Kong: Skull Island (C). If my records are correct, this is the 1,600th movie I have ever seen, so I wanted to celebrate the milestone with something big. This incarnation of Kong is plenty big, but overall the movie was disappointing. The year is 1973, and an eccentric guy (John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane) somehow persuades a senator (Richard Jenkins, The Cabin in the Woods) to authorize military assistance for an expedition to an uncharted South Pacific island that looks kind of like a skull. Goodman borrows a tough-as-nails colonel (Samuel L. Jackson, Unbreakable, at his Samuel L. Jacksonest) and a few more good men from the winding-down Vietnam War. There are several other members in the expedition, but only Tom Hiddleston (Thor) and cute Brie Larson (Short Term 12) make any impression, as a British ex-special-ops guy and an anti-war photographer respectively. The assembly of the team and the initial foray into the island are the best parts of the movie; once the monsters started to show up, I lost interest in a hurry. It’s a long two hours. Stay through the interminable end credits for a bonus scene.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (C). I saw this movie almost a week ago, but I have yet to muster up any enthusiasm for writing a review. All I can really say is that I liked it better than The Force Awakens, but I still didn’t particularly like it. Considering the critical and fan love Rogue One has gotten, I wonder if Star Wars and I are just finished as a couple. I was a kid when the first one came out in 1977, and I loved the first trilogy, but it’s been downhill ever since. Anyway, everyone knows what this movie is about–how a ragtag rebel band stole the plans to the original Death Star and got them into Princess Leia’s hands just before the events seen in the original Star Wars. To me, the movie felt like a long, elaborate scavenger hunt, as our gritty heroes Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, Brideshead Revisited) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, Casa de mi Padre) skip from world to world, grittily doing the gritty things that need to be done to steal the plans to the original Death Star and get them into the hands of Princess Leia. My favorite character: a reprogrammed Imperial droid voiced by Alan Tudyk (Serenity). Otherwise, I thought this was a pretty forgettable movie.
Moana (B). First we have a short–a cute little story that dramatizes the battle between an office drudge’s fearful brain on the one hand and his excitable heart and stomach on the other. It’s kind of like a radically shortened and simplified Inside Out. The main feature is set in a Polynesian South Seas-type milieu. Moana is the high-spirited daughter of an island chief, and she thrills to her grandmother’s ancient stories of Maui, a trickster demigod who stole a gemstone from an island goddess, only to lose it in a battle with a lava demon. Could the tales be true? Lo! The Ocean itself brings the gemstone to Moana, and she must go on a quest to find Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas) and force him to return the gemstone to its rightful place, lest a looming wave of darkness overwhelm her people. I give Moana high marks for beautiful visuals, enjoyable musical numbers in the early going, and an appealing heroine. The adventure plot is a little pedestrian, so I wouldn’t put this movie in the same category as first-tier Disney like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or Zootopia. Nevertheless, it’s a solid, family-friendly effort.
The Movie Snob goes to the movies. And regrets it.
The Legend of Tarzan (F). If you see only one critically panned action movie starring Margot Robbie this summer . . . see Suicide Squad. I haven’t seen it myself, but it has to be better than this stinkbomb.
As our story begins, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård, Zoolander) has long been civilized into Lord Greystoke and lives in some Downton Abbey looking manor with his wife Jane (Robbie, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot). He is persuaded to return to his old ‘hood in the Congo by an American fellow (Samuel L. Jackson, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) who thinks that the colonizing Belgians might be enslaving the locals. But the American is unwittingly part of a trap being set by Belgian King Leopold’s nefarious agent Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, Spectre), who needs to lure Tarzan to the jungle for reasons of his own. So most of the movie consists of Tarzan’s attempts to rescue the hapless Jane (who spends most of the movie in Rom’s clutches, chained to the rail of a Congolese steamboat), some okay flashbacks to Tarzan’s humble origins as an adopted gorilla, and some ridiculous action sequences. I probably would have given this charmless film a D if the director (David Yates, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I) hadn’t thrown in a couple of anti-Catholic bits. The villainous Rom uses a rosary as a murder weapon, and Robbie’s character insinuates that he was abused as a child by a Catholic priest. Wholly unnecessary, and offensive enough to drag this otherwise lame movie completely off the rails into the abyss.
Star Trek Beyond (D). Well, I liked the last two Star Trek films (although the last one was a guilty pleasure, with its shameless plundering of Trek history and resurrection of Khan Noonian Singh). But I have no love for this one. There were a few okay moments of camaraderie involving the Kirk–Spock–McCoy trinity, and I liked the spunky new character Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, (Kingsmen: The Secret Service). But it was mostly loud special effects and incomprehensible plot, both flying past at breakneck speed. I had no idea what was going on at several points during the mayhem, and I still have no idea how all these characters knew with pinpoint precision where they needed to run/fly/transport in order to do whatever urgent thing they were trying to do right that second. And is it really believable that Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, Z for Zachariah) would find himself bored just three years into the Enterprise‘s historic five-year mission? Bored?? Come on. Get real.
Bonnie and Clyde (B+). I recently got to see a special screening of this 1967 release, directed by Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker) and starring Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy) and Faye Dunaway (Chinatown). It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was still very interesting and entertaining. Beatty and Dunaway play Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The fellow who hosted the screening said the movie should be considered “historical fiction,” but, if wikipedia is any guide, one thing this film gets right is that the Barrow Gang didn’t hesitate to shoot people, even (or especially) police officers, who got in their way. It was considered an unusually violent and graphic movie back in the day, and I thought it was still a little shocking at times. I was also shocked to see Denver Pyle in a small supporting role. I knew him only from TV’s Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and especially The Dukes of Hazzard; I didn’t know that he had ever been an actor. It also co-stars Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers), Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) in his film debut, and a kid named Michael J. Pollard who had recently appeared in the original Star Trek episode “Miri.” It’s one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies.” Definitely worth seeing, unless you really don’t like shoot-em-ups.
Captain America: Civil War (B+). Wouldn’t you know: every time I start to wonder if the superhero genre is played out, the next superhero movie I see turns out to be entertaining and enjoyable. The plot of CACW was reasonably clear, and the fight scenes were exciting without being too ridiculous. Most of the Avengers seemed to show up for this one, including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). There were also a couple of people I didn’t recognize: Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts) and Vision (Paul Bettany, Dogville). They must have joined the club in a movie I missed. Vision was a little troubling to me; he seemed so powerful as to kind of upset the balance of power. I mean, he can shoot lasers and dematerialize at will? But I still enjoyed it, and it didn’t really feel like two and half hours. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) and Marisa Tomei (The Big Short) pop up in small parts, which was kind of fun. The same directors (Anthony and Joe Russo, of Community fame) also directed Captain America: Winter Soldier, which left me cold, so I’m glad to see they’ve upped their game.