“Kong: Skull Island”

So, Warner Bros is now doing a Marvel-style universe with classic monsters? Okay, I’ll give it a shot since “Kong: Skull Island” was damn entertaining.

It’s the end of the Vietnam War and career soldier Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is called into action. Joining him are the badass tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), fearless photographer Mason (Brie Larson), and the shady expedition leader Randa (John Goodman). But when they drop bombs on the island they’re exploring, King Kong emerges and grounds them. They find that Kong isn’t the most dangerous creature on the island.

“Kong: Skull Island” is an homage to classic monster movies and Vietnam War movies. It’s shamelessly fun and that’s admirable. Even when Samuel L. Jackson says, “Hold onto your butts,” you can’t help but chuckle.

The filmmakers are more focused on the supporting cast members than Hiddleston, which is an unusual move. Hiddleston’s character has no back story or arc; he’s just the cool guy that swings machetes at mosquitoes in a sequence reminiscent of “300.” Larson’s development isn’t any better. It’s unfortunate since Hiddleston and Larson are versatile, talented actors.

Instead, we focus on Goodman’s Randa trying to prove he’s right, Jackson’s Packard wanting retribution for his men, and John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow trying to get home. These three compete for scene-stealing status with each other, and Reilly emerges victorious. Reilly brings an even balance of humanity and humor to “Kong: Skull Island.”

The visuals and action sequences vary between harrowing, gruesome, and plain ridiculous. Kong has enough footage and action to make up for Godzilla’s lack of screen time in the 2014 “Godzilla” movie. Thankfully, the action is consistent start-to-finish. Arachnophobes, beware of giant spiders!

I’m skeptical about the concept of turning the classic monsters into a movie universe, but if we get a “King Kong vs. Godzilla” remake, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Grade: B

Advertisements

“High-Rise”

I haven’t been to the theater since I saw “Don’t Breathe.” There hasn’t been much out and I’ve had other events. However, I’m getting caught up on some Netflix and VOD releases, including “High-Rise.”

“High-Rise” is director Ben Wheatley’s (that bizarre hitman horror movie “Kill List”) third film and takes place in a tower block in the 1970s’ UK. Tom Hiddleston stars as Robert, a doctor who moves into the complex where he’s introduced to the hedonistic lifestyle and elitist attitudes among attendees.

Between the narcissism and increasing power outages, a class war ensues. The working-class families live in the lower floors and fight over food and power; on the other hand, the wealthy on the higher floors (including Robert) engage in orgies, lavish parties, and eating dogs.

“High-Rise” is a wildly transgressive piece of film with shades of Kubrick mashed with “Mad Men,” “Dredd,” and “Snowpiercer.” It’s ambitious and bold; however, that’s both admirable and frustrating.

“High-Rise” begins morbidly with a mad Robert cooking a dog before he tells his story in flashbacks. We then see a gruesome autopsy scene that’s used as foreshadowing for what’s to come. This again is admirable, but once the second act begins, the narrative structure becomes about as chaotic as the story itself.

We see an orgy, then a riot, then another orgy, then animals die, then another orgy, and finally rape and torture. This is expected in transgressive films, but it becomes boring and repetitive after a while. The film goes further downhill through its contradicting logic.

Jeremy Irons plays the tower architect, Royal. Irons plays him with charisma and menace, but his motives seem to change in every scene. He wants to fix the building one minute, but then he later monologues about creating a better society through the chaos?

Luke Evans plays Richard, a documentary filmmaker who intends to expose Royal’s agenda. He resorts to raping and torturing a woman for information, and a psychologist still diagnoses him as the sanest person in the tower? WTF?!

Hiddleston is the strongest part in the movie. He plays Robert as a Don Draper-type with his cool suits and womanizing attitude. We see he’s also in pain and feels alone. He’s more vulnerable when the residents go berserk, leading Robert to manically paint himself and his apartment.

“High-Rise” is a polarizing movie because of its content and narrative. Sure, the themes and commentary are timely, but Wheatley seems more comfortable focusing on shock value than his message. It’s a shame.

Grade: C-

“I Saw the Light”

The key to making a good biopic about a troubled icon is to show why they were so troubled. “I Saw the Light” doesn’t follow this one rule whatsoever.

We follow Tom Hiddleston as the legendary country music star, Hank Williams. It’s an exploration through his short-lived success, two marriages, and A LOT of booze and painkillers. We see glimpses of Williams’s insecurities, back pain, and semi-manic behavior without any idea of what to make of it.

“I Saw the Light” was originally scheduled for release for Oscar season last December, but was delayed due to a booked release schedule. This would have been 2015’s one Oscar-bait movie that missed all its marks.

Hiddleston is semi-entertaining as the drunk and easily amused Williams, showing off solid singing skills (he did all of his own vocal work in this movie). Elizabeth Olsen  plays Hank’s wife Audrey, who’s often critical of Hank’s lifestyle and constantly threatens Hank with divorce. Her performance is fine, but I wish the writing for her character was more than redundant nagging. We don’t get to know anyone else but them, by the way.

Writer/Director Marc Abraham gets caught up in Williams’s debauchery and abusive behavior (he nearly shoots Audrey in one scene), but there isn’t a flashback, line of dialogue, or any indication of what made him such a terrible person. It feels like Abraham read the Hank Williams biography, highlighted his favorite moments, and decided to just film those without context.

After seeing “Batman v. Superman” last week, I wondered if movies could get more disjointed. Abraham beat Snyder in that category with this Cliff Notes mess.

Grade: D

“Crimson Peak”

“Beware… Beware of Crimson Peak.” We hear this line several times throughout Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous, violent, and redundant haunted house picture, “Crimson Peak”.

“Crimson Peak” has a line at one point that a character’s novel isn’t a ghost story, but a story with a ghost in it. That sums up the movie well. Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) plays Edith, a young aspiring writer who marries Thomas (a brilliant Tom Hiddleston), a charismatic engineer. They move Edith into Thomas and his mysterious sister Lucille’s (Jessica Chastain) mansion where Edith discovers her marriage with Thomas isn’t perfect. And why is Lucille insisting Edith drink her tea? Why is Edith constantly woken up in a cliche horror movie fashion by ghosts?

I love Del Toro’s work. I loved both “Hellboy” movies, “Blade II” is my favorite installment in the trilogy, “Pacific Rim” is a criminally underrated monster flick, and “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a damn masterpiece. “Crimson Peak” is still as stunning and bizarre as his previous works, but it doesn’t feel like Del Toro’s heart is in this one.

The basic plot structure of “Crimson Peak” goes something like this – girl has a romantic afternoon with her lover and a standoffish encounter with her sister-in-law. Girl wakes up in the middle of the night and has a disturbing encounter with a ghost who leads her to a secret. This happens at least four times in “Crimson Peak”, and leads to a predictable conclusion.

Wasikowska gives a charming performance as Edith, Hiddleston easily has the best performance and character, giving Thomas a level of complexity, and Charlie Hunnam of “Sons of Anarchy” fame is enjoyable as a hopeless romantic doctor. Jessica Chastain has the weakest role in this movie. She’s wonderfully crazy, but she’s just there for the most part. We don’t get to know what drives her madness.

“Crimson Peak” is worth watching for the visuals and Hiddleston alone, but don’t go in expecting another “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

Grade: C