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.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” reached a new low with me. It improves some of the problems I had with “Dark of the Moon” and that is about as much as I can give it. Ever since its first sequel, the series has gotten repetitive, duller and longer. With the new entry, there was some hope to it. It was going in a different direction with a new cast and adding on the Dinobots. It also made me do the first I thought I would never expect to do with an entry like this. And that is to make me ask “so what?”
Mark Wahleberg plays Cade Yeager, a single father who is starting to form into the overprotective mode of fatherhood as her daughter (Nicola Peltz) is close to graduation and has a boyfriend. Its the standard father stuff we’ve seen before. Even Armageddon was more interesting with this cliche storyline because of the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. Also, the story arch in that Micheal Bay flick at least was building to something in the end. Here, its your typical father forbids bf to kiss gf motif.
Things shake up when Cade discovers a torn up truck and finds out its really Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen returning again as the voice) who reveals the government is trying to exterminate all walking and all talking robots off the face of the Earth. I will give some credit. At least they are trying to keep the continuity of the series but its done in the wrong way. Why kill the one thing that is at least protecting the planet? It gets worse. Apparently a huge corporation is taking the scrap metal from the dead Autobots and Decepticons and using them to rebuild new robots. A new form of energy is made that is robotic but molds into any kind of weapon or item like clay. Something about this feels weird and unsettling to me. The fact that a centenarian mechanism is being torn apart and reused like scrap metal feels somewhat disturbing when you consider they were trying to save the world.
Kelsey Grammer plays a paranoid CIA agent that is supposed to be the villain of the movie but nothing about him feels threatening. Kelsey is a great actor and he’s been in a lot of great movies but something about his character doesn’t feel menacing or threatening to me. He has a group of agents at his back that will do anything for him and that’s about it. It also doesn’t help he’s working with other transformers who plan to resurrect Megatron or some ridiculous plot. I just see it as an excuse to get Frank Welker back. If they keep killing him off, why even consider resurrecting him again? But this time, its NOT Megatron. Its actually a clone/rebuilt version that was meant to be a copy of Optimus but the materials they found only makes him into Galvatron who may sound and act like him Megatron but isn’t. Again, what’s the point?
The only thing new I can think of that is interesting is the new team of Autobots assembled here. Aside from the return of Bumblebee, actors like John Goodman, Ken Watanabe and John DiMaggio easily fit into their rough and tumble roles. I can almost picture them doing a Transformers revival cartoon on Saturday Morning. They are the only thing that is at least enjoybale with the exception of John DiMaggio doing a robot role for a second time in his career. And considering he dons a British accent, it only makes me think what it would be like if Bender of Futurama was Welsh. Ken isn’t too bad and of course John Goodman is great in any role you stick him in. He’s obvious to point out but at least he gives 110% when it comes to acting.
The rest of “Age of Extinction” doesn’t offer much new. Just the same invasion stuff with the usual tear up the city action scenes. Even the Dinobots feel tagged on even if they are part of a big battle in Hong Kong. They don’t feel like much of the center of the film as the advertising promised. The whole movie has some kind of subtext about how mechanical a corporation works and nothing original is crafted from it. But its more ironic considering its part of a franchise that is not offering much new aside from new characters and creatures for its toyline. And just because you add more running time, doesn’t make it an epic entry. By the end, a feeling of exhaustion and fatigue comes in that makes you wish it ended earlier. And sames goes for the gritty violence that I guess keeps getting more graphic and gratuitous. I guess seeing a man getting cut in half is considered R rated but a robot that gets sliced in half is MPAA approved because they are machines. I should point out these are anthropomorphic robots with human feelings and it feels weird seeing much slicing and shooting that looks so graphic that I think it should have been R rated to begin with. At least Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t get bloody like this movie.
Bottom line, I have a lot of problems with this entry but at least it wasn’t as bad as “Dark of the Moon” which in my opinion was the worst of the series for its hampered storyline, terrible editing, poor characters and it simply didn’t know when to conclude. At least with “Age of Extinction,” there were some characters I was ok with and I did appreciate a few things. I wasn’t offended by this one as much as the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie because there isn’t much to expect. Its typical new age Michael Bay we have seen before and that is what we come to accept. The new Turtles movie had me frustrated to the point I wanted to pull every hair fiber out of my head because of how much it went against the franchise I grew up with so much and certain story elements along with some character motives just didn’t make any sense. This new Transformers just made me shrug. It fixes “some” of the problems with the last entry but not a whole lot. If its going to keep going this route and not offer anything new to us, then why do you even keep seeing it? Perhaps its because the franchise just keeps playing it safe and doesn’t take any risks. That’s fine but a little change to keep it fresh and new doesn’t hurt. They could have done something with the Dinobots or even try to do things more in space. But instead its more of the same and honestly, I don’t’ see why I should care about it if this is the direction the series is going into.
When it comes to live-action adaptions, Hannah Barbera seems to be getting not much luck. Scooby Doo was a complete mess of a picture, Top Cat was lost in its technological satire and the animated Tom and Jerry film from 1992 was far worse. The only film in the batch that I feel is harmless compared to the rest is the 1994 live-action adaption of “The Flintstones.” The original 1960’s TV series was well-known for being the first prime-time animated sitcom for adults with everyday life placed in the Stone Age. In fact, arguably, some say its The Honeymooners in the Stone Age with gruff Fred Flintstone working hard with a loyal wife and goofy next door neighbor. I enjoy the series as a kid with the idea of cavemen acting like modern day people with the joke pushed further with prehistoric animals being used as household appliances. It was fun, creative and certainly a perfect vehicle for a feature film. However, this wasn’t the first time everyone’s modern day stone age family went to the big screen.
1966 gave us “The Man Called Flintstone,” a spy/musical/comedy that barley works. I was fine with the doppleganger Fred who is really a secret agent arch but was it really necessary to throw in song after song. And sadly, the humor didn’t fit the bill either with predicable gags that feel recycled, predicable and forced. Its a shame seeing there was great potential here but wasted under all those musical numbers and kiddie fair. At this point, the show was in a decline while cranking out juvenile stories just to get a kid audience. From fantasy concepts to the Great Gazoo, its seems the original purpose of the show’s existence and intended audience was lost.
Jump to the 1980’s where writer after writer was hired to get a live-action production of the Flintstones off the ground with one idea being a “Grapes of Wraith” style story. It seems all would be lucked out til director Brian Levant was brought on deck to deliver a script that would work and a film for the summer of 1994. Seeing he was big into the Flintstones and maintained an entire living room of memorabilia, it appeared he would be the perfect choice. Brian had a history with television writing for shows like Happy Days and Mork and Mindy so his style of sitcom humor matched the prehistoric family. However, according to the DVD’s documentary, the whole script was written in the style of sitcom writers where three people would gather in one room and bounce ideas and scenes off each other. And perhaps, this is where things fell apart for viewers.
The story tries to be a throwback to the old Flintstones that relied on adult matters like marriage or poker night with friends. The Slate and Co. get a new executive named Cliff Vandercave (played by David Lynch veteran Kyle MacLachlan) who plans to rob the company of its stock and profits with his sultry assistant Sharon Stone (Halle Berry) at his aide. But they plan to infect more damage by finding the right stooge to pinpoint the money laundering to. While that goes on, Fred clears out his savings to help his friend Barney Rubble adopt a kid. With a good deed in mind, Barney decides to payback Fred by switching aptitude tests on an I.Q. exam resulting in Fred being an executive and Barney getting the shaft.
First, let’s talk about the biggest problem here many have pointed out. For Cliff to find the right “stooge,” he makes an I.Q. test to find someone dumb enough to follow his plan and be conned. Considering the majority of Slate & Co’s workers are dimwitted neanderthals, wouldn’t it make sense to get the one with the lowest score instead? I guess when you take into consideration how devolved some of the workers are, it does make sense but you have to someone with a brain the size of a pea to do such bidding like firing co-workers and embezzlement.
Things get more complex when the Flintstones are richer than kings and start to go through a snobbish transformation that places Fred’s friendship with the Rubbles on the line. I guess its the only thing that does work in this movie seeing how focused it becomes. I feel bad but find it funny how Barney is put through every temp job in Bedrock while amused at Fred’s dumbfounded enjoyment with his riches. The original show itself centered a lot on the two cavemen so its not bad to see their friendship put to the test even if it has been done countless times before on the series.
The casting is one thing that gets a mixed feeling from viewers. John Goodman is (and always will be) Fred Flintstone. He is all around perfect from the gruff attitude to even looking like him. Goodman does a fantastic job bring this role to life knowing when to make greedy character sympathetic. Fred can be a jerk but he has a heart of gold and Goodman really delivers it. Rick Moranis is surprisingly decent as Barney Rubble getting the personality to a tea as an example that just because the voice isn’t there doesn’t mean its not all there. Moranis brings the altruist feeling of Barney to life seeing how Rick is good at soft and meek characters.
But not everyone is 100% perfect. I think Elizabeth Perkins is ok as Wilma keeping the feisty attitude of the character while trying to live up to being between a good wife and Fred’s conscious but not much screen time is devoted to her. Sure she does become a big help to Fred in the third act, but we don’t see much of her in the first portion of the movie to establish the working of her character that much. Also on the side is Rosie O’Donnell who I’m dead mixed about. Truth be told, she was hired on because of big of a Flintstones fan she was and Roise tries to channel every essence of the character here but something feels off. On one hand, she channels the character really well and keeps the quiet yet optimistic feel but I feel she would have been better suited as Fred’s mother-in-law knowing Rosie’s loud and sarcastic wit would really been a huge highlight. Speaking of which, Elizabeth Taylor cameos as Fred’s loud mother-in-law Pearl who plays her up as a shrill and crabby resident. In the show, Peal equally matched Fred’s attitude (and height) to the point the two egos would clash with hilarious results. Here, I feel bad Elizabeth has to try and overpower someone bigger and louder than her when anyone else could play her and their wouldn’t be a difference.
On the bright side, some of the original voice cast return making for either small cameos or be crucial characters. I’m glad Levant was able to obtain some of Mel Blanc’s voice performance as the pet Dino and Jean Vander Pyl makes a cameo during a conga line. Harvey Corman also returns as Fred’s Dictabird who plays a big part later in the film while channeling between a piece of office equipment and Fred’s conscious. The way the two minds clash with Fred’s unthinkable power and the bird’s moral value makes for some good comedy at times. And you have to give props to the set design and effect work from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in bringing Bedrock to life. Not only did they make buildings but even chairs and furniture from scrap to give it that stony/gravel feel. A lot of detail and craft was placed in bringing this prehistoric place to life and it shows.
Even though “The Flintstones” was a big hit in the summer of 1994 (with a budget of $46 milion, it grossed $130 million and nearly $350 million worldwide), it still didn’t survive the critics. Many gave it the shaft for being too adult for kids and too boring for adults. Since then, its has developed a reputation over the years as being a movie viewers accept and can live with it or something that is easy to hate on. Personally, I think this movie gets disliked way too easily. What viewers must take note is that this IS how the original show was. It was never meant for kids in the first place and I feel this is where mainstream viewers get lost with it. They want to treat like a film for the adults that grew up with the show while tossing in juvenile humor for the little ones. Heck, they even have Pebbles and Bam-Bam in the movie which further cements its status as a family film.
I will admit, I did grow up on this movie. Its my personal “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I had a huge fixation with the series as a kid and even watched it with my fascination of the Stone Age acting like our modern life. When I saw the 1994 movie, I wasn’t disappointed. I liked the cast and the special effects while as an adult, I surprisingly feel like it holds up. Sure the story is nothing special and I’m a bit nit-picky on some of the casting, but here is what I think makes it work. It doesn’t feel desperate like today’s big screen adaptations. In today’s world, you can make it all CGI, toss in a few crude jokes and make it hip to the point its easily dated. Watching this adaption, I didn’t get that feeling. Ok, obviously its a 1990’s film considering the layed-back optimistic tone most 90’s movies carried and some pop culture references are tossed in. But I don’t think it diminishes the movie that much.
If you dislike this movie, I won’t act like I don’t. Some viewers can stand cheap puns and again the story does have a few plot holes. But I think with everything and every bit of effort that was tossed in, I felt like this is the closets we will get to a decent adaptation of a Hannah-Barbera classic. Even co-creator Joseph Barbera himself stated in an interview that the story wasn’t good but was impressed with the visuals. As it stands, its not a masterpiece by an means but they really did try. I can’t say this is a total failure (that is if you compare it to “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas”) but its between mostly harmless and straight up guilty pleasure for me. So check out and determine if you will get a “yabba dabba do” time with this flick.