Sunday, January 23, 2011

King of Kong Island (1968)

The description on the 100 sci-fi classics actually got me excited for this one. It promised mad scientists creating gorilla warlords. There was to be adventure on a mysterious island, and best of all – a descendent of King Kong in the finale. I knew it would be low budget, but hey that would make it for fun, right.

Burt Dawson (Brad Harris) is out for revenge against the men who set him up during a payroll robbery gone bad. Along the way he runs into Forrester (Mario Donatone), his old pal who may have a job for him. Forrester’s daughter, Diana (Ursula Davis) has been seized by a man named Turk (Paolo Magalotti) and the diabolical Albert Muller (Marc Lawrence). They are holding her hostage to get at Burt. But Burt is no slouch he jumps into the jungle and tries to find the kidnappers, doing battle with zombie apes and meeting Eva “The Savage Girl” (Esmeralda Barros). And because it’s a jungle movie there will be a ton of stock footage and lots of walking scenes. Can you stay awake long enough to discover who is the King of Kong Island?

Good Points:
  • Want beefcake or cheesecake – this movie’s got both!
  • A fun and funky late 60’s vibe
  • The killer gorilla/zombies are hilarious
Bad Points:
  • Lots and lots of walking scenes
  • The entire middle portion is duller than dirt
  • How does this relate to King Kong again?
I think this movie was made to show off the assets of Brad Harris, Esmerelda Barros and Adriana Alben. Because it wasn’t for the plot or the creating anything really entertaining. Some comedy can be mined from the oh so 60’s party at the beginning or the bad monkey outfits, but really this one’s a dud.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 2
Sound: 3
Music: 2
Acting: 2
Script: 1
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 1
Total: 1

In Depth
I don’t expect much form these movies. I just want some cheesy entertainment. So when you promise some giant apes, I just expect to see some giant apes. Instead the King of Kong Island is one let down after the other.

The basic story about Burt wanting revenge on the men the betrayed him during a robbery is dull. We never get a good look at the traitors, and so it actually took me a while to realize these were the same men. Then Burt behaves like such an ass, that I don’t care what happens to him, and hope that Kong comes and squishes him like a grape. Alas, Burt gets to wander around the jungle, take his shirt off and splash around (for the ladies) and then come to the rescue, kinda, at the end. So our protagonist is worthless.

Our villain fares a bit better. Muller is your typical mad scientist type who wants to conquer the world with radio-controlled apes. You know the type. He chews the scenery, threatens the hero, laughs like a loony and makes gross advances on his captive Diana. I think Mr. Lawrence knew just what kind of a dumb movie he was in and just went for it. He played two different mafia toughs in two different Bond movies with the same bit of zeal (Diamonds are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun).

Then there’s Eva the jungle goddess person or some such stupidity. She basically wanders around the jungle topless (with her long hair in front of her chesticular region, calm down boys), and talks to a chimp. Yeah I guess the chimp is supposed to be the descendent of Kong. She does some stuff to save Burt, but mostly I think she supposed to be a combination of titillation and comic relief she doesn’t do very well with either. Adriana Alben steams up the screen a bit more in her shower scene, but she’s doesn’t really have a point in King of Kong Island other than to have the shower scene and get beaten up by Forrester.

Yeah the nice movie has a scene where a woman gets slapped around and an scene where the villain threatens to rape his captive or have his zombie apes rape her. Jeez! Some movies have no class.

Really that’s what this stupid movie boils down to. It has no class, and no point of really existing. It’s dull in the middle with endless walking scenes and stock footage of African animals. The thrilling scenes make you snore and only the ludicrous apes (and horrific dubbing) provide any laughs. But they honestly aren’t worth it. Stick with any other version of King Kong  or Tarzan if you are in the mood for jungle fun. Or heck even watch Queen of the Amazons over this stupid turd. You’ll be glad you missed this one.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Movie Music Musings: Nosferatu (1922)

On Halloween night my wife and I decided to watch a few creepy movies. On the list was the silent classic from 1922 “Nosferatu”. I had seen the movie quite a while ago (when I was watching all the movies that influenced Coppola’s version of “Dracula”), and I remembered finding it creepy but a bit on the slow side.

We ended up using a direct download via Netflix. The only reason I mention this is because there was no way to change the audio track. Since this is a silent film, each version on DVD has a different musical score. A quick check on Amazon leads me to believe that I watched the version of the movie that Image released. Supposedly it has a score performed on pipe organ. I wish I had seen that version.

Instead we heard the other track, an “experimental” score performed on a synthesizer. Now I have nothing against electronic music. I even enjoy film scores with completely synthetic scores (Vangelis and Wendy Carlos have done some great stuff in my opinion). But the big difference here is that electronic scores are still film scores. Their first goal is to support the film and enhance the story telling. This alternate musical score did the exact opposite.

“Nosferatu” has some issues that it can’t overcome. The first is that the acting is very stylized and over the top. It also has some pacing problems, taking its sweet time moving the story along. All these things are actually enhanced by the poor score.

What makes it so poor? The biggest offender is the use of some seriously distracting sound choices. During scenes of pastoral beauty and when Hutter (the protagonist) is wandering around blissfully ignorant of his danger, the music is incredibly bubbly and upbeat. A steel drum sound effect is used in many scenes, making me wonder when this little German man wandered into Jamaica. It was so incongruous I had to laugh, not the kind of response you want when you’re building tension. But that was just it, there was no tension.

In early scenes as Hutter approaches Count Orlok’s castle, the music attempts a sinister turn, but instead it just kind of meanders around, not creating dread or suspense. It just flails about in the most distracting manner. Now, I’ve heard some excellent suspense music done in an electronic way. Check out Kenji Kawai’s score for “Ghost in the Shell”, which uses a creepy meandering, atonal drones and rumbling to create a building of danger and suspense. It’s still musical, but in a very Japanese way, and very effective in the scenes of the film (even if it isn’t something very listenable on an album). Something like that could have worked wonders in “Nosferatu” but instead what you get is something that would sound pathetic in an 8 bit Nintendo game.

My wife had never seen the film before and quickly lost interest because of the distracting score. We started coming up with other instruments that would have worked better. A simple string quartet could have really worked wonders here.

Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, I grabbed my iPod dock hooked it up, and played the wonderful musical scores to “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “The Ninth Gate” by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. Sure the music didn’t match the scenes, but the tone was right, with Kilar’s utilizing his orchestra and lush writing to create beauty and horror in equal amounts. It was a vast improvement, and actually allowed us to watch the rest of the film and actually be creeped out by the visuals.

This hammered home the importance of music in film. It’s such a powerful tool, and a director must really be aware of how to use it. As this little experiment proved the music for films serves one purpose first – to support its film. I sometimes forget as a lover of film music that scores that I may not enjoy may work wonders in their film.

Still I feel a bit cheated by that version of “Nosferatu”, maybe I should pick up a version on DVD with an actual workable score and watch this again. I tried to imagine what would happen if someone did s similar treatment to The Adventures of Prince Achmed and shuddered at the thought of synth steel drums during the wizard battle. “Experimental”? No.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Informant (2009)


The ads for this one made it look like a nutty bit of fun with Matt Damon playing a funny part. But when you’ve got Steven Soderbergh directing you know that there might be a bit more to it. What finally pushed me into wanting to see the film? Why a retro musical score by 70’s master Marvin Hamlisch.


Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is in a tough spot. The company he works for appears to be engaged in price fixing with their competitors, and he can’t stand it any more. He approaches the FBI with his information, and they convince him to become an undercover mole, gathering more and more information, eventually finding a deeper conspiracy. But the FBI agents begin to see cracks in Mark’s story. Is their “Informant” nothing more than a gifted storyteller?

Good Points

  • Matt Damon is perfect in the role
  • The story is interesting and moves along at a good pace
  • Hamlisch’s score is perfect for the tone

Bad Points:

  • The character of Mark Whitacre may annoy viewers
  • The tone is very light and maybe too light
  • The music is so retro it may actually cause damage to more hip viewers


This was an entertaining film, worth checking out if you are interested in seeing Damon’s take on the character. We’ve seen this story before but Soderbergh uses so many interesting elements that it all works well. He captures the period with his production design and music. The result is a fun little movie.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 4

Sound: 3

Acting: 4

Script: 4

Music: 4

Direction: 3

Entertainment: 3

Total: 3

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