The Spielberg Blogathon: Reminiscing about Raiders of the Lost Ark & Jurassic Park

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This post is part of the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON hosted by Outspoken & Freckled, It Rains… You Get Wet, and Once Upon A Screen taking place August 23-24. Please visit these host blogs for a full list of participating blogs

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When Ruth asked me to participate in the Steven Spielberg blogathon, I wasn’t sure what to write about so I figured I should do a write up about two films of his that I’ve watched many times. These two films also made me into a film fanatic and home theater enthusiast that I am today.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

I was born in the Far East and the martial arts films was the only genre I’d watch, but after seeing this film I became a fan of American action films. I think I was about 8 or 9 years old when I first saw this film, my family and I were living in the Philippines Islands at the time and I saw it at some old movie theater. I was too young to really understood what the film was about but the visual and of course the action pulled me in. I still remember that the film’s climatic scene gave me nightmares, I freaked out when I saw the villains’ faces melt off and they were burned alive.

But I still thought the film was magic and when my family and I arrived to the States a year later, I begged my parents to buy me a VHS copy of the film. What’s so funny was that I didn’t know there were sequels until I saw a TV spot of The Last Crusade the year we arrived in the States. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the third film on the big screen but watched it several times on VHS. Then a couple of years later I watched Temple of Doom on the old Sci-Fi Channel. I enjoyed the two sequels but to me Raiders is still the best in the series.

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I’ve owned this film on many formats, first I had the VHS copy then later when I was able to afford a LaserDisc player, I bought a LD version of the film. When DVD became popular, I of course bought the DVD set then just a couple of years ago I got the Bluray set, unfortunately I had to buy the dreadful fourth film too.

Since Spielberg is a big fan of David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia is one of his favorite films, he even stated that the film’s script is the best ever written, so Raiders of the Lost Ark was his ultimate tribute to Lean’s classic film.

 

Jurassic Park

The summer of 1993 was dubbed Arnold vs. Sly since both of those action stars had two big films opening in the same summer and the so-called industry “experts” predicted that Sly’s Cliffhanger and Arnold’s Last Action Hero would dominate the box office. Of course Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was also one of the hyped up films but no one expected it would stomped both Sly’s and Arnold’s films. Sure I was excited to see new action films from Sly and Arnold but I super excited to see this film about dinosaurs. It’s one of the first films to have included full CGI effects in many scenes and it’s about dinosaurs!

Yes, like many kids back in those days, I was obsessed with dinosaurs and I’ve just finished Michael Crichton’s novel that it’s based on. I still remember to this day which theater I saw the film at on opening weekend and still remember how at awe I was after the film was over. The first time I saw the CGI dinosaurs, my jaw dropped and throughout the film, I had a smile on my face. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at the cinemas. I actually went to see the film twice on the opening weekend, around this time digital surround sound was pretty new in movie theaters so I wanted to hear the T-Rex’s roar in full digital sound over and over again. I was bummed that I couldn’t make it to the re-release on IMAX last year. With an opening weekend of over $50mil, it’s a record opening at that time. I think the summer of 1993 should’ve been called, T-Rex stomped Sly and Arnold.

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Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’ve owned this film on many formats. First VHS then LaserDisc and years later on DVD. Recently I bought it on Bluray but I have yet to watch it. Apparently Universal didn’t give the film a proper HD transfer so I was hesitant to buy it. Since I haven’t watched the film in a couple of years, I need to see and hear it in HD soon. This film also turned me into a home theater enthusiast, as mentioned earlier, I saw the film at a theater that has the new digital surround sound and after experiencing that, I wanted to have a home theater. Of course being a high school kid, I didn’t have the money to buy home theater products yet. But as I’ve gotten older and can earn bigger pay checks, I’ve invested some good amount of cash on home entertainment. In a way, I can thank and blame this Spielberg’s film for making me obsess with home theater.

Spielberg is one of the best filmmakers ever and these two films proved that he can make films that can please both the critics and audiences.

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What do you think of these two films, were you lucky enough to have seen them on the big screen? Do share your memories on the comments section.

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The Spielberg Blogathon: My Top 10 Favorite Spielberg-Directed Films

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This post is part of the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON hosted by Outspoken & Freckled, It Rains… You Get Wet, and Once Upon A Screen taking place August 23-24. Please visit these host blogs for a full list of participating blogs

I first learned about this blogathon from my pal Michael’s blog, and having grown up watching a bunch of Spielberg’s films, naturally I have to take part! Steven Spielberg is such a legend because so many of his films are not only entertaining but they have such strong emotional resonance and timeless quality about them. For this list, I’m focusing on the 50+ films that Spielberg has directed, as there are nearly 150 projects that he has produced for both TV and film. I didn’t realize this until I made the list but the scores of ALL of the films on my top 10 are done by John Williams! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as a lot of the scores also made my top 10 scores by the legendary composer.

So here they are ranked from bottom to top so #1 is my MOST favorite :D

10. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

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Many great sci-fis dealing with artificial intelligence make us ponder what it means to be human, and this film definitely did so. The story about a robot boy who desires to be real and craves real love from his parents was poignant and emotional, it’s not a cold or distant type of sci-fi that’s more concerned about cool set pieces and futuristic designs. The moral dilemmas presented here are genuinely thought provoking, with compelling performances from Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law and Frances O’Connor.

9. The Terminal (2004)

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It’s a story about an immigrant from an Eastern European country finds himself stranded in JFK airport. Though the story takes a lot of liberty from the real thing, I was quite engrossed and entertained by this. It’s perhaps one of my favorite Tom Hanks‘ performance in an underrated but endearing role. Hanks is an immensely and effortlessly likable actor, which makes him the perfect actor to portray Viktor Navorski. Even with an exaggerated Russian-sounding accent, the actor is at his most charming here as he befriends the airport staff and even took a chance at romance. This is also the first time I saw the then-unknown Zoë Saldana as a Trekkie Immigration Officer, which is interesting as she later plays Uhura in the J.J. Abrams movie!

8. Catch Me If You Can (2005)

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Leo DiCaprio at his most charming and, with his Jack Dawson looks and that devil-may-care swagger. I guess this is like Wolf of Wall Street lite as both Jordan Belfort and Frank Abagnale Jr are both charming con artists. I love the retro look and feel of the movie and the sense of fun in the chase as the FBI are on to catch the teenage fraudster. The dynamic between Frank and the federal agent played by Tom Hanks is fun to watch, they definitely play off each other well. There are also great supporting cast and cameo throughout, including Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Garner. The lighter tone somehow work nicely here, with the darker moments only sprinkled throughout which showcase Frank’s vulnerability to great effect.

7. Empire of the Sun (1987)

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I saw this one fairly recently and I wish I had seen it sooner. Even at such a young age, it’s evident that Christian Bale had the chops to carry a film. I’m usually not into war films but I do like it when it focuses more on a certain character’s life being affected by war and this one shows that from the perspective of a young boy named Jim ‘Jamie’ Graham. There is an epic quality to the production, as one would expect from Spielberg, yet it feels personal and intimate at the same time. I love the unlikely relationship between Jamie and the soldiers in the camp, particularly Basie (John Malkovich). It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story and a survival tale that certainly lingers long after the end credits.

6. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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I was pretty young when I saw this movie and it’s one of those movies that one simply doesn’t forget. It might’ve been one of the earliest movies about alien that I saw [well apart from Superman which came out a few years before] and perhaps cemented my love for sci-fi movies. There’s a sense of wonderment in Spielberg movies that definitely appealed to this wide-eyed kid filled with curiosity. The fact that I was the same age as Drew Barrymore‘s character when I saw this made me identify with her even more. I remember wondering what it would be like if there were such an alien creature living in my grandma’s garage. E.T. is the kind of film that fuels the imagination and of course it’s got so much heart, who didn’t at least tear up watching the bicycle scene as it flies across the full moon? It’s also one of the most iconic cinematic scenes ever.

5. Minority Report (2002)

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I regard this as one of my favorite sci-fi movies. I own the Blu-ray and on recent rewatch, I was amazed how this movie still holds up to this day. A lot of futuristic films often look dated even a few years after they’re released but somehow the concepts still feel fresh and modern. The whole *Precrime* notion doesn’t seem all that far-fetched now, not to mention having those annoying ads who know who we are. It’s interesting to see how some of the technology presented here have been realized, while some are still being dreamed up [wonder if we'd have flying cars by 2054? Wouldn't that be nice?]. I find this movie immensely entertaining and intriguing, with Tom Cruise playing what he does best as a former cop on the run. Though I’ve seen this repeatedly, I’m still surprised by that twist towards the end, thanks to a great performance by Max von Sydow and Colin Farrell. Samantha Morton is also memorable here as one of the three Precogs who could predict the future.

4. Schindler’s List (1993)

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One of the most, if not THE most, essential holocaust film ever made, this film is as beautiful as it is heart-wrenching. I’ve only seen Schindler’s List once but it’s one I shall never forget, in fact, some of the scenes are forever etched in my mind. It’s one of the most powerful displays of the best AND worst of humanity, as well as a testament how a single person can make a difference even in the most dire circumstances. There are so many indelible performances here, Liam Neeson as the hero is as iconic as Ralph Fiennes‘ villainous turn as Amon Goeth. John Williams‘ evocative, soul-piercing score makes the whole experience even more unforgettable. It’s not a hyperbole to call this one Spielberg’s masterpiece.

3. Jurassic Park (1993)

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I had just rewatched this recently and I was reminded by how wonderfully entertaining this is. Even the latest Godzilla still falls short as it lacks that sense of wonderment and sense of humor. Jurassic Park is such a thrilling ride from start to finish, filled with great, memorable characters courtesy of Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern. Of course those cloned dinosaurs are wildly entertaining, as terrifying as they are dazzling thanks to the special effects prowess of Stan Wilson & co. Too bad the sequels never measure up to this amazing original film.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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I’m still mad at Spielberg for ruining his own awesome franchise with that godawful fourth movie! I grew up watching the Indiana Jones movies with my two older brothers and to this day I’m still a huge fan of the first and third movies. Infused with fun action, special effects and a dose of good humor, it’s the quintessential action adventure that never gets old with multiple rewatches. Plus you’ve got an awesome heroine who’s equally charming & fun to watch, Karen Allen‘s Marion. The chemistry between the two is perfect, absolutely perfect. Speaking of perfection, Harrison Ford made the role of the archaeologist adventurer so iconic. It’s crazy to think that George Lucas wasn’t keen on casting him initially [Tom Selleck was the first choice], I really can’t imagine anyone topping Ford as Indy in the inevitable remakes.

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

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This is one of my favorite movies of all time, not just from Spielberg but of ALL movies I’ve seen in my life. There are just so much to love here, even more so than the first one thanks to the inspired casting of Sean Connery as Indy’s father, Dr. Henry Jones Sr. They’ve become my favorite cinematic duo ever, apparently there was an inside joke to say that James Bond is the father of Indiana Jones, ha! There are quite a few actors here who’ve been in various Bond movies: John Rhys-Davies, Alison Doody & Julian Glover, they’re all great in their respective roles. This movie has everything I loved about the first movie, but on top of the sense of humor and rousing adventure, we’ve got that spiritual aspect going for it that fits perfectly with the familial theme of the film. That whole finale in the mysterious Holy Grail is so wonderfully-filmed and leaves a lasting impression for years to come.

 


HONORABLE MENTIONS: 

1975 Jaws
2005 Munich
2005 War of the Worlds
2011 The Adventures of Tintin
2011 War Horse

Well that’s my top 10 faves from Spielberg. Which movie(s) would be on YOUR top 10 list?

The Flix List: Five Movies Suffering From Identity Crisis

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Many filmmakers tried to mix several genres in one film, sometime it works nicely, i.e. Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is a superhero movie mixed with Cold War-era espionage intrigue. But most of the time, it turns out to be a disaster. Just look at Cowboys & Aliens, mixing Sci-fi with Westerns sounds like a crazy idea, but maybe it’s crazy enough that it could work. Alas, it turned out to be a bomb for Universal, as it barely made close to its $163 mil budget domestically.

So Ted comes up with five other films suffering from identity crisis which are also box office duds:

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The Lone Ranger

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This box office dud tried to be too many things and in the end it just didn’t work. The film sort of reminded me of some of Buster Keator or Charlie Chaplin films from the 30s but then it also tried to be this serious western action/adventure of the 60s and 70s. I understand what Johnny Depp and the filmmakers were trying to do, but I think they should’ve picked a genre and stuck with it. Despite so many bad reviews it received last summer, I still thought it was an entertaining flick (check out my review) and I think it might have a cult following the years to come.

Tears of the Sun

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Antione Fuqua tends to mix genres in his films and this one was a good example of how NOT to do it. Originally the script was written as a Die Hard sequel but then things didn’t work out and Willis decided he wanted to make it a separate film. He even persuaded the studio executives to hire Fuqua to direct the film. Well, Willis ended up regretting that decision. When Fuqua took over the project, he decided to make it more into political drama instead of just straight up action/adventure. Apparently both Willis and Fuqua argued with one another during the entire shoot and vowed to never work with each other again. By combining real life tragedies and over-the-top action sequences, the film just didn’t work and when it opened in March of 2003, it failed miserably. The film only earned about $40mil at the box office and it cost around $70-90mil to produce, ouch!

The Devil’s Own

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This big budgeted action/drama was plagued with behind-the-scenes drama. It seems Brad Pitt loves to be involved with films that has troubled production, (the infamous World War Z behind the scene issues and the ongoing arguments on the set of Mr & Mrs Smith), in this film the dramas involved Pitt and Harrison Ford. Both stars wanted the film to focus on their character, apparently Pitt was pissed when studio hired Ford to be in the film.

In the original script, Pitt’s character was the main focus and Ford’s character was just a supporting role. But when Ford read the script and demanded that he gets the cop part, the studio executives were more than happy to hire him, this was when Ford was still a box office champ, he had just starred in The Fugitive, Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games, all were box office hits. There were reports that Pitt wanted to leave the production of the film because he thought the film was going downhill fast after several rewrites. He even bad mouthed the film in an interview with Newsweek magazine, calling it “the most irresponsible bit of film-making.” He was unhappy with how the script has changed so much from the one he fell in love with, it was originally a dark and brutal drama thriller but then it switched into more of an action/thriller. And that was the problem with the film, it couldn’t decide if it wants to be drama or action, and it failed by combining both. The film reportedly cost $90-100mil to make and it only made about $40mil back.

Hancock

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Well this film actually was a huge hit when it came out but I thought it didn’t work at all, I actually named it one of the worst films from 2008. The original script was a much darker story about a superhero who hates saving the world and Michael Mann was attached to direct it in early 2000s. But with several rewrites and delays, Mann gave the job to his protégé Peter Berg. Berg wanted to make it close to the original script but pressures from studio heads forced him to make it into a mixed of light comedy and action/adventure but also with some dark moments. Seriously the tone of this film was so uneven, I wanted to walk out of the theater. I think this was a huge missed opportunity to make a film about a “real” superhero living in our society and sick of saving idiotic people but again it’s all about making money for studios so what they made was a crappy wannabe film.

Random Hearts

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This film maybe the prime example of how not to mix several genres into one film, was this film supposed to be police drama thriller, mystery suspense or romantic drama? What’s so surprising was that the film was directed by Sydney Pollack, who was considered one of the good directors at the time. The behind-the-scene drama was more well known than the actual film, apparently Pollack and his leading man Harrison Ford constantly argued during the production of the film. It got so bad that they stopped talking to one another and vowed to never work with each other again. It’s kind of funny because while making Sabrina together a few years prior, they were good buddies. The film opened in the fall of 1999 with little fanfare and the studio hardly promoted it, probably because they saw it and decided it was a turkey and didn’t want to spend any money on promotions.


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Have you seen any of these? If so what do you think? Feel free to list of other films you think suffer from an identity crisis.

Music Break: 1995 Sabrina’s Soundtrack

sabrina1995posterI just realized I haven’t done a Music Break since last November! Well I’m feeling rather melancholy tonight so I watched a little bit of the 1995 version of Sabrina. I adore this movie… it’s just sooo enchanting. It’s a modern-day Cinderella story of sort. Sabrina Fairchild, the chauffeur of the billionaire Larrabee family, is a bit of an ugly duckling whose sudden transformation into a beautiful woman end up standing in the way of a Billion dollar deal.

Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear are not what one would expect as the Larrabee brothers but both worked well here. Julia Ormond is lovely as Sabrina… gorgeous but vulnerable. People who love the original probably scoff that Ormond & Ford are no [Audrey] Hepburn & [Humphrey] Bogart, I think it’s a bit unfair. I thought Ford is perfect as the workaholic, a bit curmudgeon Linus who unexpectedly falls for the carefree Sabrina. And Kinnear is surprisingly charming and affable as the billionaire playboy David. They made those roles their own and they suit the time and era they’re in. Truth be told, after seeing the original, I actually enjoy this remake better [sorry Michael!]

I never get tired of this movie… Syndey Pollack’s direction mixes drama and comedy deftly and boy does he have an eye for scenery. This movie is just gorgeous to look at, everything from the Larrabee estates to the streets of Paris where Sabrina took her long walks are exquisite shot.

But even more beautiful that the scenery is John Williams’ music. This theme song is one of my favorites from his extensive collection, definitely made my top ten scores from this genius composer. It’s so elegant, lush, mesmerizing… and also heartbreaking.

I love Sting’s voice and it works surprisingly well for Moonlight. I listen to this track often… it never fails to sweep me off my feet. Linus tells Sabrina “It’s as though a lovely breeze has swept through this whole house” And the song has that same quality to me… it’s just mesmerizing and the melody has such a timeless feel to it.

There is another song called How Can I Remember sung by Michael Dees that is lovely as well, and I love the moment La Vie en Rose was played as Sabrina recites the quote from Gertrude Stein “America is my country, and Paris is my home town.”

Williams composed this soundtrack two years after Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, two other favorites from his work. It’s amazing how he could make one iconic score after another. Even hearing just a couple of notes you instantly know what that music is and it’d take me back to that specific movie.

Sabrina was nominated for Best Original Music and Best Original Song (Moonlight) at the Oscars in 1995, but neither one won.


Hope you enjoyed the soundtrack. What’s your favorite score by John Williams?

What I’ve Watched in my First Week on 2013

Happy Monday all! This the first FULL work week I have for a while now, I’m definitely gonna miss the partial work week from the Holiday season, ahah.

In lieu of a weekend roundup, I thought I’d share how my movie watching has been in its first week of the new year. Actually it’s been rather slow and I haven’t been to the movie theater since The Hobbit over a week ago. Not that I miss going to the cinema, though some things are definitely meant to see on the big screen, which is why we’d go see Life of Pi next weekend.

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I miss the movie-going experience, though not the waiting-in-line part

I’ll be going to a couple of advanced screenings this week, but due to the embargo, I can’t talk about ‘em yet. Let’s just say one of them is likely going to be in the running for Academy Awards nominations and the other one is a period action film starring a few very popular actors. So anyways, I’ve only seen about three movies so far and three of them were new to me.

  • The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
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    The inspiration for You’ve Got Mail starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart is lovely. I didn’t know it was set in Hungary. Though the mail correspondent part wasn’t as prominent a plot as the remake, but the scene at the cafe were pretty much identical.

    I need to watch more James Stewart movies, I think The Philadelphia Story is next! Oh, I also like Frank Morgan as the store owner Mr. Matuschek!

    ..
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

    SafetyNotGuaranteedPosterI’m so glad I finally saw this. I’ve been seeing a ton of great reviews on this one, glad it was available on iTunes. All of the actors were unknown to me, but I was impressed by Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass. The story is wonderfully bizarre and it was full of quirky characters as well. Duplass (who reminds me a bit of Sean Bean) plays Kenneth, a supermarket employee who put a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel, and Plaza plays Darius, one of the three magazine employees who head out on assignment to write a story on it.

    The premise makes for off-the-wall and hilarious scenarios, but yet the story ends up being quite heartfelt, especially when it’s between Kenneth and Darius. It keeps you guessing throughout up until that whoa! ending. It’s the kind of ending that makes you stand up and cheer despite how preposterous it is, definitely one of the most original time-travel stories I’ve ever watched. If you’re looking for great, memorable characters and emotional gratification, this movie is not to be missed. I quite like the music too, my favorite part was when Kenneth sang The Big Machine with a Zither!
  • The Wings of the Dove (1997)
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    WingsoftheDovePosterI’ve been wanting to see this movie for quite a while, especially when someone mentioned about the memorable scene at the London Tube. Well, there’s that and a boat load of memorable rainy scenes in Venice too!

    It’s based on a 1902 novel by Henry James. The tagline says it all: A couple with everything but money. An heiress with everything but love. A temptation no one could resist. Helena Bonham Carter in one of her plethora of period dramas was quite bewitching as a young woman, Kate, who’s torn between love and her privileged life. She’s basically an impoverished girl who’s taken up by her wealthy aunt (Charlotte Rampling), but she’s in love with a penniless journalist Merton (Linus Roache). When she befriends a dying American heiress Millie (Alison Elliot), she concocts a plot to enable her to have her cake and eat it too, but things don’t exactly go according to plan.

    Oh, the things people in the name of love… the chemistry between Helena and Linus was scorching, but man, it’s awful and sad how far Kate is willing to do to get what she wants. It’s really a dark, twisted and poignant love story. It certainly makes for a passionate and ravishing period drama. Both HBC and Linus were captivating, Linus was quite mesmerizing, he’s got such an uncanny resemblance to Christian Bale, no wonder he was cast as Bruce Wayne Sr! Bonham-Carter was nominated for an Oscar for this role. I pretty much love all the performances, down to the supporting roles with thespians like Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling.

    It’s the kind of story that lingers long after the end credits. In fact, I kept thinking about it all night all the way until this morning. I feel like this film deserves a full write-up, which I still may do in the future. The cinematography alone is breathtaking… all in all a bewitching adaptation.
  • Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (re-watch)
    It never fails to entertain. Sean Connery + Harrison Ford pairing is just brilliant, plus there River Phoenix in the beginning as the young Indy. I wish he were still alive today, I’d rather see him than Shia in the fourth installment! Anyway, we also watched the making-of documentary which was pretty cool as Spielberg went almost scene-by-scene on various locations.


Well, glad to report that the three new ones were all very enjoyable. So what movies did you watch in the first week of the New Year?

Weekend Roundup – Indiana Jones, BBC’s Sherlock + Chasing Mavericks Review

Today I truly appreciate the simple things in life. Well not that I wouldn’t any other day but especially so the past couple of days after reading all the news and weather updates on the Frankenstorm that is Hurricane Sandy. The fact that I can drive peacefully on the road without being pounded by crazy winds and heavy rain, and the fact that I have electricity in the house and place of work. The Empire State Building was trending last night on Twitter and it turned out it was because of this instagram of the Empire State Building’s light that shone when NYC went completely dark. What an eerie but yet striking image.

My thoughts and prayers goes out to everyone in the path of the storm… please do stay safe!

This weekend I actually opt for home cinema as I’ve seen both Cloud Atlas and Chasing Mavericks early last week. We had bought the Indiana Jones Blu-ray set a couple of weeks ago but couldn’t watch ‘em right away as I had to cover for TCFF.

We rewatched Raiders of the Lost Ark and it was still as entertaining as ever. The picture quality is just brilliant, and Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as the rugged explorer, I really can’t picture anyone else in this role so whoever’s gonna replace him in the reboot would have HUGE shoes to fill. I also love Karen Allen as Marion, her spunk and demeanor reminds me so much of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane!

We finally caught up with BBC’s Sherlock Season 2, starting with Scandal in Belgravia. It’s by far the most confusing episode for me, the plot is just so darn complicated for my little brain. But still it’s entertaining to watch Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as the odd couple and there are some really hilarious moments, especially when they first encounter Lara Pulver as Irene Adler. I thought she was brilliant in the role — Sherlock’s definitely met his match in her and watching the two psychopaths flirt with each other is quite amusing.


Now, on to the review:

I’m NOT a surfer, I’ve never even been ON a surfboard, not on land, let alone on water. But something about the surfers’ lifestyle fascinates me so I don’t think you need to know anything about surfing to enjoy this film.

The film tells the true story of Jay Moriarity, a young Santa Cruz surfer who’s immortalized in the Live Like Jay movement that just celebrated the 10th anniversary of his death last June. It was a short life as he drowned when he went diving in the Maldives just a day shy of his 23rd birthday, but the movie showed just how he lived.

Jay (Jonny Weston) first met Frosty Hesson (Gerry Butler) when Frosty rescued him from the ocean when he was only 8 years old. That experience didn’t put him off surfing, in fact, the opposite is true. He found it to be his true calling, not unlike someone like Felix Baumgartner who has a penchant for heights. Jay just loved the water and that 40-foot waves seems to be calling his name each time it hit the shores.

The fact that he lives with a single mom and an absentee father, he also yearns for a father figure and he finds that in Frosty, even though he himself is a loner who doesn’t seem to have it all together despite having a saintly wife (Abigail Spencer) and two kids. Predictably, the two bonded as Frosty trains Jay to be able to achieve his dream to chase ‘Mavericks,’ which refers to the surfing location north of Half Moon Bay in California where after a strong winter storm could top out at over 80 feet! I appreciate that this is truly a movie about surfing, not about some girl in a bikini or a procedural action flick. It focuses on the sport and shows the dedication it takes to be a darn good surfer in a sport where even the smallest miscalculation could cost one his/her life. Butler himself surely knew that by heart as he experienced a near-death accident when he was knocked off his board by a freak wave during filming. Talk about suffering for your art!

Jay certainly has a story worth telling, though I wish the story could’ve been as groundbreaking as the subject matter. Seems like when the movie is not so much focused on surfing, the script sort of loses its footing, so there’s barely any depth to any of the relationships portrayed in the film aside from Jay and Frosty’s. Even the romance between Jay and his eventual wife Kim (Leven Rambin) is so darn cheesy it comes off like an after school special.

The formulaic script really doesn’t give the actors any favors. It’s really too bad as I think Butler shows what he’s capable of all along. It’s an understated role that shows his vulnerable side, so it’s not the typical alpha-male action hero he’s known for. He not only look the part with his svelte physique and surfer hair, but he’s also got that convincing surfer swagger. As for Weston, I had been skeptical about his casting initially but I thought he captured the jovial spirit of what I picture Jay would be. The female characters are under-developed however, with Elisabeth Shue as Jay’s mother suffers the worst fate of being completely wasted here. There’s also an attempt to add a ‘villainy’ character in the film that goes absolutely nowhere.

What I do love about it is the spectacular cinematography that captures the glory of surfing. Those giant waves are amazing, and I’m glad I saw this on the big screen! I love that it was filmed on location which adds a high level of authenticity to the film. One of the main draw of this movie for me is the fact that L.A. Confidential’s director Curtis Hanson’s at the helm (reportedly Hanson had to bow out of filming because of health reasons and Michael Apted took over, so they share directing credit). I do think given the filmmakers’ credentials, this could’ve been a lot more compelling, but it’s not a bad movie by any means. In fact, I’m glad to hear according to Santa Cruz Patch, this film was well-received by the community where Jay used to surf.

I think a lot of the lessons that Jay learns in this movie, about the ‘Four Pillars of the Human Foundation’ and other disciplines can be applied to other parts of lives. The rousing ending is quite a spectacle, with those giant, mystical waves taking center stage and I could see how surfing is as much a mental sport as it is a demanding physical one.

3 out of 5 reels


P.S. I’m quite bummed that his movie was a total bomb. I didn’t expect it to be in the top five, but I certainly didn’t think it’d do so badly with a paltry $2.2 mil. Vulture asked Why Does Hollywood Think America Likes Surfing? and seems like the sub-genre of surfing movies are inherently not very marketable. Ah well, I’m glad I saw it and I’m glad they brought Jay’s story to life in this one.


Well, that’s it for the roundup this week. How ’bout you, seen anything good?

Guest Reviews: Battle L.A. and Cowboys & Aliens

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Battle: Los Angeles

If there’s ever a competition for most clichés piled up in one movie, Battle Los Angeles is the clear winner.

The film is about a group of soldiers battle against the faceless, I mean that literally, alien invaders who are destroying every major city in the world. Marine Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), who was about to retire, got reassigned to a new platoon which mission is to go rescue some civilians trapped at a police station within the alien territory. They have three hours to complete the mission before the area is blown to pieces by the Air Force. It’s part Black Hawk Down, part Independence Day (ID4). But the main difference is, Black Hawk Down was a very good film and ID4 was a lot of fun. Battle: LA on the other hand was neither… it’s actually painful to sit through. It’s full of laughable dialogue and took itself way too seriously.

When the film opened in theater back in March of this year, it received tons of bad reviews and I thought maybe the critics were expecting too much out of it. I decided the rent it and thought I’d probably enjoy the non-stop action sequences and that’s all I was hoping for. Boy was I wrong. Not only was the film so badly-written, but it’s chock full of clichés from other films that I could accurately predict what would happen next. For example, there’s a scene in the film where a soldier thought he killed an alien and decided to walk towards it and a second later, the alien jumped back alive. I thought to myself, ‘seriously, the filmmakers thought THAT was clever?’ It’s been done so many times in other films with far better results. In every alien invasion films, there must be a scene where the human gets to dissect the alien to find out how to kill it. What do you know, we see that exact scene in this film. Of course they need to have some sort of a doctor who can assist our soldiers on how to dissect the alien. As it turns out, one of the civilians happens to be a veterinarian and offered her professional opinion on how to kill the damn aliens.

Believe it or not, the clichés are not the only awful thing in this film. It’s also badly-directed by Jonathan Liebesman, who was responsible for the awful remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Liebesman and his cinematographer decided to make the audience dizzy by not holding the camera steady for more than two seconds long. Seriously, I almost turn off the movie after 30 minutes in because I felt nauseous from the constant hand-held shaky cam! I understand he wanted the audience to be part of the action. But if that technique is making the viewers sick, how’s that supposed to be a good thing?

The main reason I wanted to see this film was for the big action set pieces but unfortunately, Liebesman failed on that front, too. I couldn’t tell what the heck was going on during the battle sequences. Again, if he and his cinematographer would hold the camera still for like ONE minute, it would have been at least cool to see the action.

As you can tell, I despise this movie, the only good thing about it is the Blu-ray disc is quite stunning visually and the lossless surround sound is top notch. If you want to show off your home theater system, this is one of the movies to do so. Otherwise, it’s a waste of your time and money. Only give it a rent if want to see how good the disc look and sound.

1 out of 5 reels


Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens was my most anticipated film this summer. Unfortunately, it turns out to be quite a letdown when I finally saw it a week ago. The film got a lot of negative reviews when it opened back in July 29th but I didn’t read any of them since I really wanted to see it. Well, after I saw it and then I read the reviews, I realize most of the critics were right. It’s definitely one of the most disappointing summer flicks I’ve ever seen since X-Men Origins: Wolverine back in 2009.

The film opened with a man (Daniel Craig) waking up in a desert. He has no memory of who he is or where he came from. He also has mysterious metal bracelet around his left arm. Then he met three bounty hunters whom he dispatched with no problems whatsoever. With introduction like this, we know this stranger is a dangerous man.

He then makes his way to a town called Absolution, where we’re introduced to a few more characters, including Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), local bar owner Doc (Sam Rockwell), the sheriff (Keith Carradine), a mysterious woman name Ella (Olivia Wilde) and Dolarhyde’s son Percy (Paul Dano). Just few minutes after the stranger arrived in town, we found out that he’s wanted man and his name is Jake Lonergan. That’s the basic set up of the film. But before long, alien space ships started showing up, blowing up the town and snatching people up into their ships. So Lonergan and Dolarhyde decided to team up and rescue the town’s people. In the meantime, Jake keeps having flashbacks of what happened to him, very similar to the Jason Bourne films. The film has no plot and for the rest of the run time.

I actually enjoyed the first half hour of this film, but after the aliens showed up, it went downhill from there. I didn’t really care for any of the characters and while the action sequences were well-done, it’s something we’ve all seen before in other sci-fi action flicks. For a film that cost $160mil to make, I thought the production design looked cheap and the scope of the film were quite small. I expected to see more alien space ships flying around attacking the cowboys but it never happened. I was also surprised how many cliché scenes were in the film, whatever you think will happen in the next scene, it happened. There were 8 writers, I say again, eight writers credited in this film. Obviously the script went through several revisions before they started shooting but I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, eight writers and this is the best they could come up with?

Director Jon Favreau did a good job paying homage to some of the great westerns from the past including The Man with No Name Trilogy, Once Upon the Time in the West, The Searchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Unfortunately, with a weak script, there’s not much he could do except adding one clichéd scenes after another. Performance wise, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are pretty good in their respective roles. It’s too bad Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde don’t have much to do but being part of the gang. Rockwell is the comic relief and Wilde is the love interest of Craig’s character.

Now, I don’t hate this film as much as the other alien invasion film that came out earlier this year, Battle: LA (as you can see in my review above). But this one sure is a big disappointment to me. With a great cast like this and a decent director, I thought for sure the film would’ve been a fun Summer ride, not one that’s full of boring dialogue and by-the-number action set pieces. One critic pointed out that had the film been more of a comedy in the vein of Men In Black, it would’ve worked better. I tend to agree with that sentiment. Maybe a straight up western/sci-fi just doesn’t work, especially with a weak script like this one.

Perhaps another reason why I didn’t like this film as much was because I saw it at a AMC digital theater where they didn’t remove the 3D lens. The picture looked dim and flat, during the night scenes I couldn’t make out what the heck was going on. So be warned, if you’re going to see this movie at your local AMC, make sure you see it in the non digital theater. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please read this article. It’s another reason why I hate 3D, it’s ruining our movie going experience.

2 out of 5 reels


Well have you seen either one of these movies, yet? If so, did you like ‘em or were you disappointed as much as I was?

Guest Post: An in-depth look at Tequila Sunrise (1988)

Special thanks to Michael Alatorre – the sharp-witted blogger of It Rains … You Get Wet (even his blog name is clever!) » Follow Michael on Twitter


Every summer I make it a point to watch one of my favorite movies, Robert Towne‘s Tequila Sunrise. And, this year was no exception. Released in 1988, it is the second directed feature from the writer of another great Los Angeles movie classic and noir thriller, Chinatown. It is a wonderfully layered neo noir film set in the distinct South Bay area of L.A. Although, I often ponder if I hadn’t attended junior college right after high school (and spent a formative portion of my student life in and around that southern region that ends at the beach), would I care as much as I do for this film? Here, I’ll let the Captain Renault-like character from the movie answer that:

Probably not, but who knows what he’s really up to? I mean you’re snitch isn’t going to tell us… ~ Lt. Nick Frescia

Set at the end of the Reagan-era 80’s, with a soundtrack to match (like a few of us, I can’t help but associate Crowded House’s Recurring Dream with this movie), Tequila Sunrise is a brooding tale of deceit and betrayal, but primarily it is a film of friendships, set in a small corner of the Drug War between cops and smugglers. Some have criticized this film for being confusing (and its production history may have something to do with that). But at its core, it is a solid character-based melodrama that is laced with ambiguity and some ever-moving boundaries. Just about everyone in this film is not quite what you’d first assume. If you enjoy a film that needs close watching, with intricate character motives — regardless of clear moral distinctions — this one is for you.

For Tequila Sunrise, Mel Gibson plays Dale (Mac) McKussic, a retired South Bay cocaine smuggler of legendary proportions. Interestingly, Gibson was not the first choice in the antihero role — it was initially envisioned for the likes of Jeff Bridges or Harrison Ford. Certainly, I think Bridges could have pulled it off, but I have my doubts that Ford would have been as successful here as Gibson is in this character. [Note: recent train wreck behavior aside, I’m only here to speak about the actor as it pertains to this film and his role in it] For me, he was unafraid to convey the darker aspects of this part (see 1999’s Payback) — something Ford would likely have pushed to tone down. And I doubt other big name actors would have undertaken a role like this, one so on the other side of the objective. Remember, this was the period of ‘Just Say No’, and a push back on the cause célèbre for then First Lady Nancy Reagan. Here, the character wants to remain disengaged from his former living in the drug business (in a capacity that he’s been so good at for so long) and a chance at an ordinary family life. But, as he puts it:

“… nobody wants me to quit.”

Not so much opposing him, but being the flip side of a ethically dubious coin, is Lt. Nick Frescia (who at the start, newly heads up L.A. County’s drug enforcement unit). Most crime fiction (in book or film) centered in the City of the Angels, makes use of the well-known LAPD. To his credit, Towne lets the location set the story’s law enforcement entity — and it provides an absorbing contrast with the lesser-known (and larger) L.A. Sheriffs. The vastly underrated Kurt Russell plays this character as a smart, slick operator capable of breaking the law whenever it helps him enforce it. Again, Kurt was not the primary choice for this role. Now, can you imagine Alec Baldwin or Nick Nolte as this? They were up for it. Even the then L.A. Laker coach, Pat Riley, was envisioned for the role. Which by way of style and manner, Kurt pays homage to in his performance. Like Mel, Russell is quite capable of playing the ambiguous lead (see the later Dark Blue for further proof). Even when he’s not speaking Towne’s crisp dialogue, Russell is equally adept without words. His facial expressions during his wordless observation of a DEA interrogation are simply masterful. Watch him throughout and I think you’ll see why Nick’s character in a league with certain Vichy police captain.

Jo Ann: “That’s an awful lot of money.”

Mac: “Uh, fifteen million dollars.”

Jo Ann: “That is an awful lot of money.”

Mac: “Yeah, well. Money makes people predictable, at least. They’ll never be reliable.”

To really begin to understand these two characters, southern Cal-native, and renowned screenwriter, Robert Towne sprinkles his well-known and sharp dialogue throughout the movie as a way of building Mac and Nick’s history and the plot line. Hence, the reason a few quotations appear in this post. The story makes clear these two protagonists friendship is long, and probably always rivalrous, as guys are known to be. And, it is the key point of the tale. The writer/director also has a keen eye to the strangest of relationships: those life-long friendships that arise, and are tempered, in the furnace known as high school. I don’t know anyone who claims H.S. was ever a smooth and simple part of his or her life. Indeed, it provides a great springboard for the story, one that the screenwriter effectively mines quite well. The characters friendship has continued, and intertwined even more, despite their paths veering to opposing sides of the law.

Nick:” You got one chance, buddy, turn yourself in.”

Mac: ”What for?”

Nick: “What for?!?”

Mac: “Yeah, what for? I told you I had an accounting problem in the restaurant. I’ve been holding on to money for someone, and he’s here to pick it up. I mean it’s his money.”

Nick:” I wanna get this straight. You’d kill me over drug money?”

Mac: “Well… it’s a lot of money.”

The primary impetus for the trouble to come is from the outside. For Nick, it’s the unwelcome intervention by DEA agent Hal Maguire, done to slimy perfection by an extraordinary character actor who is greatly missed since his passing. J.T. Walsh built a career playing either the villain (Breakdown) or the almost invisible but vital support (A Few Good Men) in film and TV duty. In this role, he’s in top form as the smarmy Fed… and the one who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Maguire presumptuously maneuvers Nick to seek to nail his friend Mac (who he likes) to do his job for him (who he hates) so as to keep his friend out of federal custody.

Jo Ann: “What is it, Nick? You need some chapstick or lip-gloss or something cause your lips keep getting stuck on your teeth. Or, is that your idea of a smile?”

Nick: (smiling and embarrassed) “That’s my idea of a smile. Ah, man. You are… you’re tough.”

For Mac, coincidentally, it’s the complication of another friend’s arrival. In this case, the drug overlord “Carlos” is coming to town to clear up “an accounting problem.” Without giving too much away, the other greatly missed actor who co-stars, the late Raul Julia, gets to have loads of fun playing the mysterious Mexican cop Javier Escalante (brought in by Maguire to help arrest this crime lord). Julia, who once played Guido Contini in the original Broadway play of Nine, (don’t get me started on Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of same) gets to showcase why he was so good on stage and on film.

Further muddling matters are Mac’s longing for restaurateur Jo Ann Vallenari. The gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer plays her for all her smart and sexy toughness, in a befitting role for a neo noir film. And it wouldn’t be melodrama if there weren’t a triangle in there. Naturally, all of this is made even more difficult when Nick immediately sees her as someone who can help him with his case against his longtime bud. However, the lieutenant is just not prepared for his feelings, the resulting consequences for both he and Mac, and the choices true friendship sometimes demands. All will dovetail to a fiery and passionate confrontation among friends in a fog-shrouded scene in Long Beach harbor.

Tequila Sunrise is a film that has been somewhat forgotten and dismissed. Though some see it as dated, the decade of the 80s remains distinct, and this drama offers a good display of the era and its ramifications. High concept it’s not. Still, the film is nothing if not a entertaining primer on the twists and turns of the bonds that link us, and the implications of choice upon them. Of course, this movie plays better for those who watch carefully and enjoy the craft of a master scriptwriter. But, if you stick with it, by the end it is so worth it, IMO. The additional visual treat of this movie is the great cinematography on display throughout by the famed Conrad Hall. For instance, one standout scene has to be the sunset summit sequence between Mac and Nick on the beachside with a spectacular sunset going on in the background. If you listen to the top-notch commentary track by producer Thom Mount (who gives some great insight on the film’s production) on the impromptu locale of that section of the film, you’ll discover how remarkable was its result. A big credit to has to go to the late-cinematographer and crew for what they achieved in the scene that had time and that setting sun against it.

The 1997 DVD is now very long in the tooth and is certainly in need of re-issue, remastering, and new extras. Hopefully, a future disc will offer broader input from all those involved for how the film evolved to its final cut. It would be interesting to hear more from Robert Towne about the production, which this DVD lacks. However, I suspect Gibson’s current reputation is now a hindrance to a new studio disc release. There was some contention mentioned in the commentary track and at IMDb regarding the feature. While the initial ending had to be re-shot, I wouldn’t change a thing. Also, be on the watch for a wonderful cameo by the legendary western director (and Robert Towne favorite), Budd Boetticher, in the role of Judge Nizetitch. It’s a small but superb tribute for a director that deserves greater recognition. Lastly, I’ll end this post with a significantly killer piece of dialogue that serves as a great thumbnail for this underrated film, one that hits home with me:

Carlos: “You son of bitch! How could you do this? Friendship is the only choice in life you can make that’s yours! You can’t choose your family! Goddamn it, I’ve had to face that! And no man should be judged for whatever direction his dick goes! That’s like blaming a compass for pointing north, for Chrissake! Friendship is all we have. We chose each other. How could you f*** it up? How could you make us look so bad?”


Have you seen Tequila Sunrise? Please share your thoughts on the film

In honor of his birthday today – Please vote for your favorite Harrison Ford movie role

Hi everyone! I just realized it’s Harrison Ford’s 69th Birthday today. WOW, the last year before he hit the big 7-0 and he still looks as rugged and handsome as ever! Plus, he’s got one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Cowboys & Aliens. I’d like to say ‘there’s no sign of him slowing down’ but on his IMDb page, I don’t see another upcoming film listed, so maybe he is close to retirement? Say it ain’t so, Mr. Ford!!


As the photo indicates, clearly Indiana Jones is my all time favorite Harrison Ford role. I mean, the 6’1″ actor is born to play this role… he’s a man’s man who looks perfect the more disheveled and dirty he gets, and he’s sexy in the most effortless kind of way. I also LOVE him as the CIA officer Jack Ryan (my fave of all others, sorry Alec Baldwin). But it’s not just his bad-ass action stuff that I love him in. I really love his nuanced performance in Regarding Henry, his bookish corporate side in Working Girl and even his romantic side in Sabrina. I haven’t seen Morning Glory, but I’d say he’s got some comic chops in him, too.

The Chicago-native was discovered by George Lucas when Ford was a carpenter at the time — he hired Ford to build cabinets in his home. He liked Ford, and gave him a key supporting role in American Graffiti. Based on this acquaintance, he hired Ford to work on sets for Star Wars While they were casting Lucas had Ford read lines for the character of Han Solo while screen testing other actors. (info from instantcast.com). Well, the rest is history. Per IMDb, the U.S. box office grosses of all of Ford’s films total about $3.18 billion, with worldwide grosses totaling approximately $5.65 billion. No other actor in history has box-office grosses as large as Ford’s. WOW!


So now I ask you, dear readers, please vote for your favorite Harrison Ford roles (you can pick up to 2 roles) and feel free to fill in what’s not on the list and add your comments about the actor. THANK YOU!

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Cowboys & Aliens

Even just hearing the title of this movie, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow and at least wonder, what the heck kind of movie is this? Well, that was my reaction when I first heard it earlier this year when it was still Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role, which would reunite him with his Iron Man director Jon Favreau. Well, since then the cast has changed and Daniel Craig now stars as the main protagonist Jake Lonergan.

You’ve probably seen the teaser trailer by now as it was all over the net last month, but in case you haven’t, it’s at the bottom of this post. I’d say it was the weirdest and most awesome trailer that came out that week (it so happened that a truckload of trailers were released that same week) that I couldn’t help playing it over and over again. Then it was shown in front of the latest Harry Potter movie and I was cracking up and clapping along with everyone in the packed theater. No doubt this one will be a hit come blockbuster season next Summer, and having Steven Spielberg’s name as executive certainly couldn’t hurt.

The movie is based on a 2006 graphic novel of the same name by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Here’s the gist: In Silver City, Arizona, Apache Indians and Western settlers must lay their differences aside when an alien spaceship crash lands in their city. Now, even I had to giggle just reading that bizarre premise out loud, and considering the whimsical & playful nature of the Iron Man franchise (isn’t that mysterious shackle that encircles Craig’s wrist looks just as cool as Iron Man 2‘s briefcase suit?), I just assumed this would be in the same vein as that even if the trailer seems rather, um, serious. Apparently my perception about the movie is way off, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Indiana Jones & 007 playing a couple of cowboys

According to this NY Times article, this movie is NOT a comedy: “Deceived by a title and a premise that many find inherently comic, potential viewers must now cope with a realization that Mr. Favreau wasn’t kidding when he told fans at the Comic-Con International convention last July that he planned to mix a “by-the-book, right-down-the-middle western” of the kind once made by Sergio Leone and John Ford, with really scary science fiction, like Alien or Predator. The article also mentioned that one possible reason of such expectations is due to the project’s origin, as at one time it was supposed to be a follow-up to the Will Smith’s sci-fi comedy Men in Black and the filmmaker of Ace Ventura was to have been its writer.

Wilde as the elusive traveler Ella

This CBR article also points out that RDJ’s departure also contributed to the change of tone: “… Robert Downey Jr. was set to star and the film was intended to utilize a more tongue-in-cheek tone in order to capitalize on the actor’s strengths. When Downey left, the production team quickly reconsidered that angle. “As we zeroed in on it, and as we went to Western school, we realized that irony was a little bit of the last thing we needed. The spin on the movie is already there; aliens are landing in a Western,” [screenwriter Roberto] Orci recalled. “The way to maximize that is to play it extremely straight and to have any fun or comedy come out of the natural moments that would come out of a situation like that, not out of writing the jokes [or] winking at the audience.” Hence the Daniel Craig casting, whom Orci called as having a ‘Steve McQueen vibe.’

IMDb trivia said that Daniel Craig was chosen because of his distinct likeness to Yul Brynner, who starred in the cowboy epic The Magnificent Seven (1960). Craig recommended Eva Green for the role of Ella after working with her in Casino Royale (2006). However, Eva turned the role down and Olivia Wilde was cast.

Check out Favreau’s interview with MTV below as he gave a play-by-play explanation of the teaser. I’ve never seen other directors did this before with their movies, so it’s pretty interesting to watch.

[posted with vodpod]
And here’s the full trailer:

I absolutely dig the trailer, especially with curmudgeonly Harrison Ford in the mix, that it really doesn’t matter what tone the movie is. Regardless how serious as it plays out, I can’t imagine not being amused by it. I’m sure I’d still laugh watching those cowboys and girls being sucked into the space ship right smack dab out of a saloon :D

What do you think, folks? Is this one in your 2011 most-anticipated-movies list?