About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mongol Raiders

Mongol. Seen Tuesday evening June 3, 2008 at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, Aud. #9 (the Majestic). 1 Slithy Toad.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Seen Tuesday evening June 3, 2008 at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, Aud., #2 (The Kings). 2.5 Slithy Toads.

So to do the obscure movie first... Mongol is a Russian movie depicting the Adventures of Genghis Khan as a Young (and Not so Young) Boy, ending after he has united the Mongol empire but before he has conquered the world. It blames everything on the fact that Genghis lost his sled Rosebud (excuse me, his father) when he was a young boy. I hate not to like it because I got to see a preview screening via the Museum of the Moving Image, and the direct Sergei Bodrov was there and did a Q&A afterward, but I don't think it's very good. That being said, give the movie an extra toad if you liked Lawrence of Arabia. This movie is a real wonder to look at, filmed on exotic locations all over the world and picturesque in virtually every frame If you like watching camels ride across the dessert, how can you not like watching horses roam across the steppe? And give the movie another extra toad if you liked the abysmal 300. This movie too has the nicest digital specks of blood flowing during the many battle scenes. If you liked both Lawrence of Arabia and 300, you'd probably love this movie with every fiber of your being.

Why didn't I? Well, it has that generic historical movie music with male chorus. All Mongols look alike (at least a lot of the ones n the movie), so it was hard to tell who was who, and this was exacerbated by the jumps in time which meant you were just getting used to one look of the young Genghis when all of a sudden it was six years later and he looked six years older. It really does seem facile to try and explain away Khan on account of youthful trauma, and having him lose his sled probably would have made just as much sense. And you still can't root for the guy so much. There's also a farcicial romance which we are supposed to find deeply moving even though it mostly consists of very brief visits between captures or campaigns full of sweet words that don't mean much and one silhoutted sex scene that maybe we're supposed to find funny.

This is one of the last releases from Picturehouse, an indie-ish imprint of Time Warner that's just been killed. I will try and remember Picturehouse for the wonderful King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, and not for this.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a good example of one difference between making a movie and writing a book. Books, you want to grab the reader quickly. Sample chapters are read on line, opening pages read in the bookstore, agents like me may read only a few lines or paragraphs before rejecting something. Movies, if you want to have one half of a good movie why not make it the second half so people will leave the theatre with fond memories. Once someone has gone to a theatre, paid to see a movie, sat in a comfy rocking chair, there's a reluctance to walk out, so if you're willing to take your chances that the audience will still be awake, have 'em leave happy.

Crystal Skull is OK in its first half, but comes to life in its second when Karen Allen makes her return to the series. More wit, more fun, more to the relationship between Mutt and Jones. There's a wonderful scene with cars racing along the edge of a cliff that manages, much to my surprise, to work. It's artificial but done just well enough to avoid the sfx overkill that marred the Narnia movie or Peter Jackson's King Kong. In fact, any critic who bemoaned the artificiality of this Indy movie while praising the Jackson Kong should be excluded from the critics circle. It was only in the closing scenes that I felt this movie went a little bit too far in showing off the technology. I'm not quite sure what little Ewoks were doing in this movie, or why they the extended capuchin relatives of the monkey from the first movie? Did Indy get in trouble for passing thru Cuba on his way to Peru? Or was this taking place before the embargo?

I'd like to give special praise to John Williams, and I would urge anyone who sees this movie to stay thru to the last notes at the end of the credits. We're nearing the end of a special time and era of film music that was best practiced by Jerry Goldsmith, who has departed, and John Williams, who is in his 70s and not working so much any more, and occasionally a Randy Newman or other composer. Movies that had instrumental music with powerful themes, hummable melodies, recurring motifs. In the best of these movies, the end credit score was a work of art unto itself, and Williams may be the best practitioner of all times. Yeah, the Williams end credit was and is somewhat of a formula in its place. Usually leading out of some kind of triumphant moment, reprising all the main themes and motifs, a bit of a quiet stretch in the middle with the softer stuff, and then building exuberantly near the end. One of the things I might like most about the Superman score is that it has more of a fade-out in the closing moments, the gorgeous music drifting away in the ear just as the Warner logo appears at the end. It's been almost four years to the day since I last heard a great John Williams finale, over the excellent final credit sequence of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan, which was one of the final movies to play my beloved Loews Astor Plaza. Just long enough to have forgotten how good John Williams can be. Overall, I don't think this is one of his better scores, but those final five minutes are up there in any and every way. I guess you can experience it on DVD, but you can't experience it on TV any more with the end credits of a movie rushed and crunched and hidden behind ads, and music like this might do well on good home theatre but does way more than that in the large experience digital sound of your local theatre. I don't see anyone coming along who can do what Williams does.

I'd also seen Temple of Doom and Last Crusade at the Astor Plaza. My first experience with Raiders was at the Sack Cinema 57 in Boston. Bottom line on Crystal Skull ils that it's no more or less forgettable than Doom and Crusade were, and thanks to Karen Allen maybe a tad better. Seeing the original Raiders for the first time, which any of us can only do once, will always be the best Indy experience.


Redzilla said...

We really will miss John Williams and that kind of movie score. I wonder how long we'll exist in a movie state of pre-fab soundtracks--using extant pop music that brings its own baggage to the movie experience. Increasingly, too, there seems to be a willingness to use a song without regard for whether it suits the moment in the film. Take Rammstein's music in Lost Highway. Musically it may be fitting, but lyrically, I just sit back and wonder--did Lynch know what the songs were about or did he not care?

Cor said...

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Lynxswift said...

Well Mongol was finally released on DVD this week. So, I picked it up at Best Buy. I liked it for the most part and found the story interesting. It did have some serious flaws. The gaps in time were a bit jarring, I agree. Especially the fact that it doesn't explain how he was able to learn how to fight or employ strategies and tactics for an army. Seems impossible that he'd be able to learn such things being a prisoner most of his life or living out in the wild. I don't think losing his father was his impetus for being such a warlord. I think it was his disgust at the mistreatment he and his family received from his very own people that was his impetus. Anyways, I found the film at least worth watching. I'll give it extra stars since I liked Lawrence of Arabia and 300, not to mention Kingdom of Heaven which I recently bought on Blu-Ray :).