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Diablo gets the first look at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Spoiler-free review of the new Indy film, plus: Top 5 places to see it

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes crashing into theaters this Thursday at 12:01 a.m., and its certain to be a box office behemoth, crushing Prince Caspian and Speed Racer in its massive wake. I went to an early screening on Sunday morning at the Castro Theater and am pleased to report that the Indy 4 is a total blast. I don't want to give away any plot details, because part of the fun is watching the crazy action unfold. Since my screening was spoiler-free, I'm not about to reveal any of the secrets director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas have in store for this fanboy spectacular.

The original Indiana Jones adventure, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was one of the great cinematic thrills of my childhood. I was 11-years-old when Raiders came out in 1981, and already a ravenous geek for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. As great as those movies were, Raiders surpassed them with its over-the-top action, good-versus-evil story, and instant classic characters. In the mid 1990s, I went to an old theater in the north Sydney suburbs to watch Raiders again at a Sunday matinee and was amazed how well it held up. From its rousing opening sequence (giant rolling boulder!) to its surprising final shot (the Ark of the Covenant being sealed into a box in a government warehouse), Raiders really is a perfect movie. The two Indy follow ups, Temple of Doom (1984) and Last Crusade (1989), came no where near the original film's impact, but still provided lots of thrilling action, stunts and laughs. While Temple of Doom is widely dismissed as the biggest failure of the trilogy, specifically hampered by some crude humor and Kate Capshaw's shrill performance, I preferred it slightly to Last Crusade, which to me, felt like a remake of the original Raiders, with its Nazi villains and Christian artifacts.

Which brings me back to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, my second favorite film in the series. The 19-year-absence of Indiana Jones from summer blockbuster season makes for a welcome return. Harrison Ford, who hasn't made a good film in a decade fits comfortably into the fedora, whip and dungarees, and the wonderful Cate Blanchett makes an intriguing villain. The film takes place 19 years after Last Crusade, so Spielberg and Lucas get to have fun with Red Scare paranoia and American Graffiti-era music and styles. And fun is the key word here: the movie was nostalgic, self-referential, and pleasant throughout. The grave mistakes Lucas made with his second Star Wars trilogy, namely making the films look and feel like CGI videogames, are absent here, as Spielberg keeps the texture of this film consistent with its three predecessors.

The one thing I'd stress is that Indiana Jones is best enjoyed as a matinee, in a classic old movie house. Fortunately, we plenty of options in our backyard. Here are my top five picks for where to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in the East Bay.

1. The Orinda,
2. The Dome in Pleasant Hill
3. The Alameda Theater: I haven't seen it yet, but I can't wait. This 1932 art deco palace has recently been refurbished and opens this week as a seven screen multiplex.
4. The Grand Lake,
5. The Chabot Cinema in Castro Valley