Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)

Introduction

Last year the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character.

Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)

Probably the most unfortunate thing about Tarzan and the Huntress is that there are good things in the script, but there’s just not enough material. At times it seems like they only started with half-a-feature-length screenplay, elongated everything, shot cutaways and time-fillers to bolster the running time.

One of the switches that works really well here is that the impending threat is introduced prior to the stasis, therefore, at the outset of the film there is greater promise than there are in many of the films. The stasis is thus leant and undercurrent of tension none of the prior ones have.

What interferes with the success of this installment most is the fact that, here perhaps more so than any other film, it seems Tarzan is the only one with a memory of past interactions with white men in the jungle. Again Boy, whose youth and naivite are harder to sell the bigger and broader he gets; and Jane’s willing acquiescence to the desires of the civilized world are what causes a majority of the issues and strife.

Conflict is necessary but considering how flip the trappers are it’s hardly necessary for them to be tricked so. Tarzan attempts diplomacy bowing to the King and they cross him many times. Now, part of the issues is the concept and the writing there’s a line of the “war taking its toll on zoos.” How? Air raids, I would assume, but it that really a justifiable reason to over-poach? The greed is now underscored furthermore the animals are usually respected greatly by Tarzan and his family so Boy giving away two cubs for a flashlight is the hardest turn of events to take in the series.

The reason it feels like have a script elongated is that there is a stasis section in the middle of the film. Much like my sudden, un-segued shift to discussing it, such is that section to the flow of the film.

The conclusion of the film is not unusual and similar to others, including the fact that it’s not really earned. The next film, and the last time Weissmuller played Tarzan, would break the mold slightly but not for the better.

Advertisements

Short Film Saturday- The Writer

This is a short film that was created for a contest Quentin Tarantino ran as part of a promotion for his upcoming Django Unchained. Below you will find the winning entry by Brazilian student filmmaker Edson Oda. Oda, per reports, is heading to USC for his masters.

Here is Oda’s Vimeo blurb:

This is a short film a created for the Quentin Tarantino’s Emerging Artist Contest to promote the film Django Unchained.

“The Writer” tells the story of Pedro, a young cowboy who defies the writer of the short film (me). I used the footage of the film “Day of Anger” and changed the dialogues in order to create this comic book world ruled by the sacred script.

It is a really fun, insightful and creative short. I hope this film is allowed an Academy Award qualifying festival because it’s certainly deserving. I do recommend you watch fullscreen to not miss any of the text.

Enjoy!

The Writer from Edson Oda on Vimeo.

Review- Safe House

Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington in Safe House (Universal)

Safe House is a film that in many ways is your standard spy-caper. I will give it credit by saying that it does try to do some different things to slightly alter the equation, however, it is ultimately the bits that are the same old song and dance that really get in this film’s way and trip it up.

To start out with the more positive notes, the film is very watchable and there’s a decent amount of tension due to the kinetic editing style. The beginning of the film is quite creative in as much as the cuts come quickly, but also break chronology such that you are investing in a situation, and getting information later. Eventually, the lackluster nature of the information betrays this artistry to an extent but this facet of the film did its utmost to elevate the piece as a whole.

The editing style was in part a necessity. The cinematography didn’t feature the worst abuses of hand-held camerawork I’ve seen, but the camera is hyperactive in this piece and it can be a turn off to those prone to motion sickness or are aesthetically averse to such things. For the most part it works, but there are points within it where I wish it would relax and the quick edits really salvaged many shots making them more watchable than they otherwise should’ve been.

The script develops a decent story in most respects. The setup and ultimate plot of the antagonist are intriguing enough. The problems come into the storytelling when elements that are overly-trite or too frequently done are brought into the mix in terms of dialogue and certain character’s attitudes. As with any tale of this nature suspension is of disbelief is necessary because there will be moments of absurdity. There are good elements to the scripting but definite issues that overshadow the positives to an extent.

The performances to an extent are also a mixed bag. In the positive column are Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Washington has thankfully taken to some quieter, more intelligent and less bombastic parts recently as opposed to things like Training Day, where I don’t find him nearly as interesting. He plays this character intelligently, but also gets to layer him. Reynolds has played action before but he also plays in a romance plot here and in very dramatic confrontations with many characters in this film and does equally well in all of them. It’s likely a performance of his that will be overlooked, though it should not be.

As for the problematic performances: One, sadly, is Brendan Gleeson’s, it’s not him in his top form. I’m unsure as to whether the character was supposed to have a slightly faded Irish brogue or if his American dialect was just off in this part, but it influenced the end result regardless. Another is Vera Farmiga and some of the issue is her character. There’s nothing to her. She’s a plot device. She believes what will likely be the official version of the story is really what’s happening, other than that there’s no characterization to her. I’ve liked Farmiga in some works quite a bit and been a bit too hard on other times, so I think when she’s stuck with a character of this ilk she really has a tough go of it.

Lastly, there are some surprising and pleasant twists but one of the biggest ones occurs in the third act and it’s terribly transparent from the start of the scene based on the entire execution, and the scene is far too long and it really detracts from what should be a pivotal moment.

Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on seeing Safe House, I saw it to have a dine-in movie experience. However, I will say that while I didn’t like it it was better than I thought it would be so you may see it differently than I did.

5/10

Review- X-Men: First Class

Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Lucas Till in X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox/Marvel)

I believe, when grading or reviewing a film, that taking a film for what it is and not comparing it something its not or not trying to be is of paramount importance. Thus, I will look at films from not just a genre perspective but also within the confines of subgenre and in some cases franchise. This clearly applies to X-Men: First Class.

It’s an action film, it’s a superhero film but moreover it’s a film in the X-Men series. I will state in the interest of full disclosure that I am a fan of the X-Men and it’s mainly through other interpretations be they the TV series I was hooked on as a kid or the films that came later.

I will here echo sentiments uttered quite astutely by my friend Joey Esposito because they are true and have bearing on any interpretation of this film. Those thoughts being that the connection many can feel to the X-Men are usually for either of two reasons: first, the mutants all feel outcast and most people at one point feel like outsiders, some more poignantly or persistently than others- this instantly adds to the appeal of the characters. However, perhaps the most intriguing dynamic in this universe is the dichotomy between Xavier and Magneto who have two diametrically opposite views on how to deal with this struggle and better yet anyone can see the logic in both approaches.

While I liked the previous installments in varying degrees, save for Wolverine, these truths and this philosophy was always hinted at and alluded to but never became central to the narrative. The films were engaging, flashy and fun, in short good entertainment that lacked that little something extra that made it necessary or desirable to revisit the film two or three times or more.

I have already seen X-Men: First Class twice because it not only gets everything I was talking about but delivers on it in spades. Never are you left wondering as the geriatric lady of infamy in the 80s advertising campaign said: “Where’s the beef?” Instantly the characters of this tale are built we see the circumstances that set Magneto on his course, likewise with Charles Xavier.

The films opening scenes are absolutely hypnotic and quickly establish suspense. The drama of the situation aided by Kevin Bacon who gives a wonderful and memorable turn in his first villainous role in some time confronts a Young Karl, played with utmost brilliance by Bill Milner, a young actor I’ve long contended is the best of his age group and he keeps proving me right. He is pushed and traumatized beyond his breaking point and it crystallizes his view of humanity. Meanwhile, Charles (Laurence Belcher) also gets a perfect introduction, not without its own bit of suspense, and we see him exhibit his nurturing, befriending nature.

Very quickly, dramatically and effectively the film establishes its characters before it really sets the story in motion, It’s a gripping start and I responded emotionally immediately which is rare. Like a few of the X-Men films it has memorable scenes with its lead characters in younger incarnations such as Cayden Boyd as Young Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand or Troye Sivan as Young Logan in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. What this film does is deliver on the promise that those early scenes show, in fact, there is a string of absolutely outstanding scenes that kick-off this film in tremendous style and the scenes end perfectly, carry great tension and importance are numerous in this film.

The success of this film hinges greatly on the strength of its script and it is simply put outstanding. The dialogue most of the time is sharp and concise and even though it wanders into typical superhero banter on occasion it is always purposeful and almost never wasted. Furthermore it communicates the philosophies of its characters, which needs to hit home, very well.

The characters are also made more interesting by the fact that they too have things at stake aside from the stakes of the plot. Not to knock that either. It’s hard to up the ante more than this film does but we’re not just seeing a spectacle because the characters are personally invested in their mission with different motives and that just makes it work that much better.

A few cast members were already singled out but a few more deserve mention. What wasn’t discussed in Kevin Bacon’s bit prior is that he, like a few other actors, was asked to speak a few lines in languages which are not his own and it just makes the experience that much more real and immediate. Having English as a substitute for foreign languages in a film is a slippery slope and I’m loving that people are trending towards using the foreign idioms themselves.

Clearly a lot of the kudos acting-wise need to go to Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, who play the two principal characters. They are the ones that intrigue us most and who bear most of the burden and knock it out of the park. While this role isn’t a showcase of her considerable talent as Winter’s Bone did Jennifer Lawrence does very well playing Mystique and each of the initial assemblage of mutants played by Nicholas Hoult, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoë Kravitz and Lucas Till each have their moments to contribute.

The bottom line is that this is the best cinematic representation of who the X-Men to date are and why they are loved. The story is engaging and exciting but equal in intrigue are the characters. Add to that brilliant handling of how Xavier and Magneto whom are initially friends but just can’t see eye-to-eye philosophically and you have an absolutely dynamite film.

10/10

Review- Prom

Aimee Teegarden and Thomas McDonell in Prom (Disney)

This isn’t a review that’s easy to write and I’ll tell you why straight off the bat. It’s due to the duality of my feelings about the film in question. As I plotted it in my head it seemed appropriate that it be somewhat similar to the Win Win review, in as much as it would focus heavily on performance. The reason for that in this film is that I’m sad to say I didn’t walk away from this film liking it but in watching it and re-watching it I really did love the cast that was assembled for it and what they did with the material with which they were asked to work.

To get the negative out of the way first a lot of my dissatisfaction in the film can be attributed mainly to narrative and script. It’s a difficult task to juggle multiple storylines, especially in a romantic comedy. You’ll find varying degrees of success in this kind of film because it’s hard to balance the stories, tell enough of them, keep them fresh and make them equally compelling. A lot of the strands while they are engaging enough are all too easily predictable.

The film also struggles with believability as it does have a tendency to transpose Nova’s (Aimee Teegarden) pie-in-the-sky feelings about the prom to a few characters. In the beginning it’s contained just to her but it spreads. Aside from the strands being predictable none of them are really stories we haven’t seen: there’s the Triangle, the Jilted Girlfriend, The Presumably Imaginary Girlfriend, The College Split-Up, The Honor Student and the Bad Boy and so on. Again no inherently bad templates but there’s not enough of a twist to freshen these up and of course all these tales each have their own arc and thus we have to wait as each starts a little awkwardly and ends nicely in due course. The only truly refreshing end of any strand was Corey’s. Corey (Cameron Monaghan) being the friend who feels left behind when his friend Lucas (Nolan Sotillo) falls for Simone (Danielle Campbell).

In spite of all of this the cast does wonders with the material. The main thrust of the film is, of course, The Nova and Jesse (Thomas McDonnell) tale. It starts as love-hate as they are forced to work together to rebuild the ruined prom decorations. There is real chemistry in this pairing. Months ago I had read that McDonnell’s performance had created some pre-release buzz in the industry and it’s easy to see why. There’s a potential star in the making there. Teegarden overcomes some very clunky and awkward dialogue at times to deliver a very good performance that is a step above what she showed on Friday Night Lights and the flip-side of her Scream 4 turn.

The Triangle of the film is actually two, which is not an easy trick to pull off so the film does deserve credit for that. Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon) is dating Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) but he’s cheating on her and wants to be with Simone. Simone also gains the interest of Lucas and Lucas likes her. It’s this dynamic where you’ll find some of the better dramatic moments of the story. Nixon, while getting his comeuppance, does give a good portrayal of the guy who will never really get it and is just out for himself. Bunbury of the four probably has the least amount of screen time but she always exudes a nobody’s fool air and she’s waiting to catch Tyler in flagrante to unleash her claws. Danielle Campbell shines as she is consistently torn throughout the film once you see the crack in her facade she is a confused character pained by the situation she’s been placed in.

Nolan Sotillo and his frequent scene partner Cameron Monaghan frequently steal the show in this film. Their chemistry is great and they work really well off one another. They also bring some of the most genuine comedy to the film and genuine emotion in general. It’s that very word that popped into my head as Lucas was fighting for Simone’s affections and was getting swatted away, he and she are quite genuine in their emotion in those scenes. Furthermore, Sotillo adds a song to the soundtrack of the film which is fantastic, it’s just a shame that it’s buried as the second song in the end credits it really could’ve been a boon to the climactic moments of the film.

The next major pairing is that of Mae (Yin Chang) and Justin (Jared Kusnitz). It was in watching these scenes that I really realized the arduous task these actors were given, few if any of them deal with scenes that allowed their to be a rhythmic ebb and flow to their performance, they were either dealing in just one note or they were constantly at high tension. Yin Chang is constantly at high tension it’s just a matter of how much she shows it that changes and her performance is very good. It’s a shame, however, that the talents of these two are utilized in one of the least compelling narrative strands.

The loners of note are: Rolo (Joe Adler) who offers a necessary and perfectly offbeat dose of comic relief and Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) who is the nice guy desperately trying to find just one girl who can or wants to go out with him. As if that wasn’t enough story Lloyd also has a constant companion, his stepsister played wonderfully by Raini Rodriguez.

In the adults of this tale a few more issues are brought to the fore. Yes, of course, there has to be an obstacle to Nova and Jesse going to the prom but the machinations by which her awkwardly played father (Dean Norris) goes through to prevent it are hard to swallow. Not neglecting to mention that somehow this high school is big enough such that people can go there for four years and not speak to one another but Nova’s dad instantly knows who Jesse Richter is at the mention of his name.

Ultimately, I’d say if you want to see a group of young actors you’re likely going to want to see again in something else go out and see this film. If you’re all about narrative and don’t care about the acting, sadly I can’t recommend it and as much as I do like this cast and what they did with what they were given, sadly I can’t give this film a passing grade.

5/10

Review- African Cats

African Cats (DisneyNature)

Ever since the inception of DisneyNature there has been a social awareness angle to all their nature documentaries due in part to the fact that during these films initial week of theatrical release a portion of the box office has gone support a wildlife conservation fund. This social awareness has in the previous three films crept into the narrative but this film avoids that self-conciousness, which is good. They’ve realized that almost any nature documentary has an environmental aspect now regardless of your conservationist and/or Global Climate Change stance, especially when you release the film on Earth Day.

What’s not as good is that cinematically it doesn’t stack up to prior installments. There are quite a few reasons for this.

It almost goes without saying that the cinematography in this film is great. If you’re making a nature doc and you don’t have at least a few breathtaking shots and a handful of “How’d you get that?” shots you haven’t really done your job. In some cases it could’ve been better in terms of working with the edit and clarifying action and sometimes shots were intimated at by narration that didn’t exist.

The only reason I bring the comparative aspect of it into play is that a) this is the same team that brought Earth to the screen and b) the films in this series regardless of director have shared some similar traits in construction.

One of the larger issues the film faces is balancing the amount of narration to include. It seems as if there was too much included and it makes me wonder is there was more written simply because they knew Samuel L. Jackson was going to be reading it. Many times in the film I mentally omitted extraneous portions of narration. Far too many times for it to not be bothersome.

Aside from the sheer amount of dialogue that was included there were scripting issues such as not naming any of Kali’s, a powerful lion, sons.

Perhaps this decision was made due to the fact that this is a film that was dealing both with cheetahs and lions and there were two rival factions of lions to include. The balancing act between the two, or three really, was quite precarious and the overlap was very minimal. This is unfortunate not only because the cheetah’s tale, which I found to be more interesting, got the short shrift.

This film is at times a moving an intimate portrait of wildlife on the African Savanna that only slightly miscalculated the use of some of its elements. It, while focusing on cats, did manage to include many other species that inhabit the area and convey information about their behavioral and migratory patterns.

African Cats is well worth viewing both for entertainment and altruistic purposes but it just falls short of maximizing its potential.

7/10