Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Beast: A Personal Argument - 2

I don't know why I feel the urge to say this, as it should be obvious (and it's not like I have a legion of people reading these), but here goes, a little something about myself: I'm an avid film fan, with aspirations to do more than dabble with it. As such, I'm pretty diverse in my tastes, as my standards are simple. Namely, is there something for me to dig?

Using this stringent guideline, I've come to 1) defend Tom Greene's Freddy Got Fingered as a piece of pure absurdism (though nowhere near as absurd as Miike's Visitor Q); 2) be one of five people in the US who actually dug Ang Lee's The Hulk; 3) believe that Spielberg's AI is actually a mash note to one of his heroes, and not some masturbatory vagary; 4) appreciate Van Sant's remake of Psycho as a film student's experiment done on Hollywood money, and 5) be one of the few to declare Eyes Wide Shut as Kubrick's final masterpiece upon release (a statement that's gaining some acceptance, finally).*

And so we come to:

King Kong (2005)

In which Peter Jackson treats the source material as if it were a certain trilogy of books written by JRR Tolkien.

And how...I mean, every single aspect of this story has been expanded and developed, with remarkably little bloat. No, really. The only thing I could say could've been trimmed a bit was the first act in Depression-era NYC, but couldn't really name what that would be. Do we get rid of Ann Darrow's character exposition? Or should we cut down on showing just how much flim-flammery our man Carl Denham gets himself into?

Personally, I don't know which to lose, because both bits feed right into the depths they've added to the story. The mention of which serves as a nice segue to a discussion of the story...

Now, when I say that the story now has added depth, I'm not saying that it's now Melville-ian in nature; this is because, at heart, this story is simply intended to thrill. It has been pulpy since its inception.

But by grounding these characters is some kind of reality, the story gains gravitas; which, in turn, makes all of the action mean that much more.

I could sit here and list all of the anchoring bits, but I'm not that guy. Besides, part of the joy is discovering them for yourselves, should you decide to see it. Though, I can't stress this enough: It has to be seen on the big screen. One thing I've noticed about special effects extravaganzas (and this does apply to Jackson's LotR trilogy) is that there's a disconnect that happens due to the transfer to the small screen. They special effects are a lot more noticeable...Maybe that will change once HDTV technology is settled in this country.

I will tell you the bits that resonated with me, and I'll just get to those in a second. What I'll willingly tell you is this: All of the characters make sense, and they matter. They've written it so that the central relationship -- that of Ann Darrow and Kong -- makes sense for both of them, without getting into the creepy aspects that, frankly, tainted (in however minuscule ways) the first two versions.

Some who have seen the movie may be saying something like, "the characters make sense, huh? So, why'd we spend all of that time with the first mate and the swabbie? At least one of them dies, along with a bunch of other people, in the second act. And even if one survives, we don't see him at the end anyway."

To this I say that the Kong movies all have high body counts; it's part of the story. Especially in the second act, on Skull Island, which is supposed to be both mysterious and deadly. Secondly, their deaths count. And the survivor, if there is one (I, oddly, can't remember that fact)? It's enough to know that he survives.

Besides, as characters, they supply one of the resonating elements I talked about earlier. The swabbie is reading Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In talking about this book with the first mate, they deliver an important piece in understanding what drives not only Denham, but also the rest of mankind, as depicted in the story, and Kong himself.

Another resonating tidbit is Ann's little speech in the diner before climbing aboard the ship that will carry her to her destiny. The one where she (and Denham) ostensibly talk about the character, and her expectations, Darrow would be playing in his film.

A third is the amount of fun Peter Jackson had that is clearly visible on the screen. The movie is stuffed with visual homages to some of Jackson's inspirations (Spielberg among them); his own movies; the characters in the story; on top of numerous sequences and bits of script that reference back to the original movie.

I mean, look at the treatment of the savages. In this film, it's quite easy to see that these are cynically desperate people, living under the influence of what must be a mad god, in their estimation. They almost don't look human; in truest essence, these are savage people. Not because of their race. What's brilliant about this movie's treatment of them, is how Denham chooses to portray them once back in the States. This moment is a phenomenal commentary on the original movie.

It also delivers one of the most heart stopping renditions of Skull Island in any of the movies (though it's directly inspired by the '33 Kong). This island is gorgeous and lethal, and it goes a long way towards explaining Kong's brutality towards nature. It's what he needs to do to survive.

But really, aside from the top notch acting, what resonated with me the most is the character of Kong.

He's a fucking 25' fucking ape. The real deal. And I'm not just talking about the CGI special effects, which are on par with LotR, I'm talking about the behavior, the personality, the ephemereal whositwhatsit of a fucking ape. Andy Serkis delivers a performance of Kong as nuanced and rich as his performance of Smiegel.

And the one anthropomorphized aspect of Kong is his affection for Ann Darrow.

For me, if I may play armchair academic for a second, Kong represents man's emotional id, especially about and around women we'd like to be affectionate with. The kind of behavior that led us to spit on, pull the hair of, and generally behave like clueless galoots to the girls we fancied when we were six. Of particular note is the look on his face when he's fooled on stage in New York. If you don't believe this ape is lost at that point, then you don't know what unrequited love's about, bub.

I find myself at a loss for words. I mean, truly, this movie packs a fucking whallop.

The final fight between animal and man/machine is heartbreaking, but inevitable.

As the sun rises on the Empire State Building, in 1933, a delightful woman and a 25' ape say goodbye, him to a misguided love-honored death, and her to a life with promise, yet haunted by what she's seen, felt and learned over the course of the story.

Simply masterful.

*Not quite sure, but I think purplestine has dubbed some of these movies "baby fish mouth" movies. Movies too eccentric to appeal.


At 9:34 AM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

*Not quite sure, but I think purplestine has dubbed some of these movies "baby fish mouth" movies. Movies too eccentric to appeal.

Only VisitorQ. She liked the rest of them fine, if in varying degrees.

I'm actually with you on Hulk (most underrated comic-book adaptation ever) and AI (my favorite Jude Law performance, for one thing, and the beginning of a more interesting phase of pulp/art fusion for Spielberg, which seems to have peaked, so far, with Minority Report). I definitely agree on Eyes Wide Shut, a vastly misunderstood film that settles well in the mind if you don't dwell on any initial aversion. And on Psycho as well. I guess you and I are the same sort of film geek.

It must be said, however, that I lost patience with Freddy Got Fingered. Visitor Q, on the other hand, I loved, "baby fishmouth" or not.

As for King Kong, agreed . . . and I'll just add this: Jackson's appropriation of the most breathtaking image from the original--Kong rising up onto his legs atop the Empire State Building, roaring defiantly and pounding his chest--outdoes that original image by leagues. I'd cried a little here and there (tranquilizing the ape to leave the island, the Central Park ice scene, Kong and Darrow finding each other in NYC), but at that moment I just started bawling, and kept doing so until the end of the film.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger JJisafool said...

Not that it matters much, because I'm not the film buff you boys are, but I totally agree about Eyes Wide Shut. I dig Kubrick (though I'm still a little pissed that he chose the 20 chapter American version of A Clockwork Orange for his film instead of the complete 21 chapters) and thought it was a fantastic swansong. And I even liked Mr. Katie Holmes in it ok.

I have to sit and watch The Hulk all the way through, but what I have seen I HATED so I'm skeptical.

Freddy, well, to each his own, but AI? That movie sucked so hard it broke blood vessels in the head of my cock. I began shaking with anger at its suckage in the final moments. Fuck AI. Fuck it in its stupid ass.

(Bonus point if you can identify the paraphrased movie line in those last two phrases.)

At 10:28 AM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

It sounds a little like the, "Fuck him! Fuck him right in the ear!!" from South Park, but there may be something even closer.

I thought the coda on AI kind of ruined it, but I stand by my assessment. It was also a relief to see Spielberg do something so admirably off-putting after the middlebrow, reactionary bullshit of Saving Private Ryan. No, it wasn't the film Kubrick would have made, and that's a little sad. But the attempt at capturing some of Kubrick's ice went a good way towards tempering some of Spielberg's self-defeating (aesthetically speaking) warmth and optimism.

Hulk is flawed in many ways, but I stand by that one as well. I left that theatre very satisfied.

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Stine said...

Not all of the movies you mentioned are "baby-fish mouth" movies. FGF wouldn't even rate that high in my estimation.

But I agree with everything you said about Kong. I do think they could have snipped a bit here and there (I like your suggestions on this). I will say that from the time Kong was on the New York stage to the end of the movie, I wept.

And I completely and utterly intellectually appreciated Visitor Q. It was a fascinating journey that I hope to never take again.

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Y'know, all I could think at the end of Kong was, "Hello? Dipshits? You're standing on the tiny little top of a huge fucking building in a fairly windy spot. Climb the fuck down and go inside."

At 5:06 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

Bonus point if you can identify the paraphrased movie line

My guess is Anchorman, it seems to have that ring to it, but I'm not sure.

Re: AI; Let me dig up the old rant...Let's see, "Spielberg taking a risk"..."the closest anyone has gotten to recreating Kubrick"...oh, here it is.

Spielberg's final script is almost, almost the script that Kubrick was planning on working with, right down to the coda. Yes, Kubrick was planning on having that coda too.

But it's that "almost" that makes or breaks it for most people, because it's in the changes (i.e. - Robin Williams, or Chris Rock as the voice of the robot being dismantled) he makes that really gives away that the cranky bastard's not at the wheel. They don't feel they belong.

Can you blame Spielberg? Yes and no. On the one hand, one wishes he would've had the balls to stick to the old man's vision. On the other, he's not friggin' Richard Little, he's spent years developing his instincts and earned the right to follow them.

I'm not saying the whole thing worked for me. In fact, once I knew what he changed in the coda, I got kind of pissed about it.

But, the stretches that do work, work really well, for all the right reasons. I have to give him credit for that.

Yes, I still wish Kubrick had been alive to see it done his way, but Spielberg earned a grudging respect for trying the impossible.

At 5:39 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

"Hello? Dipshits? You're standing on the tiny little top of a huge fucking building in a fairly windy spot. Climb the fuck down and go inside."

Not to mention that it's supposed to be winter in NYC, and the woman's wearing a back-less, sleeve-less gown.

Suspension of disbelief is a marvelous thing, ain't it?

At 7:39 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

Fuck Jay and Silent Bob. Fuck them in their stupid asses.

I've got a Kevin Smith thing.

(Oh, shit, did I just say that to film buffs? Oh well - go ahead and bring it.)

At 12:09 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

I don't hate Kevin Smith, I'm just happier when I'm not watching his films. Dogma toyed with theology in an interesting enough way that it almost made up for his often painfully amateurish pacing and camera work; Chasing Amy had 60 minutes or so of great writing (directed sloppily) surrounded by, well, the rest of the movie; and Clerks was a nearly perfect exploration of slacker-dom marred by too much slack in its execution. Lars Von Trier does the deliberately sloppy thing better (perhaps because even his sloppiest projects are heady, theory-drenched exercises); Jim Jarmusch is a cooler minimalist; and Hal Hartley can play off the self-consciously clever dialogue thing with a lot more flair.

That said, Smith is more accessible than any of the above, which makes a huge difference for a lot of viewers. So unlike, say, the Michael Bay or Joel Schumacher fan, the Kevin Smith fan isn't necessarily my natural enemy.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

P.S., JJ - Fucker. You knew I couldn't resist that bait. Oh, how you toy with me . . .

At 1:23 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

Too true, I knew.

I like the comparisons you drew. Jarmusch and Hartley are other favorites of mine. With what film might you suggest I sample Lars?

At 1:47 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

Tough call. For the most interesting formal risks, I'd say Dancer in the Dark. For the most engaging story, Breaking the Waves. For the clearest elucidation of his insanity, the most interesting insight into his relationship with theory and the mind-fuckingest-weird-ass documentary ever made, see The Five Obstructions. Supposedly the best/worst example of his laissez-faire, Dogme '95 take on film is The Idiots, but I've yet to see that one.

Have you seen Hartley's No Such Thing? That one's a true unsung masterpiece, IMO.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Stine said...

Ly we need to own No Such Thing. One of the best movies I've ever seen, truly.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

Stine, how about the origin of baby-fish mouth as a blog entry?

JJ, I have no beefs with Kevin Smith.

I really want to see The Five Obstructions.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

The Five Obstructions is a must for every film buff, because it makes so sadistic a game out of film theory.

I wouldn't say I have a "beef" with Kevin Smith. He just tends to inspire shrugging from me. You wanna see a Smith hater? Mention the name to our friend Izzle Pfaff.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger patrice said...



I'm sorry...


I loved freddy got fingered. I hated it the first time but then I loved it. for its absurdity and for being, in parts, hilarious.

sean and I have seen it so many times now that we can quote most of it by memory. it's my favorite portrayal of rip torn ever.


At 11:43 AM, Blogger Stine said...

Ah shit Patrice, I had so much hope for you.


At 11:48 AM, Blogger thelyamhound said...

Granting that I fell asleep during Freddy Got Fingered, too desensitized to shock by 30 minutes in to maintain any interest, I have to say I'm thrilled, Patrice, that you enjoy it. I love it when women enjoy lurid, violent material (a woman at the video store actually steered me towards The Devil's Rejects). It gives me hope for real understanding twixt the sexes.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

Granting that I fell asleep during Freddy Got Fingered, too desensitized to shock by 30 minutes in to maintain any interest...

meaning that the purplehound household was a bit, uhm...under the influence to begin with...I'm just saying. ;^)

sean and I have seen it so many times now that we can quote most of it by memory. it's my favorite portrayal of rip torn ever.

awesome! and Rip Torn's performance was the first thing that told me that there was something more here. He's so committed to the material, where I'm sure most would just phone it in, if they didn't like the material...

That said, not easy viewing, especially the first time through.

"Fuck you? Fuck me!"

At 1:23 PM, Blogger rob said...

I can't help but hear these conversations spoken ala Zach Galifianakis in Comedians of Comedy when he's doing his impersonation of the guy who really dug The Garfield Movie.

"Did you guys see the new Garfield movie?? He's like wearing sunglasses! And Odie's up to his old tricks."

Of guys know...much cooler. And smarter. And exponentially more fuckable.

Only 18 days until Date Movie opens!

At 4:53 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

ZG's one of the funniest motherfuckers out there right now.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger rob said...

For sooth, he is brilliant.


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