Kong: Skull Island

Release: Friday, March 10, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Gilroy; Max Borenstein; Derek Connolly

Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts becomes the latest to cash in on the recent trend of indie directors gone Hollywood, going from The Kings of Summer to a blockbuster that reimagines the king of the apes in all its primal glory in Kong: Skull Island, a fun throwback to creature features of the 1960s and 70s.

In it, a group of intrepid explorers comprised of government agents, Vietnam vets and various other useful experts travel to a remote island in the Pacific on a surveying expedition. The mission runs into a bit of a snag when they encounter the 100-foot-tall hulking ape known as Kong, whose territory they have begun bombing in an attempt to “learn about the landscape.” His retaliatory action lays waste to a fleet of choppers, killing several of the hapless tourists in the process and scattering the rest across the prehistoric jungle.

Kong: Skull Island proves antithetical of its Monsterverse sister Godzilla in almost every way. The focus is on more beast, more noise, more general mayhem. Less on those little threads of humanity that made each encounter with the nuclear lizard back in 2014 that much more interesting. The characters here merely serve to get us closer to the action, which is appropriate considering what the artists over at Industrial Light & Magic have accomplished. Kong: Skull Island is a visual effects delight and it should be allowed to show off a little. Did you see the number of names listed in the Visual Effects column in the end credits?

The biggest mystery surrounding this movie involves budgetary allocations rather than Kong himself. This monster movie’s cast is monstrously huge and yet only a triumvirate seems required. John Goodman plays Monarch agent Bill Randa, a man just crazy enough to get Senator Richard Jenkins to help fund his monster-hunting habit. Goodman’s a pro and makes his part enjoyable. Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson as Lieutenant Colonel Packard who has been tapped with providing Randa and some of his friends aerial support to the island. Packard’s function is to be the overbearing alpha male who wants to drop Kong himself after that initial attack cost him some of his men. Turns out, Packard has left Vietnam but only in a physical sense.

John C. Reilly is the only other significant role player here. He’s arguably the only one that really matters. He plays a World War II pilot who has been stranded on the unforgiving island and has ingratiated himself with the native tribe that also happens to be hiding out there. Luckily, it’s John C. Reilly who is given a role that ends up carving out significant space within the narrative. In the manner that SLJ plays SLJ and Goodman does a great Goodman impression, Reilly is reliably himself. Collectively the three have enough acting chops to take on Kong themselves and make it a rollicking good time.

But then there are talents like Tom Hiddleston and Oscar-winner Brie Larson stuck in acting purgatory, filling supporting roles that could have gone to anyone. The former plays a British tracker and ex-military man here to say “You can’t bomb this island” and Larson’s pacifist photographer succeeds in annoying more than just the fiery Packard. Meanwhile, Toby Kebbell gets a slightly more robust part but the actors who played Dr. Dre and Easy-E in Straight Outta Compton are totally expendable. And apparently Thomas Mann had a part, too. Who else did I miss, Kevin Bacon?

Fantastical, formulaic and occasionally frustrating, Kong: Skull Island isn’t an adventure epic that’s built to withstand the test of time or particularly intense scrutiny but what it offers is good old-fashioned, smash-mouth entertainment. Buy the biggest bucket of popcorn you can — you’re going to need it.

Kong SMASH!!! +500 pts

Recommendation: Kong: Skull Island is a bonafide crowd pleaser with its big special effects, trumped-up 3D marketing campaign and a list of famous actors longer than your arm. It’s all a bit over-the-top but then again this IS a movie featuring a 100-foot-tall gorilla. And for those who lamented the way Gareth Edwards handled his monster movie, maybe Jordan Vogt-Roberts will be your new best friend.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “I’m going to stab you by the end of the night.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.posterspy.com; http://www.imdb.com 

JCR Factor #3

The month of June brings you the third edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. To find more related material, visit the Features menu up top and search the sub-menu Actor Profiles.

Part of the fun of creating this feature is getting to prove the versatility of this particular performer. There’s a reason I went with JCR and today’s edition proves it. We leap from drama to comedy here. I hope you enjoy.

John C. Reilly as Dale Doback in Adam McKay’s Stepbrothers.

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: The dictionary definition of ‘man-child’ has a picture of Dale Doback beside it. Dale is in his forties and living at home with his father, refusing to accept growing up as a part of life. He’s immune to getting a job as well as a haircut or a girlfriend or anything resembling responsibility. His life is upturned when his man-child equal in Will Ferrell’s Brennan Huff moves into his home after both their parents marry.

If you lose JCR, the film loses: the comedic chemistry that gives the film a purpose. Will Ferrell is good but the film wouldn’t be as funny if he were paired with someone else. Stepbrothers isn’t a career highlight for a man who can move in and out of genres without effort, though it stands to reason John C. Reilly showed up on set and dedicated himself to Adam McKay and company, issuing forth a suitably ridiculous performance that champions the apathetic’s fantasy of floating through life aimlessly. Together, he and Ferrell make an adopted sibling duo that’s at once completely over-the-top and strangely realistic. When the going gets rough, the inane get going (at each other’s throats). McKay’s story is funny, sure, but it’s Reilly’s chemistry with Ferrell that makes Stepbrothers memorable at all.

That’s what he said: “Dad, we’re men. That means a few things. We like to shit with the door open; we talk about p*ssy; we go on riverboat gambling trips; we make our own beef jerky. That’s what we do, and now that is all wrecked!”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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Photo credits: http://www.pandawhale.com 

TBT: Step Brothers (2008)

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This back pain I’ve been experiencing recently is causing me to be lazier than usual. Because I’ve been very lazy today, I felt like choosing a movie to review where it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge to churn one out relatively quickly, and so I selected another comedy. And what less challenging material to go with than a Will Ferrell vehicle? I see some of you already heading towards the exit. (It’s okay, I’ll hopefully see you next week when I have a Will Ferrell-less TBT.) If it’s not yet obvious by some of the reviews of the past, I have this slight chink in my armor where I’ll be thoroughly entertained by the shallowest of comedies. The catch is, they pretty much either need to be a Will Ferrell movie or a Leslie Nielsen slapstick. I’m not comparing the two, but those are two of the best kinds of comedies I will watch when my brain has taken a siesta. So, hooray for Lazy Thursday! 

Today’s food for thought: Step Brothers

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Released: July 25, 2008

[DVD] 

What an adorable family portrait! Family photos are all the more fun when your children are fully grown 40-year-old men but still live at home. With that and the fact that mom and dad are 50-60-year-old newlyweds, how can these photos be anything less than precious? See how not awkward they all are in that photo?

Will Ferrell selects different clothes from his wardrobe again to get into character in this relentlessly silly premise about two manchilds (menchildren?) who have refused to leave the house, get a good job and not depend upon mommy (Mary Steenburgen) or daddy (Richard Jenkins). When Nancy Huff attends a lecture given by the esteemed Dr. Robert Doback, the two get together and eventually wed, bringing together Nancy’s awkward and stubborn son Brennan (Ferrell) and Robert’s lazy (and stubborn) son Dale (John C. Reilly).

Pairing up Reilly with Ferrell turns this dysfunctional family story into a functional comedy. Admittedly, it does nothing to stray the path of Will Ferrell’s typical schlock so those opposed likely won’t appreciate these two goofs pouring their hearts into making their first day together as a family the most painfully awkward experience possible. On the other side of the fence, those who do will find the stand-offish situation hilarious. Reilly and Ferrell are convincingly childish in this extended SNL bit about four fully-grown adults trying to cope with a new and rather tense reality. Given the chemistry between these two goobers, we demand to know an explanation as to how this happened — how did these two guys end up this way?

Herein lies the movie’s biggest flaw. Without including any history to the present-day narrative, neither Brennan nor Dale seem like people. They’re mere caricatures. If we had some backstory to these guys’ separate lives, the uniting of this. . .non-traditional. . .family would probably be a good deal funnier, and seem more real. What were these guys like as children, one wonders as the grown ups shuffle zombie-like through a dark kitchen, creating one glorious mess as they experience together their individual sleepwalking habits. When they finally do join forces together and become “best friends,” we can’t exactly say we didn’t see that coming from a mile away.

In spite of its elemental message and lazy construction, it’s a fun movie. Mr. Doback one day puts his foot down and provides the two muttonheads an ultimatum to find a job and grow up. Watching the pair “trying” to get their shit together identifies Step Brothers‘ strengths as another installment in the Ferrell canon. There is a great sequence in which the two go to each other’s interviews together and they fail to rise to each one of these occasions, much to Mr. Doback’s mounting frustration. And then they get their real inspiration: ‘Prestige Worldwide.’ Putting both their dimly-lit lightbulb ideas together, Brennan and Dale pitch a business opportunity one evening to Brennan’s obnoxious younger brother, Derek (Adam Scott). This moment indeed becomes another one to add to the growing list of ways in which these two have humiliated themselves.

In attempting to really sell themselves for once, the two concoct the genius idea to shoot a music/rap video on board Mr. Doback’s prized sailboat, and the video not only is mocked by the entire congregation, it ends in disaster when they take the boat into the rocky shore. The boat meant more to the man than his son even did, so naturally, the film takes a turn to negative town at this moment. A non-too-subtle wind of change beckons act three when we see Dale and Brennan now out on their own in the real world since, over time, things continued to fall apart personally between the Dobacks and the Huffs. An incident at Christmas one year proved to be the final nail in the coffee between Robert and Nancy, and since then the boys have had no choice but to move out. Plus, they’re not speaking to each other at this point. You know, the usual growing pains.

Step Brothers wraps up nicely, however. The Catalina Wine Mixer scene redeems a lot of the film’s relative lackluster bits and pieces. The last impressions of the film are not only shots of a beautiful location, they’re also quite funny and bring about a satisfactory, if not contrived, end to the whole affair. The scene is also responsible for the classic duet performed by Dale and Brennan on stage when the Mixer experiences technical difficulties with the music. As well, the reuniting of the Dobacks with the Huffs is not only comical and awkward, it’s more than expected. And necessary. The movie could end no other way.

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3-5Recommendation: Though Adam McKay has done better, the faithful have found this one a satisfactory tread-water comedy with his go-to-comedian Will Ferrell with the nice addition of John C. Reilly. Reilly might actually be the best thing about this, as his comedic appeal was never very obvious until this performance. He’s since shown an impressive range, with his capacity to be a goofball quite evident here. For anyone else who doesn’t buy into this brand of comedy, though, this script would probably make for great toilet paper.

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Robert better not get in my face, ’cause I’ll drop that motherf**ker.”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce)

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Release: Friday, October 4, 2013

[Redbox]

If ever you wanted to test the limits of your moviegoing patience and goodwill, rent a little flick by the name of Adult Children of Divorce, or A.C.O.D. for short.

A nail biter, a fist-clencher, an intensely palm-sweating experience for all of the wrong reasons, first-time director Stu Zicherman’s romantic comedy is the most unromantic comedy this reviewer has seen in ages. So why the nail biting, fist-clenching, etcetera? Though not an exhaustive list, these are the physical reactions a viewer is likely to have while enduring a film like this. (See also: head-bashing, eyeball-gouging, and the immediate chugging of rubbing alcohol to induce permanent blindness.)

Phew. Well, after flushing the system of those reactions, I have to concede that A.C.O.D. is not quite that despicable. But it’s not a good film, not by any stretch. It strands a talented cast in a story that is exasperatingly dull, one that misses its potential like the Titanic missed its final destination. The snail’s pace and amateur plot development together result in some of the longest 87 minutes you’re likely to experience, at least while watching a comedy.

Let’s back up a little bit before I go into a full-fledged rant. The premise is about a grown man, Carter (played by Adam Scott) whose parents have been divorced for most of his life and haven’t so much as spoken for the majority of that time. When his younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) drops the news of his upcoming wedding to his “super hot girlfriend,” Carter’s horrified to learn that Trey wants their now-remarried parents to attend the wedding. That sounds awkward enough, but the nature of Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara)’s separation has rubbed salt into the wound. And thus, the movie being the most unromantic romantic-comedy created in years. A family dynamic that’s this dysfunctional begs the question as to who decided this would fit the description of a rom-com.

Making matters worse, Carter learns one day that a family friend who is also a psychotherapist (Jane Lynch) has been studying people like him for years, tracking the rippling effects a divorce has on the children of separated parents. He’s unwittingly become a caricature in Dr. Judith’s book, titled ‘Children of Divorce.’ Though Carter wants to believe he only shares physical traits of those who raised him, the doc thinks there’s something lurking underneath the surface that makes him more like his parents than he’d care to admit. So she approaches him for a follow-up, a sequel to her highly successful book. She’ll call it ‘Adult Children of Divorce,’ with the intent being. . .well, that much isn’t so clear. The movie falls down on its knees in this department, providing the greatest flaw in the design.

Not only does the movie not take advantage of what appears to be, on paper anyway, a poignant statement on the nature of love and commitment in modern society, the damn thing’s not funny. Save for the odd guffaw caused by good old Richard Jenkins, everyone else in this film suffers from over-dramatization (Amy Poehler’s bitchy sorority alum Sondra, who is also Hugh’s latest wife, being the worst offender — seriously, can we please go back to the days of SNL, where she was actually funny. . .and live in that time?) and limited character development.

There’s a goldmine that Zicherman fails to tap into here. One cannot deny the appeal of the film’s title. It has real potential, although a comedic approach to the matter is questionable in the first place. With the divorce rate — as it pertains to the United States — hovering at or around 50%, a statement on the alarming rate at which the phrase ‘for as long as you both shall live’ is being cast aside- in present-day marriages should make for a really great movie. Channelling my inner Arnold Schwarzenegger here: negative.

Despite a select few moments in which Jenkins and O’Hara try their hardest to pull a rabbit out of the hat with regards to this conceit-, the vast majority of the story is bogged down in footage that would seem more useful in B-roll takes. Adult children of divorce is apparently a ‘real’ concept, as the end credits introduces the viewer to people involved in the making of the film who describe themselves as such; it’s a shame we can’t really care by the time they introduce themselves.

A.C.O.D.

2-0Recommendation: This is a frustratingly mediocre product that begins with promise and steadily declines over the course of less than 90 minutes — and to reiterate, the film feels more like a two-hour affair than something that registers just shy of a standard full-length feature. Performances all around aren’t that memorable. If you are a die-hard Richard Jenkins fan, you might check this out but that is the most positive recommendation I can really give the film. Otherwise, it’s a squandering of potential in any other way.

Rated: R

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “You know, the thing about Portuguese whores is some are born in Portugal, some are born in Africa. It’s a real mix.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.moviefone.com; http://www.imdb.com