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Tag Archive: King Kong


Review by C.J. Bunce

As in any creative industry, as much as Hollywood is rife with successes, far more projects barely make it past the idea stage.  Others make it through preliminary steps only to get left behind, most never heard of again.  Decisions are made, offers are given, and you move forward.  The fact that Tom Selleck rejected the role of Indiana Jones is a famous footnote to movie history.  Most recently Amanda Seyfried recounted rejecting the role of Gamora in the Marvel films.  A Mouse Guard movie made it through pre-production before getting stalled.  For every successful project, how many others are left behind?  If you’re as iconic as filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, you might have even more projects left in the discard pile than others.  Those might-have-been projects, rejected ideas, and even scenes that made it beyond mere idea to concept art come together in John Walsh’s new look at the auteur and father of stop-motion creatures, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies

Ray Harryhausen’s creations were cutting edge for the first century of cinema, their creator a special effects visionary who found his niche in fantasy worlds, via films like One Million Years B.C., Clash of the Titans, and Jason and the Argonauts.  Documentarian John Walsh met with Harryhausen, who died in 2013, to film a documentary about the filmmaker, and along the way he chronicled 70 projects Harryhausen considered but did not go through with, including script and concept art material.  Some of these are projects he was asked to participate in and couldn’t find a fit, or films he passed up for other projects, including films anyone could see translated by Harryhausen, like Conan, Tarzan, King Kong, Moby Dick, John Carter of Mars, and Beowulf.  Then there are those surprises fans could only dream about, like Harryhausen’s take on The Empire Strikes Back, The Princess Bride, Dune, or X-Men.  Harryhausen: The Lost Movies provides fans with a glimpse into Harryhausen’s involvement in these projects, some with photographic clues of how his input might have resulted in very different films.

Pulling together some never-been-seen-before artwork, sketches, photos, and screencaps of test footage from the Harryhausen Foundation archives, Walsh creates a scrapbook of sorts, an artist’s sketchbook.  Harryhausen considered every other major classic fantasy and fairy tale to utilize his brand of special effects storytelling.  He created test footage for H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, but his letter to Orson Welles was not answered.  His alien designs from that footage are in this book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A leg thrown over the arm of a chair.  A monster tossing a girl into the river.  A gangster with a Tommy Gun shooting a room full of people.  A woman is expecting a baby.  A man bites a woman to drink her blood.  Actresses backstage get ready for a show.  Dancers on stage kick their legs.  “Kept” women.  Physical violence.

Rural audiences and even film goers in big cities like Chicago would label all this as “smut” or “disgraceful” back in the day.  In the realm of what is appropriate and what is not, the cinema has approached each new boundary with baby steps.  But in the Depression-era early 1930s, many previously unaccepted concepts soared onto film.  A new book takes a look at this era, now referred to by film historians as the “Pre-Code Era”–1930 to 1934–a time when the self-regulating movie industry pushed the bounds of its own rules, only to hit a wall when the public pushed back.  Turner Classic Movies′ Forbidden Hollywood takes an educational, film school-level walk through an industry fighting within itself to both make money and please an audience it would find varied widely by geography, down to the community level.  The handling of decency by the industry would have ramifications that would have an impact on generations of film creators and audiences.  The chaos and in-fights would last until July 1934, when religious groups combined to take a stand, prompting the industry to bow to their demands with the formation of the League of Decency.  That group would govern movie standards for nearly 35 years–until the ratings system would arrive in 1968.  Even real-world gangster Al Capone thought the new, 1930s era of movies was bad for kids, saying “These gang pictures–that’s terrible kid stuff.  They’re doing nothing but harm to the younger element of the country.”

Film historian Mark A. Vieira provides a scholarly examination of the studios, the directors, producers, and writers, including excerpts of decisions made and processes followed (and not followed), resulting in the promotion of the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest names: Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Mae West, Joan Crawford, Marlena Dietrich, Clara Bow, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, James Cagney, Ward Bond, Bela Legosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney.  Looking at elements incorporated into–or scissor cut from–dozens of films, including The Divorcee, Dishonored, Grand Hotel, Dracula, A Farewell to Arms, 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Riptide, Red-Headed Woman, She Done Him Wrong, Call Her Savage, Convention City, and Frankenstein, Vieira takes an objective look at the factors that influenced all sides in determining what would be appropriate in the movies and what role movies would take in society.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

King Kong.  Mighty Joe Young.  George of the Jungle.  And all the derivative films made since.  Add to that mega-sized monster movies like Godzilla and you’ll find their latest incarnation in this month’s release of Rampage.  The evolution of the technology of putting a giant ape on film is all about CGI and motion capture now, and you’ll learn all about it in the new book The Art and Making of Rampage, by Ellen Wolff.

In Rampage, a genetic experiment goes wrong, unleashing three giant, mutant predators.  Dwayne Johnson stars as a primatologist whose once-gentle friend George, a highly intelligent silverback gorilla, is exposed to the experiment.  Johnson’s character joins with a geneticist played by the James Bond films’ Naomie Harris to find an antidote to try to save both George and the world from the giant mutants.

From its roots in the 1980s Midway arcade game (Warner Bros. owns the Midway game titles) to the corresponding giant-sized personality of the film’s star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rampage is all about bigger and better.  The recurring theme is “go big, or go BIGGER, or go home.”  Readers of The Art and Making of Rampage, a full-color hardcover volume, will get the entire behind-the-scenes tour.  From concept to screen readers will follow the “band getting back together” as Johnson reunites for the third time with director Brad Peyton and producers Beau Flynn and Hiram Garcia, who he worked with on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas.  With bits of Jurassic Park, Project X, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Pacific Rim, Rampage is full of action sequences, all detailed in the book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For a new generation, the new adventure-thriller Tomb Raider may be an entry point into the adventure genre.  If you like the concepts in Tomb Raider, you’re likely to love adventure classics like that other “raider,” Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Mummy, and Disney’s National Treasure series.  Tomb Raider borrows much from these movies, even key sequences that serve as the high points of the film.  The film itself?  It’s all about that upper-body strength and holding on for dear life.  (How many action films feature the hero holding on to the edge of a precipice with one hand anyway?)  It’s good, not great, but a fun enough popcorn flick for a late winter release, particularly to see someone the size of Alicia Vikander racing through all the required harrowing action scenes.  She leaps, fights, sprints, and dodges pitfalls, and gets kicked, punched, and bruised in a part typically reserved for the likes of Dwayne Johnson.

In the role last explored by Angelina Jolie, Academy Award-winning actress Alicia Vikander (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ex Machina, Jason Bourne) becomes video game heroine Lara Croft, only this version of the story is more rooted in the real world, with less heroine posing and no cocky catch phrases–and more sweat.  The new Tomb Raider definitely fits alongside past video game adaptations, better than the prior films in the franchise, and nudging out more recent video game adaptations Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed.  Unfortunately it comes on the heels of the immensely entertaining Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which opted for humor instead of drama.  This isn’t a comedy, but would have benefited from some more levity along the way.

For an adventure about secrets and riddles, it doesn’t present much for the audience to sleuth out, as was done so well in the entertaining National Treasure movies But to its credit it has some good special effects and exceptional chase sequences that are best viewed on the big screen.  And this Lara Croft is always being chased or running from something.  A bicycle race early on and a foot chase across boats docked off the coast of Hong Kong are filmed like a riveting James Bond opener.  And an escape through raging rapids at the edge of a waterfall is perfectly executed and full-on exciting (in a good theater your acrophobia and claustrophobia may even kick in).  The overall plot is a bit thin–Lara receives a key left by her father as she is about to sign an affidavit acknowledging his death and her inheritance, and she pursues clues to his secret work that leave her stranded on a secluded, legendary island housing an ancient tomb.  This is about a fantasy video game character, so if you can push aside reality you may have a really good time.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With the unique signature of the only director that could pull off a film like The Shape of Water, have no doubt it is worthy of a parade of Oscar recognition.  As for direction The Shape of Water is a triumph for Guillermo del Toro’s sheer bravery in choices.  As for acting it’s the perfect mix of the four top acting tiers: a superb performance in a challenging role by a lead actor and actress, and a superb performance in a challenging role by a supporting actor and actress.  del Toro’s story, too, is novel, soaring and magnificent, even if it may be derivative of many fairy tales, folklore, and past fantastical films.  In fact it’s del Toro’s intelligent reimagining of stories from Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast on a backbone of films like King Kong, Splash, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon that lends some familiarity and authenticity to its story and characters to touch audiences.  Ultimately the finely crafted assemblage is greater than the sum of its parts, forming the stuff of those classic best pictures of the year of decades past.

The idyllic early 1960s is stripped of its patina to a very real and difficult world beyond the happy families as seen in the slick marketing and television shows of the day, at least for the average person trying to find their way.  A mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) work in a quasi-government corporate facility as janitors.  When a Fed named Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings a gilled, man-like creature (Doug Jones) he captured in South America to the facility for study, Elisa covertly befriends it.  When Strickland and his military cronies decide it’s time to vivisect the creature, Elisa enlists a friend in her apartment complex (Richard Jenkins) to try to get the creature to safety, with even Zelda and a lab researcher (Michael Stuhlbarg) joining along in her plan.

The tragedy of Oscar season is the lack of nomination for Doug Jones, the modern Man of a Thousand Faces (and bodysuits), who has played every character in commercials from McDonald’s Mac Tonight to one of the terrifying Gentlemen of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Marvel’s Silver Surfer, to the star of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and ghosts in his Crimson Peak and Abe Sapien in his Hellboy series, and he is currently headlining Star Trek Discovery, again in prosthetics.  It is a truth that no other actor has the experience and physical skill and talent required to perform in the roles he is sought out for, and his “Amphibian Man” in this film is a showcase of his singular grace, elegance, and style.  His understanding of animal movements and reactions is impeccable.  Sally Hawkins, seen in countless performances (a standout in Fingersmith, Layer Cake, Tipping the Velvet, Blue Jasmine, where she was also nominated for an Oscar, and Never Let Me Go, among other films, and even a bit part in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), perfectly captures a life in silence and a hopeless romantic.  Her piercing stares at Strickland nearly slice him in two.  Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, Snowpiercer, Medium, The X-Files) plays Zelda for laughs for the most part, and her ramblings about her lazy husband and her support of Elisa are wonderful.  Richard Jenkins (Silverado, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Witches of Eastwick, Wolf, Absolute Power, Into Thin Air, Jack Reacher, Bone Tomahawk, LBJ) takes on a role as neighbor Giles, a part like nothing audiences have seen him play before, a down on his luck ad man, he is boxed in from gaining the love that he seeks.  del Toro makes it possible for each moviegoer to see himself/herself in each of these characters.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s just what fans of DC Comics have been begging for.  Finally, a Batman portrayal worthy of Adam West and Michael Keaton.  The complete membership of the classic Justice League as fun as we all remember them from the comic books.  Homages to famous artists adapted to the big screen from the best of DC Comics, like cover artist Jock, plus throwbacks to the campy series of the 1960s.  And more homages to the musical scores from the best of the DC Comics cinematic adaptations of the past, including callbacks to Danny Elfman’s score to the 1989 Batman movie and John Williams’ Superman theme.

What was your favorite DC Comics adaptation before 2017?  How far back do you go?  Most superhero movie fans seem to agree upon the original Superman starring Christopher Reeve as the modern rebirth of the superhero film, and count Reeve among the best embodiments of a superhero on film.  But after Reeve, fans begin to disagree as movies based on DC Comics are concerned, and usually turn to the CW Network television series for the next best DC iterations of comic book adaptations.

So when all of it finally comes together, it finally comes together in 2017, after the likes of misfires including Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, we finally have an exciting and worthy DC Comics outing that is fun for the entire family, and best of all, it is all heart.

And as a bonus, it features villains worthy of a movie from the DCU.  Sure, you might expect a pantheon of villains like The Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Egghead, Scarecrow, Bane, Clayface, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Man-Bat, Captain Boomerang, Crazy Quilt, Eraser, Polka Dot Man, Mime, Tarantula, King Tut, Orca, Dr. Phosphorus, Killer Moth, Magpie, March Hare, Frank Miller’s Mutant Leader, Dr. Hugo Strange, Zodiac Master, Gentleman Ghost, Clock King, Red Hood, The Kabuki Twins, Calendar Man, Kite Man, Catman, Calculator, Zebra-Man, and Condiment King.  But all in one movie?  And battling some of fiction’s other greatest supervillains, like Dracula and the other Universal Monsters, The Daleks, Lord Voldemort, Jaws, King Kong, Gremlins, velociraptors, the Wicked Witch of the West, Agent Smith from The Matrix, and Sauron?  Wait–was Darth Vader tied up in some other project?

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As with Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit franchise, George Lucas and Lucasfilm have rarely let screen-used props and costumes out of their own personal or corporate collections.  From time to time costume components retained by production staff members or third-party contributors to the productions have surfaced at private auction, mainly parts of costumes including Darth Vader and Stormtrooper helmets, various weapons including like blasters and lightsabers, and model ship filming miniatures.  But never before has an entire Star Wars character found its way to auction, and one of the most iconic pieces in the history of film at that.  So when a beautiful, full-sized R2-D2 hit the auction block yesterday, deep-pocket bidders took notice.  In an exciting back and forth of increasing bids in $100,000 increments, it seemed the bids for R2-D2 wouldn’t end.  In less than 3 minutes the hammer stopped at $2.3 million for a total sale price (after factoring a 20% buyer’s fee) of $2.76 million.  This was not only the first private Star Wars sale to eclipse seven figures, it is the highest known price paid in public auction for a piece of Star Wars film history (a Panavision movie camera used by Lucas to film the original Star Wars sold previously for $625,000, the filming miniature model of the Rebel Blockade Runner spaceship from the opening scene of the original Star Wars sold for $465,000, and a miniature filming model of a TIE Fighter sold for more than $400,000).

Like many props in the film industry, this R2-D2, made of aluminum, steel, and fiberglass parts, was pieced together from many parts that had been used, retired, and refurbished throughout the Star Wars films.  According to auction house Profiles in History, who handled the sale yesterday at its offices in Calabasas, California, the anonymous seller sourced the many robotic components together over several years.  And, indeed, Profiles in History has demonstrated via photographic evidence the R2-D2 can be screen-matched via its individual components to screen use in each film of the original trilogy (1977-1983) and the first two prequel films (1999-2002).  After several weeks of publicity for the auction, the ownership of the restored R2 unit and its sale at this auction was not disputed, and so the bidding got underway at approximately noon Pacific time yesterday.

Profiles in History staff taking phone bids during the auction said there was no time to celebrate the success of the R2-D2 during the auction–even after three days of the auction more than 500 lots remained to be bid on following the landmark sale of the droid.  The sale of the R2-D2 prop came only a day after Profiles in History sold the famous floor John Travolta danced on in the climax of Saturday Night Fever for $1.2 million.  A golden prop foot of R2’s pal C-3PO went unsold at the auction, but in December 2008 Profiles in History sold a golden prop head of C-3PO, worn by actor Anthony Daniels, for $120,000.

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kong-jackson

Every few years we cycle through a new Tarzan, a new Jungle Book, and a new King Kong.  Maybe it’s time for a new Conan?  A new Flash Gordon?  All of these classic stories will be made and remade forever.  They are timeless classics of fantasy for each generation to meet for the first time.

The latest is director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island.  After several lesser sequels to the Jurassic Park franchise, why not show us a similar idea, but let the filmmakers have some fun with it?  Samuel L. Jackson is showcased like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando or Predator.  It’s about time we saw Jackson take on a tough guy action role like this.  And John C. Reilly should make for some good comic relief.

king-kong

The monsters look great, and you’ll get the idea that cinematographer Larry Fong was given the brass ring to lay on extra layers of fun.  The man behind the camera for Super 8, Watchmen, 300, and the next Predator movie offers up explosions galore here, an Apocalypse Now riff there.  And an entire Land of the Lost full of oversized creatures.

Check out these fun new trailers for Kong: Skull Island:

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Kong Skull Island comic con 2016

It looks like the set up for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sci-fi classic Predator.  A mission gone wrong.  A puzzled crew.  And something unexpected hunting man in the jungle.  It’s not an alien but the next King Kong reboot, Kong: Skull Island, and the first trailer for the movie was released Saturday at San Diego Comic-Con.

With an impressive cast, including Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, and Samuel L. Jackson, Skull Island has the feel of Jack Black’s most recent big budget King Kong from 2005.  And that movie was a generally good remake.

The producers, who also made the last version of Godzilla, were savvy enough to hide a full shot of the giant ape from us this early on.

Kong Skull Island 2017

So check out this trailer for Kong: Skull Island, direct from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures at this year’s Comic-Con:

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Gal Gadot Wonder Woman SDCC 2014 reveal

More big news emerged from San Diego Comic-Con this weekend.  A new comic book series for Haven and Galaxy Quest… a sneak peek at Arrow Season 3, a Star Trek crossover with Planet of the Apes… details and art from Marvel’s new line of Star Wars comic books…  new actors to star in Marvel’s Ant-man… more content from Avengers 2… and new giant monster movies are coming soon from Legendary Pictures.

But the biggest news that almost “broke the Internet” was from DC Entertainment: the first look at Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and her new costume from the 2016 release Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  It’s a nice Cliff Chiang-inspired pose for the Amazon warrior.  So we now have three images of the DC Comics trinity:

Trinity Dawn of Justice

We’ve got a pretty dark superhero movie in our future.

The next big news came from a Marvel Comics panel–the creative line-up for Star Wars comic books under Disney:

Marvel Star Wars 1 Cassaday cover art

Marvel Comics announced that January 2015 will see the first of Marvel taking over the Star Wars comic book line from Dark Horse with three initial series.  Kansas City’s Jason Aaron will write and John Cassaday will serve as artist on a series taking place just after A New Hope, where the original 1978 Marvel Comics line began and the current main Dark Horse title takes place.  Above is the cover art by Cassaday for Issue #1.

Star Wars Darth Vader Granov cover SDCC 2014

A series beginning in February 2015 will follow Darth Vader after his TIE Fighter is knocked away by Han Solo at the end of A New Hope, to be created by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca.

Star Wars Princess Leia Marvel Dodson cover art SDCC 2014

And March 2015 will see a series following Princess Leia after the destruction of the Death Star, from writer Mark Waid, artist Terry Dodson, and colorist Rachel Dodson.

Here are four pages of early stage art for the main Star Wars series:

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