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Being a Good Neighbor Was Never So Much Fun!
My son loves VeggieTales, and my wife and I have been gradually working through all the episodes. We started in the middle of the series, and we've been going back and watching some of the earlier ones. After watching the first and second entries, I find it incredible that this was only their third entry and that it was released in 1995, the same year "Toy Story" was released. The animation is markedly improved from the first two entries ("Where's God When I'm S-Scared?" and "God Wants Me to Forgive Them!?!"), and the writing is much sharper too.
As the title suggests, "Are You My Neighbor?" focuses on the message of what it means to be a good neighbor. It contains two stories and a silly song. The first story is a retelling of the parable of The Good Samaritan in a Dr. Seuss-style poem. It's so well told that viewers of all ages and religious backgrounds are sure to enjoy this story. The second story follows an adventure (a dream?) of Jr. Asparagus, Bob, and Larry in a loose parody of "Star Trek."
The songs are memorable and catchy (the silly song is now a VeggieTales classic), the animation looks good (especially for 1995), the stories are very well told, and the message of being a good neighbor is always a good reminder for young and old. In short, there's something to enjoy for everyone.
The Leopard Man (1943)
A Symphony of Thrills
Half the fun of watching "The Leopard Man" is trying to figure out the plot structure. If you haven't seen it yet, don't read the rest of this review. It's a good creepy little film, and that's all you need to know.
For those who have seen the film, here are my thoughts on it: A symphony traditionally contains four movements. This is the structure of "The Leopard Man". After an attention-grabbing introduction, in which the main theme (clattering castanets) is introduced, along with the main characters (Jerry, Kiki, Clo-Clo, and the escaped leopard), we are treated to four movements.
1st movement: Probably the best of the four parts, we begin with Clo-Clo playing her castanets while walking down the street. She picks a card to receive her fortune, and it's the card of death. This sets an ominous tone when we are suddenly introduced to a completely new set of characters--a poor Mexican family. The daughter is sent to buy some cornmeal, and we have a wonderfully suspenseful scene where she fears an attack by the leopard. The movement climaxes with her death, a perfect combination of visual, audio, and (especially) what's left to the imagination.
2nd movement: We once again have a brief encounter with the main characters and a reminder of the castanet theme. Then we are introduced to a whole new set of characters--a young girl, her family, and her off-camera lover. Another creepy scene takes place in a graveyard, and it also climaxes with the young girl's death.
3rd movement: We are again reminded of the main characters, but this time we begin to follow their stories to completion. The third movement focuses on Clo-Clo, and the castanets, though present, are used sparingly. This completely develops the death card story which was foreshadowed earlier in the film. Once again, this section climaxes with the woman's death.
4th movement (the finale): Up until now, due to selective camera shots, we haven't been entirely certain whether the killings have been the result of the leopard or someone else. The escaped leopard's story is concluded by finding its dead body. The remaining cast's story is also carried out to the end. The true murderer is revealed--once again with the aid of the castanets--and killed. The climax of the entire film is the death of "the leopard man".
In all of his films, Val Lewton played with the idea of life vs. death, and this film is no exception. The castanet music throughout the film helps us to experience the dance between life and death. The deaths are always shocking, and they initially seem to have the final word. But the final scene actually shows the victory of life. Jerry and Kiki walk off together, determined to make the most of their lives together.
We don't know how long we have on this earth, so we should cherish every moment. And only through death can we appreciate the gift of life. This is the message of Lewton's and Tourneur's thrilling, beautiful, and sometimes unsettling symphony.
The Bookworm (1939)
Cute Chase Scene with Storybook Characters
Inside someone's personal library, all of the characters from the books and magazines come to life. The witches from "MacBeth" (not "Hamlet", as another reviewer stated) are making their brew, and they realize they need a worm. The raven from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is commissioned for the task. Fortunately for the story, a meek little worm just happens to be perusing the books at the time. The rest of the story is a long chase scene between the raven and the bookworm.
There's nothing here you haven't seen numerous times with Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote & the Road Runner, Tom & Jerry, Sylvester & Tweety, etc. But this cartoon still has a certain creative charm the way various characters from literature, pop fiction (for the time), and magazines are incorporated into the story's events.
An amusing way to spend eight minutes.
After the Thin Man (1936)
A Superb Sequel that Possibly Surpasses the Original
The first "Thin Man" introduced us to Nick and Nora Charles (and their dog Asta), and the whole film had a fresh, wonderful feeling to it. In "After the Thin Man", we have these same delightful characters, but they have the opportunity to perfect some of the elements from the first film. It's difficult to say which is the better film, and there's no real reason to decide. Let's just say that, if you liked the first film, you'll certainly like this outstanding sequel.
One new element in this sequel is that we are introduced to Nora's extended family, much to Nick's chagrin. The family and Nick don't exactly get along, which makes for some amusing verbal jabs. Everyone plays their part exceedingly well, and the family is wrapped up in the mystery story this time around, which makes it all the more interesting to follow.
As in the previous film, Nick and Nora are habitual drinkers, and there is a baffling who-done-it caper into which Nick is reluctantly drawn. It's definitely a mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. Plan to watch it all the way through without pausing it for any lengthy breaks, because it will be difficult to remember all the details. I should also point out that there are FOUR male characters who have dark, neatly trimmed mustaches, so if you aren't paying attention, you might accidentally mix them up. Pay careful attention to their facial features, so that you can keep everyone straight.
This is one of the greatest mystery-comedies ever made. It never takes itself too seriously, yet it never loses credibility. It strikes the balance perfectly. Enjoy!
Tarzan Escapes (1936)
Enjoyable entry in the Tarzan series
If I was to summarize my feelings about "Tarzan Escapes" in one sentence, this is what I would write: I *loved* the first two Tarzan films, and I *like* the third film.
"Tarzan Escapes" isn't a bad film, but it's clear that the writers had used up a lot of their imagination on the first two installments. The basic premise is that Jane's cousins Rita and Eric go into the jungle to find Jane. Once again, they head to the Mutia Escarpment (the elephant graveyard), and they commission Captain Fry, along with his comedic friend Rawlins, to lead them there.
The first half of this film is basically kiddie fare. The Rawlins character attempts (but never quite succeeds) at providing comic relief, and the animal scenes are less perilous and more comedic. However, about halfway through the movie, a sudden twist occurs, and the story takes on a much more serious tone. It's not too strong for kids, so they should still enjoy it all. And adults, if they can overlook the bad comedy in the first half, should find the overall film very satisfying.
Tarzan has broadened his vocabulary a bit since the first two films, and his and and Jane's relationship is still sparkling. Cheeta has more of a role in this movie, and they've spiffed up their jungle décor considerably. (Only the castaways on Gilligan's Island have a more deluxe setup without electricity.)
Several of the animal scenes are lifted from "Tarzan and His Mate", so some of the excitement and freshness are lost. But there is still plenty to get excited about. I did notice that the sound quality is much improved. (I had to watch parts of the first two films with subtitles just to understand what they were saying. The sound is much clearer in the third movie.)
Overall, it's a rousing adventure film. It's nice to say hi to our jungle friends once again, and there are enough new elements to be more than just a rehash of the previous stories.
Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
A good follow-up to the excellent original
"Tarzan and His Mate", the second of MGM's Tarzan pictures, picks up a year after the events of "Tarzan the Ape Man". Tarzan and Jane have been living happily in the jungle, and Harry Holt (one of the expeditioners in the first film) returns, this time accompanied by the less-than-honorable Martin Arlington, in quest of the ivory from the elephants' graveyard. Naturally, a variety of perilous and exciting adventures take place along the way.
The first film romanticized everything--the jungle, adventure, romance itself, wild animals, and even death. The second film still has a great deal of romanticism and a lot of wonderful action sequences, but a more serious tone underlies the action. The characters dare to ask questions like: What if something happened to Tarzan? What would Jane do if she was stranded by herself in the middle of the jungle and she had to fend for herself? While these are probably the questions real people would be asking in this situation, it creates a certain amount of somberness that isn't always as much fun as the throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude of the original.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this film is the growth we see in Tarzan and Jane's relationship. Tarzan still speaks very broken English, but he has clearly learned a few new words from his mate. Additionally, their love for each other has really blossomed, and we feel like they really have spent a year together in the jungle.
Most people consider "Tarzan and His Mate" superior to the original "Tarzan the Ape Man". Personally, I liked the first film just a little bit better. The main reason is that the relationship between the Harry Holt & Martin Arlington team isn't nearly as likable as Holt's relationship with James Parker (Jane's father) from the original. The Mr. Arlington character could have worked as a great movie villain, but he plays the hero for far too much of the movie. The movie can never decide whether we should like him or hate him. (Also, I don't want to give anything away, but in one of the scenes where we should clearly hate him, Jane never finds out about those events, so the ending isn't quite as satisfying as it could have been.) All of these detractors are relatively minor, however, and it's still a great movie.
Like the first film, "Tarzan and His Mate" has amazing action scenes, wonderful wildlife footage, and one of the screen's all-time greatest romances. If you liked the first film in the series, this is definitely a sequel to see.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
Love, Action, & Adventure--will make you feel like a kid again!
I'm sure I saw bits and pieces of "Tarzan, the Ape Man" on television when I was a kid, but I never really paid much attention to it. I just recently checked out the DVD from my local library, and I was amazed to discover what I had been missing all these years.
This movie made me feel like a young boy, craving excitement and adventure. This first installment in the MGM Tarzan movies delivers big time. Yes, the special effects and interweaving of the stock footage looks a bit dated, but remember that this film was only made three years after the first "talkie" (i.e. a sound picture, not a silent movie). There are certain techniques that obviously stem from the silent movie days. But to me, this just adds to the charm.
The animal footage is excellent. For the first time in a long time, I was actually on the edge of my seat during a movie. The CGI effects today are amazing, but they're so overdone (most of the time). The thrills and suspense in "Tarzan" are heightened, because you know everything you see is physically tangible, not an actor reacting to a green screen.
I still don't know how they did some of those scenes without anyone getting hurt. Swinging from the treetops, wrestling with lions, wrestling with leopards, being chased by wild animals--all of these things make for great entertainment and adventure.
I should also mention that the relationship between Tarzan and Jane is one of the most captivating I've ever seen in a movie. It's very understated, yet very sexy. Today, they would ruin the story by making the couple have sex after five minutes. But because the sexual chemistry is only hinted at, the entire relationship is one of Jane flirting and Tarzan pursuing. It just builds and builds. This romance actually has excitement to it. Definitely one of the best screen romances of all time.
Despite a few minor shortcomings in the special effects of the time, this is a thrilling movie. Great adventure, great excitement, great entertainment. Don't miss it!
Worth Seeing for Karloff's and Lee's Performances
"Bedlam" isn't the strongest of Val Lewton's RKO pictures, but it's in good company. Karloff has one of his most diabolical roles in this film, and it's his performance, along with Anna Lee's, that makes this film worth watching.
The plot revolves around the Bedlam asylum. George Sims (Karloff) is the cruel asylum master, and Nell Bowen (Lee) finds the conditions deplorable, the latter desiring to bring reform. Unfortunately, Nell faces great opposition (and that's a big understatement!). A friendly Quaker, Hannay, is along for the ride to assist her in her plight.
The lighting and the mood give the film a great atmosphere, and the film is always great to look at. While I would still categorize "Bedlam" as a horror movie, it's a "light" horror movie. Don't expect tons of shocks or scares. It's more of a macabre look at a real-life historical setting.
This film isn't as psychologically deep as most of Lewton's other productions, but it still excels at being more than an average horror film. You can't help but sympathize with Nell Bowen (and she has some great scenes where she confronts her foes). And you can't help but loathe Karloff as he plots his deliciously fiendish plans.
Fans of Boris Karloff will definitely enjoy this movie, and Anna Lee's character is certainly enjoyable to watch. It's not the greatest horror film ever made, but it's still better than most.
(One major annoyance: The Quaker character, Hannay, speaks in somewhat Old English with "thee" and "thy" liberally sprinkled throughout his dialogue, but he apparently doesn't understand the rules of grammar. When using "thee" and "thou", "thou" is used when it's the subject of a sentence, and "thee" is used when it's the object. Unfortunately, he always uses the word "thee", even when it's the subject. This is extremely irritating to hear, and it's surprising, considering the high quality of literary elements in most of Lewton's pictures. I would have expected him to catch an error like this.)
Isle of the Dead (1945)
From watching Val Lewton's films, it seems that he was fascinated with dichotomies. For example:
"Cat People" explores self-repression vs. uninhibited passion. "Curse of the Cat People" explores reality vs. fantasy. "The 7th Victim" explores the desire to live vs. the desire to die.
Lewton's movies are usually very rich in these psychological themes, but "Isle of the Dead" may explore more dichotomies than any of his other pictures. Here are just a few of the themes dealt with:
*protection vs. domination *cold-hearted rationalism vs. illogical compassion *science vs. superstition *faith vs. superstition *fighting fate/death vs. accepting fate/death *control vs. helplessness
As far as the story is concerned, General Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff) and reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Kramer) follow a pleasant and mysterious singing woman's voice to a remote house. Their interaction with the house's occupants generates an eerie, compelling story. I won't give away anything more than to say the plot revolves around the superstition of the Vorvolaka--a Greek "nightmare figure", as the Foreword describes it, that can slowly drain the life from its victim(s) and even cause plagues and epidemics in a community.
I don't know how many dozens of Boris Karloff films I've seen, but this is one of my favorites. In "Isle of the Dead" he is never someone we are allowed to identify with, but he still manages to make us understand his every action. His character undergoes several developments, and they all seem perfectly logical and understandable within the context of this twisted character's worldview.
Though no one in the film really seems Greek--more American and British, in fact--it doesn't really matter where the film takes place or what culture it's in. This is a secluded world that only exists in the movies, but it's a powerful world that forces us to confront our fears in a very real way.
"Isle of the Dead" isn't a monster film or a jolting shock-you-out-of-your-seat jolt-a-minute horror movie, but it's definitely creepy, unsettling, and even scary at times. Is writing is at a much higher calibre than most horror movies, and if you let yourself really get into the story and contemplate the ideas presented, you will find yourself captivated.
The Seventh Victim (1943)
Creepy, eerie, and genuinely thought-provoking
I've now seen five of Val Lewton's films: "Cat People", "The Curse of the Cat People", "I Walked with a Zombie", "The Body Snatcher", and finally "The Seventh Victim".
One thing that has stood out in all the films is how well the female roles are developed (including the supporting roles in "The Body Snatcher", which has more emphasis on the male characters). When these films were made, the women in horror films were often one-dimensional, either serving as a love interest or as a frail character in jeopardy. The women in Lewton's films all have multi-layered personalities; they are thoughtful and mysterious, people we really care about and sympathize with.
The main female roles in this film are no exception. The story begins somewhat like "The Lady Vanishes", in that a young woman is searching for another woman (in this film, her sister), and she keeps hitting dead ends, all the while feeling like there's something more sinister going on. (The similarities end at this point, but there are definitely elements that seem very much like Hitchcock's earlier films.) The film raises many questions and tackles many issues--the will to live, the will to die, the meaning of love, and what true courage is. If you don't pay close attention, you may not even notice these issues, because the atmosphere and plot development of the film are equally engrossing. The film keeps you guessing, and there are many scenes that are genuinely eerie. When it first came out, I'm sure that the subject matter would have been especially unsettling.
"The Seventh Victim" is difficult to classify. It's probably closest to being a thriller, but there are enough macabre elements to push it toward the horror genre. However you view it, it's a great film. Best viewed alone at night with all the lights out.