Skull Island: A Review

Grumble in the Jungle

Spoilers!!!

Skull Island is a new twist on King Kong.

I’ll just say it: If I were Kong, I’d sue for defamation of character. Written by screenwriters, Dan Gilroy (Night Crawler, The Bourne Legacy) and Max Borenstein (2014’s Godzilla), it is the second film by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer). This new Kong is not the 1930’s beast beguiled by beauty or the misfit ape competing with Jeff Bridges for Dwan (Jessica Lange), nor is he the monster intrigued by Naomi Watts’ soft shoe. On Skull Island, Kong, who walks upright like Chuck Norris, is Clint Eastwood’s get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon of Grand Torino.

Cover image Skull Island

IMDB Skull Island image

When old enough, I often stayed up late to watch the 1933 version on Saturday nights.

Despite the wooden acting, the surreal jungle and Kong’s terrifying entrance always pulled me in. The sexual undercurrents of Kong’s attachment to Dwan is all I remember of the eighties version. I found Peter Jackson’s effort moderately entertaining, especially the Jurassic Park dinos. I enjoyed it more on DVD; the huge bugs weren’t nearly as gross.

On Skull Island, it isn’t Kong who loses his freedom; there’s no tragic fall. Instead, humanity might fall.

Waiting within the earth are monsters that can wipe us out. It begins with a WWII dogfight. Planes weave and dive above a sandy shore. When two crash, pilots, an American and a Japanese, struggle out of the wreckage. As they fight, something huge rises on the other side of a cliff; it’s Kong.

The scene fades into 1973. The Viet Nam War is ending.

Monster hunters Randa and Brooks (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) plan a trip to a mysterious island. Randa believes that someday, monsters will emerge from the earth and kill us all if we’re not ready. And oh, yes—they’ll need a military escort.

In Viet Nam, Lt. Colonel Preston (Samuel L. Jackson), who hates to lose, prepares to leave.

A mission to a dangerous island could take the sting out of defeat. Along with tracking specialist Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photographer, Weaver (Brie Larson), Preston and his men board a ship and sail to the island. Nearing the island’s mysterious clouds, the explorers pile into helicopters to scout. More helicopters will meet them later.

Ala Apocalypse Now, ‘70’s music blasting, helicopters drop bombs. Testing the depth of the island, they discover Randa’s “monster.” It’s Kong who reacts with a “who left the screen door open” glower. Unprovoked, Preston attacks and bullets fly. Kong bats the choppers away like giant flies. When they all crash, soldiers die. Preston vows revenge. He and his surviving men will pursue Kong on foot.

Conrad’s group (Weaver, researchers, etc.) looks for the rendezvous site, wandering through arid terrain that pales in comparison to the dreamy jungle of the original or the bug infested nightmare of Jackson’s movie. The American pilot (John C. Reilly) of the opening scene, a chatty eccentric, appears and introduces them to the locals, a National Geographic tribe of mutes who taught him how to avoid the island beasties.

Don’t mess with Kong, he warns; Kong fights the monsters. It’s all a misunderstanding, you see. Like Walt, the old man in Grand Torino, Kong defends the neighborhood by removing the undesirables.

While Preston seeks revenge, Conrad’s group, including the pilot, scramble for safety. Flesh-eating wildlife dine on several before the rest are rescued. Preston’s plans do not go well, especially for Preston. Kong lives to grumble another day.

Despite its A-list actors, I was glad to leave Skull Island. I didn’t care who got eaten.

And the monsters? I’ve read several reviews of this movie. Many describe them as innovative and scary. Maybe it’s just me; I couldn’t connect to the story enough to be scared. I missed the sticky hot jungle. I wanted dinosaurs, not a weird buffalo, giant daddy-long-legs or skeletal things that looked like dead possums. I wanted a huge wall hiding terrible things.

There was one thing I liked. I’ve always wondered where Kong came from, meaning: did he have a family?

Was there a Mrs. Kong, a Kong clan? Skull Island takes us to the Kong family plot. Kong, we’re told, is the last one. Is this the last of Kong? I hope not. If not, lose the daddy-long-legs and bring back T-Rex or even Godilla. Bring back the stop-motion charm of Faye Wray’s lovesick ape. Most of all bring back the mystery; bring back the wonder.

THE HOST: Now Serving Fish Legs in Agent Yellow

A Review of The Host, a 2007 Korean Creature Feature

SPOILER ALERT

   the hostDirected by Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder), The Host is an entertaining hodgepodge of social satire, monster movie tripe and political commentary. It is also a 2008 award winner—The Blue Dragon Film Awards among others.

Unlike Godzilla and The Pacific Rim, or earlier chill thrills like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms where the action is focused on government, scientists and military firepower, The Host is about ordinary people taking on the extraordinary.

The type of humor in this film reminded me of the 1990 movie Tremors where “just plain folks” banded together to take down giant worms summoned by mining and seismic activity. The ingenuity of hired hands and town folk as they do battle is similar to The Host, where a family pursues a monster to rescue one of their own.

I did wonder about the title. Who or what was “The Host.”?

The story begins in Seoul, where in a U.S. Military lab, a snotty white guy (Scott Wilson—pre The Walking Dead) tells his Korean assistant that the formaldehyde bottles taking up shelf space have dust on them. If there’s one thing this higher up can’t stand, it’s dust. The solution? Pour it all down the drain. This toxic chemical will end up in the Han River, but the boss ignores the obvious.

Next we’re at the Han River where a fisherman catches a tiny creature, something peculiar enough to show to his buddy. The man and his buddy speculate on what the creature is and if it’s a fish, what about those legs? Is the Host where this thing came from? Whatever the tiny creature is, we know it’s not good when before committing suicide, a man on a bridge stares at the water below and says something down there wants him. Little fishy is going to get a lot bigger.

Now, we’re in a tiny snack shack by the water. It’s a family owned business serving food to picnickers spending a peaceful day on the riverbank. Gang-doo (Kang-ho Song—Memories of Murder, The Snowpiercer), son of the proprietor, is a fortyish man-child who sneaks food meant for “mat” customers who are relaxing on the river’s shore—that fast food octopus is missing a leg. Clearly, Gang-doo is no host, especially since his hair is bleached an unappetizing orange yellow.

As Gang-doo sits inside, watching television, his twelve-year old daughter, Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko—Snowpiercer) joins him. He offers her a beer, “You’re in middle school; it’s fine,” he assures her. Very unhosty. They’re watching as the family star (isn’t there always one in every family who can do no wrong) Gang-doo’s sister, champion archer Nam-Joo (Doona Bae– Cloud Atlas, Sense8), competes in a tournament. Then Gang-doo’s father Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon—Memories of Murder) tells him to take some snacks to their customers. Now things get interesting. That something is still in the water. As if we didn’t know! Customers forget to eat their octopus legs as they watch the mysterious shape. Since resisting an impulse is not in Gang-doo’s skill set, he throws a beer can at it—or maybe to it. Is the creature bringing out Gang-doo’s inner-host? Then, customers start throwing food and cans.

Can you guess what happens next? That’s right, it’s monster time! When we see it, we realize that this thing wouldn’t even qualify as Godzilla’s baby brother, but it’s nasty just the same. The size of a teen T-Rex, this cutie can run. Unlike Godzilla who eats radioactive anything, fish boy eats people. Opening like an umbrella, its four-cornered mouth with a fang at each corner reminded me of the Predator. Using its snaky tail like a to-go box, it grabs people “for later”.

When a U.S. soldier decides to fight the monster, Gang-doo helps. Not a good choice. The soldier gets eaten as Gang-doo hurries his daughter away. When they stumble, he grabs the hand of the wrong little girl. Poor Hyun-seo finds herself wrapped in the to-go tail as the monster decides it’s had enough fun and swims for home.

Later, we see photos of victims on a makeshift shrine. Gang-doo’s sister Nam-joo arrives as does brother Nam-il (Hae-il Park—Memories of Murder), an unemployed college grad. Gang-doo and his dad burst into tears. Then each family member tries to outdo the other’s grief over the loss of Hyun-seo. The contest becomes weirdly funny as they all fall to the floor, trying to out-mourn each other. Hyun-seo, a no nonsense twelve year-old, would be shaking her head in embarrassment.

Soon, Gang-doo and family find themselves in a holding area as government officials try to sort things out. The Korean government seems to be a movie favorite target. We see the confusion, boredom and politicking of various government types while they ignore the concerns of Gang-doo, his family and everyone else. After TV news reports that the American soldier who chased the monster (guess the monster spit him out) was not dead, but alas, covered with strange “spots,” doctors warn Gang-doo not to eat anything. Why? Eating might feed the “infection”! Not to worry. The Americans are planning to spray the river area with “Agent Yellow”! Ouch. As soon as no one’s looking, Gang-doo opens a can of food. Then a cell phone rings. It’s Hyun-seo! She’s in a sewer and soon will be a monster munchie, so please come get her!

Despite his garbled pleas, no bureaucrat takes Gang-doo seriously, but his family does. Determined to save Hyun Seo, the family escapes and hijacks an ambulance; then, with the help of Dad’s cash and credit, they acquire an Agent Yellow spray truck. They’re stopped at a checkpoint, but bluff their way through, telling the guard the truck is from a secret division.

Hiding in another snack shack, they wait, rifles ready for Godzilla Junior to appear. While they eat, each family member, including Gang-doo, imagines sharing food with Hyun-seo. When the monster shows up, the bullets only make him cranky, and Nam-joo’s arrows miss. The nasty thing chases after all three and Grandpa makes the ultimate sacrifice. Goodbye Hie-bong!

Now we’re in the sewer. Hung-seo crouches in a hollow pipe embedded in the wall. Each time fish boy drops another body, Hyun-seo waits until it’s safe, then searches for a live cell phone.

Back at the river, the authorities capture Gang-doo, but the sibs get away. Somehow, Hyun-seo manages to phone Gang-doo again, giving him a better idea where she is. Looking for more ”virus” (the virus was made up to cover the pollution incident), doctors lobotomize Gang-doo. Not only does the procedure have no effect, Gang-doo seizes the opportunity to escape again. We see all three siblings figure out Hyun-seo’s location. Will they be in time?

Meanwhile back in the sewer, another load of groceries is dropped, including two young boys. One, five-year old Se-joo is alive and Hyun-Seo takes charge. Se-joo and his brother were homeless and hungry. As they wait for the monster to return, she comforts him by promising a variety of tasty meals they will share. She improvises a rope, managing to hook it to an overhead grid. Alas, it’s too short. Then, double alas, the monster comes back and takes a nap right under the rope. You can see the wheels turning in Hyun-seo’s mind as she calculates the risk of using fish boy as a step stool. As she tiptoes up the creature’s back, a tail whips out. Like Hyun-seo, monsters know how to play possum! Oh no!

The three siblings, each on their own path, are seeking Hyun-seo. Nam-joo shoots some arrows but almost gets eaten. Where are the authorities—the police, the U.S. Military, the Korean Army? They’re getting ready to spray Agent Yellow. Disguised as a student protester, aided by a homeless guy with a gas can, Nam-il bumps into Gang-doo and Nam-joo just as the monster reappears. They douse fish boy with gasoline as Agent Yellow wafts through the air. Ears bleeding from Agent Yellow, the siblings battle the beast as it weakens. Then Nam-joo shoots an arrow and lights the fire. Gang-doo finishes the thing off with a pole just as he sees a little hand protruding from the beast’s gullet. It must be and it is Hyun-seo! Pulling her out, he sees her other arm wrapped around the boy.

Sadly Hyun-seo is no more. It must be a Korean thing—no similar American movie would tolerate such a downer.

The Host ends in another snack shack by the river. It’s night and it’s snowing. Inside, Gang-doo ignores the television (he has changed) as he feeds Se-joo the tasty foods promised by Hyun-seo. As the little boy enjoys his meal, the “Host” sits by the window. Rifle in hand, Gang-doo guards against the unknown night.

 

Prometheus

an alien nation of infection

Attention: Spoiler Alert!

PROMETHEUS, the prequel to the ALIEN films is now in theaters. Directed by Ridley Scott, who directed ALIEN, the first in the series, PROMETHEUS is one of two eagerly awaited science fiction movies of the the 2012 summer. The other movie is THE AVENGERS.  Although there are other science fiction movies debuting this summer, PROMETHEUS and THE AVENGERS are the ones that fans have been waiting for. I saw THE AVENGERS and I didn’t care for it. What little I did like included performances by Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Because I wasn’t a fan of the comics and not familiar with the characters, I didn’t think it right to review it. On the other hand, I have seen every one of the ALIEN series and really liked the first two.

PROMETHEUS was a disappointment.
The opening is beautiful.

A bald, blue, giant man, stands on the edge of a precipice, and far below is a scary Niagra-like waterfall. He drinks from what looks like a coconut shell with little bean-like things in it. Not a good idea. He isn’t jolly and this isn’t a valley–ho, ho, ho. The blue skin starts mottling a nasty black spider pattern.  He keels over and plunges into the water where we see images of organs and vessels pulsating. The images take us into his cells where we see his DNA breaking apart and blending, we assume with all that water.

Skip ahead with me to a new time and place,

where a pair of archeologists discover an ancient cave drawing of a giant being (with a bald head so start doing the math). It’s one of many drawings featuring giant men discovered in the artifacts of  ancient cultures all over the world. Thousands of miles separate these drawings done by artists with no possible way to communicate. The discovery scene with the digging and brushing off the find, as well as the excitement of the scientist love-birds  reminded me of the opening scene from JURASSIC PARK.

Now, we’re on a spaceship, off to an unknown galaxy.

The crew is in hyper-sleep, tended by an android played by Michael Fassbender, a good actor whom I find both  creepy and sexy.  The android reminded me of a baby-sitter where the kids are asleep and the absent grownups have a great sound system and supply of dvds. He walks around taking notes, peering into a female crew member’s dream (not nice) as he listens to music and watches old movies including LAWRENCE of ARABIA. His glowing yellow visor contrasts beautifully with the gleaming surface of the ship. Why did they put him in flipflops? That was odd. The beauty and serenity of this sequence reminded me of the opening of 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY. The android’s name is David. Remind you of anything–like maybe HAL’s friend, “Dave”?

Next we have the briefing of the crew.

They all sit around, joking and drinking coffee while Charlize Theron (one of the best things in the movie and is she ever on a roll this year) gives a presentation that includes graphics showing the similarities of drawings and how they point to a different creation process in terms of how we got here . There’s also an explanation of the mission by a holographic message. It’s the powerful  Weyland, the ninety-something owner of the company. Weyland is played by Guy Pearce in the worst old-age make-up I’ve seen since the last eighth grade production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Really guys? That totally took me out of the movie. There are a lot of seventy plus name actors who could have convincingly played twenty years older. Pearce is at the most fortyish. This was bad casting as well as bad make-up. The whole scene with the wise-cracking crew reminded me of the Marine grunts crew-briefing in ALIENS. Where’s Bill Paxton? They could have used him. The hip black captain (Idris Elba) tried, but just couldn’t supply enough of the required “cool” factor with so many science nerds making lame jokes.

Now, we’re on a spaceship, off to an unknown galaxy.

The crew is in hyper-sleep, tended by an android played by Michael Fassbender, a good actor whom I find both creepy and sexy. The android reminded me of a baby-sitter where the kids are asleep and the absent grownups have a great sound system and supply of dvds. He walks around taking notes, peering into a female crew member’s dream (not nice) as he listens to music and watches old movies including LAWRENCE of ARABIA. His glowing yellow visor contrasts beautifully with the gleaming surface of the ship. Why did they put him in flipflops? That was odd. The beauty and serenity of this sequence reminded me of the opening of 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY. The android’s name is David. Remind you of anything–like maybe HAL’s friend, “Dave”?

Next we have the briefing of the crew.

Darwin was a quack and the bald men planted us on earth. Those drawings were an invitation, weren’t they? The planet landing sequence was cool. We see these big domes. And . . . they’re hollow! One by one, like an Agatha Christie play, scientists start dying–with a little help from Android David, and the stowaway–you guessed it! Guy Pierce who happens to be Charlize’s father–a plot line thrown in like an extra onion to the stew. Didn’t help. When it comes to an invitation, BYOB takes on a whole new meaning and all the aliens, alienettes and mini-aliens slithering in that dome consider the spaceship a giant kegger. At the end of it we find out that the big blue bald guys were cooking up weapons of mass destruction at a safe distance from their world.

Yes, they were in our little corner of the universe and yes, they are our daddies.

However, they weren’t satisfied with how we turned out and were planning to come back to re-do  us using some of their other little works of art–the ones with two sets of razor-teeth. Unfortunately for them, someone didn’t mind the stove and there was an accident. All the aliens died a long time ago. Or did they? David the Android manages to not only spike the drink of one of the scientists with alien juice, but also intends to harvest a little alien bun-in the oven, planted in the unfortunate scientist girlfriend. She outsmarts him and does her own c-section before the little nipper gets too frisky. Okay then, David’s last trick is to wheel his old boss out to see the one remaining bald alien who has been in some kind of super sleep for a zillion years. David figures out how to wake him up. Ah, good plan! Does the alien give away any trade secrets–say to eternal life? The old man eagerly awaits. The big blue guy grins, kills Weyland and rips David’s head off. David isn’t particularly upset.

By now, what’s left off the crew has figured out that they need to destroy the big alien ship.

It was on its way to earth and after the long layover, the remaining alien will be off to off us.  With a heroic “it’s been a privilege captain” every one blows up. Everyone, that is except the bald alien, who is finally killed by the “little bun in the oven” that’s all grow’d up.  David (in two pieces now) tells the remaining scientist he has figured out how to pilot one of the small remaining alien ships. Does she want him to take her home? Nooooo. Of course not.  She wants an explanation, so off they go to find ET’s home. She explains that because she’s human, she needs to know. Really? Just call me Data.

Snow White and the Huntsman

Hi ho-hi ho-politically correct we go!

No Spoiler Alert! (Hello–It’s Snow White)

As I write this review, SNOW WHITE and the HUNTSMAN, a 2012 release,  is a currently in theaters. Directed by Rupert Sanders (first film) and co-written by Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock (director of  THE BLIND SIDE), it stars Charlize Theron as Ravenna (the evil queen), Kristen Stewart (Snow White) and Chris Hemsworth as the studly huntsman.

If you enjoy films with great visual effects, you ‘ll enjoy this film.The story, however, is muddled.

In my opinion, the movie’s too long. I became restless about three-quarters into it.  The story meandered. It may be that the writers were working from other versions of the fairytale and we’re all used to the Disney version. Regardless, it seems that they failed to settle on one version. Unfortunately, the result is muddled and questions like why Ravenna doesn’t kill Snow White when she kills the King and who this Huntsman really is are not answered. We’re left with too many loose ends.

Where is Prince Charming? He’s been demoted. His name is “William” (Sam Claflin)  and he’s the son of a duke. Ravenna’s overly devoted brother “Finn” Sam Spreull (Hamlet called and wants his hair back) keeps a handy supply of local maidens in the dungeon for those occasions when Ravenna needs a dose of youth to freshen up. Ravenna tricked the King, Snow White’s father, into marrying her. Ravenna has issues with men–and everybody else–and makes it her business to spread misery like a bad rash over the entire kingdom. Too bad she has no other outlets. Ravenna could do a mean blog and likely, the Facebook friend from hell.

Charlize Theron makes a believable evil queen–very intimidating. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. This actress is good in just about every role she does.

For some reason Ravenna keeps Snow White alive as a permanent dungeon resident. That is until The Mirror announces Snow White is “the fairest in the land.” Ravenna is not happy (she never is).  Especially when she learns Snow White can kill her. There is good news though. Snow White’s heart is a permanent beauty treatment. If Ravenna eats it, there need be no more messy maidens.

Kristen Stewart is okay as Snow White. She simply isn’t compelling. There’s a heaviness to her acting. No perceivable sense of humor.

When Finn comes to collect Snow White’s heart, Snow White escapes.  Then Ravenna sends out the Huntsman and one thing leads to another, including Ravenna impersonating William and handing  Snow White the poison apple. She bites, falls dead and guess whose kiss wakes her up. Not wimpy William–it’s Hunky Huntsman.

So now Snow White is really annoyed–that apple was the last straw. The result– Snow White leads an army and storms the castle to end Ravenna. The huntsman and William, and six of the seven dwarfs (one dwarf dies) join in the battle. Several well-known non-dwarf actors hi ho it to the castle including Bos Hoskins and Ian McShane. The dwarf scenes have lots of bathroom humor and though funny, they’re not in sync with the tone of the narrative.  Not surprisingly, this cast was a major issue for working actors who are in fact dwarfs. Of course they win and Snow White kills the queen. Kristen’s soulful Twilight stare helps Ravenna into the light.

This reworking of the Snow White fairy tale sounds a feminist note. It ends with her coronation. Who is going to be Mr. Snow White? Will it be the devoted William, the tormented rough-around-the edges Huntsman, or maybe a dwarf? Wait for the sequel. One thing for sure– no white charger, no “Some day my prince will come” for this girl. She has a kingdom to rule.

LORD of ILLUSIONS

Lordy what a mess. But in a good way.

SPOILER ALERT

LORD of ILLUSIONS:

Lordy what a mess. But sort of in a good way.

This 1995 film, directed and written by Clive Barker begins as many horror films do with the camera showing us all the creepy things that we know spell “time to go someplace else.” We’re in the desert and looking at an abandoned Imageone story building. There’s an array of small animal bones, skulls, old broken dolls, dead snakes, etc. A group of people drives up and approaches the building commando-style. Inside, there’s a party going on and it’s obvious these gun-toters aren’t there to bring the dip. As these fun-interruptus types barge in, we see someone sitting on the steps. The androgynous figure is a character named “Butterfield” (Trevor Edmond) who is the biggest baddest fan of “Nix.” Nix (Daniel von Bargen) is a mellow-voiced sorcerer who has plans to sacrifice a young girl. The girl cowers in the corner while a large, nasty baboon bares its teeth and tries to bite her. I think the point of the party and the sacrifice is to kill the world and hang around after and gloat, but I’m not sure. All the party goers are having a great time. They’re shaving their heads and looking at each other like good sex is going to happen soon. The head of the commandos is a guy named Swann (Kevin O’Conner). Things get crazy and Nix ends up dead and buried with an iron mask nailed to his head to keep him dead. In the meantime, Butterfield who survives the fracas is getting really mad.

So now we jump fifteen years. Swann is a world famous magician. A new character is introduced-a detective (who knows the “dark-side” we’re told via a flashback and a newspaper headline) named Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) While on another case, Harry stumbles on a murder-in-progress, which happens to be a revenge killing to get back at the people who broke up the party and nailed Nix. Of course Butterfield (now played by Barry Del Sherman) is involved and of course Harry decides to investigate. This takes him to Swann’s Beverly Hills mansion and Mrs. Swann (in name only we’re told), Famke Janssen. So let’s skip ahead, shall we? Swann fakes his death; Butterfield is fooled but he still manages to dig up Nix and re-book the party with all the same folks invited and of course they bring their scissors and razors. What fun. Swann ends up in a stand-off with Nix, who is disappointed because he had counted on Swann to help him kill the world and afterwards they could just hang out together. Poor Butterfield is so unappreciated. Harry shows up and of course there’s a stand-off and of course the only people left are the best looking–Scott Bakula and Famke. The world is saved. My guess is both Famke and Scott considered firing their agents after this.

Despite the mess and confusion, mostly linked to the dangling plot lines like –the client who paid Harry to investigate the unfaithful husband, the cool woman cop, the helpful Magic Castle magician who helped Harry find some perfectly irrelevant info, I kept watching. I think it was because of Butterfield and the party-goers. They were so passionate, so into whatever Nix was selling, it was seductive. The movie came alive during the party scenes and whenever Butterfield showed up. Otherwise I felt as if I was watching some good actors (Bakula, Janssen, O’Conner,etc.) looking like they would rather be having a root canal.  All in all, I’d opt for the movie rather than the root canal, but as far as that party goes, I’m not shaving my head for no one.