by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent
When the original KING KONG was released by RKO in March of 1933, some of the trade ads included a tie-in between Kong’s big bang box office receipts and the failed banks of the Great Depression roaring back to profitability. It was a nostalgia sell, a heart-tug for a pre-code Hollywood monster romp, the likes and scale of which had never been seen on the silver screen.
In a quick recap, Merian C. Cooper was turned down at Paramount, then skipped over to RKO. David O. Selznick bit, but bailed out during production. Titled “The Beast,” “Eighth Wonder of the World,” “Ape King,” and “Kong,” Selznick insisted the title be changed to KING KONG. The wow-title was a huge pivot for a scream queen screenplay written by Edgar Wallace.
Much like the old KONG, the new KONG: SKULL ISLAND also released in March 84 years later, by Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures, just shot past all expectations for the weekend opener, to the tune of $61 M USD. (*Now just shy of $150 M USD worldwide.)
And this is up against the formidable Hugh Jackman franchise starrer LOGAN.
Why is KONG SKULL ISLAND doing so well?
Nostalgia, folks, Viet Nam war era discontent, and throw-back technology right down to the brick-like cell phones and dot matrix, white and light lime green striped perforated IBM computer paper from the 70’s of this KONG. Call it a Guardians of The Galaxy overhaul of the gorilla classic, KONG even features a key plot point role by GOTG’s John C. Reilly.
The film script has so many great touches, for example Brie Larson’s photojournalist character says she was “an anti-war photographer” embedded in Vietnamese conflict. Shea Whigham plays a hardened Viet Nam veteran who says “we didn’t lose the war… we abandoned it.” All creative plot embellishments work here.
Plus, Bradley Cooper’s brother from Silver Linings Playbook, that same actor Shea Whigham, has some other soulful moments in this, also his Playbook alum John Ortiz makes an impact. All the supporting characters are extremely well-thought out.
Including some kid who looks like he actually is in Apocalypse Now-then, even though this is KONG 2017, ironically shot in Vietnam, here. His name is Thomas Mann, from Portland, Oregon, a kid we will see much more of based on his palpable brand of youthful sincerity in this picture.
Richard Jenkins, the one and only, shows up as a US Senator, another nice touch. The guy who should have passed on the remake of BEN HUR, Toby Kebbell, shows us why this British-born actor is still very gifted as Chapman, whose letter-writing home to “Dear Billy” is a leit-motif and masterstroke of the emotionally rich storytelling throughout this movie.
Anyway, KONG SKULL ISLAND is making money because it’s worth the money. Main stars Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers,” “Thor: The Dark World”), Oscar-nominee Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), John Goodman (“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Argo”), Oscar-winner Brie Larson (“Room,” “Trainwreck”), Jing Tian (“Police Story: Lockdown”), Toby Kebbell (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), John Ortiz (“Steve Jobs”), Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”), Jason Mitchell (“Straight Outta Compton”), Shea Whigham (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Thomas Mann (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), with Terry Notary (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and all rock the blockbuster with Oscar-nominee John C. Reilly (“Chicago,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”), knock it out of the park.
In sum, everybody delivers “bigly” as the word goes these days. It’s the perfect storm of escapism for a time that parallels the economic uncertainty of the early 30’s. Our KONG, the 2017 inhabitant of this silver screen Skull Island, has his own agenda, and is rebranded as a 2.0 of monster movie heroes.
Not to give too much away, you won’t guess the plot twists, and may be slightly disappointed by a thin and pale John Goodman whose real purpose here seems to be to show the perils of weigh loss on humor quotient. That said, Goodman also pulls his weight in a line-up of truly excellent performances for the genre, and even for any genre.
Watch Tom Hiddleston and others in this official featurette on KONG SKULL ISLAND…
Here’s What Warner Bros Has to Say About Their Gorilla-Not-To-Be-Missed
Official Statement: The producers of Godzilla reimagine the origins of one the most powerful monster myths of all in “Kong: Skull Island,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures and Tencent Pictures. This compelling, original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”) tells the story of a diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers uniting to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong.
Vogt-Roberts directed the film from a screenplay by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, story by John Gatins. Kong: Skull Island is produced by Thomas Tull, Mary Parent, Jon Jashni and Alex Garcia, with Eric McLeod and Edward Cheng serving as executive producers.
The creative behind-the-scenes team included director of photography Larry Fong (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), production designer Stefan Dechant (supervising art director True Grit, Avatar), Oscar-nominated editor Richard Pearson (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy) costume designer Mary Vogt (the Men in Black films) and composer Henry Jackman (Captain America: Civil War). The team also included Oscar-winning makeup supervisor Bill Corso (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and supervising stunt coordinator George Cottle (Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises). The legendary Kong was brought to life at a whole new scale by Industrial Light & Magic, with two-time Oscar winner Stephen Rosenbaum (Avatar, Forrest Gump) serving as visual effects supervisor.
To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his cast and filmmaking team filmed across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu, Hawaii—where filming commenced—on Australia’s Gold Coast, and finally in Vietnam, where filming took place across multiple locations, some of which have never before been seen on film.
Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures and Tencent Pictures present a Legendary Pictures Production, a Jordan Vogt-Roberts Film,Kong: Skull Island. The film will be released worldwide in 2D, 3D in select theatres, and IMAX beginning March 10. CAST: Kong: Skull Island” stars Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers,” “Thor: The Dark World”), Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), John Goodman (“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Argo”), Oscar winner Brie Larson (“Room,” “Trainwreck”), Jing Tian (“Police Story: Lockdown”), Toby Kebbell (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), John Ortiz (“Steve Jobs”), Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”), Jason Mitchell (“Straight Outta Compton”), Shea Whigham (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Thomas Mann (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), with Terry Notary (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and Oscar nominee John C. Reilly (“Chicago,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”).
See their website for official images and screening details.
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Do we need another reason to applaud Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) for giving 50 Shades a miss? Nobody will remember the woulda, coulda, shoulda, as Hunnam takes his place as King Arthur for Warner Bros. Plus, Led Zeppelin plays while he pulls out Excalibur, awesome. Sounds like “Good Times Bad Times,” and sounds like in the days of his youth he “was told what it was to be a man…”
Here’s their official word on the May 12th release, which promised to be a Guy Ritchie-fueled reboot:
Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brings his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role, the film is an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne.
When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not.
Here’s your first look:
Again, that’s a May 12 opening date from Warner Bros with Charlie Hunnam, Eric Bana, and Jude Law as the main players, with official details and a killer image gallery.
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by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent
By now the “Disso Queen,” the nickname of Johnny Depp’s attorney Laura Wasser, has squared off against Amber Heard’s superhero-named legal eagle Samantha Spector in what looks to be A Divorce to Remember. But before allegations fly from both corners, the red carpet is where the first signs of trouble manifest. This is where being on the press line becomes an artform in reading star body language. When Depp appeared to collect a major life achievement award from Leonard Maltin in February, he was solo on the red carpet. Questions about Amber Heard’s whereabouts went unanswered, kind of down to mumbles. In fact, one could say Depp, 52, went from Trouble With Paradis, meaning long-time love Vanessa Paradis, 43, to Trouble in Paradise, meaning the current fracas with dishy Drive Angry star Amber Heard, who turned 30 in April. Angelina Jolie is reported to have been opposed to Heard from the beginning, especially the lack of pre-nup, so it’s no surprise that Depp has now retained Jolie’s former divorce lawyer Laura Wasser. “Dissolution” is the California word for divorce, hence this Disso Queen and opposing counsel Spector (both from Loyola Law School) have their battle to come on June 17, the next court date.
After Beds, Bets Are Being Made…
My money is on Wasser, because who couldn’t love a divorce attorney who went on the record with Interview Magazine in 2012 as quoting Samuel Johnson. As in, “My personal feelings on marriage? Samuel Johnson once said second marriages — although I could probably say this about any marriage — are about the triumph of hope over experience. I think that’s true. I don’t know that human beings were meant to mate for life or be monogamous.”
Clearly Johnny Depp, JD to his friends, is in good hands. But those moments on the red carpet just stick in the memory, how the Black Mass star seemed reluctant to walk the press line, then makes direct eye contact and even collects a bouquet (huge security risk) from an elderly reporter across the velvet rope. This woman, in retrospect, may have reminded him of his ailing mother. For an A-Lister and franchise fronter, Jack Sparrow lost his persona for a moment and let you in, an unusual event for a movie star.
Right then it reminded of Josh Brolin, similar red carpet behavior before the story broke of his divorce from Diane Lane. Son of well-liked actor James Brolin and step-son of Barbra Streisand, who adores Diane Lane, Brolin walked the red carpet for the 2009 WGA Awards for then-nominated movie Milk and exhibited the same Depp-like behavior, guarded and too available at the same time. Diane Lane was noticeably absent from the red carpet. When asked about her, Josh Brolin evaded the issue deftly. Next time he is in the news, reports and photographs show that Brolin went off the rails briefly, in an eerie parallel to Johnny Depp’s current scenario, without the allegations of abuse, fortunately. In a relatively happy ending, Brolin is now engaged to his assistant, make that ex-assistant, Kathryn Boyd. And Diane Lane is the bigger star, so she wins.
All’s Fair in Love & Divorce
While the circumstances of Depp and Brolin’s relationships and marriage breakdown are very different, the red flags on the red carpet were the same. Oddly enough, when the news is good, as in the case of Jamie Kennedy, the red carpet behavior is the same. Kennedy was dating Jennifer Love Hewitt, but the news wasn’t broken yet. On the red carpet, Jennifer Love Hewitt was right behind him, as then co-star, but the proximity was too close. The next day Ryan Seacrest’s KISS-FM radio show broke the story about the dating, which ended within a year back in 2010.
But the big takeaway, besides the hiding in plain sight, was Jamie Kennedy’s admission in the aftermath about dating his more-famous ex: “People weren’t rooting for a good relationship,” he told Perez Hilton. “That was really hard to deal with. You see snarky headlines and eventually you just have to stop reading stuff.”
Looking Crass, Not Looking Glass?
Right now, and leading up to June 17, there is more bile than snark flying around in the Depp vs. Heard headlines. Disney is suffering bad box office for Depp-starrer Alice Through the Looking Glass; industry insiders, via The Hollywood Reporter for example, are doing a fair amount of hand-wringing, blaming Johnny Depp’s personal life (read: bad press) for the tanking BO. However, the real reflection staring back at Disney from the broken box office looking glass? The blank faces of movie-goers who are just done with recyquels (new word coined here!). Heard faces similar problems with the alleged ‘negative feedback’ coming back from her association and roles in Warner Bros’ DC Universe with an appearance in The Justice League and as a main player for the Aquaman franchise, in which she is inked to play Mera.
What Katie Did
Too bad Amber Heard didn’t read the fine print from the previous high-profile marriage meltdown, Tom Cruise vs. Katie Holmes. There should literally be a name for what happened to her, let’s call it The Katie Holmes Syndrome: meaning marrying a superstar will eclipse your career as the wife, and bury your career as the superstar’s ex. Both women gave up prime real estate in their 20’s for these mega-marriages. Holmes was already 28, but a repeat love-interest shoo-in for the Batman franchise. Which she skipped, then had to watch Maggie Gyllenhaal take over in what would become one of the biggest grossers of all time.
Consider also Michelle Williams’ career after Batman’s Heath Ledger faded. Williams was eclipsed by the bigger star and under a black cloud after The Joker‘s shock death, which literally sucked the life out of her career too. Heard was a huge sensation as evil-slaying hot mess Piper from sexy-psycho road movie Drive Angry with Nicolas Cage in 2011. She was 25 then, and already under Depp’s shadow. Instead of amping her career, the Johnny Depp association practically took her off the market in Hollywood. The moral of the story here is, to avoid Katie Holmes Syndrome, don’t marry the superstar if you want a career. Or simply hitch your wagon to a Star Waggon with your eyes wide open, shall we say. Whatever the outcome, the first cracks, as mentioned, will happen on the carpet because Super Couples are literally attached at the hip for press junkets. You will be asked about your spouse, it’s a rule. Luckily, unlike TomKat and Brangelina, Depp and Heard never had a compound press moniker.
Always A Minor Hitch
Maybe it’s time for the studios to have a watcher on the red carpet to monitor tell-tale signs of personal upheavals. Or better yet, somewhere Depp’s Mortdecai co-star Gwyneth Paltrow is chuckling harder than Vanessa Paradis is said to be doing, because now the idea of “Conscious Uncoupling,” or a blood-less friendly divorce, seems like a welcome alternative. Ironically, Paltrow had to come forward to say that her marketing mind at goop, her online web lifestyle portal, had just used the term in a headline not even in the body copy of her divorce announcement. In fact, the real originator of the concept of Conscious Uncoupling, Pepper Potts had to admit, was psychologist Katherine Woodward Thomas. Woodward Thomas famously told The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, that “Gwyneth wasn’t aware I existed.” The Conscious Uncoupling creator also said something at that time so telling that it applies to Depp vs. Heard, and likely to every celebrity divorce: “the grief of lost love is intensified by the sense of public shame and failure; of having your union judged and belittled.” It all starts to show when they’re called on the carpet, the dread carpet.
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