Thursday, March 16, 2017

Nosh 57: 'Kong: Skull Island,' 'Logan' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.
Note: Nosh 58 will arrive on Friday, March 31. 

APPETIZER: Reviews of Kong: Skull Island and Logan

Kong: Skull Island
In the not exactly lyrical Kong: Skull Island the star gorilla could polish off an entire planet of the apes for breakfast. Science visionary John Goodman wants to get to Skull Island, a Pacific paradise gone to hell. He does not anticipate Kong and the prehistoric lizard creeps the ape feeds upon. He is not meteorologically bothered that epic storms keep circling the island but oddly leave it alone. And in the Watergate era he is no prophet: “Mark my words, there’ll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington.” Don, send him a tweet.

I try to think about the war fever of Major Samuel L. Jackson, bitter but still gung-ho after losing Vietnam, thrilled to settle for slaughtering exotic animals. Also, thinking about how Tom Hiddleston demurely slips the fine blade of his Britness into the pulp script, nailed to the screen by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. And about how photographer Brie Larson is the new Fay Wray, wowing the ape, although few in a young crowd would recall Wray’s great damsel in distress in King Kong (1933). That movie saved RKO, this one saved its nostalgia kit:  old planes, uniforms, Nam choppers, ’70s rock songs, a Nixon bobble-head.

The best collectible is John C. Reilly as a downed WWII pilot stuck on the island for 28 years, still patriotic, still a Cubs fan, and maybe the funniest role for Reilly since his dopey porn slob in that better ’70s time capsule, Boogie Nights. As an extravagant mash-up of King Kong, Apocalypse Now, Swiss Family Robinson and Valley of Gwanji, this new Kong offers the biggest primate ever, vivid jungles and a bloody showdown (ape vs. lizard) that could make you yearn to be a parakeet in a nunnery. Maybe Reilly can rally his old Boogie buddies and star in Thong of Kong: The Total Package.

I probably missed a few delicate threads of Logan, not being a ritual fan of the X-Men franchise. But “delicate threads” hardly define a massively expensive action film, harvesting giant income as it climaxes the saga of mutant Wolverine (or Logan). He has a startling heir apparent, Laura, a Swiss army knife of a lassie, extruding deadly blades from her hands. Her feral stare will one day make kid actor Dafne Keen one hell of an imposing woman. This is not the Little Rascals, and director James Mangold knows how to grease his adrenaline grinder: many violent climaxes, with enough dead goons to be the meat supply of a small country.

The film’s heart is not hairy, aging Logan (Hugh Jackman), who is prone to nodding off. It is lethal but loveable Laura. And Logan’s dying teacher, Charles (Patrick Stewart, reaching for wit and pathos, sometimes finding a little). A loving black family is inserted to tenderize the plot and then, naturally, pay an awful price. Fugitive X-kids live like Peter Pans atop a mountain refuge, cheerful despite their wretched upbringings. Mad scientist Richard E. Grant is destined for brutal dispatch – surrounded by big muscle men, he’s like a floating doily.

What else? Nostalgic clips of Shane. Horses in a highway panic. Mute Laura suddenly speaks, bilingually. Logan needs bifocals and hates comic books. A burial cross is shifted to become an X (what will evangelicals say?). An impressive, rotting water tower. Dialog so urgent with vim (very insistant messages) that the native X-tongue must be Twitter jabber. In sum: another loud Marvel spectacle at the plexes.

SALAD (A List)
Best 12 Movies About Disturbing Critters (critter, director and year): Jaws (shark, Steven Spielberg 1975), Forbidden Planet (Krel monster, Fred Wilcox 1956), King Kong (gorilla, Cooper-Schoedsack 1933), Cat People (ghostly cat, Jacques Tourneur 1942), Jurassic Park (dinosaurs, Spielberg 1993), Ssssss (snakes, Bernard Kowalski 1973), The Naked Jungle (army ants, Byron Haskin 1954), The Fly (man-fly, David Cronenberg 1986), Tremors (giant worms, Ron Underwood 1990), King Kong (gorilla, John Guillermin 1976), Arachnophobia (spiders, Frank Marshall 1990) and Mighty Joe Young (gorilla, Ernest Schoedsack 1949).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson’s beloved but cursed South American project, It’s All True (1942), withered to a wet, pathetic end: In 1944 “Welles signed a promissory note for $197,000 and took possession of 375,000 feet of Technicolor film, 90,000 feet of black-and-white. He paid $17.50 a month storage fee in Salt Lake City … In 1946 RKO sued him and repossessed … when the hoard of film was passed on to Desilu Productions and then Paramount, some of it was destroyed and some dumped, they say, into the Pacific.” O fateful dreams! (Quote from Frank Brady’s Citizen Welles).

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
The personal factor cannot be left out of filmgoing. Those who rejected The Cruise in 1998 were mainly rejecting its subject, tour guide Tim Levitch, as a crackpot, “and the skeptics who questioned my own enthusiasm were asking, in essence: Do you really like Levitch? I certainly do. The finest validation is from 1945, in Michael Powell’s splendid I Know Where I’m Going! Joan (Wendy Hiller): ‘A little odd, isn’t he?’ Torquil (Roger Livesey): ‘Who isn’t?” (From the Timothy Levitch/The Cruise chapter of my book Starling Rising: Acting Up in Movies, obtainable from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Buster Keaton strikes a vampy pose in The Navigator (MGM 1924; directors Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp; cinematographers Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley).

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