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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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Jurassic World – A Movie Review

Jurassic World Poster


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Did the world need another iteration of Jurassic Park? Did audiences need to see more terrified people running away from more ridiculous dinosaurs? Did movie-goers want to watch another set of children running from rampaging beasts? Did we need an additional wise-cracking Chris Pratt action hero?

As it has turned out, we did.

How do we know? Jurassic World is now the third highest grossing movie of all time. It lags behind only Titanic and Avatar as a money-maker and, while it’s not likely to catch either of those James Cameron juggernauts, the fact that the fourth movie in a dormant franchise can reach these heights is very impressive indeed. No other sequel has come close to making this kind of money. But is the movie any good?

It is some good. It might even be mostly good. It is not great.

Jurassic World shares the DNA (forgive the pun) of the first film in the franchise, Steven Spielberg’s rightly beloved Jurassic Park. This movie, in fact, serves as a more direct sequel to that one than even Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park did. The massive failures of planning for the first amusement park worked out, the dinosaurs better tamed and controlled, and the infrastructure of the facilities refined to almost perfection, Jurassic World is an interactive wonderland with a high-tech rides, dino-petting zoos and luxury hotels on site.  No longer run by Wayne Knight and Samuel L. Jackson from a dark computer bunker, Jurassic World is maintained from a NORAD-like control center peopled by dozens of high-tech nerds under the direction of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing, a Jurassic World power-player who can barely be bothered to look away from her cell phone when her two nephews arrive for a weekend visit. It should also be pointed out that all of these computer geeks are terrible at their jobs. Jurassic World exists because its vision of humanity is that people are dumber than the dinos and even armed with technology and weaponry, they will be lucky to survive their interactions with creatures from the Jurassic Era.

Sound familiar?

It should. Jurassic World doesn’t actually try to cover much new ground. It is almost beat-for-beat a copy of Jurassic Park and knowingly so. It’s homages to the original film are nice to see, but remind the audience that Spielberg and Michael Crichton did this a whole lot better with a whole lot less money 25 years ago.

What’s the same? We have a profit hungry CEO. We have kids in danger. We have dinosaurs on the loose. We have company employees with secret agendas. We have Velociraptors. We have our returning hero (Sam Neill? No – the Tyrannosaurus Rex).

What’s different? No much, just take all the original components and set the dials to “11.”

  • Why have one employee working to subvert the amusement park when you can have 2? Vincent D’Onofrio (so very good in Netflix’s Daredevil) comes off as a one-note, mustache-twirling villain and BD Wong takes a wholly odd turn to the dark side not at all suggested by his original appearance in the series 25 years back.
  • Why have Velociraptors that are one the loose and wild when you can put them in captivity and train them to be heroes? Hello, Terminator II.
  • Why have “real” dinosaurs when you can have genetically spliced together super-dinosaurs like Indominus Rex?
  • Why have an island where fewer than a dozen people can be terrorized by rampaging dinos when you can have an island of tens of thousands at the mercy of said rampage?
  • Why have anyone in authority with the slightest sense or ability to learn from past mistakes?

Okay, so sequels are designed to give the audience the same beats of the original film but with, you know, more. I get it and Jurassic World does, too.

This doesn’t mean it doesn’t try to also give us something new. The closest the original films came to Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady was Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm in terms of the wise-cracking hero and, though Pratt is pretty much held in check throughout the film and not as engaging as he was in last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, he’s very watchable here. Affable and comedic, Pratt is making a career out of these types of characters and there’s nothing wrong with that. While the script doesn’t give him much to work with, Pratt makes the most of the role. My guess is the recently announced sequel will take of Owen’s training wheels and we’ll get the full Pratt.

Bryce Dallas Howard has a much less rewarding role as Claire, the Julie McCoy of Jurassic World. As things fall apart around her, Claire is taught the true meaning of Christmas as she realizes she’s placed her nephews in mortal danger, placed the guests in Jurassic World at similar risk, placed herself at the hands of the corporate monster. It’s too bad so many people had to die for her to learn the lesson John Hammond learned two decades earlier. Howard is good, but it’s hard to overcome the ridiculous sight of her running around Jurassic World in high heels. As a role model for women and as a woman action hero, Claire Dearing is given a few moments, but she leaves something to be desired.

The audience is expected to understand that Pratt’s Grady and Howard’s Dearing have some sort of history because of a throwaway line about a date that went awry but that shared past means absolutely nothing in the larger context of the film and is pretty lazy screenwriting. When the fit hits the shan, it matters very little whether these two characters are meeting for the first time or are star-crossed lovers, what matters is that they can run from dinosaurs, scream really loud and look cool doing so. Pratt and Howard acquit themselves well on these counts.

The movie is meant to be a thrill ride and director Colin Trevorrow delivers. The computer graphics are top-notch, the tension is engaging and the dinosaurs (especially the ones that Spielberg and company didn’t have the tech to deliver in the earlier films) are very cool. The questionable decision to revisit the original movie at various points throughout Jurassic World – both in terms of plot, locations and set pieces – actually takes away from this film. It makes the audience familiar with the first movie wish they were actually watching it.

There is a dubious flirtation with themes here – don’t mess with Mother Nature, don’t trust the para-military, don’t prostitute yourself to the almighty dollar, etc. – but they are so obvious and so broadly written that they seem like they came from a piece of creative writing from a high school freshman. That’s okay because that’s not why we’re coming to Jurassic World.

We’re coming to be entertained. We’re coming to be amazed. We’re coming to see dinosaurs eat some people.

Well, as Maximus once said at a similar gathering: “are you not entertained?”

I am, thank you. Just enough.

JURASSIC WORLD receives THREE AND A HALF MOTORCYCLE RIDING CHRIS PRATTS out of a possible FIVE.

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What Do YOU Need To Know Before Age Of Ultron?

UltronAvengers: Age of Ultron opens in just over two weeks. People like me have been ready for this since the last frame of Avengers un-spooled three summers ago. People like… most everyone else in the movie going public … are looking forward to the movie, too, I am sure, but they may not have hung on all the details and minutiae between the two movies. So, as a public service, here’s all you need to know!

IRON MAN WAS WORSE, IS BETTER

After saving New York from an alien invasion in Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, jr) further committed to a romantic relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow )went through a rough stretch of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, saved the life of the President of the United States, fought alongside Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), and hired former SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to work for Stark Industries. He also destroyed all his Iron Man armors. All this happened in Iron Man 3 (reviewed HERE). He seems to have fully recovered from PTSD and has built new armors judging from The Age of Ultron previews. We may or may not see Pepper in the movie but we know we will see Iron Patriot.

CAPTAIN AMERICA HAS A HARD LIFE

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed HERE)Cap found out that S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated for years by Hydra, a Nazi off-shoot, and had to destroy the organization. He also discovered his best friend, Bucky Barnes, who was thought to be killed during World War II was actually still alive. Good news? No, because Bucky had become Soviet super assassin The Winter Soldier who beat Cap in battle at the end of Winter Soldier. Rough life, Cap. I bet you liked the mid-20th century better.

S.H.I.E.L.D. IS NO MORE

Following the events of Captain America: The Winter Solider, the covert spy organization no longer exists in the form it had in previous Marvel movies. Though some agents are trying to hold it together, S.H.I.E.L.D (and erstwhile director Nick Fury [Samuel L. Jackson] who has let the world think him dead since the end of The Winter Soldier), is not the force it once was. “So what’s with that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D show? It shows the activities of former S.H.I.E.L.D agents, led by fan-favorite and new S.H.I.E.L.D Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) trying to keep the group running. No word on whether Coulson (who died in Avengers, remember?) or any of his team will make an appearance.

THOR SAVED THE WORLD. 

In Thor: The Dark World (reviewed HERE), everyone’s favorite, hunky Asgardian Thor (Chris Hemsworth) saved the world but lost his mother. Oh and he fought Loki, his brother, again. And Loki kind of won. But Thor doesn’t really know it. Don’t expect to see Loki in Age of Ultron. We’ll see him again in Thor: Ragnarok in a few years.

THERE ARE MIRACLES IN THE WORLD

The “stinger” scene after The Winter Soldier introduced us to “the twins” who were called “miracles” by a character named Baron Von Strucker (I suspect his movie backstory will come in Age of Ultron). These two are the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). There is a massively complicated comic book history here, but all you need to know is this: they are powerful “miracles” who will play a big role in the movie. They are not “mutants.” That term, along with those characters most associated with it – The X-Men – is owned by Fox.

TONY STARK MADE A BIG MISTAKE

In the comics, Ultron is created by an Avenger: Hank Pym also known as Ant-Man. Now, Ant-Man isn’t in Age of Ultron. He’s got his own movie coming out in July and Hank Pym in that film is not a contemporary of the Avengers as he’s played by Michael Douglas. Ignore all that. This movie features Tony Stark creating something that lead to Ultron. Nice work, Tony.

J.A.R.V.I.S. MIGHT HAVE  A BIG MOMENT

J.A.R.V.I.S. (Just Another Really Very Intelligent System) is the computer system that is the I.T. behind Iron Man. Edwin Jarvis, as established in Agent Carter, was Howard Stark’s butler whom, presumably, Tony Stark knew as a child. J.A.R.V.I.S. is voiced by actor Paul Bettany. Paul Bettany is playing android superhero The Vision in Age of Ultron. Is it possible that J.A.R.V.I.S. becomes The Vision?

ultron

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The Avengers Sing Christmas Carols!

This one sings… er… speaks for itself.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A Movie Review

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-IMAX-PosterIf you’re the type of person who follows hype about movies – reviews, word-of-mouth, bloggers, etc – you’ve heard amazingly good press for Marvel Studio’s newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s time to start believing it.

The movie is a certified financial smash (it has already posted the largest April opening of any film in history and strong reviews suggest that it will continue to do big business) to be sure, but that might simply imply that hundreds of thousands of fan-boys lined up to see it opening weekend and some of them (like me!) lined up to see it twice.

The public is still wanting to ride the wave of Marvel movies. That’s clear. It will pay to see any movie with any of the Avengers in it. It wants more of what it’s seen. It wants more of the same.

More of the same is far from what it got in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. No, this movie is far more than Cap 2 or Avengers 1.5. What is does is fulfill the potential suggested by a recent superhero movie – and I’m not talking about a Marvel film – The Dark Knight Rises. In his last Batman movie (and throughout the trilogy, actually) director Christopher Nolan played with the concept of the superhero in a way that illustrated why comic characters such as Batman (75 years old this year) and Captain America (73 years old this year) have been around as long as they have. Writers can do anything with them. They can put them in a gangster movie (The Dark Knight) a disaster movie (The Dark Knight Rises), a cold war movie (X-Men First Class) or anything of which they can think. The form is malleable.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is only nominally a superhero movie. It’s primarily a political potboiler touching upon the timely topics of government power run amok, overreaching surveillance and loss of freedom. It deals with truth and lies in the information age and whether or not it matters if the forces of good or evil actually have their fingers on the switch. It has something to say about these topics, something far more important than one would expect from a film whose protagonist dresses in a costume emblazoned with a star.

As Captain America, Chris Evans is highly compelling. Trading in the man-out-of-time shtick that worked so well in Avengers, Evans’ Steve Rogers is – this time – aware of the potential of his surroundings and this brave new world to work for the betterment of all or against it. Rather than trying to figure out how to use a cell phone, he’s trying to figure out who to trust and the movie takes the audience along for that ride. Evans is Captain America just as much as Robert Downey, jr. is Iron Man and Evans’ role is far harder to play. Captain America can be portrayed as an impossible do-gooder (the movie knows this and gets a great laugh when Cap is interrogating a criminal and the thug suggests that Cap is too moral to do what needs to be done to get  any information out of him – the fact that the creep is right is part of the joke) and boring as drywall. Evans never lets his Steve Rogers become that. He embodies him with strength and dignity. He’s the type of guy others follow into battle which is a concept central to the character.

Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson are back as The Black Widow and Nick Fury respectively and they are in top form. Both find notes to play in their characters that we’ve not seen before and that’s as much a credit to them as it is to the script. Where these characters go from here (we assume both go, at least in part, directly to Avengers: Age of Ultron) is anyone’s guess, but the movie leaves them open to many story possibilities and that’s a good thing.

Another good thing is the introduction of Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson – The Falcon. Though I really wanted to see red-and-white spandex for his costume, Marvel does what Marvel does and updates the character in a “realistic” manner. As a pilot fresh out of combat, Mackie’s Wilson is not exactly itching to go back into the service but, when Captain America calls, he answers. Mackie and Evans have great chemistry and I couldn’t help but fondly think of the partnership of these two characters, a partnership so strong that they co-starred for years in a comic book called Captain America and the Falcon. The movie wisely makes very little of Mackie being an African-American – we like to think we’re in a post-racial America – but it’s worth noting that The Falcon was the very first African-American superhero. It’s about time he made it to the screen.

I simply loved Robert Redford as S.H.I.E.L.D honcho Alexander Pierce. Redford would have been the first choice to play Cap if this movie had gotten off the ground in the 1970s, he’s an iconic figure whose gravitas gives them film some of its potency and he really seems to be having a great time in a Marvel movie. He really gives himself over to this world and, if Redford can, can’t everyone?

It’s telling that I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the titled antagonist of the movie, The Winter Soldier. He’s a bit one-note in the movie, but meant to be and, visually, he’s stunning. He looks like he leaped off the comic book page and onto the screen. More than a match for Captain America, when he and Rogers mix it up, the movie delivers some of its best action. The Winter Soldier is a very cool concept and it might have a little mileage left in it.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best Marvel movies of them all. Really. Is it perfect? No. Almost, but no. It would be, save for one very odd detour featuring a character from the first movie that is at once creepy and sad and really derails the movie for a few moments. Mercifully, only for a few. Beyond that, it’s just a really good movie, like everyone should see it good. It’s smart. It has a message. It’s got amazing action, wonderful performances, twists and turns and reveals. It’s got Stan Lee! And it has not one but two (stay through the credits) post ending sequences. This is one I’ll see many times.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier receives four-and-a-half Smithsonian Exhibits out of a possible five.

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And There Came Another Superhero Movie – The Wolverine!

Opening this Friday is the latest X-Men movie The Wolverine.

I know this movie isn’t generating Avengers-like anticipation, even in me, but I must say that I do love Hugh Jackman in the role. He has played the character more than any other actor has played a superhero on screen even including Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury – whopping SEVEN times!

The character has been around for years and you can see a run down of his greatest stories HERE.

652777-the-wolverine

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And There Came A Day April 30, 2013 – Countdown to Geeky Summer Movies

April 29, 2013

IRON MAN WEEK!

With Iron Man 3 set to open Friday, May 3, we will dedicate this week to getting ready for Tony Stark’s return.

Given what has been shown in the previews, it doesn’t look like his return is going to be very fun for him!

What we need to know from 2010’s Iron Man 2 to be ready:

  • This is the movie that really solidified the Marvel Cinematic Universe films
  • SHIELD plays a much expanded role in this film with large parts for Samuel L. Jacksons Nick Fury and Scarlet Johannsens Black Widow (not to mention Clark Greggs fan favorite Agent Coulson) along with appearances by Captain Americas shield, Thors hammer and a reference, at least swirling around SHIELDs computer screens at the end of the movie, to the Hulk
  • Jim Rhodey Rhoades wears the War Machine armor
  • Tony makes Pepper Potts the CEO of Stark Industries
  • The movie pay homage to the manner in which the comic book Tony Stark used to carry around his Iron Man suit – which was in a briefcase – by showcasing a briefcase that turns into armor and wraps itself around Tony giving rise to a signature that continues through Iron Man 3: Tony is able to more easily put on his armors with each successive iteration of them
  • The new element that Tony discovers is a significant power source which will figure heavily into The Avengers
  • I guess alien invaders and attacks by gods have a way of making people change their minds, but Nick Fury tells Tony Stark that Tony is not suitable for membership in the Avengers, but the Iron Man armor is. The implication is that Rhodeys War Machine may be a better fit for the team than Starks Iron Man
  • Oh, and wait through the credits for Thors hammer!  

The second Iron Man movie suffers in comparison to the first. The first was really a revelation of perfect casting and a great script. The second film is highly entertaining as Robert Downey, jr. really makes the role of Tony Stark his own, Don Cheadle arrives to succeed Terrence Howard and is very believable as a committed American patriot and Pepper does more than act as a damsel in distress. Though it has the addition of the Black Widow, Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko along with an expanded role for War Machine, the movie rarely feels too jammed packed and everyone does get their moment in the sun. With laugh-out-loud moments of fun and a series of inventive and engaging action pieces, Iron Man 2 more than ably sets the stage for Tony’s adventure with The Avengers. Watch it again. You might be surprised at how fun it is.

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