Sunday, November 14, 2010

'Jungle' Fever

A few months ago, I received an e-mail from Stephen Jared, an actor and writer who had penned a new book called “Jack and the Jungle Lion.” He felt classic film lovers would be an ideal audience for his book and asked if I would consider reviewing/promoting it.

It sounded like a lot of fun so I accepted his offer. “Jack and the Jungle Lion” is the fictitious account of a Jack Hunter, wildly popular 1930s action movie star who finds himself caught in a real-life adventure where his on-screen machismo clashes with his off-screen persona, one that’s not nearly as brave.

As the book opens, “Action Jack” Hunter is living the movie-star life. He has a mansion, a faithful butler and a beautiful movie queen wife, Theda Lomond. But behind the champagne glasses and Tinseltown glamour is a loveless marriage in which Hunter upstages a tyrannical Lomond, and she’s none too pleased by this.

Jack is on his way to South America for his first on-location shoot. But the small plane goes down, along with Maxine Daniels, the film’s beautiful animal trainer; her young niece and nephew; and Clancy, the co-pilot. Together they must find their way out of the jungle, but not without battling one adventure after another as well as each other.

At 115 pages, “Jack and the Jungle Lion” is a slim book and is as light as a 1930s action film would be. Jared clearly is a lover of classic films, because he gets the setting, characters and breezy atmosphere right. In fact, I thought the book was too brief. For the first 40 pages, the plot charges ahead through the plot like a runaway train, and I wanted more time to savor the classic Hollywood world that Jared was re-creating and these characters before they were plunged into the jungle. In fact, it almost felt like reading a script or treatment than a novel.

In addition, the book’s situations didn’t surprise me as much as I would have liked. I know the point is to contrast the real situation in which Jack finds himself and the situations from his films, as Jack confronts the differences between reality and make-believe. I wish Jared had taken more chances.

But I’m being a classic movie snob with these criticisms, and I finally gave way to the book’s pleasures, because it really is a lot of fun. I’m not sure how many people could recreate this era with this much joy and devotion, and it’s clear that Jared has watched more than his share of classic action films and serials and is having fun writing this adventure.

In the end, Jack – a loveable goof -- learns his lessons and becomes stronger for it, and Max drops her defenses to see beyond Jack’s movie-star lifestyle. As for me, I hope Jared writes a sequel. “Jack and the Jungle Lion” whetted my appetite, like a good appetizer, and now that Jared has established his style, I’d love to see to him go wild with a full-out adventure.

To use one of Jared’s own lines, spoken by the studio chief, “Hit one out of the ballpark for us.”

Also, kudos to the retro cool cover design for the book by Paul Shipper and check out this video showing off the design:

"Jack and the Jungle Lion" cover art

To learn more about Stephen Jared (above), I asked him five questions and below are his replies.

1. Where did you get the idea for Jack and the Jungle Lion? At its core, the story is about a real character becoming like the fictional counterpart he had always hoped to be, and had always lived vicariously through. Consequently, not only does he find himself, he finds true love. Jack Hunter’s story parallels Joan Wilder’s story in Romancing the Stone. "Jack and the Jungle Lion" has been with me for many years. I did spend some time pushing the story in Hollywood and everyone told me it was great, but then said 18-year olds wouldn’t know what to make of the 1930s time period. It’s self-published because you can’t find this type of old-fashioned romantic adventure in bookstores. Funny—I always saw myself as someone who likes what’s popular. I like popcorn entertainment. But at some point it became clear that yesterday’s popcorn entertainment and today’s popcorn entertainment aren’t the same.

2. Do you have other tales in mind for its hero, Jack Hunter? Well, in the early 1940s Jack Hunter went to Shanghai. I’d love to tell that story. I intend to, but we’ll have to see how much interest there is in this Amazon adventure first. So far, it’s been very encouraging.

3. When did you first become a classic film lover? I grew up when Spielberg and Lucas were releasing their early films. In interviews, especially while promoting Indiana Jones, they kept referencing classic movies. I soon wanted to know everything there was to know about classic movies.

4. If you could play any role in a classic film, what would it be and why? I couldn’t possibly replace the work of any great star—nobody could. Look at Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant and you can see they have stories to tell before they open their mouths then they start talking and their story becomes more and more convincing. Back then, stars and studios worked together at creating these larger than life figures. As you and your readers know, in the old days they wanted you to believe they weren’t acting—that it was really who they were. I think those old films benefit from that. Today, it’s all about who’s available, and who’s affordable. It’s not about building a film around a particular talent. Casts are easily interchangeable today. Can you imagine a Marx Brothers film replacing Groucho with Bob Hope? It couldn’t be done. But today it can. So, when you ask about filling in the shoes of a classic Hollywood performer, I am not being at all humble in saying that the whole idea is preposterous.

That said—just to offer some insight into me—I’d answer the Henry Fonda role in "The Lady Eve." I certainly could not have done a better job than him in that, but I think it was a role I could have handled, given my nature, my look and acting abilities. Henry Fonda in other things, like "Once Upon a Time in the West," was way better than I ever could have been. In fact, if you play those two films back to back, you might be convinced Henry Fonda was an acting genius.

5. The crazy question: Between what performers do you want your Hollywood Walk of Fame star to be located and why? Between Douglas Fairbanks and Cary Grant. Watch their films and look at their faces—you see only exuberance and vitality, the pleasure of being alive. The fact that we get old and die never seems to register. It just doesn’t come into their thinking. I really like defiance of death. I’d love to be able to reach out from a heavily trampled sidewalk and grab a little of their immortality.

Stephen Jared's web site

1 comment:

  1. I just commented on your note to me about my review of the book. Just as I thought -- I knew it wasn't true mine is better. We are just different writers with focus on different things at times. But you are a peach to say so!