Film Review: “Kong: Skull Island” (2017)

“Kong: Skull Island” is a well-shot enjoyable action film with some glaring issues

Review of the latest attempt to bring back the classic movie monster

By Carter Bagley

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After seeing the entertaining “Godzilla” reboot back in 2014 it seemed that Warner Bros. was planning something big and when they announced “Skull Island”, later titled “Kong: Skull Island”, it became clear exactly what that was. It was announced that these films were leading up to a King Kong vs Godzilla film, that sounds like a blockbuster that everybody wants to see. Although before we got that we were getting this new King Kong reboot. That’s not a bad thing though I was actually very excited going into it because we’ve never gotten an amazing look at Skull Island itself. So does it hold up? Kind of. The positives were pretty positive but this film had some pretty glaring issues. It features an amazing cast and crew led by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who directed one of my favorite films of 2014, “The Kings of Summer”. The cast includes A-list actors like Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C Reilly, and John Goodman along with newer blossoming stars like Toby Kebbell, Thomas Mann, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins & Jason Mitchell. There’s no reason that this film should be anything other than wildly entertaining and well-made blockbuster. However, this film reeks of studio interference and Vogt-Roberts clearly didn’t get to make the film that he wanted to make. The action was incredible and the film features several sequences which that will stick in your head months after viewing and it does a great job at establishing the setting and introducing Kong himself. The big problems are the story and the characters. There seems to be no story here at all, pretty much what happens is that John Goodman’s character knows there’s an island full of monsters somewhere in the pacific so he takes a group of soldiers and scientists to go check it out. Once they arrive they start blowing up the ground and Kong shows up and takes down all the helicopters and from there it’s just the characters trying to get off the island. No one has any motive to do anything. Samuel L Jackson plays a Lieutenant who wants to kill Kong just because he killed some people. Even Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are usually great in the films they’re in but here Brie Larson is reduced to a walking stereotype of women from the 70’s. Hiddleston is usually charming and interesting to watch but he looks like any other leading man in this film which disappointed me. The 70’s setting was kind of overbearing at times also because there’s no reason for it to take place back then and it features a great soundtrack of stereotypical Vietnam-era rock songs. Although “Kong: Skull Island” has some obvious flaws it still has great action sequences and a good setting and some genuinely creepy moments with various monsters on the island. For a film that could’ve been “Apocalypse Now” with monsters (which it wanted to be) it ended up just being an entertaining monster flick. Despite the characters not being very great some of the actors managed to stand out. John C. Reilly plays a World War II veteran stuck on the island and his character easily steals the whole movie. John Goodman and Samuel L Jackson are also very watchable and have an undeniable presence though their characters are pretty one note. Thomas Mann even has a couple good scenes and lines and proves that he’s one of the better rising stars today. Kong himself is fleshed out enough for you to care for him and the film ends with you wanting to see more of him. In the end “Kong: Skull Island” is a watchable blockbuster that has vibes of a classic monster B-movie and anyone who enjoys good action and incredible cinematography will enjoy the film enough.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: “Life” (2017)

“Life” is an entertaining science fiction thriller albeit not an original one

Review of Daniel Espinosa’s newest science fiction film that borrows a lot from “Alien”

By Carter Bagley

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I’ve been slacking a lot on reviewing things on this site and I contemplated whether or not to review this film since it came out a while ago. I ultimately decided that by the end of the year I’d rather have it in my review catalog than not so here I am writing this. Daniel Espinosa has managed to make a career in the past several years of making life-posterentertaining if not forgettable thrillers or action flicks and it seems he may have done it again but not entirely. There are many interesting things happening in “Life” to make it memorable enough to mention to a friend but sadly it fails to make you think about what you see which is something I think it was going for. The good parts of the movie are really good, the performances are great and the entire cast is actually phenomenal. Jake Gyllenhaal does the best with what his character is given and Rebecca Ferguson impresses again a female lead after her breakout in the “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”. The two standouts for me however are Ariyon Bakare and Hiroyuki Sanada. Two names that I was not familiar with before going into the film but they had some of the best character development of any of the characters. Bakare plays Hugh Derry, a scientist who is the one that is tasked with taking care and keeping the specimen they find in a stable environment. Things quickly go awry when the specimen begins to grow and become intelligent. The crew quickly realize that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they brought this creature aboard the ship. “Life” takes some obvious ideas from “Alien” which is definitely not a bad thing but it does make it difficult for the film to stand on its own. To be fair the script is pretty clever in how the characters find ways to stop the alien from getting stronger. “Life” manages to be very entertaining and gripping but by the end of it you kind of saw it coming and it doesn’t stick with you. At times it’s very predictable and some of the dialogue and actions made by the characters seem a little unbelievable. Overall, if you are a science fiction fan than it will probably be a fun time but otherwise there’s no real rush to go out and check it out.

Rating: 7/10

The Top 25 Greatest Films Of 2016

2016 managed to be a rough year across the board but despite all that some great films were released. This is a countdown of the greatest films of the year.

Countdown of the Twenty-Five greatest films of 2016

By Carter Bagley

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Last night was the annual ceremony where Hollywood comes together and awards some of the greatest films of the past year. To celebrate the 89th Academy Awards I’ve put together my personal favorite films of the calendar year of 2016.

Movies That Almost Made It

“Indignation” – James Schamus, 2016

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“Zootopia” – Byron Howard & Rich Moore, 2016

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“War Dogs”- Todd Phillips, 2016

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“Sully” – Clint Eastwood, 2016

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“Sully” Review

Now Here It Is, The 25 Greatest Films Of 2016

25. “The Accountant” – Gavin O’Connor, 2016

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A film I didn’t expect to like as much as I did at all was “The Accountant”. It’s the perfect example of what an action movie should be and it gives me hope for the future of the genre. From start to finish it was emotional and exciting and I’m excited to see if this film could get a sequel.

“The Accountant” Review

24. “Star Trek Beyond” – Justin Lin, 2016

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The latest film in the “Star Trek” universe managed to be action-packed while having the same feel and tone as the classic TV series. Justin Lin did an outstanding job on his first film for the franchise and since I had a lot of fun with this one I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

23. “Green Room” – Jeremy Saulnier, 2016

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An amazingly suspenseful and brutal horror film that has one of the most original and terrifying plots in recent years. With a great performance by the late Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart portraying the scary and intimidating bar owner, “Green Room” manages to be intense and memorable.

22. “Snowden” – Oliver Stone, 2016

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This film was bound to be controversial from the moment it came into fruition but I think people overlooked the film way more than it deserved. “Snowden” was a very well made film with an excellent performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

“Snowden” Review

21. “Oasis: Supersonic” – Mat Whitecross, 2016

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An all inclusive documentary on one of my all-time favorite bands so I may be biased here but it’s definitely a powerful and well made documentary.

“Oasis: Supersonic” Review

20. “Doctor Strange” – Scott Derrickson, 2016

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Marvel continues to entertain mass audiences with their crazy visuals and great storytelling. “Doctor Strange” is different than the rest though and manages to stand completely on it’s own as an original and fun film.

“Doctor Strange” Review

19. “Lion” – Garth Davis, 2016

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Another film I saw very recently and I’m glad I caught it in time because it’s a beautiful, tragic and redeeming tale of family that will make anyone tear up just a little.

18. “Moonlight” – Barry Jenkins, 2016

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This film has received a lot of love and praise and took home the statue last night (after an unfortunate mixup) and despite being good I don’t think it’s the greatest film of the year by any means, but that doesn’t take away at all from it’s good qualities.

“Moonlight” Review

17. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” – Gareth Edwards, 2016

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Another year. Another “Star Wars”. This one, however, isn’t another sequel and instead tells an unconventional story that isn’t perfect but manages to be completely thrilling and entertaining.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Review

16. “The Jungle Book” – Jon Favreau, 2016

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There’s no way in hell I expected to love this film as much as I did. This adaptation of the classic Disney film and novel may be the best one yet and it’s the perfect family movie for anyone to love.

15. “Hell Or High Water” – David Mackenzie, 2016

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An unexpected success story, “Hell Or High Water” is a thrilling and smart heist movie set in small town America and despite it’s small setting and simple premise what it has to say is by no means small.

14. “Don’t Think Twice” – Mike Birbiglia, 2016

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A relatable and simple film set in the world of improv comedy. It doesn’t have much to say but it says what it tries to in such a lovely and entertaining way that it will have a soft place in your heart after you watch it. The cast is fantastic and fun and “Don’t Think Twice” is simply just a fantastic film.

13. “Hacksaw Ridge” – Mel Gibson, 2016

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Mel Gibson’s comeback film that’s brutal yet inspiring and tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a man who’s courage and moral compass is so admirable that you can’t help but at least enjoy this film.

“Hacksaw Ridge” Review

12. “Hunt For The Wilderpeople” – Taika Waititi, 2016

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A film that I didn’t get a chance to see until recently but it was totally worth. It’s quirky and odd but completely deserves your attention.

11. “Everybody Wants Some!!” – Richard Linklater, 2o16

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Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to “Dazed and Confused” is just pure entertainment that’s funny, charming and filled with classic music that’ll take you back to a time that’s passed… even if you never lived it to begin with.

10. “Arrival” – Denis Villeneuve, 2016

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Denis Villeneuve is a masterful filmmaker who’s made great film after great film and “Arrival” is no exception. I just can’t wait until I get a chance to see his take on “Blade Runner”.

“Arrival” Review

9. “Midnight Special” – Jeff Nichols, 2016

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Directed by Jeff Nichols who is starting to become one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation after directing “Take Shelter” and “Mud” which are each brilliant in their own right but now he’s topped himself with a compelling modern sci-fi film that proves he’s poised for great things still.

8. “Swiss Army Man” – Daniel Kwan & Daniel Sheinert, 2016

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A movie that must be seen on it’s insane premise alone. It could’ve easily sold itself on shock value alone but instead it uses quirky comedy and the excellent performances by it’s two leads to craft an odd yet effortlessly charming story.

7. “Captain America: Civil War” – Joe & Anthony Russo, 2016

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Another film that’s gotten a lot of hate from the time of it’s release until now but after rewatching it, it still stands as a near perfect blockbuster and one of the greatest superhero films to date.

6. “Nocturnal Animals” – Tom Ford, 2016

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A movie that was a bit divisive in many ways but it’s incredibly clever and packed with powerful performances.

5. “Deadpool” – Tim Miller, 2016

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A near perfect action-comedy, Ryan Reynolds pushed this thing along for years and it turned out perfectly. If you haven’t seen this film yet, do yourself a favor and go see it as soon as possible.

4. “Manchester By The Sea” – Kenneth Lonergan, 2016

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One of the saddest but most powerful films I’ve seen in a long time. Casey Affleck really amazes here and completely deserves all the praise he’s receiving.

“Manchester By The Sea” review

3. “The Nice Guys” – Shane Black, 2o16

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Hilarious. Entertaining. Overlooked. This film needs more attention because it’s truly amazing and Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe make an incredible duo. Go watch “The Nice Guys” if you haven’t already.

2. “Sing Street” – John Carney, 2016

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Horribly marketed by the Weinstein Company upon release and overlooked this is a lovely little film that sadly will be forgotten about. Though to the people who saw it, it left it’s mark and to me it’s simply one of the most personal films I’ve seen in years.

“Sing Street” Review

1. “La La Land” – Damien Chazelle, 2016

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This is one of those films that will get tons of hate for a little while and for some reason it’s kind of cool to hate it. This seems to happen to a couple movies every year but while others are released to praise and later get swallowed by the hate this one will be one to overcome it. “La La Land” is a beautiful and entertaining tale that will one day go down as a Hollywood classic. There’s simply no other film that belongs at this spot.

“La La Land” Review

Film Review: “Passengers” (2016)

“Passengers” flashy visuals, great cast and acclaimed director cannot save it from mediocrity

Review of Morten Tyldum’s ambitious science fiction follow up to “The Imitation Game”

By Carter Bagley

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Morten Tyldum’s last film “The Imitation Game” really blew me away back in 2014 and was one of my favorite films of that year. This is large part was due to Tyldum’s directing passengers_ver2.jpg
expertise and even though he was a relative newcomer, it put him at high demand for studios who needed a talented director for hire. Then when it was announced that he was attached to direct a space sci-fi film called “Passengers” starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence of course I was excited. The pot of this film is extremely intriguing as it focuses on two passengers who wake up from cryo-sleep 90 years too early on a journey to another planet. With a great crew, an intriguing premise and two of the biggest young movie stars on the planet,  “Passengers” was destined for greatness. So what happened? Well the directing was great, that was not the problem. It really looked and was made with obvious effort and technique. Chris Pratt does his usually charming, everyday guy-next-door thing and Lawrence actually turns in a surprisingly good performance. There were many good qualities to be seen here and it was just filled with potential and I could see it in almost every scene. For a film that should’ve been intriguing and twisting and a throwback to 1970’s science fiction films, it instead reflected many problems with modern day Hollywood. It took a potentially genius science fiction concept and turned it into predictable, forgettable romantic slop. I was really looking forward to an interesting and unique film but instead was given the same film we’ve seen many times before. The script was obviously tampered with many times by the studio and it was clear their only intention was to produce an easily digestible adventure for audiences to eat up around Christmas time, and that is what really disappointed me. Morton Tyldum clearly tried to work with what he had but what was written for him was so inconsistent and annoying that it completely ruined the rest of the film. “Passengers” was a film that was should’ve been exciting and original but sadly it got too mixed up in the Hollywood machine that it ended up being completely watered down. Interesting visuals, a competent score, and two great lead actors couldn’t save this film from mediocrity.

Rating: 4.5/10

Film Review: “The Accountant” (2016)

“The Accountant” is an effective and original action-drama that could very well be Hollywood’s next franchise

Review of Ben Affleck’s new action drama “The Accountant”

By Carter Bagley

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Ben Affleck is an actor that has had a very up and down career. He began excellently starring as the great character of O’Bannion in Richard Linklater’s classic “Dazed and Confused” and starred in many Kevin Smith movies like “Mallrats” and “Chasing Amy” before breaking out with co-writing and co-starring in “Good Will Hunting” which jumpstarted his career along with his best friend Matt Damon. After that he had a lackluster career though starring in many awful rom-coms and big budget cheese-fests unnameddisasters like “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon”. Since then he’s come along way though and has become a successful actor, director, and screenwriter making such films like “The Town” and the 2013 Best Picture Winner “Argo”. This time he’s starring as “Christian Wolff” which is one of the many alias he goes by to protect himself who works as a freelance accountant for many huge crime organizations. It’s a very fascinating premise already but it’s made even more fascinating when you make the lead character an autistic man who has an incredible memory and high-functioning numerical skills. His father was a decorated military veteran who thought that his son should learn to live with his autism in the real world than make the world change for him. He trained his two sons in multiple different fighting styles and this made Christian an extremely sought after man as he was the best at multiple skills. When he takes on a legitimate accounting job for a company called Living Robotics to analyze the company’s money handling after a girl named Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) finds a flaw in it, he finds himself and Dana in a load of trouble. Ben Affleck’s performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen from him and he’s actually amazing at portraying Hollywood’s first autistic action hero. He has the subtle and not so subtle ticks down to a science and keeps his performance in check without going over the top like many actors do. J.K. Simmons plays Ray King who’s a financial crime director and gives a great performance like he always does and so does his employee Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who helps him try to find “The Accountant”. Anna Kendrick and Affleck’s chemistry is very good without being unrealistic and cheesy and she feels like a real person we all know. Another standout actor is Jon Bernthal who plays an assassin hired to kill Wolff and Cummings by Living Robotics after they find a legitimately large flaw in the company’s money handling. John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor also show up in relatively big roles with small screen time but it’s still nice seeing both of them on screen. This film is getting very mixed reviews which I honestly don’t understand at all as I thought this film was one of the most entertaining, emotional, and effective action-dramas I’ve seen in a long time. Gavin O’Connor has made another great film and I look forward to what he does next since I also loved his 2011 film “Warrior”. I think this could very well be the start of Hollywood’s next original franchise which is refreshing to see such an effective original movie being made these days. “The Accountant” adds up to be an original and well directed drama complete with amazing action sequences and emotional ties that make it a film that impacts you in every way and one I will remember a couple years from now.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: “Blair Witch” (2016)

An interesting premise and some good frightening moments don’t make “Blair Witch” succeed completely

Review of the new sequel to the influential found-footage classic “The Blair Witch Project”

By Carter Bagley

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The 1999 modern horror classic “The Blair Witch Project” revolutionized the found-footage style of filmmaking, which is now one of the most popular techniques in low-budget films. Whether that’s for better or worse is up to you because most found-footage movies are just cheap, lazy, and unoriginal like the “Paranormal Activity” series, “Unfriended” or “The Last Exorcism” but for every once in a while we get a film like “Chronicle”, “Creep” or “V/H/S/2” that’s surprisingly good. Either way the original “Blair Witch Project” film is a good horror film for what it is, maybe a tad overrated but still good nonetheless. So when just a few months ago Adam Wingard announced that his latest film “The Woods” was actually secretly a Blair Witch sequel titled “Blair Witch” I was mildly interested. Wingard is an intriguing filmmaker who made the 2014 thriller “The Guest” which I really loved quite a bit when I watched it and he already directed the entertaining house invasion thriller “You’re Next”. This new film follows James who is the younger brother of Heather from the original film who disappeared and hasn’t been seen since she left for the Black Hills Woods in Burkittsville, Maryland 20 years ago and the footage was found later which was the film “The Blair Witch Project”. She went missing when James was 4 and now he’s in his early 20’s and his friend Lisa who’s doing a film school project decides to help him investigate it by going into the woods themselves. James’ childhood friend Peter and his girlfriend Ashley choose to tagalong also as they meet two Burkittsville residents who posted footage online that James believes could be from Heather. The residents join them on their journey into the woods helping guide the group and before long weird stuff begins to happen and when they soon find themselves unable to escape the woods that’s when the real terror sets in. It’s an interesting enough premise and it works for the first act of the film. You somewhat care for the characters, some more than others, and you understand their perspective and they don’t seem completely incompetent like most horror characters. The problem with this film though is that in a lot of ways it’s the same movie as the original until the film’s final 15-20 minutes or so. Somewhere later in the second half and beginning of the third I got bored as it seemed a bit repetitive. There were definitely some unique moments thrown in there though, specifically one involving a voodoo figure. It does seem that the filmmakers really cared about making a good horror film, and they did a decent job for the most part, it just feels like the screenwriters didn’t know what to do with the film at certain parts and so it comes off as filler. The ending though elevates the film quite a bit however as it brings in original concepts and well-paced thrills. You even get a few genuinely frightening images and moments in the witch’s extremely creepy house. If you enjoy the original or like these kinds of horror films there’s a good chance you’ll get a few kicks out of this latest installment. If you’re into the franchise’s lore then you’ll definitely enjoy it as it introduces some interesting concepts. If you’ve never seen the original film though I advise you watch that one instead as overall it’s a more effective and consistent film although “Blair Witch” might have a few better moments.

Rating: 6/10