Thursday, August 28, 2008

Indian Jones and the Useless Artifacts

Things that make me go hmmmmm . . .

No folks, I promise this will not be a post about either Arsenio Hall or the C + C Music Factory. This is about stuff in the Indiana Jones movies that makes me go hmmmm. Hopefully these won't be the obvious ones

The knight who guards the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Why? If taking the grail outside of the little temple place it was in would cause the place to earthquake and kill you, why have some knight sit there for hundreds of years guarding it? Sure, the grail will let you live forever but it's not like it'll do you any good. You'd have to stay in the temple forever just like the knight. Which leads me to a bigger observation . . .

The magical artifacts from the Indiana Jones movies are useless. Well, that's not fair to say. The Shankara stone from Temple of Doom did help that village grow crops and prosper but that's the only one!

The Ark was supposed to help any army that carried it be invincible. But, when the German army actually gets their hands on it they all get melted by some ghosts flying around. But, really, the Nazis should have known better than to expect cooperation from Yahweh. Did they never read the Bible? He spends the majority of his time pissed off and smiting people who weren't nearly as mean as the Nazis. The U.S. Government at least had enough sense to know it wouldn't help. They locked the thing away in Area 51 just like the Crystal Skull so no Americans would get melted. So yeah, Ark, bad idea. Didn't work as advertised.

Shankara Stones. OK, now we're getting somewhere. Not only did the one help the village but all three let Mola Ram do cool shit like pull a guy's heart out. The only downside is that the village fell into decay after the Thugees stole the stone. I guess whatever Hindu god controls those things is pretty adamant about the stone and/or stones being present. No, "well, you villagers are nice folks, you don't need the stone" attitude. You either have it or you are fucked. But, regardless of that rigid rule of blessings, at least the damn things do something useful.

The Holy Grail. So, drinking from this thing is supposed to make you live forever. But, I suppose the powers-that-be decided that we couldn't just have any old Tom, Dick, or Harry living forever. What if the guys that made Meet the Spartans drank from it? We'd have to deal with them making shitty parody movies until the sun went nova. So, to prevent such catastrophes the Grail was put in some temple and has been guarded by a knight ever since the crusades. But, like I mentioned before, you can't actually take it out of the building. I guess you could go back in every month and take a swig but the location would make it impractical. Not to mention, can you imagine the line? So, once again, useless.

Back to the knight. So he stayed in there guarding something that was booby-trapped in such a way as to destroy the building it was in, killing you in the process, if you tried to take it. Soooooooo . . . why guard it at all? I think he must be the medieval version of a rent-a-cop. You know, those fat, lazy fuckers that sit in lobbies "guarding" buildings at night. The knight just had a cooler outfit and got to carry a sword. So, with nothing to really guard, what did he do? Wouldn't he need a fresh water supply to keep drinking from the grail at the very least? Surely he didn't just sit there looking noble for hundreds of years. Anyway.

The Crystal Skull. What good did that thing do anyone? Harold Oxley took the thing to Accator but it caused him to go mental so he took it back where he found it. It was supposed to provide some awesome amount of alien knowledge and all it did was turn him into a schizophrenic. Then, Irinia Spalko, who really did want the knowledge, returns the skull and what does she gets for her troubles? Yeah, that's right. She gets killed. And not just killed, she gets the space-age version of what happened to the Nazis with the Ark. Thanks a lot interdimensional aliens. You're no better than the gods who control the previous artifacts.

Oh, so what does Indy get for all his troubles with these lousy artifacts? Not a damn thing. He isn't able to take a single one to a museum nor is he able to write a paper that an academic institution would actually believe. Imagine going before an IRB and telling them, "well you see I found the Holy Grail but it was guarded by a 600 year old knight who wouldn't let me have it. Then when we tried to take it, the building fell apart." You'd be exploring a padded cell for the rest of your life or at least until a Terminator broke you out.

So, the moral of the Indiana Jones movies is thusly . . . If you hear about some cool powers you might get from some ancient artifact, don't bother. If they are being sought by bad guys for nefarious purposes, don't worry, the creatures that made up the bullshit story to begin with will kill them once they find it. It was all probably just a trap for bad guys anyway. It's not worth your time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

I know that some of you have been checking Chris Johnson Discusses Stuff to see if I have shared my thoughts on the new animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Well, wait no more my loyal readers. This is what you have been waiting for.

I used to read Harry Knowles' reviews and wonder why he spent so much time going into his backstory. I totally understand this now. Because to really understand why I enjoyed the movie you need to know a few things about me. For those of you that talk to me every day, none of this will be front-page news. But, lately my reviews have started being read by old friends who haven't had a real conversation with me in a decade or more. So, let me explain my history and loves within the Star Wars universe.

I grew up with and love Star Wars. In fact, I still own all of my childhood Star Wars toys and posess a vast collection of vintage graded toys and modern era figures. My favorite Star Wars character is Boba Fett. My second favorite SW character is Wat Tambor. (If you don't know who he is, look him up. He rocks.) I am a HUGE fan of the goofy aspects of the SW universe. I really like seeing Jar Jar step in Bantha shit and yell "icky-icky goo!" I like it when the Kadu farts in his face and he says "Pee-usa!" I have never had a problem with the acting skills of Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, or Natalie Portman. Hell, I even like Flo the droid waitress that offer Obi-Wan a glass of Jawa juice! I do have to wonder, however, who in the hell would want to drink anything made by Jawas. Who knows, might be good. It's not like I have ever tried any Jawa food.

So, suffice it to say, I am not a prequel hater. I love them. In fact, my favorite time period in the SW timeline is the Clone Wars. Whenever I read the same old bullshit criticisms of the prequels I want to personally tell all of the haters to eat shit and die. For those of us that actually get what Star Wars actually is, instead of hating it for it not being what we think it ought to be, the new movies are pure joy. Now the EU shit like the Zahn books and the Yuhzan Vong sucks more dick than a gay prostitute in a San Francisco bath house. But I digress . . .

I had a huge smile on my face the whole time I was watching The Clone Wars. I knew going in that it was essentially a story arc from the series put together for a theatrical release. So, does it work as a stand-alone move per-say? Yes and no. Without the rest of the series to anticipate watching, we would be left to wonder whatever happens to Ahsoka before Episode III. But, knowing what the movie was, it works great.

The movie picks up immediately after Episode II. Anakin is now a full Jedi Knight. This is great because it makes it clear that the Gendy Tartikovsky Clone Wars (AKA Jedi Jack) are not canon since Anakin did not become a full Jedi Knight until right before Episode III in that continuity. Jedi Jack sucked ass. Thank you George for taking it out of the official canon. The movie picks up in the middle of a sweet battle.

We meet Anakin's new padawan named Ahsoka Tano. She's the same species as Shaak Ti but very young. She annoyed the piss out of me during the first 30 minutes but after her character was given time to develop she grew on me. I do question the wisdom of sending a young padawan learner into the middle of the Clone Wars but the Jedi are stretched thin so I guess they need all the help they can get. So give Ahsoka a chance and hopefully you'll start liking her like I did.

The plot revolves around Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress kidnapping the son of Jabba the Hutt and trying to frame the Jedi for it. Both sides want Jabba's favor so that they may travel freely in the outer rim territories.


I absolutely LOVED Jabba's son who Ahsoka nicknames "Stinky." The idea of a little baby Hutt being carried around in a backpack is just priceless! Hutts are like cats, they start off cute but become a nuisance when they get older. But wait, the Hutt fun doesn't end with Stinky! We also get to meet Jabba's uncle Ziro the Hutt. Ziro lives on Courascant in an area kind of like the French Quarter in New Orleans (pre Katrina). He talks in perfect English with a lisp and is painted purple with shapes and patterns on him. As best I can tell, Ziro is playing for the pink team. The character is just one of those things so absurd that you have to laugh. A gay Hutt? Completely unexpected and out of left-field. Just the kind of goofy crap I enjoy! He may go on to be one of my other favorite SW characters.

I love Battle Droid humor. This movies has it in spades my friends. There is enough "Roger Roger!" to keep a smile on the face of even the most cynical fan. I also love Jawa humor. Every time a ship lands, the Jawas come out of nowhere and try to steal as many parts as they can. Classic!

It was also really neat to see the likes of Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Count Dooku at Jabba's palace on Tatooine. There are some great references for hardcore fans. My favorite was actually referring, on-screen, to the palace as a Bo'mar Monk monastery. We also get a scene that deals with Anakin's still seething anger over the death of his mother when Ahsoka asks him about Tatooine being his homeworld.

So, is it an equal of the live-action movies? No. But I didn't expect it to be. It can't be, not because it's animated, but because it isn't telling the main story of the Skywalker family. That is the job of the episodes of the saga. This is filling in some gaps. It does a really cool job of doing just that. If you are a Star Wars fan that doesn't have a chip on his shoulder about he prequels, you will enjoy the movie and the series to come. If you are still getting your panties in a wad over characters like Jar Jar and claiming Lucas "rapes your childhood", do us all a favor and just don't watch it. odds are we've heard it all before and the world will be better off with a little less bitching.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chris Johnson Chants Stuff

Check out yours truly on the promo for this Sunday's VCW show!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Killing of John Lennon

This was not an easy movie to watch. The Killing of John Lennon is a recreation of the events leading up to Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon. All of the narration we hear from actor Jonas Ball are Chapman's actual words. I went into this movie hoping to gain some insight into what made Chapman tick and why he needlessly killed the greatest musician of our time.

Quentin Tarantino says that everyone is either a Beatles person or an Elvis person. You can like them both but you always like one more than the other. I am for sure a Beatles person. And in the subset of Beatles fandom, I am a Lennon person. My favorite Beatles songs are primarily Lennon compositions like Happiness is a Warm Gun, A Day in the Life, I'm So Tired, and the list could go on. I also find Lennon's working-class rebellion and arrogance appealing. You could always see that resentment behind his eyes even when Brian Epstein had them dressed in grey suits. He chewed his gum and thought "what a bunch of wankers" to himself. So, needless to say, I do not have any good will or sympathy towards Mark Chapman.
The big question is, why make a movie about this little prick? He's someone who deserves no fame and no recognition whatsoever. Well, thankfully, this movie does not attempt to glorify him. It sets out to provide a realistic picture of Chapman's psyche. To that end, it portrays him just as he was and still is, a mentally ill loser who couldn't accomplish anything in life so he chose to make a name for himself by killing someone important.

We get a little of his background in Hawaii. His mom still hangs out at the beach and fucks guys younger than him and he resents her for it. He is married to a timid, mousy Asian girl who seems to put up with his crazy shit because she feels powerless to leave him. He works a shitty job and seems to have no sense of identity or self-worth. Unfortunately, he finds his identity in the pages of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Seeing himself as the real Holden Caufield, he uses the book as a blueprint for his life and a rationale for murdering Lennon. You see, to Chapman, Lennon is a phony. He's a rich man who told the world to "imagine no possessions." That perceived phoniness is his justification for the murder. The line on the cover of the movie is a quote from Chapman. "I was nobody until I killed the biggest somebody on Earth."

John Lennon's fame was based on his talent as a musician and his ideals as an activist. He did real things that mattered to real people. What he contributed to the world was positive. Did his life always match his words? Of course not. But as David Marcus once said "good words, and that's where ideas begin." What did Chapman do? He murdered a man in cold blood in front of his wife. And he thinks that makes him "somebody." Sorry fuckhead. You are still a nobody. Taking from us a man we all loved is not an accomplishment. You sir are the real phony.

The movie is slow and deliberate in how it is paced. You know what is going to happen and are filled with a sense of dread until it does. I really give credit to Jonas Ball for his performance. I think most actors try to bring a sense of pathos to the characters they play. Thankfully, Ball does not do that. He works hard to bring the real Chapman to life just as he was at that time. He shows us a creepy, wormy, little prick that deserves our contempt but is not played as a villain. It's multidimensional and realistic.

So, was it successful in showing me who Chapman was in 1980? Definitely. It really doesn't offer a point of view or psychological insight into the man. It just shows the events in a docudrama style. It's up to you to wrestle with what was wrong with him and why he did what he did. There are no easy answers and it is a credit to the movie that it doesn't try to give us one with a bow on top like some shitty episode of Law and Order.

This isn't a movie for everybody. But, if you are intrigued by what goes on in the mind of a man like Mark David Chapman, give it a watch.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

I rented three different movies over the weekend and wanted to share some of my thoughts on each of them with you my loyal readers. But where to begin? I figured I'd start with the first one I watched. And that would be the direct-to-video sequel Starship Troopers 3: Marauder. Why, you may ask, would I even want to see a DTV sequel to a Paul Verhoeven movie? Johnson, don't you know it's going to pale in comparison to the original? The way I figure, after seeing Robocop 3 in a movie theater, how much worse can it get? So basically, I did not go into ST3 expecting a Verhoeven movie. I just wanted to see something that had the same spirit and satirical tone of the original. Oh, and before someone brings it up, I don't read novels, so I don't give a shit about what happens in "the book." So did I get a pleasant viewing experience with the movie?

As a matter of fact I did. It has a much smaller scale due to the budget, but it does feature some cool action sequences. It even features a return of the Brain Bug from the original movie. It was written and directed by Ed Neunmeier who not only wrote the original Starship Troopers, but also the Verhoeven classic Robocop. He does manage to keep the spirit of the original alive and not just by having more news sequences with the famous "would you like to know more?" tag line. He actually manages to make the movie about something in terms of the fascist Federation. The driving issue of ST3 is religion. The thing is, Neumeier isn't really all that clear on what he thinks of it.

Basically, freedom of religion doesn't exist in the Federation and people who are religious are looked down on by most folks. There is a really cute, yet really annoying girl who says The Lord's Prayer repeatedly every time she's on the business end of a bug attack. Little-by-little, she wears down Jolene Blalock's character until she becomes a believer in her hour of need. Meanwhile, the woman who is command of the Federation sees that religion creates perfect soldiers because they stop asking questions and are willing do do whatever it takes because of faith. In the end, the Federation declares that there is a God, he is a citizen, and he is on the side of the Federation! But, at the same time, Lola Beck's conversion is sincere and she firmly believes God saved her from the HBIC (Head Bug in Charge). That's my term, not the movie's.

So what is it? Is freedom of religion necessary or is it just a useful tool for political power? The thing is, in declaring that there is a God, there still isn't freedom of religion in the Federation. The new policy just puts atheists in the same position the believers used to be in. So the message of the movie is confusing but it will spark debate. You can't say that for most DTV sequels.

As far as the cast is concerned, Casper Van Dien still can't act his way out of a paper bag. It's cool to see Johnny Rico back in action but he really isn't the main character. Jolene Blalock really carries the movie as Lola Beck. I think she's a good actress and more than just a nice body. It's a shame that Berman and Braga didn't give her much to work with on Enterprise. The CG effects looks straight outta 1995 TV (ie. Babylon 5). That is a nice way of saying they look crappy. But the budget was low so I understand. Unfortunately, my favorite bugs were not in the movie. That would be the Tanker Bugs. You know, the huge beetle looking ones that fart laserbeams into space. I guess they were too complicated for the budget of the movie. Oh well.

My suggestion for a fourth movie is to bring back Jolene Blalock but not Casper Van Dien. If Neumeier brings back a cast member from the original, my vote goes to Neil Patrick Harris.
If you can, watch the movie on Blu-Ray. The image is flawless. I imagine, given the budget, it was shot on HD video. It is a really nice looking disc. A nice looking presentation is always a plus for me.
Would you like to know more?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Origins: Rooftop . . . Let's Go!

Another catchphrase from my college years that never ceases to make me laugh is Rooftop . . . Let's Go! This one, unlike That's some cool shit, doesn't really make any sense to the general public. In fact, it's hard to really explain why it's so funny since only the people that knew Costas can truly understand. In this post I hope to not only explain the origins of the phrase, but also convey the flavor of the moment in which it was born. To begin, I will explain the man himself . . . Costas.

Our friend Dave Humphrey was smiled upon by the gods when he got his roommate assignment. The guy he got was from Greece and his name was Costas. His last name is forever lost to time. I couldn't pronounce it enough for the neural pathways to actually form a lasting memory. Before you go off on a "Johnson you xenophobic bastard," let me to you something about Costas. He didn't bathe, shower, or in any way wash himself. He owned this outfit that he played basketball in that looked like what Chevy Chase wore when Flecth played in Lakers games. He would go play ball all afternoon, sweat his ass off, then come back to his room, take off his Fletch outfit and fold it up and and put it in the drawer to wear again. It would never see the inside of a washing machine. Ralph was known to refer to him as "Costas, that smelly bitch!"

Well, one night Shanks and I had rented the video game Maximum Carnage for the SNES. OK, this game sucked so bad it is hard to describe. It was based on the equally crappy Spider-man miniseries of the same name. You old-school gamers will remember that before the Playstation, there was no saving of games. You had to save up enough lives to be able to win a game or else it was back to the beginning. I can remember guys who would pause games for days at a time so they wouldn't lose their place and have to start all over. Well, Maximum Carnage did not have many options for picking up extra lives. Not to mention, it was hard as shit. Not hard in a challenging way either. The various thugs would beat your ass and then it was back to the beginning of the level. The only way you could stay on a given level was to pick up some sort of "spider coin" midway through each level.

Well, alternately, Shanks and I would die and get kicked back to various starting points. Eventually Costas walked into the lounge and started watching us play the game. We were already frustrated with this piece of shit game enough without that smelly bitch coming in to watch. The level we were on at that moment was the rooftop. Everytime we would get kicked back to the start a full screen graphic would come up that said "Rooftop Let's Go." Each and every time that screen came up, Costas said, with great enthusiasm, "Rooftop! . . . Let's Go!" and would especially drag out the sound of the word "let's". That was all the fuck he would say! Not a word else. Just that every single time! It would have compounded the frustration of the game had it not been so damn funny.

Kevin Marsh and Brian Polak were also their to witness the birth of "Rooftop . . . Let's Go!" and still remember it fondly. I'm sure Costas is somewhere in Greece right now sweating, not bathing, and living his life oblivious to the fact that a bunch of Americans are still laughing about his inane commentary on our gaming. I doubt he even remembers saying it. But, if you ever read this Costas, I'd like to thank you for making me laugh to this day. You smelly bitch.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Can't Stop the Licensing!

I was thinking the other day about the songs that have been licensed out for use in movie trailers so many times that they have become an absurd cliche. The trailer for Tropic Thunder really plays on the licensed music cliche by opening it's trailer with "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield. It's a hilarious use of the song because of just how many times we have heard the opening notes of it used in movies about the war in Vietnam as well as their trailers. Well, let's all put on our thinking caps and list the songs that have been used in so many trailers that there should be a moratorium placed on using them . . .

1. "Bodies" by Downing Pool

I'm sure you all are as sick as me of anytime there is an action movie the trailer has to have the inane chorus of "let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor . . . aaaaaarrrrrhhhhhhhhhh!" Not only do I hate fake-ass "Nu metal" but I am sick of it being associated with anything remotely bad-ass. I think the response to this song should be Let the masters hit the fire, let the masters hit the fire!"

2. "Clocks" by Coldplay

So, this is the obligatory song for some sort of build-up of emotional tension. I think the main reason you hear it in trailers so much is because it really does sound like glorified generic production music.

3. "Let My Love Open the Door" by Pete Townshend

I love The Who as much as any other rock and roll fan but this song is pussy music at it's worst. This is the song we usually get when the love of a child or a woman thaws the icy heart of a man. I think in the Rom-Com 1o Commandments it's required to use this song in your trailers.

4. "Party Up" by DMX

This song's gone make me lose my mind . . . up in this theater, up in this theater!

5. "Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel

I'm so touched. I'm so moved. I'm so sick of this fucking song! Stop licensing it out! Give it a fucking rest!

6. "Yeah" by Usher

A favorite of the "hip hop dance" genre of films. My response? NO!

7. "Don't Bring Me Down" by ELO

I am a huge ELO fan. The overuse of their most famous song in trailers went against the premise of the song . . . it brought me down.

I am sure I am forgetting quite a few. Feel free to chime in with some others you all are tired of.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Planet of the Apes Blu-Ray set - HOLY SHIT!!!

Every once in a great while a studio finally does something right. By right, I mean exactly, dead-on, what you want. The royal fucking treatment. Today, 20th Century Fox announced the Blu-Ray box set for the Planet of the Apes films. These are some of the best films ever made. The Apes series is, without a doubt, one of the great epics of science fiction, on par with Star Wars. It's nice to see these films being treated with the respect they deserve. It will be released on 11/04. Just take a look at that picture! Here is what you get:

-A 5-disc set that includes all five vintage Apes films in full 1080p resolution with audio in English 5.1 DTS MA

-For the first time in the U.S., Conquest of the Planet of the Apes will be presented in its unrated version, with 8 minutes of additional footage.

-New Blu-ray extras will include a BonusView Science of the Apes viewing option, the Beyond the Forbidden Zone adventure game and 8 HD featurettes (A Public Service Announcement from ANSA, Evolution of the Apes, Impact of the Apes, From Alpha to Omega: Building a Sequel, The Secret Behind Escape, Riots and Revolutions: Confronting the Times and End of an Epic: The Final Battle).

-Each sequel film will include an isolated score track in 5.1 DTS MA. You'll also get an extensive, 200-page coffee table book with artwork and liner notes.

On top of that, you'll get all of the previously released DVD extras too including:

-Commentary by composer Jerry Goldsmith, commentary by actors Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy, Kim Hunter and makeup artist John Chambers.

-Text commentary by Eric Greene (author of Planet of the Apes as American Myth).

-The Behind the Planet of the Apes documentary (with all new interactivity and a timeline).

-Many additional SD featurettes and clips (including a Behind the Planet of the Apes promo (1988).

-Planet of the Apes makeup test with Edward G. Robinson (1966), Roddy McDowall on-set footage, Planet of the Apes dailies and outtakes (No Audio).

-The Planet of the Apes NATO presentation (1967).

-A Planet of the Apes vintage featurette (1968).

-A Look Behind the Planet of the Apes (1972).

-Don Taylor Directs Escape from the Planet of the Apes and J. Lee Thompson Directs Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).

-Original theatrical trailers, original sketches by costume designer Morton Haack, a photo gallery, a Planet of the Apes timeline, interactive pressbooks, vintage Apes newspaper galleries, advertising and lobby card galleries, and behind-the-scenes galleries.

The word "definitive" is tossed around a lot in terms of DVD and Blu-Ray sets these days. But, for the first time, I'd say that word is justified. This is a Planet of the Apes fan's wet dream. I know what I'll be doing during my days off at Thanksgiving!

*On a side note, I hope this is not the final artwork for the set. The reason I say that is because it looks like someone put a picture of Virgil played by Paul Williams in Battle for the Planet of the Apes on the silk-screen of the disc for Beneath the Planet of the Apes. I would assume the picture should be of Dr. Zaius. Hopefully they will get it fixed before final release.