Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Return" - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a family outing - all 4 of us, popcorn, drinks ..... and one member sleeping through practically the whole film.

The film employs the familiar but always fresh chases, stunts, mystical symbols, ancient civilizations and jokes about Jones's fear of snakes. There are shades of Erich Von Daniken, whose books (led by "Chariots of the Gods") were extremely popular in the 70s. The idea of Aliens being behind major earthling religions was more fun to contemplate than the end of the gold standard, or the possible communist takeover of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Irina Spalko makes a wonderful villan(ess). Cate Blanchett is a far better baddie than she is a Fairy Queen (think Galadriel, LOTR). As Irina, she projects this cool, aloof, confident arrogance that makes her destruction that much more satisfying.
Indiana Jones: Careful, you may get exactly what you wish for.
Irina Spalko: I usually do.
Demanding knowledge from the Aliens, she gets bombarded by more than her being could contain. Makes you think back to the threat about how eating of the fruit from the tree of knowledge would bring about hardship and pain. (Genesis).

By same token, recall the end of the Nazi Baddies in Raiders of the Lost Ark - to save them both, Indy tells Marion "don't look". Which recalls Lot's wife turning back to look on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and turning into a pillar of salt as a result.

There are a few throwbacks that are fun to look out for:
  • Mutt's look is a throw back to Lucas' early success - American Graffiti
  • The design of the Alien is a throw back to Spielberg's aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Indy says "I have a bad feeling about this", which brings you back to his Han Solo Character in Star Wars, where these words are uttered by Luke Skywalker.
There are probably many more - I have to watch the film a few more times to catch them.

When one thinks of the word "throwback", one also thinks of the word "return".

"Return" is used a lot in the film.
  • The Alien commands Harold Oxley to "return" the crystal skull to the spaceship.
  • There is the Return to Peru, which is where the first Indy film opens.
  • There is the Return of Marion.
  • There is the Return of the Ark - you see a part of it through a broken off section of a wooden crate during Indy's attempts to escape Spalko's men in the Area 51 warehouse.
Colonel Spalko is the single best thing about the film.
Indiana Jones: You're not from around here, are you?
Irina Spalko: Where is it you imagine I am from... Doctor Jones.
Indiana Jones: Well the way you're sinkin your teeth into those v-ouble-u's, I should think Eastern Ukraine.
She brings to mind other memorable Russian women villans/spies:
  • Barbara Bach's character in The Spy Who Loved Me, Anya Amasova. (Barbara Bach's hunsband is Ringo Starr)
  • Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love
  • Natasha Ramanoff - the Black Widow - created by Stan Lee, and who was so memorable in the early Frank Miller run on Daredevil
  • Xenia Sergeyevna Onatopp - in Goldeneye - played by Famke Janssen, (later Jean Grey in X-Men). Now this was a funny woman - she got sexually aroused when killing men.
Since the start of the Indiana Jones franchise, Lucas and Spielberg have tapped into ancient legends, evil empires, 1940s machines (trucks, planes and tanks), and swashbuckling hero movies of old. It's been a recipe that worked with fans like me - filled with ingredients of the diet of heroic fantasy I stuffed myself with in the 60s and 70s. It's a taste of nostalgia - one that leaves one hungry for more. Although sad that this is probably the last Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones film, I'm glad at how well the series has ended. Closing the loop, and branching out a fork for something new, perhaps featuring Mutt Williams in the leading role.
Mutt Williams: I don't understand. Why the legend about the city of gold?
Indiana Jones:: Well, the word for 'gold' translates as 'treasure.' But their treasure wasn't gold, it was knowledge. Knowledge was their treasure.
Treasure. Knowledge. Good and Evil. Banishment from the garden of paradise. The human condition. Prisoners of ideas and beliefs. Look to the skies.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Holiday in Switzerland, A Kind Angel in Bellinzona, Deadly Angels in Dr Who

Just back from our family holiday to Switzerland (3rd to 13th June 08) - our last with the "kids" - as I will have to start considering JenMei as an adult once she's left for her University studies this September.

It was a lovely holiday, full of incidents, laughs, tastes, trials and interesting people.

A few that come to mind:

It was everywhere. In the Zurich Central Train Station, there were massive statues of football personalities, in their team uniforms, occupying a large area near where the train platforms start. In the three days we walked in and out of the station, we got to see the pieces come together, and look a lot less creepy in the process. Advertisers were having a field day with football tie-ins. We got to see most of the matches on local TV - either in our accommodation or in restaurants. The Germany-Poland match was excellent - we watched this on the large screen TV in the apartment we stayed in in Zermatt on a Sunday evening. During the terrible Italy-Netherlands match on the 9th, where Italy suffered a 3 goal defeat, we were having dinner in an Italian Restaurant where the owner had placed many framed photos of himself, each with unusual perspectives, on the wall our table was placed next to. The owner was supposed to get back to us with details of the desert his sister had made - but he did not show up. I found him minutes later, behind the cash register watching the TV, looking distinctly unhappy. Netherlands must have scored a goal just before that. On our last evening in Luzern, we had dinner at the Helvetical Restaurant (excellent food!), sitting outside in the cold because of the cigarette smoke coming from the next door bar into the restaurant dining room. The bar was full of football supporters, watching the Switzerland vs Turkey match. Cars had been passing us with loud honks and waving flags during our walk to the restaurant. Switzerland scored. The bar went wild. We congratulated the waitress on her country's goal - but she simply repeated her prediction that Switzerland would not win the match. This proved prophetic, as Turkey equalised, and then in the closing minutes (injury time, I think), scored again to win 2-1.

Our source of Papaya, Kiwifruit, Roast Chicken, canned Chilli Con Carne and Ravioli, Frozen Pizza and Lasagne, Brown Bread and terrible house-brand spaghetti sauce!
Coop supermarkets were in every town we went to. They're like NTUC fairprice back home. Coop is also in other businesses - furnishing, financial services.....

The Glacier Express
Specially designed carriages had the glass windows extending up to part of the ceiling - to enable us to more easily gawk at the stunning scenery. Some of the tracks had us literally go in circles - spirals going higher or lower in order to have a gradient that the trains could manage. At one point, to climb to the highest parts of the route, the engine had to be changed to one that would use a cogwheel to help pull the carriages up the steep tracks. The head "waiter" was an indian man with earrings - he brought us 2 bowls of Goulash, which the girls made quick work of. I had the pleasure of a beer and a coffee to accompany my view. Highlights of the journey were impossibly high viaducts, a frozen lake at the highest point, and photos of Timmie staring out at the landscape. A Finnish lady sat at the table next to ours. She was traveling around Switzerland on her own, going where the fancy took her, not knowing where she'd end up after Zermatt.

We stayed at this B&B for the one night we were in Milan. There's a vietnamese restaurant attached, where breakfast was served, and like the rooms, was dressed up with Vietnamese furniture, fittings and colors. The decor was the hard work of the owners, Christiane (mostly) and her Husband Dario (who owns a cool BMW motorbike). At breakfast, we were treated to a pear-sponge cake and Vietnamese coffee, both of which tasted exquisite.

Hillary Concedes
While in transit in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, watching CNN to while the wait away, there were first reports that Hillary was conceding, followed by reports that the Clinton Campaign's manager was denying that Hillary had conceded. The next morning, in Zurich, we got to watch Hillary Clinton give a dignified closing speech to her campaign, and asking her supporters to back Obama. Finally. I have to hand it to her for fighting on so long and hard. I was listening to "Audacity of Hope" while on a long road trip during my recent visit to Sri Lanka - after which I was rooting even more for Obama, so his clear path as Democratic Party nominee is good news from my perspective.

St Moritz
St Moritz for me was simply a means to an end - a necessary stop to start our journey on the Glacier Express to Zermatt. Instead, it turned out to be a lovely part of our trip that began with a walk around the lake. We collected lots of pine cones, enjoyed lovely views, took a super-long escalator ride from the train station to the swankiest section of town, and got stuck in the Coop because of rather heavy rain. In the end, we had to call a taxi to take us back to Hotel Stille, on the other end of the lake, and run by an energetic elderly lady with spectacles, long blonde hair tied in a pony tail (to save haircut money, she says). Had a lovely game of Chess with the girls that night, on a wooden set that was grand looking except for a missing white pawn, oddly and inadequately replaced by a small green plastic chess piece.

Matterhorn Strip Tease and Mass in Spanish
Our one full day in Zermatt was a sunday. We walked up the opposite slope from the Matterhorn in order to get a good view of the iconic mountain. The path up was small and steep - and a tough climb in places. Laura kept leaping far ahead. JenMei walked slowly behind, contemplating the trees. When we could see the Matterhorn, it was just a small part - some significant and different part each time was always covered by cloud. During the hours on the path, and at the restaurant in Sunnega (where we had great Rosti, Spaghetti, Ice Cream, Beer and Coffee!), we never got a complete view of the mountain. We attended 4pm mass, which was in Spanish, and went back to the apartment after a short walk afterward because the rain was starting. Sometime in the evening, Laura noticed that the Matterhorn peak was not just totally revealed - it had the evening sun hitting it's western face, making for a lovely photograph. It was stunningly beautiful.

An Angel in Bellinzona
It was already evening, and we were having trouble finding a hotel on the turnoff from the Highway A2 to a town called Bellizona. Joan had already gotten out of the car several times to ask for rooms or advice. At the entrance to a supermarket attached to a petrol station, she found a man who spoke english (we later found he has lived in Switzerland and Italy, and his first language was likely italian) who went the extra mile to help us. He asked for a minute to make his purchase in the supermarket and "comtemplate" - and used that time to not only buy his carton of milk but to also ask the views of others in the supermarket. He led us to town in his car - and brought us to a hotel close to the train station. It had no rooms, so he walked us to another restaurant some 100m away. He spoke in Italian to someone on the phone there but no rooms were available. We eventually saw a sign for Zimmer Frei as he was leading us by car to the highway entrance, and found our place for the night. Regret not getting his name or eMail address - we can't reach him to thank him again, but we can remember him as being extraordinarily helpful and being so nice about the way he was trying to help us out.

Dr Who and the Voyage of the Damned
I watched 2 movies on the Thai airways flight to Zurich, and 3 on the way back to Bangkok. One really stood out - a Dr Who special that had been shown on Christmas day 2007. I remember clearly the electronic music and starting graphic graphics from the black & white TV broadcasts in Singapore back in the 60s. I also remember finding the series somewhat scary. It's easy to recall the Tardis and Daleks still, but not much else. It's been many, many years since, and I can honestly say this re-introduction to Dr Who (the 10th, played by David Tennant) has blown my mind. Sharing star billing with Tennant is Kylie Minogue, playing a waitress with a desire to travel to other worlds. She comes across as very likeable, and it's too bad she meets her end saving the doctor from the villainous Max Capricorn. There was so much to like about the film. Brilliant concept. Seeing Titanic as a space cruiser was a joy. The logical arguments the Doctor used on the Angel Androids (programmed to kill surviving passenters and crew) to stop them killing him and to get them to take him to their leader was like something from Douglas Adams (who incidentally had been one of the many script writers during the original Nov 63 to Dec 89 run). Interesting cast of characters, all very british in their manners and speech. Except for the odd (funny in both senses of the word) character named Bannakaffalatta, a short chap with a red head, spikes growing out of it all over, and a black mouth. He talked in a comical voice, wore a suit and resisted being called by a contracted name by the good doctor. He turns out to be a Cyborg, and like Kylie's character (Astrid), gives up his life to help the survivors after the Titanic is damaged by the meteor shower. Well designed visuals and effects. Good amounts of conspiracy and little plot elements in the early parts that add to the story later come together to make this an excellent way to pass 70mins whether or not one is flying over a darkened indian ocean at that time. Strongly recommended. The BBC sells a DVD of the film on their website, and it's available on Amazon UK as well. I spent a good part of today re-acquainting myself with Dr Who. Here are some links, if you'd like to find out more:
* BBC Episode Page
* Wikipedia entry for Doctor Who
* Wikipedia entry for "Voyage of the Damned"
* Doctor Who Guide detailed plot