“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” (1993) Review

“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” (1993) Review

Looking back, I realized that I have seen very few movie and television adaptations of Mark Twain’s novels – especially those that featured his two most famous characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I take that back. I have seen a good number of adaptations, but it has been a long time since I have viewed any of them. Realizing this, I decided to review the 1993 Disney adaptation of Twain’s 1885 novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

According to Wikipedia, “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” mainly focused the first half of Twain’s novel. After watching the film, I realized that Wikipedia had made an error. The movie focused on four-fifths of the narrative. It ignored the novel’s last segment – namely Huck Finn’s reunion with his friend, Tom Sawyer, at the Arkansas plantation owned by the latter’s uncle. Actually, director/screenwriter Stephen Sommers combined the aspects of both this chapter and the previous one in which Huck meets the two con men – “The Duke” and “The King” – along with the Wilkes sisters into one long segment for the movie’s second half. In fact, Sommers named the town in which the Wilkes sisters lived after Tom’s Uncle Phelps. I know what many are thinking . . . “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” is not a completely faithful adaptation of Twain’s novel. Considering that I have yet to come across a movie or television production that is not completely faithful of a source novel or play, I find such complaints unnecessary. At least for me. Especially since I had very little problems with Sommers’ adaptation in the first place.

Anyone familiar with Twain’s novel knows what happened. A Missouri boy named Huckleberry Finn (who first appeared in Twain’s 1876 novel, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”) is living with a pair of widowed sisters – the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson – when his drunken and violent father, “Pap” Finn, reappears in his life, determined to get his hands on the money left to Huck by his late wife. After Huck spends a terrifying night with a drunken Pap, he decides to fake his death and head for Jackson’s Island in the middle of the Mississippi River. There, he discovers Jim, Miss Watson’s slave and one of Huck’s closest friends, hiding out as well. Jim had escaped after learning Miss Watson’s decision to sell him down the river. Huck initially condemns Jim for running away. But due to their friendship, he decides to help Jim escape and join the latter on a trip down the Mississippi to Cairo, Illinois. There, Jim hopes to find river passage up the Ohio River to freedom. Unfortunately, their plans fail fall apart and the two friends end up facing a series of adventures and different characters as they find themselves heading down the Mississippi River.

To be honest, I have never read a review of “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN”. In fact, I have never seen the movie in theaters. Which is a shame. Because this film is damn good. I had seen the version that aired on PBS back in 1985. And I never thought any version could top it. Well, this particular version did not top it . . . so to speak. But, I do not regard it as inferior to the 1985 version. I believe that both movies are truly first-rate. I just happen to prefer this version, which was written and directed by Stephen Sommers. I do recall how many critics had initially dismissed the film, believing it had “Disneyfied” what is regarded by many as Mark Twain’s masterpiece . . . well, at least in the many years following his death.

Sommers’ screenplay had managed to “Disneyfied” Twain’s story in one way. It avoided the use of the word “nigger” to describe Jim Watson and other African-American characters. Instead, some characters called Jim “boy” in a very insulting and derogatory manner. But there were other changes made to Twain story. Huck’s joke to Jim by pretending he was dead was erased. And as I had stated earlier, the last segment that featured Jim being sold to an Arkansas plantation owned by Tom Sawyer’s uncle, along with Huck’s reunion with his best friend, had been removed. Personally, I had no problems with the removal of Tom’s appearance. Like many literary critics – including those who admired the novel – I have never liked that particular subplot. Instead, Sommers had decided to end the story with a major sequence featuring Huck and Jim’s “partnership” with the two con men who posed as the long-lost brothers of a dead rich man named Wilkes. This allowed Sommers to name Wilkes’ town after Tom Sawyer’s uncle Phelps. Sommers also allowed Huck to experience Tom’s fate in the story. By getting rid of Huck and Jim’s reunion with Tom, Sommers managed to end the movie on a more exciting note, instead of the anti-climatic one that seemed to mar Twain’s story.

But there is one thing that Sommers did not do . . . he did not softened the anti-slavery and anti-racism themes from Twain’s novel. Sommers not only retained the strong sense of travel and adventure along the Mississippi River in the story, he did an effective job of maintaining the author’s anti-slavery and anti-racism themes. This was apparent in scenes that featured Huck and Jim’s debate about the presence of non-English speaking people in the world, the two con men’s discovery of Jim’s status as a runaway slave and their blackmail of the two friends and finally, Huck and Jim’s attempt to make their escape from Phelps’ Landing to a northbound steamboat. To reinforce the theme, Sommers even allowed Jim to be caught by the Grangerford family and forced to become one of their field slaves – something that did not happen in Twain’s novel. More importantly, Jim’s decision to run from Miss Watson would have an impact on their friendship, which had already been established before the story began. This was apparent in Huck’s reluctance to help Jim escape and the latter’s knowledge of Pap’s death . . . something he kept from the boy throughout most of the story. Jim’s status as a runaway, along with the two con men’s dealings at Phelps’ Landing culminated in an exciting conclusion that resulted with a rather scary lynch mob after Huck and Jim’s hides.

But it was not just Sommers’ adaptation of Twain’s story that I found satisfying. “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” is a visually beautiful film. And the producers can thank veteran Hollywood filmmaker Janusz Kaminski for his beautiful photography. His rich and sharp colors, which holds up very well after 22 years, really captured the beauties of the film’s Natchez, Mississippi locations. His photography also added to the film’s early 19th century Mississippi Valley setting. However, Kaminski’s photography was not the only aspect that allowed Sommers to beautifully recapture the film’s setting. I was also impressed by Randy Moore’s art direction and Michael Warga’s set decorations – especially at a riverboat landing in which Huck, Jim and the two con men meet a former resident of Phelps’ Landing. I noticed that Betsy Heimann’s career in Hollywood mainly consisted of movie projects set in the present day. As far as I know, “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” was her only movie project set in the past. I find this a pity, because I was very impressed by her costumes for the movie. In fact, I found them quite beautiful, especially her costumes for Anne Heche, Renée O’Connor and Dana Ivey.

However, the costumes also brought up a small issue I had with the movie. Exactly when is this movie set? Was it set during the 1820s or the 1830s? During a scene between Huck and young Susan Wilks, the former (who was impersonating the Duke and the King’s Cockney valet) pointed out that George IV reigned Great Britain. Which meant the movie could be set anywhere between January 1820 and June 1830. But Heimann’s costumes for the women, with its fuller skirts, seemed to indicate that the movie was definitely set in the 1830s. So, I am a little confused. I am also confused as to why Huck had failed to tell Billy Grangerford that the captured Jim was his servant. Why did he pretend that he did not know Jim? The latter could have been spared a brutal beating at the hands of the family’s overseer. I congratulate Sommers for using the Grangerford sequence to reveal more on the brutality of 19th century American slavery. But he could have easily done this by allowing both Huck and Jim to witness the whipping of a Grangerford slave. I also had a problem with Bill Conti’s score. Well . . . at least half of it. On one hand, Conti’s score meshed well with the story and its setting. However . . . I noticed that some parts of his score had not originally been created for this movie. Being a long time fan of John Jakes’ “North and South” Trilogy and the three television adaptations, I had no problem realizing that Conti had lifted parts of the score he had written for the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH” and used it for this movie.

I might have a few quibbles about “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN”. But I certainly had no complaints about the film’s cast. The movie was filled with first-rate performances from the movie’s supporting cast. Colorful performances included those from Dana Ivey and Mary Louise Wilson as the kind-hearted Widow Douglas and her more acerbic sister Miss Watson; Ron Perlman, who was both scary and funny as Huck’s drunken father Pap Finn; Francis Conroy as the verbose shanty woman from Huck tries to steal food; Garette Ratliff Henson as the friendly Billy Grangerford; Tom Aldredge as the suspicious Dr. Robinson, who rightly perceives that the two con men are not his late friend’s brothers; Curtis Armstrong as the slightly brainless and naïve former resident of Phelps’ Landing, who told the “Duke and King” everything about the Wilks family; and James Gammon as the tough sheriff of Phelps’ Landing, who seemed to have a naïve regard for the two con men. Anne Heche, along with Renée O’Connor (Gabrielle from “XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS”) and Laura Bundy portrayed the three Wilks sisters – Mary Jane, Julia and young Susan. Both Heche and O’Connor gave charming performances. But I found Bundy rather funny as the suspicious Susan, especially in her interactions with Elijah Wood.

Of all the actors I could have imagined portraying the two con men – the King and the Duke – neither Jason Robards or Robbie Coltrane enter my thoughts. In fact, I could never imagine the gruff-voiced, two-time Oscar winner and the Scottish actor known for portraying Rubeus Hagrid in the “HARRY POTTER” movie franchise as a pair of 19th century Mississippi Valley con artists, let alone an effective screen team. Not only did the pair give great performances, but to my surprise, managed to create a very funny comedy pair. Who knew? But the pair that really carried “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” turned out to be Elijah Wood as the titled character, Huckleberry Finn and Courtney B. Vance as Jim Watson. Someone once complained that Wood was too young to portray Huck Finn in this movie. How on earth did he come up with this observation? Wood was at least twelve years old when he portrayed Huck. Not only was he not too old, he gave a superb performance as the intelligent, yet pragmatic Missouri boy. More importantly, Wood did an excellent job serving as the film’s narrator. Equally superb was Courtney B. Vance, who in my opinion, turned out to be the best cinematic Jim Watson I have ever seen. Vance did an excellent job in conveying the many facets of Jim’s nature – his sense of humor, lack of education, pragmatism and intelligence. Vance made sure that audiences knew that Jim was uneducated . . . and at the same time, a very intelligent man. The best aspect of Wood and Vance’s performances is that the pair made a superb screen team. I have no idea how they felt about each other in real life. On screen, they sparkled like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

“THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN” may not be a literal adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel. It is clear that writer-director made some changes. And I must admit that the movie possessed a few flaws. But in the end, I felt it was a first-rate adaptation of the novel that bridled with energy, color, pathos, suspense, humor and a sense of adventure. And one can thank Stephen Sommers for his excellent script and energetic direction, along with the superb cast led by Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance. It is one Twain adaptation I could never get tired of watching over and over again.

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Favorite Films Set in the 1830s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1830s:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1830s

1. “The Adventures of Huck Finn” (1993) – Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance starred in this excellent Disney adaptaion of Mark Twain’s 1885 novel about a young Missouri boy who joines a runaway slave on a journey along the Mississippi River toward the free states in antebellum America. Stephen Sommers directed.

 

1- The Count of Monte Cristo 2002

2. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2002) – James Caviezel starred as the vengeful Edmond Dantès in Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père’s 1844 novel. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the movie co-starred Guy Pearce and Dagmara Dominczyk.

 

2 - Pride and Prejudice 1940

3. “Pride and Prejudice” (1940) – Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier starred in this entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. Robert Z. Leonard directed.

 

3 - The Count of Monte Cristo 1975

4. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1975) – Richard Chamberlain gave an intense performance in the 1975 television adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Tony Curtis and Kate Nelligan co-starred.

 

4 - Impromptu

5. “Impromptu” (1991) – Judy Davis and Hugh Grant starred in this comedic tale about author George Sand’s pursuit of composer Frédéric Chopin in 1830s France. James Lapine directed.

 

5 - Amistad

6. “Armistad” (1997) – Steven Spielberg directed this account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad and the trials of the Mendes tribesmen/mutineers, led by Sengbe Pieh. The movie starred Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConnaughey, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins.

 

6 - Wide Sargasso Sea 2006

7. “Wide Sargasso Sea” (2006) – Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall starred in this 2006 television adaptation of Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel, which is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. It focused upon the early marriage of Antoinette Cosway (Bertha Mason) and Edward Rochester.

 

7 - My Cousin Rachel

8. “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) – Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton starred in this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel about a young Englishman’s obsession with his late cousin’s widow. Henry Koster directed.

 

8 - The Alamo 2004

9. “The Alamo” (2004) – John Lee Hancock directed this account of the Battle of the Alamo, the only production about the Texas Revolution that I actually managed to enjoy. The movie starred Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Wilson and Jason Patric.

 

9 - The Big Sky

10. “The Big Sky” (1952) – Howard Hawks directed this adaptation of A.B. Guthrie’s 1947 novel about a fur trader’s expedition up the Missouri River. Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin starred.

“RUSH HOUR 3” (2007) Review

“RUSH HOUR 3” (2007) Review

Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan and director Brett Ratner reunite after six years to film the third installment in the “RUSH HOUR”. In the end, the trio produce a silly, occasionally flawed yet very funny sequel.

I did not harbor any expectations about this comedy. Why should I? It’s a “RUSH HOUR” movie. Like its two predecessors, it was another comedic adventure featuring Hong Kong detective Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and Los Angeles Police Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker). However, this movie starts with the assassination attempt of Lee’s former mentor, now Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma) from the first film, in Los Angeles. It seems that Han and the World Criminal Court have concerned themselves with the growing threat of the Chinese Triads. Han announces that he has knowledge of the leadership behind the Triads. But before he can say anything further, he is shot by an assasin who turns out to be Lee’s godbrother, Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada). The latter manages to get away before Lee and Carter can capture him. The pair eventually learns from the Kung Fu master of Ambassador Han’s now grown-up daughter – Soo Yung (Zhang Jingchu) that she, the Ambassador and French Ambassador Reynard (Max von Sydow)have all been targeted by the Triads. Their investigations also lead them to a Triad hideout disguised as a gambling club in Paris. With the help of an overeager Parisian cab driver named George (Yvan Attal) and a beautiful nightclub entertainer named Genevieve (Noémie Lenoir), Carter and Lee foil the plans of the Traids to keep their identities safe.

Like its two predecessors, “RUSH HOUR 3” is not perfect. The movie’s beginning – which featured the assasination attempt and Carter’s encounter with two L.A. socialites – seemed a bit lame in the humor department. In fact, the movie does not really pick up pace until the two partners find themselves at Soo Yung’s kung fu academy, where they encounter a rather “tall” adversary and Carter engages in a hilarious rendition of the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?”routine. One last aspect of the movie bothered me . . . namely the Parisian cab driver, George. At first, I found Attal’s performance very entertaining, as he conveyed the character’s distaste for Americans. But after Carter managed to convince him to embrace all things American – including Seattle’s finest coffee that he labeled “shit” – he became annoying. A bore. Not even his last minute rescue of Carter and Lee could change my mind about him.

But “RUSH HOUR 3” still possessed enough attributes that made it an entertaining movie. The fight sequences – especially the sword fight between Chan and Sanada – were excellent. Even Tucker managed to hold his own a lot more than he usually did. While Chan and Sanada were busy with their showdown, his character was engaged in fighting off four Triad minions. Many might consider this unrealistic, considering that Carter had barely been able to defend himself in the first movie. But the second movie conveyed that Carter had learned a few moves. And by the third movie, he had become an effective martial arts fighter. Aside from the movie’s first ten to fifteen minutes, the humor seemed just as snappy and hilarious as it had been in the first two movies. And as usual, it was the gregarious Tucker who provided most of the laughs. But what I really enjoyed about “RUSH HOUR 3” was the colorful Parisian setting. No one felt more happy than I when the movie shifted from Los Angeles to Paris.

If you are seeking a comedy that provides a sharp and witty look at our society’s ills, “RUSH HOUR 3” is not your movie. If you simply want a hilarious, yet silly movie with beautiful locations, I suggest you rush to the nearest theater that features this movie, turn off your brain and enjoy yourself. Trust me, you will.

“TWO WEEKS NOTICE” (2002) Review

“TWO WEEKS NOTICE” (2002) Review

If I must be brutally honest, the age of Hollywood romantic comedies had bid its farewell a long time ago. Although the film industry has released a small share of movies in this genre in the past thirty or forty years, a good number of them simply failed to measure up to the numerous romantic comedies that came from the Hollywood studios – especially between 1934 and 1965.

But . . . there have been a handful of these comedies released in the last thirty years that managed to catch my eye. One of them is the 2002 comedy called “TWO WEEKS NOTICE”. Written and directed by Marc Lawrence, the movie starred Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. “TWO WEEKS NOTICE” was a box office hit, but it attracted mix reviews from the critics. I have only read one review of the film, in which its writer described the film as flaccid. But after watching the film, I do not think I could agree with this assessment.

“TWO WEEKS NOTICE” is about the relationship between a liberal lawyer named Lucy Kelson, who specializes in environmental law in New York City; and George Wade, an immature billionaire real estate tycoon who has almost everything and knows almost nothing. When Lucy meets George in an attempt to stop the destruction of a Coney Island community center, he hires her to replace his former Chief Counsel on the promise to protect the community center if she agrees to work for him. Within a year, Lucy not only ends up working for George’s company, but also giving advice on all aspects of his life . . . literally becoming his indispensable aide. But when George tricks her into leaving a friend’s wedding because he is unable to choose an outfit for an event, Lucy decides she has had enough and gives him her two weeks’ notice of resignation. However, matters become difficult when George blocks Lucy’s attempt to find another job. When he finally agrees to find a replacement, George considers an attractive law school graduate named June Carver . . . and Lucy is surprised to find herself becoming jealous.

Remember when I had earlier stated that I disagree with one critic’s opinion that “TWO WEEKS NOTICE” was flaccid? I am sticking with my assessment. It is not the kind of comedy that produces belly laughs. Although, I admit there were quite a few in the movie. And if I must be brutally honest, it is not exactly what I would call an original romantic comedy. I have come across movies with a similar style or characterizations. But I still managed to enjoy the movie. A lot. Original or not, I liked Marc Lawrence’s story very much. I thought he did a very good job in not only developing Lucy and George’s characterizations, but also their relationship. The movie featured some very funny scenes – including George’s first meeting with Lucy’s father and disapproving mother, George’s interruption of the wedding that Lucy was attending, their night at a New York Mets game, Lucy’s attempt to manipulate George’s brother (the senior executive in the Wade organization) into firing her, George’s mistaken assumption that one of the job applicants was pregnant, and the entire tennis party sequence that ended with George helping Lucy find a bathroom or restroom on the road back to New York City. Damn, that is a lot. But the best thing I liked about “TWO WEEKS NOTICE” were the leads Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. I do not know if they ever liked each other behind the scenes (and honestly, I do not care), but it seemed obvious to me that on screen, Bullock and Grant were magic together.

“TWO WEEKS NOTICE” was not perfect. Like I had earlier stated, it was not particularly original. Neither was John Powell’s score. I enjoyed the songs not written by Powell a lot more than I did his music. And I am still confused over how George’s older brother, the humorless Howard Wade, managed to threatened George’s loss of funds if the latter did not drop the project to save the Coney Island community center. I suppose other critics were able to find more faults with the movie. However, this was the best I could do.

I have already praised Bullock and Grant’s on screen chemistry. But I never said anything else about their performances. Lucy Kelson is one of my favorite roles ever portrayed by Bullock. On paper, a hardcore liberal attorney might seem like an ideal role. Thankfully, Bullock did not portray Lucy as ideal. She skillfully included many of Lucy’s faults as well, making the character a fully fleshed character. On the other hand, George Wade IS my favorite Hugh Grant role. Before “TWO WEEKS NOTICE”, Grant had became known for his collection of stammering, yet charming characters that made him a star. He broke out of this rut with his portrayal of a womanizing rogue in 2001’s “BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY”. George Wade was a interesting mixture of his stammering charmers and his roguish character from the latter film. More importantly, he did an excellent job of developing George’s character from this likable, yet self-involved man to one who had to learn to grow up in order to be with a woman he truly loved.

“TWO WEEKS NOTICE” also featured some excellent supporting performances. Both Robert Klein and Dana Ivey were wonderful as Lucy’s parents – the easy going and slightly sarcastic Larry Kelson and the no nonsense Ruth Kelson, who proved to be even more hardcore than her daughter. Alicia Witt gave a charming performance as Lucy’s possible replacement, who forced the other woman to face her true feelings about George. Dorian Missick was rather funny as George’s friend and chauffeur, Tony. He was especially hilarious in one scene in which his character tries to explain the “mystery of women” to George. Francie Swift gave a brief, yet funny performance as George’s bitchy soon-to-be ex-wife. And both David Haig and Charlotte Maier proved one could be funny while portraying George’s humorless and staid brother and sister-in-law, Howard and Lauren Wade.

I suspect I am among the minority who genuinely like “TWO WEEKS NOTICE”. But you know what? Who cares? There is no law that I have to agree with every movie critic or the opinion of every film fan that catches my attention. I enjoyed “TWO WEEKS NOTICE” very much. I enjoyed its story and humor, thanks to Marc Lawrence’s screenplay and direction. I enjoyed László Kovács’ beautiful photography of New York City and I especially enjoyed the performances of the cast led by Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. I enjoyed “TWO WEEKS NOTICE” and I feel that is nothing to feel ashamed about.