Sunday, June 15, 2008

SYC Reviews: The Simpsons Movie

There are a series of movies I've missed especially in the last year in theaters. One of those is what will be reviewed today: The Simpsons Movie. I had the chance to see it recently, and it is yet another film that has expectations built up over so many years (pretty much 20 at this point) that would be hard to exceed. Regardless of that, what follows is a fun experience.

The Simpsons is both a highly loved property and by now, grating on some tv watchers' nerves. This may be because after nearly two decades of shows, it's hard to be original and creative. The show does manage to come up with new stuff each week, though many times they are retreads of old material, and the main issue some come up with is that it just isn't as clever or funny as it used to be. Ironically, a few of the shows that followed the film's release seemed to reinvigorate the funny back into the show. The issue probably just stems from the fact that culture today has moved towards the Family Guy style of random humor instead of the family showcase that is the Simpsons. So while it has always been a big bankable show, what took so long to make a movie? Why do it now, when the show isn't quite as popular as it used to be, and how can it live up to the name?

The danger in making a movie based on a currently running TV show is that if it isn't good enough, it can nearly doom the show. For instance, the X-Files film didn't really do much to keep the series alive and it seemed the Beavis and Butthead film was, while entertaining, the last joke for that show as well. However, if you look at something like South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, the film not only was a big success, it brought it back into the spotlight and allowed it to become the 10 year long running juggernaut it is today. So what does the Simpsons movie do? Well it kind of falls in between. It many ways it plays like an extended episode, but also one of the funnier episodes in years. Probably the best thing about is the big screen feel it has, even just the enhanced sound and crisper picture give it that cinematic jolt.

Plot-wise, it's not all that deep but it has just enough to give it a movie-sized issue. Enough that Homer screws things up so bad that the entire town wants his head and the Simpson family is on the run from both them and the government. Of course it is seemingly impossible to think up a story that would be bigger than anything they've ever done, let alone trying to not copy South Park's huge war/hell scenario. Still, the scope is just big enough to feel like it's worth it and the characterizations are quite excellent.

The most important part of this film though? The jokes, no question and there are quite a few good ones. Some smack you over the head like the sight gags, others are subtle yet smart/cute (Bart saying "Oh my god" after having an amazing hot cocoa from Flanders that he at first refused), and others are repetitive yet hit everytime like the totally enjoyable Spider-Pig. The film never once drags, though the beginning and parts of the middle may seem more like side trips than part of the main story. At the very least, the climax is both fun and exciting to watch.

In all, The Simpsons Movie is for those that both enjoy the series and who might like to take at least one last trip with primetime television's most beloved American cartoon family. It's also a pretty good animated film in general, just don't expect the kind of mesmerizing stuff you'd get from a Pixar movie. So The Simpsons Movie grabs the Silver Medal of D'oh-nuts. Mmm, silver pastries. Put it on, lay back, and have a fun time.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

SYC Reviews: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Hello fellow intrepid world travelers. It was a few weeks ago that I had the chance to see the 4th in the Indy series, yet another return of 80s brethren onto the 21st century screen. Finally, I have a little time to write up my review, so here goes nothing.

Let's get one thing straight, the anticipation of a film of this magnitude is incredibly difficult to live up to and as such makes it almost impossible to be as good as most fans would hope. Now with that in mind, we leap straight back into the world of Jones. Of course this time out, it's the 1950s, 1957 to be precise. We find our world weary hero at a "landmark" of sorts, where many relics are kept. Suffice to say that the Russians, our villains for this adventure or Nazi-lite as I refer to them, want Dr. Jones to find a clue that will lead them to the fabled Crystal Skull.

Eventually Indy escapes all this while surviving an almost ridiculous event, and yet by now we should expect this of our pulp hero. It occurs early on so you're either going to go with it or not. Either way, it will serve as yet another reminder that Ford is old now, and it's the 50s, so just keep that in mind. Just as Harrison is being accused of assisting the Red Menace, Mutt Williams shows up, aka Shia Lebouf, to get Dr. Jones' help. Seems a certain Professor Oxley (John Hurt) has been captured/gone missing. Of course this is all tied together as Oxley was looking for (and actually found) the Crystal Skull. Mutt and Indy get a quick little joyride through the school in a fun chase scene that gives Marcus Brody a chance to take down some Russians posthumously. Mutt is a near card-carrying Greaser, leather jacket and motorcycle at the ready, not to mention a trademark comb.

Together they travel down to South America, beginning the main part of the adventure that leads them in a race against the Russians for the city of gold itself: El Dorado. This is the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where when united with the other 12 skulls, um well, something will happen. I won't spoil if you haven't seen it by now, but suffice to say that KOTCS takes a certain departure from standard Indy fare. It does fall well in line with the times it takes place in, but it may leave a bad taste in the mouths of those who love Raiders and Last Crusade. Anyway, enough of the plot, let's analyze the cast.

Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones, it's as simple as that. Even at this age, he still evokes cool confidence, intelligence, and whip-crack (pardon the pun) smarts. Shia isn't too bad as Mutt, but when we find out who he really is, well that will either have some questioning if it's a good idea or if he's capable of the role. Still I think he does a fine job, just not exceptional or anything. Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood, and while she clearly looks older in that "whoa haven't seen you in like 20 something years" look, she almost looks like she's having too much fun in the movie. Hey I would too, but little seems to bother her and she has at least a half-smile through almost all her screen time. Hurt is fine as Oxley, a professor gone cuckoo by the Skull. Cate Blanchett is our villain, Irina, leader of the Russian group. You almost don't recognize her and I enjoyed her sword fighting and playful accent. As always, the Indy villain bites off more than they can chew and Indy knows when to call it quits before they do.

The joy of the film comes not so much from the story, but from the characterizations we've come to love. The book and fist smarts, the sense of adventure and witty one-liners, the crazy chase/fight scenes, creepy creatures, and of course snakes, which probably evoke the funniest joke in the film. There are bits that may either go too far or be too ridiculous, but that is up to the beholder. Personally, I found an enjoyable little romp back through the best adventure character I've ever known.

With all that said, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets a deserved Silver Medal of Part-time Archeology. To me, the film cannot live up to the original Raiders of the Lost Ark or my personal favorite, Last Crusade. It is however, still more fun than Temple of Doom, and should get at least one chance to see it in theaters. Just hearing that famous Raiders March and seeing Ford in the hat once again is nearly enough.