Friday, June 06, 2008

The Signal

David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry | 2007 | 99 min | US

In the city of Terminus something strange is going out on the airwaves. A signal transmitted over cell phones, radios, and televisions is turning citizens paranoid and aggressive. Okay, maybe not aggressive; maybe unpredictably, brutally violent.

The movie is divided into three acts, or 'transmissions,' each following a different point of a love triangle. The three characters weave in and out of strangers' and each other's lives and only the three parts together form a complete picture of their interactions. Notes are taken from J-horror, Romero, Raimi, and more of horror's greats. The film explores different moods, from dark satire to shock horror and a star-crossed love story. The moments of dark humour contained in the second part put me off, at first. However, those moments worked so well at disarming me before sudden hits of shocking violence that I found myself impressed with how easily I fell into the filmmakers' traps. The young actors involved do a great job with the material, often effectively turning on a dime when the signal demands.

The intended wider theatrical run was aborted when two audience members were stabbed by another during an early screening in Fullerton, California. Dang. It's too bad that this will have hurt the chance for the film to be seen by as many as it deserves, but it is worth tracking down on video. Though its influences are many and often obvious, the resulting collage makes The Signal a fresh and satisfying horror film.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Steven Spielberg | 2008 | 124 min | US

I waited twenty years for this?

The three prior Indiana Jones films have earned no small number of fans since the hero's debut waaaay back in 1981 and I am one of them. I love those movies pretty goddamn hard, which is probably why I am so terribly unhappy with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

This time around our intrepid archaeologist faces off against the Soviets in the hunt for an ancient crystal skull that possess mystical powers and unlocks a great treasure. Of course, access to such power and wealth is coveted by the evil Commie hoards and Indy is pushed to rescue both the skull and his kidnapped colleague from their clutches. There are more big names in this sequel than any of the previous films. The Soviets are lead by Cate Blanchett as military hero Irina Spalko, Ray Winstone joins cast as Indy's old war buddy Mac, and Shia LaBeouf rounds things out as the plucky young greaser sidekick. I know, I know, but it's really not as bad as it sounds. Actually, LaBeouf's character is about the only thing in this movie that is not as bad as it sounds. Karen Allen also returns as Marion, Indy's love interest from the first installment. It's a bone thrown to the long time fans, but every interaction between them feels awkward and flat, particularly in scenes where they duel with quick zingers.

But those aren't the only moments in Crystal Skull that fall on their face. Oh no. In fact, nearly every attempted joke in this film is humourless and embarrassing. Remember the Tarzan gag that almost single-handedly ruined Return of the Jedi? Well, George Lucas gives it another go here to no better effect. There are also CGI animal jokes aplenty tossed in for good measure. The reliance on CGI was a huge disappointment for me. I don't know why Spielberg decided to forgo shooting in the exotic destinations of the prior films in favour of soundstages and CGI, but it compromises the entire spirit of the previous Indiana movies. Where those films were full of beauty and vitality, Crystal Skull feels claustrophobic and cheap.

Who cares about character interaction or outdoor photography, though, right? Certainly this film delivers when it comes to its big action scenes, right? Right?! Sorry, friends. The action sequences are clumsy and extended so long as to become booooring. And I'm not a big continuity queen, but the number of obvious errors that occur during a lengthy vehicle chase are difficult to forgive, let alone ignore.

Obviously Harrison Ford is a little long in the tooth to keep squaring off against the Nazis, but so much effort is put into constantly reminding us of the new fifties setting that it becomes oppressive. Even at its smoothest, the biggest payoff for viewers is, 'Oh yeah, its the fifties now. How bout that.' The hot rod races and greaser fights in diners certainly don't aid the story any. The problem is that Harrison Ford is not only too old to be fighting the Nazis, he is simply too old for this role. The fight sequences are slow and dull, and the use of body doubles is obvious and frequent. The end result of watching this joyless, elderly Indiana was that I left the theatre feeling old!

Were this a sequel to The Mummy or National Treasure all of this might be excusable, but it isn't. It is an Indiana Fucking Jones picture and it should be leagues better than this. I want to punch Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in their greedy fucking faces.