The Legend of Tarzan

TarzanDirector: David Yates

Screenwriters: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Margot Robbie

Ahhhh AhAhAhAhAhAh Ahhhhhhhh! Tarzan is swinging back into theaters for like the 60th time in the last 100 years.  In the scheme of things with James Bond and superheroes, that’s not such a frequent appearance! Still, the problem with most Tarzan appearances is that they are all basically a retelling of Edgar Rice Burrough’s first Tarzan novel:  Parents are marooned, child is orphaned, child is raised by gorillas, scientist discovers Tarzan, Tarzan rescues scientist’s daughter, and they fall in love. So is David Yates’s new film, The Legend of Tarzan a “different story?” The answer is yes…and no.

In this film, we are introduced to an already grown Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård). Home in England during the mid 19th century, famous world-round, and married to his love, Jane (Margot Robbie).  Tarzan (AKA John Clayton) has adjusted to life as an heir to his parents’ fortune and lives a most civilized existence, far removed from the one he knew in the jungle. When he is summoned by the Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) to sit in on a matter regarding King Leopold’s hold of a mining encampment in the African Congo, Tarzan is encouraged to use his celebrity and act as an ambassador. The Prime Minister’s hopes are that by traveling to the site, Clayton’s  presence will calm some rumors circling around Leopold’s interests and practices in the Congo.  American Historian George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) volunteers to accompany Clayton and Jane, but his true intention is to investigate his theory that indigenous Africans are being used as slaves to mine the Congo.  When that theory pans out, Williams easily persuades Clayton to join him in exposing Leopold’s private slave state, but they are thwarted by Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a Belgian soldier sent by King Leopold to act as administrator of one of the major stations in the Congo.  Rom is devious and maniacal, and when he captures Jane, Tarzan will stop at nothing to get her back and bring Rom down.

So like I said, is this film’s narrative a different story than we’re used to? Yes, we are not dragged through a 60-minute plotline about a boy growing up as an ape man.  But no, we are not treading much new ground as Tarzan still spends most of the movie trying to rescue Jane. Fortunately, director David Yates tips the scales in favor of freshness as the story unfolds.  The filmmaking is vibrant, alive, and exciting. Yates takes that smooth, “Peter Jacksony” style he honed with his four Harry Potter films and transfers it beautifully to The Legend of Tarzan.  The visuals are sweeping and the film benefits tremendously from Yates’s touch.

The actors are equally enjoyable. Margot Robbie gives Jane real dimension; she even has a line where she mocks even the idea of being a “damsel in distress.” Skarsgård does well as the stoic Tarzan.  He looks the part and shows that he may be able to carry a big-budget action film.  However, as is the case in many films, the supporting cast is where Legend of Tarzan shines.  Waltz and Jackson are together again for the first time since Django Unchained.  This time, however, the roles are reversed and Waltz is the unabashed, racist tyrant, while Jackson gets to play the charismatic hero!  Mostly though, Jackson steals the show, and if you’re looking for that one extra reason to persuade you go see this film, Jackson firing off countless rounds from a machine gun turret is that reason.

The Legend of Tarzan is fun, summer blockbuster fare, and it’s better than the average film in that category. It clips along at a nice pace, and it doesn’t pander or feel false or ironic.  If you’re looking for something to see this summer that is (mostly) not animated, The Legend of Tarzan is a worthy option. B

The Legend of Tarzan is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes.

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It’s Time to Do the Right Thing

KeepCalmCertainly, a movie blog is the last place anyone is looking for thoughts on these recent racially charged violent outbreaks. However, as a former teacher I feel qualified in saying that nearly every enlightened being who has ever spoken his or her mind has echoed the idea that if ignorance prevails, danger is soon to follow. While these incidents breed reactionary feelings of outrage, anger, and hopelessness, they also leave us in a prolonged state of fear for what’s coming next. The fear is our greatest weakness. Scientifically, fear prepares our body for a threat. Our body releases hormones that shut down functions not needed for immediate survival and hormones flood the brain ramping it up, disabling rational thought, and transforming the receptive process into one that perceives any events as negative. Emotionally speaking, fear causes selfishness and conformity. As masses of people experience non-rational thought leading to a negative outlook that culminates in a decision to hide out, an environment is set for radical behavior to dominate.

So, what does this have to do with movies? I’ll get to that. But first, another word about ignorance. Ignorance is a word tossed around at times like this as a blanket to cover all of the injustice and boil it down to one fundamental. However, like everything else it the world, it is not that simple. Ignorance is not the cause but rather a symptom of institutionalized racism as it continues to exist. In the same vain, the latest rash of police violence against Black Americans is not the main problem but again a symptom of a greater problem.

It is important to keep in mind that like in medicine managing the symptoms alone will not cure the disease. However, once the disease is diagnosed, proper symptom treatment is critical for preparing the mind and body to successfully rid itself of the illness. Therefore, what I offer is the prescription of cinema to ward off the effects of ignorance and fear so that the mind and body can act uninhibited against the greater threat. Take one of these films every day for five days before going out and doing something to help your community grow and thrive.

RaisinA Raisin in the Sun (1961) – The film based on Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark stage play is not only a reminder of the intangible benefits of the American Dream but also the fact that even the most subtle forms of racism are devastating.

 

 

 

DoDo the Right Thing (1989) – Exemplary of its subject matter both on and off screen, Spike Lee’s narrative about a Brooklyn neighborhood experiencing the heat of racial tension coincidentally during one of the city’s hottest summers on record is an example of the rare film that captures the feelings and emotions associated with modern day racism. Controversy surrounded the film in that many critics worried the film would incite riots all over the country, which of course it did not. It also was noticeably snubbed from the many deserving major categories of the 1990 Academy Awards for other admittedly inferior films like Driving Miss Daisy and Dead Poets Society. Never has there been a better time for Hate to be KO’d by Love! (PS, the film 42 was thrown around as a possible addition to this list, but I’ll just let Mookie’s Jackie Robinson jersey represent for that film as well.)

 

FruitvaleFruitvale Station (2013) – When the credits roll at the end of this true story about a young man’s last day before being fatally shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit authorities, you are left thinking, well hopefully we learn from this and history doesn’t repeat itself. Sadly, this film’s events hit far too close to home given the recent incidents of lethal police brutality against innocent young Black men. Still the message of this film is one of supreme importance and as hard as it is to watch, it’s never been more relevant than right now.

 

HotelHotel Rwanda (2004) – This film serves as a reminder that our troubles are not solely within our borders. This story of a hotel manager whose family is jeopardized by a civil war erupting around him is tense and powerful. Ethnic violence prevails as political unrest quickly leads to the early stages of genocide.  This film also reminds us that racism is a global problem that affects all cultures and peoples, not just Americans and not just over skin color.

 

 

ToKillTo Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Yes, this film is a bit cliché in these conversations, but that’s not to say it’s not significant. To Kill a Mockingbird may be the most important film on this list as it is the only one that truly captures the importance of parents instilling values into their children before society’s corruption can take hold. Mob mentality, Southern White supremacy, and gender politics all swirl together in this tale of a small-town Southern lawyer who simply believes that all people are to be treated fairly, against the beliefs of most of his fellow community members.

The Conjuring 2

C2Director: James Wan

Screenwriters: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, and David Leslie Johnson

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Madison Wolfe, and Frances O’Connor

Sequels are often accompanied with a “been there, done that” sort of feeling.  While, that does not seem to prevent them from being successful, it does prevent many of them from being great.  The Conjuring 2 is “been there, done that’s” latest victim.

Set in late 1970s North London, The Conjuring 2 reunites us with paranormal investigators Ed and Loraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farminga).  Still reeling from their involvement investigating New York’s gruesome Amityville murders in 1974, the Warrens are considering a hiatus from the demon-hunting game.  However, when the Church approaches them with a story about a family in England possibly plagued by an evil spirit, the Warrens reluctantly agree to check it out.

This film, like its predecessor is also based on the case files of the Warrens and follows a rather highly publicized case known as the Enfield Poltergeist. Any freshness carried over from the 2013 original about a couple and their five daughters tormented by an evil presence is abandoned in this follow up about a mother and her four children tormented by an evil presence.  It’s not that this is just another film about a haunting; it’s been proven that there can be countless good and bad films that pursue that theme.  It’s that The Conjuring 2 doesn’t really advance the narrative of these characters or reveal any depth to the uncertainty of its source material.  In the same way that a television series might be developed for a network, but then the studio makes a deal to tie it to an already proven property in order to reap an existing audience, The Conjuring 2 feels like a Mad Libs horror movie script and the studio slapped The Conjuring 2 on top of it.  Here’s how I imagine the film’s four screenwriters credited on this film developed the script:

Carey Hayes: “A demonic force is contacted through a (noun).”

Chad Hayes: “Ouija board.”

James Wan: “The children then are frightened when their bed (verb and adverb).”

David Leslie Johnson: “Shakes uncontrollably.”

All of this is highly disappointing given how much I enjoyed The Conjuring in 2013. A redemptive piece of good news is that regardless of how dull the script is, director James Wan will not disappoint when it comes to delivering scares.  While the scares this time around are arguably cheaper than those in the previous film, there are a few good ones and some nightmare worthy moments as well.  I do believe that James Wan is the most interesting director of horror working right now.  His style is unique, and his skill with the genre is technically rather brilliant.

Overall though, The Conjuring 2 is a sophomore slump for the franchise, and I say “franchise” because I don’t think we’re quite done with the Warrens; the good will earned in the first film is not entirely used up yet.  Still, the second entry represents the fine line that stands between a fresh, vibrant, and chilling horror film and a cheap, by-the-numbers, retread of what we’ve seen before. C+

The Conjuring 2 is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours 13 minutes.