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Tag Archive: Raiders of the Lost Ark


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you try to get a modern generation of moviegoers to explore the entertainment of the past, you may learn quickly it often just doesn’t work out.  One of the entertainment realms of the past that successfully spanned multiple generations is the Universal Studios monster film series.  The “Universal Monsters” began in the 1920s and stretched into the 1950s, beginning with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera and continuing on into the “modern” technology of 3D in 1954 with The Creature from the Black Lagoon (reviewed here previously at borg.com).  Kids who grew up in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s continued to watch and re-watch the film series years later.  As the horror genre is concerned, it doesn’t get more “classic” than the Universal Monsters.  Now that we’ve entered the month of Halloween, it’s time to start binge-watching the best of the horror genre, and for audiences of all ages the Universal Monsters is a good place to start.  But for the younger crowd not willing to go for the classics, especially black and white classics, you may want to give the new Universal Studios reboot a try–the new “Dark Universe.”  The introductory chapter to the Dark Universe, this summer’s The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, is now streaming on multiple platforms and available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD

The Mummy won’t be for everyone.  Purists loyal to the classic films are the first group that may not go for it–it doesn’t adhere very much by way look or feel to Boris Karloff’s 1932 original version, although the core concept is similar: resurrecting an ancient Egyptian royal entombed without being mummified, followed by a pursuit to resurrect The Entombed’s lover after The Entombed is brought back to life by an archaeologist.  The other group that may pass on the new film are fans of Universal’s more recent decade-long film series that originally starred Brandon Fraser and Rachel Weisz (and later Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), which spanned seven films in all and an animated television series between 1999 and 2008.  Ultimately the best audience for this year’s version of The Mummy will be audiences looking for a new film to rent or stream during this holiday season with a horror flavor.  The Mummy isn’t a romp like the recent film series or memorable like the original, but it is light as horror goes, full of action and plenty of monsters (actually zombies) without much actual gore, and overall it’s a fun way to step into the Halloween zone for general audiences.  And who doesn’t like a zombie movie?

The Mummy stars Tom Cruise as adventurer/soldier Nick Morton (along the lines of Matt Damon in The Great Wall) who, along with another soldier played by Jake Johnson (New Girl), tries to find buried treasure after Nick romances and steals a treasure map from an archaeologist named Dr. Jennifer Halsey, played by Annabelle Wallis (X-Men: First Class, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword).  Not among Cruise’s top films (see last week’s review here of American Made for that) fans of Cruise movies will still find this in the realm of his Mission: Impossible roles.  The mummy of the title is a woman in this incarnation of the horror tale, Princess Ahmanet, played by Sofia Boutella, in a performance that becomes the best aspect of the film.  As with her several recent performances (Atomic Blonde, Star Trek Beyond, Kingsman: The Secret Service), it’s always exciting to see Boutella immerse herself into a role.  The actress who gained early fame as a dancer in Madonna and Michael Jackson music videos seems to easily take on the physical coordination required for this first monster of the Dark Universe.  One of Ahmanet’s powers is raising the dead into zombie defenders, and in several key action sequences the film becomes a full-scale zombie horror flick.  The zombie factor, plus big-budget production value and stars Cruise and Boutella may be enough to satisfy a broader audience’s desire for something new this Halloween.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the film that got away.  I was lucky to have been taken to every great sci-fi classic and Spielberg film from Jaws forward, but multiple Star Wars viewings probably nudged out my chance to see this one back in 1977.  Close Encounters didn’t arrive in theaters until the Christmas season that year and it would likely have generated some nightmares as I was only about a year older than the boy co-star of the film–so it was probably a good thing.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind is back in theaters this week to celebrate its 40th anniversary.  Watching it for the first time on the big screen was like filling in a last brick in the wall.  It’s a satisfying re-watch, and every time you screen a classic in the theater again you learn something new.  The film is being preceded this week by a behind-the-scenes featurette, including an interview with Steven Spielberg and excerpts from the home movies he routinely films as he directs his movies.  It also contains a clip of each iconic scene in the film, so those who haven’t seen the film and want to view it for the first time may want to duck out for popcorn during the previews.  Close Encounters is screening only for a few more days, so no matter how many times you have seen it, it’s time to go back again.  Nothing beats a classic, especially a Spielberg film, on the big screen.

You might find Close Encounters’ pacing to stand out as a bit slow.  Movies today need to be action-packed to grab viewers.  The elements the viewer needs to know are laid out methodically, and yet the film is not told in normal storytelling fashion.  Richard Dreyfuss’s innocent everyman Roy Neary is not your normal protagonist.  Every bit the victim here, he also may be more like a lottery winner, selected to do what many dream of.  He asks for none of the personal invasion he encounters–ripped from his family and job, this uncontrollable compulsion arrives, pursuing him with only a realization that whatever this vision is about it’s somehow important.  From the film’s abrupt start it feels very avant-garde, a bit like modern independent filmmaking, with its back and forth explanation of a communication project in progress spliced with a utility worker who experiences a strange event.  Sequences of real world end-to-end conversations that other directors might have edited to more quickly get to the point also illustrate unusual directing decisions.  Only in what doubles as a horror movie sequence–basically a child abduction–do we get a clear realization of aliens as one possible antagonist of the film.  And when the movie really kicks in at Devil’s Tower the audience can see the international marriage of scientists and military is possibly another villain.  Or is there a villain at all?  Many scenes suggest dissonance itself is the culprit–all the barriers to clear communication that get in the way–the ongoing, pounding barrage of multiple interpreters in a single conversation, air traffic control operators speaking at once, Neary’s wife played by Teri Garr and her kids all talking or screaming or beating toys to pieces, Roy’s co-workers on the radio all speaking at once, a room full of scientists babbling at each other as they try to interpret these six repeated numbers beings sent to them from outer space, aliens playing rapid tones against humans doing the same.  And the sound of all the toys turning on at once, the toys of little Barry (Cary Guffey) that wake up his mom Jillian, played by Oscar nominee Melinda Dillon, forcing her to join the story as a victim along with Roy.  Then the resolution of conflict only arrives as the aliens and humans finally reach clarity with the tonal communication between them in the film’s climactic encounter.  In the preview to the film, Spielberg mentions Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket’s crooning “when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are” as his inspiration–what the film is all about.  That familiar Disney motif is certainly present thanks to John Williams’ beautiful score.  Maybe Roy is his own enemy–unable to break away from the influence of these beings?  Or by following this calling does he rescue himself from a family that doesn’t understand or listen to him, and a mundane job and neighborhood of zombie-like suburbanites who always seem to be watching him?

Whatever the through line of the story is intended to be, the film is sweeping and enormous in scope, addressing subjects everyone can get sucked into: telepathy, conspiracy theories, all the UFO theories (from cattle mutilations to Area 51 to alien abductions and flying saucers), and unexplained phenomena (from missing people to the curious fascination of aliens with rummaging through refrigerators).  It’s all there in this suspenseful package, all from this brilliant young filmmaker who said he and his cast just couldn’t wait to show everyone this great thing they had created.  Hints at so many films are contained here that you could wonder if Spielberg starts generating every subsequent project idea by first watching Close Encounters:  We see the young child’s parents terrified in their home by some strange force in Poltergeist as Jillian tries to prevent the aliens from breaking into her home.  We see the quiet standing crowd at night waiting at the foot of Devil’s Tower for something good or bad to happen filmed similar to the soldiers waiting as the Ark is opened at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And it’s almost a surprise to realize the mother ship at the end of Close Encounters is not the ship from E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, another giant, flying, lit-up Christmas tree-house transporting that curious little botanist who would arrive only five years later.

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rogue-one-poster-6

Review by C.J. Bunce

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finally answers the question of what kind of movie you would get if Hollywood would only, finally, let a diehard fan direct a major franchise film.  For all the great cast of actors and heroic characters in this unique tie-in film that falls outside the episodic trilogies, the real hero turns out to be director Gareth Edwards.  Edwards does so many things right with Rogue One you’ll lose count, and the best of this is surprise after surprise of what is at the next turn.  And if you watched all the trailers that seemed to reveal all too much, surprise again, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  This is, without exception, the most fun movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back, despite its equally dark tone, and it has all the action of the original Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans immediately jumped at the chance of finding its place in the list of the best and worst of the prior six films.  Is Rogue One better than The Force Awakens?  In many ways, yes.  In other ways, such as the use of too many jumps between geographic road marker titles along the way and tightness of story plotting, Rogue One is probably a bit behind.  What fans really want to do is compare Rogue One to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.  So how does it compare?  It really is too soon to tell.  The hype and excitement of any new blockbuster in a franchise you love makes you want to heap on the high praise.  Is The Force Awakens as good as we thought a year ago?  Fans will never agree.  But the fact Rogue One is worthy of the comparison to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back should be praise enough.

churrut

The best thing about Rogue One is CGI and motion capture technology improvements.  The best kept film secret in several years should be kept for all to experience, and later we can all chat about it once everyone has had a chance to see the film.  Prepare to be impressed.  Technology is finally catching up with Connie Willis’s future Hollywood novel Remake.  Rogue One also has great writing–an issue that haunted the prequels.  The dialogue is smarter than probably all the past episodes.  The space battles aren’t superfluous like in Return of the Jedi and all of the prequels.  Every step in the film is in furtherance of the goal–find the plans to destroy the Death Star.  This is not a mere MacGuffin, this mission has gravity for everyone.  Delivered like an epic World War II era film, Rogue One is the best war movie of the franchise.

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John Williams conducting Star Wars

Few individuals have stood apart from their peers in their professional endeavors as much as maestro John Williams.  Last week the American Film Institute presented Williams with its life achievement award, the 44th awarded and first for a composer.  It’s certainly about time.  With five Academy Award wins and 50 nominations, Williams holds the record for the most Oscar nominations of any living person.  Three of his scores, for Star Wars, Jaws, and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, are on AFI’s list of the top 25 scores of all time.  This Wednesday night the AFI award event will be televised, and guests honoring Williams include George Lucas, Steven Spielberg–both who owe the most to Williams for their individual successes–as well as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Drew Barrymore, Tom Hanks, Itzhak Perlman, J.J. Abrams, Bryce Dallas Howard, Will Farrell, Steve Martin, Seth McFarlane, and Daisy Ridley.

You may not remember the first time you heard a familiar tune from Williams, but for those more than 40 years old it was no doubt the theme from television’s Lost in Space series, featuring an end credit to “Johnny” Williams.  He also provided the piano music for the Academy Award winning, and AFI recognized comedy Some Like it Hot.  For everyone since then you can define your generation by your earliest familiarity with his music, whether it’s the Main Title to Star Wars, the Jurassic Park theme, or the theme to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Those whose introduction to Williams was Star Wars: The Force Awakens have plenty of great music to discover.

Williams is of a rare breed of American composer whose songs stick with you forever.  He’s in an elite club with the likes of musicians Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin.  For more than 60 years Williams has set the bar for–and defined worldwide for moviegoers’ ears–our expectation for modern programmatic movie music.

John Williams

Stepping aside from his success at major memorable themes, one of his greatest skills is his juxtaposition of opposites.  Just listen in the Jaws soundtrack to the busy streets of Amity in the “Montage” and the cheery adventure theme from “The Great Shark Chase” among his well-known bass horror cues.  Some of his most brilliant compositions are tucked away behind giant, epic scores, like “The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back and “Escape from Venice” from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  And would modern audiences even know a march beyond nationalistic music if not for “The Superman March,” “The Raiders of the Lost Ark March,” “The March from 1941,” and “The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back? 

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The Renaissance of movie and TV tie-in action figures arrived in 2013 with Funko’s classic Kenner-style ReAction figure line.  Other companies focus on single licensed figures and getting the likenesses spot-on, but Funko’s diversification of lines meant everyone could find something that fit their personal niche at an affordable price point.  A true throwback series, one of the overlooked features of the line is the incredible variety of no-names-taken, classic kick-ass heroines represented.

In fact you can find here the top of the world’s best, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, genre heroines.  Buy them for yourself, for your friends, or get your favorite as a totem to inspire you each day from your desktop.  And where the early sculpts in Funko’s line admittedly looked nothing like the actresses that made the roles famous, the new lines have only improved.  And nobody has better packaging designs than the ReAction line.

Zoe Washburne scene

Who would you add to the Funko roster of heroines?  Compare your list to our more than 85 suggestions for future kick-ass women action figures below.

First, check out this Baker’s Dozen of our favorites in the current Funko pantheon:

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Whats he looking at The Whispers

Review by C.J. Bunce

The tropes of Steven Spielberg run rampant in the new TV series The Whispers.  Its pilot episode premiered Monday night on ABC and it teases enough of those things we love about Spielberg movies–it’s practically an homage to the producer of the series–to prompt us to return for more next week.  Network science fiction as a whole tends to be full of more shock and awe than the sci-fi of cable TV (compare Lost and Heroes to shows that delved deeper into the human condition like Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, or The Dead Zone), so the story will need to do more than just tease what’s really going on for us to not get bored and simply move along.

To begin with, The Whispers has that “creepy little girl” thing going that we’ve discussed plenty here at borg.com.  It’s hard to miss the throwbacks to the original Poltergeist (Spielberg wrote the screenplay).  Only this time we have more than one little girl talking to something no one else can see.  We don’t really know yet whether this is a purely sci-fi show or entirely horror–or a bit of both.

The show follows Claire Bennigan, played by Lily Rabe, a federal agent whose husband died three months prior to the events in the show’s first episode.  He’s also the pilot missing from a jet presumed lost in the Arctic, a jet just discovered far away in the African desert.  Will the relationship between Claire and her lost husband (Milo Ventimiglia) form the foundation of a relationship as in Spielberg’s supernatural romance Always?

The Whispers

An imaginary friend named Drill is speaking to little kids in a way only children can hear–and Drill’s voice always come from the lights (even we don’t hear this voice so we don’t know whether it’s real or not).  But these lights are up to something, like the energy from the Lost Ark from Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It’s not just the idea that harkens back to Raiders–as the power of the light swishes about it can’t be long before it starts zapping those who stand by who fail top keep their eyes closed.

We can see E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial imagery, like the feds in hazard gear closing in on Elliott’s house.  Here, government workers close in on a giant structure that has somehow reached up and grabbed a jet from far away.  E.T.’s mom, played by Dee Wallace, even makes a brief appearance in the pilot for The Whispers.

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Sleepy Hollow logo

After a solid pilot episode many television series fail to measure up to the initial promise, dwindling away after a few episodes.  On last night’s fourth episode of Sleepy Hollow, “The Lesser Key of Solomon,” we learn this new series may deserve to be around for the long haul.  From the first scene where we catch up with Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane in a humorous exchange with an OnStar representative to Hessians interrogating a bartender for information on Lieutenant Mills’s sister who has escaped from a psychiatric ward, we knew we were in for a wild ride even before the titles rolled.

If you haven’t climbed aboard the bandwagon for Sleepy Hollow yet, we reviewed the pilot here at borg.com three weeks ago.  At its core, the series is the unlikely mash-up of two works, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, and the biblical Book of Revelations.  Here Ichabod Crane takes the role of Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, and the Headless Horseman of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow turns out to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  The Horseman was beheaded by Ichabod Crane, who is, in turn, felled by the Horseman at the same skirmish, and on Crane’s deathbed his wife–a witch–casts a spell that causes Crane to reappear in the town of Sleepy Hollow in our time.

Boston Tea Party

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Independents Day 2013

The first ever Independents Day was a big success Saturday at Elite Comics in Overland Park, Kansas.  Hundreds of comic books fans turned out, and you could find Seth PeckTerry Beatty, Darryl Woods, Nathen Reinke, Bryan Fyffe, Stephen Smith, and several other writers and artists on-hand for the day-long event.

It was a Day of the Daleks, with both the awesome cyborg Red Dalek, a costume and movable robot attempting to exterminate visitors:

Red Dalek

and this static Dalek, shown here taking on Indy-pendents Day’s Indiana Jones:

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Much has been said about Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It’s the best adventure movie of all time, maybe the best action movie, too.  It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won five.  The American Film Institute lists it as one of the top 100 films of all time.  The Library of Congress included it on the National Film Registry.  John Williams created one of the best soundtracks ever for the film.  And it showed what can happen when you put two creators like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas together.  It is an action-adventure, a war movie, a romance, a suspense-thriller, a roller coaster ride, and few movies will keep you glued to your seat from the first scene to the last like this movie.  Yes, much has been said about Raiders.  Now today we can say it is finally available on Blu-Ray.

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I have watched bits and pieces of E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial over the years and haven’t viewed it in its entirety since its VHS release.  I was lucky enough to see it in its original release back in 1982.  I seem to recall my sister got us some special tickets she won from a radio station for opening night, and when you entered the theater everyone received a sticker for E.T. and Reese’s Pieces, which, at that moment, no one had heard of before:

I’d been a life-long fan of the oily candy coated Wonka Oompas, and these smaller bits of peanut butter goodness became a candy staple that I have yet to be able to walk away from.

Over the year stories surfaced about the little licensing battle that occurred over the M&Ms featured in a key scene in the original story and Mars’ missed marketing opportunity that resulted in Elliott leaving the trail of Reese’s instead, which ultimately seemed to be all about money as these things always are.  Suffice it to say, I am happy we live in a world where Reese’s Pieces and M&Ms can live in harmony.  (Enough about food, back to the movie).

If all was right in the world we would all be flocking back to the theaters to see E.T. on the big screen in the “see it again for the first time” way.  Of all of Spielberg’s brilliant films, E.T. is the one that stands up with Star Wars as far as story with a heart.  Raiders of the Lost Ark is probably the most exciting film ever made, and I remember the movie ending on the screen of the big River Hills theater and realizing I hadn’t eaten or drank anything or taken a restroom break because I was glued to the screen for every minute of the movie.  Jaws is the best blockbuster ever and defined the very term.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind illustrates the very best that science fiction can be on film.  But E.T.’s story didn’t require much by way of special effects then and doesn’t now, once you get beyond the non-CGI animatronic special effect of E.T. himself.  The space ship at film’s end could have been made with a soup can and strobe light and it wouldn’t have mattered.

What did matter was this very realistic neighborhood, this very real family of kids, and a simple story about concern for someone in need of help.

And John Williams delivered a standout score, a score that, like Star Wars and Raiders and Jaws and Superman, can never be confused with modern, canned soundtrack pieces.  Williams was at the top of his game when he write the rousing E.T. themes.

Years ago I bought a copy of E.T. on VHS for $1.  With viewings on TV every now and then it’s hard to justify getting the Blu-Ray for me, simply because it isn’t effects heavy and I’m not sure I need another version.  But Spielberg did something very right with the new release that shows he has learned from the errored ways of Mr. Lucas.  If you managed to see bits of the 2002 re-release edition of E.T. you may recall Spielberg jumped on the bandwagon with Lucas and decided to CGI-ify his movie a bit (CGI-ify, a newly coined term meaning “terrorizing a film through editing”).

A few odd changes Spielberg made to the 2002 release:

  • Elliott’s mom says Elliott’s brother looks like a “hippie,” where the original used the word “terrorist”.
  • The feds with guns at the end of the film had their guns replaced with circa-1982 mobile phones.

Where Lucas has hidden away his initial, brilliant versions of the Star Wars films, Spielberg’s new edition of E.T. makes none of these changes, returning instead to a cleaner modification of the 1982 film we all loved.  So soon you’ll be singing “Turn on your heart light” with Neil Diamond, and saying “Phone home” and “I’ll be right here” and “Home” and “Be good” in your best E.T. voice.

Here is a trailer for the Blu-Ray release:

The Blu-Ray has a lot of extra features, like

· The E.T. Journals: Including behind-the-scenes footage.

· Steven Spielberg & E.T.: New interview with Steven Spielberg on E.T.

· Deleted Scenes: Two scenes from 2002 version of the film.

· A Look Back: Making of E.T. featurette.

· The E.T. Reunion: The cast and filmmaker reunion featurette.

· The Evolution and Creation of E.T.

· The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams

· The 20th Anniversary Premiere: Behind the scenes look John Williams concert presentation.

· Original Theatrical Trailer

· Special Olympics TV spot

· Designs, Photographs and Marketing

You can pre-order E.T. now for a discounted price at Amazon.com, and if you’re a super-fan of E.T. check out this mega-sized boxed edition featuring its own mother ship model, complete with sound.

E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial hits Blu-ray on October 9, 2012.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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