Friday, December 23, 2005

KONG!

Okay, so I've been a little lax in my reviews.

I'm comfortable with that, and my audience of two really haven't complained.

That said, I've been busier than an insurer in the southeast and my ability to process things to review has been neglected -- I've read and watched very little!

But today, I managed to make the most of a day off and hit the theaters for one of (my) most anticipated films in years: KING KONG.

I am, and have been, a fan of the 1933 original for as long as I can remember. I've heard the same said of Peter Jackson. Even so, I was a little leery when I heard he was gonna tackle Kong, even after enjoying the Lord of the Rings, Frighteners, and a few of his other little tidbits.

Putting the suspense out of the way, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

And now, for why:

It had a substance to it.

I'll admit, for the first act of the movie I was beginning to wonder a bit if I wouldn't be better off at home watching Fay and company in the original. Despite that nagging notion, the beginning of Jackson's Kong did what it needed to do -- set things in motion. Some of it, I admit, could've been trimmed. 15-30 minutes, in fact, would've been fine on the cutting room floor (or, alternatively ADD IN some scenes to flesh out what seemed weak -- though that is certainly out of the question in a movie with a run time already past 3 hours!)

Also, I heard myself -- and no one else -- laughing at the two blatant nods to the 33 version.

But then we get to Skull Island.

We see the scary natives.

We meet KONG.

And, in the instance where the giant gorilla laughs, I'm sold. I'm there. And I love it.

Naomi Watts does a good job of making the part of Ann Darrow her own; she's an easy one to fall in love with, and makes the audience do just that as she wins over a giant gorilla.

Jack Black reins it in, never quite going as far over the top as I expect him to.

And please, somebody, give Andy Serkis an award. I've seen what computer FX are capable of, and they are capable of a great deal. But there was such a wealth of motion capture (down to facial expressions) Kong was portrayed. (Serkis also had a role that didn't involve a leotard and extensive animation, and was enjoyable in that part as well.)

I have a feeling the work he did in this will be looked upon the same way a skilled comedian's would -- that is to say "Very nice, but not REAL acting."

The climax atop the Empire State Building looked real. I knew it wasn't, but it looked the part to the point that my hands were sweating and I was starting to get dizzy -- agoraphobia! -- it added tension for me.

Tension I didn't need.

Y'see, everyone knows how this flick turns out. Many can even quote the line Denham closes the picture ('33 and '05) with.

But you don't WANT it to end that way. You don't WANT Kong to die. You want a happy ending, and you aren't going to get it.

I nearly cried... and it's a giant animated primate!

This is still a powerful bit of moviemaking, a ride, an event, and it has a story to boot.

I want to see it again already.

E's Rating:

Monday, November 07, 2005

E's Movie Review: Charlie & The Chocolate Factory






I'll admit from the start that I've always been a fan of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate
Factory.


Perhaps I should amend that.


Despite what Roald Dahl thought about it, or any flaws there may be, I was -
am! - a fan of the trickster incarnation that Gene Wilder brought to the
screen. His sense of timing made for an enjoyable experience.


The rest of the movie (even parts of Gene's performance) weren't always able
to match the wry and perfect delivery he brought to some of the better
scenes. Some you win, some you lose.



So I was walking into C&TCF with that on my mind.



Still, Burton had redeemed himself from the horrid Planet of the Apes
with the excellent Big Fish, also adapted by John August, and Johnny
Depp has long been fun to watch when it comes to character work. I
was curious to see if the combination would gel.



It did.



Willy Wonka, by way of Depp, is very much a child who never gave
himself the opportunity to mature.



This is not quite the same as Peter Pan's not growing up -- Willy is
very much aware that he is an adult; he just denies whatever parts of
that that don't interest him. He's also crippled by the concept of
family. (This ties into the backstory added to the film; not
something I was looking forward to, but certainly not as bad as it could
have been.)



Depp's portrayal of Willy as a man-child offered many fun little
tidbits -- dismissal, one-ups, pettiness -- all mixed up with a bubbling
sense of wonder. He had his wry moments as well, but always seemed
a little more accidentally unhinged than Wilder's Wonka, whose craziness
seemed calculated.



The Oompa-Loompas are given an onscreen origin this time
around. No more creepy singing dwarfs... well, actually, they were
creepy, and they did sing... but the magic of CGI gave them new lows in
height. And they were all portrayed by actor Deep Roy - it
gave a strange, almost smurf-like consistency, and his face bore out the
nature of the imps perfectly.



I did miss the familiar tune of the 70s Oompa-ditties, homogenous as
they were, but the new numbers (with lyrics taken from the book and
scored by the reliable Danny Elfman) served in good stead.



Still, only two of them really stuck in my head for any length of
time -- Willy Wonka's entrance theme (a quick riff on "It's A Small
World" with a much more satisfying end to the song) and the
surprisingly infectious groove to Augustus Gloop's outro.



The children all met their familiar fates -- Augustus fell into the
river of chocolate, Violet chewed her way into a new shape, Veruca was
thrown down a garbage chute and Mike Teavee was shrunk in transit from
point A to B.



What struck me about these kids is how much nastier they seemed to
be. Not by much, I grant you, but these spoiled, rude, annoying,
self-centered little kids (and the parents who fostered such behavior)
felt too real for entertainment. And, at the end, it shows that
(just as in real life) extreme circumstances don't always change a
person for the better.



Charlie, now...



Well, we all know what happens to Charlie. Willy offers him the
keys to the kingdom, the chocolate factory itself.



In the 70s version, this was done slyly -- Willy, in full Wilder
trickster form, measures Charlie's worth with a small test of
ethics. That's the mature yet mischievous Wonka.



When Depp's Willy makes Charlie the offer, it seems almost
arbitrary. When Charlie refuses, I hope that it's some trick on
Willy's part; a test to be certain Charlie is worth the gift.



I understand that this sets the foundation for the way Burton
eventually wraps the story, which does make sense, which does work...
but just didn't give me what I was expecting. That's not always a
bad thing, and a minor disappointment is better than a major one any
day.



Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is a film of moments. Some
work, some don't. Some you win, some you lose.



The good news is: Burton's average is solidly in the win column here,
edging ever closer to making the collective public forget that simian
blotch on his filmography.



Now if he'd just do a sequel to Beetlejuice, I think we could call
ourselves square...


E's Rating:

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Reviews and Reviews and Reviews

I've decided to convert this blog into a reviews-only one (don't worry, I hooked myself up with another blog for ranting.)

Compartmentalizing seemed to be the thing to do.

Reviews will start... soon!