Commentaries

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

PC TARZAN CAN'T TRUMP 1930'S



THE LEGEND OF TARZAN 

Film Review by Fiore 


I grew up watching Tarzan movies and reading the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Tarzan was, and always will be, Johnny Weissmuller. The Olympic swimming superstar captured one aspect of Burroughs’ character; the wild, yet noble savage, raised by apes to become Lord of the Jungle.  His films ignored the entire storyline of Tarzan, nee John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, returning to England and becoming civilized.  Weissmuller’s version of Tarzan never left the jungle.  He did not return to England and learn the cultures of Europe.  His Tarzan ruled the jungle, it’s animals and native tribes, and always looked with distain on civilized man.   THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, holds truer to the original novel.  When we first meet Tarzan, he is already back in England and serving among the British royalty.  How he became Tarzan is shown very cleverly through flashback sequences, which help move the story along at a crisp pace. 

Other actors attempted the Tarzan mantle, including: Lex Barker; Buster Crabbe; muscle man Gordon Scott; Jock Mahoney; former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Henry; Christopher Lambert; and TV’s first Tarzan, Ron Ely, who later went on to play DOC SAVAGE, a role Dwayne Johnson is scheduled to revive.  While all these actors, and more, depicted Tarzan in a most interesting manner, none could ever top Weissmuller’s performance.  When he was too old to play the Lord of the Jungle, Africa would still not let go.  Weissmuller traded in his loincloth for a safari outfit and starred in a series of JUNGLE JIM movies.  Everyone knew this was just an older version of Tarzan. Try as they may, no other actor could capture the Tarzan mantle like Weissmuller.  Neither will Alexander Skarsgard.  While his interpretation of Tarzan is credible, he suffers from a politically correct and weak script.

Time to culturally educate those who did not have the privilege of watching Tarzan movies every Saturday morning on KDKA with Bhawani Don (news anchor Don Riggs), or the benefit of reading the classic novel.  During a safari to Africa, while still a babe in arms, John Clayton’s parents are killed.  Baby Greystoke is taken in by a female ape, who recently lost her own child.  Clayton is raised with the apes and eventually becomes Lord of the Jungle.  Burroughs’ novel has Clayton discovered by safaris, brought to France, where he learns French culture and finally to England, where he reclaims his birthright among the British nobility.  After comprehending the deceit, greed and prevarication of the civilized world, Lord Greystoke decides his life in the jungle is more noble, and he returns to Africa, chucking John Clayton and reliving as Tarzan.  There are numerous subplots, but that is basically a thumbnail sketch of the novel that created an iconic character and served as a scathing commentary on civilized culture. 

In THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, John Clayton is approached by the aristocracy to return to Africa on a goodwill mission to help the King of Belgium, who is attempting to colonize the Congo.  Clayton refuses, denying his past, until he is approached by Dr. George Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson.  Williams is a special envoy from America, sent by the president to investigate whether the King may be using slavery in the Congo.  This is shortly after the Civil War, and viewers are asked to accept the concept that after the North wins the war, the government sends out Negro ambassadors to police the world looking for, and to stop, slavery.  Here, the script by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer begins to disintegrate.  Clayton opts to don the Tarzan mantle once again and return to Africa with Williams, though it’s never clear whether he wants to save the African tribes from the evil Belgium King, or whether he is totally against the concept of slavery.  At least in the original films the motives were not vague.  Greedy businessmen, unscrupulous fortune hunters and nasty nare-do-wells were always the antagonists.  There were never muddled political agendas.  THE LEGEND OF TARZAN finds the Lord of the Jungle a proponent of the Civil Rights Movement, decades before it actually began.

To further press the current cultural mores, Jane Parker, wife of Tarzan, played by Margot Robbie, who will soon take on a more degenerate role as Harley Quinn in SUICIDE SQUAD, is squeezed into the Woman Warrior Agenda, currently mandated by all Hollywood studios.  While she, thankfully, does not burst forth felling 300 pound men with martial arts maneuvers only Jet Li could dream of, she is now a child of the jungle, rather than a damsel constantly in distress.  The change is palatable, but is unnecessary for the story and definitely does not fit into the time period.

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is so politically correct, poor Tarzan never dons his loincloth.  Though Skarsgard quickly strips off his shirt to reveal hip hugger pants, those pants stay on until the very end of the movie, when, finally, Tarzan has a pair of shorts.  Jane, too, wears a dress, in various stage of disarray throughout the film.  This is certainly a far cry from 1934.  In TARZAN AND HIS MATE, Weissmuller’s loincloth and Maureen O’Sullivan’s Jane outfit were considered too revealing.  Both actors did show an incredible amount of skin, including a nude swimming seen in which O’Sullivan left nothing to the imagination.  The censor board threatened to halt further Tarzan movie productions if the jungle duo did not show less skin and a bit more decorum.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.     Catching the train.
2.     Tarzan’s battle with his brother.
3.      The tree swinging sequences.

Beside the infusion of politically correct themes into the story, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN suffers from poor editing in the film’s final reels.   Editor Mark Day,either pressed for time, or lacking the necessary segue footage, erratically bumps scenes together causing viewer confusion and giving the movie a rushed feeling.  On the other hand, the CGI animals, helmed by Stuart Craig are spectacular, with the exception of the charging wildebeests, and the cinematography by Henry Braham of Tarzan’s flight through the trees is eye-popping.

Finally, it’s time to talk about the yell.  No one had a better Tarzan yell than Weissmuller.  In fact, his yell, actually more of a yodel, was dubbed by many other actors who played the role.  It was a mixture of five different sounds including Weissmullers’ own call and the sound of a hyena played backwards.  In THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, the yell becomes comic relief.  It is not used to call the apes, elephants, and certainly not used to scare away the natives (that would be considerably non-PC).  Instead, it’s just used to let Jane know that antagonist Leon Rom, played by ultimate villain sleezeball Christoph Waltz, has not succeeded in killing off Tarzan.  And you never see Skarsgard doing the yell; you just hear it through a distant channel on the soundtrack.  “So that’s his call,” Rom avers to Jane.  “I thought it would be different.  I like it.”  Well, I still like the yodel.

And finally, to keep with the humanist ideology Hollywood thrives on, the script leaves viewers wondering what all the Tarzan hullabaloo is about.  When Clayton returns to the jungle, he is dusted by every animal he encounters.  How did this guy get to be lord of the jungle?  He doesn’t subdue his rivals with the famed full nelson.  Instead, he gets his ass kicked and does a lot of kowtowing.  Director David Yates does to Tarzan what Roland Emmerick and Dean Devlin did to GOZILLA; cute, but not the way it is supposed to be.

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN was interesting, and I’m glad I saw the movie, if for no other reason than to see the current Hollywood interpretation.  That said, I have a home video collection pack of the first six Weissmuller -O’Sullivan Tarzan movies, and I’ll be re-watching those this next week.  Are they less spectacular?  Sure. We’re talking 1930’s SFX.  Are they better movies? Definitely.




THE GRADE FOR THE LEGEND OF TARZAN = C 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ROCK, HART GREAT COMEDY DUO



CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Film Review by Fiore 


As I have stated numerous previous times, I’m not a fan of Kevin Hart’s stand-up comedy.  I find it provides a few laughs, but not enough for me to consider buying a ticket.  His appearance in comedy movies, however, is quite another issue.  He is very funny on celluloid, and in his latest escapade, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, he is teamed with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson creating one of the best comedy teams since Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

To be certain, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE follows a comedic template and offers nothing new in the formula established for a three act screenplay.  In fact, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE follows closely the pattern established in Hart’s RIDE ALONG.  In that movie, he was the foil, while Ice Cube played the serious straight man.  In CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, the roles are reversed; Hart plays it straight and serves as the set up agent, while Johnson is in this solely for laughs.  He is exceptionally good.  Johnson is proving to be a tour de force in Tinseltown.  He can play the protagonist, and antagonist and do comedy with aplomb.  Personally, I like when he’s the heavy, but in this movie he is funnier than his character Elliot Wilhelm in Gary Gray’s BE COOL.

Robert Weirdicht (Johnson) is the high school target.  A fat, chubby boy who likes unicorns and dancing, he is bullied by nearly everyone, save the most popular kid in the school, Calvin Joyner (Hart) the Golden Jet, who captains every sports team and is voted most likely to succeed.
After a rather embarrassing moment at the high school senior assembly, Weirdicht disappears for twenty years.  He reunites with Joyner years later as Bob Stone, revealing himself as a CIA operative, trying to save the civilized world.  Together, the two former school mates are placed on a knife edge of deception and delirium.  

Starring with Johnson and Hart are Amy Ryan, as Agent Pamela Harris, who is convinced Stone is a rogue agent; Danielle Nicolet as Maggie Joyner, Calvin’s wife, who thinks Calvin’s sudden strange behavior has to do with their failing marriage; and Melissa McCarthy, who makes an uncredited cameo appearance at the film’s end.
 

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      The office scene.
2.      The escape from the safe house.
3.      The marriage counselor scene.

Ironically, I was engaged in a discussion just the other day regarding the sad state of comedy films.  My argument was that not many comedy films today have enduring qualities, like the Peter Sellers PINK PANTHER series.  Those films still illicit guffaws, decades after they were made.  Nothing by today’s comedy stars, Sandler, Ferrell, Rogen and others of their ilk, can compare.  CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE may be the exception to the maxim.  Ike Barinholtz has penned a script devoid of juvenile bathroom humor and political commentary, enabling the laughs to last for years.

Hart and Johnson have great timing and work well together.  It’s a partnership we should see again.  If you’re looking for an evening of laughs, you can’t miss with CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE.




THE GRADE FOR CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE = B

Monday, June 13, 2016

VIDEOGAME TO FILM WITH APLOMB



WARCRAFT

Film Review by Fiore 


WARCRAFT is an enjoyable, fun movie.  It’s filled with action, fantasy, interesting characters and a decent story.  The special effects (SFX) are first rate, it has a rousing score and is exceptionally well paced.  It is well worth the price of admission, and will provide a quite enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

In the mien of full disclosure, I must admit I have never played the game.  I’ve never even seen the game, know nothing of its characters, storylines nor parameters.  I consider this a major advantage, and not a distraction.  When DOOM was released, with Dwayne Johnson and Carl Urban, I also knew nothing about the game.  As such, I thought the movie was a fairly respectable action sci-fi flick.  Afterwards, when I discovered the movie erased all the religious components of the game, I saw the film in a different light, and had to admit the story of the game was considerably better.
So far, I’ve not talked to anyone about the World of Warcraft game, save to have one person tell me the movie is a bit of a prequel to the game’s action.  As such, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, even though, given the track record of video games transformed into movies, I had major reservations going into the theatre.

Technically, WARCRAFT boasts the finest CGI FX of any film I’ve seen in the past five years.  Usually keen on my radar, I spotted no poor matting, proportional distortions, or inappropriate features or movements.  This places WARCRAFT higher than the rash of superhero movies of late.  Credit Cinematographer and Production Designer Simon Duggan and Gavin Bocquet, respectively, for the film’s look and Special Effects Coordinator Jason Smith for making the storyboards succeed. Toss in a rousing orchestral score from Ramin Djawadi and WARCRAFT is a feast for the eyes and ears.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      The mountain summit  
2.      The portal conflict
3.      The Moses like basket scene.

The script for WARCRAFT borrows, like most video games do, from various other sources.  There is an interplanetary portal, much like STARGATE; it has interspecies love, as happened so often on STAR TREK; and it borrows, literally, the baby in the basket tale of Moses from the Bible, to name a few.

The story, as adapted by Screenwriter and Director Duncan Jones, tells of the peaceful, civilized world of Azeroth.  Their world is suddenly thrown into major conflict when the Orcs, whose own world of Draenor, dies.  The Orcs decide Azeroth would be an easy place to dominate and establish as a new home.  Lead by an evil wizard, Gul’dan, played by Daniel Wu, the Orcs invade Azeroth only to find the humans, too, have a powerful wizard to help them in Medivh, played by Ben Foster and his apprentice Khadgar, played by Ben Schnetzer.  Led by King Llane Wrynn, played by Dominic Cooper, who is doing a fine job on the AMC series PREACHER in the title role of Jessie Cutler, and Anduin Lothar, played by Travis Fimmel, the war council warrior from Stormwind, the Orcs soon discover the humans are not quite the push-overs originally thought.  This causes Gul’dan to show his true colors and the possible evil behind his magic.  In turn, dissention grows in the Orc ranks, especially among the members of the Frostwolf clan and its chieftain Durotan, played by Toby Kebbell, and his wife Draka, played by Anna Galvin.   While Jones crafts a fine story, it does have a few gaffes.  

There is no real ending to the movie.  It has a conclusion, but leaves so much more to tell.  The set up for further adventures is all too obvious, and with the massive box office draw in China alone, which was upwards of $150 million, it appears more of the world of WARCRAFT is most definitely on the way.  The ending is also a bit abrupt, with a few transitions that occur without the proper set up.  Most glaring is the alteration from Lothar’s attempt to rescue the king’s body to the altercation with Blackhand, played by Clancy Brown.

If I learn more about the game, it’s possible my opinion of WARCRAFT could change.  For now, though, I enjoyed the movie and found it quite entertaining.  It is exceptionally difficult to create entire new worlds, with new creatures and cultures.  This is why most sci-fi novels run 400-500 pages.  To convert new worlds and cultures into a 120-page script is not only difficult, but often controversial.  WARCRAFT gamers might take a contrary view, but I found the celluloid version to be a lot of fun.




THE RATING FOR WARCRAFT = A