After George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford decided to team up for what would likely be the final installment of the "Indiana Jones" franchise, the buzz was immediate, the subtext to the building anticipation something like: "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" has to be as good as "Raiders" and certainly the equal of "The Last Crusade." How could it not? And should anyone mention "The Temple of Doom," well it was a mere speed bump in what has proven to be a wildly successful and iconic series.




When Lucas and Spielberg released "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1981, their intent was to make seven Indy films, akin to the popular 1930s Saturday afternoon matinee serials that kids embraced in huge numbers. With popcorn and candy in hand, young moviegoers gathered in dark theaters to watch, week after week, the adventures of, say, "Don Winslow of the Navy" as he battled the forces of evil, escaping from cars stalled on railroad tracks or dropping off cliffs into raging seas or rocks below. Just as the train came roaring down on Don (usually with a distressed young lady riding shotgun), white block letters would fill the screen: "TO BE CONTINUED." It made kids crazy with worry and anticipation, and the next Saturday couldn't come soon enough.




"Raiders" mirrored those '30s Republic serials and more. It was a stunningly well made film that balanced on the precipice of disaster for two hours while introducing a character into the arcana of movie making who was unforgettable: Dr. Henry Jones, Jr., aka Indiana, Indy to his friends &

familiar fedora, ever-present whip, university archeologist, always on the hunt for lost treasure. And there was the gripping signature opening scene, always harrowing, which introduced act one. All of it wonderful.




As with all sequels, the challenge of replicating the taut narrative of "Raiders" in the second film, "The Temple of Doom," was all but insurmountable, and "Temple" is regarded as the weakest (though the first 30 some minutes are classic "Indy"). The third film, "The Last Crusade," starring Sean Connery and Ford as father and son, proved to be, in its own way, spot-on Indiana Jones. In what was billed as the last Indy crusade, Jones Jr. and Sr. gazed into the tyrannical faces of caricatured Nazis: elaborately uniformed, book-burning, monocled, strutting, remorseless and always well armed. There are no better villains than Nazis.




For the fans of the franchise, opening day for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" couldn't come soon enough. To once again watch Indy on the big screen, resurrected by Team Lucas-Spielberg, both of whom have had years to craft a screenplay the equal of (or better than) "Raiders," was just too good.




There was also the possibility that the writers might take the story in a more thoughtful direction: Indy is now a senior citizen, a card-carrying member of AARP, and might be at a point in his professorial-adventurer life when jumping into a tomb filled with snakes (he hates snakes), or getting repeatedly slugged on the back of an out of control jeep, might not be his first or even second choice, no matter the artifact in question. Spielberg is no stranger to narratives with emotional gravitas and could have made the fourth film character-driven while still keeping the stakes high.




Unfortunately, in the "Crystal Skull," the stakes are never made crystal clear, so to speak. Indy hooks up with a kid named Mutt (Shia La Beouf), who tells him his mother (Karen Allen) and a professor Oxley (John Hurt) had been kidnapped in Peru. How this connects to the crystal skull is murky. And why the screenwriters (to include Lucas) would invoke the myth of the original astronaut &

the uber E.T., who came to earth and taught the locals farming, astronomy and metallurgy &

never seems credible, no matter the shape of the skull or the familiar eye socket orbs. Act three begins to seem more like the "X Files" than a well-grounded Indy adventure.




In fact, the film has the feel of being a quilt of previous Indy films, as if no one wanted to work that hard on truly making this final tale intensely original. Sure there are chase scenes. And with the benefit of CGI, the film has its moments. But none of it feels inspired. As if the team is going through the paces only because they were beyond the preproduction point of no return. It's arguable that Lucas-Spielberg "jumped the shark," a show biz term referring to that tipping point in which a series is deemed to have passed its peak, the writing lacks a certain zing and freshness and so heads into decline.




For hard-core fans of the Indy franchise, this, the post trilogy film, will be a must see. For those who want to remember the series as a solid trilogy, then "Crystal Skull" might warrant a pass.




My Blueberry Nights




Norah Jones, the lead in "My Blueberry Nights," though a well-regarded, soft-voiced singer, would not come to mind when casting the lead in a character-driven film. The surprise is that Jones can indeed act, plus she has a lovely, photogenic face, something that director Wong Kar-Wai is not hesitant to dwell on in tight and sensuous shots.




Kar-Wai has created an almost surreal film, beautifully photographed, that amounts to a heartbroken woman's road trip as she attempts to recover from a breakup that has derailed her life.




The film opens in New York City when Elizabeth (Jones) walks into a late night diner and begins a cautious conversation with the owner, Jeremy (Jude Law). He insists she try the one pie that no one ever samples, his own homemade blueberry. She does, and so begins a tentative friendship. She returns late at night, they talk and she leaves. Soon Elizabeth leaves New York and begins a journey of several towns and cities all the while sending Jeremy postcards, sharing her impressions and emotional peregrinations. The people she meets along the way form a fascinating and well acted ensemble of damaged people portrayed by accomplished actors David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman. Their roles are not mere cameos; rather, each part is substantive and compelling.




"Blueberry Nights" could be characterized as one of those small indies that targets filmgoers who consider not only the surface characters and back and forth dialogue, but who notice the photography and lighting and can overcome the sense that nothing of real consequence is happening while a great deal is happening. Perhaps that sounds a bit sniffy, a kind of down your nose at the unwashed masses who embrace "What Happens in Vegas..." But it's not, actually. It's more of a heads up, a semaphore that "Blueberry Nights" is in town and it might be worth a look.