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A lifetime dream finally realized
3 July 2016
I have been a fan of Tarzan since childhood when I read the stories in those Whitman Book editions. While I was a big fan of the Ron Ely TV series, I never felt that the Tarzan movies ever captured the essence of the iconic character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Until now!

What a wonderful film filled with adventure, romance, and morality that works on so many levels.

Kudos to director David Yates and his team for doing such a marvelous job of distilling ERB's vision in such an exciting and entertaining way.

Alexander Skarsgård reminds me of Ron Ely and Margot Robbie joins Maureen O'Sullivan as the ultimate Jane. Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz provide outstanding support.

I cannot praise this film enough.
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Taken (2002)
Took, not Taken
10 August 2003
What started off with great promise quickly deteriorated into an utterly banal mess which not even its top-notch production values or the sincere performances of Ryan Hurst, Catherine Dent, and the truly remarkable Dakota Fanning can salvage

While the leering, smarmy, ill-considered presence of Matt Frewer is the most obvious example, the best gauge to see how badly things devolved is the antagonists, which were the dramatic engine for this program, over the course of this miniseries – from the steely incompetence of Major Owen Crawford played by Joel Gretsch to the banal, bumbling amorality of his grand-daughter played by Heather Donahue.

However, this mini-series does perform at least one vital public service.

It confirms what we all suspected when we first saw The Blair Witch Project – that Ms. Donahue is a horrible actress who should confine her `acting' to the Steak'N'Shake commercials that she is currently appearing in.
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Crossfire Trail (2001 TV Movie)
Solid adaptation of the Homer of the American Western, Louis L'Amour
22 January 2001
That Homer of the American Western, Louis L'Amour, has always been good to actor-producer Tom Selleck. CROSSFIRE TRAIL is a well produced motion picture that in another era would have been a well-received theatrical motion picture release. Regrettably, the climate at movie box office doesn't support westerners of such classic pedigree, and it is to TNT Original Productions credit that they have allowed this film to find its venue and audience.

The production is impeccable, as is the cast, with special attention given to the lead actor Tom Selleck. While success on the silver screen eluded him, Selleck still shows why he continues to be the best actor working in traditional Westerners and the natural successor to such screen legends as Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne. Any of those actors would have felt quite at home with the hero of this film, Rafael Covington, a man of few word and an unbending code of honor.

Supporting Selleck are the vibrant Virginia Masden, Mark Harmon, Brad Johnson, David O'Hara, Patrick Kilpatrick as well as the always welcomed presence of those two ever-reliable veteran actors, Wilford Brimley and Barry Corben.

For Australian director Simon Wincer and star Tom Selleck, CROSSFIRE TRAIL is a re-union since they collaborated in the highly entertaining and grossly neglected QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER. Wincer brings his typically excellent eye to period detail and visual meise en scene that he used so successfully in his groundbreaking epic LONESOME DOVE.

Again, if you haven't seen this film, then by all means, do so. If you have, then go back a savor of well-done effort. You will be well rewarded in either case.
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Gladiator (2000)
A twice-told story, well done.
24 November 2000
Warning: Spoilers
While I am sure that among the hundreds of IMdB reviews for this movie there has been mention of this, I would like to note that remarkable similarity between Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR and another movie, Samuel Bronston's 1964 production FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE directed by Anthony Mann.



Both productions share a number of similar attributes. Both films were assembled by a superb production team and directed by consummate craftsmen. Most telling is that both films cover the same historical period with similar story content and themes.

Both films open during the final Roman campaign against the Germanic barbarians under Emperor Marcus Auriliuis.

Both films have the Emperor selecting a gifted general and long-time associate to become his successor, not his libertine, corrupt son, Commodus.

Both films have Marcus Aurelius dying under mysterious circumstances prior to the announcement of succession, and Commodus becoming Emperor, with disastrous consequences for the Empire.

Both films have a prior, unspoken relationship existing between the general and Marcus Aurelius's daughter, Lucilla.

Both films have the general and Commodus fighting a final, public duel to the death.

Both films unapologetically embrace Roman life and culture without reference to pro-Christian themes found in more traditional Hollywood epics.


Where these films diverge are on the personal and political levels.

Unlike Stephen Boyd's general in FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, General Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russell Crowe, is a happily married man with a wife and young son that yearns to return home to them following a long, bloody campaign. Their deaths by the new Emperor's order compel Crowe's character to seek revenge against Commodus.

Please note that Mel Gibson was initially approached to play the lead role. MAD MAXIMUS, perhaps?

Equally significant is that Lucilla has a young son who is threatened by Commodus, which adds the emotional conflict for Maximus.

Finally, there is a strongly hint of incest between Commodus and Lucilla in GLADIATOR while FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE embraces a more libertine lifestyle.

On the political level, both films address different themes that were appropriate at the time of their release.

Both films ask: What is the idea of Rome?

For FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, it is the question of inclusiveness of the various races within the Empire as articulated by the late Alec Guinness as the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The meeting of the provisional governors along the Germanic frontier, the Senatorial debates, and the attempted assimilation the conquered Germanic peoples into a greater Roman world are part of this theme. This theme is personified by the slave Timonides played by the late James Mason.

Commodus' corruption and destructive policies hastens Rome's eventual decline and dissolution and the onset of a dark age in western civilization.

Such themes as inclusiveness are appropriate for the mid-Sixties with the Civil Rights movement, youth protests, and wars of liberation confronting policy-makers.

For GLADIATOR, the dying Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris, calls upon Rome to return to its republican, pre-imperial roots. The behind-the-scenes machinations of the reform movement within the Senate are examples of this theme, which is personified by Roman senator Gracchus played by Derek Jacobi.

Given a generation that has experienced Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater, this theme has resonance.

Unlike FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE which emphatically state that Roman's demise is inevitable, GLADIATOR suggests that the eventual decay of the Roman Empire is staved off by the timely intervention of reform-minded patriots and a new generation as personified by Lucilla's son.


There are of course a number of other areas to praise both films - excellent directions, production values, acting, etc. Will the success of GLADIATOR start a new cycle of epics?

Michael Mann has started work on a movie about the epic battle at Thermoylae between the defending Spartans and the invading Persians, with George Clooney being considered for the lead role.

In 1962, a film entitled 300 SPARTANS told the same story and starred Richard Egan.

History does repeat itself.

Special thanks and appreciation to Derek Ely's excellent book EPIC FILM: HISTORY AND LEGEND.
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Feels like something that Edgar Rice Burroughs would have written!
19 November 2000
I have a genuine fondness for TARZAN GOES TO India. If you remove the Air India 707 from the opening credits and the early sixties automobiles, it feels like something that Edgar Rice Burroughs would have written, possibly after the Second World War, if declining health hadn't caught with him.

Jock Mahoney gives the legendary ape-man something that the other previous actors had not provided to this part -- a sense of maturity and gravity. Yes, Mahoney is almost too rangy, particularly when compared to his immediate predecessor, the hefty Gordon Scott. But Mahoney makes every scene seem real; with his Midwestern accent sounding neutral, almost international, in tone in keeping with Tarzan's unique origins. The additional kick is knowing that Mahoney does all of his stunts, including an eye-popping dive from an moving airplane into a lake. But his greatest stunt is being able to work with an inexperienced child actor and a four-ton elephant and not get loss in the shuffle. That's charisma!

Yes, the storyline is somewhat juvenile, but there was a definite market in the early Sixties for movies pitched to a pre-teenage audience. Witness such films as CAPTAIN SINBAD, FLIPPER, ZEBRA IN THE KITCHEN, and Disney's output of movies during this time. Robert Harding Andrews does a credible job with the script while John Guillermin provides fast-paced direction although this film lacks the flourishes of his 1959 Tarzan outing, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE.

Overall, TARZAN GOES TO India is a pleasant diversion well worth checking out.
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MacArthur (1977)
Solid biopic elevated by Gregory Peck's great performance
6 November 2000
It is inevitable that MACARTHUR will be compared to PATTON, the other military biopic produced by the late Frank McCarthy. Such comparisons are unfortunate because their subjects are vastly different, albeit controversial figures, and each film takes a different approach in examining their impact on history.

George S. Patton commanded an Army formation in Europe while Douglas Macarthur commanded an entire theater of operation in the Pacific. By his own admission, Patton never had any political ambitions, while MacArthur definitely had such aspirations. Patton's political naivety made him ill-suited as the postwar occupation commander in Bavaria while MacArthur's political astuteness served him well during the occupation of Japan.

Yet both men were great, if iconoclastic military leaders. Patton's brilliant northern pivot during the Battle of the Bulge is matched by the MacArthur's daring amphibious landing at Inchon. And both men believed strongly in their destiny; Patton's belief was based on reincarnation while MacArthur was motivated by following in his illustrious father's footsteps.

Surprisingly, PATTON is the much more succinct, less ambitious film than MACARTHUR. It concentrates on its colorful, mercurial main character during a comparatively brief two-year period between the American defeat at Kasserine Pass in early 1943 to Patton's dismissal prior to his death in late 1945. Although we see Patton's conflict with Omar Bradley, Bernard Montgomery, and Bedell Smith, we never see his interaction with General Dwight Eisenhower, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, or General George Marshall, the U.S. Army's chief of staff.

MACARTHUR is a much more ambitious film, covering nearly a decade from the fall of Bataan in early 1942 to MacArthur's dismissal in 1951. Additionally, MACARTHUR shows a wider range of conflict between MacArthur and such individuals as Admiral Nimitz, General Marshall, ambassador William Averell Harriman, and Presidents Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

So, does MACARTHUR match PATTON as a groundbreaking biopic? No, it doesn't.

MACARTHUR lacks the insightful, acerbic screenplay that Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund North supplied PATTON. The direction by TV veteran Joseph Sargent is yeoman-like where the late Franklin J. Schaffner offers a more vigorous, hell-for-leather approach to PATTON. Both films are handsomely mounted productions that serve as a tribute to acumen of the producer McCarthy. Both movies benefit from film scores by the ever-reliable Jerry Goldsmith.

While PATTON has its main character departing in a Valhalla-like denouement, MACARTHUR is book-ended by the legendary speech that the old soldier delivered to the cadet corps at West Point in 1962 as a final valedictory.

At the heart of both films are the extraordinary performances of their lead actors. The late George C. Scott's portrayal of Patton is justly remembered, but Gregory Peck delivers a performance that is both subtle and unapologetic and helps to elevate this often-pedestrian production to a higher level. Peck's portrayal is reminiscent of his work in TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH, but with the added weight of an additional thirty years of experience and craftsmanship that this great actor brings to bear to this role. Peck is ably supported by Dan O'Herlihy as FDR and the late Ed Flanders as Harry S. Truman.

Finally, I must note the presence of Dr. D. Clayton James, the author of the standard multi-volume biography of MacArthur, who served as this film's technical advisor.
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