Saturday, June 28, 2008

Seeing Good Comedy...and Loving It

I love having a good time at the movies, and tonight, I had a wonderful time watching Get Smart. I used to stay up late and watch the 1960s show on Nick at Nite making me a rather young long-time fan of Maxwell Smart and Agent 99. Having suffered through a few horrible TV-to-movie incarnations, hearing about this movie made me cringe a bit. Then I found out Steve Carell was stepping into Max's shoes, and I knew everything would be OK.

And Get Smart is more than OK. It is funny, amusing, entertaining, comical, uproarious... It was bloody hilarious. It's a very nice blend of action--high end explosions and fun car chases--mixed with comedy. Alan Arkin has, quite possibly, the funniest line in the entire movie. (It's after a car chase; you'll know what I mean.)

Since the movie has been plopped into the 21st century, the Cold War angle has been dropped. In fact, anything related to war has been dropped. Max's super secret agency CONTROL has been infiltrated by the superbad group KAOS, who threatens to reveal every agents name if the US government doesn't give them some ungodly amount of money. Of course, the US doesn't negotiate with terrorist, and since every single agent's identity has been compromised, Max and Anne Hathaway's Agent 99 (who's just recently had plastic surgery) are the only ones who are still clear for field work. The two are sent to Russia to destroy KAOS where, of course, many an antic happen.

Carell and Hathaway are well-paired. She's sexy and smart with some pretty darn good comic timing. He's sweet, bumbley, and surprisingly good with firearms.

There are choice supporting stints by Alan Arkin as The Chief and Dwayne "No Longer The Rock" Johnson as the macho Agent 23. Arkin, as I said before, gets some of the best lines in the movie plus he beats up a few people. Johnson is completely on his game, and I believe he's finally found his niche in family-friendly comedy. Also, be on the lookout for the cameo-heavy war room scene! I probably could have done without the many, many scenes that Masi Oka and Nate Torrence's Bruce and Lloyd were in. They're funny, but not that funny.

Amongst the fun cast, all the gags and all the action scenes, there's an identifiable human element at work. Agent 99 and Max are more like real people and move past the pratfall and high karate kicks. When things go badly, you actually find yourself a little worried about the characters instead of just waiting for the next big action scene. This empathy prevents Get Smart from being just another big, dumb summer comedy (like The Love Guru which I won't be seeing even if I flip by it on late-night cable).

Of course, there are people who won't like it as much as they loved the original show. There are people who won't like it because they wanted a straight comedy or a straight action movie, but this person did like it and recommends it to all.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Indy, the Later Years

It took me long enough, but I've finally seen Indiana Jones. In pure fangirl fashion, this review will be like no other I've written. This kind of movie isn't about characterization and acting and story development. It's about how it relates to the franchise.

What keeps people coming back for franchise movies has nothing to do with the special effects or the amazing storytelling. It's the characters. Why do you think Ripley is in every single Alien movie? No one cares about the Aliens; people care about how Ripley handles the Aliens.

So, of course, after 19 years in hibernation, fans the world over went a bit giggly when the first teaser trailer of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hit. We didn't care what Dr. Jones was after, we cared that Dr. Jones was going to be back! We wanted the signature smirk under that perfectly aged fedora. We wanted to see the whip in action, and we wanted to experience the deadpan comedy that goes with Indy and his various cohorts.

For the most part, that's what I got--an entertaining reunion with an old friend. Unfortunately, my old friend gets a little lost in an over-complicated plot with absurd (even for Indy standards) situations.

Please don't get in an uproar because I didn't fall head over heels in love with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I had fun. I was entertained. I just threw my arms up in the air and mumbled, "Oh please" a couple of times. One of those times was at the end. Yes, the ending that everyone's not supposed to talk about. I now know why! The doozy is Indy surviving something no one should be able to walk away from. Let's just say refrigerators were obviously made with airbags back in the day.

Enough about what I didn't like. Let's talk about what I enjoyed. I loved that the script acknowledged Indy's age without throwing it in my face. Greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) has one of the best lines in the movie, "What are you? Eighty?" It's exactly what the audience needed to stop thinking about how old Harrison Ford is and concentrate on the fact that he can still command a whip and kick the bad guys' asses.

I also loved, loved, LOVED the signature Spielberg chase scenes. We get treated to three in this movie, and I found myself smiling from ear to ear with each one. (Sidenote: the one in the Amazon had a few of those absurd over-the-top moments, but for the most part, they all worked.)

Thank you, Steven Spielberg, for bringing back Karen Allen. As I said before, audiences return to franchise movies because they are in love with the characters, and I've always loved--and dearly missed--Marion. The second she enters the scene, it's like we're back in that little tavern in Nepal. She and Indy haven't seen each other for 20 years or so, but their fighting picks up where it left off, with no qualms about the fifty or so Russians standing around threatening their lives.

The bottom line is that Harrison Ford can still kick butt, even if it's a little slower now. Shia LeBeouf's Mutt makes for a great sidekick--much better than (sorry, folks) Short Round could ever be. Cate Blanchett plays a decent villain, and Karen Allen's Marion is just as fiery as she ever was.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Journey Back to Narnia

I don't actually understand why The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian isn't doing well at the box office, because I thoroughly enjoyed the second outing into the world of Narnia. It is darker and rougher, and definitely veering towards a PG-13 rating instead of its PG. All around, it's a solid story with old characters who have grown (and not just physically) and new characters who are refreshing to watch.

Based on the second Chronicles of Narnia novel (or the fourth if you read them in the chronological order), Prince Caspian picks up one year after the Pevensie siblings have left Narnia. Peter (William Moseley) is picking fights because he doesn't want to be in this world. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) tends to jump in and help. Susan (Anna Popplewell) keeps to herself, and Lucy (Georgie Henley) thinks about going back all the time.

After being magically called to return, the children are transported from WWII-era England into the realm of Narnia...1300 years in the future. Narnians have been banished to the forest, and the Pevensie's old palace is just a pile of ruins.

Quickly, they learn that the human Telmarines have taken control. With the help of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), a dwarf named Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), and all of Narnia, the ancient kings and queens of Narnia lead an uprising to restore Narnia to its old glory and take back Caspian's throne from his evil uncle.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had one epic battle. Prince Caspian is simply one big epic battle with a few resting points scattered throughout. The film opens with a chase scene and pretty much never slows down until the third act. Even when there's no fighting, the dialog stays witty and funny and well-balanced for both children and adults.

There are those who won't like the movie because it's too violent. I might agree to some extent. It is slightly disturbing to see teens and tweens highly skilled with a bow and arrow, a broad sword, or a dagger. It's also both funny and odd to see a mouse (voiced by Eddie Izzard, no less) take down a man with one fell swoop to the jugular.

There are purist who won't like it because the movie adds too much that didn't appear in the book. It's been nearly two decades since I last read the series, so I really don't remember what was there and what wasn't. Besides, purists like that should never see an adapted movie.

All I know is that I had a great time at the movies, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves a great fantasy film. Take the kids because C.S. Lewis' stories were meant to be a family experience. Just beware of the battle scenes--they are, as I said before, leaning more to the PG-13 fare than not.