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Maintaining a Legacy

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and Asteroid City

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INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. Time may eventually allow us to more properly contextualize the great Dr. Jones. Younger generations may have already done it, distanced as they presumably are from the visceral, world-making experience of meeting Harrison Ford's irascible, iron-tough, impossibly cool archeologist at an age when that introduction was as formative, as fundamental as any other. I suppose I can't speak for everyone.

My own reverence notwithstanding, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is an enduring cultural touchstone that transcends moviemaking. Spielberg, Lucas, et al. got the ball rolling (see what I did there?) on a redefinition of cinematic adventure, sure, but they also forged a new archetype, simultaneously introducing notions of intellectual curiosity and agnosticism as healthy counterbalance to belief, as elements of this new, admittedly flawed hero. They also terrified and titillated generations of us with blow darts and pits of snakes and melting Nazis, searing images into our developing psyches that would influence so many of our subsequent experiences not only of art and culture, but of the world at large.

What we could not have known, at the time, was that the creators of this mind-altering continuity were messing around, trying to hot-rod the adventure serials of their youth, bringing to bear all the new technology and recently legitimized academic study of their medium to create an even-more legitimate sense of childlike wonder at their created spectacle. Seems doubtful they could have known we would take up their Indy as our Christ.

Which is why I tend to believe our collective discomfort and disbelief at the rambling silliness of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is trauma of our own making: People thought Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) was too great a departure, too, and it was only the second installment. (I see it as one of the great monuments of '80s Hollywood; I've seen it more times than any of the others). Point being, we have collectively freighted this franchise with so much of our own myth expansion and expectation that we didn't see Crystal Skull honestly, or at least with equanimity. I hadn't arrived at this conclusion before I watched The Dial of Destiny, and it may be the credit to its self-knowledge that it made me reassess the whole franchise and my relationship with it.

Summer, 1945: A digitally de-aged Indy (the technology still isn't quite there, but we can let it slide) and Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are captured by Nazis fleeing the inevitable on a train full of priceless stolen antiquities. By pure happenstance, they come across the titular dial, a device purportedly built by Archimedes himself to locate fissures in time and, thereby, passage to different eras.

A quarter century later, Basil is dead, having been driven mad in his study of the dial. Dr. Jones, drinking rather heavily and petitioned for divorce, is retiring from his teaching position in New York City. Against the backdrop of a ticker-tape parade for the returning Apollo 11 astronauts, our hero's spirits have never seemed lower. Enter the gamboling, capricious Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), daughter of Basil, seeking the dial, pursued by agents of varying legitimacy. And we're off.

Guided by the sure hand of director James Mangold (Ford v Ferrari, 2019; Logan, 2017), The Dial of Destiny successfully synthesizes all the preexisting Indiana Jones stories, combining just enough of the airiness and whimsy of Crystal Skull with the grit and threat of the previous installments to create a captivating, involving adventure in constant motion. Ford seems entirely at ease resettling into this role, especially when he's grousing about ailments and injuries incurred in decades past, (many of them while we were watching). Some of our favorites from journeys past return here, and Waller-Bridge is an ideal scene partner and foil, charging Helena with just enough avarice to make us wonder whether she actually can do what we, as the faithful, need her to do. PG13. 142M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

ASTEROID CITY. At this late stage, it's almost silly to purport to review a Wes Anderson movie. It's been almost three decades since Bottlerocket (1996) and no one could call him inconsistent. By now, unless one is completely uninitiated, one knows how one feels about the canon.

That said, a new Anderson is still an occasion: Regardless of one's little quibbles about aesthetic neurosis or perpetual narrative adolescence or perhaps detrimental visual control (read: my quibbles), he is one of a generation's most distinct, fully-formed artistic voices. If he started, a decade or so ago, trying to aw-shucks out-intellectualize himself, so be it; we need more art made by real artists.

As is always the case, the most recent Anderson is the Andersoniest, constructed as an Atomic Age play within a play within a play that is, at bottom, a study in grief and exploration. Some of the thematic bullet points will feel familiar but maybe that's all for the better.

Reuniting the writer/director with his formidable creative team, including many returning members of his repertory company and some new faces, Asteroid City presents America in 1955 as a fever-dream vision of the Southwest, as channeled through the imaginations of a fragile writer and a New York teleplay studio, all narrated by an almost omnipresent Bryan Cranston, channeling Rod Serling.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. But Anderson has a way of rendering even his headiest ideas with a sort of humble humanity that, when combined with his undeniably charming execution of vision, can't help but win one over. PG13. 105M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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Updated Broadway and Mill Creek listings were not available at press time due to the holiday. Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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