Movie Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

Starring
Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann
Director
Jordan Vogt-Roberts

After the disappointment of 2014’s “Godzilla,” my expectations were pretty low going into “Kong: Skull Island” despite the talented cast and effective marketing campaign, but boy does it feel good to be proven wrong. Combining blockbuster filmmaking with the B-movie monster genre, “Kong: Skull Island” is Hollywood commercialism at its finest – a visually stunning adventure film that boasts great special effects, exciting set pieces and lots of humor. Though Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake was a decent but bloated take on the classic King Kong story, “Kong: Skull Island” is better in almost every way. This is what a modern day King Kong movie should look like, even one that has a foot firmly planted in the past.

The year is 1973, and with the Vietnam War drawing to a close, a pair of scientists (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) from Monarch – the mysterious organization that unearthed Godzilla in the 2014 reboot – convinces the U.S. government to fund an expedition to an uncharted island in the South Pacific under the guise of a geological mapping mission. Joining them on their journey is former British SAS captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a military escort led by the tightly-wound Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who jumps at the chance to extend his deployment, even if the rest of his squadron (including Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham and Thomas Mann) don’t quite share his enthusiasm.

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Blu Tuesday: Moana and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Moana”

Disney has been on an incredible run of form lately, comfortably outperforming sister studio Pixar over the past five years with films like “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Frozen” and “Zootopia,” and that trend continues with “Moana.” Although it’s structured as a rather traditional hero’s journey, the movie sets itself apart thanks to more progressive characters that break from the typical Disney stereotypes. Both leads are great – Dwayne Johnson is super charming as the demigod Maui, while newcomer Auli’i Cravalho more than holds her own in the title role – and the soundtrack (co-written by “Hamilton” star Lin-Manuel Miranda) is packed with infectious tunes that give “Frozen” a run for its money. Also boasting some of Disney’s most detailed and vibrant animation yet, “Moana” is an instant classic that only gets better with each viewing.

Extras include an audio commentary by directors Ron Clements and John Musker, a series of featurettes on the movie’s technical achievements, interviews with the cast and crew, deleted scenes, two short films and much more. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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The Films (and One TV Series) to See at SXSW 2017

In just a few days, the 2017 version of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival will commence in Austin, TX. While many people come and fill the streets and bars of the live music capital of the world to see and hear their favorite bands performing at venues across the city, there is also a pretty great film component that happens. Running from March 10 through March 18, SXSW features world premieres of exciting new movies, as well as a chance for other festival favorites to be shown to more audiences. In preparation for those eager to check out the scene, here are nine promising films and one eagerly anticipated TV series debut that are worth seeking out.

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Movie Review: “Logan”

Starring
Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant
Director
James Mangold

Hugh Jackman‘s final performance as Logan is every bit as emotional as it should be. Director James Mangold saved the best for last with this uncompromising, brutal and heartfelt story of a fallen hero stumbling to get back up again. Rarely are comic book movies as contemplative and as character-driven as “Logan.”

Logan is no superhero in this movie. At the start of Mangold’s thriller/road film, which he co-wrote with Scott Frank and Michael Green, he’s a drunk who can barely walk straight. This 100-plus-year-old man gave up on life when he thought it gave up on him. The year is 2029 and Logan is driving a limo to get by, taking care of an ill Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose mind is slowly deteriorating, and his roommate Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a tracker and one of the last mutants remaining. Logan’s days as Wolverine and a member of the X-Men are long gone.

This Logan isn’t interested in helping anybody but himself, Charles and Caliban, so when a desperate woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) offers him good money to drive a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota, he doesn’t exactly jump at the chance to protect her. In fact, it takes a long time for Logan to even want to help the kid, who, as Charles points out, is very much like his clawed mutant friend. When a team of cybernetically-enhanced enforcers led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) – the head of security for a mysterious government program called Transigen and a big fan of Wolverine – come to retrieve Laura at Logan and Charles’ home, a personal and exciting chase that’s heavy on heartache and bloodshed ensues.

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Movie Review: “Table 19”

Starring
Anna Kendrick, Wyatt Russell, June Squibb, Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori
Director
Jeffrey Blitz

Many movies have been made about weddings both joyous and disastrous, but very few actually get them right, and Jeffrey Blitz’s indie dramedy, “Table 19,” is not one of them. A top-to-bottom misfire that feels like it was made by people who have never been to a real wedding in their lives, the film relies on the same tired clichés that you only see in the movies. As a result, “Table 19” reaches sitcom levels of absurdity at times and is almost completely devoid of any characters that behave like real people. It’s also a relatively uneventful and humorless affair, although one that’s made somewhat watchable by the casting of Anna Kendrick in the lead role.

The actress stars as Eloise McGarry, a recently single millennial who steps down as her best friend’s maid of honor after being dumped by the best man and brother of the bride, Teddy (Wyatt Russell), via text message. Refusing to let the breakup stand in the way of her attending the wedding reception as a regular guest, Eloise arrives to discover that she’s been seated at the “randoms” table in the back of the ballroom with a group of social misfits, including the bride’s childhood nanny Jo (June Squibb), married diner owners Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow), oddball cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant) and horny teenager Rezno (Tony Revolori). While Eloise isn’t comfortable having complete strangers poke around in her personal business, as the night progresses and secrets are revealed, she forms an unlikely friendship with her tablemates.

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