Archive for July, 2018

If some people think I’ve been too kind to some of the Brie Larson movies during this project (even though I bagged on Trainwreck and Digging for Fire pretty good, and really crapped on Spectacular Now. Man, have I actually liked any of her movies?) I figured I would throw this one out there and get it over with. Why not? It sure seemed like the people who made it did.

MV5BMTUwMzI5ODEwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjAzNjI2MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Kong: Skull Island is the 2nd movie in what is the latest attempt to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by having a stable of monsters who all inhabit the same space (or MonsterVerse, as I believe it is known by the seven people who care). 2014’s Godzilla was the first, and I found that movie quite enjoyable, as a fan of giant lizards stomping on things.I do wonder, though, as this shared universe goes along, when people will start wondering how Peter Jackson’s King Kong fits in, and why didn’t they bring back Matthew Broderick for these new ones. But that is for another column.

I have actually not seen all of Brie Larson’s movies yet (and here I am talking about them as if I know everything, amiright?), but of the ones that I have seen, this may be the worst one. I mean, I’m sure 21 Jumpstreet was rough, and yeah, Spectacular Now was really annoying, but they seriously didn’t even try here. Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson are all great actors, and even they could not save this turnip of a movie. I mean, they probably didn’t know how badly it would turn out, of course. I’m sure Sam Jackson just figured he’d yell a lot like he does in every other movie he’s in and everything would be fine. Well, it wasn’t.

Here’s the skinny, if you can’t figure out the intricate plot. Hiddleston plays a “monster-hunter” of sorts, and is hired to find out what’s the deal with this uncharted island. He is joined by some scientists, and Larson, who is there to take pictures. Jackson and his team of military guys show up to blow everything away, and they encounter John C. Reilly, who crash-landed there years ago and has since gone insane. They run afoul of some crazy lizard creatures, King Kong shows up to battle said creatures, and a bunch of people die, and eventually Kong wins and the survivors leave. It’s basically the beginning of every other King Kong movie that has come before, minus any intrigue.

That is the bare bones plot, but there are obviously other things going on. For example, Larson’s character is actually, according to wikipedia, “pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver, who believes that the expedition is a secret military operation, and intends to expose it.” I honestly didn’t remember that at all. I just remembered her with a camera. It’s clearly just a device that they came up with to have a female lead and give her character a little weight, but is never followed up on and means nothing once the monsters show up. Let’s face it, that’s all anyone wanted to see, anyway.

At the risk of sounding like my old gym teacher, there’s nothing worse than not showing effort. I guess, when you’re a high school gym teacher, that’s all you have. But he obviously never had the filmmakers behind Kong: Skull Island in his classes. It kind of hurts to say that, really, because I’ve been on a few movie sets in my time, and I can say without reservations that it takes a lot of people working long hours to make even one scene come off well. There’s lighting, multiple cameras, sound engineers, actors, extras, green screens, and everything has to be in the exact proper place for it all to match up. So the fact that a movie gets made at all is a kind of a minor miracle, let alone a movie that is any good. Maybe it would be more appropriate to say that this movie comes off like it was made with no effort, because I’m sure a lot of people worked long and hard on it, and I do feel bad for those people. But they got a paycheck, so…

There is certainly that old Hollywood chestnut that you always hear: “Some you do for money and some you do for love.” And I’ll never forget seeing a Q & A with Bruce Campbell, and when he was asked why he did the movie Congo (in which he was killed in minutes), he responded by saying that he got paid to go to Africa for two weeks, but he worked for two days and surfed the rest of it. So, I get it. And I get that this is one cog in Legendary’s greater Monsterverse wheel, but it doesn’t mean that you have to phone it in. Where would we be today if Kevin Feige said, “Well, let’s just throw in the towel on this Iron Man movie, because really we just have to get to Avengers.”? Well, technically, they might have done that with Incredible Hulk, but still, you see my point.

The real crux of all this isn’t really “why do good actors make bad movies?” And it’s not even “How did this get made?” There’s already a podcast for that. It’s more about how the system works in general. Here’s how I envision it (but if someone from Legendary Pictures knows the real story, I’m all ears.): High-ranking studio execs decide that there’s money to be made with their stable of characters. They decide that they should make a Godzilla movie, then a King Kong movie, then maybe a couple more, then they want to do King Kong vs. Godzilla, because, like me, they saw it when they were kids and loved it.  And how could they not?giphy (2)

So, they get a screenwriter (actually three, plus one person who gets “story by” credit.) After those four people have written something that the studio execs approve of, it is given to a director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who then sets about to making it with a modest (by today’s standards) $186 million budget. Jordan, of course, does not work alone. There are ten producers with probably varying levels of involvement. There’s a cinematographer, an editor, a huge art department, literally hundreds of visual effects artists. and on and on (Seriously, have you watched the credits of a movie lately?) I pasted just the crew list from IMDB into a spreadsheet and it was over 1500, and that’s not including the actors. So, the real question is, did even one of these people show up to work one day and say, “Hey, Jordan, so, this isn’t good.”

Now, I do realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder here, and in fact, if you want to believe Rotten Tomatoes isn’t total BS, it has a 75% critics score and 60% audience score, so it’s technically Certified Fresh. So why do I dislike it so much that I would waste a whole column talking about it when the only real reason I have for it being bad is that it just is? Because potential, dammit!

When the original King Kong was released in 1933, it was an allegory for the slave trade, which is really driven home when he is brought to New York via ship in chains. He is then put on display for rich people to enjoy, and there’s a line, “He was a god in his own lands, and we have brought him here today for your own amusement.” Obviously, since this is a prequel of sorts, this never gets brought up in this movie, because Kong doesn’t leave the island. Still, it is a pretty essential part of the Kong mythology that they just leave out. I get that it was 1933, and that maybe doesn’t work for 2018, but would it have killed them to add some depth?

There’s also the whole “T’was beauty that slayed the beast” part of King Kong, where he was killed trying to protect a white woman, who had actually grown to like him despite his appearance, that was pretty much expunged. Kong does pull Larson out of the water after she fell in trying to help him, but other than that, I don’t remember the two of them having any interaction. It’s just a shame because other than that 30 seconds, it could have been a nice callback to the original.

This is the issue I have with this movie. and I have a final story to hopefully illustrate it. When I saw this movie last March, I saw it in digital “Lie-Max” which is movie-nerd slang for what theaters call IMAX even though the movie is only showing on a slightly larger-than-normal screen. Here’s my account:

I did experience a first here as the movie froze at one point, and we could hear it but the image was not moving. Naturally, I was the first person in the theater to get up and go tell the usher, because while I don’t know a lot about the science of movie projection, I do know that someone isn’t just sitting in that little booth watching the movie to see if something goes wrong. When I came back, it went right to where the sound was instead of going back to where it froze. Obviously, I missed some big story point while I was in the lobby, because one minute they were escaping the island, and the next Tom Hiddleston was saying, “We’re going to rescue Kong!” 

I was only in the lobby for a couple minutes and the entire movie had changed, with almost no prompting. And you know what I have to say about that, don’t you Deadpool?

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So, hopefully, the next Godzilla will be better, and then King Kong vs. Godzilla will be even better. But since this movie took place in the early 70’s, and Godzilla was in present day, will we see Brie Larson in any future installments? It’s not listed on her IMDB page, but to be honest, her career might be better off if she skips it, anyway.

Clay and Dursin are talking all the new #1’s this week; Amazing Spider-Man, X-23, Superman. Plus, one new, weird store in Boston. Click here to listen and enjoy (maybe?)Superman-1-DC-Comics-variant-cover-detail-by-David-Mack

No play-on-words title this time, which is by design (at least that’s what I’m telling myself). I honestly think that the movie’s title reflects the way I feel about it.

Brie would have one more supporting role before turning heads with Room, this time as Amy Schumer’s more-responsible sister in Trainwreck, the comedy that I originally totally thought was a Schumer biopic. In fact, here’s how little I knew: I had read an interview with Schumer where she said she and her sister wrote it together, and I thought that Larson actually was her sister. I guess that means she did a good job?

The reason I thought that this may have been a biopic is because Schumer’s stand-up was always to play the kind-of intelligent yet morally bankrupt party girl. Which she did really well and with great success. So well that one naturally wonders if it was sort of akin to saying, “That guy from Jack-ass sure does know how to play a jack-ass.”

I’m not here to debate whether or not Amy Schumer the Person slept with a lot of guys, but I can say for a fact that she made a movie about a woman named Amy who has slept with a lot of guys. In fact, she got around so much that when her boyfriend Bill Hader tells her that he slept with three women, she notes that she also slept with three women. Movie Amy is supposed to, I suppose, find redemption at the end when she realizes that  Hader, her doctor boyfriend, is actually a nice guy and she wants to be with him, and I assume only him but that’s never really made clear.

Before I start tearing the whole movie apart, let me say that I realize that this is a comedy written by Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, so it’s not meant to be a moral compass. And it’s actually a very funny movie. But I can’t help but ask the universe whether it was unfortunate timing that it happened to come out a few years before the current Time’s Up/Me Too movement that is permeating Hollywood, or if the unabashed “this is how women really are” attitude on display here helped spur the whole trend on.

For anyone interested in a white male’s opinion on this subject, I have to say that, despite the fact that this movie is only three years old at this point, it is already starting to feel kind of dated and crass, like when you watch people smoking in the office on Mad Men and wonder how could we have been so ignorant. It’s just a feeling I get, but there is something here that just tells me that when it comes to the current female empowerment in movies, this egg came before the chicken, and possibly even set the movement back a few months. Thankfully, Schumer’s next real movie, Snatched, was such a turd that no one really even remembers this one.

Trainwreck tried to take some cues from Bridesmaids, with its whole “Girls can have fun, too” thing. The problem I see with that is that Bridesmaids focused on a group of funny and different characters who just happened to be women, while Trainwreck is mostly about one wayward, free-wheeling, dope-smoking, hard-drinking floozie, and hergiphy struggles through the world. There are story threads about her family and her job, but mostly it’s about how she has trouble in a real relationship because she’s never been in one before. We kind of learn everything we need to know about her early on when her gym rat boyfriend (played amazingly by John Cena) dumps her, and she seems surprised even though she was sleeping around and couldn’t even sit through a date movie with him without going outside to smoke weed.

But I get that all that is comedy fodder, and not meant to tell the audience that the main character of this movie is kind of horrible. It doesn’t really matter, anyway, because she is then sent to interview a sports surgeon played by Hader for the trashy magazine she writes for, and we immediately sense chemistry because… well, we don’t. In fact, she instantly judges him because he’s a successful surgeon to professional athletes, and she thinks sports are kind of dumb (which the movie perpetuates a little by making LeBron James kind of a weirdo, but he plays it so well.)

Still, he must think she’s all right because he asks her out to dinner, and she of course has a few drinks and goes home with him. After sleeping with him, she becomes the worst house guest ever by telling him that he’s breathing wrong and keeping her awake and he’s also not allowed to touch her in his own bed. But, hey, comedy, right?

Maybe because this guy is a little inexperienced and nerdy, he keeps seeing her, and even helps her ailing father, played by Colin Quinn. He is repaid for all of this by Amy when she makes fun of all of his patients, leaves his awards ceremony to take a phone call and smoke more weed, and gets mad at him when he tells her he loves her. In retrospect, she was pretty terrible and he should have run away and never looked back, but since he’s only had sex with three people, I guess we’re supposed to believe that he’s just a sap. (Or he saw the inner beauty. Your level of cynicism can decide.)

Well, ok, I think what we’re supposed to believe is that it was just her family ethos to be cynical and judgmental and generally unhappy. Her interactions with her father and sister definitely lend credence to that theory. However, Brie Larson lends a lot of weight to what could be seen as simply the buzzkill role. We gather that they may have grown up the same, but Brie has matured faster than Amy, and even married a nice single father (although I agree with Amy when she makes fun of the kid for being a total dork.) Not only is Brie more mature in her relationships, but she has come to the realization that their father isn’t really a nice guy, so doesn’t feel so bad when he is put into assisted living after a lifetime of drug use and they have to clean out his junk. Amy insists on keeping some of it for sentimental reasons, and Brie doesn’t understand what she’s clinging to and wants to heave it all.

The relationship between the sisters is really the only one in the movie that has any meaning or depth. And I know this is a Brie Larson column, but I’ll give Schumer her props on this one, too. Most likely because Larson was a stand-in for Schumer’s real sister, and because the two real-life sisters wrote most of the movie themselves, there is great chemistry between them, and the dialogue seems real and not like it was written for a movie. One of my favorite scenes, in fact, is when it is revealed that Larson is pregnant with a girl, and the two sisters share a feeling of horror, knowing how hard their childhood was as young girls. I also like the scene in which Quinn is not even teasing but out-and-out insulting Larson’s stepson, and hoping that her biological child will be better, so that he can have a “real” grandchild, and she responds, “They’re both your grandchildren, goddammit!” and storms off. Quinn dies not long after, so as far as we know, those may have been her last words to him. Heavy stuff.

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Now, I have been ripping this movie apart, and yes, called a three year-old movie “dated,” but there is an element at play here that would lead me to call Schumer and Apatow geniuses if I thought that they were actually aiming for this (and who knows? Maybe they did, in your opinion.) Here is my theory:

If you choose to delve into it, you could see this movie as the swan song of the male-aggrandizing romantic comedy, and even the demise of Colin Quinn’s bigoted, alcoholic, aging playboy as the actual death of that genre. Video store shelves used to be filled with movies where no matter how badly the male protagonist screws up, the female lead forgives him and takes him back because he made some stupid romantic gesture that would only work in a movie (Screw you, Lloyd Dobbler!). Schumer and company have flipped the script here and made the female protagonist the one with all the flaws, and the one that makes the grand, only-in-the-movies gesture, and the male lead is the one who takes her back while the pop song plays us out.

But if they did want to make this the end of the male-aggrandizing romantic comedy, they certainly went out guns blazing. To me, Amy is too flawed to be forgiven that quick, and to be perfectly honest, Hader doesn’t really even forgive her because he didn’t seem all that mad at her in the first place. They had a fight, and it was suggested they take some time apart, during which she is fired and almost sleeps with her intern, and I’m pretty sure she totally would have slept with that intern if he weren’t so weird and said things like “cradle my bonch.” So, yeah, maybe if Hader had seen that display, he would have just stayed away, but he didn’t, so he took her back, with almost no prompting. Other than to throw out her weed and vodka, Amy didn’t really repent at all. All she did was dance to Billy Joel and jump off a trampoline to convince him. Personally, I think this was better when Bridget Jones ran out into the cold in her underwear, fourteen years earlier.

The good news is that this was a big move for Brie Larson’s career. She herself even says this was a big boost for her, and states that there were some raw moments on set between her and Schumer. I doubt that she (or any woman) would agree with my assessment of Trainwreck, but if the movie existed just for one reason, it was so that we could see that this Larson kid could actually act. And, really, so can Lebron.

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