Thursday, March 23, 2017

Beauty and the Beast [2017]

            “Certain as the sun Rising in the east”
                      “Beauty and the Beast” Alan Menken, Howard Ashman (1991)

                                                    Review by Ken Burke

                                   Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon)
               
Long ago in rural France we see a fairytale come alive with actors (and a lot of excellent computer-based-imagery) rather than feature animation as an independent young woman's forced to be prisoner of a man turned into a hideous beast by an angry Enchantress so the essential question becomes: Can they truly learn to love each other in order to break his spell?
                    
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): As a Disney live-action-remake of their own celebrated 1991 animated feature, this version of a well-known-fairytale follows the plot outlines and musical numbers of the previous Beauty … movie (adding a few new songs) where Belle, a young woman in a long-ago-rural-French-village, is more interested in knowledge and adventure than the loving-but-mundane-life she shares with her inventor father.  That suddenly changes when Dad Maurice, on his way through the woods to market, stumbles upon a snowstorm (in June) which results in his discovery of a long-forgotten-castle held under the curse on an Enchantress teaching a life-lesson to an egotistical prince who’s been turned into a ghastly beast while his servants have become living household objects, with the only way for the spell to be broken is for the Beast to find true love before all the petals of a magical rose fall (there aren’t many left).  Dad’s taken prisoner for plucking a rose from Beast’s garden, but his horse runs back to fetch Belle who takes her father’s place, fascinated by the magic of the castle but angry at the gruff "host."  Maurice returns to the village asking for help to free his daughter, an offer accepted by dashing-but-conceited Gaston whose intention is to marry Belle, an offer rejected by Dad so Gaston leaves him to die in the forest.

 Given that this version of the plot summary isn’t supposed to give away anything significant—although if you don’t already know how this story turns out you’ve done a commendable job of isolating yourself from fairytales, Disney movies, a Broadway musical version of the earlier animation, and a massive marketing campaign—I won’t divulge how the tale’s resolved regarding romance between Belle and the Beast, a violent confrontation between the suitors for Belle’s affections, and whether the curse is lifted.  I will say the staging and musical numbers of this movie are infectiously-active, the computer-based-renderings of the enchanted characters are first-rate, while spirited Emma Watson (Belle) along with conflicted Dan Stevens (Beast) do invest you in their fates; I'll recommend this box-office-extravaganza even if not accompanying some wide-eyed-kids.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
                    
What Happens: Several centuries ago, near the rural French village of Villeneuve, an ego-driven-prince (Dan Stevens) is having a grand ball in his castle when an old woman (Hattie Morahan) arrives, seeking shelter from a snowstorm but with only a rose to offer as gratuity.  The Prince laughs it off only to have her revealed as a powerful Enchantress who puts a spell upon him and everyone else who’s not already fled from the castle when her true self manifests: The Prince will henceforth be a mighty-but-ugly-beast while his castlemates (mostly servants) are transformed into mobile, talking household objects.  The only way for this curse to be broken is for the Beast to share true love with a willing human mate; however, to make the challenge more difficult (even as the castle’s surrounded by eternal snowfall, with the spell spilling into the nearby countryside so no one remembers it or its inhabitants exist) the Enchantress leaves the Beast with her magic rose, adding the stipulation that if all its petals fall before the demanded romance occurs the Prince will henceforth live on as the Beast while the other accursed will fully transform into inanimate objects.  

 From this somber (but visually-stunning) opening (with tracking shots through the huge castle, the immense ballroom dance scene prior to the disguised-Enchantress’ arrival, her grandly-swirling-transformation when ridiculed by the Prince) we move ahead for an unspecified amount of time into Villeneuve where attractive, boisterous Belle (Emma Watson) bursts through a door to greet the new day singing her opening number (“Belle” [sometimes called “Bon Jour”]) as she wanders through the village, allowing us to get a full sense of her environment along with the quietly-rude-dismissal of the townsfolk for being more interested in reading than accepting any convenient marriage proposal (she’s “different from the rest of us”) while she’s hoping to find adventure somehow (“There must be something more than this provincial life”).  The local dashing lothario, Gaston (Luke Evans), would willingly be her husband, but she wants no part of his obnoxious-self-absorption.

 A man whom Belle does appreciate is her loving father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), who's a talented inventor and music-box-maker supporting them by selling his wares in a nearby market, as her only frustration toward him is he won’t tell how her mother died nor why they moved away from Paris to this dull place when she was a baby.  Adventure comes calling in a manner that neither of them would have expected, though, on the next day that Maurice heads out as usual in his old horse-drawn-wagon for that marketplace, only to oddly lose his way in the dense, local forest as he curiously follows an unknown trail where he’s first astounded to find snowfall in June, then threatened by the sudden appearance of a pack of wolves.  In his attempt to escape the wagon flips over, wrecked, so Maurice rides off on his faithful horse, Philippe, the trail leading them to the Beast’s long-forgotten-castle.  Inside, looking for help, Maurice initially thinks he’s being served a welcome meal but then bolts for the door when the enchanted objects talk to him.  Yet, he stops in the garden to pluck a white rose (Belle always asks him to bring one for her, a memory connection to Mom) only to be stopped, then locked up by the angry Beast.  Back home, inquisitive Belle invents an early form of a washing machine using a barrel, a round pond, and a mule, but it’s taken apart by local men, offended a young woman could be this intelligent.  However, she’s soon relieved of this stifling environment by Philippe who rushed back to fetch her; she rides to the Beast’s castle, locates Maurice, makes an offer to take his place, then tricks her disapproving father by locking herself into the high tower’s cell, allowing him to leave with a whispered promise that she’ll somehow escape.

 Once Belle's alone with the animated (computer-imaged) objects, mainly the central group of the upbeat candlestick/butler, Lumière (voice of Ewan McGregor)—a nice play on words, as his name means “light” which he always offers with his 3 lit candles—his flighty-lover, Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), once a maid now a feather duster; the dour mantel clock/head of the servants, Cogsworth (Ian McKellen); bright, ever-cheery teapot, Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), with her cute, close-at-hand teacup-son, Chip (Nathan Mack); along with such eager help for Belle from the noted opera singer Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), now a wardrobe always ready to dress her new friend in aristocratic finery (which Belle rejects), and her husband, composer Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), who’s been turned into a harpsichord, she comes to find the castle a fascinating place (the locked cell didn’t last long) but she has no interest in the Beast.  The others give her a sumptuous meal (she refuses the invitation to dine with her hairy-host, beseeched by his servants to be nice to her in hopes of somehow sparking some love interest in this newcomer) highlighted by the rousing “Be Our Guest” number (done here as a sort of blend of the flamboyant “Broadway Melody” sequence from Singin’ in the Rain [Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952] and the astounding acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil) after which she wanders into the castle’s forbidden west wing whereupon she sees the magical rose; Beast furiously chases her away from it, fearing she’ll cause more petals to drop, so she fearfully rushes away from her prison only to be accosted by wolves.  Beast comes to her rescue, chasing them off with his superior strength, but he’s injured in the process so she helps him to the castle, then aids in his recovery.  Meanwhile, Maurice returns to the village (surprisingly, the wolves didn’t bother him), seeking help to free his daughter; Gaston volunteers (hoping to curry favor with Belle), as the culmination of a rousing tribute to this self-absorbed-adventurer, led by his faithful friend, LeFou (Josh Gad), enamored with Gaston in more ways than he's yet to understand (or does he?).

 Out in the wild woods, though, not only is the path to the castle no longer available but also Maurice makes it clear he doesn’t support Belle marrying Gaston so the brute ties him up, leaving him for the wolves until he’s rescued from this fate by the mysterious Agathe (Morahan, so I’ve already tipped you off she’s the Enchantress in disguise again, as she's likely pulling the strings to get Belle together with the Beast, giving him a decent, final opportunity to try to redeem himself).  Maurice now once again comes back to the village where he accuses Gaston of attempted murder, only to be understood as crazy by Gaston’s counter-accusations, backed up by the uncomfortable-but-cooperating LeFou.  Maurice is hassled by the townspeople, set up to be sent off to an insane asylum which Belle witnesses with a magic mirror given to the Beast by the Enchantress.  (She gave him another charmed device that lets him travel, in an earlier scene, with Belle to anywhere in the world so she chooses Paris but arrives, in the past, to the garret where her parents lived, learning her mother [Zoe Rainey] died of the plague, Maurice urged to leave with his baby daughter before they succumb to it as well, leading him—for some unclear [to me] reason [but this is a fairytale]—to seclusion in the countryside [“Small means safe”—from what? disease?]; Beast also had a difficult childhood because his sweet mother [Harriet Jones] died when he was young, leaving him to be raised by his father, the King [Henry Garrett], who turned his son into a royal who’d give Gaston a run for his money as the most atrocious guy in the vicinity.)  Beast allows Belle to return home to help her father (a heartbreaking turn for the enchanted objects, hoping she might be the means of breaking their spells), with the assumption that the love he’s come to have for her will never be returned, condemning everyone in the castle to a lifetime of the original curse.

 But when Belle arrives back in the village just in time to keep Maurice from being carted away, proving her story of the Beast by showing the villagers his image in the magic mirror, dastardly Gaston intervenes by secretly arranging to have Belle locked into the padded wagon along with her father while he leads the townspeople into the woods to kill the Beast (how they’re now able to find the hidden pathway isn’t clear either, unless Agathe’s orchestrating all these events in a more direct manner than we know).  Maurice manages to pick the lock on their set-up-as-a-woebegone-wagon before they’re carted off to insanity-confinement, whereupon Belle rushes back to aid Beast.  At the castle the enchanted objects manage to hold off the torch-bearing-villagers, eventually sending them fleeing while Gaston confronts Beast in a high tower with the big guy about ready to just let himself be killed until he sees the returning Belle, who inspires him.  Gaston and Beast battle with Gaston seemingly defeated, then allowed to leave, but instead he shoots Beast a couple of times before the ice bridge he’s standing on gives way, Gaston plummeting to his death.  Beast dies as well with the tearful Belle at his side, the last rose petal falling from its stem, until Agathe appears, acknowledging true love has triumphed so she revives Beast as a changed-man-Prince, all the enchanted objects return to human form, and a celebratory ball is held (to the tune of “Beauty and the Beast”—there are many other songs in this movie, none of which impacted me as much as the 3 I’ve noted).  During the joyous event, we get a very quick shot of LeFou dancing with a woman, then as partners change he’s with a man which brings from him a look of surprise, then pleasure, which is part of the scant evidence of this character being gay, although that’s been enough to bring about restrictions or outright prohibitions of this movie in Russia, Malaysia … and Henager, Alabama!  (This link has a video that doesn't seem to be showing its imagery, but the audio's basically repeated in the text.)  For everyone else, though, it's clear all’s well that ends well.

So What? As you can see in some useful detail in the 3rd listing for this movie included under the Related Links section quite a bit below, there are many connections of this latest version of Beauty and the Beast to previous Disney product (including the lauded earlier animated Beauty …, its later adaptation into a very successful Broadway play, etc.) with some of the songs here either being revived from nonuse in the earlier movie (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman) or written for this remake by Menken and Tim Rice, so this new version comes with enough background connections to virtually insure success—especially the $425 million worldwide gross of the previous movie, its win of a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy, and its status as the 1st animated feature to be nominated by Academy Awards voters for Best Picture (it probably didn’t have much chance against Silence of the Lambs [Jonathan Demme, 1991] in that category but it did win Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song [“Beauty and the Beast,” with “Belle” and “Be Our Guest” also nominated in this best-of-5-category, and don’t forget that in those days only 5 were chosen for Best Picture instead of up to 10 as is the case in their current system; this previous Beauty … was also nominated for the Sound production Oscar]), and fabulous critical support, with 93% positive reviews cited at Rotten Tomatoes, an unusually high 95% average score at Metacritic.  That hopeful
anticipation paid off well because this remade Beauty … has already set numerous records in its opening week, piling up roughly $357 million worldwide (with about $174.7 million of that in the domestic [U.S.-Canada] market), which means it’s already turned a profit despite having rung up a total of roughly $300 million in expenses ($160 million for production, the rest residing in estimated distribution/ marketing costs) so Beauty ...'s clearly a "beauty" with audiences and accountants,* if not nearly so much as the previous version was with critics (RT 70%, MC 65%**).

*You might be interested in this Variety article about some speculations on why this current movie has been so fantastically-well-received, including the situation of Emma Watson’s established popularity from being in all those extremely-successful, worldwide-embraced Harry Potter episodes plus her other recent films, the built-in-audience-love for the animated Beauty and the Beast original (which this new version doesn’t subvert with intrusions from a modified storyline), and the proper-release-timing of a family-friendly-movie at a time of not much competition for such elsewhere in the moviehouse-market.

**A surprising almost-parallel-critical-reaction-situation for this remade version of Beauty and the Beast, given that the MC percentages tend to skew notably lower than the RT ones do because MC somehow assigns specific numbers to their reviews, then averages them out, while at RT it’s just a fairly-obvious-judgment-call at the site that a review either does or does not take a positive tone.

 It’s been noted that these initial audiences for the new Beauty ... (in the U.S. at least) have been largely female.  (I can’t say definitively that was the case at my Cinemark XD [!] theater over in San Francisco where my wife, Nina, and I saw it on our recent St. Patrick’s Day weekend excursion into the local metropolis, but maybe I was still just too much in shock at the $29 total ticket price for 2 seniors at an afternoon matinee—same situation in our home base of the suburban city of Hayward would have cost us considerably less, but given the $80 breakfast buffet at our hotel the next morning I guess the movie tickets were a bargain after all—to fully note much about our audience demographics.)  Given the general male-character-domination of most box-office-hits (although there is a significant female presence in Logan [James Mangold; review in our March 8, 2017 posting]; however, this kid’s still being cheered on by male viewers for mirroring her testosterone-driven-warrior-[killer]-father [no complaints, you’ve been warned; spoilers continue anywhere beyond the 1st couple of paragraphs in these postings]), I understand why women and girls are anxious to see stories on screen more relatable to their social situations (even when they're in the realm of fantasy—as will be the likely-huge-debut of the ultimate female warrior when Wonder Woman [Patty Jenkins] hits our screens on June 2).  Belle may be at the physical mercy of the wolves who attack her, requiring a savior (as anyone would, greatly-outnumbered as she was), but otherwise she’s completely in charge of her own life, dismissing the assumptions of her neighbors, standing firm against the attempted-impositions of Gaston, even being prisoner of the Beast as her own decision in trade for her father then staying to help her brutish rescuer when she could have just continued on home after the wolves’ attack had been fully thwarted.  As a character, Belle’s intelligent, self-determined, creative, conscientious, admirable; as an actor, Watson well conveys those positive qualities with a commanding screen presence, verifying she’ll likely be a performer of substance for years to come.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: 
In my earlier review of Kong: Skull Island I made note of 2 things that become relevant for this review as well: (1) This latest rendition of the King Kong story which opened recently doesn’t follow previously-known-plotlines about the lone female (Mason Weaver [Brie Larson] this time rather than Ann Darrow) of the expedition into the jungle being offered to the gigantic ape as a “bride,” nor is there any relocation to Manhattan (see, I told you; spoilers will continue to abound wherever they’re needed) for a “It was beauty killed the beast” finale, and (2) generally I don’t care for remakes unless they offer something notably useful over the original cinematic experience they’re based on (which does work for me with this version of Kong—just as it did with the same Legendary Entertainment remake of Godzilla [Gareth Edwards, 2014; review in our May 15, 2014 posting, despite my abysmal layout skills then and for most any posting prior to roughly 2015, but hopefully more recent ones are getting easier to look at and read]—because it allows the inhabitants of Skull Island to be truly impressive as computer-generated-imagery rather than stop-action-models or actors in monster suits).  So, regarding my 1st point, if you missed that “beauty and the beast” aspect of the latest Kong (in one short scene he does look a bit longingly at Mason, but, thankfully, nothing comes of it) then you get the full version of that dynamic—not just a metaphorical imposition, especially given that the “beauties” in the earlier Kong movies have no option of restoring their "beast" to normal-sized-human-form, nor do they possess 
any ability to save his life from military adversaries—in this actual presentation of Beauty and the Beast with all of the intended romance fully developed (here, Belle can’t prevent the Beast from dying either, but her sincere love for him is the source of his wondrous-resurrection by the Enchantress).  As for the remake aspect, while I don’t fully see the need for it given the high quality of the 1991 version,* I must admit this production is impressive in every aspect, especially given I’m not even all that fond of musicals (as I noted before in my review of La La Land, which, even so, won me over just as both Beauty …'s did).

*Of course, the main reason for these re-launches is to generate more black ink—based on green paper (along with other colors in overseas markets)—in the corporate-ledgers, a policy Disney’s been successful with (many more such movies are planned) in remaking some of their animated features—Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton, 2010; Oscars for Art Direction, Costume Design), Maleficenta revisionist-retelling of Sleeping Beauty(Robert Stromberg, 2014, review in our June 6, 2014 posting), Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh, 2015; review in our March 19, 2015 posting), The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau, 2016; review in our April 28, 2016 posting; Oscar for Visual Effects)—into significant monetary and critical triumphs (less so for the former 2 from reviewers), so Beauty and the Beast gives major incentive to keep up this refurbishing program, marketing beloved DVD stories in formats that excite slightly-older-children's-audiences (with useful memories for their brought-along-parents as well) using CGI-photo-like-imagery, presenting more sophisticated representations than you’ll find in the hand-drawn or computer-generated originals.

 There’s something just too utterly charming about this rendition of Beauty and the Beast that I can’t dismiss it as I’m prone to do regarding frothy musicals (where the songs, such as the ones here, generally don’t probe into the more serious emotional depths you’d find in the rare sorts of musicals that do normally intrigue me, such as the caustic tunes in Cabaret [Bob Fosse, 1972] or Chicago [Rob Marshall, 2002]) or even standard remakes (that just have "box-office-bonanza" written all over them) because there's something “more” added here in the form of Watson and Stevens being able to inject the same level of “animation” into their characters that was so embraced in the earlier Disney feature without them seeming to be simply human versions of cartoons.  (I can’t say the same for Evans as Gaston, who does come across to me as a cartoon come to life, in a more negative connotation of that phrase, although he still fits what he’s set up to accomplish in being an asinine antagonist for the Beast, never letting his assumed-superiority recede, no matter the circumstances, whereas his protagonist-adversary willingly transforms himself back into a higher level of humanity than he was as the previously-human-Prince, so it’s reasonable Gaston shouldn’t be as attractive in any manner as whom he’s pitted against, even when that guy is sort of a mash-up of a lion, a ram, and a wild boar.)  Except for songs I noted in the review from the soundtrack, the others don’t move me all that much but they do function well in adding clarity and movement to the narrative, probably feeling more integral to the whole of the experience to those who either invest in musicals more frequently than I do or who could have come into last weekend’s screenings already primed for a sing-along-version (as some screenings of La La Land are being promoted, probably in an attempt to milk one last payday from this flamboyantly-engaging, 6-Oscar winner).

 What keeps me from a 4-star-rating for Beauty …, though, is possibly more my problem than with what’s on screen, in that my firm-familiarity with the plot left me intrigued at the beginning (to see if the project of animation-to-live-action-translation works as well as it needs to) but then increasingly a bit underwhelmed during the middle (except for my very-engaged-enjoyment of the few spectacularly-choreographed-musical-numbers) waiting for the grand, inevitable triumph at the end.  Others may stay hooked throughout, but I was too anxious for seeing just a few more character-probing-encounters to occur than what this fairytale-narrative allows.*  Based on all of the above, I’ll say I found a lot to like in this new Beauty and the Beast, although I don’t see it as being any sort of player when the 2017 Oscar nominations roll around (box-office-champions is another consideration entirely), would recommend it to anyone for an enjoyable experience (except parents so overdone with kids belting out “Be My Guest” to their home DVDs of the animated feature that they just can’t bring themselves to hear this soundtrack one more time—especially if they have to pay $15 or more to see it, along with the cost of bringing those excitable-kids along).

*I realize this makes 5 reviews in a row where I’ve given out a 3½-star-rating, but I continue to do my best to be honest and consistent with those decisions so that’s just how it works out.  Maybe next time I’ll be notably more or less impressed than what my 3½ implies.

 Finally, I couldn’t offer a more appropriate Musical Metaphor (as I do at the end of every review for a last look at the subject matter under exploration but from the perspective of an aural art form) than the well-known “Beauty and the Beast” song itself (probably feels like a “Song as old as rhyme” by now), this time in a dazzling music video created to mirror the experience of this new movie (incorporating footage from it or shot to resemble it), sung by Ariana Grande and John Legend at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axySrE0Kg6k (they sing it on the soundtrack of the movie’s finale as well while Emma Thompson, as Mrs. Potts, also leads an ensemble version of this romantic song in the earlier private ballroom dance scene of Belle and her emerging paramour).  This “tale as old as time” doesn’t feel stale at all in this new incarnation, where it’s “Ever a surprise” even as it’s “Ever as before And ever just as sure As the sun will rise.”

Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:

We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2016’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 26, 2017 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2016 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards 
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2016 along with the Oscar nominees and winners for 2016 films.

Here’s more information about Beauty and the Beast [2017]:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ekjl5xzjJw (11:34 video on 17 Easter Eggs and hidden details in the movie)



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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com.  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 2/16/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

UNLESS YOU’RE READING THIS ON A MACINTOSH COMPUTER USING MAC OS X 10.10.5 AND SAFARI 10.0.3 YOU MAY SEE A SLOPPIER PRESENTATION THAN WHAT WE INTENDED (Google Chrome 56.0.2987.110 meets our layout design; hopefully all other options will look decent also).  OUR APOLOGIES FOR ANY INADVERTENT MESS THAT WE CAN’T CONTROL.

Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 21,146; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

                                                Long Live the King!
                    
                                                         Review by Ken Burke
                 
                               Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
                   
Here’s another big-budget, computer-graphics-driven Hollywood extravaganza that somewhat retells the well-known story of King Kong, the giant ape who lives on an uncharted island where he does regular battle with other oversized monsters as the forces of science and the military face off (as they often do in such stories) over what to do about this beast.
                     
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): This begins during WW II in 1944 when an American and a Japanese fighter pilot each crash onto a South Pacific island where we get a quick look at a gigantic ape.  We then fast-forward to 1973 as the Vietnam War’s wrapping up, a government scientist (John Goodman) is securing funding to explore a previously-uncharted-island, and the military escort bringing the explorers (including Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson) in is commanded by a war-obsessed-leader (Samuel L. Jackson) who goes berserk when that ape appears again to destroy several of his helicopters along with his troops so we know from the beginning we’re going to see a lot of King Kong as this story progresses.  Instead of the usual storyline of capturing Kong, though, the conflict that emerges here is between those who want to get off of the island as soon as possible and the military guys who want revenge on the huge creature who’s killed many of their comrades, but that’s soon complicated by the emergence of other large, dangerous beasts including the vicious Skullcrawlers who do regular battle with Kong as he tries to protect the island’s human population from these grotesque, lizard-like monsters.

  Without divulging essential plot points, I’ll just say there are some surprises here in how this new version of the King Kong story doesn’t resolve itself in the manner you’ve probably seen in previous renditions of the primitive beasts on Skull Island encountering the more-technologically-equipped-human invaders, even as they must fend off attacks by various other dangers in addition to Kong.  The computer-created-or-enhanced-imagery is marvelous here, as is the constant flow of action which is somewhat brutal but still enough in the realm of fantasy to not be overwhelming for squeamish viewers.  You'll get what you might expect (barrage of special effects, minimal character development); therefore, if you don’t expect too much Kong: Skull Island can be quite enjoyable.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
                            
What Happens: During the furious 1944 WW II battles in the South Pacific, 2 fighter pilots—one American, one Japanese—crash land on an island beach, then shift into hand-to-hand-combat which leads them to the edge of a high cliff; however, before any resolution they’re interrupted by the sudden emergence of a giant ape’s head over the ridge, stunning both of them.  From that opening scene we move into the movie’s beginning credits running next to newsreel footage from the following 3 decades—with occasional chronological markers to ground us in specific years—until we reach 1973 with President Nixon on a TV screen declaring the end of U.S. engagement in the Vietnam War.  Meanwhile, in another part of Washington, D.C. a government scientist, Bill Randa (John Goodman), and his younger seismologist-associate, Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), manage to convince Sen. Willis (Richard Jenkins) to fund an expedition to previously-uncharted Skull Island recently seen in satellite surveillance photos when the normally-constant-cloud-cover lifted for a short time.  Joining the expedition are tracker/former British Special Air Service Capt. James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and antiwar-photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), him lured by a decent payday, her trying to find some nefarious government activity to be exposed in hopes of a Pulitzer Prize.  Because the  thick, ominous cloud cover (complete with electrical storms) still surrounds the island they have to go in via the helicopter Sky Devils crew led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), eager to be back in action rather than deployed home at the war’s end.  Once they reach the island, though, and start dropping explosive devices to test the nature of the island’s terrain they’re suddenly confronted by an enormous ape who’s barely bothered by their machine-gun-fire as he starts swatting the choppers down, throwing them into each other, etc. so that many of the troops are lost as the rest of the expedition crash-lands, yet becomes separated.

 At this point, conflicting motivations need to be sorted out as some of the survivors simply want to work their way to the north end of Skull Island where the rescue party’s due to retrieve them in 3 days, Packard wants to locate missing members of his squad as well as take revenge on the ape-monster who killed some of his men, but Randa finally admits to Packard they’re really there to prove his theory about hollow areas existing just below Earth’s crust from which such prehistoric monsters can emerge from hiding, threating the continuation of humanity (he claims he saw a couple of them during WW II—how it might have been at this location’s not explained), but Packard, seeming more crazed by the minute, is focused only on recovery and revenge.  As the soldiers and civilians move forward in 2 different groups they encounter giant water buffalo (peaceful), a giant spider (deadly until it’s finally killed), and large beasts resembling the “flying dinosaurs” technically known as pterodactyls or pterosaurs.  Those with Conrad and Weaver ultimately come across a village of Iwi natives, but before any hostilities occur one of those WW II pilots, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), appears as an interpreter between the 2 groups, explaining that the giant ape is Kong, the last of his species, serving as a protector for the island’s humans against the dangerous lizard-like-creatures he calls Skullcrawlers, so what brought Kong into action against the helicopters was their explosive devices which would surely call forth these grotesque things, especially the big one which might even be a deadly-match for Kong.

 (This blurry image is the best photo I've been able to find of a Skullcrawler, but you can see a bit more of this terror in a 6:40 featurette that includes shots of Kong battling the big one, along with some of the actors offering their brief understandings of the motivations of the various primary leaders of this woebegone expedition—you also get Japanese subtitles with this video in case you want to work on your bilingualism.)  Many of the characters, even Randa, are killed by the various monsters of Skull Island—Kong dispatches a couple of the smaller Skullcrawlers also as the plot races along—but the ultimate situation pits Conrad and Weaver on one side (encouraged by Marlow), who become sympathetic to Kong’s situation, against Packard and the men under his command who are determined to make the beast pay dearly for having killed their comrades in the movie’s earlier scenes.  Packard does manage to lure Kong to a napalm-laced-lake where he stuns the ape with a circle of fire prior to detonating enough explosives to kill him, but Conrad and Weaver arrive just in time to convince the other soldiers to mutiny against their commander.  It’s all moot when the huge Skullcrawler attacks so the explosives are never set off, although Kong revives, pushes through the fire, and stomps Packard before roaring into battle against the grim-reaper-beast.  Ultimately Kong triumphs by pulling the other monster’s guts out through its mouth (I thought he was going to break the creature’s jaw as the original Kong did in defeating a tyrannosaurus rex in the 1933 King Kong, but I guess that type of ending would be too “gentle” for contemporary audiences—who at least get to see some remnants of "quaint" mid-20th-century technology [dial phone, slide projector, reel-to-reel-tape-recorder] even as this 1973 setting is rendered in computer-aided-imagery that surpasses anything even George Lucas could devise for his technological-breakthroughs in Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Beginning just a few years later in 1977), with the surviving Westerners finally making it to their much-needed-escape-helicopters at the rendezvous point, pledging to say nothing about anything they encountered on Skull Island in order to preserve this unique evolutionary “side road.”

 During the end credits we find ourselves again watching accompanying images—home movies—on part of the screen as Marlow finally makes it home to his long-faithful-wife still waiting for him, along with their adult son who’s never seen his long-lost-father.  Then, if you stay all the way to the finish of those credits (screen goes dark briefly) you’ll get a little preview scene where Conrad and Weaver are interrogated about Skull Island (which they testify contains no monsters) but they’re also shown photos of cave paintings that imply the existence of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, with the clear implication that we’ll be seeing at least some—if not all—of them in future episodes of this monster-universe brought to you by the same folks at Legendary Entertainment who rebooted Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014: review in our May 15, 2014 posting [which also contains—along with its embarrassingly {for me} sloppy layout—my explanation why I categorize these “Creature Features” as ultimately part of the Lord of the Rings/Star Wars/Superman, etc. Fantasy genre rather than including them with Horror movies]); there's a definite plan for Kong to put his kingship on the line against the dragon often referred to as “king of all monsters,” Godzilla, in 2020.  (You may remember a Japanese version of this matchup back in 1962 [directed by Ishirō Honda] with both giants played by people in monster suits; in that rendition, as you can see in this clip [sorry the 11:25 video’s a bit dark], Godzilla appears to be the victor until a lightning storm revives Kong, intensifying his strength, eventually leading to triumph [although Godzilla turns out to not be dead after all, as he became a recurring savior for Japan in many other Toho Studios’ movies over the years, with the creature becoming more of a children’s-movie-character until the more destructive remakes done in recent decades].)

 The most-recent Godzilla incarnation noted just above is enormous, even compared to how big he was shown in the earlier Japanese movies about his many fire-breathing-exploits (as explored in that aforementioned, long [layout-disaster for the ages, I must admit] 2014 review of mine), shooting up into the vicinity of 400 ft., which would have him dwarfing Kong in most of this greatest-of-all-apes-depictions (a bit more on this just below) except for the explanationby Terry Notary—the athletic-actor who provides the motion-capture-movement for … Skull Island’s Kong—that the ape we see, despite being 100 ft. tall, is just a “teenager” in 1973 so he’ll have plenty of time to grow to gigantic-Godzilla-size by the time they meet (once again) on screen decades later, given that the 2014 Godzilla movie takes place in our contemporary times (with no awareness of Kong noted in that narrative, so he must still be a big South Pacific secret at that point, I have to assume).

*You can explore through this Entertainment Weekly comparison (use the arrows on the collage-photo [shown just above] to navigate [if necessary] to each of the 7 individual Kong photos, but don’t go left from the original or you’ll end up in a story about Beauty and the Beast and have to start over again; also, keep going after photo 4 because there’s a blank spot before photo 5 [this display's also available in the March 10, 2017 print magazine, pp. 54-55, as “Size Kings”]) where you’ll find Kong's 25 ft. high in the 1933 and 2005 versions (explored briefly below in this review), although he shot up to previous Godzilla size of about 150 ft. in that silly 1962 Japanese face-off.

So What? Seeming 
every bit the movie star as his human equivalents, this gorilla-like-creature (noted in at least a couple of his appearances as a prehistoric-predecessor to his contemporary ape cousins but of a different species where this unique beast is [or may besee below] the last of his kind) has always continued to fascinate us ever since he dominated the screen in the first King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)with Skull Island somewhere off Sumatra out in the Indian Oceanwhere ferocious Kong’s discovered (in Western-world-standards, as we keep “finding” things that were there already, despite our previous lack of knowledge) by flamboyant filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), takes a liking to Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) presented to him as a "bride" by the island’s racistly-depicted-natives, then goes wild in Manhattan when he’s brought back by Denham as a showbiz curiosity until he’s shot down off the Empire State Building by aircraft-machine-gun-fire, with the whole experience easily interpreted (by later standards) as the ape functioning as an indigenous warrior rebelling unsuccessfully against Western colonial imperialism, although in its own time the movie was easily interpreted with Freudian overtones as civilized humanity’s fear of its own buried animal Id, raging out against the confines of the imposed Super-Ego.  (We later find out in Son of Kong [Schoedsack, 1933] that he had an albino child back on Skull Island, but this much-more-friendly-oversized-simian also meets his end, drowning in a flood that sinks the ape's birthplace while saving the latest bunch of outside explorers, perpetuating the Noble Savage myth.) 

 Discounting the Japanese forays into Kong (the 1962 battle against Godzilla noted above plus an unrelated follow-up—King Kong Escapes [Honda, 1967]), the next American-produced-version of “his majesty” is the 1976 King Kong remake (John Guillermin, produced by cinema-impresario Dino De Laurentiis) which keeps Skull Island in the Indian Ocean but changes the Western interlopers into energy-capitalists from the Petrox Oil Company, up against characters with pro-environment-attitudes who object both to the idea of despoiling an island paradise in a search for yet more fossil fuel and the removal of Kong from his natural habitat; some say* that this Kong is more lecherous in his affections for Dwan (Jessica Lange)—not a typo; she wanted her name to be more distinctive—although they may be basing that judgment on the “sanitized” version of the 1933 original where the footage of Kong peeling off some of Ann‘s wet clothes (restored in later re-releases) shows a more erotic side to this manifested-libido-ape than the moral sensors of that time (or ours) want to admit about “proper” human desires.  What’s inarguable is the 1976 Kong meets a similar fate in his captive-then-escaped-rampage-city of Manhattan when he climbs the World Trade Center towers to be once again shot down, despite the truly-concerned-pleas of Dwan to spare him; further, as the industrial-technology of a world superpower repeats its triumphs over a “primitive” being here we can see now, through the retrospective lens of irony, the reversal of that situation when those same massive, symbolic towers were felled by Third-World-terrorists in 2001.  (This movie also spawns a little-seen-sequel, King Kong Lives [Guillermin, 1986], where Kong’s somehow survived his previous tumble, is mated with a giant female ape from some secret part of Sumatra [once land-connected to Skull Island] to produce a son before Pops is offed once again, but Mom and Junior are allowed to return to protection in Sumatra; you won’t find much positive in reviews or income figures for this one, which I’ll admit I’ve never bothered to watch.)

*You might want to see this Vanity Fair article about the various U.S.-produceKongs in terms of what the writer considers to be the underlying themes in each of these giant-ape-based-stories.

 Finally, in terms of the manifestations of Kong prior to … Skull Island we come to Peter Jackson’s acclaimed-remake of the original 1933 King Kong in 2005, which is clearly intended as a high-tech-homage to that very early version, except for the ape being essentially a huge silverback gorilla rather than having the semi-human-appearance of all of those cinematic predecessors, as well as Jackson's movie adding more dangerous dinosaur encounters as the puny humans are once again trying to rescue Ann (Naomi Watts) from the island’s lord, making the encounters of frightened people with the giant beasts of this very unique environment more spectacularly-plausible by the use of motion-capture of a human actor (Andy Serkis, who’s also been successful in such roles as Gollum in the numerous stories of The Lord of the Rings and Caesar in the Planets of the Apes reboots) as the foundation for Kong overlaid with computer-generated-imagery, the latter used entirely to create the various dinosaurs that also have been living for eons in this “land that time forgot” (we even learn the King’s the last of his species, Megaprimatus kong, verifying his death’s all the more tragic as a conceptual theme, resulting from the intrusion of industrial-nation-entrepreneurs into a vastly-different-culture).  This time, though, there’s also much more of an understood connection between Ann Darrow and Kong, so we get the best sense yet of how vital this gigantic guy (well, OK, he’s back to his original 25 ft. size as part of the homage aspect of this 2005 movie, plus it makes him even more relatable to human-sized-viewers than how enormous he’s become in 1962 or 2017, either in combat with or in preparation
for his encounter with Godzilla) is to the humans on his island, keeping them safe from the many mindless predators that roam their home.  This aspect of King Kong as guardian is taken even further in … Skull Island where there’s no sexist implication of the natives offering Weaver to the massive ape as a “bride” (although that was always just a poor metaphor in the previous incarnations, because all he seemed to do was devour them—based on the huge pile of the skeletons of previous “brides” we see in the 2005 remake—until he’s offered a pale-skinned-blonde-woman, throwing us right back to the racist implications that underlie previous aspects of this story, despite the acknowledgement in the 1976 movie that removing the natives’ “god” will lead to the emotional, psychological collapse of their society just as surely as the destruction of the huge retaining wall protecting their village will lead to their physical ruin as the other monsters will have free reign over all the island).  So, in … Skull Island there’s no simplistic “Beauty killed the Beast” scenario (a line repeated by Carl Denham [Jack Black] at the end of Jackson’s … Kong) made even starker as a break from past presentations because now the “Beast” doesn’t die by human hands but survives in his home-habitat (even though it’s been moved to the South Pacific) to continue functioning as a protector of the humans he peacefully co-exists with (unlike the rampage he visits on those who come to disrupt the existing balance of power in his perilously-dangerous-homeland).

Kong: Skull Island   Bottom Line Final Comments: (Given the fact that many critics have already picked up on Vogt-Roberts’ intention to evoke Apocalypse Now [Francis Ford Coppola, 1979]* with his Kong …, I couldn’t help but use these 2 photos clearly showing the latter evoking the former.)  While I can accept sequels if they rise to the level of The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935) or The Godfather Part II (Coppola, 1974), I don’t much care for remakes made just to try to cash in on nostalgia for some cinematic classic (even meticulously-done-ones, such as Gus Van Sant’s homage to Hitchcock with a respectful-rendering of Psycho in 1998 [original, 1960]), but I have to admit that, while the original 1933 King Kong remains a milestone in stop-motion-animation of the monsters, it has been effective for me to see this story, more significant than the standard “Creature Feature” (where some giant animal simply lays waste to an urban center before human technology can find some last-chance-option to bring it down)—with its inherent critique of interfering in the natural balance in any environment, jungle or city (along with that lingering concern about “monsters from the id”**)—in its later manifestations where the full impact of color, widescreen, and images made stunningly-impressive through computer-enhancement bring this tale of a “lost world” to riveting-life in the visual realm (aural also, with modern enhancements in sound reproduction adding a sense of immediate menace to Kong’s roar, as if he’s about to burst out of the screen).  Thus, as with the previous Godzilla remake, I found myself fascinated by the tension of the humans in their encounters with Skull Island’s various winged and ambulatory dangers along with the earth-shaking battles when Kong overpowers something such as a giant squid (eating some of it on the spot, dragging the rest home for a calamari dinner later) or finds the resilience to rise up from seeming-defeat to rip the guts out of the big Skullcrawler (although this did seem a bit too much like Godzilla’s last-minute-revival in the 2014 movie or a professional wrestler’s sudden bounce-back from sure-defeat, as was Hulk Hogan’s standard shtick when he was active), leaving me cheering 
for this orphaned, angry, humongous, brutal, yet ultimately just a Fabulous Furry Guy when he fights through the lake of fire to finally terminate maniacal Lt. Col. Packard, allowing Kong to serve as security force to see the surviving humans escorted safely back to their necessary rescue choppers, with the mighty King now taking no action against these flying intruders as he no longer has reason to see them acting as disruptive invaders of his home turf.

*While you don’t have to dwell on what Kong …’s director has incorporated from Coppola’s Vietnam War-based-film there’s no denying the parallels here of 2 very big  films about a military-dominated and American -government-run intrusion into a tortured-south-Asian-environment where some sort of “monster” (Col. Kurtz [Marlon Brando] in Apocalypse Now) is causing havoc in the deep jungle but it’s actually in support of conquering even more monstrous actions by the truly vicious killers in the environment (the Viet Cong), with the protective-action explained by a somewhat-mad-advocate of the “monster” (played by Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now—also incorporating aspects of Brie Larson’s photojournalist character), as well as the attempted demolition of Kong by Packard with napalm and explosives which at least alludes to the fiery ending of Coppola’s film—in some but not all versions—interpreted as a U.S. airstrike on Kurtz’s camp intended to eliminate all traces of his rogue base, which takes on a different twist when Kong simply fights through his ring of fire, killing the one who sought to assassinate him (as Capt. Willard [Martin Sheen] actually does to Kurtz in Apocalypse Now).  For a brief statement on this concept of homage to Coppola's masterpiece from … Skull Island’s director see the 3rd of the Related Links about this movie just a bit farther below.

**Here's a link to Margaret Tarratt’s article by this name (but you’ll have to find a method of flipping the 3rd-4th pages, upside down in this pdf) which is of interest to this concept in all depictions of Kong (although Tarratt doesn’t mention him, confining herself to more legitimate Science-Fiction movies—although she does delve into the “scientific” aspect of the Horror genre by including The Bride of Frankenstein); if you're interested in Tarratt’s argument you might want to expand its context with this book chapter which briefly references her thesis (p. 4) in the midst of an extensive, informative essay on the impact of psychoanalytic thought on contemporary film theory.

 While I was initially a bit put off by the ... Skull Island post-credits scene which implies that we’ll someday see a revival of all  of the famous Toho monsters—not just the return of Godzilla to face Kong, which may present a difficult storyline in that our new version of the Ultimate Reptile Beast's already been cast as a hero for humans, saving my homeland area of San Francisco from further destruction by killing the other 2 nuclear-powered-beasts harming the city before walking away back into the ocean’s depths, so with Kong also shown as a guardian against the cruel Skullcrawlers it’ll be harder, I imagine, to cast one of them as the villain in this upcoming-in-a-few-years-movie, unless they unite against some common enemy (as was the case in the first Avengers group gathering [Joss Whedon, 2012; review in our May 12, 2012 posting] where we found that the initially-combative-superheroes from their previous individual stories put aside ego-driven-differences in order to push back against Loki’s invading hoards) but all of those other former-Tokyo-invaders as well—in retrospect I can see such a full-scale-revival of the Toho monsters will be useful, even as mindless diversionary entertainment, simply because the originals, while functioning as campy fun with their lack of anthropomorphic-attachment that a huge ape can conjure up for a human audience (even when heroic, it’s hard for those of us who can’t conceive of lizards as pets to find much to relate to in Godzilla), have such laughable special effects (with guys in monster suits stomping on little scale-model-buildings) that a technologically-impressive-remake of these iconic giant monsters will likely be as fun to watch as these reboots of Godzilla and Kong have been—although, just as the original milking of Godzilla for all he was worth over several decades by Toho greatly diluted the impact of earlier episodes, too much of these monster revivals may prove to be a burden for both audiences and Legendary Entertainment execs (but I’ll at least tolerate such an onslaught as long as it doesn’t lead to some overanxious “legendary”-wannabe attempting to remake something like Citizen Kane [Orson Welles, 1941] or Casablanca [Michael Curtiz, 1942]* which will lead me to organize a March on Hollywood).

*Although there are terrifying rumors that both these atrocities might occur, so for now I’ll just have to hope that such talk will later be chalked up to even more examples of diversionary “fake news.”

 Nevertheless, I’ll note that the honchos over at Legendary—working in a close-studio-partnership with similar-cash-hungry-suits headquartered at Warner Bros. (the latter very hopeful to make up for the much-weaker-than-expected-grosses of their last 2 Superman-focused-movies)—have a good reason to push ahead with at least the announced reappearance of Godzilla a ways off in 2019, then the more-fabulously-anticipated King Kong matchup in 2020 given that the earlier reboot of one monster “king” took in about $530 million worldwide (about $200 million of that from the upper-North-America-domestic [U.S.-Canada]-market) even as the latest “king” piles up a hefty sum of just about $151.5 million ($66.4 million domestically) after only 1 week in release.  Critically, … Skull Island’s been solid (if not spectacular) as well, garnering 79% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, a 62% average score at Metacritic (more details in the links below).  To bid adieu to these comments, I’ll close with my usual Musical Metaphor (looking—well, listening—at this movie from the perspective of another art form) to make further commentary on Kong: Skull Island by choosing a logical reference with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle” (from the 1970 Cosmo’s Factory album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbI0cMyyw_M, even as we find songwriter/ singer/musician John Fogerty says this song's not about the Vietnam War—as it’s been assumed to be (you can find YouTube videos that make this connection)—but instead about gun proliferation in the U.S.A. (in which he cites Charles Whitman’s 1966 assault from the central-campus-tower at Austin’s University of Texas, killing 16, wounding 32, just before I started there as a freshman), something I’m a lot more concerned about than being attacked by a giant ape, although the lines such as “The devil’s on the loose … Thought I heard a rumblin’ Calling to my name … don’t look back to see” feel easily connected to the chaos of Kong: Skull Island as well.  Maybe you can imitate my cats (as the warmer temperatures of spring start to rise up—except for the snowbound U.S. Northeast) by finding a cool place in the shade of large trees to snack on a couple of bananas (for you, not my cats) in jungle-contemplation of this latest revival of King Kong until next we meet. 
               
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
               
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2016’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 26, 2017 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2016 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards 
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2016 along with the Oscar nominees and winners for 2016 films.

Here’s more information about Kong: Skull Island:

http://kongskullislandmovie.com (check here for possibilities of this movie playing in 3-D or even 70mm in a theater accessible to you)


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty5mWqDLv28 (4:14 featurette with director Vogt-Roberts in which he explains why Kong’s so big and why this film’s set during just after the Vietnam War)



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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 2/16/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
                  
UNLESS YOU’RE READING THIS ON A MACINTOSH COMPUTER USING MAC OS X 10.10.5 AND SAFARI 10.0.3 YOU MAY SEE A SLOPPIER PRESENTATION THAN WHAT WE INTENDED (Google Chrome 56.0.2924.87 meets our layout design; hopefully all other options will look decent also).  OUR APOLOGIES FOR ANY INADVERTENT MESS THAT WE CAN’T CONTROL.
                  
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 23,386; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week: