‘Kong: Skull Island’ Review

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Thomas Mann, Tian Jing, Jason Mitchell, Eugene Cordero, Shea Whingham, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell and John C. Reilly

Synopsis: 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.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: There is a post-credit scene*

 

King Kong is one of the most famous movie characters of all time, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood would try to bring him to the big screen as much as possible. Some have been great and some have been disappointing, but Kong: Skull Island thankfully leans more toward the great side. So, what exactly did director Jordan Vogt-Roberts do to make Kong: Skull Island a good King Kong film? Keep reading and find out.

Set during 1973, at the tail end of U.S troops pulling out of Vietnam, struggling government organization Monarch has two employees in William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) who have a wild theory that an uncharted island could lead to major secrets. They manage to pull together a survey and mapping operation on the island with a military escort lead by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a former SAS Captain and expert tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and an antiwar photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Once they arrive to the island – and after dropping bombs to map out the island – they meet Kong (motion-captured by Toby Kebbell and Terry Notary), who isn’t happy they’re dropping bombs in his backyard.

After surviving the initial attack, the group gets separated with Packard leading some of his men in Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Reles (Eugene Cordero) and Randa, while Conrad, Weaver, and Brooks are with other Monarch members in San (Tian Jing), Slivko (Thomas Mann) and Victor Nieves (John Ortiz) before they run into Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been on the island for quite some time. What follows is both groups trying to make it off the island, avoiding Kong, but also finding out that Kong may not be the most dangerous thing there.

If you follow the news online, or are a fan of 2014’s Godzilla, Monarch is a connective tissue from the movie, and Skull Island was the studio’s way to introducing King Kong for the forthcoming mashup film between Godzilla and King Kong. However, Skull Island – thankfully – stands on its own making Kong a huge highlight and a force of nature. So since we’re talking about Kong, let’s go more into him. Obviously, Kong is someone you don’t want to mess with according the trailers. He’s king on the island as Reilly’s Marlow says, and that statement is proven the moment we meet as he takes over what felt like a dozen helicopters with ease, and going up against some of the Skull Crawlers. And when it comes to the Skull Crawlers, they do make an intimidating villains and great foes to Kong.

When it comes to the cast, they all play their part very, very well. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson have their characters fleshed out enough, while the highlights could very well go to John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson. Reilly’s Marlow has been stuck on the island for decades with the natives of the land, so his nuances are fun to watch unfold. Jackson’s characters fits into the time. Jackson is fueled by one thing after the first encounter with Kong: Find Kong and kill him. Jackson’s Packard is very much inspired by the time and films like Apocalypse Now. In fact the whole film feels a tinge like Apocalypse Now, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not so bluntly obvious that it takes away from the film. Two others that I want highlight personally is the pair of Shea Whigham and Jason Mitchell, the two have great chemistry together and is actually my favorite pairing in the film. One unfortunate casting misstep is Toby Kebbell, who gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the cast and story.

However, besides the cast and Kong, a huge highlight is the visuals and cinematography by Larry Fong. Kong and the Skull Crawlers are impressive sure, but of course we come across other creatures on the island that are either beautiful or scary as hell. Kong: Skull Island has a nice balance of the two, but it’s not just the creatures that impress, it’s the beautiful landscapes of the island. If Skull Island wasn’t filled with things that can kill you, you’d probably want to visit – maybe.

All in all, Kong: Skull Island is an enjoyable fun adventure film with a great cast, visuals, cinematography and soundtrack. While the film does slow down at times, it doesn’t do so without trying to flesh out the characters. Of course, the highlight of the film is seeing King Kong return to the big screen in all his glory.

Kong: Skull Island

4 out of 5

‘Steve Jobs’ Review

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Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Sarah Snook, John Ortiz, Ripley Sobo, Makenzie Moss, and Perla Haney-Jardine

Synopsis: Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, Steven Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Former Apple CEO and, arguably, the face of the company, Steve Jobs is a polarizing figure. Whether you believe the stories or not, or you like him or not, Jobs has done wonders in the industry of technology. There has also been two films on Jobs’ life, but this one takes a different approach to the other films and is based on the biography novel by Walter Isaacson titled “Steve Jobs.” Director Danny Boyle brings some interesting ideas and filmmaking to Steve Jobs, and while some will find it repetitive, the film is filled with great performances all around.

Steve Jobs is broken down into three different parts. Each part takes place during the launch of three different products that Steve Jobs (Fassbender) was a part: 1984 with the launch of Macintosh computer, 1988’s NeXT, and finally 1998’s iMac. Each where filmed differently, the first on 16mm, the second in 35mm, and the last part is filmed digitally. Does that matter? Probably not, but I’m just saying since it is noticeably, well, for me anyway. Also, it was a nice move by Boyle to do that since it also shows the advancements in technology in our own right.

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Anyway, Steve Jobs starts in 1984 before the launch of the Macintosh computer. The film wastes no time getting into the thick of everything. The film is about two hours long, and every segment, for the lack of a better word, is roughly thirty minutes or more. And they are very heavy handed. The film is very Aaron Sorkin as the dialogue is very brisk, breathless, and witty. At the beginning of the film we get a good feel to how Jobs would be portrayed as Jobs is ticked off at Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg) that the Macintosh isn’t saying “hello.” We are not just introduced to Hertzfeld, but to pretty the whole cast in Jobs’ marketing expert and right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), Jobs’ oldest friend and engineer Steve Wozinak (Rogen), Andrea “Andy” Cunningham (Snook), reporter Joel Pforzheimer (Ortiz), and former President of Apple and father figure-like John Sculley (Daniels).

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The film doesn’t really show any of the actual launch presentations, as it decides to focus on the craziness going on before. Jobs even says at one point “it seems like five minutes before every launch, everyone gets drunk and decides to air their grievances,” which is true. The biggest dramatic moments happen right before Jobs is getting ready to go out on stage. The first is one is the heavily featured story with his daughter Lisa played by Makenzie Moss, or as Jobs proclaims multiple times during that part is not his daughter, and the mother of his daughter Chrisann (Waterston). The second is Jobs moving on from Apple with the NeXT and “clearing the air” with Hertzfeld, Wozinak, and Sculley, but it’s Sculley that takes the biggest chuck and is, for me, the best part and most dramatic part of the film. Jeff Daniels’ performance as Sculley, especially in this scene that also involves flashbacks, is just phenomenal. The back-and-forth between Daniels and Michael Fassbender is amazing to watch and it did, honestly, leave me breathless and as soon as the scene was over I took a deep breath and thought “wow.” The final big dramatic scenes are between Jobs and Wozinak going at it again and having an argument they had at the beginning of the film, and between Jobs, Joanna, and his teen daughter Lisa (Haney-Jardine).

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I’m going to be honest, this one is hard for me to review. One, because the scenes have so much in them, although it’s never overbearing and handled in a good way, and two, some of the actions, especially, Jobs’ actions are subjective and should be seen for yourself. This is where many will be split on the film. Do they believe that Jobs was mean to everyone around him and was a pain in the ass to work with or was he truly a genius that no one saw? The film also struggles with answering this question. Jobs is both a pain in the ass to almost everyone around him, but has moments of true genuine compassion toward his daughter sometimes – albeit sometimes reluctant – and has moments of great charisma. However, do his good moments outweigh his negative moments? That’s up to you to decide. And remember, this isn’t a documentary and things are probably and obviously dramatize.

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Even if you don’t like Steve Jobs, let’s just say the character for the sake of argument, the cast and performances make this film all the worthwhile. Fassbender is great as Jobs and brings everything he can possibly bring to the role. But, despite the other great performances by the rest of the cast, Steve Jobs is Fassbender’s show. I already mentioned Daniels is great, and the rest of the cast have their fair share of highlights. Kate Winslet is nearly unrecognizable with her black-haired wig and small accent. Seth Rogen proves he can do a scene without cracking a joke and come off as a great actor, although he doesn’t get a ton of screen time, but just enough for us to get a good feel for him. Katherine Waterston holds her own with Fassbender especially when they are shouting at each other. Michael Stuhlbarg surprised me with this turn of Hertzfeld, he takes most of the word beatings from Jobs and keeps going. The three actresses that play Lisa over the years are pretty great too, although there was something about the older Lisa that didn’t quite click with me. Sarah Snook and John Ortiz are kind of left out of everything, but when they appear it is rather welcoming.

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All in all, Steve Jobs will definitely be one of those films that will have you talking. Whether you like Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s vision of Steve Jobs or not, you can’t say that Jobs didn’t know what he was doing and rolled with the punches. The cast give amazing performances all around, but Michael Fassbender is the star of the show and his Steve Jobs is equal parts tragic figure, hardheaded, standoffish, charismatic, and visionary.

Steve Jobs

4.5 out of 5

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‘The Drop’ Review

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Dir: Michael R. Roskam

Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Aronov, and John Ortiz

Synopsis: Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost.

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

Based on the short story by Dennis Lehane called “Animal Rescue,” The Drop follows Bob Saginowski (Hardy) who is a bartender in a “drop bar” – a bar where local mobsters store their dirty money. The bar was owned by his cousin Marv (Gandolfini, in his final screen appearance and last movie he completed) who was a big deal back in the day until he gave up the bar when Chechen mobsters moved in.

 

One night Bob is walking home and discovers an injured pit bull puppy (which he ends up calling Rocco) in the trash can and gets help from Nadia (Rapace) to nurse it back to health. Reluctantly, Bob decides to take the pup as his own until local thug Eric Deeds (Schoenaerts) comes back and starts to mess with them. However, Bob has another problem when one night him and Marv get robbed at gunpoint at the bar, and are told by their Chechen contact Chovka (Aronov) to get their money back.

 

I haven’t read Lehane’s short story but most of us should know his work like Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island; that of course were all adapted into movies. The Drop follows the somewhat same thread in that the movie has some great twists and turns that you may not suspect. But the great thing that director Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead) does is the movie is a constant slow burn and tense that when the final act rolls around you start to look around the screen waiting for something to pop out and surprise you. The great thing next to the acting in The Drop is definitely the way Roskam keeps everything bottled up so when he releases it, you feel like you can finally breathe.

 

At the same time, the slow pace may turn some people away which is totally understandable. I don’t mind slow pace/slow burn movies if the payoff is completely worth it, which it is here. There are moments where Roskam and Co. could have trimmed down or maybe save for the Blu Ray but it is also these moments that make you question what’s going on and care for these characters.

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One of the big things of course surrounding the movie is James Gandolfini, which like I stated earlier, this is the last movie he completed before he passed away. Gandolfini is great here, as always. His portrayal of Marv – or Cousin Marv – is great to see unfold. He mentions that “I was respected. I was feared,” which shows you how far he’s fallen with the local crime scene.

The real focus here in Tom Hardy’s Bob. At first Bob seems a little goofy but a real nice guy. When he gets Rocco for the first time, Nadia tells him that he needs to keep Bob freaks out a little and says he can’t have a dog because it’s too much responsibility, which kind of shows you how much of  loner Bob is. But it’s Hardy’s performance that really makes the character pop, especially near the end when his demeanor changes. It really is something to see.

 

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The rest of the supporting cast holds their own here against the great performance of Hardy and Gandolfini. Noomi Rapace plays Nadia, who is slightly similar to her previous characters in that she plays someone with a damaged past. Her relationship with Bob is kind of sweet. They start off a bit standoffish and slowly start to have feelings for each other but Bob being a loner and keeping his emotions in check, he doesn’t get the signs right away. Matthias Schoenaerts’s Eric Deeds is a bit menacing and serves his purpose to the story. John Ortiz plays a detective that questions Bob every chance he can get.

 

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All in all, The Drop is a great film filled with great performances by Hardy, Rapace and the late James Gandolfini. The slow pace/slow burn will probably turn some people away but it’s that pace that makes the final act more powerful.

 

 

The Drop

5 out of 5