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Kong: Skull Island – Review

13 Mar

I love monster movies. Like I really, really love monster movies, so the fact that Legendary is giving us a whole universe dedicated to giant monster brawls is almost too exciting. The first film in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla, came out in 2014, and despite some mixed reviews, I thought it was pretty badass. It did have some flaws, but when it got down to the monster mayhem, it really knew what it was doing. Now we have the second film, Kong: Skull Island, which introduces King Kong and the island to the universe. This beloved ape has been around since 1933, and it’s awesome to see that he has no intentions of giving up his big screen glory. This film is excessive, yes, but it’s also an extremely entertaining and action packed thrill ride.

William Randa (John Goodman) is a government official who has all the proof he needs to lead an expedition to an undiscovered island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Skill Island. After fighting for approval, he finally gets the go ahead and begins assembling his team. His first order of business is to find a tracker, which he finds with James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former SAS captain that served in the Vietnam War. He also recruits the help of Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his regiment, the Sky Devils, as a military escort. Photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also joins the expedition with hopes of uncovering some unknown government conspiracy. When the group finally gets to the island, it doesn’t take long for the protector of the realm, a 100 foot tall ape named Kong, to show up and defend his land. This attack splits the group in two, which forces them to work together and keep their eyes peeled for Kong and the other horrors that wait for them on the island.

I had such a blast with Kong: Skull Island, that I’m still getting excited thinking back on it. It’s exactly what I wanted from this movie, and based on what some other critics were saying, I was kind of worried I was going to be let down. One thing that’s worth noting that can be seen as a negative are some of the characters. Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard and John C. Reily’s Hank Marlow are two examples of well thought out and fully realized characters. I understand their motivations and they stand out amongst the rest. There are other side characters that also have large personalities that make them memorable, but there’s no real development with any of them. Tome Hiddleston and Brie Larson, however, seem to hardly be in character at all. They’re just the stereotypical heroes you would expect to see in this movie. They try to add a little back story to them, but that exposition doesn’t really help at all. They’re just there to save the day, and that’s about it.

The original King Kong has one of the most classic stories in the history of film, and no sequel or remake since then has been able to capture that same essence and feeling. Kong: Skull Island doesn’t even try, and it’s all the better for it. Sure, it has the same kind of set up with the characters being introduced and sailing to the island, and there are natives which are to be expected on Skull Island, but that’s where the similarities end. The story of this movie pretty much revolves around Hiddleston and company trying to stay alive and get to the rendezvous point on the other side of the island. This is really all I needed, but there’s a cool subplot added in with Jackson’s character that raises the stakes even more. I was so thrilled to see this movie not get bogged down in trying to be something more than it is. The plot was there to drive the movie forward, but it wasn’t so stale and uninteresting that I lost track of what I was really watching. This keeps the pace fast with the action always moving forward. It’s cool to say that I was never once bored watching this movie.

Let’s talk about the man of the hour though. Toby Kebbel is tasked with being a side character soldier, but also was the motion capture actor for Kong. This seems appropriate since he did the motion capture for Koba in the new Planet of the Apes movies. He really brings Kong to life in this movie, which is awesome, and the physicality of the role is not to be forgotten. Kong has major throw downs in this movie that will force any viewer to go into popcorn munching overdrive. This is where the movie really shines, and I appreciate the visuals that add to the excessiveness that I mentioned I loved so much. Sure, the close ups and the crazy compositions of Kong back lit by the sun may seem cheesy, but they’re really just too cool to look at, and provided some of my favorite parts of the movie.

Is Kong: Skull Island going to match the classic status that Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack did with the original back in 1933? Of course not, but it does add a fulfilling new chapter to the MonsterVerse, and also was just a highly entertaining film. Once the characters get to the island, the action very rarely slows down and I found myself getting lost in the visuals of the island and the monster brawls that seemed larger than life happening before my very eyes. This isn’t a movie about characters nor does it have any important lessons to teach the viewer. This is about giant monsters throwing down for a couple of hours. In that way, it did not disappoint.

Final Grade: B+

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King Kong (1933) – Review

12 May

I feel like it’s fair to say that most people know the story of King Kong. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Giant ape takes girl into jungle. Man saves girl. You know, that story. This is where it all began, however, in the year 1933 with its original release. Studios weren’t too excited about getting this movie made since the executives thought that a story like this wouldn’t make them any money. Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, on the other hand, were determined to get it made. With two years of their lives dedicated to this movie, audiences both then and now get the pleasure of experiencing one of the most inventive and exciting movies ever made.

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Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a big shot film maker who specializes in traveling to exotic locations to get the most interesting shots imaginable. He finds the beautiful Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) on the street and recruits her to come with him and his crew to Skull Island to shoot his most recent film. On the ship ride over Ann meets Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), and they both fall for each other. Once they are on Skull Island, the crew runs into the natives who prompt kidnap Ann and offer her to their god, Kong, a giant gorilla. Jack and the crew lead an escapade to find and reclaim Ann, but Carl has another goal entirely: to capture Kong and bring him back to New York City and make millions off of his prize.

The first thing that I need to touch on is the outrageous special effects that are in King Kong. In Peter Jackson’s version, which I really enjoy despite a run time that is way too long, Kong, the dinosaurs, and a lot of the scenery was done through the usage of computer graphics. In the 1933 version, all of Kong’s movements, the dinosaurs, and the jaw dropping fights that happen between them is all stop motion effects using models that were made and moved by hand. Giant limbs and heads were also built for close ups of Kong that strike me as a little off putting compared to how awesome the full model is. The forest is also all built or drawn and is absolutely mesmerizing. Finally, to make it seem like the actors were actually there during some of the major moments of the film, they would composite the actors in, super impose, use matte shots, or use rear projection. All very difficult, all very time consuming. Now, I don’t want anyone jumping down my throat here. The work put into the computer graphics of Jackson’s King Kong is also remarkable and very difficult. I’m just a bit of a freak for stop motion and puppetry.

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While the effects are my favorite part of the movie, I need to touch on the story since it has become a classic tale. The whole idea of a giant ape taking a woman away who is part of a film crew sounds pretty preposterous when put that way, but when you actually see it play out, it’s actually a very touching story. Sure, there’s a lot of action and adventure, but Kong’s character is a very interesting one. He’s an ape who understands beauty and will fight and kill to protect the woman he finds so beautiful. Certainly not a love story in the most traditional of senses, but definitely a deep one. While Kong may seem like the “villain” (and I’m using that word pretty loosely), we find out during the film that mankind is the real “villain.” Denham and his crew want to exploit beauty, but Kong wants to appreciate and cherish it.

The story of how this plot line came to be is pretty remarkable when you stop and think of the history of it. From 1933 to 2005, there has been two other King Kong movies and a sequel, Son of Kong, also from 1933 which didn’t do nearly as well as its predecessor. There was even a Toho produced movie that is wonderfully titled King Kong vs Godzilla. How cool is that? Anyway, back to how the story came to be. According to Merian Cooper, he had a dream that a giant gorilla attacked New York City. From there, he started at the infamous scene on the Empire State Building and worked backwards. So that’s it. The idea for this movie simply came from a dream. Maybe I need to start keeping a dream journal. Food for thought.

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Simply put, King Kong is a masterwork of American cinema whose legacy speaks for itself. It has been remade, copied, parodied, but above all, it has been appreciated. Production companies may have been nervous upon its original release, but this is the movie that single handedly saved RKO. I understand that movies from this time period may not be everybody’s cup of tea, however, if you haven’t seen the original King Kong, it is pretty much a must see. The effects, the acting, and the chance to see the story in its original format shouldn’t be missed. If you’ve seen it already, why don’t you watch it again after you’re done reading this? You know you want to…