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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Hollywood never learns.

It all started with The Godfather. They made Part III years after the first two movies. Then they made the sixth Rocky flick. Then the fourth Die Hard film. And then they made the fourth Rambo film. It seems that when Hollywood decides to continue a successful franchise, it almost always doesn't agree with the critics. The only exception seems to be the Star Wars prequels, but that's because they are real legitimate prequels. The others are, well, money-making ventures. And this film is no different.

Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of Spielberg, not because of the types of movies he makes, but because of his storytelling style. He is one of the few filmmakers I know who can tell a story really well just by the pictures alone. But sadly, his storytelling powers go to waste in this movie, as it practically offers us nothing new about the exciting archaeologist, who is actually the prototype for the Tomb Raider Lara Croft.

There is no shortage of action, as the film begins with a warehouse shootout in─where else─Area 51. That's already a foreshadowing tool, telling us that there will probably be an extra-terrestrial being later on in the film (and there will be). There is also a motorcycle chase with Indy and Shia LaBeouf, inside the university campus. Only in Hollywood will you see a motorcycle crash into a library.

Acting-wise, Harrison Ford seemed like he just went for a nineteen-year vacation, as his Henry Jones, Jr. character never changes from the last time we see him in The Last Crusade. Karen Allen reappears as Marion Ravenwood, who we last saw in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and her on-screen chemistry with Ford is the same as it was back in 1981. Cate Blanchett is, as usual, ravishingly beautiful, especially with that Russian accent, and her hair looks pretty good on her. John Hurt is amusing as the crazed out Professor Oxley. But the two best performances come from Shia LaBeouf, the greaser boy who is actually Henry Jones III, and Ray Winstone as the double-crossing Mac. LaBeouf has proven that there is more to him than a klutzy heartthrob, and there will definitely be more roles coming up for this actor. Ray Winstone, meanwhile, shows his brilliance once again, and since Spielberg loved his performance in Beowulf, Winstone might just appear again in the upcoming Tintin flicks. Let's just keep our fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, watch this film if you are a fan of Dr. Jones, or watch it if you are a fan of action and adventure movies. Do not watch it if you want to be blown away, because you most probably won't.

Rating: Three stars.

You might also want to check out the review of Raiders of the Lost Ark.


Speed Racer

Describe the film in two words: Eye Candy.

The Wachowski brothers have tried to raise their own bar, and they may have succeeded visually. Every second of the film is a visual treat, as all you can think of when bombarded by the colors are lollipops and carnivals. Perhaps they made a conscious effort to veer away from the Matrix's shadow, going for extreme color as opposed to the metallic hues of the Matrix.

Before passing judgment on the filmmakers, let us first consider that this is a family film, and that should give you an idea of what to expect. It succeeds as an adaptation, with the Wachowskis drawing the line between "adaptation" and "homage". This film is clearly an example of the latter, as the bubble gum-look of the movie would not have been possible if a non-fan of the original series took the helm. The filmmakers know how to pay tribute to the original creators, and pay tribute they do, all the way to the closing song.

The movie however, fails in the storytelling, as the character development was not maximized. But that really is a difficult task, as it took years for the cartoon series to flesh out their characters, and we can't expect the Wachowskis to squeeze it all in two hours. But is the plot actually character-driven or plot-driven? It's kind of hard to decide, what with all the colors flashing before your eyes.

The cast gave good performances, despite the fact that the characters' development was sacrificed over the action. Emile Hirsch is commendable as Speed, as he actually watched every Speed Racer episode to prepare for the role. Susan Sarandon and John Goodman play the parents pretty well, and if you suspend your disbelief, you wouldn't notice that two Hollywood big-names are actually in this picture. Christina Ricci would have gotten more screen time if the Wachowskis actually developed her character a little bit, but even her romantic scenes with Speed are playfully held back (again, since this is a family film). Paulie Litt as Spritle shows promise, and I wouldn't be surprised if this kid branched out to comedy. The one who takes the cake, however, is Roger Allam as Mr. Royalton. He gives meaning to the words "despicable villain."

Again, this is a family film, and as such, should be judged according to different standards. And if you're a hard-to-please moviegoer, you can always drop some acid before watching the show.

Rating: Three and a half stars.


Iron Man

Iiiiiiiirrrrrooooooonn Maaaaaaannn...

That is the proper way to say it. Your voice should warble, and it should sound like it's coming out of a tin can.

Where else can you start but with Robert Downey, Jr. Mr. Iron Man himself. Every review you read will praise his performance. I would too, but I'd just be repeating what those other critics said. Director Jon Favreau made a real smart move in casting Downey as Tony Stark, as the personal journey of Robert Downey Jr. is said to be very similar to the one Tony Stark undergoes. But that's just trivia. Downey's performance is great. Period.

Jeff Bridges is almost unrecognizable as the bald Obadiah Stane, and Terrence Howard, who plays the future War Machine, gives the right amount of comic relief without resorting to cheap slapstick. In fact, everything in Iron Man is just right; nothing too fancy, and nothing too dry either. Just perfect. Even Gwyneth Paltrow, who you wouldn't expect to see in a Marvel flick, just delivers really well.

Catch Stan Lee's usual cameo here (he plays a Hugh Hefner look-alike). Better yet, catch the movie while it's on the big screen. I'm sure that after watching this, most of the guys would start growing their goatees. Tony Stark really leaves an impression. He's a great superhero, but he still retains that bit of a jerk in him. And believable superheroes are what viewers are looking for nowadays.

This is Marvel Entertainment's first project, and what a great start it is for them. And this is definitely not the last, as there are several great titles already lined up. Just a tip to the audience: stay until the credits stop rolling. There's a surprise at the end.

Rating: Four stars.


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