Monthly Archives: September 2007

Indiana Jones and the Endless Jokes About Harrison Ford’s Age

The title and logo for the new Indiana Jones movie are out. Wait for it:

It’s pretty hard to get excited about this. It’s a very cumbersome title, for a start (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Skull would be better). And according to a quick Wikipedia search – surely the definitive source for information about bullshit mythology – the Crystal Skull ties into folklore about both Atlantis and the Knights Templar. Atlantis is not a promising concept (all films involving scenes set underwater suck) and the Knights Templar link raises too many other links to both Last Crusade and The Da Vinci Code.

The rumour is we’ll see the first trailer in front of Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf in November.

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Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007)

Pixar’s newest film, Ratatouille, sees the studio’s gun director, Brad Bird, try his hand at saving a troubled production. The result is a somewhat messy and not completely satisfactory film, but still one that sees the studio expanding the horizons of the form.

Bird is an exciting figure. He worked with Disney in the 1980s, and was mentored by legendary animator Milt Kahl, before becoming one of the key creative personnel in the early years of The Simpsons. He then directed the acclaimed (but underseen) The Iron Giant for Warner Bros before joining Pixar to helm The Incredibles. It’s a career progression that moves from a start under one of animation’s great figures, to a key role in the renaissance of television animation, and then a shift to theatrical features just as that area was growing moribund again after a revival in the nineties. As everyone else’s features have grown more and more alike – with jive-talking animals, fart jokes and pop culture gags galore – Bird’s films have remained distinct. They stand apart from even the generally superior films produced by Pixar: while the other Pixar films show a clear house style that is very much driven by the sensibilities of Toy Story director John Lasseter (and which in Cars had started to slide towards mediocrity), Bird’s films are distinguished by their more adult tone and adventurous subject matter.

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Dr Plonk (Rolf de Heer, 2007)

Rolf de Heer’s new film, Dr Plonk, is built on a brave and irresistible premise. De Heer has made a real, honest-to-God silent movie, evoking about as closely as possible the feel of a silent comedy from the 1920s. The only remotely similar project I can think of is Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, from 1976, but that film did things by halves: shooting in colour and (typically for Brooks) showing only the vaguest sympathy for the genre he was supposedly channelling. De Heer, by contrast, brings to Dr Plonk a serious filmmaker’s urging to get the little things right: the film is shot in black and white using hand-cranked cameras; the camera moves only occasionally, and is shaky when it does; there are intertitles, written with a good ear (eye?) for the style of period titles; and there’s even a slight variability in the brightness of the film that matches that seen in silent prints. The illusion is remarkable, and in the early passages, before the time-travel plot kicks in and the eponymous doctor travels o the present day, there’s really little other than the familiar face of Magda Szubanski to give this away as a contemporary production. At that level, it’s a remarkable achievement, and as a fan of silent films I really, really wanted to enjoy Dr Plonk more than I did. Unfortunately, de Heer’s film also shows up the difficulties of reviving what is basically a dead form.

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