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King Kong 

Mark Palermo on Kong, families and cowboys.

Scale and spectacle are the two words most apt in describing the new King Kong. Peter Jackson’s three-hour remake is nothing if not big. It’s an impressive feat and — with generous frequency — a thrilling one. Yet it’s also this reach for monumental status that keeps it from greatness. Were the movie an hour shorter — if Jackson knew not to dwell on scenes past their expiry — its excitement could be on par with its awe. As a result, the 1933 classic actually plays as a fiercer movie. The 2005 one is less relentless, though far from insubstantial. The computer-rendered Kong is, in his own way, as magnificent a technological leap as Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion monster in the original. What looked like a Who Framed Roger Rabbit live action and animation blend from the ads is in reality a near life-like match. There are moments where Kong’s facial expressions are authentic enough to be mistaken for a live ape’s, and there’s a weight and fur texture that’s unmistakable. More powerfully, this CG creature is invested with real emotion. The almost-romance between Kong and his human pet (Naomi Watts, as Ann Darrow, the actor taken prisoner on Skull Island) always takes the approach of sympathy over fear. Kong is the ultimate vision of vulnerability and aggression — society’s undesired Beast transformed by love. Visually the locations are beautiful to a fault. Skull Island comes across as a tropical paradise version of Jurassic Park, while old New York has some of the unreal stylization of Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. Fancy outweighs the ferocious, but the film’s also brazen enough to be unmissable. Even in setting up the strangest action scene in ages, as people outrun an avalanche of dinosaurs, Jackson and co. pull it off. This King Kong rises above goofiness to something awesome.

Brokeback Mountain

The muted emotion of Brokeback Mountain makes things too easy. It’s a nice movie when it needs to be an impassioned one. Shepherds Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) are working together during a summer. They become close friends. Soon they fall in love. Gay cowboys are illicit in the 1960s, and the affair is unspeakable. They return to civilization, taking wives and having children, but never get one another off their minds. Director Ang Lee has an eye for the vast Alberta landscapes that sub for Wyoming, but his penchant for lingering on silence to suggest profundity becomes tiresome. Though the effect attains some of the trance-like effect of Lost in Translation, not only is this “gay movie” made mainstream-friendly by skimping around the throes of passion, Ennis and Jack’s friendship isn’t convincingly joyous enough for their union to feel necessary. Brokeback Mountain has the capacity to linger — a testament to the material’s power. In Lee’s hands the story is direct and sad. It falls short in the challenge of being really poignant.

The Family Stone

None of the characters in The Family Stone are portrayed hatefully, yet all of them are flawed. It’s a movie about the conditions of tolerance of people who pride themselves on having tolerance. But filmmaker Thomas Bezucha lets it unfold as a breezy holiday culture clash comedy. Conservative Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) is visiting the liberal family of her boyfriend Everett (Dermot Mulroney) for Christmas. Daughter Amy (Rachel McAdams) is the first to openly dislike Meredith when she requests a separate bed from Everett, putting Amy on the couch. But others follow suit in looking down on her different code of values. In a time when we are quick to qualify everything by perceived left or right leanings, The Family Stone’s critique of those who conform their values to political dogma has pertinence. Unfortunate turns toward slapstick and the saccharine downgrade Bezucha’s surprisingly heartfelt script. Co-stars Diane Keaton, Claire Danes and Luke Wilson grace their characters with memorable depth.

Memorably deep: palermo@thecoast.ca.

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