Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's been a busy couple of days, and I'm

trying to play catch up with reviews. Here's the first of a bunch I'm working on:

I'm a big fan of the 1968 version starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Back then it was it was a cutting satire, and has gone down in cinema history as one of Mel Brooks' classics, along with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

I would have loved to see the LIVE Broadway version of THE PRODUCERS with Nathan Lane, and Matthew Broderick, but didn't make it to New York, due to that "lack of money" thing that keeps putting up roadblocks to doing fun stuff like seeing broadway plays. Thank god the movie version is the next best thing.
When I say "the next best thing" I mean that this film version is EXACTLY like the stage play. It's almost as if director Susan Stroman took the camera, dropped it in FRONT of the stage and filmed a performance.
The film has the look and feel of a play, right down to sensing where the intermission is, and the end of the acts. It just has that "live performance look" that is rarely captured on film, which is a interesting take.
You can't really say much about Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, except they've transferred their roles onto film. They play well off each other.
The movie felt a little too long for my liking and the pace started to drag near the end as a result, but it was a nice diversion. - C+

On a Side note
- I would pay almost anything to see someone write a Biopic of Abbott & Costello and cast Nathan Lane in the roll he's DESTINED to play (and win an Oscar for) as Lou Costello. That's all I could think of watching this movie.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

KONG The 8th Wonder of The World!

After many years, Peter Jackson has finally brought his version of KING KONG to the big screen. Jackson saw the original version on TV when he was 9, and it became a major influence on his life. The wait was worth it. Jackson has created the ultimate popcorn flick.

Because of Jackson's love for the original 1933 film, the question wasn't whether he'd be true to the original, but how he could justify expanding the 100 minute running time of the original classic into a 3 hour spectacle.

Jackson, and his screenwriting partners (Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) have achieved this by expanding on EVERY part of the story, providing backstory, more thorough characterization, on events that were only alluded to in the original, and then using all the images and ideas Jackson has stored in his mind since his childhood, have taken the story and expanded it onto a much larger canvas.

What has ended up on the screen is nothing short of impressive. Jackson set his version in 1930's and adhered closely to Cooper and Edgar Wallace's grandly tragic story of a mighty beast brought to ruin by beauty and civilization. The emotional content is just as potent as Kong's sad solitude and embrace of companionship, are conveyed with simplicity and poignancy.

The movie in many respects takes its time to get rolling. Some people may find the 70 minutes it takes to get to see KONG boring, especially young kids. The opening act does an outstanding job of welcoming people into the story, especially into the tough prospects faced by pretty struggling actress Ann Darrow (Watts) once her vaudeville show closes down. Facing similarly desperate straits is filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black), whose backers want to shut down his new adventure-themed picture and who suddenly lacks a leading lady for it.

Denham's motto is, "Defeat is always momentary," and when he chances upon Ann, who believes that "Good things never last," he solves both their problems by spiriting her aboard a ramshackle tramp steamer bound for an unmapped island where Carl hopes to find the subject for his new production. Unlike the original, this "Kong" takes the trouble to flesh out passengers and crew.

Carl essentially kidnaps writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), a serious playwright enormously admired by Ann. In a great move, Carl houses Jack in a large below-decks animal cage, and the scribe spends most of the voyage behind bars working on the scenario. The trip takes long enough to have Driscoll and Ann fall in love, and for Denham to announce that their actual destination is a fog shrouded Skull Island.

It lives up to its name when, after a perilous arrival between soaring rocks, they go ashore to find countless skeletons at a bleak coastal fortress. In due course, the adventurers are surrounded by possessed natives both terrifying and terrified, the latter caused by whatever lurks in the jungle behind an enormous wall. Ann is kidnapped by the natives, and is offered as a sacrifice to KONG, the 20 foot gorilla that lives beyond the wall.

Kong's status as the lonely old man of Skull Island is cemented in a touching scene between him and Ann on his craggy promontory, from which he can endlessly watch the beautiful sunsets and contemplate his status as the last of his breed (Jackson thoughtfully includes a glimpse of a giant gorilla skeleton at one point).

There were 2 things KING KONG had to accomplish for me to like this movie. 1) I had to be drawn IN to the world, and believe that the Ape was real. 2) I had to believe the connection between KONG and Ann Darrow, see their interaction, and become emotionally attached to the situation.

What Jackson has accomplished with KING KONG in my mind is nothing short of amazing. The movie is just over 3 hours, and yet the pacing is quick enough to make it feel like a 100 minute running time. The mix between action sequences, and developing the relationship between KONG and Ann is just the right blend, and at the end, since you know what's going to happen, makes it even more heartbreaking.

That the unlikely relationship at the movie's core comes so plausibly alive is a huge tribute to Watts. She does her share of requisite screaming, but she makes Ann resourceful when she tries to amuse and distract Kong, bold in the way she defies him and open-hearted in her accessibility to her captor's plight, which is wonderfully expressed in the eyes and animated facial expressions. Naomi Watt's performance completely won me over, and proved Jackson made the right choice in using a big name actress in the Role

For me, KING KONG fires on all cylinders and provides what all the movies this SUMMER was lacking.. excitement and an engaging story. This is easily one of the best films of 2005.


Note: if you want to see behind the scenes stuff early, go out and buy the Peter Jackson Production Diaries. Throughout the entire shooting of the movie, Jackson created mini web documentaries on the making of the movie, and posted them on the KONG IS KING website.

The PRODUCTION Diaries aren't available on the site any more, but the POST Production Diaries are. The Diaries give you an appreciation of the work that goes into making a movie of this magnitude.