Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Reviews

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In King Kong, editor Jamie Selkirk’s brisk opening montage conveys the giddiness and hard times of the era in supreme compression. And it’s to the credit of Naomi Watts, the creature effects of Richard Taylor and the stand-in duties of actor/motion artist Andy Serkis that the new film remains emotionally rich and compelling. Peter Jackson occasionally stumbles by falling in love with his visual inventions and letting the narrative focus blur.The biggest films of the season—King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia—share something in common aside from scope. Both productions were filmed in New Zealand, and after two decades the small island nation’s film community has taken the quantum leap from scruffy, idiosyncratic local movies to a full-service industry with the human and technical resources to support the most demanding, physically challenging ventures of contemporary filmmaking.Peter Jackson deserves much of the credit for this transformation as his The Lord of the Rings trilogy put the nation’s film resources to the acid test. So, when he decided to break the Hobbit, his choice of remaking the beloved King Kong was met with a combination of elation and dread. Historically, tampering with the classics has been an exercise in foolish vanity.Despite the new Kong’s epic length, it remains surprisingly faithful to the original story of the 1933 film and maintains the period setting. A prior remake produced in 1976 updated the saga and the thought balloon inventions were tempered with lead. The new outing does not suffer the same fate.It’s the Depression in Manhattan and editor Jamie Selkirk’s brisk opening montage conveys the giddiness and hard times of the era in supreme compression. Carl Denham (Jack Black) is an entrepreneur whose sense of a good show flaunts taste and, sometimes, the law. His latest crackpot notion—an exotic film based on a native legend—has been put in jeopardy when its female star departs and his backers pull the plug. But Denham is one step ahead, hiring chorus girl Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and shanghaiing playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) into the venture. He steams off from the New York piers seconds ahead of his creditors.There are plenty of diversions en route to Skull Island but as the imposing undiscovered land mass is sighted we know that Kong must be close at hand. The resident natives are a fearsome lot and when they take the starlet as a human sacrifice to the gods, the hirsute simian emerges as the surrogate cavalry. As with the original, the film’s soul derives from the legend of beauty and the beast. And it’s to the credit of Watts, the creature effects of Richard Taylor and the stand-in duties of actor/motion artist Andy Serkis that the new film remains emotionally rich and compelling.Jackson’s strength as a filmmaker is story and his ability to marry arresting images to the drama. Nonetheless he occasionally stumbles by falling in love with his visual inventions and letting the narrative focus blur. King Kong is a relatively simple story when one peels away its veneer. Back in the 1930s Hollywood could polish off this sort of scenario in 80 minutes and leave you breathless. Jackson and his crew are equally adept at eliciting gasps. There’s a chase/stampede with lumbering dinosaurs that’s a kinetic marvel as well as the climatic battle between the titular star perched atop the Empire State Building and a squad of biplanes.As good, exhilarating and novel as King Kong 2005 has emerged, it still plays too long. Set pieces have a tendency to be drawn out and the filmmakers toss in three creatures when one or two would have been sufficient. It’s not quite the equivalent of too much of a good thing as it is a lapse of the self-discipline that requires a confident filmmaker to simply step back and draw in the reins.By Leonard KladyIn The World’s Fastest Indian the verdant images of New Zealand give way to the bright yellows and arid earth palette of the American Southwest. It’s a seamless transition affected by cinematographer David Gribble, [who] films the motorcycle trials with a first-person intensity that puts you through the physical exertion and the will to prevail.If King Kong is symbolic of a production that knows neither restraint nor constraint, The World’s Fastest Indian is the epitome of economy of means. The true-life saga of Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins)—an amateur inventor with a penchant for fast motorcycles—is a heartfelt human drama about one of those nobodies that beats the odds and skeptics. Director Roger Donaldson profiled Munro in a documentary back in the 1970s and a fictionalized version of his life has been his personal passion for 20 years.Though Donaldson was part of the Kiwi vanguard with the dramatically potent Smash Palace in 1981, he’s spent most of the past two decades on assignment in Hollywood. His resume has been a mixed bag but he’s always demonstrated a craftsman’s skill. Returning to his roots simply underlines the limitations that shackle most talent employed in a commercial-biased system.There are few bells and whistles in The World’s Fastest Indian. Yet, it’s the film’s very simplicity and plausibility that allow the filmmakers to draw on raw emotions; often tacitly simmering beneath a seeming calm. Munro’s neighborhood a half-century back is still informed by the country’s agrarian bedrock and so the modern world feels slightly intrusive in the loving translation of the past by production designer Rob Gillies. It’s also an apt counterpoint to a world that views the eccentric character working in his shed with benign befuddlement.Munro is an anachronism. Not content with retirement, he tinkers on a 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle that he plans to take to America and put to the speed test on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. His objective is clear even if the reality of his physical stamina appears to be an impediment. The situation is rife with contrasts. The character may have an iron will but simple logistics confound him. People are amused yet captivated by his personality and ultimately indulge his fancy as passing whim. He is nonetheless a world-beater, but the outside world is blind to his youthful vitality.Though slow to reveal itself, the film is a road movie. Once it sets foot on American soil and meanders toward the Flats, the tone lightens. The verdant images of New Zealand give way to the bright yellows and arid earth palette of the Southwest. It’s a seamless transition affected by cinematographer David Gribble that will once again shift gears for the climatic, harrowing rigors of putting the Scout to the challenge of the salt plains. He films the trials with a first-person intensity that puts you through the physical exertion and the will to prevail.Like its subject The World’s Fastest Indian is a disarming sleight-of-hand. It seems to be no more than a simple character study, an anecdote of human determination. However, the image and spirit of this saga linger and resonate in one’s consciousness.

Written by Len Klady

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