BARRY NORMAN: FILM OF THE DAY Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull★★★★ 8.05-10.00pm BBC3
Indy (Harrison Ford) himself says it here – same old same old – and that’s just what it is: a rollercoaster ride of improbable plot in exotic places packed with peril, thrills, spills, wild adventure and even wilder stunts. The setting is the Amazon in 1957 where the now distinctly grizzled Indy and party are seized by ruthless Russian colonel Cate Blanchett and a large chunk of the Red Army, and obliged to lead them to a cavern containing numerous crystal skulls containing the entire wisdom of the universe. Quite a party it is, too – Indy’s dodgy MI6 mate Ray Winstone, Professor John Hurt, whose vital task is to explain what’s going on, Karen Allen, Indy’s true love and her son, Shia LaBeouf, who also turns out to be Indy’s son and thus presumably the hero of any future episodes. Very enjoyable same old same old.
Steven Spielberg’s engaging dramatisation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was a change of direction for the ET/Indiana Jones wunderkind. The story of a black teenage mother’s struggles in early 20th century America gathered eleven Oscar nominations, and, in only her second feature appearance, Whoopi Goldberg seemed a shoe-in for best actress. But the movie failed to win a single award, equalling the record set by 1977’s The Turning Point.
Made for a paltry $18 million, Legally Blonde repaid MGM richly, with $141 million worldwide, a sequel and a musical. And it’s all down to Reese Witherspoon (with a salary of just $1 million of that budget), whose sensitive handling of the stereotype allows her to subvert it without abandoning it. The story sees Witherspoon’s Elle aiming to revenge herself on her boyfriend, who has dumped her before heading for Harvard, by following him there and kick-starting a law career. Writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, together with director Robert Luketic (who are currently working together on the up and coming Expendabelles movie) put the right froth into the script and action, but it is Witherspoon who makes their efforts worthwhile. And she got her reward in the sequel, with a producer credit and a $15 million pay packet.
Jaden Smith, son of Will, does really well in this China-set remake of the 1984 original. Fans of that film’s Ralph Macchio may start the film in a suspicious frame of mind, but Smith’s performance is free of artifice, and he’s obviously trained hard for the role, so that he soon has the audience rooting for him over the school bullies and their evil teacher. And Smith’s on-screen instructor is Jackie Chan, who puts his own downbeat spin onto the role made famous by Pat Morita while teaching Smith that kung fu is about mind as well as might. And yes, we know it should really be called the Kung Fu kid.
Alastair Sim became a British comedy icon with his cross-dressing performance in the 1954 original about the anarchic girls’ school, but Rupert Everett does a great job in the same role in this fun update. When their school is threatened with closure, the fine young ladies of St Trinian’s take it upon themselves to save the old place. The language is more modern, but the comedy is nicely old-fashioned, Russell Brand is a suitably scruffy Flash Harry and Colin Firth makes for a typically stuffy Minister of Education.