Kong: Skull Island Review

            King Kong has always been one of cinema’s favorite stories.  Ever since the original was released in 1933 there have been numerous sequels, remakes, spinoffs and monster mashups based on the property, and none of them have ever really tried to change the basic premise.  The premise of the original is nothing special but it works thanks to some fantastic direction and groundbreaking effects.  Since then the franchise has only really ever worked when that formula was used again with Peter Jackson’s King Kong in 2005.  That is what makes Kong: Skull Island so interesting.  It is far from being one of the better King Kong films but it is easily the most different.  That is just enough to get this messy film by.

            Kong: Skull Island takes place at the end of the Vietnam War (a far cry from the 1930s or the present day which is where most Kong adaptations take place) as a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and an army colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) are recruited by a little known government agency to help find something on a remote island.  When they get to that island, they discover that something is none other than King Kong, and when they upset the beast they become stranded on the island.  That’s where they learn that Kong is not the thing they should be worried about.

            This film is really all about world building.  It’s about showing you a new world, showing its inhabitants, and showing you how many more opportunities there are to explore these creatures, characters and settings.  A lot of this ends up as disappointing set up for Legendary’s new Monsters Cinematic Universe, though.  While we occasionally see glimpses of interesting creatures designs (such as the gigantic water buffalo), a lot of the settings we see don’t inspire any sense of awe and the antagonistic creatures of this film have an extremely boring design. 

            That being said these new visuals make it clear that this film is not beholden to the typical Kong storyline.  The film really makes this clear with some of the characters in the film.  While Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson’s leading couple are about as stereotypical as they can come, Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard and John C. Reilly’s Marlow are very interesting characters.  Samuel L. Jackson excels in the role of a Captain Ahab type bent on destroying Kong in revenge for the soldiers he killed, and John C. Reilly gloriously hams it up in every second he’s in (to the point that he becomes distracting when compared to everything else going on around him even if the performance remains impressive).

            All in all, Kong: Skull Island is quite a mess.  It’s trying something new but it does that through stereotypical leads and some bland world building.  It has an interesting set of supporting characters but they cause a constant struggle between humor and darkness.  Had there been some more consistency, this would have been a worthy follow-up to the latest Godzilla film.  Instead it’s fun but forgettable.


Song to Song Review

            Anytime you watch a Terrence Malick film it’s an experience.  That even includes his lesser ones such as last year’s Knight of Cups (which in my opinion is the one bad film that he has ever made).  The man has discovered a new way of filmmaking that has combined realism and cinematic grandeur in proportions that we have not seen before, and anyone that has tried to mimic it (and being that this is a legendary director there have been multiple attempts to do just that) has failed utterly.  With Song to Song, the real deal is back as Malick delivers a film that delivers on an intimate level while also including a sense of awe that you find so very rarely in film nowadays.  If his magnum opus, The Tree of Life, is about finding faith in a world that does not believe in faith than Song to Song is about finding true love in a world that does not believe in true love.

            As with most Malick films post-The New World, it’s better off going into Song to Songwithout knowing the plot.  Not only does the film not focus on its plot too often, but also the pleasure (or in the case of many, pain) of trying to figure out what is ever going on in a Malick film is immense.  That being said the film does focus on a bunch of characters within the music industry in Austin, Texas.  With Texas being Malick’s home state many elements of this film come across as autobiographical.  It’s these smaller and more intimate moments that really soar in this film. 

            For the most part, Rooney Mara’s struggling songwriter is the main character of this film.  Thanks to her performance and the small moments that Malick goes for, her character comes across as the most complete character that he has done in decades.  There are just so many scenes where it seems like Mara was asked to react to something spontaneously and this really makes her deliver a performance that is more energetic than anything she has ever done before.  With Emmanuel Lubezki helping Malick with the visual architecture of this film, these moments of improvisation come off so naturally and feel like some of the most realistic scenes ever put on film.  I really wonder how these artists pulled off many of the scenes within this film, and I really admire how effortlessly they hide how they did it.

            Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman fill out the major roles in a truly A-list cast, and all three deliver quite interesting performances.  Gosling’s performance feels eerily familiar to his Oscar nominated one in La La Land, but it’s still interesting to see how that type of performance and character works in a Malick film.  Fassbender clearly relishes his time as the most antagonistic character in the film, and Portman finally seems to get her feet underneath her after giving such a forgettable performance in Knight of Cups.  Her brief time here is reminiscent of her work in Cold Mountain, in which her performance brings an energy that the film needs just as it is about to hit its midpoint.

            Song to Song is a return to form for Terrence Malick as he has finally funneled his increasingly polarizing style into a series of themes and images that merit his effort.


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