Saturday, July 30, 2016

ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN (1937)

This 20th Century Fox movie is an energetic newspaper drama that stars Claire Trevor as the one woman reporter in a room full of poker-playing male reporters.  Of course, she turns out to be the smartest one in the room -- even after they pull a fast one on her just because of her sex.  They basically send her up to Harlem on a fake story.  But while in Harlem, she comes across something that her reporter's instinct tells her could be a story.  She investigates.  She's right about her hunch. It's front page news. 1937's ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN clips along at about 1 hour and 5 minutes.  It's fascinating to watch for its racial angles and images.              
1937 is also the year Trevor would be seen in William Wyler's social issues drama, DEAD END.  In that, she'd play the once dewy-eyed girlfriend of a guy who also grew up in the poor part of Manhattan in the same tenement area.  Poverty turned him to a life of crime as a Most Wanted gangster.  Poverty turned her into a hard-edge hooker.  Humphrey Bogart played the gangster.  Trevor would get the first of her three Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations for DEAD END.  Opposite Claire Trevor in ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN is the real punch of that well-produced 1937 newspaper story.  Trevor's co-star was Fredi Washington.
Washington was the black actress who gave such a memorable performance as the racially conflicted daughter in the original 1934 version of IMITATION OF LIFE.                         

Had the Motion Picture Academy's category of Best Supporting Actor and Actress existed then, Fredi Washington should have been the first black actress to get a supporting Oscar nomination before Hattie McDaniel broke ground with 1939's GONE WITH THE END.
1937's ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN is Fredi Washington's next and last big movie after 1934's hit, IMITATION OF LIFE.  Shame on Hollywood for being so mentally blocked on the race issue that it had no more good scripts for this talented black actress.  Bravo to 20th Century Fox for getting it together during the days of the Hollywood Production Code and making this film with more dignified images of black people than were usually seen at the time.  We see a black policeman, a black seamstress and a black professional photographer.  Keep in mind this same studio had released earlier films in which moviegoers saw and/or heard the word "nigger" used casually in the first five minutes. The two films were 1931's DADDY LONG LEGS starring Janet Gaynor and 1933's THE BOWERY starring Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper.  ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN co-stars Fredi Washington as the lovely, refined light-skilled black woman whom claims to be the mother of a little girl who appears to be white.  The child certainly behaves as if this kind woman is her mother.  She calls her "Mommy."  There is deep affection between the two.  The woman is Flora Jackson, known to the folks in town.

The lady reporter, Lucy "Tex" Warren takes a cab to the Harlem area and quickly realizes that the guys in the office pulled a joke on her.  But "Tex" walks alone down the avenue after getting out of the cab, relaxed among all the black residents and pedestrians, as is she's getting a feel for the neighborhood and the local culture.
 

There's a gruff older shopkeeper played by Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. Extremely popular as a co-star on Jack Benny's hit radio sitcom, this was a character type Anderson would repeat as a servant in 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND.  Compare it to his youthful, dapper and sexy valet to Benny to 1940's comedy BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN.  Here's Anderson on the left with Bill Robinson on the right.

Flora, a widow, is devoted to the happy child, Sunny Jackson.  Flora's sweetheart is a cop played by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.  The little girl calls him "Officer Joe."  He patrols the streets, he knows the law, he's armed ....and he can tap dance.  Robinson was a major dance star at the time.  I agree with one person who wrote that ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN is a good Shirley Temple movie -- only it didn't star Shirley Temple, the little 20th Century Fox box office champ who delighted audiences as a Bill Robinson dance partner in her movies.  Bill Robinson dance numbers are incorporated into ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN.  It's odd to see them there, but the numbers are very entertaining.  The studio obviously was capitalizing on Robinson's popularity as a dancer.

The child's real mother had been romantically involved with a known hoodlum who died in an accident.  She thought her child, then a baby, had died with him.  She has since married into society and now other hoods are trying to extort big money from her with their knowledge of the child.  How will the clever and compassionate reporter handle all this, get a scoop and not wreck the black woman's life?
Fredi Washington is the heart of movie.  Like Trevor, she is made up, photographed and outfitted beautifully.  She has several scenes with Trevor and the actresses work well together.  This minor but well-made and rarely talked about Hollywood movie gives you a deeper understanding of Lena Horne's glamorous frustration while under contract to MGM in the 1940s.  The singer debuted as an actress in 1943's CABIN IN THE SKY, an all-black musical comedy directed by Vincente Minnelli.  Eddie "Rochester" Anderson was the leading man.  Throughout her MGM years, as was detailed and noted in her biography, STORMY WEATHER: THE LIFE OF LENA HORNE by James Gavin, Horne was featured in A-list MGM musicals but she was never allowed to act and do scenes with the studio's A-list white talent.  You never saw Lena Horne act in a scene with Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, or Gene Kelly -- even though they were in same productions.

In this 1937 newspaper yarn, there's Fredi Washington in scenes with the white actors as a key character in the story.  And she's not playing a maid.  The sweet little girl who played her daughter was Joan Carroll.  Joan Carroll would act in a classic MGM musical a few years later.  She'd played one of younger sisters opposite Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli's MEET ME ST. LOUIS (1944).

Hollywood had no more quality script offers for Fredi Washington after this 1937 film.  Hollywood's color barrier was Hollywood's loss.  ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN was director by Allan Dwan.  He directed three Shirley Temple hits -- HEIDI (1937), REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM (1938) and YOUNG PEOPLE (1940).

I don't want to give any the ending, but notice that Flora and Officer Joe both get professionally get a bump upscale at the close.  That was definitely different for black film characters in those days.  Here's more about Fredi Washington:



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Viggo Mortensen is CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

"Power to the people."  "Stick it to the man."  Touchstone youth slogans of the anti-establishment 1960s are a family philosophy in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC.  Don't let the title throw you.  This is not another comic book-based action movie.  This is an intelligent, bold independent film about a very independent family in the Pacific Northwest.  The father and his six kids live off the grid.  When the story opens, you think you're in for sort of a LORD OF THE FLIES goes to THE MOSQUITO COAST with THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY.  But stay with it.  This good story that tells you that it's not just enough to know how to survive.  You have to find balance.  Ben is sort of a daily drill sergeant to his kids.  Like the Lou Gossett character in AN OFFICER AND GENTLEMEN.  These kids are not addicted to video games and texting.  They're pushing themselves and growing stronger in daily rigorous survival training in the woods.  They can hunt for food in the woods.  They're rock climbing.  They have a knowledge of classical music. They are avid readers and outspoken critical thinkers.  They're home-schooled.  Every year they celebrate the birthday of Noam Chomsky.  Yes, Ben is a very off-the-grid dad.  The mother, the woman he loves, is hospitalized.  Viggo Mortensen delivers a rich, smart and totally believable performance as this complicated parent.
The mother's condition forces the family to leave the forest isolation, get on their family bus and venture into towns.  He'll eventually have to take the kids to visit suburban relatives.  Those relatives are mainstream.  Their kids are glued to video game screens and can barely hold a conversation with the one language they speak.  They're no match for their wilderness cousins who speak more than one language -- including Esperanto.  And there's nothing like a family meal at the dinner table for revealing for vastly different people in the same family are.  By the way,  Ben's family bus is practically a library on wheels.  His kids don't own cellphones or computers.  Residents in the suburbs most definitely view them as eccentric.
When this unusual family comes in contact with everyday civilization as we know it, the road gets bumpy.  I was reminded of a line Woody Allen's character says in the movie ANNIE HALL:  "You know, it's one thing about intellectuals, they prove that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what's going on."  Admit it.  Haven't you occasionally felt that while listening to National Public Radio -- or watching JEOPARDY?  I remember one edition of that game show on which the three contestants knew all about the Aztecs, Greek philosophy, famous composers, rocket science and Russian literature.  But they were all stumped when the category was the old TV sitcom, "Gilligan's Island."  That applies to Ben's children because of their upbringing.

Ben's kids are strangers to fast food.  His oldest son doesn't know the regular guy etiquette of how to act after a first kiss.  And the match for Ben's wilderness survival skill smarts is an older gentleman in an expensive suit.  His father-in-law.  Here's a preview of CAPTAIN FANTASTIC.

Will Ben have the humility to get out of his own way and create a new balance within his family?  Or will he stay an unyielding captain of his fantastic counter-culture unit?

The film was written and directed by Matt Ross.  You may not know that name.  But, if you were a big fan of the series BIG LOVE on HBO as I was, you will recognize his face.

Ross played Alby, the polygamist rival to the show's main character played by Bill Paxton.  This shoot must have been difficult for Ross, even though the movie seems like it would be simple one to film.  There's not a lot of room on the family bus and there are key scenes in it with a half-dozen actors.  That doesn't leave much room for a camera crew.  As for the youngest kids in the cast, they have to play little critical thinkers and come off as intellectual without seeming precocious.  High praise goes to Matt Ross for his screenwriting and direction. He gives us an original story -- one with compassion, spirit and humor.

The supporting cast is first-rate.  A standout is George MacKay as the brainy oldest son.  Another is Kathryn Hahn as the suburban relative.  Hank gets cast in many comedies.  She'll soon be seen in the comedy BAD MOMS.  Her funny lady chops are sharp.  However, when the script calls for a serious, emotionally raw moment, Hahn can deliver the goods as she does in this film.  Frank Langella is excellent as the immovable grandfather.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC is rated R for language and brief male nudity.




Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bryan Cranston as THE INFILTRATOR

The best thing about THE INFILTRATOR is watching actor Bryan Cranston totally rock that role.  Not only is his character the right man for a difficult job, Cranston is the right actor for the part.  He makes the screenplay seem better than it is.  Based on real people and a true story, Cranston plays Robert Mazur, a federal agent and devoted family man in 1980s Florida.  He goes undercover to infiltrate the trafficking network of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.  Mazur poses as a slick businessman who is an international pro at money-laundering.                                                   
This is a businessman who'd be no stranger to the seedy world of drugs, booze and babes.  Like Bugs Bunny, the federal agent has to "Think fast, rabbit" because when he's basically given a sexy young hooker as a gift bag, he wants to avoid sexual contact.  This agent is solidly faithful to his middle-aged wife.
Mazur throws himself into extremely dangerous circles in order to crack the case.  He's surrounded by cold-blooded killers.  John Leguizamo co-stars as a fast-talking, fast-thinking, wisecracking fellow agent.
 I do agree with what critics Tim Cogshell and Amy Nicholson said when reviewing this movie on the weekly Friday edition of Filmweek on Larry Mantle's weekday Airtalk show on KPCC Radio.  They said that THE INFILTRATOR is like a 2-hour episode of TV's MIAMI VICE -- only without the pastels.  Also the Cranston and Leguizamo characters wear socks.  When you know that this is based on real people, you will wonder why the heck this seemingly typical working class family man didn't take retirement when he could have and why he took on a new job that's about as easy as running barefoot through a minefield.  As you see him do the work, you'll also think "He must have balls the size of cantaloupes."  Here's a trailer.

Amy Ryan and Benjamin Bratt co-star.  I really liked Diane Kruger a lot as the new agent assigned to pose as the wife of the slick money-laundering businessman.  The new agent has the right stuff.
This movie is Cranston's show -- and he does not disappoint.  He's an actor who has paid his dues and deserves the success he's now having.  I remember him in national TV commercials before he became a terrifically wacky sitcom dad on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE.  Then the drama BREAKING BAD made him a definite TV star who'd go on to get an Oscar nomination for film work in 2015's TRUMBO.

As I mentioned, Cranston's performance makes the screenplay seem better than it is.  His movie star charisma and talent carry the movie.  Stay through the closing credits to see what became of the real life federal agents portrayed in the film.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

On THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS

It was a hot day in New York City.  A dear friend wanted to spend time together and have lunch.  Before lunch, we caught a late morning showing of THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. We're both animation fans and dog lovers.  An air-conditioned movie theater, an audience full of well-behaved kids and a very entertaining feature.  What a fine way to pass the time before lunch.  This feature has a few elements similar to the action and motivations we saw in the classic Warner Brothers cartoons from Chuck Jones.  It has a manic pace and a few of the subversive kind of sights gags you'd associate with the classic Tex Avery cartoons from MGM in the 1940s.  The tough bunny who's the gang leader of rebellious pets is very much an Avery type of cartoon character.  Especially when he accidentally poops. The youngsters in our audience absolutely loved his poop scene.  That got a huge laugh.  The main character is Max, a terrier who has a sweet life living with a young single female in Manhattan.
Louis C.K. voices Max and he's a smooth vocal fit for this terrier.  When Max's owner adopts a new dog -- a big shaggy dog who takes up a lot of Max's space -- conflict arises.  As we knew it would.
Chloe the extremely catty and self-absorbed cat gives Max advice on how to handle the situation.
Chloe is one of Max's buddies in the pet-friendly apartment building.  She tickled me.  Chloe just can't stop eating.  Her appetite will eventually bring her public humiliation.  And she deserves it.
Duke the new dog and Max bicker a lot.  While out for a walk, they get detached from the dog walker and wind up prisoners in a truck headed for the dog pound.  That's when the crazy bunny, voiced by Kevin Hart, swoops in, saves them and demands they join his gang of abandoned bad-ass pets.
Gidget, Max's neighbor, senses that something's wrong.  Gidget is in love with Max but he doesn't realize it.  She sets out to rescue the dog she loves.  Max and Duke flee from the bad-ass pets.  We see action that visually references movies such as WEST SIDE STORY, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, JURASSIC PARK and SPEED.
I instantly fell in love with fluffy, festive and love-struck Gidget thanks to the delightful voiceover work from comedian/actress Jenny Slate.  That was some wonderful voice casting.
This is not a 4-star animated feature in a league with THE INCREDIBLES or a canine classic like Disney's LADY AND THE TRAMP.  But the animation is quite appealing and there's no shortage of action.  The idea of what the house pets do when the owners are away at work is a clever one -- similar to the idea of what do toys do when the kid owners aren't in the room as we saw in the modern classic, TOY STORY.

You do, however, wonder what kind of job that young single female has and where she lives in Manhattan.  She's got a great apartment with a fabulous view in a building that lets her have two dogs.

If you have youngsters under the age of 12 and you need some family time at an air-conditioned movie, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is a colorful and energetic 90 minute feature that will entertain the little ones and the grown-up dog lovers.




Monday, July 18, 2016

Carol Lynley on Judy Garland

Actress Carol Lynley is one lucky woman.  She can boast of working with a show biz legend as one of the highlights of her film career.

The show biz legend was Hollywood superstar, singer/actress Judy Garland.

Blonde Carol Lynley was a lovely sight to see in such popular 1960s movies as THE PLEASURE SEEKERS with Ann-Margret and UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE with Jack Lemmon.
                                                                               
One of her most popular films came along in the 1970s.  She was a star in the water-logged disaster movie that became a box office blockbuster, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.
Jean Harlow, with her platinum blonde hair, was known as "The Blonde Bombshell" and became an iconic Hollywood star and sex symbol with hit performances in MGM's RED DUST (1932), DINNER AT EIGHT (1933) and LIBELED LADY (1936).  The Platinum Blonde was known for having a heart of gold off-camera.  All Hollywood mourned Jean Harlow's untimely death in 1937.
In the 1960s, there was renewed public interest in Jean Harlow and a best-selling but somewhat questionable biography was in bookstores.  The renewed interest in the 1930s sex symbol was so great that it inspired two big screen biopics on her that were made and then released in the same year.  The glossy Paramount Pictures production, in color, starred Carroll Baker. The other 1965 Jean Harlow biopic was a low-budget independent production in black and white that starred another Carol -- Carol Lynley.  Both biopics came out the same year.  Both starred an actress named Carol in the lead role.  And both films were titled HARLOW.

In the Carroll Baker version for Paramount, Angela Lansbury played the pivotal role of Jean Harlow's mother.  For the Carol Lynley version, which was released before the Paramount production, Judy Garland had been cast in the role of Jean Harlow's mother.  Weeks later, it was reported that Garland had been replaced by Ginger Rogers to star opposite Carol Lynley seen here as Harlow.

This month, I attended a celebrity autograph event in Los Angeles to visit two friends who were giving autographs.  While they were busy, I walked around with another friend and did some celebrity watching.  Carol Lynley, looking pretty in pink, was alone at a table and seemed quite approachable.  My friend, Keith, and I introduced ourselves and I asked Ms. Lynley if she ever got to meet Judy Garland or work with Garland before news broke that the star made famous in top MGM musicals had been replaced.

Carol Lynley smiled and her face lit up.  She and Judy Garland had rehearsed "for three weeks, six days a week."  You got the quick impression that those were three of most memorable weeks of Carol Lynley's film career.  She immediately added that, despite whatever the tone of the reports of Garland's sudden departure were and despite whatever rumors were circulating, there was "...no alcohol, no pills, no craziness" at all in Garland's behavior.  She stressed that the superstar singer/actress was totally professional and Lynley said that Garland did some great work in rehearsal.

Garland, by the way, had just become a teenager and was a newly-signed contract player at MGM in the 1930s when Harlow was a reigning queen of the screen at that same studio.
 Lynley told me that her HARLOW was very low-budget and shot like a TV show.  The movie's story was not shot in sequence and the shoot time for the entire production was relatively short.

As for Judy, this was Garland after her spectacular Carnegie Hall concert success, after her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for 1961's JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and not long after her Sunday night CBS variety series, THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW (1963 to 1964).
In interviews, I've heard a number of celebrities who mentioned how much Judy Garland made them laugh.  Carol Lynley is in that group.  She called Garland "...the funniest person in the world."  She said that Judy was extremely funny.  It was her outlook on life and people that broke Carol up.  Lynley said that Garland's humor was never mean.  It could've have been.  But it never was.
Lynley told me that she was heartbroken when Judy came to her and said that she was leaving the project.  She didn't say why she was leaving but she wanted Carol to hear it from her before getting the news from any other source.  And then Ginger Rogers was playing the role of Jean Harlow's mother.  Carol Lynley said that Ginger Rogers was just fine "...but she wasn't Judy."

The celebrity autograph event in L.A. was a production of HollywoodShow.com.


 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

She Went LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR

Diane Keaton played the dedicated daytime schoolteacher cruising bars for one-night stands.  Richard Gere played the abusive jerk wearing a jockstrap and doing push-ups in her apartment.  This dark and somber look at the "swinging singles" scene in New York City at that time is 1977's LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR.  The movie is in the TCM primetime line-up for Thursday, July 14th.  If you think Diane Keaton only played lovable kooks in Woody Allen screwball comedies, please watch this film.

Ten or more years ago, I wondered if a film critic buddy of mine on local New York City television was aware of Diane Keaton's versatility.

Had he never seen REDS and SHOOT THE MOONBABY BOOM and MARVIN'S ROOMTHE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL and Woody Allen's Ingmar Bergman-esque drama, INTERIORS?  Sometimes, even veteran film critics just don't get it.  I think Best Actress Oscar winner may have been promoting her smooth, mature comedy SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE, co-starring Jack Nicholson, at the time.  Entertainment reporter Neil Rosen, a good guy who's been the weekly movie critic for years on New York 1, the popular local all-news cable station, was interviewing Keaton and remarked that she usually doesn't play "strong women."  My jaw dropped down to the toes of my sneakers.  I blurted "Neil!  You didn't just say that!" standing alone in my apartment as I watched.  Ms. Keaton didn't exactly agree with him either.  She won her Oscar for her delicious performance as the title character in Woody Allen's comedy classic, ANNIE HALL.

I first noticed the lean, lanky actress way back when I was a kid and saw the 1970 comedy LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS.  That movie cast included Bea Arthur, Cloris Leachman, Anne Meara, Gig Young and Diane Keaton's future fellow cast member in THE GODFATHER, stout Richard S. Castellano.  Remember the pop hit The Carpenters had with "For All We Know"?  That tune was written for LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS and won the Oscar for Best Song.

Keaton's Best Actress Oscar nomination for ANNIE HALL was not the only one she received in her film career and ANNIE HALL was not her only film released in 1977.  The other one was not a comedy.  It was dark, discomforting and sexual.
It generated a lot of buzz for the handsome new actor, Richard Gere.
The movie was based on a best-selling novel.  The novel was inspired by a real-life Manhattan murder case.  You'll see another new actor in the fim who became a star in a TV mini-series.

 LeVar Burton hit big with millions of TV viewers in 1977's now classic mini-series, ROOTS.
I read the novel when I was in college and could not put it down.  It was gripping, adult and provocative.  What I could connect to in the tale of Terry, the teacher of special needs kids who walks on the wild side at night, was the emotional barbed wire religion can create when one wants to break free to find and feel one's own life.  She's Catholic.  I'm Catholic.  I understood what that dynamic could do in the family's parent/child relationship.

The much-respected actress Tuesday Weld got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing the teacher's sister.  The Broadway musical star of NO STRINGS and MAN OF LA MANCHA, singer/actor Richard Kiley, is the domineering Catholic father.  LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR was directed by Richard Brooks.


Brooks seemed drawn to stories that had a triangle of love, power and sex with a chill of approaching death in the air.  Look at CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, ELMER GANTRY and IN COLD BLOOD.  That triangle is evident in LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR and, with the Hollywood production code having been kicked to the curb, he didn't have to perform a writer's vasectomy when adapting the source material like he had to do with his 1950s adaptation of Tennessee Williams' CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.

The Thursday, July 14th, primetime line-up on TCM begins with Scorcese's ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE at 8p Eastern/5p Pacific.  That's followed by THE STEPFORD WIVES and then LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR.

This movie proves that Diane Keaton has indeed played "strong women" characters.  Complicated characters.  And she's played them quite well.
(One note from when I saw it in the '70s:  If you see LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, notice the final scenes.  As one who lived in New York City for 20 years, that must've been one unseasonably warm New Year's Eve.  Not a flake of snow on the ground and folks are dressed like it's a December night in San Francisco.  That's just a wardrobe observation of mine.)                                                

After you see this severe Richard Brooks drama with Diane Keaton's compelling performance, you might appreciate Keaton's comedy brilliance in Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL even more.








 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN: Hollywood & Vines

One review I read before the movie opened called it "turgid."  Another unfavorable review wondered who the audience for this new Tarzan adventure would be.  Well, I saw the movie.  I wouldn't call it turgid.  But, during the first 45 minutes, I did also wonder who the audience for it would be.  And then it hit me during the remainder of this film that runs 1 hour and 50 minutes.  THE LEGEND OF TARZAN starring the tall, blond and awesomely ripped Alexander Skarsgard (formerly of TRUE BLOOD on HBO), is Saturday matinee at the movies entertainment -- the kind I would've totally enjoyed when I was in my middle or early high school years.  It's action-packed and beautifully photographed.  The special effects are quite impressive.  Skarsgard is good and good to look it.  This Tarzan adventure, like the one that starred Christopher Lambert as Lord Greystoke back in 1984, take place in the 1800s.  We're now in London over halfway through the 1800s.  That's the time period but this Tarzan has a modern-day attitude.  He says things like "We're screwed."  That's a line Olympic swimming champ-turned-actor Johnny Weissmuller never said when he swang to Hollywood stardom as Tarzan for MGM in the 1930s.  The character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs first hit the big screen during the silent movie era.  He really became famous when Austrian Weissmuller donned a loincloth, did a jungle yell and proceeded to swing on vines as a mode of African transportation.  Skarsgard is a different Tarzan.
He also swings, but he's been repackaged for today's audience and times.  There are echoes of modern diversity issues mixed in with the monkey business.
He's on the big screen but he has a lot more in common, attitude-wise, with the Tarzan we used to see Friday nights on NBC.  Remember Ron Ely as The Ape Man in the 1960s?  He was sort of a Malibu Tarzan.  Diana Ross and The Supremes made a guest appearance as Catholic nuns on that series.
                                                                                        
                                                   
Broadway legend Ethel Merman also made a special guest appearance in a 2-part episode.  Unfortunately for her fans, she didn't do the Tarzan yell.  Here's a photo of Merman taken the day she became Mrs. Ernest Borgnine.  Seriously.
In the popular MGM Tarzan franchise of the 1930s and early '40s, Tarzan and Jane would battle villains who came to the Congo to poach ivory or commit other greedy, abusive crimes.  In this new Hollywood adventure, Lord Greystoke returns to his jungle roots and friends.  He grabs a vine and swings into action to fight systematic racism in the Congo.  Yes, this is not your grandfather's Tarzan.  Jane, played by Margot Robbie, is a spunky mate who speaks the African language and can throw a mean punch if anyone messes with her jungle native friends.  Tarzan's sidekick in this story is Samuel L. Jackson as the real life character, George Washington Williams.  The diamond-hungry villain is played by Christoph Waltz who, again, makes a very good bad guy.
In its comic book way, this Tarzan movie has a "Black Lives Matter" underline to it.  What motivates Greystoke back to the jungle is the abusive colonization by King Leopold of Belgium.  The king wanted diamonds and sought to control the Congo which meant the enslavement of African natives as workers.  This is a historical fact used as a dramatic engine in this action/adventure screenplay.  The "sidekick" character also was a historical figure.  George Washington Williams was a Civil War veteran, a politician, a journalist and a bit of a rogue.  Reportedly, he went to the Congo and was shocked by the suffering he saw caused by King Leopold's colonization.

So...a big question is....Why is this character a sidekick?  With his history, why can't a major studio like Warner Brothers give us Samuel L. Jackson as the star of a George Washington Williams biopic?
 I knew what the intended audience was as I watched Jackson's energetic and entertaining performance.  There's no nudity in this film.  There's no graphic, gory violence. There's no X-rated bad language from Samuel L. Jackson.  He does have the saltiest line in the entire picture -- and that comment is a funny one that refers to a male gorilla's reproductive anatomy.  THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is purposely PG-13.  It's meant to entertain kids and, hopefully, introduce them to a bit of history that they'll be interested enough to research at school, in a library or online.

This film shows respect for the African culture.  We hear the distinctive Tarzan yell that Johnny Weissmuller made famous in the 1930s movies.
It's the yell that Carol Burnett delightfully imitated frequently on her CBS variety series.  But we do not see archaic, embarrassing Hollywood images of natives like there were in Old Hollywood films.  The natives here have a culture, a culture that Tarzan grew up with, learned and respected.  He grew up with, learned from and loved the people.  The same goes for Jane.  He's not their King of the Jungle, not their superior.  He's one of them in this adventure.  And Tarzan can still communicate with animals.  We see black native men who are multi-lingual -- and in danger of becoming slaves.

Again, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is Saturday matinee at the movie fare for the kids that's full of action and has a bit of history that's good for them to know.  And it has a black character played by an Oscar nominated black actor who should play him again in a big screen biopic.




Billy Wilder DVD Double Feature

Fred MacMurray.  Man, there was an actor who deserves more attention than he gets from classic film enthusiasts.  We baby boomers loved him ...