A New King in Town

Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (You’re the Worst, Kings of Summer, and Successful Alcoholics) is the latest—and dare I say greatest—movie featuring the most famous gorilla to grace the silver screen: King Kong. However, Legendary Entertainment and Kong: Skull Island’s writers, Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein, are not retelling the age old King Kong story that has been told since 1933. No, they’ve opted to take a new approach on the story by utterly changing all narrative elements of King Kong. And boy am I diggin’ it.

The story of Kong: Skull Island vastly differs from the classic “steal the monkey off to New York, then shoot him off the Empire State Building” tale. Instead, the events of Kong: Skull Island take place at the tail end of the Vietnam War, following Bill Randa (John Goodman), a man who believes in a monstrous presence on the mysterious Skull Island. And in order to prove that belief, he gathers a team of specialists to help him gain access to said island and see what there is to see (expecting that maybe, just maybe, a humungous gorilla is there).

However, saying that the film is only about this one guy leading a team of specialists would be a great disservice to this very character driven movie. Every character in Skull Island has a personal motivation taking them through the journey, and what’s even more fascinating is watching those characters conflict with one another when those ideals clash. James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is in this trip for the money as the team’s survivalist, but ultimately he comes to care about the safety of crew. Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is an anti-Vietnam War photographer who joins the mission only as a means to return home, but eventually she starts to care for the preservation of Skull Island and its inhabitants (natives and Kong alike). Then you have Lieutenant Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who, after the war officially ends, feels like a soldier without a cause and is looking for any excuse to keep fighting. And don’t even get me started on the hilarious John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, the WWII vet who has been stranded on the island for decades. His addition to the story makes for some really funny dialogue as a man “outside of time,” and it adds a level of humanity that comes with being a soldier who just wants to go home. With such a vast array of characters, it’s easy to guess that some interesting conflict and compromise ensues when they all discuss the real end goal in leaving Skull Island. And frankly, it’s something that I find really interesting from a storytelling perspective.

That all being said, the real shame about Kong: Skull Island’s characters is that where some of them are truly interesting people, the rest of the nameless cast members feel like they’re just there to be—how do I put this?—“Kong-fodder.” They’re expendable soldiers and scientists whose characters don’t develop much beyond monster food. It’s funny though. Even if I didn’t care about those no-name characters, I did find myself often counting the great inconsistency with the number of people who were still alive at any given time. That’s just me nitpicking, but still it’s a small thing that really keeps me from focusing on the story of Skull Island. Oh, but while we’re talking about people dying, looking back at those important characters, I will say that some of them meet their fates too soon. It’s really unfortunate because many of the deaths felt like they had no basis for happening (being incredibly out of the blue), or they just felt as if they wasted characters with a lot of potential. That’s how I felt at least.

But who cares, you know? Let’s get off of those pesky humans, and talk about the real star of Kong: Skull Island, Kong. Whoa. This ape is terrifying. In fact, most of the giant creatures in this film are absolutely intimidating (if not, very well designed). I mean, these beasts are larger than anything in existence and probably cannot exist on this Earth, but regardless of that notion, I found myself believing in and being scared of them and their abilities—and really that’s kudos to Skull Island‘s prime CGI work as well as the organic and purposeful creature designs.

Now it would not be a stretch of the imagination to guess that there are some rad action sequences involving these giant monsters. I mean, you can’t just drop a skyscraper-sized ape into a film and not have it punch something. It was bound to happen, and boy does it look good. The footage of Kong smacking down helicopters or going absolutely bareknuckle brawling with Skullcrawlers looks so nice because the camera captures a lot of that action in the frame. The action is fast but the cuts are not, so overall you can watch these epic scenes and get the sense that things are happening at a proper pace. It’s awesome!

Ultimately though, I think the real achievement of Kong: Skull Island is that it’s a film that made Kong frightening. A lot of people are pointing out that Legendary Entertainment only made Kong as big and bad as he is now for the purpose of his upcoming box office shattering brawl with Godzilla—which granted, is a valid point. But really I challenge that idea. If you look at Skull Island in comparison to the previous Kong films, this 2017 instalment managed to change the famous giant ape from a creature smitten by blond damsels in distress to a true force of nature. Kong is a beast the size of a mountain. He’s a beast who can and will destroy anything when it trespasses on his turf. He’s a monster, plain and simple, who can take out 16+ trained attack helicopters in a matter of seconds while only sustaining a minor arm injury. And if the thought of such a thing and its capabilities existing doesn’t scare you, you certainly have more nerves than me.

Though not a perfect film, I still think that anyone who sees Kong: Skull Island will have an amazing time watching. I’m gonna give Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts an…

8/10 – Great

If you’re a fan of interesting ensemble casts, giant gorillas fighting other giant creatures, and fantastic 70s music, I think you’ll really enjoy Kong: Skull Island. Also, if you go and see this movie in theaters, stick around after the credits roll. I won’t give anything away, but there is an end credit scene that is sure to drive any movie monster fan wild. Otherwise, be sure to comment below with your thoughts on the film—I’d love to hear them. If you’re looking for more reviews by TAWTICS, feel free to head on over to our Reviews page. And as always, thanks for reading.

TAWTICS’ Absolutely Timely and Completely In Depth Look at the 89th Academy Awards

See the joke is that the Oscars were like two weeks ago. And considering that I only saw a handful of the films nominated, I wasn’t going to comment at all, let alone what little commentary I have. And yet I do have some opinions on a couple Oscar-related things, so, as a film connoisseur, I am inclined to say something. (But again, full disclosure, I did not see all the films, as much as I would have liked to, so some commentary may be a bit skimpy).

  • Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea— So I didn’t see Manchester by the Sea. Frankly I don’t even know anything about it now. But still as an aspiring screenwriter, I do love a good screenplay. Maybe I’ll check this one out, see if I feel the writing is authentic.
  • Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight— So I’m definitely checking out Moonlight in the future for reasons I will disclose later (though it’s probably obvious). But I did not know that it was an adapted screenplay. In fact I found out that this movie was adapted from the play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, by Tarell Alvin McCraney which… I don’t know, personally I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a transition. As such, however, I’m even more interested in watching either medium to see what the format does to the story and how it is presented. Should be cool.
  • Visual Effects: The Jungle Book— Tough category. I mean The Jungle Book was up against Dr. Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which were some great films in terms of the integration of live action and CG effects. Still though, from what I saw in promotional material, The Jungle Book‘s use of visual effects looked pretty rad as well. Props to them.
  • Short Film (Animated): Piper— So for this category I saw Piper and Borrowed Time, mainly because those were the ones I saw pop up on my social media feed a lot. Who would’ve thought that internet virality may help in an animated short’s popularity? (The answer is most people, I think). Still though, I think this is well deserved for Piper. Fantastic animation, a lovable bird protagonist, and overall a cute story. Shout out to Borrowed Time though, because I’m a sucker for people perverting the idea that animated movies have to be all sunshine rainbows where nothing realistically upsetting happens.
  • Production Design: La La Land— Alright then. I can dig it. As one of the only academy award nominated films that I actually saw (and enjoyed), I can respect this. Overall I felt that La La Land had very striking and emotionally inspiring art direction that worked well for the mood it was going for. However I will recognize Hail, Caeser! and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, because even though I thought they were just alright movies, their visuals were pretty solid.
  • Original Song: “City of Stars” from La La Land music by Justin Hurwitz and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul– My god! Be still my beating heart. “City of Stars” is a fantastic song. I could say that about any of the music from La La Land, especially for also nominated song “Auditions (The Fools Who Dream),” but I am glad that this beautiful love song won. Still though, I am conflicted considering that “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana was also nominated. I guess I’ll just base my impression of which I liked more on what I listened to more after I had seen either film.
  • Original Score: La La Land— Again another one for La La Land. Though I had not seen any of the other nominations (I’m sure their scores were also fantastic), I feel that if a musical fails to get this award, there’s a problem. Overall I liked the score of La La Land both with the ballads and jazz, and I think it really added to the narrative that was presented.
  • Makeup & Hair Styling: Suicide Squad— Okay I’ll be honest. Nothing else matters more with this Academy Awards than this Oscar pick. But now we have to face it. Suicide Squad is an Oscar winning movie. Suicide Squad. You know? The movie with 26% on Rotten Tomatoes? I sorry, but I just find this award win to be rather ridiculous on two accounts. One, it beat Star Trek Beyond, which honestly has some of the best makeup work out there. I mean how else did they make such rad aliens? We are talking about a comparison between a pink alien with a head that has extending crab legs and writing “damaged” on someone’s forehead. And secondly, I think it’s more the implication that such a horrid movie can now say in its marketing that it is an academy award winning movie that I find… problematic. Definitely the biggest upset of the Oscars for me this year (and that’s saying something considering they fucked up giving out the Best Picture award).
  • Film Editing: Hacksaw Ridge— I haven’t seen Hacksaw Ridge (like most of these films), but damn this must have been a hard choice considering the other runners for the award. I mean I guess at the end of the day I just gotta see how good Hacksaw Ridge really is in that department. Maybe expect a review of it in the not so distant future.
  • Directing: La La Land— Again another tough choice. Virtually the same selection that the Film Editing award had, and virtually the same level of “god I need to watch these films to get a better understanding of direction.” Honestly though I’m pretty null when it comes to directing choices unless they’re really obvious or unless they really floor me. I know. It’s a pretty wide net I’m casting with that criteria. But I will say that from what I recall, La La Land was pretty well directed by Damien Chazelle. Lot of good choices behind that camera.
  • Costume Design: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them— Alright then. I’ll accept this one. If I’m being quite frank, I did not fully enjoy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I thought it was just alright, and should have had less screen time for emo religious children, and more of the beasts and the wizarding world of America. However, I find the costuming to be rather, dare I say, fantastic. It was more than just period piece clothing (as in what was mostly represented in Jackie) and did more by way of meaning and character building than the bright colors and expressive clothes of La La Land. As to how Fantastic Beasts‘ costumes stack up to Allied and Florence Foster Jenkins, I cannot say. But still I think I’ll at least give the newest in the Harry Potter world this much credit.
  • Cinematography: La La Land— Again we have a selection that I’m not too familiar with. Like I get the gist of what cinematography is, but I can’t really tell you what is and is not good by way of it (here’s to hoping that I learn more about it throughout this whole process). Still, what’s going on in front of the camera in La La Land is pretty and purposeful. It truly helps solidify the moods of certain parts of the movie and it adds a measure of character development and understanding that we think subconsciously while watching. Still though, I’ll have to check out the other selections for this category to get a broader understanding of cinematography.
  • Animated Feature Film: Zootopia— Wow! What a selection! I’m sorry but this is just an impossible choice for me let alone an impossible choice for the academy. Zootopia was against Kubo and the Two StringsMoanaThe Red Turtle, and even though I didn’t see it, it was still probably just as good, My Life as a Zucchini. How do you even pick between strong animations, amazing storytelling, and lovely music? Still though, I think what separates Zootopia from the rest is its message. A timely and poignant film, I’m just glad that there was a “children’s movie” (and I really hate describing these films as such on account of their wide appeal) out there that talks about what Zootopia talks about. That I find is it’s truly outstanding feature making it worth this award over all these other wonderful films.
  • Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences— Another good pick here. Viola Davis is a wonderful actress, and so I’ve been told, she’s a wonderful complement to Denzel Washington in Fences. As for the other actresses go in this category go, I’m sure they did excellent as well, but as always I didn’t see their movies, so I’m just going off of past performances and victories/nominations. Still though, lovely to see Viola Davis finally win one of these awards. I know she’s only had three nominations, but she’s earned the win after those three. And now here’s to hoping that she drops a sick album soon so she can get an EGOT. So damn close!
  • Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight— Hell fuckin’ yes! I love Mahershala Ali. I loved him in Luke Cage. I loved him in House of Cards. And hell it’s been a while since I’ve seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but Mahershala Ali’s in that as well, and he probably nailed it too. A phenomenal actor, and well deserving of this Oscar. However, as my standard disclaimer goes, I did not see Moonlight or really any of the other nominations for this award. Everyone else is probably just as deserving. But fuck that standard disclaimer! Mahershala rules. And in addition, I just find it rather exceptional (if not a little disappointing with how long it took), that Ali is the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Well played on this choice, academy.
  • Leading Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land— I’m both pleased and upset with this choice. I’m pleased because one, I did love Emma Stone as the hopeless Hollywood dreamer type. She was funny and believable and made my heart hurt a bit. And two, I’m just happy that Meryl Streep didn’t get her 5,000 Oscar in a leading actress role. I love her and really she deserved those other Oscars she won, but I need a little spice in the selection of winners here. But then in terms of my displeasure, there were two more things. One, I just really like Natalie Portman and Ruth Negga. I was really holding out for them to win something for their amazing portrayals of Jackie Kennedy and Mildred Loving (two ladies of historical importance). And then the second thing is that I didn’t really think Emma Stone had a super impressive/transformative performance as Mia. To me it just seemed like Emma Stone was playing another version of herself or her other typical roles. Again I won’t say that I didn’t like her role as Mia (or any of her previous roles for that matter), I just wanted something a little different from the norm in my leading actors/actresses
  • Leading Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea— Wow… what a hot button issue here. It’s not every day that a famous person with sexual assault allegation gets a medal… Oh wait. Honestly, I’m usually pro-talent when it comes to these kinds of issues. Like when actors have snafus come out about them through some tabloid or something, if it’s not that serious I can forgive for the sake of “the best at the job wins.” This is not one of those situations. Like really anyone else nominated for this award could’ve/should’ve won it. I mean Christ, he was only up against Ryan Gosling, Andrew Garfield, Viggo Mortensen, and Denzel Washington. And look, say what you will about any of those performances in terms of quality (I didn’t see Fences, though I’ve heard that Denzel Washington did a transcendent performance), but really I think any of these other options would have been way less controversial than Casey “Sexual Assault Allegation” Affleck, while still maintaining a level of quality.
  • Best Picture: Moonlight— Aw yes. The big whammy. The movie that almost didn’t get it’s Oscar, Moonlight. Look for my comments one the whole switcheroo debacle, it’s simply… someone fucked up. Whoever is in charge of getting the envelopes to the award presenters, whoever is back stage keeping tabs on those things, they made a mistake. But in the grand scheme, at least they corrected it. The La La Land crew could have easily left with their Oscars, thereby fully snubbing Moonlight. But the producers of the event found out and, as seamlessly and quickly as they could, rectified the situation. Was it awkward? You bet. But it was just a mistake. What I don’t agree with is the notion that people believe this mix up was done to take steam away from Moonlight‘s win. While that has been the unfortunate result of the event, as I’ve seen in a lot of media about the whole event, I don’t believe that there was foul play that caused it. Just a genuine mistake. Let’s not repeat it again. Cause otherwise we risk throwing salt at an excellent movie like Moonlight. Now again… I did not see Moonlight. And even though it was stacked up against La La Land (near and dear to my broken heart), I find that given the subject matter of Moonlight it deserved to be brought to attention. Solid win for them, and again really can’t wait to watch it.

* Retracted from this list were Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Foreign Language Film, Short Documentary, and Feature Documentary because I really had nothing on them at all. Some of those awards I just didn’t understand enough and others I literally saw none of the nominations so…

 

 

Get Uncomfortable. Get Scared. And Get Out

Get Out written and directed by Jordan Peele (MadTV, Key & Peele, and Keanu) tells the story of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a charming, yet quiet, young photographer, going to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). It’s a fairly significant event for any young couple, if not an anxiety inducing one, and that fact absolutely applies to Chris as well. However, Chris’ anxiety with meeting Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford & Catherine Keener) doesn’t lie in just the typical “impress the in-laws” dilemma with most families. No, a larger portion of Chris’ anxiety deals with the issue with his own race. Being that he is a black man getting introduced to an upper-class white family, Chris’ concerns are well grounded in one of his first lines to Rose: “Do they know I’m black?” And from that initial, hard-hitting question, Get Out develops into a film that wonderfully subverts any and all expectations it seems to present while giving a glimpse into the horror and danger of racism, even at the microagressive level.

Now let me first say this. For people looking forward to Get Out as a straight horror film, plan for more laughs than you may anticipate. This movie is not an absolute horror film as the marketing may lead you to believe. No, in fact I can say that this is one of the funniest horror movies I’ve ever seen. But what’s so astonishing about that notion is that this is a movie that figured out how to expertly balance very real scares with very uncomfortable laughter. I had my doubts at first when the film introduced Chris’ friend, Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery) as the disconnected from the action, audience surrogate, comic relief character, but quickly I figured out the movie’s true intention. It’s all fun and games when when people are making jokes, but really the comedic bits tossed into this movie are there just to make the audience drop their guard. That way, when the Armitage family and their affluent, elderly white friends attempt to connect with Chris using a variety of terribly assertive and horribly misguided racially biased comments and questions, we are left with this unpleasant feeling in our collective gut. It’s the kind of combination that has the audience laughing just as much as it has them awkwardly coughing, and ultimately the film’s narrative is better off because of this. A lot of tension is built from the discomfort you feel whenever any of the characters make a racist comment. But when you couple those troubling statements with a wisecrack every so often, the audience is left questioning when or even if something bad is about to happen. That’s terrifying! Not knowing when a scare is going to happen in a horror film is the most paranoia inducing thing ever. However, this especially works for Get Out because by the end of the film we’ve been through the ringer. We’ve been scared dozens of times, we’ve watched Chris struggle with everything from casual racism to literally fighting to stay alive, and all we’re left looking for is some kind of payoff. Well without revealing too much, yes, Get Out does offer a well realized resolution that is sure to make it all seem worth it. But know that they’re gonna make you suffer first before you get there.

As for the technicalities of the film, I think it’s safe to say that Jordan Peele has a grasp on what makes a movie look and sound good. For example, the set design in this film is comprised in a way that features a lot of weirdly symmetrical, perfect furniture and decoration placement. And it’s that perfection of organization in the Armitage estate that creates this strong sense of unease as the whole family starts to seem more and more suspicious, like they’re almost trying too hard. Then on top of the off-putting set design there is some fantastic sound design as well. Sound design that ranges from creepy music matching certain characters’ bizarre actions to chilling sound effects that add a layer of unpleasantness to everything (especially considering that sound plays a fairly decent role in the film’s story). And then lastly, the camera work in Get Out is top notch. Peele really knows how to unsettle his audience, and I’m getting that from the fact that his film does not shy away from really tight close-ups made to suffocate us in this waking nightmare. Hell even his more action based sequences utilize quick camera motions to show the viciousness that can be brought up by a character on the brink. It all just looks, sounds, and by extension, feels really intense. And that’s amazing.

Ultimately, Get Out is a movie that gives us something new. Changing the way we can look at the horror genre and changing what we think constitutes as scary is no small feat for any movie. But with its excellent talent, Peele’s great grasp on direction, and the fantastic way the story is realized on the screen, I think it’s safe to say that Get Out meets that feat easily.

Folks, I have no complaints on this film. Brilliance at every corner. I have to give Get Out written and directed by Jordan Peele a…

10/10 – Masterpiece

Even now, a week after its release, I’m still thinking about it. Such a galvanizing film experience. I highly recommend that everyone go out and give this this movie the attention it deserves. But before you do, feel free to leave a comment about the movie, this review, or whatever else below. And if you’re looking for more reviews by TAWTICS then be sure to head on over to our Reviews page.

A Warm Welcome

Hey there! Let’s talk movies sometime.

cropped-trash-palace-cinema2.jpgHello! And welcome to There Are Worse Things I Could See, also known as TAWTICS.

Do you like movies? Do you like judging their quality or sharing your opinions on their form and content?

You do!? Oh thank god. And here I thought I would have no one to talk to. We’re gonna get along great.

As another film review and commentary blog, TAWTICS is here not only to give an additional perspective on this vast landscape that we call the film world, but also to encourage discussion about it. I love talking about movies. Agree or disagree, civil or downright bloody, any conversation that there is to have about films, I want to start it and be a part of it. Now we all may have our own predetermined beliefs, assumptions, impressions, and opinions and maybe those won’t change, but I would challenge to say that people should try to look at films from as many different angles as possible to really have an appreciation for them.

And that’s what I hope to do here at TAWTICS: encourage people to speak up about their opinions and facilitate discussion on these new and interesting perspectives we may be introduced to. And if that something you hope to do as well, again I say, welcome to There Are Worse Things I Could See.

To get a look at what we have in store for reviews, check out our Reviews page. For a look at what we will be discussing soon, head on over to our Commentaries page. Want to know more about us? The About page is where you gotta go. And finally, to reach us click that Contact tab.