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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Movie Review: “The Gambler”

Starring
Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams, John Goodman, Jessica Lange
Director
Rupert Wyatt

Rupert Wyatt’s “The Gambler” is a curious beast. It’s based on a film that’s just obscure enough that a remake wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers, yet is well-regarded by those who have seen it. In other words, the 1974 original starring James Caan isn’t exactly holy ground, but there’s not much to improve on either, which makes this Mark Wahlberg vanity project feel every bit as irrelevant as the story it’s trying to tell. There’s nothing wrong with flawed characters – in fact, that’s what makes some of the best movies – but when they’re as irredeemable as the one that Wahlberg plays in “The Gambler,” it makes it very difficult to give a damn what happens to him.

Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a college English professor who gave up on his literary dream after his first novel was met with little fanfare. The grandson of a banking magnate, Jim partly attributes his privileged upbringing to becoming the degenerate, high-stakes gambler that’s led him to his current predicament. After falling into debt with a Korean mobster (Alvin Lee), and then borrowing money from nefarious loan shark Neville Baraka (Michael K. Williams) that he promptly loses on the blackjack table while trying to win back what he owes, Jim is given seven days to pay or else. When his mother (Jessica Lange) eventually caves in and gives him the $260,000 to clear his debt, vowing that it’ll be the last time she bails him out, Jim blows it at the casino instead, putting him in a precarious position when Neville threatens the lives of his two students.

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