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

Batman: The Killing Joke DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

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DC’s Cinematic Universe is getting a rough deal with critics, but the brand can take solace in the fact its animated division is a runaway success story by comparison. From Batman: The Animated Series onwards, they’ve maintained a consistently high standard and it made sense for the company’s best-loved graphic novels to start getting the adaptation treatment.

Classic Joker tome The Killing Joke had everything going for it on paper: innovative writing, striking art and a definitive stand off between two iconic characters. Unfortunately for movie producers the book is on the slender side. In attempting to expand it to feature length director Sam Liu and writer Brian Azzarello wind up hitting some obstacles.

Overall the script captures the main and somewhat controversial events of the source material. Following an uninteresting additional segment in which Batgirl attempts to earn her stripes alongside the Dark Knight, we get to the meat of the matter – the Clown Prince of Crime’s diabolical and kinky plot to unhinge Commissioner Gordon as a fatal blow against his mortal enemy.

In what is seemingly his swan-song as the animated Joker, Mark Hamill bows out in customary style. His voice has notably aged, giving the villain’s machinations a rich and deeply sinister quality. He’s by far the strongest element of a production that is seriously close to the bone by Saturday morning cartoon standards. However in presenting the tale within the awkward framework of a tinkered narrative Azzarello and Liu highlight the film’s main flaw: the story works much better on the page. The tragedy of the Joker’s past and the ruminative nature of his “final” confrontation with Batman is perhaps best appreciated in pencil and ink, where comic writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland‘s masterpiece could be absorbed at a slower speed. Here they’re brief and intriguing but nothing like as powerful.

Fans of the novel might also be disappointed that Bolland’s work is paid lip service only, replaced by a standardized animation style that doesn’t make an impact outside of the odd intricate backdrop or movie reference (if you liked Christopher Nolan‘s take, there’s a brief moment that’ll tickle you).

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Tara Strong) is given more to do, but the development tails off, with an epilogue of sorts tacked onto the conclusion and arguably fudging it. The famous ending is recreated from the book whilst also cutting through its ambiguity.

I’m really not sure what the character of bog standard Romeo gangster Paris Franz (Maury Sterling) was supposed to bring to proceedings. He merely adds to the icky atmosphere of sexual violence that wasn’t strictly required. Kevin Conroy goes gravelly as Batman, though disappointingly the cowled hero fades into the background for this outing. Twin Peaks legend Ray Wise voices the Commissioner – while Wise is a great actor his performance for me was too genial. I’d’ve paid good money to hear his version of the Joker though!

The result pales next to the original, but then that was always a safe bet. Reworking Moore (uncredited as usual) showed a level of insanity befitting the movie’s antagonist and a straight and shorter translation of the text could have hit home harder. Despite this, The Killing Joke gives an impression of the pitch black innards of the novel, and for that at least it deserves some praise.

This review first appeared on The Hollywood News

Male, Murky & Mysterious: ‘The Nice Guys’ Feature (The Hollywood News)

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Pectoral-happy power couple Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are barging their way into UK cinemas for action buddy comedy The Nice Guys. This mix of knockabout antics and crime, set against a sleazy 1970s backdrop, has yielded decent reviews (we here at THN loved it), while at the same time adding to the bulging genre of films where men stumble around trying to see the wood for the trees.

When it comes to a mystery, it pays to send men equipped with both fists and wits to sort it out. There’s something about the traditional gumshoe, or the bloke who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, that lends itself to this situation. Whether a lone operator or, better still, a spiky partnership, it makes that journey all the more entertaining, especially when you throw in aspects that make guys easily distracted, such as women and alcohol.

Join us as we wake bleary-eyed at our desk, take a swig from the bottle of whisky in the filing cabinet and pull our fedora down against the LA sunshine, venturing out to investigate the very best the movie world has to offer when it comes to the male, the murky and the mysterious…

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT

ITHOFT1967 saw a powder keg of a scenario brought to the screen by director Norman Jewison, and at its centre was one of cinema’s most incendiary and groundbreaking partnerships: Sidney Poitier as progressive detective Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger as bigoted Mississippi police chief Bill Gillespie.

With a high profile murder case on the go, Steiger made the brilliant mistake of detaining tourist Poitier on suspicion of the crime. When it transpired the detainee was in fact an off-duty investigator, the curmudgeonly racist employed him to help track down the killer. The pair went on to form a reluctant alliance, delving into a prickly hotbed of prejudice and close-knit community secrets.

The characters (created by novelist John Ball) were reunited in a long-running TV show of the same name, though the leads didn’t return. However Poitier’s protagonist starred in two big screen Tibbs-centric sequels.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI

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Jeff Bridges‘ dazed and confused amateur sleuth Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski became our guide through the Coen Brothers‘ hard-boiled maze of Chandleresque LA surrealism in 1998. By the end of the story he was none the wiser. His head hurt and so did ours, but our sides were thoroughly split from laughing.

Seeking recompense from a local business titan after his carpet was wrongly urinated on, “The Dude” found himself charged with locating the man’s porn-star-slash-trophy-bride (Tara Reid), accompanied by his bowling buddies – disturbed Vietnam vet Walter (John Goodman) and timid Donny (Steve Buscemi). Along the way they encountered such warped examples of the male species as Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), as well as some questionable cases of the female variety (via Julianne Moore‘s hectoring and pretentious Maude Lebowski).

The movie entered the cult bracket and, since the Coens aren’t known for their interest in sequels, sadly that was the last we saw of Bridges and company. Despite the lack of a narrative continuation his outlook on life has managed to live on, through the unexpected offshoot religion “Dudeism”.

LA CONFIDENTIAL

LACA year earlier moviegoers had witnessed another tangled neo-noir web of crime in the City of Angels. This time the action went back several decades, for Curtis Hanson‘s adaptation of James Ellroy‘s dark saga of law enforcement in Hollywood. Film stars, fist-wielding cops and shark-like journalists all rubbed shoulders.

The unlikely trio of neat ‘n tidy newbie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), growly hard nut Bud White (Russell Crowe again) and pampered TV police show advisor Frank Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) began to realize things weren’t quite as upstanding at the LAPD as they liked to think. Between them they uncovered a network of corruption, with their boss Captain Smith (James Cromwell) at its rotten core. Kim Basinger memorably played a Tinseltown prostitute, and is reunited with Crowe for The Nice Guys.

Like In The Heat Of The Night the scenario went to TV, starring Kiefer Sutherland among others. But that particular investigation never got beyond pilot stage. Hanson’s sleaze-mired Oscar winner remains the definitive screen version.

KISS KISS BANG BANG

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The Nice Guys writer/director Shane Black is no stranger to testosterone-fuelled team ups. In 2005 he took former Batman Val Kilmer and future Iron Man Robert Downey Jr and put them together for another Movieland-set romp involving a dead girl and a mystery.

Charged by Michelle Monaghan‘s actress Harmony with finding out why her sister committed suicide, Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr) and Perry van Shrike (Kilmer) entered a world of smoke, mirrors, sex and violence in a bid to get to the bottom of the murky matter. Of course things weren’t what they seemed – Lockhart was actually a burglar who’d accidentally wangled his way into Hollywood, and van Shrike the genuine snooper helping him with his role.

The result brought Lethal Weapon creator Black back to the forefront, gave Kilmer his best part in years and lit the blue touchpaper under superhero Downey Jr. It was a project that cleared the cobwebs for all their careers.

THE NICE GUYS

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Black is hoping another mismatched male combo will get asses on seats for this hunky comedy detective flick. And if you’re looking for two actors who can get the female half of the population interested, you could do a lot worse than Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. In a way they’re kind of the ultimate odd couple. The star of Gladiator meeting the leading man of Drive? Both have serious reputations but seem to exist in different movie spheres.

The story sees them initially as enemies. Nattily-dressed private dick Holland March (Gosling) is looking into the disappearance of Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), but the pursuit gets complicated when Amelia takes on heavy for hire Jackson Healy (Crowe) to “persuade” March to back off. It isn’t long before both men have to join forces against the criminal underworld, who have their own sinister reasons for wanting to get hold of the wayward girl. Can Crowe and Gosling wrap things up before they get stamped on…?

With a publicity tour that’s been more engaging than most due to the stars’ natural awkwardness toward each other and a helmer with proper action comedy credentials, it seems The Nice Guys isn’t going to have a problem attracting men and women alike. Will it be a dead cert for box office greatness, or simply wind up deceased? That’s a question not even Philip Marlowe could answer.

This feature first appeared on THN.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Skinny

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As a single man with too much time on his hands, it’s almost my duty to notice women in popular culture. Be they on the internet, magazine covers, TV shows or movies, the reliance of the media on attractive faces and physiques is always going to be a draw for the average testicle-laden consumer.

While I share the world’s concerns that undernourished girls create a terrible impression for young audiences, I don’t find anything objectionable about being skinny per se. Just as some like to eat and be plump, others shun sustenance and shed the pounds. However something is happening in the film franchise world that’s so obvious even an easily-distracted lunkhead like me can see it.

It started when pictures began emerging from the set of Baywatch. Now I’m approaching forty and back in the day there was one reason we bothered with Baywatch, and it wasn’t to do with Hasselhoff and his barely-controlled pecs. It was good-looking girls in swimsuits, the most famous of which was curvy campaigner Pamela Anderson.

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Fast forward a couple of decades and Dwayne Johnson wants to have some fun reviving the saga of spume and slow motion. A driving force behind the release, he’s clearly having a blast but he’s getting something wrong. Two beautiful actresses have been cast – Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach, the latter inheriting the boob-tastic mantle from Anderson as CJ Parker. But they’re way too thin. Reflective of the times, they’re sporting lean physiques which err on the side of dietary concern.

Now you could argue this is an update and that lifeguards would find bearing their own hefty flotation devices impractical. Okay. One problem – it’s a tribute to Baywatch, not reality, and I find it disappointing they didn’t honour the fuller frames of the past, choosing to equate weight loss with desirability.

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Gal Gadot is about to power onto movie screens in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. She’s playing Wonder Woman, the Amazonian ass-kicker with the gold lasso and thighs you could crack walnuts with. Gadot’s certainly put herself through her paces but for my money she’s too slight. The spirit of Lynda Carter‘s Seventies incarnation lives on it seems, and again a particular body image is going to be everywhere for young girls to see.

Guys, this is a guy talking! I’m not going to shout too loudly if you’re squeezing Daddario into a barely-there ensemble. Try however to understand that you’re unleashing these movies on the (Daily) planet, not just a clutch of randy dudes with inky fingers.

Men, Motors & Meltdowns – A MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Feature (The Hollywood News)

mad-max-fury-road-590x366 It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you stick cars and explosions in a movie, men will go and see it. The FAST & FURIOUS franchise has clocked up a ridiculous number of miles at the box office and now another series is about to join the fun, set in the future but resurrected from a seemingly-dormant past.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD takes us back to the dusty, post-apocalyptic world of Max Rockatansky, a man as burned by tragedy as by the relentless Outback sun. Originally played by Mel Gibson, this time round rising Brit Tom Hardy adopts the mantle (and indeed the accent) for a blistering thrill ride of machine-based mayhem that has had even the most genteel critics foaming at the mouth.

Though Charlize Theron provides equal star power as Imperator Furiosa, it’s safe to say this film is largely one for the boys. So with that in mind, THN are taking a less-than-leisurely trip along the highway of man-angst. Hot engines and noisy exhausts are the order of business as we get under the hood of this staple genre that shows no signs of conking out…

DENNIS WEAVER – DUEL (1971)

Dennis-Weaver-DuelOur first choice is a man who starts off as just another traveller on the road, and winds up a hunted animal pursued by a relentless truck which doesn’t take kindly to being overtaken in the heat of the California desert. I mention the truck as a character in the movie because you never find out who’s driving it, making the monstrous vehicle a key player in the tense battle of wits and wheels.

Star Dennis Weaver was familiar as the affable father in bear-based kids TV classic Gentle Ben, so for audiences to see his nerves literally shredding onscreen became an increasingly traumatic experience. Weaver’s David Mann is a salesman who’d have difficulty saying boo to a goose. By the end he’s capable of snapping its beak and pulling eggs out of its butt.

Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, DUEL is best-known as the film that launched the career of a certain Steven Spielberg. Beginning life as a TV movie, it soon gained the momentum to be released in cinemas. Unlike Weaver, Spielberg never needed to look back.

RYAN GOSLING – DRIVE (2011)

RyanGoslingDriveWeaver played an innocent man caught up in a motorized death match not of his making. Ryan Gosling’s character in the next selection, however, lives his life in the driver’s seat of danger and excitement. Working a dual life as a movie stunt driver and ace getaway jockey, his nameless figure is up to his neck in crime and fantasy.

That’s all well and good, until his cool, controlled Eighties-inspired existence is rocked by an entanglement with Carey Mulligan’s working mum Irene. Getting involved with her and her convict husband (Oscar Isaac) leads to the unravelling of The Driver’s knife-edge world. In the second half of the film he’s getting all Travis Bickle’y on the asses of the Jewish mafia as blood spurts and gaskets blow.

Nicolas Winding Refn brought James Sallis’s book to the big screen, establishing himself as a helmer of notoriety. He created a stylish universe where chaos was just around the bend, light years away from the rusty, dusty carnage of the MAD MAX franchise.

TOM HARDY – LOCKE (2013)

VIDEO-Festival-de-Venise-Tom-Hardy-en-pleine-course-contre-la-montre-dans-Locke_reference-1Weaver and Gosling had some extreme experiences, but at least they got to get out and stretch their legs. Concrete expert Ivan Locke spends the duration of his story stuck behind the wheel of his car with only voices for company. Over the course of an hour and a half his life is reduced to roadkill when he learns the woman he had a fling with is giving birth and decides to head for the capital to be with her.

Only trouble is, he’s supposed to be supervising a major construction project and returning to his wife and children. Attempting to negotiate this perilous road over the phone leads to him using the vehicle as a makeshift office for his tortured soul. Everything except the new arrival is demolished by the time he reaches his destination.

Mixing the atmosphere of a road movie with the intimacy of a radio play, writer/director Steven Knight crafted a memorable trip into one man’s embittered pysche. And look who played the central character – rebooted MAD MAX Tom Hardy!

GUY PEARCE – THE ROVER (2014)

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Our penultimate man whose mental tailpipe is a little clogged takes the malnourished, feral shape of Guy Pearce in THE ROVER. Eric lives in an Australian wilderness which plays host to the remnants of society following an economic collapse.  When a gang of thieves steal his car he gives chase. There’s something in the boot that’s precious to him, though quite what isn’t revealed until the closing moments. Whatever it is, he sure is determined to get it.

Of all the entries on this list, Eric is the closest to the character of Max. Obviously he’s from The Land Down Under, but the setting clearly echoes the fuel-famished wastelands Rockatansky patrols. Eric used to be a civilized guy, until a tragic event shaped his life in the maelstrom of the financial crash.

Writer/director David Michôd gave Pearce a human dimension of sorts by making him a father figure to Rey (Robert Pattinson), the wastrel the criminals leave behind. But redemption isn’t marked on Eric’s road map, and before long he’s surrounded by violence yet again.

TOM HARDY – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

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When Michôd was putting THE ROVER together, he probably didn’t suspect a new chapter of his movie’s spiritual ancestor lay ticking over in a layby, just waiting for the chance to screech into view. Thirty years in the offing, this fresh if mucky batch of skull-cracking petrol-incinerating action seemed like it was never going to happen. Yet director George Miller has managed to get his show on the tarmac, with Tom Hardy sweating it out amongst the fumes and foes.

It’s been a hell of a journey for the leather-clad dark knight of the roads so far. Beginning his saga of scorched innocence in 1979, Max saw his family slaughtered by a maniacal, ever-so-slightly camp biker gang. This turned him from law enforcer to revved-up vigilante. Having visited venegance on the murderers, 1980’s THE ROAD WARRIOR found him protecting a ragtag community from the nastier elements of the unforgiving four-wheeled dystopia. 1985’s troubled BEYOND THUNDERDOME had Max look after a group of filthy-faced moppets whilst encountering Tina Turner’s Auntie Entity in the no-holds-barred arena of the title.

FURY ROAD looks to take the brand back to basics, with a generous helping of spectacular old-school stuntwork that’s been knocking the fanbelts off reviewers’ frazzled minds. The plot concerns Rockatansky’s skills being utilized by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who is fleeing the might of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) in order to save five “brides” who the villain intends to use as breeding stock.

By all accounts the movie is a triumphant comeback for Max after a lengthy period where it appeared he’d never get his engine going again. Judge for yourself – it’s out in cinemas now!

This feature appeared on The Hollywood News.