Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) Review




I love monster movies. Kaiju in Japanese. I recall seeing the King Kong remake as a kid, the one with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. 



Kong was awesome, the movie felt big and epic and totally believable. And it had the primal, sexual element embodied in the Beauty and the Beast alpha-male motif involving Kong and Lange.



I saw the 2005 remake starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, and Adrien Brody, and of course directed by Peter Jackson, who was hot off his Oscar wins for The Lord of the Rings



This version was good, too; the part when the guy is eaten head-first by that giant worm haunts me to this day (I should do a separate blog about this: movies in which people are eaten alive; no thanks!). The FX were of course excellent, the performances were fine, I liked Jack Black's zaniness as the a-hole responsible for Kong winding up in the city, where he meets his demise. But I don't recall much more than that. It was a bit of a surprise to see Brody in the action hero role. Likewise for his playing the lead in 2010's Predators


He pulled it off quite well, actually. I think it's him endeavoring to play against type, with that "type" being the soft-spoken introspective tortured artist people came to expect after seeing him in The Pianist. Brody and Paul Rubens should do a movie together in which they play brothers. Perhaps a Pee-Wee reboot. 


Or something actiony and against type for Rubens, akin to what he did in Buffy the Vampire Slayer after the whole sordid, completely blown out of proportion indecent exposure thing. 


I think that would be cool. Don't they look as though they could be brothers?

The next monster movie I seem to recall is Cloverfield


A lot of people hated it; I friggin' loved it. I recall seeing the movie poster at a movie theater and thinking there was something to it; it was intriguing; I didn't know why. But I knew I was going to see it. I deliberately avoided learning anything further about the film. And when I did see it, I was not disappointed. The first-person, found-footage genre/technique was losing steam by this point, given that The Blair Witch Project had come out in 1999 and Cloverfield debuted nine years later in 2008.



Cloverfield was awesome. Lizzy Kaplan and T.J. Miller were still mostly unknowns, and they stole the show! 



So much so that if you look up Cloverfield on IMDB and check the cast listing, they appear ahead of Odette Annable and Michael Stahl-David, and they were the stars, the co-leads, Rob & Beth! 



We pretty much never even see T.J. Miller; we mostly hear him as he is the evening's cinematographer. Keep in mind, this was well before he was whacked in Transformers - Age of Extinction (2014). So, a lot happened for T.J. in the intervening six years.

On a side note, Cloverfield II sucked. Its actual title is 10 Cloverfield Lane



It's loosely related to the first film. John Goodman was awesome. But the film ultimately didn't work. It has competing elements and manages to be very good... until it shoots itself in the foot.




It's worth seeing but... But I digress. Although it is interesting that John Goodman is in that film as well as in Kong: Skull Island.

The next kaiju film I recall is Pacific Rim, which I thought was friggin awesome. (It was from this film that I learned the term kaiju.)





It was amazing. All the way around. (Imagine Kong vs. a kaiju! But let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

I would be remiss, however, if I neglected to mention that there is a sequel coming. Pacific Rim: Uprising.


The above image was tweeted by John Boyega, along with 3 words: I AM PENTECOST.

What does THAT mean? Is he Idris Elba (who was awesome!) as a young man? Is he Stacker Jr.?

We shall wait and see!

It's currently in post production and is slated for early 2018, so it's only a year-long wait. Although I'm certain we'll get more info before then. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are back, reprising their roles from the first film in which they nearly stole the show, along with Ron Pearlman as Hannibal Chau.



Godzilla was also surprisingly good. I'm referring to the 2014 edition; not the 1998 edition with Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno.



Which brings us back to Kong: Skull Island (for reasons which shall become clear shortly). I recall seeing the teaser trailer (as opposed to the full, final trailer) on TV and thinking, "Oh, lord, another King Kong reboot..." But I gave the trailer a chance and, after having seen it, I thought it might/could be good. 




The visuals were excellent. It didn't hurt that Sam Jackson is in it. So I filed it away in the "I'll get around to it" category.

According to Wikipedia, the film was supposed to be released in November, 2016 but was moved to March 2017. Obviously the election was the reason. All the movies which came out during that time bombed. Everyone was focused on the election and politics so there was no space available in the collective unconscious for entertainment. It would be interesting to see what would have happened to all those flops had they, like K:SK, had their release dates pushed back.

At any rate, K:SK opened March 10, 2017 and the box office was quite good. To date it has been the top grosser for 2017 behind only the live-action Beauty and the Beast.

There seems to be a theme here: women and beasts. Animalistic attraction. Alpha-male-ism.

K:SK director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer; 2013) did a good job with the picture, as did the three credited, though separate, screenwriters:

(from Wikipedia)
The script saw a number of screenwriters attached before filming. Seeking the continuity between the King Kong and Godzilla worlds, Max Borenstein (writer of 2014's Godzilla) wrote the first draft, while John Gatins was hired to write the second draft.[19] Borenstein's initial influence was Apocalypse Now, revealing, "What popped into my head for the paradigm of the movie was Apocalypse Now. That’s obviously a war movie, but I liked the idea of people moving upriver to face a misunderstood force that they think of as a villain, but ultimately they come to realize is much more complicated."[20] In August 2015, it was revealed that Dan Gilroy had also collaborated on the script with Borenstein and Gatins.[21] On August 18, 2015, it was confirmed that Derek Connolly was also doing script rewrites.[22] Borenstein worked a final pass on the screenplay before shooting began, and credited the screenplay to all of the writers, saying, "It was definitely collaborative in terms of what’s on the screen, though none of us worked together. There are pieces of my work in there as well as the work of the other two writers and John Gatins, who was credited for story. Everybody had a really good hand in it."[20]
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From the get-go, K:SK has a stylized aesthetic. There's a compelling opening sequence which transitions into an impressive historical credit sequence featuring a lot of actual footage and audio from actual events. It lands us in 1973, during the U.S. pullout of the Vietnam War.

The first thing I noticed, besides how skinny John Goodman is (he lost 100 lbs by cutting out sugar, hiring a trainer, and working out six days per week), is that Richard Jenkins is in it, playing a Senator who is too busy for the tinfoil hat-antics of Goodman and his sidekick played by Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, TWD, Iron Man III). Hawkins manages to convince Jenkins that their expedition has merit, if for no other reason than because the USA needs to reconnoiter the island before the Soviets do.

Thus the adventure begins.

We find ourselves in Da Nang, Vietnam, at a U.S. Army air base. There are Hueys everywhere. Accompanied by the signature 60s sound of "Time Has Come Today" by The Chambers brothers.


That's another big thing you'll notice about K:SK; the music. The soundtrack is phenomenal.







The sound is big, the sets are big, the cinematography is big. It's certainly a nod to Apocalypse Now, which Francis Ford Coppola funded, at least in part, by taking a loan against his own house. That's commitment.

Fun fact: Nicholas Cage is Coppola's nephew. But Cage didn't want to trade on his uncle's name so he kept the fact on the down-low as he built his own career as an actor. If you haven't seen him in 1983's Shakespearean romantic comedy Valley Girl, you should.



If you're not familiar with the film, you're likely familiar with its soundtrack, particularly "I Melt With You" by post-punk/new wave band Modern English. It's one of the greatest songs of all time. For sure.




If you remember when this song and this movie came out, you're probably feeling a tad whimsical about now.

So let's get back to giant apes.

Kong: Skull Island is quite well done. It succeeds far more than it fails. It hits all the notes: zealous but kinda effin' stupid people on an unfamiliar island; hyjinks ensue involving all manner of bizarre creatures and some of those people having a fairly bad day.

I recommend it.

SPOILERS:

Remember the iconic imagery of Kong atop a skyscraper, swatting at airplanes? Great stuff, right? Well, they made certain to include such a scene in K:SK. And it's my only real fault with the film (other than the fact that Samuel L. Jackson's U.S. Army Colonel character is SO frickin blind that it's hard to swallow). Real helicopter pilots would not buzz around a giant ape waiting for it to knock them out of the sky. They would immediately fall back or climb up to a thousand feet, well out of range of Kong and his fists. (Remember the fists when you watch the movie!)

The only other element of the film which counts as a spoiler is one I shall not reveal. I shall not spoil it for you.

Unless you've seen the movie.

If you HAVE seen the movie, continue reading, so we can discuss it.

If you have NOT seen the movie, stop now, go see it, and come back and join the conversation.

Okay?

Don't let it be spoiled for you. Like the way I had Eagle Eye and The Village ruined for me. That still pisses me off. Have you seen The Village? If not, see it. If so, did you know the twist? M. Knight Shyamalon likes his twists (c.f. The Sixth Sense). Imagine sitting through The Village knowing the end already, the twist... It sucked!

So, if you haven't seen Kong: Skull Island . . . STOP READING. Say, "TTFN!"

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Okay, briefly, I wanted to talk about the opening sequence of the film and how it ties in with the rest of the movie. Upon a second viewing, it all makes perfect sense. But, somehow, I had no idea who played the grown-up, stranded American P-51 pilot who crashed on the island. I guess I only saw the teaser trailer, and he isn't in it. Which was a wise move. Because it makes for a hilarious, exciting reveal. I read that Michael Keaton was originally going to play this role. It's SO much better the way it turned out. It was so awesome. I absolutely loved it. Along with the stunning visual imagery and the helicopter sequences, it was my favorite part of the whole film.

Also, did you sit through the entire credit sequence? If yes, cool; if not, do so. I noticed the end credits were like 8 minutes long, so I figured there had to be more coming. I was not disappointed.

Also noteworthy is the fact that a new universe has been created with this film. Kong is going to meet Godzilla. 

(from Wikipedia)
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had expressed interest in doing a film about Marlow and Gunpei's time on the island, stating, "I keep joking that personally I'm more interested in doing a $30 million version of young [REDACTED] on the island. Just some weird, the odd-ball monster comedy with him and Gunpei. [sic]"[74]

(They should SO do that!!!)

In May 2016, Warner Bros. announced that Godzilla vs. Kong would be released on May 29, 2020.[75] In March 2017, Legendary assembled its "writers' room" to develop the MonsterVerse and story for Godzilla vs. Kong.[76]

We therefore have all manner of kaiju fun to look forward to. Dwayne Johnson has begun work on Rampage, so that should be fun.

May 29, 2020. Three years and 26 days from now as of this writing. Where do you see yourself in three years? 

The mind boggles.

Thanks for reading.



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