Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kong: Skull Island Review

Kong: Skull Island
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast Headliners: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, John C Reilly, many more
Original Release Date: March 10, 2017

                The character of King Kong, and he definitely can be a nuanced one despite his simian nature, has been interpreted several times since his theatrical debut so long ago. Kong: Skull Island is the latest take on the mighty gorilla although this time it tackles a new aesthetic and time period: 1970s in the midst of the Vietnam War. At the same time, it also shares DNA in its universe (and style) with 2014’s American Godzilla reboot. Let’s get past the monkey-ing around and dive in to how it turned out..
                The movie opens with a flashback to not the 1970s but instead to the 1940s. In an exciting opening bit two fighter pilots crash land on a mysterious island and soon find themselves fighting not just each other but under the gaze of a gigantic ape, King Kong (you know who he is).  The film jumps to the 70s for its remainder. Members of secretive agency MONARC (the connecting link to Godzilla, aside from a couple other small but well blended dialogue lines) in Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) get approval to launch an expedition to the titular Skull Island. They are soon joined by a large cast of help (echoing Peter Jackson’s 2005 take) including lead human hero and tracker James Conrad(Tom Hiddleston), lead human heroine and war photojournalist Mason Weaver(Brie Larson), and various soldiers such as Colonel Packard(Samuel L Jackson), Jack Chapman(Toby Kebbel), Captain Cole(Shea Whigham), and more.
                It’s hard not to draw comparisons to the 2005 version since it came out in semi-recent public eye and also placed more emphasis on the island part of the Kong saga than most other films of this legend. However, this movie brisks through the build-up (perhaps a bit too quickly) and never makes it back to New York City either (anti-spoilers).  The movie, for the most part better for it, takes place in large part on the mysterious island which earns it its name.            
                As expected considering that there is a lot of action. The island is packed with deadly and cool creatures which seem to go beyond realistic paleontology  to stuff more fitting the science-fictiony “kaiju”verse in a world where Godzilla also exists. The CGI effects on these various creatures, from grassy giant elk to a giant spider to the vicious “Skullcrawlers” are great. This includes of course King Kong himself, made even bigger than most versions to accomdate his likely future ‘zilla foe and motion captured quite believably (nearly up to par with Serkis’ 2005 version) by Terry Notary.  As with that zilla foe, the movie excels when it showcases giant bombastic monster fights between these creatures or against the humans. Mountains tremble and fires light up the screen. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts also provides a clean great take on the intensity of these smash-em-up parts. They have a very larger than life feel to them as well being more like a crazy comic panel than horror or documentary. Colors are bright and movement is fast and surreal. At times this borders on ultra cheese, but is often fun.
                When the action does show it up it is awesome and great. It’s just that , as often can be in a monster movie of this type, the human element is less so memorable. There are so many characters most get lost in the shuffle.  That’s not to discredit it’s highlights of which there are in this star packed cast. Hiddleston is a fine enough charming and cool lead. SLJ’s arc takes an interesting turn. Whigham’s character provides some laughs and interesting perspective. Others like the usually great Goodman and Larson are not quite up to their usual level. And yet further others do not get much chance to shine before disappearing, sometimes literally. 
                Without a doubt though the other person who is the best at “monkeying around” is John C Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a stranded person on Skull Island. His crazed personality offers bountiful laughs (in a film that otherwise has mixed delivery on this with its other characters) as well as tying into a mystical lore of what Kong’s role is. Nearly every seen with him is a delight and he provides almost a version of his Dr.Brule character from television. This levity helps add to the larger than life charm of the film and is a palette cleanser.
                The Vietnam setting also makes it feel like a war film from those days. The costumes, sunset artsy colors , and music add nicely to that feel. While some aspects of it are breezed over, it helps make this take feel unique and strongly feel of the era as well. If only a bit more of its time was used in its execution it could have aided with its impact.
                It can be long, silly in some of its choices and character uses, and miss the mark in some areas to fall just short of deep or epic. But Kong: Skull Island offers simple, crazy monster fights in the moments that are right. It most of all leaves one hype to see the ape again in whatever crossover comes ahead in 2020. There’s a decent foundation to be improved upon for a  future match for the ages. On it's own, you'll have fun.  7.85 out of 10


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Logan Review

Director: James Mangold
Cast Headliners: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Original Release Date: March 3rd, 2017

The character of Wolverine has had quite a journey through the X-men franchise. He's been the protagonist for awhile and the main point of view into this world of mutants. He's been a cameo appearance, or two, in various levels of importance. He's had good spinoffs, he's had bad spinoffs. Throughout it all Hugh Jackman has been an iconic and mostly great take on the Marvel comics 'bub legend. In his central starring role it is with extra emotional attachment that Logan himself in... Logan signals what Jackman has proclaimed to be his last ever take on the character. The end of the old X-men timeline and cast, as it were. It goes out with an incredible bow.
The year is 2029, farther future than any X-men film prior. Now old man James Howlett, aka the titular Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) lives in the timeline that has seen no Sentinels pop-up but also dire in its own ways. He and his peers are the very last mutants in a world where they are not entirely hated but moreso forgotten and faded. Wolverine works as a ride service driver by day, and occasionally uses his (slowing-down) metal claw and healing abilities by night. The glory days of his life as a superhero, and even his life in general, are long gone. He crosses the border between Texas and Mexico to visit an even older and frailer Professor “X” Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart back again) who has fits of dementia and lives with guilt over the fall of the X-Men who are otherwise no longer around. They are accompanied by creepy sun-hating tracker Caliban(Stephen Merchant, replacing the prior actor of this character) as their cook and cleaner in a ramshackle junk factory away from the main metropolis's around. Into this depressing dwindling life comes Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) urging Logan to help a young girl she is with named Laura or as comics fan may know her X-23(Dafne Keen) who has some metal claws of her own. If this seems like a recipe for high stakes and powerful themes, it is.
What follows is a thrilling , action packed, depressing, emotional, often adventurous epic tale for Wolverine and crew. Director James Mangold did a great job with action and a certain specific period ambience in 2013's secondquel The Wolverine, and he tremendously further refines his craft here. The movie, like Deadpool prior, is R-rated in the USA and equivalent elsewhere and it perfectly uses it. This is the “bubiest”, “snikt-ist”, “slashing”-est incarnation of the character and his film yet. There is tons of blood, brutal de-limbings and injuries, and f-bombs. It makes action that much more visceral , intense,and dark. However it , for the most part, does not use its rating in an immature or excessive way. The themes in the film are very dark and serious and to have its action be filled with equivalent gore or dialogue with stressful cussing only properly suits the goal and effectively at that. Even blood aside, all (frequent in most cases) action is pulse pounding and exciting, with it focusing clearly on character's at near view.
If Jackman were to give anything less than his full efforts the film would not work as well as it does. Wonderfully, he gives what is a contender for his best take on Wolverine and even role in any film of his career. He is fierce, vicious, scary, awesome. He also comes across as wounded, dying, regretful as is expected from his old lifetime specific here. He also can be charming and funny (there is some moments of well done humor at just the right times). Most importantly, he delivers on being distraught, emotional, and caring . His relationship with Laura is as great as his performance, and hers. The other claw wielder Laura, played by Keen, is great. She is a young actress but has talent far beyond her years. The character talks even less than Logan, but is just as fierce with her own aspects of being someone so young forced to go through this edgy world. Her silence and main character arc will remind one of Millie Bobbie Brown in the television show Stranger Things but perhaps even more impressive or stoic.
To praise Jackman's tribute to his character is to also say the same care was given to performing and sending off the character of Professor X. Stewart is so so great, as he often has been. One will often laugh, be inspired, and feel bad for the old professor. The treatment of him is handled from a tough real life place of those who are getting older, and the even further complicated factor when that person is a powerful psychic superhero wizard. The relationship between he and Logan is just as great and even more interesting than it was in the original few X-men films. Together Xavier, Wolverine, and Laura make a great bunch of characters who play off each other in the epic bloody journey. Merchant's Caliban is part of that core crew as well, although he is mainly reserved for a funny small wisecrack or two or being abused by the enemies without leaving much of other impressions.
The enemy forces of this film may offer fearsome , bullet and blood laden action scenes. Otherwise they are not that over-lackluster but do not overly impress more than “average”. Donald Pearce (Boyd Holbrook) comes off as a bad man, with a kind of sickly charm but does not good enough screen time with Logan to deliver on that as he spends much time shouting orders and moving between locations. His superior Dr.Zander Rice(Richard E Grant) seems to have graduated from “Geneic Evil Scientist Movie Villian Camp 101” with nothing else to say. The other henhmen are generic mooks to be sliced up by the claw-wielders but that's as they should be. There's technically another main villian as well who needs to be seen but their appearance is, although fearsome and fitting, a bit silly in concept as well.
The action, deep getting-older-themes, and darkness set Logan apart from both other X-men films and most superhero genre films at all around today. There is also thematically a difference. There's significant post-apocalyptic and Western influences on the film stylistically, from the beautiful landscape shots to the music. Its pared down, its gritty but its also classic. Old-school and restrained. A clever viewer will notice the use of cowboy imagery and referenced film clips within the film. Wolverine is that classic story of an old sherrif in a changed town, delivered for the most part effectively (despite its inspirations on the journey, some parts in the middle of the quest slow too much down) via the lense of a world of mind powers and metal claws.

The stakes are high as to how they could send off this character. They for the most part highly succeed with the bloodiest action yet, the deepest emotional themes yet, and the most personal stakes yet. If this is the end of the ride for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as they say, it's one we won't forget. The ending will leave one pondering incredibly deep things and reaching for the tissues especially if they ar a longtime fan. Yet also, one hopes this is just the beginning for a rebirth of quality. 8.8 out of 10