Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989 - DVD)
I've noticed that Last Crusade, the third Indiana Jones film, seems to have garnered a mixed reputation over the years by other reviewers, and I'm not quite sure I get it. Maybe it's because the plot is a lot like Raiders, only with Sean Connery thrown in, and I suppose that's true, but it's one of those things that's so similar and yet so different. Up until Crystal Skull, this was the only Indiana Jones movie I had seen in a theater, and no doubt that had some impact on my impression of it (especially the ending, which is still my favorite "Ride into the Sunset" scene of all time - proof that even if something's a cliche, if it's done well and earned, it can still be great). At the time, I even dared say it was my favorite of the original trilogy, and who could blame me? It had everything that made the first movie great - the action, the adventure, the characters (including the return of Sallah and Marcus Brody), the riddles, and especially the humor - along with the wonderful addition of Sean Connery as Indy's father, which adds a whole new level of conflict for Harrison Ford's character that I think a lot of people can actually relate to.
Henry Jones Sr. has been obsessed all his life with finding the Holy Grail, so much so that he barely paid any attention to his son. Both of these issues backfire on him when the Nazis, who are also interested in finding the Grail, kidnap him. So, now Indy must save his dad, reconcile his relationship with him (which leads to a lot of humorous moments, but also some poignant ones), and engage in a race against time to find the Grail before the Nazis do.
The rapport between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford is largely what makes this movie work (even though, in reality, Connery is not old enough to be Ford's father). But that's not to say it doesn't have it where it counts in the action/adventure department, either. Indy and company visit many exotic locales, including the waterways of Venice, an Austrian castle, and a scorching desert with a peculiarly-shaped canyon in set pieces that create many iconic and memorable moments. As an avid fan of adventure and roleplaying games, I was especially appreciative of the "puzzles" they have to solve to find the Grail. And if it sounds very unlikely that Indiana Jones, on horseback and armed with only a pistol and his whip, could beat a tank full of Nazi soldiers, somehow Spielberg and Lucas find a way to make it believable.
Only question is... Why were there a bunch of fake Grails that would kill you? (Besides as an excuse to have a really disturbing rapid-aging death scene.) The real Grail, regardless of whether or not you believe in its existence, at least has an explanation. The fake ones don't.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984 - DVD)
The fact that I saw Temple of Doom, the second Indiana Jones film, when I was a kid may account for why I don't hate it like a lot of other people do. As a kid, I didn't mind the inclusion of Short Round, and as I've grown up, I've accepted that he's there, even if it doesn't make much sense and leads one to wonder what eventually happened to him after this movie's events are over. I also wasn't as bothered by Willie's constant screaming back then, although as an adult, I can understand why others are. Whenever characters act like she does in action movies, I want to slap them at some point and say, "Quit whining and wake up! You're on an adventure!" And one point, she knocks out a Thuggee (the movie's main form of villain) during the fight scene before the infamous mine cart ride, and you think she finally has, but then she's right back to screaming and complaining again.
The other issue of concern is the "racism" of such scenes as the banquet in the Indian Pankot Palace, where characters consume unconventional delicacies like raw snakes, monkey brains, and eyeball soup, and the decision to use a Thuggee Cult as the villains at all. I don't feel I'm of the qualifying race to defend all of this, but let's just say that even as a kid, I never once thought that the Thuggees were meant to represent all of India or that what the cultists chose to eat was typical of the country. But all the same, Temple of Doom probably wouldn't be my first choice to watch with Indian friends or acquaintances.
But with all that said, the level of adventure, action, excitement, and humor is top-notch, even if it is a bit darker at times than what the other two in the original trilogy descend to (and why do people like The Empire Strikes Back for the being the "darkest" Star Wars movie, yet hate Temple of Doom for attempting the same?) Amrish Puri as Mola Ram, the sinister leader of the Thuggee Cult, is perfect as he completely relishes the role (so much so, that he kept his head shaved after this movie and pretty much only played villains from there on out in his ongoing Bollywood career).
And let's face it - video game fans have Temple of Doom to thank for all those great mine cart sequences in games like the Donkey Kong Country series, Alundra, Super Mario RPG, and even Final Fantasy VI.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 - DVD)
When I was a kid, I actually liked Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade more than Raiders, but the former was because I saw Temple of Doom first, and the latter because I had specific fondness for the Sean Connery/Harrison Ford father/son dynamic (and because it was the only one I saw in a theater).
As an adult, I've come to appreciate that Raiders is the best of the original trilogy, as it has the tightest storytelling, pacing, and none of the uncomfortable pitfalls of Temple of Doom, and not to mention the impeccable stuntwork. Once you know that really is a guy (a stuntman, but no less impressive) going under a moving truck during the car chase scene, it's easy to be completely captivated by that scene on every rewatch. Unlike, oh say, Crystal Skull, when Shia LaBeouf is swordfighting on a tank your mind can just say, "The computer diddit".
By now, pretty much everyone knows everything there is to know about Indy's quest to retrieve the lost Ark of the Convenant before the Nazis do, and there's little I can say that other reviewers haven't already said (and probably said better) - snakes, face-meltings, giant runaway boulders - this movie has everything you could possibly want in an adventure flick, so if you haven't seen it by now, you should probably leave my site and not return until you have. On that note, since this is the third Indiana Jones film I've reviewed this month (and since that Muppet Show review ran a bit long), I'm going to end this quickly with a rebuttal of an argument I keep seeing brought up from time-to-time:
Sometimes people rebut criticism of the CGI animals in Crystal Skull, like the monkeys and the groundhogs, by implying that it's hypocritical to not criticize Raiders for its "magical monkey", too. Well, the monkey in this movie isn't CGI, it's real, and trained to do all the things it does, aside from its "voice", which is provided by Frank Welker (who basically reprised it later for Abu in Disney's Aladdin). Is it somewhat unrealistic that a monkey could act as a spy? Maybe. But nowhere near as much as the fake-looking and preposterously-acting groundhogs and monkeys of Crystal Skull, the former of which don't even have any reason to be there. Considering that the Raiders monkey actually fails its mission, it's reasonable to surmise that the lesson is you never send a monkey to do a man's job.
Where the Red Fern Grows (1974 - DVD)
I own this movie because I got it for a quarter and I watched it because I was angry at raccoons. A band of roving raccoons forced us to stop putting out food for stray cats for awhile, and I think they're responsible for tearing up some roof tiles on our house. Knowing this was a story about a young boy raising two coondogs during the Great Depression, I wanted some "revenge". Although, it should be noted that no raccoons are actually shown being killed, but skins from already-dead raccoons are shown several times (and I'm guessing they're real because it's still possible to obtain them).
Anyway, that aside, it's a pretty simple story, and has almost no recognizable people involved, the closest to which is Andy Williams who sings the occasional songs. I've heard it follows very closely to the book, changing only a few minor details here and there and omitting a few things that weren't entirely necessary for the general plot. I do offer a caveat - old stories about dogs often end sadly (think Old Yeller) and this one is no exception. I'm also concerned about the dog and cougar fight scene. This movie was made before people started caring about animals getting hurt or killed in movies, and since it looked to me like the dogs and the cougar really were together with no trickery of the camera or "invisible" fencing (such as the glass that separates Indy from the cobra in Raiders of the Lost Ark), I just hope none of those animals were injured.
One thing that I find weird is the movie's morality. It could be taken as a life lesson about growth and loss...but it kind of seems like what really happened is that "God", after giving the kid what he wanted, decided to give the mother what she wanted...which requires being a jerk to the kid. I don't think "life's a bitch" or "God's a jerk" are the lessons the author intended one to take away from this work, but it's hard not to.
The Muppet Show, Season One (1976 - DVD)
It's funny sometimes to go back and watch the first season of a show after you've seen some of the later seasons. In the case of The Muppet Show, it didn't take long for things to change very drastically. Season 1 has, not only a much more Spartan intro as the budget was significantly lower, but a noticeably different core cast. Oh, the enduring stand-bys, such as Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, and Gonzo are all here, but who in the general public knows who Hilda the Seamstress or George the Janitor or Mildred Huxtetter are? While some of the mixups and changes were natural occurrences of the show's evolution, if muppeteer Eren Ozker hadn't left after Season 1, I'm betting some of her characters would still be around today.
While I suppose that young viewers who were not around at the time this show was made in the mid-70s will not recognize many of the guest stars, at least the music and humor is generally timeless. Some of my favorite musical performances are right here in Season 1, including the Muppet Glee Club's rendition of Perry Como's "Temptation", Paul Williams's "Old Fashioned Love Song" (better than the version I have on an album), the two performances of The Country Trio - a group of muppets constructed in the likenesses of Jim Henson, Jerry Nelson, and Frank Oz, and anything by the Electric Mayhem. And, of course, who could forget "Mahna Mahna"?
Comedy-wise, the show is pretty solid in that regard, with some of my favorites being "Sax and Violence", "Java", "Hugga Wugga", anything from the Swedish Chef, the Peter Ustinov episode, Phyllis Diller's attempt at "The Entertainer", Candice Bergen showing up the sexist farmer muppet, "Blue Danube in the Library", Statler and Waldorf's endless commentary, and geez, this would go on forever if I just kept listing them all. The only problem is that Season 1 relies more on reoccurring sketches than other seasons (At the Dance, Veterinarian's Hospital, Wayne & Wanda, Fozzie's Standup), and while these have their moments, they often rely too much on puns, doing the same basic joke over and over again, and/or jokes that are so old you've heard them a million times before.
Despite being a bit bumpy and lacking some of the familiar characters (Bunsen, but no Beaker, and no boomerang fish guy yet), it's still a whirlwind of a show that not only showcases the wizardry of Jim Henson's muppetry, but occasionally brings in outside talents such as the Mummenschanz and the shadow puppetry of Richard Bradshaw, as well as a good way to get exposure to some classic jazz and folk music. Definitely required viewing for any true Muppets fan.
Amanda Marshall (1996 - CD)
I don't know how I ended up with this CD as I've never even heard of this artist before, but I suspect it was given to me by someone, and I forget who or why they gave it to me. Apparently, Canadian artist Amanda Marshall (who sounds a lot like Sheryl Crow) had one hit in the US, "Birmingham", but I don't recognize it, so I don't think it's possible I bought it for that reason, either.
Anyway, while this sort of country/pop singing isn't typically my thing to listen to, I thought the album started off rather strongly, with it peaking at track 5, "Beautiful Goodbye" - a powerful and haunting ballad that's somehow stuck with me even after only hearing it once. But then the rest kind of got mushed together in my head. Some of the, uh, Christian symbolism is laid on a bit thick at times, too.
Arcane Rain Fell (2005 - Digital Album)
Since I really liked that Swiss metal album I borrowed earlier in the year, I thought I'd give Swedish metal band Draconian a chance, and well... This wasn't really the same thing at all. It may as well have been one long song from start-to-finish as every track is a slow, depressing, gravelly death dirge that sounds the same as the one that came before it. I was pleasantly surprised by Eluveitie, and I realize that technically they were folk metal while Draconian is true death metal, but even amongst other death metal I've heard, this was beyond the scope of being enjoyable for me.
Best of Bee Gees (1969 - Digital Album)
This album is a bit of a misnomer. It's actually Volume 1 of a series, and thus only contains the Bee Gees' pre-disco era work, so there's no "Stayin' Alive", as one might expect from a Bee Gees greatest hits. I've heard some rock purists who hate disco music claim they love the Bee Gees' earlier work because it's just like all the other British Invasion music. While I can see where they're coming from, I found most (well, more like all) of the tracks on this album to be too slow, sappy, emo, and sentimental for my tastes. In fact, this was the first time I ever started laughing out loud at an album I borrowed, and I'm not sure that was the intention. I really hope "I Started a Joke" wasn't meant to be taken seriously, because the lyrics are so ridiculously over-the-top.
So, maybe they're more talented than people give them credit for, I don't really know. Other 60s British Invasion bands I'm fond of (such as the Animals, the Moody Blues, and the Kinks) had both slow and upbeat songs, and even if they did divulge into sappiness once in a while, it was never enough to fill an entire album with it. If this really is the Bee Gees' best early work, I might just have to stick with Electric Light Orchestra as my go-to rock/disco crossover band.
The Flying Tigers (2002); Good Clean Fun (1991); How To Be a Dog (2006); How to Hunt a Deer (2009)
A bunch of indie rock albums from obscure/unknown bands (in order of how I have them listed: The Flying Tigers, Celebrity Skin, Bitchpups, and Kalamazoo) that I borrowed, which all pretty much fall under the category of, "Was not terrible, but nothing really stood out to or stuck with me after listening". I will confess that some of them I borrowed because of the cute and/or funny album art, but now that more recognizable artists are appearing on the service, that will be happening less often from now on. The most specific information I can impart for any of these are that "Good Clean Fun" was relatively the best of all of them (funny, because it's also the oldest) and "How To Be a Dog" is not a full-length album, and was thus too short to give much of an impression.
A lot of this stuff has been purged from the network as of the first of October because the record company that owns the rights to all of them wanted more money and we were basically like, "Ah HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! No." So, yeah. Time to move onto better things.
I am a Bird Now (2005 - Digital Album)
Artist: Antony and the Johnsons
After seeing a ton of glowing reviews for this album by Antony and the Johnsons, I just have to say: I DON'T GET IT!!! When the vocals on the first song started, to my ears it sounded like a cross between Tiny Tim and that guy that yodels up the mountain on The Price is Right, and I thought... I hope this is just a gimmick they're using for the first song. But no, the whole damn album is sung like that!
I've listened to some real tripe over the past year, but this made me want to grab a hose and scour my ears out after I was done. Maybe there's something here I'm not getting. Perhaps this type of music just isn't for me, but if I'd had some sort of warning beforehand that what the reviewers were calling "hauntingly beautiful vocals" was more like "depressing warbling", I might not have bothered.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970 - CD)
Artist: Derek and the Dominos
Layla is the only album ever released by the brief collaboration between Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon known as "Derek and the Dominos", along with a guest appearance by Duane Allman on the title track, which (despite the brevity of the band) has enjoyed enduring popularity over the decades, not only in radio airplay, but also in such popular films as Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. I was also personally familiar with "Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad" because a radio station I grew up listening to played it all the time - maybe even moreso than "Layla".
The album has received many awards, accolades, and an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It's not difficult to understand why. It's hard to argue with the quality of the blues-rock sound, thanks mostly to Clapton's trademark guitar playing. It's a great ride from start to end, whether the track is a 9-minute long jam session like "Key to the Highway", or a more radio-friendly number like "Layla", or a cover like Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing".
Shostakovich: The Tale About a Priest and His Labourer Balda & The Story About a Silly Baby Mouse (2001 - Digital Album)
This album was a huge learning experience for me. I learned, first of all, that it is possible for classical music to be bad. I don't know if I blame the compositions, though, as much as I do the performances, but I'll get to that in a minute.
I also learned a lot about Dmitri Shostakovich in doing research on these works. Apparently, the first work, "The Tale About a Priest and His Labourer Balda" was a score he was composing for an animated film. But after Shostakovich was denounced by Pravda, he stopped working on the score and the film was never completed. The only surviving part is the marketplace sequence after the rest was lost in a fire during World War II. I found the music for this work to be very hectic and disorienting, to the point that I didn't just want to put it out of my head after it was over, I was actively trying to do that while it was going on. Part of it could be that I can't understand the Russian lyrics, but I suspect that since the score and the film are unfinished, the work is probably suffering from a lack of polish and context.
Now, "The Story About a Silly Baby Mouse", on the other hand, was an animated feature that actually did get finished. The presentation on this album, while less hectic than the previous work, was almost as insufferable, but I know exactly why. I tracked down the original movie on YouTube, and it turns out that the performance on this album is not a direct port of the movie's score. It's a recreation, and a bad one at that (and it should be noted that the previous work is also a recreation, but you probably could've figured that out since the movie doesn't exist anyway). While the mouse is annoying to begin with (which is part of the point), it's far worse on the album as he cries almost constantly, and the singers portray their animal roles by making very loud sound effects - the "pig" makes snorting between lines, the duck quacks, etc., and often the music dies completely while this is going on. This doesn't happen in the film, which also generally sounds much better overall. While it still would've been rather odd to listen to out-of-context, it could've been more acceptable if only the performance had remained more faithful to the original movie version, or had just been the original movie version.
So, while I did learn some very interesting things, I can't give a recommendation to this album. You'd be far better off just watching that YouTube video I linked. Especially since the animation is rather lovely and you won't get that experience from the CD.