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“Kong: Skull Island”a jungle of fun

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If anything “Kong: Skull Island” proves is that monster movies are not dead. Nor is the genre of jungle adventure films. In today’s age, Hollywood has been giving us more superhero and reboots to the point of overkill. Now, Legendary Pictures is getting its “MonsterVerse” into gear and I can thankfully say I wasn’t disappointed with this entry. It was about time the big ape got a fresh start and I had a blast watching it. The movie in a nutshell is the war tone of Apocalypse Now meets the characters from James Cameron’s Aliens.

Set during the Vietnam War’s end, a government agent named Bill Randa (John Goodman) seeks a plan to visit an mysterious island for study and proof that monsters exist there. He gets teamed up with Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and a bunch of soldiers to take a trek via helicopter. At first we are led to believe this is some sort of study when it turns out Bill wants to blow up the island in a fiery rage. All plans are halted when Kong arrives showing he’s not only king of the island, but also a protector of his home.

The moment Kong shows up and smashes some helicopters, everything changes as the war movie turns into a monster movie. While stranded and seeking an exist, soldiers fend their way through thick jungle and avoid the wraith of giant spiders and demonic lizard monsters seeking to munch on them. Each creature is well designed by ILM and its a shame we never get to see many in action. With the only exception being a bunch of monsters called “skull crushers,” that look like a crossbreed between Cubone from Pokemon and a gila monster. When these monstrous being attack, I was greedy in hoping for a big action scene with a whole horde of them. On the other hand, this movie is dedicated to Kong, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

Also stuck on the island is a former British Captain (Tom Hiddleston)  and a photojournalist (Brie Larson) who get the better part of the journey. Most of the time, they run into peaceful beasts and kindly natives that have a Buddhist-like personality. They later come across a World War II pilot played by John C. Riley, who crashed landed on the island in 1944. Riley proves to be a lot of fun with a manic performance that is funny and touching. Of course, they joke around how he has no clue about current events but they work for the most part.

“Kong” is very much your run of the mill monster movie stocked with cliched characters, rampaging beasts and all tossed into a thick jungle. What sets itself apart is the directorial style and fun performances. The choice of placing the story during the Vietnam War gives way for some creative scenes of solders blasting off to a tape recording playing Black Sabbath. The soundtrack itself is packed with psychedelic rock music from Creedence Clearwater Revival to David Bowie and the color scheme is put to great use with intense sunlight and cold blue nights.

Aside from the eye candy, I can’t think of single performance or character I disliked. Most of the people there are stock characters and cliches, but not in an annoying way. You have the one person who knows what is going on but is ignored, the war crazy Colonel, the guy who promises to make it home but doesn’t and so forth. In a way, I wish the characterization was given more depth but I wasn’t too disappointed in the light development. Actors like Sameul Jackson and John C. Riely really soak up the screen and knowing this is the kind of movie not to take seriously. In honesty, it works.

The revamped Kong is a big highlight differing from any other version depicted before him. The ape stands like a God of the sky and will defend his home in anyway he can. The special effects really convey the emotion and determination of this creature in how far he will go to protect Skull Island. Unlike Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla from 2014 (which the enjoyment is starting to wear off), we get plenty of Kong scenes paced perfectly throughout the movie. From brawling monsters to taking down choppers, this variation is sure to please.

I found myself overjoyed by the time the end credits came along. I’m a dead sucker for monster movies as much as jungle adventure films. Maybe this will start a revival of interest in monster movies or maybe it won’t. All I can say is that I saw a good monster movie and enjoyed every minute of it. Even during the intense moments, “Kong” doesn’t lose its fun luster. From beautiful visuals that will stay with me to engaging creatures fights, this is one eight wonder that I will never forget.

Also word of caution, as stated before this is the first in a planned “shared film universe” meaning the movie ends with a setup for the next entry right after the end credits. Unlike everyone who left the theater, I stayed through every name of the crew members just to see what lay at the end. Sure enough, I got a nice surprise but couldn’t believe how many missed such a great tease. And the fact I was the only one in the movie theater that waited so patiently to see it really shows how determined a filmgoer can be. Do yourself a favor when seeing this in theaters. Don’t walk out during the end credits. The patience is worth it.

Box-Office: “X-Men” Dominates Box Office Weekend; But No New Franchise Record

For the four day weekend, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was the victor for Memorial Day weekend as it took top spot with an estimated $111 million. But just looking at the three-day weekend structure for most movies, “Days of Future Past” grossed $$91.4 million. While this is an impressive feat, how does it hold with the franchise? While it was a massive improvement over X-Men First Class’s opening weekend gross of $55 million but it doesn’t match the $102 million The Last Stand snatched in its opening weekend. While a bit low behind other big openers this season like Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million) and Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($91.6 million), one should still regard its solid opening and its certainly a step-up from the previous X-Men flicks judging from its opening gross and “A” CineScore with positive word of mouth. Perhaps this will be a turn around for the franchise after all.

In second place is Godzilla with $31.1 million on its second weekend run ($39.4 millon if you go by Memorial Day standards). While this drop is not a hard one, its still a steep decline. The theory is that everyone went out to see the monster flick due to strong marketing and very much it became the movie viewers wanted or the one that left others half-pleased. My basic throught is that a good majority of folks itching to see its hype were the support for its $93.2 million. Thanks to its mixed word of mouth and though competition this week, its obvious to see why it stumbled a bit. But with $156.8 million already gained, one can be certain that its $160 million production budget will be obtained back in no time.

And not so surprising, the latest Adam Sandler comedy Blended grossed a dismal $14.2 million for third place (again, $18.2 million if you want to go by Memorial Day weekend gross). While a bit higher than That’s My Boy ($13.5 million),  its still a very weak gross when compared to the $25 million opening Jack and Jill brought in (and even that was considered a disappointed gross). The buzz promised a return to the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore comedies in hopes of generating enough buzz, but it looks like it wasn’t enough. Interesting as popularity in Adam Sandler comedies have been shrinking over the past years. Oddly enough, even Adam admitted in a recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel that this movie was made so he could take a vacation. Unfortunately, it feels that way already with some of his other entries.

New “Godzilla” is best of summer

He's back...and bigger than before

He’s back…and bigger than before

Its hard to talk about Godzilla without giving anything away for newcomers and those who wish to go in spoiler free. So I will be fair and for those who wish not to be ruined to read this paragraph till it ends. First, I didn’t see Amazing Spider Man 2 (hell, I didn’t bother) and Neighbors. This was the movie I decided to start my summer on and I’m thankful I went to the Thursday screening. If you enjoy blockbusters that give a lot of character depth, this is the movie for you. But if you wish it was more action packed like World War Z….chances are you’ll still give a damn about it. With that said, those who wish to hear my thoughts….proceed with caution. Again, I will try to make this spoiler free as possible…but I can’t guarantee much….

I was worried when they made plans to do another Godzilla and even after watching Godzilla 1985, I grew a little cautious after seeing what kind of “mockery” they did. Again, I have an upcoming episode on this so I’ll leave that there. But with a new movie on the big monster, I was curious. Trailers showcased his mighty and dynamic ability and presented that monster movies CAN be serious and fun too. I went in hyped as hell and boy, I wasn’t disappointed…well, almost.

The minute the opening credits started, I was hooked. Supposedly this is meant to be an “origin” tale but really they just sum it up in the opening title scene. Smart move. In fact, a lot of this movie is just told though images and subtle actions which give it an almost balletic feel that is moving and haunting at the same time. It knows when to be quiet and when to be serious and I haven’t seen anything like that since last year’s World War Z and The Crow.

The story is centered on the human characters that survive the chaos and most of the film is placed on a “family” kind of theme that doesn’t feel too phoned in. While I’m glad to see we get some heavily developed characters, the problem is that less time is focused on Godzilla. In fact, a good bulk of this movie is a huge tease as every confrontation and bit of monster destruction is saved till the final third when EVERYTHING is seen and not kept secret. Even I found myself rather disappointed with the first Godzilla fight between him and a giant bug like monster (which props to the design) is reduced to a quick news report.

But again, this all build-up and suspense to the final act when a California city is put to rubble from Godzilla’s battle between two “MUTO” creatures that are like giant cockroaches with a fiery bite. If you are able to put up with the character development and patience for the final act where it all pays off, good for you. If not and wish it was action-packed…well, I still say its worth going through it.

You see, most of the Godzilla movies in the past focus on the monsters and little on the human characters. Not sense Godzilla Vs. King Ghiedorah, can I remember an entry in the series when human characters were the focus. They move the plot as they are in the middle of Godzilla’s brawl and the monster’s path of destruction. It really puts you in the moment and has an rather grim throwback to the natural disasters of the past. It treats the monsters like if Mother Nature herself was on a rampage as MUTOs represent the wind and Godzilla controls the tsunamis of the seas. Its funny how when Godzilla is enraged, he creates a tsunami before battle marking his entrance and yet at the end, it is bookended when he returns to the waters and makes calm waves. Nice touch.

Above all, this is truly a vast improvement over the 1998 film and it shows. While you do get less of the big lizard, you still get a very engaging and fun flick that I will admit is by far the darkest Godzilla movie I’ve seen to date since his fight with Destroyah. In a way, it does feel like a reboot of that one considering the insect-like tendencies of the MUTOs. In a way, we feel like ants to them when they battle it out and make us wonder what is it like to be small and in the middle of a monster’s brawl. Director Gareth Edwards of Monsters successfully captures this so well it makes Pacific Rim seem like a TV show and less of a blockbuster. Hell, it blew that movie out of the water tonight and I’m not surprised if it does the same for many. All I can say is go in with low expectations as hopefully by the end, you will see the (or if not) ONE of the best summer movies of the year so far.