(On Cable TV, January 2018) There may not be all that much more to Kong: Skull Island than another monster-on-an-island movie, but it’s a heck of a monster-on-an-island movie. Gorgeously presented, competently executed, it’s a maximalist take on a familiar kind of film. The seventies setting brings more to the film than expected (largely due to a good soundtrack), while the special-effect work is amazing in ways that today’s jaded audiences don’t get to experience all that often. I’m not particularly keen on discussing the film’s plot holes when the result is this good. Kong himself is properly presented as a sympathetic force of nature, dangerous but essential when properly motivated. The poor humans aren’t the stars of Kong: Skull Island, although Tom Hiddleston makes for a credible action lead, John C. Reilly, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson all do well in their usual persona, and this is the first time I’ve really noticed Brie Larson as anything more special than a standard-model brunette heroine. The film moves well through its expected set pieces and thankfully eschews the archetypical Kong story in favour of something more interesting. While it doesn’t avoid a bit of excessive gore (that giant-spider scene … ick), this is a film directed with some refreshing cleverness by Jordan Vogt-Roberts all the way to one of the most enjoyable post-credit scenes in recent memory. That the film feels a lot like 2014’s Godzilla is really no accident, as they are both part of a buildup to a linked universe that (so far) looks far more successful and intriguing than the Universal Monsters continuity. All in all, Kong: Skull Island is a bit of a surprise—the premise looks dull and the idea of another monster movie is too familiar by now, but the results on-screen are undeniably enjoyable.
(On Cable TV, July 2016) One of the most curious facets of a developing movie critic’s mind is the ability to recognize competence and detach it from enjoyment. For various reasons, I find Room’s subject matter almost unbearable and I do not ever want to watch it ever again. It is, after all, the story of a young boy, result of years of abuse between a sexual psychopath and his captive subject—his world at the beginning of the film is solely limited to the room in which he and his mom are held captive. This is the kind of thing nightmares are made of, and if Room hadn’t come to cable TV channels with its “Oscar winning” distinction (and assorted armful of critical attention), there is no way I would have watched it. But it has won a boatload of awards, and watching the film underscores why: For one thing, it takes a terrible story and filters it through the innocent perspective of a young boy, making it less aggressive but more disturbing in its implications. The protagonist of the story arguably isn’t the viewpoint character (much of the third act is about the mom, even in absentia), and the antagonist disappears surprisingly quickly from the film. The script, interestingly enough, is written by Emma Donoghue, the author of the novel on which it is based. Room benefits greatly from a handful of good performances, the best of which (with apologies to the Oscar-winning Brie Larson) has to be Jacob Tremblay’s performance in the lead role. It’s also fiendishly clever in its cinematography, in showing the Room as its own expansive universe, and then revisiting it later to show its true oppressive confinement. But it’s also a story in which people get better, overcome terrible adversity and manage to move forward. For a small movie shot in suburban Toronto, it packs quite an emotional punch, even if it’s one that few will strictly enjoy. So there we go: A few reasons why Room is worth seeing at least once … even though you, too, may never want to see it again.