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A few thoughts on a big ape

A couple of weeks ago I went to see Kong: Skull Island with my wife for a long lunch on a Friday. I had some bad vibes about the film, but was hoping to be blown away by a new take on the old tale. I like a good monster movie, after all.

It turned out that Kong was more about the filmmaker trying to recreate Apocalypse Now than create a monster movie. But even so, I found myself saying two very positive things about the film when we were done. 1. It was a very pretty monster movie. And 2, it had a great soundtrack.

When I saw Apocalypse Now in high school, it was in AP English during a unit on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I honestly didn’t like either the book or the movie and I think the movie soured me pretty much on war movies in general, not that I was really a war movie kind of guy. (I did appreciate the parody in Hot Shots! with Charlie Sheen however.)

Kong is the story of a small collection of characters and their relationship with the big ape. One wants to prove it exists. One wants to kill it because he can’t stand the idea that he lost the Vietnam War. One has accepted Kong as a force for balance in a world of monsters. And one, well, I’m not sure why he was there. And I think that was part of the problem.

The girl (played by Brie Larson) was not there for a good reason other than the fact that King Kong needs his Fay Wray. Tom Hiddleston was there for the money. Sam Jackson was crazy. John Goodman wasn’t far behind. And John C. Reilly was the only character in the whole damn film who I felt I really believed.

Did I mention it was a very pretty movie with a great soundtrack?

Kong and Skull Island was amazing. The special effects were fantastic. I want to just get an animated gif of Kong snacking on some squid tentacles at some point just for fun. And the soundtrack was right out of the early 1970s. I jammed along to every single song.

But I couldn’t get emotionally invested with any of the main characters except for John C. Reilly — and I don’t even like Reilly. His crazy little pilot character was the only grounded thing in the whole damn movie for me.

Maybe I missed something, but I want an emotional connection to a character in the flick if it’s going to really do anything for me. It doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the Tom Cruise Mummy movie that’s coming this summer, though I know I’m going to go see it and hope that it is better than this one.

It seems I’m in the minority on this one, so go form your own opinions. The big ape deserved more than a nod to Vietnam in my book.

A Brief Look at FX’s Legion

If you talk to me, you’ll quickly find out that I like movies, television, and books, particularly if they are of the science fiction, fantasy, action, animated, horror, or comic book variety. I’m a geek. It’s pretty easy to figure that out.

Of late, we (as a clan) have been devouring most of what Marvel Studios has been producing for film and TV. Netflix series like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. ABC series like Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Movies like Iron Man, ThorDeadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers… the list goes on.

And now FX has joined the ranks of platforms for such programs with Legion.

Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to think of this show. The previews were bizarre combinations of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, the crazy visuals of Deadpool, and a much darker storyline like we saw with Jessica Jones. Would it be worth watching? Would it be too weird? Would we like it?

Surprise, surprise. I loved it. The warped, piecemeal style of storytelling reminded me a bit of Memento mixed with a bit of the Usual Suspects. But the way you keep guessing and second guessing what’s actually occurring in the story was fantastic. It was almost an “is it real, or is it Memorex?” kind of thing. You never know whether the place in the story you were was in the past or present, or even real at all.

It’s not going to be for everybody. It definitely touches on some mature themes. It uses some language that some folks may not appreciate. But if you can get past that, it’s going to mess with your head. And I dug it. The first 90 minute episode sets the stage for an interesting battle of things to come.

If you like the darker road that Marvel is traveling with its Netflix series, then I think you might dig Legion too. Give it a shot. I don’t want to spoil it for you. I didn’t know anything much about it going in and was happy that was the case.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not going to last long. It’s pretty out there. But I really hope it finds an audience and stays in for the long haul.

Review: La La Land

We’ve managed to see a few films over this Christmas break. Rogue One. Collateral Beauty. And the girls saw Sing. And now, for Mickey’s birthday, we went to see La La Land staring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

Essentially this is the Hollywood story. An aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone) works as a barista serving drinks to movie stars while she auditions endlessly, never getting a callback. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) plays jazz piano and has dreams of opening a jazz club in Los Angeles. They bump into one another, have a love affair, and eventually attain the dreams they worked so hard to achieve — but in separate lives.

Neither Gosling nor Stone has a fantastic voice. But even so, the strongest part of the film was the music. As a fan of jazz, I hope this movie sparks some interest in this genre of music. There are some amazing arrangements and performances throughout, including some music from John Legend that I didn’t mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the songs with Gosling and Stone. You could tell they had fun with it. And there was an innocence or organic nature to many of the singing and dancing numbers.

But there were far too many parts of the film where I just closed my eyes and waited for the music to start again. One particular scene where the two characters were having an argument seemed to last forever. And in an already long film (a little more than 2 hours), I thought they could have done better with the story parts.

There were quite a few moments that looked great and sounded great too. Any time the main characters were doing their singing and dancing thing, I was engaged.

But the best part for me was how they captured what a composer puts into a song towards the end. From the first note to the last, there was meaning and story. Musical phrases linked to moments in their own lives. Lyrics and licks that tell tales through melody, rhythm, and pacing. And the story ends with the last note.

I really wanted to like this film more. Musical film is rare these days. Some of the better ones from the last few years include Into the Woods, Enchanted, Across the Universe, and Moulin Rouge. And I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones I can remember.

The story from each of those (except for the creepy Johnny Depp wolf in Into the Woods) held up better for me than the one in La La Land.

But I’ll still buy the soundtrack. 🙂

Collateral Beauty, Some Observations

From the moment I saw the trailers for Collateral Beauty, I knew it was something I wanted to see. Will Smith has become an amazing actor in the days since the Fresh Prince oF Bel-Air. But more than that, he seems to pick projects that make you think. For every Men in Black or Independence Day, there’s a Seven Pounds or The Pursuit of Happyness. He balances entertainment with philosophy in equal amounts, and we are better for it.

Collateral Beauty is not a romantic comedy or visual feast of special effects. It’s about a man dealing with the loss of a child and the ripples that form around not only that event, but the fallout.

Due to its subject matter, this will likely not be a huge box office success. But it should quietly gain notice from the people who choose to give it attention. It’s a topic no parent wants to contemplate. I don’t want to outlive my children. And yet it’s a situation we’ve had friends deal with in recent years. One that we respect and treat as gently as possible because it will never be ok. That comes up in the movie in fact and made my wife and I think about our friends, their struggle, and our own children.

It’s not a perfect film, but I want to talk about it in two major areas.

First, there’s the cast, which is amazing. Will Smith. Helen Mirren. Edward Norton. Michael Pena. Naomie Harris. Jacob Latimore. Keira Knightley. Kate Winslet. How can you go wrong with those names on the marquee?

It’s Smith’s movie, though the others come in and out like characters in a Shakespearean play passing through the stage. For a good chunk of the film, Smith says nothing at all, but you can feel the pain and anguish. You can see it in his face. In his body language. In the way he starts to say something and then stops. And later when he starts talking again, you hang on every single word.

Mirren is delightful, playing the aspect of Death. And I don’t mean that in any way other than she’s amazing. Death is a part of life and she embodies it with every line she says in the role. She continues to impress me with her depth and breadth as an actress.

Pena is also amazing. His role in Ant-Man was charming and funny, but this role is so far removed from those concepts that it’s incredible. His character here is the definition of a stoic in word and deed.

Harris offered an understated calm in the storm Smith’s character is going through and by the time you see how things are connected, you’re ok with it because she never forces it. She speaks. She listens. She observes. And she fills a void connecting worlds to one another.

And Latimore in the role of Time… I think he had some of the greatest lines in the film discussing how we take the gift of time for granted. He attacked that role with a vengeance and we came away enlightened as a result. Though I’d seen him in other things, he was an unknown to me. I think we’ll be seeing great things from him in the future.

I didn’t even mind Ed Norton. He’s not one of my favorites, but his character changed through the film in unexpected ways. He went from a damaged middle-aged man pursuing love to explaining why being a parent is one of the most beautiful and terrifying roles anyone will ever play in a lifetime.

The biggest weak point was Knightley. Sorry, but though she has a great role to play as the abstraction of Love — I just never felt anything. She’s not one of my favorites anyway, but I wish she had done better with the role. The words were there, but I felt the conviction was lacking.

Second, there’s the writing. This is honestly one of the best scripts I’ve seen on screen in a long time.

Why? Because it didn’t drown in words. There were entire chunks of the film in which we simply FELT as we watched Will Smith move through the story. It allowed the audience time to breathe, to accept what had come before and digest it a little before we were hit by another brief barrage of philosophy, anger, or the unfair nature of the world. There was an organic rise and fall that never felt rushed in any way. And when we reach the end of the story, it’s almost a cathartic release as it is with Smith’s character.

Collateral Beauty has to be one of my favorite films of the year. It was beautiful. It was sad. It was perfect despite its few flaws. And I hope I never have to experience the loss of a child.

Bravo.

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