The Movies of Fall 2014

imax theater

We’ve reached the end of yet and as I predicted, Hollywood has begun to back off on some of their bigger gambles in the past in the hopes that it would help boost their returns at the box office.  And in a way, that plan succeeded.  This summer saw films that disappointed, but there was no catastrophic flop this season, such as The Lone Ranger (2013) and Battleship (2012) had been in the last previous summers.  But, with a lesser number of big gambles this summer, we also saw another unfortunate trend, and that was the lack of a runaway hit.  For the first time in years, no movie this summer crossed the $250 million dollar mark by summers end, except for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which just barely made that milestone in this final week.  And considering that by this point in previous summers there had been more than a couple that could reliably reach that point and more, it shows a growing concern that the summer movie season is not generating the same kind of clout that it once did.  That’s not to say that the movies that came out in the summer of 2014 were bad.  In fact, after watching most of them this summer, I actually believe this was one of the most consistently strong seasons we’ve seen in a while.  In particular, movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past, 22 Jump Street, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and especially Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be better than the average blockbuster.  It’s just unfortunate that, other than Guardians, none of their box office numbers made any of them stand out.  One could argue that tepid marketing and a disinterested viewership could be blamed.  That was certainly the case with the exceptional, but under-performing Edge of Tomorrow, a movie that I even misjudged due to it’s lackluster trailer, and it’s one that signifies exactly what went wrong for so many movies this year.

But, now that the summer season has moved behind us, we look forward to the fall months ahead.  These are the movies that could serve as potential Oscar season material, or at the very least, generate some much needed heat at the box office over the holidays.  Some of this fall’s big entries may be more indie driven than in past years, with big names like Spielberg and Scorsese noticeably absent.  We are, however, getting a new epic production from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, whose become a reliable name when it comes to box office success.  There’s also the final chapter in the Hobbit trilogy, the next chapter in the Hunger Games saga, as well as the long delayed follow-up to Dumb and Dumber (1993).  Prestigious directors like David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Bennett Miller, and Paul Thomas Anderson are also prepping their newest films for the fall as well.  Like past previews I’ve done before, I am going to take a look at the upcoming films that will premiere in the months ahead and tell you which ones that I believe will be the must sees, which ones I have worries about, and which ones that are worth skipping.  Of course, I’m purely going on speculation with all of this, based on news of their production and how they are being marketed through their trailers.  So that being said, let’s begin looking at the movies of Fall 2014.



Of course, whenever Christopher Nolan, the director behind the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception (2010), makes a new film it’s going to be an event.  And though many of his films are grand in scope, they always seem to be grounded in a sense of realism that few other directors can replicate so effectively on the same kind of scale. With  Interstellar, Nolan is venturing off into a much different direction; delving further into the realm of sci-fi than he has ever gone before.  The movie is written by his brother Jonathan Nolan, who at one time had Steven Spielberg attached to the script, before he moved on to other projects.  Thankfully Christopher was there to pick it up and judging by the trailer above, it seems like he is really putting all of his talents as a visual storyteller behind it.  The cinematography in these short clips are particularly eye-catching.  And I’m sure that like all of Nolan’s previous movie, this one is going to push the envelope and possibly become yet another movie that sets trends in Hollywood.  Suffice to say, this is the movie I am most looking forward to this fall season.  My hope is that it is good enough to be the movie that finally earns Christopher Nolan that Best Director nomination that he’s always been denied in previous years, and maybe even be good enough to get him the award itself.  It does have the benefit of having recent Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey as it’s lead, as well as a bunch of past award winners like Anne Hathaway and Nolan regular Michael Caine filling out the rest of the stellar cast.  If Interstellar isn’t the best film of the fall season, it will almost certainly be it’s most ambitious.


Another ambitious film for the fall season, this movie marks the end of a grand scale trilogy, as well as the end of one of the most ground-breaking franchises ever.  Time will tell if this is the final adaptation we will see of one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s novels, but this will almost certainly be the last one to be helmed by director Peter Jackson. While The Hobbit trilogy may not be as universally beloved as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, no one can deny that these films feel just as ambitious as their predecessors, and maybe even more so.  I for one have enjoyed every one of the films in this series, and that excitement is certainly making me look forward to this final chapter.  Though there is a lot of excitement to be had, there will also be the sad feeling knowing that this will indeed be the end to an era that has left an impact on movie-goers around the world like me.  But while the movie carries a lot of weight behind it, my hope is that it will stand well enough on it’s own apart from it’s place in the franchise.  The previous film, The Desolation of Smaug (2013) ended on quite a cliffhanger and it will be interesting to see how that carries over and leads to the ultimate conclusion; and how that will all tie into the events we’ve already seen in the Lord of the Rings.  The Hobbit has been a fun yet still engaging series of movies that I do believe compliments Rings very well, and helps to make Tolkein’s Middle Earth feel bigger and more complete.  Sometimes the final chapter is the hardest movie to make, especially when the story is this big and complex, but if Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is any indication, Jackson is hopefully saving the best for last.

BIRDMAN (December 2014)

Looking at an entirely different, but no less ambitious movie, this awards season will include this new, trippy flick from acclaimed Mexican director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (2006’s Babel).  What I find so interesting about this premise is the way it seems to be crafted around it’s main star, Michael Keaton.  The plot is about an aging actor (Keaton) who became famous for playing a popular superhero on film, but is having trouble adjusting his career after leaving that behind; something that the one-time Batman actor probably identifies with.  The film is naturalistic like most of Inarritu’s films, but there are parts where the movie will take wild, imaginative departures into the realms of insanity that the main character is experiencing, and it all looks very fascinating.  What I find most exciting though is the casting of Michael Keaton.   To me, he was one of the best Batman’s ever on the big screen (if not the best) and seeing him use that experience as an inspiration for this character could make this a truly standout role for him.  It would be great to see this movie act as a jumping off point for a whole new phase in Keaton’s career, and help him get some awards attention.  I always felt that he has been a severely underused actor and he’s much more talented than his reputation as the Caped Crusader would have you believe.  Hopefully this is the movie that helps everyone to see that as well.  It certainly helps to have an acclaimed director like Inarritu in charge, and the movie looks like an interesting experiment for him as well.  Hopefully this is one of those indie films that lives up to it’s potential and earns the awards that it’s gearing itself up for.

BOXTROLLS (September 26)

Animated films are popular during the fall season, but rarely do you see one that is not-CGI animated nowadays.  Thanks to the Portland, Oregon based Laika studios, stop motion animation is still thriving, and that’s largely due to the fact that the animators at Laika are churning out films that are not only visually stunning, but are also clever and charming as well.  That has been true with their last two films, Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012), which were both smart and fun, without ever having to make compromises to appeal to a wider audience.  The same looks to be true with their new film The Boxtrolls, which gets it premiere in a few short weeks.  Like it’s predecessors, the movie looks to be just as imaginative and clever as the others, and hopefully it continues the great track record that the company has already maintained.  I for one am happy to see any animated company take risks and try to challenge the audience’s expectations instead of pandering to them.  That’s unfortunately been the case with most animated films from the bigger studios.  Laika seems to work under the mentality that audiences will enjoy their films as long as there is substance behind the style, and that everything is done with sincerity, and not for just the cheap laugh.  Coraline and ParaNorman proved that it was possible, so hopefully Boxtrolls lives up to that same promise.


Unlike the other movies I’ve discussed, this is a movie that has already garnered attention from critics and the film festival circuit for months now.  A winner at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, Foxcatcher is considered an early favorite for the next Oscars.  Time will tell if that proves to be true, but there is no doubt that this movie is certainly one to get excited for.  What’s especially interesting about this movie though is the casting against type of Steve Carell in one of the lead roles.  Based on the notorious DuPont murders, Carell is almost unrecognizable as the manic John du Pont, the millionaire sponsor of an Olympic wrestler (played by Channing Tatum), who he ends up killing in an act of murder-suicide, which is documented in the film.  Director Bennett Miller has already had success around awards time, with Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011) respectively, but Foxcatcher is getting the hottest buzz yet, and it looks like a film that will certainly be awards material come the end of the year; especially for Carell.  My hope is that the movie lives up to the hype and becomes the awards juggernaut that everyone is saying that it will be.  In any case, it will be interesting to see someone like Steve Carrell expand his range as an actor and succeed at it too.  And these true life stories are always fascinating to see dramatized, especially when quality talent is behind it.



Now on the surface, there shouldn’t be anything about this movie that should make me worry.  It’s production values look impressive and it’s got a charismatic star in the lead with Brad Pitt.  So, why do I think this movie may end up disappointing in the end.  My worry is mainly due to the fact that there has been so many other movies that look exactly like this one (Saving Private Ryan comes to mind) and nothing about this trailer makes me believe that it will add anything new to the war movie genre.  I enjoy war films alright, but the ones that stand out to me are the movies that bring something new and interesting to the genre, and not just recycle all of the old cliches that we’ve seen before.  Another Brad Pitt WWII flick managed to do that a few years back; the Quentin Tarantino directed Inglorious Basterds (2009).  This movie, on the other hand, looks to be playing it safe, and feels more like Saving Private Ryan with tanks.  Another area of apprehension is the cast, which apart from Brad Pitt, features some fairly unappealing actors in most of the key roles (Shia LeBeouf, for example).  Of course, that may just be how the film appears in the marketing and the final product may end up being much better.  Let’s hope director David Ayer does deliver a worthy entry to the genre.


Disney Animation is coming off one of their best years in company history, with their last film Frozen (2013) breaking all kinds of box office records.  This fall, we get their follow-up production, which also marks their first adaptation of a property owned by their sister company, Marvel Comics.  Big Hero 6 is a marked departure from the style seen in Frozen, and unfortunately that may work as a disadvantage for this film.  The fact that Frozen was such a huge success may end up overshadowing every film that comes after it, especially this one, given that it’s premiering so soon after.  The same thing brought down Disney Animation in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, as no film in that time could ever match up to the massive success of 1994’s The Lion King.  As of now, there’s nothing about Big Hero 6 that tells me that it end up being as successful as Frozen; but few other films ever will.  The best we can hope for is that Big Hero 6 will still be a charming and fun animated film.  The trailers are already doing a good job of selling the personalities of the characters, as well as the imaginative action bits.  Let’s just hope that the Disney executives expectations are not too high this time around, and that they’ll be satisfied with a box office return that’s still strong, but well below Frozen standards.


Musicals tend to be a popular choice during the holiday season, and this year brings us the first cinematic adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning classic, Into the Woods.  Woods is all about the classic Grimm Brothers fairy tales, but with a darker and more contemporary twist.  Given that the movie is adapting an already beloved musical with a strong fan-base, you would think that there would be a lot of excitement surrounding this film.  Unfortunately, worries have already arisen about the production, leading people to believe that the film’s distributor, Disney, is watering down the darker themes of the musical to make it more appropriate for family audiences.  Also, the marketing is also doing a poor job of selling the movie as well, and leads one to believe that even Disney doesn’t have much faith in the final film.   The fact that they’re trying to sell a musical, and not once in the trailer do you see any of the all-star cast belting out a tune, is a revealing indicator of that worry.  That being said, the cast is impressively assembled (with A-listers like Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp), and award-winning director Rob Marshall has a proven history of adapting musicals successfully to the big screen (2002’s Chicago), so the final product could end up surprising and hopefully gives the classic production the translation it deserves.


On the surface, this one looks like a movie that’s just destined to fall flat on it’s face.  Given that the previous movie was made over 20 years ago, this long delayed sequel could be seen as too little too late.  I for one am cautiously optimistic about the film.  I want to see this movie work, mainly because I still regard the original as a comedy classic, although I do know that not everyone shares that same opinion.  What makes me happy is the fact that this film returns all of the original people involved; the Farrelly Brothers along with stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.  Unfortunately, none of them are anywhere near as relevant as they were since the first movie came out; with maybe the exception of Daniels.  More than likely, this film will not work out well in the end, but then again it could end up surprising us.  Jeff Daniels especially looks like he’s having a blast playing this character once again, and Jim Carrey is certainly at his best when he takes on roles like this.  Also, this film has the benefit of being a true sequel, and not a cheap cash-in like the horrible prequel film Dumb and Dumber: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003), made without Carrey and Daniels, or the Farrelly’s.  Let’s hope that this film is the sequel that was well worth the wait.



Yet another remake of the seemingly ever present Annie musical.  This one is attempting to shake things up by casting African-American actors in the key roles of Annie and ‘Daddy’ Warbucks (Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx respectively) which is actually an admirable and good way to go towards re-imagining the musical for a contemporary audience.  And the main stars are certainly better selected here than how this movie started out in pre-production; as a vanity piece for Will Smith and his daughter Willow.  But the fact that this musical has been done over and over again many times makes this film feel just unnecessary.  Also, like Into the Woods, this movie’s marketing is noticeably de-emphasizing the fact that it’s a musical, which could be an indicator of some of the studio’s worries.  Another warning sign seems to be the very miscast Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan.  She’s very much out of her league in this film, and doesn’t even come close to holding a candle up to Carol Burnett’s performance in the original 1982 film.  There are too many negatives working against this movie to make me believe that it was worth revisiting Annie again, and I doubt that this one is going to leave me surprised in the end.


Ridley Scott is one of the greatest visual directors of our times.  Some of his movies are definite masterpieces (Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator), but unfortunately his recent track record has been a little shoddy.  Exodus looks like another visually stunning entry into his filmography, and some of the set-pieces definitely feel like vintage Scott.  Unfortunately, it also feels like another retread of ground he has already covered in films like Gladiator (2000) and Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and not in a good way.  Also, the awful looking transformation of actor Joel Edgerton into Pharaoh Rameses makes me worry that this movie may end up being unintentionally funny instead of awe-inspiring.  Given that the story of Moses has already been done again many times before on the big screen, my biggest worry is that Scott’s version will feel superfluous and unnecessary, which is an unfortunate fate for such a great visionary filmmaker.  That being said, Christian Bale does seem like ideal casting in the role of Moses and the film does have some beautiful production values.  Unfortunately as of now, it looks like more style than substance.


Now here is the very definition of a movie that serves as nothing more than a cash grab.  After two lackluster, yet inexplicably popular films prior, we are now get a third film in this series that no one seemed to be clammoring for, other than greedy studio executives.  Just watching the trailer, you can see that the film’s star, Ben Stiller, has completely lost interest in this series and is now just phoning it in.  Also, the movie seems to be relying more heavily on cheap slapstick and bodily humor than on anything clever and witty.  And what’s most unfortunate is that this will be one of the final movie roles from the late Robin Williams; thankfully it’s not the last, because I don’t think this is the kind of movie that he would’ve wanted to be his swan song.  Overall, the best I can describe this film as is that it is unnecessary, and it will probably come and go very quickly this holiday season.

So, these are the movies that stand out to me the most this holiday season.   I know that there is another Hunger Games movie scheduled this Fall, but I have to confess, I just don’t care enough about that franchise to want to write about it.  Maybe I’ll review it when it comes out, but after two previous films, I have yet to get on the bandwagon and I doubt one more film will change that.  For now, it’s the big productions this Fall that have me most excited, as well as the smaller films that are generating all the Awards season buzz.  It will be interesting to see which films stand out the most by year’s end, and which ones that may end up surprising.  I for one am eager to visit my local cinema over these next few months and hopefully this season is a standout one compared to years past.

Top Ten Giant Movie Monsters

monster movie

It’s funny how our tastes in movies are sometimes dictated by whatever mood we are in.  Sometimes we gravitate towards thoughtful, provocative and classy pictures, and then other times we just like to see shit blow up in a loud action flick.  The latter of the two is probably the kind of movie that draws more people in, and that’s not necessarily a negative.  Action movies offer a great deal of entertainment value, and sometimes what appears on the surface to be dumb action fun can actually have an intellectual undercurrent to it.  That’s probably why a lot of smart filmmakers out there dabble every now and then in a larger than life action flicks.  Hell, even subversive filmmaker David Lynch had made a loud sci-fi action film called Dune (1984), and many of his fans didn’t see it as a sell-out for him.  I think the reason why action films are such an attractive avenue for film-making is because they offer more opportunities to let the imagination go.  And indeed, this has become true for a whole generation of filmmakers that were weened on B-Movie flicks from yesteryear.  Once a sub-class of filmmaking that was looked down upon by critics and studio execs in Hollywood’s early years has now become mainstream, with big idea filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, and yes even Michael Bay leading the way.  Nowadays big money rules the action genre, and more and more ambitious filmmakers are getting their chance to take these concepts they learned from all of those cheap and campy B-Movies of the 50’s and 60’s, and bring them to their full potential.  And the most common of those B-Movie inspirations that seems to have left an impact on the big screen in recent years is the presence of giant, larger than life monsters wrecking havoc on modern civilization.

A staple of 50’s sci-fi, Giant Monsters have become some of the most beloved cinematic creations in movie history.  Whether created by science, or through magic, or are visitors from another planet, we always seem to love watching these creatures wreck havoc on society.  But, what is it about them that has let them to leave such an impact?  I think it’s due to the overwhelming threat that each of them poses and how humanity is able to deal with it.  Some of these creatures are based off of animals that we are all familiar with in real life, and also ones we know how to deal with if they threaten us.  When that same creature is many times it’s normal size, then the stakes are raised, and humanity’s best laid plans are not quite as effective.  It’s the point where human beings become vulnerable to creatures that are beyond their comprehension that we find most interesting in these movies, and the more creative the creature, the more we are entertained by all the chaos they create.  True, nowadays we have CGI technology to help bring these massive creatures to life, but in the early days, you either had to use puppetry or stop-motion, or a combination of both to bring these iconic creatures to life, or just trick photography.  And if you were making monster movies in Japan, more than likely you would be using a actor in a rubber suit.  But, even with those crude techniques, we saw many unique and varied monsters come to life; anything from giant ants; to giant lizards; to even giant people. What follows is a list that I put together of what I think represents the most iconic of these modern movie monsters, based on the creativity of their design, their impact on the movie, and how well they left an impression on audiences.




This J.J. Abrams produced, Matt Reeves directed movie about a monster attacking New York City could not have been more mysterious when it was due to premiere in early 2008.  The first trailer for the movie didn’t even have a title listed, and when it was revealed to the public that the movie was going to be called Cloverfield, I’m sure that it left people even more confused.  All we knew going in was that something big was wrecking havoc in the middle of NYC and it very well could have been anything.  Thankfully, when the monster was fully revealed nearly half-way through the film, it was actually worth all of the teasing.  The design of the creature is like nothing we’ve ever seen before; sort of a mix of a giant spider with what looked like the enormous appendages of a crippled  horse.  And boy was it big too.  At least over 200 feet in height.  This was truly a monster that not only looked terrifying, but felt like it was indestructible; as if nothing could stand in it’s path of destruction.  The movie also chose to wisely to hold off on showing the creature until it would have the best impact, successfully pulled off with the narrow viewing of a hand-held camera.  Had the monster not worked in Cloverfield, I’m sure the found footage gimmick would have failed, so thankfully for the filmmakers, they created a beast that definitely stood out.




Japanese cinema in the 50’s and 60’s emulated a lot of the same formulas that were popular in the west, and that included many of the B-Movies that were imported overseas.  Not to be outdone, Japanese filmmakers sought to make action movies of their own, and that included taking concepts known in their culture, namely the idea of Kaiju monsters, and bringing them to realm of Sci-fi.  Kaiju literally means “giant monster” in Japanese, so it could be a good term to use for any monster on this list, and indeed it was the Japanese “Kaiju” films that popularized the concept to an international audience.  Many popular monsters came out of this era in film, but one of the standouts was definitely the giant Snapping Turtle known as Gamera.  Unlike many of the other Kaiju monsters, Gamera was not malicious in nature, and indeed, in some of his later films he acted more like a savior to mankind than a threat.  That’s not to say that he wasn’t ferocious.  He had a lot of signature moves, like his fiery spinning attacks, which helped to make him a favorite to audiences worldwide and certainly among on the Japanese culture’s marquee names, along with another on this list.  Because of monsters like Gamera, the Kaiju concept has lived on and left a lasting impact that while still distinctly Japanese in origin, nevertheless has influenced filmmakers all over the world.


flying kaiju


Speaking of filmmakers influenced by Japanese “Kaiju” movies, director Guillermo del Toro put his own spin on the genre when he created his critically-acclaimed action thriller, Pacific Rim.  He went so far as to name the alien creatures in his movie simply Kaiju, clearly stating the overall Japanese influence in his film.  The movie’s plot is pretty straightforward; it’s nothing more than giant monsters fighting giant robots called Jaegers.  But what makes the movie so memorable is just how well that concept is executed.  Many of the numerable fight scenes in the movie features Kaiju monsters that would easily find their way on to this list, most of which were designed by del Toro himself.  But if I were to single out just one, it would be the Winged Kaiju that’s featured in the movie’s most extended and memorable action sequence.  We see the creature attacking the city of Hong Kong and searching high and low for it’s target; specifically the character played by actor Charlie Day.  Once it finally encounters the memorable Jaeger robot named Gipsy Danger, we get what is probably the film’s most pleasing showdown, and it’s a fight that brings out the full potential of del Toro’s imaginative concepts.  This particular Kaiju gets the nod for being the right kind of foe in the best part of the movie, bringing Gipsy Danger to the absolute brink of it’s power, taking the machine even into the outer limits of space.  Luckily they thought to give Gipsy a sword for just such an occasion, which also gives this memorable creature an even more memorable sendoff.




Though a popular staple in many fantastical cinematic adventures, such as Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) or the cult classic Clash of the Titans (1981), the monster known as the Kraken has been present in literature all the way back to ancient Norse mythology.  Essentially a giant squid that is large enough to destroy a ship with it’s mighty tentacles, The Kraken represents a very different kind of monster; one that represents people’s fears of the unknown and what lies deep down in the abyss of the mighty ocean.  Naturally, this makes the Kraken a perfect adversary in stories of Pirate lore as well, and indeed that is how the creature became a part of Disney’s grand scale Pirates of the Caribbean series.  Featured prominently in the second film of the franchise, Dead Man’s Chest (2006), the Kraken is summoned by the film’s villain Davy Jones to destroy any sailing ships they come across, so that Jones can collect the souls that the creature destroys.  What makes this version of the creature so memorable is the absolute ferocity of it’s destruction.  When the Kraken has it first appearance in the film, it is a truly brutal scene, showing that the creature is a force to be reckoned with and perhaps the deadliest predator in the entire ocean.  When it uses it’s two largest tentacles to smash a ship apart, the full scale of the creature becomes apparent, and it was smart on the filmmakers part to not reveal too much of the creature.  By doing so, they left it up to our imaginations to determine what the true scale of this monster was.  Much like the fabled creature that it’s based on, this Kraken is a mighty force that will definitely stick in one’s mind, and probably one of the best things to come out of the Pirates franchise.




Probably the most realistic monster on this list, the shark from Jaws is no less a monumental movie monster in cinematic history.  This beast was the brainchild of famed novelist Peter Benchley, who conceived the idea of a creature from our familiar natural world but with an unnatural ferocity that makes him far more threatening than any other average shark in the ocean.  The shark in this movie is larger and more keen on eating humans than any other of it’s kind, and that’s what makes him so memorable in this story.  Sharks are of course a creature to be feared to begin with, but after this film made it to theaters, there was actually a sharp decrease in oceanside vacationing across the country, because people thought that sharks like the one in Jaws were lying in wait just about everywhere.  This shows the magnitude of just how well Spielberg’s adaptation of Benchley’s novel was.  The shark in question was a mechanical puppet that gave the film’s crew many nightmares during production, which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Because the shark barely worked on set, Spielberg shot around those moments by taking the camera underwater and showing us the world from the shark’s point of view.  By doing this, Spielberg actually heightened the impact once we finally see the full body shark, and it also gave us the unsettling tension of watching what it’s like to see a shark stalking it’s prey from it’s own perspective.  Altogether, it makes this Great White Shark a truly menacing and fear-inducing monster.  He may not be one of the largest creatures on this list, nor one of the most other-worldly, but there is no doubt that he’s still one of the most frightening creatures that has ever been brought to the big screen.


smaug hobbit


Author J.R.R. Tolkein created some of the most imaginative creatures in his Middle Earth novels, as well as some of the most terrifying monsters as well.  When Peter Jackson took upon the adaptations of Tolkein’s work, he sought to use all the best film-making and visual effects tools to bring those same creatures to life.  While there are many monsters that stood out in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that would deserve a place on this list, like the Balrog from The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) or the Mumakils from The Return of the King (2003), the most remarkable creature from Middle Earth that has made it to the big screen is actually from The Hobbit trilogy.  That honor goes to Smaug the Dragon; a truly immense creature that dwarfs all others in these Tolkein universe.   Smaug truly does represent the culmination of everything that Peter Jackson’s production team has learned to date and you can see that fully in how well they made the creature feel both authentic and other-worldly all at the same time.  The way that Smaug moves around in the golden vaults of the Lonely Mountain is animated with such beauty and it displays the fully weight and size of the creature.  Also, Smaug is the only creature on this list that can speak; with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch.  So, not only is Smaug an imposing force physically, but he also has human-like intelligence, which makes him an even more deadly foe.   Truthfully, it was a risky thing to give the character a voice, considering that no such ability was established with any of the other creatures in the Rings and Hobbit movies, but doing so stayed true to Tolkein’s novels and the final result managed to work in the end.


stay puft


Probably the strangest of of the creatures on this list, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is also one of the most imaginative.  The living manifestation of Sumerian god Gozer’s destructive Traveler monster, it takes the form of whatever it’s victim chooses.  Since the Ghostbusters themselves were left to chose the Traveler’s form, they tried to consciously avoid making that choice.  Unfortunately, ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) thought up something that he thought would be harmless when he should have thought of nothing, and low and behold, the Traveler arrived in the form of cuddly corporate icon, Mr. Stay Puft.  The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man really does represent the movie in a nutshell; being altogether hilariously silly and horrifically terrifying at the same time.  Though he may look adorable, make no mistake, he is out to destroy you.  He appears briefly in the film, but still manages to tear up a good portion of Mid-town Manhattan in the meantime.  He even destroys a church, which really gets the Ghostbusters steammed.  What I love best about this particular monster is just how well executed it is.  If you look at the idea on face value in the original script, this should have been the most ridiculous idea for a climax ever in an action comedy, and yet Mr. Stay Puft perfectly fits within the irreverant nature of the whole film.  When he shows up at the end of the movie, it’s a perfect punchline to the whole adventure that the Ghostbusters have been on.  Not only that, but the creature has also become an iconic element of the film, becoming just as popular as some of the main characters.  We may not remember every little detail of the movie itself, but we remember a monster like Stay Puft, which is what all the best monsters do.


t rex


Like in the shark in Jaws, another Spielberg production, the tyrannosaurus is a real life monster from our own naturalistic history; albeit transplanted from a different time and place.  When put into contact with human beings in this movie, the dinosaur does what all great movie monsters do and that’s to become a larger than life threat that cannot be controlled.  Brought back to life through genetic cloning, the T-Rex in the movie is certainly the film’s most iconic creature.  Spielberg cleverly used a variety of techniques to help bring this monster to life, using both animatronic puppetry as well as breakthrough CGI animation.  The end result is a truly spectacular creation that really makes you believe that dinosaurs have come back to life.  Amazingly, those CGI-animated scenes still hold up after 20 years.  But it’s not just the gadgetry behind it’s creation that makes the T-Rex such an iconic monster; it’s also the way he’s used in the film.  The scene where he first makes his escape is one of the most tension filled scenes in movie history.  I’m sure that a lot of people remember every moment of that particular scene, from the the iconic ripple in the water to the moment when the T-Rex eats the man sitting on the toilet.  The T-Rex in Jurassic Park represents a perfect example of taking a wild animal out of it’s element and letting it run wild.  A lot of credit is due to the sound effects team, who gave the T-Rex a truly memorable and terrifying roar.  Though the T-Rex may not be the ultimate foe for the heroes in the movie, and in fact he saves the day by attacking the villainous Raptors, he is still the standout part of the film and one of cinemas greatest giant monsters.




Essentially cinemas first iconic giant movie monster, Kong made an impact not just in the visual effects world when he first debuted in 1932, but also on all film-making in general.  For the first time ever on screen, we saw a visual effect actually give a performance in a movie, and in some cases show more personality than his live action human co-stars.  Everything about the original has become legendary today; his first appearance out of the jungles of Skull Island, his fights with the menacing dinosaurs that also call the island home, and also his unforgettable trek to the top of the Empire State Building.  Kong is without a doubt a groundbreaking character, and justifiably has earned his spot among the greatest movie monsters of all time.  Not surprisingly he has influenced many of the other movie monsters that have come since, like the Japanese Kaiju’s and the creatures that inhabited many of those classic B-Movies of yesteryear.  But, what is most surprising is that unlike many of the other monsters on this list, Kong is not inherently malicious.  In fact, he’s pretty docile for the most part and only attacks humans when provoked; much like how wild animals are in real life.  This was something that was explored more fully in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, where Kong actually acted as a protector to his human companion Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), who in turn grows more sympathetic towards the monster as the film goes on, and slowly begins to see the humanity underneath Kong’s rough exterior.  That’s not to say that Kong isn’t a push-over either.  His fight with a group of blood-thirsty dinosaurs in the remake is particularly brutal and shows just how mighty the giant ape is.  Brought to life by motion-capture from actor Andy Serkis, Peter Jackson’s Kong brings out a lot of the extra personality that was hinted at in the original and does an excellent job of updating the mighty monster to the modern age, while still being respectful to what was there before.




We’ve seen many iconic monsters in the movies over the years; from giant turtles, to giant apes, to even a marshmallow man.  But if there is one that has managed to become the mightiest of them all, it would be Godzilla, the King of Monsters.  Godzilla is without a doubt the most iconic of the Japanese Kaiju monsters, and has enjoyed a long running shelf life in movie theaters that has been going on for 60 years strong.  Starting off with his debut in the 1954 Japanese classic Gojira, Godzilla has gone on to international fame and notoriety.  Even people who have never seen a single movie in the franchise can recognize the spiky tailed creature just by looking at him, showing how strong his cultural impact has been.  He’s appeared in over 20 films to date and has clashed with many other monsters, almost always coming out as the victor.  Hell, he even has gone up against two other monsters on this list in various films; King Kong and Gamera, and even they were no match for the mighty Godzilla.  He earns the top spot on this list mainly because no other monster has had the same kind of over-arching legacy that he has had.  Found in all sorts of different media, from movies to television, and even in animation, Godzilla is without a doubt a cinematic icon.  Although he’s still a firmly Japanese cinematic property, he has managed to become popular enough to get the Hollywood treatment twice; first in the disastrous 1998 Roland Emmerich misfire, and again in the better but still flawed 2014 film.  The good thing about the latter production is that it did right by the monster himself, and when he was allowed to show off his best talents, it was done spectacularly well.  Thankfully, Godzilla’s legacy is still going strong and will continue to cement his reputation as the undisputed King of all Monsters.

So, there is my list for the greatest Giant Monsters in movie history.  Though there are many more noteworthy creatures that could have made the list, these I thought best represented the best of the concept on the big screen.  When you want a memorable display of destruction captured in a movie, you’ve got to have a worthy foe capable of causing the biggest amount of mayhem. And certainly, the bigger the foe, the greater the odds are against our heroes, which helps to make the tension in these action movies all the more exciting.  Sometimes it’s good enough when the mighty beasts are just forces of nature, like the Great White Shark or a T-Rex, but it’s sometimes even more unforgettable when the monster comes from the unknown like Mr. Stay Puft or the ferocious Kaijus.  Even more dangerous is a malicious monster with an intelligent mind, like Smaug.  Overall, these are the creatures that leave an impact on us when we watch a great action movie, and it shows all the many creative ways that filmmakers can make the extraordinary happen.  In the end, that’s what makes it alright to appreciate an over-the-top action thriller, because our imaginations really hit their highest points whenever we dream up the most trying of adversaries.  Not only that, but it’s also just a lot of fun to see big monsters having fun destroying things.  That’s cinema for you.

In Memorium – Remembering Robin Williams and How Hollywood Deals With Tragedy

robin williams

This week brought the passing of one of the most prolific and influential entertainers of the last 30 or so years.  Famed actor and comedian Robin Williams ended his own life in the privacy of his home after a long struggle with his alcoholism and depression; these factors possibly playing a role in his suicide.  What is most shocking about Robin’s death however is that few ever saw this coming.  Mr. Williams was noteworthy for his seemingly effortless ability to make others laugh and do so with unparalleled energy and charisma.  But what this shows now is the fact that even though someone may seem jovial on the outside, they may also be hurting on the inside.  Williams hid that from the world very well, so it’s probably why this tragedy came as such a shock to everyone.  While it is sad to see people in the media like Robin pass so suddenly, it does however illustrate something interesting about how we, the media, and the film industry all respond to tragic events like this.  And this is mostly due to the magnitude of the response that Williams’ passing had on everyone.  I for one can’t remember the last time that a celebrity death hit the public this hard; maybe Michael Jackson being the last recent example.  Not to say that all other celebrity deaths are less worthy of acknowledgement, but there seems to be a select few who end up standing out from the rest.  In Robin Williams case, I believe that it was a variety of factors that made his passing such a big story in the news and social media world this week; namely his lengthy legacy in Hollywood and the shocking nature of his death.  What’s more, it’s interesting how a sudden tragedy like this seems to overshadow everything else, such as the passing this same week of legendary actress Lauren Bacall going almost unnoticed.  All tragedies have their own unique responses, but how they evolve seems to reveal something interesting about the culture we live in.

When it comes to how the public responds to a sudden passing of a famous star, it seems to be almost universally the same.  Of course everyone reacts the same way when learning about someone’s demise; starting off with surprise and then branching into feelings of grief, acceptance, or even relief (if that individual was a bad person, of course).  With Robin Williams, everyone’s first reaction had to have been shock, because it was so sudden.  Social media exploded when the news hit, with people expressing their grief and sharing their condolences in real time, mere hours after the news broke.   It was our way of coming to terms with what we were feeling and sharing that with the people around us.  Strangely enough, celebrity deaths has created something new in our society which is like mass social grieving; people from all over the world uniting for a short period to communally eulogize together a person that we’ve all shared memories of.  And even though this comes sometimes from purely online interactions, it nevertheless helps us to understand just how many lives had been touched by Robin Williams, and I’m sure that his family is quite overwhelmed right now by all of the heartwarming remembrances being shared this whole week.  I’m sure that the most likely way that people dealt with Robin Williams passing this week was to find one of the many movies he made over his career and re-watch it again.  I for one looked up my own favorite clips of the man in action, but it wasn’t any particular film.  Instead, I looked up his stand-up routines from both his earlier and later career, because I felt that these best represented what he was great at, which was his boundless energy and ability to make people laugh, and it felt good to see him doing his very best work there.

Of course, when people are compelled to say something about the recent passing of a famous person in a public forum, it unfortunately also leads to some unfortunate statements whenever someone doesn’t think hard enough about what they are going to say, or don’t show any empathy.  This is complicated when a celebrity dies suddenly either by suicide or by some other unusual act.  We saw that this week with lacking in thought statements like one from Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, who called what Williams did a “cowardly” act, or the Motion Picture Academy tweeting a misguided phrase like “Genie, you’re finally free,” referring to Williams’ famous role in Disney’s Aladdin (1992).   We all have a passionate reaction when it comes to issues like suicide and deaths from substance abuse.  And unfortunately, sometimes those feelings can cloud our judgement when it comes to commenting on a tragic event like this.  I don’t think that anyone intended to say something hurtful about Williams death this week, but it’s obvious that good taste had to be considered when commenting on what happened.

But sometimes when a celebrity dies in such a peculiar way, it unfortunately leads to some unfortunate speculation that has no basis in truth.  This usually happens when an actor dies in an accidental nature, like the case with actor Heath Ledger in 2008.  His accidental overdose on sleep medication led some people to believe that the actor was suffering from depression, with even more speculating that it was the result of his recent work as the Joker in the movie The Dark Knight (2008), believing that it was the role that actually killed him.  None of this speculation has any real proof, and it’s probably results from people wanting to make the actor’s death seem less random than it was, thereby adding some level of intrigue into it.  That’s not only foolish to think, but also disrespectful to the persons memory.  I doubt Heath Ledger would’ve wanted people to think that he died in such a melancholy way when that wasn’t the case at all.  It’s unfortunately a product of our celebrity culture that even when a person dies, it has to be seen as something larger than life just like the person that it happened to, other than viewing it as a result of our own common mortality.

Because Hollywood is such a huge and diverse community, it’s very common for some people to stand out from the others, and that is certainly the case when they meet their demise as well.  Like I stated before, we also lost famed actress Lauren Bacall this week at the ripe old age of 89.  I’m sure that her death didn’t go completely unnoticed this week, as there were still many out there who highlighted her career in the media.  But, news of her passing seemed somewhat muted in light of Robin Williams sudden departure.  Is that because Mrs. Bacall’s worth in the industry was less than Robin’s?  Absolutely not.  I just think it came as less of a shock to many of us given her age and the fact that she went peacefully through natural causes as opposed to Robin.  Robin Williams’ death was unfortunately the story that proved more fascinating, and as a result it dominated the headlines for much longer.  Sadly this happens to many other celebrities who make their final farewells in the midst of another headlining tragedy.  There’s this urban myth in pop culture that “celebrities die in threes”, which is attributed to the common, coincidental occurrence of famous people sometimes passing away in a very short time frame and it’s always three at a time.  Though that wasn’t the case this time with Williams or Bacall, it does illustrate the idea that sometimes the deaths of celebrities overlap, and one or more will be singled out.  There were many others in the entertainment industry who also passed away this week, but Williams and Bacall took precedence because their legacies made them standouts.  The selection of “threes” usually is just the result of us selecting three celebrity deaths that mattered the most of us, and not because they were the only three.  It’s unfortunate that more emphasis is given to a few over others, but it’s a by-product of how the business works.

If you look at what separates the reactions to Robin William’s death with Lauren Bacall’s the most, apart from how they died, it’s the generational reactions to each.  Fewer people today have grown up with Lauren Bacall’s movies in this generation.  More people in my generation grew up with Robin William’s movies, like AladdinHook (1991) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1992), so we feel very attached to him as a performer, seeing as how he was a shared part of our childhood.  Many of us became more aware of Bacall’s films as we got older and discovered her work through classic film studies or through our own fascination of with her long and prosperous legacy in the business.  Nevertheless, their passing affects different generations in different ways, even when both have equally as impressive legacies.  I’m sure that as time goes along, both actors will stand apart and become honored icons in the whole of Hollywood history.  It’s just unfortunate that one becomes more iconic in the moment of their death than the other.  Perhaps that’s the one negative of all the coverage that’s come Robin Williams’ way this week; that it’s been focused more on how he died rather than what he’s left behind.  I’m sure Williams himself would’ve been very happy to see people rediscovering all the things that he did well over the years, but I also don’t think he wanted to be singled out either.  From what I’ve read, it seems like his suicide was an escape from the pain of his depression and not a desperate cry for attention.  Unfortunately, suicide does garner attention, whether or not it was intended, and that’s what has pushed him into the spotlight.  And in an industry like Hollywood where getting attention matters, it has led to this result.  I know that Hollywood attempts to downplay favoritism after a popular entertainer dies (they’ve recently started muting the audience reactions at awards shows during the In Memorium segments), but there are some things that just can’t be avoided.

Then there is the unfortunate circumstance in Hollywood when a celebrity dies with unfinished business.  Due to long gestating projects in development and production, sometimes there will be a case where an actor or filmmaker will die before their work on a movie is done.  Sometimes it’ll happen when a film is nearly complete or has barely started, which makes it easier on the production team to either put the finishing touches on the actor or director’s work, or recast them altogether.  In Robin Williams case, he had thankfully finished all of his films in progress and had yet to begun on the ones that remained on his future slate, making his film appearances complete and without complication.  There have been cases in the past, however, where a film had to work around an incomplete performance, and this leads to some ethical challenges on the filmmakers part.

For instance, on the  set of the movie Gladiator (2000), actor Oliver Reed died of a heart attack shortly before he filmed his final scene.  Not wanting to waste his standout performance, director Ridley Scott found a way to digitally impose Reed’s face onto a stand-in double for the last scene, thereby completing the film with the majority of the actor’s original work still in tact.  No one noticed the difference and saw that as an acceptable alternative.  The same cannot be true for actor Bruce Lee’s final film Game of Death (1978), which was cobbled together from an unfinished movie made before he died, with poorly dubbed dialogue and horrible super-imposed facial replacement on a double used to finish the film, and was purely done to exploit Lee’s name in the years since his death.  But probably the only time that a film actually changed entirely because of an actor’s death was when Heath Ledger died unexpectedly in the middle of shooting director Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009).  Gilliam restructured the film around Ledger’s scenes and made a film that was very different in form than the one he started, thereby still letting the world see the actor’s final work and giving the film a better overall vision; with actors like Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell filling in the remainder of the movie.  Though it rarely occurs, Hollywood has to show good judgement when they work an actors final performance into a film, because it can either look like you’re honoring their memory or exploiting it for profit.

My hope is that even with Robin Williams untimely end, that it won’t cloud the legacy that he left behind.  He had an impressive body of work and it’s easy to see why the outpouring has been so strong for him this week.  While his track record in film wasn’t the most solid (1998’s Patch Adams being a particular blunder), whenever he delivered something good, it proved to be spectacular.  Apart from his slate of family-friendly projects, he was also fantastic in darker and more serious films as well, like 1990’s Awakenings, or 2002’s disturbing One Hour Photo, or Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia (also 2002); and of course the role that won him an Oscar in Good Will Hunting (1997).   Also, just the fact that he was a peerless comedian made him special.  I love how he would also cop to some of his cinematic blunders and admit that they were horrible too (the dreadful 1997 film Father’s Day was one that he loved to slam often).  It just shows how clever and honest he was.  Every celebrity death leaves an impact, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to put more focus on Robin Williams’ death over others.  He touched that many lives and the way he left certainly left a vacant hole in many of our hearts.  I just hope that when people highlight Robin Williams’ legacy this year, that they also remember other like Lauren Bacall, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Eli Wallach, and all the other great Hollywood icons that we’ve recently lost.  Some may have not touched our lives in the same way, but they all contribute something extra to the great tapestry that is the world of Hollywood.  What’s great is that all of them have left behind bodies of work that will enable them to live far beyond their time here on Earth and that is an encouraging thing to think about.  So keep their memories alive by revisiting all their best moments and follow in their example.  Carpe diem.

Evolution of Character – Tarzan

Tarzan Portrait

Around the turn of the 20th century, before cinema became the dominant form of entertainment in our culture, pulp novels and comic strips was where you would find story-tellers presenting grand adventures in far off exotic places.  During this period of time, you would’ve seen a flourish of imagination and invention in print from the minds of great writers like H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle; men who not only dreamed of fantastical worlds here on earth, but also out in the cosmos as well.  But, it wasn’t just these European authors who were crafting these grand adventures for readers around the world.  An American author by the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs was also becoming a popular name in adventure story-telling.  Burroughs was something  of an adventurer himself, having been raised in the American West his whole life, and many of his travels across the wilds of frontier probably had an influence on his writing later on.  When he began his career as a writer, he created two characters that would come to define his body of work and leave a legacy for years to come.  Those characters would be John Carter of Mars and Tarzan, the Ape Man.  Of course, Burroughs publications could not have come at a more opportune time, because just as the John Carter and Tarzan novels were hitting the shelves, movie cinemas were coming into existence and Burrough’s novels provided the perfect material for adaptations.  Strangely enough, it was Tarzan who would make the quick transition to cinema and not John Carter.  Carter had to wait nearly a hundred years for his first trip to the big screen; the disastrous 2012 film from Disney that now stands as one of the biggest flops in film history.  But, while Carter has faded from memory, Tarzan has remained relevant, and continues on to today.

And it’s a wonder given Tarzan’s limitations as a character.  He speaks very little and he stays more or less the same person, although he does learn more as time passes.  Tarzan’s story revolves around the common nature vs. nurture concept, where a human being is raised by apes in the jungles of Africa and grows up to become more animal than man.  What’s more, when he finally encounters other human beings, he reacts to them in ways that go beyond normal human societal interactions, mainly because he’s never learned anything about manners or human boundaries.  All the things that makes a human being function in society is absent in Tarzan, because all he knows are the rules of the jungle.  But even despite this, Burroughs also examines through the character what makes all of us human at our most instinctual levels, which mainly comes through in Tarzan’s curiosity and through his compassionate ability to love, especially when he encounters his beloved companion, Jane Porter.  Without Jane’s interactions in the story, Tarzan would have come across as a feral animalistic character, and by growing the bond between the two, we see an interesting contrast between a Tarzan who was raised in the wild and a Tarzan who has been civilized by society.  Burroughs shows us that society has constructed all humans based upon it’s own standards, but when you take all of that away, you see what really make us all the same down to our core.  We are all curious creatures and compassionate people who do what we can to survive, and it’s only societies expectations that makes us different from one another.  Now, as Tarzan has made it to the big screen, some of those concepts have translated over, thanks in small part to the guiding hand of Burroughs on some films, while others have missed the mark completely.  In this article, I will be looking at some of the notable interpretations of the character on the big screen, and see how well they have translated Burrough’s vine-swinging hero over the years.

tarzan 1918


From it’s first publication in 1912, it didn’t take long for the Tarzan series to make it to the screen.  In 1918, audiences got their first glimpse of the famous character in action.  The role was filled by actor Elmo Lincoln, whose muscular physique probably helped him in getting the part.  Lincoln certainly has the build for the character, although his age proves a little problematic, given that he’s a bit too mature to be playing the more youthful and agile hero.  But, at the same time, the silent production is fairly limited in scope, so Lincoln’s portrayal here perhaps fits more into the design of what the filmmakers had to work with.  He does capture some of that wildness of the character, as well as some of his wide-eyed wonder of the outside world.   But at the same time, the movie’s limited narrative prevents us from ever delving deeper into the character, and I’m sure that much of the intent behind the film was just to bring Tarzan from one fight scene to another.  Still, it proved to be as popular as the novels and Elmo Lincoln would continue playing the character in four more movies, the last being The King of the Jungle (1927).  And Lincoln’s status as cinema’s first Tarzan still is significant considering how long a legacy the character has had in the movies.

tarzan weissmuller


Not long after the silent Tarzan’s did we get our first talky, as well as a new actor donning the loin cloth who would leave an indelible impact on the character for years to come.  Johnny Weissmuller was an Olympic swimmer before he won the part of Tarzan, and no doubt his athletic build played a part in that casting.  The remarkable thing about his performance though is how well Weissmuller fits into the role.  Truly, Weissmuller plays the part of Tarzan so well, that it’s as if he was always meant to be the character.  He’s savage but also sweet and he exudes incredible charm in the role.  Playing perfectly off of his co-star Maureen O’Sullivan (in the role of Jane), Weissmuller brought the character fully to life and more than anything, also managed to be true to Edgar Rice Burrough’s original intent with the character; at least with the first couple films in the series.  When we usually think of the character of Tarzan today, more than likely this is the version of the character that pops into mind, and that’s a good sign of Weissmuller’s legacy as the character.  Weissmuller also added something to the character that was completely original and not from the original text at all; this being Tarzan’s famous yell.  In  addition to being a world-class swimmer, Weissmuller was also known for his ability to yodel, which he somehow managed to work into the film fo the better.  Now, because of Johnny’s contribution, we expect that trademark yell to come from the character in every outing.  Sometimes Weissmuller’s own recordings get recycled when an actor can’t pull off the yell.  Weissmuller would play the character in 12 films over 16 years, which is a feat that is still unmatched to this day.

tarzan lex

LEX BARKER from TARZAN Series (1949-1953)

Not to let their prized franchise go after Johnny Weissmuller called it quits in 1948, parent studio RKO looked to recast the character, and they did with rising actor and war veteran Lex Barker.  Though Lex shares a physique similar to that of Weissmuller, his performance as the character lacks the same charisma.  This is more due to the fact that the filmmakers were running out of ideas for the character on the big screen, and less so to do with Lex’s talents as an actor.  Truthfully, Lex got better as the character as the series went along, but he only ended up making 5 films in the end.  Still, it came at a time when the series was getting campier and more outlandish, putting Tarzan in situations that strayed far from the original novels.  To Lex’s credit, he did keep true to the character by making the physical action scenes intense and believable as well as displaying much of the humanity of Tarzan in the quieter moments.  The Tarzan films continued to be popular during his time, but it was short lived considering that the television era was right around the corner.  Tarzan would make the transition to the small screen as well, but Lex’s time as the character was limited to his big screen appearences.  His time as the character would also mark the last of the classic era Tarzan story-lines, which more or less stayed consistent over the years in that classical Hollywood sense.  The adaptations that followed would stray off in very different directions and would also be reflective of the eras that they were made.

tarzan mike henry

MIKE HENRY from the TARZAN Series (1966-1968)

Made after several lesser adaptations for TV and film, the next big attempt at adapting the character came in the late 60’s, with muscular action star Mike Henry in the role.  This is a considerably different kind of Tarzan, played more as a lustful strongman rather than the playful jungle crusader that Weissmuller and Barker portrayed him as.  Henry’s performance also strangely gives him a full vocabulary, which is a departure from the “Me Tarzan, You Jane” days of the character.  This is probably because of the campy style that the filmmakers were trying to go for.  Here, Tarzan’s more Superman than Ape Man, defending the jungle as it’s savior.  Unfortunately, Mike Henry’s talents as an actor are limited and he’s more or less there to fill the image of the character rather than give it any depth.  The trio of film’s that Mike Henry starred in definitely have a campy 60’s feel to them, and you can imagine many of these same kinds of story-lines playing out on a weekly TV series as well.  The production values of the movie also reflect a time where filmmakers were starting to move away from the studio system and were doing things their own way.  The best thing you can say about these 60’s Tarzan movies is that they brought the series out into the wild.  Most scenes were actually filmed out in a real jungle and not on a soundstage, which does help to make it feel more genuine.   If only that same care was given to making the character feel more authentic.

tarzan bo


Considering the 1970’s were a period of free expression and sexual awakening, it seems natural that a film centered around Tarzan would be reflective of that.  Probably the only film in this retrospective to focus solely on the relationship between Tarzan and Jane, Tarzan, The Ape Man is also by far the most sexually explicit.  What’s interesting is that this is a film told from Jane’s point of view, which gives us an interesting look into how someone from the modern world observes and reacts to a being like Tarzan.  Of course, due to the nature of this movie, Tarzan is mostly observed by Jane (Bo Derek) as an object of desire.  The film is not pornographic, but it definitely doesn’t shy away from the subject matter either.  There are plenty of scenes in this movie that are meant to titillate the audience, but strangely enough they actually work within this film.  Miles O’Keeffe does bring the character back to his more primitive roots and as a result makes the character of Tarzan more likable.  Observed through Jane’s perspective, we come to understand why she sees this strange being as someone who should be loved rather than feared.  The production of the film also backs up the erotic nature of the film, by capturing the lavishness of the jungle setting.  The film does deliver on it’s R-rated promise of a mature retelling of Burrough’s original story.  Not only that, but it also gives us a Tarzan who looks and acts the part closer than what had been done before.  If only the film captured more of what the character was about that what he represents, which in this film is more or less a sexual object.

tarzan greystoke


As blockbuster and prestige film-making began to become more prevalent in the 1980’s, many filmmakers started to look for older properties that would be worthy of an update for modern audiences.  And while Tarzan never really disappeared over the years, director Hugh Hudson saw something untapped in the character’s back-story that he thought would be worthy of adaptation.  In Greystoke, we look more into Tarzan’s origins, and how he became who he is.   Taking the cue from Burrough’s own novels, we learn that Tarzan is actually a descendant of one of England’s most affluent and influential families, and his disappearance was the result of him being the only survivor of a shipwreck off the African coast.  Long thought dead, Tarzan grew up raised by a pack of gorillas and has learned to live as one of them for all the years since.  An expedition that includes Jane Porter (Andie McDowell) finds him in the wild and they attempt to bring him back to England and civilize him so that he can claim the inheritance that he’s due; a task that proves to be more difficult than they realize.  The great thing about this film is that it’s the first really earnest attempt to capture the spirit of the original novels, rather than exploiting it for entertainment purposes.  Lambert looks the part and tries his best to capture the spirit of the character.  Unfortunately, despite it’s lavish production values, the movie does drag quite a bit, especially when the focus is off of the main character.  Still, Lambert does make Tarzan an interesting character here and the film is a gorgeous production that while not very exciting, is still the most interesting movie in the series thus far.

tarzan disney


It may seem unusual for Disney animation to take a chance on adding the King of the Jungle to their roster of characters, but when you see the way Tarzan swings effortlessly through the trees in this film, you can understand why they did it.  Indeed, Tarzan may have always been destined to be an animated character, because only in that format can you capture his true agility in his natural environment.  Disney Animation developed a whole new computer generated technique called Deep Canvas, which enabled the hand-drawn Tarzan to fly freely through CG-animated and painted backgrounds in a truly spectacular way.  But apart from the artistic achievements of the film, the movie also manages to make a memorable Tarzan as well.  Actor Tony Goldwyn does an effective job of voicing the character, being both funny and heartfelt, without ever feeling false.  He especially captures the playfulness of the character in his vocal performance, and makes Tarzan feel consistent throughout, whether he is speaking to the the human characters or to the apes.  The fact that the apes can talk back in this film is another benefit to having an animated Tarzan.  Disney’s Tarzan also pays tribute to past versions, with the famous Weissmuller yell featured prominently in this film.  Time will tell how this one stands up against other classic versions of the character, but there’s no doubt that Disney’s take on the character is certainly one of the finest.

Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic character has certainly left a strong impression over the years, and I’m sure that he will continue to be around for a long time to come.  The interesting thing is that Tarzan can be perfectly molded into any time period that you want to put him in.  While the classic versions, as well as the Disney and Greystoke adaptations, set their story-lines in the same Victorian era that the books were written in, there are others like the 1981 Tarzan that brings the character up to the modern day.  Likewise, a new animated film from Germany is currently playing in limited release right now and it too has also brought the character into a contemporary setting.  The reason why Tarzan seems so adaptable to different time periods is probably because of the timeless nature of his story.  Indeed, the concept of someone growing up in the wild is not too outlandish.  We’ve heard about many cases of feral children being found in the wilderness over the years, so the idea of a man raised by apes can seem logical, albeit still purely in the realm of fiction.  What I see from all of his cinematic interpretations is a heroic character that feels believable while at the same time extraordinary.  And Tarzan is certainly at his best when the movies stay true to what Edgar Rice Burrough’s intended for the character.  My hope is that many filmmakers take that idea to heart and keep the Ape Man swinging for many years to come.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Review


The Marvel Comics’ cinematic universe has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, and with the new Guardians of the Galaxy opening this weekend, it is hitting celestial heights.  But what is most remarkable about what Marvel has done is that while everything works as a whole, each new film can stand on it’s own as self-contained story.  There’s no need to have seen every other Marvel movie to date to enjoy each movie; except for maybe the Avengers films, which ties everything together.  What’s definitely become apparent is that Marvel, as well as parent studio Disney, have taken their success and made work towards the benefit of these franchises.  As these films have become more and more grandiose, it has reflected back in huge box office numbers, and it has led the studios to invest more and more into every follow-up.  Starting off with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (2008), we’ve seen the Marvel Universe grow to include films for The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011); working together to establish their individual heroes with plans to team them all up for the big crossover that was The Avengers (2012).  These origin films, along with Iron Man 2, marked the Phase 1 stage of Marvel’s ambitious “Avenger Initiative”, and in the last two years we’ve seen the fruition of Phase 2, leading up to next years Avengers sequel: Age of Ultron (2015).  It started off with the established characters, with the disappointing Iron Man 3 (2013), followed by the much better Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).  This week, however, brings us probably the biggest gamble of Marvel’s Phase 2, with a set of all new characters in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians has had a varied and complex history that makes it quite an unusual choice for such a prominent place in the Marvel universe.  The Guardians made their first appearance in print around 1969, but that original team of superheroes doesn’t matter so much here, because none of them are used in the movie.  Instead, Marvel chose to adapt from the 2008 reboot of the team in the comics.  This modern team is made up of a human space scavenger named Star-Lord (aka Peter Quill) and his rag-tag team that includes an assassin named Gamora, a ruthless maniac named Drax the Destroyer, a gun-totting foul-mouthed raccoon named Rocket, and a giant plant monster named Groot.  The reason why this specific team was chosen over the other classic team is probably because they have far many more connections with the current Marvel universe, and are probably being set up for future involvement in the Avengers franchise.  And indeed, some of the plot does revolve around elements that exist within other Marvel films, but not enough to make the film reference heavy.  Indeed, this is without a doubt the right group of characters to center a franchise on.  But, even still, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t as widely read as some of Marvel’s other big names, so investing a lot of money into a film with an unproven brand is certainly a gamble on Marvel’s part.  In addition, you’ve got a film that’s built around an ensemble rather than a key central character, which makes it even harder to sell to a larger audience, especially when some of those characters are still fairly new and unknown (only Star-Lord has been around for longer than a decade, and he’s only appeared briefly since his debut in 1976).   And yet, it was a gamble Marvel was willing to make and it appears to be one that has produced some incredible dividends for the studio.

The plot is fairly straight-forward, which is good given the complexity of the universe that it exists in.  Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) steals an artifact from an abandoned sanctuary and hopes to sell it for a handsome reward.  Unfortunately, he soon learns that the artifact he stole belonged to a crazed alien overlord named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who had designs on using the artifact to accomplish his evil goals of world destruction.   What’s more, Ronan is also working in league with the mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), a key villain in the whole Marvel cinematic universe.  Thanos sends one of his daughters, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to capture Star-Lord and retrieve the artifact, but she has plans of her own to undermine both Thanos and Ronan.  Gamora finds Star-Lord, but is thwarted when two bounty hunters, Rocket and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively), get to him first.  The four of them are imprisoned deep in a maximum security pen deep in space, and only manage to break out thanks to the help of the super strong mercenary Drax (Dave Bautista), who has his own bone to pick with Ronan.  The reluctant team of outlaws use all of their best skills to work together and soon they discover what lies within the mystical artifact, and what both Ronan and Thanos want to do with it.  What follows is a harrowing adventure through the cosmos with encounters from many strange and bizarre characters along the way, like Star-Lord’s fellow artifact hunter Yondu (Michael Rooker)and the very eccentric Collecter (Benicio del Toro).

It’s pretty safe to say that the movie is very jammed packed with characters.  I didn’t even mention that some of the roles are also played by notable actors like Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, and even Glenn Close.  But, what is even more amazing is how well everything works together.  In it’s whole 2 hour running time, I don’t think that a single frame of film was wasted on anything that didn’t need to be there.  It’s a real testament to the talents of director James Gunn, who managed to pull off a huge, complex production like this and make it feel effortless.  In many ways, I think that this movie is actually the best example of Marvel’s house style at work.  It’s adventurous, but done with a sincere sense of humor that helps to give the whole thing a very comic book feel.  This contrasts sharply with DC and Warner’s more hard-edged and darker superhero movies like The Dark Knight (2008) and Man of Steel (2013), which is a good thing.  Marvel has perfected their style over several films now, and Guardians is the culmination of all that hard work.  It’s fresh, funny, but also knows when to drive home the action-packed moments.  In many ways, I actually think that this movie has a lot more in common with the Avengers films than any of the other standalone films in the Marvel canon.  Instead of relying on a central hero, Guardians devotes it’s story towards building a team of misfits, all who work well off of each other.  That team dynamic helps to boost the fun factor of the movie, and like The Avengers, it’s a helluva lot of fun watching these characters bouncing off of one another.

Probably the film’s biggest strength is the absolutely outstanding cast.  The Guardians themselves could not have been better selected in their roles, and each actor should be highly commended.  First of all, Chris Pratt absolutely nails the charisma and humanity of Star-Lord.  It’s the kind of role that will turn him into an A-List star overnight, and I have no doubt that this will happen after audiences see this movie.  And he manages to carry forward the heart of the film without ever outshining his equally adept co-stars.  Zoe Saldana is no stranger to ambitious space operas (Avatar and Star Trek), but she manages to show us even more sides to her talents as a performer with her role as Gamora; another in a growing group of strong, female heroes in the Marvel canon.  Dave Bautista gives surprising depth to the character Drax, making him both intimidating and lovable, all at the same time.  Drax’s failed attempts at eloquence are especially hilarious to watch and are perfectly delivered by Bautista.  And then there are the two CGI-animated team members; both of whom are fully-realized by the effects team and by the actors voicing them.  Bradley Cooper is almost un-recognizable as Rocket, but his work here perfectly matches the personality of the spunky raccoon.   I’m sure Rocket will be a fan-favorite for most of the audience, since he gets most of the best lines, and Cooper actually manages to bring out a lot of humanity in his performance.  And then we have Vin Diesel as Groot.  It really is remarkable how one actor can give such an indelible performance with a character who can only say three words: “I am Groot.”  But then again, he managed to do the same thing with the limited vocabulary of the titular character in The Iron Giant (1999), so as a result, he is perfectly cast here as well.  And considering the limitations that the character presented for the cast and crew, Groot may very well be the film’s greatest triumph.

If there is anything that is underwhelming in the movie at all, it could be the villainous characters.  None of them are bad per say, but neither do they carry the same weight that the main heroes do.  Lee Pace’s Ronan is pretty stock as far as comic book villains go, but he does manage to still make him an intimidating foe.  The look of Ronan is also unique and overall, he still does work as a central villain in the film.  We also finally see a full-bodied Thanos in this movie (after he was teased in the closing credits of The Avengers), but his time on-screen is unfortunately short-lived, and I wonder if it would’ve been better if Marvel had held off showing him for a bit longer.  Ronan’s accomplices unfortunately are given little to do, and in the end seem wasted as characters, particularly in the case of Djimon Hounsou’s role.  But, thankfully, these are minor character problems in a film that works surprisingly well as an ensemble.   Michael Rooker (of Walking Dead fame), in particular steals nearly every scene he is in as the tough-as-nails Yondu.  And Benicio del Toro is very welcome here as The Collector; a character that I’m sure will affect the Marvel universe in big ways in future installments.  Also, John C. Reilly and Glen Close fill their brief roles surprisingly well as part of the Nova Corps that fights Ronan alongside the Guardians.   And what I like best about the cast in this movie is that each of them is allowed enough time to make an impression on the audience without disrupting the momentum of the plot.  Every character gets their moment and by the end of the film, we are fully invested in each of the character’s story arcs.  Usually a superhero movie puts all the focus onto it’s main protagonist, but here we benefit from a story that spreads the wealth around.

In addition to the stellar cast, we also get a movie that is stunningly beautiful to look at.  A lot of praise should go to the production team that created a space adventure that feels unique and of it’s own universe.  Again, this movie is a Marvel film stylistically, but you don’t have to have seen any of the other films or have read any of the comics to feel fully immersed into what’s on display here.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this film becomes hailed as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time in the future; taking a place alongside Star Wars (1977) and Avatar (2009), because it certainly shares it’s sense of scale with those particular films.  Director Gunn manages to give us just enough eye-candy on display without getting us overwhelmed, and every new world feels unique and real.  Contrast this with Michael Bay and his Transformers movies, which seem to believe that every second on screen should be taken up with CGI wizardry and mayhem, as opposed to letting the atmosphere build.  Indeed, Gunn is going for more of a lived in universe, like what Star Wars presented, where every world is unique, along with all of it’s inhabitants.  Little things like the way Star-Lord’s ship sails through the cosmos or how Groot smiles at the audiences goes a long way towards giving this movie a personality, and it makes it all endearing to fans.  The cinematography also gives this movie a grand, epic feel, but still with enough restraint to let us know what is going on.  And also there’s the excellent soundtrack throughout.  The epic score is provided by composer Tyler Bates, but what I’m sure most people will remember is the collection of classic tunes from the rocking 70’s that punctuates several scenes.  Not only do they contribute to the personality of the film itself, but they are actually integral to the story as well, and I’m sure that many people who see this movie will be walking out of the theater humming a couple of them by the end.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is an absolute triumph, and a perfect representation of how to do a comic book adaptation right.  What Marvel should be especially proud of is the fact that they took one of their more obscure titles and managed to make a movie worthy of the brand name that stands up against any of their other blockbusters.  The larger, non-comic book reading public audience may not have known about the Guardians before, but they certainly will now.  I for one had never heard of the characters until this movie was announced.  Now I am eagerly awaiting to see what is next for Star-Lord and his team.  And indeed, you can enjoy this movie either as part of the larger Marvel “master plan” or as it’s own self-contained story, and still get the same out of it.   This is largely thanks to an exceptional cast doing their absolute best work coupled with an excellent production that utilized the best minds in both visual design and construction.  This film, all together, proudly shows off what is best about the Marvel house style and as it exists as probably Marvel’s best stand-alone film to date; only the more ground-breaking and ambitious Avengers stands above it.  This movie is certainly one of this summer’s best films; if not the best.  Just keep in mind, if you’re looking forward to any tie-in with next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, you won’t find it here.  The movie more-or-less stays within it’s own self-contained world and does not try to tease the next film in line like some of the other Marvel movies do; although there is a hilarious stinger at the end of the credits that I won’t spoil for you, but it’s still worth sitting through to see for yourself.   Hopefully I have removed any doubt for many of you about seeing this movie with this review.  It is absolutely worth watching, on the biggest possible screen if you can, and it represents all the best things about the Marvel cinematic universe that we’ve seen up to now.


Rating: 9/10