Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

“King Kong” and the Communal Movie-Going Experience

posted by donna freitas

I remember going to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater as a kid. As Indiana Jones makes his way through a tunnel of giant tarantulas, outruns a boulder, endures a snake pit, and smartly avoids having his face melt into goo, I was not alone in my white-knuckled, eye-covered screams of “eeww” and “yuck,” which I shrieked as much out of solidarity with my fellow movie-goers as a response to whatever fun-filled horrors and suspenseful situations graced the screen. Communing over shared disgust and surprise in a packed theater is, to me, one of the joys of seeing movies at on the big screen and not in the comfort of my own home.

It’s been a while since I’ve had that kind of fun at the cineplex. Then I saw the new “King Kong.”

Peter Jackson’s homage to the orignal 1933 “King Kong”–which was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack and is the film that apparently inspired Jackson’s interest to get into the movie business in the first place–provides audiences with the ultimate in communal movie-going experiences. (And thank God for Cooper and Schoedsack providing Peter Jackson his muse, as Jackson is proving himself one of the great directors of our time.)

This generation’s “King Kong” stars Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts (as Ann Darrow, the woman that works her way into the monster’s heart), and, interestingly, Andy Serkis as the man behind the giant gorilla. (He’s also the actor who brought Jackson’s amazing on-screen interpretation of Gollum to life in his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.) All of these actors are wonderful in their roles (in particular Naomi Watts) and manage to convincingly move audiences from an initial horror at the beast to tremendous sympathy and even sadness when King Kong is inevitably defeated in that famous seen atop NYC’s Empire State Building.

But aside from Jackson delivering a wonderfully acted three-hour adventure film with spectacular special effects, he offers audiences one of those ever rarer “Raiders of the Lost Ark” communal moments. As I, and everyone around me, got deeper and deeper into the story, and as our first glimpse of King Kong became imminent, I found myself “eewwing” and “ohhing” and “yucking” in unison with everyone around me in the packed theater. I covered my eyes when giant worm-like creatures rose up from the waters to suck down humans, and giant cockroaches descended from above, and what looked like the most giant centipedes you’ve ever seen crawled over human flesh (notice the emphasis here on giant). And as I looked sideways I noticed I was not alone in my gleeful shrinking from the horrors before me. By the middle of the film and onward to the end and the final sad groan of “awww,” when King Kong gives his last, mournful look at the love of his life, we, the audience had our own adventure of togetherness as we reacted to the screen in unison.

This is a movie not to be missed on the big screen in a packed theater–so go, and go soon. But one word of advice: As I left the theater, heart racing, feeling like I’d just had a major workout, I thought to myself that if only I had better mindfulness skills, I might have managed to remember to breath regularly during the movie. Steady breathing is truly a skill with that much action going on, both in the audience and on screen.

“The Family Stone” is a gem

posted by kris rasmussen

In the spirit of other dark comedies about dysfunctional families–movies such as “Home for the Holidays” or “The Royal Tenenbaums”–the latest Christmas flick, “The Family Stone,” is, on the surface anyway, a formulaic story about a young couple, Emmett and Meredith (played by Dermot Mulroney and Sarah Jessica Parker), who travel to New England to meet his parents for Christmas. Of course, Meredith is terribly nervous and naturally everything goes wrong, and the family doesn’t like their potential daughter-in-law one bit. But amidst some slapstick laughs, this movie surprises by adding several thoughtful layers to the plot. (Warning: this post contains a few minor spoilers!)

First I think it is worth noting that the movie incorporates a deaf son as one of the characters–the most natural, seamless and intelligent incorporation of someone with a disability in a movie that I can remember in a very long time. Why don’t we see that more often in film, as a life affirming but not maudlin reflection of that oh-so-popular word “diversity”?

Next, as far as romantic comedies go, I loved this story because it does not give the romance(s) in this movie the “Jerry Maguire” treatment. In fact, “The Family Stone” is about just the opposite. This movie points out that someone else can’t complete us or be our sole purpose in life. We have to look deeper inside ourselves to find wholeness.

But the biggest twist in the movie is when the audience discovers, along with certain members of the Stone family, that the mother (brilliantly played by Diane Keaton), Sybil, is trying to keep a dark secret from everyone. The secret suddenly explains a lot of this family’s caustic behavior. Again, this could have turned this movie into some sappy movie-of–the-week cliché, but it didn’t. It is only one more layer of story that leads up to what I saw as the most redemptive moment in the film. Meredith and Emmett’s irreverent brother Ben (played by Owen Wilson) snuggle together on a bed and softly sing over and over the words “repeat the sounding joy” from the carol “Joy to the World,” while downstairs Sybil Stone is marveling at the gently falling snow. The message to all of us at this–or any other–season is that joy can be found in the most difficult and unlikely times if we stop to listen to our spirits and embrace what is truly precious… and have a good laugh at ourselves and our frail humanity in the process.

Yule Be Humming

posted by burb

Did someone say Christmas albums? One of my many failed ventures is the Annual Roundup of Tolerable Christmas Music, which ran on Beliefnet precisely one annum. For one thing, I found out there’s not enough tolerable Christmas music released each year to round up. (The other thing? I’m lazy.) Let me take this opportunity to clear my only regret: not alerting the world in 2004 to “Joulu” (“Yule”), an album by the Finnish jazz vocal group Ragaton. That the album is completely in Finnish, including the liner notes, only increases the pleasure of this pure escape from mallbound Christmas. I guarantee the Finnish tunes will become your favorites, but for those who must have the stuffing out of the box, they do mum “Jingle Bells,” Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song,” and “Silent Night,” At first you’ll try to sing along, before letting the fleeting Finnish lyrics just flow over you.

Springtime for Hitler

posted by

The Producers,” the movie based on the Broadway musical based on the classic Mel Brooks movie, opens today in some cities, and that adds yet one more to my quickly accumulating list of must-see new films. The Broadway show was my favorite of recent years, and the original film ain’t bad either. But when it comes to blogging the film for Idol Chatter, perhaps the most surprising thing about “The Producers” is that the controversy you might expect to erupt from such an irreverent take on the Holocaust is nonexistent. The Jewish world is not up in arms about the story’s making light of the Holocaust and Hitler using the tragedy for laughs. This despite the story’s show-within-a-show, “Springtime for Hitler,” an absurb and hilarious musical about The Fuhrer himself.

Given recent controversies over imagery and sensitivity in Holocaust art, and the ongoing efforts of the organized Jewish world to educate the world about the Holocaust, you’d think that the Anti-Defamation League would be lining up outside theaters with angry signs, or that newspaper opinion pages would be filled with letters from angry rabbis, educators, and Holocaust survivors. But there are no angry signs that I know of, no letters to the editor, no outcry–at least nothing too visible. I have one friend who was offended by the show’s Holocaust-for-laughs theme, and I am sure he’s not alone, but I haven’t heard much in the way of protest against “The Producers.”

Could Jewish leaders have come to realize that humor, even irreverence, can’t be equated with disrespect and hate, and that to put the Holocaust off limits to certain means of expression is to take away the language with which we try to process and grasp the unimaginable? I wouldn’t bet on it. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that many Jews took offense at Roberto Begnini’s “Life Is Beautiful,” a fairy-tale/comedy set partly in a concentration camp, a movie, in my opinion, that succeeding in dramatizing the tragedy and human loss of the Holocaust in a way that was more sublime and meaningful than many straight tear-jerker drama–only this was hilarious. More recently, an exhibit of Holocaust-themed art at the New York Jewish Museum sparked protests for its supposed insensitivity to survivors, which led to the strange spectre of Jews protesting a major mainstream Jewish institution.

More likely, “The Producers” benefits from the fact that it’s been with us, in some form, for a generation, was created by a known quantity–Mel Brooks, who made light of the Holocaust in more than just this movie–and is set not in Nazi-era Europe but in post-war America. Perhaps most importantly, the potentially offensive scenes in “The Producers” are intended to offend; the whole point is the characters’ (themselves Jewish) desire to make a Broadway show so egregious that it would be an immediate flop.

And then there’s the fact that the story it is absurd, period–clearly not intending to make a point about history or religion or politics, unlike the Jewish Museum exhibit or even “Life Is Beautiful.” “The Producers” is all about fun. So sit back and enjoy the dancing gay Hitler who takes Broadway by storm. And try not to think too much about what you’re laughing at.

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