DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: May 2008

Saturday, 31 May 2008


The Comancheros (1961) dir. Michael Curtiz
Starring: John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Lee Marvin


The Comancheros is the last film from the great studio director Michael Curtiz, and ironically despite over 30 years in Hollywood, “The Comancheros” it's his only collaboration with John Wayne. It’s not Curtiz’s finest hour, nor Wayne’s, but still a competent action Western, for fans of the genre.

The film opens with a classic duel of pistols. Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a Louisiana city man wins, but since duels are illegal, Paul is forced to flee the state. John Wayne plays Texas Ranger Jake Cutter, the man on his tail. When Regret escapes from Cutter’s grasp, Cutter changes his attention to a ring of gunrunners supplying those 'evil' Comanche. Cutter goes undercover to find those treachourous ‘Comancheros” that are siding with the enemy. Cutter joins up with a particularly gruesome and drunk Comanchero Tully Crow (Lee Marvin) in order to find the buyer of the guns.

But when Cutter’s runs into his former prisoner, Paul Regret, on a boat this threatens Cutter’s cover. Eventually Cutter forms a mutually beneficial partnership with Regret to take down the Comancheros.

Like most Westerns of its era, ‘the Indians’ serve only as the anonymous antagonists. They are referred to as ‘savages’ and killed off indiscriminately. It’s now glaringly irresponsible and naïve to the real conflict of the Comanche, and so the film must be watched with historical and Hollywood context in mind.

Much like Wayne’s classic sprawling revenge Western, “The Searchers”, ‘the chase’ is the engine which drives and pushes the film and keeps the audience entertained. “The Comancheros” doesn’t aspire to have the pathos or intensity of “The Searchers”, instead Curtiz keeps the film light and colourful. The opening theme song establishes that. Elmer Bernstein’s music has the skip of a “Bonanzo” episode. It was 1961, an era of television, and so the influence on the titles and music is evident. 

The film is shot in the awesome 2:35:1 colour cinemascope that makes westerns, and particularly Monument Valley, so gorgeous. It’s the same location we’ve seen John Wayne in a dozen films before, but the grand mesas, cliffs and canyons still look awesome. The action is fast and furious – all on location – featuring top notch stunt performers. No expense is sparred in crafting audience-satisfying scenes of gunfights, horse-riding and fist-fighting.

Unfortunately the film is invisible to the great Michael Curtiz stylistic flare he was famous for, but of course Western were never his genre. But like his work in the great studio days Curtiz delivers on the genre expectations of a John Wayne western. Enjoy.

"The Comancheros" is available on DVD in the J'ohn Wayne Fox Westerns Collection' from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Friday, 30 May 2008


Jumper (2008) dir. Doug Liman
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson, Jamie Bell, Samuel J. Jackson


It’s difficult to justify liking this film, it’s a high concept sci-fi flick produced from a sloppy script with enormous plotholes. Yet the “Jumper” somehow triumphed over its faults to become a fun twilight zone action extravanganza that exists solely to have fun and be cool. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

Hayden Christensen plays David Rice, a man who has lived most of his life with an extraordinary ability to teleport between places anywhere in the world. For 10 years or so it’s been a life of ultimate coolness, eating lunch of the nose of the sphinx, chilling out on top of Big Ben and never having to ride in an elevator ever again. As result of his power, he’s had to keep it a secret which has made his existence as lonely as he is wealthy. One day a mysterious stranger, Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), appears in his apartment asking questions about his abilities. How does he know and what is his agenda?

It turns out Roland is a bounty hunter of sorts who hunts down people like David. So does that mean there are more people in world like him? David soon meets Griffin, another jumper who fills him in on the long history of the jumpers and their conflict with Roland's organization – the Palladins. David’s life becomes complicated when his old girlfriend Millie (Rachel Bilson) is caught in the global melee of action. It’s a wild action film which moves quick through a dozen locations in a matter of minutes all for the sake of some really cool action you’ve never seen before.

Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"), one of Hollywood’s enfant terribles, has a knack of making something out of nothing. Or maybe he destroys the good stuff and rebuilds it back up to something greater. Apparently the production of “Jumper”, like his other films, were marred with wild production antics, budget overruns, and, tragically, a death on set. Liman’s had history of wild off-the-cuff filmmaking, which in the $75-100m range is unheard of. But his films make money and so there’s method to his madness.

Unlike "Smith", "Bourne", or "Go", the production problems are evident.  And there's a much better film in this story that what eventually was put on screen. No pun intended, but "Jumper" jumps around a lot - like it went through a massive band-aid editing session. The first third of the film establishes David's lavish lifestyle. As soon as Roland enters the fray, David's world is turned around 180 degrees. With his life in jeopardy, David curiously goes back home and starts up a relationship with his ex-girlfriend. It's a dramatic and distracting switch, like these scenes were edited out of place. As well Liman never adequately sets up the 'rules' of David's superpower. Where can David jump to, where can't he jump to and why? Can other people jump with him? 

Eventually, by trial and error, the rules sink in and the film settles down into a clever action extravaganza and a cool new millennium superhero flick. Liman crafts some incredibly audacious action scenes, which use the teleporting powers to dizzing effect. 

"Jumper" also sets up a sequel or even a franchise. Liman only reveals the tip of the iceberg for the "Jumper" world. A more nefarious baddie is referred to whom we never meet, David's mother is given a dramatic twist at the end, which is never resolved, and the film actually ends on a teasing cliffhanger. This all fueled my desire to learn more of the story.

Unfortunately the future of "Jumper 2" is uncertain. Lacklustre box office and Doug Liman's crazed antics may be the deathknell for what could have been a great new action franchise. Enjoy.

"Jumper" is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on June 10

Thursday, 29 May 2008


Cleaner (2007) dir. Renny Harlin
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, Eva Mendes


“Cleaner” is Renny Harlin’s best film since “Cliffhanger”. Ok, that’s not saying much considering his not-so-stellar output which includes, “Long Kiss Goodnight”, “Driven” and "The Covenant".  “Cleaner” is a clever investigative cop flick about a man set-up for murder who must solve the case to clear his name – with the hook that the man actually cleaned up the murder he was set up for.

Harlin effortlessly creates a slick look with decent production value, on what likely was a fraction of the budget which someone like Gregory Hoblit (“Untraceable”) would have gotten. The fact that Harlin keeps getting work in the low to mid-level range of action films is a testament to his discipline and experience. And so, after all the famous debacles he’s been involved with over the years, it seems he now knows what do with a good script.

“Cleaner” is indeed a good script -  not great - but it’s decent enough for Harlin to make even better. The film tells the story of Tom Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) an ex-cop who now makes a living as a ‘cleaner’ of crime scenes. Imagine CSI, after the cool forensic guys do their scientific work, Tom Carver has the dirtiest job of cleaning up the mess. Writer Matthew Aldrich’s opening voiceover describes how the burden of the clean up is always left with the grieving family. Carver not only cleans up the blood, but contributes to cleansing their hearts and souls of the trauma. The metaphors don’t run too deep, but instantly gives flesh to our hero.

One day, Carver gets a job to clean up an especially bloody murder scene in an opulent mansion. It’s an anonymous job, but Carver does the work anyway. The next day, Carver discovers a once prominent police chief is gone missing, and whose address is the same house he cleaned the day before. Carver seems to have been targeted to help cover-up a premeditated murder. Quickly Carver discovers a connection between the victim and his own shady past as cop, Carver suddenly sees himself as a potential scapegoat. Carver’s investigation digs up dirt on his friends and he’s forced to make crucial moral choices to save him and his family.

“Cleaner” is essentially an investigative noir genre film in the tradition of “Frantic” or "Double Indemnity". For the most part writer Alrich manages to keep the script plot-hole free. In addition Samuel L. Jackson (from Harlin’s “Deep Blue Sea”) provides the crucial ‘everyman’ anchor to draw in the audience. In the first half, a number of mysterious characters are set-up, and red herrings planted. By its very nature the third act has to rely on a twist or two to increase the stakes. “Cleaner” is not completely unpredictable, but, like most noir films, the fun is in the journey of discovery.

I respect filmmakers like Renny Harlin or, say, Russell Mulcahy whose new Resident Evil film "Extinction” was a pleasant surprise - reliable directors who have been around the block and acquired the skills and experience to make a solid film when presented with a solid script. Not every film should aspire to be a masterpiece. “Cleaner” never does. Sometimes reliability goes a long way. Enjoy.

PS Renny Harlin’s unpretentious audio commentary can be informative and inspirational to younger filmmakers. Check it out.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) dir. Anthony Mann
Starring: Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer


“The Fall of the Roman Empire” has been one of more famous colossal failures in Hollywood history. Samuel Bronston produced the film on the heels of the success of his previous gargantuan undertaking, “El Cid”. “Fall” was even bigger than “El Cid”. Along with “Cleopatra” it helped spell the death of epic sword and sandal films of the late 50’s, early 60’s. Watching the film with today’s eyes it’s a glorious experience. Bigger truly is better with massive real world sets, thousands of extras, and horses, and shot in ultra-Panavision 70mm.

The opening monologue sets the time and place. The narrator admits the fall of the real Empire was a lengthy, ‘slow-burning’ process, but the film tells of a specific time where the political follies of the day were representative of the downfall. It's 180AD during the transition from the great Emperor Marcus Aurilius (Alec Guinness) to his obnoxious tyrannical son, Commodus (Christopher Plummer). If these names ring a bell, they’re the same characters from Ridley Scott’s "Gladiator", as played by Richard Harris and Joaquin Phoenix. In Northern Spain Marcus Aurilius has assembled representatives from all the Roman territories and has called for peace, ushering in his 'Pax Romana'.

But Aurilius is ill and doesn’t have long to live. He makes a brash decision to make his loyal military commander Livius (Stephen Boyd) heir to his throne. Unfortunately Livius happens to be best friends with Aurilius’ son Commodus. This causes a feud between the friends which will cause the chaotic infighting which would help bring down the Empire. When Aurilius passes on, Commodus takes command away from Livius. While negotiating the complex politics, Livius desperately tries to find love with Commodus' sister Lucilla (Sophia Loren) whom Aurilius had sent to Armenia to marry it’s Prince. Commodus’ mind gets crazier and crazier resulting in complete chaos and the beginning of the end for Rome.

The film is structured in two halves. The first half, set in the glorious mountains of Northern Spain, is a breezy 90mins which set up the character, conflict and action of the second. It’s also the most engrossing thanks to Alec Guinness’ wonderful performance as Emperor Aurilius. His conflict is internal as he’s forced to put the needs of the State ahead of his family. Aurilius must sacrifice his family bond in order to set an example for how Rome should be run when he passes on.

The second half of the film moves to Rome. A full scale replica of the Roman Forum was built in Madrid. It was so massive and detailed it became a tourist attraction after the filming. For the final chaotic jubilee scene, director Mann assembled thousands of extras to fill the set. The elative jubilation of the drunken crowd plays against the emotional trauma of Commodus’s witch-hunt. It's a startling scene of organized chaos.

While Plummer plays a great crazed baddie, Stephen Boyd can't carry the hero-torch passed down from Alec Guinness. His handsome matinee-idol good looks doesn't keep with the acting talents of his co-stars. And even with the three hour running time some of many plotlines are inadequately fleshed out. Specifically Anthony Quayle’s character Verulus who is Commodus’ gladiator commander. Though he appears in a couple scenes training with Commodus, nothing sets up the shocking twist finale. As well Omar Sharif’s Somhamus character, the Armenian prince whom Lucilla is married off to, is never even given a close-up and barely 4 or 5 lines of dialogue.

But it's the grand spectacle that triumphs over character. The production design and cinematography is breathtaking. Since it was shot in 70mm, the image is a sharp and clean, with every detail in the frame discernable. Watch Aurilius’ funeral scene. Shot in a light snow fall, the flakes of white contrast the black uniforms of the soldiers, and black smoke from the lit fires in the background. And off in the distance, hundreds of torches create immaculately textured depth to the frame – a clear influence on Ridley Scott’s version of the film.

“The Fall of the Roman Empire” should certainly not serve as research for your school paper. Historical accuracy took a backseat to spectacle, and Sam Bronston delivered his one of the greatest epic films. The film has never received the respect it deserves. But with Hollywood history behind us, it’s time to put the film into the upper echelon of grand epics. Enjoy.

"The Fall of the Roman Empire" is available on 3-Disc Special Edition DVD from the Weinstein Company in the U.S. and Alliance Films in Canada.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


All Hat (2007) dir. Leonard Farlinger
Starring: Luke Kirby, Lisa Ray, Keith Carradine, Rachael Leigh Cook

* 1/2

"All Hat" is the newest film from Canadian director/producer Leonard Farlinger ("The Perfect Son"). Farlinger brings to the screen for the first time a story from author Brad Smith ("One-Eyed Jacks"). The film unfortunately is a dismal coming out party for Smith's material. Farlinger strips away all the salacious elements of its genre (part neo-Noir, neo-Western) as he seems to try really hard not to entertain the audience. "All Hat" is on-the-fence introspective filmmaking with barely a whimper of an emotional beat.

"All Hat" begin introducing it's 'hero' - Ray Dokes (Luke Kirby) - who's recently been released from prison for assault. He travels back home to his rural Ontario home, where he reconnects with his old pals. There's Pete (Keith Carradine) playing a been-there-done-that horse rancher, Etta (Lisa Ray) his ex-girlfriend who plays hard-to-get , Chrissy (Rachael Leigh Cook), a jockey who plays easy-to-get and Sonny Stanton (Noam Jenkins) his old nemesis and the man responsible for putting him in prison.

Ray discovers many of the farms lands are being bought up for development by Sonny to be made into golf courses and such. There's also a milieu of horse-racing (for Ontario-folk Woodbine Raceway features prominently) and Pete's prized horse which is stolen by one of Ray's slimy friends. There's very little overt conflict, and so the whole point of the film seems to be for Ray to 'find himself.'

Farlinger assembled a fine cast. The great character actor Stephen McHattie ("A History of Violence") is introduced early as a bigwig, but he quickly disappears from the film. We're left with Noam Jenkins as the antagonist. There's no comparing McHattie to Jenkins. In the opening moments I had to giggle at the sight of Lisa Ray, one of the hottest women on the planet wearing red flannel and bailing hay on a farm. Rachael Leigh Cook is a welcomed face in a Canadian film, she's played against type, as a firecracker jockey who doesn't mind sleeping around (sorry, not much skin shown here). Keith Carradine's ("The Long Riders") presence adds some authenticity to the genre, but in the end, it's just a paycheque for him too. Luke Kirby plays Ray as an inactive, ineffectual hero. He cruises the rural roads in his pickup with a furrowed brow reeking of that cynical Canadian depression that used to permeate Canadian film.

The film plays every character and plothread in the middle-of-the-road, presumably for the sake of character. It couldn't be more uncinematic. Dull conversations are played out in quiet rooms, or quiet farms, or quiet race tracks. It’s a flatline for 90mins with barely a blip of tension, or any emotional highs or lows.

There’s a glaringly lack of threat in the film. Like 90mins of an opening scene that establishes the environment, but never establishes the goals or amps up the stakes to put our hero through the emotional ringer. The film sails along with the pacing a horse’s trot to the tone of a CBC Sunday Night movie. ie. “Wind at My Back” with prettier faces.

Despite the marketing of the film, "All Hat" is no Western. The Western is a genre filled with anti-heroes, wild expansive lands filled with violence, lawless societies organized around personal codes of ethics, and grand themes of honour, sacrifice, and chivalry. At best "All Hat" is a 90mimns Old Spice commercial.

Monday, 26 May 2008


The hardware has been handed out and here's the winners:

Palme D'Or - THE CLASS dir. Laurent Cante
Grand Prix - GOMORRA dir. Matteo Garrone
Jury Prize - IL DIVO dir. Giulio Andreotti
Best Director - Nuri Bilge Ceylan for THREE MONKEYS
Best Actor - Benecio Del Toro in CHE
Best Actress - Sandra Corveloni in LINHA DE PASSE
Best Screenplay - Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne for LORNA'S SILENCE
Special Jury Prize - Catherine Deneuve for her body of work
Special Jury Prize - Clint Eastwood for THE CHANGLING

Please read PART 1 of my report which covers the films from the first 6 days of the festival.

TWO LOVERS dir. James Gray

James Gray who took 7 years from “The Yards” to last year’s Cannes entry “We Own the Night”, is back one year later with “Two Lovers”. Gray has moved away from the crime genre, and crafted a touching relationship film about man who is love with two women – a good girl (Vinessa Shaw) and a bad girl (Gwyneth Paltrow). Anne Thompson of Variety calls it “a gem”. Variety’s Todd McCarthy calls it “An involving, ultimately touching romantic drama.” Though Allan Hunter of Screen Daily says, “it is well-crafted and ably acted but never especially moving and winds up feeling like something from the classier end of the American TV movie spectrum.” The old-fashioned nature of the film seems to be polarizing some people.

CHANGLING dir. Clint Eastwood
Special Jury Prize

Clint just can’t seem to do wrong, and he makes it look so easy. Clint’s new film is a 1920’s period film starring Angelina Jolie as a loner who fights against corruption amongst police and the courts. More praise from Todd McCarthy, who writes, “Changeling impressively continues Clint Eastwood's great run of ambitious late-career pictures.” Time’s Richard Corliss writes, “the movie is a companion piece to last year's Cannes entry A Mighty Heart, in which Jolie played the wife of kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl - except that Changeling is far more taut, twisty and compelling.” Comparisons are already been made with “Million Dollar Baby” – good and bad – UK Guardian’s Xan Brooks writes, “It's a solid, confident, old-school studio picture that packs a few big emotional wallops, but it is also ponderous and self-important, with a surfeit of lead in its boots.”

DELTA dir. Kornel Mundruczo

Delta is an unabashed European art film from Hungarian director Mundruczo. A story of a man who returns home to the delta region he grew up in, where he will find romantic love with the sister he never knew. NY Times’ AO Scott finds it, “slow, difficult, formally austere,” but “a welcome antidote to the fast-moving, accessible movies that thrive in the sphere of commercial cinema.” Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa writes “staggeringly beautiful from an aesthetic perspective, the film manages to captivate viewers despite its minimalist plot and dialogues.”


"The Headless Woman" tells an intriguing story of a woman who thinks she ran something over on the highway. The event haunts her until she travels back to the site only to find a dead dog. The relief only last so long until a new gruesome discovery is revealed. The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr writes it “a minor but effective ‘Blow Up’”. Peter Bruenette of the Hollywood reporter comments on Ms. Martel’s direction, “she isa master of visual and aural technique, which is on full and splendid display.” Lee Marshall of Screen Daily isn’t impressed: “a dour tale of moral and social paralysis.”

CHE dir. Steven Soderbergh
Best Actor - Benecio Del Toro

Perhaps the most anticipated premiere was Steven Soderbergh’s 4 ½ opus on Che Guevera. The film is divided in two parts “The Guerilla” and “The Argentine” but at Cannes was screened as one entire film. Whatever people thought of watching a 4+ hour film, James Rocchi of Cinematical says , “what a rare pleasure it is to have a film (or films) that, in our box-office obsessed, event-movie, Oscar-craving age, is actually worth talking about on so many levels.” AO Scott (NY Times) is mostly ambivalent, “Che” itself is interesting, partly because it has the power to provoke some serious argument — about its own tactics and methods, as well as those of its subject.” Variety’s Todd McCarthy writes, “Unfortunately, Che doesn't feel epic - just long.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw praises Benecio Del Toro’s performance, buts call the film, “a flawed masterpiece.”

ADORATION dir. Atom Egoyan
Winner of the Ecumenical Jury prize

Cannes’s Canadian regular, Atom Egoyan, was back with his 8th Cannes premiere. “Adoration” is a more intimate film than “Where The Truth Lies”, centering on a boy who reinvents himself as another person on the internet. Kim Voynar of Cinematical found the film “a beautifully evocative film, though some may find its convoluted storyline distracting.” Variety’s Justin Chang finds it “a very Egoyanesque miasma of elegantly fractured chronology and provocative ideas, this ambitious think-piece ultimately smothers its good intentions in didactic revelations.”


“Frontier of Dawn” is a familiar but peculiar love story about a married movie star who strikes up a passionate affair with a photographer who has been assigned to shoot her. Lisa Nesselson of Screen Daily finds it an “earnest, inherently divisive effort, lusciously photographed in black and white, is one of the weaker recent entries in Philippe Garrel's four decade career of bravely iconoclastic art films." Leslie Felperin (Variety) calls it "a risible slice of pretentious hokum.”

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK dir. Charlie Kaufman

It’s Charlie Kaufman’s first visit to Cannes, and I’m curious how the world press would react to his quirky sensibilities. This latest Kaufman adventure puts the audience in the mind of a theatre director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose personal life is in shambles, and who has a mysterious medical condition which finds his body’s automatic functions systematically shutting down. Wendy Idle at Times Online UK finds it ‘staggering’, though “a defiantly uncommercial movie - it's infuriatingly enigmatic, philosophical.” Todd McCarthy finds it “Unusual for a first film, the strangely titled opus feels more like a summation work, such as 8½ or especially All That Jazz. “Kaufman could use a Spike Jonze (less so a Michel Gondry) to rein in his indulgences, but this is a funny, self-lacerating film," blogs Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago.

IL DIVO dir. Paolo Sorrentino
Jury Prize

Il Divo is satirical biopic about Italian post-war politician Giulio Andreotti. Screen Daily’s Lee Marshall likes “Paolo Sorrentino's enjoyably original, lurid, sardonic political opera.” Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere writes, “I knew I was seeing something intensely audacious and stylistically exciting, but the political arena it depicts is so dry and complex and wholly-unto-itself that gradually the film makes you feel as if you're lying in an isolation tank."

MY MAGIC dir. By Eric Khoo

"My Magic" is another film about a man whose wife leaves him and finds solace in his work. This time protagonist Francis becomes a magician to reconnect with his son. The film received a 15min standing ovation after its premiere. Dan Fairnaru of Screen Daily called Eric Khoo an ‘acquired taste’ and in My Magic, “Khoo's usual minimalism here is pared down to a level where the direction almost appears non-existent.” There’s very little coverage of this film, which is the first film from Singapore accepted into competition, but more importantly was shot on a shoestring budget. Good on them.

ENTRE LES MURS (THE CLASS) dir. By Laurent Cantet
Palme D'Or

Laurent Cantet’s film takes us into the classroom of an unconventional teacher in a tough suburban Parisian high school. Timeout’s Geoff Andrew loves the film, “Everything rings absolutely true in this film, and everything is utterly engrossing from start to finish.” Justin Change of Variety finds it one of the most entertaining films at the festival this year, “the film exhilarates with its lively, authentic classroom banter while its emotional undercurrents build steadily but almost imperceptibly over a swift 129 minutes.”


Cannes favourite Wim Wenders closes off the competition slate with a story of a photographer who travels from Düsseldorf to Sicily and comes face to face with death as played by Dennis Hopper. James Rocchi at Cinematical says “it’s hardly the worst film I've ever seen at Cannes” but, “it's still a little sad to see a major filmmaker make such a series of major mistakes in the name of a fairly minor film.” Jonathan Romney at Screen Daily says, “the Palermo Shooting is a glossy travelogue-thriller with metaphysical pretentions, and one of the low points of this year's Cannes Competition.”

Sunday, 25 May 2008


National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) dir. Jon Turtletaub
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jon Voight, Ed Harris, Diane Kruger


Jerry Bruckheimer is sitting on a cash cow, perhaps more valuable than the ‘Pirates” franchise. Though the National Treasure films aren’t in the $300m range in box office, the series doesn’t rely on its stars to continue the franchise. Nicholas Cage, who stars, isn’t getting the choice offers that Johnny Depp gets, therefore the threat of Cage leaving the series for more fruitful ventures likely won’t happen. And even if Cage leaves contriving a suitable replacement wouldn't be that hard, and likely wouldn’t affect the box office. Therefore as long as there's national history to scour this series could go on forever.

In Part 2 “Book of Secrets”, our hero Ben Gates (Nick Cage) and his father Patrick Gates recently discover a lost page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth naming an ancestor of theirs as a co-conspirator of the assassination of President Lincoln. But the elder Gates (Jon Voight) has memories of his great grandfather telling him a story of his association with Booth without reference to the assassination. This leads the duo to theorize that the lost page of the diary is actually a treasure map to a lost city of gold which Gates’ ancestor was actually hiding from the conspirators.

So with family pride on the line, the Gates’, their nerdy associate Riley Poole and Ben’s ex-girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) embark on another cross-country adventure. As with the first film the trail of breadcrumbs are a series puzzles which takes them to different landmarks (this time from Paris, to London, to Washington and to Mount Rushmore) in search of the national treasure. The title ‘Book of Secrets’ refers to a diary passed down from President to President containing all the conspiracy secrets we all desire to know. And the key to unlocking the mystery lies in this elusive book.

“National Treasure” is a strange success. Like the first film, “Book of Secrets” is basically a series of puzzles and riddles conveniently leading our heroes from one famous landmark to another in search of treasure. The characters, with a straight face, even use the dumbed-down words, ‘treasure’ and ‘clues’ to describe their activities. It’s a highly fragile hook for the series, but when window-dressed with Bruckheimer’s muscular production value our senses are somehow dulled to the ridiculousness of it all.

What’s fascinating is that the riddles are so rudimentary – as complicated as something on the back of a cereal box – and situations so contrived that audiences continually look past this and dish out their hard earned money. It’s the talent of Jerry Bruckheimer - producer and creative force behind all his films – who has clearly tapped into a fundamental urge of children and adults. It all goes back to the cereal box. I think I can speak for most adults with any connection to their childhood, that no matter what kind of prize is hidden in one’s Golden Grahams or Honey Nut Cheerios, there’s a sense of discovery in finding the hidden toy in the cereal. Some people look for the toy as soon as they open the box, some people wait for the toy to drop in their bowl, either way it's an accomplishment.

The same goes with “National Treasure”. No matter how silly things get (REALLY silly in fact), there’s something innately exciting watching Nicholas Cage and Jon Voight traverse those national monuments we're all familiar with and discovering trapdoors, hidden clues, cryptograms and other coded secrets of history in the most unlikely of places. But it's no more ridiculous than "The Da Vinci Code", which is blossoming into another cine-franchise.

Though the series piggybacks on the ”Indiana Jones” mold of storytelling, thanks to the Bruckheimer production machine, the series never feels like a pale comparison of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – unlike say, “The Mummy” films.

There may come a time when Bruckheimer’s gold mine franchise exhausts all the monuments or turning points in American history, at which point the series will come to an end. But this is likely well down the road in the multitude of sequels we’re likely to see. And if it’s a decent paycheck for Mr. Cage and company, the familiar faces will keep returning as well. Enjoy.

Saturday, 24 May 2008


The Edge of Heaven (2008) dir. Fatih Akin
Starring: Baki Davrak, Nurgul Yesilcay, Tuncel Kurtiz, Patrycia Ziolkowska


“The Edge of Heaven” is a mesmerizing tale about a series of characters from Germany and Turkey who meet and interconnect and discover the healing power of forgiveness and empathy. No logline will do the film justice. It’s a brilliant film.

The film opens in Turkey where a man walks into a gas station to buy some fuel. The scene lasts only a few minutes before cutting away to a completely unrelated scene in Germany. We learn the man buying gas in Turkey is Nejat Asku (Baki Davrak), a Turk living in Germany working as a university professor. His father is Ali Asku (Tuncel Kurtiz), who lives out his golden years cruising the Bremen brothels for ‘ladies of easy virtue’. His favourite is a fellow Turk, Yeter (Nursel Koese). Ali is so smitten with Yeter he employs her to be his personal whore to live with him and playact as his wife. Yeter accepts. Nejat is surprisingly understanding of Yeter and Ali’s relationship, and in fact they hit it off very well. Nejat learns that Yeter has a daughter, currently living in Turkey whom she yearns to see again. But before she has a chance to do so, Ali, in a violent rage, accidentally kills Yeter. Nejat is so heartbroken he decides to move to Turkey to find Yeter’s long lost daughter.

The film moves and sways following each character’s point of view over the timeline of the film. Like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Babel”, or “Amores Perros”, the characters that we are introduced to and get to know intersect with other – sometimes on purpose, sometimes coincidentally - but all in service of the overlying theme of forgiveness. Writer/Director Fatih Akin channels the themes and characters of Kieslowski’s accomplished oeuvre. The religious themes remind me Kieslowski’s “Decalogue”, and his plot structure and characters remind me of “Red, White and Blue.”

Though the plotting is clever it never overwhelms our identification with the characters. It was a joy to see new lead characters introduced later the film. Just when we were enjoying the engrossing lives of Ali and Nejat we are introduced an equally compelling duo – Ayten (Yeter’s daughter) and Lotte. Their relationship is special and also provides us with one of the most sensual on-screen kisses I’ve ever seen. Towards the end we see that same scene in the gas station again, except, knowing the emotional weight of the characters at this point in their lives, the scene takes on a whole new meaning. It’s a great moment.

The tone of the film also reminds me of 2006's Foreign Language Oscar-winner, “The Lives of Others”, though I do miss the final knot-tying wrap-up that film gave us. I felt “The Edge of Heaven” was missing one more scene before the final credits to give me full closure. An American filmmaker would have given us that last scene, but Akin is European, so what can I expect? I won’t hold it against him. It's a near ‘masterpiece’. Enjoy.

Friday, 23 May 2008


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Shia LeBeauf, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone


This latest adventure in the Jones saga will inevitably divide camps. After all, it's a 27 year old franchise and things can never be the same as it was. But since each episode of the series is a standalone adventure with only a few connections between them, "Crystal Skull" is automatically relieved of the pressure of, say, the Star Wars prequels to really f* things up. "Crystal Skull" doesn't quite have the same magic as the other films, but it's still a respectable entry in the series and a highly entertaining film.

As usual the film begins with a bang. It's 1957, and we're following an Army convoy in the Nevada desert. The Army has kidnapped Indiana Jones and his sidekick George "Mac" McHale (Ray Winstone). Cate Blanchett, hamming up a great Russian accent (Ukrainian actually), leads the Commies in a search for a piece of military treasure hidden away in a very familiar warehouse. An elaborate chase ensues ending with perhaps the most audacious escape from danger Indy's ever faced - a refridgerator never seemed so helpful.

After Indy escapes and travels back home safely to Princeton he's met by a bold youngster named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeauf doing a great biker-rebel impression) who has been sent by Indy's old archeologist friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt) to find and bring back a mysterious Crystal Skull to its rightful home in the Mayan jungle. Indy meets up with his old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) along the way and the foursome travel the globe, discover ancient worlds with supernatural powers while fighting off those nasty Commies.

There's a lot of plot in "Crystal Skull" and too much to tell in a review. But the less you know the better, because the biggest strength of this film is it's unfolding story and clever reveals of information. Spielberg and company are wise to tell the story 25 years after the 1930's adventures we're used to. Writer David Koepp also cleverly writes in the Communist scare and the atomic age into the film, and finds new enemies to replace those evil Nazis.

Koepp smartly put some quality time into fleshing out Indy's activities between now and then. Let's face it, a 65 year old action hero is not very exciting, but they do the best they can. We never got to see Indy during the war, but we learn that Jones used his worldly skills and knowledge to become a highly decorated spy for the US Government. He's not even called Indiana anymore. He's back to Henry Jones Jr. and instead of traversing the globe in search of treasure he's living comfortably teaching at Princeton.

There are plenty of elaborately choreographed actions scenes, some of which triumph, and some are just watchable. The action sores to great heights in the first half, and arguably have decreasing returns as the film moves along. The highlight is the cool motorcycle chase through the Princeton campus, and ending with a great comic punchline in the library. The lowlight is a not-so-well shot swordfight between LeBeauf and Blanchett atop two moving jeeps which segues into a CG-heavy Tarzan-style vine-swingning sequence.

On the downside is the overall dillution of the suspense, jeopardy and campy gore of the original three. It's family friendly fare for most of the film. No hearts are ripped from people's chests, and no melting faces. The climax may even turn a lot of people off, as it doesn't have the emotional resonance of "The Last Crusade", or the spine-tingling fear of "Raiders".

The fears of Spielberg and Lucas trying too hard to recreate the magic and failing miserably are adequately allayed. It's a grounded film that stands on its own and never falls into pathetic self-parody. "Crystal Skull" successfully blazes its own trail in terms of style, structure, tone and character. Unless you're really cynical, it's guaranteed to entertain. Enjoy.

Thursday, 22 May 2008


Speed Racer (2008) dir. The Wachowski Bros.
Starring: Emil Hirsch, John Goodman, Matthew Fox, Susan Sarandon


I went into “Speed Racer” with an extremely open mind. Sure the trailer sucked, and sure the box office was way below expectations, but considering the filmmaking team, those odd-birds, “The Wachowski Bros”, there would be some redeeming quality or something new and exciting we haven’t seen before. Unfortunately it’s as big a conceptual misfire as the box office and critical collective have proclaimed it and a dismal disappointing film to watch, even with low expectations.

Granted the film starts out with a neat sequence, the main character Speed (Emil Hirsch) mentally preparing for his big race – the one in which his big brother idol still holds the race record. During the preparations, the film goes through an elaborate flashback to Speed as a child and what brought him to this specific time and place. We learn of his superstar older brother Rex (Scott Porter) who became a racing legend, before quitting the grand prix circuit to ride in a dangerous cross-country rally circuit. But at the height of his career Rex died tragically in the championship rally race and Speed is about to fulfill the racing promise his brother never could.

After the race Speed is courted by a slimy corporate slickster Royalton (Roger Allam) who promises to make Speed a star if he joins his team. Speed’s father (John Goodman) and longtime mechanic who loathes the corporate attitude is against the proposal. Speed soon finds out it’s no-win proposal when Royalton reveals to Speed that the Grand Prix is actually a contrived set-up with the winners already determined. Speed therefore goes off on his own, competes in the same Rally as his brother, and eventually makes it back onto the Grand Prix circuit where he hopes to break its dubious legacy.

The Wachowskis have great intentions to move past the uber-seriousness of "The Matrix Trilogy," "V For Vendetta", and even “Bound” and make a light kids film. The plain truth is the talented brotherly duo have their strengths, but humour is not one of them. Every gag becomes a painful attempt at humiliating slapstick and silliness - humilating for both the actors and the directors. The Wachowskis even have their Jar Jar Binks in the character of Chim Chim the family Chimp. The chimp is best pals with Speed’s younger annoying brother Spritle (Paulie Litt). Spritle and Chim Chim are the comic relief as the Bros give their characters a lengthy subplot of comic hijinx. It's all really really painful.

Stylistically the film is all about colour. The races are neon-porn to the maximum. Their innovative colour laying technique is indeed thrilling to watch in spurts, but its a constant bombardment that we eventually take for granted. They also throw out all semblance of real world physics from the races. These scenes become a mushy mélange of colour, light and swishing movements with no discernable geography or orientation. The cars move fast, really fast, but the spin and turn and jump at will and when they eventually crash and burn, it’s seems a matter of convenience to progress the story.

The Wachowskis impressively craft a series of elaborate overlapping transitions. Even ordinary two-character conversations are dissolved and overlapped like an I-Pod commercial. Like a kid with a new toy, the technique gets old fast because they use it over and over again. Note: Francis Coppola has been doing this for years, and always organically (see “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” or “One From the Heart”). And when the characters’ heads are n't floating around and wiping through the edits, to keep things edgy and cool, the Wachowski’s thrown in the ubiquitous profile close-up.

“Speed Racer” is a beat down of the senses aurally and visually and a complete misfire starting with the concept. The Wachowskis have never had an ear for comedy, in fact, I can’t remember a single comic scene in any of their other films, and so “Speed Racer” is akin to “Woody Allen” directing “The Dark Knight”. Woody would never go there, and neither should The Wachowskis – ever again.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


Square Pegs (TV) (1983) Created by Anne Beatts
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Linker, Tracy Nelson, Jami Gertz, Merritt Butrick


With the release of “Sex and the City” Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has finally released the short-lived cultish TV series which jumpstarted Sarah Jessica Parker’s career. “Square Pegs” lasted only one season (19 episodes) and has rarely been seen until now. I’ve never seen re-runs anywhere, and I’ve never seen the series available for retail sale either. 

Though it only lasted a season, the series somehow stuck in my memory from when I watched it last – 25 years ago. The opening voiceover and theme-song is just as I remembered. We hear Parker and Linker’s characters (Patty Greene and Lauren Hutchinson) discussing their plan to befriend the cool cliques in school and become ‘popular’. And theme song by "The Waitresses" which follows is a catchy Clash-like punk tune.

The series doesn’t quite represent the opening monologue of the show. After a couple of episodes Patty and Lauren seem to be on good terms with the popular crowd, which essentially is two girls - Jennifer Di Nuccio (Tracy Nelson), and her best friend La Donna (Claudette Wells). Patty and Lauren’s two guy friends are Marshall Blechtman (John Femia) and Johnny Slash (Merritt Butrick). Marshall and Johnny are like George and Lenny from “Of Mice and Men”. Marshall the short fast-talking wise-guy and Johnny is the tall odd-ball goof. Jami Gertz rounds out the leads playing Muffy Tepperman the aggressive social academic-type (ie. Tracy Flick in “Election”).

The series plays off the usual high school clique/segregation we see in the high genre today. There’s less overt and mean conflictual behaviour though among the groups. Although Jennifer Di Nuccio walks around the school with snobby entitlement, she’s alone at the top of her food chain, and so there’s never the group bullying we see in today’s high school environments. Don't let anyone convince you "Square Pegs" compares to John Hughes' films at all. If there is an influence between the the two, John Hughes took the genre and created something far more superior, long-lasting and relevent.

Though the character, situations and humour may not translate well in the new millenium, “Square Pegs” does feels as if it’s on the edge of being a great and innovative show. Several steadfast network television rules were broken by the series. “Square Pegs” is a sitcom yet it’s freed from the limiting confines of the traditional studio setting. Weemawee High School feels like a real place, unlike, say, the dorm room of “The Facts of Life”. The laugh track is still present but it’s a lowered volume, and it seems like if the producers had it their way, would probably have wanted it removed totally. The series takes place in the prime of the early 80’s, yet it seems to reflect nostalgically on those times instead of being dated by them - it plays like a show about the 80's' as opposed to a show taking place 'in the 80's'. As a result the series feels more like “Freaks and Geeks” which was a nostalgic look on high school in the 70’s.

It’s fun to look at the ridiculous outfits worn by the characters. Ironically some of those styles have come back in fashion (skinny jeans, and screen-printed Ts) and some have not. Johnny Slash (minus the black shades and omnipresent ear phones) still looks mildly hip today, yet Jennifer Di Nuccio looks like a member a fundamentalist cult. In fact, all the girls on the show wear the most frumpy, unisexual clothing imaginable - something which hasn't be brought back in style. And the language spoken by the characters helped popularize the ‘Valley-girl’ speak – ‘gag me with a spoon’, ‘like whatever’, and ‘totally lame’ became household terms. 

The show's creator Anne Beatts was one of the writers during the famed first 5 years of SNL (1975-1980). Unfortunately there’s surprisingly little of the biting and edgy humour we saw late night in this little show. There’s plenty of horrendous acting and lightly written and forgettable comic situations, but the perky aura of Sarah Jessica Parker is still present even 25 years ago. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


We’re about half way through this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Even though I can't afford the ticket to Cannes myself, I feel as connected as ever through Skype's video calling association with the American Pavilion. Cannes has never been more accessible.

There hasn’t been any resounding or unanimous Palme D’Or buzz yet. Of course some of the higher profile entries such as Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” or Clint Eastwood’s “The Changling” hasn’t screened yet.

Here's a recap of the critical response to the first half of films screened:

BLINDNESS dir. Fernando Meirelles

Unfortunately “Blindness” didn’t receive the resounding unanimous acclaim that “The Constant Gardner” or “City of God” got. It’s a bold venture, filming the once thought unfilmable book by Jose Saramago about a future epidemic that blinds the entire population of the world, but Meirelles has higher expectations than most filmmakers. Cinematical’s James Rocchi sums up the film, as “a clear case of a film, and filmmaker, failing to hit the mark occasionally only because they've set the bar so high for themselves. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, is more curt, referring to it as a “bad movie” in the tradition of bad Cannes opening films. Variety's Justin Chang finds it "an intermittently harrowing but diluted take on José Saramago's shattering novel. Rocchi also likens it to “a curious mix of highbrow literary aspirations and lowbrow genre fiction.” Blindness doesn’t appear to be a favourite for the weekend’s awards ceremony, but it’s still a highly anticipated fall/winter North American and international release.

LEONERA dir. Pablo Trapero

Argentine Pablo’s Trapero’s ‘women in prison’ film is causing a stir. “Leonera” is no exploitation film though. When a woman wakes up next to the dead body of her husband, she’s convicted and sent to prison. The twist is that she’s pregnant and locked up in a special ward with other new mothers. The prison doesn’t turn out to be camp cupcake though as we get to see the gritty horrors of a different kind of Third World jail. Deborah Young’s (Hollywood Reporter) bottom line reads, “powerful, emotional filmmaking and acting give a lift to the familiar women-in-prison film” and “… a blend of police procedural, documentary realism and engrossing drama.” The Guardian’s Xan Brooks is less enthusiastic, saying, “It wasn't bad: steroided social-realism with much rattling of bars, tooth-and-claw survival techniques and cat-fights aplenty.”


After the success of “Persepolis” Cannesunveils another edgy political animated film from the Middle East. Ari Folman’s “Waltz With Bashir” is an Israeli film about a 1982 slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Lebanon. It’s a harrowing unconventional documentary told in “Waking Life”-style rotoscoped animation. Leslie Felperin at Variety says, “Although less immediately accessible than “Persepolis,” another mature-aud-skewed cartoon with which this is bound to be compared, “Bashir” could dance nimbly round arthouse niches offshore.” Dan Fainaru from Screen Daily, says, “it could easily turn out to be one of the most powerful statements of this Cannes.”

UN CONTE DE NOËL (A CHRISTMAS TALE) dir. Arnaud Desplechin

Arnaud Desplechin’s latest is a darkly comic film about a dysfunctional family reuniting years after the tragic death of their 4 year old child. Though it’s difficult to find humour in such seemingly depressing material, Kim Voynar of Cinematical says “Desplechin keeps the tone light, infusing the drama with humor in the most unexpected places.” Derek Elley of Variety is less enthused, saying, “Performances and direction, rather than the yards of inconclusive dialogue, are what keep Arnaud Desplechin’s ‘A Christmas Tale’ from curdling in its own juices.” But Andrew O’Hehir of Salon calls it “a marvelously rich visual, intellectual and emotional experience, one that I expect will grow deeper with repeat viewings.”

ÜÇ MAYMUN (THREE MONKEYS) dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Winner of Best Director

“Three Monkeys” is creating some major buzz after the first weekend. This Turkish film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Uzak” and “Climate”) sounds like one of those trainwreck dramas about ordinary people caught making bad decisions under extreme duress. The film starts when a politician commits a hit and run. He makes a deal with his longtime driver to take the fall for the crime in exchange for a lot of money plus paying his salary to his wife and child while in prison. This bad decision leads to a downward spiral of consequential actions. “Three Monkeys” reminded Jeffrey Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) of last year’s Palm D’Or winner “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.” Wells isn’t sure it’s a masterpiece, but was clear saw “an exceptional, very powerful, high-end thing.” Wells says, in terms of a potential award winner, “Moral fortitude, razor-sharp vision and stylistic sure-footedness of this calibre are impossible to ignore.” Jonathan Romney of Screen Daily says “standard pulp-thriller tropes are tantalisingly spun out for the first hour, but the slyness of the narrative approach only becomes fully apparent after that.”

LINHA DE PASSE dir. Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas
Winner of Best Actress - Sandra Corveloni

With “Linha de Passe” Walter Salles (and his co-director Daniela Thomas) return to a familiar urban Brazilian story which continues their earlier saga “Foreign Land” 12 years ago. “Passe” takes place in the overpopulated outskirts of Sao Paulo, and depicts in neo-realist style, a summer in the life of a pregnant mother and her three kids. Child actor Kaique de Jesus Santos has apparently put in a remarkable performance. Deborah Young of the Hollywood Reporter says, it won’t get the broad audience of “The Motorcycle Diaries”, but “it has a great deal of strength and sincerity going for it, which should attract the kind of audiences who admired the sociological line of Salles' "Central Station.” Todd McCarthy (Variety) concurs and says Salles/Thomas’ “engrossing if not gripping effort possesses the quality and seriousness to make limited inroads on the international art circuit.” Some are on the fence though, like Anthony Kaufman (IndieWire), calling it “an accomplished, though unremarkable competition film that never rises above its familiar tale of a poverty-stricken family.”

ER SHI SI CHENG JI (24 CITY) dir. Zhangke Jia

“24 City” is a documentary/drama hybrid which tells the story of a dying Chinese aeronautics factory and how it’s demise changes the fortunes of its workers. It’s an unconventional doc and drama. Maggie Lee says ”through talking heads and wordless images exclusively, the documentary strain prevails to simple, yet emotionally reverberating effect. IndieWire’s Anthony Kaufman concurs saying, “Jia's masterful aesthetic remains consistent, mixing documentary and fiction with intriguing results.” With the recent tragic earthquakes in China Jia’s film seems to provide tragic timeliness and should put the film into a greater historical context.”

GOMORRA dir. Matteo Garrone
Winner of the Grand Prix

Garrone’s new film “Gomorra” is a film about Italian organized crime that, according to Natasha Senjanovic of the Hollywood Reporter, “goes beyond Tarantino's gratuitous violence and even Scorsese's Hollywood sensibility in depicting the everyday reality of organized crime's foot soldiers.” The film centres around five stories within the Neopolitan mafia organization. Lee Marshall at Green Cine writes, “it’s probably the most authentic and unsentimental mafia movie ever to come out of Italy… a courageous, bruising and harrowing ride.” Andrew O’Hehir (Salon) offers more praise, “a dynamite reinvention of the Italian Mafioso movie as both a multileveled social melodrama and an Antonioni-style nihilistic contemplation.” With the genre elements familiar to North American audiences watch for this film to make a late-Oscar season splash.

SERBIS dir. Brillante Mendoza

One of the films generating a lot of talk is this Filipino film about a family living in a porn movie theatre. “Serbis” looks a bit edgier than “Cinema Paradiso” though, Jay Weissberg of Variety writes, “Explicit fellatio, blocked toilets and a crudely exploded ass-cheek boil form some of the more unsavory elements of “Serbis,” Brillante Mendoza’s latest opus that revels in shock value.” Kim Voynar of Cinematical walked out of the theatre calling the film “gratuitous yuckiness”.

Winner of Best Screenplay - Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

Les Bros Dardennes (two-time Palm D’Or winners) are back with another film about the urban Belgian underclass. This time we observe a story about an arranged marriage of an illegal immigrant from Albania to a drug addict in order to obtain Belgian citizenship. It’s hit and miss for Mike Goodridge of Screen Daily, “’Lorna’s Silence’ starts as rivetingly as any of their films and then, an hour in, spins into an unexpected and unsatisfying direction.” Justin Chang doesn’t mind the change of pace, saying, “Dardenne brothers make some slight adjustments to their formula but maintain their unblinking commitment to human nature and the possibility of grace in lowly circumstances…” Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere hated it, saying, “I felt strongly irked by the Dardenne brothers' screenplay. Which means, despite the feeling and focus that went into it, that I didn't care for the film. At all.”

Watch for Part II this time next week...

Monday, 19 May 2008


In celebration of the big screen return of Indiana Jones, using a vote from Fanboys and Fangirls Daily Film Dose has compiled a list of 20 favourite moments from the trilogy. These moments define the charisma, style, humour and awesomeness that has made the Indy Jones character and Spielberg and Lucas’ brainchild one of the most endearing action franchises in cinema history.

What’s clear is that the series is made so enjoyable because of it’s counterpoint of action with humour. Spielberg is a master of mixing scenes of incredibly tense action with well-timed comic punchlines. You’ll see this list captures not necessarily whole scenes but very specific moments, actions, or lines of dialogue.

1. Indy’s Gun vs. The Sword
Raiders of the Lost Ark

The unanimous defining moment in the Indy series is the famous scene during Indy’s frantic search to find Marion in the streets of Cairo. When he happens upon a terrifying foot soldier with impressive sword-brandishing swordsmanship, Indy rolls his eyes, pulls out his gun and shoots him down easily causing mass elation from the crowd. It’s a moment that defines the self-deprecating wit of the character and the irony of the series as a whole. Years later it was revealed that this moment was one of those ‘happy accidents’ on set. With Harrison Ford suffering badly from the flu, an elaborate fight sequence on the day was cancelled in favour of the quicker and more succinct solution of the single gunshot. The rest is history.

2. The Boulder
Raiders of the Lost Ark

The heightened comic book quality action of the series was established in the fantastic opening sequence of “Raiders”. After Jones negotiates his way through the boobies traps and poisoned darts in the cave and steals the golden Idol, he inadvertently sets off a self-destruction device in the cave. Indy desperately runs back dodging more traps. But he stops when he finds his traitor colleague Sapito harpooned through the face with a spear. Indy grabs the idol and trips another trap. He doesn’t know what it is until he hears a rumbling, looks up and sees a massive rock boulder hurdling towards him. Indy of course makes it out of the cave alive. The stunt was filmed with a real-sized boulder. Though it was made of fibreglass, it was still heavy and a dangerous stunt for Mr. Ford.

3. Coat Hanger Reveal
Raiders of the Lost Ark

This classic moment occurs midway through “Raiders” during Marion’s and Belloc’s drinking game courtship. After Marion drinks Belloc under the table, she pulls a knife and is about to walk out of the tent when the intimidating Nazi, Toht, stops her. Toht methodically pulls out a menacing chain device and twists it around, forming some kind of torture device. John Williams’ music helps build up the moment to a wonderfully humourous bit of misdirection when Toht calmly twists the device into an innocent coat hanger for his jacket. It should also be noted this gag was borrowed from a deleted scene from Spielberg's previous film, "1941".

4. Indy Crawling Under the Truck
Raiders of the Lost Ark

One of the greatest action chases in the history of film occurs midway through “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. After Indy chases down the truck carrying the Ark by horse, and after he leaps onto it and fights off half a dozen soldiers, he meets his match with the last remaining Nazi in the truck. After he throws Indy through the window onto the hood of the truck, the only place for Indy to go is underneath using the axels as handles, and his bullwhip to pull him back onto the truck. It’s a thrilling scene featuring some of the finest stunt work ever put to film. It should also be noted that this scene was borrowed from one of Spielberg’s main influences – John Ford’s “Stagecoach” which features a similar stunt, performed by the great stunt man Yakima Canutt.

5. Anything Goes
Temple of Doom

Though it constitutes an entire scene, the list couldn’t be complete without mentioning the amazing opening musical sequence in "Temple of Doom". After the Paramount logo fades into the banging gong we are treated to an inspired Busby Berkeley-esque musical sequence featuring Willy Scott (a stunning Kate Capshaw) singing “Anything Goes” in Mandarin (or is it Cantonese?) It’s filled with the flashy tap dancing, sparkly cinematography and big-screen choreography of the classic MGM musicals. The only other scene comparable in Spielberg’s oeuvre of great scenes is the dance-hall chase scene in “1941”. In the film though, we were teased with the potential of what Mr. Spielberg could do if he made a traditional musical – which, at the time, was not in fashion.

6. Hitler Autograph
The Last Crusade

The Indiana Jones series are filled great moments of comic misdirection. The coat hanger reveal in "Raiders" is a great example, but so is the moment when Indy comes face-to-face with the ultimate villain, himself, Adolf Hitler. In "The Last Crusade" Indiana and his father travel to Berlin to recover the stolen Grail diary. After he has just reclaimed the book Indy finds himself in the middle of a Nazi rally where he bumps into the Fuhrer. Hitler grabs hold of the book and slowly opens it up. Indy's face falls thinking the gig is up, but Hitler non-chalantly takes his pen and signs his autograph on one of the pages. It's a great moment of suspense with a hillarious comic punchline.

7. Chilled Monkey Brains
Temple of Doom

The famous dinner scene at Pankot Palace in "Temple of Doom" is a legendary scene of excessive emotional manipulation. After a long tiring elephant ride through the jungle Indy, Willy and Short Round finally have a chance to relax and enjoy a decent meal. The series of over-the-top-digusting dishes served in front of Willy and Short Round’s shocked faces is completely ridiculous. It’s also culturally irresponsible, which became a central part of the backlash against the film, but 20+ years later, who cares. It’s a hilarious scene. After snake surprise, boiled cockroaches, and eyeball soup the scene is capped off with the delicious chilled monkey brains. Wow! I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like that again from Mr. Spielberg.

8. Indy Fighting Dirty at the Airfield
Raiders of the Lost Ark

One of the most memorable scenes in the series is Indy’s fight with the German strongman in “Raiders”. As Indy looks for an escape via a German plane parked on an airstrip he fights off a lowly pilot. In doing so he attracts the attention of a German bull of a man, who rings his hands at the pleasure of a good ol’ fist fight. It’s clearly a lopsided bare-knuckle match and so Indy does what he can to get an advantage. Indy resorts to the dirtiest fighting in the book – distracting his attention, throwing dirt, kicking the groin, and biting. The shady tactics exemplify the Jones character perfectly - a man with conflicting morals and scruples – a man determined to do anything it takes to win.

9. “So long, Lau Che!”
Temple of Doom

After the rousing fight scene in the Café Obi-Wan to start “Temple of Doom” Indy, Short Round and Willy Scott elude their Chinese pursuers and escape to the airport. Just as Indy is about to enter the plane and take off he sees his opponent drive up at the edge of the runaway, about to accept defeat. Indy impudently mocks his pursuer with the smug line “So long Lao Che”, then slams the airplane door shut, revealing the words “Lao Che” emblazoned on the door. As much as Indy is an escape artist, he also has a knack of getting himself into deeper trouble. And of course, the plane trip is just the beginning of long adventure ride of non-stop terror and jeopardy.

10. Junior?
The Last Crusade

The reveal of Sean Connery who plays Indiana's father was no secret. But Spielberg still has an obligation to introduce his characters and stars with flare. We see the elder Jones twice prior to his big reveal - the back of Jones' head in the flashback opening scene, and once in a photo cutaway in Jones' ransacked home. Sean Connery officially enters the film in dramatic fashion after Indy crashes through the window to rescue him. Jones smashes a Ming vase over Indy's head before he realizes its his son. And Connery's first line is "Junior?" which reveals that Indiana's name isn't actually Indiana, but Henry Jr. The scene gets even funnier when Henry's attention is distracted by the smashed vase. It's a great piece of casting, perhaps the only Hollywood hero who could match the charisma and machoness of Indiana Jones - James Bond.

11. “He No Nuts, He Crazy!” 
Temple of Doom

The big finale of "Temple of Doom" comes after a lengthy escape from the Pankot caves, a fantastical rollercoaster ride through the mines shafts and a narrow escape from a flood of water off a narrow cliff. Somehow Indy gets separated from Willy and Short Round and meets them on a rickety rope bridge over a hundred foot drop to a river of snarling and hungry alligators. Indy finds himself cornered in the middle of the bridge with Willy and Shorty hostage and the evil swordsmen slow approaching. The build up to Indy’s shocking escape is punctuated by Shorty's wonderfully timed line of broken English, “He not nuts, he crazy!”

12. Indy Swims from Steamer to U-Boat
Raiders of the Lost Ark

As a kid, seeing “Raiders” for the first time, my favourite moment, was near the end of the film after we’ve seen Indy elude rolling boulders, getting dragged under moving trucks and fighting off gargantuan German strongmen. Indy should have been dead or at least limping a bit. But when the Nazis take over the Jamaican steamer and kidnap Marion and the Ark into their U-Boat, Indy is left with no other option but to swim from one from to the other. The brilliance of Spielberg makes the moment work. We don’t ever see Indy swimming the route, only the reaction of the steamer crew after he has accomplished the feat. John Williams’ rousing score also helps puncuate the moment.

13. Toht’s Melting Face
Raiders of the Lost Ark

At the end of "Raiders" Spielberg kills off his three villains in the most despicable manner imaginable. After the Nazis open the Ark and those ghostly ghouls emerge and reek havoc on the spectators, they kill Toht by melting his face, down to the bone, with his bloody skin slowly sliding down his face – leaving his eyeballs alone in its eye sockets. Col Dietrich gets it bad too. His face literally sucks in on itself like a paper bag. And of course Belloc’s head actually explodes into a million pieces. The sequence continues on as the Ark kills all the other Germans in a hail and brimstone climax of epic proportions.

14. The Handle of Bugs
Temple of Doom

In "Temple of Doom" when Indy and Short Round venture into the secret passage and into the darkened bowels of Pankot Palace, we encounter some of the most ridiculous moments of cinematic jeopardy ever put to screen. After some comic banter between Shorty and Indy, a booby trap is tripped and the ceiling lowers onto their heads, then a series of long pointy knives emerges adding even more threat. Willy is summoned against her will to rescue them. The manicured showgirl has to stick her hand in a hole filled with the largest creepy-crawlers ever seen into order to pull the level, release the trap and save the day. Spielberg extends the moment to excruciating levels of tension, as he cuts back and forth between Indy, the spikes, Willy’s hand, the bugs etc etc. And, of course, the punchline to the scene is when everything is fine, Willy accidentally starts the trap again…

15. Brody Lost
The Last Crusade

Dr. Brody (Denholm Elliot) gets a bigger role in the "The Last Crusade". We all knew him as the enthusiastic partner of Indy's at his University in "Raiders". In this film we finally get to see him in action with Indy. With Indy and Henry captured by the Nazis, Dr. Schneider figures Indy's given the crucial map to Dr. Brody. Henry's is aghast that Brody is in charge of finding the lost site of the Grail. But Indy is so confident in his plan he describes the legend of Brody, "he's got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he'll blend in, disappear, you'll never see him again. With any luck, he's got the grail already". Then Spielberg provides the comic counterpoint by cutting to Brody haplessly wondering the foreign streets for someone who speaks English, or Ancient Greek.

16. The Lazy Susan Exchange
Temple of Doom

Right after the great Anything Goes musical sequence in "Temple of Doom" Indy engages in a tense exchange of a bag of diamonds with Indy’s newly recovered ashes of Nurhachi. Spielberg makes clever use of the table’s lazy susan as a device to generate suspense. Spielberg’s camera slyly tilts and pans between the characters’ poker faces and the movement of the items on the table. Watch how Spielberg barely shows the martini glass, which ultimately poisons Indy, being placed on the turntable. It’s a great moment of suspense worthy of Spielberg’s idol Alfred Hitchcock.

17. "Why'd it have to be Snakes?"
Raiders of the Lost Ark

It was a great moment for Indy after sneaking his way into the map room, finding the Well of the Souls under the noses of the Nazis. But when Indy and Sallah crack open the chamber, Indy's worst fears are imagined. Sallah asks Indy, "why does the floor move?" After Indy throws down a torch into the pit revealing a floor filled with dangerous snakes, Indy says his famous line "Why'd it have to be Snakes?". And then John Rhys-Davies adds his great well-timed addition, "Asps, very dangerous, you go first". It was the first crack in Indy's armour, and it wouldn't be until "The Last Crusade" when we'd learn the origin of that fear.

18. Henry Jones’s Umbrella vs. the Nazi Plane
The Last Crusade

Throughout "The Last Crusade" Henry Jones plays the comic relief, the affable old man and disconnected father that Indy desperately wants approval from. Jones is freed from captivity by Indy and brought along for the ride to recover the Holy Grail. After a daring escape from the Nazi airship Indy and Henry find themselves alone and vulnerable on the beach with a Nazi fighter plane bearing down on them. With nowhere to go Indy seems to accept his fate. But Henry has a moment of inspiration in the form of his trusty umbrella which he has been carrying with him the whole time. Jones opens the umbrella and scares all the birds on the beach to fly into the path of the plane, thereby saving the day. The scene ends with a great line delivered by Connery who 'remembers his Charlemagne'.

19. Indy's First Fedora
The Last Crusade

The opening scenes of "The Last Crusade" features a young Indiana Jones in an early adventure where we discover the origins of some of Indy's idiosyncrasies, including his famous Fedora hat. After Indy successfully steals Coronado's cross from the rival archeologist he is forced by the authorities to reluctantly give it back. As compensation the archeologist gives Indy his own Fedora as a gesture of respect. When River Phoenix puts on the hat, Spielberg crafts a wonderful transition to Harrison Ford pulling his head up into frame wearing the same hat. And then Spielberg's comic punchline, is the classic punch to the face. A great Indy moment.

20. Marion's Introduction
Raiders of the Lost Ark

A good director should be conscious of how he introduces his characters. The first reveal, or line of dialogue should, in part, define who he or she is as a character. Steven Spielberg does it better than anybody. One of the great screen introductions of the Indy series is for Marion Ravenwood, Indy's old flame who owns the valuable amulet which tells where the Ark of Covenant is kept. Spielberg introduces Marion in a bar in Nepal in the middle of a heated drinking game with a burly competitor and a horde of gambling Sherpas around her. After almost passing out from her latest shot, Marion pulls it together, turns her glass upside down and slams it on the table. The burly man downs his shot, but passes out, crowning Marion the winner. Later her life will be turned upside down when her old beau Indiana Jones will soon enter the door.