Kong: Skull Island – Ape For The Seventies (BRWC)

Upcoming creature feature Kong: Skull Island stomps into cinemas this week, bringing with it a strong Seventies flavour. From the Apocalypse Now-inspired atmosphere to a retro soundtrack, Warner Bros/Legendary have gone all out to deliver the monstrous companion piece to Jaws the decade arguably never had.

Unusual though it may seem to be taken back to the era of hang glider collars and epic flares, it’s a move that makes more sense than you think. While the Mighty Kong has been going since the Thirties, the really interesting and unique examples of his exploits occurred forty years later.

So take your eyes off Tom Hiddleston’s chest, put on your porn star sunglasses and let’s get funky with some of the Eighth Wonder’s wildest moments…

 

KONG: THE ICE POP

Toward the end of the decade, and a couple of years after the derided big screen reimagining, ice cream behemoth Walls decided it was time for a range of frozen treats based on everyone’s favourite primate.

There was only one flavour the makers could have opted for – banana. Well, the beast was also partial to human flesh but this would have been controversial. Sweetening the deal quite literally with toffee, the product was advertised using a comic strip targeted at ape/calorie fans in England.

Ann Darrow’s hairy boyfriend wasn’t the most obvious choice for a kids’ snack, yet has featured on the packaging of numerous edibles over the decades. The Seventies ice pop is a fondly-remembered case in point.

 

KONG: THE KITTEN

There have been various spoofs of the movie legend, but one of the more well-known is also the most surreal. In 1972 comic trio The Goodies gave us their furball-fuelled take, entitled Kitten Kong.

To say stars Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor weren’t afraid to be silly on national TV is an understatement. The plot, such as it was, featured laconic boffin Garden increasing a kitten to awesome proportions via a self-created growth formula, after which it went on a devastating yet hilarious rampage through the streets of London.

Its defining moment was a recreation of the iconic Empire State Building sequence, only supplementing Kong and the skyscraper with a feisty feline (‘Twinkle’) and the capital’s Post Office Tower.

 

KONG: ALIEN WARRIOR

Just when it seemed the Seventies couldn’t get any stranger for the misunderstood monkey, along came a sci-fi element in the form of tiny extraterrestrials, who saw Kong as the last great hope for their civilization.

Published in Mexico in 1979, King Kong In The Microcosmos saw the mighty mammal taken away from our planet and miniaturized by micro-soldiers looking to get the upper hand in an alien war.

The innovative and downright bizarre plan had the title character returned to full size for the ultimate surprise attack on the infinitesimal enemy. This series was one of a range of printed adventures for Kong in Latin America.

 

KONG: IN BIRMINGHAM

Less exotic climes awaited our dino-smashing antihero in the early part of the decade, when British industrial heartland Birmingham played host to a titanic statue of Hollywood’s ultimate showbiz diva – coincidentally in the same year Kitten Kong hit TV screens.

The fibreglass construction was less dangerous than the real thing, though at eighteen feet in height it certainly scared many a child in the city’s popular Bull Ring shopping centre.

Commissioned as an arts project, it was even dressed up as Santa Claus during the holiday season, before being sold off due to lack of sponsorship. Even the Mighty Kong can’t fight the power of the local authorities.

 

KONG: THE QUEEN

Long before the likes of The Asylum were taking off major blockbusters, British star Robin Askwith found himself at the receiving end of a female version of the banana-breathed island dweller. The idea was to capitalize on the Jessica Lange-starring King Kong. What to call this blatant cash in flick from 1976? What else…? Queen Kong.

Askwith was associated with numerous sex comedies of the era such as the Confessions… series, so you can guess the tone of this bawdy romp. Character names like “Luce Habit” and “Ima Goodbody” made this more Austin Powers than H Rider Haggard. The Empire State Building was naturally replaced by Big Ben.

Unlike other knock offs of the period, Queen Kong had her exploits stamped on by remake producer Dino De Laurentiis and originator RKO, finally getting a major release on DVD a quarter of a century later.

 

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

If the Seventies connection to Kong wasn’t clear to you by now, then prepare to have it well and truly hammered home by the latest addition to the franchise, Skull Island. The story takes place in 1973, just as the decade was starting to cook. Rugged yet dashing Brit military hero Tom Hiddleston signs up for an expedition to a truly mysterious land mass, under the command of John Goodman’s shadowy government paymaster.

Their mission is simple, both in a narrative and box office sense – get to Skull Island and obtain proof of the fantastic beasts said to dwell there. Cue the requisite payload of CGI wonders, headed by the baddest fruit-fancier of them all, Kong.

Judging by early reviews helmer Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his team have evoked the period to perfection, from the whining guitars on the soundtrack to the exotic powder keg of a script, which blends high adventure with a psychedelic vibe. That’s not forgetting the sight of Hiddleston, Brie Larson and Samuel L Jackson roaming around in khaki fashions. The last time Kong had a major release in the Seventies was via the De Laurentiis furfest, showcasing a King who was far than regal. There are no men in monkey suits here. Skull Island seems set to banish the memory of Lange’s enormous yet rubbery admirer forever.

 

This article first appeared on BRWC

Twin Peaks: A Lynching Part One (Strange Skins Digital)

The return of Twin Peaks should not be underestimated. Other offerings from the Nineties are back in force, like faded pop stars cashing in with a reunion tour. Peaks was always different. It was network programming with an art house sensibility, cunningly clad in the wardrobe of a Fifties soap opera. Co-created by David Lynch, it brought cinematic production values to the small screen and set a benchmark for the future direction of showrunner-led drama. It certainly lost the plot during its second season, yet remained a different kettle of fish throughout. Or more appropriately a piscine-infused percolator.                                                                                                                                                                                                         I got into the series during my turbulent teens, where its angst-ridden weirdness and distinctive characters struck a deep chord. Many of us assumed we’d never see the “place both wonderful and strange” again. Our hero Special Agent Dale Cooper was trapped in the upholstered netherworld of the Black Lodge and he would seemingly be there forever. Lynch vetoed all attempts to revive the concept. His parting shot,  prequel film Fire Walk With Me, famously opened with a TV set being smashed to fragments. Then came the news no-one ever thought they’d hear: Lynch and writer Mark Frost had re-teamed and the show was opening its portals to viewers a quarter of a century later.

In 1990 I was ready for Twin Peaks, I just hadn’t realized it at that precise moment. The saga quickly gained an inexorable hold on my melting pot of a mind. One of the cleverest things about the show was its deceptive air of cosy familiarity, despite frequent punctuations of shocking content. I looked back fondly at that period and thought I knew what to expect from my favourite programme. Boy was I ever wrong!

To date I’ve watched the first four episodes, cannily released in as big a chunk as Lynch would allow. My reaction to the first hour or so of the double-length opener was one of vague disappointment. It appeared to be a new Lynch project with elements of Peaks in the background. However the deliberately slow pace, combined with a constant undercurrent of menace, kept me interested. If you’ve seen the director’s Lost Highway or Inland Empire then this belated third season gives viewers something similar. The icy and detached atmosphere felt far removed from the little town we know and love. Much of the action takes place elsewhere, in big, anonymous spaces like New York and Las Vegas.

What I and no doubt many others were waiting for was to welcome Agent Cooper back into our lives. Lynch and Frost wisely include him early on in a cryptic sequence featuring the Giant (Carel Struycken, who is a bit shrunken these days) but he disappears after this to be replaced by new characters. These additions – featuring in disparate, Mulholland Drive-style plot strands – are fine, albeit there to act as chess pieces in the grand scheme. Unlike the original series the acting is rather stilted in places. This works well in terms of unsettling the audience but makes it tough to get invested.

As it transpires a few of them are soon out of the picture, most notably Sam (Ben Rosenfield) and Tracey (Madeline Zima), who are pretty much there to strip off and make out in front of a mysterious glass box he’s supposed to be observing. What happens to them is the revival’s first big scare and it certainly delivers. It’s worth mentioning here that Twin Peaks: The Return is much grislier than its predecessor, a quality Lynch blends with the abstract to striking effect.

Episode two gives us a proper reunion with Cooper in the red-curtained realm and promptly aces our expectations, via an absolutely extraordinary chain of bizarre and eerie events. The most surprising thing about this resurrection for me so far is the way Lynch and Frost seek to explain early on aspects that have been the source of rampant speculation for twenty-five years. Peaks was never heavy on exposition, in fact there was virtually none. But I guess they’ve made fans wait long enough – bold moves indicate fresh and exciting directions for the mythology of the Black Lodge.

Put simply, the creators do not mess about. The arrival of a tree with what appears to be a talking brain for a head takes Lynchians firmly back to the days of Eraserhead and its rubberized ghouls. The story then begins to tie in with the journey of Cooper’s doppelgänger, who replaced his likeness in the real world and has been roaming the land causing mayhem since the previous run ended.

There’s a rewarding sense of the strands coming together, which becomes increasingly apparent across episodes three and four. The writers have taken the  intelligent decision to show how the strange goings-on in Twin Peaks affected the country as a whole, before slowly drawing us back to the town for what is presumably going to be a hell of a showdown between the two Coops.

We’ve never known quite what to expect with this show. It’s gotten broader and wilder since we last saw it. The curveballs really do curve. Hopefully the fuller emphasis on arthouse will reap the benefits and Showtime will be happy with their investment. They surely expected it to be challenging, but maybe not this challenging. Still, like the various people who’ve tried to access the Black Lodge over the years, they wanted to get in. And once you’re in, getting out is a whole other matter.

 

This article first appeared in Strange Skins Digital.

‘Neruda’ Review (The Hollywood News)

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With non-centrist politics and concepts of left and right starting to gain a foothold in the mainstream media after a long period away, it’s timely that Pablo Larraín (director of Jackie) has made Neruda. Based on true events, it gives an account of Chilean Communist politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), whose opposition to the American-influenced regime of President Videla led to him going on the run in 1948, with ambitious fascist detective Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) in hot pursuit.

Neruda isn’t just a man of the people but a revered poet, so has a hold on the oppressed populace that the authorities can’t match. Despite not being able to leave the country, he manages to hide in plain sight thanks to his extensive support network – a source of frustration to Peluchonneau, who feels the weight of his illustrious father behind him and is determined to make his mark on history by apprehending the rogue senator. At the core of the drama is the interaction between these two men, who barely meet, yet constantly speculate about one another via narration. It should be said this is one of the few cases I’ve experienced where a film is best enjoyed if you speak the language. The subtitles and similarity in the actors’ voices made it confusing for me to work out who was speaking at times, though this is a minor quibble.

The creation of art plays an increasingly significant role in the action, the chase being depicted as an epic narrative with Neruda wielding the pen. Though Peluchonneau also has his artistic side, grappling with the conventional crime novels Neruda leaves him by way of a tease at each location where he inevitably eludes his pursuer. With his short stature and sniffer dog features, Bernal is a dynamic but doomed figure. He starts off thinking he’s got his prey sussed out – “Communists don’t like to work, they’d rather burn churches,” he remarks at one point. However after a while he gradually begins to understand his role in Neruda’s story, leading towards an unexpected destiny. This idea is given free rein in an abstract last third, which will either be emotionally satisfying or a baffling curveball depending on your view.

Gnecco projects an understated charisma as Neruda, in a portrayal that appears to be very much warts and all. He is a great artist but is also shown as a frequenter of prostitutes and a stubborn friend and husband, giving his protectors the slip to go wandering and turning his anger on those who love him. He is caught in that strange place between man and legend, at one with the people whilst associating with the elite. A particularly interesting scene is when he’s challenged in a restaurant by a member of the public who asks in the event of his taking charge: “Will we be equal to him or equal to me?” These aspects of his character are ably brought to life by the actor. You can’t help but be reminded of Jeremy Corbyn, who’s fond of quoting Shelley to inspire voters and perceived as part of an upper echelon that apparently contradicts his populist stance.

Larraín ensures the world of freedom and imagination is never far away, from his use of deliberately retro back projection during car scenes to the jump cuts which create a jarring yet dreamlike effect during some of the exchanges.

This is a film of delicate twists and turns and it doesn’t arrive at the brutal conclusion you might think it would. At the same time it gives you a fascinating portrait of someone who believed that one day love and hope would ultimately triumph over fear.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

Logan: Comic Books Characters Transformed By The Movies (BRWC)

Those anticipating Hugh Jackman’s last roll of the dice as Wolverine will have noticed something different about the clawed crusader. Publicity for the film depicts Logan as he’s never been seen on the big screen before. With this fresh visual take on an MCU stalwart about to slash its way into cinemas, now is a good time to look back at other classic comic book characters who got a major makeover, courtesy of those handed the keys to their respective franchises.

Sometimes a visionary director will dictate a new style. Sometimes a new element will be brought in from the printed page, as yet unknown to a casual audience. And every so often sheer lunacy rules the day! Either way, the business of bringing these illustrated icons to life in a movie is one fraught with peril, as the beady eyes of comic book fans prepare to deliver their all-important verdict. Who got it right and who burned in the fires of online forum hell forever…?

Read on…