Tom Hiddleston

Kong: Skull Island

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A group of scientists team up with soldiers to travel to an uncharted island. Their goal is to use seismic charges to study and map the geological structures on the island. Little does the team know that this island is filled with mysterious creatures. Many of these creatures are larger than life and unlike anything the group has seen before. Unfortunately, their explosions have awoken the king of the island, and this is a king they do not want to cross.

Most audiences know the story of King Kong. It is a plot that has been redone several times, and the story is typically the same: a large gorilla-like creature rules Skull Island. He typically falls for a beautiful blonde woman who happens to be with a group of men exploring the island, then Kong gets captured and taken to New York, escapes, then climbs a tall building. This plot is usually set in the 1930’s. While some of these elements are present in Kong: Skull Island, audiences are (for the most part) given a fresh, unique take on the giant ape we know and love. The biggest difference is that the film is set in the 1970’s at the end of the Vietnam War. The filmmakers do a great job of creating the look and feel one would expect when watching a Vietnam War era film. They clearly draw heavy inspiration from films like Apocalypse Now, especially when looking at the color choices made throughout the film. Another substantial difference between the classic King Kong story and this film is that, while there is a blonde female character traveling with the group of men, she is by no means a damsel in distress. This female character, Mason Weaver, proves early on that she can tough it out with the best of them because she is an anti-war photographer in the trenches of Vietnam. These two differences alone make Kong: Skull Island stand apart from its predecessors.

When the first teaser trailer came out for this film I was very concerned about the size of Kong. I understand that Kong was enlarged to make him a more suitable foe to battle Godzilla, but taking him from 50ft to 100ft seemed like a bit much. He doesn’t scale tall buildings anymore, he’s the size of a tall building! Luckily the filmmakers manage to make Kong’s size work along with the other plot changes. Taking into consideration we will eventually have a Godzilla vs Kong film, one of the most successful aspects was how the filmmakers connected King Kong to the same universe as Godzilla. In King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) the two monsters are haphazardly thrown together in Tokyo to have an epic battle without much explanation. Kong: Skull Island clearly establishes the existence of an extensive underground system of caverns that are inhabited by all sorts of giant monsters including Kong, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. The audience is given a great Kong story while also getting a taste of what future Kong and Godzilla films will have in store.

This is definitely an action packed monster flick, but it is also driven by the human characters. With the likes of John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak), and John C. Reilly (Step Brothers) you know  you’re in for a treat. While the dialogue does leave a bit to be desired, there are many amazing performances that make up for it. One of the more interesting roles is played by Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight). He plays Packard, the leader of the group of soldiers. What makes his performance truly stand out is how his actions seem to directly mirror Kong’s. Both of them seem crazed and animalistic at times, but really their only goal is to protect those they care about. As I mentioned earlier, this film has the perfect strong female character in photographer Mason Weaver, played by Brie Larson (Room). There is something about Larson and how she portrays this character that makes her a true role model. In all honesty, there are so many fascinating and likeable characters that my biggest qualm with this film is that there are almost too many characters. I also wish many of the characters had been given more backstory, especially Goodman’s character.

Both the cinematography and special effects elevate the film to another level. Many scenes are so beautifully shot you almost forget you are watching a giant monster movie. One scene that stands out for its cinematography is the iconic shot when we first get a glimpse of Kong with the sunrise behind him. More gorgeous and thrilling cinematography is seen when Hiddleston runs through bright green smoke while using a sword to cut down flying monsters. In these two scenes and many others the use of vibrant color adds beauty to perilous situations. The CGI creatures are incredibly well done. With Kong, he is clearly a gorilla-like creature, but unlike gorillas Kong stands upright. This gives the perception that Kong may be somewhere between man and ape. There are various other creatures inhabiting Skull Island. Each one has a unique and beautiful creature design. The “skull crawlers” are particularly disturbing in their odd shape and the way they move, yet their features are logical for being underground lizard-like beings.It is clear that a lot of thought went into the creation of the many giant beasts.

Kong: Skull Island is my favorite giant monster film since Cloverfield (2008). It makes up for many of the mistakes that were made with the recent Godzilla film, especially in that there are more compelling characters and Kong is more prominently featured. That being said, this film does repeat some of the same mistakes. With such a star-studded cast, it is impossible not to enjoy each and every performance. Unfortunately there are simply too many characters and not enough time to really dive into each of their histories, and often the dialogue between them can sound uninspired. Despite that, audiences still get an exciting monster movie that has great creature designs, breathtaking cinematography, and a story that instantly grabs your attention (all the way through to the end of the credits). You will walk out of the theater eager to see what comes next in this epic universe of giant monsters from the depths of the earth.

OVERALL RATING. 8/10

Crimson Peak

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) has seen ghosts since she was ten years old. On her first encounter with a ghost, she was warned to stay away from a place called Crimson Peak. Years later, she meets a handsome baronet from England named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After a tragedy, Edith marries Thomas and moves into his decaying family mansion in England along with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Edith soon realizes the place she was warned about as a child has now become her only home, and there are many ghosts within its walls.

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. He has a masterful way of blending dynamic characters, haunting imagery, and completely unique looking creatures. Crimson Peak is another success. Probably the most successful aspect was how visually stimulating and stunning the entire film is. This is evidenced when Edith moves to England with the Sharpes. The mansion they live in is quite literally falling apart. It is unnerving and beautiful all at the same time. The house sits on deposits of red clay that seeps through the floors and the walls of the house’s lower levels. It makes it appear as though the house is bleeding. The director has essentially made the house another character in the film. The red clay seeping into the pure white snow is also a very vivid image. It alludes to the blood that has been spilled on this land.

Even the costume design added to the fantastic imagery. The costumes alone were quite beautiful, but the focus on color adds a certain depth. Edith, who is full of life and innocence, typically is seen wearing some kind of white, beige, or yellow dress. This makes her stand out against the darkness of the house and the blood red of the clay that oozes from the walls. By contrast, both Thomas and Lucille wear very dark colors. It is almost as if their clothes are meant to show Thomas and Lucille’s connection to the house. This is especially clear with Lucille’s wardrobe. She primarily wears a blue dress that is so dark it is almost black. She almost blends in with the house as if she is one with it.

This film had an original story that actually kept me on the edge of my seat. It is a mystery being slowly unraveled as Edith follows the clues being laid out for her. It’s always a good sign when I’m not constantly guessing what will happen before it occurs in the movie. That isn’t to say there weren’t some things that seemed fairly obvious early on in the film. It was more that the way everything was revealed kept it interesting, even if you knew what was coming. Some may feel that the film moved rather slowly. I will concede that based on the trailer, the film looked like it was going to be filled with non-stop intense scares. There was plenty of intensity and definitely some great scares, some that even happen very early on, but the film definitely focuses more on the mystery side of things as well as character development (which is very important in a film like this).

All three of the leads in this film were absolutely flawless. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) was perfectly cast as Edith. She gives an air of youthful innocence yet she is independent and very intelligent. Wasikowska also excelled at portraying her character as terrified of the ghosts that haunt her, but also knowing she has to solve the mysteries surrounding these ghosts. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Thomas Sharpe except Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers). Hiddleston somehow manages to appear charmingly lovable and utterly sinister all at the same time. I don’t believe any other actor could achieve this. Finally, there is Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). It is clear from her past work that she is a talented actress. Until now, I never knew how disturbing she could be. The only acting that I was not convinced by came from Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy). I usually enjoy his acting, but his delivery in this film just fell a bit flat.

Yet another amazing aspect of this film was the various special effects. Guillermo del Toro is known for his amazing use of CGI. The look created for the ghosts was disgusting, frightening, and beautiful all at once. What I was even more surprised about was the use a practical effects. This film had some rather brutal scenes of violence, which I did not even remotely expect, with gorgeous practical effects for the wounds. There is one particularly graphic scene that takes place just before Edith goes to England that blew me away.

There are so many amazing aspects of Crimson Peak. This film was dark, intense, scary, mysterious, and sexy. It has pretty much everything you could ask for in a great ghost film that actually has substance. While it was a truly thrilling movie, there are some things that keep it from being perfect. The biggest being simply that the trailer leads you to believe the film relies much more heavily on scaring you with ghosts than it really does. This is one thing that will likely upset many viewers. Personally, the fact that this film had an edge-of-your-seat mystery makes up for the fact that the ghosts were more used as clues rather than ways to terrify you. It is still one of my favorite films so far this year. I truly hope that this will lead to Guillermo del Toro writing and directing more horror films.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10