Friday, June 06, 2008

---Warning! Incoming Movie Reviews! 

[There may be some light spoiling in here, depending on how sensitive and/or cranky one is, and whether anyone actually reads this anyway.]

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

It’s been a while since I read the Narnia books, so I’m not ready to make a point by point comparison with Lewis’s original work. I was actually expecting this one to be the Dawn Treader, which is the next movie/book in the series.

In summary, the Pevensie kids have been back for a year since the first movie. Since they have been responsible adults in Narnia, they are having a lot of trouble fitting in as children again in London. They are finally called back to Narnia, only to discover that 1300 years have passed there, and a terrible darkness of fear and oppression has enveloped their former kingdom since they left. The cast members really look a little more than a year older, but I guess we can’t be too detail-oriented.

When other reviewers say that this movie is a lot darker than the first one, they may be understating the case a little. There is a lot of bitter, desperate fighting, and both cute and cuddly and not so cute and not so cuddly people and things get hurt and even die (so much so, that I wondered if they might have lost track of who was supposed to be wounded or injured at some points in the story). This is high allegory, and it mirrors some very unpleasant realities from its subject matter.

It is still required watching, of course, even if only to see the repeating trebuchets and mouse bagpipes----oh, and more of the fabulous armor and creatures first seen in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005).   It just may be a little too much for younger children---it is rated PG.

I still think allegory has inherent limitations as a vehicle for theology, but anyone with a reasonable exposure to Christian doctrine will immediately recognize the points being made. The older kids---and Caspian--- conclude that Aslan has lost interest and isn’t coming to help, and make other plans. The youngest and most innocent of the kings and queens protests that Aslan has been with them all along. Edmund reminds them that ignoring little Lucy led to his Big Mistake the last time, to no avail. So the older kids proceed to make horrendous mistakes of their own, relying on their own personal wisdom, with gut-wrenching consequences and the loss of lives.

Lessons finally learned, everyone rallies for the Big Battle Before the End, and Aslan finally intervenes to Save the Day---amid surprise tactics, armies of wonderful and strange creatures---plants and animals, fighting in long dresses, desperate courage, despicable, craven cowardice and treachery, and the requisite massive destruction of property which CGI-enhanced cinema was created for.

The film hasn’t been the runaway hit that the first one was, probably at least in part because of a lot of high-profile competition at the box office.  Still, required watching….

Iron Man

Forget the Suit, guys, I want Stark’s computer!

This is one of the better comic adaptations I can remember. It is primarily a “gadget” oriented film, whereas Spiderman probably has the personality development/romance angle better covered. There is quite a lot of involvement with Paltrow’s long-suffering side-kick character, however, that works pretty well as romantic comedy.

The story starts out in Afghanistan, and considerable brutality ensues. The central bad-guy evil plot that underlies the whole thing is---well, sort of comic-bookish, sketchy, and obviously secondary to the main event---guys flying around in metal suits, blowing up stuff and beating each other to a pulp.

The Suit is, of course, incredible. The level of detail in the development and building of Stark’s Iron Man is the main entertainment in the movie. There is some hilarious physical comedy involved, too, which would most likely have resulted in a prolonged hospital stay for each instance if it really happened to a real human. Also in the suspension-of-disbelief file on this movie are the supersonic characteristics of the humanoid form, the improbable g-forces in some of the maneuvers, and what kind of idiot would test extremely powerful and unpredictable technology next to an irreplaceable Shelby Cobra---he could have at least thrown a tarp over it---and the whole thermonuclear reactor in the heart thing.

That Lee person makes his requisite cameo appearance, of course.  How will we ever get this guy back in his shell, if you keep building up his self-esteem?

Still, also required watching….

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Oh, well---2 out of 3…

Try to imagine that the people who crafted one of the most original and entertaining epics in modern cinema decided to wrap up the whole thing by having a mail-in contest for the employees of the studio and their families to come up with the plot for the big finale---and you will probably have exerted more imagination than they did coming up with what they actually used.

Everything else in the movie---stunning visuals, intricate puzzle traps, dazzling escapes, moving reunions of old friends and enemies---all have the effect of wonderfully entertaining stories told by a man on the way to the gallows. They all pretty much lose their entertainment value once the destination becomes clear.

This “last mile” isn’t a total loss, by any means. Everybody’s favorite professor of archaeology gets beat up, locked up, has to escape with the whip and his wits, gets blown up---let me emphasize that a little better, lest I be accused of understatement---GETS BLOWN UP, is re-reunited with the babe he was reunited with in the first installment, gets stuck with a delinquent on a Triumph, gets fired, and is confronted by a pretty original---if not entirely comprehensible---villainess, a Soviet-era nutcase with a saber and Stalinesque self-esteem issues.

The acting in this thing was really hit-or-miss throughout. Some of the deliveries, particularly by Ford and Allen, can only be described as “geriatric”. Was the star power so overwhelming that nobody dared to tell these people that they were killing the scene?

The action and cinematics are outstanding throughout, though, and the film winds up with the immense Biblical level of property destruction expected of the genre this series helped to define.

But the ridiculous destination of the story line hangs over everything like that noose at the top of the stairs. Even the final post-traumatic scene, which should have been a warm, fitting end to a beloved story, is reduced to some old folks standing around in costumes. I think we deserved better.

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