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: “Patriots Day”

Starring
Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michelle Monaghan, Jimmy O. Yang, Melissa Benoist
Director
Peter Berg

Over the last few years, director Peter Berg has carved out a nice little niche for himself making unapologetically patriotic films about real-life heroism in the face of adversity. Much like “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon,” Berg’s third collaboration with Mark Wahlberg doesn’t really have anything important to say politically, but it’s their finest movie to date and perhaps their most meaningful one due to the actor’s close ties to the city of Boston. Though some people will question whether “Patriots Day” arrives too soon after the true events that inspired the film, Berg does the story justice with his gripping yet tactful retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the five-day investigation that followed.

The movie begins on the morning of April 15, 2013 and introduces several of the key players involved in the tragic event, including Boston cop Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), Chinese exchange student Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), Watertown police officer Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) and the bombers themselves, Kyrgyzstani-American brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, respectively), who detonate the homemade bombs about four hours into the race and then return home to watch the ensuing chaos on TV. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials work together under the guidance of FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) to recreate the crime scene and comb through hours of video surveillance in order to identify the suspects, eventually leading to a manhunt through the streets of Boston and the surrounding suburbs to capture them.

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Movie Review: “10 Cloverfield Lane”

Starring
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Director
Dan Trachtenberg

The 2008 found footage movie, “Cloverfield,” showcased producer J.J. Abrams at his secretive best, flying completely under the radar until the mysterious release of its buzzworthy teaser. No one imagined that Abrams could pull off the same trick again, yet that’s exactly what he’s done with the intriguingly titled “10 Cloverfield Lane,” this time with the whole world watching. It was an ingenious but risky marketing stunt for a movie scheduled to hit theaters only eight weeks after the surprise announcement, and it worked like a charm. While the film will undoubtedly frustrate those expecting any sort of substantial connection to its namesake, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a well-crafted thriller that deserves the added exposure its title brings, even if that affiliation threatens to overshadow the story itself.

The movie opens on a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she frantically packs a suitcase with some clothes and personal belongings before leaving town to escape a toxic relationship. While driving through the night, Michelle is blind-sided by a truck and knocked unconscious, eventually waking to find herself chained to a wall and treated for her injuries. Michelle immediately fears the worst, but her captor Howard (John Goodman) insists that he saved her life by pulling her from the wreckage and then bringing her back to his fallout shelter following some kind of massive chemical attack that has rendered the outside world uninhabitable. Though Michelle is understandably skeptical of the slightly deranged Howard, she’s able to corroborate his story with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a good-natured construction worker who broke his arm while fighting his way into the bunker. Forced to accept the possibility that Howard’s nutty conspiracy theory might actually be true, Michelle can’t shake the feeling that he’s still hiding something.

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Movie Review: “Monsters University”

Starring
Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion
Director
Dan Scanlon

For the first 15 years of their existence, Pixar was bulletproof. For the past three years, less so. Following the soaring success of 2010’s “Toy Story 3” was going to be difficult regardless, but 2011’s “Cars 2” and 2012’s “Brave” marked the first time in the company’s history that they released back-to-back films that could be considered disappointments (at least from a critical standpoint; they still made just under $1.1 billion in worldwide ticket sales). With the announcement that their next film would be “Monsters University,” a prequel to 2001’s “Monsters Inc.,” people smelled blood in the water. They’ve run out of ideas. They’re not even trying to be the Pixar of “old.” (That last line is an actual complaint from a fellow critic.) And to be fair, “Monsters University” doesn’t tug at the heart strings the way its predecessor did, but at the same time, how could it? Boo was one of the cutest characters in movie history, and there was no organic way of playing that card in a college setting.

So no, “Monsters University” won’t be anyone’s favorite Pixar movie, but it’s still quite enjoyable, funny, beautifully rendered, and it has a great message for kids about not letting anyone tell you what you can or can’t be. It’s no “Up” or “WALL∙E,” but it’s better than Pixar’s last two films combined, and for that alone, we should be thankful.

Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) arrives on the campus of Monsters University with stars in his eyes. He has wanted to be a scarer since he was a little boy, and has read every book on the subject. Jimmy Sullivan (John Goodman), on the other hand, is a prodigy, a natural born scarer who takes his gifts for granted. After both are kicked out of scaring school because of their obvious shortcomings (Sulley is lazy, and Mike just isn’t scary enough), Mike makes a bet with the tough-nosed Dean Hardscrabble (a pitch-perfect Helen Mirren), where she will let him back into scaring school if he and his oddball fraternity brothers win the annual Scare Games competition. If he loses, he’s expelled from school. Yep, it’s “Revenge of the Nerds,” with monsters, and John Goodman on the ‘nerd’ side of the battle this time around.

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Hidden Netflix Gems: Raising Arizona

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: Raising Arizona (1987)

Even if you haven’t heard of Joel and Ethan Coen, you’ve sure as hell heard of some of their films. The brothers have jointly written, directed, and produced such modern classics as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit. Their work bounces around in time, space, and genre—the Coens never make the same movie twice—and they’ve been renowned for it over the past three decades, with 13 Academy Award nominations and four wins.

Before all those accolades, the Coen brothers made their debut with 1984’s Blood Simple, a neo-noir thriller. Not wanting to make a reputation as one-trick ponies, they avowed to make to their next project as different from their first as possible. Out of that desire, the one-of-a-kind screwball comedy Raising Arizona was born.

Our protagonist is Herbert I. “Hi” McDonnough, played by the polarizing Nicolas Cage, who can make or break a movie depending on whether or not he fits his character. Hi is the type of lovable nitwit that often fills Coen fare: an erudite idiot reminiscent of Lebowski’s Dude, if he’d been born in an Arizona trailer park and had a penchant (though not necessarily a skill) for robbing 24-hour convenience stores. Luckily, Cage slips into Hi’s skin masterfully, right down to the wacky hairdo and funny accent (“Temp-ee, Arizona”). The performance remains one of his best to date, although ultimately Adaptation takes the cake.

Opposite Cage is Holly Hunter as the tight-lipped policewoman, Edwina or “Ed,” who’s always taking the recidivist Hi’s mugshot photos. After one particularly fateful arrest, Hi finds Ed in tears and learns that her fiance has left her. He proposes after his latest release from prison, and the two get married and move into a tiny trailer in the Arizona desert, which Hi lovingly calls a “suburban starter home.” One of the film’s many sources of comedy is the contrast between the upbeat world of Hi’s narration and that of the more objective reality we see on screen.

Hi does his best to “stand up and fly straight” after settling into married life, getting a job in a machine shop, but finds it difficult “with that darned Reagan in the White House.” Nonetheless, as time passes, the couple want to take the logical next step and start a family. Unfortunately, “biology is against them,” as they receive the unhappy news that Edwina is “barren,” and they’re denied the chance to adopt because of Hi’s criminal record.

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