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“Kong: Skull Island”a jungle of fun

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If anything “Kong: Skull Island” proves is that monster movies are not dead. Nor is the genre of jungle adventure films. In today’s age, Hollywood has been giving us more superhero and reboots to the point of overkill. Now, Legendary Pictures is getting its “MonsterVerse” into gear and I can thankfully say I wasn’t disappointed with this entry. It was about time the big ape got a fresh start and I had a blast watching it. The movie in a nutshell is the war tone of Apocalypse Now meets the characters from James Cameron’s Aliens.

Set during the Vietnam War’s end, a government agent named Bill Randa (John Goodman) seeks a plan to visit an mysterious island for study and proof that monsters exist there. He gets teamed up with Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and a bunch of soldiers to take a trek via helicopter. At first we are led to believe this is some sort of study when it turns out Bill wants to blow up the island in a fiery rage. All plans are halted when Kong arrives showing he’s not only king of the island, but also a protector of his home.

The moment Kong shows up and smashes some helicopters, everything changes as the war movie turns into a monster movie. While stranded and seeking an exist, soldiers fend their way through thick jungle and avoid the wraith of giant spiders and demonic lizard monsters seeking to munch on them. Each creature is well designed by ILM and its a shame we never get to see many in action. With the only exception being a bunch of monsters called “skull crushers,” that look like a crossbreed between Cubone from Pokemon and a gila monster. When these monstrous being attack, I was greedy in hoping for a big action scene with a whole horde of them. On the other hand, this movie is dedicated to Kong, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

Also stuck on the island is a former British Captain (Tom Hiddleston)  and a photojournalist (Brie Larson) who get the better part of the journey. Most of the time, they run into peaceful beasts and kindly natives that have a Buddhist-like personality. They later come across a World War II pilot played by John C. Riley, who crashed landed on the island in 1944. Riley proves to be a lot of fun with a manic performance that is funny and touching. Of course, they joke around how he has no clue about current events but they work for the most part.

“Kong” is very much your run of the mill monster movie stocked with cliched characters, rampaging beasts and all tossed into a thick jungle. What sets itself apart is the directorial style and fun performances. The choice of placing the story during the Vietnam War gives way for some creative scenes of solders blasting off to a tape recording playing Black Sabbath. The soundtrack itself is packed with psychedelic rock music from Creedence Clearwater Revival to David Bowie and the color scheme is put to great use with intense sunlight and cold blue nights.

Aside from the eye candy, I can’t think of single performance or character I disliked. Most of the people there are stock characters and cliches, but not in an annoying way. You have the one person who knows what is going on but is ignored, the war crazy Colonel, the guy who promises to make it home but doesn’t and so forth. In a way, I wish the characterization was given more depth but I wasn’t too disappointed in the light development. Actors like Sameul Jackson and John C. Riely really soak up the screen and knowing this is the kind of movie not to take seriously. In honesty, it works.

The revamped Kong is a big highlight differing from any other version depicted before him. The ape stands like a God of the sky and will defend his home in anyway he can. The special effects really convey the emotion and determination of this creature in how far he will go to protect Skull Island. Unlike Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla from 2014 (which the enjoyment is starting to wear off), we get plenty of Kong scenes paced perfectly throughout the movie. From brawling monsters to taking down choppers, this variation is sure to please.

I found myself overjoyed by the time the end credits came along. I’m a dead sucker for monster movies as much as jungle adventure films. Maybe this will start a revival of interest in monster movies or maybe it won’t. All I can say is that I saw a good monster movie and enjoyed every minute of it. Even during the intense moments, “Kong” doesn’t lose its fun luster. From beautiful visuals that will stay with me to engaging creatures fights, this is one eight wonder that I will never forget.

Also word of caution, as stated before this is the first in a planned “shared film universe” meaning the movie ends with a setup for the next entry right after the end credits. Unlike everyone who left the theater, I stayed through every name of the crew members just to see what lay at the end. Sure enough, I got a nice surprise but couldn’t believe how many missed such a great tease. And the fact I was the only one in the movie theater that waited so patiently to see it really shows how determined a filmgoer can be. Do yourself a favor when seeing this in theaters. Don’t walk out during the end credits. The patience is worth it.

“Rogue One”a step in the right direction

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Last year, Disney reintroduced the Star Wars franchise to a new generation with “Force Awakens.” The positive of that was to see a new story on the big screen from the galaxy far, far away. However, my greatest disappointment was how so much time was spent rehashing material from the first movie instead of being its own thing. “Rogue One” has the upper hand because its a true prequel. This one has the advantage to expand on the universe while being a true link to “Star Wars.”

The main center of the story is a heroin named Jyn (Felicity Jones) who reluctantly assists a group of rebels to find out what the evil Imperial army is up to. I like how at first she doesn’t show interest but suddenly shows a sign of care once faced with what’s to come. Although she has little to no appeal in the space battles, her curiosity peaks when she learns how her father is in the mix of this. She is rebellious yet cunning. Honestly, I can’t think of a female character in the Star Wars universe that wasn’t highly determined.

Joining for the trip is an officer named Cassian (Diego Luna) whose only there to do his job. Tasked with the mission at hand, Cassian shares the same instincts but knows his limits. In one crucial moment, he’s told to assassinate someone vital to bringing down the Rebellion. Once in the moment, he hesitates questioning what value it would bring.  I like how he’s not stubborn to a new idea and at least there is no romantic pairing with Jyn. He’s an honest companion that questions his rights as a fighter.

Other rebels on the way range from a blind man who believes in the Jedi ways and his friend who is more militant. There’s sort of a ying and yang idea going on here as the two have different fighting methods. One is more resourceful on spiritual belief while the other is more into physical action. Its elements like these that make me wonder why “Force Awakens” wasn’t this clever with ideas like this. Sure it had Finn questioning if he’s a human or a fighting machine, but “Rouge One” was built around a fresh story.

To be fair, this one doesn’t shy away from reheating leftover elements. Case and point is an android named K-2SO. He’s obviously the C-3PO type who is very knowledgeable despite being the comic relief. Thankfully, Alan Tudyk’s performance saves the character from being a predictable variation making K more open to fighting when needed and hilariously pessimistic. In a way, this bot reminded me of Marvin the Depressed Robot or some kind of creation that only Douglas Adams would delight in.

Like I said, “Rogue One” doesn’t shy away from the bin of “oh, look its this from the other films” or “wow, that answers this.” I can’t begin to describe the amount of Easter eggs and things I’m sure Star Wars fans of old will be overjoyed in. The one I’m most surprised is a CGI recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. I guess now in days you don’t need to hire a new actor with heavy make-up and I should be too shocked considering this same method was done in Tron Legacy to Jeff Bridges. Still, I liked how limitless this movie went when it came to linking itself to the older entry.

When you boil it down, “Rouge One” is hard to talk about without giving away most of the plot details. For fans of old and new, this will certainly be a nice Christmas treat. I know considering how much of a kick I got out of seeing real sets instead of CGI crafted ones, actual planet environments instead of studio built ones and intense battle scenes that challenge or match the charm of the original trilogy. I can’t tell you how much I smiled to see the AT-TA walkers during the big finale. This is a fun ball of nostalgia while also delivering a complex movie about power and fighting back.

Though parents, be fair warned. “Rouge One” is highly recommended not for smaller fans. This is a radically different movie as director Gareth Edwards wanted this to be more like a  war movie and I feel he succeeded. Despite the PG-13 rating, this is packed with many intense battle scenes and shootouts that parents might want to reconsider this as a Christmas gift for their kids. Even bigger of a debate is the ending (which I will try to avoid ruining) as key characters get killed off to which I’m certain will upset some viewers. For alternatives, I suggest taking them to either “Moana” or “Fantastic Beasts.” Both films have a kind charm that are better suited for the holiday. “Rogue One” is a good entry and an improvement over last year’s entry. But what irks me is how it won’t be canon with the new trilogy. Apparently, the idea is to make a series of Star Wars anthology movies that are more in line with the original films. Honestly, I’d more inclined to see them than watch the continuing retreaded adventures of Kylo Ren.

“Doctor Strange” other-worldly enjoyable

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“Doctor Strange” is a movie that truly lives up to its title. This is a strange entry in the Marvel Universe, but a unique one. Of all the superheroes, he is the only one who can walk through different dimensions and bend reality. With a movie adaptation out, the possibilities seem endless for a character like this. Of course, the usual origins route has to be done in order to understand who this person is. Chances are if you can get through that, you will have a good time.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon with a high ego yet maintains a lot of ambition. This is proven after a car accident renders his hands useless as he tries to find a way to restore them. An incident like this proves just how far his character will go to save his reputation along with his usefulness. His knowledge of medical procedures show his understanding for the human mind physically but doesn’t have a mental grasp.

His journey leads him to a place in Napal where he learns a group of people might know how to cure his injured hands. As it turns out, this is really a coven of sorcerers who protect the world from evil. Sounds basic on paper, but when you get into the belief system and different spells, “Doctor Strange” starts to become more theoretical. Strange, himself, is more equip with knowing the world as he sees it; through scientific measures and practices. The journey into the place of sorcerers give off a belief vs. fact argument as Strange questions if his traditional methods are more powerful than magic.

However, a character named the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) proves the importance of mystical belief over science. Or at least the two can be one in some way. She proves useful in showing her new accomplice how vast the universe is within secret and odd ways. I liked how the calmness of this character really defined her. True, this is the usual master with knowledgeable ways, but an interesting one. The moments that made her stood out was when she argues with Strange’s faith. My only nitpick is they try to put in this twist about how she might be deceiving her followers which felt a tad unnecessary.

I say that because the main conflict of the plot doesn’t seem to have much room for it. A group of rebels, led by Dannish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who plan to unleash a monster from a darker dimension in hopes to take over the world in some way. But even the good vs. evil aspect feels a tad underplayed when we are exploring this new realm and the possibilities of traveling between space and time. Once we get to the zealots and their grand plan, it almost feels like a footnote after scenes of Strange training and learning about the new world along with its powers.

These effect-heavy scenes were more interesting than the villains as it proves the biggest eye-candy of the movie. We get treated to Strange traveling briefly through different dimensions (almost an homage to the vortex of light in Kubrick’s 2001), jumping through self-made portals and exploring more the sorcerer culture. When it was exploring this bizarre world of magic and mind over matter, it got interesting. But when it picked up and got back to the villains, the plot turns into your basic “whose the real bad guy” scenario.

On the bright side, it makes for a good excuse for intense action scenes that even push the limits of “Inception” and “The Matrix.” “Doctor Strange” goes further by having the sets actually move like the twisted gears of a clock or a puzzling Rubix cube. Between the fist fights, whole buildings and roads twist and roll around and it only gets bigger once we draw down to the climax. Unfortunately, if you took away the amazing effects, all that would exist is clunky fight scenes. The added sets that constantly move at least add tension and a dream-like feeling.

“Doctor Strange” is once again another step in the right direction for Marvel. They already proven before that they can do more than just superhero movies. “Strange” shows Marvel can channel any genre into their heroes and fly with it. The only flaws I do have to nitpick, which keep me from saying this is their best, include some odd pacing  and the handle of the material. In the first 20 minutes or so, the tragic backstory goes immediately into the training and the final third immediately launches itself into the typical good vs. evil battle. And I understand newcomers need to understand key terms in this odd world, but even they break the aspect of telling as opposed to showing. Characters keep mentioning about this massive creature which might destroy the world, but makes the mistake of talking instead of giving us an idea of this being’s power. When we do see this god-like creature, there’s not a sense of menace because we didn’t see this thing or action or understand its motive.

I must also tag on that despite the PG-13 rating, this is not a movie I would recommend for younger viewers. I would dare say this is one of Marvel’s darkest movies in violence and tone. From surgical procedures to a beheading seen in shadow, I’m honestly miffed at how this got away without getting an R rating. On the other hand, what we see is not too graphic to upset, but when you have talks of surgery on the spinal cord and scenes with out of body experiences, this might be something not for kids under 9 or 12. Parental guidance is strongly suggested for this entry.

Although, I can look past the flaws and say “Doctor Strange” was a fun ride. Full of imagination and creative fantasy, I once again find myself wondering what else Marvel has up its sleeve. After traveling through space in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the world of the small in “Ant Man,” “Strange” goes beyond the realm and even delivers, what I hope, a possible new franchise. One I even predict will be bigger since “Iron Man” made its debut. If not, at least it was a good start to the holiday season.

“Batman vs Superman” dull, bleak and forgettable

batmanvsuperman-xlargeTrying to remember everything about “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” is like taking a math test. You know you studied it, but the answers are not coming to mind. Reminiscing about this movie is tougher considering the amount of material tossed in that doesn’t stick or pay off at the end. I saw this with a near full house and recall nine walk outs and plenty of quiet chit chat during some crucial scenes. Even a few cell phone lights were noticed in the crowd. If this is how this movie is being treated in other places, I wouldn’t be surprised. This is two and a half hours of talk, strange editing, bizarre acting and underwhelming fight scenes. Not to mention cinematography so bleak that it makes you wonder where did all the color go.

I should probably get the good stuff out of the way, seeing they are easier to talk about. Ben Affleck makes a good Batman. He’s suave and cunning when he’s Bruce Wayne, but brainy and crafty when donning the suit. They even give a small explanation for the hiding of the voice which covers up a plot hole looming over the franchise since day one. This comes in the form of an electronic voicebox which is a tad silly but forgivable. Least I hear that gruffling Bale voice, the better. And sadly, this is where most of the praise stops.

Bruce sets his sights on the man of steel,(Henry Cavill), as a financial building is destroyed during the fight with Zod, for questioning the strong man’s ethics. The motive is there but little of it feels driven. They set up a reason for it early on, but then it takes a backseat to Superman’s dilemma about how he is seen on Earth. There are times when they toss in this theme of Superman being depicted as a menace or a god, but it doesn’t come together in the end. Feeling like an oddball with superhuman abilities, Superman/Clark Kent seeks out to show he’s a figure of good while setting sights on debunking the vigilantism of the bat.

Its clear we have two different movies going on, but none of them come together until the final half. Most of the time, we get some scuffle as they see each other as pests. The only time their paths do cross is when Superman interrupts a chase scene and that’s really it. The big fight is saved for near the end and only exists because there is a “VS” in the title. There is no reason for this fight scene to occur considering the less amount of action that took place and how dialogue heavy everything is. The big confrontation has promise, but I feel borrows too much from Blade Runner as the two heroes duke it out within an abandoned building with rain drizzling in.

Looking back to the past, the crossover films had more going for them. King Kong Vs. Godzilla had the big ape being used to stop the lightening lizard and more fight scenes involved. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man was a clunky entry but the story line of Lawrence Talbot keeps it together with the monster battle saved as the end. Freddy Vs. Jason used itself to great potential, while Alien Vs. Predator was decent for the monster brawls. These crossovers hold more because they had one thing missing from this one, an actual story and excuse for these two to meet up.

This “excuse” comes in the form of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who has this plan to bring down these two “heroes” and that’s really it. In the previous incarnations, Luthor at least had an motive and reason; to make it rich and be the ultimate tycoon. While that is not interesting, what made the character unique was how he acted. Luthor to me was kind of like a car salesman with the brain of Albert Einstein. Despite his con man personality, he always appeared one step ahead and enjoyed every minute of his diabolical ingenuity. This Luthor I wanted to see get melted or pummeled to bits. Eisenberg appears to perform him like a bratty Richie Rich that is giddy and overly eccentric. Its not fun and comes off as so obnoxious that my eyes kept looking up at the ceiling of my cinema whenever he was on screen. I’d go further into why this plan doesn’t hold menace, but that would be spoiling a good part of the movie. All I can say is that they try to do this Frankenstein thing with his character but it doesn’t pay off and feels tagged on.

And that was the feeling I got from this movie. Everything felt tagged on and plastered to the wall just to see it stick. Its like “Hey, we need the people of Gotham and Metropolis to question how good the ethics of a hero are, because it was done in Watchman.” Or “Hey, we need Wonder Woman in this movie, just so we can have our Cinematic Universe.” Or “Hey, we need a last minute villain just so we can have this explosive finale and lead it into our Justice League movie.” And while I do admit seeing Gal Gadot as the lasso famed heroine was nice, it just felt there to please the fans clamoring for a Wonder Woman movie. Heck, you can even argue the whole movie is just a two and a half hour trailer seeing its edited that way. They do this thing where after a dramatic scene, it instantly cuts to black. At least give Roland Emmerich credit, he didn’t overuse them in his magnum opus Independence Day and used them to the right advantage. Here, they will have this big moment like Superman getting framed and then cuts to black and we see the LexCorp destroyed. It gets old very easy.

This movie is so bad that its own continuity doesn’t make sense. We see the origin of Batman inter-cutting the death of his parents with his discovery of the bat cave. But then later, we see Bruce drive past the Wayne Manor and its already destroyed and burnt down. I know the Manor was destroyed in Batman Begins, but wasn’t it rebuilt in The Dark Knight Rises? If this was meant to be a reboot  of the Batman franchise, I would be fine with it. But little details like that take me out of the movie too easily.

Its funny because the night before, I saw a documentary called “The Death of Superman Lives” which covers the story of a Superman movie in the late 1990s that never got made. After seeing so many ideas and even some unique footage of Nicolas Cage in a decent Superman outfit, I’m starting to wish we got that movie instead of this one. “Batman vs Superman” doesn’t live up to its promised grudge until the final third. Everything else is so dull and delivered in a shoddy manner that I’d rather brush it off as a bad movie and move on. I feel bad because at least it did one thing right by giving us a Batman that works but not for this kind of movie. Even Jeremey Irons as Alfred feels underused compared to Micheal Cane who went on about speech after speech. There is only one good reason to see this movie other than Batman and that is to use this flick as an excuse to eat candy in the dark. Then again, same goes for every other feature running at your local cinema which probably holds better fun and entertainment than this Bat-Bomb.

“Deadpool”vulgar, violent and nasty fun

There are few movies today that rarely make an impact or hit the mark. In fact, last year’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” rocked theater seats for the wrong reasons. The hyped killed the movie along with its boring script and unsexy scenes of foreplay. Why do I bring this clunker up? Because it was released during Valentine’s Day. Jump to a year later and finally we get a movie around the holiday that is unapologetic, offensive, sexy, loaded with harsh language and very ultra violent in spots. And I loved every minute of it.

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Best movie to take your girl out on a date to…ever

“Deadpool” is another Marvel adaption done right as the red-suited, breaking the fourth wall superhero has languished in development hell for 10 years. Now, he finally gets his due with Ryan Reynolds donning the suit he was born to play in. The character as a whole is fun to watch. Armed with two katanas and limited gun ammo, this baddie spends most of his time chasing down folks that damaged his life and poking jabs of his own movie to the audience. Not only is he immune to bullets, his body can regenerate new limbs while also cracking one comedic catchphrase after another. Reynolds clearly is having a ball playing the ultimate satire of brooding superheroes here.

Without spoiling too much, Deadpool’s true face is Wade Wilson, a mercenary whose fun life is turned upside down when he’s diagnosed with cancer. I always find it odd when a movie like this goes from ultra-fun to a serious tone shift. But the way it gets executed works. It provides there is more dimension to this pun-spewing maniac and even some tragedy like other superheroes.

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Best movie to take your girl out on a date to…ever

At his reluctant aid are two X-Men members, the metallic Colossus (motion capture by Andre Tricoteux, voice by Stefan Kapičić) and the cynical Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). While most of the comic relief is played up from their interactions with the hammy ego, they both have a unique yin and yang personality with Colossus believing in the moral ways of a superhero while NTW just wants to see stuff blow up. Seeing these two mutants makes me wonder why they weren’t used as much (with the exception of Colossus who was performed originally by Daniel Cudmore in previous X-Men installments. He declined when he found out his voice was to be dubbed), but it opens the door for more under used Marvel characters to be seen.

Also enjoyable are Deadpool’s adversaries in the form of a blind roommate (Leslie Uggams donning a foul mouth) and a social bartender (T. J. Miler) that assist the loony ranging from weaponry to advice. Even if they don’t make a big difference, you can appreciate the fun personalities when it comes to taking bets on who is going to die or stashing a supply of drugs for fun.

As fun of a thrill ride “Deadpool” is, there are only two minor problems. On paper, the story is not that interesting. If you took away the comedy and the incredibly, graphic action scenes, you get a run of the mill origin and revenge story. Guy goes through chemically imbalanced transformation, seeks to avenge those who wronged him and so forth. I feel without the comedic moments or the over-the-top environement, this would have been a generic “Darkman.” Thankfully, this is not that kind of movie. This is almost like if “Darkman” mated with “Wayne’s World” and gave birth to an R-rated “Freakazoid.” And that’s the G-rated description.

The only other fault I can think of is the villain Ajax (Ed Skrein). There really is nothing that memorable I can think of outside of giving Wade a reason to go after him. They don’t him much of a motive outside of using people to test a mutagen on for study. But when you consider the amount of harm he caused, it does give Wade reasons to get back at him. I just wish they made this Brit baddie a little more interesting outside of being a mutant that has great strength and can’t feel pain.

deadpool-tickets-166826But I can ignore those flaws because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I can hold my head up high and be glad we got another Marvel movie done right. Like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man,” we are giving a movie that is straight to the source and all out fun. Heck, I would actually like to see what direction they would take this insane character for at the next movie. Overall, “Deadpool” is the first movie I have seen in theaters this 2016 and can say its going to be hard trying to top this one. Now of course, a little minor caution that this movie has tons of bloody action and bare nudity to the fourth base. But hey, would you rather see this with your girlfriend or sit home and watch Jamie Dornan seduce Dakota Johnson by eating a piece of toast shirtless? I think the answer is very obvious.

And like with all Marvel movies (well some), this one has a post-credit scene. Please do stick around because it is worth it. To quote a wise man, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.”

P.S. Best Stan Lee cameo to date…ever

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: King Kong (1933)

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October is here and its time to open up the vault once again. The Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon is back to give you more chills, thrills and oddball titles for the Halloween season. All October, you will get 31 posts for the next 31 days on some personal recommendations or some that deserve a good tearing. Some you wouldn’t guess would fit in with the Halloween season. And others that seriously may need a re-write. Consider this a “Personal Movie Gudie” for the Halloween season and feel free to agree, disagree or marvel at what I got in store. Instead of focusing on a theme, each day will be a special surprise. It could be a movie from the 1930s or a modern piece of trash. As with tradition, the last day of October will be specially reserved for a movie that I feel is underrated and deserves a watch on the spooky season. For now, let’s start off with the king of the monsters … or at least he is a king where he comes from.

If Universal Studios started the monster craze, this one perfected it!

If Universal Studios started the monster craze, this one perfected it!

Its hard to think of a world when King Kong wouldn’t exist. Many can argue It was the turn of the horror genre or the first blockbuster. But I feel it was the movie that perfected the horror genre. You had a monster, a damsel that was adored, everyday heroes and a tragic end. All the beats of a horror movie but done with flare. Its no wonder some tend to use this for the Halloween season and I can see why.

Robert Armstrong gives a great performance as Carl Denham, an eccentric Hollywood director that is all about action and adventure. His next film is to take place on an unknown island but is forced to add romance under studio pressure. The minute we get introduced to Carl, we love him. He can be egotistical but persuasive. A little melodramatic but very street smart. He’s not a villain and far from the kind of person that is in it for the money. He makes films for viewers to enjoy as opposed to profit from and that is the heart of the character.

Carl Denham directs Ann Darrow (Lance Armstrong and Fay Wray) in this classic scene

Carl Denham directs Ann Darrow (Lance Armstrong and Fay Wray) in this classic scene

Apparently, this new movie he’s working on needs a lead and manages to convince a shy Ann Darrow (ultimate scream queen Fay Wray) to join on the venture of a lifetime. Ann maybe the damsel but at least we sympathize with her. I feel with many of the remakes that we get, they always try to add more personality to her character and that’s fine. I do feel the Ann character can be a weak element of the story but Fay’s performance adds a lot of charm. One must remember this is the 1930s and before a time when creating strong female characters were the norm. I admit, I do feel a bit bothered that Ann doesn’t stand up to Kong or do more than just scream. But we spend so much time with her, prior to meeting the giant ape, that we still don’t want to see harm come to her.

Fay and Bruce Cabot make for the perfect odd couple

Fay and Bruce Cabot make for the perfect odd couple

Aboard the ship is Cpt. Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) who is the romantic lead. Of course, we do get that whole thing where he doesn’t want anything to do with Ann but later warms up to her. Its funny how the director of King Kong, Merian C. Cooper, added a romance subplot to this film after a string of successful jungle trek films. Supposedly, this was done to please the executives at RKO Pictures to do something different other than a jungle adventure film, which were still all the rave at the time. The chemistry between Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot would be a staple for future odd couple romances. They would at first have nothing in common, then start to see a connection and then one would try to fight for the other. That usual schlock would continue on in films to this day. I would argue to say this is a chick flick in disguise but that would be taking it too far.

Once we get to the island, things really kick up. We get treated to a group of natives that worship a strange god named Kong, which let’s be honest look a tad silly by today’s standards. Once they notice the beauty of Ann, they use her as a

Beauty meets the Beast!

Beauty meets the Beast!

sacrifice for Kong and sure enough, we find out that their god is really a giant ape. But like with most monster movies, the creature takes a liking to the beauty yet the beauty would rather run away than spend a life with the beast. Again, these are cliches and tropes we would see in later films but King Kong was there first. We sympathize with Kong because we know how rocky the chemistry is even if the ape doesn’t see it. Its almost like how a kid would play with a doll and if that doll came to life. Would the kid appreciate how he has something to cherish and would that toy bring back that appreciation? The bigger tragedy here is how cold the relationship is. Again, in later remakes, they would adjust this to give more heart and something for Ann and Kong to connect with. Honestly, I feel the way things play out is more interesting and adds a sad layer to Kong’s character. Past the fur is a lonely creature who wants companionship even when he doesn’t get the love he wants in return.

Also interesting is the special effects which are performed in stop-motion animation courtesy of Willis O’Brien. You can tell there is a lot of care and craft in trying to make you believe Ann Darrow is in Kong’s hands or that she is in the middle of a fight between Kong and a Tyrannosaurus rex. The island gives way to showcase a huge cornucopia of  effects work as sailors try to fight off dinosaurs and Kong struggles to get through the jungle just to make it to his home. For 1933, this was ground-breaking. Today, we know the tricks of the trade but we don’t care. The execution makes it all the more believable. As actors look on in horror, we are convinced of the horror they view as well.

Kong on Broadway!

Kong on Broadway!

In a nutshell, this is a movie driven by emotion and special effects. The biggest highlight of course is the ending when Kong is taken to New York so he can be on display and goes on a rampage through the city. There is a wide range of shots and tricks to convince us that Kong is on Broadway or trying to fight biplanes on the Empire State Building. Even a giant head and arm had to be made for some scenes and close-ups to convince us that huge monkey is in front of us. Despite the simplicity, we can’t up but admire just how much effort is being tossed in to convince us something is real and on the screen. Even the musical score by Max Steiner complements this. Back then, having a musical score throughout a movie was new at the time and even to this day feels powerful and matches the movie perfect. It knows when to raise the tension of a scene like Kong tossing sailors off a log and when to be quiet and have us enjoy a dinosaur fight or raise the drama during Kong’s last stand. With the elements of sight and sound in play, it keeps us engaged.

And to be honest, its no wonder to see how big of an impact this movie left its viewers. For 1933, this was something new and exciting. Odd how an idea like this didn’t sit well with RKO executives until they saw how well it did at the box-office. Nobody knew Kong would have such a huge impact even during a time of Great Depression. It was something that would go down as pure American history and last through the ages.

One of the many "offending" scenes where Kong tears off bits of Ann's dress and tickles her. Trust me, its not as bad as you think its. Eventually this and many others would be restored to the film later on

One of the many “offending” scenes where Kong tears off bits of Ann’s dress and tickles her. Trust me, its not as bad as you think its. Eventually this and many others would be restored to the film later on

Not even censorship from the MPPC could stop its legacy. Yeah, there was a time when King Kong had to be heavily edited for stuff deemed inappropriate. Much of the “offending” scenes consisted of the Brontosaurus attack, Kong eating people or squishing them with his foot, a sequence where Kong rips off some of Ann’s dress and tickles her (yes, you read that right) and a chilling scene where Kong thinks he sees a lady that looks like Ann but then rejects her by means of dropping her from the building he was clinging on to. Thankfully, the missing scenes where found sometime in the 1960s and restored. But do the age of the censored cuts, one would view this material from a very grainy and scratched quality. Luckily, a print was found in Britain with no cuts made and was used for the 2005 DVD release (which I might add was the first release of the movie on DVD!).

A still from the iconic lost "Spider Pit Sequence"

A still from the iconic lost “Spider Pit Sequence”

And of course, I should talk about the infamous deleted scene that also made the movie famous. Apparently, there was supposed to be a sequence where the sailors would go against a horde of giant insects and monsters. Dubbed “The Spider Pit Sequence,” there has been much debate as to if this cut scene still exists. Rumor has it, that the reason for its removal was after a preview screening where viewers were horrified over after seeing actors getting munched on by giant stop-motion bugs. However, evidence was later discovered that it might have been cut before any preview screening under Merian C. Cooper’s direction, who felt the scene slowed the movie down despite being hailed as O’Brien’s best work. Stills and concept art have surfaced but fans might want to check out a special documentary on the Kong DVD that involves a recreation of the scene crafted by Peter Jackson. Not only is it worth it to see their hard effort pay off but how it was created. Seeing him and the gang make monsters and film stuff the “old fashioned” is a nice treat to watch and gives an idea of how the movie’s special effects were achieved.

"Twas beauty who killed the beast..."

“Twas beauty who killed the beast…”

I am also aware of the many films and remakes that were spawned from it. I would do a whole retrospective if I could about those films ranging form remakes to pitting Kong against Godzilla, but I feel there is not much a purpose. De Laurentiis’ version from 1976 isn’t too bad but a couple of elements null it from being considered a pure classic. Peter Jackson’s take in 2005 feels more like a tribute which had some good stuff despite the unfortunate 3 hour length that nearly kills it. And with more Kong movies planned down the road, only time can tell how well those movies will do for the king. Will they pay a perfect homage to monster lover’s favorite ape or cause disgruntled furry? At this point, we should be reminded of the lasting impact this movie gave us. I’m positive those who are in the movie industry can cite King Kong as an excuse for its innovative special effects, engaging story and unforgettable characters. For in the end, beauty may have killed him but Kong lives on thanks to the public and its fans.

Rental Corner: “Superman” will make you believe…

"You will believe a man can fly"

“You will believe a man can fly”

“Superman: The Movie” is considered by many to be one of the greatest comic book adaptions of all time. A man that can fly and posses super powers beyond any normal man has been such an iconic staple in American culture, it makes you wonder how he is so well embedded. At the time, superhero movies were considered a huge risk seeing they existed in 1950s serials and TV shows but no one attempted a full-length feature film. Well, they gave it a good shot and sure enough, “Superman” was a huge hit. Since then, others have tried to copy its formula of what makes it work while others succeeded in keeping with the spirit of the film. By sticking close to the source of the comic and using the current technology at the to bring the original vision to life. It wasn’t easy and I’m sure there were some difficult liberties but the final result is a film that makes you “believe a man can fly.” However, this was back in 1978. A time when the blockbuster was starting to become a mainstream regular. Considering how times have changed, does it make this movie dated?

To be fair, it really goes all the way in delivering a superhero movie that is true to the original story while also timeless. We are treated to the origin of Kal-El who escapes the destruction of his home planet Krypton that becomes an asteroid field thanks to its sun exploding on them. The baby makes its way to Earth under the care of an elderly folk where he grows up to find out his true birth right. Knowing this information, he discovers from pre-recorded messages from his dad (played by Marlon Brando) that he posses greater power than any usual mortal and dedicates his life to being a savior of the planet.

Christopher Reeve IS Superman!

Christopher Reeve IS Superman!

Christopher Reeve takes the role of the super powered being who is faster than a speeding bullet and able to fly around the world in a mere hour. Thankfully, he really does a great job at not just a heroic savior but also the bumbling alter-ego Clark Kent. Its the typical awkward nerd trope that is used in countless superhero movies when a powerful being needs a disguise but for the time, its enjoyable and doesn’t get any degrading. The reason I can think of that Clark has someone to play off his bumbling self; that being his love interest Lois Lane (Margot Kidder.) Remember when I mentioned one of  my main problems of the Amazing Spider-Man movies was how the love interest was played up to be typical awkward teen love and had that constant on and off again situation where they teased about them being together? Well, here is where it all started and I think its done better here; that is till Superman II perfecting it.

Clark and Lois head for a night out in a romance that is funny yet touching

Clark and Lois head for a night out in a romance that is funny yet touching

When Reeve and Kidder are on screen, you don’t see two actors making googly eyes and reading from the script. There is good chemistry between them as Clark knows when to be subtle on the geek moments and Lois just takes it as a typical quirk. But when Clark is Superman and doing things like flying with Lois or saving her from danger, we get this sense of care that isn’t phoned in. The two really act like a great pair as Lois teases with Clark while Superman does the same to Lois. Its funny seeing it comes off as a strange love triangle as one makes subtle winks to another but its all around cute.

But what is a superhero movie without a villain? Midway, we get introduced to Lex Luthor performed by Gene Hackman who clearly shows he’s having a good time mucking it up as the bad guy. From his underground layer in the subway to one fake hair piece after another, he plans to convert the California state in Luthor owned property by means of two hijacked missiles planted at the San Andrea Fault. Again, this is something all superhero movies would carry with the criminal mastermind that has an impossible plan but “Superman” at least makes it work to an extant. There’s only so much of our suspension of disbelief we can carry at times but the villainous plan gets a pass because of its execution. Compared to the later movies where it would get sillier and sillier, Luthor’s plot is played to be more of a tycoon that sees every step doesn’t get pigeonholed or brought down by the smallest of things. And again, you can tell Gene Hackman is having a blast playing this villain from his over the top anger to his cocky attitude that makes him look like he was too good for Wall Street.

Never a Superman movie without the greatest criminal mastermind!

Never a Superman movie without the greatest criminal mastermind!

As much what works well for this movie, there are some elements that don’t hold up as much in my opinion. On first watch, the pacing of “Superman” can feel slow and that’s because there’s so much material it has to set up like the origin story and Superman trying to prove he is a hero. With so much at bay, you wonder what is the true narrative or motivation. I’d argue its Kal-El struggling to make something of himself but then you have to be introduced to the villain Luthor and his “master plan” doesn’t go into action till the last 30 minutes of the movie. Newcomers who are expecting a mesh between origin tale and solid story might be disappointed or find the pacing a little uneven as the “Man of Steel” himself establishes his part to Metropolis for the first half of movie while the final half leans more towards a good vs. evil story. Its passable but I would have liked to see a way of how to insect the two.

Also, while some of the characters are memorable, there are a select few that don’t hold up as well. Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine play two accomplices of Lex Luthor that tend to feel more like goofy stock characters than three dimensional beings. Valerie as Lex’s girlfriend is a small exception seeing she has a bit of redemption at the end but Ned Beatty’s Otis is just unforgiving. Its the stereotypical bumbling henchman that goofs up just to make the kids laugh. There are a few times when his character can be funny but other times it can get groan inducing with his tough speech impediment-like accent and meat headed personality. Thankfully, it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the movie too much.

Now something I should address is that there exists three different versions of this movie. And if you are to start with a certain cut, I’d say possibly the original theatrical cut or the 2000 extended edition would be fine. This third version is known by fans as the “Salkind International Extended Cut” which is far longer clocking in at 3 hours and 8 minutes. Back then, ABC offered to air “Superman: The Movie” as a “pay per minute” deal. Thus, the two producers compiled a version of the movie that had over 40 minutes of deleted scenes that expanded on certain scenes like the destruction of Krypton, added moments like Lois interviewing an Indian chief or Lex Luthor prepping his car crash distraction and even restored some John Williams score that was trimmed in the theatrical cut. As a whole, its interesting to see tons of added footage but it sort of hampers with the narrative a bit slowing the pace even more. If you can find it, its a nice little gem but I wouldn’t recommend it for first time viewers.

One of the restored scenes from the 2000 version where Lex tests his traps on the man of steel. Also seen in the longer TV edit as well.

One of the restored scenes from the 2000 version where Lex tests his traps on the man of steel. Also seen in the longer TV edit as well.

The 2000 extended edition, however, is a cut that was supervised by director Richard Donner along with film editor Michael Thau and has a few select scenes from the longer television edit. The reason not all the footage was added was due to poor visual effects and this version was more of a “professional edit” than rather a syndicated pick-up for television. While the film was restored, the audio elements were punched up a bit with some extra sound effects in spots where the original audio was deemed “unusable.” In terms of the added scenes, its very much like the Director’s Cut to “Wrath of Khan.” They are subtle and interesting while they don’t alter the narrative flow too much. Highlights include Kal-El talking to his father more in the Fortress of Solitude, a young Lois Lane seeing Clark run pass the train she is on and a whole sequence where Lex Luthor tires to fire bullets, burn and freeze Superman as the caped wonder makes his way to Luthor’s layer. As stated, these additions are fine alone so either version can be viewed on its own.

“Superman: The Movie” shouldn’t be forgotten as another “run of the mill” comic book movie. Without it, where would we be with today’s noble work like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Clearly they owe a lot to this movie because no one even attempted a superhero film on this scale. It proved that viewers can see pass the wires and marvel at Christopher Reeve flying in the air because of how much life he brings to the character alone. Even the special effects still hold up well enough as we see Superman fly into the air and even a great magnitude of practical effects to hide the illusion. We know its rear projection and wires but there’s such a great blend to the point we don’t care and marvel at the effort. And that’s the keyword; effort. For the first superhero movie of its time, everyone was doing their part to bring a blockbuster epic that no one has attempted. So, if you want to see where the comic book movie craze all begin, the consider this one a decent recommendation. While its dated in spots and at times goes for a more artistic stride in sets and special effects, you just can’t help but believe that a Superman can fly…

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Psycho (and its sequels)

Horror-wood

 

Hitchcock's masterpiece

Hitchcock’s masterpiece

Psycho is an interesting movie to talk about because of how much it plays with your expectations. Director Alfred Hitchcock didn’t know he would give birth to the slasher genre in a big way with this one. Its funny considering how many run ins he had with the censors to tone down the violence and sensuality that is considered tame today. Heck, they even had a problem showing a toilet in one scene. I kid you not. This was the first movie to actually show a toilet on the big-screen. But aside form that, Psycho is a milestone in horror history because of two things. The infamous twist and its the start of “humanizing” serial killers.

Anthony Perkins as the infamous Norman Bates as he talks of taxidermy and "Mother"

Anthony Perkins as the infamous Norman Bates as he talks of taxidermy and “Mother”

Janet Leigh stars as Marrion Crane who makes off with a suitcase of money and finds herself under guilt. But that is just the start as she keeps evading the police and trying to be one step ahead all the way. Its not long till she comes across the Bates Motel and its caretaker Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). The first scene they share together in his office is chilling and well done. I like how Perkin’s delivery of his lines have this questionable feel. Its warm and inviting but you can’t help but feel something doesn’t feel right. He keeps talking on about his mother and how much she means to him. And less I talk about that, the better.

Janet Leigh in the infamous shower scene

Janet Leigh in the infamous shower scene

But as soon as Marrion over thinks her decision and plans to return the cash, she gets killed while showering by Norman’s mother. This scene has a been a memorable moment in film history for a variety of reasons. One is how tight and quick the editing is to convey the tense moment. Two is the score by Bernard Herrmann who heightens the moment with a bit of music that complements the killing. Three is that unexpectedly our main character is killed off midway in the movie. No film has ever attempted the idea of slicing off their protagonist at such a crucial point. This movie knows how to take risks.

The original advertising that had Hitchcock advise viewers not to be late for Psycho or else.....they would wait!

The original advertising that had Hitchcock advise viewers not to be late for Psycho or else…..they would wait!

I’d go further and talk about many things but I feel that would be doing a disservice to Alfred Hitchcock. He wanted this to be such a surprise for folks that he did everything in his power to make sure some of the big plot points weren’t spoiled or that viewers would come in late during the film past Janet Leigh’s death scene. His view was that Psycho had to be seen from start to finish and equipped theaters with heavy promotion advising that viewers can’t see the movie unless when scheduled. Once the doors were closed and you missed your chance to get in, you had to wait till the next screening. The result of this marketing campaign was genius. Dare I say, I think this is arguably the first blockbuster considering how much talk and successful it was. Film critics were less enthusiastic back then and it got a mixed reception but I feel that was because of the fact they HAD to see this with an audience to avoid spilling the good stuff. Over time, it has been regarded as Hitchcock’s crowning masterpiece and I couldn’t agree more. If you like a gripping mystery, go out and see why this movie really is a true classic.

And they made a sequel?!?! Would you believe its actually good?!?!

And they made a sequel?!?! Would you believe its actually good?!?!

Oddly enough, one would think that no sequel would exist seeing how tightly wrapped Psycho is. But as it turns out, Psycho II does exist and surprisingly its in my opinion better than the first film. Don’t get me wrong. I like what Hitchcock did but viewing the sequel on its own terms and the liberties it takes, its impressive to see just what it can do. Instead of demystifying Norman Bates, it goes a whole lot deeper in. Anthony Perkins returns as the infamous Norman who returns home to try and fix up the old motel and start a new after the events of the first film. Unfortunately, the past has an interesting way of catching up to him as he tries to remain “sane” in hopes that “Mother” is out of his head.

Meg Tilly with Anthony Perkins as she questions how "cured" is Norman

Meg Tilly with Anthony Perkins as she questions how “cured” is Norman

Meg Tilly plays Mary Samuels, a girl who works in a nearby diner and sees some sympathy in Norman. Again like its predecessor, it really plays around with characters you think you know but then later on you start to see their true colors. Mary is a great example of that as we are curious to think if she is tempting Norman into his old ways or if she is trying to help him. She innocent enough to consider how much she appreciates him even if she’s at the hands of someone possibly unstable. A good example is a scene where Norman is making her a sandwich and is nervous to cut it. The way he slices the bread in half and the sound effect that goes with it is perfect irony and foreshadows past memories from the previous film.

I would go into this movie and explain what makes it so good but like Psycho, I would be ruining a lot of really good twists and turns. In fact, that’s what makes this sequel so good. Instead of copying what the first one did, it becomes its own entry and goes into deeper aspects with the Norman character that makes him sympathetic and frightening at the same time. Aside from being a box-office hit, its reputation has been a bit rocky. Critics were mixed over the idea of there being a sequel to the first film and viewers were dead split as well. But since then, Psycho II has grown a cult following and given a great Blu-Ray treatment courtesy of the Scream Factory. I say Psycho II works as a stand-alone film and a follow up to its classic. Its one of my all-time favorite sequels and I couldn’t be more happy with it.

Room for rent? No thanks!

Room for rent? No thanks!

You think I would stop there but I guess I have to talk about Psycho III. What makes this one interesting is that not only Anthony Perkins reprises his role but also directs it. To be fair, he knows how to make a movie and make it well shot and here is where my positive views stop. Not because its a movie I can’t talk about in detail but that its possibly one of the most bizarre sequels I have ever seen. And that’s saying a lot. The whole movie tries to pay homage to Hitchcock in every way from its opening shot of a nun falling off a bell tower almost reminiscent of Vertigo.

Norman this times meets up with Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid) who is trying to get away from her life as a nun and has suicidal tendencies. The two meet off and it feels really odd to be honest. The idea of someone in the hands of another who is more mental unstable just doesn’t feel right. Its hard to explain and the chemistry between Perkins and Scarwid is actually good but it feels overpowered but other things that go on. It also doesn’t help that Maureen’s initials are MC and resembles Marrion Crane a bit so Norman cracks back to his old habits again.

Looks like Maureen, no?

Looks like Maureen, no?

Jeff Fahey plays a jerk of all trades that is hired by Norman and right away, we know what we are in for. Earlier in the movie as Maureen is hitchhiking, she gets picked up by him and he tries to roughly take advantage of her. Great way to show how big of an arse he is and it doesn’t help he wants to turn the Bates Motel in a sleaze fest. Something that was done in Psycho II but taken care of quickly. In short, he’s a character you really hate but not in a good way. He’s too douche to be appreciated.

The infamous Ice Box scene....less said, the better...

The infamous Ice Box scene….less said, the better…

I feel bad seeing there was so much potential here but yet nothing really comes together. We have Norman looking after a suicidal girl, a sex-crazed guitarist and on top of that “Mother” is trying to mess with his mind. There is too much going on here and I haven’t even to talk about the nosy news-reporter that is trying to dig up dirt on Norman for an article on serial killers that are back in society. The overall feel of this movie is just awkward. While Psycho II was straight up horror and mystery, Psycho III comes off as an unintentional comedy. One infamous scene is when a patron is killed and her body is in this ice bin. The sheriff starts picking about and for no reason takes a handful of ice cubes from where the body is obviously buried and he puts a bloody soaked ice cube in his mouth. The timing and pacing had to been comedic. Even weirder is Norman putting poising in bird seed so he can start his taxidermy again. If you see it as a dark comedy, you will be safe. But in my opinion, there’s just too much awkwardness and weird that not only demystifies the Norman Bates character but paints him as a comedic figure. Norman to me is always scary and not an object of comedy and that is were Psycho III fails.

The Bates house and what future will it hold for viewers....

The Bates house and what future will it hold for viewers….

I’m also aware of the TV movie Pyscho IV: The Beginning which acts as a prequel by showing Norman in his younger years but I decided against seeing it for a variety of reasons. One being interest and that I wanted to focus on the theatrically released movies. I wanted to play fair to films that got to be seen on a big screen and adored while giving audiences a fright. Psycho has gone from a Hitchcock classic to such a pop culture phenomenon that my own words can’t do much justice. If you are curious, I say see the first film and if you are hungry for more, pop in Psycho II. A double billing like that is sure not to disappoint. Not even “Mother.”