Friday, May 23, 2008

That Indy Feeling: A Roundup of Indiana Jones Knock-Offs

I just watched the new Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The film, which is pretty ok if you want it to be (I did) but which you could also consider utterly wretched if you wanted to, is the first attempt by George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg to recapture that old Indy magic since 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But it's not the first attempt at capturing that magic. The Hollywood adventure genre, once a varied and exciting thing, has basically been nothing but a bunch of Indiana Jones pastiches over the last twenty years. The result has been, quite frankly, turdtacular. Care to walk down memory lane? Let's look at Hollywood's (mostly pathetic) attempts to replicate Indy's success.

Film: The Mummy (1999)
Indy Stand-In: Brendan Fraser as a mercenary turned reluctant treasure hunter. Actually inspired casting - one of the few movies to use Fraser's goofiness to good purpose. 0 Turds
Critical Turditude: Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 53/100. For an adventure movie that's not bad, but it still gets a turd. 1 Turd
My Thoughts: I actually love this movie - it's got a plot like Raiders but not totally derivative of it, good special effects for the time, classic one liners, and the right mixture of fun and violence. 0 Turds.
Overall: 1 Turd. If you want more Indy, this is a good place to look
Sequel: Much Turdier. Avoid!

Film: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Indy Stand-In: The good news: she's a woman. The bad news: Although her being a woman seems progressive, Lara Croft is an embarrassing Indy-rip off created originally as a video game character to sell video games by virtue of having big boobs. Angelina Jolie sucked at the time, and she's just gotten worse since. 6.5 Turds
Critical Turditude: 19/100 from Tomatoes. That's worth 3 Turds
My Take: I caught part of this for about 10 minutes on TV. I was bored but couldn't tell what incredibly bland movie I was watching, till I got a peek of Angelina. 2 turds or so.
Total:11.5 Turds. Not good!
Sequel: More of the same? You'd have to watch it to know.

Film: Hellboy (2004)
Indy Stand-In: A giant red demon raised by US operatives, Hellboy is played by one of my favorite actors, Ron Perlman - the ugliest man in Hollywood. He's got Indy's wit and one-liners, and he globe-hops, but is in no way an Indy ripoff. -2 Turds
Critical Reception: 79/100 from Rotten Tomatoes - unprecedented for an adventure movie! Another -1 Turds
My Take: God I love this movie. I'd never say it's a masterpiece, but it's a pleasure to watch and so much fun. I actually misted up watching Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, because watching John Hurt in an Indy movie made me remember his Hellboy character so strongly. Another -2 Turds.
Overal: -5 Turds. Probably the best adventure movie Hollywood's ever made in the Indy mold that didn't have Indy in it - and better than at least 2 of the 4 Spielberg movies. Rent it!

Film: National Treasure (2004)
Indy Stand-In: I like Nicolas Cage, and his character, Benjamin Franklin Gates, is a kinda interesting attempt to explain why someone would be an Indy-style adventurer by linking his quests to American history. But, ultimately, pretty stupid. 1.5 Turds
Critical Turditude: 41/100 Tomatoes. 1.5 Turds
My Thoughts: Sean Bean plays a great villain in this movie, but most of the cast is wasted, the rest of the cast is just bad, and the story makes no sense and isn't interesting. I want to like its historical references...but don't. 1.5 Turds
Overall: 4.5 Turds. You could do worse, but seeing this movie isn't a great idea.
Sequel: In some ways worse, in some ways better. Bout the same.

Film: Van Helsing (2004)
Indy Stand-In: Legendary vampire hunter Van Helsing is played by badass bearer of Dr. Cox's ire, Hugh Jackman. A cool, classic character, reimagined by an excellent actor - but unfortunately given too many gadgety things to play with in a Bond, not Indy, move. 0 Turds
Critical Turditude: 22/100 Tomatoes: 2.5 Turds
My Thoughts: I've never seen this all the way through, but everytime I catch part of it the momentary sense of intrigue I feel is stifled by the movie's overreliance on CGI and the bad, bad, bad, absolutely dreadful presence of Kate Beckinsale. 2 Turds
Total: 4.5 Turds. I'd probably rather see this than National Treasure, but they're both Turds

Film: Sahara (2005)
Indy Stand-In: Matthew McConaughey, who is actually Hollywood's ugliest man, plays "Dirk Pitt," an intrepid adventurer from a series of crappy Ludlum/Indiana Jones ripoff novels by hack Clive Cussler. Dozens and Dozens of Turds roughly the size and shape of Matthew McConaughey- but probably more attractive and better at acting.
Critical Turditude: 38/100 on Tomatoes. 2 Turds
My Take: I would never watch a second of this piece of crap. More Turds
Overall: Too many turds to count. Do not watch!!

Film: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Indy Stand-In: 60-Year Old Indy/Shia LaBeouf. Both of them have promise, but Indy's just too spry for his age and Shia's character is uninteresting and overly-pompadored. 1 Turd for each.
Critical Turditude: Lo and Behold, they like it: 79/100 Tomatoes. -1 Turds
My Take: I enjoyed it, especially whenever three excellently cast actors were onscreen: John Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Jim Broadbent (who directors, Spielberg included, seem to forget can do things besides be mild-mannered. See: him as a fascist in Richard III (1995), operetta writer Gilbert in Topsy-Turvy, or the over-the-top master of ceremonies in Moulin Rouge (2001))
On the other hand, the plot made no sense, the set pieces were ridiculous, and the witticisms and family dynamic which powered Last Crusade are back, with no Sean Connery to make them enjoyable. That comes out to about 1 Turd
Overall: 2 Turds. You can get your Indy fix, but it ain't even as good as The Mummy.

Ok, that's all I can think of right now. Surely there are some more? If you think of any, remind me and I'll try to get an entry in on them.


Made for TV Movie: The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (2004)
Indy Stand-In: ER's Noah Wyle plays a mild-mannered librarian who becomes transformed by a quest for a mythic spear. 2 or 3 turds? Maybe even 4.
Critical Turditude: Nobody really reviewed this made for TV piece of crap. 1 Turd for critical indifference.
My Take: This is one of TNT's most successful TV movies ever, so successful that it spawned a sequel. I've never seen it, but I'd kind of like to. Because it looks so unrelentingly terrible. 2 Turds for the commercials I saw.
Overall: Somewhere between 5 and 7 Turds. Probably the most comically bad Turd on this list

Film: The Middle 3rd of King Kong (2005)
Indy Stand-In: Two of them, both pretty good. One hero is Adrien Brody, an everyman turned hero when his paramour Naomi Watts is in danger. The other is Kyle Chandler, the likable everyman from Early Edition who plays heroic adventure characters in films but turns out to be heroic in real life BUT (Spoiler Alert!) turns out to actually be heroic. Fun. -1 Turds total.
The Critics: 84/100 Tomatoes. Wow. -2.5 Turds (although that is for the whole movie...)
My Take: The Indiana Jones middle third of the movie on Monster Island is by far the best part of the movie, with lots of creepy crawlies and giant monster battles. But like the rest of the movie, it suffers from every scene going on too long, Naomi Watts doing terrible vaudeville routines, and Jack Black really sucking. And you have to watch roughly an hour of movie to get here, which has even more Naomi tumbling. All said, 1 Turd.
Overall: -2.5 Turds. It's a pretty good third of a movie, but it won't help you get a straight Indy fix, since there's all that other stuff in the way.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


The New York Times has this to say about this summer's movies: "Hollywood’s summer movies promise to be a little fresher, more original and funnier than usual. And that could be a problem for an industry that has done well lately by peddling the familiar."

This has awakened me to something I should have realized, but did not: Hollywood was pleased with last summer's movies.

I'm not going to tell you anything earth-shattering here, but Hollywood likes making money and doesn't care if the movies are good or bad. And man, is that short-sighted thinking. There were lots of movies that made a great deal of money last summer, some of them quite good. But the ones that made the big money were pretty bad. The top 4:
Spiderman 3 - $336 mil
Shrek the Third - $322 m
Transformers - $319 m
Pirates 3 - $309 m

Of these, only Transformers is pretty ok, and it's the only one that made money because it was pretty ok. Those other three made big money not because they were big event movies but because they were sequels to big event movies that were actually good.

The Times writes: "As hot as “Iron Man” is, with domestic ticket sales of about $180 million in its first week and a half, it still trails last year’s summer season kick-off movie, “Spider Man 3,” by about 25 percent in the same time."

But that's a ridiculous comparison. Iron Man is a good movie with a mid-level star that's raking in tons of money because it's good. Spider-man 3, which sucked, raked in tons of money as a sequel to two good movies. (Disclaimer: I hated all 3 Spider-Man movies, and may have preferred the 3rd because it was only conventionally bad, not just Sam Raimi vomiting his hack tendencies all over us and thinking it was brilliant)

In other words, this summer, which promises a whole host of movies which should be good (Hellboy 2, Batman Begins 2, Iron Man, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Prince Caspian, etc) will be a much better summer than last summer even if Hollywood makes less money. Because when someone pays $10 to get shat on in the form of Spider-Man 3 or Pirates 3, I guarantee they're not that excited to do it again next summer. But when they spend $11 for Iron Man and then actually enjoy that experience, they might just think about coming back for The Hulk, and they'll definitely show up for Iron Man 2. But everybody who watched Shrek the Third is going to think twice about Quadra-Shrek.

This makes Transformers triply the only movie of those four Hollywood should be happy about. First, it made Spider-Man 3 money by being pretty good, not by riding something else's coattails, unless you count a 20 year-old TV show. Secondly, it means Transformers 2 should make that kind of money as well. And finally, although Spider-Man 3's production costs are under wraps for shame reasons, it is the most expensive movie ever made. Transformers cost $150 million dollars to make. Spider-Man 3 may have cost $600 million, only made $17 million more, and made pretty much everyone who saw it unhappy. That's a bad summer. But it holds the record for biggest opening weekend ever, so I'm not sure you could convince Hollywood that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What Happened to the Ladies?

Hi guys. Sorry, I haven't been around lately. I was busy and also upset at what a bad film reviewer I am. But I've decided just not to write film reviews, but still write as much as I can about my thoughts on movies. You might enjoy it more, or less, if you've read the blog before...either way, I hope I don't waste your time too badly.

Anyway, this post is me trying to think through some more gender issues, since that's been an unofficial theme of this blog. It's a response to a comment my friend Tolf made about hating an entire generation of female movie stars - the Meg Ryan/Melanie Griffith generation. Off the top of my head (confirming ages with wikipedia) I came up with two more actors and have this generational analysis:

A Bad Generation: Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, and Jamie Lee Curtis were all born between 1957 and 1967, which in my mind makes them all solidly in the same acting generation. And boy do they suck. Assuming that Academy Awards are a decent barometer of excellence, just not an iron-clad one, let's look at some numbers: Among these 5 actors, with several decades of acting experience, we have only 8 awards and 3 wins (actress and supporting actress), with Jodie winning two awards and Julia bringing in one. But among those eight nominations, at least 4 are in films that I consider complete jokes: Working Girl, Erin Brockovich, Pretty Woman, and Nell. That's right, those movies suck.

I want to compare these ladies to a previous generation. All of the following actresses were born between 1945 and 1951: Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Sigourney Weaver, Meryl Streep, Anjelica Huston (I'm not including Sally Field, who was born in that age range and would bring some serious Oscars to the table, but I think sucks). So, wow. That's an amazing group, all born within six years of each other. Shall we do the Academy Test? The numbers are, for six actors: 28 nominations, 5 wins. Mostly that tells you that this generation had a hard time winning awards, but for our purposes nominations are more important. Plus, Mia Farrow was NEVER nominated for an Academy Award, despite some performances in films you might have heard of: Rosemary's Baby, Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives...these are mostly Woody Allen movies, it's true, but in my mind that's just a giant plus.

What's more, I didn't include Diane Wiest, since I just don't really consider her a movie star (being a movie star: often a bad thing), but she would have brought three more nominations and two more wins.

So, where does that leave us? Pure Numbers: 5 Movie Stars, born between 1957 and 1967, that I consider representative, have won only three oscars, from 8 noms
6 Movie Stars, born between 1945 and 1951, have won 5 oscars from 25 noms - and nominations, I think, are a much better general gauge than wins.

If I'm right that noms are a good indicator and that those other four movies really suck (Special sucking award: Nell. So terrible), then the generation of movie stars that came of age in the 70s truly is a great one, and the generation that came of age in the 80s/early 90s is truly a waste of space...

Ok, that's it for now. Sometime later this week I'm going to try to think through the reasons for this discrepancy, and probably do some counter-arguments. If you have any counter-arguments or ideas, please, please post a comment or email me.. I would like to revive this blog: with your help! Our powers combined, etc.