Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

20 06 2008

Yesterday, I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

This is the fourth movie in the main Indiana Jones series, but, believe it or not, this was the first Indiana Jones movie that I have watched, which means I’ve got no nostalgia to cloud my judgement, but it also means I don’t really have anything to compare it to.

So what did I make of it?  Well, long story short, I liked it very much.  It’s fun, it’s exciting, and at times it’s also quite intelligent.

The story takes place in the 1950s, about 20 years after the original trilogy.  It opens with a scene in which Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), a prisoner of some Russians led by the sinister Irena Spalko (Cate Blanchett), is taken into a secret government warehouse to retrieve a large and mysterious magnetic box.  A dramatic fight ensues.  Featuring fast moving vehicles, lots of running around on rafters, and a rocket sled, this opening sequence pretty much sets the tone of the movie – fast, exciting and extremely action packed.

The main plot of the movie revolves around Harold Oxley (John Hurt), a former colleague of Jones, who vanished in South America after discovering a crystal skull.  So Indy makes his way down to Peru, accompanied by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a young and oft-overconfident individual who serves as the perfect foil to the older, more experienced Indy.  There are some twists and revelations in store, both in terms of the crystal skulls and in terms of the characters themselves.

The movie is visually absolutely spectacular, and the script is very enjoyable too.  I was pleased to note that the writers have indeed done their research: for example, when Indy mentions skull binding, a real practice among certain Native American peoples.  The soundtrack is of course excellent; I’ve always been a fan of anything by John Williams, and this is no exception.  At times, the action does perhaps stretch credibility a little too much (fridge.  Waterfalls.  Vine swinging…), and somehow I found the ending a little unsatisfactory, although maybe it would appeal more to someone who’s seen the original trilogy.

And now, for old times’ sake, the media studies genre bit.  This movie has all the defining characteristics of an action adventure movie, including fight scenes, chase scenes, fast pans and frequent use of CGI.  However, it also borrows characteristics from other genres, most obviously fantasy and science fiction.  The mise en scène varies from scene to scene; much of it is very firmly rooted in the 1950s, but there are some more exotic settings such as the Amazon Rainforest and, naturally, ruined temple complexes.  The set design, incidentally, is very impressive, with a lot of attention paid to detail.

I definitely enjoyed this movie, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind having to suspend disbelief a little.


Study Leave

16 05 2008

Another introspective post.  I’m afraid these are getting more common of late; I hope I don’t make a habit of it.  People will start to think I have feelings.

Today, Year 13 broke up for study leave.  This means we will spend the next few weeks out of Sixth Form, revising for exams.  The problem is, I don’t yet know enough about the History of France 1601-1715 to start revising, so I’m going to spend the next few weeks making notes from textbooks, trying to learn as much as I can.  Only once I know what the Edict of Nantes was, or why Louis XIV disliked Jansenists so much, can I begin my actual revision.

Today was grey-skied and windy (I’m blogging about the weather again, but bear with me).  Somebody had dumped several picnic benches, some road signs and a small marquee on the roof of the Sixth Form block.

We spent the day doing very little, although I did attend a history lesson, during which I probably learned more than I have done in an entire year’s worth of history lessons.  All in all, though, it’s been a bit of an odd day, and afterwards I can’t help feeling a little sad, in spite of my best efforts to become a “manly man” (manly men don’t succumb to wimpy emotions such as sadness).  After all, I don’t know how many of my classmates I’m going to see ever again.  Admittedly, we will be returning for exams and results day, but that doesn’t mean I’ll meet up with all of them again.

The really weird thing is that, if all goes to plan, I’ll be coming back next year, while most of my friends head off to Uni.  So although it feels like Sixth Form is over, I’ll actually be having another whole year, during which I’ll be surrounded by unfamiliar Year 12s.  Two of my friends will be returning; ironically, both of them were in my history class this year, but next year they won’t be, so I’ll only see them during study periods.

Of course, unlike most of my friends, I’m not even on study leave yet, since I study media at a different school which won’t be breaking up for another week.  Which reminds me, I have an essay on genre to complete by Monday.

I apologise for the above splurge of emotions; I just had to get that out of my system.  Media studies relevant posts will return soon.  I hope promise think.

Multiple genres

14 05 2008

I’ve never been a fan of genre categorisation myself.  Ostensibly it helps you to find the sort of stories that interest you when you’re browsing a library or book/video store, but often the labels are too narrow, and stories are only ever given either one genre (e.g. steampunk, fantasy, thriller) or two (e.g. science fantasy, romantic comedy, action adventure).

I have this theory about genre – namely, there is no such thing as a story that has only one genre.  Every story will combine elements of other genres.  Take Star Wars – it’s not just a science fiction.  It’s got elements of fantasy (I actually think of it more as a fantasy than a science fiction) and action adventure, and even Western.  Or Harry Potter – they’re not just fantasy stories, they’re also school stories and contain mystery elements as well.

If you think about it, a lot of the categories we call “genres” are completely unrelated to one another.  For example, the presence of futuristic technology doesn’t preclude the story from featuring action, or comedy or romance.

So, because I have nothing better to be doing with my time, I have sorted various genres into more specific types:

1. Resemblance to real events

Stories are usually categorised by the simple premise, “did this happen in real life?”  If not, then it’s fiction.  If some of the characters really existed but the story is to a degree invented, it’s historical fiction.  If it’s all true, it’s non-fiction.  Pretty basic, but I thought it worth mentioning, especially since these are all-encompassing.

2. Possibility of actually occurring (at least in theory)

This is a common one, the main genres being fantasy (including subgenres such as supernatural horror) and science fiction (including subgenres such as cyberpunk).  Add to that stories which feature nothing that could not happen in real life, which is not normally considered a genre by itself, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, since a lot of people prefer those stories.  Note that just being set in the future and on another planet doesn’t necessarily mean science fiction; it could just as easily be a fantasy.  One thing you’ll notice is that categorising by whether or not magic or super intelligent androids exist in a story tells you pretty much nothing about the actual plot, so stories in these genres pretty much have to belong to at least one other genre.  Still, SF and fantasy stories pretty much exist in a kind of geek ghetto anyway, so whether or not they are correctly labelled as action adventure stories or romantic comedies is probably the least of their worries.

3. Emotions provoked

Stories are also grouped by what emotional response they get from the audience.  For example, horrors provoke shock, thrillers provoke tension, comedies provoke amusement, and so-called “weepies” provoke, well, weeping.  I would also tentatively lump action in with this, since they provoke a “woah, that was awesome!” response.  I’ve noticed that these stories seem to get sneered at a lot by critics (there are a number of notable exceptions), because apparently over-reliance on depressing or scary scenes is a cheap way of entertaining the audience.  In any case, like fantasy stories, these stories must have other elements to them or else there isn’t a plot.

4. Setting

All stories are set in a specified time and place, be it Renaissance France, America in the early 21st century, or New New York City in the early 31st century.  Works set in parallel universes and alternate histories also come under this.  Some of these get their own genre names, others don’t; it’s always struck me as a little odd that Westerns count as a genre in themselves, for example, since they’re just a specific type of period setting.  In any case, these don’t have anything to do with plot, either.

5. Plot

Of course, stories can be categorised by plot, and in fact often are.  This can be adventure, or romance, or drama, or mystery, or any number of other variations.  These are still not all encompassing, since many stories are a mixture of multiple plotlines.  In any case, the cleverest stories are those that take a recognisable plot and then subvert it, turning it into something totally different.

6. Presentation

Stories are also commonly categorised by the format they are presented in: animated, play, telenovella, platform game, graphic novel, rock opera, webcomic, stream of consciousness… the list goes on.  Obviously this makes sense in the case of gameplay, since it does not necessarily follow that someone who enjoys FPSes will enjoy RPGs; on the other hand, it doesn’t really tell you anything about what the story involves.  I mean, why would someone dislike a story when it’s presented in the form of an anime OVA, but enjoy the exact same story when it’s a live action movie?  It’s still got all the same elements, it’s just drawn instead of acted.  Of course, these categories are helpful if you’re specifically watching a movie because you like the art style, or because it’s got Orlando Bloom in it, or because you like the songs.

My conclusion from this is that all stories must be in a bare minimum of six genres (one for each type), but that really is the bare minimum; most will incorporate more than one of those.  Take Doctor Who:

Type 1: fiction, sometimes historical

Type 2: science fiction (with occasional fantasy elements)

Type 3: pretty much all of them combined

Type 4: anywhere and everywhere, but especially the UK in the near future

Type 5: varies from episode to episode, but drama, mystery and adventure are common.

Type 6: live action TV show

I reckon that could be applied to just about every story ever.  Now I just need to persuade libraries and bookstores to use it…

Reservoir Dogs

29 04 2008

The last f—ing movie we f—ing studied in f—ing media class was f—ing Reservoir Dogs, which we f—ing watched to-f—ing-day.  Reservoir f—ing Dogs was written and directed by f—ing Quentin Tarantino.  It’s also the most f—ing recently released of the movies we have watched as a f—ing class.

OK, I’m going to stop swearing, it’s getting f—ing ridiculous.

Anyway, the movie begins with eight sharply-dressed men sitting in a restaurant, joking around and discussing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, and whether or not it’s necessary to tip the waitress.  Their names are Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr Blue (Edward Bunker), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino – yes, he really is a jack of all trades, that one), Joe (Lawrence Tierney) and “Nice Guy” Eddie (Chris Penn), and they are about to attempt a heist.  Then we are treated to a now-iconic (so iconic I recognised it despite never having seen it before) scene of the team walking down the street to the sound of the George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag”.  Then the titles play.

When the titles stop, the heist is over, and the survivors are trying to work out what went wrong.  One of them must have set them up.  So who’s the rat?

I expect most people have a rough idea of what to expect from a Tarantino movie.  This one ticks all the boxes for non-linear storytelling, bloody violence, a memorable script, plenty of awareness of older films and popular culture, and liberal swearing; depending on your tastes this combination likely makes it either one of the greatest films of all time or an utter f—ing mess.

Reservoir Dogs is only superficially similar to GoodFellas.  They certainly exist in similar worlds, dark and violent, with guns, gangsters, heists and drug dealing.  However, the narratives unfold very differently.  Whereas GoodFellas is mainly told in chronological order (apart from a brief scene at the start), Reservoir Dogs makes frequent use of flashbacks to tell its narrative.  Also, while GoodFellas takes place over several decades, the main plot of Reservoir Dogs all unfolds within the space of about an hour.  Like GoodFellas, Reservoir Dogs has a very good soundtrack (although it’s going to be a while before I’m going to be able to hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” again without shuddering).

One aspect of the film that makes it so impressive was that it was independantly made with an unusually low budget.  Despite this, it manages to look highly polished and professional, give or take the odd shaky tracking shot or fluffed line.

I found Reservoir Dogs to be both highly intelligent and immersive.  However, I did find the sadism and racism displayed by the characters to be unpleasant viewing, so I can’t honestly say that I particularly enjoyed the movie.  It was OK, though.

Current listening: Eagles, “Journey of the Sorceror”.


22 04 2008

GoodFellas is a gangster movie, based on the true story of real-life mobsters Henry Hill, James Burke and Thomas DeSimone.

It follows the rise and decline of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), an Irish-Italian American who wants to be a gangster and goes to work for local mob boss Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino).  Along with two friends, the more experienced Irish-American mobster Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and psychopathic killer Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), Henry commits various crimes and becomes very successful.

The movie is one of the best paced films I’ve seen, with pretty much no superfluous scenes (I suspect it may have been ruthlessly edited for this very purpose), although it nevertheless runs to well over two hours in length.  It grabs your attention and doesn’t let go; once you start watching, you’re on board for the whole duration.

The soundtrack is particularly good, with memorable songs by a variety of artists including the Crystals, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, Cream, and the Rolling Stones.

One downside of the film, to my mind, was the absence of any particularly likeable characters.  Just about all the main characters are violent criminals; Conway is a cold blooded murderer, and DeVito is absolutely vicious, and arguably one of the scariest characters I’ve seen in film – all the more so because his personality and actions were closely based on those of a real person.

In terms of this film’s status as a gangster movie… well, there can be no question, really.  It’s full of gangsters, it’s all about the gangster lifestyle, and terms like “made man” and “heist” are present and correct.  And of course, the mise-en-scène includes suits, guns, knives, gloomy streets, fancy bars… it’s very much a gangster film.

So, is it my favourite film?  Certainly not.  But would I recommend watching it?  Most definitely.  This is a movie everybody ought to see.  Well, providing you don’t mind the violence, which is often brutal.  Oh, and the swearing – the characters swear all the time.  Those naughty boys.

Next up: Reservoir Dogs.  *Gulp*

Current listening: The Cat Empire, “Protons, Neutrons, Electrons”.

“Spring Break” sucks!

5 04 2008

No, not the holiday, the phrase, silly!  I mean, Easter was only a bank holiday weekend.  We’re having our Easter Holidays now, but how can they be Easter Holidays if they don’t involve Easter?

Some of my more secular, less traditional friends pointed out that there’s no reason we can’t celebrate Easter now, eggs and all, but it wouldn’t be the same, and I’ve already had Easter.

So, what to call this holiday?  One girl at school (a somewhat, er, unusual year 12 girl) has taken to referring to it as Spring Break.  Several teachers were using the phrase as well, but it just feels kind of weird, like some strange American, PC thing.  “Spring Break”.  “Spring Break”.  I don’t know, it’s just not something that rolls off the tongue easily, probably because this holiday has always been the Easter Holidays, as long as I can remember.  Some people at school were actually calling it Half Term, even though that’s something completely different!

So, anyway, it’s “Spring Break”, and I’m in a bit of a random mood, as you probably guessed.

It was rather a shock logging onto WordPress the other day and discovering that they’ve changed the dashboard screen (that’s the behind the scenes stuff that readers don’t see).  The new design is probably easier to use, but it’s less easy on the eye, dominated by pastel oranges and blues.  I also miss having a link to the forums on the dashboard.  I expect I’ll get used to it.

Anyway, I haven’t seen GoodFellas yet.  We were going to be watching it in class, but a certain teacher couldn’t be bothered to show up to teach us.  Perhaps I’ll be able to borrow a copy from a friend, but otherwise I’ll have to wait until the holidays are over.

Oh and, almost forgot: DoctorWhoseriesfourstartsinlessthananhour!!!

*Sighs*  I’m such a hopeless Doctor Who fanboy.

Current listening: Feeder, “Comfort In Sound”.


30 03 2008

In addition to Westerns, we will also be looking at gangster movies in class.  The concept of a gangster is one I understand rather more than that of a cowboy, perhaps because they still exist, and consequently have a habit of sneaking into movies set in the 20th and 21st centuries that aren’t actually gangster films.  That said, I can’t say I’m familiar with gangster movies, so this is still going to be an educational experience for me.

Apologies for not having posted of late; I’ve been rather bogged-down with schoolwork.  I’ll let you know what I make of GoodFellas ASAP.