Written by William C. Benker The survival of the auteur in today’s synthetic assembly line…
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.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – 2000 – dir. Ang Lee
“When in comes to the affairs of the heart, even the greatest warriors can be consummate idiots.”
Ang Lee’s homage to Du Lu Wang’s kung-fu novel, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, I must confess, did not make an instant impression upon me the first time that I saw it. The film soars with Lee’s breathtaking direction and cinematography by Academy award-winner Peter Pau, but I found the story meandering and simple.
Of course, I missed the point, discovered only after a re-watch. The story is indeed simple. It is the characters who are complex. This is an ironic movie about opposites: finding through loss. Gaining through sacrifice. Joy through despair. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a simple story about masculinity, femininity, and life.
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.
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?