Tarzan’s New York Adventure

Tarzan’s New York Adventure follows the formula of all the previous Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films and has a group of civilized folks come into the jungle to take something back with them. The last movie had switched up the plot a little to have them wanting to nab some gold instead of Jane or Boy, but here we’re back to kidnapping.

This time it’s some circus folks (led by Charles Bickford, who played Major Terill in my Favorite Western of All Time) who’ve flown in to trap lions. They take a liking to Boy’s talent at communicating with and commanding wild animals. The twist is that they actually succeed in getting Boy to go back home with them. When Tarzan and Jane suffer an accident that appears to be fatal, the trappers take Boy to New York, leaving Tarzan and Jane to follow and try to get him back. So the movie starts off formulaic, but then goes somewhere interesting by showing Tarzan’s introduction to civilization.

There are even some nice bits about Civilized Law vs. Jungle Law. The circus people have legally adopted Boy, but Jane trusts the legal system enough to expect a successful custody suit against them. Unfortunately, the hearing reveals that Tarzan and Jane aren’t Boy’s biological parents and when things look bad, Tarzan snaps and physically assaults the circus’ lawyer.

I loved where the movie seemed to be going. Much discussion had been had by that time about Tarzan’s trusting Jane to guide him through the civilized world and there’s some great pathos as she realizes that the system (and she by association) have let Tarzan down. Maureen O’Sullivan really does a nice job with those emotions and Johnny Weissmuller’s helpless grief over losing Boy is heart-breaking. I really rooted for him to blow off Civilized Law and just rescue Boy as he would have in the Jungle.

And for a bit, that’s what happens. There are some great scenes of Tarzan — still in a suit — swinging from rooftop to rooftop and climbing bridges and whatnot. Unfortunately, the movie’s not as willing to advocate anarchy as I was. Tarzan does rescue Boy, but there’s a final courtroom scene in which the Law suspends sentence on Tarzan’s contempt and assault charges and happily sends him back to Africa with Jane and Boy. See? You can trust the Law.

Not that I’m anti-establishment, necessarily. Okay, I am. But not dramatically so, and I would’ve been fine had the Law supported Tarzan the whole way through and the message been that Civilization isn’t so bad after all. But once the movie went down the path of pitting Tarzan’s Law against Civilization’s, I wanted to see that played out to its conclusion without a quick, easy, fake resolution.

I didn’t watch this movie with my son and the result was that I got a little tired of Cheetah’s antics without David’s giggling there to make them more fun. Or maybe it’s the fact that Cheetah was acting up in civilized society here instead of in the jungle where her shenanigans weren’t quite so destructive. I hate Chaos and found Cheetah’s damage of property more disturbing than funny. I’m sure David would’ve disagreed.

Another possible explanation for my cooling on Cheetah is that it’s obvious that the series is spending more and more time on her being a funny chimpanzee. Maybe the joke’s just getting old. I’ll have to have David watch the next one with me and see how that affects my attitude.

One last thing that disappointed me: Tumbo, the African boy whom Boy befriended in the previous movie and who appeared to have joined the family when his mother died, is not only absent, but never mentioned. It doesn’t bother me from a continuity standpoint, because it’s easily explainable, but I do think it’s too bad. That would have been a cool development for the series. But maybe that’s too much to expect for 1942.

The good news is that the next entries in the series may be getting away from the Civilization Bad; Jungle Good plots in order to focus on such wonderful topics as jungle princesses, Nazis, prehistoric monsters, amazons, leopard women, huntresses, and mermaids. Now we’re talkin’!

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

I’ve seen At World’s End a couple of times now, and I think the best way to go about talking about it is just to do a simple list of likes and dislikes. It feels pretty review-proof; meaning that no matter what I say, you’ve probably already made up your mind whether or not you’re seeing it. But a list might start some interesting discussion, so if you’ve seen it already, read on…

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW

What I didn’t care for so much (in no particular order)

  • Some of the switching alliances and motivations were hard to keep track of, but I might have had less problems if I’d watched Dead Man’s Chest recently.
  • I’m not exactly sure why Will’s heart had to be cut out to replace Davy Jones’. Didn’t Davy Jones cut his out specifically because his love for Calypso and betrayal by her hurt too much? What does that have to do with captaining the Flying Dutchman?
  • I get that Lord Beckett is a businessman and not necessarily a competent military commander, but the defeat of the Endeavor played out much too much like “We’re running long; we’d better wrap this up quickly.”
  • As much screen time as Norrington got in Dead Man’s Chest, I would’ve liked to have seen him get more in this movie. And I’m not sure that I’m convinced about his final change of heart, but I need to see Dead Man’s Chest again before I claim that it was out of character.
  • The sea turtles joke isn’t funny anymore.
  • I’d rather have seen Elizabeth continue her pirate career at the end of the movie, but maybe that’s just me.

What I Liked (in no particular order)

  • An appropriate alternate title might have been Pirates of the Caribbean: Keira’s Legs.
  • Geoffrey Rush as Barbosa. I was thrilled to see him at the end of Dead Man’s Chest and he damn near stole this movie.
  • Except, of course, that that’s impossible to do when Johnny Depp is playing Captain Jack Sparrow in it.
  • But still, Barbosa’s accent alone is everything a pirate is supposed to be.
  • This trilogy has totally killed any lingering interest in writing a pirate novel any time soon. Why would I when the perfect pirate story has now been told?
  • Chow Yun Fat. He makes everything better just by being in it.
  • Elizabeth’s becoming the Pirate King made me even more attracted to her. Didn’t think that was possible.
  • And then her shouting orders and motivating men in the sea battle? Even hotter.
  • Keith Richards’ cameo was a gazillion times more awesome than I’d dreamed it would be. I think I had pretty low expectations though.
  • I didn’t think I’d like Will Turner as the new Davy Jones, but I really really do. The scene where the Flying Dutchman surfaces to save the day with Turner at the helm was freaking awesome. And how cool was that bandana? He’s finally embraced his inner pirate. I’ve been growing to like him more and more as the trilogy progressed and that capped it off right there.
  • Even since Dead Man’s Chest I’ve had a hard time getting a grasp on who Tia Dalma is and now I understand why. I totally get her now. Davy Jones was a fool to cross her, but an even bigger fool for falling in love with her in the first place.
  • And I like that about him, too.
  • Davy’s change of expression when he realized that his heart had been brought back on board. From sadness to rage in two seconds and wonderfully acted by Bill Nighy, mostly just with his eyes.
  • My heart’s being broken by Elizabeth’s helpless grief at seeing her father amongst the dead and not being able to save him.
  • Jack the Monkey. I swear he’s been taking acting lessons.
  • The Song’s being sung at the beginning.
  • Ragetti’s releasing Calypso from her human form.
  • The reason Ragetti’s been chasing that wooden eye around for three movies.
  • Elizabeth and Will’s wedding.
  • Jack and Barbosa’s battles of the spyglasses.
  • “It must be a little bitty thing somewhere behind the Pearl.”
  • “Shoot him, cut out his tongue, then shoot his tongue!”
  • “Wonder what would happen if we were to drop a cannon ball on them.”
  • “The Nine Pieces of Whatever We Happen to Have in Our Pockets at the Time.”
  • “Larry.”
  • “Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?”
  • “Keep telling yourself that, darling.”

Shrek the Third

Saw Shrek the Third last night and laughed a lot. Apparently the critics aren’t liking it, but like I told someone at lunch today, I like talking about comedies because I don’t have to give any thought to my reviews. I either laughed or I didn’t. It was funny or it wasn’t. And though there are a couple of groan-inducing jokes, it’s a funny movie and I had a good time watching it. Plus: Puss ‘n Boots. He’s awesome.

Other than that (okay, including that), this is a lazy post day. I’m off to meet my sometimes co-writer Alex Ness for dinner and talk about some projects we’re working on, then I’ll stop by the comics shop and maybe the bookstore. Tomorrow Diane and I are going out to see Keira Knightley rescue Johnny Depp. At some point I will find those Phil Jimenez Wonder Woman issues so that I can finish Part Two of that post.

Tuesday is my birthday, but we’ll be celebrating with a big cook-out at my folks’ house on Monday since everyone has the day off. I’m not planning on doing any posting on either of those days, so I hope all my US friends have Happy Memorial Day weekends and every one else just has great weekends in general. See you Wednesday.

Day of the Dolphin, Lost Horizon, and Tarzan’s Secret Treasure

Day of the DolphinThe Day of the Dolphin

This was one of those movies that I’ve heard about for most of my life, but had never gotten around to seeing. The premise — dolpins being used in an assassination scheme — always sounded delightfully cheesy, but not compelling enough to put it high on my To See list. Had I known that it was a Mike Nichols film, it would’ve been higher. Regarding Henry and Wolf are two of my favorite films, and the rest of his credits aren’t so bad either.

Anyway, Nichols takes the cheesy premise and gives it weight by casting George C. Scott in the lead role as the scientist who’s been training the first dolphin ever born in captivity. Scott was just coming off of a couple of Oscar nominations (for Patton — which he won, of course — and The Hospital) and his talent is undeniable here. His character, Jake Terrell, is a nuanced, tortured man who connects more with his dolphins than he does with other people, even his own wife. We’re not hit over the head with that though. There are no huge, impassioned speeches from the wife about it. We just see it in Scott’s performance and the performance of Trish Van Devere (who would later marry Scott in real life) as his wife Maggie.

That’s the beauty of this movie. As we were watching it, my wife observed that it would never get made the same way today. It moves too slowly. Modern producers would want to get to the assassination quicker so that we could have more cool boat chases and gunfights and explosions. They’d make do with Maggie’s making a speech about her sorry marriage, and maybe another one by Jake about how much he cares about the dolphins and how much the dolphins rely on him. Nichols, on the other hand, took the time to show us Jake’s relationship with his dolphins in long, thoughtful scenes. So by the time the dolphins are kidnapped and tricked into helping the assassins, we’re not just detatchedly observing action sequences, we’re sickened and worried right alongside Jake. It’s a powerful film.

And because it’s so powerful and emotional, the scene where the dolphins get their payback at the end (oh, you knew they would) is cathartically humorous. More drama than thriller (though is certainly is that too) it’s just about a perfect movie.

Lost HorizonLost Horizon

Another film I’ve been meaning to get to forever. I’ve got the book on my shelf, but I’ve never gotten around to reading it either. Always heard of Shangri-La; never experienced the story that created it.

The plot’s pretty simple. Ronald Colman plays a British diplomat named Bob Conway who’s working to get British subjects out of a violent Chinese province. He and his brother George get everyone else out before hopping on the last plane themselves, but instead of traveling to Singapore where their ship is waiting, they and the rest of their party end up hijacked and taken into the Himalayas. There they find the hidden valley of Shangri-La, a utopian community that they initially distrust. When some of the group (including Bob, thanks to the attentions of a young woman played by Spock’s mom) begins to get comfortable with the place, George gets even more suspicious and angry.

The conflict is all about whether Shangri-La is as good as it seems or whether it’s actually hiding a dangerous secret. Is George right to be suspicious, or is he going to ruin a perfect society in order to escape? It’s an effective conflict because we’d all like to believe that such a utopian society is possible. We want it to be real as much as Bob does and hope that it’s not a sham, so we’re invested.

The only thing that doesn’t work in the movie is towards the end when the story sort of runs out of time to play itself out. Rather than following the climax ourselves, we get a character who comes in to explain to us a bunch of stuff that happened off camera. A bunch of really interesting stuff that we’d love to see. I’m more curious than ever now to read the book and see how it handles the end. The off camera events could’ve easily made a whole separate movie or even a series.

Tarzan's Secret TreasureTarzan’s Secret Treasure

Now that I’ve completely adjusted to the new tone of the Weissmuller Tarzan movies, I’m enjoying them a lot. With this one, they’ve settled into a comfortable status quo with Tarzan, Jane, and Boy living in their Swiss Family Robinson treehouse with Cheetah and a baby elephant.

Tarzan’s Secret Treasure breaks the formula of having someone from civilization show up to try and drag one of the family members back to the real world. Sort of. In this one, Boy discovers gold and accidentally lets some unscrupulous members of a scientific expedition know about it. So, it’s gold and not a person that they want to take from the jungle, but the result is the same. Tarzan still has to fight them off and protect the sanctity and tranquility of his jungle home.

Like the last movie, I watched this one with my five-year-old son. Before we even started it he was excited to know if Boy and Cheetah were going to be in it. And like in Tarzan Finds a Son, he giggled a lot, especially when Cheetah was the focus. And so did I.

Not that it’s entirely a kids’ movie. David got bored at the end when the conflict ramped up between Tarzan’s group and the villains, but I’m glad for that section. It was a nice bit of suspense sandwiched between some fun jungle antics.

My only complaint comes from watching it with a 21st century perspective. Early in the film, Boy saves the life of a young African boy named Tumbo and they become friends. When Tumbo’s mother dies, he goes to stay with Boy and his family. I like that Tumbo isn’t played for laughs as an incompetent sidekick for Boy. At one point, he actually saves the day for everyone. My problem though is with something Boy says later in the movie.

Boy speaks English and Tumbo speaks whatever African dialect his tribe uses. Since we’re all English speakers watching the movie, it makes sense that Tumbo learns some broken English in order to communicate with Boy so that we can understand him. Boy doesn’t learn a word of Tumbo’s language (though Tarzan seems to speak it well enough). But when Boy introduces Tumbo to Jane, he jokes that Tumbo doesn’t speak very well. And maybe I’m overly sensitive, but I get the feeling that we’re supposed to laugh too. Haha, poor little kid doesn’t even know how to speak English. Only I’m thinking, “But at least he’s trying, you jerk. How much of his language do you know?” Boy’s just a kid though, so I excuse his ignorance, except for the part where I really do think that we’re supposed to be in on some kind of joke with him. But, honestly, maybe it’s just me.

I don’t want to end a review of an otherwise fun movie on a sour note, so let me finish up by saying how nice it was to see Barry Fitzgerald (Father Fitzgibbon from Going My Way) as one of the good scientists. Sometimes with these comic-relief roles there’s a thin line between endearing and annoying, but Fitzgerald always stays well into the “endearing” side.

Reviews: A Distant Soil, Elephantmen, and Rocket Girl

Spent all my free time today catching up on news and writing some reviews for Comic World News. A Distant Soil and Elephantmen are both scifi comics, though A Distant Soil reads more like a fantasy and Elephantmen like a noir mystery. Rocket Girl is an indie superhero comic.

Tomorrow I hope to get around to talking about a couple movies I’ve seen recently: Lost Horizon and Day of the Dolphin.

Links: Joker pic, Flash Gordon news, and the Money Shot

Mystery

  • I don’t know Christa Faust, but we have some mutual friends, so I was immediately curious about her new novel Money Shot coming out next year from Hard Case Crime. The cover is amazing (as Hard Case covers are), but the sample chapter and the plot description are what got me: “It all began with the phone call asking former porn star Angel Dare to do one more movie. Before she knew it, she’d been shot and left for dead in the trunk of a car. But Angel is a survivor. And that means she’ll get to the bottom of what’s been done to her even if she has to leave a trail of bodies along the way…”
  • Not really sure what category to put this under, but since it’s a shirt that spoils the twist endings to a lot of movies and books, I’ll put it here. Careful about clicking the link though. Even though most of the movies are older, there are a couple that I haven’t seen yet, and you might not have either. And if you’re watching the Harry Potter movies, but haven’t read the books, well… you’ve been warned. Still, it’s a great shirt and worth checking out, even if you’d have to be kind of jerk to wear it around.

Science Fiction

  • Disney-MGM has some awesome ads for their Star Wars Weekends event this June. Fer instance:
  • The Barbarella remake has a director and he’s a good one. Now I just gotta get in touch with him about having Duran Duran do the theme song.
  • Entertainment Weekly has some dirt on the Sci Fi Channel’s Flash Gordon show. I’m undecided about some of the changes they’re going to be making. Earth and Mongo’s being connected by a wormhole instead of spaceships will take some getting used to, but it does make a lot more sense than having Mongo flying all over the galaxy under its own power. I’m glad to see that Ming will be fleshed out into a villain with deeper motivations than just Wants to Rule the Universe. I’m disappointed though that Flash and Dale are exes. One of my favorite parts of the old serial was watching them fall in love (especially with Princess Aura around to complicate the process) and I feel cheated that we’re not going to get to see that in this version.

Superheroes

  • I wasn’t sure whether or not to link yesterday to the site with the image of Heath Ledger as the Joker from The Dark Knight. There was some question about the site’s authenticity, so I just let it go. Shouldn’t have though, because apparently it’s for real. I’ve read some criticism about the makeup and how it’s not accurate to the comics, but whatever. This is far scarier than anything the comics have ever been able to convey. Congratulations to Christopher Nolan, the make-up artists, and Heath Ledger. I’m still a little creeped out.
  • I haven’t done these comics meme things before, but I’ve wanted to. The Invincible Super-Blog is responsible for this one:

Writing is Hard

  • One of the most useful (and entertaining) blogs for writers for the last two years has been Miss Snark’s. I’ve only discovered it in the last few months, but I was still very disappointed when I visited yesterday and learned that she’s closing it down. I’m going to miss her daily wisdom and humor, but I totally get her reasons for needing to call it done. At least she’s keeping her archives open for those times when I really gotta know something.
  • Maybe The Rejecter will be able to fill the Snark-sized hole in my Reader.

Link: Jericho to get closure, Eli Stone looks really funny, and I gotta read The Cage

Countdown to AdventureMystery

  • Taking the sting out of Jericho‘s cancellation, Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, responded to huge fan outcry by saying, “Thank you for supporting Jericho with such passion. We truly appreciate the commitment you made to the series and we are humbled by your disappointment. In the coming weeks, we hope to develop a way to provide closure to the compelling drama that was the Jericho story.” No word on if that means a mini-series, a TV movie, or something else, but it’s cause for hope.

Fantasy

  • I’m trying not to comment on any of the promised Fall TV shows yet, because I’m still not over some of my favorites getting cancelled this season and I’m certainly not ready to start welcoming in their replacements. But I’ve mentioned before that I’m curious to see Victor Garber’s new show, Eli Stone. Even though the premise didn’t immediately grab me, it’s Victor Garber. His Jack Bristow from Alias is the one guy I’d put up against Jack Bauer and not immediately know which to bet on. But anyway, any hesitation I had about the premise is now completely gone thanks to this trailer. Oh, man, I can’t wait to watch this show now.
  • Jason Brannon’s crytozoological thriller The Cage sounds really really good. Sort of like Day of the Animals meets The X-Files. “A Wendigo, Bigfoot, El Chupacabra, The Jersey Devil (think horned horse and awfully mean), The Dragon of Bone Island and a little somethin’ somethin’ called The Beast of Exmoor” attack a small, family zoo and everyone in it.
  • I liked Pan’s Labyrinth pretty well, but I don’t think I’d consider buying it if the special edition didn’t have “animated DVD comics (one-page stories with floating captions), beautifully illustrated by Guy Davis, Jason Shawn Alexander and Mike Kaluta, that provide interesting back stories to the mythical characters Ofelia encounters in the labyrinth: The Faun and Great Toad (Davis), Pan (Kaluta) and The Fairies (Alexander).”

Science Fiction

  • This could also have gone under Superheroes, but I’ll keep it here. I really liked DC’s 52 series, but one of my regrets about it is that I wanted more Adam Strange, Starfire, Animal Man stories. DC read my mind and launches Countdown to Adventure this August.
  • Lucasfilm has released a look at the art from its upcoming Clone Wars CGI series.
  • My local theater had a showing of the first Terminator movie on the big screen last week. Seeing Linda Hamilton even as the whimpy version of Sarah Conner made me less excited about FOX’s upcoming The Sarah Conner Chronicles, but maybe my prejudice will ease off between now and next January when Chronicles kicks off.

Superheroes

  • If you read superhero comics at all, you’re aware that Mary Jane Watson’s first words to Peter Parker were, “Face it tiger, you just hit the jackpot.” But if you’re like me, you don’t know the context of where that line came from. I’ve been confused for years about why those would be the first words out of someone’s mouth when she’s meeting you for the first time. Fortunately, Comics Should Be Good helpfully recaps the story for us.
  • Fox and the Franklin Mint have teamed up to release a limited edition Silver Surfer quarter to promote the new Fantastic Four movie.
  • I gave up on Heroes about six episodes in and decided that if I was missing out, I could always catch up on DVD. Well, now the DVD is scheduled for release on August 28th and I’m still having a hard time mustering excitement for it. Some of my friends tell me that it got better as the season progressed, but I haven’t yet read a thorough review that acknowledges the show’s early flaws and explains how it corrected for them. I need convincing.

Other Comics

Writing is Hard

  • Bestselling author Brad Meltzer shares some tips for getting published. Some of it’s old news if you already read agents’ blogs, but there’s some good, new info too, like the caveat to Miss Snark‘s “Query widely” advice where Meltzer suggests you only query ten agents at a time in case you decide to rework your query letter after the first go-’round.
  • Another good advice list. This one on developing effective writing habits.
  • I suck at titles, so any source of ideas for them is welcome. I totally want to write a comic called Stab!