Monthly Archives: June 2013

King Kong Escapes: 1967 A Review.

In my review of the King Kong movies I decided to do this one first because I have recently seen it for the first time. I heard it was very bad so I went in with low expectations. The movie was co-produced by Toho Studios and the Rankin & Bass people who brought to life so many Christmas specials such as Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer. The movie was also loosely based off of a Saturday Morning children’s cartoon. Sadly, it shows. The movie was directed by  Ishirō Honda with music by  Akira Ifukube.

I apologies for this next part but I get bored typing out detailed synopsis of the plot so let me see if I can put it in a few paragraphs.

An evil genius named Dr. Hu (pronounced “Who”, but no relation to the BBC character of that name) creates a robotic version of King Kong, named Mechni-Kong, in order to dig for a highly radioactive element called “Element X”, found only at the North Pole. Mechni-Kong enters an ice cave and begins to dig into a glacier, but the radiation produced by the substance destroys its systems and shuts it down. Meanwhile, a damaged submarine from the United Nations is forced to weigh anchor off the coast of Mondo Island. The UN team encounters the true King Kong who battles the Gorosaurus and falls in love with the UN assistant, Lt. Susan Watson, played by the lovely Linda Miller. Basically Dr. Hu, an over the top bad guy, reminiscent of a combination of Snidely Whiplash and Dr. Evil, is bent on world domination as the UN team and eventually King Kong try to stop him. Mechni-Kong and King Kong eventually have an epic battle while climbing Tokyo-Tower.

That is the basic plot in a nut shell and I do not want to give too much of the plot away in case you want to view it. As with all of my reviews I will list some pros and cons.

Pros: This movie does have its charm. It stars my favorite Toho actor Akira Takarada  as Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura so his performance does increase my enjoyment of the movie. I will talk about the suit for Kong in the con section but I would like to comment on the miniatures. Like in many Toho productions of the Showa era it isn’t that difficult to spot miniature sets and in this movie it is actually even easier. I think the miniature sets is actually part of its charm. The miniatures help to set the tone and the mood for the film and the place the film in a very light mood.

The story itself is not bad and this movie is the first time a Mechanised version of a monster is used. Sure, the villains and the good guys are one-dimensional but that doesn’t detract from the charm of this film. I did find the story engaging and one of the litmus tests for movies that I watch is the movie engaging or do I want to turn it off? In the case of this movie I was willing to see it through until the end.

Cons: The movie is a bit too much like a Rankin & Bass cartoon and did not feel like  a typical Toho production. The suit for Kong is one of the problems. While the body of the suit isn’t too bad, the face does look to kid friendly and like it came from a cartoon. Kong reminded me a bit too much like the Abominable Snowman from their Rudolph production. The evil Dr. Hu was just over the top and very silly. He was voiced by Paul Frees a staple of Rankin & Bass productions and for me it was very distracting for that recognizable voice coming from that character. I mentioned that the tone of the movie was very child friendly…but it really wasn’t always. There is some violent shooting and seeing some key characters die was a bit unsettling.

I try to stay away from the good-bad dichotomy so I will say that the movie was something I only marginally liked. I am not sure if I will add this to my collection because my feelings are almost equally divided on this movie. Sometimes the pros will out weigh the cons or the cons will out weigh the pros, but in the case it is a dead heat.  I would only recommend this movie unless you’re a fan of either Toho movies or Rankin & Bass productions or a big King Kong fan and need to have  a complete collection.

King Kong Reviews.

I have decided to review the King Kong movies. There are actually 7 movies with King Kong as the central Character. I recently saw the movie King Kong Escapes and that has put me in a King Kong mood.

From wikipedia….

  • King Kong (1933) – The original film is remembered for its pioneering special effects using stop motion models, and evocative story.
  • The Son of Kong (1933) – A sequel released the same year, it concerns a return expedition to Skull Island that discovers Kong’s son. The critics’ response to the film was generally mixed, but it was successful.
  • King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) – A film produced by Toho Studios in Japan, it brought the titular characters to life via detailed rubber and fur costumes, and presented both characters for the first time in color. The Toho version of Kong is much larger than the one in the original film. This is more than likely because of a significant difference in size between the 1933 King Kong and Godzilla (and, for that matter, all of the company’s giant monsters), with Kong automatically rescaled to fit Toho’s existing miniature sets.
  • King Kong Escapes (1967) – Another Toho film (co-produced with Rankin/Bass) in which King Kong faces both a mechanical double, dubbed Mechani-Kong, and a giant theropod dinosaur known as Gorosaurus (who would appear in Toho’s Destroy All Monsters the next year). This movie was loosely based on the contemporaneous cartoon television program, as indicated by the use of its recurring villain, Dr. Who/Dr. Huu, in the same capacity, Mechani-Kong as an enemy, Mondo Island as Kong’s home and a female character named Susan.
  • King Kong (1976) – An updated remake by film producer Dino De Laurentiis, released by Paramount Pictures, and director John Guillermin. Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin starred. The film received mixed reviews, but it was a commercial success, and its reputation has improved over the last few years. It was co-winner of an Oscar for special effects (shared with Logan’s Run).
  • King Kong Lives (1986) – Released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG). Starring Linda Hamilton, a sequel by the same producer and director as the 1976 film which involves Kong surviving his fall from the sky and requiring a coronary operation. It includes a female member of Kong’s species, who, after supplying a blood transfusion that enables the life-saving surgery, escapes and mates with Kong, becoming pregnant with his offspring. Trashed by critics, this was a box-office failure.
  • King Kong (2005) – A Universal Pictures remake of the original (set in the original film’s 1933 contemporary setting) by Academy award-winning New Zealand director Peter Jackson, best known for directing the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The most recent incarnation of Kong is also the longest, running three hours and eight minutes. Winner of three Academy Awards for visual effects, sound mixing, and sound editing. It received positive reviews and became a box office success.

I have not seen Son of Kong and I saw King Kong Lives but that was so many eyars ago and it was so awful I do not feel the need to torture myself again with that monstrosity. Consider that sentence my review of that film! I have already reviewed King Kong vs Godzilla in my Godzilla series so you can read that here.

https://foleyfunfilmfacts.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/king-kong-vs-godzilla/

That leaves me with the 1933 original plus the 1976 and the 2005 remakes along with King Kong Escapes. I consider King Kong Escapes more pf a Toho Kaiju movie than a King Kong movie (it really is telling  a different story). I would put Kong vs Godzilla in that category too. So I we review that first and then taking the 2005 remake first I will work back in time until I reach the 1933 original. If I do have a chance to see Son of Kong prior to that I will review it.

Stay tuned to this blog for the King Kong Reviews!!

CGI…What is the problem with it?

As many of you know I do frequent a few science fiction related message baords. I have learned that there are many individuals who are not fans of CGI and often complain about its usage or over usage. I am a fan of CGI so I wonder what is exactly the criticism of this tool? I beleive that CGI has come a long way in looking realistic, it still has a way to go in looking exactly realistic. I have heard this complaint with the recent Man of Steel movie and some have lodged the same complaint about not only Peter Jackson’s recent Hobbit movie but also about his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. A Facebook friend and great musician Chris Bannister said this recently about CGI…

Watching The Hobbit I realised that I’m totally bored with huge, CGI set pieces and that these kind of movies look terrible in super high def, the makeup looked rubbish and the aforementioned special effects looked laughably unrealistic.

I do admit there are times when CGI loses some warmth that other special effects can deliver.

In 1993 Jurassic Park really raised the bar for CGI when some of the depictions of the dinosaurs in that movie were done solely on computer. It is ironic then that director Steven Spielberg has claimed that an audience can always tell the  difference between CGI and real-life action. He even went on to say that had he been directing Jaws today he would have done the Shark in CGI but says that the success of that film was due to the model fo the shark looking realistic.

I am reminded of what the late great Ray Harryhausen said about his own work. He said that when doing his creatures he felt there needed to be some degree of being unrealistic to let the audience know these movies are fantasies. I don’t think anyone ever accused Ray Harryhausen’s work looking fake! There is a concpet in literature called  verisimilitude which refers to the believability of a narrative—the extent to which a narrative appears realistic, likely, or plausible (regardless of whether it is actually fictional or non-fictional). In film verisimilitude refers to the believability  realism as reflected in the over all tone of the film. So lets take Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films (Lord of the Rings plus the Hobbit). These are fantasy films loaded with CGI. The creatures do look life-like yet the  verisimilitude of the film clearly is adapted to show that we are in a fantasy world.

Let me take another CGI laden film…Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong. I am not going to review the film, just the use of CGI. The movie, set in 1933, has the verisimilitude of a fantasy. We are not in the real world. In that sense the CGI works to create that sense of fantasy. I also think Kong looks spectacular in this film. In the previous incarnations of Kong he has been depicted using stop-motion animation and a guy in a suit. This is the very first depiction of Kong where he truly looks and acts like a giant gorilla. Let me contrast this with the 1976 remake of King Kong. I am not going to review the film, just the special effects. The setting in this movie are real and look good for the most part. The wall on the island where Kong lives was done very well. The problem with the effects? Kong himself looks terrible! The man in a suit look just doesn’t work well for this movie. I much prefer the CGI kong.

Persoanlly I don’t have aproblem with CGI and there are times I really like the fantasy worlds they can create. Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films and Zack Snyder’s films are good examples of fantasy worlds come to life with CGI. Next year Godzilla comes to theaters once again I am looking forawd to how Double Negative, the special effects company that will render Godzilla, in a realistic and life-like manner! I also still like more conventional special effects and they work well.  

In conclusion I really do not have a problem with CGI. I think it goes a long way in setting the tone of a film and taking the viewer to another world, place and time. While I also recognize that there is different levels of quality in CGI there is nothing wrong with using it. If people could enjoy and accept some of the cheesy special effects from science-fiction fantasy films of the 50s-60s and beyond, I really do not understand why they object to the usage of CGI today.

Man of Steel Pre-Review.

As most of you know I am not a big movie goer. I prefer to watch movies at home in the comfort of my living room. With good flat screen TVs I would rather see them at home and be comfortable. With that in mind I still want to talk about the new Man of Steel movie. As I type this Man of Steel has a 57% positive rating at the Rotten Tomatoes website. Reading both the positive and negative reviews has not dampened my expectations for this movie. Here is my initial report on my expectations for the movie. There have been three aspects of the movie I have read about via the reviews and from people who have seen it on the internet. I felt I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings about these points and then, after the DVD comes out, I will reflect back on this entry to see if these are legitimate concerns. So this will contain spoliers so if you have not seen the movie enter at your own risk!

https://foleyfunfilmfacts.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/man-of-steel-my-expectations/

SPOILERS!

SPOILERS!

SPOILERS!

SPOILERS!

1. Jonathan Kent dies saving his dog from a tornado. In the comics and the Donner movies Pa Kent dies of a heart attack. In this movie he dies when a tornado stikes Kansas and Clark and everyone is caught under a bridge. Jonathan goes back to rescue the family dog and doesn’t want Clark to rescue him. Many have felt this was a plot hole and that Clark could have saved him without exposing himself to the world. Having not seen this I am waiting to judge it. The counter argument seems to be that Jonathan was so fearful that if Clark’s powers were revealed and it was learned he was an alien then the Government would take him away. Jonathan would do anything to avoid his son being exposed. As for going back to rescue the family dog? Well, I love dogs and my dog is my best buddy and I would try to save him.

2. Mass destruction of property. In the last 45 minutes of the movie there is mass destruiction as Superman and Zod do battle. Some have complained that Superman would allow such mast destruction, and therfore death of innocent citizens, and would have tried to lure Zod away from populated areas…like in Superman II. I think the premise is that this movie is taking a more realistic approach and it is possible Superman couldn’t have done anything to reduce the amount of destruction.

3. The killing of Zod. Superman snaps Zod’s neck. This seems, at first out of Character for Superman. Yes Superman is not shown directly killing anyone before, but it has been shown that some have died by Superman’s actions. In Superman II it is never shown what happens to Zod and his crew…they just disappear into the mist of the Fortress of Solitude. It is quite possible that they were killed when they fell. In the first season of The Adventures of Superman it was implied the some people died. This may be the one issue I may have some quibbles with. I will have to see it in the context of the film. I am not against philosophically as long as they show it being Superman’s only option and a last resort.

As of the day I publish this…the box office draw is…$152,777,618 domestically and $73, 300, 000 in the foreign market for a grand total of…. $226,077,618 worldwide. Those are good numbers, lets hope it keeps going!

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

I realized while reviewing the Star Wars movies I skipped Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. So I will remedy that problem and review it now. Although often I hear the fan base malign the three prequel movies, I hear an equal amount of times that Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith is better than the last movie in the series, Return of the Jedi. Although, as I reported, I do enjoy the first two movies, this is one of the over all better movies. I think the reason is this movie has the pay-off. It delivers what people came to see: Anakin Skywalker complete his transformation into Darth Vader. Ever since we found out that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, we have wondered how did Anakin Skywalker turn to the Dark Side? While the other two movies set up who Anakin is and how he became a great and powerful Jedi Knight, this movie finally shows how Dath Vader went sour and how the Empire replaced the old republic.

This movie really opens up to  afantasitc space battle with Anakin and  Obi-Wan Kenobi infiltrating the flagship of Separatist commander General Grievous to rescue the abducted Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. They run into Count Dooku. A battle of Lightsabers begins and after Obi-Wan is knocked out and Dooku defeated Supreme Chancellor Palpatine orders Anakin to kill Count Dooku, which he does. This foreshadows the things to come. Soon Palapatine reveals he is the Dark Lord of the Sith and despite letting the Jedi council know who Palpatine is he is still able to win over Anakin as Palpatine manipulate him into thinking he can help stop anything bad from happening to Padme. Once joining forces with Palpatine Anakin is re-christened Darth Vader. Palpatine orders the clone troops to kill the Jedi Council and declares himself Emperor of the Galactic Empire.

Unable to convince Padme that Anakin has turned to the dark side Obi-Wan stows away on her ship when she travels to Mustafar. When Padmé discovers what Vader has done, she tries to convince him to return to the light side of the force, but Vader accuses her of betraying him and uses the Force to choke her into unconsciousness. Vader and Obi-Wan then engage in a fierce battle that ends with Obi-Wan severing Vader’s legs and left arm. Vader falls down to the volcanic river’s edge and is immolated. Taking his former apprentice’s lightsaber, Obi-Wan goes to help Padmé. Meanwhile, Yoda confronts Palpatine, but is forced to retreat when their dual reaches a stalemate. Palpatine rescues Vader and as he is undergoing surgery to save his life and place him in a bio-suit of armour to help him breath and live, Padme delivers twins Luke and Leia  and then dies. Luke is returned to Anakin’s homeworld and given to his step-family to raise him. Leia is taken in by the Organa family. Yoda teaches Obi-Wan how to commune with the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn before going into exile on Dagobah. Obi-Wan takes the infant Luke to Tatooine, where he intends to watch over him until the time is right to challenge the Empire. The movie ends with Darth Vader with the Emperor on the bridge of a ship with the a the Death Star being built-in the distance.

Pros: In this movie I think we see the acting of Hayden Christensen improved greatly. You can really see how turning to the dark side of the Force affects him. He really seems evil and lost rather than crabby and whinny as in the previous movies. The special effects are top-notch and the story is very good with some exceptions. The true bad guy in this movie is Palpatine and Ian McDiarmid really shines in the role. In some ways this is really his movie!! We see Anakin is more of  avictim of Palpatine than anything else. Now that does open up a discussion of how responsible was Anakin for his actions? This movie does set up the next trilogy very well. It really also changes the focus of the next trilogy. Instead about it being a trilogy where Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi Knight to fulfill his destiny, it becomes more of a story about the redemption of Anankin Skywalker.

Cons: I do not have many cons about this movie. I think the duel between Vader and Obi-Wan goes on too long. I usually am not nit-picky about reality infringing on fantasy but the entire duel taking place over the hot lava, while cool, (pun intended) is a bit unrealistic. I have sat near hot fires before and fighting like they do over the lava just seems too implausible. My other complaint is in the closing scene where we see Darth Vader and the Emperor with the Death Star under construction. Episode IV makes it seem like the Death Star is new…yet the events of that movie take place 16/17 years later. Are we to believe it took 17 years to build? I don’t have a problem with that, I just think they show too much of it under construction. Yeah, it is a nit-picky fanboy quibble.

All in all a very good addition to the franchise and it is one that really advances the saga well. To me it proves that not all of the prequel movies are bad (I enjoy all of them).

Vacation Time

I am taking a break for about a week..maybe  alittle more. I will be back posting on the week of June 17th.

Star Wars V: The Empire Stikes Back

Many fans and even critics state the The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars films. Now something like that is certainly debatable and subjective but there is no denying the fact that The Empire Strikes Back is an excellent sequel to the 1977 movie Star Wars. The plot is basic but full of action and adventure. It is set three years after the events in Star Wars. Darth Vader survived the detonation of the Death Star and is in pursuit of the rebels Luke Skywalker, Princess Lia and Han Solo. Meanwhile Luke continues his training to become a Jedi Knight from Master Yoda. Han Solo is also being pursued by bounty Hunter Boba Fett. We also meet new characters like Lando Calrissian played by Billy Dee Williams and the story is full of twists and turns and betrayals.

Pros: Middle movies ina trilogy can be difficult. Often these stories will advance the characters and the story line but leave no resolution. However, this movie is not hampered by any of that. Insteads it has great character development. Han and Lia, still have a temultuous relationship yet there is a thaw and they begin to come close together. Luke grows as a Jedi and his self confidence and maturity is evident. The movie does end on big cliff hangers. We discover that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker and the father of Luke. Han Solo is betrayed and left frozen in Carbonite. The action and the suspense and sense of adventure are carried over from the last film with enjoyable results. We meet Yoda for the first time and Emperor Palpatine. Yoda was  a puppet worked and voiced by Frank Oz a member of Jum Hensons team. He has become an iconic character. The reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is still exciting and memorable after years of seeing the movie. It never grows old.

Cons: I really have no complaints for this movie except that the scenes on the planet Hoth do drag just a little bit. The pacing just seems off to me. As time has gone on and I have grown more accostumed to the pacing of modern films, expecially science-fiction films, the films made back more than 30 years ago do seem a little slower.

An interesting observation I have is that with Luke being Vader’s son all the events in episodes IV and V can seem really contrived. I do not see it that way, I am just echoing arguments I have heard levied at other science-fiction films. For example, in the 2009 Star Trek film when Kirk met Spock Prime in the cave of Delta Vega many fans who hated the movie cried how all contrived it seemed. Yet in Episodes IV and V of Star Wars we have R2D2 and C3PO arrive in the posession of Luke Skywalker and it is his father, Darth Vader, who is chasing after the two droids and the plans they contain. This leads Luke on an adventure that will lead him into direct conflict with Vader. How is this any less contrived? If it is contrived, and to some degree it is, it doesn’t bother me at all. I just point this out to demonstarte the selective opinions of some fans. In many of these adventure type of movies our heroes are going to come together and they way the writers and directors do that is enjoyable to watch even if a bit contrived.

To conclude, The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best of the Star Wars movies and a joy to watch.