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This is Tarzan, 12 October 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the Tarzan movie I waited for, for my entire life. I grew up with Weismuller on TV, plus the various other Tarzans, the comics from Gold Key, then DC and Marvel (and other independents), Phillip Jose Farmer's fictional biography (Tarzan Alive!), the Filmation cartoon and the Ron Ely TV series. I've actually only read a couple of the books; but, this is what I wanted to see in a Tarzan film. Tarzan is both the articulate Englishman John Clayton and the Lord of the Apes. This is pulp. Tarzan has always been pulp and this captures it. Of course his physical feats are beyond compare; that's pulp. Why anyone expects differently from a Tarzan movie is beyond me.

The film does a nice job of peppering the Tarzan origin throughout the film, establishing the literal Legend of Tarzan. We get the stories before we get the man, as the Jungle Lord. It never strays too far from believable emotion and character, yet never loses sight of being a pulp adventure. The reviews I read seem to have more political agendas in mind than actually watching an adventure film. Burroughs, like most adventure writers of his era (and most writers, in general) has problems when viewed through the lens of history. His stories were racist at times, elitist at times; yet, he could write a darn good adventure yarn. That's what this film is; a darn good, old fashioned adventure yarn, featuring one of the greatest adventure heroes, ever.

The film isn't pure Burroughs; but, it gets the breakneck style of plotting down, as the story speeds along, from one set piece to another. These things were written for magazines and the idea was to keep the reader turning the page. The film captures that and keeps you anticipating what comes next. It withholds things enough to have you anticipating and cheering when they come. John Clayton enters Africa in European clothes, and soon encounters old friends. As he spends more time in Africa, he strips away more and more of the European accouterments. He withholds the famous Tarzan yell until late in the film, keeping you waiting for that moment. When we here it, we look at the villain and say, "Now you're really in for it!"

The film isn't perfect; Jane is still in need of rescue, though she puts up a decent fight. She's established as someone who is on par with Tarzan, who also loves Africa and can hold her own. Even Tarzan gets taken down pretty easily, early on. That happened in the books, too. He would get loose, though and woe betide the person who was at the receiving end of his wrath. The climax is a bit much; but, it's pulp and it's Tarzan. Tarzan isn't about subtlety.

Like another Burroughs property, John Carter, I think too many reviews were looking at this as something else, rather than what it was. It's an adventure movie, with a larger than life hero. It isn't history, it isn't a post-modern deconstruction. It's Tarzan!

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Wonderful birthday present., 9 October 2016

On November 15, 2013, I got a wonderful birthday present. I followed a link to a story about a child's Make-A-Wish request being fulfilled, and 20, 000 strangers participating to cheer him on. And, then, thousands more around the world touched by it and stopped to thank a young boy who wanted to be a hero, just for one day. How appropriate then, we hear a choral rendition of David Bowie's "Heroes," at the beginning of this documentary. Cancer is a harsh disease for anyone; but especially for children. These are some of the most vulnerable people, with developing immune systems. They have to turn into fighters to beat the disease. This film tells the story of one of these brave little warriors.

Miles Scott was diagnosed with leukemia at age 18 months. 18 months! He finished his treatment in the year he turned 5. That's a long battle, for anyone. Along the way, he was introduced to the Make-A-Wish foundation, which grants wishes to kids fighting cancer, in the hopes of giving them a back a piece of their lost childhood. Miles wanted to be a superhero; he wanted to be Batman. Simple enough. Then, people took inspiration and the idea grew from a simple day dressing up and doing some superheroic stuff into a city stopping for a day to cheer on a brave little kid, whose wish was to portray someone who brings justice into the world.

The story is amazing and the people involved even moreso. We meet Eric Johnston, who would be Batman to Miles' Batkid. Eric had worked with Make-A Wish before, helping a child develop a video game about fighting cancer, for other kids facing the same battle. Eric and the young man were recognized for their selfless act by the Dalai Lama. You see that same commitment from EJ, here, along with his wife and friends, the volunteers at Make-A-Wish and thousands of ordinary people, who were touched by the idea of helping a child play makebelieve. They got to be kids again, and see the world with clarity and bring some kindness back into it. All were heroes that day.

The film captures everything wonderfully and will have you in tears of joy, constantly. It's a heartwarming story that a few cynics have tried to tear apart; but, its message is beyond that. Watch the film and take inspiration. Become a hero for someone else. Take a moment and extend a kind hand to someone in need. remember what childhood was like, when you did everything with enthusiasm and passion. This film makes you want to go out and make the world a better place. We could use a bit of that.

Well done, Caped Crusader, and all of those who helped along the way.

5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Delivers over-the-top fun, the way that Bond used to., 26 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I heard that Miark Millar's comic, The Secret Service (with artist Dave Gibbons, of Watchmen fame), was being turned into a movie, I had a pretty good idea of what we wood get: a lot of vulgar language, over-the-top violence, and a decent plot. What surprised me was how much felt like a tribute to the glory years of James Bond, far more than anything from Eon and MGM. It revels in what made Bond great fun, while adding a modern spin. It also pokes fun at the often pompous, upper class world of Bond and espionage fiction (and reality) and doesn't take itself too seriously. It is vulgar and ridiculously violent, though the violence does tend to be more in service to the story than some of Millar's other work.

Mathew Vaughn direct; unsurprising, after Kick-Ass; but, as he showed in the early segments of X-Men: First Class, he gets spy-fi and delivers it well. He's not too overboard with the jump cuts and does let you soak up some of the screen, before throwing everything and the kitchen sink at you. I do wish he would slow things down a bit, here and there; but, it's a modern film world.

Colin Firth is the linchpin that holds the film together and presents us with a cross between James Bond and John Steed, either of whom he would have played wonderfully. In fact, I wish we had a time machine and take Vaughn and Firth back and redo The Avengers (the Ralph Finnes and Uma thurman one, not Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest). Michael Caine provides a nice tribute to the golden days, as Harry Palmer's glasses also seem to figure into the formula, while Caine gets to play the toff (though his accent slips in his last scene). Vaughn brings back Mark Strong to show why he is greatly under-appreciated in Hollywood (the man is a great actor and has been since at least Prime Suspect 3). Taron Egerton makes an excellent young Eggy, while Sophie Cookson is the capable, but self-doubting Roxy. On the bad guy's side we have Samuel L. Jackson, as a sort of Richard Branson crossed with Bill Gates and Russell Simmons, with a dash of megalomania. he is aided by his henchperson, Sophia Boutella, as Gazelle, the most memorable sidekick/assassin since Oddjob. All do a wonderful job.

This has just about everything I felt had been missing from Bond, for years (even before Daniel Craig and the serious tone): a great villain, plenty of action and intrigue, a sense of humor, and a sense of danger. Modern Bond has the danger and intrigue, but has lost the sense of humor and the sheer fun of a super-agent. There hasn't been a memorable Bond villain in years, yet Samuel L Jackson delivered a great gonzo billionaire, where Christopher Walken and Jonathan Pryce struggled.

I can quibble about a few things; some of the violence would be better left to the imagination and the language really doesn't add much; but, on the whole, those are minor criticisms. The characters are engaging, the plot is entrancing and the action is well staged and rarely gratuitous. This is pure cinematic fun, with a dose of brainpower. I can't wait for more.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Nice throwback to the era of spy-fi., 21 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Man From UNCLE was a long time in coming. Attempts at a revival go back to the 1980s, with nothing, other than a reunion TV movie, ever coming to fruition. Finally, Guy Ritchie delivered a film and it is one that captures the feel of the era. The Man From UNCLE grew out of the spy-fi craze that followed the success of the early James Bond films, and delivered weekly doses of superagents Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, along with some amateur, as they matched wits with agents of THRUSH and other baddies. This time out, we get a sort of prequel, as American agent Napoleon Solo finds himself reluctantly working with KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin, as well as amateur Gabby Teller, as they hunt for Teller's father, a German nuclear scientist, in the hands of neo- Nazis. The film is set firmly in the period and gives us the intrigue of an escape over the Berlin Wall, car chases, brutal fistfights, elaborate gadgets, doublecrosses, exotic locales and everything that was great about the classic Bond films; and, to a lesser extent, UNCLE. Henry Caville and Armie Hammer make a fine duo and the film is a nice blend of humor, action, and intrigue, in the best traditions of UNCLE. No new ground is broken; however, an entertaining film is delivered, especially to those who miss the classic era of Bond films, where things were a bit larger than life.

There are little nods here and there, for fans, as Solo is given a back story derived from such classics as Harry Palmer and David Callan (a crook blackmailed into working for an intelligence agency) and Kuryakin has touches in tribute to David McCallum and the UNCLE reunion film (where Kuryakin had become a fashion designer, after leaving UNCLE). If it has a failure, it's that the film sometimes buries some great scenes in montages, probably a nod to shorter attention spans of modern audiences. Even that is a minor flaw. My only other quibble is that the UNCLE special is largely buried in a nighttime action sequence, though we get a glimpse, of a different version, at the closing credits.

All in all, this film delivers most of what I have been missing from the newer Bond films and the kind of sprawling adventure I always wanted on the TV series, good as it was. If you are a span of spy- fi, you will enjoy this.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Cheeky Long-Time series!, 7 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Are You Being Served? was on for years; and, for good reason. It's filled with wonderful characters, played by incredibly talented actors, who were able to elevate some rather old jokes and repetitive plots. You could forgive the groaners because the cast had such impeccable timing.

The show features a microcosm of socio-economic status, via the pecking order of the staff. As such, it presents humor form several points of view, though its sentiments seem to be decidedly traditional and a tad conservative.

The show had a lot of great moments; but, it's real strength lay in the characters and actors. Molly Sugden is the haughty Mrs. Slocombe, who betrays her origins when she gets angry and via her malapropisms. She's a lonely woman who isn't adverse to a bit of fun, though she is more than a bit snooty (most likely out of jealousy). Wendy Richards is the cheeky Cockney Miss Brahms, the junior associate in the Ladies Department, forever the object of the male characters and more than a little sarky. Frank Thornton is the imperious Capt. Peacock, a man whose legendary military career is more fantasy than fact. He floats between the worlds of the workers and management, his allegiances constantly changing, depending on what he has to gain. John Inman is the improbable Mr. Humphries, who is neither one way nor another, though he is certainly not ordinary. Arthur Borough is Mr Grainger, the slightly grumpy head of the Men's Department. He tends to be there to react more than the rest of the characters and would eventually depart the series (and passed away soon after). Trevor Bannister is the less than stellar Mr Lucas, who lusts after the birds and avoids work as much as possible. Bannister would also depart the series and his loss was keenly felt. Nicholas Smith is the manager of the floor, Mr Rumbold, a rather ineffective leader, though he gets a few good moments, usually putting Capt Peacock in his place. he also gets a few sexy secretaries, from time to time. Harold Bennett was the wonderfully dirty old man who owns the store. Benentt was a late comer to acting and had tremendous comedic timing. His presence is greatly missed in the later series. In later years, the cast would be joined by James Hayter (Mr Tibbs), Alfie Bass (Mr Goldberg), Milo Sperber (Mr Grossman) and Benny Lee (Mr Klein) in attempts to replace Mr Grainger. They eventually gave up and made Mr Humphries the senior salesman, and added Mike Berry, as Mr Spooner, to be the junior and take up the role of cheeky young man.

The show probably stayed on too long; but, the characters became old friends and you tended to forgive the worn out jokes and plots. In fact, the characters became so familiar you could often anticipate the punchline. Regardless, you were happy to see your old friends.

The show became a staple on PBS, as it is genuinely funny, well acted, and not too adult or too juvenile. It's bawdy enough to give you a chuckle but never enough to really offend you, though a few of the more insulting elements are usually cut out in US broadcasts (such as a couple of episodes featuring actors in blackface).

This series is loads of fun and won't disappoint.

Perfect Casting and About as Good a Literary Adaptation as You Can Find!, 14 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Jeeves and Wooster is the perfect blend of writing and casting. PG Wodehouse is one of the giants of English humor and a prodigious author. His best known characters are Bertie Wooster and his valet and tremendous intellect Jeeves. Jeeves first meets up with Bertie when he is deep in the hold of a massive hangover and Jeeves conjures up the cure to end all cures. From that point on, the pair are inseparable, except for brief moments of insanity, usually caused by Bertie.

The stories are the epitome of the servant who is more able than the master. This is especially true as Bertie is the scion of a wealthy family and pursues no work (though he will flee from it). He is an amiable chap, who tends to get on well with most people, apart from his domineering Aunt Agatha, the odious Roderick Spode, and the occasional nemesis. Bertie spends most of his time visiting friends and relatives or passing the time at the Drones Club (aptly named for a group the produces very little). More often than not, it is this circle of friends (or relatives) that pulls Bertie into some farcical situation from which Jeeves must extricate him, via his massive brain power.

Jeeves is the brains of the outfit and his advice and intellect are sought by all. he is content to serve his master, who he sees as a good soul, provided that he learns his place when it comes to selecting his wardrobe, wearing a mustache, and keeping himself from harm's way (read: marriage). Jeeves keeps the wheels spinning, solves the problems, and devises schemes to maintain his position and influence.

The rest of the characters are made up of the monied classes, with names like Bingo Little, Tuppy Gloster, Madeline Basset, Barmy Fortheringay Phipps, and Gussy Finknottle; all uniquely English names, and ones that require money to exist. There is Bertie's more likable aunt Dalia, who pulls Bertie into some scheme to gain Jeeves brainpower, often relating to her publication, Milady's Boudoir. It's all silly, often confusing; but always fun.

Clive Exton does a masterful job adapting Wodehouse and watching the program is much like reading the books and stories. Hugh Laurie is the perfect Bertie Wooster, an amiable idiot and Laurie knows the type well, and played it often, before House came calling. Stephen Fry has the brains to match Jeeves and excels at portraying Jeeves steady manner, and cunning nature. he is precise in his movements, as a master servant would be. He's younger than the literary character; but perfectly suited to the man. The rest of the cast would shift a bit and characters can be a bit confusing because of the recasting and similar personalities. Wodehouse had little use for the monied types, though he came from that world. He pokes fun at them at every turn and makes a delightful concoction out of them.

The series is at it's best for the first two series, and at its weakest in the fourth; but, even weak Jeeves & Wooster is heads and shoulders above the rest. There is a sameness about many of Wodehouse's stories and characters, though they are still delightful, all the same.

If you love farce or character-driven humor, the series will delight and if you just want good writing and acting it has it in spades. The series brought me to Wodehouse and I have relished the man's work ever since.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Charming, If Slightly Improbable Romance, 30 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Writer Richard Curtis set out to answer a question: What if I showed up to a regular get-together with friends, accompanied by the World's Most Famous Woman? This is his answer. Hugh Grant plays a bookshop owner, in Notting Hill, who lives his life within a very small area. Of course, as these things go, he has a chance encounter with Julia Roberts, who is stretching her acting muscles by playing a famous, superstar actress. After an awkward first encounter, a series of events lead to a slightly more charming, if improbable second encounter. From there, an incredulous, and rocky romance develops.

As with four Weddings and a Funeral, the film is largely a series of sketches, driven by dialogue between the characters. Curtis excels at this kind of stuff and his scripts have memorable exchanges. Perhaps his plots are a bit far fetched, though stranger things have been known to happen. They do tend to tread a bit on a romantic fantasy of life; but it is a romantic comedy, after all.

The cast are first rate, with Hugh Grant returning to the Curtis world as yet another charming, awkward man. He can pretty much play this part in his sleep. Julia Roberts plays a version of herself, though with a bit of tweaking here and there. The rest of the cast are filled with terrific character actors, including Curtis alumni Tim McInnerny (Black Adder series) and Emma Chambers (Vicar of Dibley), as well as newcomers Gina McKee, Hugh Bonneville, James Dreyfuss and Rhys Ifans. Curtis knows how to write character pieces and these actors make music of his writing.

It's easy to pick apart the reality of the film, that a famous actress would find true love with an ordinary guy that she, literally, bumped into; but, the scenario is so wonderfully done that you don't really care. The chemistry between the leads makes you forget the plot holes and the rest of the cast create an atmosphere that would be attractive to anyone, famous or not. It doesn't have a huge laugh quotient, but peppers the film with some really great comedic moments to keep you amused, while it charms you and brings a tear or two to your eye (like the scenes at the park bench, or when Roberts is in Grant's shop, begging him to forgive her). You can dismiss it as forgettable fluff; but, chances are, you'll be swept up in it, even if it's for just a little while. That's what movies do.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
One Ultra-Cool, If Slightly Goofy Series!, 16 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I only saw a few episodes of Johnny Sokko in my youth, but the imagery stuck in my head enough to buy the few Orion Pictures video releases and then the official DVD release. It's just a really fun, action-packed bit of 60s fun, with a slightly demented world on display.

Obviously, the series is the American redubbing of the Japanese series Giant Robo (or Jianto Robo). The names have been changed, though the premise is largely intact. The alien Emperor Guillotine seeks to conquer the Earth, through his criminal organization of thugs and monsters; and, what an organization it is! The Gargoyle Gang consists of beatnick Che Guevara/Nazi soldiers (with stylish wraparound sunglasses), a silver headed alien lieutenant with shelf- like eyebrow ridges (Dr. Botanus); a buck toothed, giant foreheaded, one legged lieutenant (Fangar); a one eyed playing card obsessive (Harlequin), and a nutjob in golden knight's armor (Goldennock). meanwhile, their leader is a cross-eyed alien, with tentacles hanging from his head. This bunch of misfits, along with their various monsters and weaponry, seek to subjugate the planet, for whatever reason. Opposing them is Unicorn a security organization that thinks it's OK for a little boy (and, later, a little girl) to casually be exposed to danger and carry a gun. To be fair, the kid seems to be the only one with any sense in the organization. They also seem to adopt stereotypical dress in their subsidiaries around the globe (tyrolean hats, turbans, etc...). The group usually needs the Giant Robot to get them out of a jam, though they do occasionally rescue the kid, so he can call in the robot.

The show is just a lot of fun, as so many adventure shows of the 60s were. They aren't too concerned with kids being exposed to violence, so there is a lot more action and drama, thanks to the dangers involved. This certainly stood out in the 70s, when I first saw the show. However, it is never gratuitously violent, or particularly bloody.

The show was essentially spawned by the success of Tsuburaya's Ultraman (though the series was adapted from a manga); but it proved groundbreaking, as many elements of it would go on to influence other Japanese adventure flair, like Gatchaman and the Sentai series that spawned the Power Rangers. Ultraman had better monster suits and battles, but Johnny Sokko had better action with the human cast, with a nice blend of spy-fi, monster fights, and giant mecha, much of which became a staple for other live action series from Toei.

This is definitely worth picking up for any fan of spy-fi, monster movies, or action-adventure, regardless of age.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Excellent Series, Which Serves as an "Unofficial" Sequel to Callan, 13 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Edward Woodward returned to television, on the other side of the pond, as a different burnt-out secret agent, Robert McCall. McCall bears more than a passing resemblance to David Callan, Woodward's iconic character from his British TV series. He has been used and abused for years, in the shadowy world of espionage, with its murky ethics and high body count. Unlike Callan, he is able to walk away from his masters, when he resigns, after a botched operation leads to the death of is charge. McCall, finding himself finally free of this dark world, decides he wants to do something to make the world better and using the skills that he has, advertises his services in the newspaper, as "The Equalizer," someone who evens the odds for those in trouble.

The series is one part spy-fi, one part private eye, and one part crime drama. Each week, McCall is contacted by someone in need and he responds, charging no fee (he is independently well off, thanks to information gained in his spy days, which allows him to make shrewd investments). Occasionally, he finds his services required by his old masters, via his former boss (and friend) Control. On other occasions, he uses his relationship with control to gain access to agents and resources of "the Agency" to aid in his mission.

The series makes great use of New York location shooting, while also creating an edgy visual style. Shadows are frequently used and the series plays upon urban fears, with various predators menacing his clients. It mixes high class living with squalid apartments and empty warehouse.

Edward Woodward is excellent as McCall, with the character's desire to bring justice and peace giving him ample opportunity to orate. McCall uses powerful speeches as much as powerful handguns. Woodward is at his best when he is raging against something, though he also excels at the quiet moments. He gives the character a well- rounded feel, aided by great writing, which emphasizes McCall's flaws as much as his virtues. McCall's calling has made him a poor father and he often uses guilt to attain favors from Control, yet rants when Control asks him to return the favor.

Apart from the hair and some of the clothes, the one element of the series that scream "the 80s" is the music from Stewart Copeland, the drummer for The Police. Copeland created the synth-heavy sound of the series, from the iconic opening theme, to the incidental music used throughout (again, heavy on synth and drums). However, it is such a part of the show that it never really seems archaic. The same could not be said with the music Copeland created for the Babylon 5 pilot movie ("The Gathering").

The series is filled with great guest actors, many of whom would go on to bigger things, like Vincent D'Onofrio, Kevin Spacey, Christian Slater, and others, while also making great use of classic actors like Robert Lansing (Gary 7, on Star Trek), Ron Neal (Superfly), Robert Mitchum, and Richard Jordan. It made great use of outstanding characters actors, drawn in, no doubt, by the quality writing.

This is a series worth watching and owning on home video. It was a stylish piece of TV, with great characters and excellent writing, and top notch performances.

Sequel That Helped Launch a Living Legend, 13 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This series was a sequel to the original Tiger Mask cartoon(and manga) and coincided with the debut of Satoru Sayama as the living Tiger Mask. New Japan Pro Wrestling licensed the character and put Sayam into the role. Sayama had extensive experience around the globe, wrestling in Mexico and the UK and incorporating elements of those styles into his matches. He debuted three days after the first broadcast of the new cartoon, complete with the same costume, facing Dynamite Kid, who he would go on to defeat for the WWF Jr. Heavyweight Championship, while also holding the NWA Jr. Heavyweight Championship. That popularity would outshine the cartoon.

The cartoon itself is typical of anime of the period, setting it apart from the more stylistic original cartoon. The original cartoon had more in common with Ikki Kajiwara's manga, with a "shetchier" style to it.

The new story features a new Tiger Mask, after Naoto Date has been killed rescuing a child from the path of a speeding car. Another orphan, Tatsuo Aku takes up his mantle. He soon finds himself facing an evil organization, bent on world domination.

This series has more of a superhero tone to it than the original and ran for 33 episodes, having far less of an impact that the original or the living Tiger Mask (Sayama). The animation is more fluid, though the story is less compelling and the only thing that really sets it apart from other anime of the period was the wrestling angle. As with the original, many actual wrestlers from the New Japan promotion appear in the cartoon, with promoter/star Antonio Inoki taking a stronger role than in the original (which was made during the days of the Japanese Wrestling Association, when Giant Baba was the star, with Inoki as his partner).

The series is enjoyable enough, though would more likely appeal to fans of Sayama, and wrestling in general.

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