It Was Beauty Killed the Beast

King Kong (2005) is the most affectionate remake I’ve ever seen. After the immense success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, everyone wondered what Oscar winning director Peter Jackson would do next. I don’t think anyone was expecting the third remake of a 1933 classic. As I said in my King Kong (1976) review, the rights were split between two seperate studios. Universal first approached Jackson with a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake in the 90’s, but changed their strategy when they learned King Kong (1933) was his favorite movie of all time. Even as a child Jackson had nothing but sympathy for the big ape. Skull Island is actually referenced in his movie Braindead.

When Godzilla (1998) failed and other ape remakes started to come out, production was halted. Until The Return of the King made Jackson the most bankable director in Hollywood. King Kong (2005) is a rare passionate remake made with nothing but love and respect for the original. All Jackson did was give it the same level of dedication he did with The Lord of the Rings. Detail in every frame, breathtaking special effects, three-dimensional characters, and a lengthy 3 hour & 21 minute runtime. King Kong (2005) was a major obsession for my brother and I growing up. After our mom showed us the original, the three us saw the remake in theaters and fell in love with it. I had a Kong doll, a Skull Island field guide, and my brother was especially obsessed with completing the official tie-in video game…

7. King Kong 2005

King Kong holds Ann Darrow

King Kong (2005) is part homage, part epic. Only Peter Jackson could take an hour and a half film and make it three hours. Even though there are several new additions that could’ve been trimmed down or removed, I can safely say I was never bored. The perfect three-act structure is maintained with each act being roughly an hour long. That means more than an hour until we finally get a glimpse of Kong. In the meantime, an almost excessive amount of time is spent in New York and on a very long boat ride. Unlike the 1976 remake, King Kong (2005) is a period piece set in 1933 like the original. Basic ideas are either elaborated upon or given added depth. Ann Darrow is now a struggling vaudeville actress who falls on hard times during the Great Depression. Naomi Watts looks the part of the classic beautiful blonde woman, but Ann is more than just a pretty face. Her motivation for accepting a movie role is much more understandable.

Carl Denham has the same passionate motivation to complete his picture on Skull Island, but his recklessness gets him blacklisted and nearly arrested. Casting singer/comedian Jack Black as the iconic 1930’s director is one of the most bizzare casting choices of all time. Most of the time I can accept his Orson Welles-esque performance, but other times it feels like he could go full School of Rock any minute. Denham hires Ann with the promise that she’ll meet her favorite playwright. Rather than a strapping first mate action hero, Jack Driscoll is now an average screenwriter forced to stay on the Venture. Adrien Brody is more than capable of playing the charming love interest and the unlikely hero. The Venture is full of mystery and a crew with far more characterization.

Captain Englehorn is now a nonsense hands on German ship captain played by Thomas Kretschmann. Colin Hanks plays Carl’s undervalued personal assistant Preston. Jamie Bell is given an entire subplot as a troublemaking teenager named Jimmy who wants to prove himself. Evan Parke plays his African American mentor Hayes who has World War I training. Andy Serkis does double duty by physically playing the crusty ship’s cook Lumpy. Lord of the Rings composer Howard Shore originally returned before he was replaced by James Newton Howard. The role of strapping action hero is literally filled by Kyle Chandler as famous actor Bruce Baxter. Some of the more sexist dialogue from the original is cleverly worked into the remake as a scene in Denham’s picture. Jack has nothing but respect for Ann as he writes her a play and they fall in love. When they finally reach Skull Island, Englehorn is adamant about turning back.

Denham leads a small crew through what appears to be the ruins of a lost civilization. The always necessary island natives are a no win situation no matter the interpretation. These natives are much more tribal and savage. Their skin is dark brown, but each native is actually portrayed by a variety of non-white ethnicities. They kill crew members before returning to capture Ann. Her sacrifice is grander with a complex bridge extending from their great wall. Kong is at first veiled in shadow, but his first full appearance doesn’t disappoint. Kong is often labeled a monster due to his burly upright appearance. Jackson instead made the creative decision to focus on a Kong that was essentially a massive 25 foot tall silverback gorilla. This Kong is still a little monstrous with black fur, sharp teeth, and many battle scars. My very in-depth Skull Island field guide explains Kong’s origin as a 100 year old Megaprimatus who is the last of his kind.

This is by far the most sympathetic King Kong ever put to film. His relationship with Ann is more than mere infatuation. Ann screams at first, but they come to form a deep mutual understanding. She even surprisingly makes him laugh by performing her vaudeville routine. Kong’s lifelike ape mannerisms are thanks to the always brilliant stop-motion work of Andy Serkis. After Gollum, Serkis was sure to bring just as much dedication to even the most subtle gorilla movements. The CGI is absolutely stunning on Kong, Skull Island, and a 1930’s New York. It’s part of the reason King Kong (2005) was the most expensive movie made at the time. Just as much detail is given to the dinosaurs that inhabit Skull Island. Each with a fictional name like Vastatosaurus rex that separates it a bit from something like Jurassic Park.

The only iffy effect is a herd of stampeding Brontosaurus baxteri that Denham and his crew are somehow able to survive. They’re also chased by raptor-like Venatosaurus saevidicus. Other terrifying creatures like the Piranhadon didn’t make the final cut. What did make the final cut was a scene that was originally intended for the 1933 original. After Kong overturns a log with the crew, they fall into a disturbing pit full of giant insects. The Carnictis worm thing that eats Lumpy is particularly icky. King Kong (2005) doesn’t recreate everything, but the fight between Kong and a T-Rex was an absolute must. The primal fight is increased big time with not one, not two, but three V. Rexes against Kong. It’s a truly exciting match that sees Kong juggle Ann from his hands to his feet in a desperate attempt to fend of the beasts. Each are killed one by one until Kong breaks the last ones jaw just like the original. Concluding with a satisfying chest pound.

Ann willingly stays with Kong and even teaches him the sign for beautiful. She’s still rescued by Jack when Kong is distracted by attacking rat-bats called Terapusmordax. Although I still wouldn’t label him a villain, Denham does begin to make rash decisions when his camera is destroyed. He lures Kong to the wall where the natives are nowhere to be seen. Not that Kong doesn’t kill a few of the attacking crewmembers. When stunned by chloroform, Denham makes his classic declaration to put “Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!” on broadway. The New York show has all the familiar beats of Denham making a statement, Kong chained up on stage, and everyone in town coming to see it. Since Ann feels for Kong, she doesn’t take part in the show. A stage number pays homage to the dancing natives, but Kong breaking loose is now caused by another actress playing Ann. Kong rampages through the city with most of his anger focused on Jack. Kong does grab blonde women that look like Ann, but he drops them from a safer distance.

Unlike any other interpretation, Ann walks directly to Kong and they enjoy a moment together before the military arrives. Kong makes his way to an epic climax atop the Empire State Building. The sequence honors the original by having Peter Jackson cameo as an airplane pilot. The fight is both thrilling and emotional. Much like the V. Rex battle, Kong manages to take out three airplanes instead of one. Ann desperately pleading for them to stop and Kong falling to his death makes me cry everytime. In fact, Jackson loves Kong so much that he created an alternate ending where he survives just for the video game. Unfortunately, Kong meets his iconic fate and Denham delivers his final line that “It wasn’t the airplanes, It was Beauty killed the Beast.” Something Fay Wray nearly said before passing away. Although not the same kind of Academy Awards favorite as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong (2005) nevertheless won 3 Oscars. Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and of course Visual Effects. King Kong (2005) is a larger than life companion piece that appreciates cinematic history.

8. King Kong 2005

King Kong vs. the V. Rex

Remake of: King Kong (1933)

Shake Your Groove Thing

An Extremely Goofy Movie is an extremely strong follow up. Although not officially part of the Disney Renaissance, A Goofy Movie nevertheless earned an unnecessary direct-to-video sequel. Unlike other Disney sequels released in the 2000’s, An Extremely Goofy Movie is just as good as the first movie. My brother and I actually valued both movies equally growing up. The animation remains relatively cinematic and the core voice cast remains intact. An Extremely Goofy Movie continues to follow Max’s life as he goes off to college. It’s just as timelessly dated with a strong focus on totally radical extreme sports.

Max, P.J, and Bobby are now into extreme skateboarding and end up performing in the X Games. My only frustration is a glaring lack of Max’s girlfriend Roxanne. After an entire movie spent building up their relationship, it feels wrong to leave her out. P.J. is instead given a girlfriend in the form of a poetic beatnik Beret Girl. Bobby is given a fresh cut and a ton of extra attention with Pauly Shore doing his thing. Goofy of course misses Max when he leaves, but Pete can’t wait to get rid of P.J. When Goofy loses a job to his usual antics, he makes the relatable decision to return to college to get a degree. Much to the embarrassment of his son Max.

Sure it’s similar to Back to School, but that’s not a bad thing. Together Max & Goofy also deal with the cheating head of Gamma Mu Mu Bradley Uppercrust III. He’s just a preppy jerk supported by his muscle tank. They compete against Gamma in the X Games and another father/son lesson is learned. More unexpected is Goofy having his very own love interest in the form of cute librarian Sylvia Marpole. Since they both love the 70’s, they end up dancing to “Shake Your Groove Thing” on the disco floor. An Extremely Goofy Movie is both groovy and goofy.

An Extremely Goofy Movie

Goofy dances with Sylvia

Preceded by: A Goofy Movie

Fluorescent Beige

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire turns a heavy situation into an artistic inspiration. As the unnecessary subtitle suggests, Precious is based on the deeply personal 1996 novel Push by Sapphire. Director Lee Daniels saw its potential and so did its producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey. In 2009, Precious became a rare predominantly black film that received significant Academy Awards attention. I’ve wanted to see Precious for years, but I thought its heavy subject matter would make it a difficult watch. So I waited until I was more ready. Precious is tough to watch at times, but it’s a lot more uplifting than I was expecting.

Claireece “Precious” Jones is an obese teenager with dark black skin. Such an uncommon character led to the casting of first time actress Gabourey Sidibe. Her raw Oscar nominated performance was perfect for a brutally honest movie. Precious can’t read or write, has image issues, lives in an abusive household, and is pregnant with her own father’s second child. More uncomfortable moments of violence or incest are filtered through Precious’ hopeful inner fantasies. Harlem is a rough neighborhood given an almost sepia color palette. The most complex character is Precious’ horrible mother who abuses her and makes her collect welfare checks.

Comedian Mo’Nique goes against type with an unpredictable Best Supporting Actress winning performance. She goes from seemingly caring to violent in an instant. Other unexpected performances include Lenny Kravitz as a genuinely kind nurse and Mariah Carey as no-nonsense social worker Ms. Weiss. A far cry from her Glitter days. Precious finds hope for a better life when she’s sent to an alternative school. Paula Patton is her teacher Ms. Rain who actually cares enough to help. Her class is another special support system, but reality sets in when she returns to her mother. We learn so many conflicting things about her near the end, but the ultimate triumph is Precious leaving forever with her children. Precious brings hope to the hopeless.

Precious

Precious rides the train

Ring of Fire

Walk the Line falls head first into the burning ring of fire that was Johnny Cash’s life. Like most great biopics, it walks a fine line between historical accuracy and cinematic flourish. I was never the biggest Johnny Cash expert, but I do love his classics like “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line.” As well as his later more melancholy hits like “Hurt” or “The Man Comes Around.” The latter songs I only know thanks to Logan. Walk the Line is where director James Mangold first explored his appreciation for Johnny Cash. I learned so much about his often somber ups & downs that I was never aware of.

How he dealt with the tragic loss of his brother, fought for his father’s approval, and experienced substance abuse. Joaquin Phoenix nails a more subtle country accent, but sings with the exact brass-baritone of Cash. Just as authentic is Cash’s persistence at becoming a successful singer. He goes from gospel to country, becomes “The Man in Black” by pure happenstance, and does it all in Memphis, Tennessee. Since Cash became something of an outlaw, it only made sense to start the movie at the Folsom prison where he performed.

Just as important is the love story between Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter. Depicting a romance between a married man is tricky, but Ginnifer Goodwin is given just as much attention as Cash’s first wife Vivian. As their marriage falls apart, Johnny and June slowly grow closer. I didn’t know much about fellow country singer June Carter, but Reese Witherspoon absolutely deserved her Best Actress Oscar win. Phoenix should’ve won too, but there’s just something about June’s comedy hiding her inner struggles. Walk the Line honors multiple one-of-a-kind talents.

Walk the Line

Johnny Cash performs with June Carter

You Have to Promise You Won’t Fall in Love with Me

A Walk to Remember is sadder than The Notebook, but not as remembered by the general public. The Notebook was of course the first Nicholas Sparks adaptation that I saw. A Walk to Remember seemed like a good follow up due to its similarities. Both books take place in the past and have sad endings. A Walk to Remember keeps the sad ending, but the setting is modernized. Most of the North Carolina set was even borrowed from Dawson’s Creek. Most critics wrote it off, but I knew there was a loyal fanbase.

I was genuinely moved by A Walk to Remember no matter how cliché it might be. Landon Carter is your typical bad boy who acts out. Jamie Sullivan is your typical reverend’s daughter with her own interests. Though they’ve known each other a long time, they’re brought together when Landon is forced to do a school play. Jamie only helps him under the condition that he doesn’t fall in love with her. Of course that’s a promise he won’t be able to keep for long. Jamie’s disapproving father and Landon’s mostly lousy friends can’t get in the way of them falling in love.

Their romance is sweet with Landon helping Jamie accomplish everything on her list. Shane West has a fine emotional transformation and Mandy Moore proves herself as an actress. Though she does sing on two separate occasions. The sadness comes in when Jamie reveals she has leukemia. Sparks wrote the story for his own sister battling cancer. Jamie actually looks sick, but her faith is refreshingly shown in a positive light. I cried from the reveal to Jamie’s final wish to be married. Love Story may have done it first, but I prefer A Walk to Remember.

A Walk to Remember

Landon sits with Jamie

Stupid Bunny Suit

S. Darko is another inferior sequel released too many years later for anyone to care. Donnie Darko has a lot of cult appeal that can’t really be replicated. That didn’t stop them from trying anyway. S. Darko refers to Samantha Darko, sister of the late Donnie Darko from the first film. She wanders the road with her vapid best friend Corey. They wind up in a small town where several disturbances try to mimic the original.

Except the new cast of characters can’t back things up. You know you’re in trouble if Jackson Rathbone and Elizabeth Berkley were the best they could do. Although I have a personal appreciation for Daveigh Chase, her role is essentially a less interesting substitute for her brother. Now Sam is the one hallucinating, facing an end of the world scenario, and using the confusing time travel of the original. Only none of the minor alterations make it any less derivative.

An imaginary rabbit is replaced by an undead Sam (Samara Morgan she is not). The end is now 5 days before the 4th of July in 1995. Time travel is used twice in order to make the entire movie feel utterly pointless. Two separate deaths are reversed and the world nearly ends via meteor shower. Religious commentary is handled with far less grace. Meanwhile, the iconic bunny suit is only used as a recognizable image. S. Darko is just as unnecessary as it sounds.

S Darko

Sam and Justin stare at each other

Preceded by: Donnie Darko

It’s a Very Very Mad World

Donnie Darko can’t be fully understood in one viewing. No wonder it gained a cult following. I’ve always known about Donnie Darko, but I had no clue how any of its themes tied together. Although I don’t always understand it, the themes are put to effective use. Only a first time independent director like Richard Kelly could think of something so complex. Drew Barrymore saw its potential by financing the film, but Donnie Darko continued to face production problems. Real world tragedies like 9/11 caused the movie to flop. While there is a plane crash in the movie, I think it was the bleak tone. Donnie Darko is an intelligent troubled youth with paranoid schizophrenia. Jake Gyllenhaal fully understands how to make him angsty but likeable. Some scenes were a lot more funny than I was expecting.

Donnie Darko is a little undefinable with elements of science fiction, psychological thriller, and coming-of-age. Darko narrowly escapes death when a jet engine falls on his bedroom. He survives thanks to his creepy imaginary 6ft. rabbit Harvey Frank who tells him about the end of the world. Only 28 days before Halloween in October 1988. The movie was also written and filmed in only 28 days. So Donnie spends most of his time unknowingly affecting others and committing several petty crimes under Frank’s influence. Donnie Darko has a far more impressive cast than I realized. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, and Daveigh Chase play members of the Darko family.

Katharine Ross plays Donnie’s active psychiatrist and Jenna Malone plays his equally troubled girlfriend Gretchen. Drew Barrymore is also part of the cast as a hip teacher who inspires Donnie. Meanwhile, Beth Grant plays the much more fundamentalist gym teacher. Her scenes include a surprise appearance from Patrick Swayze as a motivational speaker. I was more surprised to see Seth Rogen, Ashley Tisdale, and Jerry Trainor in their earliest film roles. Donnie begins to show interest in time travel, but the movie’s approach requires a book called The Philosophy of Time Travel written by a local crazy woman. When the clock does run out, time takes things to an unexpected conclusion. Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut may explain things better, but I prefer the thought provoking ambiguity of a very very mad world.

Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko in a theater with Gretchen and Frank

Followed by: S. Darko

Always Protect Yourself

Million Dollar Baby packs a serious punch. I haven’t seen much of Hilary Swank, but she’s an actress who always makes her performances count. She’s far from a typical 2 time Best Actress winner. It only took 5 years after Swank won for Boys Don’t Cry. Both films feature an intense transformation that the Academy Awards couldn’t ignore. Million Dollar Baby is the first movie to win Best Picture after the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended. It’s not the greatest boxing movie ever made, but it does go deeper than most. All thanks to the personal Oscar winning direction of the legendary Clint Eastwood. He also produced, starred, and provided the subtle guitar score.

Eastwood is the gruff but good hearted boxing trainer Frankie Dunn. He has his own personal problems ranging from faith to family. Although initially refusing to train a girl, Maggie Fitzgerald is exactly the aspiring young underdog he needs in his life. Together they train and eventually bound over their shared struggles. Similar to her previous award winning role, Maggie is from a trailer park with a scumbag family and has her life cut tragically short. Million Dollar Baby also gave Morgan Freeman the opportunity to finally win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Former boxer Scrap has great interplay with Frankie, a lovable mentor role with Maggie, and Freeman narrates as well. The role is practically redemption for not winning for Shawshank Redemption. Several before they were famous actors include Jay Baruchel as a more dimwitted aspiring boxer. Plus many future Marvel actors like Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, and a very skinny Mike Colter. Swank still steals the show with her impressive muscle tone, heartfelt sincerity, and brutal boxing matches against real life female boxers. The ending is heart-wrenching, but the message of Million Dollar Baby is clear to always protect yourself and fight for your dream.

Million Dollar Baby

Frankie and Scrap help Maggie in the ring

Moose and Squirrel

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle is better than Dudley Do-Right, but that didn’t keep it from bombing at the box-office. From the late 90’s to the early 2000’s there was an unusual fascination with Jay Ward cartoon adaptations. Most of which originated from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends cartoon. My parents watched the show, but my brother and I were clueless when we saw it in theaters. Although I was 5, we enjoyed the movie enough to keep watching it on VHS. Rocky and Bullwinkle is a guilty pleasure for me despite its reputation and out of the box plot. A plot that frankly honors the nature of the original show. Rocky and Bullwinkle may star an anthropomorphic moose and flying squirrel, but it’s actually quite sophisticated with political themes and real world parallels.

So it only made sense for Rocky J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose to enter the real world as cartoon characters. Giving the movie an extremely meta angle where they interact with the narrator, point out plot holes, and call attention to celebrity cameos. Including Randy Quaid, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Janeane Garofalo, John Goodman, and even Kenan Thompson & Kel Mitchell. Even with its modern spin, the movie respects the classics enough to keep June Foray as Rocky. Keith Scott does an admirable job replacing Bill Scott as Bullwinkle. They’re struggling cartoon characters sent to New York in order to stop their archenemies.

Rocky deals with regaining his flight and Bullwinkle is mostly concerned with getting to Washington. Piper Perabo keeps Rocky and Bullwinkle on the right path as original FBI agent Karen Sympathy. A more comical Robert De Niro is forced to recreate his Taxi Driver line as the ruthless Pottsylvanian Fearless Leader. While he’s busy trying to take over the world through television, Boris and Natasha are trying to kill Moose and Squirrel. Jason Alexander and Rene Russo are mostly good as live-action cartoons. The Who Framed Roger Rabbit similarities are made very apparent. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle isn’t always smart, but it may reach any audience that gives it a chance.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky, Bullwinkle, and Karen Sympathy address the nation

The First Mystery

Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins isn’t that bad considering its TV budget. After the failure of Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, a third live-action movie was cancelled. It was eventually replaced by a sort of prequel that’s both contemporary and has a completely different cast. My brother and I actually watched The Mystery Begins when it first aired on Cartoon Network. Although it lacks the so bad it’s good crudity of the theatrical films, I can’t really refer to it in the same way. Most faults are understandable for a made-for-TV kids movie.

Not counting shows like A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, it is kind of fun to see how many unique personalities became lifelong friends and detectives. Nick Palatas does an admirable job with Shaggy as an awkward high school slaker. The rest of the iconic characters are off, but mostly excusable. Robbie Amell nails the dumb jock with a heart side of Fred, but he isn’t blonde. Kate Melton is a mostly plain looking Daphne with a love for theater. Hayley Kiyoko is the first non-white actress to play Velma, but her braininess and silly walk are very much in tact.

Although voiced by Frank Welker, Scooby-Doo is given rough CGI that makes him look more like a cartoon. Scooby finds a home with Shaggy and the rest of the gang become friends Breakfast Club style. The mystery itself is a very ametur Coolsville High mystery with obvious fakeouts and a more obvious villain. Meanwhile, ghosts are the usual pesky poltergeists. The Mystery Machine ends up being Daphne’s old family van and Scooby Snacks are the homemade treats Shaggy makes. Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins is barely a mystery worth discovering, but it’s a harmless addition to the franchise.

3. Scooby-Doo The Mystery Begins

Mystery, Inc. in the Mystery Machine

Followed by: Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster