Friday, March 24, 2017
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I'm afraid I didn't care much for KONG: SKULL ISLAND. I don't like the trend of weighing fantasy down with military hardware and weaponry, even less the trend of turning franchises into cross-referential universes built around some secret government power grid operation. Most importantly, I refuse to accept that every giant gorilla is automatically Kong. Kong is a special character and, if you're going to use him, I feel you have to earn him - not with brawn (that would give you Konga) but with character and sensitivity. Likewise, as much as I like Brie Larson, Kong needs to be complemented by a heroine with the power to humanize him, not just an empowered woman who can stand there in the midst of flying monster hair and fireballs and send up a flare. I swear, the movie looks like it never left the storyboard stage; it really is more graphic novel (Issue 1) than movie. When Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" was played, I had to wince; the film had succeeded in checking off every war movie cliche of the past 50-60 years. And don't get me started on the five-second needle drops of popular songs from 1973 - you know, like Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust", "Down On the Street" by the Stooges, and the real knee-slapper, CCR's "Run Through the Jungle." (Get it? That's what they're doing.) In all fairness, some people have liked it - usually with caveats attached, like they went in with low expectations (or a grandson), or they enjoyed it "for what it was."
PASSENGERS (2016): This movie has been taking some heat as "sexist," but I found it an unexpectedly captivating, humane science fiction drama sprung from the hoariest of the genre's cliches - a futuristic Adam & Eve story. It's not exactly that, but close enough: a man (Chris Pratt), alone of 5,000 passengers being transported to live on an Earth-like planet many light years away, is awakened from suspended animation when his chamber malfunctions... with another 90 years to go before the others are revived in anticipation of their arrival. Over the following year, he forms an attachment to a sleeping female passenger (Jennifer Lawrence) and wrestles for a full year with the moral question of whether or not to wake her, while simultaneously going mad from loneliness. Considering who plays the sleeping beauty, you can imagine how the dice roll, but it's a consistently engaging, tense and surprising drama that managed to address dark topics and technological breakdowns without ever succumbing to the dystopian virus that has done so much to destroy the genre. It's refreshing in this aspect, and the ship design and special visual effects are worthy of the fine performances by the principals. One of them is Michael Sheen, cleverly cast an android bartender who is modeled on Lloyd in THE SHINING - a mite heavy-handed, but in this setting, an homage to Kubrick is hardly misplaced.
As for the sexism angle, I'll need to call SPOILERS before going any further... but Pratt's character is crazy at the time he makes the decision to wake her, literally past the point of becoming suicidal, and 2) as the story continues, it becomes clear that Lawrence's character would have died along with everyone else had he not interrupted her sleep. I absolutely agree that it is an unsettling, creepy situation for her to awaken into, and the film is responsible enough to address this; he was absolutely wrong not to confess to what he had done immediately, but the result is a dramatic human story - not to mention a story of forgiveness and sacrifice - not real life. Rather than brand him a monster, which is a label that neither the film nor the character himself really disagree with, I prefer to take a more encompassing view that, in narrative terms, he was a tool of fate that allowed everything to work out for the best. I should also point out that he suffers a great deal and at length when the truth comes out, including excommunication from his beloved, and she finally forgives him when circumstances push her to the extremis of confronting a possible future likewise without companionship for the remainder of her life.
It looks like the remaining two films in the Andre Hunebelle FANTOMAS Trilogy (starring Jean Marais, pictured above) are coming out on Blu-ray in France at the end of this month. All three discs offer English subtitles. Though far from representing the original novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre), these updated, gadget-riddled action comedies are a delight in their own right, especially the first - which is as accomplished as any Bond film of the same period.
Amazon.fr is a great place to snag these; you can get all three for well under $60 with express mail included.
Sitting here eating a bagel with my morning coffee and listening to Elvis' GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! soundtrack - one of the first albums I ever owned. All is right with the world when I'm listening to this album - something I should remember for future reference. But something new is clicking with me on this listen - how geographically encompassing this music is. There are songs that sound American, Japanese, Caribbean, Spanish, Balinese, Italian... it's like the album wants to host and undertake the healing of the whole post-war world, with the King as the catalyst. It's the IT'S ALL TRUE or CINERAMA ADVENTURE of rock soundtracks, and yet I'm sure that lots of people today, previously unexposed to this music, would hear the ethnic settings of these songs (admittedly based in musical cliche) and see only caricature and condescension in them and call them racist. And that would be after branding half or more of the songs as sexist.
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RIP to the always passionate and charismatic Cuban-American actor Tomas Milian (COMPANEROS, THE BIG GUNDOWN, FACE TO FACE, RUN MAN RUN, etc); the superb and often underrated British director Robert Day (CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, THE HAUNTED STRANGLER, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES, SHE); game show creator/host/songwriter/CIA hit man (?) Chuck Barris (THE DATING GAME, THE NEWLYWED GAME, THE GONG SHOW), and the sublime Lola Albright (PETER GUNN, KID GALAHAD, A COLD WIND IN AUGUST).
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I should mention that I have a few new audio commentaries that have gone into release recently, all for Kino Lorber: ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), THE SKULL (1965), COMPULSION (1959) and LIFEBOAT (1944). I'm presently scripting a commentary for Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1967).
And, last but certainly not least...
HERE is a link to my first-ever article for Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, written about the films SUMMER OF '42 (1971) and CLASS OF '44 (1973), 35mm IB Technicolor prints of which will be playing there over the last weekend in April.
(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.
Posted by Tim Lucas at Friday, March 24, 2017