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Monday, December 19, 2005

Doubleshot of Cinemus Maximus

This weekend brought two films rather epic in their ambition: Ang Lee's gay cowboy flick Brokeback Mountain and Peter Jackson's remake of the "What do women really want?" classic King Kong. _Cinema

I knew it... the Marlboro Man is totally gay!

Bareback Mountain, which is how this film will surely be remembered, surprises by being remarkably "ungay". There is nothing fabulous here (no musical numbers!) and little in the way of steamy scenes between screen-lovers Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Not one penis makes it to the screen. Gay urban audiences will probably decry Lee's understated use of the two Hollywood heartthrobs. In this sense, I feel that Brokeback is actually a gay movie for straight audiences. Given how many films have shown full frontal male nudity (feel free to submit your favorites in the comments section!) Lee's choice to avoid it feels like a deliberate attempt to keep the film's appeal as broad as possible. Some might view this skeptically as a marketing decision, but I prefer to believe that Ang Lee believes this film is important... That it has potential to help change the climate of homophobia in which we live.

Where the film succeeds brilliantly is in its portrayal of the self-imposed terrorism of middle America. Fear of intolerance (and its violent repercussions) is a steady riff throughout the film. Secrecy, shame and internalized oppression are the ingredients Lee taps to draw tragedy out of this tale of the love that dare not speak its name. Heath Ledger triumphs as he embodies this tragedy. He's self-loathing, repressed and awkwardly shy, but simultaneously strong, loyal, and tender. And more important than being moved by the "starcrossed lovers" cliche, we empathize with Ledger's internal turmoil. This is why film can be important. If, because of this movie, a few more Americans can learn to empathize with (rather than fear) the homosexual element among (and even within) us, then it will succeed. This is why Ang Lee's hero needed to be an average American: not too bright, ingrained with ideals about hard work, frugality, loyalty, etc. He needed to be the all-American boy in every way except one. Otherwise, America would too easily label and disregard him.

Big-bellied, hairy dudes make a film about a big-bellied, hairy dude.

Peter Jackson knows how to bring a world to life. Every moment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was lovingly created. Where a normal film maker uses two or three shots to establish a setting, Jackson uses twenty. Just like the beautifully rendered worlds of Hayao Miyazaki, Jackson fills in nuance and detail that noone else would even imagine. He succeeds in doing what Tim Burton tries to do. He succeeds at the expense of brevity however, and King Kong is no exception. At over three hours, King Kong is overlong but absolutely grand in scale. Everything about this film is colossal.

Despite a beautiful opening montage, setting the scene in depression era New York City, the film doesn't really kick until the motley crew of urban movie makers arrive at Skull Island. Looking like leftover set design ideas from Mordor and populated with natives scarier than LotR's orcish armies, Skull Island is amazing. The action flies full tilt for the next hour as Naomi Watts, playing heroine Ann Darrow, is kidnapped by the natives for sacrifice to Kong. Kong takes her, defends her from a host of prehistoric monsters (here Jackson really has fun,) and eventually loses her to the cunning humans intent on her rescue. Now smitten with Watts (just like those of us in the audience) Kong gives chase and falls prey to the exploitative film crew setting up the finale as the great ape escapes his chains during a Broadway show and smashes up NYC.

The taming of Kong is skillfully and delicately portrayed. Rather than a screaming helpless beauty, we have an updated female lead that only survives because of her endurance, intelligence and humanity. Ann Darrow's relationship to this hulking symbol of primate masculinity recalls A Streetcar Named Desire. And her genuine affection for the brutally noble Kong is juxtaposed with her confused admiration for Adrien Brody's geeky playwrite character. Ultimately there's little insight into this dilemma, except to paint it with grand strokes that pay honest homage to a masterpiece of monsterfilm tragedy.



At 12/19/2005 12:25:00 PM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Bummer, the link on "smashes up NYC" may require you to click on a "continue on to the movie" type button.

At 12/29/2005 09:11:00 AM, Anonymous mel said...

Hi John,

We went and saw Brokeback last night. I think your review does the movie justice and can't really think of anything more to add (then why am I posting?).

The movie reminded me of Northern Ireland in the sense of people having to use up an enormous amount of emotional and social energy in order to live "normal" lives in situations that don't allow it.

As I was reading your review I wondered how many homophobic Americans will actually go see the movie, yet then I remembered cable and other forms of re-runs. Perhaps some will be interested in seeing what it was about, especially when they don't have to go out and pay to see it in public.


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