Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Full Metal Monkeys, or Thoughts on Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island (2017), an interesting reboot set in 1973 throws out everything from the previous movies except for the premise of a giant ape on a mysterious, uncharted island.  Throw in a crackpot scientist played by John Goodman, a crack military team led by Samuel L. Jackson and a bunch of CGI and you have just enough movie for a modern audience more comfortable with video games and watching movies on their phones.
The movie spends more time referencing Vietnam films than Universal films, and they go into the jungle blasting Black Sabbath like they’re under Kilgore’s command in Apocalypse Now (1979) or the space marines in Avatar (2009).  It’s all Charlie Don’t Surf and he thinks he does, until somebody throws a palm tree at your chopper.  And I have to admit, it’s more than a little emotionally satisfying to watch the big guy taking out the military team, and he's not even a king in this movie, he's just "Kong".  But these guys have no right to be there, Kong's only defending his island against the invaders.  It’s kind of like when Captain Cook was slaughtered by Chief Kalaimanokaho╩╗owaha in 1779, but you know, with helicopters, machine guns, and giant apes.
TomHiddleston is a little too high brow for his part as grizzled ex-SAS captain James Conrad, with a distractingly posh accent and about as much chemistry with Brie Larson as Adrian Brody and Naomi Watts had in the 2005 version.  Now Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges in 1976, that was believable and a far more traditional update than this movie, which was ironically set in the same decade.  Also watch out for John C. Reilly, Mr. Cellophane, as Hank Marlow, a crazy guy living in the jungle, and The Good Place and Other Space’s Eugene Cordero as one of the Sky Devils.
There is some clever exposition during the long jungle hikes to the extraction point that brings in the Lovecraftian Old Ones and Edgar Rice Burroughs territory with Hollow Earth theories, which grounds the movie in its pulp roots, but for the most part it’s just actors reacting to green screens.  Kong looks great, but it’s hard to get any emotional investment in a screen image that isn’t even a model or a guy in a suit, he’s just zeroes and ones.  Peter Jackson’s version was a sincere if overblown homage, while the 1976 update had a life-size model of the head and hands, in addition to Jessica Lange in a suede bikini.  This version has Samuel L. Jackson repeating his Valley of Death speech from Pulp Fiction (1994), but now it’s about Icarus flying too close to the sun, which is an apt metaphor for this movie’s and American Cinema's love affair with digital effects. 

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).