16 December 2005

Three Movies (WARNING: Spoilers)

I've seen three movies in the last week or so, two new, and one on video (well, DVD). I'll start with the best one first, the one I saw last night at 545 in the AMC 25 Theatre on 42nd and 8th.

King Kong was just absolutely fucking incredible. It was a face melter- one of those action movies that have almost exhausting special effects sequences where they continually top themselves and pile more and more on.

Normally, this is tiring- it's a technique that's really hard to succeed with because it produces a level almost impossible to maintain. In a movie like Face/ Off, the action sequences have to work so hard to top themselves that they start to become parodic and cartoon-y. They lose their appeal.

But every sequence in Kong is so inventive, and so new, and so full of suspense, that it never really becomes an issue. I've lead a lot of stuff about the 3 hours plus run time, something that always bugs me to read. I love long movies- the longer the better. It always struck me as an "I have to watch 45 movies and review them this week, and this doesn't help" type complaint.

It's especially irrelevant on this movie, which just absolutely flies by. The opening works slowly, but you're watching it with full knowledge that they're waiting on introducing Kong. The buildup actually becomes enjoyable- you place so much emphasis on finally seeing the monster that you begin to appreciate the waiting- the anticipation is all part of the fun.

Everything about this movie is great- Jack Black is funny and great, Adrian Brody (I don't really like him, for whatever reason) was a great choice, Naomi Watts. The photography, the New York City in the '30s recreation, the natives on Skull Island (SERIOUSLY creepy), 99.9% of the CGI. All great.

The only criticism I'd have would be with a small handful of the green-screen shots were really poorly done. Just some simple cutaways, mostly of the actors running alongside various beasts. Nothing major, but still enough that I noticed.

There were a handful of really great sequences, but the two that certainly stood out far above all others were the battle between Kong and the Tyrannosaurus Rexes, and the entire Kong in New York City drama.

The battle between the dinosaurs and Kong was very possibly the greatest display of CGI in any movie, ever. It was epic, totally believable, totally involving, intricate, and fun. It was so engrossing, exciting, suspenseful and ultimately rewarding that when it was done, the theatre I was in had a palpable "PHEW" let out, and clapped with a little relief and adrenaline hangover. It was that great.

The New York sequence is divided up into two parts- his big reveal on Broadway/ destruction of Times Square, and finally, his epic crawl up the Empire State Building, swatting at the biplanes. The first part is great- Jackson was brilliant in his ability to draw real, honest sympathy for this marauding ape, and you really do root for him and feel bad when he's hurt. It's really well done.

The Empire State Building sequence was unreal. Just unbelievable. As someone who has a latent fear of heights, too- let's just say it's uncomfortable to watch, but in an entertaining way. There's no good way to describe it.

So that's my meandering fanboy ode to King Kong. Seriously, this movie is an instant classic. You'll be booting yourself in the balls for years if you don't catch it on the big screen.

Here is an article regarding some of the 'wink, wink' moments of the movie
Roger Ebert's review

The other movie I watched last night was One Day in September, the documentary film regarding the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack by Black September, the Palestinian liberation group.

The good things in the movie- the breadth of information, the interviews with various players in the event, the extensive archival footage.

The bad things in the movie- there was a slightly callous nature to the handling of the events. Most of the crime scene shots were, for some reason, played like crime scene footage from, say, Goodfellas- with splashy montages and early 70s British hard rock music. A very odd choice. The film was also a little too short- understanding they were interested in examining the events of that day, there still could have been a bit more explanation of the Black September group's origins, their ties to Arafat and others, how their plan took shape, where their funding came from... you get the idea. We don't really get much of an impression of these men at all, actually.

There are a number of realities that jump out at you, however, when watching the film. Some of the mistakes in the handling of the incident were beyond embarassing. In fact, the night of the raid, the terrorists were actually unwittingly helped in sneaking into the back of the village by American athletes(they pretended they too were athletes returning from a forebidden night of carousing, like the Americas).

The Germans saw the Munich Olympics as a great way to improve their international image and to "make better" on the embarassment that was the propogandized 1936 Berlin Olympics. In that light, security was relaxed so as not to present Germany as the cold, dictatorial "police state" it appeared to be. People came and went from the Olympic Village without much hassle, and unarmed security roamed the grounds.

Despite all their errors, the German government, when the hostage crisis hit, were well aware of the implications of the particulars involved. The hostages being Jews, and being held BECAUSE they were Jews, was an especially sticky situation when being handled by German officials desperate to shed the Nazi impression. The film points out that the man in charge of negotiation with the terrorists actually offers
a) to replace the Israeli hostages with members of the German investigation team/ government
b) an unlimited amount of money

Both offers were refused. While Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir stated that she would not negotiate with terrorists (one man states that Israel likely would easily rather have all the athletes die than open themselves up to terror by negotiation or appeasing the demands), she did offer a highly sophisticated group of Israeli police to stage a raid themselves. The Germans refused.

When attempting to prepare a strike on the abductors, the Germans dressed police in athletes uniforms in an attempt to get into position and rush the dorm rooms. However, due to complicated German laws, the German army COULD NOT participate in the efforts. As a result, police officers were rounded up on a volunteer basis and asked "have you ever fired a gun before?" Snipers were set up, and men positioned to rush the room- but none of the men had any training in any such situations, including the snipers. Eventually, these plans were scrapped because TV broadcasts being shown all over the world were also on the TVs in the dorm rooms. The terrorists, apparently, were entirely capable of observing the police moving into position.

Meanwhile, the Olympic Committee did not suspend games for 11 hours. At one point in the news footage, video showed a terrorist with a balaclava hood on peering over the dorm ledge, and then panned down to the courtyard of the Village, where other athletes were suntanning, playing ping pong, and sipping lemonades.

After the passing of the deadline for release of the Palestinian prisoners (their sole demand), the terrorists finally demanded a plane to jet to an undisclosed Arab country. A helicopter was secured to get them to the airport. German officials decided to set up an ambush at the airport, with disguised police waiting in the airplane and snipers setup around the control tower and on the ground.

However, minutes before the terrorists arrived, the disguised police force on the plane decided with a vote that they were not trained well enough to carry through, and that they should abandon the mission. Meanwhile, the snipers still had no previous experience or training in such situations, and had no radio contact with one another whatsoever. They were anticipating 4-5 terrorists, and when they arrived, they found 8 of them.

In addition to this, the German police FORGOT to order the armored cars the terrorists demanded for transport from helicopter to plane. As they ordered this and waited, the snipers had to hold for the signal. When the snipers did eventually open fire, one of the snipers was actually in the line of fire of another, and was severely wounded as a result. Ultimately, all but three of the terrorists were killed, and all the hostages when one of the Palestinians lobbed a hand grenade into the helicopter.

Months after the incident we learn that a German flight was hijacked with the demands that the three living Black September members be freed. Within hours, the demands were met by the German government. The flight was a commercial one, on a large jet- but had only 12 passengers, and no women and children. It is revealed in the film that the German government engineered the hijacking to avoid the trial of the three men. It was feared that the inevitably guilty verdict would invite more terrorist attacks on their country, and also bring to light much of the embarassing bungling of the situation.

Golda Meir also authorized the Mossad to hunt down and kill not only all the remaining terrorists, but their families and anyone who may have been involved in the planning (this is what Munich, the new Spielberg film is about). One of the eight still lives in Africa with his wife and children, and speaks in the film. He's survived numerous attempts on his life, and his "still proud" of his actions in Munich.

Incredible the way the whole thing was bungled. And for the record, if there's anything more creepy than the footage of the negotiators for BS, Issa, walking around the entrance of the Israeli dorm with shoepolish on his face, I'd love to see it. That was some insane stuff.

Finally, my Mom and I saw Good Night, and Good Luck about a week ago in Fairfield, CT. When we were watching it, I couldn't tell if there was problem with the audio in the theatre, or if it was some odd effect wherein there was a slightly-scratchy-vinyl record sound underneath the dialogue to fit the "tone" of the movie being set in the 1950s and in black and white. Having worked at that theatre years ago, and knowing the dedication those people put into their jobs... well, my guess is the sound got fucked up. They're all idiots.

Outside of this, I liked GNAGL. My favorite part of it was the rejection of the common biopic conventions (Ray, Walk the Line) and how it focused a crucial moment in an important figure's life. I feel like there's more depth there. Capote succeeded with this as well.

The movie is, as I'm sure everyone knows, Edward R Murrow's tackling of Senator Joseph McCarthy's red scares and abuse of power on his primetime CBS News news show. We see the backlash he and Fred Friendly endured, the pressure from the sponsors, etc. Just a thoroughly entertaining movie.

One odd bit though- they didn't simply portray the characters smoking in this movie- the cigarettes and smoke inhalation were practically fetishized. It's actually kind of bizarre once you pick up on it.

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