Knee-jerk review: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"

1. If it were a term paper, it'd get a solid B. Good, but we think it could have done better if only it had applied itself.
2. A lead-lined refrigerator? Seriously?
3. Harrison Ford is in his mid-60s and it shows. It may take you 15 minutes or so to settle into the fact that Indiana Jones should be a member of AARP.
4. Cate Blanchett can do no wrong. Amazing.
5. The movie doesn't really take off until Shia LaBeouf shows up. His interactions with Ford are a lot of fun.
6. The quicksand scene has the film's best moment.
7. Karen Allen looks terrible. Sorry, but we call them like we see them. And the filmmakers completely fumble the reunion of Indiana and Marion, inexplicably making it a forced and rushed moment.
8. The big jungle truck chase is fun, but also somewhat tedious. The fencing is cool, though.
9. The movie's much more of a mystery/quest, following clues and piecing everything together, rather than a rip-roaring action adventure.
10. The Cheese Fry found the ending somewhat ridiculous.
11. Nice Marcus Brody reference at Indiana's college campus, but the photos Indiana has on his desk of his father and Brody look like Paramount publicity stills, not the sort of real photos a real person would, like, really have on a real desk. Why is that?
12. The charm of the first three movies, especially the first, was that so much of the action had to rely on practical effects. Which made sense because they were supposedly an homage to the cheesy 1930s two-reel adventure serials. There's a bit of a CGI overload here, especially in the last 10 minutes that undermine the film's simplicity.
13. The rumors you've heard about the crystal skull are, sadly, very true. It's all very odd. But you just have to remind yourself that this is all a throwback to the B-movie serials of George Lucas' youth, in which (especially in the 1950s) there were some with some rather overt sci-fi elements.
14. Love hearing that Indiana was an OSS spy working in Europe during World War II. If only we could have seen a movie about those exploits.

The six best parts of "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

1. Commandeering the truck - The obvious choice. This is why the Hollywood term "set piece" was invented. Consider this: out the windshield, down the front grill (bending off the Mercedes hood ornament along the way), under the chassis, then back up into the back (thanks to a handy bullwhip). A Nazi tries the same move a few minutes later and gets run over with a delightful shriek of pain. If you're not a globe-trotting archaeologist, don't try this at home. "Truck? What truck?"
2. The bar fight - No phony CGI trickery here, only practical on-set effects (spreading fire, sparking bullets, breakaway tables and chairs) and clever fight choreography in very closed quarters. Also a great reminder of the dangers of picking up a Staff of Ra medallion without first checking its temperature.
3. The flying wing fight - Suspenseful in that Everything Goes Wrong. Marion gets trapped in the flying wing, a fire's slowly spreading to a giant fuel tank, and Indiana's getting his ass kicked by a guy who belongs in the WWE. Few actors can take a beating as convincingly as Harrison Ford. Watch out for those propellers.
4. The Peruvian temple opening - There are character introductions and then there are sequences like this. Movie heroes don't often get iconic set-ups like the one Indiana Jones gets here. You don't pull a gun on him, you do exactly as he says in a hidden temple ("Stay out of the light."), you throw him the whip when he asks or run the risk of death by impalement, and you most definitely don't stash a snake in his plane seat.
5. Escaping the Wells of Souls - In a movie full of movie-serial cliffhanger moments, this is the movie's best. Indiana and Marion sealed in an ancient chamber all alone, surrounded by snakes, with their torches going out. There's no plausible way out whatsoever. They'll die here. Right?
6. Opening the Ark - The payoff. Only here do the filmmakers let their visual effects flag fly as Belloq, Toht, and Deitrich find out first-hand what the Power of God can do and millions of pre-teen boys can't believe their frickin' eyes. "Close your eyes, Marion!"


The Best and Worst Films of 2007 (in 25 words or less)

1. The Bourne Ultimatum – Among the most visceral and suspenseful action movies Hollywood’s ever made, it deserved a Best Picture nomination. Kick ass twist ending.

2. 3:10 to Yuma – The best western since Unforgiven, driven by powerhouse perfs by alpha-actors Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Action plus morality tale plus crackling dialogue.

3. 300 – No matter the adjectives used to describe this movie’s envelope-pushing visuals, it sounds like empty hyperbole. But this one truly reinvents the medium.

4. Gone Baby Gone – Sadly flying under everyone’s radar last fall, this gritty mystery
thriller delivers big twists. And poses tough questions about right and wrong.

5. No Country for Old Men – Best Picture Oscar was well deserved. A stark, tragic tale about our inability to comprehend (or stop) evil. Every shot is a work of art.

6. Superbad – The police-character subplot doesn’t belong, but the Michael Cera-Jonah Hill scenes are sublime in their blend of horny vulgarity and adolescent awkwardness.

7. Enchanted – A genius idea (Disney princess enters our most un-fairy-tale world) elevated by a surprisingly snarky sense of humor and the effervescent Amy Adams.

8. Atonement – The obligatory lushly tragic English period piece, this is about as good as it gets for this kind of thing. Strangely underrated.

9. Michael Clayton – A complex story of complex characters, this film insists you pay attention to piece if all together. The most satisfying climax of the year.

10. Sunshine – The ending goes off the rails, but the first hour offers the kind of smart, gripping science fiction action thriller we all crave.

Honorable Mention: 28 Weeks Later; Dan in Real Life; Disturbia; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; I Am Legend; Into the Wild; Juno; The Kingdom; Knocked Up; Ratatouille; Right at Your Door; Waitress; and Zodiac.

The Invasion – Maybe 10 minutes here feels fresh. The rest is a dervative hodgepodge amalgam of zombie movies and pod-people movies.

Spider-man 3 – So lame it’s almost insulting. A visually confusing, narratively tedious, overall pointless exercise in filmmaking excess and ego.

– It’s time for Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino to grow up. Their arrested-development charm has worn off.

See also: "The Best and Worst Films of 2006" and "The Best and Worst Films of 2005"


Knee-jerk review: "Iron Man"

1. Excellent.
2. Lest anyone think otherwise, please take note that this movie cements the fact that Robert Downey Jr. is the man. A commanding, magnetic presence on screen.
3. There's a whole lot of humor here, which will keep a silly grin on your face for most of the running time. It's got little in common with the operatic, sanctimonious Superman Returns or the brooding, dour Batman Begins.
4. Which is why the Tony Stark character is so much fun. He's a billionaire who's living the Maxim magazine lifestyle, surrounded by gizmos and girls and alcohol. It's every nerd comic book geek's fantasy come true. He's Bruce Wayne if Bruce Wayne knew how to enjoy himself.
5. Stark also seems like a more complete character. Bruce Wayne's fascinating, but he's got the oppressive darkness about him. He's haunted and has been haunted since his parents died years ago. The same goes for Wolverine, who's been seething for years, trying to understand who and what he is. They're bad asses, but they've got the world on their shoulders. They're grim. Stark is the selfish, irresponsible playboy who suddenly comes of age and realizes the error of his ways. And he's determined to do something about it. That seems a little more active, a little more interesting.
6. Gwyneth Paltrow's never seemed this engaging and fun. And where has she been?
7. Is this the best comic book movie ever? It's a photo finish. Consider it a three-way tie between 2004's Spider-man 2, 2000's X-Men, and now Iron Man. A very close fourth place is 2005's Batman Begins.
8. Comic book origin movies can be very tedious as all of the pieces get set up and explained. Sometimes you feel like you'll have to wait until part 2 to get to the good stuff. But this movie is so fizzy and fast-moving, and Downey such a perfect match with the Stark character, that even the exposition is enjoyable.
9. Lots of great set pieces (kicking ass in Afghanistan not once, but twice), lots of great lines ("What do you say to your other nickname, Merchant of Death?" "That's not bad."), lots of memorable moments (Stark's ongoing problems with one of his lab robots).
10. A must see, as the $100 million weekend suggests. Word of mouth will be very good to this movie.

Beverages that make life worth living

* Vanilla Coke straight from a cold bottle
* Hot apple cider on Thanksgiving morning
* Cherry Slurpee from 7-Eleven
* Unsweetened ice tea with a wedge of lemon
* The milk left in the bowl after you eat all the Cocoa Krispies
* Newcastle Pale Ale (in a frosted mug, please)
* Coconut Margarita from El Cholo
* A giant jug of Gatorade - any flavor but original - after a sweaty workout
* Cold water straight from a water fountain
* Green apple martini from Karl Strauss circa 2001
* Capri-Sun circa 1982
* Ocean Water from Sonic
* Tahitian Treat from the Thomas Jefferson H.S. vending machine circa 1989
* Jack and Coke on the rocks
* Dublin Dr Pepper


TV Guide back issue: 5th Grade

What were you watching when you were 10 years old and muddling through the fifth grade?

6:00pm Central "Ripley's Believe It or Not" (ABC) - This is how Jack Palance and his raspy, emphysemic voice became a household name to Generation X.
7:00pm "CHiPs" (NBC) - Randi Oakes was a big deal in 1982, but if you look at these episodes today, she's pretty weird looking.
8:00pm "The Jeffersons" and "One Day at a Time" (CBS) - "Look, Mrs. Romano--" "Mizz Romano..."

7:00pm "That's Incredible!" (ABC) - If you're ten years old, this is the coolest show ever. Remember when that one dude folded himself inside that little bitty plastic cube? Why'd he do that? What was the point of that exactly? Other than to be on the show?
8:00pm "M*A*S*H" (CBS) - Not always kid-friendly, but everyone in America was watching it so you watched it. Honestly, the Cheese Fry thinks this may be one of the most overrated shows in TV history. The episodes are all well-made, but is it really all that? The early "comedy" episodes aren't really funny and the later "drama" episodes are very self-important and pretentious.
8:30pm "Newhart" (CBS) - Still not as good as "The Bob Newhart Show." Mary Frann is no Suzanne Pleshette.
9:00pm "Cagney and Lacey" (CBS) - You watched it because your grandmother watched it. And because you thought Sharon Gless was kind of hot. In an early 1980s, feathered-hair sort of way.

8:00pm "Happy Days" (ABC) - You ever see this show nowadays? It's kind of lame.
8:30pm "Laverne & Shirley" (ABC) - Didn't all fifth graders harbor a secret crush on Cindy Williams? We didn't say we were proud of it.

8:00pm "Tales of the Gold Monkey" (ABC) - For those of us who obsessed over Raiders of the Lost Ark, a TV show ripoff like this was extremely bad-ass. The dog had an eyepatch!

7:00pm "Magnum P.I." (CBS) - The talky drama could be pretty boring for a fifth grader, but the action and the humor was fun. Other points of 10-year-old interest: the cool red Ferrari and TC's helicopter.

7:00pm "Dukes of Hazzard" (CBS) - An instant classic, of course. Shepherd calling Lost Sheep, where can we get some of those exploding-tip arrows?
8:00pm "Dallas" (CBS) - If you lived in Dallas, this was required viewing for all citizens.
9:00pm "Falcon Crest" (CBS) - That was one cool theme song.

7:00pm "T.J. Hooker" (CBS) - Dumb action appeals to fifth graders. So does Captain Kirk with a gun.
8:00pm "Love Boat" (ABC) - You watched it because your grandmother watched it.
9:00pm "Fantasy Island" (ABC) - Ditto. "Who's dat, boss?"

Mavs, please be sure to turn off the lights as you leave the playoffs

If it's springtime, it must be time for another Dallas Mavericks playoff collapse. It's become a staple of the season. You put away your winter clothes, you start to smell that heady mix of fresh cut grass and lawnmower gasoline, and you see Dirk Nowitski on TV trying gamely to explain how it all went wrong. For the Mavs, it's no longer a question of will they get bounced from the playoffs, but a question of when. And by who? And by how embarrassing a score?

Clearly, the mid-season blockbuster trade for aging point guard Jason Kidd wasn't the answer this season. He may still be quick of mind, but he's undeniably slow of foot these days. It also doesn't help when the only player who takes the court with any intensity against the New Orleans Hornets in the first round is a backup named Brandon Bass. Please also file under the "Not Helping" category the curious case of forward Josh Howard, who chose the first round to announce to everyone that he likes to smoke weed in the off-season. The angry, vociferous outcry in Dallas seems to have surprised stoner Howard, who subsequently disappeared in the playoffs like, well, a warm wisp of exhaled pot smoke. Forward Dirk Nowitski has also been taking his lumps for a while now, seemingly unable to escape the "soft" label even though he once finished a game after losing a tooth. It's now apparent, however, that Nowitski is not a leader. He'll score you points, but please don't ask him to set the tone. This is a guy who said in a recent interview he was glad the Mavs didn't have to face the Lakers in the first round. Way to inspire confidence, Dirk. Are you happy that you won't be facing the Lakers in the second round now, either?

In short, the Dallas Mavericks are a team that no longer believes it can win. The regular season sure seems manageable, but once the bright "win or go home" lights of the playoffs come on, this team wilts like a pile of $5/pound arugula. This irritating lack of mental fortitude can surely be traced back to the 2006 NBA Finals. In those playoffs, the Mavs scratched and bit and clawed their way through impressive series with the powerhouse Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs. They were a team possessed. In the Finals (the first ever for Dallas), they flew to a 2-0 lead against the insufferable Miami Heat... and then let the Heat come back and win the Series. Thus insuring we'd never be rid of Dwyane Wade's smug grin - the Cheese Fry sincerely hopes Wade never again makes it deep into the playoffs. If you had the misfortune of watching those NBA Finals, you'll remember seeing a thoroughly confused Mavs team who began to slowly but surely, game by game, loss by loss, meltdown once they realized they might not win the trophy. It was a disaster.

The Mavericks have tried twice since those 2006 Finals to reset, to dig deep and use the bitter bile of that humiliating loss to fuel their resurgence. They played the 2007 season with a proper chip on its shoulder: Nowitski won the MVP, the team earned a league-best 67-15 record and #1 seed. But then they ran smack dab into the Golden State Warriors threshing machine who won the series in 6 games. Oops. You know what happened this year.

As of now, the only fallout from this continued slide into mediocrity (many would argue that only owner Mark Cuban still thinks the Mavs are an elite NBA team) is the dismissal of head coach Avery Johnson. The Cheese Fry is a huge Johnson fan, but in the NBA the coaches are interchangeable parts, hired and fired and rehired like migrant farm workers. Johnson perhaps does share some blame, especially in the way he seemed to panic in the 2006 Finals against coaching and hair product icon Pat Riley. Johnson will go elsewhere and likely take another team to the Finals mountaintop.

The team he leaves behind in Dallas doesn't share so hopeful a future. The only player who might draw trade offers is its best player: Nowitski. But trading him may be very hard for Cuban, if only because it would signal once and for all that the championship window for this version of the Dallas Mavericks is closed. The NBA, with its petulant players and multi-million-dollar contract guarantees, is an unforgiving league. Make one false move and you're stuck with loser players no one wants but who must be paid anyway for the next 5-7 years. It can take a long, long time to rebuild and refocus.

Hopefully, if and when the Mavericks ever make it back to the Finals, they won't choke it all away.