Kong Dies At The End

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2014 by dcairns

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A more accurate title for John Guillermin and Dino de Laurentiis’s KING KONG LIVES! would be KING KONG DIES AGAIN! since that is what happens. I feel no particular guilt at this fairly colossal spoiler, since KKL is not only very terrible, it’s also unusually boring for a terrible film. The action is repetitive — Kong rescues his mate at the end of Act I, then again at the end of Act II — and very generic. The characters are flat — so flat that James Cameron could recycle the hardass military guy in AVATAR, put him in 3D, and he was still so flat he could slide under doors like an envelope.

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“You’ve heard of the Green Berets? We’re the Raspberry Berets.”

Director John Guillermin does achieve one of the most memorable moments of his career — which includes some genuinely interesting, and well-made, films — during the sequence where Kong receives an artificial heart the size of a Fiat 500. Beginning with the hairy monarch lying comatose in a lab is not such an awful idea, if you have to begin such a venture at all (and clearly you don’t, so DON’T) — it allows Carlo Rambaldi to create another forty-foot mechanical ape, one which doesn’t have to do anything, but which human actors can interact with, thus convincing the audience that the gorilla really is as big as he’s supposed to be (a conviction shattered as soon as he gets up and starts ambling around miniature landscapes, but it was nice while it lasted). BUT — not content with staging a scene in which the $7, 000,000 artificial heart (this bionic Kong has to go one million better than Steve Austin) is winched over to the rather restive patient (should he really be tossing his head about like that if anesthetized?) — not content with generating bogus suspense by have the crane nearly break and drop the expensive, heavy organ straight through the slumbering monster’s abdomen — not content with showing us one of those inflating rubgy football things used in anesthesis, and having it be normal size when surely it ought to be a veritable Hindenberg — Guillermin throws in a shot taken from inside Kong, looking out of his thoracic cavity towards the assembled medical team and the descending cyber-pump.

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“A new low in taste,” was the phrase used gleefully by Martin Scorsese to describe the shot of a shark’s prey being consumed, taken from inside the shark’s mouth, in JAWS 3 — in 3D. But can that truly compete with a view from an ape’s thoracic cavity? I see now why Guillermin hasn’t made another film since — how to top this? Perhaps by filming out of Dracula’s arse as he breaks wind while stooping to bite a victim.

Fiona: “Why do they want to save Kong’s life after the mass destruction he caused in the last film?”

Me: “They like him.”

The more interesting aspects of the film’s deep badness are the points where it transcends the moronic and achieves solid stupidity. A stupidity you could walk about on; stupidity that could safely take a man’s weight.

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A kind of madness of stupidity, a mania of the dumb, seizes some filmmakers in the process of telling a genre story. The makers of this movie knew perfectly well that Kong, having fallen off the World Trade Center, couldn’t be alive, wouldn’t be helped by a robot heart, or by a blood transfusion from a giant female gorilla who doesn’t necessarily have the same blood type anyway, and that he wouldn’t have been able to walk even with such curative treatment after spending ten years in a coma. They knew that it isn’t full moon every night, yet it is in this movie, even though the action covers months. They also knew, one hopes, the simple biological fact that animals need to eat, yet “Lady Kong” goes on hunger strike when she’s locked in a missile silo by the army, and when Linda Hamilton asks “How long has she been like this?” she is told “Three or four months.” Yet not only does Lady Kong not die of starvation, she is able to give birth to a child at the end of it all.

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When the Son of Kong is eventually born, he is played by another actor in an ape suit, who is cradled in the animatronic Kong hand built by Carlo Rambaldi. So the Kongs, the fifty-foot ape couple, have a child who is only about six feet tall, if that, and who is as active and agile as an adult (and isn’t covered in icky amniotic fluid and blood.

Linda Hamilton sighs a lot and shakes her head to let us know she’s not happy with the way things are going, most of the time, and who can blame her?

Apart from the various stupidities, the film only really startles one awake when something particularly vile happens, as when Kong snaps a man in two; or some distressing attempt at humour is made, as when he pick a baseball cap from between his teeth after eating a man. And the whole Kong family still keep grinning, having learned nothing from the first go-round.

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Boldly, Lady Kong is played by a man, making this a rather forward-looking same-sex marriage, or at any rate civil partnership.

Harry Houdunnit

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , on October 24, 2014 by dcairns

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Fiona is on a Houdini kick, so she compelled me to watch the History Channel’s biopic, starring Adrien Brody (authentically Hungarian) as the Great Man.

Scripted by Nicholas Meyer (TIME AFTER TIME) with numerous fictional flourishes (Rasputin? the bullet trick?) and a tacked on voice-over which works hard to ruin everything, along with an irksome, pumped-up music score, the show is nevertheless diverting, since the facts of Houdini’s existence are remarkable enough and Meyer includes plenty of them. Brody is good, even if he is spectacularly elongated where HH was spectacularly compact. Director Ulli Edel (LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN) throws all he’s got at it, and some of it sticks, but stricter organisation of shots would have helped. It’s more like an exciting compendium of effects than a job of organisation.

The real revelation is that Houdini soars whenever it documents the magic act, even when making stuff up. And most of the tricks are followed by explanations, where available (only the vanishing elephant is left as a tantalizing mystery, and indeed the trick as presented onscreen looks quite impossible). It’s the rather clumsy attempts to provide psychological explanations for Houdini’s actions and career and life which drag the two-parter down to earth like multiple balls and chains. So I propose a new approach for the next biopic — try focussing on the career, the reason we’ve heard of the character in the first place, and skip over everything else — leave the motivation as mysterious as the dematerialised pachyderm. If your character is a showman like Houdini, there will still be plenty of drama…

 

Drive, He Slurred

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on October 23, 2014 by dcairns

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Those two popular pastimes, drink and driving, feature prominently in this fortnight’s edition of The Forgotten –

Hammer director Terence Fisher is at the wheel, while author Patrick Hamilton barks instructions from the back seat.

As an added bonus, by clicking through to MUBI you can see the whole film as well as just reading about it.

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