Thursday, April 19, 2012

"King Kong" The original masterpiece

TITLE: "King Kong"
DIRECTOR: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
STARS: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot
EDITOR: Ted Cheesman
AWARDS: National Film Registry
BOX OFFICE: $1,700,000 (USA)
RUN TIME: 100 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: 35mm Film Print

When Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) decides to finish his new jungle picture on Skull Island, he casts Ann Darrow (Wray). The unsuspecting crew finds adventure, and terrible consequences on the island, and is endangered by the giant beasts that live there.

"King Kong" is a classic. It is recognized around the world, and has been for decades. It has been officially remade twice (see this writer's review of the 2005 film here, though countless derivative titles have tried to cash in on the success of this film.

The film really shines with its effects. The story is simple, but character driven, with the young movie starlet being captured by a monstrous ape, that somehow cares for her, driving the action. The interspersed footage of both Kong and his island adversaries, all of which were stop-motion animated by Willis O'Brien, still keeps audiences entranced and excited. Besides just cutting in random animation, the filmmakers found ways to physically incorporate, through cutaways and alternate angles, the animated creatures with their human counterparts.

Here is a film that holds up. It is still exciting. It still keeps the viewer glued to their seat. It may be slightly outdated in its treatment of woman and minority characters, but hopefully that doesn't get in the way of great filmmaking. The heart of the movie is a crazy love story known the world over.

Wray is endearing, and the effects, while dated, are still astounding and in depth. The artistry and work that went into this piece cannot be ignored. This is a fun ride of a film, and is worth watching over and over again.
MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"King Kong" a remake worth remembering

TITLE: "King Kong"
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
STARS: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody
EDITOR: Jamie Selkirk
AWARDS: Best  Achievement in Sound Editing (Oscar), Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (Oscar), Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Oscar)
BOX OFFICE: $550.5 Million (Worldwide)
RUN TIME: 187 min.

When Carl Denham (Black) decides to finish his new jungle picture on Skull Island, he casts Ann Darrow (Watts). Little does the crew know what awaits them at their location, ancient tribesmen, giant insects, treacherous terrain, dinosaurs, and a giant king of the jungle!

Merian C. Cooper's "King Kong" (1933) is one of the great classics of the golden era of hollywood. So why would someone remake it? More than once even? Peter Jackson, of "Lord of the RIngs" fame, is a longtime fan of the film, and wanted to be able to bring it to life for a new generation. He did just that.

Jackson's version features many references to the original piece: many lines, including much of Ann's dialogue, is taken directly from the original, the final shot of Kong falling off the building was a shot desired by the original filmmakers, but ultimately impossible to achieve in 1933, some original props were even placed throughout the film.

"King Kong" (2005) was said to be a disappointment at the box office. It went on to become the highest grossing picture in Universal history at that point though, and went on to sell over $100 million in DVD sales, along with over $20 million in television rights. The film ultimately became a large financial success.

This film is often criticized for a long run time. At just over three hours, it is a bit trying for most audiences. This writer loved every second though. The first hour focuses on developing the human characters; their emotional states, relationships, and motivations. This helps immensely, because the audience can only feel Kong's emotion vicariously through those people that are interacting with him.

By hour two, action rules the screen. The film really takes off once the audience sees Kong. There are some slow, beautiful moments with him, but most are filled with dinosaur battles, giant bugs, and rescue missions. It really is one heck of a ride.

The last act of the film is the famed New York City rampage by Kong. For being a visually strong and exciting segment of the film, it is also filmed with some absolutely beautiful emotionally resonant sequences. The ice rink section, along with Kong's final interactions with Ann at the top of the Empire State are heart wrenching, and add so much to the film.

This is not a perfect movie, but it is well worth a watch. It is one of the best remakes in history, and never forgets to have fun. It also never forgets to make the audience care. It is an epic in every sense, and it is fun!

MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Steamboat Bill, Jr." the last of an era

TITLE: "Steamboat Bill, Jr."
DIRECTOR: Chas. F. Reisner
STARS: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Marion Byron
EDITOR: Sherman Kell
RUN TIME: 70 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: 35 mm film print

When a young, and slightly effeminate, William Canfield Jr. (Keaton), is reunited with his father, steamboat captain William Canfield Sr. (Torrence), he does his best to live up to his father's expectations. Add to that a rival steamboat captain, and a cyclone, and Jr. has a lot to tackle.

This film is, arguably, not the best work that Keaton ever did, but what makes it special is that it was the last piece under his independent label. Following this, he signed with MGM, and disappeared into relative obscurity for the rest of his life. This piece, which received no credit for co-directing, has risen in recent years as a forgotten classic. While it received some mixed reviews upon initial release, it now holds a 100% on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, and has become relatively popular fare.

What also helps this film to stand out is Keaton's stunt work. His trademark stunts and slapstick comedy have helped his reputation to last for generations, but this film actually has one stunt that could have killed him. A now infamous gag, where the wall of a house falls onto Jr., with his placement being exactly where an open window lands, involved a full weight wall. Half of the crew walked off the set, and refused to participate in the stunt due to its danger, but Keaton did not care. His own company was being shut down, and he apparently did not care if he lived through the stunt or not.

Perhaps other pieces by Mr. Keaton are better. Perhaps some audiences prefer Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. Keaton's onscreen persona cannot be denied, though. "The Great Stone Face" had his moment during the silent comedy era, and this goodbye was a phenomenal one.

It stays fast throughout, and the momentous slapstick comedy translates through the years. This fan thinks that this was perhaps the best unofficial goodbye Keaton could have given. While he worked for a few more years, this was the last piece that was ultimately "his." It is funny, heartfelt, a little edgy, and all-together good. Check this one out, and luckily for you, it is on youtube!

MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10