07 April 2006

King Kong (Universal Pictures, 2005)

When I was four years old, I saw the original King Kong. It broke my brain. A giant ape gets captured, taken to New York and climbs the Empire State Building.I heard Peter Jackson was going to remake the movie as a follow-up to his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was skeptical. How many version of Kong have I seen?There were the bad Japanese versions of the 1960s (though I liked the mechanical Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla). There was the big budget remake in 1976 (weird to watch what with Kong's ascent up the World Trade Center). In the 1980s there was a really lousy King Kong Lives that ironically seemed to kill the concept of a big monkey movie. Although I liked everything Peter Jackson turned out, I was waiting for a big, long flop.

I was pleasantly surprised.

King Kong is a masterpiece of movie making. It's broken into three solid acts. The first act is all about New York. The original was filmed during the Great Depression. The remake features the Depression and uses it to drive the plot. The second act is the sea journey and the peril. Nobody in Hollywood wants to admit that productions are done on a shoestring. Peter Jackson isn't from Hollywood. Jack Black's producer/promoter, Carl Denham, has no cash so he cuts every corner: he gets a tramp steamer, he houses the talent like animals; and there's more. It's great. When they get to Skull Island, the natives have Peter Jackson's spin. They look and act more like Orcs. Naomi Watts' Anne Darrow is snapped up by Kong and the men come to the rescue. If nothing else, this part of the movie has too much. There are as many dinosaurs as Jurassic Park; as many giant bugs as one of those schlocky 1970s movies; and on top of that is the big man himself. Leave the bugs for the next movie, Peter. Eventually Kong is captured and shipped back to New York. The third act is set in Manhattan. Kong is a miserable, pitiable and chained spectacle. There are parts that really tug at your heart strings, right up to the tragic ending that echoes the 1933 original. To the credit of the screenwriters, King Kong is painted as a sympathetic character.

I always had a big problem with Kong: what has he? A monkey man in a suit? This version is solidly a massive gorilla and the portrayal is so effective that could almost convince Jane Goodall. He acts like a 25 foot tall gorilla but he conveys a sensitivity. This movie walks a fine line of following the events of the original while updating it to survive a reality check and make for some real suspense and surprises. The acting is strong. I actually dislike Jack Black and think Adrian Brody used the Marisa Tomei clause to win his Oscar. The performances are spot on and the casting is ideal.

The basic edition is a little skimpy but the deluxe DVD version has three hours of behind-the-scenes material. If your enjoyed the movie, the bonus material should push you pop for the deluxe edition.


Buy King Kong on DVD (US) (UK)

04 April 2006

Ice Age: The Meltdown (20th Century Fox, 2006)

The original Ice Age (2002) was clever, cute, and above all entertaining. Ice Age: the Meltdown is not as clever, not as cute and, not surprisingly, not as entertaining. As with most sequels, this movie delivers very similar material with a diminished effect. It's not that Meltdown is a bad movie, it's just average.

The problem with animated movies is finding that delicate balance in the audience for crossover appeal. This can be achieved through a number of means but visual style, a good script, and great voice actors are key. Meltdown is visually impressive, although it's nothing more nor less than what we've seen from this and other CG animation studios recently.

The plot is simple: those creatures who survived the ice age are living in a large basin, surrounded by, you guessed it, ice. As the ice begins to melt, the creatures move toward a "boat" perched high atop a rock, a few days away. Along the way, Manny and the "herd" meet a mamoth who, having been raised by possums, believes she is a possum. They quarrel, the herd is separated at various times for various reasons, and we learn a little more about each of the main characters along the way.

There are a few visual gags to be gained from a mamoth clinging to a tree by her tail, but these get old pretty fast, the remaining humour is largely inoffensive. As with the original, Skrat (the prehistoric squirrel) breaks the tension with comic releif in his pursuit of the almighty acorn. There are also two villains in the movie -- underwater prehistoric predators who are just plain mean.

Overall, Meltdown is suitable for kids, especially a younger audience, but may have been more suited for a direct-to-DVD release.


tags: Movie review, Ice Age: Meltdown, Ice Age, animation

Empire Redeemed

A few months ago, we had a lousy experience at the new-to-Victoria Empire Theatre chain. Since then, we have returned for three different movies at the same location; all experiences were acceptable -- the last one I would even categorize as "very good." The service, especially at the concession, has definitely improved, so I am willing to chalk up the past problems to the change in management and having to (re)train staff.

tags: movie theatre, theatre experience.