Collectible: The Complete “Indiana Jones” on Blu-ray

Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Paramount) is just the kind of set that folks buy Blu-ray players for.

Sure, the cinephiles are waiting on “Lawrence of Arabia” and the “Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection,” but their sales pale next to “Harry Potter” and “James Bond 50” and “Indiana Jones.” Popcorn memories and genre escape is what defines most of home video libraries, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and its sequels, inconsistent though  they may be, stand out a pop culture landmarks that bring out the giddy kid inside us all, children and adults alike

Harrison Ford, fresh from the first two “Star Wars” films, stepped into the battered fedora and leather jacket of the archeologist adventurer in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981, renamed “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” for disc), the rip-roaring tribute to the cliffhanger adventures of the 1930s and 1940s from producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg. These movie brats were feeding their fondness for the pulp action movies of their youth, from the B-movies and cheap serials of kid matinees to the swashbuckling Errol Flynn adventures and the Technicolor splendor of “King Solomon’s Mines,” and their affection was infectious. The nostalgic trip through yesteryear thrills of non-stop action and skin of the teeth escapes, executed with Spielberg’s filmmaking sophistication and a contemporary tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and driven with runaway momentum, was a blockbuster.

A new franchise was born. Lucas had originally envisioned three films (what is it with Lucas and his trilogies?) and Spielberg helped him see his dream through, beginning with the slapstick romp “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984). Spielberg misjudges the material a little, bouncing from lighthearted action to (at least for kids) disturbing scenes of human sacrifice that he shoots like searing gothic horror. But if the script is negligible, Spielberg opens the film on one of the most delightful set pieces of his career: a screwball musical number executed with all the energy of a classic madcap thirties comedy.

Continue reading at Videodrone

“American Graffiti” – Where were you in ’62?

Lucas nostalgia

American Graffiti: Special Edition (Universal)

Where were you in ’62? George Lucas was cruising the strip in hot rods. After his first feature, THX-1138, flopped, he reached back to his formative experiences for this easy-going “night in the life” portrait of high-school grads on the last blast of summer before heading off to college. Richard Dreyfuss takes his first leading role as the ostensible lead in a big ensemble cast that includes Ron Howard, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark and Mackenzie Philips, plus Harrison Ford in a small role as a big-talking hot-shot looking for a street race. It’s the first Lucasfilm production, co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and the first film to really embrace the jukebox soundtrack: the score is essentially the song list played by deejay Wolfman Jack (playing himself) on the AM radio that every single car is tuned to.

Lucas supervised the digital remaster for the Blu-ray debut and recorded a new video picture-in-picture commentary for the release, which pops in and out of the film but it pretty consistent throughout. There’s also a function to identify the songs. Ported over from previous releases is Laurent Bouzreau’s excellent 78-minute “The Making of American Graffiti” and 22 minutes of screen tests.

More Blu-ray reviews as MSN Videodrone

George Lucas and his New Colonial Army

I’ve just joined together with some other Seattle-based film writers to launch a collective site: Parallax View went live this week. I just wrote a piece for it, expanded from some ideas I sketched out here a couple of days ago, on the veneration of colonial politics and imperialist attitudes in his Star Wars films, culminating in the new animated sequel.

What began as his paean to the innocent attitudes of the old sci-fi serials and the swashbuckling thrills of classic Hollywood adventures and pirate movies feels more and more like Kipling in the stars. “Long, long ago” is right. For all the “democracy” of the interstellar parliament, it’s built on aristocracies and monarchies and authority granted as a form of privilege, and the “Senators” (were they really elected, or simply appointed?) all act like it. The films have all the cultural egalitarianism of Gunga Din, with Jedi knights in place of the British soldiers, bringing their benevolent leadership to the battle. Jar-Jar Binks is the most egregious example of the lesser race. Even if he didn’t channel the worst shuffling, babbling, subservient stereotypes of demeaning African-American roles in the thirties and early forties, he’s a child, a happy idiot adopted by the mature human races. Is it a coincidence that, in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, he’s the dupe manipulated into giving the Chancellor all the power he needs to make himself Emperor?

Read the complete piece here.

New reviews: ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ and ‘The Edge of Heaven’

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (dir: Dave Filoni)

Call it Star Wars: Chapter 2 ½, or Stories from the Clone Wars, or The Continuing Adventures of Obi and Anakin: When Darth Was a Boy.

I think we can all agree that the thrill left the Star Wars franchise a long time ago – the technology that once propelled the adventures increasingly started propping up Lucas’ desultory scripts and faltering direction and eventually became the entire reason for being, the author of the spectacle – but this animated sequel/prequel/TV series promo is really just going through the motions. The story – set between the live-action films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – is a bland boilerplate adventure. Young Jedi master Anakin (not yet seduced by the dark side, merely cocky and insufferable) is sent to rescue the kidnapped larva of Jabba the Hut and discovers an elaborate (well, actually fairly simplistic and bland) plot by Count Dooku (remember him? the bad guy in the last couple live action films?) to frame the Jedi with the kidnapping and thus prevent a treaty and blah blah blah. Oh yeah, he’s also saddled with a headstrong trainee, an orange-hued character with floppy dreads and doll eyes destined for action figure immortality, and together they fight their way through one laser-battle after another, escape, and then do it all over again on the next level. You can almost see the hit points counting down the side of the screen.

Pretty colors, pretty stiff

What’s really distasteful about the whole thing, however, is the way Lucas films feel like colonial dramas of superior races deigning to take charge of armies of lesser beings. Droids are cannon fodder, dim-witted robots who are not even considered worthy of regard. They may talk like people and have a modicum of personality but they are treated like tools and blown up for easy laughs. For all the “democracy” of the interstellar parliament, it’s built on aristocracies and monarchies and authority granted as a form of privilege, and they act like it.

I review the film for the Seattle P-I:

The computer animation, while adequate, is a far cry from the richly textured and endlessly inventive standards of Pixar. The stylized designs have a comic-strip look to them and the mechanical action is right out of Japanese manga, but the character animation and body language is stiffer than the actors in “Revenge of the Sith.”

It might be impressive as a made-for-DVD production, but coming from producer George Lucas, it makes for a cheap excuse for a big-screen spectacle.

Read the complete review here.

The Edge of Heaven (dir: Fatih Akin)

Much more moving and human than Lucas’ feature-length toy commercial is The Edge of Heaven.

In Fatih Akin’s compassionate and affirming drama, a professor of German literature (Baki Davrak) travels to Turkey to atone for his father’s crime while a Turkish political activist (Nurgul Yesilcay) flees to Germany and finds refuge and love, but at a cost. The film travels freely between cultures and countries but ultimately finds its place somewhere between the realm of identity (of both ethnic Turks in Germany and ethnic Germans in Turkey) and the embrace of human kinship beyond ethnicity. Akin doesn’t hide the fatal destinies of major characters – he titles the first two chapters with death announcements – but it’s the lives of the survivors and how they choose to carry on that carry these crisscrossing stories.

Read the complete review here.