Catching up: Raiders, Halloween, and the Rhode Island Comic Con

On Sunday, 28 October 2012, Janice and I went to the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square, Cambridge, to screen a remastered print of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I broke out my fedora and leather bomber jacket (but not my whip) for the occasion.

The cliffhanger movie has held up well after 30 years, and it was great to see Harrison Ford again as the charming scoundrel, John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott as Indy’s pals, and most of all, Karen Allen as the spunky Marion Ravenwood, who’s every bit the equal of the adventuresome archaeologist and his Nazi nemeses.

Janice and I also browsed among our usual bookshops and had a good meal at Grendel’s Den. Unfortunately, former co-worker and fellow blogger Ken G. wasn’t able to join us because his return flight from Peru had been delayed.

For Halloween, I dressed in full chain armor for my weekly historical weapons class. It was fun to practice our moves with metal weapons for once.

At GuardUp!
Dueling in Norman-style chain armor

On Saturday, Nov. 3, I drove down to Providence, R.I., for the first Rhode Island Comic Con. The genre entertainment convention was a success, with strong attendance, numerous dealers and artists, and several celebrities, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Star Trek: John De Lancie, Robert Picardo, Gary Graham
  • Star Wars: Peter Mayhew, Tom Kane
  • Buffy: the Vampire Slayer: Nicholas Brendon
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Gil Gerard, Felix Silla

And last, but not least, from the original Battlestar Galactica:

  • Richard Hatch (Cmdr. Apollo and Tom Zarek)
  • Dirk Benedict (Lt. Starbuck)
  • Herbert Jefferson Jr. (Lt. Boomer)
  • Jack Stauffer (Capt. Bojay)
  • Sarah Rush (Cpl. Rigel)
  • Noah Hathaway (Boxey)

As a child of the 1970s, I was excited to meet more actors from one of my favorite military space operas of all time. While I was disappointed that Laurette Spang (Cassiopeia) and Anne Lockhart (Lt. Sheba) couldn’t make it, it was still cool to see so many classic BSG actors together.

The actors still resemble their characters, almost 35 years later. Hatch was as gracious and philosophical as I remember from our previous meeting, and Jefferson still has his military bearing and is down to earth. Rush was perky as ever, and during the BSG panel discussion, ailing Stauffer talked about giving back to the acting community.

Benedict was as roguish as ever, soft-spoken one on one but sarcastic and funny during the panel. Hathaway, who was also Bastian in The Neverending Story, has grown into a tattooed, wiry guy with an attitude closer to that of Starbuck than adoptive father Apollo.

Everyone spoke highly of the professionalism and courtesy of the late Lorne Greene, a.k.a. Adm. Adama. They acknowledged classic Galactica‘s debt of inspiration to Star Wars, as well as the problems with producing a grand space adventure in the face of TV network opposition to its budget and tone. The cast even mentioned the derivative Galactica 1980 and Ron Moore’s grim BSG reboots, as well as plans to return the Galactica franchise to movie theaters.

Among other people, I enjoyed chatting about Buck Rogers with Gil Gerard (I had met Erin Gray at a previous event) and about Alien Nation with Gary Graham. I was pleased to find both actors approachable and good-humored about their respective television careers.

It was also nice to chat with artists Bob Eggleton and Craig Rousseau, whose works I’ve followed and whom I’ve met at past conventions. I also talked with Star Wars reference book author Ryder Windham, who agreed with me in being optimistic about Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and plans for more films in the saga.

In addition, there were many creative and confident cosplayers at RICC, and I was impressed when a zombie flash mob broke into dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” I didn’t have time to participate in any of the games that were being played in one ballroom.

I’d definitely consider attending the Rhode Island Comic Con if it is held again next year. Sure, the organizers could have done a better job of handling the crowds for certain panels, but I hope that the event was profitable enough that it can join the Boston Comic Con and this coming weekend’s annual Super MegaFest.

Swashbuckling cinema

The late Bob Anderson
Sword master Bob Anderson

Over the holidays, I caught up a bit on movies on DVD, in theaters, and on cable television. While spending Christmas with my in-laws, I saw the 1934 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel and 2011’s Cars 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean [4]: On Stranger Tides.

I’ve seen other adaptations of the Orczy stories, but the black-and-white Scarlet Pimpernel is noteworthy because of its reflection of Anglo-American concerns about dictatorship and war in Europe and as a forerunner to characters such as Zorro and Batman. Speaking of swashbuckling, fellow fans of everything from Errol Flynn’s films to Star Wars, Highlander, The Princess Bride, and The Lord of the Rings should note the passing of sword master Bob Anderson.

Cars 2 was reasonably entertaining, with nicely rendered international backgrounds (not unlike Kung-Fu Panda 2) and an espionage-flavored plot. The character development and pathos weren’t at Pixar’s usual level, but I’d still give the computer-animated flick a B+, three stars, or a 7.5 out of 10. My favorite animated movies of the past year or so include The Illusionist, Rango, and Winnie the Pooh, and I look forward to The Secret World of Arrietty, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Pixar’s next, Brave, in 2012.

Pirates 4 was better than its muddled predecessor At World’s End, with a more linear plot involving the Fountain of Youth, less pointless backstabbing and visual effects, and somewhat less mugging by star Johnny Depp. The romantic subplots were still extraneous but less annoying, and Penelope Cruz as pirate Angelica and Ian McShane as the notorious Blackbeard were worthy foils to Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush’s Capt. Barbossa. Not surprisingly, Disney’s On Stranger Tides leaves the door open for yet more sequels. I’d give it a B, 7 out of 10, or three stars.

I have yet to watch other recent swashbucklers, including Sinbad: the Fifth Voyage, the reboot of Conan the Barbarian, and the latest Three Musketeers. On TV, I enjoyed the latest Star Wars marathon and rewatching David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune for the umpteenth time. As David I.S. and I have noted, it’s OK for fans to turn to the visual equivalent of “comfort food” from time to time.

As previously mentioned, Janice and I also screened The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn at the Showcase Cinemas de Lux at Legacy Place in Dedham, Massachusetts, and we met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Beruk A. for The Artist at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge.

I’m somewhat familiar with the young hero of Belgian artist Herge’s comic books, and Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s adaptation is fairly faithful. I liked Tintin‘s globe-trotting, 1930s adventures (similar to those of Indiana Jones), and the “uncanny valley” of realistically animated humans didn’t bother me as it does with Zemeckis’ works, partly because they were slightly caricaturized. I’d give Secret of the Unicorn a solid B, three stars, or 7.5 out of 10.

The apparent theme of many of the movies I’ve mentioned here is that retro films, especially swashbucklers, never truly go out of style. The Artist is no exception, both following and paying homage to the tropes of the silent era. The French film is set in Hollywood of the late 1920s and early 1930s and follows the charismatic George Valentin (Jean Dujardin as an analogue for Rudoph Valentino) and young actress Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo) as their industry deals with changing technology and audience tastes. Valentin’s dog steals the show. I definitely recommend The Artist, which I’d give an A-, or four out of five stars, or 8.5 out of 10.

What were your favorite movies of the past year? I didn’t get to theaters quite as often as in previous years. In addition to those mentioned above, I liked The Mighty Thor, Captain America: the First Avenger, The Muppets, and Sherlock Holmes [2]: A Game of Shadows. In the next few months, I hope to catch Hugo (another retro film that Janice saw), the remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and the actioner Haywire.

Looking further ahead, there’s planetary romance John Carter, superheroes Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, dueling fairy tales Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, James Bond in Skyfall, and of course, The Hobbit [1]: An Unexpected Journey!

Entry for May 26, 2008: Indy 4 review

Friends, I hope that you’ve had a good Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday, 24 May 2008, Janice and I drove down to Norwood, Massachusetts, for lunch at Conrad’s and to pick up my subscription at New England Comics. From there, we went to the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro, Mass., where we ran into Sara F. & Josh C. After walking around a bit, we met Ken G. at the Showcase Cinemas nearby, later followed by dinner at Applebee’s. Here’s my review of Indiana Jones [4] and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Indy 4 wallpaper
Once more, cliffhanging adventures

First, the usual disclaimer: I’ve been a fan of this cliffhanging franchise since seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark with my father back in 1981 (“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage”). I own numerous DVDs, reference books, novelizations, comics, role-playing games, and toys associated with the works of producer George Lucas, director Stephen Spielberg, and lead actor Harrison Ford. And, yes, I did wear my safari shirt and fedora, but at least I left my whip at home! Thus, this is hardly an objective review, and since a movie ticket now costs about $10 a pop, I tend to like those films I choose to see in theaters.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, or “Indy 4” for short, picks up the story of our favorite adventuresome archaeologist in 1957. The Nazi and Thuggee adversaries of the earlier flicks have been replaced by Soviets, and the MacGuffin this time is a South American artifact that may be of extraterrestrial origin (I’ll try to avoid “spoilers,” but some of the reviews I’m linking to may give away more of the plot).

The strongest part of this movie is the cast, with Ford only slightly slowed by age as Professor Henry “Indiana” W. Jones Jr. and Karen Allen still attractive as a middle-aged Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s spunky onetime girlfriend. I missed the presence of the late Denholm Elliott as mentor Marcus Broady, John Rhys-Davies as Egyptian ally Sallah, and Sean Connery as Dr. Henry Jones Sr., but their absence was noted, and Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, and John Hurt do add a bit of gravitas to the ensemble, even if their roles are small.

Newcomers to the franchise include Cate Blanchett as nefarious Soviet paranormal investigator Col.Dr. Irina Spalko and the ubiquitous Shia LaBeouf as youthful rebel without a cause Mutt Williams. As in last summer’s Transformers, LaBeouf acquits himself well and isn’t as annoying as he could be in a blockbuster movie. Lucas’ musings on father-son relationships, human history and belief, and the value of friendship are here as in his Star Wars space opera series.

The cinematography reminded me of how Raiders, Indiana Jones [2] and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones [3] and the Last Crusade revived interest in the pulp entertainment of the 1930s. This time, Indy and his globe-hopping compatriots go from the desert of New Mexico to the groves of academe in the U.S. Northeast to the highlands of Peru. Computer-generated imagery smoothly replaced the matte paintings and animatronics of previous films.

Speaking of the previous films, there are several “Easter eggs” for alert fans, including references to the lost Ark of the Covenant, to the camaraderie of The Last Crusade, and even to the instructive Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television series, as well as the novel and comic book continuity.

The set-piece action scenes are also well-done, playing to Spielberg’s strengths. They include fisticuffs in a secret government warehouse followed by a nuclear explosion, a swashbuckling chase scene through the jungle and down some waterfalls, and the usual trap-riddled tombs and temples. There are of course snakes, angry natives, and this time, ants. Yes, the pace is slower than it was in the original movies or in those that would carry on their legacy, such as The Mummy and National Treasure, but I think that gave the characters time to shine.

I would have preferred a more mystical MacGuffin or plot device, in keeping with the previous movies, but I understand the need for more science fictional elements since Indy 4 is set in the 1950s. In fact, I did like seeing the greasers and bobby-sockers of Lucas and Ford’s American Graffiti, visual allusions to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and displays of the patriotism and paranoia of the Cold War that are still strangely relevant. The movie quietly ends on a high note, if not quite the ride into the sunset of Last Crusade. On the other hand, I’m not sure if a continuation about Mutt would really count as an Indy flick.

Overall, I’d give Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is rated PG-13 for violence and profanity, an 8 out of 10, or a B+. How does that compare with the previous installments? Raiders gets a 9 or a 10, or an A+. I’d give Temple of Doom a 7 or an 8, or a B+, while Last Crusade deserves an 8 or a 9, or a A-. I’d also give the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (now on DVD) an 8, or a A-/B+.

Janice and others at dinner noted that they enjoyed Indy 4 more than Speed Racer or The Chronicles of Narnia [2]: Prince Caspian. We all liked Iron Man, which remains the genre film to beat so far this summer. I don’t know if I’ll get to the theater for computer-animated comedy Kung-Fu Panda, but I do hope to catch The Incredible Hulk in the coming month.

In related news, I belatedly watched Disney’s computer-animated Meet the Robinsons, which was fairly entertaining. The season finales of supernatural slacker comedy Reaper, superhero drama Smallville, and Showtime’s The Tudors were decent, although I’m not sure the latter was historically accurate.

Completely devoid of historical accuracy was Brian W.‘s fun “Savage Worlds: Paranoiaone-shot last week. It was the first of a series of games between the D&D3.5 “Vanished Lands: the Broken Chains” Arabian fantasy campaign and the Boston-area group’s first Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition party. The “Broken Chains” disbanded after many adventures; after fighting monsters, cultists, and demons, it was nice to end that party for now with the birth of one character’s children!

I thought Brian did a good job of melding the Savage Worlds rules-light pulp system with Paranoia‘s comedic cyberpunk. Tonight, I’ll be missing Josh C.’s Everway fantasy session because I’ll be running the D&D3.5 “Vanished Lands: Holy Steel” teleconferencing team. I’ve spent much of the holiday weekend catching up on reading and filing. Janice and I also recaulked our bathroom, although painting and plumbing issues remain. Next weekend, we’ll be visiting my family in Virginia.