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David Poland

By David Poland

Devin Gordon Reviews King Kong

We are shockedshocked by Universal trying to pass off a review as a feature for the howevermanyeth time. (I’m guessing that Devin Gordon didn’t have to give up his Blackberry when he saw the film.)
(Note: The piece has a number of spoilers.)
And as though by an act of God, after going all the way to New Zealand to see the film… Gordon LOVED it!!! A miracle! One wonders why Newsweek, which has handled the transition to the web better than any of its competition, continues to degrade its film staff by whoring them out like this. With due respect to top critic David Ansen and all the other fine writers on that staff, the line has been blurred beyond recognition for all but industry and anal people who care about such distinctions. And, of course, studios that want to pretend reviews are not reviews.
That said, an outlet receiving a studios DNA and smearing it all over itself like so much moisturizer does not necessarily make it wrong about the quality of a movie. And I hope Devin/Newsweek’s monkey love is reasonable or even understated.
Universal will junket the film later this week in NY, where the film will allegedly be shown on something less than a final print. Anyone who is not junket press will allegedly not be shown the film. But a real print is scheduled to be shown for the first time on Sunday, for Academy members… we’ll see how many press get into that screening (20 is the over/under). The press will officially be shown the film under we-don’t-trust-you/we-want-perfect-conditions conditions on Monday.
I believe that Kong will be a creative success and a massive hit.
But what tends to piss me off is the notion that anyone ever allows themselves to believe that a story like this is anything other than mutual backscratching, by design and intent.
More about all of this on Monday

22 Responses to “Devin Gordon Reviews King Kong”

  1. The Premadator says:

    You niggling over every piece that meets your eyes is starting to be a bore, man.
    Most of us have made peace with the review-cum-features. And we certainly know them when we see them (usually several paragraphs of “meet the filmmaker” will give it away). But thanks for worrying about us.

  2. David Poland says:

    Sorry it bores you, though your choice to miss my point utterly is what inspires me to write these commentaries now and again.
    I’m not worried about you. If consumers are not suspicious of everything nowadays, they are sticking their heads in the sand.
    I am worried about how those of us who do this for a living – on both sides of the aisle – bounce into one another day after day, week after week. In the summer and in the awards season, perspective is hard to come by. And this is all an example of how meaningless and how meaningful it all is.

  3. The Premadator says:

    Guess I’m not “anal people” enough to care…

  4. the keoki says:

    Everytime I read one of these pseudo-reviews, I get a little nervous. Why of all films did we need a feature on Kong? And then for him to say he liked it. Of course you liked it. Weak sauce on Newsweek’s part to mix the review and feature. Why all the secrecy with KK? We know how it’s going to end. We know what he looks like. Newsweek’s feature isn’t going to alert anyone of this film and that weak – ass review is certainly not going to make anyone say, “Geez, I really want to go see that now that I’ve read that some nobody likes it!”

  5. James Leer says:

    Is it really that big a hassle for journalists when studios take precautions for press screenings? It ain’t gonna get any easier…

  6. Wrecktum says:

    Richard Corliss’ feature piece in Time on Chicken Little:
    “It’s one of the funniest, most charming and most exhilarating movies in years. And it’s a genuine Disney cartoon, with a storytelling sense and graphic precision worthy of the old animation masters.”
    Let’s wait for the REAL reviews of Kong before we start sucking each other’s dicks (Ain’t it Cool News, I’m looking at you).

  7. David Poland says:

    It is not that big a hassle for journalists to deal with studio precautions and I always want to beat people who complain about being wanded with a stick. And there are people who are still angry for me over my stance that the screener ban furor was an entitlement issue first and foremost.
    What is problematic is the variations on the theme. More often than I ever remember, studios are all over the place on how they handle the media on their movies, specifcally large market and national media. The challenge to the studios is real too. It’s not an easy situation, especially with the internet. But there is a difference between precautions and unusual precautions. And there is a tipping point for every individual.
    I also acknowledge that my needs are unusual. I like to see many of the movies in this awards period more than once before I form firm opinions. A movie like The New World or Munich or even a 3-hour King Kong screams for a second sit. And when the films are arriving late and I still have competitive needs as well, it can be impossible. But sometimes, it is easily possible and the politics get in the way.
    In the end, it’s all just dust in the wind. But does it make much sense for a dozen journos to be “sneaking” into an Academy screening of The New World last night? Are they now under embargo? Since none were critics, as such, does it matter? Did they violate New Line’s intent or did New Line fail them by not making the film adaquately available?
    New Line has had the film less than a week. So the intensity seems a bit overstated. I understand that. But in the media culture, access has great value. Again, Devin Gordon flew 26 hours to see the film for what amounts to a 4-day exclusive. Go figure.

  8. martin says:

    same crap that happened with each Star Wars prequel. As someone earlier said, most of us know these feature/reviews are meaningless as to the actual quality of the film. But many readers do not realize how bullshit these are. So yes, this is an important discussion.

  9. EDouglas says:

    I don’t have problems with the security precautions WITHIN REASON. Checking bags okay…wanding people okay…but then taking away celphones that have cameras which will take about 15 seconds of bad quality video while at the same time having security guys scanning the audience with infrared looking for cameras…that’s a bit extreme when the audience is mostly made up of critics and journalists a.) who you invited to see the movie and b.) have a lot better things to do with their time and resources than bootleg movies, which eventually would take money out of their own pockets. If you’ve already checked all bags and taken away celphones than you obviously don’t need the infrared guys…if you have them, then they certainly can be on the lookout for pirates (who I assume would have to smuggle in CAMERAS..and granted, they can be small these days).

  10. Crow T Robot says:

    EDouglas, where can I read your column?

  11. joefitz84 says:

    Hmmmm pretty good chance this review was bought. You can’t mix journalism and accepting gifts from the studios. Just make it look tainted.

  12. Cadavra says:

    The worst of it is that it’s so unnecessary for a picture like KONG. Most people have already made up their minds whether or not to see it, and no amount of reviews–raves or pans–is going to alter that in any significant way.

  13. Josh says:

    Totally not necessary for a picture that is review proof. Who is he? AICN and McWeeny?

  14. bicycle bob says:

    kong will be huge. regardless of what reviews say.

  15. AgentArc says:

    And sure enough, the fans are all over this and the four minutes shown last night on, uh, NBC (I think?).
    They have video blogs, and a streamlined ‘fan’site, but they wanted MEAT. They want to make sure all this time they have invested over these past months tracking this project isn’t a crapshoot. So when Newsweek throws them a bone, they will be all over every messageboard they can find, proclaiming this to be THE event.
    If only Newsweek was so nice to us Matrix fans back in their 2003 fluff piece. Heh.

  16. Hopscotch says:

    I’m holding out for word-of-mouth before I see Kong. Something about that trailer…I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’m not sure I want to spend three hours with this movie.
    I mean, for the love of God…3 hours for them to get to the island, check out the island, go back to NY. what gives?

  17. Bruce says:

    Word of mouth for a movie like Kong? It’s one of the big ones you just have to see and form your own opinion on.

  18. David Poland says:

    For the record, I don’t think the review was bought… just expected as a part of getting access.

  19. grandcosmo says:

    I think Kong will be very successful unless it is a Godzilla-like botch job but I think there is a definite cap to its potential.
    Any movie in which everyone in the audience knows how it will end will have a limit to its earning potential.

  20. jeffmcm says:

    You could argue that everyone already knew how Titanic would end. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

  21. Cadavra says:

    Which reminds me of an incredible-but-true story. Several months before TITANIC opened, CBS aired a two-part “Titanic” mini-series, with, among others, a then-little-known Catherine Zeta-Jones. It aired on Sunday and Tuesday. CBS’ L.A. station planned a five-part series on famous sea-going disasters to tie into it, to air each night on the 11:00 news–and naturally they were going to lead on Monday with the Titanic. The station’s program director immediately shot this down, stating that if people watched this report on Monday, they would not tune in on Tuesday to watch the second half of the mini-series–because they now knew how it ended! The piece on the Titanic was duly moved to later in the week. I swear to God I’m not making this up.

  22. Chucky in Jersey says:

    “King Kong” is a remake, thus it is guaranteed to make money. Anyone who does not understand that can take their bull$#!t somewhere else.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin