Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jungle Girl (1941)

The 1941 cliffhanger serial Jungle Girl is one of the best serials ever made.

It's got everything.  Evil identical twins?  Check.  Booby-Trap filled Diamond Mines?  Check.  An evil Witch Doctor?  Check.  Human Sacrifice?  Check.  Guy in a Gorilla costume?  Check.  A pretty Heroine who swings around on vines?  You betcha.

This was my first serial.  Sort of.

I had heard the term cliffhanger before.  Read that they inspired Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  But I had no idea what they were.  Reading a Flash Gordon comic by Al Williamson, I read that one of his greatest influences was something called "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe."  I decided to look it up on Youtube.  Turns out it wasn't a movie, but an early example of a mini series.  It didn't hold my interest.  I was new to the whole retro thing.

But something called "Jungle Girl" appeared on my "Recommended for you."  I decided to check it out.

Youtube only had chapters 1, 9, and 10.  ("Chapter" is cliffhanger speak for "Episode")
The ending of chapter 9 had me hooked.  Our three daring heroes were trapped in a tiny chamber by the evil witch doctor, who had pulled a secret lever, and now the floor was disappearing into the wall, and a gaping pit was opening under the feet of our imperiled protagonists...

Chapter 10 ended with our heroine, Nyoka, caught snooping around the bad guy's hideout.  She's left tied to a pole, just as the guy-in-the-gorilla-costume escapes from his cage.  He is coming towards her, intent on tearing the flesh from her bones (That's what guys in gorilla costumes do. Everybody knows that).

And then it just cut off!  Not only was I thrown into the middle, but I had no idea what would happen next!  As I was pretty green when it came to serials, I didn't know everything would turn out okay.

I became pretty obsessed by serials after that.  I watched every one I could find.  I don't know if that would have happened if Jungle Girl hadn't left me cliffhung.

Eventually I tracked down Jungle Girl on DVD.  Sort of.  My copy was defective.  The first 10 chapters played fine.  11 through 15 were missing.  I went through 3 DVDs before I found out how Nyoka escaped from the guy in the gorilla suit!

It was worth all the effort and frustration in the end.  Jungle Girl is one of the best serials out there.  Really solid story telling you won't find in other serials.

For example, in an early chapter, Nyoka, Jack, and Curly are trapped in an oil swamp.  The natives are chasing them and throwing flame tipped spears.  The oil catches fire and our gang is cut off from the shore.  How will they ever escape?  Find out at this theater next week!

Later on, the bad guys sweet talk the natives into stealing the fuel for the heroes airplane so they can't leave the valley.  Our heroes catch the natives in the act, and pursue.  They have a showdown at the cliffs, and in the fight, the cans of fuel catch fire and explode!  Avalanche!

So our heroes decide to refine the oil from the swamp, and build a refinery using bamboo and coconuts.    After a showdown in the refinery, Nyoka is in peril again, as she hangs above a vat of the boiling oil...

That one plot thread effectively keeps Nyoka and the Gang from leaving the valley, and leads to at least 3 chapter endings.  It's rare that you see that much foresight and planning in a serial!

People who complain about a lack of good action roles for women in Golden Age Hollywood really should watch some of these old cliffhangers.  Yes, by technical definition Nyoka is a "Damsel in Distress."  But more often than not, she's the one leading the action.  And in a good serial every main character spends some time in peril.  Jack is also a "damsel" in several chapters.  Even comic relief Curly spends some time in jeopardy.  And Kimbu-the-Annoying-Jungle-Kid is a total damsel in distress.

Use of a child actor is one of the weak points of this serial.  The other weakness is the way Shamba the Witch Doctor is forgotten towards the end of the serial.

Every chapter ending involving the Diamond Temple is terrific.  The first chapter has a flooding tunnel that is visually mirrored in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'.  There is a big sacrificial alter it the shape of a lion's head.  The victim is strapped down to the lion's moving jaw and then lifted up to the roaring flames.  There's a big bamboo-and-coconut conveyor belt that leads to a big rock crusher that the natives use to mine the diamonds.

I get a kick out of the way, if our heroes need to sneak into the back entrance of the mines, they lower a vine from the cliff-top and climb down to a secret tunnel.  They toss the same vine down several times over the course of the Chapter-play.  What I want to know is, who's the Joker who keeps putting the vine back where it was?

Overall, this is a great serial.  Likable, if sometimes a bit wooden, characters.  Great chapter endings.  A story that holds together really well.

If you like Indiana Jones, Tarzan, or King Solomon's Mines, give this a watch.  It should be right up your alley.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I was not exited when I first heard about this movie.

My initial reaction was: Do we really need more Star Wars?

Personally I see the original Star Wars trilogy as a self contained story.  The prequels don't really add anything.  Also, at the end of the day, they are rather disappointing.  So, from my point of view Star Wars was over.  There was no further need to explore the world.  Let's move on to new science fiction worlds.  How about another Tron sequel, Disney?  Please please please?  Nope.  Tommorowland and John Carter both flopped, so we can't have nice things.

When my friends asked me if I was excited for the new Star Wars, me response was a flat: "I'll allow myself to get excited about the next one if this one is any good."

Truth be told, I was skeptical of director J.J. Abrams.  I still don't like what he did to Star Trek.

Then the reviews came around.  For the first month or so, every review was positive.  After awhile, some of the hype died down, and people were actually allowed to criticize the film.  People started with all the "It's just a retread of the original trilogy...!" talk.

I don't go out of my way to avoid spoilers, so I read a synopsis of the film.  Just like the reviews said, it sounded like it was just a retread of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.

One of my siblings wanted to see Force Awakens at our  local second run theater.  I wasn't still wasn't thrilled about  the idea, but when it finally came to the cheap theater, but I E-mailed some friends and planned a movie night.  Because that's my purpose in life.  I plan movie nights.

(I have one job on this ship, AND IT MAY BE STUPID, But I'M GOING TO DO IT! Okay?)

So I was sitting in the darkened theater doing a pretty good job about staying neutral about the quality of the story.  Then the movie started.


I had never seen a Star Wars movie in theaters before.  When the music starts, the title and scrolling cliffhanger serial recap starts rolling up the screen, YOU CAN'T NOT FEEL SOMETHING.  I was overcome by the nostalgia of having watched Star Wars as a kid.  As an adult who has also seen Flash Gordon, I also felt a bit like I was watching a modern day serial.  This must be what it felt like to come back to a theater each week to see the adventures of characters you know and love.

The story does play out in a way that is similar to A New Hope.  It really didn't bother me until the end though.  R2-D2 and BB-8 are very different characters.  Yes, there are parallels on missions and character, but they are different enough.

I find it interesting that, of the new characters who are central to the storyline, Rey is introduced last.  In A New Hope, Luke is introduced right in the middle.  Princess Leia, R2D2, C3P0, Luke, Obi-Wan, Chewie, Han Solo.  In Force Awakes it's BB-8, Poe, Finn, then Rey last.

And what an introduction!  Rey doesn't have ANY dialog for a good 3-8 minutes.  This reminded me a lot of Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" in "For a Fistful of Dollars."  Also, her top-knot hairstyle really reminds me of a Samurai.  Both of those things are appropriate when you consider George Lucas' inspiration included Flash Gordon serials, Akira Kurosawa Samurai films, and Spaghetti Westerns.

My favorite part of the movie, by far, is the bit where Rey and Finn first try to pilot the Millennium Falcon.  I love the part where the gun jams in one position, and Rey repositions THE ENTIRE SHIP so Finn can make a shot.  So awesome.

I'm not crazy about the way Han Solo is introduced.  It seems out of character for him to return to smuggling.  He had character growth in the original trilogy.  After his close call with Jabba the Hut, I'd think he'd be al little more cautious.  Instead he's double crossed two different individuals and HAS TWO DIFFERENT BOUNTIES IN HIS HEAD.  This feels more like fan fiction then something that would actually happen.

I also don't like the fight with the big tentacle monsters.  They look fake, and not like something that should be in Star Wars.  Maybe in the prequel trilogy, but not in REAL Star Wars.  Most of the best monsters in real Star Wars are barely seen.  The thing in the garbage chute?  We see a tentacle and an eyeball.  Also, these new creatures instantly eat the bounty hunters, but carry Finn around long enough to be rescued.  What's up with that?

Another thing is the humor in this movie.  It's very funny, but it's a very modern sort of humor.  I feel like the humor in the original movies has a timeless quality, and The Force Awakens will probably feel really dated in the next generation.

Now, my last gripe.  I promise.

Starkiller Base.

Basically a new Death Star

This is the repetition from the original movies that bothered me.

1. It didn't need to be in the story.
2. There is no tension.
3. I do not care about the large scale destruction when entire planets filled with people I don't know or care about are being destroyed.
4. It limits storytelling possibilities in the future.

What are they going to do for the 3rd movie in this new trilogy?  Build YET ANOTHER NEW SUPER WEAPON?

The thinking here was to give ace pilot Poe something to do in the climax.  It didn't work.  The stuff with Han Solo, Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren take up all our attention.  As it should.

But one of the things Return of the Jedi does PERFECTLY in the climax is give us three different battles and we are equally invested in each one!  We care about Luke and Darth Vader.  We care about Han and Leia.  We care about Lando Calrissian.

In The Force Awakens we completely forget about Poe.  And it's not fair.

It may seem like I criticized a lot about this movie, but I think it's important if we are to care about future Star Wars movies that we hold them to a high standard.  And I do care.  This movie helped me remember HOW to care.

One thing the ending of this movie did well was it got people talking.  It's a cliffhanger, but not one that leaves any of the characters in imminent peril.  So if the movie flopped, fans could live with it if Disney decided to never make another Star Wars movie again (as if that would happen).  It got people talking about what's going to happen next.  Myself included.

I told my friends I would be excited about the next one if this one was any good.

And I'm exited about the next one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Thoughts on TNT's "The Librarians"

So I just read that the title of the Season 3 premier of "The Librarians" is: "And the Rise of Chaos."

I'm pumped.

Will we see the return of the Apple of Discord from Season 1?

Will Eris, the Greek goddess of discord be the big bad this upcoming season?

So many questions.  I'll have to wait and see, and hope that this coming season is just as awesome as the first two.

I've been a fan of the Librarian franchise since 2007.  I came onboard after "Quest for the Spear," and "Return to King Solomon's Mines," but just before my personal favorite in the trilogy, "Curse of the Judas Chalice."

One of the things the movies, and to an even greater extent, the show, illustrate so well, is our need for PURPOSE in order to feel fulfilled in life.

In "Quest for the Spear" Flynn's only purpose is the pursuit of knowledge.  When that is taken away from him, he is utterly miserable until he is called by the Library.

In the pilot of the show, Eve Baird is a total workaholic.  An empty apartment shows that she has no home life.  Friends, nope.  Family, nope.  Work is all she has until she is called to The Library.

Jacob Stone is a closeted intellectual.  He wears a mask of being dumb muscle because he fears the rejection of his blue collar family and co-workers if they discover he is secretly a genius.  He can't be who he really is until he is called by The Library.

Cassandra Killian is paralyzed by her own mortality.  A brain tumor that gives her superpowers is also slowly killing her.  She feels completely worthless.  When she comes to The Library, she discovers how she can use her abilities to help people, and develops a new appreciation for life and the time she has left.

Ezekiel Jones...well, he's Ezekiel Jones.  The exception that proves the rule, he was dancing through life before and after he joined The Library.

Eve, Jacob, and Cassandra are all completely miserable UNTIL THEY ARE GIVEN PURPOSE.  I think that's something we can all identify with.  Personally, If I didn't have purpose, I don't know how I would get out of bed in the morning.  So, if you are feeling down, or a little blue, try to shake things up a little bit.  Find something you love doing.  Find your purpose.  Believe me, it helps a lot.

Last Post in 2012...?

So.  It's been awhile.   I never really got into the whole blogging thing.

I've also never been really good at expressing myself.  Could use the practice.

I considered video blogging.  I considered allowing this blog to die and starting another.  But that would be wasteful.  Re-use, recycle, ect.

So, I decided it was time to once again shout into the void and "Give This A Second Go."  Like the LIGHTS song.

You probably don't believe I'll be posting regular.  Why should you?  I'm not sure I believe me either.  Here's to proving us both wrong.