Tag Archives: monsters

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+

Willow Creek – Review

4 Mar

In 1967, the Patterson-Gimlin Film was released, which appears to show a giant creature walking along a riverbed somewhere in the forests of California. This footage has been a favorite amongst the cryptozoological community and has been said this is the proof of the existence of Bigfoot, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When I heard that Bobcat Goldthwait was going to be making a found footage horror film that explores the lore of Bigfoot, I was at the same time confused and intrigued. It’s been over three years since the film’s release, but I’ve just gotten around to seeing it, and I have to say that I’m more than a little surprised. Willow Creek is a suspenseful and often frightening film that is full of sharp dialogue, two rich lead characters, and a third act that provided me with some chilling moments.

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Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a Bigfoot enthusiast who decides to head to the area of Willow Creek and Bluff Creek to make his own documentary on the Patterson-Gimlin footage and his own attempts to find the area and possibly run into Bigfoot. Along for the ride is his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), who is an adamant denier of the creature, but also wants to support Jim in his efforts to shoot his film. The two finally arrive in Willow Creek and spend some time interviewing locals who have has some sort of encounter with Sasquatch, but some also warn them not to go into the woods. Despite the warnings, Jim and Kelly enter the woods where it is believed Bigfoot resides, and it doesn’t take long for them to realize that they are no longer hunting for Bigfoot, but it’s Bigfoot that’s hunting them.

So let’s get what I wasn’t a huge fan of out of the way first. For one thing, this is a pretty standard found footage movie when it comes to certain beats and the structure of the narrative. I knew pretty much exactly how the movie was going to play out and, for the most part, I was right. It even has the horror cliché of locals telling the main characters not to go somewhere, and then, of course, they go anyway. Shocker. I also just wanted a little bit more from this movie. This can also be seen as something of a compliment because I was really enjoying the movie and I wanted more of it. If another 10 or 15 minutes were added to it, I would have been thankful for it. I’m all for leaving things kind of ambiguous, and that shouldn’t change, nor do I want any more that what is shown, but a couple more scenes to build up some extra tension would have been much appreciated.

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There’s a lot more to like in Willow Creek than I would’ve ever thought. For one thing, the two main characters are very well thought out and feel genuine. They have a past and a future and it’s briefly explored through dialogue to give them more weight. They aren’t just living in the now of the movie. This makes what happens to them later on in the movie even more intense because they’ve been developed so much that we want them to escape the terrors of the woods. Goldthwait also made the smart choice to make this a slow burn of a horror film. The first 40 minutes or so may seem boring on the surface, but I didn’t find them so at all. It took its time building up the characters, the town and its inhabitants, and the lore of Bigfoot. It’s a sharply written film that is just as sharp in its execution.

So, let’s talk a little bit about the last third of this movie. Holy hell, is it something else. Put yourself in these characters’ positions. Stuck in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night with your only protection being the tent that you’re sleeping in. There’s a 20 minute long take of the couple sitting in the tent and listening to the bone chilling sounds happening outside, like footsteps and howls getting closer and closer to the tent. As this is all happening, their efforts to talk themselves down become futile. The suspense is almost too much and when Willow Creek finally explodes, it will leave you tired. It perfectly utilizes the idea that less is more and what the imagination creates, especially in this atmosphere, can be even more horrifying than anything that exists.

When this movie came out just a few years ago, found footage movies were still over saturating the market, so the only way to do the genre right is to create something special. I think Willow Creek is a special kind of horror movie. It has a tight script with witty dialogue and fully realized characters, but also a really courageous move to make a scene of suspense happen inside a tent during a 20 minute long shot. This is a very impressive film that would have been made even better if some more was added to the story or if some of the derivative moments were removed. Even with these small problems, Willow Creek stands, to me, as an under appreciated gem of modern horror.

Final Grade: B+

The Great Wall – Review

3 Mar

I recently did a review for Zhang Yimou’s 2011 war drama, The Flowers of War. In that review, I mention that Yimou is a very respectable film maker who has an especially strong talent for filming what I believe to be some of the most beautiful looking movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film is The Great Wall, a monster movie that involves protecting the Imperial City from creatures hell bent on destroying civilization as we know it. That combined with Yimou’s colorful and sweeping directorial style kind of made this a must see for me. Well, all I can say is that this film definitely looks great. That’s pretty much where the compliments end.

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William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are two mercenaries scouring the East looking for “black powder,” which we now know as gunpowder. During their search, they end up at the Great Wall of China and are questioned about their intentions immediately upon their arrival. The two partners soon learn why the soldiers at the wall are so concerned about their motives. During a seemingly quiet afternoon, the wall is raided by alien monsters called the Tao Tie, whose goal is to penetrate the wall and continue on to the Imperial City. It doesn’t take long for William to come to a decision as to wether he wants to escape with Pero and another Englishman, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), or if he would rather stay and defend the Great Wall with the newly appointed general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian).

I was excited for this movie for multiple reasons. First off, I was pumped to see Zhang Yimou tackle a big budget monster movie and have his style painted all over the movie. I was also just pumped to see another monster movie from Legendary, which has pretty much become the monster movie company for America. In these ways, the movie does succeed. When battles start happening, I got really into it. The special effects look kind of cartoony, but for some reason, that didn’t really bother me. I was taken aback by Yimou’s use of color and framing scenes to make them look as epic as possible. One of these shots in particular happened in the very first battle where you can see most of the battle in one super wide shot. Another really cool thing are the different regiments of the soldiers and the uniforms they wear to identify themselves. Honestly, in terms of style and scope, this movie stands tall.

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Like I said before, that’s pretty much where all of the good stuff ends. The Great Wall really isn’t all that good of a movie despite having a really cool premise. My biggest problem was the characters. I haven’t seen such poor development and writing in a really long time. Any scene that didn’t involve a battle or special effect of some kind fell flat. Like completely, utterly flat. It’s incredible how an epic period piece featuring alien monsters attacking the Great Wall of China could be so boring. There are a few characters worth something, but that’s not saying to much. William’s partner Pero has a good amount of one liners and a story that at least attempts to go somewhere before that’s shut down by some idiotic decisions from the writers. Lin Mae is also a pretty cool character who feels the most human out of anyone else. The worst offender of characters not worth anything is Sir Ballard. If you were to take Willem Dafoe out of this movie, nothing would be different. He’s completely wasted here.

I was also really bothered by the acting in this movie, but part of this also has to fall on the writers. There was so much clunky and awkward dialogue in this movie which only made me more distracted during the down time that I’ve already complained was boring enough. Like I said before, the only exceptions from this are Pero and Lin Mae. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than the rest. Honestly though, I was mostly shocked at how flat and uninspired Matt Damon was. I didn’t know until the end of the movie that he was supposed to be European, and I still don’t know exactly where he’s supposed to be from. His accent is on and off throughout the whole movie, and the way he delivers his lines is cringeworthy. Aside from his weird accent, he uses this over the top tough guy voice that wore thin on me after the second line of dialogue he had.

The Great Wall is a very disappointing movie. Throughout its run time, I saw a lot of hope for potential, but nothing really came of it. I will say that this is a fantastic looking movie with cool creature design and some excellent use of lighting and costume design. Everything else from the characters and their development to the structure of the narrative is flat, recycled, or just plain boring. As a monster movie, it works at the most basic of levels. As a movie to be appreciated and viewed for something more than that, it’s a failure.

Final Grade: C-

Frankenstein’s Army – Review

9 Jul

There are movies with crazy ideas, but then there are movies with CRAZY IDEAS. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that certain movies get made at all with the stories that they boast, but the it’s even harder to imagine that some of those same movies are actually something worth watching. Believe it or not, this is where we find Frankenstein’s Army, a 2013 film that was made with a seriously low budget, and made up for it with a massive amount of imagination. While this film isn’t destined to be on anybody’s list of classics, it’s one that should be noted for the passion and the dedication that went into ensuring it would be completed.

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At the end of World War II, a group of Soviet soldiers are sent into Germany for a recon mission. After hearing a mysterious distress call from other Soviet soldiers, who weren’t even scheduled to be in Germany, the group decide to go the the coordinates that were sent and investigate. The coordinates lead them to an abandoned factory where they discover a horrifying secret. Instead of finding Soviets, they stumble upon a squadron of mutated, robotic zombies constructed by Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden), the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. This begins a fight for their lives to hold off the creatures and escape becoming one of Frankenstein’s next experiments.

Without actually seeing the movie and just judging by the ludicrous story, it would be safe to assume that this movie is brainless and without point. In fact, I’ve even heard people that have seen the movie say that it is brainless and has no point. They are sorely mistaken, however, because Frankenstein’s Army is packed to the brim with imagination and excellent design, so much so, that it is impossible to call it brainless. Even the story of Nazi “zombots”created by a descendent of Dr. Frankenstein is entertaining as hell. But with a movie as much fun as this, there always seems to be one near fatal flaw, and Frankenstein’s Army has a glaring one, BUT I will get to that later.

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Since this movie had a shoestring budget and the co-writer/director Richard Raaphorst is also an illustrator, he decided to combine these two things, draw out the monsters, and have some ridiculously skilled costume artists bring them to life. I swear, the zombots are some of the coolest looking things I have seen in a movie in years, because they are really just guys in costume made with practically achieved means. One zombot actually has a fully functioning propellor sticking out of its front. Another one walks around on these blade like stilts. On top of that, the set design looks really authentic, like this is what you would actually find in a situation like this. Finally, I just want to mention the overabundance of blood and gore that is NOT CGI, and also Karel Roden’s wonderfully maniacal performance.

But like I said before, there is one thing about this movie that is just so unbelievably stupid and illogical that it almost spoils the entire thing. Ladies and gentlemen, Frankenstein’s Army may be a movie that takes place at the end of World War II, but it is also a found footage movie… Yep. Not only is it a found footage movie, but also one with excellent sound design and shot on digital. Ok, I know that part of the reason it is made like a found footage movie is because of the budget, but like it’s just so weird to be watching it and then remembering that it’s World War II and the picture quality is just so clear. I don’t even think this is nitpicking, either, because it makes so little sense.

Frankenstein’s Army is certainly a one of a kind movie depending on how you want to look at it. I completely understand if someone hates this movie or disregards its existence because of that overwhelmingly illogical fault of it being found footage, but I just don’t want to hear that the movie is brainless. I, for one, was entertained throughout the entire movie because there was so much to look at with the excellent design. That’s pretty much all I can say about the movie. It’s definitely worth checking out just for the creativity behind it all.

Pacific Rim – Review

2 Aug

Giant monsters. Equally giant robots. Guillermo del Toro. Ok, now we’re talkin’. From the trailer, you really know exactly what to expect with Pacific Rim, a movie that brings to mind Toho’s Godzilla movies of the past. Giant robots are really nothing new to movies. Just look at Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise (ok, on second thought maybe you shouldn’t). But, and this is important, del Toro takes this concept and makes it totally new. Instead of robots, they’re giant mech suits with people inside controlling it. I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’m just really excited about how excellent this movie was.

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In the not too distant future, an inter dimensional portal opens up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in which giant monsters, called Kaiju, are climbing out of and wreaking havoc on cities across the globe. In response to this, the superpowers of the world come together and create a program where giant mech suits, called Jaegers, complete with two pilots who have merged their minds can walk into the path of the Kaiju and stop them. For years, this seems to work just fine, but it appears that the Kaiju are evolving and adapting to earth and its defenses, making the jobs of the Jaeger pilots more demanding and much more dangerous. As the pilots begin failing at an alarming rate, Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba) hatches an idea that may very well be the key to closing the portal and saving the earth.

Now, this movie is absolutely outstanding. It’s certainly not much of a captivating drama, but it sure is a lot of fun. The main protagonist isn’t anything interesting and his partner, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is pretty good, but still nothing too great. Idris Elba on the other hand has a really cool character who is very interesting. He has to be since his main job is “canceling the apocalypse.” Finally, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are exactly the kind of comic relief that this movie needs, as the two scientists who are obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the Kaiju.

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I guess that wasn’t the first talking point you would expect me to start with. The question of the hour is: How were the Jaeger vs Kaiju fights? Excellent question, and the answer is that they were mind blowing. Like the whole movie itself, these fights had the potential to be garbage, but the way they are executed makes all the difference. First of all, the sound design and visual effects make it very easy to believe that these behemoths are actually throwing down right in front of you. That, and camera angles that are interesting and make the action easy to follow. Everything feels really big about this movie, and that’s important given the subject matter. Some camera angles are shown from the ground level while others are from the view of distant buildings. Let’s just say that these fights look about as epic as anything I’ve ever seen.

I will say that there are slow parts to the movie where the lack of strong characters and dialogue really shows. The way these scenes play out are entirely too predictable and the characters are pretty stock for the most part. Like I said, most of the main characters are nothing special, even as sort of “everyman” characters. A lot of the disagreements and drama seems a little underplayed, and don’t amount to anything too special. Kikuchi’s character at least has a nice back story that helps her dramatic scenes feel a bit more interesting.

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While the human drama doesn’t really feel all that spectacular, it is adequate. On the flip side, the colossal battles between machine and beast in the oceans and cities of the world are some of the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. Like I said, Pacific Rim had the potential to be generic drivel and nothing too special save for some pretty scenes. Instead, Guillermo del Toro has created an awesome thrill ride that, in my opinion, gives Star Trek Into Darkness some competition for my favorite film of the year.