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Dude! I, Like, Totally Saw Two Movies!
Friday, January 06, 2006
I saw two movies during the holidays. This is noteworthy because since my daughter was born, we’d been to the movies precisely thrice: Garden State (liked it), Crash (liked it a lot), and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (liked it a lot.) And I did see Fahrenheit 9/11 by myself (disliked it, as you can see in the very first APW post.)

Anyway, here is my book report about the movies I saw.

Syriana. The title (which they don’t explain in the film) refers to a theoretical oil-rich, US-friendly country that would be formed by uniting Iraq, Iran and Syria (presumably after we’ve invaded all three.) Sound-byte it like this: Traffic with oil. Same writer (this time he directed as well), lots of plotlines about the business and politics of oil, becoming increasingly intertwined as the movie goes on. George Clooney is surprisingly effective as a doughy, overweight has-been CIA operative. There’s a chilling line where one of the characters exclaims something like, “You think corruption is bad!” that is a “Greed is good” for the 21st century. See it with someone smart, and go for coffee afterward so you can talk about it.

King Kong. I loved this movie and make no bones about it, even though some of my intellectual friends (OK, my only intellectual friend) turn their noses up at it. The original was archetypal to me (let’s all forget the 1976 DeLaurentis remake, about which my wife will unfailingly say, imitating Belushi from SNL, “When my Kong a-dies, everybody cries.”) For years, it was on TV in New York on Thanksgiving day. The story has the power of myth; it isn’t based on any book, but it is familiar to most everyone whether you’ve seen the movie or not: The rogue filmmaker who takes a beautiful ingénue on a long voyage to a mysterious island, where she is captured by a huge and terrible primal beast, rescued by the hero (not the filmmaker), and then the beast is subdued and brought back to civilization, where he is shackled by the filmmaker and put on display, until the beast is made angry, escapes, finds the beauty again, runs off with her, and is ultimately slain by airplanes while atop the Empire State Building.

Some have called the story a metaphor for the Christ story (Kong is on a cross when shackled); some have seen it as an allegory for the plight of the African-American male. Of course Cooper and Schoedsack, who made the original, pegged it as Beauty and the Beast. Regardless. Something about the story is resonant, and it speaks to something deep and primal inside us.

This was my first Peter Jackson movie, which tells you something considering he made the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (What it tells you is, when I was single I went out and kissed girls.) Jackson is an unabashed Kong fan; he says he decided to make movies after seeing the original on TV at the age of 9. Indeed after seeing his version in the theater, I went and rented the restored original, which now has a bonus disc featuring a documentary on the original, produced by, yup, Peter Jackson. The documentary shows Jackson and his team expounding on their love of the 1933 film, and about how they were inspired by it in making the new version. In fact I’d recommend seeing them in this order: 1933 original; companion documentary; then 2005 remake.

Is the new version faithful to the original? Lovingly, deliciously so (despite taking some wise liberties; notably, first mate Jack Driscol is now playwright Jack Driscol.) Does it surpass the original? Turns out that it is probably impossible to surpass the original, in the way that there will never be another Beatles; the original Kong marked the widespread introduction of many landmark techniques never before seen, including stop motion animation. At the time, audiences assumed there was a man in the monkey suit; no one could fathom how it was done. Whereas today we have computers and CGI, and there is absolutely nothing we can see on a screen that would truly leave us in wonderment. (Think about that. We live in an age of post-wonderment. That sort of bites.)

OK then. At heart the film is a love triangle between the Driscol character (Adrien Brody), the Ann Darrow character (Naomi Watts, who was great in Mulholland Drive but who lights up the screen here and is now a certified capital-M Movie Star), and Kong. Happily Kong and Darrow never consummate their love, although the scene where he takes her ice skating in the park did remind me of my late 20s. Jack Black, as filmmaker and entrepreneur Carl Denham, is a revelation; Black has long had a sort of hip, snarky slacker appeal, but his payday has just gone up substantially. He carries this one off with style and panache and that over-the-top way he has, which suits the character perfectly. And the special effects are dazzling if not wondrous.

The movie is essentially three acts: act I is before the island; act II is the island; and act III is back in Manhattan. I think the first act is the best, and that the middle act probably goes on too long (although that’s where most of the effects are.) It didn’t drag at 3 hours, except toward the end of act II; and I’d say if you are going to see this, by all means see it in the theater. Most movies are just as good on cable, but when you say “My God, that ape is as big as my foot!” the impact is sort of lost. If you see this one, see it large. Get a big sack of popcorn, go during the day, suspend disbelief, and enjoy this great retelling of an archetypal tale.

Special note to Pia: I’d call it pulp.

Posted by: --josh-- @ 4:59 PM  


1 Comments:
At 1/12/2006 10:54 AM, Blogger Mask said...   

Hi Josh!

Is my first visit to you Blog, is very interesting this post over the movies, Im coming for one reason,The Caine Mutiny, I saw in your favorites films, is my favorite too and my question is ¿If you know where can download a trailer of this movie? I whana used for a post in my Blog.

I hope you can helpme

Thankyou
Hi from México

Sorry for my bad english,jeje


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