It is November in Portland, which means that the rainy season is upon us. It has been gruesome outside lately, drizzling and dreary and cold, and as a result I have retreated back to my room where I can comfortably watch movies under the covers with the cat.
Actually, I might have retreated a bit too far - I've been so lazy this last week and seen so many films this week that I've fallen hopelessly behind in my review writing. At first the growing list of undiscussed titles was causing me to despair, but then I had a realization: yes, going point by point through the pros and cons of a movie can be interesting, but generally the only two things you need to know about a movie to know if it's worth seeing are "what is it called" and "does it live up to it's title?" So why not just discuss those two things and forget about everything else?
So without further ado, here are three movies that I've seen in the last week and a short discussion of whether or not they live up to their title, either metaphorically or literally.
Title: SON OF KONG
Literal: This movie's title promises two things: one, that it will feature a character whose last name is "Kong" and two, that this "Kong" will be someone's son.
So: is there a character named Kong in this film? Well, sort of. At about the forty minute mark some Americans explorers see a giant gorilla skulking about in the jungles of Skull Island and they immediately assume that it is related to the original King Kong (which they had previously discovered in the same location). However, that isn't necessarily a sound assumption because there could be multiple giant gorilla families on the island. What if this gorilla belongs to one of them?
In fact, I'm a little dubious that this second ape is related to the original ape because his fur is so much lighter than his "father's". Now I can't rule out the possibility that Kong Sr. sired a baby with an abominable snowwoman, but at that point we're getting into slash fiction... Regardless, until there's some sort of Maury Povich style paternity test I don't think there's any good reason to assume that this ape they saw on safari is actually related to the otherape they saw in a similar spot a few years ago.
However, we can safely assume that the gorilla they discover is in fact male, so he is at least someone's son.
Metaphorical: The title "Son of Kong" says: "hey, did you like King Kong? Well, here's some more of that!" And on that level this film undoubtedly succeeds, because it is basically a carbon copy of the original, except with less depth, emotion or suspense. Big Kong fought a T-Rex; Baby Kong fights a giant bear. Big Kong kidnaps a blonde lady; Baby Kong is infatuated with a brunette. Big Kong falls off the empire state building; Baby Kong drowns after Skull Island sinks into the ocean during an earthquake. Son of Kong isn't necessarily a good movie, but it definitely lives up to it's title.
Title: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
Literal: This title promises you that there will be a first person narrator, a dude named Earl and a young woman with some serious health problems. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl delivers on all three accounts. The "me" in question is a self-depreciating teenager named Greg, Earl is his friend who helps him make silly home movies, and the dying girl is Rachel, a classmate who is struggling with leukemia.
Metaphorical: That title is a little ungainly and it includes the word "dying", leading you to expect that the movie will be sort of messy and complicated. And it is, in fact, messy and complicated. Greg's narration is a little too cutesy and self-conscious in the early going, but the film eventually settles into a good groove, exploring the life of a teenager with a rare mixture of humor, honesty and pathos...
...Until the film really goes deep on the whole "dying" thing, at which point it gets very heavy very quickly.
This was obviously meant to cash in on the massive success of the Fault in Our Stars, but that film was relentlessly saccharine and thus its final turn into tragedy wasn't much of a surprise. However, I was sucked in by M&E&TDG's initial light and breezy tone so my guard was down it unexpectedly pivoted back towards seriousness. As such, this film did a much better job of getting under my skin than Faults did - but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not; honestly, I kind of prefer having my skin remain unpenetrated.
Title: DARK PLACES
Literal: The phrase "Dark Places" is fairly self explanatory: it refers to locations that aren't particularly well lit. And indeed, as Libby Day (played by Charlize Theron) re-investigates the decades old murder of her mother and sisters she goes into several places that could use a few extra light bulbs - places like strip clubs and Satanic shrines. Although the least well lit place she visits has to be the pit at an abandoned toxic waste dump that her alcoholic father apparently calls home; that place is seriously lamp-deficient.
Metaphorical: All kidding aside, the title "Dark Places" is obviously meant to refer to the unpleasant emotions that Ms. Day has to face as she explores the In Cold Blood style murder of her family and not to any underlit physical locations. And for the most part this movie lives up to its sinister title: as Libby gets deeper into her investigation she has to face a lot of unpleasant truths about her mother's moral failings, her brother's ties to a local cult, and worse.
However, this film goes completely off the rails at the end, and the eventual explanation for what went down at her family's farmhouse on that fateful night in 1985 is extremely goofy. It is so convoluted it might as well be a JFK assassination theory - but it is actually worse than that, because most JFK theories involve actual conspiracies, while this just culminates in a completely unbelievable coincidence. Also: I'm all too willing to believe that the CIA would do something shady but don't ask me to buy into the idea of that Kansas was overrun with active Satanic cults in the mid 80's - that's clearly bogus.
It is a shame because Theron is a great actress, the set up had potential, and Dark Places did a pretty good job of establishing an ominous mood in its first half. Unfortunately, once it started to unravel it quickly turned into a clusterfuck and I was anxious for it to wrap up long before it actually did. This could have been a fun pulpy thriller, but alas, it ended up crashing and burning so spectacularly that I can't recommend to anyone - not even people who really like looking at underlit scenes that are set in abandoned toxic waste dumps.
(...Those people have to exist, right?)