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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Rick Baker

King Kong (2005)

He must protect his house.

Carl Denham (Jack Black) is a filmmaker living in the 1930’s, meaning, he doesn’t have a lot of opportunities. And the ones that he does have, don’t tickle his fancy as much as they used to. That’s why, when he catches wind of a mysterious, huge and odd island out in the middle of nowhere, Denham soon gets the ambition and inspiration all over again. So, he assembles a team full of actors, actresses, crew, and handy-men, who know a thing or two about an adventure and are capable of solving issues, should any of them arise. Aboard the ship is leading-lady Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), who also is in desperate need of a hit and will do anything for the spotlight, just one more time. Screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) feels the same way, but also finds himself falling for Ann, leading him to make some pretty rash decisions along this adventure, all leading up to finally meeting, once and for all, King Kong – the giant gorilla who practically watches over Skull Island and kills any sort of threat that may come its way. In this case, it’s these humans and needless to say, not all of them are equipped to take him down.

Why would you want a human, when you could have a Kong?

After winning practically every Oscar that he could for Return of the King, it made sense that he would be allowed to make virtually any movie that he wanted. Cause it’s a known thing in Hollywood: Make a lot of money, win a lot of awards, earn respect, and guess what? You can make your dream projects a reality. And oddly enough, for Jackson, it was remaking the movie he grew up knowing and loving, King Kong. Oh, and by “remaking”, I mean making two hours longer and adding on more CGI, special-effects, and story than you could ever imagine.

But trust me, this isn’t a stab at Jackson.

If anything, King Kong is Jackson getting the opportunity to play in his sandbox, where the world is his oyster, sky is the limit, there are no rules, and even better, everyone’s watching. A lot of people may have complained about the fact that the movie is over three hours long, takes awhile to actually get to Skull Island, and yeah, features one too many monsters and creatures, aside from the titular Kong, but in a way, that sort of makes the movie more epic; it shows us that Jackson isn’t setting out to make a note-for-note remake, but bask in every single bit of this material and be as excessive as humanly possible.

Is it a little draining? Quite possibly, yes, but at the same time, watching Jackson having the time of his life is, in all honesty, a beauty to behold. There aren’t many directors out there in the world with the impressive and ambitious scope like Jackson’s, so when he’s given carte blanche to do all that he wants and not stop, it’s nothing if not entertaining. Also, when was the last time you saw a three-hour movie that goes by in a flash? King Kong should have been a slog, but it’s not and it’s a true testament to Jackson’s prowess that allows for him to make a three-hour movie about little humans and a big gorilla, feel a lot less than that.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Jackson directs the hell out of this thing and it makes sense why he wanted to bother with this story in the first place.

And even getting away from the technical side of the movie, and focusing more on the actual things that matter, like story, character development, etc., yeah, it still kind of works. The story isn’t all that different from before, but this time around, Jackson does up the emotion in a way that’s surprising, mostly because while we’re watching Kong up there on the screen, we’re watching something believable and impressively done – almost to the point where instead of being scared by him, we’re actually connected to him. The whole tale about this gorilla falling in love with a short little blonde thing is, of course, silly, but the movie doesn’t forget that sometimes, the seriousness of a tale like this can actually work, so long as you build enough tension and emotion behind it all.

That’s what Jackson does and it helps King Kong move along, even when it gets away from the gorilla beating the hell out of other monsters and dinosaurs. Cause even during those sequences, there’s a fun, crazy and almost hectic energy that’s a lot like the Lord of the Rings movies, but still its own kind of beast. Even when Jackson does dial it down for the characters, the movie’s still at least somewhat interesting, because we’ve spent so much time and energy with them, it’s hard not to understand them, at the very least.

Jack knows what I’m talking about.

Then again, the ensemble involved does help out with that as much as they can.

If there’s one thing that holds King Kong back from being a truly and absolutely great movie that it sometimes comes close to being, it’s that the performances can tend to be a bit bland, which may have more to do with the script and less to do with the actual actors themselves. Like, for instance, Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody are two perfectly good actors who can work well when given the material, but for some reason, they just feel underdeveloped; Watts gets some chances to be bright and shiny, whereas Brody is mostly just serious and not all that right for a movie that’s so concerned with everything else that’s going on around him. Others in the cast fare better, like Kyle Chandler, Jamie Bell, Thomas Kretschmann, and Colin Hanks, mostly because their characters aren’t made out to be the leads and can benefit from some goofiness, but with Watts and Brody, who are supposed to be our emotional anchors throughout this whole thing, it doesn’t fully work.

That said, the movie does benefit from having a very good, very surprising, and very dark performance from Jack Black. Of course, a lot of people will consider Black’s performance to be channeling Orson Welles, but if so, it’s still a good performance, because we see him lay down all of the usual trademarks and conventions that we’re so used to seeing, and hating with the sorts of characters he plays. What we get here, is a person we grow to love to hate and because of Black’s performance gets better, taking on more meaning as the movie develops and we start to see more sides to this twisted, sometimes sad little man.

Which is to say that I’m still waiting for that battle between Black and Kong.

Black Kong. What a name.

Consensus: Ambitious in scope, epic in its look, feel, and overall mood, King Kong is the movie Peter Jackson deserved to make and absolutely revels in the opportunity to do so, for the benefit of us all.

8.5 / 10

See what I mean?

Photos Courtesy of: Fernby Films

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

And nerds everywhere, were never the same.

A teenage farmhand who goes by the name of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has certain aspirations for greatness that go further than just collecting bots for his Uncle and Aunt, fixing them, and not reallly doing much else. However, through what seems to be a course of some life-changing moments and experiences in a very short span of time, he finds himself start to train to become a true jedi, one who can be trusted on to save the galaxy from the evil dark side. He learns all of his moves and skills from an older fellow named Obi-Wan (Alec Guiness) who, through his teachings, makes him understand how to control his force and not get carried away at all with it all. This then leads both of them to get caught up in a plot to rescue a princess named Leia (Carrie Fisher), forcing an alignment with two bad-asses of space called Han Solo and Chewbacca (Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew), and taking on perhaps the greatest force of all, Darth Vader (James Earl Jones). However, little does Luke know just how hard this task will be and what it will take for someone as unskilled as him to take down a whole empire.

Always trust in these three.

Always trust in these three.

What’s there to say about A New Hope that hasn’t already been said? For one, the movie’s an absolute classic, and that’s not just talking about the movie itself. More or less, the movie changed Hollywood and the movie-world as we known it; space operas had been done before Star Wars ever came out, but this one, despite its meager budget, list of no-name actors, and total cult-appeal, somehow destroyed the box-office and became the billion-dollar juggernaut that it is today.

And for that reason alone, George Lucas will always and forever have my respect.

Sure, the past decade or so has proven that maybe dear ol’ George has fallen a bit far from the cork tree, but regardless, nobody will ever forget just what sort of guts it took for someone like George Lucas, to make a movie like Star Wars, and then actually go somewhere with it all in the end. In a way, it’s the American Dream: Making an original movie, full of your own, crazy and unique ideas, doing everything your own self, and allowing for the rest of the world to see, only to have everyone accept it, love it and want to see more of it. Of course, along with that Dream, comes plenty of money, greed and vanity, but hey, none of that dark stuff now! This, my friends, is a happy story about how one George Lucas made a movie like Star Wars and ultimately, changed the movie landscape as we know it.

But seriously, aside from all the cultural significance this flick holds, it’s still pretty great in its own right. What surprised me so much about checking out A New Hope, even after all of these years, is how funny it actually was; people will mostly get swamped remembering the later movies and how corny Lucas’ sense of humor was, but honestly, the guy was actually a pretty nifty writer. Are the jokes silly? Of course they are, but there’s a sense of actual fun and play going on here that makes this movie such a better watch than some of the others; while Lucas may want his material to be taken seriously, he still can’t keep himself away from a witty line to deliver on. But still, it all works well with the rest of the movie and doesn’t feel just thrown in there for short measure.

Perhaps what has A New Hope stand the test of time, for as long as it has, is the fact that Lucas introduced so many iconic characters and seemed to actually do something with them.

Luke is, as made out to be, the quintessential hero of this story who may be naive and a bit bitchy, but also dreams for something more out of his life. While Hamill may get a lot of crap thrown at him for not being the best actor out of the bunch here, there’s still a certain amount of sweetness to his character-arch that makes him work and seem like more than just your ordinary hero. He’s on a quest, for sure, but because he’s so clean and good, it’s hard to hate the guy, either.

Then, of course, there’s Alec Guiness as Obi-Wan who, despite being the most acclaimed and skilled actor out of the bunch here, fits perfectly. Granted, Guiness doesn’t have much more to do here except go on and on about “the force” and how to control it, but really, he’s such a seasoned pro, he can make talking about rocks sound as compelling as they probably shouldn’t be. The fact that he and Darth Vader were, at one point in their lives, adversaries, makes it all the more interesting to watch, especially once they have that final duel between one another.

Speaking of Darth, James Earl Jones was perhaps the most perfect choice to voice this character. While we all know now that Darth Vader wasn’t actually played by Jones, it still doesn’t matter because his voice is so husky, rough and manly, that it’s absolutely terrifying to hear him get mad at someone, or just talk in general. The breathing’s scary, too, in that you don’t know why he’s doing it or where it’s coming from, but regardless, there’s just something awfully intimidating about seeing a man, dressed in an all black, nearly-identical Nazi-outfit, coming at you from afar.

One generation of cool-ass Jedi's, to another.

One generation of cool-ass Jedi’s, to another.

Not to mention the fact that, yes, he’s voiced by James Earl Jones.

But still, there’s so many more iconic characters to speak about that, honestly, it’s hard to go on about them without sounding like nothing more than just a cliche. Of course, Harrison Ford is the perfect anti-hero who, rather than try and save the girl because he’s a nice guy, would much rather do so to just get some sex (like most of us men out there); Chewbacca never makes sense, but it’s hard not to laugh whenever he and Solo communicate; C-3PO and R2-D2 are like a married couple and have the most charming love-hate relationship ever seen on the big screen; and yes, Carrie Fisher was not only as cute as a button playing Leia, but also worked well as the character because she’s not just a bad-ass gal, but one who can take care of herself and get stuff done whenever the men are just sitting around on their rumps, thinking of what to do next.

There’s more here (like Porkins), but yeah, you get the point – A New Hope has so many great, memorable characters to talk about, that to do so, would just be overkill.

However, what always has me coming back to A New Hope and remembering it for how great it truly was, and still is to this day, is the universal feeling of doing something that’s not only extraordinary, but better for the rest of mankind. It’s the kind of inspirational message that almost every movie made for young kids tries to tap into, but so rarely actually deliver on; however, without even trying, Lucas has our heads in the stars, dreaming for days, and wanting to do something special with what we’re given. Whether that’s making a billion-dollar-grossing movie, or saving the galaxy from evil clones, it doesn’t matter.

Continue to dream and you know what? Maybe it can happen to you, too.

Consensus: A New Hope not only changed the movie-business as a whole, but offered up iconic characters, an inspirational tale for the decades, and gave us reason to trust in George Lucas, even if he did sort of screw all of that up later on in his career.

10 / 10

Who shot first? Well, George, thanks to you, the world may never know.

Who shot first? Well, George, thanks to you, the world may never know.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Men in Black III (2012)

Look out aliens, they’re getting older.

Agent K (Will Smith) travels back through time to the 1960s to save Agent J (Tommy Lee Jones). However, the big mishap here is that he’s about 30 years younger (Josh Brolin) and they both have to fight off super-alien, Boris the Animal, from destroying the world.

Now, I know I sure as hell wasn’t asking for this and I’m pretty sure (hoping) that nobody else really was either; but there is still something positive to be said about this franchise. The first one was very fun and probably stayed in every kids memories forever; and then the second one came around suck all of the fun from the first one! Still, there’s a smidge of fun here taht brought me back to the good old days of sitting down and poppin’ in the old MIB into the VHS, with a couple of my really cool buds. Oh, the old times.

What really had me scared in the beginning was how out-dated this flick seemed. It’s been awhile since the first and second film came out, so when you have Smith up on-screen using lines like “pimpslap the biznitch” or “fo’ real dawg”, it gives off barely any comedy and seems like everybody involved is trying to go back to their 90’s flavor. It’s not sitting well with the viewers, though. Actually, movies, Summer blockbusters, and comedy in general has sort of changed since ’97 and you don’t have to look past the first 20 minutes to notice. I didn’t find myself laughing once and felt boderline disappointing because they tried so damn hard to make me. Everything that Smith did back in the 90’s that seemed hip, cool, and funny —  comes off flat. Sure, there’s something nice about a comedy that isn’t all about being raunchy goes with a clean approach, but it just isn’t funny enough here and that’s what pushed my buttons at first.

Thankfully once Smith finds himself in 1969, things start to pick up smoothly. Director Barry Sonnenfeld did a nice job with this material because he was able to balance out all of the elements of comedy, action, sci-fi, and even a bit of drama; and somehow he made it all work. I started chuckling a lot more once they got into the 60’s lunged at the time-period by bringing up iconic figures like Andy Warhol, played hilariously by Bill Hader, and a couple of little references to outdated music and fads that were big around then. Yeah, the time-travel idea may have not been very inspiring, but it still worked, alright? Thanks mainly, of course, to Sonnenfeld, who is able to make it work, without just seeming like a one-trick pony where every other joke is a hit at the decade. When you got MIB gadgets in the 60’s, you got a quick laugh.

However, a lot of the fun comes from the action and sci-fi elements. The 3D for this movie is actually pretty good and the special effects look even better, thanks to the wonderful work by Rick Baker who always seems to be on his A-game no matter what the movie is. Of course, the aliens look great and the gadgets are cooler than ever but there’s also a lot of action here that really keeps the movie going, without ever really stopping itself to slow down and focus on its characters.

You know what? I did sort of like when they started to slow the film down and focus on the characters, because it worked better than expected. The film really focuses on how Jones’ character has changed over the years from this smiling happy dude that is liked by many, to this totally stern and miserable-looking guy that nobody wants to be around. This was a cool idea and used well — whenever the film brought it into the picture a bit, however, it immediate starts to shy away from it and then this final twist comes in at the end to give us a connection to these characters more and it comes off as totally shoehorned in. I don’t want to give anything away but what shocked me at first, really made no sense and seemed like a really manipulative way of getting us to care for these two characters that we already love and root for as it is.

Will Smith returns to the screen after a 4-year absence and plays the role of Agent J with all of the charisma and enthusiasm he has in his pocket, almost as if he wasn’t gone from the screen for 4 minutes. As I said before, a lot of Smith’s comedy at first, comes off as dated but he starts to get the hang of it and shows why he is one of the most lovable personalities on the big-screen and I hope he comes back to stay and not leave us after doing some dumb shit like Seven Pounds. Tommy Lee Jones is not really here all that much as Agent J, because a lot of that time is given to the awesome Josh Brolin, who plays a younger version of him. Brolin hits the deadpan delivery that Jones has perfectly and he adds a lot of charm to a performance that could have easily just been one-note. He said “slick” a little too much for my liking, but I still have to give a lot of love to Brolin for bringing an impersonation of a very notable actor, and giving it his own, little swing.

Jemaine Clement is sort of one-dimensional as the villain, Boris the Animal, and I think it’s a disappointment because I think Clement could have really handled this material like a champ. Instead, they give him non-intimidating villainous lines, a running gag about his name that wasn’t funny the first 100 times they did it, and a Randy “Macho Man” Savage look that made me feel like he was going against the wrong guys in a battle like this. He should have been facing Hulkamania, brothers!!

Consensus: Men in Black III may not be a threequel we needed to see nor does it bring anything new to this almost-forgotten franchise, but it does bring a lot of kid-oriented fun to it, with charming performances from the cast, a breezy pace, and a nice mixture of comedy and action that will remind you as to why this franchise worked so well in the first place.

7/10=Rental!!

Men in Black (1997)

These guys were facing off against aliens, before that was even cool.

Working for a highly-funded yet unofficial government agency, K (Tommy Lee Jones) and J (Will Smith) are the Men In Black, providers of immigration services and regulators of all things alien on Earth. While investigating a series of unregistered close encounters, the MIB agents uncover the deadly plot of an intergalactic terrorist who is on a mission to assassinate two ambassadors from opposing galaxies currently in residence in New York city.

So with Men in Black III coming out soon, I thought it would be a nice idea to go back and check out the first one that not only did I love as a kid, but so did every other kid around me. Sad to see how things change as you grow older, and then become a d-bag movie critic.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld did a pretty good job with this material, which is based on a comic book series that’s full of darkness and violence, by making it somewhat light and fluffy with humor and slime instead. There was plenty of jokes to go around in this flick and I liked that because it showed that the film didn’t really take itself too seriously, which was never more serious than it needed to be at all in the first place. I mean you have two guys dressed in ALL black, going around looking for aliens: how much goofier can you get? Liked the tone of this film because it could have easily fallen apart by taking a serious look at the world of alien hunting. It’s actually more cool than it is goofy, but I think it’s all in a day’s work and that’s all that really mattered to me.

What really took me away was the fact that Rick Baker‘s art direction was something only he could do. Baker is a dude that’s known for doing all of the make-up and costume features on plenty of films ranging from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, The Nutty Professor, and the one he just recently won an Oscar for, The Wolfman. If you have watched any of those three, you will notice that this guy isn’t messing around when it comes to making some crazy make-up look real and this is probably one of his best examples. Whether it’s the giant bug Edgar, or the little worm aliens with the Mexican accents, or even Jack Jeebs, Baker’s detail to make-up and costumes look funny, scary, and surprisingly, very believable. This was one of the main selling points of the flick when it first came out and it’s understandable as to why because they still hold up in today’s day and age of constant IMAX 3D flicks filled with CGI out the wahzoo, coming out almost every weekend.

What I was a little bummed out by this film was that a lot of this just feels very generic, which is mainly due to the plot. The plot is so 1-2-3 that you can usually tell everything that’s going to happen within the first 5 minutes and even though it’s not as bad here as it is with plenty of other flicks of this nature, I still couldn’t get past that I wasn’t really going to see any surprises. Still, I think it’s Sonnenfield’s direction that kept my mind off of this problem for a short time anyway. Speaking of short time, the film is only 98 minutes long and it actually went by pretty quick, even though I do think they could have done a little bit more developing when it came to the characters and just what exactly their main objective was. I get that they were going after the one big, bad alien dude but I don’t know how he was going to tear down the galaxy. Hmmm, maybe it’s just a mystery I’ll never know about.

Where I think this film really worked well with was the two performances from Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K and Will Smith as Agent J. This is one of those polar-opposite, buddy-buddy combinations we see all of the time in these types of flicks but it’s so much fun to watch here because of the type of performers Jones and Smith both are. Jones’ sense of comedy (or lack thereof) is very dry and sometimes non-existent, while Smith is constantly up in everybody’s grill, making slang jokes at everybody he meets and is constantly just shoving his attitude in other peoples’ faces. They both make a good team together because they work well and you can tell that they both do have chemistry, even though the film doesn’t really focus on it all that much. But hey, at least they’re having fun.

Vincent D’Onofrio‘s performance as Edgar was pretty impressive when it came to his physical stature, like how he moved his body and neck in some crazy places, but he really just left me feeling uncomfortable every time he was on-screen. I don’t really think that was any problem with D’Onofrio at all, as it was more of the writing that made him look and feel like an uncomfortable, dirty slob that looks like he hasn’t bathed in years. It was also pretty bad to see Linda Fiorentino absolutely do nothing with the character she was given as Dr. Laurel Weaver. Yeah, I know that the female character in any action movie isn’t really supposed to be a big role by any means, but you could at least try and make it the least memorable instead of just making it seem like you obviously don’t want to be there with you dry deliver and “phoning it in” looks from start to finish. Never really been impressed by this chick and it’s really no surprise that she hasn’t done much in the past decade.

Consensus: Men in Black is what you would expect: funny, light, filled with cool-looking special effects and monsters from Rick Baker, and entertaining but is also very light on plot, which doesn’t really bring up many surprises as it goes along. However, it’s a flick that will always be in my childhood.

8/10=Matinee!!

Planet of the Apes (2001)

CGI is better than costumes.

After flying through a space “worm hole,” astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) crashes on a planet where simians rule over humans. Aided and abetted by a sympathetic chimpanzee (Helena Bonham Carter), Davidson leads a small band of rebels against their captors.

Back in August when I watched ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, I said it was a 100 times better than this 2001 piece of junk, but actually, this one isn’t so terrible to begin with.

Director Tim Burton is a guy who’s usually known for doing some crazy ish with his material, but here he doesn’t do anything real different with this material, instead of just gives us pretty good-looking visuals. The action is here and there but the problem that Burton runs into, is that it doesn’t really get off the ground and it feels like he just pushed this film to its ending without any real emotional connection or point about his story.

It’s kind of a shame considering how great of a director Burton can be, and if he didn’t direct this, I wouldn’t have noticed because there’s nothing really striking at all about this material that reminds me of Burton classics such as ‘Ed Wood’ or ‘Edward Scissorhands‘.

The script is also pretty terrible because the lines are just so incredibly cheesy to the point of where I was laughing, and when these “characters” aren’t spitting out corny one-liners, they are either growling, snarling, or making crazy little ape noises at each other. I liked how the plot is all new and taking a cool new twist on this plot, but they way it ended up and turned out, seems kind of disappointing because the script was kind of a real let-down.

However, I have to say that even though this can all be pretty lame, I actually enjoyed myself for the whole 2 hours of this flick. The plot moves along at a slick pace, and even though it sometimes falls into some boring spots, it still kept me interested. The action here is also pretty fun because there are actual ape-on-ape battles that actually are pretty fun to watch as well as some other cool moments to watch.

I also really liked the the visuals and the costumes that Burton supplied with this film because a lot of it looks really cool. The world of the Apes seems straight-out of the original and still looks pretty to look a. The costumes of all of the Apes that were done by Rick Baker were done very well, with a great deal of detail added to each character, but the real problem with the costumes is that these Apes just look so damn goofy. I mean they have these funny and little goofy faces where their teeth just show and they make these funny hissing noises, and instead of actually being horrifying they are actually pretty laughable but I guess the film really wasn’t going for any seriousness.

Marky Mark is one of my favorite actors, but his performance here as Leo Davidson is one I think he should try to forget. Wahlberg doesn’t really have the strength here to actually command this film and his lines are even worse. He does seem a little confused and with no idea what to do with this lead role, other than make scared faces and do his “signature voice”. Still, he’s the man.

Tim Roth actually turned down the role of Severus Snape to play Thade here, which is a real shame cause he could have really had such a bigger career with that role instead of this. Roth isn’t bad here, cause he’s actually pretty menacing, but his villainous character is so cartoony and cheesy that nothing really comes out as scary and more of just goofy. Helena Bonham Carter plays the nice ape, Ari, and does her usual crazy lady performance; Michael Clarke Duncan is loud and full of yelling as the black Ape, Attar; Paul Giamatti actually made me laugh as Limbo; and Estella Warren is pretty damn laughable with her performance as Daena. The cast is all OK, just nothing really special since the film doesn’t really take them all too seriously.

Consensus: Planet of the Apes is cheesy, poorly written, and filled with sub-par performances from the impressive cast, but it’s still an entertaining B-flick with great visuals, some fun action, and a feel of not taking itself too seriously which is good for any film about a world of apes.

5/10=Rental!!