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Kong: Skull Island

I want to preface this Spoiler Free review by stating I’m a huge Godzilla fan, own all the movies, and I love them. As super fan of giant monsters, Kaiju and other films that feature strange beasts, this movie has everything a Kaiju fan could ask for. Great special effects, superb actors, giant monster battles, human drama, some comic relief all woven into a captivating and engaging story.

This Kong is not the same as the one depicted in the 1933, 1976 & 2005 movies. No this Kong is molded after the 1962 Kong featured in Toho Studios film “King Kong vs. Godzilla. In fact the Kong depicted in “Kong: Skull Island” will grow up to fight the Godzilla from the 2014 Legendary Studios film “Godzilla.” I look forward to when hese two juggernauts will battle toe-to-toe in their own feature film “Godzilla vs. King Kong” in 2020. This time out Godzilla will get top billing.

But in this movie Kong is King and the star of the show. Rendered wonderfully in detailed CGI Kong is brought to life and is the focal point. He isn’t the only star shinning in this extravaganza though. Delivering stellar performances are John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson (any movie he is in is made even more enjoyable), Tom Hiddleston, the lovely Brie Larson and John C. Rilley. I do want to say a little more about John C. Rilley. From the trailers I knew going in he would provided some comic relief. I was fine with that because I do not always care for dark and gritty films and like a balance of emotions in movies. I feared that his comic relief may render the movie too comical and that it wouldn’t be taken seriously. Yes, John C. Rilley does provide comic relief but that isn’t all. He is not only central to the plot he has some very serious and dramatic moments and I am safe to report his excellent performance really steals the show.

All in all this is a very satisfying entry into Legendary’s Monsterverse and it sets up more films in the franchise that I eagerly await.

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Marvel’s The Avengers Review

I finally bought my copy of Marvel’s The Avengers. I try not to buy DVDs without seeing the movie first. I used to do that thinking I was sure I would like a certain movie, only to have discovered I really didn’t care for it. So with the Avengers I took a risk and bought it without seeing the movie first…and I loved it. It is, in my opinion, the best super hero movie ever made. Prior to this movie I though Iron man was the best super hero movie ever made. This movie garnered a 92% rating on rottentomattoes.com and made $623,357,910 at the domestic box office and $888,400,000 for a grand world wide total of worldwide of $1,511,757,910. Pretty impressive numbers all around.

I find it ironic how much I like the Avengers given that I was a DC snob as a kid. Sure, I liked the Hulk, Spider-Man and Thor as a kid but only a little bit and hardly ever read their comics. When the Dark Knight came out in 2008 I liked it alright but I liked Iron Man, which came out the same year, much better. This year the Avengers came out the same years as the sequel to the Dark Knight (The Dark Knight Rises) and even though I will buy that movie sight unseen, I figure I will more than likely like the Avengers that much more. Yes, it is that good.

Now for the review: The film was written and directed by Joss Whedon and stars an ensemble cast including Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson. Each and everyone of them has their moment to shine and these moments are interwoven into the story in a natural way and it never feels forced like they were giving each character their obligatory moment in the spotlight.

This movie does tie into the previous films that set up this movie. It is important to have seen Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Captain America and Thor. Each of those movies sets up the characters and their back story. Thor especially ties into this movie as his brother, Loki, played marvelously well by Tom Hiddleston is the main antagonist in the film. Mark Ruffalo, played Dr. Banner, taking over in the role from Edward Norton. I had heard that Ruffalo stole the show and I would agree. I think Ruffalo played Dr. Banner more in a relaxed and playful style rather than Norton’s almost depressed and desperate interpretation of the character. That really isn’t a criticism of Norton’s portrayal. His acting was just fine. In that movie we see Banner still struggling with his “inner rage monster” and in this movie we see Banner at peace with the monster that lies within. I just prefer the more relaxed and playful style that Ruffalo depicted.

I do have to contrast this with the Nolan Batman movies for a moment. While the story of the Batman movies are gripping they lack any sunlight and joy. The Avengers, on the other other hand, also tells a gripping story but it also has a good deal of its humor and light moments. This humor seems natural and is not played solely for laughs. While Batman tries to be realistic…with a premise that Batman exists in the real world…the Avengers is a comic book come to life. Great special effects, superb special effects I should add, but it never tries to play as if it is in the real world. I think that element of telling a good story but staying in a world that isn’t real works better than gritty realism. Watch, the Superman movie next year may be more gritty realism and I will probability like that. All I know is that gritty realism won’t work well for the Avengers.

Another important aspect to the story is the fact that as the heroes are assembling to meet the challenge of Loki, who as stolen the tesserat, a cube that will open a gateway to another dimension, there is a great deal of infighting distrust and suspicion amongst the heroes. After they figure out it is Loki himself that is causing these divisions they all come together to fight not only Loki but the army that he has unleashed from this other dimension. As the Avengers come together in this final and epic battle in New York City all hell breaks loose.

This movie has it all. Action, adventure, heroism a lot of heart as well as brains. I have already watched it three times so far. Soon I will have to do a marathon of all the movies leading up to this one and then will top the marathon off with another delightful helping of The Avengers. Sequels to Thor and Iron Man are being made now and the sequel to the Avengers is in pre-production. I can’t wait for the saga to continue!

 

The Films of Steven Spielberg: Part II

iiContinuing on my examination of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy films of Steven Spielberg I want to examine the Jurassic Park franchise. Although Spielberg only directed the first two he did serve as executive producer on Jurassic Park III. The series is based on a book by Michael Crichton. Universal Studios, with the help of Spielberg, bought the film rights to the book even before it was published. Many studios were also vying the the film rights. As I said in another blog I am not a novel reader. Even though I love the genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy I only watch those genres and do not read those types of books. When it comes to reading I am strictly non-fiction. Even though Michael Crichton was hired to write the screen play (for $500,000) many fans of the book complained that the first movie deviated too far from the book. Not having read the book I don’t have the problem of comparing the two works.

I know in the future I want to review these movies in their entirety so for the sake of this blog entry I will just hit the highlight of the three films.

1. Jurassic Park. 1993 I cannot believe that this movie is almost 20 years old!! I think the state-of-the-art special effects do not look dated today. The movie was not entirely done with CGI although this movie was the first to use CGI to such a large extent. Spielberg also used Animatronics and other models for the special effects. I have a good friend, George Cheatle, who came to get me one day in 1993 and took me to the movie saying I had to see this on the large screen. Boy was he ever so right! I felt such awe and wonder seeing the large Brachiosaurus on the big screen for the first time. It is so lifelike and real looking. Even nearly 20 years later it still looks lifelike and doesn’t cease to create a sense of wonder. I would love to go back in a time machine and show this film to Willis H. O’Brien the man who did the stop motion effects on the original 1933 version of King Kong. I think he too would have been amazed at how life like special effects would become 60 years later.

I also like the story. All the characters are likable and eccentric in their own way. I like Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant the best and was glad to see him return for the third movie. I also think the great Sir Richard Attenborough as John Hammond brings a great richness, pun intended, to his role as the eccentric billionaire. One last thing to say about the original movie is the brilliant score by John Williams. Sometimes I see film scores as the new classical music and the main Jurassic Park theme (linked below) is one of my all times pieces of instrumental music…I think it is just simply…brilliant! One pet peeve of mine: As a militant anti-smoking advocate I find the incessant smoking of Samuel L. Jackson’s character disgusting and unnecessary.

2. Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

I have to admit that I was let down with this movie. It isn’t bad, I do own it and I do watch it on DVD. It just loses a sense of wonder the first film had. While I like Jeff Goldblum as an actor, the portrayal of Dr. Ian Malcolm in this second offering is a bit annoying. He wails and complains almost the entire film. Also the scene when they are all hanging on over the cliff inside the truck as the two T-Rex are trying to pull them up just goes on too long. I love all the dinosaurs in this movie, some we did not see in the previous film. The plot is pretty good with two rival teams exploring the island only to have to work together just to survive.

3. Jurassic Park III

Although the first film will always have a special place in my heart…it was my first love. I have to admit I enjoy watching the third movie much more. It is just pure dino-action and adventure. This was not directed by Spielberg but Joe Johnston with Spielberg as executive producer. The movie features a new dinosaur, the Spinosaurus, which makes quick work of the T-Rex to let everyone know there is new big man on campus. I also liked the addition of William H. Macy another fine actor. I don’t have a lot to say about this movie. It has great special effects and a fun story that is a roller coaster ride.

Spielberg said that we can expect Jurassic Park IV within the next couple of years and the movie is in the script writing phase. I didn’t focus too much on Spielberg in this entry but for me there is a simple lesson. These movies appeal to the kid inside all of us…and as an adult I feel that it is vitally important to stay in touch with that inner child-like part of ourselves that keeps me in touch with a sense of creative, curiosity and sense of wonder about the world and the universe in which we live. Next week I will examine the Indiana Jones franchise.  

Box Office Monday ~ Batman vs the Avengers

Ice Age: Continental Drift which was released on Friday topped the box office with $46,000,00. domestically and has already taken in $339,000,000 in the foreign market for a grand total of $385,000,000 worldwide. In second place is last week’s number 1, The Amazing Spider-Man, which took in $35,000,000 for a grand total of $200,900,000 domestically and $320,500,000 over seas for a world wide total of $521,400,000.

With the summer block buster season is in full swing and at the midway point. The first movies were released in early May and the last of the lot will come out in early September. This Friday, July 20, 2012, the long anticipated final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises, hit the theaters. I have no doubts it will be a huge hit. Just how big of a hit will it be? This summer saw huge numbers for Marvel Studio’s epic superhero movie, The Avengers, and there has always been a comic book rivalry between the DC comics characters and those from Marvel. So the question for me is not whether or not The Dark Knight Rises does well, the question is can it top the mountain of money that The Avengers brought in? As of today Avengers has made $ $613,548,000 domestically $ $844,100,000 at the foreign box office for a grand total of $1,457,648,000 world wide making it the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time both world wide and in the US. The previous Batman movie, The Dark Knight, took in $533,345,358 domestically, $468,576,467 at the foreign box office for a grand total of $1,001,921,825 world wide. Pretty impressive numbers! It will be interesting to see if the Dark Knight Rises can best itself and the Avengers this summer. Reviews for the movie will not be online until the 20th.

The Avengers

The Avengers
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
Director: Joss Whedon
Release Date: 4 May 2012

The Avengers is a culmination, or the bringing together of various Marvel characters that began in 2005 with the creation of Marvel Studios. In the comic books the Avengers consists of the superheros Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and the Black Widow. The first four of these characters had their own feature films and interwoven within these films has been the Character of Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D, a secret organization who is gathering these superheroes together to organize them into a unit if they are ever needed in the future. This movie depicts their coming together, although not very easily (a lot of egos to deal with) to fight off a threat to the world from Loki, the brother of Thor.

Growing up I was never really a fan of the Marvel universe. I was a fan of DC comics and their superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, etc. As an adult I have enjoyed the various Marvel based superhero movies, even those such as the X-Men and Spider-Man movies not involved in the continuity of the Avengers related movies. This movie looks like it will be an action packed fun adventure and I must admit I am looking forward to this much more than the Batman movie, The Dark Night Rises, which seems very bleak and joyless.