Kong Rules Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island is new feature film starring the famous giant gorilla, King Kong. It is set up to be part of a new shared cinematic universe that focuses on giant monsters and by itself Kong: Skull Island is quite an exciting thrill ride.

The film opens in the early 1970s as Bill Randa (John Goodman) launches an expedition to an uncharted island surrounded by perpetual storm systems. He is coy about the expedition’s purpose, claiming it’s a geological study, but we find out later his real reason for undertaking the voyage. Joining him is an all-star cast including Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former soldier turned expert tracker, Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a crusading photojournalist, and Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Preston Packard, the military head of the expedition. Once they and several others make it to the island they incur the wrath of Kong, a gigantic gorilla that strands them on the dangerous island. As the expedition survivors make their way to a pick up point on the island, they meet a marooned, World War II-era pilot, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and learn first hand of the true danger of Skull Island: gigantic beasts that are a bigger threat than Kong himself.

Kong: Skull Island is an exciting and brisk-moving ode to those great old monster movies from the bygone era where hapless people are stranded on an island and have to contend with giant monsters. It does what it sets out to do: show us lots of scenes of giant monsters attacking and eating people and there are many invigorating action pieces with Kong that are the film’s highlights. The standout scenes include Kong’s attack on the Vietnam War-era helicopters carrying the film’s stars, and anytime Kong shows why he’s the king of Skull Island. That is any scene where King Kong fights with giant monsters. The creatures are wonderfully unique creations and quite imposing like the two-limbed skull crawlers that are Kong’s main monstrous enemies.

His other chief antagonist is Col. Packard who quickly becomes obsessed with killing Kong after his people are wiped out by Kong. This Ahab-like obsession is the driving force for this character and the people around him while an opposing viewpoint develops from Conrad and some others who just want to get off the island.

Admittedly, Kong: Skull Island isn’t a terribly deep or thought-provoking film and the characters are written on the flimsy side, but the film delivers on what it is supposed to be a fun giant monster film. Even then, some characters do stand out and that is largely due to the star power of the actors playing these roles. The standouts include Reilly, who provides quirky comedy relief though he does have a sad backstory, Hiddleston turns out to be a hard-fisted action hero, while Larson, Goodman and Jackson do their best with their limited roles. The only other gripe about Kong: Skull Island is that it doesn’t feature any dinosaurs. Aside from a triceratops skull, there isn’t a t-rex or other prehistoric monster to be seen. But in the end, the creatures conjured up by the effects them makes up for this. By the way, the creature effects were well done as were the production values and the film’s groovy early ’70s soundtrack is a plus. Any giant monster film that features Creedence get bonus points!

Of course, the real star of this film is King Kong himself. The film wisely let the big ape hog the spotlight and there are plenty of scenes featuring him to keep the film moving along briskly. Even the moments when Kong isn’t fighting humans or other monsters are awesome and there is a well thought out sense of scale to his enormous size.

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Kong: Skull Island is an entertaining giant monster film that might’ve been a better fit for a summer viewing. Some critics are being unfair to this film with their complaints. But don’t let that stop anyone from going out, turning off their brain and worries, and enjoying themselves with this giant monster romp. Bottom line, this film delivers many great Kong action scenes of him stomping and smashing monsters and puny humans, and that is enough to keep any giant monster film fan entertained. And stick around for the post-credits scene that promises an eagerly anticipated meeting of Kong with the other great giant monster.

Waldermann Rivera

The Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2017 & More

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By looking at the 2017 films coming out, it’s clear that we fans are in a golden age of genre films. There are many sci-fi, superhero, fantasy, animated and horror films coming out this year that are quite tantalizing. These are the most promising looking of the bunch. However, it’s a guarantee that some of the films on this list will be colossal disappointments while there will be films that weren’t even mentioned that will defy low expectations. With that said, let’s look at the coming 2017 films; remember the release dates are still subject to change.

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7): Marvel Comics’ flagship superhero has his first solo film in the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Fingers crossed that this Spider-Man reboot will resonate.

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9. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21): Director Luc Besson’s adaptation of the French space opera comic book looks as colorful as its printed counterpart. Based on this teaser, Besson’s directorial eye for the grandiose and colorful could augment this film and prove that space opera films are back.

8. Kong: Skull Island (March 10): King Kong returns to the big screen and we can’t wait to see the gigantic ape on a rampage as pesky folks arrive on his island. We’re also eager to see the big fight scenes between Kong and prehistoric beasts and oversized animals.

7. Wonder Woman (June 2): Frankly, after the mixed results of last year’s Extended Universe (DCEU) films, DC and Warner Bros. need a DCEU film to hit it out of the ballpark. With Patty Jenkins directing and Gal Gadot starring as the Amazonian superheroine, perhaps this will be the one.

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6. Justice League (Nov 17): The only reason why this DCEU film is more anticipated than Wonder Woman is because of its potentially epic nature. The major players in the DC universe team up for the first time…can director Zack Snyder pull this off and turn the film into the DCEU version of The Avengers?

5. Blade Runner 2049 (Oct. 6): The teaser released last month wasn’t the most captivating trailer. But this long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, the next hot genre director, who directed last year’s acclaimed Arrival. His visual flair should be a good match for this film.

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4. Logan (March 3): Hugh Jackman’s swan song as everyone’s favorite mutant looks like it will be a fitting conclusion to Wolverine’s saga. Taking place in the near future, Logan is now older, battered and bitter but still up for one final fight against the forces of evil.  The trailer promised a film full of woe, violence and reflective character moments, hopefully that will be the case when Logan finally premieres.

3. War For the Planet of the Apes (July 14): The third film in the reboot/prequel Apes trilogy looks just as spectacular and provocative as the first two films in the series. Andy Serkis returns to mo-cap Caesar the ape leader defending his kind against antogonistic humans. The winner of the conflict will inherit the battered Earth. We know who wins (it’s not called Planet of the Apes for no reason!), but getting to the conclusion is half the joy of these recent Apes films.

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2. Star Wars Episode VIII (Dec. 15):  No subtitle, footage or even a publicity photo are available at this time, yet the episode number is enough to get many of us excited. The next saga film will feature the further adventures of new Star Wars heroes like Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron, as well as old favorites like Luke Skywalker and General Leia. While many questions will be answered about the characters and situation, hopefully Episode VIII won’t emulate Star Wars: The Force Awakens and be a rethread of previous films.

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1. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (May 5): The eagerly anticipated sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy looks like a blast as director James Gunn and the original cast return to play the MCU’s beloved and whacky space pirates. This time around Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord meets his father who is Ego, the Living Planet and played by genre legend Kurt Russell! What’s been shone so far of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2  with the too-cute Baby Groot, Quill and Drax’s hysterical interplays and space opera visuals promises the same dazzling action, thrills, and comedy that the original delivered back in 2014 and won many fans’ hearts. BTW, can’t wait to buy the Baby Groot toys!

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Other Films: The Space Between Us (Feb. 3), a Martian teen comes to Earth, finds love, goes on the run, perfect for tweenies, The Lego Batman Movie (Feb. 10), after his scene stealing antics in The Lego Movie, the Caped Crusader gets his own solo film, Beauty and the Beast (March 17), Disney looks to extend its winning live-action adaptation streak with this one about the animated classic, Life (March 24), astronauts aboard the International Space Station discover alien life, what can go wrong?  Power Rangers (Mar. 24), well there are fans of this property and it looks better than Transformers: The Last Knight!

alien-covenantGhost in the Shell (Mar. 31), Scarlett Johansson stars in the live-action version of the manga franchise,  The Circle (April 28), Tom Hanks and Emma Watson headline a star-studded cast in this film about a nefarious Internet company with futuristic technology,  Alien: Covenant (May 19), Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe with this horror-themed prequel,  The Mummy (June 9), Tom Cruise stars in this horror/action remake which hopes to launch Universal Pictures’ shared monster universe films.

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 The Dark Tower (July 28), Stephen King’s epic saga about a mythical gunman finally comes to life, It (Sept. 8), is another Stephen King adaptation of his epic horror classic featuring Pennywise the killer clown,  Geostorm (Oct. 20), producer Dean Devlin makes his directorial debut in this action piece about weather controlling satellites, God Particle (Oct. 27), interest in this film went up after it was revealed to be the third film in the Cloverfield film series, Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3): the third solo film for the MCU’s God of Thunder will actually be a buddy flick as Thor teams up with the Hulk to fight the forces of evil, Coco (Nov 22), this Pixar entry about a magic guitar and the world of the dead sounds unique.

José Soto

 

The Strain Finishes Its Third Season With A Literal Bang

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Forget about The Walking Dead, the horror TV show that is on my must-watch list is on FX. No, not American Horror Story, though that show is great. I’m talking about The Strain. Based on Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novels, The Strain is about a vampire virus that devastates the world today, specifically New York City. Its third season just finished and wow it ended with a literal bang!

One thing I like about the show is that it takes a pseudo-scientific approach to vampires or strigoi as they are called in the show. One of the heroes, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) is a former CDC scientist desperately trying to find a cure or a way to stop the vampire plague while battling the bottle. At the same time, the show dwells a lot into the history of the vampires and that is best shown with the other hero, the elderly vampire hunter but total badass Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) and the main villain, former Nazi and current vampire Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel). The two are great foils for each other and the actors greatly convey their mutual hatred. That’s just a mere sampling of the show’s many interesting and unconventional characters.

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I have to admit, The Strain is unabashedly grade B fare, but it’s rarely dull, and moves along at a fast pace. By the time the third season ended, humanity is on the verge of becoming cattle for the spreading vampires. Goodweather’s idiotic son Zack (Max Charles) nuked the Statue of Liberty in retaliation for Goodweather killing his vampire mom (Natalie Brown). Never mind that a few minutes earlier the mom was eyeing the kid for her next snack. That kid is so annoying, I can’t wait until he gets his, not for being a moron but for killing thousands of New Yorkers. What he did was carry out the vampires’ master plan of detonating a nuke to create a nuclear winter and plunge the city into eternal darkness. Of course, this means the vampires can now roam all over the place without fearing the sun and that is where the show ended.

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Loosely following the storyline in the novels, The Strain will come to an end next year. Unlike some shows, it knew not to overstay its welcome and have a beginning, middle and end. Unlike the meandering zombie show that basically repeats itself, The Strain is often always fun to watch and sometimes creepy and gross. Looking forward to seeing the slurping vampires one more time next year.

T. Rod Jones

The Walking Dead Goes Too Far In Its Season 7 Premiere

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The following will contain spoilers from the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead...

The question that we all wanted to know and not know has been answered this past Sunday with the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. That question being who Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killed among Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) group. It turned out that the madman didn’t just kill one, but two beloved characters; Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun). Let’s be clear, this episode was brutal, raw and frankly, it went overboard in its portrayal of violence and depravity.

That isn’t to say that the episode “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” isn’t without its merits. abe-ford-killedTechnically it was well done, well acted, well shot; it emoted tension like you wouldn’t believe. But the  bottom line is while it was too gruesome, it had the air of a bad car wreck. You want to look away but can’t help but look. However, you often wind up regretting watching what was on the screen because it was so gratuitous to the point that it bordered on torture porn. Did we really have to see Negan repeatedly bash in Abraham and Glenn’s skull until mush was left? Sure, creator Robert Kirkman and the showrunners probably wanted to convey some message about helplessness and the ugliness of violence. The problem isn’t just the violent display of Negan’s sadistic violence, but what went on before and the presentation.

For months, we had to wait to find out who was Negan’s victim. The season 6 finale was overhyped (as was the season 7 premiere with all the images of Negan and his barb-wired bat Lucille) and we were all expecting to see Negan kill someone. But we didn’t. Instead we had to wait for months to find out that the reveal  largely followed what happened in the comic books. In The Walking Dead #100, Negan bashed in Glenn’s skull, but Abraham had been killed beforehand issues past. So “the Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” threw off viewers with Abraham’s death.

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The only problem with that death was that it was very telegraphed in season 6 of The Walking Dead. Abraham has had a death wish for much of the season. He seemed aimless with little to live for. In the season finale though, he began to muse about a life where he can settle down…a dead (forgive the pun) giveaway in The Walking Dead that he is doomed. This happens to all characters who find a measure of peace (look out Morgan, you’re next), except Rick. Another clue was when he told his friend Eugene Porter (Josh McDirmett) that he’s come a long way and  become capable of taking care of himself. It was a way for the two men to say goodbye to each other and it was obvious by that small scene that Abraham wasn’t long for the world.

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Supernatural Begins A Record 12th Season

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This past week the 12th season of Supernatural premiered on The CW. That’s right, 12th season. It is incredible to believe that this show has been on for over a decade without a break, which makes it the longest-running American genre show of all time. Supernatural still has some ways and seasons to go before it can match Doctor Who’s record run, but 12 seasons is a rarity these days in TV, especially when you consider that Supernatural airs more than 20 episodes per season.

So why has it been so successful? An easy answer is that it airs on The CW, a network that is way more lenient with its TV shows in terms of ratings. Supernatural’s seasonal ratings averages about a one point one share. In normal networks that would put the show in danger, but these days, the ratings are respectable and in The CW Supernatural is one of its highest rated shows. Even though it isn’t a ratings bonanza or the number one topic at water coolers and forum boards, Supernatural has built up a solid core of support from its fans.

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Early Haunts and Scares

When Supernatural first premiered back in September 13, 2005 on The WB network, George W. Bush was the president and the country was still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. Not much note was given to the show when it came out, but word quickly spread over how surprisingly creepy and scary it was. Focusing on two twentysomething brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), Supernatural followed their adventures as they traveled flyover country in the U.S. and fought monsters, demons, ghosts and other supernatural entities. The representations of these creatures were often low-tech, but effective. More importantly, the episodes took time to develop the brothers and their relationship with each other. We witnessed the pain and loneliness they experienced in their missions as Hunters as they were forced to live on the outskirts of society. At the same time, we couldn’t help but chuckle at the ease of how they impersonated government agents with pseudonyms that gave nods to genre actors and rock artists.

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The arc in the early seasons dealt with them finding the demon that killed their mother during their childhood. That later led to an epic storyline where Lucifer (Mark Pelligrino) was unleashed on Earth and the Winchesters had to prevent the Apocalypse. Along the way, they picked up some memorable allies who became beloved supporting characters. The best of these was Castiel (Mischa Collins), a stoic angel in a rumpled trench coat who, when not being an episode’s deus ex machine, kept us amused with his reactions to modern day civilization. Another noteworthy character was Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), a middle-aged mentor/father figure to the Winchesters whose working-class demeanor often disguised his enormous heart and fortitude.

Post Apocalypse

After the epic Apocalypse storyline ended when the fifth season concluded, the series’ creator Eric Kripke departed the show and the fifth season ended in a way that provided a sense of closure for the Winchesters. However, the show by now had developed a strong following and good ratings and The CW (formerly The WB) continued the saga of the Winchesters. Regrettably, the quality of the show suffered in some of the following seasons as storylines became repetitious and lackluster villains showed up (the less said about Rowena the witch the better). Drinking games could be made based on how many times Sam and Dean Winchester quarreled with each other because one of them made some sacrifice without telling the other.

But the mythos of Supernatural expanded castiel-crowley-and-dean-winchesterand some stories still delivered even if the scariness and darkness of the early seasons wasn’t as present. Part of that mythos included the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard), who became a series regular and a foil for the Winchesters and Castiel. Conniving, sardonic and quick with comical putdowns, Crowley became a sort of anti-hero, if not a particularly threatening villain. Often, he provided a humorous presence during scenes where he interacted with the Winchesters or as he calls them “Moose” (referring to Sam’s height) and “Not-Moose” (the smaller, but scrappier Dean).

In recent seasons, we and the Winchesters learned they are descended from a secret society called the Men of Letters. After finding the vanquished society’s hidden bunker with its vast library about supernatural beings, the brothers used the place as their base of operations. These newer episodes led to some interesting stories that functioned as backdoor pilots for new characters, but to date, none of them went further.

amara-vs-chuckRecent Resurgence

Supernatural had a very strong eleventh season which was about an ancient entity called Amara (Emily Swallow) or the Darkness. She turned out to be God’s sister and wanted to destroy his creations. This in turn led to the introduction of God Himself in the guise of Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), who was MIA for years but decided to come to Earth to confront Amara. Many episodes were decidedly unique, take the episode “Baby”, which was told from the POV of Dean Winchester’s beloved Impala. Another one was “All in the Family” where the Winchesters finally meet God/Chuck and Dean has a poignant conversation with Him and asks why is so much misery allowed on Earth. The answer was simple and thought provoking. The episodes and characters in the eleventh season proved that Supernatural still had  life and while the Amara storyline may have ended anti-climatically, it was a good change of pace.

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Now, the 12th season has begun without any indication, so far, that the show will conclude. Unlike past season openers there wasn’t a clear super baddie to give the Winchesters and their circle headaches. Instead, Lucifer, who returned to Earth last season, is on the loose and Crowley is hunting him. Meanwhile, the Winchesters are dealing with more personal threats. The British chapter of the Men of Letters showed up and kidnapped Sam because they are not happy with the American branch of the society. Now Dean and Castiel have to find Sam. Joining them is Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith), the brothers’ long-dead mother, who was resurrected as a thank you to Dean by Amara. This opens up a new dynamic for Sam and Dean Winchester being that she will be around for this season and it’s already paying off. Mary has shown that she still has the tough chops of having being a Hunter, but is finding out that adapting to the modern world to be perplexing.

Hopefully this 12th season of Supernatural will continue to delight and thrill viewers as we follow the never-ending saga of Sam and Dean Winchester.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto