Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Good Casting Keeps This Film at Level but the Film Never Reaches Great

   This was the first official “King Kong” movie I’ve ever watched. My familiarity with this genre as far a giant ape interacting humans was only the remake of “Mighty Joe Young” that Disney made back in the 90’s, though culturally I’ve always been familiar with the great ape and the tropes that usually surround his genre. Tropes that I find troublesome that this film does a good job at not using (presentation of islanders as Cannibals ready to sacrifice visitors and of course Kong being attracted to a human lady). Avoiding these tropes gave the film strength, though it suffers from other issues that keep it from reaching greatness.

    The film was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, and produced by Jon Jashni, Alex Garcia, Thomas Tull and Mary Parent.

    The story takes place at the end of the Vietnam War as Bill (John Goodman) wants to get his organization Monarch (organization that researches monsters and was in the last American “Godzilla” movie) to Skull Island while U.S. Forces are still near the Island. He gets the approval is joined by a tracker named James (Tom Hiddleson) an anti-war photographer Mason (Brie Larson) and troops lead by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who when they all reach Island realizes what information Bill was holding back and that Kong is not the worst threat on the Island.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! It is our world but with untouchable islands, monsters underneath the ground and giant creatures that feel complicated emotions and are more complex than us at times.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and really captures the beauty and danger of “Skull Island.” This movie has a lot of color, which is a nice change of pace from WB’s coloring everything in drab and grey (Hell the DC Cinematic Universe). This helped give the story more life when the dialogue wasn’t cutting it.

Colonel Packard – Samuel L. Jackson’s character is very much a Captain Ahab as he is overwhelmed by what he thinks the war took from him (the U.S. leaving Vietnam he took to be his own failure) and in turn he is itching for a fight. We see him become obsessed with taking out Kong after his men die when they bombing Kong’s Island. It finally ends with one of his men turning on him as his care for them lead to his obsession with killing Kong and that being all that mattered. Jackson truly is remarkable in the world.

Hank Marlow – John C. Reilly plays a half-mad pilot from World War 2 who made friends with the Japanese pilot who crashed on the island with him and with the people in the tribe. He is a fun character and we see him facing his fear of the Skullcrawlers and in the end he gets to meet his wife and son back in America. I enjoyed his arc and really enjoyed how this role showed just how great Reilly’s range is.

Kong – Kong is humanized in this! In the film he protects the tribe from the Skullcrawlers who come from below. Kong is the last of his kind and we see him judge humans based off how they treat him. There is a lot of great emotion shown in his eyes on a few different scenes and it is wonderful when we see him team up with the heroes to take out the gaint Skullcrawler.

Okay: The Characters – This is an ensemble cast and because of it being an ensemble cast I never felt that we got to know anyone outside of 2 characters. Mason and James tell us a lot about themselves, but we never see it. They are ciphers that we can put ourselves into but that doesn’t make good character. Goodman’s character gets some exploration too but he ceases to do anything once he reaches Skull Island. His tory is taken over by Colonel Packard. The other two members of Monarch don’t get any exploration at all and are just kind of there. Most of the characters die randomly as well.

The Tribe – The tribe is non-verbal and worships Kong. I like how they are presented in that they aren’t the usual cannibals that these films sadly take the path of doing and they are still complicated as in you mess up their sacred areas, they will kill you. I didn’t put them as a pro only because they exist as one unit when they should have been more explored as individuals.

The Cons: The Sullcrawlers – Like the villains in the new American “Godzilla,” these guys are kind of lame. They are giant two legged lizards that eat and kill anything. They are monsters but their design isn’t memorable or unique and they never felt like a giant threat. Colonel Packard felt like a larger threat than these guys ever were.

Structure is a Mess – At first it looks like Goodman’s Bill is the main character, than he gets killed off and the film tries to make Mason and James the main characters, but that never works because they aren’t written fully formed so minor characters like Reilly’s Hank or antagonists like Packard take over the weight which leaves the structure imbalanced. The ending is also left open as we see that the U.S. army clearly sees Kong when he screams to them. This was stupid given that the film was over and they should have just returned home. In that way I think Franchise management is a big part of what ruined the structure. We had to know we’d see Kong later (that didn’t need to be shown) and in doing so editing the script or better exploring a main character fell to the wayside.

   In the end I still enjoyed this movie enough to call it a good B movie. It isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. It is well cast though which fills in some of the lack of character development as both Hiddleson and Larson have great charisma in their roles, which keeps them from becoming a con. I also enjoyed the idea of Kong as a protector and how fantasy the movie felt with all the giant monsters living under the ground (“Pacific Rim” style almost). I’m curious to see what else happens in this universe and after this film, I may have to give the other “King Kong” films a chance.

Final Score: 8 / 10

The Lobster (2016): A Great Concept Film on Relationships That Never Delivers

The Lobster

       “The Lobster” is a film that could have been a favorite film had it been more succinct, knew more clearly what it was trying to say and had cut some of it’s scenes down. It isn’t a bad film but the longer the film went on the less I liked it. It started out great and by the end was merely good. The whole idea of critiquing courtship, love and relationships is really cool, and there was so many ways this film could have worked. Non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth checking out, it just isn’t great, it is only good.

    The film was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos who also was one of the writers and producers. The other co-writer was Ethymis Filippou and the other producers were Ed Guiney, Ceci Dempsey and Lee Magiday.

       The film takes places in a dystopian future in which all people must be in a marriage or else they are transformed into animals. They also hunt the loners a rebel group who lives outside the hotel. The story follows David (Colin Farrell) who finds himself single when his wife leaves him for another man forcing him to find a partner in 45 days or else he’ll be transformed into the animal he chose, a lobster.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is cool and left me with questions…what lead the world to become only run so that marriage is what matters over all else? The idea that people could be transformed into animals is really cool as well and the film does a good job showing that presentation (and leaving the question open if the transformations ever really happened). So there is a lot to like about the world.

The Premise – A person having 45 days to find a partner is a fascist dsystopian world is an interesting one. There is so much you can do with it.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is a beautiful and does a great job giving the film a modern feel but also an older feel too, which is the nature of dystopia. This is the future but has reverted to a twisted version of the past.

The Characters – The characters are interesting and most of them manage to be 3 Dimensional even though their names present them as concepts.

Lisping Man – John C. Reilly is good at non-comedic roles! In this he plays the Lisping Man who is insecure because of his lisp and wants to fit in to the group. He is punished for masturbating at one point and has to put his hand in the toaster when it is turned on. It is implied he is changed into an animal as he would have been punished after David steals his stuff when he hunting David after David has become a loner.

Hotel Manager – Olivia Coleman makes a wonderful villain. She is empathetic and harsh and in the end meets her own tragic end when her husband claims to love her but shows he will shoot her if it means his survival, destroying their relationship which was the plot of the Loner’s Leader.

Heartless Woman – The Heartless Woman is a great antagonist as she kills David’s dog that belonged his brother and we see her cruel to all those around her. She is transformed at the end so is given a just end.

Loner Leader – The Loner Leader is driven to destroy all relationships (except her parents). I never got her motivation as it seems her and the Maid are together at one point, but then she kills her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman…I liked her as a character but her lack of motivation was a con.

the Maid – I liked the Maid. She saves David from the Hotel and works with the Loners, even though their leader has the Short Sighted Woman kill her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman. I got her motivation though, she was in an abusive relationship that society kept her in, the Loners were her out.

Short Sighted Woman – Rachel Weisz is a good actress and is pretty intense in this where she communicates in commands at first but grows to have communication through eyes and hand signals with David when they are getting around the Loner rules about no relationships. She is blinded by the Loner Leader at one point which leads David to rescuing. I hated that she had her agency taken away and never had a name as she was the one telling the story and is set up to be David’s equal.

David – Colin Farrell is a pretty fantastic actor. In this he is a bigger awkward guy who doesn’t get people but shows he will do anything to have connection and to survive…to a point. At the end we never know if he stabs his eyes with the butcher’s knife to stab his own eyes out so he and the Short Sighted Woman can be blind together.

When Commonality Leaves in Relationship – All the relationships are based on past commonality or false commonality (one person creates bloody noses on himself so he can be with a girl who actually has that problem). I think that is the need for connection and how commonality is that first step. This plays it to it’s absurdest conclusion.

The Awkwardness of Courtship – The awkward courtships show how people will work in any social environment no matter how unhealthy (the loners and the hotel) to find and be with someone and how it is awkward within the confines of communication allowed and on the dependence of commonality in order to communicate.

The Cons: The Pacing – The pacing was all over the place. Some scenes lingered way too long, at one point after the Hotel it feels like it should be over and other scenes are short like when the Short Sighted Woman and David get together. This film needed a better editor.

The Ending – Does he cut out his eyes or not? If they want to leave it ambiguous, why not when he escapes the Hotel since the Short Sighted Woman serves no purpose within her own agency.

The Narrator – The narrator interjections from the Short Sighted Woman were annoying at times. I kept looking for the character but she doesn’t actually appear for a long time.

The Short Sighted Woman’s Story  and Dis-empowerment of a Lead – This character is made blind and everything she does is for David. At times it looks like she wants to escape because she has a desire to do so but that stops after she is blinded. She is someone who has been out in the wilderness a lot longer, she deserved to have more of an identity that didn’t revolve around David.

   This was a good film but the cons eventually overwhelmed everything else. A more powerful concept film could have achieved the same purpose in a lot less time. A perfect ending would have been him escaping the hotel and leaving the rest up to mystery as even the Short Sighted Woman is never given name, even though she is the narrator and seems to be set up as a main character when we see that she is a loner and can give that perspective…that never happens though because she is more concerned telling David’s story, and as great of job as Colin Farrell does, detached characters can only give so much before they become boring. His character eventually suffers from this due to pacing. I would still recommend this film though, for what it is, it is worth checking out.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

The Aviator (2004): A True Scorsese Biopic Masterpiece

aviator

     I think at this point “The Aviator” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It has an amazing soundtrack, cinematography, writing and cast and deserves all the awards it won. It is a film I definitely plan to watch again and it inspired me to check out Howard Hughes’s films, which will be some later reviews down the road.

      The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. It is also based off the book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham.

     The story is a biopic of Howard Hughes and the conflicts he went through with the businesses he owned and his role as a director and producer in Hollywood while dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Pros: The Soundtrack – It’s Howard Shore so the fact that the soundtrack is amazing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He does a great job here of capturing the jazz of the era, the torment in Howard Hughes’s mind. He truly did a masterful job on this soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning, especially in any sequences where Hughes is flying in one of his planes. Robert Richardson did a great job and the film is beautiful.

The Writing – The writing is really solid in this. People talk like they would in the era and we get a lot of show rather than tell, which is the screenwriter John Logan doing  a great job at his job. This film is long but it doesn’t feel long because of the writing.

The Characters – The main characters and their relationships are really what drive the film and it is fascinating to see how they interact and react to Hughes, who is an unstable genius. His relationships are really what drive the film.

Katharine Hepburn – Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job as Katharine Hepburn. She’s eccentric and selfish just like Hughes, but we see does have a little more self-awareness and did try to deal with the problems in their relationship that he ignored since he was so focused on his job. She moves on and is happier for it, though in his darkest place she still reaches out as a friend, even after how cruel he was when they broke up.

Noah Dietrich – John C. Reilly plays Hughes’s second in command and is the one making everything happen behind the scenes. Reilly is a great actor, which I really didn’t realize until this film. His arc is learning to put his foot down with Hughes so that Hughes won’t destroy the companies he created with his different projects.

Juan Trippe – Trippe is the owner of Pan Am Airlines and the main antagonist in the film. He is played by Alec Baldwin who does a good job in the role and manages to imbue the character with honor, humanity and ruthlessness. His arc is when he stops the fight after the hearing becomes an attack against him rather than the attack against Hughes it was meant to be.

Senator Brewster – Alan Alda is one of my favorite actors and it is wonderful seeing him in an antagonistic role as he works with Trippe to keep Hughes’s airline from competing with Pan Am. He’s ruthless but has a kindness to him as you see that even though he’s corrupt there is still a humanity to the character.

Ava Gardner – Ava is the one Hughes keeps wanting to marry but who continues to turn him down since his crazyness (paranoia, etc.) keep her from feeling safe around him. She is there to help him get back together though and we see she loves him as a friend, just knows that she could never marry him or be in a relationship with him. Kate Beckinsale does a good job.

Howard Hughes – DeCaprio is fantastic as Hughes. He really does a great job as the eccentric millionaire (Hello Gatsby) though this time we get to see the full depths of a very flawed genius. DeCaprio captures his passion, fear, anger and stubbornness and seeing him complete his arc and face his those fears is powerful.

Making “Hell’s Angels” – Making the film “Hell’s Angels” (Which is a pretty good film) is fascinating as we see how Hughes needed everything to be perfect and to be a certain way. Each year see what is going on, whether it is getting more cameras for filming, editing it so that it will be in sound or trying to find clouds to film the flight scenes. This could have been the film and us given more details and it would have been just as great as the film we got.

The Flights – The flights are beautiful. We see fighter planes, spy planes and even a crash that Hughes goes through over the course of the film. In each case the freedom and danger. The planes are beautiful and the shots from the sky are stunning.

The Hearing – They do a good job of overlaying the hearing where Hughes calls Senator Brewster out for business relationship with Juan Trippe and Trippe’s monopoly on the airlines and with it we get the conclusion as he finally pulls himself out of his depression and funk in order to be there and not to panic.

   There isn’t really anything I can say wrong about this film. It hits all the right notes, all the main characters are explored and grow and change or deal as the film progresses and the story has excellent payoffs. I’d highly recommend this film. It is the best film I have seen from Martin Scorsese and deserves all the awards it won. Not only does it give the snapshot of a person during an era, but it also manages to capture the freedom in flying and the passion it takes to make projects a reality.

Final Score: 10 / 10