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

“UNBROKEN” REVIEW ~ UNIVERSAL (2014)

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unbroken
It might be hard to judge how much art there is in imitation, but Angelina Jolie certainly does this film justice as this is a truly good old-fashioned Hollywood tear jerking biopic in-line with some of the best of them. For whatever that’s worth is where the debate lies in for Unbroken.

As it is, this is the true story of a triumphing American hero if ever there was one. It’s lavishly done, expensive, and altogether a very ambitious epic about Olympic runner-turned-WWII bombardier-turned-POW “Louis Zamperini” (Jack O’Connell). While I’m sure there are many of them, this is, with all it’s harrowing moments, one story that should always be told and if any tale of survival deserves to be made, it is this one. While there’s probably room for a much better movie here, as points of it do drag on..but Unbroken at least benefits from having one hell of a story to tell. unbroken 1

Thanks to flashbacks, we see Louie as a kid (C.J. Valleroy), wasting whatever potential he has by shoplifting and hiding his stolen items in a secret spot where he sits by himself and drinks liquor out of a bottle painted to look like it contains milk. It’s made clear he’s thought of, especially in those times, as a juvenile delinquent of a child. Being an Italian immigrant didn’t help. Luckily, when being chased by a local neighborhood policeman one afternoon, he happens to do a sprint across the field during a school track practice, catching the eye of a friend and his own brother, “Pete” (Alex Russell) who convinces Louie to take up running as a sport. unbroken 2

The main cast doesn’t have the support of any big name veteran performers, and that’s fine as the supporting cast, a lot of them in brief but pertinent roles, ranging from Jai Courtney “Cup”, Marcus Vanco “Lambert”, Ross Anderson “Blackie” and Garrett Hedlund as “Fitzgerald”, are all up to par here..but let’s just call it and say Jack O’Connell leads the bunch very well and it’s his performance that feels a cut above. O’Connell has all the boyish charm his role requires early on, when he’s running and attending the Olympics in flashbacks or while entrenched in a WWII air battle. And then when the rickety plane (yes it seems even back then we didn’t provide our soldiers with all the best equipment) he’s aboard crashes into the Pacific, stranding the few survivors in life rafts, the actor inspires with a brave yet calm resolve that proves key to maintaining the sanity of himself and his fellow survivors, “Mac” (Finn Wittrock) and “Phil” (Domhnall Gleason) as they float aimlessly in hope of rescue. unbroken 6

This part of the movie is handled well, with no cutaways, no escape from the endless floating along. To keep things moving along as thankfully we don’t go day by day..but rather weeks at a time, this section is filled with a lot of visual action, including a few big flashy storm sequences and some jumpy, although rather cheesy shark encounters. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, but I liked the idea of sticking with Louis for the whole of this long drawn out ordeal as cutting away just might have taken some of the heart and horridness of what they endured out of it.

Now if only that was the peak of trials and tribulations for Louis Zamparini right there, it would be a mighty impressive tale of determination and resilience all on it’s own. But it’s barely the tip of the iceberg. From there, Louis is rescued in an ominous scene “I have some good news and some bad news,” he informs his raft-mate, Phil, by the Japanese, who throw him into a POW camp somewhere in the jungle, which proves to be a walk in the park compared to the camp he’s then shipped off to, wherein he meets the movie’s chief villain, Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (played scarily so well by Japanese singer Takamasa ‘Miyavi’ Ishihara). unbroken 3

Life in the POW camps understandably takes up a large amount of the movie’s lengthy running time (yes it’s 2hrs 20min). The horrors of the brutal imprisonment are put up front and personal without glossing over things too much, but while all the horrible harrowing things that are happening to Louis are quite convincing, the heart-tugging gets somewhat in the way of the real emotional jist of the story. During one of the darkest moments in the ugliest and most dehumanizing of the three POW camps he is sent to, Louis digs deep for the strength he needs to hoist a block of wood over his head in a defiant measure against “The Bird” and O’Connell expresses the emotion well with his face and body, but we also get the obvious with a flashback of a triumphant pre-war Louis at the Olympics. Of course. There comes that bit of cheesy again. unbroken 5

Does it help immensely that Zamperini’s story is one of overwhelming impossible odds, the kind of tale Hollywood loves to tell, yes, yes it does. Because to sum it up, beating up on the movie, tempting as it may be for some, just isn’t much fun. But that alone doesn’t really raise the movie to the level of great, but it does make this heroic tale of the familiar leave a lasting taste with us all.

The real Louis Zamparini with Dir: Angelina Jolie

The real Louis Zamperini with Dir: Angelina Jolie


Grade: B-
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(See grading scale)