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

‘The Night Manager 2’ & Other Unnecessary Sequels (The Hollywood News)

Richard Roper is locked up. His evil arms business has been shut down and the dashing Night Manager of the title survived with his hair in place and good looks intact. The end of the acclaimed BBC miniseries, based on the book by John Le Carré, brought with it an enormous sense of satisfaction. The story began. It held us enthralled for a few weeks. Then sadly it finished.

Or did it? Director Susanne Bier recently announced that development has begun on a follow-up script. It seems the broadcaster is thinking in terms of a franchise, and I for one am anxious. The original tale was so well told, what good could come from elaborating on it? In this era of binge-watching, it isn’t always the best idea to give viewers a tele-visual trough to gorge from. Surely sometimes one rattling good yarn is enough.

As the BBC head down what may be a disastrous path, let’s take a look at some other great shows that would have been better left as a one-time-only-type deal…

MURDER ONE

The first season of small screen pioneer Steven Bochco’s legal drama stood out from the pack, due to an innovative format which saw the entire run taken up with a juicy murder case. Boasting a charismatic, chrome-domed lead in Daniel Benzali, supported by the likes of Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson and Mary McCormack, the show was a forerunner of today’s tendency to devour a series in one sitting.

Unfortunately low audiences led to some fatal retooling for the second season, starting with the replacement of Benzali and a range of stories that failed to capture the imagination. Anthony LaPaglia tried his best to fill the shiny shoes of his predecessor but it seemed the creative team itself was on trial this time round. The verdict: cancellation.

TRUE DETECTIVE

In an age where TV dramas with big screen production values are commonplace, True Detective managed to plough a mighty furrow. The screen-burning combo of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson formed the epicenter of an intense and frightening journey into the dark heart of Louisiana, and the mind of a killer. Writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga worked exclusively on the whole season, giving it a consistent quality throughout.

However the decision to try and continue the series as an anthology turned out to be a misstep, despite the presences of Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell. Whilst the new narrative of inner city corruption in California was fertile ground for a crime saga, this second run never attracted the critical acclaim of the first, thanks to a tangled plot and a perceived lack of inspiration on Pizzolatto’s part.

BROADCHURCH

This British drama became a sensation during its first outing, the show’s Scandi Noir-inspired sensibility and slow-burning style reviving the corpse of the murder mystery genre. The revelation of who killed young Danny Latimer was carried on the front of every major newspaper the next day, audiences sharing the horror of stars David Tennant and The Night Manager‘s Olivia Colman. The title town would never be the same again, though the story appeared to come to an end once the crime had been solved. Creator Chris Chibnall had other ideas, announcing his intention to make the series the first in a trilogy.

Upon revisiting the seaside locale, it quickly became clear this strange direction was going to lead to a dead end. The Latimer thread received an unnatural extension, with the killer getting off thanks to the vagaries of the legal system. Meanwhile Chibnall inserted a backstory for Tennant’s abrasive detective in a less than compelling fashion. Series Three has been well-received, but Broadchurch must sadly live with the memory of a misfiring second instalment.

BLOODLINE

What looked on the surface to be yet another overheated family saga turned out to be anything but, as Bloodline took well-worn subject matter and made it soar in every department. The return of black sheep Ben Mendlesohn to the Rayburn fold and his subsequent web of lies and deceit spun toward a devastating Season 1 finale, the events of which were boldly revealed in advance at the end of the very first episode.

The mounting tension, as the Rayburns gradually pieced together what their brother had been up to with the clan’s hotel business, was nail-biting stuff, well-written and acted – set against the backdrop of the sweaty Florida Keys. With this tour-de-force of storytelling concluded, creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman opted to try and maintain the momentum, only this time minus Mendlesohn’s masterclass in conflicted villainy. After rave reviews for the first chapter, the reception for Season 2 was decidedly mixed. Why did they even bother?

THE NIGHT MANAGER

One of the most talked-about dramas of recent years, featuring a line up of British talent so hot you could toast a crumpet with it, The Night Manager took John Le Carré’s source novel (adapted by David Farr) and gave it a Bond-esque coat of gloss. In fact so convincing was Tom Hiddleston’s hero, the miniseries sparked strong rumours he was in line to inherit the mantle of 007 from Daniel Craig. This knuckle-gnawing suspense thriller about a hotel employee trying to bring down an international arms dealer (Hugh Laurie’s Richard Roper) had people tuning in by the millions.

Now the makers are attempting an audacious and arguably downright stupid manoeuvre: they are going to try and top one of Le Carré’s best-regarded works with their own sequel. Will Roper emerge from his exile (presuming he lived) to exact vengeance on Hiddleston’s frustratingly telegenic saboteur? Or is the title hunk of the hospitality industry about to further consolidate his status as a Bond in waiting with a whole new adventure, perhaps working undercover at a B & B?

How exactly it will pan out remains to be seen, but the BBC really are dancing on ice in steel-tipped clogs on this one. I enjoyed spending time with The Night Manager, but to be frank I’d rather check out while the going’s good.

 

This feature originally appeared on THN.

The Night Manager Review (The Hollywood News)

The Night ManagerThe British Broadcasting Corporation and novelist John Le Carré go way, way back. In 1979, we saw the classic TV adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which cast Alec Guinness as aloof manipulator George Smiley. It was so good that even Guinness himself couldn’t top it with Eighties follow-up Smiley’s People. You would have needed cajones made of brass to mount a production as ambitious again. Well, it has taken nearly 40 years but the Beeb have finally done it with The Night Manager.

Leading Brit of the moment Tom Hiddleston shares top billing as Jonathan Pine, a smooth-talking functionary at an Egyptian hotel, who is entrusted at random with a secret document by a female guest. When he passes the information onto a pal at the British Embassy the guest winds up brutally murdered and Pine is recruited by intelligence honcho Angela Burr (Olivia Colman). The undercover operation puts him on a collision course with the subject of the document – businessman turned arms dealer Richard Roper (Hiddleston’s co-star Hugh Laurie). Pine is Roper’s nemesis, though the target is totally unaware… or is he?

One of the great appeals of Le Carré is how he’s acted as an antidote to James Bond (he once described the character as a “neo-fascist gangster”). His heroes aren’t usually heroes. They skulk about concrete structures with coffee breath rather than drinking Martinis in tropical locations. The trick screenwriter David Farr and director Susanne Bier pull off is bringing a Bond-style sensibility to the table. Colman’s scheme to nail Laurie is textbook Le Carré, but the presence of Hiddleston and an arch villain with an opulent, gun ‘n girl-festooned lifestyle is pure Ian Fleming. They’ve managed to meld two sides of the coin and it’s worked to towering effect.

Above all the miniseries drips with coronary-inducing tension from episode to episode. The opener is so gripping you wonder how they’re going to maintain the atmosphere for another five hours, yet somehow they do it with the pace rarely slacking. Pine’s training in Cornwall is a bit vague. He’s despatched to the West Country to pose as a drug dealer in order to create a dark past for Roper to uncover, but it’s a necessary step to portray Hiddleston’s path back to violence. Pine was ex-military before he entered the hotel trade and while the star is less convincing as an action man he certainly has the physique to pulverize his opponents.

Hiddleston is a prettified version of the novel’s protagonist. However this gives him a vulnerability that works with the character and also indicates a great career in hospitality should the acting work ever dry up. Laurie delivers a masterclass in reptilian malevolence as Roper, and a juicy role facing 007 surely beckons. Burr’s role is similarly altered to that of a stressed and pregnant battleaxe. This route seems odd, but of course you should never underestimate Colman, just as you can’t pigeonhole Burr. Everyone does a decent job but from the supporting cast Tom Hollander stands out (he has to, he’s much shorter than everyone else) as Corky, Roper’s preening lieutenant. Hollander has played nasties before (in Joe Wright’s Hanna for example) but this is something else and the actor is frequently in danger of stealing scenes.

Special mention should go to titles designer Patrick Clair and his team at Elastic/Antibody, who have realized another stunning opening sequence. Showcasing various items of decadence that morph into deadly armaments, it’s effortlessly cool and sinister. Further proof that Clair is the master of bringing the cinematic to the small screen.

The show was introduced as a blockbuster, and they weren’t kidding. However The Night Manager is worth noting as a saga that’s packed with content, making it a rarity in the bloated arena of today’s television. It’s a lean, mean, intoxicating six-parter that leaves you fit to bursting but entirely satisfied by the final bang.

 

This review appeared on The Hollywood News.