King Kong

Universal (2005) 188 min. PG-13

Director: Peter Jackson

Screenplay: Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh based on King Kong by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace

Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie; Editing: Jamie Selkirk; Production Design: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Simon Bright & Dan Hennah; Costumes: Terry Ryan; Score: James Newton Howard

Stars: Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow), Jack Black (Carl Denham), Adrien Brody (Jack Driscoll), Andy Serkis (Kong/Lumpy), Kyle Chandler (Bruce Baxter), Jamie Bell (Jimmy), Evan Parke (Ben Hayes), Colin Hanks (Preston), Thomas Kretschmann (Cpt. Englehorn), John Sumner (Herb), Lobo Chan (Choy), Craig Hall (Mike), William Johnson (Manny)

When reigning Best Actress Brie Larson began absenting herself from the award show circuit last season, I was aghast to learn it was due to her prior commitment to Skull Island, the latest contribution to standing King Kong lore. Like most movie monsters Kong just doesn’t want to stay dead, so considering that Peter Jackson’s prior 2005 adaptation just passed its 10th anniversary, the time has come to revisit a modern classic.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Game of Thrones (Season One)

o-official-poster-for-hbo-s-fantasy-series-game-of-thronesHBO (2011) 60 min. TV-MA

Creators: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss; based on A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin 

Cinematography: Matthew Jensen, Marco Pontecorvo & Alik Sakharov; Editing: Martin Nicholson, Oral Norrie Ottey & Frances Parker; Production Design: Gemma Jackson; Costumes: Michele Clapton; Score: Ramin Djawadi

Stars: Sean Bean (Ned Stark), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark),  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Mark Addy (King Robert Baratheon), Richard Madden (Robb Stark), Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark)

I know I’m way late to this party, but thanks to three free months of pay cable granted me gratis for being such a loyal FIOS customer, I recently started catching up with Game of Thrones, the hour-long HBO fantasy series, the first few seasons of which are available for download on premium pay-per-view. I never considered myself a fantasy fiction fan before. Maybe it was all the lewd illustration art featuring barely concealed buxom beauties suggestively brandishing heavy swords and surrounded by leering dragons. I was fool enough to believe this geekish world of Dungeons and Dragons was strictly for the enjoyment of horny teenage gamers. 

Continue reading

Super 8

Super 8_1346636e90ca50501897f7ad29e66518Paramount/Amblin Ent. (2011) 112 min. PG-13

Director: J.J. Abrams

Screenplay: J.J. Abrams

Cinematography: Larry Fong; Editing: Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey

Production Design: Martin Whist; Set Decoration: Fainche MacCarthy & Dave Kann; Costumes: Ha Nguyen; Score: Michael Giacchino

Stars: Joel Courtney (Joe Lamb), Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard), Kyle Chandler (Jack Lamb), Ron Eldard (Louis Dainard), Riley Griffiths (Charles Kaznyk), Ryan Lee (Cary), Gabriel Basso (Martin), Zach Mills (Preston), A.J. Michalka (Jen Kaznyk), Glynn Turman (Dr. Woodward), David Gallagher (Donny), Noah Emmerich (Col. Nelec), Jessica Tuck (Mrs. Kaznyk) 

Super 8 is period pop Americana set in the heartland, sleepy little Lillian, Ohio in the summer of ’79. Still grieving the recent loss of his mother, monster makeup hobbyist Joe Lamb and his school friends are trying to complete a zombie movie in time to enter a film festival. While shooting a big scene at the deserted railway station outside town, an out of control car driven by a local science teacher purposely jumps the tracks, forcing a military transport to derail. Soon people and pets begin to disappear and electrical appliances go haywire. As an occupying army moves in and the town is evacuated, Joe realizes his super 8 camera captured something escaping the cargo hold that night that might help explain all the strange occurrences, if the air force doesn’t confiscate his footage in the interest of national security first.

Continue reading

Upside Down

UD-PosterMillennium Ent. (2013) 107 min. PG-13

Director: Juan Diego Solanas

Screenplay: Juan Diego Solanas

Cinematography: Pierre Gill

Editing: Dominique Fortin & Paul Jutras

Production Design: Alex McDowell

Set Decoration: Paul Hotte

Costumes: Valérie Bélègou

Score: Benoît Charest & Sigur Rós

Stars: Jim Sturgess (Adam), Kirsten Dunst (Eden), Timothy Spall (Bob Boruchowitz), Blu Mankuma (Albert), Kate Trotter (Becky), James Kidnie (Lagavullan), Nicholas Rose (Pablo), Holly O’Brien (Paula)

All that glitters is not gold, so in the midst of award season hyperbole it’s prudent to step away from the madness for a moment to better assess the situation. To my mind the most visionary movie about Gravity released in 2013 was not made by Alfonso Cuarón but fellow Latin American director Juan Diego Solanas. For its imaginative breadth and creativity, the Argentine artisan’s gravity defying Upside Down has it all over the more hyped, big-budget epic with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Still, it’s curious that both directors chose to explore the subject of ‘space,’ figuratively and literally, this same year. The emergence of their mirroring movies, eerily akin to Solanas’ own subject involving parallel planets, seems more than simple synchronicity. Perhaps it has to do with the interest Latin American governments have recently shown in developing their own space programs. Continue reading

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

PJSoM poster20th Century Fox (2013) 106 min. PG

Director: Thor Freudenthal

Screenplay: Marc Guggenheim; based on novel Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Cinematography: Shelly Johnson; Editing: Mark Goldblatt

Production Design: Claude Paré; Set Decoration: Selina van den Brink & Shane Vieau

Costumes: Monique Prudhomme; Score: Andrew Lockington

Stars: Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson), Brandon T. Jackson (Grover Underwood), Alexandra Daddario (Annabeth Chase), Leven Rambin (Clarisse La Rue), Jake Abel (Luke Castellan), Douglas Smith (Tyson), Stanley Tucci (Dionysus), Nathan Fillion (Hermes), Robert Maillet (Polyphemus)

The second screen adaptation from the series for young adults written by Rick Riordan, these new Percy Jackson movies are like Harry Potter for the more mythological minded. They seem to be following a fixed pattern, appearing every few years, nearly in tandem with the latest Clash of the Titans release, after which they appear to be modeled. With the myth updated to the modern day, they’re what Son of Kong was to King Kong, lightweight junior varsity variations on a theme. They cutesify the concept by setting it in kiddie college, a paramilitary training camp for all the underage, illegitimate demigods sired by Olympians. Continue reading

Chronicle

Chronicle poster20th Century Fox (2012) 84 min. PG-13

Director: Josh Trank

Screenplay: Max Landis; Story: Max Landis & Josh Trank

Cinematography: Matthew Jensen; Editing: Elliot Greenberg

Production Design: Stephen Altman; Set Decoration: Fred Du Preez

Costumes: Diana Cilliers; Score: Andrea von Foerster

Stars: Dane DeHaan (Andrew Detmer), Alex Russell (Matt Garetty), Michael B. Jordan (Steve Montgomery), Michael Kelly (Richard Detmer), Ashley Hinshaw (Casey Letter), Bo Petersen (Karen Detmer), Anna Wood (Monica)

On the cusp of another summer of blockbuster blitzkrieg, one can only hope moviemakers look to their laurels by revisiting one of the finest superhero movies of recent years. Forget all the over-marketed, big-budgeted Dark Knight Rises, Avengers and Amazing Spider-Mans that glutted the franchise market back in 2012. Chronicle, a modest little sleeper by comparison, directed by Josh Trank and written by Trank and Max Landis, with shoestring special effects, a teensploitation plotline and derivative handheld video camerawork, still emerged as the most creative, original superhero movie of that year. Or, to be more accurate, the best secret origin story of a supervillain. The revisionist storyline was clever enough to subvert our initial expectations. Continue reading

Jack the Giant Slayer

JtGS posterWarner Bros./New Line (2013) 114 min. PG-13

Director: Bryan Singer

Screenplay: Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie & Dan Studney

Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel; Editing: Bob Ducsay & John Ottman

Production Design: Gavin Bocquet; Set Decoration: Richard Roberts

Costumes: Joanna Johnston

Score: John Ottman

Stars: Nicholas Hoult (Jack), Eleanor Tomlinson (Isabelle), Ewan McGregor (Elmont), Stanley Tucci (Roderick), Ian McShane (King Brahmwell), Bill Nighy (General Fallon), John Kassir (Fallon’s Small Head)

I was reticent to see director Bryan Singer’s version of the fairy tale after everything I’d read about rewrites, production delays, pushed back release dates and the film’s disappointing box office, a sure sign that something must be wrong with it. The unnecessary change in title itself seemed to bode ill, a too flippant attempt to make the story seem fresher and more hip. Linked by name to the likes of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, this title gives every indication of being just the latest product of a screen overrun with post-modern spins on classic fairy tale and horror concepts. The professional designation cheapens the concept in the worse way. Jack the Giant Slayer sounds like a cheesy direct to cable release for the SyFy channel. Which just goes to prove one shouldn’t judge a movie by its title. Continue reading

The Brothers Grimm

Dimension Films/MGM (2005) 118 min. PG-13

Director: Terry Gilliam

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel; Editing: Lesley Walker

Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Judy Farr

Costumes: Gabriella Pescucci & Carlo Poggioli

Score: Dario Marianelli

Stars: Matt Damon (Wilhelm Grimm), Heath Ledger (Jacob Grimm), Lena Headey (Angelika), Peter Stormare (Cavaldi), Jonathan Pryce (Delatombe), Monica Bellucci (Mirror Queen), Tomás Hanák (Woodsman), Martin Kavan (Delatombe’s Valet)

There’s a haze of droll waggishness floating about Terry Gilliam’s phantasmagoric fantasy that never quite materializes into definite physical form. The Brothers Grimm remains a leering, overspilling, grotesque gargoyle of a movie yet, unlike most films of similar caliber, the dim light of what was in theory a bright idea almost manages to shine through the muck and mire shoveled atop it. It’s not all bad.

Continue reading

Brave

Pixar (2012) 93 min. PG

Director: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman

Screenplay: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi & Steve Purcell; Story: Brenda Chapman

Editing: Nicholas C. Smith Score: Patrick Doyle

Stars: Kelly Macdonald (Princess Merida), Emma Thompson (Queen Elinor), Billy Connolly (King Fergus), Julie Walters (The Witch), Kevin McKidd (Lord MacGuffin & Young MacGuffin), Craig Ferguson (Lord Macintosh), Robbie Coltrane (Lord Dingwall), Steven Cree (Young Macintosh), Callum O’Neill (Wee Dingwall); non-speaking characters include Mor’du (the bear), Angus (Merida’s horse), Harris, Hubert & Hamish (Merida’s triplet brothers)

Animation is among the most visually exhilarating of movie forms because it’s the only sort of cinema, apart from silents, that is conceived primarily from a visual standpoint. The dizzying optic dynamism never lets up for a minute, so cartoons can easily start to seem overbearingly energetic. They have to in order to sustain the interest of kids’ increasingly shorter attention spans, now preconditioned to this kind of constant stimulation. Continue reading

The Hunger Games

Lionsgate (2012) 142 minutes PG-13

Director: Gary Ross

Screenplay: Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray and Gary Ross; based on The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Cinematography: Tom Stern; Editing: Christopher S. Capp, Stephen Mirrione and Juliette Welfling

Production Design: Philip Messina; Set Decoration: Larry Dias; Costumes: Judianna Makovsky; Score: James Newton Howard

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Alexander Ludwig (Cato), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Donald Sutherland (President Snow)

Based as it is on the first novel in a popular trilogy of teen fiction, and given the legion of devoted fans the movie inherited before it was ever released, it’s probably unnecessary to point out at this late stage that The Hunger Games is about a futuristic, state sponsored reality TV show which pits twenty four adolescents against each other in a no-holds barred fight to the finish. Author Suzanne Collins, who also collaborated on the movie’s screenplay with director Gary Ross and Billy Ray, was inspired by the explosion in popularity of elimination round reality programs like Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, The Amazing Race and even American Idol, where the public at large is invited to vote on their favorites, weighing in on who gets axed each week.

Continue reading