“Kong: Skull Island”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Even if you aren’t a fanboy of the monster movie genre, you’ll have a good time at “Kong: Skull Island,” an eye popping popcorn movie that offers up some good old fashioned cinematic escapism. The film has a serious-yet-satirical attitude that gives it an elevated B-movie vibe, and it’s a ton of fun.

Setting the film in the 1970s was a brilliant move and it serves the story well. Conspiracy theorist Bill (John Goodman) convinces the government to give him a military escort to chart a mysterious island. Accompanying him are tough and combative career military man Lt. Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squadron, British tracker James (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war photojournalist Mason (Brie Larson) and several other random company suits and scientists. After arriving on the island the group encounters wildly strange hermit Hank (the scene stealing John C. Reilly), a presumed dead WWII military pilot who crash landed and has been stuck on the island since the 1940s. King Kong is a hero ape in this version, keeping the local tribespeople safe from the Skull Crawlers (which are admittedly lame and fake looking dino lizard things).

The plot is thin, the dialogue is at times clunky, and there’s little character development. But that’s not really why audiences flock to movies like this, is it? We’re here to see a giant monkey wreak havoc, and the film delivers. (In fact, Kong shows up within the film’s first few minutes, providing an instant satisfaction by giving us an early and grandiose glimpse of the beast).

This is one great looking movie that’s extraordinarily visually focused (if not so much story-wise). It’s an expensive spectacle with a huge budget (rumored to be in the $190 million range), and you sure as heck can see where the money was spent onscreen. It’s not in the talented, credible actors that helm the cast: it’s in the absolutely flawless — and I mean FLAWLESS — visual effects. The CGI eye candy is breathtaking and the classic movie monster is brought to life on an epic scale by the animation geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic (with visual effects supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum working at the top of his game here). Kong looks and feels like an actual ape and is given a real humanity through the topnotch animation.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who directed the intimate film “Kings of Summer” (which clocked in at #4 on my list of the Top 10 Best Movies of 2013), makes an enormous and impressive creative leap from spearheading a low budget indie to an extravagant blockbuster with enviable ease. Vogt-Roberts has a skilled, artistic eye for visual beauty and stages some epic set pieces here. You’ll get big monsters and even bigger explosions with a pulsating retro rock soundtrack throughout.

All of this dazzling spectacle serves as a flashy distraction from the thin story and flat acting, but this is a wildly entertaining movie that breathes life into the Kong franchise.

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Sundance Review: “The Little Hours”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I really wanted to love “The Little Hours,” the latest film from “Life After Beth” and “Joshy” director Jeff Baena. He has a sense of humor that directly mirrors mine and when I heard that he was tackling a religious themed comedy based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic literary text “The Decameron” as his next project, I was sold. Unfortunately, the film aimlessly wanders around the screen in a cloudy haze of expletives for two hours instead of being something truly special.

The film is full of talented, funny comic actors but they just don’t have great material to work with. We first meet Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie), and Sister Genevra (Kate Micucci) quietly going about their daily routine. When the gardener wishes them a good morning, they turn violent, verbally abusing him with an f-bomb laced tirade, throwing turnips at his face, and spitting at him. A group of nasty, rude and cursing nuns is a funny premise for sure, but this one-note joke gets stretched over the entire course of the film and quickly becomes repetitive (and rapidly loses its humor).

Mother Superior (Molly Shannon) runs the convent with Father Tommasso  (John C. Reilly, the true scene stealer in the film). After a chance encounter in the woods, Tommasso crosses paths with runaway servant Massetto (Dave Franco), a man who has been kicked out of his master’s (Nick Offerman) castle for schtupping the lady of the house. Father Tommasso drunkenly laments that he ran out of water and “had to drink the sacramental wine,” and comes up with the grand idea to invite Massetto  back to live with and work for him. Once Massetto arrives he grabs the attention of the sexually repressed, bi-curious nuns, and they scheme to seduce the new farmhand by any means necessary.

While it’s not an original idea to take a classic piece of literature and put a modern spin on the story, there are some truly hilarious concepts at play, including several riotous confession scenes that will no doubt be memorable long after you see the movie. Although the film is set in a 14th century Italian convent, the trio of bad nuns speak in modern slang and give in to their uncontrollable carnal desires, habit be damned.

The film is off-color, bawdy, and seems hell-bent with determination to push the buttons of the devout. I’m not a religious person (nor am I a prude) but I did find many of the jokes, at the expense of Catholics in particular, for the most part only mildly humorous. The film wants to be a screwball comedy but it just gets too weird too fast — and it’s not the good kind of weird. There are several orgy scenes (including what are basically attempted rapes), a bizarre subplot about a coven of witches (who take to nude dancing around a woodland fire), and a laundry list of curse words that would make a sailor blush.

The entire project feels as if it’s raunchy solely for the sake of being raunchy, and I wanted so much more.

This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.