DVD reviews
November 2008



All reviews by Loey Lockerby

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Many fans were disappointed — almost to the point of anger — when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas finally released this long-delayed fourth entry in the Indiana Jones series. It wasn’t as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark. It had too many goofy science fiction elements. It wasn’t the cinematic Second Coming.

Step back from the hype, though, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the same rollicking, absurd, old-fashioned adventure we all came to know and love back in the ‘80s. No more, no less.

Spielberg and Lucas wisely set the story 20 years after the previous installment, acknowledging the steadily advancing age of Harrison Ford (who can still do some impressive action scenes). The plot is barely comprehensible, with Indy getting mixed up with Soviet spies, El Dorado, Area 51 and a rebellious kid (Shia LaBeouf) who just might be his son with old flame Marian (Karen Allen).

Although Crystal Skull would have benefited from tighter plotting and a shorter running time, it’s still an entertaining mix of Spielberg’s crowd-pleasing style and Lucas’ penchant for outrageous mythmaking. It may not live up to two decades of anticipation, but then again, what could?

Extras: Over four hours of behind-the-scenes material, covering everything from props to script revisions to South American crystal skull legends. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5

The Incredible Hulk

Anyone who thought Ang Lee’s 2003 version of the Incredible Hulk was too slow and cerebral will love the latest reboot from Marvel Studios. Gone are the angst, daddy issues and bizarre pseudo-mysticism. This one is all about letting “Hulk smash!” … everything in sight.

Edward Norton continues the trend of unlikely superhero casting, and he almost disappears into the movie. Most superheroes are more interesting “in character” than they are as normal people, and that has never been truer than in Norton’s case. It’s not his fault, necessarily — he’s a fine actor — but director Louis Leterrier is only interested in moving the action along as quickly and loudly as possible. Bruce Banner is always running or turning into the green guy and destroying things, including tanks and the Hulk’s alter ego, the Abomination.

He’s good at it, too, even if it means the cast (which includes Liv Tyler, William Hurt and Tim Roth) gets overwhelmed by the explosions. The CGI effects are decent, if not overly impressive, but it’s the sound and fury that sells The Incredible Hulk. If you want brains, rent Lee’s version. If you want metal-twisting, bone-crunching, ear-splitting brawn, you’ve probably already seen this movie a couple of times. You may as well see it again.

Extras: Commentary by Leterrier and Roth; about 15 minutes of deleted scenes. (PG-13) Rating: 3

The Visitor

In 2003, writer-director Thomas McCarthy made a wonderful movie called The Station Agent. Filled with pitch-perfect characters and deep feeling, it remains on the list of films I mention to anyone needing a recommendation.

McCarthy adds another low-key classic to his resume with The Visitor. A truly Oscar-worthy Richard Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a widowed college professor who drifts through a life of resigned solitude. He isn’t really unhappy, but he is detached from everyone around him, never letting down his guard of polite distance.

When he travels to New York City for a conference, Walter discovers that a young immigrant couple (Haaz Sleiman and Danai Gurira) has been crashing at the apartment he keeps there. Not wanting to put them on the street, he allows them to stay, and they gradually pull him out of his emotional shell.

There are, of course, dramatic complications, involving the revelation that Walter’s guests are in the country illegally and may not be able to stay under the government’s paranoid post-9/11 radar. At this point, Walter becomes a true friend and crusader, and McCarthy edges toward overt politicizing. He pulls back, however, and simply allows the decency of his characters to shine through. There are no easy solutions or narrative copouts here — just a thoughtful look at the richness and complexity of human relationships.

Extras: Commentary by McCarthy and Jenkins; a standard promotional feature; deleted scenes; an introduction to the djembe, the African drum featured prominently in the film. (PG-13) Rating: 5

The Happening

When did M. Night Shyamalan’s career fall apart? This is the guy who made The Sixth Sense, one of the best ghost stories of all time, but you wouldn’t know it by his increasingly erratic output since then. The Happening actually starts well, and that makes its steep decline all the more disappointing.

Some mysterious force is causing masses of people to commit suicide along the East Coast, so science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) packs up his wife (Zooey Deschanel) and some friends (including John Leguizamo) and flees to the countryside, hoping to outrun whatever their attacker is. These early scenes are full of creepy, disturbing images, as banal daily life suddenly becomes a self-inflicted bloodbath. If Shyamalan had followed this idea to some kind of sensible conclusion, The Happening could have been brilliant.

Instead, it becomes another showcase for the director’s adolescent ruminations on faith and the unknown. The nonsense starts early as Elliot shuts down a class discussion by asserting that science is useless against things “beyond our understanding” (imagine if Jonas Salk had made such a lazy argument). This eventually becomes Shyamalan’s excuse for not coming up with any narrative resolution. Apparently, his brilliance is also beyond our understanding so why bother making any sense?

By the time The Happening is over, it has burned quickly through whatever goodwill anyone still had toward its auteur. Shyamalan has real talent, but he has it buried under a mountain of ego and delusion. At the rate he’s going, he may never dig it out.

Extras: Deleted scenes; a handful of making-of docs; a gag reel. (R) Rating: 2

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


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