Kong: Skull Island

GONCUks

2017

Legendary Pictures/Tencent Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Produced by Thomas Tull/Jon Jashni/Mary Parent/Alex Garcia

Screenplay by Dan Gilroy/Max Borenstein/Derek Connolly

Story by John Gatins

Based on “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

I’ll say this for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: It wastes no time in getting down to business. The movie knows good and damn well we’ve come to see King Kong and we do see him in all his towering glory in the first few minutes. But that’s only because we won’t see him again for a while because we’ve got to get the introductions of the human characters and necessary plot exposition out of the way. But that’s okay because thanks to the talented cast and energetic direction, you won’t be bored, trust me.

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Although KONG: SKULL ISLAND is designated as being a sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” it starts off with newsreel footage that reminded me more of the beginning of the infamous 1998 “Godzilla.” And that’s not the only thing it’ll remind you of as you watch it. Pay attention and you’ll see numerous shout-outs, call-backs and homages to the 1933, 1976 and 2005 versions of “King Kong” because this is a reboot of the character and you need to take it on that basis because there’s no explanation of how Kong survived falling off the Empire State Building or how he got back to Skull Island. To steal from Marvel Comics, consider this to be Ultimate King Kong, combining elements from all the previous versions of Kong to create something new and surprisingly fresh.

It’s 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a secret government organization named Monarch that investigates monstrous creatures that used to roam the Earth and Randa believes they still exist but hide in remote places like Skull Island. He secures a military escort to take him and a scientific expedition to Skull Island to prove his theory. The military escort is a wildass helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard jumps at the chance for the mission to snap him out of his depression about America pulling out of the Vietnam War.

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Also along for the trip is former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and award winning photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen) who has suspicions that the so-called scientific expedition is merely a cover for some sort of illegal and unethical secret military operation and she intends to uncover it. She uncovers something but it sure as hell wasn’t she thought it would be.

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Skull Island makes The Land That Time Forgot look like Coney Island. In the words of Seth McFarlane ; “everything that is not you wants to kill you.” Although not as totally and utterly frightening as Peter Jackson’s Skull Island (which gave me bad dreams for two or three nights after I saw his “King Kong”) there’s still enough beasties on this Skull Island to make our desperate band of heroes realize that they have absolutely no business being here. After a devastating battle with Kong that is apocalyptic in it’s savage carnage, our heroes are separated into two groups. They have to make their way to the north end of the island in two days where they hope to be picked up by pre-arranged transport. Of, course, the trick is to stay alive until then.

Did I say apocalyptic? I did. And I did not use that word by accident because much of KONG: SKULL ISLAND is going to remind you of “Apocalypse Now” believe it or not. John C. Reilly shows up as a character that owes much to Dennis Hopper’s crazed photographer from that movie and like Hopper, Reilly’s character lives with a tribe that worships Kong much in the same way that Hopper’s tribe worshipped Colonel Kurtz.

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The cast is first rate with John C. Reilly easily walking off with the movie’s MVP award. I wouldn’t dream of telling you the background of his character as it’s one of the most fun elements of the movie, which has all the excitement, feel, style and downright snap, crackle and pop of classic 1930’s and 1940s adventure movies. Samuel L. Jackson surprised me in this one and for an actor whose career I’ve been following as long as I’ve been following his, that’s not easy to do. Jackson manages to get in some social commentary about the military view of The Vietnam War without being heavy-handed or slowing down the plot the least little bit. John Goodman looks and sounds better here than he has in quite a while and appears to be having a ball. His first line in his very first scene got a big laugh from the audience I saw the movie with as he obviously means for it to have a double meaning as he looks directly at us and does everything except wink to make sure we get the joke.

Corey Hawkins I know from “Straight Outta Compton” and “24: Legacy” and he shows a definite gift for disappearing into different characters as there’s nothing of his other roles in this one. As for Tom Hiddleston…if the guy ever decides to go for being a straight-up action hero I would say that based on this movie, he can pull it off with no problem. If some smart studio ever gets their act together and makes a decent Modesty Blaise movie he’d be a perfect Willie Garvin.

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As for the star of the show himself, Kong is portrayed as what he should be, frighteningly majestic with a air of savage, yet sad nobility. I always like it when Kong is hinted at being more than just an animal and we get that here. Although this Kong doesn’t have a fight here that I would say tops the one in Peter Jackson’s where his Kong took on three T-Rexs, his final showdown with the gruesome Alpha Skullcrawler is deliriously satisfying in it’s sheer destructive spectacle.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND on a day where it was cold and snowing like mad but for 118 minutes inside the theater I felt like it was summertime. Because that’s exactly what KONG: SKULL ISLAND is: a fun, goofy, pulp-inspired summer blockbuster that’s not afraid to be what it is; an adventure ride designed to do nothing but thrill and entertain and it does that the full 100%. Go see and enjoy.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

PG-13

118

And P.S…DO NOT LEAVE WHILE THE END CREDITS ARE ROLLING. Just like the Marvel movies there’s a scene after the credits are done that promises more to come.

 

 

Nightbeast

Nightbeast

1982

Troma Entertainment

Written and Directed by Don Dohler

I know that it must get annoying for younger movie fans to listen to us old geezers go on and on and on about the movies of the 1980s. To hear us tell it, the 1980s was a magical, inspired decade of brilliant filmmaking that we’ll never see again. And truth to tell we did have some exceptionally kick-ass movies come out of the 1980s. “Once Upon A Time In America” “Ghostbusters” “Die Hard” “Back To the Future” “The Princess Bride” “Predator” “Airplane!” “The Shining” “The Outsiders” “The Empire Strikes Back” “Lethal Weapon” “Raiders of The Lost Ark.” And that’s just the tippity-top of a very big iceberg. No doubt about it, the 1980s was a great decade for movies.

But with bitter waters must come with the sweet and the truth is this: that for every great movie that hit the cinemas, there were at least three or four utter crappy movies that somehow crawled onto the movie screens with no warning at all. Which brings us to NIGHTBEAST.

An alien starship passing by Earth is struck by an asteroid and crash-lands on the outskirts of the small town of Perry Hall, Maryland. The pilot survives, a monstrous, hideous looking sucka sporting a snappy, pristine silver jumpsuit. And an honest-to-Buck Rogers disintegrator ray gun that it promptly uses to disintegrate a couple of hunters who were camping nearby and came to investigate the crash.

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And the alien doesn’t stop there. He promptly commits a home invasion, killing the couple within. He kills an uncle taking his niece and nephew out for a drive. And what kind of uncle just happens to be driving way the hell out the country with his niece and nephew in the middle of the night, hmm? And the alien still doesn’t stop there. He continues to disintegrate everybody he comes across. Even after his ray gun is destroyed he continues his bloody rampage, disemboweling, ripping heads off, snapping necks and in general just carrying on cranky. Why? Don’t ask me. Never once does the movie explain why the alien goes berserk. Presumably it’s intelligent since it knows how to operate a starship; it’s wearing clean clothes and packs a gat. But the alien never even tries to make contact or ask for help. It just runs around killing everything that moves.

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After an encounter with the alien that leaves more people dead, Country Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) decides to evacuate the entire town until The National Guard can be called in to help. This doesn’t sit very well with Mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyszel) who apparently went to the same school of mayoring as Larry Vaughn from “Jaws.” Wicker is throwing a lavish party for the governor in order to further his own political career and he doesn’t need Cinder running around screaming that there’s an alien in town disintegrating everybody in sight. It’s up to Cinder, his loyal deputy Lisa (Karin Kardian) and Jamie (Jamie Zemarel) to stop the blood-soaked frenzy of the alien. Who’s Jamie? Don’t ask me. He’s a guy who just shows up and he’s plainly more capable than anyone else in the movie of dealing with the situation. My favorite scene in the movie is when Cinder interrupts the mayor’s party and tries to reason with him to get the governor out of town before the alien drops by for drinks. Jamie coolly takes Lisa’s gun, fires a couple of shots for attention and then tells everybody there’s a dangerous gas leak and they need to get the hell out. He then calmly steps out of the way of the stampede.

Other than the scenes with Jamie (and some welcome gratuitous nudity courtesy of Karin Kardian and Monica Neff who plays Suzie, the girlfriend of the town rapist, Drago (Don Leifert) there’s not much else I can recommend about NIGHTBEAST. It may interest you that this movie boasts the first official screen credit of J.J. Abrams (as Jeffrey Abrams) so there’s that.

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The movie was filmed on a budget of $42,000 and I’m surprised they spent that much. The special effects are painfully bad but the special effects guys do go all out on the gore when the alien attacks. But I have to give the cast credit for being professionals. They give it their best and never once wink at the camera or treat the material as anything less than serious. I only wish they had a better script to work with. And that’s really all NIGHTBEAST needed to be a better movie. While I was watching it, I was mentally rewriting the story in my head which I usually do when the movie is really bad or really stupid. But don’t get me wrong. It’s not a totally worthless movie. It’s the kind of movie that’s made for when you’re having a drinking party and you and your guests need to have something to goof on while you’re getting blitzed. NIGHTBEAST is just that kind of movie. And you don’t even have to pay to see it. It’s available on YouTube and I’ve even been so good as to provide a link if you want to see how bad it is for yourself. Enjoy.

90 Minutes

Rated R

Cloverfield

Paramount Pictures

2008

Directed by Matt Reeves

Produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk

Written by Drew Goddard

The premise behind CLOVERFIELD is a simple one: what if a giant sized Godzilla or King Kong type monster attacked Manhattan one night and the story was told not through the eyes of the military or scientists but ordinary people just trying to live through that night?  That’s the story in a nutshell and it’s related to us by means of a video camera found after the monster attack.  A group of close friends have gotten together to throw a going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David) who has landed a lucrative job in Japan.  During the party he argues with Beth (Odette Yustman) a girl he had a brief but passionate love affair with.  The argument, along with everything else at the party is documented on a video camera by Rob’s best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) who really didn’t want the job but was hustled into it by Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) who really didn’t want to do it either.  Hud makes the most of it and even sees it as a way of trying to get to know Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) better.  Hud’s got the serious whim-whams for the chick.  The fact that Marlena quite obviously doesn’t want to have a thing to do with him is lost on the poor guy but everything is put in its proper perspective when Manhattan is blacked out by what the partygoers think is an earthquake.  They soon find out that much worse has hit The Big Apple.

An honest to Gamera monster has attacked Manhattan and is doing an absolutely bang-up job at tearing shit up.  Panic stricken crowds are fleeing while the military is trying to contain and/or destroy it with little effect.  It’s as if Armageddon times ten has come to town.  Rob and the others try to escape via The Brooklyn Bridge but it’s an attempt that ends in tragedy and spectacular destruction.  Then Rob gets a phone call from Beth who had left the party after their argument.  She’s in her apartment.  She’s hurt and can’t get out.  She begs Rob to help her.  Unfortunately the monster and the United States Army are having their apocalyptic disagreement right between them.  Still, Rob figures that if he uses the subway tunnels he can get to Beth.  Marlena and Hud go along as does Lily (Jessica Lucas) Jason’s girlfriend.  Hud steadfastly records their harrowing night on video as they struggle to rescue Beth and then get off the island of Manhattan alive.

CLOVERFIELD has a lot of good things going for it and number one is the cast of unknowns who go a long way to selling the reality of the situation.  This movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if say, Shia LaBeouf and Katherine Heigl were playing the lead roles.  Since these are faces we’ve never seen on the screen before (well, at least I haven’t) it helps to sustain the conceit that these are just ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary situation.  I liked most of the cast, especially Lizzy Caplan who in an amazingly short amount of time creates a real character through her body language and expressive eyes.  T.J. Miller just gets to be annoying about halfway through the movie as his character really doesn’t lend anything to the story and apparently he’s along just to tote the camera.  But the rest of the cast steps up to the plate admirably.  There wasn’t a moment when they didn’t convince me of the reality of what they were experiencing.

What else is good about CLOVERFIELD?  Well, the special effects were better than I thought they would be, what little I saw of them (more on that in a minute: stay tuned) what with the scenes of destruction and panic being a little too realistic at times.  There were some scenes where I thought: “My God, that looks just like 9/11.” Which is okay if that’s what the filmmakers intended.  But it was a little jarring to see it in what I had expected to be a simple monster movie. Which brings me to what you really wanna know.  You probably want me to cut to the chase and tell you if we see the monster at all in the movie.   I won’t keep you in suspense.  Yeah, you do see the monster but to be honest most of the time it’s shown at a distance or in quick cuts.  There’s only one time where we get a really clear shot of it but still, I couldn’t describe to you what it looks like if you put a gun to my head.  Which brings me to my main problem with the movie: the jiggly cam.

I understand that the movie is supposed to be a recording on a video camera and so it has been filmed in nothing resembling a conventional manner.  There are very few moments in the movie when the camera is still.  There are even moments when the characters are talking but the camera is pointed at the floor or at something else.  As I suppose a real person would do with a real camera in such a situation.  During a tense scene in the subway tunnels where Rob and the others have to fight off these spider-like creatures that have apparently dropped off the monster it’s really a chore to have to follow what’s going on as the camera is whipping about wildly.  To give CLOVERFIELD it’s credit: it’s got a solid reason for why the jiggly cam technique is used but halfway through the movie I was wishing I could reach in, grab the cameraman and scream : “Hold the damn thing steady!”

So should you see CLOVERFIELD?  I don’t think it’s going to be known as a classic of the monster movie genre but it is well made and has solid acting and great special effects.  It’s a monster movie that’s not about the monster.  It’s about the destruction and horror the monster leaves in his path and it’s presented in an entertaining manner. I enjoyed CLOVERFIELD and I think you will also.

PG-13

90 minutes