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My Review of Kong: Skull Island

17 Mar

March 17, 2017

Before we begin, I’ll tell you right upfront that though I am going to try to keep the spoilers at a minimum I have a terrible track record so expect me to spoil this film for you.

This is a fun film and I enjoyed it a lot, and although it is set in the same universe as Godzilla, there is no comparison at all. Godzilla was pretty good but ultimately disappointing, this one is very good and not disappointing. Unless you want to see him climb the Empire State Building. But what do you expect? This film isn’t called Skull Island for nothing. He doesn’t go to New York.

In a nutshell, a bunch of soldiers and scientists land on Skull Island. The soldiers are there to help the scientists with a “geological survey,” which was just a lie to flush the monsters above ground. And it works. It works really well. It works too well. Out of nowhere Kong decimates them and from there on it is a trek for the survivors to the other side of the island while dodging monsters and beasts, but for one man it becomes an obsession to kill Kong. (And of course that man is Samuel L. Jackson. The subtitle of this film should be King Kong vs. Samuel L. Jackson.) Will he kill Kong? (No. See? I told you I’d spoil it.) Will the humans make it to the safety of the other end of the island? (Some of them yes, most of them no.) Does Brie Larson spend most of the film in a tank top, often soaking wet? (Mercifully yes.) 

So here’s the good:

  • This film is faithful to the original from 1933, despite being a reboot and having no relation to the original. No, I am not drunk. Let me explain. This film is set during the 1970’s and details the first time outsiders set foot on the island. Take the original film- the island, the natives, the wall, Kong, etc., but now leave out Carl Denham and the rest. Imagine that they never set foot on the island. In Skull Island, it is easy to believe that this is what the original island would be like if no one else ever set foot on it. Sure, they updated it a bit, but this is clearly the same island. Also, the film opens with the sound of old airplanes and machine gun sounds over the credits, which leads into the first scene of a WWII air battle, but I also found it to be a homage to the climax of the original film.
  • It can actually be compared to Apocalypse Now. Yes, really, and I am not just talking about the posters. 
    Skull Island generally follows the same basic plot as Apocalypse Now. A group of Vietnam-era soldiers in an untamed jungle doggedly moving upriver and through more and more danger to a climax with a mad colonel. True, Apocalypse Now doesn’t have a giant ape, but it does have Marlon Brando, so I call that a tie.
  • The first action sequence with Kong vs the helicopters is awesome. You will love it.
  • John C. Reilly is hands down the most fun character in the film. If you know him from Adult Swim’s Check It Out, his character is about 60% Dr. Steve Brule. If that means nothing to you, go to YouTube right now. Seriously, go. I’ll wait for you.
  • Kong is all over this film. This isn’t like Godzilla where we had a few murky shots and were constantly waiting for the monster to show up again. 
  • The soundtrack is all 1970’s classic rock. Grace Slick! Black Sabbath! The Hollies! 

And here’s the bad. But it isn’t too bad. 

  • There were no dinosaurs. In every King Kong film, even the ones from Japan where he fights robots, he fights dinosaurs. And although I said above that the island is identical to the original, this is the one exception. No dinosaurs. Kong did fight a lot of reptilian skull crushers, but they looked more like those lame MUTOS Godzilla fought in his last American film than Dinosaurs. And while that makes sense since they are set in the same cinematic universe, it was a glaring omission. King Kong fights dinosaurs! (That will be rectified when King Kong vs. Godzilla comes out in a few years.) 

This is the real problem I had with the film: It had no heart. You didn’t root for Kong. There was no “humanity” in him as there was in every other version of the giant ape. This Kong is just gruff. And it is understandable since he is an orphan who spends his life fighting other monsters. But it doesn’t make you root for him. He protected the humans in this film but never seemed to like them or have any connection to any other human. The film tried to make up for that by giving one of the human characters a tear-jerker ending and it worked, if the intent was to make everyone leave the film feeling good, but it did nothing to make us like Kong. 

Like the original, the female lead ended up in the ape’s palm, but unlike the other versions this was a rescue and there was no connection between them. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Kong just dumped her back in the water. 

This was a fun film and a good action film. This may not be the Kong that you remember or the Kong that you want, but it works. You get your money’s worth. And since we already know that King Kong vs. Godzilla is going to be made, my geeky fanboy take on that after seeing both monsters in action, is Kong will easily take out Godzilla.

Just like Kirk would beat Picard in a fight.

Here’s Brie Larson in a tank top. Think I’d leave you hanging? That ought to sell some tickets. Tell ’em Mr. Blog sent you.

 

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The Second Lives of Count Dracula

27 Oct

October 27, 2016

Lee Halloween

I love Hammer films, especially their Dracula series. Christopher Lee is perfect as The Count. He’s regal but animalistic. He’s noble but savage. He has a commanding presence and the aura of someone that not only will you obey, but someone you would never consider not obeying, even at the cost of your life. As it usually is.

The films are moody and atmospheric and even the lesser films are creepy and gothic. Lee played Dracula in seven of the nine Dracula films Hammer produced. Despite the title, Brides of Dracula did not feature Dracula, and I am not counting 1974’s The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires as Dracula was little more than a cameo.

Dracula is the Lord of the Vampires, king of the undead, and the greatest vampire scourge on Earth, according to the films. He’s been around for generations and shows no sign of stopping. The problem is, that despite the menace he projects and the reputation he possess, he doesn’t do much. Count Dracula spends his time on film on petty and minor pursuits, usually being his own worst enemy, and starting with the second film, unable to survive more than a few days before being destroyed again. He’s a bit of a failure who just gets by on his name and reputation. His best days are long behind him.

Film 1: The Horror of Dracula (1958)
This is an excellent version of the Stoker book, easily my favorite, and much better than the Francis Ford Coppola version. Dracula terrorizes the countryside, making victims of whoever is foolish enough to be unprotected at night, and is feared far and wide.

But look closely and you’ll see that he’s a hermit who never leaves his castle. Yes, he feeds at night, but returns alone. He has three vampire “brides,” but shows very little interest in creating more vampires. He lives alone and stays alone. Coffin, kill, coffin. Professor Van Helsing calls him a worldwide menace who could use his powers to take over the world, but he shows no inclination to do so. Yes, he is the scourge of Transylvania, but he’s really just a local menace, and if he didn’t need fresh blood he’s probably just stay in his empty castle all the time. He has books and other diversions in his home but shows no signs of using them. Even his move to London is out of laziness- the city is more crowded and victims will be easier to find.

dracula_prince_of_darkness_1968Film 2: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
It has been 10 years since Dracula has been destroyed but the local villagers still live in fear. They won’t even go to church since the shadow of Dracula’s castle falls on it.

Dracula is resurrected by a previously unseen servant. He kills a traveler and mixes his blood with the Count’s ashes, bringing him back from the dead. After a ten year absence, Dracula feeds on another traveler, then instead of resuming his haunts decides to be petty and stalk the remaining travelers who escaped him. After failing to do much of anything, and failing at killing the travelers, Dracula is again destroyed (trapped under ice in running water) after only a day.

Film 3: Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
After a year entombed, Dracula is freed from the ice when blood from a priest’s wound seeps through a crack in the ice and touches his lips. Dracula returns to his castle and finds that a large cross has been placed over the doors. Instead of simply having his hypnotized servant remove the cross and return to his old ways, he spends the majority of the film hiding in the back room of an old bakery plotting the death of a young barmaid, niece of the Monsignor who placed the cross. After another day, maybe two, he is impaled on the giant cross.

At this point in the film series, Dracula has been resurrected twice, spent his time on petty and pointless revenge, and “lived” for a total of no more than three days since the end of the first film. He’s spent time hiding in a wagon outside a monastery and in a dirty basement room instead of his castle.

poster-dracula-has-risen-from-the-grave-teaser

Film 4: Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
At some point, possibly weeks after the last film, Dracula is brought back by a satanic ritual and immediately vows to kill the people who killed the man who resurrected him, despite not knowing the man. Again, he shows no interest in returning to his castle and instead his petty desire for revenge, which frankly should be beneath him, directly leads to his being turned back to dust at film’s end.

Film 5: Scars of Dracula (1970)
After an undetermined amount of time, Dracula returns from the dead when a bat regurgitates blood into his ashes, which have been inexplicably returned to his castle since the last film.

This film breaks the pattern of the last films and is closer to the first. Dracula has servants, creates more vampire brides, and, most tellingly, slaughters an entire village. This is the Dracula that had only been hinted at in the previous films. This Dracula is nearly invincible and no human agency can stop him. He is only destroyed when he is hit by a bolt of lightning.

Unfortunately, Hammer decided to move the franchise into modern times, taking the Count totally out of his Gothic element.

Film 6: Dracula AD 1972 (1972)
Film 7: The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
These films take Dracula out his usual setting but surround him with satanic cultists, which finally brings Dracula in line with his description as being an enemy of the world. Dracula takes on new identities, somewhat integrates himself into society, and generally acts more like a cult leader than a monster. However, this being the 1970’s that fits in with the era’s horror mold.

There was one final Dracula film. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, which is mainly a kung-fu film bookended by short Dracula sequences. Why does Dracula move to Asia? Laziness. Things were getting too rough in England for him. So I guess this film was a throwback to the old lazy Dracula in the first movie.

dracula_poster

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