Synopsis: A diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific—as beautiful as it is treacherous—unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Thoughts: Since 1933, we’ve been kinda ape over King Kong. Though his franchise isn’t a huge one, each time he’s appeared on screen it’s been a cultural touchstone of the moviemaking era. The original film became instantly iconic while the overstuffed 1976 remake boasted impressive effects and a newcomer by the name of Jessica Lange. Peter Jackson’s thrill heavy 2005 reboot didn’t kick things off like it should have but it kept the larger than life monkey in relevant terms. With the success of 2014’s Godzillaand expertly timed with Universal Studios in Orlando’s new King Kong ride, Kong: Skull Island feels like it’s arriving at the right time. Starring Brie Larson (The Gambler), Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight), Tom Hiddleston (Thor: The Dark World), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), and John C. Reilly (Guardians of the Galaxy), the new’70s set Kong is clearly going for that old school home territory feeling without the bright lights of the big city to muck it all up. This first full trailer is a tad jokey for my tastes but the kid in me is counting down the days until Kong is again unleashed.
Review: Though I want you to read the whole review, let me say right off the bat that there’s no real need to see Need for Speed. It’s a hare-brained, noisy, overlong film that most will probably find subpar in comparison to other muscles and muscle car films like Fast & Furious 6. Even with that disclaimer, I’ll tell you that I found myself enjoying Need for Speed more than I thought I would/could.
Based on a popular game from Electronic Arts, Need for Speed has a rather lenghty set-up that takes up a good half hour of your time but ably covers a lot of bases you’ll need to get something out of the final 100 minutes. Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is a good ole boy living in the kind of quaint small time town that so many city denizens would long to visit…for a weekend. Taking over an auto-body shop from his recently deceased dad, he’s seeing the bills pile up and begrudgingly takes an offer from rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) to soup up a car to be sold at auction.
Said car is a beaut and attracts the attention of a Julia, a comely associate (Imogen Poots) of a wealthy business man…and leads to a dangerous situation that sees Tobey imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Upon his release he sets out for revenge, bringing Julia and a bunch of emotional baggage along for the ride.
A gigantically silly film, I couldn’t help but just sit back and enjoy the ride that the 3D converted film provides. Needing to make it cross-country in less than 48 hours, Tobey burns rubber though scenic vistas while avoiding the police and an array of roadblocks both literal and figurative. Culminating in an illegal street race across the beautiful coast of California, Need for Speed should be credited with never slowing down…because it’s only after the lights come up that you realize how ludicrous the whole thing is.
Compensating for his tiny facial features by pitching his gravely voice to the Christian Bale basement level and over emoting the simplest of line readings, Paul isn’t nearly as impressive here as he was in his award-winning turn on TV’s Breaking Bad. He’s better than Cooper (Dead Man Down, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), though, who isn’t the formidable foe the character and movie calls for. Michael Keaton (recently seen in 2014’s failed Robocopreboot) must have filmed his scenes in a day and laughed all the way to the bank as a hyper mastermind behind the final race.
The grand prix winner of the film is Poots who works the same kind of magic she did with That Awkward Moment earlier in 2014 by effectively stealing the role out from under her male counterparts. I had forgotten she was in this so when she appeared on screen I had the feeling the movie was about to be kicked into a higher gear…and I was right.
Though it hits the skids plot-wise as it nears the finish line, director Scott Waugh stages some mighty fine action sequences that don’t fall victim to repetition. Using very little in the way of visual effects, Waugh is able to up the ante on race films without coming off as showboating. It adds a considerable amount of realism to a non-realistic flick and I enjoyed his employment of interesting camera angles.
This is a film I wish was released later in the summer when I could have seen it at a drive-in movie theater. Though set in present day it has a pleasingly retro-vibe to it even if it lacks the overall cool factor that made classics like Bullitt so monumental in the race genre. If you’re in the mood to put your brain on cruise control and can take your hands off the wheel, Need for Speed could be a road trip worth taking.
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Synopsis: Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins.
Release Date: March 14, 2014
Thoughts: I’ll admit the first time I saw the preview for Need for Speed I feared we had lost star Aaron Paul to the Nicholas Cage darkside of films. The more I saw it though (and I’ve seen it a LOT lately) I’m intrigued by what looks to be a popcorn flick (ala Fast & Furious 6) wanting to emulate those grindhouse-y films from decades ago but filtered through a modern lens. It’s hard to balance a retro-feel with an updated approach but I find myself cautiously optimistic that this will deliver the goods. Bonus points for having the intriguing Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment) and Michael Keaton (Gung-Ho, also in the RoboCop reboot) on board in supporting roles.
Review: The last time that director Zemeckis filmed a live-action movie, he put Tom Hanks and a volleyball on an island in Cast Away after an intense and realistic plane crash sequence. In the decade that followed, Zemeckis focused on being a pioneer in the motion capture technology and yielded The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol. Though none of these were the huge box office hits they were predicted to be (A Christmas Carol came close and should have done better…it was the unquestionable best of the three), Zemeckis still broke new ground and continued his history as an innovator.
Now directing his first R rated film since Used Cars in 1980, Zemeckis is back to using live actors for the impressive Flight. Don’t be fooled by the trailers that indicate a drama that centers on the aftermath of an airborne tragedy, this is a character study with a hard edge that challenges the viewer to come along for a bumpy ride. Like Silver Linings Playbook, this is a film with unexpected rewards with twists that can’t be telegraphed in advance and strong performances to anchor it.
I have to say, in the past few years I think that Washington has been coasting if you really look at the choices he’s made in films. Sticking largely to playing a variation of the same hero role, I was growing tired of entertaining yet another Washington flick where he has to save the day by land, air, or sea. He’s a consistently entertaining actor that is always the glue that holds the film together, but I didn’t see him challenging himself to do something bigger and better. In Flight, Washington the risk-taker is back with a performance that should net him another Oscar nomination.
Washington plays troubled veteran pilot Whip Whitaker who is piloting an airplane headed for disaster. Zemeckis makes it clear this is no kids film in the first five minutes and shows us full frontal female nudity and our lead actor ingesting alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine before even getting out of bed. Right away Washington brings us up to speed on where this character has come from and where he’s probably headed. Over the course of the film Washington doesn’t let us feel a lot of sympathy for Whitaker as he seems to be the only one that doesn’t learn a lesson from the tragedy he’s involved with. It’s a risky choice for an actor to play such an anti-hero…but it’s these types of roles that Washington has built an award-winning career on. Even so, this doesn’t feel like a retread of previous work…Washington is fully present and accounted for and gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from him (Glory still takes the cake for me).
Zemeckis has a nice eye for casting and he’s filled Flight with an array of curiously perfect players. Cheadle scores re-teaming with Washington (after 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress) as a slick corporate attorney that doesn’t much like Whitaker. As a flight attendant, Tunie has a marvelous scene with Washington where we see a sad reckoning between friends. Oscar-winner Leo doesn’t come into the film until the last fifteen minutes but she gets some mileage out of a part best described as The Sigourney Weaver Role. Goodman grows tiresome as the movie goes on…but cut the guy a break…he’s been better in a number of movies released in 2012: ParaNorman, Trouble with the Curve, Argo, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
The real find here is Reilly as Washington’s girlfriend…a woman he meets in the hospital after the accident. He’s recovering from his injuries, and she’s recovering from an overdose. The striking Reilly deserves to share some of the limelight in the film for her work here…she’s a strong scene partner with Washington and an unusual choice for second banana. Zemeckis could have gone with a more recognizable actress but he made the right choice as British Reilly brings nuances to a woman brought back to life by hope. A really impressive performance…and I think you’ll agree once you’ve seen it.
As usual, Zemeckis has designed a top of the line visual experience for audiences. Like Cast Away, the plane crash sequence is quite frightening and should send any nervous fliers running for the Amtrak terminal. In the lengthy scene, I found myself alternately holding my breath and welling up on the rollercoaster of tension Zemeckis creates. It’s a startling passage of time in the movie but central to our understanding of what happens as a result.
Zemeckis, Washington, and screenwriter John Gatins have given us a very adult picture that doesn’t pull a lot of punches along the way. Our lead character is a seriously flawed individual that needs to find his own path to salvation, love, and forgiveness in a world of his own making. The film takes wing early on and though it experiences some turbulence along the way, this is a Flight you’ll be better off for having taken.