Tag Archives: Tom HIddleston

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

As my second most anticipated ape movie of 2017, Kong: Skull Island had some big expectations to fulfill. That said, the trailers did not fill me with hope—it looked like a lot of glorified CGI action mixed with a bunch of cheesy jokes, and despite occupying the same universe as the 2014 Gareth Edwards’ version of Godzilla (which I really liked), it seemed to have none of the atmosphere.

With that in mind, I have to say Kong: Skull Island was better than anticipated. In contrast to the grim, dramatic, character-based (and insanely overlong) 2005 version of King Kong directed by Peter Jackson, this one is pure popcorn fun, with plenty of action involving not just Kong but also a variety of giant monsters (as opposed to dinosaurs). If a super-sized Kong wreaking havoc is what you want to see, it’s likely you won’t be disappointed.

The first great decision the film made was to set it in the 1970s at the end of the Vietnam War. Bill Randa (John Goodman), a senior government official, conjures up a scheme to arrange an expedition to the mysterious Skull Island with the aid of a young geologist (Corey Hawkins, who looks and sounds very little like his characters from Straight Outta ComptonThe Walking Dead and 24: Legacy, a testament to his versatility). For some reason, they hire a skilled tracker, Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to assist them, together with US military forces headed by Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson). A photographer played by Brie Larson tags along for the ride.

And so begins their wild and perilous journey to Skull Island, where the monsters are big and abundant. King of the monsters is of course Kong, who acts as some sort of protector of the local natives who inhabit the island. This is a delicious premise on paper, with a whole bunch of characters with their own agendas and the biggest Kong we’ve ever seen (he dwarfs the 2005 version as he needs to be big enough to take on Godzilla next), all playing out with old school 70s rock music in the background and homages to classics such as Apocalypse Now.

The action is what the film thrives on, and thankfully, unlike the majority of monster flicks, you get to see Kong early and relatively often. Whether Kong is taking on humans or monsters, the action is spectacular, and the CGI is flawless enough that you can lose yourself in the fight scenes. I would still say the Kong vs T-rex x 3 in King Kong is the gold standard of Kong fight scenes in terms of creativity, epicness and length, though Kong: Skull Island gets pretty close with the sheer number of monster fights and the enlarged scale.

So in terms of what Kong: Skull Island needed to get right to be considered a good film, it does pretty well. However, in terms of the extra stuff that would have made it great, the film fares quite poorly. The first thing is that there are way too many characters for any of them to be developed properly. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are supposed to the glamorous human leads, but they are boring characters who really could have been cut out altogether. John Goodman, Corey Hawkins and Toby Kebbell are all underused, while the comedic relievers John C Reilly and Jason Mitchell (also from Straight Outta Compton) are poorly utilised, with the vast majority of their jokes falling embarrassing flat. Oh, and of course there’s also the arbitrary Chinese actress (Jing Tian) who is only there because the film was co-produced by China’s Tencent Pictures. The only human character who really has meat to his role is Samuel L Jackson, which surprised me as I thought he’d just do his usual schtick. In this case, it worked well for him.

In other words, the parts of Kong: Skull Island that don’t feature Kong are not very good, and there’s quite a bit of that given the film’s 118-minute running time. On the whole, I still enjoyed the movie because my expectations weren’t high and I just wanted to see the big fella smash stuff, which I got to do, though it’s a shame director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) couldn’t have delivered a more complete and memorable experience. Nonetheless, the post-credits scene still got me excited for upcoming showdown between Kong and Godzilla scheduled for May 29, 2020.

3.5 stars out of 5

Crimson Peak (2015)

crimson peak

I love horror movies, but let’s face it: the vast majority being rolled out these days are shit. Found footage, demonic possession, teen slasher, torture porn, or unnecessary remakes — they all seem to blend into one massive flaming dump after a while.

And so it is refreshing to see Guillermo del Toro go back to his horror roots with Crimson Peak, an old-fashioned gothic fantasy ghost story the likes of which have become virtually extinct. Since it’s Del Toro, it means you’re also guaranteed splendid visuals, beautiful colour palettes and haunting imagery. I even saw it in IMAX for the full immersive experience.

The plot, set in the late 1800s, will feel vaguely familiar: Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring young American novelist with a fascination for ghost stories. Her life is changed forever when a dashing young British aristocrat named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) arrive to seek project funding from Edith’s father (Jim Beaver), a self-made businessman with an observant eye.

It’s one of those films where there are mysteries and secrets to be unravelled, though I was surprised that it did not have any big surprises. The narrative progressed in a familiar direction and things more or less turned out as I expected as Del Toro never really tries to mislead us with red herrings. I believe part of the reason is because Del Toro has insisted that Crimson Peak is not a horror film but a gothic romance, and has accordingly tried to stick to the conventions of the genre.

I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve seen the trailer or the posters you’ll know much of the story revolves around a massive old gothic manor. Once majestic, time, nature and economic hardship have eroded its beauty, leaving behind a dilapidated facade full of unspeakable secrets. It’s a magnificent creation of Del Toro’s imagination, the kind of place where dreams and nightmares are made of. Amazingly, almost of all of it was built from scratch as opposed to relying on digital effects, and you can genuinely sense the superior aesthetics.

So as you may have gathered, Crimson Peak has a distinctly dreamy and fantastical tone driven by location and atmosphere. Everything from the gorgeous imagery to the exquisite costumes and sets contributes to the type of film Del Toro is trying to unleash from his twisted mind. I will admit though, that at times the old-fashioned approach of the film, coupled with the over-the-top melodrama and romance, walks a tightrope between charming and campy. I belong in the former category, for the most part, but I can definitely see some audiences falling in the latter.

What also makes Crimson Peak different to most ghost films these days is that there’s very little build-up to the appearances of the apparitions. Del Toro gets right to it and doesn’t waste time with shadows, fleeting glimpses or sceptical minds doubting our protagonist for three-quarters of the movie. Fans of Del Toro’s previous creature designs in Pans Labyrinth are in for a treat.

Don’t for a second, however, think that Crimson Peak is an “easy” film to watch just because it looks pretty. Del Toro likes to remind his viewers that this is indeed still a horror film with occasional bursts of brutal, visceral violence. It comes swiftly, shockingly, and jolts audiences to the edge of their seats. Frankly, I found these scenes far more terrifying than any of the supernatural stuff.

In terms of performances, the central trio of Wasikowska, Hiddleston and Chastain are all terrific. There is a strange mix of elegance, naivete and strength about Wasikowska that makes her so suitable for such roles, and for me it was great to see Hiddleston channel his charm into a character other than Loki (I had previously only seen him in Marvel movies). The standout, however, is Chastain, who seems to relish the opportunity to play a completely different character to what she’s typically used to. I had just seen her in The Martian the day before and it had no effect on how I perceived her performance in this movie at all.

Crimson Peak may not be one of the scarier horror films I’ve seen (supposedly because it’s not even supposed to be a horror film), but it at least offers a genre experience that is vastly different to what Hollywood has been churning out in recent years. I was delighted by its rich, sprawling visuals, creepy atmosphere, stunning sets and fine cast, and was never bored or frustrated by the story. I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is one of those rare instances where I think these positives, while not making up for a lack of surprises and originality, are enough to make a film worth watching and recommending.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

thor the dark world poster

I liked the first Thor movie more than I expected thanks to the crafty direction of Kenneth Brannagh and the performances of Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, which struck the right balance between fantasy and reality and humour and seriousness in the Norse god adventure. The success of that film and The Avengers always meant a sequel was forthcoming, but could it be done correctly without Brannagh at the helm?

I suppose the answer is yes, but there is still something about Thor: The Dark World that makes it feel a little pedestrian compared to some of the heavyweights in the Marvel universe. There is nothing, strictly speaking, wrong with it, but I don’t think it would have made much of a difference had they skipped it entirely and moved straight on to The Avengers sequel scheduled for next year.

Like Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World is set after the events of The Avengers. And like the first film, it splits screen time between Thor’s world of Asgard and Earth. The story is frankly too complicated and convoluted for me to even try and explain, but all that needs to be known is that the Asgardians are facing an threat from an alien race because of yet another magical weapon (this one’s called the Aether) and Thor must enlist the aid of his imprisoned adopted brother Loki (the brilliant Tom Hiddleston) to get the job done. Meanwhile on Earth, his love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) conveniently stumble onto portals that can transport them into other worlds.

Anyway, there’s lots of Thor hammer action, epic battle scenes and a good dose of comedy that aligns the tone of the movie with Joss Whedon’s wit in The Avengers. The charisma and chemistry of Hemsworth and Hiddleston provide the backbone to the movie and keep it afloat throughout all the muddled exposition, though Portman feels like a bit of an unwilling participant who’s only there because she’s contractually obliged. Kat Dennings, who plays Portman’s sidekick, gets to stand out more by providing the quirky one-liners, while Stellan Skarsgard provides a welcome return as Dr Selvig, a physicist who is now questioning is own sanity after what he has experienced.

The Thor franchise has always been the most difficult to translate to the screen out of all the other Avengers heroes and director Alan Taylor deserves a lot of credit for the solid action sequences and for finding the right vibe for a film about alien warriors in two very different worlds. And kudos for creating a sequel that is more personal and different to the original rather than just doing the exact same thing except with bigger noises and brighter special effects like what MIchael Bay did in the Transformers franchise.

Having said all that, I found the experience of watching Thor: The Dark Work somewhat tedious at times. Perhaps you need to be a fan of the comic to get into it because I didn’t think it was doing much more than scraping the surface and going through the motions without the same enthusiasm as its predecessor.

The final battle sequences in London provide something different but there was no exhilaration because both Thor and his adversary are so bloody indestructible. The fight reminded a lot of Superman vs Zod in Man of Steel, in which two dudes just keep throwing each other through a lot of buildings without hurting each other.

So, despite reasonable expectations, I came away relatively disappointed with Thor: The Dark World. Technically speaking it ticks the right boxes for a superhero sequel, but with so many similar flicks in recent years it struggles to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack.

3 stars out of 5

PS: And what the heck was that post-credits scene?