By Ezra Stead
Kong: Skull Island, USA, 2017
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Nothing can destroy one’s enjoyment of a new movie like anticipation, and this type of (sometimes) misplaced enthusiasm is never more likely to occur than when it is attached to a new version of a beloved property. As excited as audiences might have been about, say, Jurassic Park in 1993, the anticipation for its sequel a few years later was bound to be even higher, leaving open the road for diminishing returns down which that particular franchise has been barreling ever since. 60 years before that first Jurassic movie, there was a little black-and-white classic without which Spielberg’s masterpiece likely never would have come to exist; that, of course, was the original King Kong, and if you’re not a pretty huge fan of that one, I’m kind of surprised you’re even reading this.
Needless to say, going into Kong: Skull Island, I had mixed feelings of hope and despair, balancing out to a sort of cautious optimism. Kong’s last big-screen outing, at the hands of Peter Jackson and company in 2005, was certainly reverent of the source material and technically impressive overall, if perhaps over-ambitious, and certainly a bit bloated at over three hours. Luckily, Skull Island has all the technical prowess of its predecessor with none of the awkward self-seriousness. It is a wildly entertaining romp from start to finish, and without a doubt my second-favorite Kong movie yet (I’m pretty sure most fans of the 1976 version are really just fans of young Jessica Lange). Read More
By Ezra Stead
Monkey Shines, USA, 1988
Written and Directed by George A. Romero
Based on the Novel Monkey Shines by Michael Stewart
Much like famous rappers, great horror directors often do their best (or at least most well-received) work right out of the gate, only to spend decades laboring over increasingly diminished returns. Often this critical and/or commercial appraisal is unfair, but it is arguably true that, for example, Nas never again put out an album as good as his debut, Illmatic, or that John Carpenter has never equaled or exceeded his early work of the 1970s and ’80s, though his late-period Masters of Horror film, Cigarette Burns (2005), showed the kind of genius not seen in his films for about a decade up to that point. Tobe Hooper is another filmmaker who never quite lived up to the promise of his brilliant breakthrough feature, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), despite doing some pretty quality follow-up work such as Salem’s Lot (1979) and Poltergeist (1982), though of course producer Steven Spielberg is commonly recognized as the real creative force behind the latter.
George A. Romero is generally considered to be one of these unlucky filmmakers as well, and while it is true that he never topped his chilling debut feature, Night of the Living Dead (1968), there is a worthwhile body of work to examine in later decades, and his 1988 film Monkey Shines is among his best work, along with films like Martin (1976), Creepshow (1982) and, of course, the original Dead trilogy (I haven’t seen his latest, 2009’s Survival of the Dead, but based on the previous two – 2005’s Land of the Dead and 2007’s Diary of the Dead – I feel relatively comfortable relegating the new Dead trilogy to the same scorn-pile as the new Star Wars trilogy). Read More
By Ezra Stead
Perhaps one of the main reasons that so many of us, myself included, fail to “get” certain films, or certain aspects of film as a whole, is that we have not spent sufficient time studying the beginnings of the art form. We have not looked to the past. This, then, is a look at the first few decades of the cinematic arts, and the influence of these early films on what we see onscreen today.
When Louis and Auguste Lumiere first showed their short film The Arrival of a Train in 1895, they certainly had no inkling that, almost 100 years later, it would be the film-within-a-film in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Nor could Carl Theodor Dreyer have suspected that his 1928 feature The Passion of Joan of Arc would one day be the major inspiration for Mel Gibson’s hugely successful The Passion of the Christ (2004). But no matter where these and other early filmmakers envisioned the medium in 100 years, or whether they even believed it would last that long, the films we see today are undeniably the legacy of these pioneers of a nascent art form. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, UK, 1964
2001: A Space Odyssey, UK / USA, 1968
A Clockwork Orange, UK / USA, 1971
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was undeniably one of the most brilliant and innovative motion picture directors of all time. His meticulously crafted works have influenced innumerable filmmakers all over the world, from Steven Spielberg to Gaspar Noe. Obviously, entire books have been written about Kubrick’s oeuvre, so let us focus here on the peak of his career, from 1963 to 1971, and the three films that are, arguably, his greatest masterpieces: Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964); 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); and A Clockwork Orange (1971).
Throughout these films are many common themes; prominent among them are technology and conquest. All three revolve around the idea of technology’s relationship to modern Man and his quest to control the Unknown, represented by the Doomsday Machine in Strangelove, HAL (voiced by Douglas Rain) in 2001, and the Ludovico Technique in Clockwork.