Kong: Skull Island

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Think of the classic telling and retelling of King Kong; a team on an expedition to the last uncharted spot on the map winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then a blonde screams and gets taken prisoner by the ape.

In this age of the heroine, we needed a Kong film fit for a queen. Like most of the remakes/reboots, Kong: Skull Island has our blonde, but she’s a dirty blonde! Strides! Also, there’s ANOTHER WOMAN in the film. And she’s a Chinese scientist! Literally everyone else is a man.

Baby steps, I ‘spose.

After Government Agent, Bill Randa (John Goodman), receives the go-ahead and the funding to journey to the ominous yet aptly named, Skull Island — cause it looks like a skull — he enlists former British Special Air Service Captain, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), as well as the Sky Devils — a helicopter outfit led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Randa quickly gets the mission underway before anyone can change their minds.

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Along for the ride is peacemonger and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) who is wary of the operation and suspects that Randa may have ulterior motives. Why would Randa need a super-savvy guy like Conrad just to see an island and investigate whether the ground is hollow or not?

Much like entering the ocean and then being surprised that you got bitten by a shark, treading on Kong’s turf proves quickly to be a big mistake. With good reason — i.e. helicopters dropping bombs all over the island — the titular primate swats the choppers out of the sky like mosquitoes.

The survivors — being split up after getting batted to the jungle floor — are now mostly in mutual agreement that they need to find the others and get to the pick up point in time to GTFO. Only now Lt. Col. Preston Packard has a personal and largely maniacal vendetta to settle with Kong for the loss of his men.

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Somewhere on the other side of the island, Conrad, Weaver, and a smattering of folks who probably just haven’t been killed by any number of the island’s monstrous inhabitants yet, stumble upon something remarkable; Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), an American pilot who crashed on the island in 1944, and is now living amongst the Iwi locals. Marlow gives the group the low down on Island politics, revealing that Kong isn’t the one they need to be worried about.

Skullcrawlers — as he’s named them — are the true beasts on the island, and Kong manages to protect his home and its native people/critters from them, earning him the King title. He works for it, and I, for one, am proud of him.

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Marlow, like the rest of the group, just wants to make it home in one piece. The poor guy just wants to head home to Chicago and catch a Cubs game with a hotdog and a beer. Packard, however, has a debt to settle, and his abusive power trip may just spell the end of their beautiful lives.

It is around this time that Mason works out some facts and figures and discovers that she was right and her worst fears are confirmed. One thing though; being right means literally nothing if you are dead.

For as much as I didn’t give this movie a second thought before its release, I sure did enjoy it. It’s a departure from the previous films, painting Kong as a hero, not a villain. I wish he had a Megalodon sidekick. How incredible would that be? They just meet up every so often and give each other a nod. So neat.

This movie is an unexpected treat. Much like the others, we get a glimpse of the real Kong; he’s a pretty chill guy as long as you’re not throwing explosives at his face. Historically, this franchise imparts a message topical at literally every stage of our existence which is that men think they either own or can just take whatever they please.

So you found this creature who was minding his own business, just eating stuff and scratching himself — essentially YOU on the weekends — and you take it upon yourselves to remove him from his home so you can show your idiot friends. That, or you determine you have no choice but to kill him.

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Skull Island is gratifying in many ways. It’s always fun to see what lives on the island with Kong, and this one delivers creepy crawlies and then some. Visually, the film exceeds expectations; cinematography in a film so reliant on effects can be spotty at best, but they really nailed it.

Also, there is no damsel in distress. The blonde dame gets roughed up just like everybody else but she handles herself and stands on her own two. We even get a nod to the previous installments in which we see the softer side of Kong in regard to Mason.

As your resident score junkie, I’m pleased to report that Henry Jackman composed music fit for a King… Kong. (please send help)

All in all, it’s an enjoyable film. Fun, exciting, and John C. is laugh we all need throughout. I imagine he improvised 90% of his lines in this film, and the other actors deserve accolades just for holding character in scenes with him. The best part of the experience was hearing my mom gush about how “hot” Tom Hiddleston is. I know, mom. I know.

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Pro tip: stick around after the credits.

Personal Shopper

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When it comes to the paranormal, I’m a big believer. I’ve had my own visits from anomalies/spirits/ghosts. It’s a strange thing; the idea that when someone dies and they have unfinished business or are not at peace, they lurk until they are able to carry on to where ever they’re headed.

I’ve always thought maybe that’s why we say Rest In Peace; if you don’t, their soul may be trapped here and might just haunt you. I selfishly didn’t say it after Prince passed because I not-so-secretly want His Royal Badness to haunt me.

While no one truly knows where we go from here, there are theories upon theories. Apophenia is the word for what our brains do when we connect random events that have essentially nothing to do with one another to create a phenomena that may or may not exist. I could be in my bedroom; the lights flicker and a moment later I hear a noise in the kitchen. Due to my raging apophenia, I’d automatically assume it was a poltergeist and I was not long for this world.

In reality, it’s just windy outside and the electricity is fighting the good fight while the cat is being a spaz and knocked something off of a counter.

When one is actively seeking a sign from a deceased loved one, apophenia goes on high alert. But is that all it is?

Personal Shopper is about a young woman named Maureen (Kristen Stewart) who is — duh — a personal shopper who also happens to be a bit of a clairvoyant. Working for high-profile celebrity/huge pain in the arse Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), Maureen travels the streets as a civilian, collecting treasures — beautiful dresses, sparkly baubles, shoes that cost more than everything I own — so that her “boss” doesn’t have to.

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In the meantime, she is also desperately seeking a wave from beyond the grave from her deceased twin, Lewis, so that she knows he’s at peace. Being a medium, she’s sensitive to the energy that comes from forces unseen by the naked eye. After a run-in with what appears to be a benevolent force, Maureen begins receiving text messages from an unknown number whose operator won’t identify him/herself.

After an epic texting blur of blue and green text bubbles and the dreaded three dots from hell, Maureen is left with no clues as to who or what may be blowing up her phone. Unwilling to leave Paris until she hears from her brother, she begins to spiral downward and it isn’t until she stumbles upon a traumatic sight that she’s finally sent running. The last straw, if you will.

This movie has a real David Lynch vibe. It’s like if David Lynch and Sam Raimi loved each other very, very much and had a baby. There are shots of things that you’re unsure of in terms of importance and meaning, lots of sudden loud noises, and ghosts. It gives the viewer a profound sense of unease.

Certainly a departure for Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper will lend credence to her range while she continues to shake off Twilight for the rest of her career. She’s delved aggressively into roles that she wants while ignoring rather scathing criticisms better than I ever could. Bully for you, Kristen! You do you, girl.

If you have the chance, catch this movie. Its eloquent simplicity and mostly handheld camera work give it a gritty, super indie feel. Director Olivier Assayas has done exclusively films that I’ve never heard of, which makes me feel like uncultured swine. No wonder the French hate us. I’ll look further down the rabbit hole that is Olivier Assayas, and you can check out Personal Shopper in the meantime. Let’s all be a little more French!

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(That’s Italian. I’ll show myself out.)

Beauty and the Beast

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When I was roughly 8 years old, my mom, sister, and I sat down and watched the 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast. I cried at the end, and my mom made fun of me. But this isn’t therapy. This is a review for a movie that made me want to call my therapist.

Growing up, the idea of a young lady being swept off of her dainty feet by a hairy, clawed monster was the epitome of romance. As a jaded, disenchanted adult, it’s creepy. Don’t get me wrong, I date primarily Italian guys, so I’m into a hairy chest, but if you’ve got a fur coat and horns, I’m out. I don’t care how many books you own.

I think the notion of bringing our favorite Disney classics back to the big screen with real people and heaps of CGI is excellent in theory, but having seen it, there’s something unnerving about the finished product. My 8-year-old brain could process that the cartoon was just that — a cartoon. Not real. My grown up brain needed an adult at the sight of a flesh and blood woman not leaving enough room for the holy spirit while she danced with an animal.

Everyone knows the story; a guy living in a castle surrounded by beautiful women and luxury is asked to provide shelter for the night to an elderly woman offering him a rose in return for his hospitality. Sadly, for her, this guy is the French Justin Bieber and he turns her away. Sadly, for him, she’s actually an enchantress who puts a spell on him, turning him into a fanged, unsightly creature. He must find true love before the last petal drops from the cursed rose or he will remain a beast forever.

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Belle (Emma Watson) is a farm girl living in a small provincial town with her father. In the animated classic, her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is an eccentric inventor who the town assumes is completely off his rocker. In this new take, Maurice is definitely more grounded. Belle still has her head in the clouds and her nose in a book, but she’s also got sensible boots and she is the inventor.

Belle spends 90% of her time fighting off the town’s tall, dark, handsome brute, Gaston’s (Luke Evans) advances while Gaston spends 90% of his time fighting off his sidekick LeFou’s (Josh Gad) advances. Truly, a tale as old as time. Everybody’s in the friendzone.

The 2017 rendition sticks pretty closely to the original; Belle’s father and his horse, Phillipe, get lost in the woods and happen upon Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle. Branding him a thief, Beast imprisons Maurice. Phillipe — who is a real gentleman in this movie — goes to tell Belle that Timmy’s in the well something is amiss.

Upon discovering her father’s imprisonment, Belle takes his place. And so begins a love story that you can’t think too hard about for fear of a wicked case of the heebie-jeebies. All of our old favorites are there; Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellan), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Chip (Nathan Mack), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) — all of them once in human form, now trapped under the spell as well.

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Belle is the key to releasing everyone in the castle from their imprisoned forms, but she has no idea. She doesn’t know that underneath his gruff, growly exterior, Beast is actually a smokin’ hottie. She doesn’t know. That means, as she’s falling in love with him, she is falling in love with his current form.

Look.

I’m all for true love and not judging a book by its cover, but this is pushing it. There’s a lot to like about Belle; she’s a strong, intelligent, don’t-take-no-guff-from-nobody kinda woman. Does her endeavor pay off? Sure! Beast turns out to be this handsome guy. Is it still really off-putting? Yep!

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I want to be on board for these live action Disney films. I rocked an unhealthy obsession with The Little Mermaid when I was a kid, but now, I’m going to be a nervous wreck when the live action version comes out.

A few things worth mentioning:

  • Kevin Kline was an absolute delight
  • Josh Gad reminds me so much of Jack Black that I kept forgetting who it was
  • Emma Watson MAY have a beautiful singing voice, but I couldn’t hear it over the gratuitous autotune
  • The Be Our Guest number was like an unsolicited acid trip
  • I adore Alan Menken — and this is damn near sacrilege — but I did not care for the new songs
  • The movie was formatted for IMAX, which usually indicates a clean, sharp image, but all of the sweeping shots of the castle, the famous dance, etc. were so blurry that you couldn’t discern anything in the scene until the camera slowed down
  • They blew it on the yellow dress

Needless to say, I didn’t love it. I will tell you that the grown man I waited for the bus with after the screening was over the moon about it and can’t wait for the one about “the red-haired lady, the little yellow dude, and the purple gal.”

What I can say for this film is, they tried. There were cute, funny parts. An effort was made and you can tell they put their hearts into it, but this grizzled, old harpy was not impressed. Have I taken your favorite childhood film and thoroughly spoiled it? Not to worry. Live action Little Mermaid is just over the horizon, so my time is coming. Now, off to the leather couch! We got a lot to talk about this week.

 

Get Out

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Sixteen years ago, there was a tremendous upswing in white women dating black men because Save the Last Dance made it this taboo, edgy thing to do. Sixteen years ago, we — the collective white population — were marginally less inane.

Racism is unfortunately alive and well, even now, in 2017. Ruminate on that a moment. There are places in modern-day society that, if they had their druthers, would still be using separate drinking fountains. Sadly, racism may never die the horrible death it deserves to.

Get Out calls attention to some of society’s greatest downfalls; our unwillingness to break patterns and behaviors that have existed for hundreds of years just because some guys thought they were a good idea. Imagine that: white men who think they are fair and just, doing what they believe to be right, at the sheer horror of everyone else. Sad!

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is going to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Alison Williams) family for the first time. He’s nervous because her family is white, he is black, and she hasn’t mentioned that to them. The idea that the color of a person’s skin still plays a role in how they are treated by anyone else is appalling at best, but it’s a persistent issue that manages to continue rearing its ugly head. It’s like the white boss who meets all of his white employees with a generic, colloquial greeting, then fist bumps the black guy and says, “Wassup?!”

Embarrassing.

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Rose assures Chris that everything will be fine by telling him that her dad would’ve voted for Barack Obama a third time if he could have. Arriving at the house, he notices that all of the hired help are also black. Chris meets Rose’s parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, respectively) and, outside of a couple of quips from her father — who I did NOT know was played by Bradley Whitford — the visit appears to be quite pleasant if not as awkward as those things usually are.

What Rose and Chris didn’t know was that the weekend of their stay was the same weekend of this big party Dean and Missy throw every year. This meant that all of The Armitage’s whitebread friends would be there as well. At a new level of unease, Chris weathers the storm as best he can before having a run-in with the maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel). Her voice tells him that everything is a-ok, but her eyes say something very different; troubling.

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There is a significance to Chris’s interactions with each member of the household. This is important to remember and includes keys you’ll need to open new subliminal doors along the way.

Jordan Peele, known primarily for being a funny guy, hit on some truths in this film. He brings to light a subject that makes people as uncomfortable as abortion. Or Voldemort. Why are we still paying credence to the idea that the south will rise again? Where have we gone so drastically wrong that the idea of supremacy still holds any water? What kind of idiot addresses a room full of African-Americans as “you people“?

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Aside from the aggressively topical message of the film, it’s performed quite well and has a score composed by Michael Abels that could not be more felicitous. Peele said, “I wanted Michael Abels, who did the score, to create something that felt like it lived in this absence of hope but still had [black roots].” and I believe Abels thoroughly nailed it.

Peele’s accomplished a real feat with Get Out, putting heaps of subtext into this picture while methodically illustrating a clear and concise point: we need to do better. Not just white people, but mostly white people. There is a problem that is either being ignored or championed.

The film itself — while maintaining its creep factor — brings an unsurprising jocularity. It is Jordan Peele, after all. That said, there’s — also unsurprisingly — an effortless brilliance here; it’s got a keen wit and intellect that has Peele all over it. It’s kinda like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, only with more murder.

I say, see this movie. I say that as a horror junkie, but also a cinephile who just really enjoys quality. Once you’ve seen it, check out this neat listicle that you should absolutely not look at until you’ve seen it. Beware: this movie redefines the standard for most annoying sound in the world set by Dumb and Dumber. Enjoy!

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