Kong: Skull Island ***
Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman
Set in 1973 in the wake of the Vietnam War Kong: Skull Island has a group of US Marines and scientists landing on a remote South-Pacific island for ostensibly research purposes. A number amongst the landing party have ulterior motives but the island has secrets of its own – and deadly ones at that – as the soldiers learn much too quickly and with disastrous consequences.
The early reviews for the latest Kong feature film weren’t too encouraging so perhaps my expectations were lowered. But Skull Island turns out to be surprisingly entertaining in a Saturday morning creature-feature kind of way. Our titular giant ape (looking more like the original 1933 version – through a modern-day CGI lens, of course – than the protagonist of the more recent Peter Jackson remake) takes on plenty of big, ugly beasts of various species in some mighty slugfests and the action is visceral and exciting enough.
Script writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, and John Gatins and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts also cleverly channel Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now/Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness while injecting just enough humour to keep proceedings from getting too heavy. The obligatory attractive leads are Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson but it’s the supporting cast members who bring the necessary fun (John C. Reilly, playing a World War II vet stranded on the island for three decades and called – in yet another nod to Apocalypse/Darkness – Hank Marlow) and intensity (Samuel L. Jackson bringing out his inner Captain Ahab as the platoon leader fixated on wreaking vengeance on Kong). So check it out and stay till the end of credits scene to see where the possible sequels are going to take the potential franchise from here.
Cut to chase: If you like to see big, ugly monsters bashing each other up then you’ll love this one.
Beauty And The Beast **
Dir: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald.
For the past few years Disney has been intent on remaking its much beloved animated classics as live-action features. The results have varied – The Jungle Book was delightfully updated and Maleficent brought an interesting new angle to Sleeping Beauty but Cinderella didn’t necessarily convince that it needed the live-action treatment. Unfortunately, Beauty And The Beast, falls in the Cinderella category – perhaps even more so.
Director Bill Condon slavishly follows the look and feel and storyline of the Disney version of the well-known fairytale – Belle (Emma Watson), an independent young girl in a small French village is taken prisoner by a literal beast (Dan Stevens) in an enchanted, time-locked castle but will she be able to look beneath the terrible exterior of the castle’s master and break the curse which has bound the castle and all its residents – without bringing very much new to the proceedings. The cast doesn’t quite have the vocal pipes to take the well-known songs from the original to new – or even the same – heights and the new songs written especially for the remake don’t have quite the same impact. The new story elements feel completely unnecessary (did we really need to know the circumstances of the passing of Belle’s mother?) and while Dan Stevens succeeds to a large extent in humanising the beast Emma Watson just does not have the luminous presence that we want from Belle. To make matters worse the murky cinematography (the murkiness exacerbated by the 3-D) makes the movie almost a chore to sit through. Sometimes you just need to leave well enough alone.
Cut to chase: Needless remake marred further by its murky palette.
Rating system: *Not on your life ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection