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Kong: Skull Island – A Movie Review


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Kong-Skull-Island-poster-fullIs Kong: Skull Island a work of high art, deserving of award nominations and lavish praise? No. It is a hell of a fun movie that is more thoughtful than one might be expecting? Yes. Definitely.

This movie is a companion to the 2014 Godzilla directed by Gareth Edwards (ever heard of him? He directed a little thing called Rogue One). There are giant monsters which originate from Skull Island. Humanity would be well served to leave the place alone.

Of course, we will not do that.

Smartly, the movie opens with an exciting action scene that introduces the audience to Kong right away. Hiding the big gorilla from the audience is not the point. Wowing the audience with stunning visuals is. The movie’s prologue does just that: it wows us. The prologue will play into the overall plot of the film later on, so pay attention.

Pay attention, too, to the opening credits. This is a terrific sequence and sets up this alternate world in which monsters walk. Eagle-eyed audience members will pick up a thing or two about the upcoming movie if the watch closely enough.

John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson are introduced as Bill Randa and General Preston Packard respectively. Both actors are at the top of their games here and both know that that game is: play the type, sell the monkey. Randa is a conspiracy theorist (with a hidden agenda) looking to prove the existence of the creature. Packard is a dedicated military man in search of one last mission to validate his service to the country. Yeah, the do not get along but, man, are they fun to watch.

John C. Reilly is in great John C. Reilly fashion as Marlow, a man who has been marooned on Skull Island for a long, long time. He interjects just the right amount of comic relief when comic relief is needed.

Along from the ride is the excellent Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a Life Magazine photographer. She is an antiwar protester, an accomplished journalist and key to what happens when monkey meets humanity. Have you seen a King Kong movie? Then you likely know what is coming.

Also joining the fun (I think that is the fifth time I have used that word in this review) is the always enjoyable Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston plays an ex-British Intelligence officer named James Conrad who is something of a solider for hire and expert tracker. Oh, and he gets one absolutely bonkers, over-the-top action sequence.

In fact, the proceedings are entirely bonkers. There are some jaw-dropping effects and some pretty grisly deaths. There is a very nice plot twist in terms of the Kong character and the creature itself is utterly believable. He is actually pretty incredible. There is even an after credits sequence, so stay in your seats until the end.

What is surprising about Kong: Skull Island is that there is a little thematic depth. There are some themes – light themes, to be sure, but themes nonetheless – that play out through the movie. Also worth noting is the film’s treatment of women. They are treated very well here.

Additionally, the movie fashions itself as something of an homage to The Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now and damn if it doesn’t kind of work. Note the “Marlow” and “James Conrad” names we have here.

Kong: Skull Island is an enjoyable romp. It actually has some points to make and it has a lot of fun making them.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND receives FOUR SKULL CRAWLERS out of a possible FIVE.

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What’s Worth Watching Fall 2014 – Madam Secretary

I don’t buy that Madam Secretary is the first salvo in Hillary Clinton’s presumed run for the White House. I do understand that a show like this doesn’t exist if Mrs. Clinton hadn’t been a popular and public Secretary of State. The similarities between fiction and reality end there.

Madam Secretary, starring Tea Leoni as Elizabeth McCord (what a government-y name!), is a good show. The pilot introduces the protagonist as a Washington outsider and retired CIA agent who is pressed into service as Secretary of State after the current Secretary has been lost to a plane crash. Was there foul play involved in that plane going down…? More on that later this season. McCord moves her family, two teenagers, a high school girl who is so underused in the pilot that I neither remember her name or anything about her character except that she misses her boyfriend after the Washington move, and a middle school boy who is pretty funny and a nice counterpoint to McCord as he is a self-proclaimed anarchist.

Leoni is solid as Secretary McCord and she’s an actress I’ve always liked. While I found her much more believable in the scenes before she became Secretary, when she was a professor at the University of Virginia, she is certainly more than passable as the lead in this show and should be able to carry it if it succeeds.

Her challenge is that her supporting cast is so very, very strong. Tim Daly plays her husband (a theology professor at Georgetown) and is really terrific. Supportive and not intimidate by his wife’s power, Daly shines. Bebe Neuwirth (who is riveting in everything she does) is McCord’s Chief of Staff. The two have a nice tension and the acid tongue we’ve come to expect from Neuwirth’s characters in the past is always at the ready. The always reliable Zeljko Ivanek is the President’s Chief of Staff and, though he’s playing a character we’ve seen many times before (he’s most reminiscent here of the Chief of Staff role he had in the short-lived John Goodman White House on The West Wing), he’s a great inside foil to Leoni’s outsider. Finally, David Carradine, who is billed here as a guest star, plays the President with the gravitas he is known to bring to his work. And this paragraph doesn’t even mention the young co-stars in the show who serve as McCord’s staff and are very good in their own right.

As for the plot and what we can anticipate will develop over the course of the season, should the show catch on, Madam Secretary does something very smart in the opening hour: it introduces a little mythology that might run through the show in the presumed foul play on the plane that allows McCord to become Secretary of State in the first place. While it’s not The West Wing or House of Cards, It is engaging and watchable. It is a vision of Washington, DC and government that seems less jaded and log-jammed than the real thing. Juding by its pilot, it’s an optimistic hour about a supportive family whose mom just happens to be one of the most powerful women in the world working in a government we all wished truly existed.

Where’s the harm in that?

Madam Secretary * Premiere Date – Sunday, September 21 * CBS

THIS ONE IS WORTH WATCHING.

THINK ABOUT SETTING YOUR DVRs.

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67 Days to Kickoff

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I was thinking last night about the times the Denver Broncos have showed up in films and could think of three movies off the top of my head:

Jerry Maguire – Star quarterback prospect Frank Kush is working with his agent Jerry Maguire to decide whether he’d rather be drafted by the Denver Broncos or the San Diego Chargers. This is a terrific movie which yielded the catch phrases “you complete me,” “show me the money,” “you had me at ‘hello'” and “help me help you” among others. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. This is one I would love to watch every year. The preview is HERE.

Everybody’s All American  – based on the FAR superior novel by Frank DeFord, the main character – Gavin Gray – is a star running back who, in the twilight of his career, has to play for the lowly Denver Broncos, a team so “f-ed up even the stripes on their socks run in the wrong direction.” The movie has a great cast – Dennis Quaid and Jessica Lange lead it and it also features Timothy Hutton and John Goodman. The preview is HERE and it looks like a much better film than it is.

The Express – This movie about Ernie Davis concluded with a handful of scenes with Davis’ protege Floyd Little who every Bronco fan knows WAS THE ENTIRE TEAM for years. Dennis Quaid shows up in this one, too. Preview HERE.

 

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And There Came A Look at Selected Academy Awards Nominations – FLIGHT – Best Original Screenplay

It seems to me that even the greatest of actors and directors cannot craft a brilliant performance if the words aren’t there to use. Daniel Day-Lewis gets stuck in last year’s misfire Nine. Steven Spielberg gives us Hook with Academy Award winning talent stifled by Razzies Award style writing. We’ve suffered through good directors saddled with terrible scripts and excellent actors sunk by horrible writing. Unfortunately, there are more examples of the bad than the good, a fact which makes John Gatins’ carefully balanced screenplay for Flight all the more remarkable.

The screenplay for Flight navigates perilous ground. Whip Whittaker, its substance abusing protagonist, could become highly unlikable – even in the expert hands of Denzel Washington – if not for the humanizing touches Gatins gives Washington to play and the moments of tenderness that are, somehow, drawn from Whittaker’s disintegration. He could also become too easily someone for whom to cheer, but Gatins’ screenplay never allows the audience to go comfortably down that road, either.

The audience is held in a fairly constant state of tension during the plane crash, during the aftermath, during Whip’s continual struggles against himself and during the engrossing conflict of faith versus destiny that subtly underscores the entire movie. Though all of that, Flight does something else that surprises: it makes us laugh. For all its bleakness, Flight has moments of hilarity – and not all of them are supplied by John Goodman, although he does deliver the lion’s share.

Flight should win the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award. It was the most complex and affecting movie I saw this year. I’d like to see Oscar in Gatins’ hand.

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And There Came A Look at Selected Academy Awards Nominations – ALAN ARKIN – Best Supporting Actor

I have a feeling, unless I review these posts daily and make an effort not to repeat myself, that more than a few of my offerings this week will begin with the following phrase: there was no movie I enjoyed more this year than Argo. There are all kinds of reasons why I responded so positively to Argo and I plan to detail all of them in the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards. Today’s reason why I loved Argo: Alan Arkin.

Arkin has made enjoyed a career resurgence in recent years following his role as Edwin Hoover, the foul mouthed, cantankerous grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine. I didn’t enjoy the movie very much, truth be told, but I did enjoy Arkin. With a wry wit and the ability to parse any situation and make it better, Arkin’s Hoover delighted me in a way the rest of the film did not.

I know I am not the only one who was struck this way by Arkin and he’s worked consistently in similar roles in the years since Little Miss Sunshine. His best role since, however, was certainly as producer Lester Siegel in Argo.

Director Ben Affleck assembled a stellar cast – so good, in fact, that it won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. From Bryan Cranston to John Goodman to Affleck himself (in a highly underrated performance), the cast is brilliant.

Akrin outshines them all.

As a kibitzing purveyor of one liners (including the surprisingly amusing film’s best – “Ar-Go-Fxxk- Youself”), Arkin takes a role that may have become a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor and makes it, somehow, the emotional center of the film. His aching desire to help the stranded embassy workers motivates his every action and a throw-away line about heroism in World War II tossed off in the middle of the film’s second act resonates for the rest of the film.

Arkin makes every moment his own without even coming close to chewing the scenery and manages to make his creation an indelible part of the fun.

Will he win Best Supporting Actor? No. Should he? Probably not. But I do hope that he continues to find roles that rise above stereotypical old men like this one.

Alan Arkin deserves it.

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