Thursday, December 15, 2005

Don't Call It a Comeback...

...I've been here for years! But I haven't much been on my main site these last couple of months, for any number of reasons. But if King Kong can return, rather majestically, 72 years after he first rumbled out of the jungle, I figure I can at least show up to write a real review of this big, long, emotionally and intellectually complex entertainment. Enjoy, and post your own reactions below.

(By the way, re: my refusal to take the Golden Globes category of Best Song at all seriously, is this the kind of thing you expect to hear about timeless, award-winning art? Check that last sentence, for chrissakes.)



Blogger tim r said...

I very much doubt Jackson's film will ever receive a more sympathetic, enlightening, and gorgeously expressed review than this, Nick. Anywhere. Ever. You've outdone yourself.

A few brief thoughts, which will seem piddling and puny next to the Jacksonian achievement of your piece. I fully agree that the movie overthinks, and can't find a way out of that imperialist bind you talk about, but I was highly impressed by the way it grappled with its own contradictions and asked us to do the same. The first scenes on Skull Island are the weakest, you're right - and that woozy slo-mo is a sure sign Jackson doesn't want us to get too concretely hung-up on what his imagery seems to be saying. But, for all that, I think the basic point is he wants us to worry about these issues: what better way to make the dangers of racist imagery vividly clear to a global audience than by exaggerating it to the grotesque, self-parodic degree he does? I'm curiously reminded of the black-faced black performers in Spike Lee's Bamboozled, and I think Jackson may be distorting archaic racist iconography in a similar way to make a similar point - which is to say there's method, for me, here, in his apparent madness.

We disagree slightly about Denham (and Black), but only because you seem quicker off the mark in identifying him as corrupt to the core. I have to say I'm kind of rooting for him in the movie's first half - certainly against the philistine studio brass - and I think Black has a certain wacko conviction, trailing heavy, often unintentionally funny echoes of his School of Rock turn, that works quite well in the movie's favour. The repetition of the line about giving the proceeds to a fallen colleague's wife and children is what clinches the case against him, as you say, but I'm not sure I agree the case has already been fully made earlier: the first time he says it, I'm suspicious, but I actually half-buy his crazed quixotic rhetoric, and I think we're supposed to. (To half-buy it: to have doubts, but to go along with it, as Colin Hanks and the rest of them do.) Denham's intentions at the outset aren't necessarily that dishonourable, but, like a Kurtz, or a Coppola, or a Jackson in his worst nightmares, he gets carried away. (And then so does Black.)

Otherwise your experience of the movie tallies so hearteningly with mine. I'm dying to see it again, now, I must say. And eager to gorge myself on your next long review. Of something. Anything!

4:10 PM, December 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering what you thought of Watts, considering all the praise that's out there.

Also, re: Best Song - I agree the nominees are usual crap (usually more so at the Globes than the Oscars), but that seems to be more of a voter problem than a what's-actually-out-there problem. I mean look at 2003 - so much good stuff even Oscar couldn't screw it up!

4:29 PM, December 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering what you thought about Watts, considering all the buzz that's out there about her performance.

4:30 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger tim r said...

...and considering how much she's fallen out of your favour since Mulholland Dr!

4:43 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: Thanks so much, as ever. Your encouragement is so particularly meaningful.

Re: the Skull Islanders. I think you're absolutely right that the movie means for us to haggle with the contradictions, and to notice its attempts to worry this issue from all sides. Part of the problem for me was that some of the signs of "fair balance" in the movie—the Conrad discussions, Denham's idiotic approach with the chocolate bar, the slow-motion shot of the first Skull Islander felled by the gun—still seemed inadequate to the pure-horror guise in which the islanders were depicted. Again, repetition is a problem: the spooky discovery of these people hiding in the cracks of the landscape, and then the ratcheted horror of their attack, and then—the real killer—the even longer and more slavering depictions as Watts is prepared for sacrifice, including that extended POV of the wrinkled woman invoking her curses... I just thought it was too much, playing too heavily into one side of an argument that, again, I do sense the film wants to take on in more detail.

Re: Black, I still think the man was robbed of an Oscar for School of Rock: the genius comedic perf of '03 from which Depp stole all the thunder. So I entered this story with good will, but there was something too mealy and low-to-the-ground about his delivery and comportment. He doesn't invite sympathy or elicit joy, both of which he does in School of Rock. I would have loved to see him make a more genuinely impassioned pitch to Ann (can we blame her for doubting him?), or conscript Driscoll's participation through slightly less odious means, and maybe the fact that I found Kretschmann, Bell, and Parke such charismatic and appealing figures—and was watching Denham abuse the characters, and Black hold back from the performers—were just way too many strikes against him, way too early. (R.I.P. Mike the Sound Guy, who was a dear.)

@Anon, and @Tim, re: Watts, I had indeed broken up with her after Mulholland Dr. and The Ring, and even in those, she was more a hopeful omen for me than a sure thing. Sometimes, she just tries too hard, and she's only interesting in context. I don't find her interesting in and of herself, like a Swinton or a Blanchett or a Moore (though I know, Tim, you're having your doubts about Blanchett). Cut to the chase, though, I did like her in this. I liked how the story made Ann a particular kind of performer, and made her more ambivalent about Kong for a long time. I was surprised how loosely Watts wore the persona of a vaudevillian—I would never have imagined her so relaxed—and though I can't say I loved the performance, I thought it served the movie quite well.

@Anon, re: Best Song: It's true that there are years with great songs. 1999 had four of them, though of course, AMPAS still managed to throw the trophy to the boner ("You'll Be in My Heart" over "When She Loved Me"?). My more fundamental objection is this: the skill of writing a great song has less to do with moviemaking than any of the other categories, there is no reason to imagine that AMPAS is qualifed to judge things like this, and the consistent mediocrity of nominees and winners should be a sign of a category on life-support. No hard feelings to fantastic nominees and winners, but not enough to go on.

If anyone deserves this award this year, it's Kanye West, who didn't write any original songs, but "Jesus Walks" almost single-handedly yielded such a stunning trailer for such a lame movie (Jarhead) that some compensation is in order.

5:18 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

PS @ Tim: One thing I liked about Black's two eulogies was their rhetorical savvy about a certain kind of hypocritical public grief—a fallen hero, he died showing us [fill in paltry compensation for dying], I'm donating all the proceeds.... We've heard enough of this in recent years that it's no stretch to link these speeches into the film's anti-imperialist agenda. I just thought they were boring and redundant as character points.

5:20 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Javier Aldabalde said...

No words, Nick. Seriously.

7:33 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

coupla things on Kong. I can't even START a review after reading the ones from Tim and yourself. Too intimidating --but wanted to comment on a couple of things.

the racism. i get what both of y'all are saying about this but the reason I found it to be such a problem and so distracting myself is that I didn't have as much generosity towards the movie in assuming that it wanted to grapple with this --the giveaway for me? The crew. Only the white guys survive. Now, admittedly this movie has a high body count on Skull Island. But EVERY ethnic character? The black guy. the asian. the maori (?) guy. i might not have noticed it (again--given the high body count overall) except for the fact that when we're first meeting the ship's crew my friend leaned over and said "he's gonna die" and we both chuckled quietly about those action-movie cliches. Supporting characters die in action movies if they are ethnic and especially if they're ethnic and the other people in the movie are played by name actors. Left a bad taste in my mouth.

oh but Nick --exactly my feelings about Watts performance. Liked it. didn't totally love. But was also altogether stunned that the vaudeville stuff didn't sit uncomfortably on her too-intense screen persona.

Still and all. This movie packed quite an emotional wallop and I wonder why other big budget filmmakers don't at least try harder to do what Jackson so carefully always does (giving the emotional relationships just as much care and attention as the action sequences)

8:38 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Dr. S said...

I. Just. Can't. Say. Anything.

I'm in awe of all this writing. It is truly gargantuan-scale film discussion, which seems perfect for this movie. I have yet to see it (our weather here was treacherous today), but I'm looking forward to it a lot now!

1:55 AM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger keep showing up said...

I've arrested my fingers til now, cuz I know you're not hatin' on Alanis... and your comment above @Anon makes clear that the artist's greatness is not at issue. But your mention of Alanis's lightening quick time-to-release does raise a few prickly issues - the balance between incredulity and awe at artistic processes. in fact, i'm kinda glad that 2005 critical attention to producing fantastic indies *will* turn conversations towards shoestring budgets and month-long shooting schedules.

23 Days: Baumbach filmed The Squid and the Whale;
37 Days: Eastwood filmed Millon Dollar Baby.

3 Days: Alanis jams/churns her Narnia song... (Didn't Alanis play the voice of God in Dogma ? Scratch that line of thought). One more production trivia gem:

In 1994, Alanis moves to L.A., meets co-producer songwriter Glen Ballard
In 1995, less than one year later, the two release _Jagged Little Pill_, the all-time best selling debut by a female artist(Platinum x 16; 35 million albums sold worldwide, pre-Itunes);

[Any bets that the 10th Anniversary fanfare over "Jagged Little Pill" prolly nudged Alanis into the Golden Globe map, more than the quality of the song???]

What's my point? Rather than embarrass myself promoting the down-to-the-wire club, or championing the 11th hour club (afterall, i'm a biased life long member of both), perhaps a more fruitful discussion would be how to rehabilitate rather than euthanize the Best Song category..
...I'm outta my league in cinemarati sphere, so have mercy on my line of argument...

But is songwriting that irrelevant to moviemaking? And if AMPAS isn't qualified to judge the quality of a song [suppose that's what Grammy's are for], I would support some category that spoke to how any song influence, informed, mobilized, in some way *did* perform a type of work in service of the movie -- not FM Radio listenership or CD sales...

Sure, a damn good song blinds movie viewers like me to the aesthetics of cinematic form. and yet, how could Film Award Circuits acknowledge and honor how powerfully songs sucker saps like me to read a film otherwise.

These thoughts aren't meant as a rant, but continue our ongoing conversation: how song produce risably incommensurate subjective readings of films like _Garden State_, _Love Jones_, and Lord help us all, even _I Am Sam_.

Along those lines, I agree w/ the suggested West's "Jesus Walks" nom for the Jarhead trailer...
or how bout Terrance Howard sing "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from _Hustle and Flow_ another song less laudable for amazing songwriting, but I savor the song for other elements it gives to the struggling pimp-turned-striving DJ film

alls i'm trying to say is i sure wish a Song could be awarded on more nuanced or expansive or wholistic grounds than the genius of the songwriting.... fff

8:45 PM, December 17, 2005  

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