What’s everyone’s beef with Kong: Skull Island? Not tophat n’ coattails, high-tea cinema enough? I’m joking but I’ve waded through so much negativity surrounding this film over the years that I avoided it, and when I finally came round to watching it I found a perfectly thrilling, super entertaining monster flick that I have little to no issues with. The 70’s Viet Nam CCR aesthetic is an interesting choice for the Kong myth and I think it works, as John Goodman’s half insane journalist leads Samuel L. Jackson’s all the way insane military commander and his platoon on a voyage to fabled Skull Island, joined by Tom Hiddleston essentially playing a cross between Indiana Jones/James Bond and badass Brie Larson? How could that not be fun? Throw in and all the way insane and then some John C. Reilly as a downed WWII pilot surviving on the island and heavily channeling his Steve Brule character from Tim & Eric and I once again ask you, how could this not be fun? Then there’s Kong himself, who is an absolute unit here and way huger than I ever remember him being, measuring in at several hundred feet tall at least and fiercely protecting his kingdom from an armada of weird giant reptilian dragon things. There’s also giant water Buffalo, spooky natives and these bizarre stilt-walking arachnid nightmares that had me on edge and demonstrated some really impressive VFX. Jackson steals the show as far as human talent goes, playing a soldier who never saw enough combat in Nam to satisfy him before the war ended, is looking for a good old fashioned dust up and lives to regret being so eager before going completely, certifiably bonkers and trying to singlehandedly take down the big guy, on his own home turf no less. Throw in a solid supporting cast including Shea Wigham, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Erin Moriarty and a sly cameo from Richard Jenkins and you’ve got one all star lineup, with the MVP moment going to Reilly as he hilariously delivers the film’s best line and one allowed F-bomb in true Steve Brule fashion. Kong delivers the goods too, he’s an angry, very physically lethal sonofabitch big ass monkey who doesn’t take kindly to anyone threatening his homeland, be they big scaly monsters, the US military or other. It’s also very subtly antiwar, but just enough so that it does feel preachy and still knows how to have a blast. Pulpy in the dialogue realm, brilliant red n’ orange tinged in the cinematography department, retro steampunk vibe to some of the costuming and deadly fucking fun on the giant creature mayhem side of things. While Peter Jackson’s monumental 2005 version will likely always be my favourite version of King Kong, this Skull Island iteration is a flippin’ knockout of popcorn entertainment, audacious visuals and rock em sock em jungle war-games. Great stuff.
James Gray’s Ad Astra. It’s difficult for me to get my thoughts out on this one while still dodging spoilers but here goes. This was kind of a disappointment for me, not because it’s a particularly weak or mediocre film but rather it was something wholly different from what I was expecting. That too isn’t necessarily a cardinal sin but when your trailers and marketing campaign suggest one thing and your film blatantly does another, that’s a problem. In any case this wasn’t the ‘reach for the stars’ mysterious, ponderous SciFi epic that I got the impression of off the bat, but perhaps that’s just me.
Brad Pitt gives a grounded, meditative, cleared eyed performance as Roy McBride, earth’s most accomplished astronaut save for his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones), who has taken up residence somewhere near the rings of Neptune and caused quite a bit of trouble in a decades long campaign to contact extraterrestrial life. So begins Roy’s voyage out past the moon, Mars and towards the edge of our solar system to locate his dad’s research project, put a stop to the havoc it’s causing and set to rest the personal turmoil raging inside him, which is my fancy way of saying considerable daddy issues. There’s many diversions and they’re all handled nicely including an attack from vicious baboons in swooping zero gravity, a politically fuelled mutiny aboard a transport craft and a moon rover chase that feels comfortingly like Mad Max. Others provide supporting talent including Donald Sutherland as his dad’s ex pal hired to babysit part of his journey until that arc is cut disappointingly short. Liv Tyler is wasted on the thankless wife role that has no depth or vibrancy beyond looking worried, while Ruth Negga, Loren Dean and John Ortiz fare better as others he meets along the way.
So where does this falter? There’s a type of science fiction film that expands outward as characters explore their universe and reach for the great unknown while also feeling inward, finding themes of love, relationships and intimacy through something so grand as a journey into space. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris are probably the best example of this. This one ultimately fails at that, or at least going all the way and achieving something as profound as the examples I’ve given. Many elements work, including Pitt’s impressively centred, soulful performance, a beautifully atmospheric original score by Max Richter, stunning visuals and clever world building (somehow the fact that Virgin Atlantic does commercial flights to the moon in the future seems hilariously on point). But there’s an absent nature to the overall arc that can’t be overlooked. It’s sadly ironic that a film whose title translates to ‘To The Stars’ falls so, so far short of actually reaching them. You take this trip with Roy, experience everything he does and just when the penultimate moment approaches and you prepare for some soul nourishing pay off… your grasp closes on emptiness, and what’s worse is that was what Gray was actually intending, in a way. I get what he was going for and appreciate the effort this is the wrong film to pull a stunt like that with. Didn’t work for me overall.
Join Frank and special guest host, Paul Sparrow-Clarke, as they talk in depth about one of Brian De Palma’s most underappreciated films, Carlito’s Way. Paul returned to PTS to discuss Carlito’s Way after joining Frank and Tom during their From Russia with Love podcast in their For Your Ears Only James Bond podcast series. We hope you enjoy the show!
Pride & Glory is a gritty police melodrama that grabs the audience, shakes them till the point of concussion and wrings the life out of them with it’s nonstop intensity and performances that could raise buildings to the ground. Think I’m exaggerating or overselling? Give it a go, it’s fucking nuts. NYC cop dramas are a common occurrence out there, and have been for a long while, but something about this one just rings eerily true, rattles your cage and lets both the violence and corruption seep into the marrow of one’s viewing experience. After a drug deal erupts into multiple murder, a family of cops is thrown in an uproar. Haggard straight arrow Edward Norton is on point of investigation by boozy patriarch Jon Voight, and ends up finding out way more than he bargained for not only in regards to the NYPD, but about his fellow cop brother (Colin Farrell) too. Their third brother (underrated Noah Emmerich) is too busy taking care of his sick wife (Jennifer Ehle) to notice the corruption, or maybe does and looks the other way. Every faction adds to the pressure cooker of an atmosphere, rooted in the familial relationships that can’t withstand dangerous secrets. They should call the guy Colin Feral, because he’s a right beast as a guy whose moral compass is so out of whack he doesn’t know who he is anymore. The actor is fervently complex in his work, and makes the guy way more human than other performers would, but he’s still terrifying, whether threatening a newborn baby with a hot iron or full on brawling with Norton in a fracas of a man to man bar-fight. Voight is one of those characters who is so corrupt he doesn’t even notice it anymore, which is a dangerous avenue to arrive at when you’re in such a position of power. The supporting cast is pockmarked with fiery work from terrific actors including super underrated Carmen Ejogo, Wayne Duvall, John Ortiz, Lake Bell and two arresting turns from reliable firebrands Frank Grillo and Shea Wigham. Built around a script by Joe Carnahan, who feeds off of authentic dialogue and realistic shaping of events, this is one that pulls you right into it’s suffocating world of beleaguered sentinels of law enforcement whose eyes have become dim to that thin blue line separating order and madness. Brilliant, heavy stuff.