REVIEW: “KONG: SKULL ISLAND” (2017) WARNER BROS.

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**IMPORTANT NOTE: Stay for the credits — You won’t regret it!

Is it just me or does it just seem like writers might be a bit bored these past few years and are perhaps running out of ideas? Hasn’t this been done already and then done again? Or did the box office success of movies like Jurassic World inspire studios & producers to opt for remakes instead of the road not taken. Well I don’t have the answer to all those questions BUT…I didn’t hate this remake in all it’s CGI super-glory.

To be clear – Kong: Skull Island is not simply a remake of a film that has been re-made time and time again. It is kind of what you could refer to as an ‘re-imagination’ of the original. If you ever lost sleep at night wondering what it would have been like if King Kong was not sedated and taken to New York to be pointed and laughed at and swatted away little planes with a Faye Wray or Jessica Lange or hey..even Naomi Watts, in his possession. Well fret no more, as that is exactly what this film explores.

The premise here is it’s 1973 this time and a group of eager-beaver scientists discovers what they thought was an uninhabited island a LandSat (land mapping satellite) has taken pictures of. An elusive island called – you guessed it – Skull Island, that although rumoured to exist it’s never been proven to…until now. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) are eager to be the first to explore and geologically map the island, so they persuade the US government to back the expedition by supplying them with the support and expertise of some US Army soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his team, Chapman (Toby Kebbell), Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Slivko (Thomas Mann), to name a few of the supporting crew, who are conveniently just leaving Vietnam and can stop on over. They also pick up a British ex-special forces “tracker” James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former British Special Air Service Captain and an “anti-war” photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

They start the mission by dropping bombs on the island to map the bedrock, ostensibly to look for mineral deposits. That’s when Kong shows up to smack the helicopters out of the air, and generally wreak mayhem on the team. The scattered survivors then have to survive on an island filled with oh-so-many-monsters and have to try get to the extraction zone. One group finds Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who brings a well-done dose of humour to the production and who has been stranded on the island for 29+ years with all the non-speaking island natives where KONG is ‘god’ and most definitely King of this island.

And that’s about all I’ll say about the story, so as to avoid serious spoilers. The story line is fairly conventional with very little arc to the characters except just as in the past, you ARE cheering once again for KONG. In many regards it actually sets up more like a horror movie than action/adventure movie. In fact, there are numerous jump-scares and other basic horror movie devices throughout the movie. Sorta of reminded me of the old school Godzilla vs. whomever monster films and while KONG might be the main guy, he is definitely not the only monster in town here.

In some ways, it felt like the movie couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be between a monster movie and a horror movie… Or was it an action movie with an anti-war theme? It’s a toss up. There are also numerous characters who seem like they were intended to play more significant roles but then don’t. For instance they bring along a biologist, San (Tian Jing), who does no absolutely no biology (or good acting) at all and seems to mainly appear to allow another character to give a statement of sorts. Similarly most of the LandSat team seem to be around for comic relief, even if it is just horror movie style comic relief. Even some of the major characters do little aside from provide a single plot piece and I’m sure you can already guess, no one is going to be winning any awards for acting from being in this pic.

As for KONG himself, I think they could have spent a bit more time developing him, partly as a character as again, his name is in the film’s title after all. The CGI was quite good not only for KONG himself, but his fellow monster buddies as well.

I think there might have had just too much going on, and not enough time for this movie to be really good. As it is, it’s an entertaining enough of a movie that is fun, if you go in with a somewhat low-bar intention, so I enjoyed it completely on that level alone.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Friday, March 10, 2017

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“BLACKHAT” (2015) UNIVERSAL PICTURES

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Ahhh Michael Mann.. First off, I am a fan..have been for ages, so many good movies & fashion statements in your TV & film work ~ and “Blackhat” is not the massive fiasco that it could be but it’s hard to know where to begin analyzing it. First off there’s the screenplay by Morgan Davis Foehl, which alternates between dull, rushed and an utter disregard for reasonable logic at times.

But let’s not rush ahead of ourselves here with all that. Chris Hemsworth stars as “Nicholas Hathaway”, the world’s greatest computer hacker who also happens to look a lot like Thor (thankfully). Currently serving 15 years for cyber-crimes, he gets furloughed from jail at the behest of his old MIT roommate “Lien Chen” (Leehom Wang) who is now a big-time higher-up in the Chinese military. Chen is working with FBI agent “Carol Barrett” (Viola Davis) to track down a hacker who put the whammy on both an Asian nuclear reactor and the American commodities exchange using malware code created by Hathaway & Chen in their college days. blackhat 1

The pursuit of the villain takes our team — which includes Chen’s sister “Lien” (Wei Tang), who falls in love with Hathaway in one of the most random, chemistry-free onscreen romances in recent memory — to Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, but in all this globe-trotting studio money can buy, it’s no substitute for things little things like oh..character development, suspense and motivation. Hathaway’s character concept is lacking, and he’s one of the film’s better-written roles, and it seems only Davis can make filet mignon out of the ground beef of this material, turning vague and clunky dialogue into gold with just one or two quick quips and a sardonic glance over her sunglasses.
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The screenplay, mocks us at times, with the fact that we are not supposed to take notice the bad guys’ inability to hit with directly aimed bullets, key characters – aka “The Good Guys” -despite constant flutters of automatic weapons fire, or the fact that an FBI agent asks another a personal question based on a phone call to which he was not privy to, or one of my favourite aspects, the fact that blond, six-and-a-half-foot Hemsworth is supposed to blend in with the crowds in Asia like he’s not head & shoulders above them all..literally..and attracting no second glances whatsoever as he’s on the run in airports or sneaking into computer facilities or engaging in gun battles in the middle of crowded street festivals. Lastly, that a computer hack with huge mayhem & destruction imminently pending, within a matter of hours to be precise, but curiously so, the lead characters have time to fall completely in love and plan a future relationship and as cyber-hackers they just pick up guns that they immediately know how to use truly made me shake my head as in ‘okey dokey then’. blackhat 2

But to best describe what truly underscores the problems with some of the filming, which oddly enough looks at it’s worst whenever there’s some type of light source on screen, whether it be a lamp or a car headlight or just the sun; so where does the big finale happen? Well…amongst hundreds of people carrying torches, but of course (insert facetious sarcasm here). Because not only is it weird and completely off base, but that these guys are carrying huge automatic weapons and no one out of all these thousands of people notice it. NONE! Come on now.
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Given Sony’s recent ‘issues’ with hacking, the timing couldn’t be better for a movie about the vulnerability of international computer networks, but “Blackhat” isn’t that movie..though I’m not going to say it couldn’t be plausible, because despite what you might think, the actors are believable enough as their characters, it’s what the plot makes them do at times that isn’t. I’m thinking that pretty much no matter how you slice it, this is one hack-ity hacker pic that just hasn’t really cracked it’s own code of how to make a movie about computer espionage that doesn’t come down to scene after scene of people sitting at keyboards and making clicky-clack noises with their fingers. To his credit, Michael Mann does try to jazz things up with cool tracking shots through microchips (it’s like the express lane to Tron’s house) or even putting the camera inside a thumb-drive slot or under a keyboard that’s being typed upon, and though it has it’s entertaining moments for sure, in the end it’s to little avail in saving the film from some of the other things that make it a no go.

Grade: C-
@pegsatthemovies

(See grading scale)

REVIEW OF “THE DROP” – FOX SEARCHLIGHT – 2014

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“The Drop” is a story about a man and his dog.. okay..and his cousin/boss who used to think of himself as a ‘big man’..and a girl whom he likes who randomly helps him take care of the dog..but might be linked to more…and an arm with a watch..oh and throw in a bit of Chechen syndicate who ‘the drops’ are for…and lastly..you find out the man with the dog has much more to him than meets the eye and is much darker than you thought.

But let’s start with this…

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Tom Hardy is a man of many accents..this we have learned and Hollywood’s most recent ‘it/go to’ guy does not disappoint with his interpretation of this Brooklyn/Crooklyn accent either.  As the screen rolls up you hear a voice that sorta sounds like Christopher Walken just rolled in after gargling with a shot of whiskey..and lo and behold, It’s a very believable Tom Hardy as “Bob Saginowski” in this quite mesmerizing performance as a somewhat shy, but yet charming bartender at what used to be his Cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini) local neighborhood dive bar aptly named ‘Cousin Marvs’ which is now owned by the Chechen syndicate lead by “Chovka” (Michael Aronov) and used, when designated to do so, as the ‘drop’ bar, a place where all the nights drop payments to this syndicate are made and then picked up. Basically when it’s your night, envelopes stuffed with cash get dropped off into a time-released safe which is then picked up at the specified hour by a designated main guy. Simple enough riiiiggghhtt.except Marv, in Gandolfini’s last spin in a role that was clearly made for him, has decided he wants to go back to his glory days of being respected and plans to heist his own ‘drop’ day, tries to pull off a practice heist with 2 local guys, “Fitz” (James Frecheville) & “Rardy” (Michael Esper) which doesn’t go over well with all involved.

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Now you must be wondering where the dog fits in..well oddly enough, this movie is actually based on the short story “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane in which a tough, but sweetheart of a guy, with a rather dark past, finds a badly beaten pit bull puppy in a trash can and it gets him into some big trouble.. As with that story, in this one Bob finds said dog in “Nadia” (Noomi Rapace) garbage can & she randomly offers to help him take care of it.  I won’t lie..there are some wonderfully cute scenes with Hardy & the little doggie Rocco..he’s a little scene stealer that Rocco!!! 😀  But turns out Nadia also has a bit of a history..with “Eric Deeds” (Matthias Schoenaerts) who is not only a complete psycho-path, but also the a-hole who beat little Rocco and left him for dead, yet stalks Bob with much malice to try to get the dog back insofar as even threatening Nadia’s life.  Eric has a reputation behind him, and now Marv is going to use him for the big cache heist day.  The whole time everything is going on, we see Bob attending 8am mass everyday at the local Catholic church, which we figure out later just why, but where he has the attention of the very police detective investigating not only a past neighborhood murder from years earlier,  but the recent robbery at the bar. “Detective Torres” (John Ortiz) just knows somethings fishy with the whole scene there at the bar, most especially focusing on Bob whose unassuming ways almost had me thinking at one point he might be a bit daft as in not-so-bright, but that’s really just all part of the charm of Hardy in this role..because even though you might think it for a moment or two, it’s because he wants you to.

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This gutsy, gritty & sometimes funny film ends with a plot twist that I don’t think most will see. but it definitely answers all your questions. I mean I had an idea of what it was, but it was so well thought out and done that I was really never sure which way it was going to go until it actually happened.  Again, Hardy is just simply wonderful in this role along with Gandolfini, they make a great dark comedy team which sadly we will never have the chance be able to see again. (Peace be with you James Gandolfini, you will always be remembered with your great body of work)  Noomi Rapace is good, and I enjoy her a lot in most films she’s done, but honestly she is out-played here by pretty much everyone and the character is a one that the if it was left out of the film entirely, you wouldn’t have even missed it.  A big huge kudos from me also goes to Matthias Schoenaerts. This Belgium actor deserves a big nod for playing his role so well and holding his own in such good company, hope to see much more of him in upcoming films.

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My vote is that you see this movie even if it’s not your cup of tea, for the performances alone.

Grade:  B-   (squeaks in at above average)

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Grading Scale: A = Oscar-worthy   B =  Above average-must see  C = Average – should see  D = Don’t waste your time or money  F =  Don’t see the movie     (+ or –  gives the movie an edge up or down)