Tag Archives: Oscar Winner

WRONG: DULL ISLAND

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He’s bigger, he’s better and he’s back. He’s King Kong, and this time he is not going to be dragged off Skull Island and taken back to civilization to be paraded around till he takes exception to being someone’s meal ticket, breaks loose his chains and starts a city smashing rampage which ends with a barrage of bullets and a long fall to the asphalt below.

No folks, this time round Kong, now the size of a mountain, is hanging out and keeping the peace on his island. That is until and group of curious humans, led by an alleged Bear Grylls, Tom Hiddleston, Oscar winner Brie Larson who shifts between looking wide-eyed at things and taking photos, John Goodman who knows the truth is out there and Samuel L. Jackson. When you absolutely, positively have to kill every monkey in the room – accept no substitute. This group headlines a cast of who-gives-a-shit characters on a trip to Skull Island where everything is big. Even the ants apparently, but that’s a set piece too far.

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The journey to the island is mandatory – montage and music stuff. Then we break through the perpetual storm clouds and have ourselves a bit of an Avatar moment as the crew marvel at the grandeur and beauty of this lost wilderness. Then Kong shows up and goes apeshit. He smashes up the Apocalypse Now homage and then walks off to enjoy a little calamari, ’cause they just don’t make bananas that big. So,  with the cast all over the place, Tom and snap-happy Brie and their group are headed from the rendezvous point, Sam and John and that guy who played Private Wilson in Tigerland, plus the other soldiers are off to get some more guns to aid in Sam’s desire to turn the King into fried funky monkey meat.

There’s a giant spider that should make Jon Peters happy. There’s the Watcher in the Water moment. The Soldier who writes to his son bites it, or gets bitten by something unusual, but we don’t get the exposition till we meet up with John C. Reilly looking like his character Gershon Gruen from The Extra Man, minus the collection of souvenirs and the no-testicle high voice. This guy though gives the film a pulse. Oh, and he was the pilot from the beginning, SPOILER! He’s been hanging out on the island with the tribe that speech forgot, waiting to come in and add some much needed comic relief. Turns out there are huge nasties that you can call whatever you want under the ground that Kong has kept from emerging to prominence and getting there own spin-off movie.

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This task used to be in the hands of more Kongs, but there is a ‘big one’ of these things that lay waste to them. Now Kong is the only one left who can keep cool, sit tight and keep the creatures in there holes. Of course this film falls into the cash-cow category. They brought back Godzilla, now they make a Kong that’s to scale, in order for the pair to have a decent scrap. But sadly it is a joyless ride. Predictable, laughable, with (and I’m quoting a prior review I’ve read) cardboard cut-out characters that are simply there to fill in the time between Kong and his monster-bashing bits. Heck my son started talking at least 45 minutes out from the end. This tells me that he is board out of his mind and I was with him. But I tried to hang on. I did not fall asleep like I did after the first fifteen minutes of the Conan remake. I have since completely avoided the try-again versions of Clash of the Titans, RoboCop, Ben Hur, Point Break, Total Recall as so on and so forth.

There is a line from James Ivory’s Surviving Picasso in which Anthony Hopkins, as the title character, refers to the methods of artists who have found fame and fortune. He says they make themselves little cake-molds and bake cakes, one after the other, all the same. He then  stresses to Natascha McElhone’s Francoise, not to become your own connoisseur. This is extremely relevant and typical of the modern Hollywood. There is little to no attempt at originality, and if there is, it takes place within a film that fits into the friendly confines of a pre-branded property.

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But the big ape lives and walks off into the center of his jungle home. He survives his encounter with dim-witted humanity, only to go off and fortify himself for the coming sequels and, quick note on cinematography, Larry Fong gets to send a love letter to his buddy Zack Snyder with a little samurai sword in green smoke action. We have reached that point in the history of the movies dear readers, in which the dead horse has been flogged so often that they have been whipping the bones. Soon all that will be left is the dust of said bones under foot. What are we to expect then? I’m reminded of one of Kevin Costner’s lines from his summation speech in JFK, “perhaps it will become a generational thing.” Ten years goes by  and it’ll be, “Well, time to drag a King Kong movie out again.”

Sam Jackson buys the farm much like he does in Deep Blue Sea, swiftly and unexpected, at least for him. I’m starting to believe Hollywood is looking at us the same way. Here we stand, full of confidence, about to witness triumph in whatever form it may appear. Then it becomes like the lead up to the first ever screening of the Phantom Menace. The audience was cheering, poised, ready for the planets to align in complete and utter harmony. The Fox logo. The Lucasfilm logo. A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. Star Wars. If you watch the documentary The People Vs. George Lucas, one interviewees describes this as perhaps one the greatest moments in cinema history, then, then the film started.

I think it is a frequent occurrence today. There is so much pomp and pageantry surrounding these tent-pole movies that more often than not bad, because to achieve the same level as the hype generated is near impossible. Mind you, there are a few that defy this convention but they are few and far between.

So my favorite Kong is still the one I grew up with, the John Guillermin 1976 version.

People tell me they hate that one too. But to each his own. Kong will most likely be back in a decade after this lot. He’ll be half the size of the planet, ripped and ready to rumble against the Independence Day giant aliens when they decide to return to the best place in the universe, Planet Earth: home and the re-imagination of the adaptation of the sequel of the remake.

He’ll take a huge crap in his mighty hand and fling it at them. Oh if only…

The Dude in the Audience

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NORMAN JEWISON’S MOONSTRUCK — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Nobody makes effortless romantic comedies like Moonstruck anymore. Beautifully written by John Patrick Shanley (who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) and wisely directed by Norman Jewison, this film is funny, heartfelt, genuine, and so perceptive of Italian culture it almost hurts. Cher was fantastic in a role that netted her a Best Actress Oscar (that hair!), Nicolas Cage was at his wild-eyed and passionate best, and the entire supporting cast just nailed every single opportunity that they were given, especially Olympia Dukakis (who took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, and John Mahoney. Jewison was one of those steady and sturdy filmmakers who never seemed to get the credit he deserved, despite winning awards and almost always garnering critical acclaim; was it that he wasn’t a “Hollywood” guy that kept him off to the side a bit? He always seemed interested in tackling important social and/or political issues within the narratives of his films (he was also a prolific producer), and he was seen as a filmmaker who was able to turn the potentially inaccessible into something commercial.

Moonstruck was one of his more classically structured films, an effort that played to the conventions of its genre but one that enjoyed poking fun at the tropes. Shanley’s rich and frequently hysterical screenplay touched upon ideas of love, chance, and the importance of family, and at no time did the writing ever get overly sentimental or cloying, a trap that befalls many films of this ilk. Moonstruck opened on December 18, 1987, and immediately became a massive theatrical hit, spending 20 weeks in the top 10 of the box office, and grossing close to $100 million. And it’s remained a popular favorite for years due to the simple fact that it just flat-out works on every level. It’s romantic without being sappy, sexy without being puerile, and intelligent without being pretentious. Nothing was forced, the film was never vulgar just to be vulgar, there was a terrific sense of New York City running all throughout, while the low-key manner in which the plot unfolded should be held as an example for this variety of storytelling, which tends to get overstuffed and too complicated for its own good at times. I also hope that the people who created My Big Fat Greek Wedding are sending weekly royalty checks to Shanley and Jewison. “Snap out of it!”

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WILLIAM FRIEDKIN’S THE EXORCIST — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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I’m not huge on horror movies. But The Exorcist is brilliant, and easily one of my all-time favorite films in any genre. This movie actually kind of scares me, every time I watch any portion of it, no matter the time of day. It certainly gets under my skin; it’s relentlessly thrilling and so ruthless in its force and skill that it’s become one of those films that I study in terms of the nuts and bolts of its construction. I’m not a believer in the idea of real-world demonic possession, but, the scenario certainly has made for more than a few memorable cinematic experiences, but William Friedkin’s beyond intense vision is truly the stuff of nightmares. Owen Roizman’s carefully measured cinematography puts you on edge immediately, as the nearly wordless opening 20 minutes plunges the viewer into an exotic world with very little context, as Max von Sydow’s priest character unearths something terrible out in the desert. Ellen Burstyn was sensational as the actress/mother struggling with almost every facet of her life, with her biggest problem being that her young daughter Regan, the show-stopping Linda Blair, has caught the eye of the Pazuzu, an ancient demon. Jason Miller’s tortured performance as Father Karras is some of the most emotionally affecting work in this genre that I’ve come across; admittedly I’m no aficionado of the horror world, but Miller’s acting in this film has always resonated with me, and has always seemed to be a cut above for this sort of fare, which can tend to be overplayed for big, obvious moments. There’s a reason this movie has endured as long as it has – it’s truly horrific in all the right ways, vulgar and nasty, never afraid to go to some truly dark and disturbing places, while still paying respect to classic genre tropes. The Exorcist feels perfect from scene to scene, with each performance totally nailed by the incredible ensemble, and all of the craft elements aligning to create one of the most visceral and truly horrifying visions of cinematic terror that’s ever been presented.

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JAMES MARSH’S MAN ON WIRE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

 

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James Marsh’s spellbinding documentary Man on Wire is the sort of film that leaves you feeling queasy, enthralled, and alive. Queasy because of the physical insanity demonstrated by Philippe Petit. Enthralled because of how daring Petit was to do what he did. Alive because the film acts as a celebration of life. Petit, for those of you not in the know, pulled off what some people consider to be the “artistic crime of the century.” In 1974, along with a group of friends, he attached a wire from one World Trade Center building to the other, and tight-rope walked back and forth between the two buildings. Eight times. Over the course of 45 minutes. In this staggering documentary, which was expertly constructed by Marsh like a first-rate Hollywood thriller, the viewer is treated to video footage of Petit doing numerous other tight-rope walks (in Paris, London, Sydney) and practicing for his endeavor in NYC. Some may think that Petit is ill, a man with a certain death wish. Some may think he’s simply eccentric, a guy in love with life, unafraid of the fatal consequences that his obsession carries. And who knows, all of those scenarios could be true. It’s sort of baffling to me that Werner Herzog, the wild-man filmmaker that he is, didn’t get the rights to this story, as Petit feels as Herzogian of a character as there could ever be. In its own quietly moving way, Man on Wire becomes something extremely special: A testament to the power of one’s faith in themselves and the people around them, and how the most challenging of ideas can be realized if you have the drive and passion to accomplish it. Petit, who is considered to be one the first widely-known and publicly accepted modern street performers in Paris (he juggled, danced, tight-rope walked), is such a distinct character, that everyone else around him, no matter how interesting they are in their own respects, pales in comparison. During the course of the film, we’re introduced to all of his friends and accomplices, who divulge information about their scheme and about Petit in general. Jaw-dropping footage of his other tight-rope walks are shown throughout the film, with footage from a high-wire walk in Sydney being the most insane.

Petit didn’t just walk on the wire – he would lay down on it, bounce on it, even dance on it. When he devised his plan for walking in between the World Trade Center buildings, he knew it’d be the crowning achievement of his career. The way that Marsh amps up the tension using his framing device for the film is extremely clever, very stylish, and eerily subversive, as the film takes the form of a terrorist thriller. You see Petit and his men infiltrate the World Trade Center, wearing fake disguises and showing phony paperwork to gain access to the roof. Of course, after the world altering events of 9/11, this story takes on even greater significance, and there is a mournful quality to much of the footage we see of the World Trade Center being built. It will be impossible for us to look at photos and footage of the World Trade Center without thinking of 9/11, something that Marsh knew full well before setting out to craft this engrossing documentary. And because none of it is ever exploitive, Marsh brings out a soulful quality of New York that’s hard to describe in words. However, I wish Marsh had asked Petit about how 9/11 affected him, because it’s clear from the film that Petit was in love with NYC and the World Trade Center, and not to mention having a profound and lasting impact on his life. Maybe some questions are best left unasked? My only complaint is that nobody, for whatever reason, decided to film Petit’s walk across the World Trade Center. They snapped lots of still photos, but why weren’t they filming it like they filmed his other death-defying acts? In the end, what I loved so much about this film, and about Petit in general, is that this was a project that Marsh felt compelled to make, much in the same way that Petit just HAD to attempt what he did in NYC. He thought that the World Trade Center had been built so that he could walk in between them.

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