Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, John Gatins

Composer: Henry Jackman

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Awaken the King

Plot: A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Yeah.


This is in no way a remake of the '33 movie.  It's its own thing and stands alone so leave Kong's history at home when you see this.

The short?  It's fun.  The special effects are fantastic.  Kong gets a lot more screen time than you would expect and his fight scenes are a blast.  I love a jungle setting and this picture's set almost entirely on Skull Island (goody gumdrops).  It's not uncommon for these giant monster movies to fill the cast with characters you don't care about.  SKULL ISLAND gives you a few that you do like.  Forget Hiddleston and Larson, two of the three-ish leads.  They're both forgettable.  Samuel Jackson does his Sam Jackson thing which is fine.  John Goodman is great except he's not given much of anything to do once they're on the island and that's a damn shame.  The picture would've benefited from more Goodman.  I thought John C. Reilly was the best of the humans plus he's the only one that carries some emotional weight (that 8mm bit that ran at the beginning of the closing credits had me all choked up).  I haven't seen her in anything until now.  She might be a good actor but I'd never know from this picture.  Maybe it's her character in the way she was written or her dialogue but she wasn't that good.  When the gang come upon a boneyard (with hundreds of giant bones on top of the soil) that includes the remains of Kong's parents, she says something along the lines of, "I've taken too many pictures of mass graves and I know a mass grave when I see one."  The fuck?  It's so obvious to anyone with eyes that a four year old would recognize this as a mass grave. 

And that takes me to my only major beef with the picture and that's the entire boneyard scene.  I assume this ridiculous sequence exists to pad the film out longer with more action and to kill off a few characters they didn't need.  The human actions are dumb, really dumb.  I probably rolled my eyes at least four times.  During this bit (which is probably ten minutes long) I started noticing other dumb shit like Hiddleston and Larson dressed in short-sleeved shirts.  Earlier in the film Hiddleston is hired because he's an expert in navigating uncharted islands (which is ridiculous when you think about it) and he recites a laundry list of ways you could die.  You'd think covering as much skin as possible to protect yourself from mosquitoes and such would be a very simple thing to remember, you know, being an expert and all.  OK, now I'm down off my soapbox. 

Some things I dug (besides Riley, Goodman and Kong)?  The score was quite good.  You won't come out humming any themes but it was a nice melody driven score.  Setting this in the early 70s/Vietnam er was a huge plus.  The action is good, exciting and fun.  I LOVE the island and all of the giant critters in it that will kill your ass and it also paves the way for more monster movies with Godzilla and his buddies/enemies like Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.  BTW, stay until after the credits for a small bit of exposition about this larger world of monsters.  It's a good movie with some fantastic monster action and it's got a couple of memorable characters that make it all worthwhile.  I liked it considerably more than the disappointing GODZILLA (2014) and you might, too, so see it before it leaves the theater.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Night Passage (1957)

Director: James Neilson

Writers: Borden Chase, Norman A. Fox

Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin

Starring: James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Brandon De Wilde, Jay C. Flippen, Herbert Anderson, Robert J. Wilke, Hugh Beaumont, Jack Elam, Tommy Cook, Paul Fix, Olive Carey

More info: IMDb

Tagline: This was the night when the naked fury of the McLaines flamed out with consuming vengeance across a terrorized land!

Plot: A fired railroad man is rehired and trusted to carry a 10,000 dollar payroll in secret, even though he is suspected of being connected to outlaws.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

One bit of trivia on IMDb says the the original director, Anthony Mann, left the picture due to a falling out with Stewart (which is wild considering the pair had worked on 8 pictures previously).  It goes on to say Mann thought the script was bad and that Audie Murphy wasn't a good enough actor to be in film.  I read all of this after seeing the film and I have to agree.  I can't go so far as to say the script is bad but it's certainly average.  The film feels like it might've started as a B-picture until someone wrangled a top A-list star like Stewart to head up the cast, at which point more money was thrown at it but without improving the story and dialogue.  Why the film is titled NIGHT PASSAGE is beyond me except that maybe it's because there's a chunk of it that takes place at night where the good guys and the bad guys hang out at some joint until morning when it's guns-a'blazin'.  You might be able to find an answer offered up by someone on the IMDb message boards except IMDb recently took the boards off their site.  Idiots.

The cast is all over the place.  Most of the actors are OK to great but there are a few that had their own thing going that felt out of place.  Dan Duryea plays Whitey, the leader of the bad guys who keep robbing the railroad company's payroll train and he's playing it over the top like he's in a stage play.  It's simply too much.  Some of his gang, like Jack Elam (as Shotgun), are great in comparison.  Audi Murphy (look up this guy's life and feel humbled) is slightly monotone and drab.  But then there's this eccentric side to his mannerisms, from his walk to how he handles himself that's borderline laughable.  He plays an outlaw, The Utica Kid, who's a part of Whitey's gang and he puts off a serious Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) vibe from BLAZING SADDLES (1974) that felt like it was a direct inspiration for Wilder.  Another distraction from Murphy is that you can see him hitting his marks and thinking too much about the acting.  He came into acting late in life and he was made into a star because of his WWII exploits and I cut him some slack for that but he's so obvious about it that it hurts the picture.  Jimmy Stewart?  He's good but not completely.  I've always loved the guy but he too has his limitations.  He pulls off being a star better than being a great actor and there's nothing wrong with that.

I'll say this much, Olive Carey stole the show as an tough old broad called Miss Vittles.  She was friggin' hilarious and she was also the most genuine and likable character in the movie.  It's almost worth watching it just for her.  Now, if none of this matters to you and you have no interest in seeing this then you need to consider how drop dead gorgeous the location shooting is.  Stunning.  The train scenes were filmed on the railway between Durango and Silverton, Colorado.  I've ridden that line twice in the past 40 years.  It's a half-day trip riding a vintage train from Durango and ending up in Silverton, a 19th Century mining town perched in the mountains.  The ride each way is probably an hour and a half and every inch of it is as beautiful as you can imagine.  If I should ever watch this again, while unlikely, it'll be only because of the beautiful mountain scenery, fueled by decades of fond memories.

The Universal DVD has a good enough, yet often a little dark, anamorphic widescreen print and the sole extra is the theatrical trailer which is non-anamorphic widescreen.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Knock Knock (2015)

Director: Eli Roth

Writers: Eli Roth, Nicolas Lopez, , Guillermo Amoedo, Anthony Overman, Michael Ronald Ross

Composer: Manuel Riveiro

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Lorezna Izzo, Ana de Armas, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Dan Baily, Megan Baily, Colleen Camp, Antonio Quercia, Otto

More info: IMDb

Tagline: One night can cost you everything

Plot: When a devoted husband and father is left home alone for the weekend, two stranded young women unexpectedly knock on his door for help. What starts out as a kind gesture results in a dangerous seduction and a deadly game of cat and mouse.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? Nope.


Like Roth's film made right before this one, THE GREEN INFERNO (2013), I was somewhat excited to see this one.  On paper, just like INFERNO, this one sounded like it could be a good, exploitation-y thriller...until I saw it, that is.  When you get down to the essence of the story, it's quite simple and there's lots of room for some one-upsman fuckery.  For the most part, the film stays within the realm of reality but there are more than enough moments that removed me from to the point of questioning the characters' actions in the last half of the film.  20 minutes before the end Keanu has his screaming monologue, letting his anger and confusion out to his two captors.  It's not bad but the whole thing is ruined as soon as he compares their seduction of him to being "free pizza".  That these girls were able to do everything they did, and mostly with the murders, AND having eluded that he's not the first, it's all so preposterous.  OK, so you're probably thinking, "Hey, dude, lighten up.  This is an exploitation horror/thriller and these two psycho broads get naked for a couple of minutes."  Fine, but how do you explain how much time Roth spends outside of that exploitation element and clearly defines this as a home invasion thriller?  It's probably about 20% exploitation at best.  Roth wants to have his cake and eat it, too.

Reeves wasn't a very good choice for the role as it requires more dramatic range than what he delivers.  I like Keanu but in certain roles that suit his talents.  The ending, while kind of cool, is bullshit.  I love Keanu's head sticking out of the ground and that the girls get away with it but that's it.  You get the impression that his life is over - he will lose his career and his family.  The reality is that these women will be caught (their fingerprints are all over the house) and Keanu's story will hold up, thereby exonerating him.  He'll just be guilty of having an affair.  That doesn't mean his wife will stick around but there is a chance that they can repair their relationship.  I'm probably over thinking this mediocre movie but then again, I like Roth's earlier films and I dig his passion for exploitation flicks.  He's proven that he can be a very good film maker but his last two pictures he's had good material to work with but he takes the humor too far and refuses to stay close to the ground and deliver a better film.  He can do it, I just don't know why he doesn't.  This is a remake of DEATH GAME (1977).  Is it better than the remake?  I hope to find out soon.  The Lionsgate DVD looks and sounds good.  The extras include a commentary track with Roth, Lorenza Izzo, Nicolas Lopez and Colleen Camp (she starred in the original film), 1 deleted scene and an alternate ending (both totaling around 5 minutes) (with optional commentary from Roth) and some trailers to other Lionsgate pictures.