With the current monsterverse toplined by Godzilla and King Kong seemingly running out of steam before it gets started, it’s fun to look back to a more low-fi time. The success of Toho’s Godzilla franchise led to exhuming the rights to the 1933 King Kong, and then reworking it so that there’s a fair fight at the end. So we still have an expedition to a remote island, called Mondo here, and we still have a giant ape who falls in love with a comely Susan (Linda Jo Miller). But there’s a new and absurd frame; Kong is working for the mysterious Dr Who (Hideyo Amamato) who, alongside Madame Piranha (You Only Live Twice’s Mie Hama) is hoping to use Kong to replace his Mechani-Kong, a metal replica of the ape. King Kong Escapes is much like many of Ishiro Honda’s films, good to look at if patchy in effects by today’s standard, although some of the models are delightful. But Mechani-Kong steals the show here, walking like a wrestler, with big boggly eyes and a metal smile that suggest an invention of Wallace and Gromit in the vein of Crow T Robot, he’s a wonderfully silly creation that causes mirth every second he’s on screen. With Kong looking somewhat threadbare, Mechani-Kong is considerably more amusing here than anything in the Pacific Rim series so far.
Steven Spielberg wisely junked most of the details from Zak Penn’s novel about a futuristic video-game and came up with a rather more eye-boggling set of conceits. Tye Sheridan plays Parzival, a young games who takes part in a virtual scavenger hunt for clues left by Halliday (Mark Rylance), a pioneering gamer who invented the OASIS, a shared virtual-reality universe for gamers where a series of breadcrumb clues have been left. Parzival’s real battle is with Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who is keen to stop anyone else getting in control of this particular matrix. With many unreal concepts to deal with, Spielberg just about manages to make the convoluted drama of Ready Player One seem real; the best sequence is a trip to the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, which reduces the original to a ghost train ride, but still provides a genuine frisson. Cameos about, from the Back to The Future DeLorean to King Kong, and there’s always something going on visually to amuse. Unfortunately Rylance’s miscasting in a role that would have worked better with Gene Wilder robs the film of any genuine sentiment or warmth, but as a showcase for CGI, this is one hell of a toy-box mash-up.
A remake of the old RKO movie, Ron Underwood’s 1998 re-imaging in a lush and family friendly movie that plays up the affection between Joe and Jill Young (Charlize Theron). Transported from Africa to Hollywood, Joe is disconcerted by all the noise (he takes a dislike to car alarms) and years for his sweetheart Jill, who he has enjoyed a decade in the jungle with. Theron has proved her chops as an actress elsewhere, but she’s a perfect heroine for this Disney film, looking luminously beautiful and believable as the girl that Joe will do anything for. A surprising flop, Mighty Joe Young is a charming family film, delivered with as much sensitivity as a love-struck giant gorilla can muster. Ray Harryhausen has a cameo that gives the impressive effects a stamp of approval.
Some films defy synopsis; Gerald Depardieu plays a man who lives in a rat infested flat, and who communicates largely by blowing a whistle. He works for a feminist theatre company who humiliate him regularly, and also part time in a wax museum. While walking on a New York Beach, he finds the body of King Kong, freshly fallen from the Empire State Building. He finds Kong’s son and adopts him. Marco Ferreri’s follow-up to la Grande Bouffe is an absurdity comedy-drama of obscure intent, but with James Coco and Marcello Mastroianni in support, it’s an experimental road well worth taking, although the pay-off may be disturbing.