Episode 114: Incredibles 2

It took us two tries but our second attempt succeeded in producing Episode 114: Incredibles 2. We are joined by returning guest Blaine Grimes (who also joined the show for Episode 36: The Incredibles) for this conversation about Brad Bird’s action-packed, culturally relevant, family superhero extravaganza. A sequel anxiously awaited for 14 years creates a lot expectations. Hear whether we felt the film lived up to ours or not in this fun discussion.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:40

(Aaron – Tag)
(Blaine – National Treasure 1 & 2)

Incredibles 2 Review – 0:11:00

The Connecting Point – 1:09:04


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You Should Be Watching: June 21-27

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found.

This week, I’m recommending a film about a conversation starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, a creepy psychological thriller featuring Joel Edgerton as writer, director, and actor, and the little-seen debut film by none other than the great Christopher Nolan. Also, among the heavy hitters, it’s your last chance to see Captain America: Civil War on Netflix, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives there. It’s also your last chance for last week’s featured films, Room and the Human Condition Trilogy.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


The Sunset Limited

Year: 2011

Director: Tommy Lee Jones

Genre: Drama

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson

 

Based on a play written by Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country for Old Men), The Sunset Limited consists of a conversation between Black (Samuel L. Jackson), an ex-con believer, and White (Tommy Lee Jones who also directed), a suicidal atheist professor. While a film with no action that takes place in a single room may sound dull, believe me when I say this conversation is utterly riveting from the first words to the last, and the film is as dramatic, entertaining, emotional, and thought-provoking as any blockbuster.

Jackson and Jones play off each other with seeming ease and the nuance that comes with being experts in their craft. It’s fascinating to see ebb and flow of the dialogue as either Black or White finds his groove and pursues it. Likewise, the emotional beats affect how each carries on, whether in quiet introspection, attempts at humor, or bouts of indignance. Black’s eagerness to see White find hope and come to believe as he does while also being humorously honest about his own doubts is particularly refreshing.


 

The Gift

Year: 2015

Director: Joel Edgerton

Genre: Thriller, Drama, Mystery

Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Philipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Katie Aselton, David Joseph Craig, Susan May Pratt, P. J. Byrne, Felicity Price, Melinda Allen, Beth Crudele

 

Simultaneously showing off Joel Edgerton’s talents as a writer, director, and actor, The Gift is a surprisingly effective creepy suburban mystery thriller that keeps you on edge and off balance throughout and might have you a little paranoid yourself coming out of it, but you’ll want to go in as blind as possible.

The story centers around married couple Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), who following a miscarriage have moved back to near where Simon grew up in an attempt to leave the pain behind and get their relationship back on track again. Shortly after arriving, Simon has a chance but polite and friendly encounter with Edgerton’s character Gordo, who claims to know him from high school. But then a series of unnerving events start occurring that drive dread and paranoia into this already fragile marriage. This isn’t the funny Bateman, but it is the uncomfortable one and with an edge at that. The tale Edgerton has crafted is fiendishly clever and explores the power of fear and the importance of character and the nature of both in the context of a marriage.


 

Following

  

Year: 1998

Director: Christopher Nolan

Genre: Thriller, Crime, Drama

Cast: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan, Dick Bradsell, Gillian El-Kadi, Jennifer Angel, Nicolas Carlotti, Darren Ormandy, Guy Greenway, Tassos Stevens, Tristan Martin, Rebecca James, Paul Mason, David Bovill

 

Christopher Nolan has proven himself to be one of the world’s premier filmmakers with every one one of his films becoming appointment theater. Anyone that enjoys his work should definitely see the film that started it all. Despite its low budget, Nolan’s full-length debut is a tightly scripted and masterfully edited surprise, full of the seeds of his later work. It’s a crime thriller that though using an entirely different story acts as something of a test-run for the time-bending mind-bender Memento that put him on the map.

From the opening scene, the tone is set with a bit of now-familiar percussive score full of energy and tension as we’re introduced to the main character, who’s found himself in a bit of as-yet-unexplained trouble. It also soon becomes apparent that Nolan was exploring interweaved, out-of-order chronology even at this very early stage, and he thrives on misdirection and refusing to spoon-feed any details. Instead, he forces the viewer to pay attention to dialogue and visual cues such as a haircut and puffy eyes to alert the viewer to shifts in time. Quite bluntly, if you’re a Nolan fan, you need to be watching Following.

 


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

June 24
Captain America: Civil War (2016)

June 29
On Golden Pond (1981)

June 30
An Honest Liar (2014)
Before Midnight (2013)
King Kong (2005)
Michael Clayton (2007)
Tropic Thunder (2008)
V for Vendetta (2005)

From the Lethal Weapon Collection:

Lethal Weapon (1987)
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

 

AMAZON PRIME

June 23
Room (2013)

June 29
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)
Basic Instinct (1992)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Marathon Man (1975)
The Music Never Stopped (2011)
A Simple Plan (1998)

June 30
Escape from New York (1981)
The Karate Kid (1984)
Mystic River (2003)
Sleepers (1996)

 

FILMSTRUCK

June 22
An American in Paris (1951)
An Angel at My Table (1990) *
The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959) *
The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (1960) *
The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer (1961) *
The Piano (1993)

June 29
History Is Made at Night (1937)
The Italian Connection (1972)
The Music Man (1962)

From the Lars Von Trier collection:

Breaking the Waves (1996) *
Dogville (2003) **
Europa (1991) *
The Five Obstructions (2003)

June 30
Caliber 9 (1972)
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Ladykillers (1955)
Uptight (1968)

July 6
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

July 8
Together (2000)

July 13
Losing Ground (1982)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

*  Remaining on the Criterion channel
** Remaining on the FilmStruck channel

 

HULU

June 30
Zodiac (2007)
Stories We Tell (2012)
A Simple Plan (1998)
Project Nim (2011)
Marathon Man (1976)
A League of Their Own (1992)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

In Bruges (2008)
A Little Princess (1995)
Set it Up (2018)

 

AMAZON PRIME

After Tiller (2013)
Duck, You Sucker (1971)
The Great Silence (1968)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
The Last Seduction (1994)
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
Yellow Submarine (1968)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Ninotchka (1939)
Running on Empty (1988)
Queen Christina (1933)

 

HULU

Middle of Nowhere (2012)
Primal Fear (1996)
The Second Mother (2015)
Smoke (1995)
Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak (2009)
The Untouchables (1987)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

June 22
Brain on Fire — NETFLIX FILM (2016)
Us and Them — NETFLIX FILM (2018)

June 23
Tarzan (1999)

June 26
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

 

AMAZON PRIME

June 26
Shutter Island (2009)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

MOVIE REVIEW: Incredibles 2

INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

1 Hour and 58 Minutes (PG)

Four years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man, and one year before Christopher Nolan began his beloved Dark Knight Trilogy with Batman Begins, Pixar entered the genre with a bang, pow, and pop in 2004 by releasing an animated superhero team-up the likes of which audiences had never really seen before. Brad Bird’s family superhero film, The Incredibles, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and remains to this day the best cinematic version of Marvel’s Fantastic Four (despite not actually being a direct representation of those characters).

Now, fourteen years later, Bird is returning to the world of animation for the first time since 2007 with Incredibles 2, an animated sequel that fans have long desired. Unlike the movie landscape when Bird released his original, though, superhero films have become a powerful box office presence, with many years seeing the release of five or more. The challenge for Incredibles 2 is even bigger as it comes right on the heels of the two highest grossing superhero films of all-time: Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. The question of whether audiences will embrace yet another superhero film so quickly is a fair one, but I’m ecstatic to say that odds are good because Bird and Pixar have provided us with a sequel that lives up to its title and was worth the 14-year wait.

Incredibles 2 doesn’t skip a beat, picking up immediately after the ending of The Incredibles, with a brand new villain having just emerged from beneath the city and our newly bonded family of heroes poised to take on the threat. But a desire to help sometimes manifests itself in bad decisions, and the Parr’s leave the city in quite a mess while constantly trying to pass off babysitting of Jack-Jack to each other during the ensuing fight. The destruction reminds the world just how dangerous superpowers can be. Aiming to reverse this perception, Winston and Evelyn Deaver (Bod Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) approach the family and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) with a proposal, to make Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the face of superhero crime fighting and use a combination of their technology and media coverage to help show the world the benefit Supers can bring. As the story goes on (at an incredibly frantic pace), it explores Mr. Incredible’s (Craig T. Nelson) jealousy of Elastigirl’s new role, introduces a new villain who enslaves through the use of video screens, and excites with flurries of extremely well-animated action.

A major side plot of the film revolves around Mr. Incredible’s attempt to become a stay-at-home father for the first time and deal with the challenges of parenthood. Two of his more difficult tasks are trying to connect with his teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and discovering the various superhero abilities of his infant son. It’s a big change for Mr. Incredible and many viewers will relate to his experiences. As the film goes on, the familial struggles continue to be front and center, but Bird also has a lot to say about the world around us. His hilarious script is also smart and not only uses our culture’s addiction to video screens as a plot point but makes strong statements about the importance of equality and representation. Some viewers may find it a bit on the nose, but mostly these topics are all handled very subtly and never feel out of place in the narrative.

VERDICT

Reuniting with the Parr family in Incredibles 2 is a technically dazzling, joyful experience for kids and adults alike. Brad Bird’s story is culturally relevant and a lot of fun, but shines brightest when it stays grounded in the ongoing struggle of the Parr’s to find their place in the world and within their family. The Incredibles provide us with a family of heroes who we don’t just root for, but relate to, and even with the wealth of comic books films gracing movie screens in 2018, that is something special. Though it doesn’t quite reach the sharp perfection and emotional depth of its original, Incredibles 2 is the must-see animated film of the year.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

You Should Be Watching: May 3-9

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Filmstruck, and anywhere else streams are found. I highlight films that come with my personal recommendation as well as provide a list of notable titles that are coming and going so you’re sure not to miss out on the good stuff. Alright? Let’s get started.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Chaplin

      

Year: 1992

Director: Richard Attenborough

Genre:  Biography, Comedy, Drama

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys, John Thaw, Moira Kelly, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Kline, Matthew Cottle, Maria Pitillo, Milla Jovovich, Kevin Dunn, Deborah Moore, Diane Lane, Nancy Travis, James Woods, David Duchovny, Michael Cade, P.H. Moriarty, Howard Lew Lewis, John Standing 

 

Long before Robert Downey Jr. put on the mantle of the iconic Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), he wowed audiences with his Oscar-nominated, BAFTA-winning performance as the king of silent film comedy–Charlie Chaplin. It’s fascinating to watch him become the character synonymous with Chaplin, that is The Tramp. But many people don’t even realize that mustachioed fellow with the cane and the funny gait did not represent Chaplin’s normal self. Charles Chaplin was a real person behind the mustache and wig. He was a complicated man who led a complicated life, and he was far from perfect. But like any man, he had hopes and dreams, and he wanted to make the world laugh, and laugh they did. It’s a special experience to see Downey Jr. bring this man to life, giving us viewers a window into the life of such an important figure in the history of film. Hopefully, afterwards, you’ll have the push needed to go explore the real Charlie Chaplin’s work.


 

The Negotiator

Year: 1998

Director: F. Gary Gray

Genre: Action, Crime, Adventure, Mystery, Drama, Thriller

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, David Morse, Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, J.T. Walsh, Siobhan Fallon, Paul Giamatti, Regina Taylor, Bruce Beatty, Michael Cudlitz, Carlos Gómez, Tim Kelleher, Dean Norris, Nestor Serrano, Doug Spinuzza, Leonard L. Thomas, Stephen Lee, Lily Nicksay, Lauri Johnson, Sabi Dorr, Gene Wolande, Rhonda Dotson, John Lordan, Jack Shearer, Donna Ponterotto, Michael Shamus Wiles, Mik Scriba, Joey Perillo

 

While we’re on the subject of earlier work by actors who are part of the MCU, let’s move on to this tense but highly entertaining 90s crime thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson playing classic Samuel L. Jackson. His character is Danny Roman, a hostage negotiator turned desperate hostage taker after he’s accused of murder and corruption. Yep, Kevin Spacey stars too. If that’s a problem for you, I’m sorry, but I’m recommending art here. Performances not people. Spacey is brilliant as fellow negotiator Chris Sabian, as he so often is in roles that give him the opportunity to play out a mental chess match with the other guy. It’s an edge-of-your-seat guessing game throughout as to what’s actually going on and who’s going to get the upper hand. If you like fast-paced 90s thrillers, you can’t go wrong seeing these two go head to head. The Negotiator is a blast.


 

In The Mood For Love

  

 

Year: 2000

Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Genre: Romance, Drama

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung, Rebecca Pan, Kelly Lai Chen, Siu Ping-Lam, Mama Hung, Joe Cheung, Koo Kam-Wah, Chan Man-Lei, Pauline Suen, Roy Cheung

 

Now let’s take a hard right and head into foreign film territory. There are so many ways that a story about adultery can go badly. Adultery is often trivialized or overly sexualized. Wong Kar-Wai avoids every single potential pitfall by emphasizing emotion and longing rather than lust. With artistic values that are quite simply off-the-charts and while avoiding salaciousness, he presents an all too real story about the pain of isolation from those we love and the subtle seeds from which affairs grow, the temporary happiness they promise, and how they affect the unseen future. The emotion of the story is enhanced even more by the backdrop of incredible shots full of creative camera angles, straight lines, bold color, so much elegance and an amazing musical landscape that accompanies the visuals highlighted by the oh so beautiful recurring Yumeji’s Theme, a dark violin-led waltz.


 

Lawrence of Arabia

Year: 1962

Director: David Lean

Genre:  Adventure, Biography, Drama

Cast: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Claude Rains, Anthony Quayle, José Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, Zia Mohyeddin, I.S. Johar, Gamil Ratib, Michel Ray, John Dimech, Howard Marion-Crawford, Jack Gwillim, Hugh Miller, Robert Rietty, John Barry, Bruce Beeby, John Bennett, Steve Birtles, David Lean, Robert Bolt, Daniel Moynihan, Peter Burton, James Hayter, Barry Warren

 

Finally, we come to David Lean’s time-tested historical epic, our second biopic and winner of seven Academy Awards, this one based on the life and writings of British officer T. E. Lawrence, who came to care for a country not his own. As a result, he sought to assist the Arabs in World War I in their battle against the Turks, using the skills, strategy, and leadership qualities he’d gained through his military experience. This is a film filled with fascinating characters and detail and exciting large-scale action. David Lean’s filmmaking in conjunction with Freddie Young’s cinematography is exquisite, always enchanting. Never has a desert landscape looked more gorgeous and combined with Peter O’Toole’s arresting performance as the titular and ever-present Lawrence, the nearly four-hour runtime is not only earned, it breezes by, so don’t let it keep you from experiencing this masterpiece.

 

 


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 4
Bernie (2011)

May 8
Sing Street (2016)

May 11
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

May 29
The Jungle Book (2016)

 

AMAZON PRIME

None announced

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 11
Forbidden Planet (1956)

Werner Herzog:

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

May 16
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

May 18
Luchino Visconti:

La Terra Trema (1948)
The Leopard (1963)
Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

May 25
Carol Reed:

The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Third Man (1949)

May 31
High Noon (1952)

June 1
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
A Night At The Opera (1935)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Amélie (2001)
Beautiful Girls (1996)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Red Dragon (2002)
Scream 2 (1997)
Shrek (2001)

 

AMAZON PRIME

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Bull Durham (1988)
The Crow (1994)
Eight Men Out (1988)
The Elephant Man (1980)
Frailty (2001)
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Insomnia (2002)
Manhunter (1986)
Thief (1981)
Wonder Boys (2000)

From the James Bond Collection:

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)

From the Rocky Collection:

Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
High Noon (1952)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

May 4
Anon — Netflix Original (2018)

May 5
Faces Places (2017)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 4
Last Flag Flying — Amazon Original (2017)

May 5
Warrior (2011)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

What We Learned This Week: March 5-11

LESSON #1: THE SUCCESS RATE OF INDIE DIRECTORS STEPPING TO BLOCKBUSTERS IS IMPROVING— Other than Marc Webb stepping up from “(500) Days of Summer” to the ill-fated “Amazing Spider-Man” double bill and “Moon” director Duncan Jones bombing on “Warcraft,” the recent push of larger studios’ farming of indie directors to helm blockbusters have gone pretty successfully.   All of the greats started small (take Christopher Nolan going from “Memento” to Batman), but the trend is swelling lately.   Colin Treverrow turned “Safety Not Guaranteed” into “Jurassic World” and J.A. Bayona will be moving from “The Impossible” and “A Monster Calls” into the dinotastic sequel.  “The Kings of Summer” director Jordan Vogt-Roberts cashed up to “Kong: Skull Island.”  This list goes on and on, and 2017 is full of more.  Rian Johnson flips “Looper” for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Taika Waititi goes from “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” for “Thor: Ragnarok.”  Jon Watts of “Cop Car” hopes to not pull a Marc Webb with “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

LESSON #2: BIGGER IS BETTER— Speaking of “Kong: Skull Island,” the head honchos at Legendary Entertainment found the easiest and most irresistible route to selling a new Kong film: Make him bigger.   The powers that be have smacked an invisible label on the cinematic Cheez Whiz jar that reads “now bigger than ever,” jacking up the normally and plenty-imposing 25-foot gorilla into a gigantic 100-foot bipedal behemoth.  That changes everything when it comes to the monster’s capacity for destruction and man’s impossible chances of opposition.  Go see the film.  It’s a blast.

LESSON #3: KEEP AN EYE ON THE SXSW FILM FESTIVAL— For nine days and 125 features this month, Austin, Texas becomes the center of the independent film scene with the annual South by Southwest Film Festival that is starting to rival January’s Sundance Film Festival for exclusive films and a Hollywood-level red carpet.  This year, you’ll get the premieres of the latest films from Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”), Terrance Malick (“Song to Song”), and Ben Wheatley (“Free Fire”).   SXSW’s merger of the arts is becoming a hot ticket with good gets.

LESSON #4: THE WHITEWASHED CASTING OUTRAGE IS STARTING TO SMARTEN STUDIOS UP— I think the combination of warranted complaints,  butthurt rants, and internet courage-fueled protests are starting to work.   Movie news reported this week that director Guy Ritchie will seek Middle Eastern lead performers for Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” re-imagining and Niki Caro looks to be doing the same for “Mulan.”   If you look past the animated curtain and beyond all of its inherent entertainment value, “Aladdin” is one of the worst perpetrators in film history for white-washing.  I’m intrigued to see something different and call these active attempts an initial victory towards improved diversity.

LESSON #5: LET’S MAKE UP A NEW WORD: “BRITWASHING”— Piggybacking from Lesson #4, race relations also have a national vs. international bend to them from time to time.  Samuel L. Jackson just stepped out in an interview to criticize the casting of black British actor Daniel Kaluuya to play an American African-American guy in “Get Out” and wonders about missed opportunities.  Honestly, the man isn’t wrong and, as I coin the term, “Britwashing” has been a quietly unsettling trend when you see the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Henry Cavill, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Oyelow playing real and fictional American heroes.  One has to wonder if there is a talent gap between the Brits and the Americans.  What do you think?  How do you feel about foreigners playing American figures and heroes?

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current President of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

Minisode 16: Kong: Skull Island

Don Shanahan joins the show for a discussion about the return of Kong to the big screen. This latest monster movie provides plenty of thrilling, towering action sequences that are worthy of the King. We talk about the different style of creature features over the years and whether or not character development is necessary for a good blockbuster. So push play on this episode and find out why we think Kong is back and here to stay.

Download this Episode 


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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Feelin’ It: Kong: Skull Island Review

Rating:

The hype surrounding Kong: Skull Island had a decidedly Apocalypse Now feel to it. Based on the trailers and posters we’d seen, it appeared that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was going to do his best at a Francis Ford Coppola impression. Were we truly about to see the merging of a dramatically brilliant war film with the unapologetic campiness of a monster-focused blockbuster? In a sense, we did. And what’s really crazy is… it worked.

Where Vogt-Roberts draws inspiration, however, is not from the dramatic human stories we see in war epics like Apocalypse Now. Instead, he focuses on using the beautifully shot landscapes, often bathed in fire or backed by a burning sun, to give the adventure on Skull Island a Vietnam flare. The colors, especially red and orange, are bright and the island itself is incredible to look at on a big screen. With its lush jungles, towering mountains, and various unique animal species, there is never a moment where we do not feel in complete awe of the locale. Additionally, he takes cues from classic Vietnam pictures in the way his action is shot. Often it has a horror feel to it, with blood splatters and the loss of limbs displaying the true terrors of a fight against something so much more powerful and primal than our characters have ever seen. The action is fast-paced and has that blockbuster intensity that gets blood pumping. And it is in this stylized action (brought to us by long time Zack Snyder cinematographer Larry Fong) that we begin to really understand what kind of film Kong: Skull Island is supposed to be. 

Above all else, this monster movie is meant to be FUN. If you’re expecting this A-list cast of award-winning actors to wow you with incredible dramatic performances, you’re going to be highly disappointed. If, however, you like your monster movies classic style, with a dose of campiness and a focus on the monsters themselves, you are in for a treat. Our main characters are mostly given back stories, with the inexplicable exception of Tian Jing’s biologist (?) who hardly is ever even noticed, and they fulfill the roles required of them with aplomb. Essentially they seem to serve as varying viewpoints on how the discovery of Kong and Skull Island should be handled. Samuel L. Jackson, for example, is perfect as the commander who just isn’t ready to hang up his rifle and is willing to lead his unit into harm’s way to hold on for one minute more and one last fight, regardless of any logic that may say otherwise.  This movie is about Kong, though, and by keeping the character stories from overpowering the narrative Vogt-Roberts allows us to never get dragged down into the drama, instead simply using the humans as a means of getting us from big action sequence to monster fight in an entertaining and often humorous manner. Not much is felt for the ones who perish and that is by design, because this isn’t really their story. It also would have been easy to let Brie Larson’s character become a love interest of the ape, for old time’s sake, but the restraint shown here instead paints a more “realistic” picture of two species trying to understand each other via non-verbal communication and then protecting those who’ve protected you.

Thankfully this is a story about the island, about Kong and its other less friendly inhabitants. They are rightfully the star of this picture and every scene with Kong in it is incredible. Particularly, his shining monster vs. monster moment is worth the price of admission alone and the creature design throughout is stunning, the perfect mix of creepy and amazing. Also of note (though not a beast) is John C. Reilly who steals every scene he’s in and serves as much more than just a comedic side note, but rather the heart of the human component in the film.

After suffering through Hollywood’s recent attempts at more serious monster movie fare, it was absolutely refreshing to sit with my 12-year old son, mouth agape, ooh’ing and aah’ing as a gigantic towering ape did the exact things a gigantic towering ape should do in this scenario. It was just over-the-top enough to hit the right notes without becoming a drawback. From the looks of the post-credits scene, it appears that we’re in for a connected world of monster films with some A-list stars continuing forward. So while Kong may not quite have been a perfect film, it’s a solid effort and serves as a fantastic starting point to build around, much like Marvel has accomplished with its comic book universe.

Emotional Takeaway: EXCITEMENT
Not only for its big screen thrills and frantic, stylized action sequences, but because Kong ushers in a new era of monster movies for this generation to enjoy. Here’s hoping we embrace these films with a childlike passion and let pure blockbuster fun reignite our over-dramatized movie-going souls. See it on a big screen, let yourself go, and just enjoy the ride. The King is back.