Knight of Cups

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman
Directed by: Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life,” “The Thin Red Line”)
Written by: Terrence Malick

In 2011, a peculiar and prominently placed lobby placard accompanied the theatrical run of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” at the Austin, Texas, arthouse where my wife and I saw the film. Customarily, of course, studios will blow up favorable reviews of prestige pictures, poster-sized reproductions of admiring New York Times or Variety think-pieces intended to drive traffic, foster appreciation, and brand the property as “critically acclaimed” and “substantial” and “Academy Award-worthy.” (All three of which, of course, the thrice-nominated Tree [Picture/Director/Cinematography] rather objectively is.)

This lobby card was different, though. No monolithic rave or erudite recommendation, it bore instead a disclaimer. A warning, really. Very nearly, indeed, a tight-jawed semi-apology. It communicated something remarkably similar to — and may in fact have been a close paraphrasing or regionalized adaptation of — a like-minded and somewhat internet-notorious caveat that was displayed at Stamford, Connecticut’s Avon theatre and read, in part: “We would like to take this opportunity to remind patrons that “The Tree of Life” is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling. We encourage patrons to read up on the film before choosing to see it … please go in with an open mind and know that the Avon has a NO-REFUND policy…”

In essence: “We realize that, technically, this is a summer movie featuring Brad Pitt and dinosaurs, but please don’t allow that to calibrate your attention span. Take a deep breath, and give it a shot. If you do, we think you might — albeit in spite of yourself — have a meaningful experience.” Or, Eat your peas because they’re good for you and because we can’t just have ice cream all the time, you feckless troglodytes.

The more-recent films of Terrence Malick are, in two insufficient words, lyrical and polarizing. A cursory Rotten Tomatoes jaunt confirms that “To The Wonder” was called both “the best American feature by far of 2013” and “a self-destructed misfire.” I saw “The Thin Red Line” in high school with friends who went in looking for two more hours of “Saving Private Ryan.” And post-screening eavesdroppings and conversations relative to the certainly lyrical-and-polarizing “Knight of Cups” have yielded (1) stunned, breathless utterances of profound gratitude, (2) shaking pledges of enthusiastic hatred from at least one respected friend and Malick fan, and (3) the overheard, apparently concerned puzzler, “Does Brian Dennehy have an issue with his back?”

The thing about “Knight of Cups” is that there isn’t just one thing about “Knight of Cups.” Or about “The Tree of Life,” or “The Thin Red Line.” “Knight” (literally) follows a reeling-and-gutted, hollow-eyed Bale (playing a screenwriter named Rick — though, I missed something, because I thought he was meant to be an actor until I checked the IMDB synopsis just now) through a numb, soft, swirling, glittering, emotionless-and-emotionally-harrowing minefield of beauty, decadence, lovers, and loss. Sounds are muted, dialogue Dopplers in and out, voiceover and chamber music and quotations from sources as varied as The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible and was-that-really-“Twin Peaks” abound, and the whole sordid, dreamy affair is awash in natural light and revealed by Chivo Lubezki’s always-swimming, too-close-for-anything-but-comfort camera. There’s a lot going on, always. You lean forward and push your ears up to catch everything, and you don’t catch everything. And so, you remain patient and open and have faith that everything will come together and make sense.

Increasingly, it may be said, certain of Malick’s films are in some ways less “films” and more experiential, stylized realities. And somehow, in their stylization, in their stream-of-fractured-consciousness, in their gauzy haze and sudden, uncanny specificity, they approximate reality and the sense of life more closely and accurately than the work of almost any other filmmaker who comes to mind. There is form in this formlessness, method in this Malickness. Malick’s work spends purposeful time breaking us of our expectations, of the ingrained and deep-dug structures and movie-languages we carry in unconscious second nature as veteran consumers of film; we find ourselves adrift, and it’s then that we truly begin paying attention — and finding inalienable personal meaning — moment by moment.

Malick isn’t the only cinematic artist who succeeds here. The universal value of film, and of art itself, lies (arguably, I suppose) in communicating love, in letting us know we are not alone. That’s the draw. I cannot, though, name another cinematic artist who does it quite like Malick, who achieves his particular, impressionistic poetry of intimacy. Is it repetitive and inscrutable, at times, or demanding of patience? Sure. Like life is. Is it susceptible to reductive parody? Yes, as are many vulnerable or distinctive works. Does he get more of a pass because he’s Malick, and because of his body of work? Yes, and that’s exactly as it should be.

There are wonderful, wonderful things about “Knight of Cups.” It’s a concert for the soul and the senses. Performances are raw, real, closer than you’ll ever get. Cate Blanchett shows, once again, that she can crack your heart wide open with a look. Michael Freaking Wincott is in it. (YES.) So is half of Hollywood. You still may not like it. (It’s kinda like “8½” meets Koyaanisqatsi, if that helps.) But there are very few films that will get you and everyone who saw it with you talking and feeling in the same way. And that, perhaps, is the point: “Knight of Cups” is the latest reminder and resounding reinforcement of how very, very desperately we need Terrence Malick — and the filmmakers he continues to inspire.

Carol

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler
Directed by: Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven”)
Written by: Phyllis Nagy (TV’s “Mrs. Harris”)

Director Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven”) has produced an elegant and beautifully shot drama adapted from the novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith. Anchored by understated performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, the lesbian love story set in New York City in 1952 follows aspiring photographer Therese (Mara) and her complicated relationship with Carol (Blanchett), an older woman going through a divorce and fighting for custody of her daughter. Stunningly atmospheric and featuring eye-catching production and costume design, the romance can be stilted at times (how long is too long to stare longingly at someone?), but it’s hard not to appreciate the cinematic composition in its entirety.

Truth

November 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews, Uncategorized

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace
Directed by: James Vanderbilt (debut)
Written by: James Vanderbilt (“White House Down”)

In 2004, CBS aired a 60 Minutes report led by Dan Rather that investigated the military record of then president George W. Bush. When it was revealed that some of the facts may have not been entirely accurate, Rather and his producer Mary Mapes face a firestorm of criticism and are investigated journalistic political bias.

As an ensemble piece, performances are pretty solid across the board. As Mapes, Blanchett continues her streak of fiery performances with another dominant leading role. Since the film’s main focus is on Mapes, it gives Blanchett plenty of screentime to work with and create easily the most nuanced character in the film. Other supporting actors like Stacy Keach and perhaps most surprising, Topher Grace make fine contributions, with Keach especially adding a fantastic sense of vulnerability.

Any time you have a film that is based on “recent” history featuring people who are still in the consciousness of the general population, you run the risk of being thrown off by dissimilarities between the figure and the actor. Even though Robert Redford is solid as Rather, he strikes no physical resemblances to him, nor does he make an attempt to do a Rather impression, which can be distracting for those who are looking for that sort of thing.

The entire treatment of Rather, in fact, is a little odd. He’s essentially a background player, and mostly deified when he’s not on screen. It’s an interesting way to treat the character, especially considering his career was deeply affected by the investigation. It’s clear from the get-go that this is Mapes’ story, though one can’t help that Rather’s perspective may have been a more interesting one.

One of the main issues that plagues “Truth” is that it spends an enormous chunk of time in hero worship mode, almost as if it is trying to protect the legacy of Rather. While it isn’t doing that, it’s showing the investigation into Mapes, which somehow fails to strongly hammer the point that Mapes and her team (Rather included) are being investigated for allowing political bias to influence reporting, rather than just merely going to air too quickly.

“Truth” is at its best when it digs into the details, procedures and tough decisions that go into investigative TV journalism. The on-the-fly edits, the deal brokering, the mid-interview changes are all among the best moments of the film. Where the film falters, however, is keeping all of this interesting over the span of two hours. Losing much of its storytelling steam, “Truth” can’t quite make the grade, even with a very good Redford and Blanchett.

Cinderella

March 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”)
Written by: Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”)

The original 1950 Disney animated film might always be a classic to purists, but director Kenneth Branagh’s live-action version of “Cinderella” is superior on almost every front. Besides the fact the cartoon’s charming musical aspect is missing, there is so much to like about this new movie, I don’t feel the least bit guilty of actually looking forward to what Disney comes up with when they give the live-action treatment to other classic tales like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” in the future. Hopefully, they can also try to right the wrongs of “Snow White and the Huntsman” someday, too.

In “Cinderella” 2.0, screenwriter Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”) and director Kenneth Branagh (“Thor,” “Hamlet”) tighten up the storytelling and fill in a lot of the plot holes of the original film effortlessly and keep the traditional narrative intact for the most part. It’s a beautifully shot picture and something that fits perfectly in Branagh’s canon, especially with his background in the Shakespearean Theater. “Cinderella” exudes elegance with Branagh leading the way. As Cinderella’s stepmother, two-time Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) is wickedly good and never oversteps her character’s evil ways. This role could’ve easily become a bit over-exaggerated like Charlize Theron’s take on the Evil Queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” but Blanchett is able to reel in the performance enough so that it doesn’t feel like she was mugging for the camera at any time. The same can’t really be said for actress Helena Bonham Carter who seems like the too obvious choice to play Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. Carter does a satisfactory job for her quick cameo, but it would’ve been nice to see someone that doesn’t always get a phone call when casting directors are looking for someone to fill a quirkier role. Basically, Carter has turned into the female version of Johnny Depp.

Aside from that uninspiring casting choice and an ending that doesn’t really know what it wants to do with itself, “Cinderella” is vibrant and at times transfixing. I’m still not completely sold on the whole Disney princess culture and the idea that a young girl can only find happiness when she is rescued by a prince, but Branagh’s interpretation makes it a little easier to swallow because Cinderella feels more in control of her own story. There are still glass slippers and happy endings, but unless you’re watching “Into the Woods,” would you want it any other way?

How to Train Your Dragon 2

June 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler
Directed by: Dean DeBlois (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
Written by: Dean DeBlois (“How to Train Your Dragon”)

It’s refreshing when an animation studio knows it has something special besides an easy way to package Happy Meal toys and video games. Sure, all that’s probably going to come along with “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” but when a kid’s film can actually prove it has a reason, in addition to raking in boatloads of cash, to peddle things like action figures and lunchboxes, it’s for the better.

Merchandising aside, “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” the follow-up to the 2010 animated Oscar nominee, has a reason and it’s a good one. Besides being just as funny, creative and exhilarating as its predecessor, the sequel also takes on some darker and more adult themes that steer this franchise in a meaningful way. Yes, there are still plenty of dragons as cute as a bowlful of puppies, but as the lead character in the series begins to mature into the man everyone knew he could become (despite his voice still cracking like a high school freshman), the narrative kicks the emotion and adventure to another level.

Based on the books by author Cressida Cowell, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” has less “training” to do and more beloved characters to establish and expand. Vikings and dragons have learned to live in harmony, but their happy days are numbered when all the dragons of the land are seriously threatened.

In the film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a young Viking who befriends a rare dragon he names Toothless in the original movie, is still living in his village with his scaly companion, various Viking friends, girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and father Stoick (Gerard Butler), the latter of whom wants to start prepping Hiccup to take over for him as chief. The future of his village’s dragons, however, is in danger of being stolen by the villainous Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who wants to create his own dragon army. Along the way, Hiccup is reunited with someone from his past, all while attempting to talk some sense into Drago before he starts plucking more and more dragons from the sky.

Beautifully rendered dragon characters and flight sequences make up the most exciting parts of this second trip with Hiccup and Toothless. As in the first, DreamWorks Animation really takes advantage of the 3-D imagery, something most animated films use to suck a couple more dollars out of patrons’ pockets. Here, the 3-D works miracles, especially when the dragons are the high-flying attraction. Director Dean DeBlois, who co-directed the first film with Chris Sanders but is going solo on this one, captures the wonderment of these fictional winged creatures and does so without surrendering any of its personality. Everyone knows sequels, especially animated ones, are basically made if the first one hit box-office gold. It’s nice to see another example of one that challenges itself to build on its clever storyline and actually come out with its head above the clouds.

Monuments Men

February 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett
Directed by: George Clooney (“The Ides of March”)
Written by: George Clooney (“The Ides of March”) and Grant Heslov (“The Ides of March”)

Historically speaking, “Monuments Men,” a film about a platoon of art appreciators who put their lives on the line to rescue priceless works of art from the Nazis during World War II, is a fascinating story and one that everyone should definitely be aware of. Cinematically speaking, however, director George Clooney’s latest isn’t the film they should trust to make it a lasting experience. As much as it would like to be considered more of a heist movie than an actual war movie, “Monuments Men” comes up extremely short on both fronts.

Sent on a mission by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to reclaim thousands of famous artworks stolen by the Germans across Europe, art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together his ragtag team of curators and museum directors to save what they can before Hitler puts it in his own museum or burns it. The team includes art dealer Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) and sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman). Other actors joining the bumpy ride are Billy Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas and Bob Balaban. Somewhere along the way, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett are used sparingly, although their story is probably the most compelling part of the entire narrative. Simply put: there are just not enough pages in the script to make them fully-realized characters. There isn’t even enough content for the men on the frontlines themselves, who basically mill around until it’s time for them to uncover the next trove of art.

Despite the impressive cast, Clooney’s cheeky “Ocean’s 11”-style approach to the film wasn’t in the best interest of the narrative in the least bit. The tone is playful throughout, which takes away from the seriousness of the subject at hand. Even when Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov want to break away from the silliness, they fail to give the men any motivation so the characters can pull us in emotionally. Whether it’s during a scene where the men find a burnt frame belonging to a painting of Pablo Picasso, thus confirming the importance of their mission, or a scene where Murray breaks down because he misses his family, none of it rings true.

So far in his directorial career, Clooney has done some impressive work when the subject feels mature. Films like “The Ideas of March” and especially “Good Night, and Good Luck” are proof of that. But here, Clooney attempts to mix and match what he did with those films and what he did with his more lighthearted football-themed comedy “Leatherheads.” The outcome is a mess and one that, we’re sure, Clooney probably won’t be making during his next project.

Blue Jasmine

August 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

If director/writer Woody Allen has proven anything during his screenwriting career, it’s that he knows how to write extraordinarily neurotic characters. From Alvy Singer in “Annie Hall” to Maria Elena in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (and countless more), Allen’s ability to show off the ugly emotional scars of both men and women and give them an almost grating personality is an art form incomparable to any director over the last four decades. Despite the numerous disturbed protagonists he’s created in all that time, it could be argued that the title character in “Blue Jasmine,” played by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”), is the most complex one he has ever written. It’s Blanchett’s obsessive performance that takes on a life of its own and reveals some of the same despair as a Tennessee Williams novel.

In “Blue Jasmine,” Jasmine (Blanchett, who just might end up getting her fifth Academy Award nomination here) is a well-to-do New York City socialite who has fallen from grace because of the shady business practices of her financier husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). With nowhere to go, Jasmine makes a move to San Francisco where she turns to her estranged, working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for a place to stay. Ginger’s mechanic boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) doesn’t like the fact that Jasmine has come around only when she needs something. It might be a reason Jasmine starts planting seeds in her sister’s head that Chili is as big of a loser as her last boyfriend Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, in a scene-stealing role).

As things get testy in the household, Allen uses flashbacks to explain just what went wrong in everyone’s lives to get them to where they are now. It’s a storytelling devices that is tricky to do well, but Allen pieces the narrative together with such creativity and ease, jumping back and forth from the past and present doesn’t feel like work for the audience. This is a tragic tale only Allen could write. His characters are pathetic when they need to be, and enlightening at the perfect moments. At the end, they’ll all break your heart.

Besides Allen’s talent with the pen, it’s Blanchett’s total commitment to the role that gives “Blue Jasmine” its gravitas. Yes, she goes a bit overboard (think Charlize Theron in “Young Adult” without the meds), but there’s no denying the powerhouse performance still resonates, even when Blanchett is chewing up scenes like a starved Brahma bull.

Robin Hood

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Green Zone”)
 
While the comparisons are obvious, director Ridley Scott’s version of “Robin Hood” is nothing like his first collaboration with actor Russell Crowe in the good but slightly overrated 2000 film “Gladiator.” Amazing production value aside, “Robin Hood” is a high-end production with lofty ideas and a convoluted screenplay begging for some major editing.
 
In his fifth film with Scott, Crowe isn’t the same Robin Hood most would expect from the dozens of versions that have come before (the best is still Errol Flynn’s 1938 classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood”). Instead, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have jerry-built a chaotic prequel based on the legendary tale of an English outlaw from Sherwood Forest who robs from the rich to give to the poor.
 
To begin, Crowe is not actually Robin Hood, but Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) army, who sets off with his own band of followers (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle) after the king is killed by French forces. When Robin and his men get their hands on King Richard’s crown, they return it to London where John (Oscar Isaac) is ready to take over the throne from his slain brother and impose heavy taxes on his people. He appoints Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is secretly working for the French, as his tax collector, but is unaware of his ulterior motives.
 
Godfrey wants to help France invade England. Robin, who acquires a new identity from a dying knight with a last request, connects with the knight’s father (Max Von Sydow) and his widow Lady Marion of Loxley (Cate Blanchett) and helps them save their land by posing as the deceased son and husband. If that’s not complicated enough, 13th century politics play a major role in the ill-conceived script as Scott takes all the adventure out of the myth through longwinded speeches and conventional storytelling.

Sure, it might feel like we’re somewhere in Nottingham simply for the terrific art direction and costume design, but the technical aspects are skin deep. This “Robin Hood” is void of any real emotion or awe-inspiring heroics that the iconic literary character has built his name on for the past few centuries.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

December 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson
Directed by: David Fincher (“Fight Club”)
Written by: Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”)

David Fincher’s new fantasy drama “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” doesn’t exactly mirror 1994’s “Forrest Gump” word for word, but screenwriter Eric Roth, who penned both scripts, uses so many elements from the story that won him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, don’t be caught off guard if during “Button” you start seeing images of Bubba flashing on screen.

The similarities between the two, however, aren’t Fincher’s biggest problem. “Benjamin Button” is a story about death, and a beautiful one to behold from a technical point of view. But with a topic so poignant, Fincher fails to expand on the inner workings of his characters. In a story dealing with so much loss, there is very little life.

“Benjamin Button” begins with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), an old woman dying in a hospital bed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina who asks her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) to read to her the diary she has secretly kept her entire life. (Think “Big Fish” but without the tall tales and less enchanting moments).

As the story gradually unfolds, we learn of a baby born on the night WWI ended, who’s father abandons it on the porch of a stranger’s house after its mother dies during childbirth. The baby, of course, is Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a peculiar child who seems to be aging backwards. He stars as an elderly infant and slowly becomes younger as his body develops stronger and then younger itself. He’s adopted by Queeny (Taraji P. Henson), the caretaker of a senior’s home who can’t have children of her own and raises Benjamin as her son.

Soon, we see how Benjamin and our storyteller, Daisy, meet each other and form an unusual friendship. Daisy is a seven-year-old little girl while Benjamin is a little boy who looks 67 but has the complexity of a child her age. It gets less creepy as Daisy gets older and Benjamin gets younger and the two go their separate ways. Still, they never really never let go of their special bond.

But characters come in and out of each others lives and Daisy’s flashbacks continue in an uninteresting catalog reminiscent of “This is Your Life” glints. It’s not nearly as memorable or entertaining as Gump’s brush with history and celebrity. “Benjamin Button” may have done some wildly inventive things in the graphics department (molding Pitt’s head on a small body looks amazing especially when compared to things like “Little Man”), but there’s nothing here that makes the film as deeply moving as it should have been.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

May 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Spider-Man”)

The idea worked with Sylvester Stallone when he got back into the ring as “Rocky Balboa” in 2006. It missed the mark when he returned this year for another “Rambo.” Resurrecting a film series after its last movie hit theaters more than 15 years ago seems to be the hippest thing to do in Hollywood these days. So, when director Steven Spielberg was attached to a fourth installment of “Indiana Jones” (the last one, “The Last Crusade,” premiered in 1989), it really was no surprise, especially in a cinematic day and age where original screenplays are about as hard to find as Indy artifacts.

What is a bit astonishing, however, is how very aged this series feels with the newest edition of the epic adventure “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” No, we’re not talking about the fact that Harrison Ford is returning as the title character at the age of 65. Instead, it feels worn out because there isn’t any type of evolution after almost 20 years. Where “Rocky Balboa” developed was in the way it changed from over-the-top choreographed boxing matches to realistic pay-per-view bouts. And although the recent “Rambo” lacked in story, no one can deny that the violence in this one made the first three look as vicious as Estelle Getty packing heat in “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!”

In “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Ford dusts off his fedora and goes on a search for an ancient, Mayan crystal skull said to have mystical powers. Actually, it is a group of Soviet KGB agents who want to get their hands on the skull and have forced the professor of archeology to come along for the ride. Leading the Russian antagonists is Irina Splako (Cate Blanchett), a dominatrix-looking (grab that whip Indy!), Ukrainian-sounding Soviet who kidnaps Jonsey and forces him to help her solve the skull’s secrets.

Set in the 1950’s (“Last Crusade” takes place in the late 30’s), Indiana is flanked this time by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a huffy, motorcycle-riding greaser who comes to Indy when his grandfather (John Hurt), an old colleague of Jones, goes missing in Peru while searching for the lost city of gold.

Following the same exact formula as the prior films, we are given all the creepy-crawling bugs, blazing chase scenes, and basic humor the previous trio delivered. It’s a step slower, however, as screenwriter David Koepp mismatches genres and add some sci-fi to the mix, which really doesn’t work to the film’s advantage. There’s no question that Steven Spielberg knows his extraterrestrials (“E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “A.I.,” and “War of the Worlds”), but in “Crystal Skulls” the supernatural, alien storyline becomes careless and flat.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Indy fought Nazis in “Last Crusade” and Spielberg has gone on to bigger and better things (“Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Minority Report”). It’s almost like Spielberg has found his high school letterman toward the back of his closet and tried it on just for the heck of it. Sadly, it doesn’t fit. It might be nice to remember the good times, but with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” only the biased albeit faithful fans will enjoy another less-impressive journey.