Thursday, December 29, 2005

King Kong (2005)

Let's start with the most basic fact: the Kong vs. 3 T-Rexes battle was the GREATEST GIANT MONSTER BATTLE EVER! Despite the fact that I think Jackson overplayed his hand a bit with the sequence in the vines, which felt like something out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I still have to give him points for having the audacity to even try it.

I like the way Jackson deals with Carl Denham. Rather than try to update the character, he updates the perspective. The original Kong feels like it's told from Denham's point of view (which, considering how closely Denham was modeled on Merian Cooper, is probably true). The funniest moment in Kong '33 (aside from the Deadly Man-Eating Brontosaurus) is in the final scene, when Denham breaks through the crowd to get to Kong's body. He announces himself, and a woman in the crowd stage-whispers "Denham! He's the man that captured the beast!" Then the cop starts in with the "Well, the airplanes got him" bit. In real life, that woman would probably have said "Denham! He's the fucker responsible for this mess," followed by the cop saying "I hope you like cleaning up dead monkey." But Cooper was of a now-dead breed, and couldn't possibly imagine that anyone would view the act of capturing a gorilla and bringing it back to civilization as anything but heroic.

In Jackson's version, we see this character through the eyes of the 21st century, as a dishonest and self-serving manipulator. There's one line taken directly from Kong '33, right after Kong has been gassed and captured, where Denham yells "We'll be millionaires, boys! I'll share it with all of you!" In the original, it's a triumphant note to end a thrilling action scene. In Jackson's version, it's a hollow appeal to a bunch of men standing around feeling ashamed of what they've just done, insignifigant in the wake of the lives lost for Denham's crazy adventure. And while we don't really believe Denham '33's promise to share it with the crew, we think maybe he at least believes it while he says it. But by this time we've already heard the same hollow promise twice from Denham '05, and understand fully that it's a lie.

In his Fighteners review, Mr. Beaks mentioned that it was fortunate that Jackson was not able to make Kong back in the late 90's, because he would not have made Lord of the Rings. I say it was fortunate because the script he had written at the time was fucking retarded (it's online here). Still, it's a fun read. I like the feeling of dread in the journey by ship to skull island (it feels like it's ripped off from The Call of Cthulu), and it would have started with a WWI dogfight scene that I now realize was taken straight out of Merian Cooper's life. When Jackson started working on Kong after LotR, I was hoping he'd reunite with Kate Winslett to play the lead, and was a little disapointed that he went with Naomi Watts. Watts does a good job, but I do kinda wish it had been Winslett. I just think she's a more interesting screen presence. And hotter.

Hello, Mr. New Year

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

KPCC Story on StandUp Academy

The real audio is up on their site (look for "Class Teaches Comedy Hopefuls the Art of Stand-Up"), but I converted it to an mp3, and it's up on Bobbie's audio page. Check it out.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Holiday Randomness

I'm so happy! A 99-cent video store opened in the shopping center 2 blocks from my house! And they have a pretty good selection. Now I don't need to choose between patronizing Blockbuster or driving 15 minutes out to Silverlake every time I want to rent a video. The selection isn't quite as good as Jerry's or Video Journeys (the two Silverlake stores I go to), but they have a lot of stuff. They have a whole shelf of Criterions (about 40, and an interesting cross-section too: Bob LaFlambeur, The Red Shoes, Blood of a Poet, Fiend Without a Face, The Royal Tennenbaums, Salesman, Withnail & I...), and yesterday I noticed there's a bunch of Russ Meyer DVD's scattered throughout the "Drama" section, including a few I haven't seen (I watched Mudhoney last night).


Ken Hite is some kind of writer of role playing games or something. Whatever, his journal is a fun read, and right now he's doing a series of capsule reviews of weird paranormal/conspiracy books from his bookshelf. It starts here. I've already found one book I want to read(I didn't even realize there WAS a sequel to Holy Blood, Holy Grail).

Sunday, December 18, 2005

King Kong (1976)

I didn't go see Peter Jackson's King Kong this weekend. The whole family wants to see it together, and holiday schedules preclude that from happening yet, so we're going to see it on Christmas day, which gives me an extra Christmas present to look forward to.

So instead, I watched the 1976 version produced by Dino DeLaurentis and directed by John Guillermin. I was about 8 when this came out, and it was fucking HUGE. You couldn't look anywhere without seeing this rather deceptive poster:

It was really an insane level of hype. The film bombed, and was embarrassingly overshadowed by Spielberg's low-budget Jaws. Of course, this was all invisible to me. I heard one or two of my friends aping their parent's claim that the original was better, but as far as I knew, the movie was a huge hit.

I can't say this movie didn't deserve it. The original King Kong is legendary for it's special effects and it's action and adventure. The 76 version got cheaped out. Much of the pre-release hype centered on a giant robot gorilla that had been costructed for the film, but the robot ended up only being used for one close-up or something. Mostly it's the Godzilla approach of using a man in a monkey suit (there's even a shot of Kong breaking through powerlines that looks straight out of a Godzilla movie). There's not much action either, compared to the original. There's no t-rex, no pteranadon, no spider pit. The only monster Kong fights is an incredibly bad looking giant snake. We forget how much Star Wars changed things. If Kong had been made two years later, would it have been a completely different movie?

Peter Jackson comes from the same school as Lucas and Speilberg. They all see Kong as the ultimate in fantastic adventure for the young at heart. DeLaurentis and Guillermin apparently saw it as a Freudian parable about a young woman who is abducted by a savage, horny ape who seduces her, then places her atop a huge phallus where they reach an explosive climax as biplanes spurt their loads out. Then he rolls over and goes, permanently, to sleep. At the very least, Dino, John and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. had sex very prominently on their mind. There's hardly a line in the whole film that doesn't have some kind of sexual implication ("What do you have, crystal balls?"), and phallic symbols seem to "pop up" all over the place. In an early scene, Charles Grodin says something like "Here's to The Big One," and the camera cuts to the tower of the ship jutting up against the horizon. Grodin extends his Manly Pointer throughout his slide presentation. The pole is greased before being slid through the lock of the great gates. And Jessica Lange's character, Dwan, shows up in the most vaginal-looking rubber lifeboat I've ever seen.

The backstory on Dwan: she was traveling to Hong Kong with a producer who promised to put her in a movie. The boat blew up, but she survived because she was up on deck while all the others were down below watching Deep Throat. Lange looks to be in her late-20's, so it seems far-fetched to suppose this girl is a virgin, but this story at least provides a sense of innocence to the character. Although it's never addressed, we get the feeling this "movie" she had been cast in was less than legitimate, and she seemed to be hanging with a sleazy crowd, at any rate. So let's say she was just dipping her feet into the waters of sexuality, deciding whether to take the plunge. In other words, the perfect heroine for our parable.

Kong, of course, represents the male libido, and his title of "King" pronounces him an absolute alpha male. The moment Dwan arrives on his island, she begins striking sexual poses on the beach for Jack's camera, presenting herself to her mate. Later, back on the boat, she flirts with Jack, and arranges a rendezvous. The moment Jack steps away, she is abducted and brought back to her wedding with her true suitor (or perhaps the whole adventure with Kong on the island is a symbolic stand-in for her adventure in Jack's bedroom--either reading is fine by me).

In this version of the story, there is no doubt about what the natives expect to happen on the other side of the great gate. The shaman, wearing a gorilla mask, does a lewd, sexual dance in front of Dwan. Lots of thrusting. She seems to have been drugged prior to the ritual, which can't hurt. Then Kong comes for her, and the look in her eyes seems to suggest nothing so much as "it's too big." She screams in Kong's palm, but from the angle, it's hard to tell if it's from fear or ecstasy.

As I said earlier, most of the action and monsters is left out of the Skull Island adventure. But what's left? Kong hurling his rivals into the pit with his giant log. Kong choking a huge serpent that's wrapped around him. Kong staring at two unnaturally tall and straight rock formations.

Back in New York, they go from Freudian to Jungian during a scene between Jack and Dwan after Kong has cut the power. "Remember that blackout, and all the babies that were born 9 months later?" asks Dwan. "Here's to all the future sons and daughters of Kong," she concludes, revealing that Kong is a fertility god who Haveth Childers Everywhere.

The two subtexts always looked at in the Kong story are sex and race. Cooper's Kong was made in a world with very different ideas about race, colonialism, white supremacy, and the conquest of nature, and America, in particular, had a psychotic obsession with the idea of savage, black men raping pure, blonde women. Kong '76 defuses all the civilization vs. wilderness crap by changing the adventurous movie producer Carl Denham to greedy corporate oil weasel Fred Wilson, and making him the villain of the story. Building on this, Jack becomes a hot environmentalist hippie who wants to protect Kong. As for race, the depiction of the natives is definitely an improvement. The ritual looks much more like an authentic ritual you might see on the Discovery channel. But they do go out of their way to underline one of the more disturbing notions of the original, the idea that Ann/Dwan is inherently desirable to Kong (and/or the natives) on the basis of her whiteness or blondeness. The shaman offers to trade 6 black women for one blonde.

There are two scenes near the end that I remember liking a lot when I was a kid. One is when Kong is attacked atop the WTC by soldiers with flamethrowers, and runs and jumps from one tower to the other (the poster fucking lied, he never straddled them like the colossus). This doesn't look as cool as I remember it, but it's neat, mostly because you rarely see flamethrowers in movies (the only ones I can think of are Saving Private Ryan and Aliens, which is strange, because it's such a visually striking weapon). What I do like is when Kong kills the soldiers by throwing some kind of fuel tank at them, mostly because of the insane reaction shot of Jeff Bridges, cheering like an idiot for Kong.

The other scene that stuck with me was the slowly descending heartbeat as Kong dies. I liked the idea that he was so big, you could hear his thundering heartbeat through the city, although watching it now, I don't think that's what they were going for.

All in all, it's not a bad movie. The effects are lousy, the action and adventure nothing to write home about, but it's an enjoyable script, and it's well shot. All three leads are good, too. Lange is does a great little update of Marilyn Monroe's schtick, and Bridges is certainly an improvement over that stiff that plays Jack in the original. You gotta love any movie with The Dude as an action hero. And Grodin is fucking hilarious. I can't define what makes him funny, but I laughed at every scene he's in. He has a certain smarminess, a certain transparency, and a sense that he's playing way out of his league. I like it, even if I do think that poster is a greater work of art than the movie it's advertising. This one, too:

The Residents w/Snakefinger - King Kong (Frank Zappa cover)

Fred Lane and his Hitite Hotshots - White Woman

Monday, December 12, 2005

RIP Richard Pryor

I am personally happy to see anybody come out to see me. Especially as much as I fucked up this year. I don't want to see NO MORE POLICE. IN MY LIFE.
At MY house.
Takin' MY ASS to jail.
For killin' MY CAR.
And it seemed fair to kill the car to me, cuz my wife was gonna leave my ass. And I said "Not in this car you ain't. I'll kill the motherfucker. You better leave in those loafers." 'Cause I had a big Magnum, and you know the sound it makes when you shoot it? I shot one of the tires, BOOM! And the tire said "Waaa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah." It felt good to me, so I shot another one. "Waaaa-a-a-a-a-a-ah." And that vodka I was drinkin' said "Go ahead and shoot somethin' else, Rich." So I shot the engine, that motherfucker just fell out. Then the police came, so I went IN THE HOUSE.
'Cause they have Magnums too.
And they don't kill cars.
They kill nigg-ars.

Richard Pryor was the best standup comedian of all time. Not one of the greats, the greatest. Like Jimi Hendrix, with whom he shares some common traits, he stands in a class by himself within his art form.

Richard's self-depricating humor belied the confidence with which he performed his act. He was absolutely fearless on stage. No artform requires more courage than standup comedy in the first place. It's an absolutely terrifying situation, which is why comics tend to fall back on what works. Richard's set was not a series of easy setup/punchline jokes, but rambling monologues about life (particularly black life) in America. And yet, when he was on, this was the funniest standup that anyone has ever done. Which is where the Hendrix comparison comes in: Jimi could play pure feedback and distortion and make it sound not only musical, but warm and pleasent, just as Richard could bullshit about his life and make it as hilarious as any joke. That combination of talent and guts makes him the greatest.

Richard's movies aren't as good as his standup, but he did co-write the script to Blazing Saddles. On a rerun of an old Larry King this weekend, he mentioned that Mel Brookes had wanted Richard to play the Cleavon Little role, but the studio wouldn't allow it. I think Blazing Saddles is one of the best comedies ever made, but man, to imagine how much BETTER it would be with Richard Pryor in the lead? Mind boggling!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wish List

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Kids Today

Yesterday, around 3:30, we all got a strange email telling us that the administrative building was on lockdown. The doors would be locked, but we were all free to come and go, just don't let any students in. A strange request, so of course people began asking questions. It turns out there was a board meeting the next morning, and some students had gotten wind of plans to close the Women's Center some time in the future, and were planning on showing up and having a sit in.

Naturally, the kids managed to get in the building. They cared passionately about getting in, and none of us particularly gave a shit about keeping them out. A coworker told me that they were sitting in the President's office as she was walking out at 5:00, and she overheard him talking to them. He told them they were free to stay, but had to stay out in the lobby, not inside his office. "But it's too cold, and there's no carpet to sleep on," they protested! Well, OK, then they could stay on the first floor. "But we need extension chords to plug in our computers so we can do our homework!" Is this the lamest bunch of student protestors you've ever heard of, or what?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Early Roger Moore Bonds

I watched a little bit of The Man With The Golden Gun on TV over the Thanksgiving weekend, and I was reminded how much I love the first three Roger Moore James Bond movies. I can understand why they are not well-loved by many Bond fans, especially those that saw the Connery films when they came out, and were used to the standard of From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. The Man With The Golden Gun was the first "grown-up" movie I ever saw in the theater, and it made a huge impression on me. I used to draw movie posters for it, and build the gun out of Legos (years later, I was talking to my friend Jason about it, and he said "yeah, I remember I really loved that gun. The first thing I did when I got home was build it out of Legos." Great minds think alike, right?) The Spy Who Loved Me was a big part of 1977, the year of Star Wars and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, for me--I had a matchbox version of the white Lotus Esprit with fins coming out, and man did I love that. It took me a while to see Live and Let Die, but a friend of mine told me about some of the voodoo stuff in it, and it really fired my imagination up. I know that a lot of Bond fans consider For Your Eyes Only to have been a great return to form for the series. I haven't seen it since I was a kid, but is it any surprise that I found it boring compared to the others?

So yeah, these movies are campy as hell, but maybe in the light of the post-modern takes on 70's exploitation cinema that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have been doing, it's time for a rethink. These films had practically the same sensibility as Kill Bill 30 years earlier. Take the scene in Live and Let Die where Bond grabs a cab and suddenly finds himself in a 70's blaxploitation flick, complete with funky soundtrack, screeching tires and jive talkin'. The Man With the Golden Gun is even more extreme: Bond walks into a Shaw Bros. kung fu flick (complete with two teenagers in Chinese schoolgirl uniforms so charmed by their brief meeting with Bond that they're willing to take on a mob of martial artists for him), gets a sidekick straight out of a Burt Reynolds rednexploitation movie, all the while pursuing Christopher Lee!

In retrospect, Connery really fucked shit up by quitting one movie too soon. Connery should have done In Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever should have been the first Roger Moore installment. George Lazenby should never have been let near the series. The guy's a total B-movie actor. If I were being attacked by giant locusts or flying saucers or The Creature from the Black Lagoon, I'd want him on my side, but he's just not Bond. There's no way you can convince me that when Lazenby walks into a room, every woman wants to fuck him, and every supervillain knows they are facing their match. Roger Moore is too nice to be Bond, but at least he's charming and charismatic.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Education Roundup

Yesterday I received my teaching credentials in the mail. So, in honor of this event, a roundup of education news:

In case you've forgotten what a backwards country this can sometimes be in the 21st Century, a Tennessee high school seized the student paper because it was running articles about birth control and tattoos! Meanwhile, in Vermont, a teacher is under fire for giving a "liberal" quiz. Actually, this falls under the "clearly in the wrong but funny as hell" category. Sample quiz question:

"I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence insuring him Republican votes." "Coherent" is the right answer.