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By midlandsmovies, Jul 17 2017 03:58PM

Kong: Skull Island (2017) Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts

It was merely a few years in passing when Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla came out, piggybacking on the monster-movie resurgence created with the release of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Godzilla took the large creature idea that was prevalent in both movies but it overlooked the spectacular story and went for the lowest common denominator by pushing the CGI to the forefront. In the process of being an effects-driven vehicle it lost all the heart and wonder of the dinosaur delight.

The comparison for me is that this new movie is the descendant of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, and heck even Pacific Rim, and we get a Groundhog Day-style repeat of that situation. Kong: Skull Island ditches the emotive spectacle and ingenious special f/x for a series of repetitive seen-it-before sequences using digital CGI in place of any real-life “weight”.

This movie therefore uses themes we’ve seen before – group heads to a mysterious (Skull) Island but this time it’s a gang of explorers supported by a military platoon fresh from the Vietnam War. And boy do we know the time period! Audiences will quickly become sick of the music. As a lover of guitar music and 70’s tunes I adore Bowie, Creedence and The Doors but my god it is relentless. Suicide Squad relentless! It seems every 2 seconds there’s the first few bars or chorus of another retro hit – yes, I get it, it’s the 70s and yes, it’s like Apocalypse Now, and yes, it’s the soundtrack to the Vietnam war but boy is it dull and very repetitious.

Also, harking back to the period is an obvious, almost parody, nod to the Vietnam war as a whole. One of the military personnel mentions that “This place is hell” – a simple re-phrasing that war is hell – and the rest of the dialogue is equally banal. It does not help they are delivered by characters who are stock ciphers straight from a screenplay 101 course. John C Reilly appears as a comedy Captain Birdseye - a ridiculous OTT cartoon character – out of place against the political parallels.

A wasted cast sees Brie Larson as a photographer whilst Tom Hiddleston plays an Indiana Jones-type and they are both shadowed by Samuel L Jackson’s experienced war veteran. You’d do much better by catching Brie in Free Fire, Tom as Loki in Thor and Samuel L Jackson in anyone of the 300 films he no doubt has coming out this year.

Any positives? Well, I did actually enjoy the creature design. The spider attack was suitably creepy, the giant water buffalo were interesting and the wood insect was a sticky strange beast. It has aspects of Avatar and I wish they added a bit of that film’s exploration of the island. Spend a bit of time on what this place is – allowing it to breathe and get a sense of what is at risk.

But it all comes back to the visual – at the expense of everything. And the problem with the visuals is that, what I see through my eyes anyway, is that the digital effects are terrible. To me it looks worse than Jackson’s Kong film from a decade ago. ‘Graphics’ is the easiest way to describe its look which has all the reality of a Playstation 4 game.

I found it embarrassing amateurish and I am surprised to see many positive reviews for what I thought could have been solely a CGI movie. The colour grading reminded me of the same problem I saw in Jurassic World as the world simply doesn’t look ‘real’. Even in shots that show mainly just the cast themselves, I got the impression the screen was digitally flat. I just want to be inside a film and not looking at a computer game.

It has this artificial nature yet I don’t just mean special effects. It’s a product of the Hollywood machine and a film, like Emmerich’s Godzilla, that uses CGI in the worst ways possible. The filmmakers still believe that CGI is inherently awe-inspiring in itself. It never was. And it certainly isn’t here. A monster-sized mess.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 16 2016 06:29PM

High-Rise (2016) Dir. Ben Wheatley

This adaptation of J.G. Ballard's High-Rise from Ben “Kill List” Wheatley is every as bit as weird as the original novel in what is a challenging yet rewarding film set in a sci-fi dystopia ripped straight from the 1970s.

Tom Hiddleston plays protagonist Dr. Robert Laing who moves into a 25th floor apartment in a tower block featuring luxurious amenities before the building (and its self-contained and insular society) begins to tear itself apart. Beginning relationships with single-mum Charlotte (a haunting turn from Sienna Miller) and becoming friends with a family on the lower level (Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss as Richard and Helen) Laing moves between and between the opulent penthouses and paltry rooms at the bottom as the differences in wealth become an obvious reality.

With the building’s temperamental water and electricity and with garbage piling up in corridors, the microcosm pits the building’s designer Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) and his decadent friends against the hungry and scavenging gangs near the actual (and metaphorical) bottom as Luke Evans’ Richard Wilder puts it upon himself to assassinate Irons.

Hiddleston plays Laing with indifference and distance as he becomes our eyes, viewing the chaos as a somewhat inevitable outcome of the building’s construction.

In a whirl of hedonistic violence, disgusting torture – both mental and physical – the film shows the depravity of an unequal society with as much relevance today as it did when the book was written. Wheatley has gone for an amazing “future 70s” aesthetic with the costumes, locations having a quasi-retro feel about them more akin to Logan’s Run and A Clockwork Orange than anything modern. The building’s supermarket has a vibe straight out of the iconic Pulp “Common People” video whilst the feelings of isolation – as a whole as the building is cut off from the “real world” and as people walk on by oblivious to the building’s breakdown – are kept very much at the forefront.

Unlike most, I’ve never been a huge fan of Wheatley’s but this film shows a filmmaker with a passion and drive to deliver exactly what he intends. Luke Evans and Jeremy Irons (who’s having a movie renaissance in 2016) provide excellent support and the eclectic shots and soundtrack music (from Clint Mansell) linger long in the memory. From the illustrious images to the dark themes it explores, High-Rise is a film that bubbles up slowly from the bottom until it reaches a gloriously gory finale. Experimental but just the right side of coherent, the film explores wickedness and immorality and if you go along with its wantonness you’ll find many more highs in a slow burner building to a pinnacle of decadence.


Midlands Movies Mike

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