The Legend of Tarzan (Cinema Review)

12A – 108mins – 2016 – 3D


 

THE SPIRIT OF THE TREES

Before his imminent return to the wizarding world with November’s Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, director David Yates looks to older literary inspiration in bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Victorian ape-man back to the big screen for his umpteenth reimagining.

What makes The Legend of Tarzan unique, however, is that rather than again retelling John Clayton III’s (Alexander Skarsgård) oft-told origin story, we instead join up with Lord Greystroke eight years after he has returned to England with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), with crucial flashbacks to his formative years in the jungle integrated into this sort-of sequel.

Christoph Waltz, who I must confess I have never warmed to as an actor, returns to his moustache-twirling devious antagonist comfort zone as Captain Léon Rom, the corrupt envoy for Belgium’s debt-ridden King Leopold II. Rom devises a sinister scheme to lure the renowned Tarzan back to Boma in the Congo jungle, capture him and delivery him to an old enemy for a bounty of diamonds to save his dire government from bankruptcy.

Waltz’s Hateful Eight co-star Samuel L. Jackson plays second fiddle to the titular shirt-shy star as sharp-shooting American envoy George Washington Williams, who accompanies Tarzan and Jane on their overseas expedition, and aids in the rescue of Jane when Rom sees the sinister opportunity to lure his prey out of hiding with some wife-shaped bait.

Sumptuously imagined in a similar CG-heavy approach to Disney’s recent The Jungle Book reboot, this vine-swinging wild ride seems to have been somewhat lost in the wilderness of blockbuster season, receiving a trough of middling reviews where John Favreau’s uncanny Mowgli remake was lauded for its technical wizardry. Sure, the occasional shot is noticeably green screened, but there is far more to make you go “ooo!” than “ergh!” here.

The pacing isn’t perfect, with the grand riverboat finale reached prematurely, despite the action bobbing along nicely up to that point, but the film’s only major misstep is in expecting us to invest in little-seen African tribal leader Chief Mbonga’s (Djimon Air Hounsou) passion for revenge against the film’s hero – despite Tarzan’s earlier murder of his son only being briefly alluded to and never visualised.

Otherwise, I see no reason to lambast screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer for their vision, which is as bestial, exotic and adventurous as a Tarzan story can be. Sadly, I fear this Legend going the same way as Disney’s doomed adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ other shaggy-haired literary property, John Carter, which flopped for no discernible reason in 2012.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

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Tuck Everlasting (DVD Review)

PG – 90mins – 2003


 

I WANT TO LOVE FOREVER

From Jay Russell, the director of My Dog Skip (2000), comes this sweet but conservative family-friendly fable about the romance which blossoms between an immortal son (Jesse Jackson) and the upper class socialite (Alexis Gilmore Girls Bledel) who discovers his family’s long-hidden secret.

Set in 1914 and largely based in a timeless woodland homestead, Tuck Everlasting’s unpretentious plot is undeniably charming and chock-full of rose-tinted awe, but ultimately this A-to-B adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s beloved children’s book doesn’t play around with its magic-infused, era-spanning narrative enough.

Ben Kingsley is sufficiently stuffed with smarm as an enigmatic yellow-suited profiteer of the Tuck’s blessing/curse, but his menace – and the ramifications of his fate – are dulled down for a Disney demographic. So too is the fact that baby-faced Bledel’s protagonist Winnie is kidnapped by William Hurt’s age-defying brood in order to hold her tongue from babbling about their magical spring of youth.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

In the Heart of the Sea (DVD Review)

12 – 117mins – 2015


 

THE ONLY WHALER IS ESSEX

“How does a man come to know the unknowable?”

The answer to that question is to hound another man until he eventually relents and spills his darkest secret. This is the questionable journalistic technique Moby-Dick author Herman Melville (here portrayed by Ben Whishaw) employed to gain insightful knowledge on a nautical nightmare from haunted former Essex cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who survived a whale attack – and 90 days thereafter stranded at sea – between 1820-1.

“The courage to go where one does not want to go.”

Based upon Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 non-fiction biographical book of the same name, Ron Howard’s sumptuous maritime epic recounts the “cursed” whaleship’s woes, from their departure from Halifax dock to their sanity-straining post-disaster survival ordeal.

“Going fishing, are we?”

Benjamin Walker plays the Essex’s inexperienced-but-well heeled captain, George Pollard, who shares a fraught relationship with his “landsman” first mate, Owen Chase (Chris “The Huntsman” Hemsworth). Incompetent and fearful of being belittled by a lower rank – and class – Pollard blames Chase for the listing and eventual capsizing of their flame-engulfed vessel, dividing the crew when they must unite to stay alive on the Atlantic Ocean aboard mere rowboats.

There is a darkly humorous irony that the men who happily harpooned, gutted and physically crawled inside the head of a bull sperm whale in order to take home 2,000 barrels of whale oil, later find an albino of the same species getting inside their heads – albeit metaphorically – so convinced are they that the ”vengeful” whale is following them. If Jaws: The Revenge was set a century earlier…

“Where knowledge ended, speculation began…”

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard coats the screen in an aquatic grey/green sheen, delivering the requisite grit and grime of a less refined age, but overlaid with a misty-eyed gloss which distances the audience from the tension of immediacy. I can only presume that this often dizzying, foggy lens was a stylistic choice due to Thomas Nickerson’s storytelling aspect of the narrative.

Nevertheless, the portrayal of the giant “white devil” and the damage this majestic sea-beast bestows upon the ship and crew is breathtakingly realised, even if all along you know at least one member of the crew survives to tell Melville this inspirational story. As hunger and desperation overtake morality, the remaining crewmen have to make an unthinkable decision – and while this is implied rather than depicted (as it was in the BBC’s 2013 Martin Sheen-starring adaptation of the same book), their desperation is palpable, as is the castaway’s relief upon returning home to Nantucket after such a harrowing living hell on high water.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

Bill (DVD Review)

PG – 90mins – 2015


 

THE COMEDY OF PRETENDERS

TV’s troupe of Horrible Histor-ians bring their irreverent-but-informative interpretations of the past to the big screen in this bard-y hilarious fictionalised take on William Shakespeare’s big break onto the sixteenth century showbiz scene, co-written and directed by Richard Bracewell.

The Wrong Mans’ Matthew Baynton plays the world’s most renowned playwright as a fame-hungry, marginally deluded young man of many talents but master of none (yet). Kicked out of his band, “Mortal Coil”, after one too many spotlight-stealing lute solos, Bill sets off to London in search of fame and fortune as a writer, leaving his wife (Martha Howe-Douglas) and kids behind in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

“Bill, you’re not a writer… it’s just another fad!”

Unbeknownst to the hapless Bill, who is overjoyed when the Earl of Croydon (Simon Top Coppers Farnaby) offers to put on his play as the centrepiece of a royal summit, he is actually aiding an assassination plot on Queen Elizabeth (Helen McCrory) by the Spanish King, Philip II (Ben Willbond), who wants the English throne for himself.

“[Writing a play] is just talking, but written down… this is easy!”

Bringing an exuberance to the script, there is an added theatricality in having the CBBC comedians perform multiple roles (“One man in his time plays many parts”). Bill often feels like a bunch of bantering mates playing dress up and having a riot doing it, irrespective of whether the audience laugh or not. Fortunately we do – and often – for the often frivolous humour is actually astutely clever, combining observational comedy, repeated callbacks and witty word play with farce at a sketch-like pace.

“Just a salad that needs addressing

From anachronistic off-hand comments about cameos and customs officers to musical numbers, lute-backed writing montages, “your mum” jokes and even Star Wars references, Bill offers something for everyone in the family to chuckle at. Mild innuendo and mentions of prostitutes and whores shocked me (this is a PG aimed at a young audience, after all), but it is relevant to the time period and never crude or unnecessarily explicit. Plus, parents will feel catered for.

By its very nature of being a period piece variety show, Bill will inevitably draw comparisons to Monty Python – and with scenes involving Trojan horses, coconuts and “Bring out your dead!” carts, you can’t help but feel like they are dothing their caps to their comedic predecessors. Such ostentatious bravery is to be commended, for this self-aware, tongue-in-cheek but respectful alternative history lesson makes what could be a dense and dull scholarly subject into an accessible piece of first-rate entertainment – and we could always do with more of that.

Encore!

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars