Movie Review: King Kong (1933) #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: King Kong
Release Date: April 7, 1933
Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Production Company: Radio Pictures
Synopsis:

Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a Hollywood filmmaker who films on location in remote wilderness settings. He’s been told by his producers he needs to cast a woman in his next picture but no casting agent will allow any of their actresses to go on a long, possibly dangerous journey.  The night before setting sail, Denham finds the down-on-her-luck Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and decides she will be perfect for the film.  On their ship journey halfway around the world, Ann develops a romance with the first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot).

Denham leads the ship to a unchartered island near Sumatra he’d heard of from a Norwegian captain. On the island they interrupt the indigenous people carrying out a ceremonial sacrifice of a young woman as “bride of Kong.” The chief is intrigued by Ann but she and the crew return to the ship.  Later the native people abduct Ann and sacrifice her to Kong, a giant gorilla.

Denham, Driscoll, and many sailors follow in pursuit. Kong kills off most of the men while also defending Ann from various dinosaurs and a pterodactyl.  Eventually Driscoll is able to bring Ann to safety while Denham subdues Kong with gas bombs.  Denham decides to bring Kong to display in New York, promising everyone they will be millionaires.

A few months later, Kong debuts on Broadway, and pretty much immediately escapes into the city.  He once again takes Ann and fights off various people who try to stop him (and perhaps his only real jerk-move is derailing an elevated train for no apparent reason).  He climbs to the top of the Empire State Building for safety, but there he is shot down by army biplanes and falls to his death.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

Kong and I go way back.  One day when I was a toddler, I wanted to go shopping with my mother and grandmother, but they made me stay home with my father.  I fell asleep mid-tantrum.  Meanwhile, my mother felt guilty and decided to bring home a gift – a foot high, plastic, King Kong piggy bank.  She placed it right near my head so I would see it when I woke up, expecting delight, but instead hearing my terrified screams!

Nevertheless, that King Kong would be one of my favorite toys for years to come.  Whenever I built New York City’s skyscrapers with my wooden blocks, I placed King Kong on the Empire State Building.  I also remember a giant, inflatable King Kong on the real Empire State Building in 1983 for the movie’s 50th anniversary. I can’t remember the first time I watched the original King Kong, but I know I saw the 1976 remake first, on tv sometime in the early 80s.

WOR in New York had a tradition of showing King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young on Thanksgiving afternoon and we watched them all for several years running.  In 2005, I enjoyed a two-theater, two-city double feature where I watched the original King Kong (1933) at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge and then hopped on my bike and rode to the Somerville Theater in Davis Square and saw Peter Jackson’s new remake of King Kong .

What Did I Remember?:

This movie has the simplest of plots so it’s hard to forget much.

What Did I Forget?:

Nevertheless, I forgot how much of the movie is on Skull Island.  Only the last 20 minutes take place in New York.  I think the remakes have conditioned me to have a greater balance of the locations.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie was a technical marvel when it was released, and even if the special effects look “unrealistic” by today’s standards, you have to admire the imagination and artistry that went into them. The final scene where Kong bats at biplanes from his perch at the top of the Empire State Building is still breathtaking.  And it is heartbreaking when Kong is shot and falls to his death.

I have always hated the final line, “It was beauty who killed the beast!” No, Denham, you jerk, it was you who took this animal from its home, chained him up and put it on display, and then called on airplanes to shoot it down when he got away.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Where do we start?  The movie is full of racial stereotypes from the Chinese ship cook to the “natives” on Skull Island.  And why is an island in the Southeast Asia or Oceania region populated with people who look African?  The depiction of gender isn’t any better.  Sure you can say that the patriarchal behavior of the men in the film is an accurate depiction of men of the time, but the scriptwriter also decided that most of Fay Wray’s dialogue would be “Aaah!” Finally, there’s a lot of cruelty to (imaginary) animals in this film.  It’s no wonder that King Kong remakes have made Kong more sympathetic and the women stronger characters.

Is It a Classic?:

As a pure adventure/horror film with iconic moments, it is clearly a classic, but be ready for all the baggage that comes with it.

Rating: ****

I don’t have any other K movies to recommend unless you want to watch King Kong (1976) and King Kong (2005). Get your guesses in for my movie starting with L in the comments. (Hint: it is based on a romantic debut novel that became a huge bestseller).

Movie Review: Virunga (2014) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “V” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “V” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Vernon, Florida.

Title: Virunga
Release Date: April 17, 2014
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Production Company: Violet Films | Grain Media
Summary/Review:

Virunga documents the efforts of park rangers at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to conserve the habitat of several endangered species, including the few surviving mountain gorillas.  From the start, the filmmakers embed the story in Africa’s history of colonialism, corporate exploitation, and war, particularly the recurring conflicts that have erupted since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  The park rangers are heavily armed, and we learn early on that 130 of them have died in the course of their duty.  Parallel scenes depict a funeral for a park ranger and the funeral of several mountain gorillas slaughtered by poachers.

The movie depicts ranger Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo at work and the director of the Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, overseeing how best to deploy limited resources.  We also spend time with the very warm and loving André Bauma and the orphan gorillas he cares for.  Current events change the focus of the film as there are even more grave threats to the park. First, the British corporation Soco International gains concessions for oil extraction within the park. Katembo and French investigative journalist Mélanie Gouby both meet with and secretly recorded Soco officials in order to uncover corruption and protect the park.  Next, an uprising by a rebel group called the M23, brings armed conflict right to the borders of the park.

Virunga is an absolutely visually-stunning film that ties together a nature documentary with current events and a dramatic throughline worthy of a scripted drama.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Nature documentaries set in Africa are often from the perspective of a white outsider, a David Attenborough or aJane Goodall.  Virunga stands out as a story that primarily offers the point of view of Congolese people and their concern for their national park and its animals.  That civil conflict and corporate malfeasance are so directly tied into the survival of the park also is unique in demonstrating that protecting endangered species is not separate from the greater human experience.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

The Virunga movie website offers several options to take action and help preserve the national park and its animals.

Source: Netflix

Rating: ****1/2

 


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Book Review: Good Morning, Gorillas by Mary Pope Osbourne


Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleGood Morning, Gorillas
Publication Info: New York : Random House, 2006.
Summary/Review:

Another delightful Magic Tree House journey where Annie and Jack spend a few days living among a family of mountain gorillas in Congo and learn the “magic” of communication.  Osbourne knows a lot about gorilla behavior and incorporates it into the story in informative and entertaining ways.
Rating: ***1/2

JP A to Z: Z is for Zoo #AtoZChallenge #JamaicaPlain


Z is for Zoo

Franklin Park Zoo is part of the large Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park on the border between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.  It’s a popular destination for local families. Although it’s not a particularly great zoo compared to others I visited, it does have some strong points.  One is the African Lion exhibit, once home to the late & lamented Christopher whose roars echoed through the city, and now home to the brothers Dinari and Kamaia. The premier exhibit is the Tropical Forest which is home to a troop of gorillas including the baby Azize born last May.  The Franklin Farm contains a petting zoo, and we’re eagerly awaiting the opening of the new children’s zoo Nature’s Neighborhoods.

 

Post for “Z” in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

Click to see more “Blogging A to Z” posts.