Friday, March 17, 2017

Konga (1961) movie review

Overall verdict: 4.5/10

Misleading advertising cannot save King Kong's cheap obscure English cousin

The Good: A fine cast especially a younger Michael Gough, original premise,  

The Bad: cheesy monster design, cheap special effects, lacks suspense as a thriller, simplistic story, undeveloped characters, lacks deeper themes


KONGA is often advertised as The European answer to Hollywood's KING KONG. It's tagline about massive spectacle and it's posters showing a humongous hairy humanoid towering over Big Ben certainly misleads an audience into expecting the next big giant Monster movie. Even it's name seems like a ripoff of it's more well known American cinematic Cousin. The only problem is that KONGA has less in common with big burly behemoths running wild through the city and more uncommon with a twilight zone style murder mystery given a science fiction twist.

The film stars a young Michael Gough, almost unrecognisable from his later career defining role as Batman's loyal butler Alfred in four consecutive Superhero films. Here he plays botanist Dr Charles Decker, who made an amazing discovery from Africa that grows plants and animals to enormous size in the blink of an eye and gives them monstrous qualities. Convinced that his enemies are out to steal his discovery and claim credit for themselves, he sends his pet monkey named Konga to kill them. Of course he gives Konga a dose of the growth serum which turns the monkey into..........something that looks like a cave man in a gorilla mask and wearing the thickest fur pants ever.

Let's start with Konga's Monster design which is laughable at best. His legs are short, giving him an almost cute "Sesame Street" type of waddle when he walks. His chest is obviously a sculpted plastic or rubber breastplate, and that thick growth of fur around his waist and crotch are just ridiculous. From afar, it looks like a bad Hawaiian hula skirt made out of a shag rug, and up close it looks like overgrown crotch hair. Here is a closer look.

And no, for most of the movie Konga is only a man sized monkey as he works through his murder list. He never assumes his gigantic form until well into the final act.

The uncanny appearance of Konga does add a little to that scary twilight zone feel. If only the movie were shot in a more suspenseful manner. It feels like a tv production for most of time, focusing on the characters and the whole murder plot which would have made a nice mystery in more capable hands. The characters are largely forgettable though Michael Gough turns in a deliciously hammy performance as Dr Decker, slowly succumbing to the paranoia and madness from his discovery. Again, in a more visionary writer's hand, Dr Decker could have been a truly sympathetic villain; a man who had to play second fiddle for most of his life despite his achievements, denied due credit by conniving colleagues and denied the object of his affections, forced to extreme measures by the unscrupulous profiteering machinations of an unforgiving world. Alas, he is written as a straight up bad guy. Egotistical, stubborn and morally depraved.

When the titular ape finally goes giant, it is a half hearted sequence that does not earn its prominent display in all promotional material. The miniatures are not very convincing, all Konga does is wobble and flail, and humans are replaced by misshapen Barbie dolls, I kid you not!

Simplistic, shallow and cheap, KONGA never shed its reputation as KING KONG's obscure wannabe Cousin from across the pond. The material showed great potential but it failed at being tense thriller since all scares and twists are telegraphed well ahead of time, spoiling any sort of surprise. It could have, but failed to delve into deeper themes of the morality in animal experimentations or exploitation of workers like Dr Decker by greedy corporate types. It failed even as a giant Monster movie with too little Monster (which may be a good thing considering how goofy it looks). Thankfully, a great cast gives this movie some redeeming qualities, allowing it to earn its place among my bad movie guilty pleasures.


Entertainment: B+
Story: C
Acting: A-
Characters: C-
Music: D+
Replay value: C
"Brains": D+

Friday, March 10, 2017

Resident Evil (2002) movie review

Overall verdict: 6/10

SWAT Team VS zombies VS skimpily dressed lady VS bad special effects monster

The Good: genuinely scary scenes, well shot action sequence, consistent sense of peril,well paced mystery sub plot, captures the spirit of the original video games

The Bad: Stilted dialogue, cheap special effects, bland characters, uninteresting protagonist, unoriginal elements borrowed from other movies
Hello. This is the resident evil movie franchise. And this is its story. The start of its story. It was conceptualised as an adaptation of the "Biohazard" horror genre video game, renamed "Resident Evil" for the global market. Paul Ws Anderson, director of the successful Mortal Kombat movie, was chosen to spearhead the project. But something seemed wrong. The characters were different from the game. Changed. Unrecognisable. It seemed as if he read the synopsis at the back of the video game box then tossed it out in favour of his own script. A script. Consisting of dialogue as silted as the first paragraph of this review.

Considering that the games were never well liked for their characters' flowery discourse or Shakespearean soliloquy, the creators of the movie cut and pasted elements from other movies in Paul WS Anderson's DVD collection then give it some cosmetic do-over to resemble the video games.

Special force team sent to deal with an unknown threat in a cavernous facility? Aliens (which Anderson is unabashedly a fan of). The facility is "alive" and trying to kill you? Event horizon (also directed by Anderson). Actress Milla Jovovich in a skimpy red dress, combat boots, scenes teasing near nudity and doing all sorts of nimble kung fu to show off her lithe hot body? Straight out of Anderson's wet dreams. Jovovich plays Alice. 

Who the heck is Alice? We do not know as she's got amnesia. But clues to who she is are sprinkled throughout the film and it is fun to piece it all together by the end. What can I say? Other than that, Alice is a blank slate audience surrogate. The ultimate escapism protagonist titillating the men and allowing women to feel empowered by how she maintains her stunning beauty while fending off shameless groping perv.....I mean, shambling groups of zombies which only appear more than halfway through the movie.

For much of the first half we are treated to a whole sequence of a special forces team breaking into a dark scary mansion to find Alice and another guy named Matt. The mansion is a cover for a hidden entrance to The Hive, a massive underground facility that had been had been mysteriously sealed. The artificial intelligence Programme dubbed "red queen" had killed all personnel in the hive and it was up to this special team to find out why. This is essentially a modernised haunted house story with the "house" being the hive and the red queen springing traps to kill the intruders. 

Though lacking in actual zombies, the film maintains a brisk pace and an increasing sense of dread as we descend further. The appearance of another amnesia named Spence compounds the mystery when they learn the lockdown was initiated by a virus outbreak and the red queen was merely acting to contain the virus.

When the action kicks in, it is fantastic. Sure the characters do some silly things that fly in the face of common sense but the fight scenes are well shot with tight angles and claustrophobic feel which heighten the sense of panic when facing the zombie hordes with no escape.

The mystery story is well plotted and shot but the experience is dampened by some of the corniest special effects even for a movie of its age. Near the end, they have a run in with a Super powered Monster rendered in the worst cgi ever. Why they decided to use rudimentary computer graphics instead of practical effects, puppetry and make up astounds me. The creature never blends with the rest of the footage and the disappointment is that it could easily have been done with a stuntman in a suit or animatronics.

With an eventual resolution leaving more questions than answers, RESIDENT EVIL is undoubtedly a fun guilty pleasure. It does not follow the story but retains the tone of the games. A shallow superficial plot is at least held up by consistent tension and decent pulse pounding action. Once you can forgive all the familiar elements borrowed from other movies, RESIDENT EVIL proves itself to be a decent start to a long running science fiction horror franchise.


Entertainment: B+
Story: B+
Acting: C
Characters: C-
Music: B-
Replay value: B+
"Brains": C-

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Kong The Animated Series (2000) review.

Overall verdict: 4/10

Fit for a kid, not for a king. This show dilutes its iconic character into a mess of cartoon cliches designed to appeal to the pokemon generation.

The Good: Amazing voice acting and chemistry, moments of smooth animation, unique musical score

The Bad: inconsistent animation, sub-par artwork, juvenile script, convoluted mythology, cliched plots, lacks character development, downplays the majesty and might of its titular character

KONG THE ANIMATED SERIES is what you get when you take an iconic giant movie Monster and turn him into a Saturday morning cartoon to cater to the pokemon generation. Created in 2000 as a competitor to the then successful GODZILLA THE ANIMATED SERIES, KONG purportedly takes place Long after a loose retelling of the original movie. Unlike its reptilian kaiju counterpart which still maintains a plausible continuity within the world of the movie, KONG goes right off the wacky end with kooky technology, ancient artifacts, demons, cloning, and more feeling less like a King Kong show and more like a mash up of DIGIMON and 90s era Saturday morning cartoons.
In this series, King Kong dies but a scientist Dr Lorna Jenkins clones Kong using DNA of King Kong and her grandson Jason. Many years later, Jason gets invited to his grandmother's secret lab on "Kong island" (because "Skull Island" may be too frightening for little kids) along with his Friend Eric Tannenbaum and university professor Ramone De La Porta. Dr Jenkins has apparently been researching magical primal stones and created the cyberlink technology which allows users to merge with creatures turning giving them a power boost and turning them into humanoid giant Mutants. Lo and behold De La Porta turns out to be a bad guy and his cronies steal the primal stones and some cyberlink headsets. This causes some demon to slowly awaken. The race is now on to retrieve the stones from De La Porta before the demon Chrios awakens.
The digimon influence is readily apparent in the character of Kong himself. He is an animal Friend/Guardian who can power up to a stronger form in times of need. He and Jason share a loyal sibling type relationship with a few charming moments. With the , You have a scantily clad shaman girl Lua that serves as romantic foil to the protagonist, the comic relief sidekick Tennenbaum, the mentor type in dr Jenkins, all of these staples of old Saturday morning cartoons. Yes they are just as bland as those old cartoons but special thanks goes to the voice actors who lend much needed energy to otherwise insipid scripts.
Fans of anime would be able to recognise voice acting veterans like Kirby Morrow, Saffron Henderson and many others infusing their characters with distinct personalities while sharing good chemistry with each other. David Kaye and Scott McNeil are the stand out performances here with Kaye portraying De La Porta as a smooth cunning criminal with a fancy foreign accent (which tends to slip now and then between Spanish and French accent) and McNeil doing a range of voices from the comedic Tennenbaum, to one of De La Porta's African henchmen, to Kong himself.
The futuristic tech and unexplained magic, also staples of such cartoons, are effective hand waves for the inconsistent sizes of the giant monsters; one moment Kong can fit in a warehouse and the next he's towering over the same warehouse. Or we could just chalk that up to lousy animation courtesy of the Philippine Animation Studio inc. The studio's claim to fame were the horrible last season of the 90s X-men cartoon and some of the worst animated episodes of Animaniacs. In this series, the animation is serviceable. There are moments of Super smooth movements that stand out among the sometimes choppy and other times overdone character motions. For some reason, characters tend to gesture a lot when they talk in this cartoon and sometimes it turns out corny like something out of a stage play. As mentioned, such gesturing alternates between awkward and excessively expressive. The gaudy neon bright Colours and simplistic art work really do not help matters, which is a real shame especially when it comes to the giant Monster fights.
While the plots for the episodes are varied enough not to fall into a set formula, the overall story does meander a lot often losing track of the core story of retrieving the primal stones to stop the demon from awakening. The scripts are simplistic and borderline juvenile at times, betraying the magnificent performances of the voice cast. It's mediocrity from both a technical and artistic standpoint, along with its cliche ridden premise, only does a disservice to the legacy of King Kong as a timeless character.


Entertainment: C+
Art: C
Animation: C-
Story: C-
Voice Acting (English): A
Characters: C+
Music: C+
Replay value: B-
"Brains": D+