Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and second film or series available on DVD or instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
“I wanted to do the stuff that men were doing.”
So said Jane Goodall in 1957, setting off to Gombe, Africa to study chimpanzees for Dr. Louis Leaky. Leaky wished to do a prolonged study of chimpanzees—something never before undertaken—because he believed that life started in this part of the world, and humans were linked to the chimpanzees. Goodall had no formal training, no degree, no scientific background. Leaky chose her because she loved animals and he believed she had the right temperament for the job. She went off by herself, (joined by her mother at one point,) and had no fear of what she was getting herself into. After months of being ignored by the chimpanzees, she final broke through and became welcomed into the fold. The film and the footage is fascinating, beautiful, and downright ethereal.
Wildlife videographer Hugo van Lawick shot the more than 100 hours of footage in the early 60s, and aside from pieces of footage used right away, it remained lost in the National Geographic Archives for the last 50 years. Director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Cobain: Montage of Heck) took on the monumental task of editing it all and creating a movie. The verdant beauty of the footage is matched by current-day Goodall’s narration. Aside from some visual flourishes added to the mix, and the wonderful score by titan Philip Glass, the film is very straightforward and unadorned.
And that is exactly why it is so beautiful. There is no parade of friends or notables lauding Goodall and her work; no fawning or feting; no unnecessary explanation. The shots of the chimpanzees using tools (the first ever recorded) as Jane quietly watches are more than enough to tell the story. The footage of a baby chimpanzee taking his first steps are the burning images known to every parent on the planet. The film is not without its low points, such as when Jane sees and experiences the brutality of the chimpanzees. Still then, she understands the context of it all and comes to terms with it, as she does everything else.
Even her personal fame as she traveled back and forth didn’t/doesn’t faze her: she became “beauty” to the beasts and newspapers wrote about her “honeysuckle skin and long legs.” She found it all “stupid,” and said she used it to raise money for her efforts. To say the story of a primatologist studying chimpanzees in the wild is a love story may sound like hyperbole, but it is no exaggeration. Jane and Hugo fall in love and marry; a chimp is born and raised in front of them; and Jane’s love affair with the chimps and the jungle is perhaps the most beautiful of all. There are so many reasons to fall in love.
You will like this if you enjoyed Gorillas in the Mist, Strong Island, and/or Human Flow.
Available at most on-demand outlets.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
I don’t often review big-budget films; there are plenty of avenues to find such reviews and see such films. After attending a screening of Solo: A Star Wars Story, however, I felt compelled to do so. Like most people of a certain age, I grew up with Star Wars. I endured the highs (The Empire Strikes Back) and the lows (Episodes I – III), and I have come to appreciate the latest iterations of the universe. And with my own son now enjoying the films, I have re-discovered my childhood passion for all things Star Wars: the simple hero’s journey, the fight between good and evil, and most of all, the wonderful characters. And Han was always my favorite: brash, fun, and adventurous, he was the antidote to the brooding (and mostly whiny) Luke. This prequel telling the story of young Solo captures the essence of Han and also makes the material accessible to all, including 9-year-old boys. There is no overly complicated and convoluted plot here (see Rogue One). This is just plain fun.
Adam Ehrenreich as young Han nails it. He has the panache and the charisma to carry the film and carry the burden, and it works. After a somewhat shaky start, the film gathers steam and finds its footing: veteran director Ron Howard hits all the right notes and delivers the goods. The supporting cast is also excellent: Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra is solid, and Donald Glover as young Lando Calrissian is the best of the bunch. Chewy is as good as usual (!), and even the Millennium Falcon looks sharp in its youth (forgive me such indulgences, I just had to say that).
You will love this if you enjoyed any Star Wars film!
So get out to the movies this summer, or stay in for the movies this summer. These two reviews cover the spectrum of what film can do, and do so well: one is important, informative, and beautiful. The other is exciting, exhilarating, and can make us feel like a kid again. Feel it all this summer.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.