Harrison Ford

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The great thing about film is its subjectivity: the variety of ways to view a movie depending on the personal lens you bring to it. That being said, if the idea of the “Indiana Jones” films on Blu-ray doesn’t appeal to you, then you’re probably confused. The recently released five-disc set contains all three “Indiana Jones” movies (plus something called “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” that I know nothing about) and a bonus disc packed with previously unreleased bonus material.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is, in my humble opinion, the greatest adventure film ever made, a charming pulp serial with boatloads of iconic moments perfectly suited to the Blu-ray format. The transfer here is truly outstanding — something that can be seen from the very first shot of the film. The opening scene, which famously tracks Indy’s (played by Harrison Ford) journey through a booby-trapped temple, retains a hazy grittiness that doesn’t take away from a sharp, colorful picture, and John Williams’ sweeping, memorable score couldn’t sound better. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is a much stranger, uglier work, but the Blu-ray transfer doesn’t suffer for it and the other films in the set remain just as pristine.

Any complaints about the set are mostly cosmetic. The discs are packaged in a cardboard booklet with slipcases on each page that cause unexpected scratches. The set also lacks a disc-by-disc special features breakdown, so viewers must insert each disc into their player to figure out which feature is on which disc. Although these are small concerns of convenience, but they could have been easily fixed.

The fifth disc in the set holds most of the special features, roughly seven hours’ worth, and all of it fascinating. Some of the bonuses are recycled from previous releases, but a new documentary called “On Set with ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’” offers a captivating look at the making of a cinema legend, giving lots of behind-the-scenes insights into the production of the film.

For any fan of Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford or movies in general, this set is one of the easiest purchases you could possibly make. You get three of the best adventures ever put to film (and a fourth one that’s best not spoken of) as well as hours of special features, not to mention a truly outstanding transfer. It’s a delight to have “Indiana Jones” in HD and it’s no stretch to call the set one of the best releases of the year.

Printed on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 as: Indiana Jones unlocks new tomb with Blu-ray

Harrison Ford is back to giving good performances in Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens.” (Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.)

If one thing defines cinema in 2011, it’s alien movies. From “Super 8” and “Battle: Los Angeles” to lighter fare such as “Paul,” it’s been difficult to hit a multiplex without seeing some sort of interplanetary entertainment option. “Cowboys & Aliens” is the last big blockbuster of summer, and it’s not even the only alien movie opening this weekend, but its fresh twist on the genre makes it an entertaining ride.

Even though the film’s ad campaign touts it as blending sci-fi and Western elements, it starts off as a mystery. Jake (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert with a bizarre bracelet attached to his wrist and no memory of how it (or he) got there. He rides into the nearest town and quickly bumps up against Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), unaware that Percy’s father (Harrison Ford) is a powerful cattle baron whose very name inspires fear in the local townspeople.

The film’s first act is by far its best, staged with all the tropes of a traditional Western. Director Jon Favreau nails the pace, letting an intense slow burn guide the opening scenes. He showcases beautiful, sprawling landscapes and dusty gunfights with a flair that would make John Ford proud. Also great is Dano, whose absolutely revolting character gets big laughs as Craig humiliates him time and time again.

And then the aliens attack, and the film begins to sputter. The first alien attack scene is effective and tense, but it’s also dark to the point of being distracting. Just before the aliens attack, the screen is so dim that it’s nearly impossible to see what’s going on, something that most of the film’s nighttime scenes suffer from. The film also makes the mistake of sidelining a good chunk of the supporting cast after this attack scene, taking Dano out of the equation, as well as Keith Carradine’s intriguing sheriff and a few others — all of them vital parts of what’s made the movie work so far.

Once the cowboys go tracking down the aliens who have kidnapped their townspeople, the film slowly catches up with its forward momentum. One of the main problems with this middle section is Harrison Ford’s character. Ford is, as always, simply awesome and gives an energized, hungry performance that holds up a half-baked character. His ruthless cattle baron never quite inspires the terror in the audience as he does in the characters, and his inevitable redemption arc is nothing short of forced. It’s as if the film’s five (!) credited screenwriters knew he had to start the film as a gruff bastard and end it as a slightly less gruff town leader but decided to let Ford fill in the blanks.

All of the film’s acting is solid, even if the character work isn’t. Craig is a hero through and through, instilling his character with a confidence that carries him even when he has no memories whatsoever. The film’s only real character is Sam Rockwell’s Doc, whose wife is kidnapped in the alien attack. At this point in his career, Rockwell can pretty much do no wrong, and he quietly steals the show from seasoned vets given much more material to work with, even getting the film’s most cheer-worthy moment.

Where the character work stumbles, Favreau picks up the slack by keeping the film moving. His aliens aren’t exactly distinguishable from the many other extraterrestrials that have graced multiplex screens this year, but there’s a few delightfully gross details that redeem them. Favreau also knows how to make his creatures menacing, casting them as fast, brutal conquerors that never run out of ways to kill you, brought to life by near-seamless visual effects.

“Cowboys & Aliens” gets a lot right. From the cowboy iconography to the thrilling action sequences, Favreau’s passion for the project is clear throughout, and that’s enough to forgive some shoddy character work and the occasional slow stretch. Fans of Westerns will find plenty to like here, as will sci-fi fans, but the real treat is watching Ford truly acting again. One can only hope he continues to give such clearly enthusiastic performances, hopefully with better written scripts in the future. And Ford isn’t even the strongest part of a stacked ensemble that helps make “Cowboys & Aliens” an enjoyable close to the summer movie season.

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Western crosses sci-fi in 'Cowboys & Aliens'

On paper, “Morning Glory” sounds like a movie that would be easy to hate.

The story of a down-on-her-luck producer coming to rejuvenate a low-rated morning talk show sounds like a not particularly original twist on every underdog movie ever made. But somehow, “Morning Glory” is effortlessly enjoyable; a light, funny chick flick that knows exactly what’s expected of it and then exceeds those expectations with flying colors.

Rachel McAdams leads a spectacular cast as Becky Fuller, who starts the film as a character we’ve all seen before — a perpetually single workaholic who can’t put down her cell phone or talk about anything but her job. But her unlikely knack for physical comedy and pervasive likability not only anchors the movie, but elevates the character.

In fact, the entire cast is firing on all cylinders. “The A-Team’s” Patrick Wilson makes the film’s unavoidable romantic subplot surprisingly painless, combined with a script that makes the most of his easy charm and refuses to dwell on the romantic angst that pervades so many other films of its ilk.

However, the real star here is Harrison Ford. It’s been 13 years since Ford appeared in a truly enjoyable movie (the last being 1997’s goofy but fun “Air Force One”), and it’s apparent in every scene how relieved he is to finally be reunited with a good script. Mike Pomeroy, Ford’s eternally cranky character, is the film’s best-written character, and Ford plays the hell out of him, stealing every scene and reminding the audience why he’s a Hollywood icon.

Diane Keaton shines as Colleen Peck, a co-anchor whose escalating competition with Mike to see who can be a bigger diva provides some of the film’s biggest laughs.

There’s not much to “Morning Glory” besides the cast. The script is unexceptional, funny and heartfelt where it needs to be but never stands out. Director Roger Michell is equally serviceable, keeping the story moving without calling attention to himself and displaying an uncanny eye for sharp comedic timing.

Ultimately, “Morning Glory” is the movie equivalent of comfort food. It’s endlessly entertaining, boasting an appealing cast, an upbeat, pop-music soundtrack and has very little on its mind beyond entertaining the audience. It may not be looking for awards, and it may not be one of the best movies of the year, but it’s witty, spectacularly acted and wholly recommendable.


Grade: B