Pre-Holiday and not so late night double feature picture shows

Prior to our visits with relatives for the Christmas weekend, Annette and Will and I had some “must see” movie viewing to take care of: King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Here’s my version of a run-down of these flicks:

First, King Kong: You should go see this movie. Seriously. It’s really REALLY good. But two thoughts from me to you before you go:

  • See the “real” King Kong first, the 1933 original that started the whole thing. Ignore the 1976 version– that’s a pretty crappy movie. Anyway, you’ll see why I suggest this homework in a second.
  • For those of you with kids, take the PG-13 rating seriously. We took Will to this because, as I’ve said before, usually the kind of violence and scary stuff that shows up in these movies doesn’t phase him. I mean, we took him to the latest Harry Potter, and we took him to all of the The Lord of the Rings movies. This one scared the shit out of him, which means that we at least get a nomination for “bad parental performance in a stage or screen setting” award for the year.

Okay, with that out of the way:

Annette and I both thought that Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, the movie that he claims inspired him to become a filmmaker in the first place, was very much da bomb. Now, I have a particular soft-spot for “movies about movies/movie-making,” and this new version of King Kong, especially when compared with the original, is a particularly rich text. What is similar and/or down-right identical between this version and the original?

  • Both are (ostensibly) about “nature film” filmmakers, though in Jackson’s version, the movie maker (Jack Black in the latest) is also trying to make a movie completely different from what was funded by the studio. A long story.
  • There are many MANY scenes that are in both movies: the scene where Ann Darrow (aka, “beauty”) is selected by Carl Denham (the filmmaker) to be in his picture while she’s stealing apples, a lot of stuff on the boat, the theater where Kong is shown, the Empire State Building (of course!), and so many more. Which is reason #1 to do your homework and see the original first.
  • There are many MANY scenes that are either interesting commentaries or interesting revisions on the original. In the Jackson remake, he’s added the role of a screen writer (this is the Adrien Brody role) and the leading man to the movie that’s being made on the ship– and, oddly, the role the leading man plays is the “first mate” of the ship that takes them to Skull Island, which, of course, is the love interest in the original movie. Do you have all that? Did you do the assigned homework here?
  • What’s different? Well, the “natives” on Skull Island in the Jackson version of things are interesting. While the natives in the original are super-duper stereotypical and an example of just how little people in the U.S. in the 1930s knew about “the other,” the new natives are scary as shit. Which I guess is still kind of racist, but in a different way.
  • And the biggest difference is how we’re supposed to react to Kong himself. In the original, the Fay Rey (Ann aka “beauty”) character is always terrified of Kong, and the audience is lead to believe that Kong is just nothing but trouble. When King Kong dies in the original, it’s a happy moment. In the new film, we’re supposed to feel sympathetic for Kong, the same way we’re supposed to feel sorry for apes captured from the jungle and taken to zoos. Furthermore, Naomi Watts (Ann aka “beauty” in the new movie) has a completely different relatioship with Kong. At best, Ann has a “pet-like” love for Kong; at worse, Ann has a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship that, ah, can’t work.
    Anyway, go see it. It’s not just a monster/special effects movie (which, btw, was exactly what the original was). Well worth it, and certainly a big-screen experience.

    As for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: eh, it was okay. Will liked it. It was no Lord of the Rings, that’s for sure. I’d recommend it as a rental.

Kong Me

Last night, on the Turner Classic Movie channel, I watched King Kong, the original 1933 version of King Kong. I watched it both for its entertainment value and also as homework for the Peter Jackson version of the movie, which we’ll (hopefully) be seeing this weekend or so.

What a hoot! Definitely worth a rental or, if you can catch it on TV. A few thoughts in no particular order:

  • Like a lot of other stories of the early 2oth century (the most obvious example to me are both the book and film versions of Tarzan), the 1933 version of things is pretty racist and sexist. It’ll be interesting to see how Jackson handles stuff like that.
  • The storyline is ridiculous of course, but if you haven’t seen it before, I am here to tell you that it is even more ridiculous than you might think. Basically, a nature film director gets a map under somewhat mysterious circumstances that shows the location of “Skull Island,” which is home to a group of “natives” who live on a narrow pennisula on a small part of this island. The part where the natives live is protected by a mysterious and enourmous wall that is so old, no one remembers where it came from. There are strange animals behind said wall– dinosaurs (okay, uh, I guess a land of the lost kind of thing, I can go with that) and, of course, one– and only one– giant ape. Hijinks ensue.
  • The original film was basically a special effects flick too. Even if you haven’t actually seen the movie, surely you have seen some of the images of Kong on the Empire State Building and such, so I was of course expecting to see a fair amount of that sort of thing. But I was surprised just how much of the movie was even then about the effects. It’s no wonder that Jackson said this is the movie that inspired him to be a filmmaker.
  • The original was about an hour and 45 minutes, and that includes a lot of King Kong fighting-type scenes; the Jackson movie is supposedly about 3 hours. Damned if I know what he’s done to nearly double the length of it.

More on the new version later….

This makes a certain amount of sense

What Pulp Fiction Character Are You?

You’re cautious, a bit paranoid. You left the scene for the suburban married life, but somehow, touble seems to follow you and piss on your mornings. You are quick to share your point of view, but have no problems with giving in to the requests of wives and wolves.

Take the What Pulp Fiction Character Are You? quiz.

Tip o’ the hat to “Drunk Again!”

Notes on Seeing the Latest Harry Potter Movie

Will and Annette and I went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie this afternoon. Here are some of my thoughts on the whole experience:

  • We got Will out of school a bit early, mainly because it is like a 3 hour movie and we wanted to be able to watch it and get home before it was way way past dinner.
  • We settled in, into kind of the front row as you enter the theater. It’s not the absolute front row, but it was maybe the fifth or so row, and it was also very near the enterance to the theater.
  • Just as the previews commercials that I didn’t pay to see were starting, a group of older folks who seemed determined to talk through the entire feature and who also seemed hard of hearing sat down to our right. Annette and Will, who were sitting to my immediate right, moved over to my immediate left.
  • Then, about a minute or so into the feature itself, a man and his two children sat down to our (and specifically, Annette’s) left. And I mean right on her left, like a seat away, and it’s worth pointing out that while the theater was crowded, it was far from packed. These people could have sat in many other places. Then this guy then starts explaining the movie to one of his kids, saying stuff like “Okay, now all these people are wizards. Oh, and this game quidditch is sort of like soccer but they play it on brooms.” Annette, not a person to suffer fools in a movie theater, leaned over and said “shhh!” His response was “No.” Annette said “What?” He said “I’m not going to be quiet. This isn’t your house.” Annette said “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He said “My son is hearing-impaired so I need to explain things to him.”

    Now, let me point out that I didn’t hear any of this, but I could tell that there was some kind of commotion going on over there. Annette gave me the very brief version of what was going on and I knew immediately that this wasn’t going to work. I started gathering the coats hastily and said “Let’s move,” and we did.

    As we walked by Mr. Talker and his “hearing-impaired” son (I’ll get to that later), I said, quite sarcastically of course, “Thank you.” You know, a “THANK you!” kind of thing. Mr. Talker’s loud and somewhat sincere response was “Asshole!” Whatever. We retreated to seats a few rows behind.

  • I liked the movie, I think quite a bit. It was a bit problematic for me though because I have only managed to read about 200 pages fo the 700+ page book, and the movie got through this material in literally the first 10 minutes. But I was able to follow what was going on and I thought it was pretty well done.
  • It is a pretty scary movie, and one of my former students/friends sent me an email last week saying that he thought it was too scary for a kid Will’s age. I emailed back and told him (and I’m not really proud of this) that Will has what strikes me as an unusually high tolerance for violence and such on the screen. And it does turn out he was fine. When I asked Will after the movie if he thought it was too scary, he just scoffed at me.
  • It turns out that in our huff to leave our previous seats, I had left Will’s mittens and stocking cap behind. So, as the credits were rolling and Mr. Talker et al were watching them, we walked by to look for them. To Mr. Talker’s credit, he apologized to us profusely for his earlier behavior, explaining that he too didn’t like it when people talked at the movies, he was embarassed for his past behavior, etc., etc. We small-talked a bit about the movie (Mr. Talker liked it too), and then he explained that his son was actually not hearing-impaired but he had ADD and Mr. Talker thought he’d have to explain everything to his son. Which, for me, prompted a big ol’ “Huh?!?!?!?!” in my head.
  • Annette clearly had mixed feelings about the flick, largely based on the many things that were left out of the 700+ page book, and also (IMO) largely based on her extensive knowledge and scholarship on the whole Harry Potter series. It wasn’t quite like this, but it was a bit like her saying “And that whole deal that was on page 373? That’s not there at all!! Can you believe that?! Jeesh!” Well, like I said, I need to finish reading the book first.

Like I said, other than some weirdness, a good movie. Worth checking out.

Why I (too frequently) hate going to the movies

Annette and Will and I went to see Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit on Friday for a late afternoon matinee. First off, it was a great movie– far from a “kiddie flick,” and anyone who has ever seen any of the other Wallace & Gromit shorts will love it. A lot of fun and worth seeing in the theater.

However, I am increasingly irritated about seeing movies in the theater. The expense and such is part of it, but I guess most of it is the people around me who seem to have no ideas about the basic rules of how to watch a movie in a public place. Like I said, we were there in the late afternoon. Among a few others, there was a large group of people behind us, and as far as we could tell, all of them had brought fistfulls of candy wrappers with them to the show. We heard a steady krinkle-krinkle-krinkle-krinkle, sort of like a grass fire.

And then, to make matters worse, there was a couple in their late 40s/early fifties sitting to my right who seemed to be in the theater not so much to see the movie but because they were looking for a place to sit to carry on other business. I mean, this woman was on her cell phone off and on, they were talking and talking about God knows what, and then, when they did notice that there actually was this movie going on, they would make loud and stupid proclaimations like “hey, LOOK at THAT!”

Idiots. And for the three of us, we paid around $30 for the pleasure of dealing with these kinds of people. This is why a really good big-screen TV/home theater seems like not only a good idea but ultimately cost-effective.

Robin Hood and deja vu

Annette and Will and I went to see The Adventures of Robin Hood tonight, part of the Michigan Theater summer movie program. We had seen the original (and silent) Peter Pan earlier this summer in the same series.

Robin Hood was the definition of “a hoot” in all kinds of fun and funny ways, but I had very much a “seen this before” sorta feeling. Only the 1938 film was the original, of course. While watching this, I just couldn’t stop thinking of Monty Python and The Holy Grail and the Food Network’s Iron Chef. Here’s why:

The connections between Robin Hood and Holy Grail are prehaps pretty obvious. There are all the fight scenes, including the ones where Robin takes out 100 guys with one arrow; the whole bit with people just getting shot with an arrow right out of the blue; fights where someone picks up a heavy-looking table clearly made out of cardboard and throws it at a group that instantly collapses under it. But then there’s other stuff too. For example, the outfits: all of the knights and other “bad guys” hanging around Prince John are all dressed like the knights in Holy Grail— or vice-versa, suppose. And then for some bizarre reason, Robin Hood has a minstrel (Will Scarlet– and hey, guess what? he dresses in red!) during the fight scene with Little John, not unlike Sir Robin in Holy Grail.

So, what’s the Iron Chef connection? First off, there is a lot of food in the movie. I mean, when these people aren’t fighting, they are eating and they are generally eating some animal hoof or whole bird just off of the fire. Second, Prince John (the chief bad buy played by Claude Rains) is dressed exactly like “the chairman” from the original Iron Chef, totally over the top with crazy colors and sequins and everything else. I can’t find any pictures on the web to prove my point, but believe me, if you’ve seen either either of these shows, you know what I’m talking about.

Slight photographic update:

Annette did a better job of researching pictures of Claude Rains than I did. Here are a couple of images from this web site:

Everyone has to have a cape in this movie….

three guys
That’s Claude as Prince John in the middle. This picture really doesn’t do this outfit justice because it includes black pants and shoes with weird silver accents everywhere. Very Iron Chef, IMO.

Purging my Netflix que

I think Netflix is a pretty good deal/good service, even if you only watch DVDs about two or three times a month, for a couple of different reasons. First, you can get pretty much anything that’s out on DVD– well, at least as far as I can tell. Maybe we’re not requesting obscure enough movies though. Second, no worries about returns. You just keep the movies, send them to Netflix when you’re done with them, and then they send you the next movie in your “que,” which is your “wish list” of movies.

And it’s these strengths that conspire to make Netflix a potential pain in the ass.

First off, the very cool and easy to use Netflix interface allows you to put a ton of movies into your que. It’s constantly giving you recommendations and ideas about different movies, along the lines of “members who liked movie X also liked movie Y,” and so you click on movie Y and think “sure, that sounds cool,” and you add it to your que. Before I knew it, I had a que with about two dozen movies, all kinds cool and interesting and artsy things.

But here’s the problem: sometimes you’re in the mood to watch an artsy-fartsy movie, sometimes you’re in the mood to watch the latest Hollywood release. When you go to the video store and browse the shelves in person, you more or less know what mood you’re in and you pick appropriately. Netflix, on the other hand, makes you watch stuff in order on your que, and there’s quite a distance between when you’re adding movies to your que and when you actually want to watch the movies. Sure, you can update the order of things on the que, but there have been several times when I had forgotten to do that, and we end up getting something we’re not really in the right mood to watch.

The result? Annette and I have three Netflix DVDs right now, and two of them are kind of quasi-artsy-fartsy movies, and one is a foreign movie. They’re movies we haven’t really wanted to watch (they’re long and too serious or just not “right” for the time), but we also don’t want to just return them unseen. We’ve had the foreign movie since December. DECEMBER, people!

So I decided to go to my Netflix que and just purge the whole thing, just delete it all. And instead of all the artsy-fartsy stuff, I added summer movie kind of fare: Ocean’s Twelve, Ray, Collateral, The Aviator, and Kinsey. Okay, maybe Kinsey is kinda artsy, but that’s it. We’ll see how many of these things we actually watch in the next month or so.

iTunes and silent movies, all in one week

I had two multimedia “firsts� this week.

First #1: I bought a complete album online, the Dave Matthews Band new CD, Stand Up off of the iTunes store. By the way, don’t give me any shit for liking the Dave Matthews Band. I’m too old to really care what is (or isn’t) hip, and I was listening to them before they caught on with the frat boy crowd. I like ‘em, so sue me.

I’ve downloaded some music from “less than legal� sources before, but, besides not being quite legal or ethical, I find that it takes way too long and I as often as not end up with a file that isn’t worth listening to. I have bought music with iTunes before, but just a song at a time. This was my first full album, and I’m not sure I will buy a CD from a store again. It’s cheaper by a couple of bucks than buying the actual CD, and all I had to do was download it from the iTunes site to my computer and then to my iPod. Easier than going to a store by far.

Okay, not that big of a deal. But still.

First #2: We all saw the 1924 silent film version of Peter Pan Thursday night at the Michigan Theater. A couple of things made this a pretty cool night. For one thing, the Michigan Theater was pretty much sold out for the show. As Russ Collins (the guy who runs the Michigan Theater) said in his introduction to the show, it was probably the biggest crowd to watch a silent film in… well, in a long time, weeks at least. For another, it featured musical accompaniment by the Ann Arbor Symphony, conducted by Gillian “not the one from X-Filesâ€? Anderson. Cool music, too.

On the down-side, the show started late and we didn’t have Will home until about 10 on a school night. Not good parenting. On the up-side, it was pretty cool to see a silent film the way that it would have been shown way back in the day. After all, the Michigan Theater opened in the late 1920’s as a silent film theater, and back then, they really would have an orchestra for most of the shows (that and/or the extremely elaborate organ they’ve got there). Anyway, good music, good show, good experience.

Incidentally, this version of Peter Pan is quite a bit different from the Disney version, which isn’t surprising. I don’t have the time to rehash it all right now, but most of the intertitles (you know, the words that pop up during a silent film) come from J.M. Barrie’s original story, and it’s pretty clear to me where the whole idea of the “Peter Pan Syndrome� comes from. Weird stuff.