STAR TREK

By Jared M. Gordon

Star Trek – 2009 – dir. JJ Abrams

Before I went to see J. J. Abrams’ version of the classic franchise, I was treated to dark whispers and quiet warnings such as, “If you’re a big-time Trekkie, you’re not going to like it.”

Being a moderate-time Trekkie, as opposed to a big-time one, I hotly anticipated the release through two years of promotional posters, mysterious trailers, and vague, origin-story allusions.  I have to confess that along with Pixar’s Up, Star Trek is likely one of the best movies of the year.  It’s not just a good sci-fi movie.  It’s a good movie.
Continue reading

EASY RIDER

By Peggy Nelson

Easy Rider – 1969 – dir. Dennis Hopper

Easy Rider (dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969), like it’s lesser-known sibling, Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), poses the question, where are you going when all the roads are mapped?  In their constant motion, Wyatt/Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) are seeking unmapped territory, but the only unmapped territory is within.  By refusing to settle in one place, by being nomads, they are refusing the predetermined categories of social role and occupation.

Freedom has been synonymous with freedom of the open road since before this country was founded: freedom to wander around in space, to break free of the boundaries of town, city, job, habits, and self, and simply go, to wander in space and see what and who you might find.  The hippies in Easy Rider are icons now, and were icons then.  But they’re on a journey much older than hippies – the Beats, too, had their road, the hobos theirs, the frontiersmen and pioneers their roads, stolen from and grafted on top of the Native Americans’ trajectories in space.
Continue reading

THE WILD BUNCH: Of Myth and Men

By Melvin Cartagena 

The Wild Bunch – 1969 – dir. Sam Peckinpah

It doesn’t matter that the credits state that it’s a screenplay written by Sam Peckinpah and Walon Green, a fiction developed from a story by Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner. It doesn’t matter that Pike Bishop’s (William Holden’s) command to his men in the robbery that opens the film is “If they move, kill ‘em.” And that this is followed by DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH, simultaneously a bold statement and a way to defuse Pike’s order. It doesn’t matter that the fight sequences are entirely subjective in their staging and editing, we want to believe that there were once guys like these running around loose. We want to believe that these weary, battle-scarred men are the cowboys that made the west wild, as their name implies.  They are not above shooting civilians (as they do, when we see the parade marchers mowed down in the crossfire between the Bunch and Harrigan’s bounty hunters), but they’d rather not. They stand by each other against the world, and in their circumscribed universe (which is shrinking with the paving over of the west) that is the loftiest ideal they can hope for. It’s this commitment to each other that drives Pike and company to forsake their retirement score and engage in a suicidal shootout with Mapache’s men after Mapache slits Angel’s throat.

Continue reading

Sand and Blood: THE MUMMY

By Jared M. Gordon

The Mummy – 1999 – dir. Stephen Sommers

Whether it’s action, romance, or angry, angry beetles, Stephen Sommers’s 1999 hit The Mummy has what you’re looking for.  Marketed as a next-generation’s Indiana Jones, The Mummy succeeds as a film by delivering exactly what it promises – and a little bit more.

With an ensemble cast including Brendan Fraser, pre-Oscar Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, there are enough contrasting, zany characters for any “Which character are you” Internet quiz.  But what keeps The Mummy from being just another visual-effects-laden Hollywood song and dance?
Continue reading

White Suburban Punk: REPO MAN and Real Rebellion

By: Victoria Large

Repo Man – 1983 – dir. Alex Cox

I don’t remember how I first heard of Repo Man, only that its reputation preceded it. As a teenager I actually picked up a used cassette of the film’s famous punk rock soundtrack at my local record store long before I was able to hunt down a copy of the movie itself, which for me only heightened its grungy cult flick allure. (For you youngsters, this was back when there were audiocassette tapes. And record stores. And suburban video stores with unpredictable inventories.) When I did finally see Repo Man, it lived up to my expectations simply by defying them. “…[T]he only real response to it is the perception of brilliance or the belief that it’s an utter piece of garbage,” writes Film Threat’s Brad Laidman. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of a cult classic.

Continue reading

KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

By Jared M. Gordon

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – 2008 – dir. Steven Spielberg

It was only a matter of time, I suppose, until aliens would show up in an Indiana Jones film.  After countless screenwriters and even more countless drafts, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull finally saw the light of cinemas nearly twenty years after the release of Last Crusade. The actual legend of the crystal skull concerns a series of artifacts discovered in Central and South America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Explorers purportedly unearthed several carved quartz skulls, and it was claimed that these skulls possessed not only unimaginable powers but that they could not have been crafted by modern means.  A 1996 BBC documentary investigation revealed that several crystal skulls that had been displayed in museums and held by collectors throughout the world were forgeries.  However, there did indeed exist a few specimens whose construction defied conventional explanation.

Speaking of defying convention, Indiana’s fourth outing has been tossed about as one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) of the series.  As an action film, it delivers, and Harrison Ford himself presents a terrific performance.  So what’s the problem with Crystal Skull?

Continue reading

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM

By Jessic O’Byrne

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – 1984 – Steven Spielberg

It would be easy to pick on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for its outdated and grandiose special effects or its condescending treatment of women, children, minorities, and essentially every other character in the film that is not played by Harrison Ford. It would be equally simple to write the film off as pure, unsubstantiated kitsch filled to the brim with unrealistic depictions of, sex, foreign cultures and academia. To do so, however, would be to stomp on the cavaliering dreams of the millions of little boys (and girls too, myself among them) who grew up in an era when our first glimpses of the outside world were broadcast to us in our cribs via TV and movies and our fictional heroes had to somehow be more grandiose than the already larger-than-life celebrities depicting them. The world has changed a lot since this film was originally released in 1984: we’ve all become a little older, a little fatter, and a little more politically correct. Temple of Doom offers viewers a chance to travel back to a simpler time when we could be satisfied with a tub of popcorn, and orange soda, and an entertaining (if not always fully engaging) adventure story. And so, as responsible stewards of our younger, less cynical (more easily amused) selves, we must throw aside our super PC mantles for a couple of hours in order to bask in the glory of all that is Indiana.

Continue reading

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE

By Jared M. Gordon

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – 1989 – dir. Steven Spielberg

Sean Connery.

Harrison Ford is in this movie too, but Indy for the first time takes a backseat to a character that is even more engaging than he is: his father.

A public left scratching their heads at the significance of Shiva Lingas identified far more readily with the lure of the Holy Grail.  “Every man’s dream,” indeed.

Of course, the Holy Grail is a metaphor, and while it makes a physical appearance in this film, it stands for tempered wisdom, responsibility, and courage.  Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) says, “The search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us.”  Indiana Jones, as he walks the breath, word, and path of God, demonstrates his humility, his wisdom, and his bravery.  In short, Indiana must prove himself heroic to be worthy of the grail.  Certainly, so must we all.

Continue reading

SERENITY

By: Victoria Large

Serenity: Sci-Fi on the Raggedy Edge

If you’re familiar with writer-director Joss Whedon’s much-beloved 2005 science fiction film Serenity, you’ve likely heard the tale of the picture’s convoluted path to the big screen. It begins with the 2002 premiere and subsequent, swift cancellation of Firefly, Whedon’s hour-long TV series that fell victim to an impatient network (not to mention a dreadful ad campaign that featured Smash Mouth’s then-ubiquitous tune “Walking on the Sun”). Serenity picks up where Firefly was forced to leave off, and Firefly’s vocal fans (some who watched the initial broadcasts, many who were converted by the hot-selling DVDs of the series) embraced the big screen version, only too happy to have their favorite characters back. Fans championed the film with a missionary zeal; at the time of Serenity’s release, a story circulated about a Vancouver man who bought 320 tickets to the film just to give them away to strangers. Alas, Serenity didn’t set the box office aflame during its initial run, but it has predictably had a strong DVD afterlife, and indeed more staying power than the Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan (a massive hit, moneywise, in 2005) that held the number one box office spot when Serenity opened, or the Vin Diesel vehicle Doom (even that had a bigger opening weekend). Serenity’s charms are many whether you’re a newcomer or a diehard, and in the past few years it has settled comfortably into a position of rare prestige in the cinematic sci-fi canon.

Continue reading

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

By Jared M. Gordon

Raiders of the Lost Ark

The movie that defines the action-adventure genre, Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced movie audiences everywhere to Indiana Jones, the romance of archaeology, and just how dangerous the ark of the covenant can be.

*FUN FACT: According to the Ten Commandments, graven images were strictly forbidden.  However, the one time God makes an exception in the bible is for the lid of the ark itself, adorned with two golden seraphim.  Why do you think that is?

Indiana Jones took full advantage of the blockbuster mentality that had gripped Hollywood since the arrival of Jaws six years prior.  Gone were the days of the big studios, the stables of stars, and the Vietnam-enriched, experimental filmmaking that defined much of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Continue reading