|KEX'S AMAZING WORLD|
|Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only an error to be exposed. -- H.L. Menken|
Last Week: Red Planet:
You know what would be interesting? If someone were to make a movie about a Mars expedition in which the astronauts board the ship, fly to Mars without enduring an inflight disaster on the verge of achieving orbit, reach the surface, have a few interesting but not astonishing adventures and return home safely. Okay, maybe it wouldn't be all that interesting, but at least it would be original. The last dozen or so Mars expedition movies I can remember have all followed the same very tired formula implied above.
The ship always has to meet with disaster, leaving the crew to barely escape with their lives, they always have some remarkable adventure or adventures on the surface that invariably involves an advanced life form with a taste for human flesh. You can lay heavy odds at the opening credits that no more than two of the crew members ever return home. Instead of space suits in a typical mission to Mars movie, most of the cast simply ought to wear red, Star Trek style, "weekly expendable crew member" uniform tops.
Red Planet is not terrible as Hollywood science fiction goes, but its also not original, and painfully formula structured. I didn't dislike this movie all that much. I wasn't even overwhelmingly annoyed by it. At the same time, its one of those movies I'm apt to run into in the rental shop a year from now and bring it home simply because I forgot I actually saw it. Given modern capabilities with computer animation and the availability of actual Mars planetary images, a lot of the space footage in this film was surprisingly substandard.
The on-Mars scenerary wasn't terribly convincing either. While it was better than it's counterpart, Mission To Mars released earlier this year, the astronauts still looked like they were walking around somewhere in the western badlands rather than on Mars. The spoiler is always the sky. No matter what kind of tiniting the special effect people use, its simply impossible to make an earthly sky, which usually has a few clouds floating around look like the alien pink-orange of Mars, virtually always completely cloudless.
Val Kilmer stars in Red Planet, as the mission's jack-of-all-trades repairman. Kilmer looks at least as out of place in a space suit as he did in Batman garb.
Okay, he is a fine actor who has made some entertaining movies, but he just isn't the space jockey type. You get the feeling early on the if Kilmer is the guy the crew has to rely on to fix whatever problems the spacecraft may encounter on route, the crew has about as much chance of pulling off the mission as the state of Florida has of pulling off a fair election or dealing successfully with the next Cuban orphan that washes ashore. We figure out early on in this movie that Kilmer's character is going to be one of the two likely survivors because, after all, he IS Val Kilmer.
Carrie-Ann Moss co-stars as the commander of the mission which is sent to discover why terraforming efforts seem to be failing on Mars. It seems that earth is becoming hopelessly overpopulated and polluted by 2050, leading to an effort to colonize Mars after a simple terraforming project that has apparently gone on for no more than a couple of weeks. That alone should provide sufficient explanation for its failure, but this movie isn't that logical.
We know that Moss is going to survive also, because she is established early on as Kilmer's potential love interest. With the two members of the crew who are already going to make it out with their skins thus established, the suspense aspects of the film become more than wanting. We can count on the other crew members, portrayed by Terrance Stamp, Terry Sizemore, Benjamin Brat and Simon Baker to die in turn, its just a question of when and how.
The film's major antagonist is a robot named AMEE, who's precise function I was never able to fully ascertain. AMEE was sort of a mobile throwback to 2001: A Space Odyssey's insane computer HAL, down to the evil eye which was cleverly changed in color from red to blue so that the plot ripoff would be less evident to the duller members of the audience. After AMEE is jettisoned during an emergency landing, she becomes insane and begins picking off members of the landing party. Note to future designers of space bound robots and computers: ALWAYS maintain the simple foresight to include an on-off switch convinently accessible on your devices.
The emergency landing was necessitated by the mothership suddenly being struck by a solar flare. Apparently every earthbound solar observatory and observation satellite was simultaneously disabled, leaving the crew with no advance warning of the impending event. Of course, a solar flare would be a serious problem on a Mars mission, one that would go far beyond the reprocussions of dealing with a few minor or even major equipment malfunctions. Most likely, such an event would be fatal to all crew members, unless they were able to contain themselves in a heavily lead lined chamber until the event passed. The writers of this script were apparently unaware that such consequences would result.
The film had no shortage of curious technical gaffs. At one point, the astronauts find,and pirate the transmitter from the Pathfinder probe to build a voice-capable radio transmitter. Where they got the necessary parts to transmit or receive voice messages was a bit of a mystery. They were also able to stroll around Mars without space helmets, thanks to a mysterious oxygen buildup in the atmosphere. The suspension of disbelief given the ultimate explanation was well and good, but one still has to deal with the realities of Mars: For the most part, its damned cold even during the day. Even with sufficient oxygen in the atmosphere, the crew would have perished from frostbite or hypothermia within a short time.
The comparisons between this movie and Mission To Mars are inevitable. Between the two, I liked MTM a little better, and I was somewhat disappointed in both. I think the movie technologies exist to make a better Mars movie, but it all starts with a good script, which both sorely lacked. Red Planet lacked imagination and depth. Mission To Mars borrowed too much from too many other science fiction movies. Neither were suspenseful, neither succeeded in rewarding their audiences with surprises or original twists. I hope Hollywood takes us to Mars again sometime in the not so distant future, only I hope they can show us something new when we get there.
One final addendum here: Into the "loathsome pimping Hall of Shame" we march General Motors, IBM, Nokia, Hughes and Toshiba. These companies splattered their corporate logos all over the spacesuits of the Mars-bound astronauts, thus giving them the look of NASCAR racers rather than intrepid explorers. I imagine that these companies would claim that the presense of their names would lend an air of realism to the proceedings. I think that the producers of the movie simply stooped to pandering by permitting it, undoubtedly for a steep price. Such tactics may offset productions costs, but there is an old principle when it comes to quality movies: "If you build it, they will come." In other words, unless you already know you are frying up some roadkill, or simply blowing the budget to hell, such tactics just aren't necessary.
Last Week: The Black Knight:
Just in case anyone missed it on page 1 or elsewhere; COLORADO 62 nebraska 36. That is so sweet it bears repeating; COLORADO 62 nebraska 36. Okay, to all my loyal readers out there from big red land, I have only one thing to say; COLORADO 62 nebraska 36. None of this has anything to do with this week's review, but then again, COLORADO 62 nebraska 36.
And while we are on the subject of things that don't have anything to do with this week's review, for example COLORADO 62 nebraska 36, I ran across an interesting statistic that was in the Wall Street Journal recently, not to be confused with the statistic that ran in sports pages all across the country this morning as I write; COLORADO 62 nebraska 36. The statistic was this: Professors with a generally "liberal" political viewpoint outnumber professors with a generally "conservative" viewpoint at the U. of Colorado by a margin of 38 to 1. Conservative publications immediately cited the statistic as proof of a "liberal" bias in higher education.
I think that there are two ways to view that statistic. First, maybe people with a generally "conservative" point of view tend to be attracted to professions other than education at the college level. Or, maybe people with a "conservative" bent just aren't generally bright enough to get advanced degrees. If they were, they wouldn't be conservative. They also aren't smart enough to live in Colorado. They probably live in places like nebraska. Okay, maybe I'm just taking a rather overdue shot at conservatives. I'm definitely taking an overdue shot at nebraskans. In case you missed it, COLORADO 62 nebraska 36.
The target this week is Martin Lawrence's The Black Knight. Mark Twain once wrote a story called A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court which has been adapted and modified in various forms about a dozen times as a movie plot. This is far and away the worst of them. In fact, this is probably the single worst adaptation of a time travel theme ever filmed as well. I won't go on to make the further claim that this is the worst film ever made, although the number of candidates above it on the list is considerably fewer than the number below. This movie might make a good run at winning the honor of being the worst movie of 2001, and only the fact that it opened in all markets in late November, rather than late December, which kept it from opening in a few markets in January will prevent it from being in the running to be the worst movie of 2002 also.
Lawrence stars in the film as some sort of maintenance worker in a run down amusement park called Medieval World. Opening soon just down the street is a sleek new theme park called Castle World or something like that, that is threatening to put Medieval World out of business. While cleaning out a sludgy castle moat,which adequately symbolizes the entire movie, Lawrence spots something that looks like a shiny necklace. Trying to retrieve it, he falls in and finds himself in a place he believes the be the better new amusement park. If only Lawrence had emerged in a better movie.
In reality, Lawrence actually finds himself in 1326, which doesn't look all that much like 1326 either. Curiously, the people all not only speak quite contemporary English, but even use anachronistic slang phrases and speech patterns. More curiously, a beautiful black women serves as an attendent to the princess, rather than a very low value chattel slave. She seems curiously well educated, and is something of a 14th century champion for women's rights.
Similarly, Lawrence's race doesn't get him immediately drawn and quartered the first time he insults a nobleman. Instead, Lawrence is merely taken as a Frenchman, in much the same way Beldar Conehead is able to pass himself off. Little as I generally care for France, even I wouldn't look that far down upon them. Really, Beldar Conehead? The French may be pretentious, but no one is that annoying.
Immediately, Lawrence finds himself in the middle of some sort of court intrigue, in which there are apparently divided loyalties between the sitting king and a queen who was deposed for some reason that is not immediately clear. Nor is it clear what the rebels have against the king, since he doesn't seem particularly brutal by 14th century standards. Given that in those days a popular rebellion to put a woman on the throne of England over a man would have been about as likely as, well, blacks apparently enjoying a more or less equal stature in their society, the movie fails to make much logical sense.
That would be tolerable if the movie had been at least a little entertaining or funny, but even a comedian of Lawrence's capabilites couldn't pull it off with a script that was more painful than amusing. I guess we can't really blame Lawrence. There isn't a comedian on the planet that could have infused any life into The Black Knight.
If there is any bright spot to this movie whatsoever, at least it might have finally driven a stake through the heart of the badly worn out Connecticut Yankee plot. There might be a few other benefits to this film. I can forsee how it could revive the career of someone like Paul Reubens. Even with all the trouble he got himself into before, and all the sorry efforts that have extended his resume during the comeback effort, he can now score a few points by merely stating that he didn't appear in The Black Knight. No matter how many bad films any actor or actress has to their credit in the past four or five years, having the sense to avoid this one is going to be a bonus career wise. As to those who did appear in this film, well, there are always teaching jobs at the U. of Nebraska. COLORADO 62 nebraska 36, just in case anyone missed it.
ADDENDUM: In response to the emails I am receiving from Nebraskans and Cornhusker fans, a note is needed. All the emails have a tone like this: WAAAAA! WAAAAA! Colorado ran up the score on us! WAAAAAA! WAAAAA! My response: You're damned right we did. Remember the year Nebraska beat us 69-19? That was okay, because Nebraska was on the up end of it? How about fessing up to the fact that Nebraska schedules at least one opponent like Toledo or U. of Pacific every year specifically to run up a 70-0 score in order to look more impressive to the people who vote on the national polls? In short, it doesn't feel so good on the other end, does it? Live with it, and quit whining, because the negative effects on recruiting that having your head handed to you on national T.V. like that will probably produce a few more events like that in the next five years.
Last week: The Santa Clause 2:
Some movies probably don't really need sequels. In fact, its pretty hard to figure out why someone would make a sequel to a movie that probably shouldn't have been made in the first place. But Santa Clause Two does have at least one redeeming quality. It permits the world to receive the answer to a vital question that haunts just about everyone: Just what the hell ever happened to Judge Reinholt?
On the other hand, a pretty good percentage of the movie going public probably won't receive the answer to that question. Appearing in this movie, and briefly at that, isn't going to qualify as a significant landmark in anyone's comeback effort. After what will likely be a strong opening weekend, spurred by the lack of any really formidable competition, this movie is going to disappear off the public's radar screen faster than the Cincinnati Bengals tank a football game.
The single biggest problem with this movie isn't even going to be the fact that it sucked. Who, in any sane state of mind, releases a Christmas movie the first weekend in November? Hell, the average mother in America is still cleaning Milk Dud barf off of every square inch of carpet in the household following the sugar orgery most children embark upon sponsored by the collective candy makers of America; we all know it as Halloween.
But here is Hollywood already attempting to remind us that yes, Christmas is coming. Sorry, I'm just not in the mood to be clued into that bit of wisdom just yet. Not that it isn't looking a lot like Christmas here in Denver right now. Mother Nature currently seems bent on putting an end to the drought that has plagued this little corner of the world. But she is quite intent on bringing it to a resolution this week. I think we'd all be happier with a little more gradual solution. It started snowing sometime last Monday night, as I write, and hasn't let up for any signficicant period of time since.
Tim Allen stars in this movie as Santa Claus. For those who didn't see the first movie (time to confess, I am one of them), Allen's character got to be Santa in the original movie when the real Santa fell off the roof, and he had to fill in. Eventually old Timmy took on the gig permanently, which likely means that the quality of controlled substances up at the north pole really improved.
I'm not exactly sure what happened to the original Santa. I'm sure one of my readers will fill me in, but I'm guessing he retired to Florida or something. The Karma from all that spent magic sure hasn't improved things down in Florida. All they have dealt with since has been Cuban orphans washing ashore and fradulent elections. The folks down there are probably wishing the old elf would take off for So Cal.
Meanwhile, back way up north, Santa Tim has two problems: First, his son is becoming a little hellion. Second, due to some weird clause in the Santa Book of Rules, Santa can't be single. I guess a guy who wears a fur lined red suit, and spends all his time making toys with little people is a little much for the grand forces of the universe to digest. So there has to be a Mrs. Claus around somewhere. And Santa Tim only has a few days to find her.
For some reason that is never fully explained, the head elves are nervous about Santa leaving the North Pole for any length of time without a stand-in. I guess without the big guy around, the toy making elves will become about as productive as Anna Nichole Smith. So the second-in-command elve makes a toy Santa stand-in, leaving Santa Tim free to go home and whip his son into line, while hopefully finding a wife.
Santa Tim goes home, and meets his son's principal. She is a cold-hearted bitch that hates Christmas. As you might guess, he falls in love with her at first sight. Obviously the situation is hopeless, and Santa Tim ends up losing his Santa gig. His son becomes bitter and disillusioned, and winds up on a crime spree knocking over 7-11's throughout the midwest. The bitchy principal is appointed to a high cabinet post in the Bush Administration. Tim gets a crappy TV series, then fades into obscurity.
Okay, none of that happens. It is, afterall a Disney movie. I mean, really, could anyone not figure out the second that Santa Tim meets the bitchy principal that he is going to reform her? For that matter, does anyone believe that if this movie ends up doing more that squat plus a dollar at the box-office, that there won't be a Santa Clause 3? I look for it about two years from now, with a release date 4th of July weekend.
Now, something I want to get off my chest, because I'm pissed off...actually, I'm REALLY pissed off. I got a few emails this past week from pro-NRA types. I expected that. But I want more this week. I want it because I want some answers. I really want to know how some of you people can support that pompous jackass Chucky Heston that is head of the NRA. For that matter, I want to know how, in good conscious, you can support the organization at all.
Here is something everyone knows: Just days after the tragic shootings at Columbine High School here in the Denver area, the NRA held their national convention right here in town. In spite of pleas from the mayor to either cancel or relocate the event, the NRA came, lead by Chucky. Even our pro-NRA govenor was on record noting that the event was probably inappropriate. But instead of postponing it moving it or canceling it, they went right ahead and had their convention.
Just months after the Columbing shootings, a six year-old boy in Flint, Michigan got ahold of a handgun that his uncle apparently did not appropriately secure. He took it to school, and shot and killed one of his classmates, a six year-old girl. Guess who showed up in Flint just two days later? Yup, Chucky and the NRA, holding a pro-gun, pro-NRA rally. Chucky claimed the timing was a coincidence. I claim Chucky is full of shit.
Ready for more? Just this week...THIS WEEK FOLKS! A distraught nursing student at the U. of Arizona shot and killed three of his professors because he was failing in his studies. One more time, guess who showed up in Tucson a couple of days later? Right you are folks, hand the correct respondants a cupie doll. Chucky, and the NRA leadership, holding a pro-gun pro-NRA rally in support of the election of a local politican.
The timing of the Denver convention was clearly a coincidence. They should have cancelled it, but they didn't. The events in Flint, or Tucson were NOT coincidences, no matter what Chucky and the NRA might claim. So again, I ask, how can you support a man so anxious to advance the repugnant agenda of the NRA. How can you support an organization so morally bankrupt that not once, not twice, but three times they have thrown their agenda in the faces of the populaces of badly wounded communities? I want email this time from you NRA supporters. I want to know how you can justify your support. This really interests me.
Last Week: Radio:
This movie truly has something for everyone. For the guys, there is football. For the ladies, there is lots of crying stuff. For the guys, there is basketball. For the ladies, there is more crying stuff.
For liberals, there is Coach Jones (Ed Harris) who takes a young mentally retarded man, Radio (Cuba Gooding Jr.) under his wing. For the ladies, there is even more crying stuff. For Republicans, there is an evil, self-serving banker who wants to run Radio out of town. For the ladies, there is more and more crying stuff. If you just happen to appreciate good movies, there are fine performances by Harris and Gooding.
Okay, so this was mostly contrived, heart-string pulling schmaltz. But I have to confess, I bought in. Joy rated it a 4 hanky, so I guess she really liked it. I know a lot of ladies really like that weepy stuff. So I guess this is what you would call a really good date movie.
I think men and women probably have different definitions of what a really good date movie is. For women, it probably has something to do with doing a lot of crying and getting sympathetic cuddling. For men, it usually has something to do with getting laid afterward, and not getting pangs of nausea while watching it that make getting laid afterward unappealing. So Radio really is a good date movie all around.
This movie is credited as being "inspired by a true story." We haven't really defined that term before, but its sufficiently non-commital to suggest that almost everything we see on the screen falls under the auspices of "poetic license." If you put that another way, the term "contrived bullshit" instantly comes to mind. I have no idea how much of what we see on the screen actually happened, or at least almost happened. But we leave the theater at least hoping it is reasonably accurate. That is better than average.
Coach Jones leads his football team in a middling sized town in South Carolina. He is apparently a pretty good coach, who fields competitive teams every year and has a state title or two under his belt. He dwells in one of those football mad towns in the south, where the locals gather in the barbershop after the game every Friday night to do a postmortem on the game with the coach.
For those of us who live in places where high school football isn't quite that important, that might seem a bit bizzare. Yet I assure you, such places really do exist, even here in the 21st century. Most of them are south of the Mason-Dixon line, where there are two seasons; football season, and waiting for football season. If you travel to Texas, you can find a huge state full of such communities. I think there is one where football has become really important these days, since the village idiot has been reported missing going on 3 years now.
Coach Jones takes notice of a young retarded black man, who roams the community pushing a shopping cart. After his players rather brutally torture the man after practise one day, Jones takes him under his wing and makes the boy sort of a team mascot. He punishes the involved players by making them run wind sprints for several hours after practice. For those who have never played organized football at any level, that might seem a bit light. In reality, even 10 minutes of windsprints in full gear is the equivalent of having a hot fireplace poker rammed up your ass. So several hours of them would be justice indeed.
The young man, nicknamed "Radio" for his love of the electronic box, becomes something of a beloved member of the community. That is for everyone except the anal retentive town banker, who believes that radio is a distration to the team. The banker's son is a gifted athlete, so naturally dear old dad doesn't want anything interfering with the success of the local teams.
But Radio's presence manages to transform just about everyone else in the community, and all ends happily. The various triumphs and challenges along the way offer the opportunity for all sorts of crying stuff. The football segments in the movie are also pretty outstanding. Some of the practice footage has everything short of a good "bull in the ring" drill. Ladies, you can ask you significant other about "bull in the ring," then listen to a good war story. I assure you that if he ever played, he has one.
Probably the best aspect of this movie is that it is a reasonably good family movie, as well as a date movie. Younger children won't care much for it, but teens on should find it compelling. This film won't win Best Picture next march, but the performances of Harris and Gooding should get a long look from Academy nominators. Radio has been holding its own at the box office for a few weeks now, and I hope it sticks around for a while longer with big holiday movies starting to appear. Its more worthy of an audience than another chapter of Matrix crap.
Last Week: Alexander:
It certainly isn't great. I think a lot of people are going to be calling this Alexander The Terrible for decades to come. A hundred years from now, bullies are going to be beating up Oliver Stone's great-grand children just because he made this movie.
Watching this film is a lot like driving from Denver to Lincoln, Nebraska. Its tedious, there isn't anything interesting to look at, it takes several hours, and when you complete the journey, the worst thing happens: You find yourself in Lincoln.
At least I wasn't there when I walked out of this movie, but that is the only good thing I can think of saying about the experience. I still have to live with the awful realization that I spent three LONG hours of my life that I can never get back sitting through it, and it was by far the most mind-draining, butt numbing experience I've had doing these reviews.
To call this film a pretentious bag of crap would actually be a compliment. Pretty clearly, Oliver Stone can't make a movie anymore unless it somehow involves a major conspiracy to assassinate somebody. By the end of this movie, most of the members of the audience were starting to plot to kill Alexander, just to get this awful assault on our collective aching bottoms over with, and I saw this film with a bunch of nuns.
This horrifying cinematic journey begins with a paralyzingly dull narrative by Anthony Hopkins, who is so cleverly made up for his role that I suspect he was really hoping beyond hope that no one would recognize him. The really sad part of this film is that Hopkins pops in with some frequency to provide narration, which isn't very interesting, but its usually far better than the parts of the film we actually get to see.
What we learn from this film is that Alexander (Colin Farrell) grows up under the care of a doting mother (Angelina Jolie) who has a rather bizzare affection for snakes. Astonishingly enough, that sounds considerably more interesting than it is. She also has a rather unnatural attraction for young Alex that seems to border almost upon incestuous. Still, Allie boy seems to develop a stronger attraction for other men than women. I'd have bet on a pretty potent Oedipus complex under the circumstances, but that is just more evidence just how full fired, ass rammed this whole movie is.
Alex also gets pretty mentally screwed up as the result of his father, the King of Macedonia (Val Kilmer, appearing for the second time this year in a dress.) Kilmer is made up almost beyond recognition in this film too, so a pattern has clearly developed. Alex's dad thinks his son is kind of a wimp, which is precisely the truth. He obviously could have pretty much any woman in the kingdom he wants, but he prefers to spend all of his time with his friend, whose name was Fellatio, or something close to that.
This movie is one of the most discontinuos messes ever produced by Hollywood, partially told in straight timeline, partially in flashback, the result being an incomprehensible jumble. Well, that is a little unfair. Its not really that its all that hard to follow. Its just that we pretty much quit trying an half hour into the film, and we still have two hours and a half to suffer through.
Alex and his army conquer pretty much all of Asia, then get their butts kicked in India. Allie is pretty seriously injured in the battle, and we begin hoping at long last that he is going to die, but somehow he pulls through, leaving us on the verge of death.
Fortunately, there is finally a glimmer of hope that this marathon of ennui will come to an end when he declares that he is leading his army back home. But we still have another good half hour to endure. During this time, Alex's lifelong friend (or more) is poisoned to death, and as he lays dying, Alexander prattles on with an unbearable speech for about 15 minutes. Up until that time, I thought Fellatio might actually pull through, but Alex's speech does him in.
Naturally our boy goes bonkers with grief, and his friends apparently conspire to poison him to death as well. We were cheering them on, because by this point, Alex had become such an insufferable bag of gas that we wanted to seem him die horribly, as long as it was quick.
At long last, the film did end, and I swear, I've never seen a group of people clear a theater that wasn't burning so quickly. Its almost a shame that it wasn't because maybe at least one print of this film would no longer be in existance, and that could only be a reason for celebration. This may not be the worst movie ever made, but it IS the worst movie Oliver Stone ever made, and that says a lot.
Previously: King Kong:
Somewhere, in the eternal beyond, where great filmmakers go when they depart the realm of mere mortals, Merian C. Cooper is smiling happily. Oh, there might be those that would be inclined to argue Cooper's right to stand present in that wonderous place among the giants of film history. After all, he made only one really great movie, then another pretty good one that was almost a remake of the great one. Beyond that, his career wasn't all that distinguished.
Yet the vast majority of those who choose movie making as their life's craft never accomplish anything approaching Cooper's 1933 classic King Kong. It was the movie every sci-fi movie made since has been measured against. Not a bad legacy, from where I sit. Was Merian C. Cooper a great filmmaker? Yes.
In 1976, Dino Delaurentis, who is not a great filmmaker, decided to try to remake Cooper's classic. The result? One of the most repugnant, steaming piles ever to be preserved on celluloid. Delaurentis promised a lot of socko special effects courtesy of animatronics, which was state of the art in those days. Alas, his visions never materialized, as his robotic wonders just flat didn't work. Dino had to resort to the old man in a bad monkey suit approach, combined with a script somebody should have actually read and thrown away before filming commenced.
Dino's career never really recovered, and for that matter, Kong himself was on the endangered list for decades. Finally, in 2004, a hot young filmmaker with real talent and vision decided to give it another go. This time, the outcome is, I am pleased to say, very different.
I have never used this word before in one of my reviews, but I think the tag will apply to Peter Jackson's revival of King Kong: It's a masterpiece. The CGI effects are brilliant, the story, which is a fleshed out retelling of the original is well done, and the acting is very good, surprisingly so in some instances.
I've complained with some frequency about previous sci-fi movies using CGI effects to create dinosaurs that it has been unfortunate that the magnificent capabilities have never been combined with a compelling story. I can put that objection to rest. This movie uses its CGI dinosaurs, and Kong, with amazing effectiveness.
The creation of Kong is a technological miracle, utilizing a digital technique pioneered in last year's outstanding animated feature, The Polar Express. Kong's expressions are lifelike and his movement realistic. Its easy to forget, while watching this film, that its not a real animal you are watching on screen.
A great deal of the film's crediblity stems from Peter Jackson's imaginative interpretion of his creation. The Kong of this film is not the classic movie monster, rampaging through a city, mindlessly destroying whatever is in his path. No, this Kong reacts like a frightened, disoriented and angry animal. This cements the illusion, and permits the necessary suspension of disbelief. Jackson's Kong seems pretty real.
If I have an objection to the film, its that Jackson may have been too sentimental in the treatment of Kong. The more sympathetic view wasn't as stomach turning as we saw in the Delaurentis version, but maybe just a little too heavy to be entirely credible as a wild animal. But I forgive Jackson this flaw. Jackson and I share that soft spot for the big ape. I'll overlook that one.
The objection I expected to voice in this film didn't really materialize. No member of the Jack Black fan club am I, but he actually did a good job in this movie. Typing that line is startling enough that its difficult to keep my fingers trained on the task at hand, but there it is folks....Kex complimented Jack Black. I might take it even a step further: His manic portrayal of the filmmaker Carl Denham played perfectly into Jackson's vision of the Ahab styled character. Cooper's vision was less defined, Jackson and Black's was more compelling.
Adrien Brody wins the points back he lost by appearing in The Village. He played the writer Jack Driscoll, leading man to Naomi Watts' Ann Darrow. Brody's brooding, sad demeanor perfectly foreshadowed the film's tragic climax. Watt's as Ann was 21st century empowered as compared to Faye Wray's scream fest. The film might have won more credibility points had she been a little more torn between the warmth she finds in the soul of Kong, and the natural terror of being confronted with a powerful, 25 foot gorilla.
"Wonder still exists in the world, and it can be purchased for the price of an admission," observes Carl Denham. We are left with a tinge of sadness that the sterile modern world we inhabit has made that statement all too true. But this is a wonder worth the price of admission. I'll caution parents that some scenes in this film will be disturbing to young children, and with a 3 hour running time, taking the young ones is doubly inadvisable. Still, this is a rare and wonderful example of a remake of a classic that is actually superior to the original.
Last Week: The Astronaut Farmer:
There are so freaking many things wrong with this movie that it would be impossible to list them all in a summation less than three quarters as long as the script. So I'll just present some highlights. We might as well start with the title.
The Astronaut Farmer; one might assume that this is about a farmer who wants to go into space. Actually, the man, Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thorton) isn't a farmer. He is a rancher. And I pulled his first name off of IMDB, who evidently pulled it out of somebody's ass. As close as I can remember, it was never refered to once in the film. Even the guy's wife (Virginia Madsen) calls him "Farmer."
Evidently Farmer was an Air Force pilot and aerospace engineer who enrolled in the astronaut program, but never made it into space because his father committed suicide. Since NASA doesn't provide for berevement leave in their benefits package, he washed out. Right there we get our first clue into the fact that the writers of this travesty didn't bother to do any actual research or put much thought into their story.
Farmer takes over his dad's ranch, but is never cured of the desire to go into space. So he decides to build his own rocket from discarded parts and just go up himself. Now, apart from the fact that it would take considerably more know-how than any one person has, and the financial resources of a small but well off nation to actually pull something like that off, Farmer pursues the dream.
In point of fact, he does end up in debt well above his wazoo, but his wife is so ignorantly supportive that she simply never bothers to ask how much this whole fool's errand is costing. Nor does it seem to occur to him that even if he does manage to succeed, he will end up breaking about 86 million laws and end up spending the rest of his life in jail while his wife and kids are out living in a cardboard box.
Eventually the bank runs out of patience with Farmer, and the FAA stalls on his flightplan, which dooms his hopes. However, Farmer simply decides to defy everyone and launch into orbit on his own with a fuel that just about any 8th grader could have told him wouldn't work. Remember folks, this guy has a degree in aerospace engineering. Great. Our nation's colleges are turning out engineers without the common sense possessed by any 12 year-old that has ever launched a model rocket.
After spending years and presumably a small fortune on his dream, Farmer's attempted space flight nearly ends in disaster after crashing a few hundred yards from his ranch. He ends up with numerous contusions, broken bones and most likely a new healthy respect for just how complicated a matter flying people in space is in reality.
Fortunately, his wife's father kicks the bucket just prior to the flight, and leaves behind just enough of an estate to keep the Farmer family out of a homeless shelter. Apparently there was also enough left over to not only pay for Charlie's hospital bills, which would have run at least into six figures left of the decimal point and, almost unbelievably enough to permit farmer a second chance at rebuilding the rocket and taking another shot at it.
In a time span that couldn't have been more than a few weeks, Farmer's numerous injuries heal and he accumulates everything he needs, and successfully builds his new rocket. The second time proves to be a charm, as he manages to make it into orbit with his 15 year-old son at the helm of mission control. He is only planning on one orbit, but all his power fails about half way into the first orbit, and he loses communication with Earth. He only has enough oxygen for 3 orbits, which brings up another glaring plot error.
Farmer doesn't seem to make any effort to affect repairs to his electronics systems until his 8th orbit and we have already determined that he should have been dead 5 orbits ago. Suddenly, it occurs to him to simply remove a panel and find out what came unplugged. Once he reestablishes a simple connection, all his power returns. Gee, if your blender doesn't work, don't you check to see if its plugged in the very first thing?
His power and communications are reestablished just in time for his son to send him reentry coordinates to come back on that orbit. This is all going to come as very good news to NASA. Since a sort of bright 15 year-old can master orbital mechanics in 10 seconds, there will not be much need for the dozen or so PhD's who are employed to work out orbital mechanics for shuttle missions. All we have to do is jerk some high school freshman out of study hall and probably pay him/her off in bubble gum. This is going to save NASA some big bucks.
Here is a plot spoiler: Farmer returns home safely and becomes a national hero, having lived out his dream. the government seems to turn a blind eye to the numerous federal regulations he has violated, and all is well in the world. The moral of the story is: Pursue your dreams. Fine and dandy. The problem is, if you actually try to pursue dreams this heavy, don't be surprised when they squash you like a bug. Maybe someone should have give that bit of advise to the people who wrote and created this nonsense.
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