Tag Archives: Naomi Watts

King Kong (2005)

king_kong_2005Even if you haven’t seen King Kong or its many remakes (like me, until yesterday), you probably know the story. A struggling filmmaker (Jack Black) leads a rag tag crew on a voyage to a forgotten island where he’s going to complete his movie against the studio’s wishes. While there, the filmmaker and his cast encounter a mess of overgrown B-movie creatures including dinosaurs, bugs, lizards, bats, and of course, the giant gorilla who rules them all.

In the course of this grand adventure (which ought to have killed everyone involved several times over), the gorilla falls in love with the lead actress (Naomi Watts), now the damsel in distress, who already has a thing for the screenwriter (Adrien Brody). That leads to a very awkward love triangle.  Things get even more awkward when the filmmaker conspires with the ship’s captain to bring the gorilla back to New York City as a way to salvage the mission once his camera and footage (and film crew) are destroyed.  Indeed, once back in NYC the situation gets so bad that Brody’s character even starts to feel sorry for Kong, as Kong is now trapped in the Empire City with nowhere to go but up (and then a long way down).

Peter Jackson helms this remake and it shows.  That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, it just means there’s a three-hour-plus runtime, a lot of CG rag dolls flying across the screen/into walls/off cliffs during action scenes, and a significant number of emotional orchestral swells combined with ethereal vocals and closeups of teary eyed actors to make sure we feel sad at the proper times.  For better and for worse, he delivers a movie that feels like a throwback to classic Hollywood cinema.

But the “for worse” is really, really bad.  Black “savages” feeding a white lady to a monster bad.  It is possible that the issue of systemic racism is particularly fresh in my mind right now thanks to BlacKkKlansman (which, if Jay’s review wasn’t clear enough, you should see immediately),  but a movie pitting backwards black natives against righteous white people only reinforces racist stereotypes that we need to eliminate from our society.   One way to help eliminate those stereotypes would be using discretion and thoughtfulness when remaking old movies to ensure we don’t recycle harmful racial stereotypes.  Jackson failed in that respect, and his failure gives power to those stereotypes instead of helping to put them to rest once and for all.  It’s a glaring mistake.

That Kong contains such racially insensitive scenes is truly a shame, on at least two different fronts.  First, it’s a shame because the Kong that Jackson and Andy Serkis created is absolutely amazing.  Even though many of the other special effects in this movie have not aged well, Kong remains a marvel, an expressive and lifelike CG character who’s worthy of being the hero of this picture.  Of course, hero status is Kong’s by default, since the humans in the film are consistently terrible, destroying everything they touch, acting entitled all the way through the carnage, and worst of all, blaming Kong’s unfortunate ending on beauty rather than the beasts who tried to exploit nature for personal profit.

Which brings me to the second disappointing aspect of the film: but for the racism, the film’s main message would have been as suitable for our times as it ever was, but the presence of racism or at least racial insensitivity makes this film one that is better left in the past.

Advertisements

The Book of Henry

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is the smartest, most responsible 11 year old you’ll ever meet. He takes care of his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) in the schoolyard and he takes care of his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) financially. I mean, she’s got the income, but he’s the financial planner. He even wants to take care of the girl next door who he thinks may be abused by her stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris). Henry’s heart is as big as his IQ, and he challenges everyone around him to be their best, which can be a lot to live up to if you’re Henry’s little brother, or worse, his mother.

Anyway, Henry is a force of nature and he’s determined to do right by his next door the-book-of-henry1neighbour, Christina. She’s silent on the subject, but he’s seen the bruises and feels compelled to act, even if the adults in his life won’t. His moral compass is ginormous. It’s tricky, though, because Glenn is the police commissioner and may be too powerful to touch. Henry makes careful plans.

But what if an eleven year old boy can’t actually carry them out? His mother finds his notebook and is guilted, and perhaps guided by said compass, to act upon it.

This film was not well-received by critics but was for the most part enjoyed by audiences, including myself. It’s directed by Colin Trevorrow, kind of a departure since he’d previously directed Jurassic World, and is the co-writer of Star Wars: Episode IX. In its way, with its modest budget, The Book of Henry also bears the marks of Trevorrow’s childlike fascination. Henry may be precocious, but there’s a sense of wonder to the movie that’s quite appealing. But it’s also an ambitious movie; its shifts in tone startling at times, and perhaps not always successful.

The characters are inconsistently realistic and their actions even more so, but some terrific performances go a long way to grounding those characters. Naomi Watts is playing an imperfect but loving mother; I don’t know from where she draws inspiration, but she gives Susan a believable base, hard as that may be. Jacob Tremblay has a meatier role than just kid brother but he’s more than equal to the task. He’s already proven he’s more than just an adorable face. Jaeden Lieberher (you know him from St Vincent, and Midnight Special) as Henry has the hardest job of all. Henry is brilliant (he prefers precocious) but he is still a kid, after all, so he has to be steadfast, confident, but still vulnerable. This script asks a lot of its actors and in some ways the cast is what this movie gets most right.

The Book of Henry crosses genres, and that’s its weakness. There’s a silliness that sometimes dilutes the tension. I don’t mind a movie reaching beyond its limits, but this one doesn’t seem to have a firm destination in mind. What movie did you mean to be? I’m not sure. But I still enjoyed it on the whole, even while mentally noting all thing things I could have done better myself.

Sunlight, Jr.

Melissa and Richie have a pretty humble existence. They live in a motel room. He’s disabled, she works at a gas station where she’s stalked by her drug-dealing ex-boyfriend. It’s a charmless kind of life, dictated by poverty. It’s kind of dismal, but they have each other, and when they learn there’s a baby on the way, suddenly everything seems possible.

Unexpected pregnancy on a minimum wage salary is not my idea of “good luck” but sunlight_jr_2_pubswhen Melissa loses her job and she and Richie get evicted from their home, the good days are clearly behind them. The cycle of poverty’s got a pretty nasty pull on them, and in many ways this feels like a companion piece to The Florida Project, though this one’s already five years old.

The Florida Project’s a little more palatable to watch. Told from the perspective of children, the poverty feels less oppressive, or at least it’s more optimistic. In this one, however, Melissa (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon) are middle-aged. They’ve made their choices. There doesn’t seem to be much room for second chances.

Naomi Watts is incredible in almost everything she’s in. The problem here is not the acting, but that the acting can’t possibly do much with a sometimes remarkably stilted script. Despite some empathetic performances, the script has zero uplift. It’s tough to watch, though it is a tribute to an experience authentic to too many Americans. Watts and Dillon may be mis-cast. I hate how work dries up for aging actresses, but the fact is, she’ll be 50 this year, so she’s hardly in fertile young American territory anymore. There are loads more people who’d be far more appropriate.

Still, nothing’s really going to make this movie great. It has good intentions but can’t quite connect emotionally. It’s tedious, gray, and doesn’t care to resolve any of the adversity encountered: tragic in many sense of the word.

The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls lived a turbulent childhood: her parents bustled her and her 3 siblings from town to town, evading bill collectors, never quite having enough money for both food and her father’s insatiable thirst. Poverty and addictions pock her youth, but for all their struggles, her mother would never leave her father, and the kids soon realized they’d need to fend for themselves, each disappearing to the big city as soon as it was feasible (a real challenge when someone is constantly drinking up all the money).

Walls went on to write a memoir detailing the hardships she lived through, and that tgc_d02_00156_00157_comp_r2.jpgbook became this movie, though something was lost getting from A to B. The book pulls no punches. Her parents are complex characters, and their children have conflicted feelings toward them. The movie’s a little more pat, the trajectory a little more Hollywood. Someone decided to apply some spit shine to this story, a story that’s naturally very dark and brooding now has themes of hope and redemption that maybe don’t belong.

I can’t say what exactly is wrong with the film except it’s just too easy. The grit is gone. Sure Jeannette’s father Rex is charming but he’s also kind of a monster. He’s a negligent parent who abuses his wife and kids and helps keep family molestation on the down low. And of course he wants deathbed forgiveness. Meanwhile his wife is a “free spirit” who chooses homelessness over independence from the man threatening her family’s well being. Neither parent is capable of putting their children’s needs first, or of meeting those needs even if they ever did. Which they don’t.

But The Glass Castle is worth a watch for the performances alone. As Jeannette, Brie Larson lives up to her previous Oscar win, but it’s Woody Harrelson as Rex who you’ll remember. He’s tortured and endearing and inspiring and hateful. Is this the film he’ll win his Oscar for? I wouldn’t be disappointed if he did. But shame on Hollywood for trying to put gloss and a positive spin on childhood poverty. These kids were failed not just by their parents but by the system. And now their brave story is being watered down to make it more palatable for film audiences. Shame.

Shut In

Mary (Naomi Watts) is a single mother caring for her severely disabled stepson, Stephen (Charlie Heaton), alone in their home ever since her husband passed. Her work as a child psychologist supports them but she’s finding it hard to keep up since Stephen is her whole life but is really only an empty shell.

Meanwhile, Mary is preoccupied with a young patient, Tom (Jacob Tremblay). He’s deaf and her work with him has gone slowly but just as she believes progress is being made, shut1his case worker is yanking him away to yet another group home. Tom has bounced around in the foster care system and Mary’s compassion is inflamed. Tom runs away one wintry night, and the fact that he seems to have run to her home briefly for refuge preys on her imagination. As the days go by and a powerful winter storm pummels them, townspeople give Tom up for dead but Mary becomes haunted by his ghost.

Virtually alone in an old house save for her vegetative stepson, Mary’s nightmares become our nightmares. Is this movie heart-pounding? It was for me. I don’t watch scary movies very often but was drawn to this for the cast, and Naomi Watts does not disappoint. But even a relative novice to the genre such as myself can feel what a retread this script is; there’s nothing new or original here, and the fear factor dips because of its obviousness.

Some beautiful cinematography helps establish a sense of isolation here, but it’s largely useless when the script goes for weak jump-scares and ignores what should have been lush with psychological horror instead. I kept thinking of this movie as “the one with Vera Farmiga” which it is not – but it is an awful lot like the one that is, and many others besides. If you have a hankering for white-lady-haunted-by-child-ghost, well, here it is. Again. But I bet you could do better.

Tank Girl

This movie speaks to the 90s kid in all of us and was MADE for cult status, which is to say, it isn’t very good. But it was quite quotable and a little risque, which is really all it took back in 1995. tank-girl-323And of course Lori Petty fulfilled all our alt-chick fantasies.

Tank Girl is based on a badass British comic strip but of course lost most of its uniquely British humour in the Hollywood rewrites. Studios, in fact, objected to a lot of the original material, such as showing Tank Girl in bed with her half-kangaroo boyfriend, this DESPITE the fact that it was a waste of a perfectly good $5000 10-inch prosthetic penis.

The year is 2033. We’re post apocalypse, naturally, and there’s been no rain for 11 straight years. Tank Girl and friends live in a wasteland fighting the oppression of “Water & Power’ led by Malcolm McDowell.

Audiences turned out to be mostly apathetic, and critics unkind, but it soon garnered an 4094473-2266063370-15327underground cult following who love the feminist, anti-heroine themes, and who can blame them? Flaws aside, Tank Girl IS a lot of fun to watch. She’s brash and bombastic and despite the fact that it’s the end of the world, she’s got an unending 90s-fabulous wardrobe. And as incredible as Petty is in the part, it’s also fun to occasionally see her animated counterpart leap into action.

I mean, in what other movie could you seek revenge for the prostitution of young kids to pedophiles by humiliating the pimp (or, well, madame) by making her sing Cole Porter at gunpoint? And in what other world would drought and murder combine to make the most fabulous weapon of recycling ever (because the human body is of course 60% water, and waste not, want not)?

Unlike most comic book movies where women are sexually objectified (or just plain absent), Tank Girl was herself sex-positive and comfortable in her dominance. She is competent, anti-establishment, strong, and fierce. Her sidekick, Jet Girl, is brilliant but less confident – and worth checking out because it’s probably the earliest we American audiences saw Naomi Watts, in a movie she now claims to be ashamed of.

Possibly the best thing about the movie is its obligatory 90s-alt soundtrack, assembled by Tank-GirlCourtney Love, and including tracks by Bjork, Bush, Portishead, Hole, Joan Jett, Veruca Salt, and of course Ice T (because he costars).

With a proud place on Luke Buckmaster’s list of 10 “weirdest superhero films”, it’s really something that has to be seen to be understood. Love it or hate it, it’s a film with longevity, and begs the question: is Tank Girl due for a remake?

 

 

Tank Girl can be seen on the big screen this Wednesday, July 13th in Toronto at The Carlton.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

About a year ago, Wandering Through the Shelves had us binge-watching Movies Based on Young Adult Novels. The first two films in the Divergent series were neither the best or the worst things I watched that week. They’re not great- even “good” would be a stretch- but I was won over by the decency and unlikely strength of Tris (Shailene Woodley). I also couldn’t have done without the effortless charisma of Miles Teller as Peter, who brings much-needed personality to a series that takes itself way too seriously whenever he’s not on screen.

In the first two films in the series, the citizens (prisoners?) of Chicago have been assigned factions based on their defining trait (athletic, honest, kind, smart, and selfless). I’ve always found this basic premise to be a little lazy and a pretty adolescent view of the world but, hey, it’s young adult fiction. Besides, it’s what makes Divergent Divergent. To do away with these factions would be like the Twilight series continuing without any vampires or werewolves of the Fifty Shades series going straight edge. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this series does.

Allegiant picks up where Insurgent left off, immediately after the fall of the faction system. Without it, not only does Chicago lose control over its population but the story loses its focus and coherence. Fearing that Evelyn, (Naomi Watts) is becoming as oppressive a leader as Kate Winslet’s character had been, five young adults venture over the walls. What follows is sillier than the other two films combined, exposition-heavy, and impossible to follow. Tris, the heroic non-conformist of the story, somehow starts towing the party line. Woodley does her best to keep her interest but it’s tough not to be frustrated with her when everyone onscreen and in the audience thinks it’s obvious that she’s being played. Even Miles Teller’s shtick is getting old. Pick a side, buddy!

The Divergent series isn’t really made for adults and for all I know may please its target audience. Because most 16 year-olds wouldn’t be interested in our site and most of our readers wouldn’t be interested in this series, you might wonder why I’d even bother reviewing it. To that, I can only say “Jeff Daniels”. Daniels, joining Winslet, Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Ray Stevenson, becomes the latest good actor over 40 to have his talents wasted by this trite material. How so many good actors got involved in this series, I have no idea. But judging by their performances, I can tell it’s not because they wanted to be there. By the third film, their talents are no longer just wasted. They’re giving bad performances.

What’s happening in Hollywood that the likes of Naomi Watts and Jeff Daniels need a job this badly? Or that any filmmaker could become so distracted by their pretty but mostly boring young stars that they would forget to give Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer even a single key scene?

This is why I care enough about this series to write about it.