but have heard a whole lot about. But enough about me and my lack of Dylan knowledge, let’s get to the review.

If you’re looking for a deeper insight into Bob Dylan the man, or a by-the-book biography, you’re not going to find it in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. Rather than tell a straightforward tale that starts at Point A and takes the logical route to Point B, C and so on, Haynes tells a very non-linear tale, jumping around through different eras, shooting in different film stocks and casting six different actors in the lead role. In fact, none of the characters in the film are even called Bob Dylan. I’m Not There is a movie that is every bit as mysterious as Dylan’s lyrics and as enigmatic as the man himself.

We’re not really getting the story of Bob Dylan’s life here, we’re getting a bunch of animated snapshots of his career and public persona. It’s a very surreal experience, full of metaphor and symbolism. It’s a lot like a Dylan song brought to life, and like many Dylan songs, I won’t pretend that I understood the deeper meaning behind all of it. Like Dylan’s singing voice, the film’s voice can be a bit on the abrasive side at times, but like most of Dylan’s music, I can’t help but see the talent behind the whole thing, and on occasion, be quite moved by it.

Casting six actors as different aspects of Dylan’s personality is a risky gambit. It could fall very easily into the realm of the pretentious and annoying art film. Luckily for the viewer, it does not. Well, not very often, at any rate, and even when it does, the performances are so captivating, you can’t help but enjoy it anyway. A lot has already been said about Cate Blanchett’s performance as Dylan at the height of his fame, so I won’t go into too much further detail. I’ll simply tell you that she is awesome. If you’ve ever watched an old interview with the man, you’ll see that she’s got his mannerisms and voice down to a science. It’s actually a pretty freaky thing to watch.

I’m Not There is not a film for everybody though. As I’ve already said, the story is not told with any type of structure. This is not a biopic along the lines of La Bamba, Ray or Walk The Line. It’s actually a bit slow moving and even mildly boring at times. It is, however, a film that is every bit as creative as the man whom it is about. If you’re a hardcore Dylan fan, I’m guessing this film is one you won’t want to miss. If you’re not, it’s an interesting look at a legend and his body of work, and it’s worth checking out anyway.

The two-disc collector’s edition features on-screen song lyrics, commentary and an introduction by director/co-writer Todd Haynes. The second disc has got all the outtakes, deleted scenes, auditions and interviews with cast and crew that you could possibly ask for, plus a “Dylanography” with filmography, discography, bibliography, chronology and probably a few other “ologys” that weren’t mentioned on the box.