Matias Bombal’s Hollywood

I love the smell of King Kong in the morning. The new King Kong never leaves this island. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Kong: Skull Island

The MPAA has rated this PG-13

Warner Brothers retools the Eighth Wonder of the World for “Kong: Skull Island”. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts worked from a screenplay adaptation by three screenwriters based on a story by John Gatins. This re-imagines Kong in an entirely new way for new audiences. Elements of the story are similar to the classic Kong ideas of 1933; a man obsessed with finding the island in order to find large creatures there, Bill Randa, played by John Goodman. There’s a voyage by ship to the fog and storm surrounded Skull Island, prehistoric creatures roaming the island, a giant spider and the physical size of Kong as he bats at aircraft, in this case, Vietnam War-era helicopters.

These aspects aside, the story and ideas in this movie are a new narrative, which melds aspects of “Apocalypse Now”, “The Lost World” (1925), “Gilligan’s Island”, “The African Queen” and more! Normally, this kind of a pastiche would sink any picture, but remarkably, this actually works well here. Set in the early 1970s, a helicopter investigative mission heads over the island. They are led by military man Preston Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Rather than being sent home from Vietnam, he wants to do one more mission.

The new Kong is bigger than life. The other familiar faces, not previously mentioned, seen on screen belong to actors Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham, who you may remember from “Boardwalk Empire”. Once the choppers are “forced” on the ground, they rely on an expert jungle finder who knows how to seek out the impossible in unusual terrain, James Conrad, played by Tom Hiddleston. Conrad leads the party including photographer Mason Weaver, played by Brie Larson, into dangerous ground. At every turn, a prehistoric monster or one laying in pockets just under the Earth’s crust surface and make quick meals of the dwindling cast.

John C. Reilly brings mirth and balance in KONG: SKULL ISLAND Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros.

John C. Reilly adds fun in his portrayal of a World War II era pilot lost and surviving on the island since the war, Hank Marlow. There is no doubt of Mr. Reilly’s greatness as an actor, yet I have never liked the parts he’s played. Here, he adds a perfect mixture of art and whimsy in his performance, delivering an understated and brilliant portrayal. In fact, as hokey as this may all seem, the story is gripping and entertaining. Elements do seem familiar, but in a comfortable way and more than anything, this is great fun.

What is missing in this version is that most human element that underscored the earlier versions, the love between beauty and the beast. However, that will not take away from your wild ride to Skull Island. This will be presented in 2 and 3D versions, as well as select IMAX presentations in IMAX theatres. Check your local listings.

Dane DeHaan’s cure for curiosity turns dark in A CURE FOR WELLNESS. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

A Cure For Wellness

The MPAA has rated this R

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation offers a thriller, “A Cure for Wellness” a story of a young financial executive, Lockhart, played by Dane DeHaan, urgently sent from New York to find and bring back his company’s CEO, Mr. Pembroke, to push through a merger essential to the company’s survival. The CEO has had an extended stay in an exclusive wellness center in the beautiful Swiss Alps.

From the very first moments, the tone is set with brilliant photography and mood, building slowly and deliberately into a strange and morbid moments. Lockhart is sent to the Alpen retreat, situated in a foreboding yet beautiful castle, to bring back his man. The lush and seductive photography by Bojan Bazelli takes us to a setting of time suspended, where the world’s wealth have gone to take” the cure”. Director Gore Verbinski, who also wrote the story for the movie, captures the essence of the luxurious spa palaces of the beginning in the 19th Century, where doctors, convinced that for every malady there was a correct medicinal spring of water, would bathe or immerse patients into thermal waters for therapeutic value, augmented by diets, mud packs, exercises and more. The most famous of these resorts of that era were found in Germany’s Baden Baden.

Charlie Chaplin was among the first directors to feature such place in the movies, for comedy in his 1917 Mutual Comedy “The Cure”. Verbinski takes that ideal and darkens it with the decayed remains of such a place in modern times. Once Lockhart arrives, he finds a world out of step with the rest of the globe, eerie and odd and is frustrated that he cannot communicate with, nor even visit the man he has come so far to see. He implores the director of the sanitarium, Henrich Volmer, played by Jason Isaacs, to let Penbroke out with little result.

Angered by lack of contact, he leaves to return to his own hotel in the nearby village. Along the way, a deer leaps in front of the sanitarium’s Mercedes-Benz and it crashes down the steep hillside tumbling into an abyss, resulting in a broken leg for Lockhart. He awakes in the sanitarium and is nursed to health with a cast on one leg and begins to suspect that the treatments at this spa are not what they seem to be. In short order, he is diagnosed with a with an illness that would best be treated by the curative waters of the sanitarium. To keep from going mad and find out what is really going on, he consents to begin “the cure”.

Jason Isaac’s performance excellent in A CURE FOR WELLNESS. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

English actor Jason Isaacs’ portrayal of Volmer, offers a cool collected nature, calming and off-putting at the same time. Imagine a stern Christopher Plummer from “Sound of Music”. He adds gravitas to his role of sanitarium director of mysterious origin.

Director Verbinski not only holds you in creepy suspense, but lavishes you with elements we have all seen before in classic suspense movies about castles, monsters and vampires, but makes it his own. It is what a classic Hammer Studio horror film of the 1960s would have been like with a big budget. You’ll think of “Frankenstein”, “Nosferatu”, and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” as the hauntingly beautiful images unfold. All during this, Lockhart struggles to find a truth, anything to assure himself he’s not slowly losing his mind.

Lockhart sees an odd young woman, Hanna, played by Mia Goth, who seems totally out of step with everyone else there… the only young person for miles. It peaks his interest. He goes searching for answers, but takes a wrong turn that leads him into discovering truths of the sanitarium. Now, he’s discovering a situation not unlike the rock and roll song lyric: You may check in any time you like, but you may never leave.

I have been watching the development of actor Dane DeHaan, playing Lockhart, over the years, first catching my attention in 2013’s “Kill Your Darlings”, the very odd “Life after Beth” and as the Green Goblin in “The Amazing Spider Man 2”. He seems to be going in interesting directions and think he’ll be an actor to watch in future. This movie starts to become a bit ridiculous at the end and a bit long, almost going over the top, but I must say that I liked it quite a bit. Sometimes movies don’t have to be great to entertain and this certainly entertains. It examines if whether we are really well in our daily lives in the rat race, or perhaps should have other important goals. Not only that, but I am still thinking about it now, so many days after having seen it.

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