Someone — Variety‘s Will Thorne, to be exact — has finally adopted the Hollywood Elsewhere term for Kong: Skull Island. “With ’70s rock tunes blaring and the dark figure of a life-sized King Kong looming in the background,” Thorne wrote today, “Wednesday night’s L.A. premiere truly felt like Apocalypse Kong.”
But director Jordan Vogt-Roberts flat-out misinforms when he calls his film “Apocalypse Now meets King Kong, this idea of a Vietnam War movie mixed with a creature feature.”
As I said yesterday, the 120-foot tall ape in Kong: Skull Island is more or less human-friendly (except when it comes to Samuel L. Jackson‘s asshole Army guy or being attacked by military helicopters) and is much closer in temperament to the 15-foot-tall gray ape in Son of Kong, the 1933 sequel.
I’ve been told that Kong: Skull Island (which I’m seeing tonight at the Arclight) isn’t tracking as strongly as it could or should. Word around the campfire is that it’s “kind of sandwiched in between Logan and Beauty and the Beast,” as one guy put it this morning, and that this might lead to an underwhelming performance on some level.
Instead of matching or even challenging Logan‘s $88-million first-weekend haul, Kong might be turn out to be more of a mid 50s thing by Sunday night. Which doesn’t sound bad until you consider the rumored $190 million budget, not to mention the p & a tab.
“What I heard a week or two ago was $40 to $45 million, which struck me as low,” a friend says. “I bet it opens to $55 or $60 million. That may not be enough for a movie rumored to cost $190 and change, but but it looks great and the money is right up there on the screen
From a 3.2 HE comment thread, written by yours truly: “If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that a significant portion of moviegoers don’t necessarily flock to a really clever, well made, high pizazz film. Some will this weekend, of course, but not all. The slow boats tend to hold off and wait UNLESS it’s a completely safe piece of shit like Jurassic World. Quality scares them on some level. They like brand comfort.
Last night’s Brie Larson/Skull Island kerfuffle at the Santa Barbara Film Festival stirred a casual interest in this Warner Bros. monster pic, which has been shooting since last October under director Jordan Vogt Roberts (Kings of Summer) and will open in March 2017. It’s basically back to Skull Island for more fun and games, more Jurassic jazz, etc.
I’m told, however, that Kong: Skull Island is set in the early ’70s. It’s basically a Vietnam-era thing (some of the film has been shot in Vietnam), which, I suppose, might bring some cool thematic meat to the table.
And the new Kong is…what, the great-great-great-great grandson of Merian C. Cooper’s original ape, who ravaged Manhattan 80-plus years ago? Is there any awareness or acknowledgement within the realm of the screenplay that Skull Island is the home of the “original” Kong, or is the story starting from scratch?
The answer, I’m told, is (a) forget old Kong because (b) the Kong genesis is not that specific.
You’ll notice I didn’t say Peter Jackson‘s ape as that three-hour-long film has been almost totally discredited. No discipline, no poetry or lyricism to speak of…it occupies the same “what happened?” realm as The Godfather, Part III. Yes, I reviewed it favorably at first but I came to my senses after watching it it a second time.
The trailer for Worth (Netflix 9.3) indicates quality — a thoughtful, low-key drama about the experience of Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton), an attorney who was appointed to administrate the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. His task was to decide which amounts certain families of 9/11 victims would be paid as compensation.
Feinberg followed a certain impartial formula (including, I’ve read, a refusal to evaluate individual suffering), some families received less than others, and there was some resentment about this.
The film is based upon a book Feinberg wrote a book about this experience, titled “What Is Life Worth?: The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11.”
Keaton and Tucci costarred in Spotlight (although they didn’t share any scenes), and one of the Worth producers, Michael Sugar, had a producing credit on Spotlight.
On top of which the film’s screenwriter-producer, Max Borenstein, is best known for writing Godzilla (’14) and Kong: Skull Island (’17), and contributing to the story of Godzilla: King of the Monsters (’19) and Godzilla vs. Kong (’21). How do all these monsters square with compensating the families of 9.11 victims?
Besides Keaton, the cast includes Stanley Tucci, Amy Ryan, Tate Donovan, Laura Benanti, Talia Balsam, Marc Maron, Chris Tardio and Victor Slezak.
Last weekend Joe and Jane Popcorn stood eyeball-to-eyeball with Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures and said the following: “You can’t keep Monsterverse-ing us with the same old Godzilla crap and expect lines around the block. We’re not going to sit for this stuff endlessly, on top of which your new Godzilla is at least a couple of tons heavier than the five-year-old Gareth Edwards version…the first flat-out obese monster in the history of motion pictures. We’re fat enough on our own, bruhs — we’d rather not be reminded of the obesity epidemic when we go to the movies.”
Yes, I’m kidding. Mostly. But Godzilla: King of the Monsters did under-perform last weekend.
Variety‘s Rebecca Rubin: “Godzilla: King of the Monsters didn’t have a roar quite as deafening as its franchise predecessors. The third entry in Warner Bros. and Legendary’s MonsterVerse opened with a middling $49 million at the domestic box office, a start well below 2014’s Godzilla ($93 million) and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island ($61 million).
“Like its series brethren, Godzilla’s umpteenth return to the big screen had a more promising start overseas, where it debuted with $130 million. Even so, that’s a potentially problematic drop in ticket sales for a movie that cost roughly $200 million to make. It also likely required a marketing spend in excess of $100 million.
Sorry for posting a late reaction to Tony Gilroy‘s Velvet Buzzsaw (Netflix, 2.1), an upscale foie gras horror film that I saw three or four days ago in Park City. My reaction is that I liked it well enough. At the very least I was mildly amused, mainly because it embraces an effete, arm’s-length approach to horror. Because elevated horror is right up Hollywood Elsewhere’s alley — “horror” as social metaphor in order to reflect some problematic aspect of present-day culture or whatever.
VB is a riff about greed among the phony-baloney denizens of the art world, and how a trove of spooky, recently-discovered paintings by a deceased madman are somehow able to kill their owners or, you know, anyone trying to profit off them in some way. As the Wiki synopsis says, it’s about “a supernatural force enacting revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art.”
The only thing that kept me from loving Velvet Buzzsaw is that I don’t see what’s so awful about art dealers and critics behaving and talking like phonies, or trying to sell overpriced “art” to filthy rich suckers, or any other aspect of this game. If you’re dumb enough to pay through the nose for questionable art, that’s your fucking problem. I certainly have no issues with art-world hustlers trying to fleece your sorry ass.
So I didn’t mind Velvet Buzzsaw. I wasn’t knocked out or enthralled or turned on, but I liked it well enough. I especially liked Jake Gyllenhaal‘s bisexual art critic, Renee Russo‘s art dealer and John Malkovich‘s over-the-hill painter, but at the same time I couldn’t fathom why Gilroy cast Zawe Ashton, who falls under the dual headings of “who?” and “not arresting enough’, in a secondary role.
But I have to be even more honest and admit that nothing I have to say could match Glenn Kenny‘s 1.30 N.Y. Times review, which is so perfectly written I can barely stand it.
The Oscar nominations for the 90th annual awards were not only announced this morning from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater but in a few instances mispronounced, eccentrically personalized and generally murdered by the colorful Tiffany Haddish. Her inwardly grimacing co-presenter Andy Serkis helplessly stood by.
Is it too much to ask presenters to rehearse or otherwise summon the elocutionary discipline to pronounce names and titles correctly? Haddish conveyed disrespect, stress, indifference, “too much for my realm,” etc.
13 nominations for Guillermo del Toro‘s The Shape of Water, eight noms for Chris Nolan‘s Dunkirk, seven for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and a general inclination to diminish the traditional classy sheen and to transform the Oscars into the People’s Choice Awards, at least on a here-and-there basis.
Hooray for Lesley Manville‘s Best Supporting Actress nom for her perfect Phantom Thread performance.
All hail Mudbound dp Rachel Morrison for landing the first Best Cinematography nomination for a woman in Oscar history, and cheers to Lady Bird‘s Greta Gerwig for becoming the fifth woman in Academy history to snag a Best Director nom.
Best HE comment so far from “alexandercoleman“: “So the two big frontrunners are The Shape of Water, which failed to receive a Best Ensemble Award nomination at SAG, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which failed to receive a Best Director Oscar nomination. Though the former seems to have the momentum, for whatever that is worth, by traditional standards both would seem to have clay feet.”
“Call Me by Your Name”, “Darkest Hour”, “Dunkirk”, “Get Out”, “Lady Bird”, “Phantom Thread”, “The Post”, “The Shape of Water”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
HE comment: Denzel deserves this nomination (I loved his Asperger’s savant legal-eagle performance) but how many saw a nomination coming? Denzel took over, I guess, in the wake of the apparent James Franco snub in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. Right?
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”
The only reason I’m writing about Alex Kurtzman‘s The Mummy (Universal, 6.9) is because I want credit for the “show me the mummy!” line. A screenwriter friend passed it along, and right away I said “that’s funny.” I’m not saying it hasn’t appeared somewhere else before (on some chat board or whatever), but I’m claiming it as an HE thing all the same, just like I put dibs on “Apocalypse Kong” for Kong: Skull Island.
In fact, I’m openly advising Universal marketing to use this line on the Mummy one-sheet…seriously. In the same way that Paramount wound up selling Mommie Dearest with Faye Dunaway‘s “no wire hangers!” line. A slogan that everyone will get right away, and which will take the heat off Universal — “Of course it’s a silly tentpole thing…what do you think those Brendan Frasier mummy movies were?…dope-crazy is what we wanted going in, it’s what we’ve got now and it’s what the popcorn crowd wants to see…relax! A stupid-ass Tom Cruise mummy flick that’ll be fun to see with your rowdy friends.”
Get real — The Mummy has seemed like a fairly silly film from the get-go, and now those chickens are coming home to roost with talk swirling around that “people are laughing at it” and that a recent test screening (which may or may not have happened in Glendale on March 8th) drew lousy numbers and that it may not be quite good enough to launch a Universal monsters franchise a la Marvel universe.
That’s what the basic game plan is — to use the success of The Mummy to generate excitement in a reboot of several classic Universal monster films — “a whole new world of gods and monsters” or words to that effect. That said, has anyone ever expected The Mummy to be anything more than a super-expensive piece of CG goofery? No. Was anyone taking it seriously when they made it? How could they? That Mummy trailer that popped last December makes it look like a satire of an absurdly expensive meta monster flick.
This is all loose talk, of course. Nobody knows anything, least of all myself. And you always need to take a few steps back when it comes to second-hand sources.
I’m often in touch with New Orleans filmmaker, documentarian and screenwriter Dave DuBos so I’ve no excuse for missing Mike Fleming‘s 2.8 Deadline story about DuBos’ forthcoming film version of Butterly in the Typewriter, based on Cory MacLauchlin’s biography of “Confederacy of Dunces” author John Kennedy Toole.
DuBos wrote the screenplay and will direct the New Orleans-set film starting in May.
Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Kong: Skull Island) will soon begin inhaling pasta, ice cream and cheeseburgers to play the late Toole, who attained Victor Buono-like proportions before offing himself at age 31.
(l. to r.) Butterly in the Typewriter costars Susan Sarandon, Thomas Mann, Diane Kruger.
Susan Sarandon will play Toole’s mom; Diane Kruger will also star.
I love the notion of a butterfly in a typewriter — that darting, dancing, elusive thing that you’re trying to capture when you write. It’s from an unpublished O’Toole poem called “The Arbiter.”
“Any widely admired screenplay that has not been filmed over the period of several years (like, for instance, the various efforts at adapting John Kennedy Toole‘s A Confederacy of Dunces) is either doomed to stay on the sidelines for eternity or it won’t pan out if it finally does get made. And the reason is that oft-referenced rule of creative potency.
Now that you’ve presumably seen Kong: Skull Island as well as Personal Shopper, do you understand what I was talking about a few days ago, which is that (a) Skull is a sloppy, scattershot joke (not one of those ten helicopters realized the danger and steered away from Kong’s reach during that chaotic swat-down sequence?) that feels a lot more like Son of Kong than King Kong and which is really quite stupid, and (b) Personal Shopper is smartly chilling and a bold, unusual knockout in more ways than you shake a stick at?
The following is the final line from Manohla Dargis‘ N.Y. Times review of Kong: Skull Island, 90% of which reads like a spirited, half-joyous rave: “Alas, beauty no longer has her beast, the beast no longer has his beauty and this darkness has no heart even if it will have a sequel.”
While the Apocalypse Now echoes are incessant and Kong: Skull Island is clearly paying tribute to the jungle-thrills portion of the original King Kong, it is more similar to the friendly-monkey tone of Son of Kong. Why am I the only one saying this? King Kong was a tragedy about the perversion of naturalism and the heartbreak of obsessive love while the lightweight Son of Kong was mostly about goofy adventures on Skull Island and the making of a fast buck. The previous 12 words are as precise a description of Kong: Skull Island as you could possibly come up with.