Kong Battles A Weak Script in KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

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King Kong is back!

And while he’s still king when it comes to defending Skull Island from giant monsters and aggressive humans, he’s not so adept at overcoming a bad script.

KONG:  SKULL ISLAND is a new King Kong movie, produced by the same folks who made GODZILLA (2014), the one with Bryan Cranston.  As such, it’s not a sequel to Peter Jackson’s KING KONG (2005), but as most everyone knows by now, a new story to set up a future King Kong vs. Godzilla bash which is scheduled for release in 2020, which is why Kong has been taking steroids.

Yup, in this movie, Kong is huge!  Whereas in the Peter Jackson movie, Kong stood at 25 feet tall, here in KONG:  SKULL ISLAND Mr. Kong stands at a towering 104 feet tall.  The 25 feet tall is comparable to Kong’s height in the original 1933 film, and the tallest Kong appeared in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) where he stood at 147 feet.

For reasons I’m not sure I understand, KONG:  SKULL ISLAND takes place in 1973, just as the Vietnam War comes to a close.  Scientist and adventurer Bill Randa (John Goodman) asks for and receives—why?— federal funding to lead an expedition to an uncharted island in the Pacific in search of giant monsters.  He also asks for and receives a military escort, led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s still smarting over the way the Vietnam War ended, for as Packard says, “we didn’t lose the war.  We abandoned it.”

Also going along for the journey are professional tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), as well as various other military folks and scientists who are just as under-developed as these main characters.

When they get to Skull Island, it doesn’t take them long to encounter Kong who quickly makes short work of them, downing their helicopters and killing most of them.  Those who survive find themselves scattered on the island, but they know of a rendezvous point where more helicopters are scheduled to arrive to pick them up, and so they know if they can get there, they can be rescued.

Of course, Kong and the other giant creatures on the island have other ideas.

While I wouldn’t call KONG:SKULL ISLAND the worst Kong movie ever made— that distinction still belongs to the utterly horrible KING KONG LIVES (1986)— it’s certainly one of the stupidest Kong films ever.  What a ridiculously inane story!

First of all, it’s not a new story at all.  While technically not a remake of the original Kong tale, it basically tells the same story:  a group of people travel to an uncharted island in search of something monstrous that supposedly lives there.  It’s the same exact story, only without the Fay Wray character.  This is the best the writers could do?

Don’t be fooled.  KONG:  SKULL ISLAND is not an original tale.  It’s just another origin story, and we’ve already had plenty of those.  They’ve been called KING KONG. Sure, here it’s been altered to fit into a Vietnam era tale, but these alterations only make things more ridiculous.

I’m not really sure why there is a Vietnam connection.  It’s obvious from the film’s poster that the filmmakers are going for an APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) connection.  And while there’s plenty of cool 1970s songs on the soundtrack, along with wise cracking soldiers, none of it really works.  It all just feels out-of-place.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts does the film no favors with a choppy style that is more reminiscent of TOP GUN (1986) than APOCALYPSE NOW.  Like TOP GUN, there are lots of characters  who we never really get to know, often shown in brief music video-style clips which serves as a substitute for genuine character development.

The screenplay by three writers with considerable screen credits—Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly is pretty bad. It’s chock full of awful dialogue, and the only reason folks like John Goodman and Tom Hiddleston say their lines with straight faces is because they’re really good actors.  And the story is a snooze.  It’s an origin story disguised as monster movie/war movie hybrid, and it just doesn’t work.  Gilroy wrote NIGHTCRAWLER (2014), Borenstein co-wrote GODZILLA (2014), and Connolly co-wrote JURASSIC WORLD (2015).  KONG: SKULL ISLAND is not their best work.

Back in 1976, critics made fun of the fact that in the 1976 remake of KING KONG, Kong walked upright like a man, which was a clear departure from the way he walked in both the original 1933 classic and in the ensuing Japanese Toho productions.  Kong was a giant ape and was supposed to walk like an ape.  To be honest, I never had a problem with Kong walking upright in the 1976 version, as it is an interpretation which suggests that Kong is not just a giant ape but a different creature altogether.  This interpretation makes Kong more monstrous.

I bring this up because here in KONG:  SKULL ISLAND Kong once again walks upright.  I don’t have a problem with this.  However, I do have problems with Kong in this movie.

While Kong looks fine, he has to be the most boring King Kong ever to appear in a movie.  In every Kong movie, even the Toho films, Kong has a personality.  He is a definite presence in the film.  He has no personality here.  In KONG:  SKULL ISLAND, Kong is nothing more than a slow-walking giant who battles both humans and monsters and that’s it.  Not that I’m arguing that every Kong movie has to be a love story between Kong and a woman, because that’s not what I’m talking about.  In other films, Kong has been angry, Kong has been heroic, and Kong’s has been ruthless.  It’s these emotions which have set Kong apart from other giant monsters in the movies, and while Kong goes through the motions in this movie, I never felt these emotions at all.

It’s one of my least favorite Kong interpretations of all time.

One thing the movie does have going for it is it is full of good actors, and so you cannot argue that the acting is bad here.  In fact, the acting in spite of the silly script, is one of the film’s best parts.

Tom Hiddleston, who plays the villain Loki in the MARVEL superhero movies, a character I have never liked, is very good here as hero tracker James Conrad, in spite of the laughable dialogue he has to say.   The same can be said for John Goodman, who plays adventurer Bill Randa, a sort of Carl Denham character— in fact, the clothes he wears in this movie are an homage to the clothes Denham wore in the 1933 original film—and who has to say even worse dialogue.

Brie Larson also does a fine job with Mason Weaver, although like every one else in the movie, her character is way under developed.  Samuel L. Jackson probably fares the worst, because in addition to his lousy dialogue, his military character is strictly cliché, the type of character who always seems to show up in a giant monster movie, the military officer who takes out his misplaced frustrations on the giant monster, vowing to kill the creature at all costs.  Blah, blah, blah.

The most interesting character in the film is Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) a World War II pilot who was shot down during the war and has been living on Skull Island ever since when he is discovered by the folks in this movie.  Reilly has a field day with the role, and he has all of the best lines in the movie.

In fact, the story of KONG:  SKULL ISLAND is really the story of Hank Marlow.  The film begins with him being shot down, and the entire story arc in the movie which goes all the way into the end credits follows his tale, not Kong’s, which would have been okay, had I bought a ticket to see HANK MARLOW:  SKULL ISLAND.

Surprisingly, there are not any dinosaurs on Skull Island, this time around, but there are plenty of giant creatures.  Some work, others don’t.  I liked the giant spider and the bird creatures, but Kong’s main adversary in this film, giant reptilian creatures which come out from underneath the ground, did not work for me.  I thought they looked really silly.

The giant spider is an homage to the giant spider in the pit scene from the original KING KONG (1933) which was cut upon release, lost, and has remained missing ever since.  Kong’s fight with a giant octopus is also an homage to a similar scene in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962).

There is an after-credit scene, but I didn’t stay for it.  I had had enough by the film’s end.

KONG:  SKULL ISLAND isn’t really all that intense.  In fact, you can make the argument that the 1933 original KING KONG is a far more intense film than this 2017 edition.

I love King Kong and I’m a huge fan of the King Kong movies, both the good and the bad, and so I can’t say that I hated KONG:  SKULL ISLAND. I just thought it was really stupid, and I didn’t particularly like the interpretation of Kong in this movie.  The actors all do a good job, but they’re in a story that doesn’t help them at all.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND is certainly one of the weaker films in the KONG canon.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972)

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For a monster born more than 50 years ago, Godzilla may be more relevant now than ever before.

The movies just keep on coming.  The latest Godzilla movie arrived last year with SHIN GODZILLA (2016) to a limited release here in the U.S., and it received some pretty good reviews.  And there is another film in the works, GODZILLA:  KING OF MONSTERS, due out in 2019, from the same folks who made the Bryan Cranston GODZILLA (2014).  All told, there have been 31 Godzilla movies to date, and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping any time soon.

But today’s movie comes from that time when Godzilla was a silly monster superhero, constantly saving the world from the evil and bad monsters.  Silly stuff for sure, but also the type of Godzilla movie that a lot of us grew up with.

Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT it’s one of my favorite Godzilla movies from the 1970s, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972).

This one sat on the shelf for a few years before being released in the U.S. in 1978 with the title GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND.  It was supposed to be a return to the traditional Godzilla format, after the offbeat message-driven GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971),  a film I did not enjoy as a kid, but it’s one that has definitely grown on me over the years.

In GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, aliens from outer space are once again trying to take over the Earth, and they employ space monsters Gigan and King Ghidorah to help them.  To defend the Earth, humankind turns to their giant monster friends Godzilla and Anguirus for help.

And defend the Earth they do, in one of the series’ better and longer climactic monster bashes.  And there you have it.  That’s pretty much GODZILLA VS. GIGAN in a nutshell.  What did you expect?  Shakespeare?

I find GODZILLA VS. GIGAN particularly enjoyable for two reasons.  The biggest reason is the aforementioned climactic battle.  It’s one of the best in the series.  That being said, in terms of monsters, this one gets off to a slow start, and it seemingly takes forever for Godzilla and Anguirus to show up, but once they do, nearly the final third of the movie is one long and rather exciting giant monster bout.

The other fun thing about GODZILLA VS. GIGAN is its human characters.  While the space villains are your typical bad guy types, the heroes in this one seem to have stepped out of a Scooby Doo cartoon.  They’re young and they’re hip.  Groovy, man!  We have a young cartoonist who draws monsters, a young woman looking for her kidnapped brother, and her male friend, a classic hippie who can’t seem to stop eating corn on the cob.  I guess Scooby snacks weren’t available. These three provide lots of light-hearted fun during the people parts of this monster flick.

GODZILLA VS. GIGAN is also the film famous for being the movie where Godzilla actually talks!  Yep, words come out of Godzilla’s mouth as he talks to his buddy Anguirus. It’s a ridiculously silly scene, and Godzilla and Anguirus sound like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo.  It’s awful.

The good news is, we live in the age of DVDs and Blu-ray, and these discs often include the original Japanese versions as well.  So, you can watch the original Japanese version in which Godzilla and Anguirus do not talk.  Oh, they communicate, but through sounds rather than words, and it’s very obvious that they are communicating.  Unfortunately, the American distributors didn’t think their Godzilla audiences were intelligent enough to figure this out, and so they added the ridiculous English language dubbing.

GODZILLA VS. GIGAN was directed by Jun Fukuda, no stranger to the Godzilla franchise, as he directed five movies in the series. In addition to GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967), GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973), and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974) were all helmed by Fukuda.

Shin’ichi Sekizawa wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Takeshi Kimura. Kimura wrote the screenplays to some of my favorite Toho movies, including RODAN (1956), THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), and KING KONG ESCAPES (1967).

Are there better Godzilla movies?  Certainly!  But in terms of fun Godzilla movies, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN ranks near the top.

Of course, the big question for Godzilla fans is, how does Godzilla fare in this one?  Well, truth be told, it’s not one of the big guy’s better performances.  The costume looks rather silly here, and it does take Godzilla forever to finally show up and take on Gigan and King Ghidorah.  There really isn’t a good balance here of Godzilla scenes.  It’s pretty much all or nothing, with the “all” coming in the film’s final  30 minutes or so.  But the climactic battle is worth the wait.

Plus, Godzilla’s goofy appearance kinda fits in with the rest of the movie, a 1970s romp.  You almost expect to see Cheech and Chong show up.  It would actually make a nice companion piece with Hammer’s DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972).

Want a cure for the winter blues?  Watch GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and see Godzilla and Anguirus take on Gigan and King Ghidorah in an all-out monster bash.  It’s a sure-fire way to smash out the cold weather doldrums.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)

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This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) originally appeared in the HWA NEWSLETTER in March 2008.  It’s being reprinted this month in the March 2016 edition of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.

Enjoy!

—Michael

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In the tradition of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963), we have ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004).

I hate to admit it, but I like ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.  Here’s why.

The number one reason? It’s the monsters, stupid.  For those of us who love our movie monsters, it’s hard not to like a film like ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.  That’s not to say the film doesn’t have flaws.  It does.

The story is simple.  A group of experts make an expedition to the Antarctic in search of a strange underground pyramid.  While there,  they discover a breeding ground and learn that the predators are breeding the aliens for hunting practice.  Of course, to breed the aliens, the predators need humans to serve as hosts.  Nice vacation spot.

By far, this plot point of the relationship between the predators and the aliens is the worst part of the movie.  The first time these creatures meet it should have been something special.  We the audience should have been privy to it, but we’re not.  Imagine if in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963) the filmmakers revealed that these two behemoths had already met, frequently, and that Godzilla uses King Kong for target practice on a regular basis.  Would you still want to watch the movie?  It just wouldn’t be the same.

It’s a major blemish on the screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson, who also directed.

Still, it doesn’t ruin the entire movie, and to his credit, director Anderson does craft a neat first meeting between a predator and an alien in this movie.  It’s just that we know through the story that these creatures have met before, and so, much of the zing of what is to follow is lost.

Even so, the battle sequences are still entertaining, but oh what could have been.  Director Paul W.S. Anderson does a good job for the most part helming these cinematic monster battles, which at the very least are not boring.

And the film looks good.  The shots in the icy Antarctic bring to mind John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), and the special effects aren’t that bad either.

Absent from the film however is the gripping suspense from the earlier ALIEN movies, though this isn’t a complete surprise because the suspense was also absent from the previous two ALIEN installments, ALIEN 3 (1992) and ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997).

The cast is pretty good though.  I enjoyed the lead character (Sanaa Lathan).  Nathan turns in a strong performance, in keeping with the ALIEN tradition of having a strong female lead, taking over the job from Sigourney Weaver.  She gets to say such tough gal lines as “When I lead my team, I don’t ever leave my team,” and “We’re in the middle of a war.  It’s time to pick a side.”  And did I mention she looks good?

The rest of the cast is OK, even though Lance Henriksen, a fine actor who appeared in ALIENS (1986) and ALIEN 3 (1992) is somewhat of a disappointment.  Compare Henriksen’s performance in this film to his performance in ALIENS as the android Bishop, and you’ll find that Henriksen showed more range as the android than as a human.

But who are we kidding?  ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is about the monsters, not the people, and there are plenty of monsters in this movie.  For this reason alone, it’s fun.

All in all, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is a well-produced and well-acted film that in spite of its flaws, satisfies that hunger which those of us  who love movie monsters all share, a hunger for monsters.

—END—

And remember, if you enjoyed this column, you can read 150 of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in my book, IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.  It’s available as an Ebook at http://www.neconebooks.com, and if you’d like a print edition, just visit the “About” section of this blog for ordering details.

Thanks!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

NECON 34 Recap: We Are Family

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Necon batNECON 34 Recap
July 17-20 2014
By Michael Arruda

What is Necon?

Only the coolest convention ever!

Every summer a bunch of writers and readers descend upon Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI for Camp Necon, a writers’ convention unlike any other.

Here’s a brief recap of this year’s Necon, NECON 34, held July 17-20 2014, at the Roger Williams Convention Center.

Thursday, July 17

NECON 34 got off to a truly original start with Necon’s First Ever Live Concert, performed by Kasey Lansdale. Kasey, the daughter of author Joe Lansdale, entertained the Necon crowd with a nice mix of original songs and other favorites, even bringing Christopher Golden up to perform. Who knew that Golden could sing so well? Seriously, no joke, Chris Golden can sing. Wow. This was a fun outdoor concert.

Afterwards, I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen since last year and hung out with them into the night—.

 

Friday, July 18

No rest for the weary as I was co-hosting the first event of the day, a 9:00 Kaffeklatsch entitled Cinema Knife Fight Presents The Years’s Best Horror Films, co-hosted with my Cinema Knife Fight partner, L.L. Soares. L.L. missed last year’s Necon, so it was extra fun seeing him this year.

We had a nice turn-out of people and a spirited discussion of this year’s horror movies. Of course, the consensus was that there weren’t a whole lot of decent horror movies released so far this year. Two films that were discussed were GODZILLA and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.

I recommended THE QUIET ONES, Hammer’s latest movie, an offbeat original tale of a possession investigation, as my top horror movie pick so far for 2014, and L.L. went with the recently released SNOWPIERCER.

In the audience were fellow Cinema Knife Fighters Bill Carl, Barry Dejasu, and Barbara and Craig Shaw Gardner, who as always, had lots of insights into this year’s movies.

Two more Kaffeklatschs followed. I attended the 11:00 one on The Best Books of Last Year, where Jack Haringa, Matt Schwartz, and Hank Wagner discussed recent good reads. Lots of titles were suggested, including Christopher Golden’s latest, Snowblind, which received high recommendations.

After a noon lunch, it was time for the afternoon panels. I skipped the first one to catch up on some rest, check emails, make a blog post, and call home to see how things were on the home front.

The 2:00 panel Somebody’s Gotta Tell the Truth: The Smart People’s Panel was a panel on nonfiction and criticism, moderated by Jack Haringa, and featured Nicholas Kaufmann, Hank Wagner, Hildy Silverman, Tony Tremblay, and Bev Vincent. Much of the talk focused on critical reviews and whether it was good form to publish negative reviews of people’s works. The consensus seemed to be that it’s better simply not to review a “bad book” than write a scathing review about it.

The 3:00 panel Quiet On The Set!: The Long, Long Road from the Page to the Screen was a panel moderated by Lynne Hansen on what it takes to make a movie, covering such topics as writers, directors, producers, actors, scripts, and studios. The panel included Amber Benson, John Dixon, Mallory O’Meara, Brian Keene, and Jeff Strand.

At 4:00, it was time for the highlight of the day, the We Are Family: The Bob Booth Legacy panel. Bob Booth, the man who along with his wife Mary founded Necon, sadly passed away last year after a courageous battle with lung cancer. Moderator Matt Bechtel made it clear that the panel would honor Bob’s wishes not to turn Necon into a funeral service, and so Matt and fellow panelists Chris Golden, John McIlveen, Linda Addison, Jill Bauman, and Craig Shaw Gardner offered their insights and stories on how Bob influenced both their careers and lives.

In addition to founding Necon, Bob Booth was also a writer, publisher, mentor, scholar, and fan. He also started Necon EBooks, which published my first short story collection, two movie review collections, and coming soon my first novel. So, I know firsthand how well Bob Booth supported authors, because he gave me my shot for which I will be forever grateful.

One of the highlights of this tribute was a video interview of Bob from a several years ago, part of a project to record Necon memories on video. Bob was a gifted storyteller, and his appearance in this interview is chock full of fun stories and anecdotes, my favorite being the story of how Necon began.

After dinner, Toastmaster Jack Haringa offered his toast with his signature scathing wit, a nice preview of things to come in Saturday’s roast. Haringa’s toast was followed by the comical Necon Update with Mike Myers.

Following these lighthearted affairs was the more serious Necon Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Inductees into the Necon Hall of Fame this year included Dan Booth and John McIlveen.

At 8:00 it was the Meet the Authors Party where authors like Christopher Golden, Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Brian Keene, among many others, signed their books and greeted fans. It’s an amazing venue in which to meet your favorite authors.

I had my In The Spooklight collection and For The Love of Horror short story collection on hand, as I set up shop with L.L. Soares, Peter Dudar, and John Dixon. I purchased Peter’s novella romp Blood Cult of the Booby Farmers and look forward to reading it.

At 10:00 it was time for Necon Late-Night Movies where I caught Lynne Hansen’s short film CHOMP, a lively little tale of people fighting off some hungry zombies.

And the night finished, as Necon nights always do, with late night socializing outside on the quad where you’d be hard pressed not to find a friendly author or a captivating conversation, the kind where you’ll suddenly realize an hour has past and you’re still talking about that latest movie or book or hot sauce recipe. You never know.

 

Saturday, July 19

Breakfast at 8:00 followed by the 9:00 panel, It Only Hurt A Little (Writing a Novel), moderated by Richard Dansky, where authors L.L. Soares, Kristin Dearborn, Meghan Acuri-Moran, Dan Foley, and Laura Cooney discussed the experience of writing their first novels. Dan Foley made a point to thank Bob Booth for helping launch his career by publishing his first novel with Necon EBooks. I second that thank you.

Following at 10:00, the Putting It All Together: How To (and Not To) Assemble an Anthology panel, moderated by Doug Winter, and featuring Tom Monteleone, Darrell Schweitzer, Kasey Lansdale, Scott Goudsward, and Jacob Haddon, where they discussed the ins and outs, and dos and don’ts of putting together an anthology. Among the topics of conversation was what to do when a name author delivers subpar material. This was a really interesting panel and included lots of practical nuts and bolts on how to assemble an anthology.

I skipped the 11:00 panel to catch up on some rest, and after lunch at noon, it was time for the 1:00 Guest of Honor Interviews, where Toastmaster Jack Haringa interviewed guests of honor Michael Koryta, Amber Benson, and Nick Kaufmann. This was a two hour event, but I had to skip out halfway through to work a shift at the New England Horror Writers table in the Dealer’s Room, which actually was a lot of fun, hanging out with Scott Goudsward and other members of the New England Horror Writers group.

At 4:00 it was the lively and energetic panel Man vs. Beast vs. Other: The Best Monsters in Modern Horror, in which the panelists discussed their favorite monsters. Moderated by P.D. Cacek, the panel included Errick Nunnally, William Carl, Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, and Nate Kenyon. This was a really interesting panel where there was much more than just the traditional monsters discussed.

After dinner, it was time for the Artists’ Reception at 6:30 where there was some incredible art work on display, as always. This was presented with coffee and a delicious array of desserts. I had a chance to chat with Tom Monteleone during this event, and it was fun catching up.

At 7:30, it was time for the Necon Talent Show. This year the gimmick of the “gong” was added, a la the old Gong Show TV show. I’m not sure the gong went over all that well, but I actually liked it and thought it was hilarious. There was also a panel of judges this year, a la American Idol, including F. Paul Wilson doing his best British accent and Tom Monteleone playing the clichéd Italian.

Contestants sang, danced, performed stand-up comedy, and played guitar in a fun show which was entertaining and satisfying.

After this, it was time for The Infamous Necon Roast. The “unlucky” roastee this year was Guest of Honor Nick Kaufmann, and the running gag was Nick’s mediocrity. Of course, anyone who knows Nick, even just through Necon as I do, knows there’s nothing mediocre about him. Hilarious roast, and Nick was a good sport about it all.

Afterwards it was time for another for Necon Late-Night Movie, this time a showing of the short film GAVE UP THE GHOST, written by Jeff Strand, a comical tale of a possessed computer. Not something you see every day.

Into the night, more socializing, conversations, and grilled Saugies, those tasty hot dogs found only in Rhode Island.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

After 8:00 breakfast, it was the 9:00 panel Up and Coming: Genre and Erotic Fiction Do the 9AM “Walk of Shame,” a panel on horror and erotic fiction moderated by Sephera Giron, and featuring Peter Dudar, Hal Bodner, Mike Myers, Heather Graham, and Nick Kaufmann. This very informative panel discussed differences between erotica and pornography, and erotica’s place in horror fiction, and how to seamlessly mix the two.

I skipped 10:00 panel to pack up and check out, and at 11:00, it was time for the Necon Town Meeting where we took stock of the weekend and looked ahead to next year’s Necon.

Again, it was reaffirmed by the Necon first-timers how comfortable people here made them feel, and how much of a family Necon is, which is the true legacy of Bob Booth and the rest of the Booth family, that they have created a gathering for like-minded writers, readers, artists, and fans who can spend a weekend discussing the things they love, learning valuable insights, having tons of fun, and doing it all in a friendly environment, with people who though not related by blood feel and act like family.

It’s a one of a kind experience.

The weekend finished with the farewell lunch, where I sat with friends L.L. Soares, Laura Cooney, and Steve Dorato, most likely for the last time until next summer, and said my farewells to many familiar and friendly faces, people like Craig Shaw Gardner, Barbara Gardner, Chris Golden, Richard Dansky, and Paul McMahon to name just a few.

And of course the Booth family, Sarah, Dan, Mary, and Matt.

I said it last year but it bears repeating: Necon is more than a con. It’s family.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

THE HORROR JAR: GIANT BUG MOVIES

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THEM! (1954), the first and arguably the best of the giant bug movies.

THEM! (1954), the first and arguably the best of the giant bug movies.

THE HORROR JAR: Giant Bug Movies
By Michael Arruda

Just in time for summer, it’s another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature various lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies. This time out we look at giant bug movies. That’s right, when you’re out picnicking, at the beach, on a hike, or at a barbecue, and the pesky bugs are getting in your face, remember, it could be a lot worse.

They could be a lot bigger.

Here’s a look at some giant bug classics:

THEM! (1954)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Screenplay by Ted Sherdeman
Sgt. Ben Peterson: James Whitmore
Robert Graham: James Arness
Dr. Harold Medford: Edmund Gwenn
Dr. Patricia Medford: Joan Weldon
General O’Brien: Onslow Stevens
Running Time: 94 minutes

Giant ants attack Los Angeles. One of the first giant bug movies remains one of the best. Chilling thriller is much scarier than its 1950s counterparts. Originally to have been shot in color and in 3D. It works just fine in black and white.

 

TARANTULA (1955)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley
Dr. Matt Hastings: John Agar
Professor Gerald Deemer: Leo G. Carroll
Running Time: 80 minutes

John Agar defends a desert town from a giant tarantula. Another classic.

 

RODAN (1956)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Takeshi Kimura
Running Time: 74 minutes

Sure, Rodan is a pterosaur, but this Toho flick also features prehistoric insects which are quite scary until Rodan decides to eat them for breakfast.

 

BEGINNING OF THE END (1957)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Fred Freiberger and Lester Gorn
Dr. Ed Wainright: Peter Graves
Running Time: 76 minutes

It’s all in the family, as this tale of giant grasshoppers stars future Mission: Impossible star Peter Graves, the brother of James Arness (future Gunsmoke star) who starred in THEM! This one comes to us from director Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) who made a lot of these giant monster movies, and it’s an inferior production to the giant bug films which came before it.

 

THE BLACK SCORPION (1957)
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Screenplay by David Duncan and Robert Blees
Hank Scott: Richard Denning
Running Time: 88 minutes

This tale of giant scorpions attacking Mexico City features special effects by KING KONG (1933) creator Willis O’Brien and stars Richard Denning, fresh off his battle with the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). Budget constraints forced O’Brien to use incomplete shots of the giant scorpions in some scenes. In these scenes the monsters appear as black shadows as opposed to fleshed out creatures.

 

THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957)
Directed by Nathan Juran
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Col. Joe Parkman: Craig Stevens
Dr. Ned Jackson: William Hopper
Running Time: 79 minutes

Universal’s companion piece to its earlier hit TARANTULA, this one about a giant praying mantis. Not as good as TARANTULA, but still an above average entry in the genre. Contains some very creepy scenes.

 

EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Laszlo Gorog and George Worthing Yates
Running Time: 73 minutes

This Bert I. Gordon flick should have been called Teens Vs. The Spider, as a group of 1950s teens takes on a giant Arachnid which invades their small town.

 

MOTHRA (1961)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Running Time: 88 minutes

I’ve never understood the desire to make a movie about a giant moth (“Hey, guys, here’s an idea for a giant monster movie: a giant moth!” Seriously?) Of course, this shows how little I know, as MOTHRA became a hit for Toho, and everybody’s favorite giant moth would go on to appear in countless other movies, most featuring Godzilla.

 

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)
Directed by Cy Enfield
Screenplay by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne.
Captain Cyrus Harding: Michael Craig
Herbert Brown: Michael Callan
Gideon Spilitt: Gary Merrill
Captain Nemo: Herbert Lom
Running Time: 101 minutes

This classic movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen features many giant creatures, including oversized bees. Superior special effects here, but that’s no surprise as Ray Harryhausen always brought his “A” game to his movies. Memorable music score by Bernard Herrmann.

 

GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Running Time: 89 minutes

Godzilla battles Mothra for the first time. Mothra would go on to appear in many other Godzilla movies, not listed here.

 

SON OF GODZILLA (1967)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa and Kazue Shiba
Running Time: 84 minutes

No Mothra here, but this film which introduced Godzilla’s son Minilla does feature giant praying mantises known as Kamacuras, and a giant spider called Kumonga.

 

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Bert I. Gordon, based on the novel by H.G.Wells.
Running Time: 88 minutes

This Bert I. Gordon flick is mainly about enormous rats, but does feature humongous wasps as well.

 

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Jack Turley, based on a story by H.G. Wells
Marilyn Fryser: Joan Collins
Dan Stokely: Robert Lansing
Running Time: 89 minutes

Bert I. Gordon again, this time directing a tale about giant ants in Florida, starring Joan Collins, four years before her run on the TV show Dynasty.

 

KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977)
Directed by John “Bud” Cardos
Screenplay by Richard Robinson and Alan Caillou
Rack Hansen: William Shatner
Running Time: 97 minutes

Okay, technically, this isn’t a giant bug movie, because the spiders in this flick are regular sized— it’s just that there are millions of them invading a small town. (Well, maybe not millions, but there sure are a lot of them!). This film is on the list for one reason only, other than the spiders, of course, and that’s William Shatner. Shatner lifts this one to a higher level. Sure, it’s his over-dramatic Captain Kirk shtick again here as he plays veterinarian Rack Hansen, but that’s what makes his performance and ultimately this movie so much fun.

 

TREMORS (1990)
Directed by Ron Underwood
Screenplay by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock
Valentine McKee: Kevin Bacon
Earl Bassett: Fred Ward
Burt Gummer: Michael Gross
Heather Gummer: Reba McIntire
Running Time: 96 minutes

Another film that technically isn’t a giant bug movie, but this flick about ferocious giant mutated worm-creatures is so good it’s impossible to keep off this list. A highly entertaining movie that was largely ignored upon its initial theatrical release, TREMORS ranks as one of the best giant monster movies ever made.

 

EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS (2002)
Directed by Ellory Elkayem
Screenplay by Jesse Alexander and Ellory Elkayem
Chris McCormick: David Arquette
Ashley Parker: Scarlett Johansson
Running Time: 99 minutes

This effective horror comedy mix about giant spiders features Scarlett Johansson in one of her early roles.

 

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, based on the novel “The Return of the King” by J.R.R. Tolkien
Frodo: Elijah Wood
Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Gollum: Andy Serkis
Running Time: 201 minutes

This 2004 Oscar Winner for Best Picture features one very nasty giant spider in one very creepy scene. The other 195 minutes aren’t half bad either!

Well, there you have it. A list of giant bug movies just in time for summer. Is this all of them? No way! These are just a few of the giant critter flicks which I recommend. There are many, many more.

That’s it for now.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

GODZILLA (2014) – The King of the Monsters Deserves Better

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Godzilla 2014 poster 2 THE HORROR: GODZILLA (2014)

Horror Movie Review by Michael Arruda

 

He’s the King of the Monsters, and has been since he debuted in his first feature film 60 years ago in 1954. I’m talking of course about Godzilla, and he’s back on the big screen in GODZILLA (2014), a stylish reboot by director Gareth Edwards.

For some, this movie is being hailed as one of the best in the series, a phenomenal motion picture that deserves four stars. For me, it’s an okay giant monster movie that in spite of the creative talents of its director, suffers from a lackluster story, dull characters, and way too little of the main star— and I’m not talking about Bryan Cranston.

I’m talking about Godzilla. The King of the Monsters just might need a new agent after this one.

GODZILLA opens in 1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) send their young son off to school and then head off to work at the local nuclear power plant. On this fateful day, there is a nuclear accident and Sandra is killed.
The action switches to present day, where the adult Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has just returned to his family after a tour in the military, but before he can even settle back in with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son, he receives word that his father has been arrested in Japan. Ford decides to go off to Japan to help his dad.

To Ford’s dismay, he learns that his father is obsessed with trying to prove that the nuclear accident which killed his mother was not the result of a natural disaster but of something else that the government is covering up. Of course, it turns out that Joe Brody is correct, that there has been a major cover-up, that the true cause of the disaster was a giant monster called the MUTO, an acronym for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.

There are two MUTO, a male and a female, and they are a threat to the world, which is why suddenly Godzilla emerges from the depths of the ocean to defeat these monsters, to make things right. Who knew Godzilla was so thoughtful?

While the strength of any Godzilla movie has never been its story, I thought the plot to this latest GODZILLA movie was considerably lame. The reason for Godzilla’ appearance is all right, and admittedly it’s consistent with a lot of his appearances in the Toho films, in that he shows up to defeat the bad monsters and save the world, but this was mostly the case in the silly Toho films from the 1960s and 1970s.

In the Toho Godzilla movies from the 1990s and 2000s, Godzilla was a bit more menacing, and so I expected more from this 2014 film in terms of Godzilla. Not that Godzilla is back to his silly superhero self. He’s not. He’s rather scary looking here. However, he doesn’t do much in this film that makes him frightening to humans. In fact, the military spares him throughout, since they’re constantly advised by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) that Godzilla might be their best bet to defeat the MUTO. I found the military’s easy acceptance of this theory farfetched.

The best Godzilla movies are the ones where you’re not too sure about Godzilla. He’s fighting those bad monsters, sure, but he’s destroying cities and killing people, too. In this movie, Godzilla comes off like the savior of the world. I almost expected to see a halo around his head.

Godzilla’s screen time is also limited. No surprise, since director Gareth Edwards did the same thing with his earlier monster movie MONSTERS (2010), a stylish film that skimped on the monster scenes. Similarly, Edwards does some stylish things in GODZILLA, but Godzilla and the MUTO monsters are featured minimally.

The screenplay by Max Borenstein is disjointed and uninspiring. Its multiple storylines never quite seem to gel with each other, and there isn’t one strong narrative holding it all together, mostly because the main storyline is nothing special. Strangely, the Godzilla plot seems to be the least important part of the entire movie, playing second fiddle to the MUTO and the Aaron-Taylor Johnson storylines. The Bryan Cranston subplot is not much more than an afterthought.

Bryan Cranston is a terrific actor, and he could have been the glue that held this narrative together, but he’s simply not in it enough. His role is very, very small.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody is rather dull, largely because we never really get inside his head. He’s putting his life on the line to stop Godzilla and the MUTO, while also trying to get back to his family, yet he doesn’t seem scared at all. He should be terrified.

Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle does seem terrified, and when she’s frightened, she’s very good, but that’s about all she does in this movie, act afraid.

Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa gets some of the worst lines in the movie, delivering such simple utterances as “Godzilla must fight the MUTO,” and “Godzilla will save us.” And the camera always seems to be closing in on his face for some dramatic revelation, but all he has to say is silly nonsense like “Let them fight.”

David Strathairn, who I usually like, is wasted here as Admiral William Stenz. He’s one of the more ineffective military leaders you’ll see in a monster movie. The monsters are running rampant destroying cities left and right, and Strathairn’s Admiral is in his command center listening to Dr. Serizawa utter his absurd lines of dialogue.

And while the CGI effects look good, I wasn’t blown away by them. I thought Godzilla looked decent, but honestly, he didn’t look any better than the man-in-suit TOHO films from the 90s and 2000s.

I didn’t see it in IMAX, but I did see it in 3D, and I wasn’t impressed with the 3D effects at all.

GODZILLA never drew me in to a level of fear or suspense or even excitement where I was psyched to see the final battle between Godzilla and the MUTO. We continually see the monster stuff happening from a distance without getting in close, and I just didn’t get the sense of the human fear, loss of life, and destruction. Director Edwards’ idea of showing us the destruction caused by the monsters is a headline scrolling across the bottom of a television newscast saying “Honolulu destroyed. Thousands missing.” In terms of effective storytelling, that just doesn’t cut it for me.

But I do like Edwards’ style when he does decide to show us things. Godzilla’s first appearance is a good one, although it’s brief. I thought the sequence on the train where Aaron Taylor-Johnson has to save a young boy while the monsters are attacking all around them was effective, as was another scene involving a train, when the military is transferring a bomb across a fog shrouded bridge and the MUTO attacks them.

I also liked the attack scene on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. So, there were moments I definitely liked. But there just weren’t enough of them.

This combined with a lack of Godzilla, no interesting characters other than Bryan Cranston’s brief role, and a mediocre story that never wowed me, made GODZILLA a major disappointment for me, an uneven film that failed to make me forget the TOHO productions which inspired it.

The King of the Monsters deserves better.
—END—

 

GODZILLA (2014) – Preview

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Godzilla 2014 posterGODZILLA (2014) – Preview
By Michael Arruda

GODZILLA (2014) opens in theaters today, Thursday, May 15.

Here’s a preview:

Let’s start with the cast.

With Bryan Cranston fresh off the extremely popular BREAKING BAD TV series, GODZILLA has at its center an actor who can easily anchor a story. If you’ve seen BREAKING BAD, you know what I’m talking about. He’s also lent fine support to many movies as well, so having him in the cast of GODZILLA is a huge plus.

GODZILLA also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played Kick-Ass in the hit movie KICK-ASS (2010) and in its sequel KICK-ASS 2 (2013). He also starred in the Oliver Stone thriller SAVAGES (2012), a film that wasn’t that well received, but I liked it a lot. Taylor-Johnson was especially good in it.

Then there’s Elizabeth Olsen, who I enjoyed in the otherwise awful horror movie SILENT HOUSE (2011). The film stunk, but Olsen was good. Rounding out the cast are Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn. The movie definitely has a talented cast.

It’s directed by Gareth Edwards, who also directed MONSTERS (2010), a film I wasn’t crazy about because the titled monsters didn’t really appear in the movie all that much. That being said, it was a very stylish movie, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Edwards will do with GODZILLA.

Max Borenstein wrote the screenplay, with music by Alexandre Desplat, who’s written a ton of music scores including the scores for THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014), ARGO (2012) and THE KING’S SPEECH (2010).

I have high hopes for the special effects since there are enough people on the Visual Effects team to fill a dictionary.

So, the talent is there.

The trailers have looked great, and Godzilla in the brief times we’ve seen him in the trailers looks impressive.  GODZILLA has the potential to be one of the best films in the series.

The only thing now is for the actual movie to be released.  And that happens today.

Welcome back, Godzilla!

—Michael