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.
Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla was the third British crime comedy caper for the director, and it could have easily been the misstep that signaled him wearing out his welcome. Happily I can tell you that it’s a winner, and although not as cracking as Lock Stock or Snatch, it sinks into its own distinct groove that’s fairly removed from it’s two predecessors. Once again we are treated to the life and times of a bunch of hoods and gangsters in London, but not the grungy, back alley soup kitchen London that we’re used to from Ritchie. No, this is a glistening, prosperous London, filled with real estate money ripe for the taking and developers making underhanded deals with shady businessmen. The climate has definitely changed in Ritchie’s aesthetic, but the characters remain the same, just as witty, eccentric and chock full of piss and vinegar. The story centers around the wild bunch, a cozy little clan of East end petty thieves led by One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba). Their third musketeer is Handsome Bob, played by a hilarious Tom Hardy who has a secret up his sleeve that spills out in what is the most adorable scene Ritchie has ever written. The gang is hired by a mysterious chick (Thandie Newton) to rob some dudes, and that’s where the trouble starts. Elsewhere in town, arch gangster Lenny Cole (a frothing Tom Wilkinson) negotiates a land deal with dangerous russian billionaire Uri (Karel Roden switches up his trademark psychosis for smooth talking menace here) that hinges on a missing painting. Lenny dispatches his right hand bloke Archie (Mark Strong, subtly trolling us) to find it along with his rock star nephew Johnny Quid. Got that? Nevermind, half the fun is the how and not the why of Ritchie’s stories, and I find it best to just let the flow of it wash over you as opposed to thinking out each detail and missing the sideshow. Toby Kebbell is off the hook as Quid, a wiry stick of dynamite and a comic force to be reckoned with, truly the most exciting performance of the film. Ritchie has a knack for bringing out the funny side in actors, even ones that aren’t usually the type to make you laugh. Strong is terrific, with a few carefully timed moments of sheer hilarity that deftly make you forget how dangerous he is. Ludacris and Jeremy Piven are fun, if a bit out of place as two event promoters. Butler and Elba have an easy-peasy rapport that’s light, friendly and believable. Wilkinson dances between alpha assuredness and aging buffoonry nicely, always commanding the scene and oddly reminding me of Mr. Magoo. There’s a playful tone to this one, glitzy and celebratory in places where Snatch was grim and sketchy, and the whole affair feels like a new years party with a bunch of old friends. Watch for cameos from Matt King, Nonzo Anonzie, Jimi Mistry, Mundungus Fletcher and Gemma Arterton. Very fun stuff.