First Great Theatrical Experience of 2017 — KONG : SKULL ISLAND in 3D!

It takes a lot to get me out to the theater these days. 2016 was one of my most anemic theater going years. Having only seen a couple movies in the theater (among them the excellent CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR).

The slow movie going year could be linked to several reasons, some personal and singular, and some endemic of larger more encompassing perspectives.

The rise of Netflix and Streaming options has brought cinema quality programming to your living room or bedroom, around your schedule. So no trying to make your schedule fit around a movie showing, and all the baggage of parking, and seats, and annoying crowds, and of course the expense.

So for those reasons and others the theater wasn’t top on my list in 2016.

2017 and I’m incentivized to see quite a few movies in the theater. One reason is the reopening of one of my favorite regional movie theaters, as an upscale adults only dinner and a movie venue.

Perfect for couples or close friends, I decided to check out a matinee showing of KONG : SKULL ISLAND over other available options at this theater (such as LOGAN and JOHN WICK II and GET OUT, all of which I intend to see) for the main reason I wanted to test out the spectacle and 3D quality of this new theater, and what better way than a loud, explosive, monster movie.

So I reserved my seats, picking the perfect seats of course, and quite impressed with their meal and drink menu. Forget the overpriced artery clogging Popcorn and Hotdogs and Candy that comprises the fare of your typical theater, this theater offered a full and quite impressive meal and drink menu, brought to your spacious clean, well kept seats, no less. We had the crabcakes, bistro burger, korean wings, with a Berry Blast drink for me and a Mocha Latte for her. And did I mention the excellent attentive service.

So we are planted in front our huge curved screen, it’s a matinee showing so not only do we have our whole row free, we have our whole section free, with probably a total of less than 20 people in the large yet intimate theater. Meaning the theater and screen is large, but the number of seats are few.

So that’s the setup. What about the movie?

The best part of the Peter Jackson 2005 KING KONG movie, was the one hour period on the island (once we get past Peter Jackson’s annoying portrayal of Native Life as monstrous, evil and subhuman), that one hour was fantastic sequences of monster and Kong Mayhem, and should have been the whole movie.

Once that movie leaves the island it loses all interest and excitement, crawling toward a tepid ending.

KONG:SKULL ISLAND, 12 years after Peter Jackson’s mistake, learns admirably from the flaws of his film, crafting an entire movie on Kong’s home, the Island of Monsters, Skull Island, and it is absolutely kick-ass!

The idea to set it in 1973, at a pivotal time for America and the World, I thought was a stroke of genius and gives real motivation to Samuel L. Jackson’s Ahab inclined character, who see’s in the monster of Kong, this fight, a chance to win the war that he was denied, to change shame into glory. I like the opening, the setup to the actual Mayhem that is Kong, quite a bit, which says a lot about the quality of the filmmaker and the film.

Usually the least interesting part of any monster movie, is the prelude to the appearance of the Monster, when you have to endure boring cardboard characters killing time. That was the issue with the GODZILLA movie by the producers of this film, it was mostly setup and concentration on the human drama, but the humans and the human drama in that movie was as of much interest as watching paint dry.

Here, the setup and the characters feel fleshed out and earned, and part of that is grounding these soldiers in 1973. Survivors, but somehow not victors. Going from one barely war abroad, to a frightening barely understood war at home awaiting them, Skull Island, is very much a reprieve to Jackson’s Colonel. And the men under him, caught in the machinations of dreams of Glory, well they are understood to.

And all the characters are quickly enlisted for this obscure mission, all powerful, compelling actors, not a Jack Black insight. But actors all who can compel and own their time onscreen… their closeups. So I’m thoroughly entertained and into the movie, before Kong goes Ape, so to speak. And when he does go Ape… it is… EPIC!!!

This is why Theaters have value in an age of Netflix and Home Theaters, because a home theater is no match for a commercial theater when you have no annoying audience to deal with, this was the fury of Kong unleashed… this was spectacle, this was Blockbuster, and this was worth every penny paid!

Should you see it in 3D? I typically find 3D is a wasted expense in most situations. I think it is expertly done here, and is really the type of movie that cries out for really good 3D. KONG is really good use of 3D, and I think like AVATAR is a must see in 3D!

KONG is only the second feature film of Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, nothing in his filmography would indicate he could handle a big budget blockbuster of a monster movie, but much like the Russo Brothers of CAPTAIN AMERICA fame (who also came out of feature film obscurity) Roberts rises to the occasion, shattering expectations.

I loved this movie from beginning to end. It blows away recent failures such as GODZILLA and the aforementioned KING KONG, and bodes well for future films. Stay past the trailer for a nice Marvel style Easter Egg.

Grade: A solid and easy B+!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Currently Listening and Addicted to : YOURS TRULY JOHNNY DOLLAR

I have these episodes of Johnny Dollar on CD, that I purchased off of Ebay many moons ago, and I’ve lately taken to listening to them in the morning when driving to work. They are such an enjoyable alternative to what usually is available on radio these days. And most of the CDs I never listened to (they would always take a backseat to other great, but more garish shows… such as THE SHADOW, SUSPENSE or ESCAPE). Reevaluating it now, in my more seasoned years, the show has a compelling modernity and universalness that transcends its 6+ Decades of age.

And I have to say, this show in particular, because of its still innovative format of using an Insurance Investigator’s expense account as the hook into these narratives, is surprisingly addictive. All adults to some extent are part and parcell of the Insurance world, either as an occupation or a customer, so the films slant is familiar and well worn.

A few talented actors played Johnny Dollar, but the episodes with Bob Bailey… read as the show at its best. Starting in 1955 around episode #185, those are the shows to start with.

And because the shows are public domain you can burn to CD or copy to your media player and listen to as you travel or work.

Listen to some here:

https://archive.org/details/OTRR_YoursTrulyJohnnyDollar_Singles

Highly Recommended!

Tarantino HATEFUL EIGHT 70mm Road Trip Review

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Quentin Tarantino can be a bit of a provocateur, which I don’t think is a bad thing, but can be off-putting to some, but he is also a great filmmaker.

He is a visionary in the best sense of that word. And there is always a battle between the provocateur aspect to his nature and the filmmaker, and depending on the successfulness of that mixture, will in large part determine whether his film falls on the good or the great scale.

In the HATEFUL EIGHT, I think he gets that mixture right in a way that rockets it right up there, with his best films.

I saw this movie the day after seeing STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS, an impressively written and directed effort by any standards, and while I found it a very good film, HATEFUL EIGHT 70mm Road-Trip Edition felt a great film.

Now visually the STAR WARS film, seen at one of the few IMAX Laser 3D theaters, was the more impressive viewing experience.  The theater I saw the HATEFUL EIGHT in, THE AFI at SILVER SPRING, was a very good theater, and shown in 70 mm, however outside of the increased breadth of the picture I could not tell this was a 70mm film.

Part of this I want to chalk up to being too far from the screen, or the screen not large enough to really dominate the room, it was a big room, but ultimately a well designed movie theater should give you a great picture from any room in the theater, the back of the theater or the front.

I felt the Airbus IMAX Theater in Chantilly Virginia got this RIGHT, and not so much the theater I saw the HATEFUL EIGHT in. Again I don’t think the film projected bad, it looked great in fact, however as someone who has seen LAWRENCE OF ARABIA reissued in 70mm, that is the rich, flooded detail and sensory overload i was expecting. None of that was present here in the HATEFUL EIGHT.

aside from it being a wider picture, I could not tell it wasn’t just typical 35mm, stretched a bit.  I know Quentin and the Weinstein’s retrofitted some theaters to showcase the film in 70mm, unfortunately at the theater I was in they either didn’t test or care how the movie presented to those in the more distant seats.

Is it a 70mm experience from the worst seat in the house? If the answer is no, then you need to do something.

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That criticism however is not on Tarantino, but rather the individual theater owners to insure they are providing the spectacle they are advertising.

I really enjoyed the HATEFUL EIGHT, but it’s 70mm nature, was unfortunately undetectable.  I would have loved to see this film at someplace like the Airbus to see if it’s 70mm nature came across. BEcause i wholeheartedly support tarantino’s push to make 70mm relevant in an age of digital.  I just think we need to do a little more quality control at the individual theaters to ensure viewers are getting that 70mm experience.

But enough about the film stock and visuals, what about the sound?

From Ennio Morricone’s first score for a western in decades, I was of course expecting something good, what we got was great. That score is magnificent, the work of a genius, undimmed by age.

I, in the theater, knew I wanted to purchase that score. That rarely happens to me.

 

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The same can be said of Tarantino’s film in total. HATEFUL EIGHT is an experience, a sometimes uncomfortable, and ugly experience, (man do they say the N word a lot) but without doubt a captivating, and memorable experience. You want to be in this place, with these dire and dangerous people, these ‘HATEFUL EIGHT ‘, to see where the road leads them.

Being a Western, that most iconic and cemented of genres, you know if not when the road will end, that blood will be waiting there at that end.

And there is blood, in extraordinary quantities, at the end of THE HATEFUL EIGHT. But there is more, there is pathos, and regret, and humor, and insight.

Tarantino is not afraid to probe the unexamined questions and uncrossed divide of race and class in our past and our present, our peers and ourselves, but to always do it without losing the narrative purpose, without losing the ability to entertain, is a tricky tightrope to walk.

For a film to be both important and fun to watch is a rare beast, and one the Academy is reluctant to nominate, but HATEFUL EIGHT is such a beast.

I watched the closing credits come across with that wonderful final song, and I thought there at the end of the movie, what I thought during the movie… this is a masterpiece.
Grade: A-.

 

 

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2014s GODZILLA is it worth seeing in 3D?!? RealD vs Imax 3D?

The new GODZILLA is now stomping across theaters near you, so I’m going to find a showing tonight and see if the film is enjoyable summer entertainment that does the big lizard proud.

My only question regarding going to see the film is, is it worth seeing in 3D?

Since the last couple of films I’ve seen in 3D (due to lack of 2D options) have been underwhelming at best, and certainly not worth paying more for, these days I tend to only see 2D films, and matinees. Both of which help minimize this inflation of ticket prices and box office #s that Hollywood is big on.

But the following link, and the fact that the author is hard on other 3D movies I likewise was underwhelmed by, tends to give credence to his positive review on GODZILLA’s use of 3D.

Check the review HERE!

Now to determine which type of 3D to try (if you have a choice) see this article HERE!

I’m going to see for myself, and will post whether the movie, 3D and all is worth your time and money!

TOP 5 DESERT ISLAND Directors! Part 1 of 3 Under Construction

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This is an idea that the filmspotting podcast covered in their latest episode, and while they had intriguing choices it spurred me to a slightly different list and slightly different choices.

If you can only, for whatever reason, have the films of five directors to watch, on a desert island, for an uncertain amount of time, or for all time… what five directors do you choose? Fritz Lang? F.W. Murnau? Louis Feuillade? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Orson Welles? Ousmane Sembene? Mary Harron?

They list very interesting choices, not as good as the names I list above (I’m joking), many of which I myself am a cheerleader for (Kurosawa, Howard Hawks), but it occurred to me that diversity, particularly when it came to Hollywood films, was a rare exception rather than a rule. And that concerned me because, if I am trapped on a deserted island with the filmography of only 5 directors, that I wanted the filmography of at least a couple of those directors to represent the ethnic width and breadth of the human condition. The beauty of a range of colors and women and cultures.

I being someone who even today gets bored with the lack of diversity of films, the idea of being stuck with films not representative of the larger world, and the rich tapestry of people in it, gave me pause. For all our berating of terms like political correctness (which when really defined is respect, so when people rail against political correctness what they are really arguing against is giving people respect) we have become a more intolerant and stratified society. And part of that I think has to do with our mass media. Our obsession with vilifying the other.

The (seemingly increasing) lack of diversity in recent films and television, being I think a dangerous sign of a tail wagging the dog society. Of a vocal minority calling for a return to ‘the good old days’ which, when finally viewed, never really were that good.

Hollywood has from its inception been a propaganda machine, where a few people’s fiction altered often negatively many people’s facts. And before discussing Desert Island directors, another discussion has to be had first… about the values of film. Not the value of film, but the values portrayed or reiterated or held dear, in perhaps too many films. We have to talk about exclusion and stereotyping in films beginnings, and in film’s present.

While willing to give a slight pass to pre-1960 films given their historic placement, I have less interest or sympathy for segregated and nearly Apartheid rich, post-1960 into 21st century, Hollywood films. Or worse the 21st century version of Step and Fetchit, black actors used to deliver White Messages. Be it MONSTERS BALL or TRAINING DAY it’s the eye-bulging, debasing, cartoonish extremes, that Black actors are saddled to wear, that hearkens to what is worst in cinema.

If the choice is between only debased caricatures… of people of color, ala Frank Darabont or David Ayer or practically no characters of color ala Woody Allen, I’ll take the latter evil. But ideally the filmmakers I want to support and revisit, are those who can represent characters of color with the same broad diversity we grant to the human race, the Michael Manns, the Carl Franklins, the Tony Scotts, the Gordon Parks.

This idea of us as hero and villain, Sexual and chaste, brilliant and imbecilic, honorable and flawed, important and funny, savior and victim. In the 21st century that diversity of roles is generally relegated to White actors. In the 21st century the number of Hollywood movies that portray characters of color with any of those positive aspects listed… are few and far between.

Even supposed mass market films like XMEN FIRST CLASS and SIN CITY reek of this ingrained stereotyping and caricature as truth, when it comes to the non-pale characters. And I could deal if this mentality and programming and white wish fulfillment was the occasional film, however in the last two decades it has become practically every film and tv show. The White hero has a woman of color pining for him, his backup girl typically. And the male actor of color, seldom a protagonist, and even less seldom does he get the girl, he is now relegated to comedy relief or side-kick; Rochester for the 21st century. Far have we drifted from the sexually virile Black stars of the 70s.

This creates a cinema of exclusion and to some extent, social engineering. Our facts are shaped by our fictions, arguably more than anything else, and a cinema of marginalization, legitimization and feminism of the male of color, bodes not well.

We are not DW Griffith we are not Cecil B. DeMills making entertainment for a virulently segregated, Jim Crow America. We have made some progress since then, and for filmmakers not to acknowledge that progress or that shifting audience, is to take a stance against that progress, and against that diverse viewing base.

We are not in the early days of the 20th century, we are in the early days of the 21st and while it is a filmmakers choice whether to be exclusionary or boring or homogeneous to a fault, you do so at the risk of failing to become a better filmmaker. You do so at the risk of making scared, redundant, and repetitive early 20th century films, here in the 21st century.

Well I’ve gone on about the pitfalls of cinema, here 15 years into the 21st century, now let’s discuss the strengths of film. The people I think are portraying an America and a world far more intune to the one I walk through, where heroes can be both Black and White.

In the Hollywood system the names are few, but welcome, and waiting… waiting for viewers, reviewers, actors, writer, producers, studios, and directors to recognize there is an inequity, a growing one, at the heart of our fictions, that much be addressed to make our cinema and ourselves… better.

Those filmmakers are (among others):

The late great Gordon Parks
The late great Tony Scott
The very much with us and Great Michael Mann
The very much with us and Great and underutilized Carl Franklin
Sergio Leonne
Ossie Davis

Very, very different directors, but what they were all able to do, sometimes for a single movie, sometimes for multiple movies, is something so rarely done in Hollywood today that it’s like there is an unofficial Hayes code prohibiting it…

…prohibiting having a movie with a character of color or Black character as both heroic protagonist and a male with a functioning libido, who doesn’t have to die or be sacrificed for the majority. 🙂

Outside of the great explosion of films in the 70s extending a bit into the 80s, and the subsequent eradication of locally controlled/independent theaters, The Heroic, virile Black hero has become a scare commodity on Theatrical screens.

Which is why when it gets done well… these days, such as in Peter Berg’s poorly named and badly marketed HANCOCK… the film becomes a wild success. Because there is a large population starved for empowering images of themselves. 2013 with its BUTLER and FRUITYVALE STATION and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, showcases Hollywood’s debasement attitude when it comes to theatrical releases. “Multiple characters of color? You better be a comedy, or telling us about getting your ass whupped.” 🙂 .

Hence 2013s abundance of films of victimization, while they should be valid stories that have their place, if you counter them with just as many films of triumph, or winning, or adventure, or thrilling action and heroism. However the Heroic Tale is a rare one, and that is the failing of the system we have to change. Without the heroic myth to contrast it, tales of victimization are just an assault, a tool, a club… to beat a population into shape.

— to be continued —