Sunday, January 29, 2006


Hasn’t everyone done this already? Well, yes they have. Beginning before 2005 even ended, critics and associations of people who supposedly know a thing or two about film have been declaring their choices for the best film offerings of 2005. Here in Montreal, some of those films hadn’t even begun screening before the year closed. And there is a particular academy that has yet to announce their choices so I would like to take this opportunity to share my choices for favorite films, performances and contributions from 2005.

'Twas a great year for North American film, I felt. It was also a great year for me to finally get in the habit of regularly seeing films and musing on them for (hopefully) your enjoyment. With the Oscar nominations coming out this Tuesday, I am pleased to give you my nominations in the following categories:


To be eligible for this list, a film needed only meet two simple criteria. First, the film needed to be released during the 2005 calendar year. Secondly, I had to see it. As I’m not a professional film critic (yet), I can’t see everything so you might notice an omission here and there.

As I’m announcing the nominations two days before the Oscars, I will announce the winners two days before they do as well. Who knows? Maybe a large number of members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will read my blog and I will have a giant influence on their voting. I will be bigger than the Golden Globes, damnit!

In the meantime, please share your comments in the comment section and thanks for humouring me.


George Clooney, SYRIANA
Matt Dillon, CRASH
Cillian Murphy, BATMAN BEGINS


Amy Adams, JUNEBUG
Scarlett Johansson, MATCH POINT
Thandie Newton, CRASH








Philip Seymour Hoffman, CAPOTE
Joaquin Phoenix, WALK THE LINE


Felicity Huffman, TRANSAMERICA
Kiera Knightly, PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Naomi Watts, KING KONG
Reese Witherspoon, WALK THE LINE


Woody Allen, MATCH POINT
Noah Baumbach, THE SQUID & THE WHALE
Dan Futterman, CAPOTE
Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN


Steven Spielberg, MUNICH



God, I’m a geek.


Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode and Emily Mortimer

The ladies who saved my seat at the nearly sold-out screening of MATCH POINT I attended, were having the same conversation probably everyone in the audience has had at one point in time before buying their ticket for the evening’s final showing.

“I know,” the lady furthest to my right exclaimed. “My boyfriend and I were watching the preview and then it was, like, ‘This is a Woody Allen film.’ It didn’t look anything like that.”

“I know,” the closer lady returned. “It looks really good.”

This leads me to two major points of contention when it comes to addressing MATCH POINT. First, the previews look like a drastic departure from Allen’s previous outings. It looks smooth, glossy, and conventional even. The other point refers to the widely established opinion of the movie-going public that it has been ages since Allen made a good movie. From two points, stem two questions. Is it really that different? And is it really any good?

Allen has been making movies for just over forty years so it seems reasonable to wonder just how much of a departure MATCH POINT really could be from a director whose neurotic mistrust of love and life looms over most of his offerings. Even as he gets on in years and no longer takes on the lead acting responsibilities, cutting down to merely writing and directing one film a year on average, the ghost of the Woody Allen caricature finds its way into his pictures (see Jason Biggs in ANYTHING ELSE or Will Ferrell in MELINDA AND MELINDA.) The lead here, tennis pro turned instructor, Chris Wilton, is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. We meet him after Allen’s classic plain white text on black background opening credits, interviewing for a job and looking for a London flat. The young lad worked his way out of a poor Irish background into the pro-tennis circuit before retiring for a more stable life, where he could appreciate the finer things life had to offer, like opera and art. In opposition to past leads, he is well put together, focused. He has his eye on the ball, if you will. This is not to say he has everything figured out or is without fear. He knows he wants to do something of value with his life, isn’t clear on what exactly that is, but also does not let hesitation paralyze him. Upon meeting Chloe Hewett (the glowing Emily Mortimer), Chris’ biggest similarity to the Woody Allen archetype becomes apparent. Despite all his efforts and subsequent accomplishments, he is a pessimist. He may appreciate the finer things but his belief is the finest things are those capable of capturing and communicating everything that is tragic about life. Can a pessimist truly know love? Allen seems to think yes, at least at first. Chloe is an eternal optimist who has never known anything tragic about life and despite their differences, they fall in love while walking around London, which Allen frames like postcards in much the same way he has framed Manhattan for years.

Allen has a strong handle on the visual direction, allowing characters to walk in and out of the frame when we would expect them to. There are no surprises, just a natural direction, suggesting that Allen knows exactly what we will want to see as we watch from behind bushes or fences. More importantly, he has an even stronger control on this, his finest screenplay since 1992’s HUSBANDS AND WIVES. MATCHPOINT is ultimately about luck, how little importance we place on luck despite the significant role it plays in our lives, and how far we’re willing to push our own luck. Chris, a devout believer in the influence luck has on his life, decides to close his eyes and hope for the best when he embarks on an affair with Nola Rice (Scarlet Johansson), his soon-to-be brother-in-law’s fiancée. The two gravitate towards each other, pulled by an uncontrollable sexual desire. Separately, they each represent opposite ends of the luck spectrum. Chris is still riding his lucky streak, scoring his tennis instructor job, meeting Chloe, getting a job at one of her father’s business firms. Whereas Nola is still trying to escape her streak of bad luck, running away from her dead-end Colorado home, struggling to make it as an actress and eventually losing her fiancé, Tom (Matthew Goode). The question then is how much better is Chris’ luck when all the successes he stumbles upon are not what he wants but what he believes he should want?

Further strengthening Allen’s script, is the issue of class woven in and out of the entire film. Both Chris and Nola come from modest backgrounds at best and are dating members of London’s higher society. Tom and Chloe are happy, high-spirited people with all the time in the world to pursue their interests – opera, tennis, opening an art gallery. Chris and Nola have been working their whole lives to get where they are, with Nola finding she still has a great deal of work ahead of her and uncertain she has it in her to get there. For Tom and Chloe, there is no flipside to the coin and new opportunities arise all the time. They’ve always been lucky and what makes them descent is at least they can each acknowledge their fortunate existence. Nola has yet to truly know luck and lack of enthusiasm in her speech shows how little faith she has in potentially finding it. But it is the taste of a fortunate man’s life that is new to Chris Wilton. He has a driver now and his new flat no longer has a fold out sofa bed, but it does have one of the most spectacular views of London available. So when his affair with Nola begins to threaten his newfound cushion of a life, he is forced to make a decision for the first time instead of leaving everything to chance. This decision brings about a tension and discomfort that is so rarely achieved in filmmaking today. Allen manages to blindside his audience without using it as a gimmick or relying on twists to give the film its ultimate meaning.

Be it lucky in life or unlucky in love, Allen serves up a film about the game itself. We may all think that we have control, that we hold the power over our lives or that we are making the decisions that will move us forward. What Allen wants to remind us is that, like a game, we don’t get to make any of these decisions until it’s our turn to serve and we certainly don’t know what our opponents will do next, despite how well we think we know their game.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Written by Martin Sherman
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins and Kelly Reilly

The credits roll and instantly MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS is insufferable. A tiresome montage of animation and archival footage of monkeys, cherubs and ladies in suggestive situations introduces the film’s players as a flat jazz score attempts to liven the mood and pick up the pace. I felt I might be doomed to sit through an unexpectedly tacky offering from the director of groundbreaking fare like MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE and the writer of the gut wrenching BENT. I began to breathe easy shortly after as Judi Dench took to the screen as Laura Henderson. As a recently widowed lady of England’s high society, Dench delivers a sharp, snappy performance that had me jerking out embarrassingly loud fits of laughter, while she managed to maintain the tenderness and hope of a woman looking for meaning in a life without her great loves, her husband and her son who died in the first World War. At a friend’s suggestion, she takes up a hobby to pass the time after her husband dies and after passing herself on embroidery and charity work, she settles on a project that is nothing short of extravagant, and therefore nothing short of fitting for Mrs. Henderson; she buys a theatre in London’s West End. Though the venture starts out promising, the fickle patrons quickly turn away and Mrs. Henderson decides to do what any proper lady would; she suggests putting naked girls on the stage.

The nature of the theatre can be one of spontaneity and surprise, especially for those who have no idea what they’ve signed on for. Though this energizes the theatre experience both in the audience and backstage, it does not make for a solid film. Sherman’s script is without any consistent story arch, leaving the viewer wondering where this is all going and knowing that the answer is really nowhere. The only constant is the theatre itself and subplots run rampant in these wings and dressing rooms. Much like the “Revuedeville” show that runs all day at the Windmill theatre, these trivial plots arise and resolve themselves before making way for the next. There is expected banter and emotional tension between Mrs. Henderson and her theatre manager, Mr. Van Damme (Bob Hoskins); there is the inevitable controversy over having naked girls on stage; there is even a rising star with a frozen heart who manages to thaw it out in time to fall for a soldier, get pregnant and lose him. The only thing any of these situations has in common is that they all take place in the Windmill Theatre. And all that manages to save this disconnected story from feeling like a mismatched chorus line are the lively, exuberant performances from all the players. They wear their awareness of being naughty very well and parlay it into an amusing and jubilant show, while forming the foundation of a family, like only the theatre can, that the audience both roots and hopes for in between their hollers.

In order for the naked ladies to take the stage, they must remain perfectly still, like works of art in a museum. While naturally hesitant at first, the ladies shed their garb under the guidance of Mr. Van Damme. After all, this is England in 1937. Such things were just not done. Mr. Van Damme asks his girls, and throws the question out at any prudes in the audience as well, “Why do you think God gave you your bits and pieces? So you could be ashamed of them?” He goes on to tell them all that they are works of art. And while he plays the occasional prank that forces the ladies to move on stage when they are not allowed to, he does treat them with the respect and admiration any work of art deserves. The ladies are never exploited and are always incorporated into the acts like set pieces to enhance the song being sung or the dance being danced. It is always about the build up and not about the pay off. In other words, it is the difference between baring your bosom and baring your breast. And while the promise of naked girls may get the people in the seats, it is the show itself they leave with. Perhaps the same can be said of the experience for some of the folks I saw this film with.

MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS is inspired by true events and reality must at one point interrupt the fun and games. A few years in to the Windmill’s run, Germany begins bombing England. An overwhelming feeling of helplessness falls on the theatre and Frears poses another question to his audience. What is the point of some good, clean fun in troubled times? Though Frears’ decision to cut back and forth between archival war footage of bombings and fighter planes and the impact of these images on the players and patrons of Mrs. Henderson’s theatre is awkward at best, it still manages to make a point we all know well even more relevant. The show must go on. Why? Because there must be hope that a life we all know and love will return after the fear and we will feel safe once again. In a simple, and dare I say rather naked moment, one “Revuedeville” star asks, “Who’d ever dreamed that standing on a stage without any clothes on would feel like the safest place to be?” Any revue is bound to have elements that don’t work or take you out of the moment but it’s moments like this and many other hilarious ones that make it all worthwhile and catch you off guard, as if you were caught unexpectedly with your pants down.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Written and Directed by Duncan Tucker
Starring Felicity Huffman and Kevin Zegers

A perky spokesperson is on the television at the onset of TRANSAMERICA. “This is the voice I want to use,” she repeats, staring directly into the camera. Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman) watches this instructional tape, using it as yet one more step to ultimately eliminate every trace of Stanley Schupack, the man she once was and biologically still is, or at least she still will be for the next week. Bree is a pre-operation, male-to-female transsexual with a definite distaste for all things supposedly male. This means anything vulgar or classless and even her penis. She would much rather embrace all that is delicate, artistic, and insightful. These conscious decisions show gender as a performance, a calculated choice to put forth the parts of you that you identify as more innately masculine or feminine in accordance with who you want to be. In Bree’s case, the decisions she makes are often awkward and misplaced, from the jerkiness of her walk to her often difficult-to-process-how-she-rationalized-that-was-a-good-look-for-her ensembles. Despite that, the decisions she makes are her own and having made them and consequently sticking with them is more important than the decisions themselves. After all, she is about to make a much bigger decision that she will have to live with for the rest of her life.

Just as Bree can almost feel the jarring cold of the surgical knife on her skin, she learns that her one sexual fumble with a woman back in college, when she was still Stanley, led to the birth of a child. (Oh, those silly college experimentations.) That child, Toby (Kevin Zegers), has gotten himself arrested and sent to a juvenile detention unit up in New York City. In response, Bree’s therapist will not sign off on her authorization to go ahead with the surgery if Bree refuses to confront this boy and her past. Upon meeting Toby, Bree learns that he hustles to earn a living and enjoys his hallucinogenics, while he is still holding on to his dream of making it in the movies. He aims high but he’s still a realist, acknowledging that his big future in the film industry will likely be in gay porn. From the looks of him in his undies, I dare say he’s a pretty perceptive kid, not to mention a good shot at success. In the driver’s seat we have a timid and awkward father who will soon be a mother but has not divulged this much to her son. In the passenger seat, we have an ambitious and bright young man who has lost his way without realizing. And thus begins the great transamerican road trip from New York City to Los Angeles. Bree’s seemingly unsolicited act of kindness inspires Toby to be a better man and return that kindness to this stranger. This cycle continues along the way as we watch two people who are so acutely aware of the roles they portray to the world, shed their thick skins and take on new roles without even realizing they’re doing it. One is trying to be heard right now and the other has tried for so long not to be seen. Yet on this cross country trek, they both leave these acts they’re so used to aside and embrace their new selves as a mother who helps her child see his worth and a child who makes his mother feel more like a woman than any instructional videotape or hormone she’s ever seen or taken.

Felicity Huffman knows how to play a reluctant mother. As the exhausted mother of four, Lynette Scavo, on television’s "Desperate Housewives", Huffman exhibits her strengths as an actress by playing Lynette as a woman who relies on her instincts. She is protective and fierce while still sensitive and nurturing. While her television character’s hesitation comes from a lack of confidence in her abilities to embody one of life’s most natural roles, her TRANSAMERICA film persona holds back for mostly selfish reasons. She has not felt like herself her entire life. The look of disgust on her face when a doctor asks how she feels about her penis hits hard for how quick and harsh a reaction it is. Having a problem son to deal with, and eventually confront regarding his misconceived notions about his birth father, is a direct obstacle that she had not counted on. This is her initial fear but Bree is actually terrified that she has no nurturing capabilities just like her television counterpart. It is only by spending time with her son that she comes to learn that she has much wisdom to impart upon him, that she was not ruined entirely by her parents, or that she could stand to learn a thing or two from him as well.

The issue of control, having it in one’s life or over one’s self is a struggle for most, but can be even more of an arduous challenge for marginalized people, like a transsexual person. He or she not only needs to ingest numerous hormones in order be more like the person they feel they are inside, which is in complete contradiction to the body they’ve been given, but they then have to deal with the ignorance and judgment that is given to them each time they put on their armor and walk outside their door. TRANSAMERICA is a film about learning how to incorporate the person you’ve always known yourself to be with the person you so desperately want to become and about healing the relationships with the people you meet and touch along the winding road that gets you there.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Geoffrey Rush

Writer's Note: This first paragraph talks about the final scene of the film. I do not discuss anything that will ruin the ending for you but you have been warned.

It is a gray day. Avner (Eric Bana) meets with his former employer from the Israeli government in a park in Brooklyn, New York. He has nearly lost his mind to paranoia, always wondering when someone will end the hunt and finally find him. During his unofficial employment with the Mossad, Avner headed a team of five men whose mission was to track down the members of Palestinian terrorist group, Black September. This group was behind the tragedy at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany, where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered after being held hostage. It has become abundantly clear that he can and likely will suffer the same fate as the men on his hit list and he needs reassurance that he can at the very least trust the people of his homeland, the people that trusted this mission to him in the first place. His former liaison, Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), dismisses his concerns, allowing Avner a moment to breathe. Ephraim then declines Avner’s invitation to break bread and two large buildings in the background of the frame catch your eye while Avner stands still and puzzled. These two buildings are the twin towers destroyed on September 11, 2001 in what has been described as one of the most devastating terrorist attacks ever to take place on American soil. This moment, I apologize, comes at the very end of Steven Spielberg's MUNICH and stretches the issue of justification past the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, finding Spielberg asking his audience if there is ever any true resolution to any ongoing violent conflict between nations or between peoples.

Spielberg’s film interpretation is not specifically about the Munich killings but more so about what came afterwards, while always paying mind to what came before and led up to the event. In telling this story, he is walking a fine line trying not to offend while remaining authentic. I don’t doubt Spielberg’s genuine interest in remaining objective here. In fact, it was imperative he do so to successfully force his audience to question the usage of violence as a means to resolve conflict. Had he shown the Jewish retaliators as nothing more than a beaten people unquestionably right in their quest for revenge, than he would have created nothing more than a sympathy inducing manipulation. Of course there is something of a sympathetic element for these assassins who see themselves as soldiers, but that’s inevitable as their people were undeniably wronged in Munich at the hands of murderers. Only these five men are not your typical soldiers. They’re toy-makers, antiques dealers, expecting fathers. They are regular men with one common dedication among them, Israel. Their convictions can only take them so far as when it comes time to actually pull the trigger or detonate the bomb, the awareness that they are about to take someone’s life becomes a painful curse they hadn’t realized their beliefs might not be able to carry them through. The lack of experience as well as the naïve approach become visible as Avner corners the first name on the list. He fumbles as he pulls his gun from his pants and almost lowers it while the condemned begs for his life. Is this really going to help change the future for the better? No. However, the alternative is to take the Munich injustice sitting down.

MUNICH is not just a moral conflict story about the nature of right and wrong despite watching heroes become detached from the brutality of their lives. It is also an energetic thriller. Spielberg has delivered so many solid, enjoyable popcorn movies in the past and here he brings his knowledge and applies it to the tragic underbelly of humanity. The unofficial Mossad kill team are natural underdogs because of their small, humble lives and not because they’re Jewish. They travel from one European city to the next, gathering information on the locations of the names on their list and carrying out their duty to kill these men. Spielberg brings so much humanity to these hunts. Innocent bystanders’ lives are often threatened or ended and even the men they are meant to kill have families and fragility. The heroes also make small, potentially disastrous errors on their missions. This all leads to the paranoia and confusion over whether they’re making these mistakes or are outsiders setting them up to make them. In some, the paranoia leads to guilt while in others, the guilt leads to insanity. And as if the viewer weren’t in enough despair already, Spielberg doesn’t show the Munich massacre at the beginning of the film to charge the audience behind the Israelis. Instead he reveals the developing details at different intervals throughout the film to remind the viewer how this particular mission began. And as we are wrapped up in the intrigue and morality of this mission, these violent flashbacks serve also as reminders to the team of a reality they had long left behind out of necessity.

Of course the Israel/Palestine conflict did not begin with the Munich Olympics killings. And Spielberg does not tell the story of the mindset behind the men who carried out that mission. If he did though, I would imagine there would be just as much torment in the minds of those killers as the killers who are this film’s heroes. MUNICH does not pass judgment on nations but on mankind, asking us to find the better way. As the Israel/Palestine conflict is not over, nor the numerous other needlessly violent world conflicts, and though MUNICH takes a rather violent approach to advocate peace, it still makes a powerful and intelligent argument for immediate change.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway

Jack Twist: I wish I knew how to quit you.

Before the accolades began falling around Ang Lee’s modern western, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, hype had already planted its spurs into the public’s anticipation. It was becoming known as “The Gay Cowboy Movie.” Yes, it’s gay and yes, the leads are cowboys, but that title doesn’t do justice to the love that grows between these two men throughout the span of a twenty-year period. A love that lasts that long despite every challenge is the foundation of a good home. It cannot be explained or defined; it merely is. The fact that it is between two men is not relevant. All that matters is that the love itself lives on and the two affected by that pull are man enough to face it.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is a quiet film that takes place in a simpler time. Conversations don’t run long or deep; the buildings in town are no more than two stories high; and work involves using your hands when you can find it. And if you were a man, you made sure you found that work to ensure having enough money to raise the family you were about to create. There was no time to waste wondering about where your life could take you as the life that you had brought with it certain responsibilities. If that meant herding sheep up on Brokeback Mountain all summer, then you made sure you were the first in line to get that job. The first two in line for the job here are Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively).

Ennis and Jack meet each other in silence outside an office where they await work orders. And though they say nothing until they both have the job and are sharing a drink in celebration, they sneak glances when the other isn’t looking. It isn’t long before they’re on the mountain, a mountain of immense beauty with lively rivers and protective forestry. The sheep they are herding move up the mountain in waves and flow like the river they walk alongside. And once the two men, their dog and the hundreds of sheep have reached their camp, the foundation of love begins to be laid down. Amidst the purity of the nature that surrounds them, something innately natural begins to emerge, tying these two men together in a way they had never expected. They build themselves a home without even realizing, as one tends to the camp all day while the other goes out to labour with the sheep. When Jack no longer wants to eat beans, Ennis makes sure to get soup despite his distaste for it. When Ennis cuts his head after being thrown from his horse, Jack is there with a wet towel to wipe away the blood. Their caring is shown through actions that come without thinking. They may not be able to verbalize the compassion one has for the other but the words aren’t necessary anyway. The trust they build opens the door for the men to share about their past lives and future hopes, neither having felt this safe with someone else before. And as their intimacy deepens, they are seen wearing less clothing, lingering longer before looking away until, on one cold night, Ennis joins Jack in the tent for a night that changes their lives forever.

It is one thing to walk around all day after you’ve had sex the night before when you weren’t expecting to. It is a whole other thing when you’ve had that sex with someone of the same sex when you didn’t think that was who you were. And it is yet another thing entirely when that someone is someone you care about. This turmoil can be read all over the face of Ennis, played with a fierce stoicism by Ledger whose silence screams how deeply he internalizes his confusion. Jack on the other hand, will not say how much he loves Ennis but will sing loud and proud about his happiness. And though the two will reach an understanding that their lives are not complete without each other, the complicated nature of their relationship creates a direct contrast to the simplicity that surrounds them. Consequently, this complexity seeps into their regular every day lives, threatening everything they’ve worked for.

The women of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN give varied perspectives on how it was to be married to Ennis and Jack throughout all those years. As Ennis’ wife, Alma, Michelle Williams, in a revelatory and eruptive performance, looks used and defeated as the years press on. She is introduced as boisterous and as a lover who might actually have a chance of getting into Ennis’ heart. In time, the obvious nature of Ennis’ relationship with Jack becomes as impossible to ignore as her disgust is to put into words. In drastic contrast, Jack’s marriage to Lureen (Anne Hathaway) is transactional. Neither feigns any love for the other and both are content with their arrangement. In fact, Jack has found a woman man enough to rationalize being married to a woman. Lureen’s lack of interest in her husband leaves Hathaway with a cold, distant performance while Williams’ performance is fueled by so many inner conflicts – love for her husband, hatred for his infidelity, disgust over his homosexuality, fear for her future and her children’s future – that she always looks unsettled, tense and desperate.

Outside world left outside, Lee’s love story is both tender and tragic. Gustavo Santaolalla’s somber acoustic guitar score carries you gently along for the journey as it exposes all the trappings life has to offer. Ennis himself says it best when he says, “If you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it.” And this certainly applies to his career of unsteady work or loveless marriage. Jack knows better though. Jack knows that Ennis and him have what it takes to have the good life, that they’re love is the kind that everyone wishes they had. Theirs is a love is that helps you through your problems if you let it grow but it is also a love that brings you nothing but trouble if you keep it all boxed up.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is an important film and one that I’ve been looking forward to all year. It is a film that transcends its homosexual imagery, allowing for the communication of the basic elements of the story to reach the viewer, any viewer. I took a deep breath before watching in an attempt to remove some of my expectations but I’m glad to say that it was everything I had hoped for it to be. Lee has created a benchmark film about how love can take hold of any two people at any time. I cried three times before the credits ran and was barely able to speak after the lights came up. My big, tall cowboy hat is off to you, Mr. Lee.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Written by Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody and Jack Black

Writer's Note: My apologies for giving away the entire plot but c'mon, you knew it already.

Dance, human! Dance! As King Kong watches Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow juggle, make funny faces, do summersaults, all in an effort to communicate with this giant ape who has taken her captive, he can’t seem to bring himself to accept her as the sacrifice she was intended. Laughter has bridged the gap between beauty and beast and allowed what seemed like a hopeless situation for Darrow become a comforting one. It is a pivotal moment that showcases the deeper meaning of KING KONG, Peter Jackson’s three-hour epic remake. This twist of fate reveals Kong as sensitive, docile, misunderstood, a simple monkey trapped in a 25-foot ape’s body, who just needed someone to listen, to look past the roaring tower of strength and intimidation and see the monkey within. It is touching, moving and, perhaps most importantly a great technical feat, but it is pretty much all there is in terms of depth. Kong’s style may be impressive, but its size and scope do not lead to substance. And its grandeur leaves you thinking there has to be something more to this.

The first act presents Jack Black, trying as hard as he might to play a serious role as reputable film director, Carl Denham, who has a gigantic vision that frightens his producers. They gripe that his films run too long, that he may be ambitious but he can just as easily lose control of the budget. (By the by, did you happen to hear how expensive Mr. Jackson’s KING KONG ended up being?) The parallels cannot help but be drawn and though his films deliver twice over at the box office, I feel a hint of cockiness here. Really, this whole storyline was completely unnecessary. Denham proceeds to steal film stock from his producers when he overhears they aren’t interested in backing him any further before boarding a ship, with both a sea and a film crew, heading to the undiscovered territory known as Skull Island. The boat ride is awash with subplots that get lost at sea and jokes that fall flat in the water. I felt like I was drifting.

Until finally, Skull Island is accidentally discovered. Once the crew sets foot on this eerie isle, the film grabs your senses and shakes them repeatedly. Jackson’s imagination takes to the screen as Darrow, Denham, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and the numerous other seamen fight their way out of one harrowing situation after another and another and another! Tribe people who look like apple granny dolls with stakes through their noses and eyes rolled back in their heads, make way for swamp creatures that turned my stomach over and over while I turned my frightened eyes away from the screen. The crew try to wiggle their way out of dinosaur stampedes and an ambush of legions of over-sized insects. All the while, they search for Anne Darrow with the threat of King Kong looming over all their narrow escapes.

Watts makes Anne Darrow, and KING KONG itself, worth all this effort. She is luminous and charming as a vaudevillian actress who just wants to bring a little laughter to this troubled world. She communicates emotions as vast as fear, love, sympathy and hope through her eyes and body movements, as her co-star doesn’t speak any language she might know. By the time she is atop the Empire State building with Kong during the iconic climax, her lips say nothing as her eyes scream her disgust for the brutality her fellow humans have shown this gentle creature.

As Kong struggles to hold on atop the Empire State, masses of people wait for him to fall. Their faces exude superiority, not the kind felt by the privileged, but the kind felt by the entire human race that there is no other species above us. Suddenly, Jackson’s intentions shine through like the sunset of a CGI sky. As Kong falls from his perch, mankind can rest easy once again, having conquered its fear with violence and destruction and without having bothered once again to understand the unfamiliar. Luckily for Kong, Anne Darrow was there with love in her eyes before he fell.