The Best Action Movie, Ever

This weekend the CAPA summer movie series at the Ohio Theatre features Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I might wander over tomorrow afternoon to catch a showing of what I consider to be the best action adventure movie ever made, and watching it on the big screen will make it even better.  That’s if I can get a seat, of course — the last time the Ohio Theatre screened Raiders, more than 2,000 bought tickets to watch it.

I’m sure that some people will disagree with my assessment.  I guess it depends on how you define “action.”  Raiders isn’t filled with fight scenes, although it has some truly great ones, and if you’re looking for a huge body count, this film really won’t fill the bill —  but the people who do get killed tend to die in very novel and interesting ways, whether it’s getting pincushioned by poison darts or chopped to smithereens by the propeller of a plane or being melted by the Wrath of God.

raiders-of-the-lost-arkBut if you’re looking for action from beginning to end in exotic locations, with a very human hero and his two-fisted love interest mixing in a lot of laugh-out-loud humor along the way, Raiders is the movie for you.  The first scene alone, with Indiana Jones brilliantly avoiding countless traps, getting betrayed by his assistant, and barely avoiding getting crushed by a giant rolling stone in his quest to steal a gold icon, is worth the price of admission.

Then you follow it with appalling Nazi bad guys, Old Testament biblical stuff, and some of the greatest stunt work ever filmed.  We get to see Professor Indy in the classroom with his love-struck female students, then teaching the Washington bureaucrats what they should have learned in Sunday school, Marion’s drinking bout with Nepali goat herders, the monkey who gives the Seig Heil salute, an exhausted Indy’s decision to shoot down a sword-wielding giant, Marion’s encounter with the Nazi whose apparent torture instrument turns out to be a coat hanger, Indy and Sallah and Marion at the Well of the Souls . . . and you realize that there’s so much great stuff in this movie it blows away the competition.  And when the capstone shows the Ark of the Covenant being crated and stored in some unending government warehouse, you’ve simply got the greatest action movie, ever.  There’s really no argument.

Raiders is playing at 7 p.m. tonight and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. tomorrow.

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“Top Men”

Whenever I hear a speech by Donald Trump these days, I hear the same refrain.  Every problem will be solved by getting the best business people to work on it — to build a wall, to negotiate trade deals, etc., etc., etc.  We heard this again in The Donald’s victory speech in New Hampshire last night.  Of course, those stud managers and negotiators who are going to save the country and let us “win again” never get named.

It reminds me of one of the last scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, after Indy has recovered the Lost Ark of the Covenant, turned it over to the U.S. government, and learned to his dismay that he’s not going to be able to study it.  Who is going to study this object of unimaginable power?  The tubby, pipe-smoking government bureaucrat simply responds, with smug assurance:  “Top men.”  Of course, the Ark ends up boxed into a crate and carted off to some anonymous shelf in a seemingly endless government warehouse.

The next time the Trumpster makes this point, I wish he would just use the phrase “top men.”

It’s Why He’s Han Solo

Harrison Ford is 71 years old.  In June, his ankle was broken by a door on the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s ship.

There’s some bittersweet humor in Ford’s injury, because in the original Star Wars trilogy the Millennium Falcon was viewed by everyone except Han Solo as a piece of intergalactic junk.  There was always a question about whether the light drive or the shields would work, and Solo and Chewbacca and R2D2 spent hours working on the ship and trying to tie down some loose circuit or faulty system.  The fact that a malfunctioning door in the Millennium Falcon broke the ankle of the actor who plays Han Solo therefore is ironic indeed.

But here’s the thing:  Ford is back on the set after only two months, and filming has resumed.  Ford was recently seen on the red carpet at some event and was walking without a limp or any assistance.

Speaking as a 50-something guy who is still somewhat gimpy after toe surgery six months ago, I’m stunned at what Ford has done.  For a 71-year-old guy to bounce back so quickly from a broken ankle is nothing short of amazing.  It just shows why Harrison Ford was the perfect Han Solo — and also the perfect Indiana Jones, for that matter.

The new Star Wars movie, featuring all three of the actors who created the iconic characters of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, is set for release on December 18, 2015.  Mark your calendars!

 

Outdoing Indiana Jones

Modern technology is allowing for amazing advances in, of all things, the discovery of sites and artifacts of ancient civilizations.  The most recent example is found in Egypt, where the new field of “space archaeology” — which seems oxymoronic — has produced the discovery of 17 lost pyramids and thousands of previously undiscovered tombs and settlements.

The space archaeologists use space telescopes, powerful cameras, and infra-red imaging to identify materials buried beneath the surface.  Ancient Egyptians built using mud brick, which has a different density than the surrounding soil and allows the outlines of buried structures to be detected.  One use of the technology was applied to make discoveries at the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis, which will forever be recalled by fans of Indiana Jones and Raiders Of The Lost Ark as the home of the Well of Souls and the Ark of the Covenant.

You don’t need a bullwhip, a well-worn hat, and the ability to take a punch to be an archaeologist — a satellite, a camera, and a creative approach to using new technology will do just fine.  And what is really exciting about this development is the potential uses of this technology in Babylon, and Persia, and other sites in the Fertile Crescent and elsewhere.  Who knows what other evidence of ancient civilizations will be found buried beneath the sands?

Let the Heroes Rest

Well, they’re making a new round of Superman movies. This news comes right after the announcement that Hollywood will also be rebooting the Spiderman franchise.

When I was a columnist for the Daily Northwestern, I wrote that I thought Hollywood should make fewer sequels and more movies with original plots and characters. I used the latest Terminator movie as an example of an uninspired sequel that strays from the vision of the original.

The new Superman and Spiderman movies are an even greater offense to our film tradition. At least the new Terminator broke new ground within the franchise. Like it or not (I did not), the new Terminator movie explored a different aspect of the Terminator universe than its predecessors. In the first three movies, we only saw Terminators sent back in time to kill humans who would end up playing a role in the future war. We never saw much of the war itself until the latest movie.

The new Star Wars and Indiana Jones films also get passes. The Star Wars prequels showed us an era of the Star Wars universe that we hadn’t seen before. “The Crystal Skull” gave us a different Indiana Jones – growing old,  even ready to settle down with a wife. And heck, at least they were made by the same talent that made the originals.

There’s no new perspective to shed on the Superman and Spiderman stories. Both franchises have been done recently. The Spiderman franchise was rebooted in 2002. I remember the excitement around it very well. There were sequels in 2004 and 2007 – less than three years ago. The series’ stars, Tobey Macguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco, are still young. The Spiderman story has already been told for our times.

Same with Superman. “Superman Returns” came out in 2006, not that long ago.

Maybe someone can revisit these franchises in a few decades, when special effects have improved, memories of the last movies have faded, and our society has changed a little bit. I didn’t mind the current Batman series, which began in 2005, even though the previous one only ended in 1997. Special effects technology progressed dramatically between “Batman and Robin” and “Batman Begins”, but more importantly, we changed. September 11th made us more paranoid and self-doubting, and as a result the new Batman movies are darker than the old ones. Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 “Batman” was obnoxious; he liked to spray paint on classic works of art. Heath Ledger’s 2008 Joker was evil and perverted, taking delight in disfiguring and murdering people. He took advantage of our society’s weaknesses to confront us with difficult moral choices.

We haven’t undergone any changes since 2007 significant enough to justify rebooting these two franchises. Leave them alone for a while. When the current Spidermans look as dated as the 1960s Batmans, then you can reboot. (OK, maybe you don’t have to wait that long.)

The sad thing is that these pointless movies occupy lots of valuable talent. Christopher Nolan, who directed “The Dark Knight” and the innovative “Memento”, shouldn’t waste his time acting as a “mentor” for the new Superman. He should be making another “Memento”.