Tag Archives: Indiana Jones

Fight Scene Friday — “Wheels on Meals”

by Gabriel Valdez

We’re going to start a new Friday tradition here: Fight Scene Friday. Every Friday, a new fight scene to help start your weekend.

Er, best not to think of the example that sets.

To start: one of the best fight scenes ever put to film, from Jackie Chan’s 1984 film Wheels on Meals. That’s not mistranslated – after production company Golden Harvest suffered two big flops whose English titles started with the letter ‘M’, they demanded the film change its name. Instead of renaming Meals on Wheels, however, the wheels and meals switched places.

Wheels on Meals fits the often lighthearted nature of the film, though, and the film turned out to be a success. The plot in one line? Thomas (Jackie Chan) runs a food coach with his brother in Barcelona, Spain, but gets involved in an increasingly convoluted plot involving heiresses, gangs, and a kidnapping.

Why Barcelona? Unlike today, when foreign productions jump through hoops in order to film in China, 1980s and 90s Hong Kong martial arts productions shot anywhere but – especially in Europe. The idea was to prove themselves equal to the globe-trotting adventures James Bond and Indiana Jones were having for Britain and the United States. It was also a way to appeal to foreign audiences and to introduce Chinese audiences to wonders from elsewhere in the world.

This fight scene involves the legendary Chan and one of his favorite nemeses, Benny “the Jet” Urquidez, whose background in competitive kickboxing and karate contrasted to Chan’s looser stunt and kung fu training. Urquidez explodes from a tight core, while Chan is famous for his flow and reaction. Urquidez is also shorter than Chan (5’6″ compared to 5’9″). This wasn’t often the case when villains were cast opposite Chan, especially as Chan developed an underdog comedic style that demanded visually imposing villains. Here, it all helps allow for an incredibly fast, no-frills choreography between the two.

One of the most famous details from this fight is a kick by Urquidez that blows out the flames on several candles. The original shot was meant to continue watching through the flames – Urquidez’s kick was simply so fast that it blew out the candles. They wisely decided to keep the detail.

If you’ve got quick eyes, you’ll notice two slightly jarring cuts in this video – the Chan-Urquidez fight is spliced together in the movie with another sequence involving separate characters. That other sequence is removed here and it lets you enjoy the Chan and Urquidez face-off uninterrupted.

Enjoy! We’ll continue featuring a new fight scene every Friday, sneaking in some choreography notes and a little film history where we can.

P.S. Vanessa Tottle has asked me to add a note that Jackie Chan was really hot in the 80s.

A POV Standout — “As Above, So Below”

As Above So Below 1

Mainstream critics tend to miss the boat when it comes to found footage movies, and they’ve done it again with As Above, So Below.

You can’t really blame them. Found footage (or POV horror) is a genre that requires victims of a horror movie to tote around cameras while running for their lives. You see everything from their point-of-view and some noble (or perverse) soul presumably cuts all of the footage together later on. The most famous example is, of course, The Blair Witch Project, although the Paranormal Activity franchise has become a low-budget juggernaut. And that’s the problem – for every good found footage movie, there are at least a half dozen bad ones.

Critics also aren’t trained to watch them with the analytical eye they would more cinematic narratives, and those born before music videos redefined the entire film industry in the 80s and 90s may not prize the genre’s best tool – aggressive jump-cut editing – as highly as those born after.

So you can’t blame the critical community, but you can call them out when they miss on a gem like As Above, So Below.

As Above So Below lead

The strength of the film is Perdita Weeks, playing urban archaeologist Scarlett Marlowe. Her character’s a clear nod toward franchises like Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider. She’s introduced sneaking into an Iranian tomb that’s minutes from being blown up, searching for the Rose Key. This will allow her to translate the words on a gravestone back in Paris. Believing the mythical Philosopher’s Stone is hidden in the Paris catacombs, a warren of graves which stretch for miles below the city, she recruits a less-than-ideal team of cameraman, translator, and urban spelunkers. It’s a wing-ding of a plot, but no moreso than the kind we normally heap on Nicolas Cage, Harrison Ford, or Tom Hanks.

Like the ladykillers I just mentioned, Scarlett also has a roguelike history of using her charm to get others to risk their lives with her, and isn’t above leaving an ally in a Turkish jail if it gets her closer to a historical truth. Her infectious curiosity also makes the suspension of disbelief easier, even when her team discovers the gates of Hell buried beneath Paris.

She also brings an unabashedly British brand of cheer and determination rarely seen in horror movies. Climbing through a tunnel full of loose bones, she turns around to reassure her hyperventilating cameraman, “It’s really not too bad.” When terrifying sounds travel down a dusty corridor and her team cowers, she marches straight at the fresh terror with a resounding, “[Bleep] that, I’m going.” The horror genre as a whole has developed a bad habit of casting victims – no leaders. Scarlett is a refreshingly complete leader in a genre typically based around victims cowering into their cameras.

As Above, So Below does cheat a little. We see from every camera’s perspective, even those strapped to characters later lost to Hell. I don’t think the presumed editor of this all said to himself later on, “I’m going to run down to Hell real quick to grab the rest of the footage.” There’s also a much stronger editing hand than you typically see in found footage movies, especially as the scares ramp up. These cinematic cheats begin to make the movie a bit of a genre mash-up – it uses the techniques of found footage, but by the end, it’s really more concerned with being a movie than in creating a faux sense of “this really happened.”

As Above So Below cap

There’s one more thing to like about the film – its pervasive sense of dread. There are jump scares here, but they aren’t as numerous as you’d suspect. The movie’s focus on rhythm, pace, and behind-the-scenes choreography lets those jump scares shine. I’m not a jumper, but this one had me going.

The film does break down a little toward the end, compiling too much action into too short a time – nearly all found footage films suffer from balancing the action of a climax without breaking the pseudo-reality they’ve established before. As Above, So Below has a clever ending, but it’s a 93-minute movie. Another 10 minutes to maintain the pace established earlier could have improved things.

It’s my favorite horror movie this year, and the best since last year’s You’re Next. It’s not exactly a cinematic triumph, and it’s ridiculous around the edges – I mean, read that plot again – but it’s very effective, and that’s what matters. If you don’t like POV horror, this won’t convert you, and if it makes you nauseous, the camerawork here is some of the shakiest around. If you are a genre fan, however, this is a very solid film in a year starved for good horror.

As Above, So Below is rated R for violence, terror, and language.

Wednesday Collective — Ghost in the Cruise

This week, we’re talking about Ghost in the Shell, Tom Cruise, singing cowboys, the X-Men, Steven Soderbergh, and Indiana Jones. We’ve focused some Wednesday Collectives lately about specific interests, so we’re playing some catch-up – we’ll have even more articles in tomorrow’s Thursday’s Child.

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
There is No Ghost in the Shell
LogosSteve

The thing about science-fiction is that the world catches up to it in short order. We may not have the spaceships of early 90s Star Trek, for instance, but we’ve certainly surpassed their clunky data devices and equaled their communication abilities. Star Wars movies made 15 years ago present us with dated, impractical visions of technology (oddly enough, the 30-year old films still feel more futuristic).

In the 80s, cyberpunk sprang to the fore of science-fiction. If nothing else, it was a reaction to Reaganism and the growing power of the corporation. Yet the subgenre’s originator, William Gibson, left his own genre a decade ago, saying that reality had caught up, and it was a far more insidious one than he could have imagined.

So it’s impressive that an anime film made 20 years ago looks like a grim vision of the future and asks us questions we’re still at the beginning stages of contemplating. Above is a staggeringly complete video essay on the questions about the soul, human consciousness, and the increasingly cybernetic nature of our lives that Ghost in the Shell raises.

The Fall of Tom Cruise
Amy Nicholson

Tom Cruise

I can’t understand people’s reasoning behind hating Tom Cruise. He stood on a couch at Oprah’s behest and he has a crazy religion. You know, unlike all those perfectly reasonable religions the rest of us have.

I know people who hate Tom Cruise but will geek out over Mel Gibson being in The Expendables, or who will gladly sit down for a Roman Polanski or Woody Allen movie. I know people who hate Tom Cruise who get upset when I turn off a Michael Jackson song.

Yes, he’s kind of crazy and his personality caused Katie Holmes to leave, but to lump him as somehow worse than that bunch and less deserving of our viewership based purely on personality is mind-boggling to me. He started out dirt poor. There are countless examples of his going out of his way and taking big financial risks to help directors and stars just getting their start. Directors come away saying he’s a workaholic on-set. Cast and crew come away saying he’s generous with his time, and pitches in with menial on-set tasks that other actors won’t. When he sues tabloids, he’s always given the entire proceeds to charity. Why don’t those things hold value?

Amy Nicholson answers a few of these questions for me in painting a picture of Cruise’s infamous Oprah appearance. Nobody could have known how badly timed it was – YouTube was a week old, Perez Hilton and Huffington Post just a month. It was a perfect storm of the Internet’s as-yet-untested viral tabloid ability and a breakdown in PR.

Her article also reminds us of Cruise’s early years, spent turning down tens of millions of dollars in action franchises so that he could instead play second fiddle roles to actors like Dustin Hoffman and Paul Newman, and work with directors like Ridley Scott and Oliver Stone.

I hope there comes a time when we’re able to remember Cruise as one of our most iconic movie actors, and not for an Oprah interview that – by the way – her attending audience that day was cheering. Well, until they got home and checked their e-mail, that is.

“Hollywood’s First Black Singing Cowboy”
Dennis McLellan

Herb Jeffries

I’m not one to run obituaries. If someone dies, I don’t need a recap – I’d rather celebrate their life by discussing one of their films, or by sharing how their work affected me personally.

That said, history is riddled with important figures who we leave forgotten. Herb Jeffries is one of those figures. Before Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef took apart the Western there were straight-laced cowboys played by Gregory Peck and John Wayne. But before they saddled up, cowboys merrily sang their hearts out. In an age of crooning, white cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Jeffries was the premier black one. He provided a counter during an age when African-American heroes were simply not seen on-screen.

Interviewing Lauren Shuler Donner
Diane Panosian

XMen lead

Lauren Shuler Donner is one of Hollywood’s most successful producers, famed for being the woman responsible for getting X-Men onto the screen and, by extension, making the comic book movie genre viable.

I like this interview because it’s short, to the point, and all about Shuler Donner’s development process. Many producers toe the studio line and keep everyone on-schedule. There’s nothing wrong with that, but she’s known as a very hands-on producer. Her strength is her adaptability – she’s one of the few executives who regularly talks about viewing a project from the perspectives and needs of writers, directors, and actors. She gives some good advice about how to produce to the strengths of each of these jobs.

Steven Soderbergh is Terrible at Retirement
Alex Suskind

Soderberghing

Steven Soderbergh retired from filmmaking because it was becoming nearly impossible to fund his style of modestly-budgeted narrative-heavy filmmaking. Nevermind that 15 of his 18 theatrically released films were profitable – even domestic underperformers like The Girlfriend Experience and Che made money for their studios because Soderbergh abandoned blanket overseas distributorship in favor of nuanced, sometimes individually-designed releasing contracts in foreign countries.

The thing about Soderbergh is that he can’t keep still. He’s recut two classic movies while developing and directing TV series The Knick with Clive Owen for Cinemax. He’s directed off-Broadway while starting an import business for Bolivian liquor…I know, it sounds like I’m just making up new David Mamet plots now, but Soderbergh’s a weird cat. I said a long time ago that if TV was smart, they would capitalize on the studio system’s failure by investing to keep Soderbergh employed behind the small-screen. It looks like they’re doing exactly that.

Fortune, Glory, and Evil Indiana Jones
Quint

Temple of Doom

I feel a bit dirty linking to a website like Ain’t It Cool News, but I really did enjoy this personal essay about Quint’s watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a kid. I like folding personal experiences into these kinds of essays – artistic analysis is nothing without being honest about how our own personal biases fit into them – and it makes me think of Temple of Doom in a light I hadn’t considered before now.

SHORT FILM OF THE WEEK
“More”
dir. Mark Osborne

Vanessa ran a short film a few weeks ago and I liked the idea. We’re going to try closing each week’s Wednesday Collective with a short film of the week. I’ll start with one of my favorites – a stop-motion animation from Mark Osborne called “More.” It was nominated for an Oscar and won best short at Sundance way back in 1999, when I was just a 16-year old twinkle in a college admission department’s eye. Ah, those were the days. The awful, awful days. “More” remains one of the most moving and effective short films I’ve seen.