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Friday, August 17, 2007

The Last Legion


The Last Legion follows in the footsteps of Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur in that it gives us Roman origins for the Arthurian stories, and sure there are historians who believe that Arthur may have been a Roman soldier, and who knows they might be right, but I for one would rather see the end of such movies that expand on this idea as these two attempts have seemed clunky, forced, and lacking in…what’s the word…oh yes, MAGIC!

Today's film is directed by Doug Lefler who is most notably a storyboard artist but has directed episodes of Xena and Hercules as well as the straight to video sequel to Dragonheart, and truly this movie could easily have been just an extra long episode of Xena as the Warrior Princess was constantly running into historical figures like Caesar, but the script provided for this film by Jez and Tom Butterworth wouldn’t even have made a particularly good episode. The movie does have its Xena equivalent character with the Eastern warrior woman Mira (a very hot Aishwarya Rai), and her fight scenes are one of the few good elements of this film, but not enough to save a film that is loaded with dialogue so cheesy that it wouldn’t be out of place in a Spanish sword and sandal flick. The cast is overall not that impressive with only a couple real “marquee” names in the credits, Colin Firth who plays the heroic General Marcus Aurelius (for those of you that have dying to see Mister Darcy wielding a Roman sword and spouting clichéd speeches, well this film is for you), and Sir Ben Kingsley (I really wonder how many bad films you have to do before they revoke your knighthood) who plays Ambrosinus, the young Caesar’s teacher, and not to spoil anything but….psst he’s actually Merlin.

The film starts with the usual ponderous narration by Kingsley about a sword of great power that was forged for the conqueror Julius Caesar and passed down the line of his descendants until it reached that of Emperor Tiberius, and on his death it was hidden away safe from evil men. For generations it lay hidden in a secret place and marked by the symbol of the pentangle and sword, under the Very gaze of Caesar, while many searchers, such as Ambrosinus, sought its mysterious location. Later we find out the sword was forged from a fallen star and given to Julius Caesar, and I must say it’s a shame my history teachers left out that cool factoid.

The story proper starts off with the coronation of the last descendant of Caesar, and to our dismay it turns out to be Romulus Augustus (a ten year old kid with the survival instincts of a lemming), and whose reign is cut short when the Goths, who claim to have been short changed by the Romans, storm the palace and capture the city. The capture of Rome is pretty easy and apparently only takes about 10 minutes. Odoacer, the Goth king (Peter Cullen), spares the young Caesar, and banishes Romulus to the island of Capri under the watchful I of the villainous Wulfila (Rome’s Kevin McKidd), and he’s the character I had most sympathy for as he wanted to kill the little snot.

General Marcus Aurelius survives the attack and with the help of Mira manage to rescue some of his men, and so this loyal band, which includes a large black Rastafarian and an Orlando Bloom wannabe, set off to rescue young Romulus. It’s while running around the island fortress that Romulus finds the secret chamber that holds the sword, which is located under the giant pentangle symbol that everybody seems to know represents the sword of power. That the fortress was created by the last person to own the sword makes you wonder how hard these searchers were looking. What is even more ridiculous is that after the kid activates the secret way in it’s revealed later that the chamber has so many entrances that I’m surprised they didn’t have a hotdog concession down there. One of the entrances was even a bloody grotto that opens onto the sea! Exactly how this place remained hidden for so long is the true mystery. Now the important thing is that on a plaque by the sword is prophecy (and really what kind of film would this be without a prophecy) that says “One edge to defend, one to defeat, in Britannia was I forged to fit the hand that is destined to rule.” It’s an easy prophecy to remember as it’s repeated a half-a-dozen times during the course of the film lest we forget.

Shortly after the escape from Capri they find out that the Senators have thrown in with the Goths and that the only chance our group of heroes has is to find the 9th Legion who are stationed in Britannia. Wow, who would have guessed they’d end up having to go there? Well that’s all the detail I’m going to go into for this review, but here are some highlights I just have to mention:

• Our heroes trek to Britannia has them crossing snow covered mountains in such a manner that I kept waiting for someone to complain it was too cold for the Hobbits.

• Wulfila manages to track them all the way across Europe (I bet he can track a hawk on a cloudy day), and teams up with Vortgyn, an evil bastard who is trying to conqueror Britannia. His most notable feature is a gold mask that he wears that has him coming across like a low rent Doctor Doom, right down to the burned face. The mask itself resembles that of Mordred’s from John Boorman’s Excalibur. Why do filmmakers insist on reminding us of better movies?

• During the final battle at Hadrian’s Wall, Romulus, the idiot everyone is fighting and dying to protect, actual wanders up onto the wall, scurries around the fighters, and believe it or not climbs down the other side, and right into the thick of the battle. And for no apparent reason. WTF!

• After the battle is won Romulus declares that there will be “No more blood, no more war,” and he chucks the sword through the air where it of course lodges itself into a stone.

My parting words are simply this, “Can we have magic back in our Arthurian stories, please?” Really, cause if filmmakers are going to make supposed “historical films” that are this ridiculous they might as well put in more fantasy elements. I mean come on, they cast Colin Firth as a great Roman general, how much more fantastical can one get?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Santa Claus: The Movie


As a genre Christmas movies are probably the most hit or miss, for every Miracle on 34th Street you have a dozen more like Santa Claus Conquerors the Martians. Now in 1985 the Salkinds decided to take a stab at it and with Supergirl director Jeannot Szwarc at the helm that’s exactly what we got….stabbed.

The movie starts our promising enough as we pan down from a starry sky to a snowy Scandinavian landscape and wood cottage full of people. They are all waiting for their beloved friend Uncle Claus (David Huddleston) to bring toys for all the children as he does every year. Many are impressed that Claus can cut wood for the whole village and still have time to carve all the wooden toys he provides each year, but it is his love of children that makes it possible. After giving out wonderfully hand carved toys to the children he and his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) bid their friends goodbye as they have more stops to make, and even though the weather is getting bad they can’t think of disappointing the children who live on the other side of the forest. The storm intensifies and soon their reindeer collapse in exhaustion as the snow whips around them. Claus embraces his wife as the winter storm takes their lives.

The Northern Star appears and a cone of light descends on the frozen countryside and out of it steps a large contingent of elves. Claus, his wife, and reindeer all wake up as the group of colorfully dressed little people approach. They are led to their new home at the North Pole where they are informed by the Ancient Elf (Burgess Meredith) that Claus is The Chosen One and will fulfill the duties of the prophecy. That is live forever and give out toys to all the children of the world. And this is where the film runs of the rails and into a morass of boring maudlin scenes coated with syrupy crap.

At 108 minutes the film really drags with overlong montages of the elves making toys, endless shots of Santa flying around with his reindeer pulled sled, and it’s not until about the 40 minute mark that the real plot of the movie starts to rear its ugly head. A seemingly overworked Santa Claus promotes an elf named Patch (Dudley Moore) to assistant, but his radical ideas of mass production results in shoddily made toys and unhappy children on Christmas morning. A now disgraced Patch runs away to prove he is useful. Of course he ends up hooking up with the films villain B.Z. (John Lithgow) an evil toy manufacturer who is being investigated by a Senate committee for producing dangerous products. Throw in a poor little boy who lives on the street and the rich girl (also stepdaughter of B.Z) who befriends him and you may need to take a couple of insulin shots to survive a viewing of this film.

About the only real enjoyment I got out of this film was watching Lithgow hamming it up with the evil cranked up to eleven, but as his character doesn’t show up until the hour mark it’s really not worth the wait. Like Supergirl this Christmas disaster just seemed to meander around without purpose, now Jeannot Szwarc pretty much stopped directing movies after Santa Claus: The Movie but has made a decent mark for himself in episodic television (he even directed an episode of the excellent show Heroes). So if you’re looking good Santa Claus movie keep on moving as this one is not going to fill the bill.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Beauty and the Beast (1946)


La Belle et la Bête, Jean Cocteau’s version of Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont timeless tale, is one of the most purely enchanting films I’ve ever seen. It’s dreamlike qualities draw the viewer into a world of magic and wonder with out a singing teapot in sight. I really enjoyed the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast but now having finally seen this classic 1946 film and I must say the French really know how to tell a good fairy tale. As Disney-fied versions go their animated version is actually quite good (Hunchback of Notre Dame being one I can't even watch without cringing) but it left out much from the original story. Now even Jean Cocteau took some liberties with this classic tale but it is ruthlessly faithful in many areas, and it's because of this that I think it is the superior version, and only the wonderful songs in the Disney film make that one stand out in comparison.

Belle, played by a radiant Josette Day, is one of four children; she has two wicked sisters, Félicie and Adélaïde (who seem like they stepped right of Cinderella), and Ludovic, her brother, who is a bit of a wastrel who spends much of his time hanging out with his friend, and fellow scoundrel, Avenant. The once rich family has fallen on hard times, much to the chagrin of the Belle’s two sisters who believe they should have been married to Dukes and Princes, and Belle has been reduced to being basically a scullery maid. She is not forced into this position it’s just that if she doesn’t none of the work will get done, as her sisters spend all there time complaining about their lot in life while the brother drinks and loafs around with Avenant. The “friend” is constantly pushing himself on Belle and urging her to marry him, she begs off saying she must stay and help her father, but the real reason is plainly that he is a colossal jerk.
Then good news comes, a merchant ship believed lost has come to port, and with the goods on board the family may be rich once again. When the father readies to depart Félicie and Adélaïde bombard him with request for dresses, jewels, and even a monkey. He asks Belle what she would like and all she wishes for is a simple rose as none grow in the area. Unfortunately when he arrives at the port city creditors have seized his goods and he must return home through the dark foggy forest at night, as he cannot even afford a single nights lodging. He is soon lost as high winds besiege him, and when the end seems near for the poor man trees magically part revealing a large castle. He walks his horse onto the castle grounds and is startled as the stable doors open on their own and his horse steps in freely. He calls out but gets no response. He approaches the castle and the main doors open onto a long hallway lined with candelabras. This the point where I would see about getting my horse back as the candelabras are held by arms that just jut out from the walls, and they point and guide him further into the castle. Belle’s father is a far braver man than I as he hits sits down at a dinner table that has an arm sticking out of it’s center, and which pours a glass of wine for him. He falls asleep in the chair under the watchful eyes of the castle’s living (and very creepy) statuary. Come morning he wakes up and wanders the castle grounds once again calling out for his host, it’s then he spots a rose push and remembers Belle’s wish, but the moment he plucks it the Beast appears and tells him he was free to take anything he liked but the roses as they are his most cherished possession (you’d think it would have been a good idea to maybe post a sign or something), and now for this breach the poor man must die. When he begs for his life and mentions he has three daughters to care for the Beast offers him a way out, he can leave now and send one of his daughters back to take his place, but if none want to die in his stead he must return on his own. He is given a magical horse (it is revealed later that the castle doesn’t quite exist completely in our world, and one wonders how the father stumbled upon it) that will take him too and from the Beast’s castle.
The horse quickly carries him home and there he regales his family with this latest turn of events. The sisters quickly blame Belle for this as she requested the rose in the first place, of course the father had no intention of sacrificing any of his children he only came back to say good-bye to them, but Belle is insistent that she takes his place, while Ludovic and Avenant want to slay the Beast. The father tells them the Beast is much too powerful, and then proceeds to pass out from some feverish illness. Taking this opportunity Belle mounts the magical horse and rides to the castle of the Beast, but instead of being killed and eaten she is made mistress of the house and any whim she has will be answered. She is provided a lavish room with a magical mirror that allows her to see anything she wishes, and the only stipulation is that every night at
7:00 when she dines the Beast will appear. Each night he does and on each night he asks, “Belle will you marry me?” She of course declines the offer but slowly her feelings towards horrible looking creature turns from fear, to pity, to a deep caring. It is a lonely existence in the castle, though she has come to really look forward to her dinners with the Beast, but it isn’t enough as she misses her father and wishes to see him one more time. The Beast tells her that if she leaves and does not come back that he will surely die. She promises to return in one weeks time, and the Beast, to prove his faith in her, he gives her the gold key to his treasure trove and source of his power. The Beast than gives her one of his gloves which when put on will teleport her back home instantly, and though it be night here in the castle it will be day at her families home.
She bids the Beast adieu, puts on the glove, is transported back home (she comes through the wall of her bedroom in a rather cool in camera affect), and then places the key and glove on her nightstand. Of course not all are glad of her return, and upon seeing the bejeweled gown and tiara that Belle is sporting the sisters instantly start plotting against her. The two wicked sisters suck Ludovic and Avenant into their plot promising they will all be rich if they can get the Beast spoils. After rubbing onions into their eyes to work up some tears, the girls run to Belle and tell her how much they love her and can not bare the thought of her leaving again, and that they will die of she does (this the only part in the film where my sympathies for Belle waned, as anybody gullible enough to believe these two women deserves what ever she gets). While hugging and crying they manage to steal the gold key and get Belle to promise she will stay with them a little longer. Unfortunately the hiccup in their plans is that none of them know how to get to the Beasts castle, but lucky for them the lonely Beast has grown despondent for his missing Belle and has sent the magical horse to retrieve her. Avenant and Ludovic, golden key in hand, mount the horse and ride off to rob and slay the Beast. Unbeknownst of these events Belle checks on the Beast with the magic mirror and sees him lying still near the castles pond. She puts on the glove and instantly finds herself in her bedroom, but quickly realizes she has forgot the key, and she pops back home to get it. She frantically searches the room, but to no avail as the key is no where to be found, so she puts that glove back and rushes to find the ailing Beast.
Meanwhile Ludovic and Avenant arrive at the castle and spot the treasure room. When Ludovic sticks in the gold key the door is infused with a glow, and Avenant yanks it out fearing that if they open the door it may set off a trap (okay if you’re not going to use the key what was the big deal about getting it?), and so the scale the walls and peak down through the skylight. Below them is a glorious golden hoard, treasure worthy of a dragon, but no such serpentine creature guards it, just a statue of Diana goddess of the hunt, and so Avenant smashes the glass of the skylight and has Ludovic lower him down.
Over by the pond Belle finds the dying Beast who tells her that now that she has returned he can die happy. Belle will have none of that talk and tells him how much she loves him, and that she cannot live without him, that she will gladly be his wife.
Back in the treasure room the statue of Diana turns and fire her bow, and nails Avenant right in the back. He falls to the ground and as he dies he transforms into the visage of the beast.
Belle is startled when her dying Beast suddenly turns into a handsome prince. (Jean Marias of course played the Beast, Avenant, and Prince Charming). At first she is quite taken aback by this change and comments, “You remind me of a friend of my brother,” and not as if that is a good thing. Belle has realized that the beauty within is much more important than any outward appearance. The Beast then tells Belle that he will now take her to his home, and they ascend into the clouds. Where they are going is left to the imagination.

Now the one thing you won’t get from my rather long-winded review is just how beautiful this glorious black and white film is. From the spooky forest, to the haunted halls of the castle the look of the film never ceases to be anything but a perfect fairy tale, with some of my favorite moments of Belle running in slow motion as if in a dream like state, and her letting the Beast drink from her cupped hands. I just can’t recommend this film enough.

Killer Workout


I was kind of hoping this film would be about Jane Fonda going on a killing spree or maybe Susanne Summers knocking people off with her killer thighs, but this unfortunately is not the case; instead we’re treated to over a dozen deaths with most of them being committed with a giant safety pin. Yes you heard me right, you’ll find no chainsaws, axes, or gardening implements dripping in blood in this movie, nope the makers of this film went for the most original weapon they could think of, it’s just too bad the writers never actually came up with a reason for the killer to use this particular device.

This is going to be a rather spoiler filled review so for those of you who don’t want the twist and turns and shock ending ruined for you please refrain from reading further until you’ve seen the film, of course all the surprises in this film are so over telegraphed and obvious that they would have a hard time shocking a five year old. But who am I to deprive others of the joy and pain I suffered while watching this flick. Well now that you’ve been duly warned let’s get into the meat of this baby.

The film starts off decently enough with a woman returning home and checking her answering machine. One of the messages states she has landed a modeling assignment in
Paris for Cosmopolitan magazine; the only stipulation is that she has a tan. Full of excitement at her future prospects the young beauty immediately heads to the local tanning salon. This is where her luck takes a turn for the worse as the tanning bed she chooses malfunctions resulting in roaring flames, and not the all over even tan she desired. The poor woman screams and thrashes pitifully to get free, but she is unable to extricate herself.
We now jump ahead five years (we aren’t actually informed that five years has elapsed until much later in the film, my guess is they couldn’t afford the “Five Years Later” superimposed graphic) and find ourselves at Rhonda’s Work-Out. We are introduced to Rhonda Johnson the co-owner of the gym, she is a witch with a capital “B” and between chewing out employees and fending of advances by Jimmy the gym’s resident sexist pig she just stomps around scowling at everyone. The gym itself is full of people dressed like they escaped from Olivia Newton John’s Physical video, and are happily doing their aerobic workout with smiles verging on the insane plastered to their faces, and get use to those smiles because even as the death toll rises the smiling and exercising just never stops.
Before we get on to discussing the killings I should mention the music and songs written for this film, to call them 80’s bubble gum pop is an insult to most of the crap that came out in that time period as these songs are truly horrendous with such great lyrics as “She's a knockout, you better watch out, She'll take you out!” and from my personal favorite song entitled Aerobicide chants “Working out until you die!” over and over again. Not much in the way subtlety are they?
Now we best move on to the murders in this film before you, my gentle readers, nod off. If this movie is lacking anything it’s certainly not in the body count area. And our first victim is an attractive black woman who is taking a nice long shower while her fellow health nuts call it a day and head off to wherever pretty people go when they’re not exercising. In this scene I’ll give props to the filmmakers for avoiding what dozens of cheap slasher films have done in the past, by not ripping off shots from Hitchcock’s Psycho. Mind you the scene is so poorly edited, and shot that they would have been better off stealing a bit from Hitchcock. The girl is brutally stabbed to death with aforementioned giant safety pin, and what’s truly amazing is the amount of blood that can be generated without there being any wound actually visible. Maybe it’s some magical property of the safety pin? One of the employees later finds the body stuffed in a locker, but not before a lame fake scare involving a resuscitation dummy in another locker.
Enter Detective Lieutenant Morgan to solve the case, but he’s got competition as Chuck Dawson, the gyms new employee, is actually an undercover private investigator, hired by the gym’s senior partner to see what’s going on. Unfortunately as the death toll climbs they both prove to be about as effective as the water tight doors were on the Titanic.
Aside from safety pin stabbing, we are treated to throat cuttings, a hanging, and heads caved in by barbells, all handled in such a way as to not let us get a good look at the killer, even though it’s obvious it has to be a woman as all the men in the film look like models for steroid abuse, and the hands and physique of the killer are rather slender.
At one point the coroner comments, “I’m running out of body bags.” I’m not an expert on the law or police procedures, but I find it hard to believe that the place is not only allowed to open the morning after a body is found on the premises, but that it isn’t closed down after the fifth or tenth victim. My only guess is that the never seen senior partner must be the mayor of the city. And of course these horrible murders will certainly not stop the customers from showing up every day, with smiles firmly in place
Chuck “Super Sleuth” Dawson suspects sexist pig Jimmy of being the killer, and breaks into his place where he finds a rather cheesy shrine to Rhonda. Jimmy, who is incredibly jealous of Rhonda, eventually kills our “hero” Chuck, and is soon on the lamb as everyone now believes he’s the killer. Things start to come to a head as we are treated to exciting fisticuffs, thrilling foot chases, and nail biting gun play (oh dear my sarcasm meter just broke). Until Rhonda blows poor Jimmy away and of course is treated by the media as a hero.
Now everyone’s happy, that is everyone but Detective Morgan whose investigations led him to discover that Rhonda Morgan is in fact Valeria Johnson the woman who we saw burned in the tanning bed accident. She now wears a wig and a full body Lycra suit to hide the burns that cover seventy percent of her body. Morgan believes she killed all those people because they are all beautiful and perfect like she use to be, and it eats her up that nobody can ever look at her body again without feeling sick. With the murders resting on the deceased Jimmy it appears that Rhonda/Valeria has gotten away with it and there’s nothing are hapless flatfoot can do about it…or is there? On the pretense of police business he lures Rhonda out into the middle of the woods to “show” her something, and she never questions why he’s carrying a shovel. After trudging for awhile through the woods she refuses to go any further and Morgan’s response is, “This will do just fine.” He sticks the shovel into the dirt and starts in a monologue on how is dad was a great cop and how he was forced to cross the line between good and bad when a serial killer got off on a technicality. The murders resumed until one day the killer simply vanished never to seen again, and Morgan knew that his dad had killed him. Now he is going to follow in his dad’s footsteps to keep Rhonda from killing again. Stupidly he turns his back on her during his speech and she grabs the shovel and kills him.
Cut to the gym where Rhonda has shown up to pick up her keys. An employee tells her how business is booming since the city has made her a hero, and that by mid week this place will be packed to the walls with beautiful people. When the employee leaves we see Rhonda pull out her key chain which is surprise, surprise, a giant safety pin. She smiles evilly at the camera, and roll credits.

The people involved in the making of this film must have seriously thought that if the had enough deaths, and plenty of T & A on camera that nobody would notice how completely lame the so called plot was. It seemed that almost every scene was preceded by shots of women working out at the gym, with some shots veering right into Airplane type parody by just showing close-ups of the breasts bouncy up and down. As for the acting…well if I was told they just grabbed people off the street and had them reading off cue cards I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised. So if you’re a true film masochist feel free to check this flick out, if not your better off watching any number of the Friday the 13th movies.

Cursed


When it comes to horror movies the werewolf has always been treated like the vampires ugly stepsister. Where the vampire are often portrayed as a suave, mysterious, and charismatic creatures of then night, the werewolf is usually just a slobbering monster that will either tear out your throat or maybe piddle on your carpet. When you’re turned into a wolf you don’t get to spout lines like, “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” At the most a werewolf gets to do growl and howl at the moon a lot. So you are not going to get Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt type actors clamoring for these types of roles, instead you get B-list movie actors, or in the case of Cursed you also get refugees from Dawson’s Creek and Gilmore Girls.

The number of good werewolf films can probably be counted on one hand, for every Howling and An American Werewolf in London you have to wade through a lot of cheese like Teen Wolf, Underworld, and Van Helsing. This brings us now to Wes Craven’s foray into the genre, where he is once again teamed with writer Kevin Williamson. In this film these two men trot out every cliché and stereotype in the book, and guess what ladies and gentlemen the end result is a movie that never once takes itself seriously, and if you come along for the ride you will have a lot of fun.

The film starts with two gorgeous women Jenny and Becky (Mya/Shannon Elizabeth) wandering the midway of a fairground where Mya spots a gypsy fortune teller and wants to find out if Shannon’s love interest is ever going to call again. But instead of getting a bunch of expected hokum about their true love they are both told their future is full of BLOOD!

Meanwhile Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) the school nerd is making moves on the typical school princess who though nice is always dating the school jock/asshole. We then jump to Jimmy’s sister Ellie (Christina Rici) who is having relationship problems of her own with Jake (Joshua Jackson) a seemingly nice guy who appears to have commitment problems.

Later Ellie picks up her brother and its while driving home that things take a turn for the worst. Something big and hairy bounces off their windshield and their car careens out of control, sideswipes another vehicle and sends that one of the road and down a wooded embankment. Trapped in the car is Becky, and she is a little freaked out because she smells gas and is afraid the car may explode…if only she were so lucky. Just as Jimmy and Ellie are about to get her free something hairy and with a whole mess of teeth grabs her and drags her into the woods. The brother and sister try in vain to save the girl but are only rewarded with bites of their own.

For those of you who have seen the Jack Nicholson film Wolf you won’t be surprised that are two leads start developing some new characteristics. They become more confident; their senses are heightened, as well as increased strength and agility. The brother, being a geek, quickly figures out that it was a werewolf that bit them, that they have been cursed, and that it’s only a matter of time before they start sprouting hair from unwanted places.

The film has a lot of fun with the genre much in the way Craven and Williamson had fun with Scream series. The film isn’t really frightening, and only provides you with the occasionally jump scare, but it is very entertaining, with few nice story turns, and many good laughs. My only real complaint would be the lack of the rules. In every vampire or werewolf film it is important for your audience to know which rules from the canon of film history are going to apply in this one. In An American Werewolf in London the change was triggered by the full moon, and silver wasn’t needed just plain old lead bullets was fine. Now in the Howling you could change into your bestial form at will, but silver was required to dispatch the beast. In Cursed both the moon and silver are mentioned, but silver doesn’t kill the creature it only hurts it, and apparently the werewolf can change back in forth from its furry form as along as it’s during a full moon. How that actually works is never really addressed, but that’s just nitpicking at what is basically a “Check Brain at Door” type of movie and if you go into the theatre with the right mindset you should have a good time.

Mindhunters


First off this film does not star Val Kilmer and Christian Slater, despite what the ads may imply, they possibly worked a couple of days, cashed their cheques, and then took off as fast as they could to the nearest strip club or casino. This is truly another Renny Harlin masterpiece and moves him closer into the realm of Uwe Boll, as there isn’t an ounce of originality in a single frame of this film. The rest of the cast consists of relative unknowns with the exception of LL Cool J and Jonny Lee Miller. The story revolves around a young group of FBI agents who desire to be profilers (that’s people who try to get inside the heads of serial killers and the like), and Val Kilmer plays Jake Harris an eccentric teacher at the academy who takes the group to an isolated island for their final training exercise. The film wastes no time in turning into just another run of the mill slasher flick, (that is if Jason or Freddy were into Rube Goldberg type death traps) where we are dished out the old Agatha Christie routine of “and then they’re were none” as each character is knocked off one by one, and everyone suspects everyone else. If you’ve seen My Bloody Valentine, April Fools Day, or any of the psycho killer flicks from the seventies or eighties then you won’t find anything new here. Characters constantly walk off alone when off course the most sensible thing to do when you don’t know who the killer is to just all stay in one room together until help arrives in the morning. No, instead we are treated with great dialogue such as, “You stay here and watch him while we check this out.” The moments that follows that kind line never bodes well for the characters. There is one scene in particular that just had me rolling my eyes in disbelief; while examining a staged crime Christian Slater activates one of the Rube Goldbergian traps that is in the form of a series of falling dominoes. The fact that the entire group just stands dumbstruck as they watch the dominoes click-clack their way across the room is truly astounding as not one of them has the brains to think, “Hey if a psycho killer set this up maybe it would be a good idea to…oh I don’t know…stop them?”

Now in all fairness there were some pretty suspenseful scenes, and the acting overall was more than adequate, but the fact that I had guessed who the killer was at about the fifteen minute mark made enjoying the rest of the film that much more difficult. Even if you don’t figured out from the first subtle clue Mister Harlin provides there’s a few more that are served up like beach balls. So all the finger pointing an accusations made by each of the characters just comes off as annoying when it’s so obvious who the killer is.

That this film was originally planned to be released in 2003, then postponed, and then lost for a time isn’t surprising. Why it didn’t just go straight video is what I can’t quite understand

Sin City


For those of you that are fans of the Frank Miller graphic novels you are in for a treat as this the most faithful translation of a comic to screen that has ever been done, and for those people who haven’t read the original Millar stories get ready for movie that grabs by the lapels and drags you kicking and screaming into a world of sex and violence and style.

Robert Rodriquez and Frank Millar have created a modern day film noir classic. Their use of black and white with the rare infusion of colour is simply gorgeous to behold. And I’m sure guest director Quentin Tarantino had a ball playing around in this world. The movie contains four stories from the Frank Millar graphic novel; Sin City, which was the first book and featured the Frankenstein like anti-hero Marv played beautifully by Mickey Rourke, That Yellow Bastard which stars Bruce Willis a one of the few good cops in Sin City, Clive Owen plays the killer with a new face in The Big Fat Kill, and Josh Hartnet brackets the movie with a bit I believe is from The Babe Wore Red.

For those who haven’t read the book I’ll give you a quick breakdown in the three main stories.

Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is an honest cop in a city full of corruption, and it’s his last day before he’s forced to retire due to heart condition. He could just take it easy but there’s a little girl out there that needs his help, a pedophilic murderer has her and time is running out. Hartigan’s partner (Michael Madsen) wants him to just hang back and wait for back up as the rapist (Nick Stahl) is the son of Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) a very powerful man, and it’s best to let things go. All I’ll say is he doesn’t. The second story revolves around Marv (Mickey Roarke) who spends the night with a woman named Goldie (Jamie King) who takes him to heaven and back, but when he wakes up from his drunken stupor she’s dead and the police are closing in. Realizing he’s been set up he literal burst into action and the carnage that ensues on his quest to avenge her death is awe-inspiring. The third story is about Dwight (Clive Owen) a murderer that had his faced change to keep out of the gas chamber. He’s hooked up with Shelly (Brittany Murpy) a girl with a past who has problems with her ex-boyfriend Jack Rafferty (Bencicio Del Toro) who likes to smack women around. Dwight falls right into the roll of Lancelot and chases Rafferty and his pals into Old Town (The area of Sin City ruled by the prostitutes) where they run into trouble with the girls, and it’s all Dwight can do to prevent a war from breaking out.

Now the women of Sin City are something to behold; there’s Jessica Alba as Nancy the stripper with the heart of gold, Rosario Dawson as the tough as nails dominatrix Gail who holds Old Town together. Devon Aoki as the silent but deadly Miho a ninja who helps Gail keep the girls safe, Carla Gugino plays Lucille a lesbian parole officer who supplies meds to poor confused Marv, Jamie King as Goldie the woman Marv vows to avenge, Alexis Bledel is working girl Becky (This is quite the departure from her Gilmour Girl role), and Brittany Murphy as Shelly a woman trying to get out from under a real nasty ex-boyfriend. And those are just the highlights as the city is just overflowing with gorgeous women.

The film plays with time, much in the way that Pulp Fiction did, the stories overlap, as you’ll see one character in the background that we saw dead in an early story, and this is much in keeping with the books in that aspect. The film is very Rated R and the violence is extreme, and I believe the only reason it won’t get an NC-17 is that much of the gore is in black and white. So those of faint heart beware as it’s a pretty intense film, but it’s one hell of a ride.

The Adventures of Superman


"Faster than a speeding bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!"

Superman has seen many incarnations from movie serials to cartoons to blockbuster movies, and now Bryan Singer is about to unleash his version of this iconic hero with Brandon Routh donning the cape, but when it comes to a live action version of Superman there is, in my humble opinion, only one actor who truly owns that role, and that would be Christopher Reeve. Now if asked who is the best
Clark Kent…well for me that would be George Reeves, he wins that contest hands down. In 1951 the producer of the Superman radio show was asked to bring the lone Kyptonian to television, and the part went to a tall, dark and dashing man, who made his movie debut with a bit part in Gone With the Wind as one of the Tarleton twins. Now George Reeves may have needed a little padding to fill out the Superman costume, but as Clark Kent he was everything a person could want in a hard-hitting reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. There was none of the slapstick comedy and nerdy behavior that would show up in later interpretations, he was tough, smart, and would often take on thugs while in his Clark Kent persona. Lois on occasion called him a coward when he didn’t volunteer to rush off into danger with her, but she was also quick to realize that Clark was the smarter of the two, and often would try and scoop stories he was working on.

The Adventures of Superman was definitely low budget television, and the effects and sets certainly make that pretty obvious, but what really stands out is how violent a show it was. This was no Saturday morning show for the kiddies as mainly dealt with gangsters and their ilk. People were beaten up, tortured, drugged, and murdered on a weekly basis on this show. In the episode “The Stolen Costume” a gangster and his moll discover that Clark Kent is Superman, and when they threaten to expose his secret to the world he takes them way up north to the top of a mountain. He tells them that he’ll be back with food but that they will have to stay here until he can figure away to protect his secret. They don’t trust Superman so when he flies off they try and climb down, and end up falling to their deaths. In the episodes denouement
Clark doesn’t seem all that choked up about the fact that he is indirectly responsible for their deaths, for in this first season he isn’t quite the Boy Scout he is depicted in later shows. Now Superman never actually kills anybody, but if you discover his secret identity you may want to run out and purchase some life insurance.

Now a little bit about the supporting players;
Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates in the first season), Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson), and Perry White (John Hamilton) along with Clark Kent seemed to make up the entire staff of the Daily Planet. Aside from the occasional janitor or secretary I don’t remember seeing any other employees, and I’m not exactly sure how a “Great Metropolitan Newspaper” could survive with just an editor, two reporters, and a Jimmy Olsen (what his job actually was is never made clear as Lois is often the one with the camera, so I guess maybe he’s just a glorified gopher or cub reporter). Aside from Clark one must really wonder about their intelligence, it is almost always Kent who solves the mystery (and then saving the day later as Superman), but the real shadow that is cast over the human staff of the Daily Planet is their complete failure to figure out Clark’s big secret. It’s as if Kent knows how dumb they are because he is constantly dropping clues and practically waving his powers in front of them on ever other occasion. In the episode “The Case of the Talkative Dummy” Jimmy Olsen is locked in side a safe and is being lowered out a sixth floor window when the rope of the block and tackle starts to give, now down the street Clark and Lois are at a stop light (they suspect Jimmy is in danger and where driving across town to find him), Clark spots the safe and exclaims, “Lois, Jimmy is in that safe!” Lois turns to ask Clark how he could possibly know Jimmy is in that safe, but Clark has vanished from the car. The rope breaks, the safe plummets, and is caught by Superman. Is it just me or do you all think maybe Lois rode in the “special” bus to school? In another episode Clark is at his desk when there is a knock at his door, he says, “Come on in Jim,” and sure enough it was Jimmy Olsen at the door. Jimmy asks Clark how he knew it was him, and Clark answers, “Don’t you know I have X-ray vision?” Jimmy laughs, “Oh yeah…just like Superman.” Clark is really having fun screwing with these people, and it’s not just the staff of the Daily Planet that is a bit obtuse when it comes to Superman/Clark Kent; Inspector Henderson (Robert Shayne) isn’t much better. In “Double Trouble” Clark needs to get fingerprints analyzed by American Intelligence officers in Berlin. Jimmy is missing, so time is of the essence, thus he flies over “faster than a speeding bullet” to Europe, and as Clark Kent begins investigating in Berlin. Then once he has uncovered the villains he flies back to Metropolis to Inspector Henderson’s’ office (after donning his Clark Kent clothes) who has just got off the phone with the people in Berlin who mention just saying good bye to Clark Kent. Henderson asks how is it possible that Clark has got back from Germany so fast, and the response he gets is, “Trade secret Inspector.” That Clark can cross the Atlantic in the same time it takes the average person to cross-town would, I think, earn more than the headshake we get from Inspector Henderson.

Now don’t get the wrong impression that these “issues” in anyway take away from enjoyment of the series, in fact quite the opposite, they just add an extra level of entertainment. When
Clark “winks” at the camera at the end of an episode it’s like he’s letting us in on the joke. The series lasted for 104 episodes and I for one just hope the level of fun is maintained through out. From despicable thugs to goofy robots this series is pure TV gold, and I can’t recommend it enough.

The Legend of Zorro


Three legendary heroes get me to the theatre every time no matter how good or bad the reviews are, and those characters would be Robin Hood, Tarzan, and Zorro. Now it was way back in 1998 when Martin Campbell brought us The Mask of Zorro, and it is rather odd for a studio to wait this long to bring us a sequel to a hit film. The reason most given for the delay was that they were waiting for a perfect script…well they should have waited a little longer. I will tell you right off that it isn’t terrible film and that there is entertainment to be had in this outing, Antonio Banderas is still damn good as Zorro, and Catherine Zeta-Jones has lost none of her beauty in my opinion, but the plot they’ve hinged these two quite likable characters on is it’s main failing. Now before I get into the story the other thing that really bothered me about this sequel was the reducing of them film from its previous outing as PG-13 rated film to this much tamer PG version. I have nothing against films that are “Fun for the whole family!” but when the main character is a world-renowned swordsman and yet he never actually stabs anybody with his sword is rather idiotic. In Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones shoots, stabs, and tosses villains to their deaths and I still consider that film good for most ages (melting faces could scare the little ones), and it was rated PG. So why they made The Legend of Zorro with such a softer touch is a mystery to me. Most of the fights in this film go along the way of clang, clang, punch, clang, clang, kick and so on. Which of course had me wondering, “Wouldn’t he end these fights quicker if it went more like clang, clang, stab?” I’m not asking for Zorro to be lopping off limbs (you really can’t do that with the type of foil Zorro uses anyway), nor do I need to see arterial blood spraying out in bright red fountains, but what is wrong with a quick stab, and then move on to the next bad guy?

Okay now onto the story. In this sequel, which takes place I think six or seven years after the original, we find California voting for Statehood and of course Zorro must prevent evil nasty people from fooling around with votes (and no Jeb Bush does not make an appearance in this film), so once again we see Zorro ride to the rescue in the name of democracy. His people love him and cheer him as he thwarts the bad guys, and rides off into the sunset, but it’s back out home where he runs into problems. You see Diego had promised to Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) that once
California joins with America he would give up the mask and sword, and spend time with his family. Of course being Zorro is loads of fun and he loathes giving it up, so the two fight and he storms out into the night. Later a couple of scheming Pinkertons blackmail Elena into divorcing Zorro so she can go undercover to investigate an old friend Armand (Rufus Sewell), a smarmy Frenchman who is a member of some ancient secret society that sees America as a threat. We are then treated tedious scenes of her seducing Armand while Diego drinks himself into a stupor every night. Now onto the most extraneous and annoying portion of the movie…their kid. Joaquin, son of Diego and Elena, is your typical precocious, spunky movie kid along the lines of Shortround from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom , and the son from The Mummy Returns. It is also made apparent that Zorro’s acrobatic skills are a genetic trait as we are treated to scenes of the kid doing back flips, and much other daring do with no explanation as to how he learned to do these things. This subplot of the son not knowing that his father is Zorro, and not some foppish Don, and hating his parents breaking up, all of which serves no real purpose to the stories main framework, it seems like somebody tried to turn the Zorro franchise into an action version of Kramer Vs. Kramer.
Even some of the cool action sequences slide right into comic-ridiculous moments. At one point the train Zorro is chasing speeds up so he is unable to board it, so he takes his horse up a rise, follows the train along a raised ridge, and then jumps the horse to land safely on the train’s roof. How veering away from the train to ride up a hill would somehow compensate for a trains increased speed is beyond me, and should be left to professors of physics, and I won’t even go into the consequences of landing a horse on the roof of a moving train.

There are a lot of worse films out there, and as I said earlier there are some cool entertaining moments, but none that I could recommend them being worth the trip the theatre for.

Red Eye


This film is what you get when you have two very talented actors in service of a really bad script. The movie starts our very promising, letting us get to know our two leads with only a little heavy handed foreshadowing. In the opening shot of the film the camera pans along a desk topped with photos of our heroine Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) and in one of these photos she is playing field hockey…so take a guess at what item she gets her hands on to fight the bad guy for the films climax.
The major problem with the film is the plot that the villains have concocted would be so easily thwarted by our heroine if she had used any common sense at all. And she is supposed to be some uber-hotel manager so you’d think she’d be able to think fairly fast on her feet.

The basic story is that Lisa Reisert is taking the red-flight back to Miami after going to her grandmother’s funeral. She runs into charming fellow traveler Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), and they seem to keep randomly bumping into each other, until the point where the find themselves sitting next to each other on the plane. Of course these meetings are anything but coincidental as Jackson quickly reveals to her that he is some globetrotting killer for hire, and he needs her help. Apparently the Deputy Director of Homeland Security is going to be staying at the hotel where she is manager, and they need her to make a call and have his room changed so his people can have better access to kill him. He then tells her that there is a man sitting in a silver BMW outside her fathers home, and if she doesn’t do as she is told he will call the man in the BMW who will then kill her father. This is where the films plot completely falls apart under this absurd premise. Jackson is unarmed and onboard a plane at 30,000 feet with only a phone to contact his associates, which leads us to the question, “WHY DOESN’T SHE JUST SCREAM BLOODY MURDER!” Instead she tries to leave a note in another passengers book, and in one the most over used movie clichés she writes a note on the bathroom mirror (all of which are discovered and thwarted of course). I lost count of the opportunities this dumb woman had to just run for help. Instead of going to the washroom why didn’t she just keeping on going ahead to the cockpit, or to the stewardess station and inform them about this dangerous man, and find out if there was an air marshal on board. No matter how crazy you seem they will certainly hear you out, and one phone call would confirm that the Deputy Director is staying at the hotel she manages. Then all they would have to do is subdue Jackson and send the cops over to her fathers place to arrest the guy in the BMW, which Jackson was so kind enough to describe to her. End of movie.
Instead we are treated to her running around being chased and fighting off
Jackson in some of the most tedious action sequences ever put to film. They even go so far as to have her fleeing through the airport, getting a car, and driving all the way to her dad’s house with out once thinking of contacting the police or airport security. Sure they make some deal about the cellphone she has is low on batteries, but that she hides from the airport police makes no sense at all.

My advice to you is don’t even bother to rent this one, it’s ninety minutes of filler trying to pretend to be a thriller.

Deep Impact


In 1998 we were treated to two big disaster movies, both involving a comet heading for Earth. Now many people took great joy in poking fun at the ridiculous Michael Bay entry Armageddon, and I would be the first to agree that it truly was a loud, flashy, and utterly stupid film. But as dumb as it was it never took itself seriously while the film I’m reviewing today tried to pass itself off as a realistic look at this type of disaster, with a little family drama added to help us swallow the bad science, and obvious plot holes. Well I’m forced to throw a flag on that play because even though it’s not as preposterously idiotic as Michael Bay’s film that still doesn’t make it a good film, just a better film, and that my friends is faint praise indeed.

The film starts with an amateur astrology group scanning the heavens, and it’s while doing this that Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) discovers a new comet. They quickly notify a local professional astronomer Marcus Wolf (Charles Martin Smith) who with just this one spotting can miraculous predict that it’s going to hit the Earth. When in fact it would take several viewings over time to discern the path of the comet. Well let’s move on to one of my favorite bits of plot ineptitude, unable to contact anybody by phone or email Dr. Wolf jumps into his jeep and heads down the mountain where he is killed by one of the worst telegraphed car crashes in film history. But what is truly annoying is the fact that his death serves no real purpose to the plot. We jump ahead a year and find that the government has been working all this time on what to do about the approaching catastrophe. They found the disk in the wreck and named the comet after the two discovers Wolf-Beiderman. (For some strange reason they believed Beiderman died in the crash as well) We are not told that the death of Marcus Wolf delayed the government in finding the comet or had any effect whatsoever. It was just filler and has no bearing on later events.
Meanwhile reporter Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni) has accidentally uncovered the comet story and she blackmails the President (Morgan Freeman) into getting her a better position at the press briefing, the world maybe ending put at least her career is on track. We of course have to ignore the fact that with the size of this comet it would have been visible to every two-bit yahoo with a telescope, and that there is no way the government could have kept this a secret.
Now on to the plan! They decide to send a group of astronauts up to the comet, plant some nukes, and blow it to kingdom come. When in fact given the time frame they had it would have been more beneficial to try and nudge the comet off its course instead of blowing it up. But that’s just a minor quibble; we’ll get into the problems of blowing it up later. One scene in the film that really angered me was when the young hotshot astronauts give the senior member of their crew, played by Robert Duval, a hard time for being to old and only being on board as a publicity stunt. I can’t believe for a minute that real astronauts would show this kind of disrespect to somebody who has actually landed on the moon. Of course things go wrong and the comet is just broken into two pieces and both are still headed for Earth.
Meanwhile back on Earth the President moves right on to the back up plan, which involves a lottery and moving a crap load of people underground to ensure that mankind survives. Elijah Wood and his family have been pre-selected because he was one of the comet discoverers, but his girlfriend and her family have not been. So what does are stalwart astronomer do? He marries her and is told that now her whole family can come. But on the fateful day when the army buses come to pick them up the girl’s name is on the list but not her family. She refuses to get on the bus and watches as her true love rides away. This scene is almost more idiotic than the one with the disrespectful astronauts, could you for a minute believe any parent would let their kid stay behind and face sudden death? Later when Elijah Wood shows up on a dirt bike as the girl and her family are stuck in a traffic jam, she tearfully hops on behind him, and leaves her parents in the dust. What changed? Did she somehow grow a brain in the last 24 hours?
Back in space the astronauts have come up with a new plan, to nobly sacrifice themselves by flying inside the comet and blowing it up with their remaining nukes. This will take care of the big piece, but the little one will still smack the Earth. Of course blowing up the big one would still doom the Earth; instead of one big piece hitting you will have millions of pieces raining down with same kinetic energy of the original comet creating an explosion with more power than all the world’s nuclear bombs combined. Yeah team! But no, we see a nice little fireworks display kind of like the one at the end of Independance Day. And the World is saved!
We aren’t cheated completely out the carnage we paid our ten bucks to see. The smaller piece does impact somewhere in the
Atlantic and a huge wave heads for the shores of North America. I won’t get into the fact that the people in the traffic jam would have been flash fried as the comet streaked overhead, I won’t state the obvious effects that many tons of water would actually have on the New York skyline, I’ll just say this…It looked great. But was it worth two hours of soap operatic drivel that led up to it? My answer is simply no. Save your money and rent something by Irwin Allen.

From Time magazine, "Numbers" section:

$5 million:
Estimated annual cost for a 10-year program that would identify large asteroids most threatening to earth.


$75 million:
Budget for "Deep Impact", a film about the devastation caused when a comet hits earth.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Son of Kong (1933) - Review


 It had been years since I last set eyes on Son of Kong, and I had forgotten just how disappointing this film actually is, but it does go to show us that quick cash grab sequels are as old as the film industry itself.   Released a mere eight months after the blockbuster King Kong this sequel pales in comparison on practically every level. RKO decided on two key factors that would insure it made a ton of money; first cut the budget in half (cause that always results in bigger profits), and make it more “kid friendly” as the youth market is where the money is, though during the depression I’m not sure what disposable income kids had, but then again I’m not a big movie exec so what do I know. Ruth Rose, Son of Kong's script writer, made no attempt to make a serious film out of this sequel on the grounds that there was no way it could surpass the success of the original, stating, "If you can't make it bigger, make it funnier." 

 


The film starts out promising enough with Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) hiding out in a boarding house from process servers, because everyone and his aunt is suing him for the carnage caused by the escaped Kong. Eventually he hooks up again with Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and Charlie the ships cook (Victor Wong) as the only other returning cast members from the original. They set sail just ahead of a Grand Jury indictment and then try to make a go of it by shipping cargo in the Dutch Indies. It’s in the port of Dakang that we meet our other two key players; Hilda (Helen Mack), daughter of a drunken ex-circus ringmaster, who helps her father make a living by singing badly while playing the guitar, and Helstrom (John Marston) who in a drunken brawl kills Hilda’s father, and burns down the tent. Now Helstrom has a connection with the original film as he is the man who provided Denham with the map to Kong’s Island, and now that he really needs to get out of Darkang, what with Hilda threatening to tell to the magistrate that he murdered her father, he convinces the incredibly gullible Denham and Englehorn that there is treasure on Skull Island.

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"Also I've a got a bridge for sale and some great land in Florida you may be interested in."

Hilda, who also wants out of Dakang, stows away aboard the Venture not knowing that her father’s murderer is now one of the crew.  Helstrom, a coward at heart, has no intention of setting foot on the dangerous island so he fills the unruly crew with stories of how several of the previous crew died during Denham’s last trip to Skull Island, and in all fairness he’s actually telling the truth about this. There is a quick mutiny that finds Denham, Englehorn, Charlie, and Hilda being dumped into a lifeboat, but before Helstrom can wallow in his victory the crew toss the traitorous bastard overboard as well, and so lily-livered Helstrom ends up joining the group on their trip to Skull Island.

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"I'm sure the place has mellowed out since we were last here."

Now here is one of the film’s major problems, we are now at about the 40 minute mark in a 69 minute movie yet we’ve just now gotten to Kong’s island. This is obviously caused by the reduced budget, and the fact that the events on the island itself seem really rushed doesn’t help.  After getting a rude welcome from the natives, a thrown spear and threats indicate that they aren’t all that happy with how Denham and company lead a rampaging Kong through their village during their last visit, so the group is forced to make their way to the far side of the island, and that is where they meet the son of Kong.

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"If that's Kong's kid we better keep an eye out for the mom, she'll really be pissed at us."

While Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie march off to look for provision, Denham and Hilda stumble on a small version of Kong trapped in quicksand. Feeling a bit guilty over getting this guys dad killed, Denham knocks over a tree and helps young Kong escape. Denham’s line, “He’s not a patch after his old man” pretty much sums up the whole film. The 12-foot white haired ape is played completely for laughs, and not particularly effective laughs either. They have given him the cooing sounds of a baby chimp, and the slapstick antics of a Max Sennet silent comedy star, none of which makes him a very effective character. When Denham and Hilda are threatened by a giant cave bear, looking more like a guy in a terrible bear suit than a ferocious animal, young Kong charges to the rescue.   We are then treated to a fight that is more reminiscent of a couple of two five year olds fighting over a favorite toy than it does a titanic struggle between titans.

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And by titans we mean overly large gorilla and really big bear.

Meanwhile Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie had been chased into a rocky nook by a styracosaur. Trivia Note: The styracosaur was a left over dinosaur that was cut from the original King Kong.   It was the dinosaur that chased the sailors onto the log bridge that Kong topples them off of, and here once again it is proven that the styracosaurus is not very effective when it comes to catching humans as all he does is eat their gun, and that it’s for that exciting moment.

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"I am a herbivore after all.

After stumbling upon some ancient ruins Denham is sure he will find the treasure behind a rock wall, and with little Kong’s help they break into an old temple. Inside they find a huge altar and hanging from a nasty looking idol is a necklace containing a huge diamond, but of course as you know a dragon must guard all treasure, and so another lackluster fight ensues. The encounter between young Kong and this refugee from a fantasy film is less slapstick in comparison to the cave bear fight, there is certainly less eye rolling and tweetie bird sound effects, but it is in no way in the same league as the Kong/T-Rex fight from the original.

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Son of Kong in the Temple of Doom.

When Englehorn, Helstrom and Charlie return, the styracosaur we assume became as bored as us viewers and had just wandered away, the group is shocked to see this large ape hanging with Denham and Hilda. Helstrom’s panicked reaction to seeing a 12 foot ape is a bit much, after all compared to the dinosaur that chased them the night before little Kong isn't very threatening, yet he flees like the coward he is. He is then quickly eaten by a sea serpent, so that makes it all right.

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Helstrom versus the Loch Ness Monster.

Then the island sinks. Yep, it’s that out of the blue. One minute Denham is holding his treasure and then the next the whole island is being racked by earthquakes, and set upon by hurricane level rain and wind.

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The natives on this island just can't catch a break.

Why did this happen? Was the temple cursed? Did removing the necklace anger the gods of the island? Your guess is as good as mine. While Englehorn, Hilda, and Charlie were able to make it to the boat, and get free of the cataclysmic events on the island, poor Denham and little Kong had to flee to higher ground as the island sank beneath them.   All seemed lost, but the heroic son of Kong was able to hold Denham above the turbulent waters long enough for him to be rescued by his friends. Then his hand slips beneath the waves.

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Kong's lawyers should join New York City in suing Denham.

Our heroes float around the pacific for a while before being rescued by a passing ship, and it’s while on board that Hilda basically asks Denham to marry her. The End.  Not quite the poetic "It was beauty killed the beast" ending we got in the original but at least we know no one is going back to that dangerous island ever again.  It's reported that Robert Armstrong preferred Son of Kong to it's predecessor, and I can see why, this time out Denham is the romantic lead and the script goes out of it's way to make the once callous film producer more likable.  When they've been rescued at the end of the film he tells Hilda that, "We'll split the treasure four ways," and what's great about that line is that it means Denham is giving millions to the Chinese cook without a second thought, which coming from a character in the 1930s is pretty impressive.  Way to go Carl.

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"I may be responsible several deaths and countless amounts of damage, but I'm not a racist."

More than the rushed production and reduced budget it’s the tonal shift that makes this film really an unworthy successor to King Kong. The Skull Island we saw in the original film was a place fraught with danger at every turn, from the moment Ann Darrow was plucked from the altar by Kong to the battle atop the Empire State Building, the pace never let up.  Yet in Son of Kong you never really get the sense of urgency or danger which was so prevalent in the original. Of course the slapstick antics of young Kong certainly didn’t help, between his rolling his eyes and other goofy antics he really was more of a cartoon character than anything the viewer could become emotional involved in.  I seriously doubt we are ever getting a Peter Jackson remake of this one.

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But seriously, where is this kid's mom?

King Kong (1933) vs. King Kong (1976)




Now that we've seen the Peter Jackson remake I thought it’d be nice to take a look back at the first two incarnations of the mighty Kong. In 1933 Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B, Schoedsack created a film that would change the look of cinema forever. There are many iconic images in film history but almost none are as grand as the site of a huge ape standing atop the Empire State Building, as he swats at attacking airplanes. Now flash forward to 1976 and director John Guillermin and producer Dino De Laurentiis have placed Rick Baker in an ape suite atop the World Trade Center. Let’s just say it doesn’t quite work as well as the original. For many years (long before I heard about Peter Jackson plans) I prayed for another attempt at doing the big hairy guy justice, and I’ve always saw it as a period piece, it only makes sense. Even in 1976 the local police would have had enough artillery on hand to take out gorilla no matter how large, and that in one point in the film, when Kong wades across the Hudson, that they lose track of him is rather ridiculous. (In all fairness to that film the police and army some how managed to lose track of the Rhedasaurus in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms). Paramount should have realized that some stories could not be properly updated with out straining the laws of credibility. We can buy a pilot of a plane making a pass to close to the grasping arms of Kong, but what the hell was the helicopter pilot in the remake thinking when he got to close. How hard could it be to just hover out of reach and shoot? This guy ranks up there with the idiot chopper pilot in the Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, who couldn’t shake the big lizard even when one of them can’t fly. So hearing that Jackson was setting the film in the thirties filled my heart with joy. Now let’s do as close of a direct comparison as we can. In the 1933 version it’s Carl Denham, a film producer who forms an expedition to seek out Skull Island to find this fabled beast known as Kong, and to make a motion picture. In 1976 we have the oil crisis, and so instead of a filmmaker we have a greedy capitalist oil executive Fed Wilson (Boo hiss) who is lead to believe that there is oil on the island. So in the original we a have man who actually finds what he was looking for and brings it back alive, and in the remake we have guy who finds out the oil on the island is worthless, so he settles on taking Kong as some kind of consolation prize. Carl Denham had hired Ann Darrow to be in his picture, while Fred Wilson finds Dwan adrift in a life raft. So right off the top it appears that the 1976 version is just relying on luck and happenstance to move the story forward. Once we get to the island the differences become even vaster. The crew lead by Denham find a village cut off from the rest of the island by a massive wall (a wall constructed for the 1927 King of Kings and later torched during the burning of Atlanta), Fred Wilson finds a wall that looks like a left over from Disney’s Polynesian resort. Both walls of course raise the same question, “If you’re trying to keep out giant beasts, what’s with the big friggin door?” When Ann or Dwan are kidnapped and given to Kong both versions run pretty parallel, with one major difference. In the 1976 movie we ask ourselves, “Where are the bloody dinosaurs?” Let’s talk monsters for awhile. In the original the sailors and Kong encounter a stegosaurus, a brontosaurus, a lizard from the pit, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an elasmosaurus, and a pterandon. While in the remake made decades later we get a really big snake, and not even a particularly convincing snake I might add. The 1933 version's trek through the jungle, as amazing as it is, is not with out its faults. I especially love the one sailor who spots a broken branch as they trail Kong…what? This is a monster that is as big as a house who we just saw knocking down trees to make his way to the wall, and this idiot is noticing a broken branch. This also raises another question, how often do these sacrifices take place? Or do the trees that Kong knocks down belong to some peculiar strain of fast growing plant, if not he really should have a path pretty well beaten down by now. A couple of the dinosaurs are portrayed in a manner that might confuse today’s more educated audiences. Both the stegosaurus and brontosaurus (more correctly labeled today as an apatosaurus) are given behavior one wouldn’t normally expect from a herbivore. Though it is possible that they were very territorial creatures, and treated any incursion as a threat, and we never do actually see the men getting eaten. Still faults and all it really kicks the crap out of a guy in an ape suit wrestling a rubber snake. On to motives, neither film tries to give any kind of reason for why a thirty-foot ape would want with a tiny human, and I don’t buy the "for love thing". I have my own pet theory and am eager to hear people's opinions on it. What would a giant gorilla do with a little woman? Simple…he’d use her for bait. Think about it, you’re a big hairy ape and are the undisputed ruler of this island, so how do you pass the time? We never see a Mrs. Kong (we do get a Son of Kong in the sequel, but I guess we can assume his mom died some time before the King Kong story starts), so how does he get his jollies? The answer is simple…he loves to fight. But after awhile the other creatures on the island would have figured out that Kong could kick their proverbial asses up and down the jungle any time he wanted, so they'd probably avoid him at all cost. So what’s Kong to do? He goes to the village, picks up a woman, and then proceeds to leave her out in the open where any wandering dinosaur might hear her screams. Thinking it’s time for an easy meal the unsuspecting dino saunters up to this tiny morsel, but before he can dig in Kong jumps out, acting all self righteous, to “defend” his property. He then proceeds to rip the poor dinosaur a new one. And thus falls the noble T-Rex, elasmosaurus, and the pterandon. Now the lengths that he goes to retrieve Ann Darrow would suggest that he has grown somewhat attached to her as one would a favorite pet. Okay, back to the comparison. In the original film Kong breaks through the gates, and rampages through the village, killing all who would stand in his way, until he’s dropped by gas bombs thrown by Denham. In the 1976 movie he busts through the door, then immediately falls for the old pit trap trick, and quickly succumbs to the gas placed inside. Not much of a tough call on deciding which one is cinematically more interesting. Both versions gloss over how they got this huge beast from the island and onto the boat, but the 1976 version at least gives us a scene of Kong locked in the tankers hold. Where Carl Denham would have kept him on his boat the Venture is anyone’s guess. Once in New York we find that both Ann and Dwan are to be made media darlings and that they are to attend the unveiling of Kong. In the 1933 version Kong breaks free just shortly after the curtain goes up so one question was left unanswered, “Was the whole show just going to be Kong standing there chained to the platform? Or would there be film shown later or maybe dancing girls?” It does seem that Kong would have been more suitable as zoo attraction rather than a Broadway show, because he certainly wasn’t as talented as his smaller cousin was in the 1949 Mighty Joe Young. In the 1976 film Fred Wilson wanted to use Kong for promotional purposes, “Put a gorilla in your tank!” I’m not sure how this campaign would have worked out in the long run, but it does seem more plausible than people sitting down in a theatre to just stare up at a big ape. I’ve already touched on the problems the remake had when placing the story in a modern setting. Kong is not invulnerable, and I just don’t see him making it four blocks before the local precinct could fill him full of enough lead to bring him down. In 1933 you could readily believe that Kong would give them a run for their money. One of the things that annoyed me in remake was there attempt to make Kong more sympathetic. I thought the original did a fine job of showing us that Kong was just an animal set lose in an environment he didn’t understand, and lashing out in the only way he knew how. But that’s not good enough for Dino De Laurentiis, in a press conference he stated that, “Nobody cry when Jaws die, people gonna cry when Kong dies.” So we are subjected to scenes of Dwan trying protect Kong by trying to get him to pick her up so the helicopters won’t shoot him, while in the much more realistic original Ann couldn’t wait to get away from the terrifying beast that had kidnapped her. Let’s talk effects. Willis O’Brien ( mentor to Ray Harryhausen) was at the top of his game when he created the creatures that inhabit Skull Island, and decades later they still hold up against their CGI descendants. While Carlo Rambaldi’s robot was so bad that it was used for less than a minute in the scene were he breaks free at the Petrox celebration. The rest of the film contains Rick Baker in an ape suit. Mind you it’s a pretty good ape suit, much better than then the one used in King Kong Vs. Godzilla, but it’s still a man in a suit, thus some of the magic is gone. The fact that this film won an Academy Award for this is a crime. The original won no awards because the effect categories didn’t exist back than. Now I haven’t talked about the love story, and the reason being neither film was really successful on this point. But I’m certainly more forgiving of film made in thirties for having cheesy dialogue, and stilted acting. As I’m sure you’ve guessed I’m a huge fan of the original King Kong and have no real use for the remake. Both versions spawned sequels and neither of them is as good as the predecessor, though Son of Kong is leaps and bounds better than the crapfest that was King Kong Lives.