“King Kong Lives”

1986-king-kong-lives-poster1The moment a movie’s title appears on-screen is always a huge opportunity to set the tone for the audience. So what does it say about “King Kong Lives” that the movie’s title appears over a shot of desktop computers with gentle music better-suited for something with Sally Field? This is a title that demands an exclamation point, but gets a weak little shrug instead. “King Kong Lives, I Guess.” Or, considering what actually happens in the movie, you could call it “King Kong Lives…For A While.” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

This is a direct sequel to Dino De Laurentis’ 1976 remake “Kong,” and it reminds us of that fact right away by starting with the last couple of minutes of that movie. Say hello and goodbye to Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges, as well as the city of New York. Since Kong’s unfortunate visit to the World Trade Center in the ’76 movie, he has been transferred to a university outside Atlanta, where he’s been on life support in a coma for the last 10 years. Linda Hamilton is a surgeon who has been keeping the giant gorilla alive all this time while working on an artificial heart the size of a Volkswagen. I don’t mean to sound callous to Kong’s plight, but what does the university expect to learn about a giant gorilla with an artificial heart that they couldn’t learn in the 10 years they’ve had him under sedation?

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Once Kong’s new heart is ready, however, a complication arises – Kong needs a blood transfusion and nothing but 100 percent Kong blood will do. Wouldn’t you know it, an unscrupulous Indiana Jones type has just so happened to stumble onto the only other known member of Kong’s species in Borneo. And I mean “stumbled,” because he manages to sit in her hand without noticing her. Yes, King Kong finally has a queen, and she’s dragged back to civilization to help save his life.

The operation is a success, but Kong catches wind of Lady Kong’s presence and busts out of captivity, much to the chagrin of the single doughy security guard the university has watching him. Kong crashes the airplane hangar where they’re keeping the female and literally carries her over the threshold as they escape into the wilds of Georgia. The military gets involved at this point, while Hamilton and the hunter chase after the giant apes with the remote control for Kong’s artificial heart. Unless Hamilton can make regular adjustments to Kong’s heart, you see, he’s not long for this world.

Once the army catches up to Mr. and Mrs. Kong, they’re able to recapture the female and force Kong himself to plummet into a raging river where he cracks his head on a rock and presumably drown. This is where the movie jumps ahead one full year to reveal the army has been keeping Lady Kong at the bottom of a nuclear missile silo and King Kong has been living incognito in the Everglades and eating the entire alligator population of Florida. It was one thing when Kong lived on a secluded island in the far part of the Pacific Ocean, but how he can go unnoticed for so long so close to Disney World is a mystery the movie isn’t interested in.

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In time, Kong gets wind that his lady love is being held captive nearby and, in a real step down from destroying Manhattan in 1976, demolishes a Florida trailer park on his way to the rescue. Kong breaks Lady Kong out of her captivity just after Hamilton and her now-boyfriend the hunter discover that Lady Kong is, inevitably, pregnant. It all culminates in a knock-down drag-out between Kong and the Army, but the fight is just too much for Kong’s temporary ticker, and he succumbs to his injuries just in time to see his newborn son for the first and last time. Monkey die, everybody cry.

The original “King Kong” didn’t make any bones about it – Kong was a beast, a truly terrifying monster. The 1976 and 2005 remakes did what they could to make Kong more sympathetic, perhaps reflecting a more enlightened view of animal rights. Where “King Kong Lives” stumbles is by being much too far in Kong’s corner. He’s not a monster – he’s a family man, wrongly imprisoned, a persecuted minority and suffering from heart disease to boot. The real monsters, as so often happens, are man, and there are already way too many movies about them. Long scenes of Kong and Lady Kong trying to play house in the wilds of Georgia try to inject some emotional heft but ends up looking like outtakes from “The Banana Splits.”

In addition to giving over so much of its running time to monkey melodrama, “King Kong Lives” handles its human relationships no more effectively. Hamilton and her hunter beau have nothing in common until he suddenly changes his entire attitude about profiting off the apes and tags along with her to rescue Kong. Then it’s about 10 minutes until they’re sharing a sleeping bag. It’s actually the second unearned relationship this hunter character has with a female in the movie, as Lady Kong develops a bond with him despite the fact that he gassed her and dragged her away from her home to forcibly donate her blood.

It’s strange to say that the main problem with a giant monster movie is that the relationships aren’t believable, but “King Kong Lives” doesn’t give you much else to talk about. Transplanting Kong from New York City into the nondescript American Southeast means there isn’t much for Mr. and Mrs. Kong to do. It’s worth noting that Kong’s rival from across the Pacific, Godzilla, went through a similar phase in his career when he stopped stomping on Tokyo and fought his enemies in the middle of a big empty field. The cost of living is cheaper in the suburbs, even when you’re a giant monster.

Every Kong dies, but not every Kong truly lives. That’s the problem with “King Kong Lives” – so much effort goes into making Kong sympathetic that one of the movie’s greatest monsters is reduced to a mopey, hobbled mess. The story of once-great man who struggles to overcome a chronic disease and overwhelming odds to be a good husband and father is a winning formula for Nicolas Sparks, perhaps, but not the Eighth Wonder of the World.

“Wild Beasts”

mv5bymqwndg3mmytogi4ns00ntk5lwfiyjytymfkywixnde0mtewxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzmwmji2na-_v1_uy268_cr90182268_al_Earlier this year, there was a minor outrage directed at a dopey-looking dog movie because someone leaked a video that made it look like a dog was pushed into a water tank against his will to make it look like he was swimming. That bit of behind-the-scenes mistreatment is nothing compared to “Wild Beasts,” where what was filmed is often so appalling and cruel that you shudder to think what was going on when the cameras weren’t rolling. “Wild Beasts” is the first horror movie I’ve seen where what happens in the movie isn’t nearly as stomach-churning as thinking about how they must have gotten it on film. “Wild Beasts” is an Italian production shot in Germany, and my theory is they did this because the producers figured that by the time the authorities figured out whose jurisdiction it was under, they would have the movie in the can.

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“Death Race 2050”

death-race_largeThe original “Death Race 2000” isn’t just a nearly perfect slice of drive-in junk food, it’s one of my favorite movies ever. Working off a recipe that balances black comedy, action and sleaze in precise proportions, director Paul Bartel and writers Robert Thom and Charles Griffith created one of the best and most entertaining products to ever come out of Roger Corman’s schlock market. It would take more than another movie to combine road racing with wholesale slaughter to clear the bar set by “Death Race 2000,” and “Death Race 2050” certainly tries. Continue reading

“Blue Monkey”

mv5byzk5ndq4odqtzdvmmy00m2vllwe0otctmjm2mmmymti2yjbkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzu0nzkwmdg-_v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_I have to assume that the people who made “Blue Monkey” intended it to be a withering screed against the Canadian healthcare system. Yes, the movie points out that the hospital it takes place in was built around the time of the Civil War and they reference Washington D.C., but this movie is very obviously Canadian well before the credits thank the good people of Ontario. The presence of Joe Flaherty is enough on its own, but there’s also the way all the characters say “oat” when they mean “out.” So, when a string of administrative blunders in this hospital leads to a giant grasshopper ripping people’s heads off, it’s hard not to think there might be some veiled commentary about the socialized medicine of our northern neighbors.

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“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”

220px-attack_of_the_killer_tomatoesAttack of the Killer Tomatoes” was guaranteed to be a perennial entry on numerous “worst movies ever made” lists even if a single frame of it had never been shot. The kindergarten-joke-book nature of the title ensured that it would be an easy target for the likes of Michael and Harry Medved’s “Golden Turkey Awards” and other fans of “so bad it’s good” cinema. Everything you need to know about what kind of a movie this is can be found right there in the title, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if a lot of the people who rank it up there with “Plan 9 From Outer Space” actually haven’t seen it. To say “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” is one of the “worst movies ever made” only indicates that you need to see more movies. Continue reading

“Transformers: Age of Extinction”

transformers-age-of-extinction-poster-dinobotsAt the end of an especially long and acrimonious election season, it’s totally natural to want to just escape into some mindless entertainment. After more than a year of doom-saying and apocalyptic imagery pummeling you into submission, there’s nothing wrong with wanting some spectacle, some whiz-bang action and some light-hearted adventure to remind you that not everything is about hate and resentment. That’s what big blockbuster summer sequels are made for, after all. Well, most of them are. Unfortunately, there also exist movies like “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which leaves you feeling like you just watched a Super Bowl commercial for nihilism.

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” has the distinction of being the second-most misanthropic movie I’ve ever seen, topped only by Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra.” At least that movie had the excuse of being an R-rated cop movie made in the 1980s based on a trashy pulp novel. This movie is based on a line of toys and cartoons made for children but still somehow manages to be hateful, bleak, and practically irredeemable. This is a movie in which a villain character flippantly says “Just run them over!” during a car chase through a crowded street and it doesn’t land as a joke because it seems so thoroughly consistent with everything else we’ve seen up to that point. This is a movie where the hero solemnly says “Honor to the end” seconds after stabbing his enemy in the back and splitting his head open. This is a movie where not a single character is motivated by anything other than greed, mistrust, or hatred. It is a grueling experience, and ranks up there with “Happiness” as one of the most uncomfortable movies I’ve ever watched. I write this review as a form of therapy. Continue reading

“Shin Godzilla”

shin_godzilla_us_posterIt’s difficult to make 31 movies about a single character without repeating yourself a few times, and Godzilla is one of those characters. Whether he’s the hero or the villain, an intelligent creature or a mindless beast, the basic elements of a Godzilla movie have remained the same for the most part over the last 52 years. That’s why when a movie like “Shin Godzilla” is added to this long-running series, it’s something special. Like its star monster, “Shin Godzilla,” manages to take a familiar form but still be something unusual and unique.

On its surface, there isn’t anything about “Shin Godzilla” that hasn’t been seen before in any other Japanese monster movie. Godzilla emerges from the ocean, stomps on Tokyo, and it’s up to a brave coalition of scientists, military and civil servants to put an end to his rampage. Where the movie deviates from the rest of the series is in how the threat of Godzilla evolves over the course of the movie, its more grounded setting, and how it uses Godzilla as an allegory for real-world events. It’s a strange Godzilla movie, but it’s definitely a Godzilla movie through and through. Continue reading