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

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

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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

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: “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016)

“Hacksaw Ridge” is a brutal and horrifying war film depicting the true story of a hero in WWII

Review of the first film in 10 years from director Mel Gibson about Desmond Doss, a WWII medic who refused to touch a gun

By Carter Bagley

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Mel Gibson has fallen out of public approval in the past decade with many of the things he’s done and I’d say it’s pretty justified. His career has definitely been affected by this but there’s no argument that he has the ability to direct the shit out of a film. Films like “Braveheart” and “Apocalypto” have or will gain classic status as they’re both fantastic films especially the former which is one of the best of its era. Now ten years after his last film he has adapted a true WWII story about a young man named Desmond Doss who Hacksaw_Ridge_poster.pngjoined the war but because of his beliefs he was not willing to touch a weapon, opting instead to save lives as a medic. I was worried when I first heard of this film because Desmond Doss was very driven by his religious beliefs and Gibson isn’t exactly the best at subtlety when it comes to his religious beliefs; Although he surprisingly manages to tone that topic down and the film doesn’t come across as heavy-handed or preachy. The film follows Doss’ story from when he’s a young boy living in a small town in Virginia with his competitive brother, drunken abusive father and loving mother all the way through the brutal battle on Hacksaw Ridge. Andrew Garfield gives a truly amazing performance as Doss and maybe gives the best performance of his entire career so far. He makes Doss a protagonist to root for and whether or not you agree with his beliefs, you know he believes in them deeply and his complete conviction is commendable in its own right. Hugo Weaving who you probably know from his roles in films like The Matrix, V for Vendetta, or Lord of the Rings gives an extremely impressive performance as Doss’ drunk father. He doesn’t just come off as a scumbag, which it easily could have, but instead shows a deeply hurt layered man who despite doing many awful things you still feel pity for him. Vince Vaughn is also surprising as a Sergeant and is a great way for Vaughn to show off a more dramatic side to him we haven’t seen. Maybe the biggest surprise though for me is Luke Bracey who is actually great as a fellow soldier to Doss. Bracey proves he can actually act and be a complex character rather than give purely awful performances like he did in “The Best of Me” and the remake of “Point Break”. Sam Worthington also shows up as Captain Glover and does a considerably better job than he has in a lot of past roles. Gibson’s direction is fantastic along with Simon Duggan’s cinematography as they created really intense and brutal war scenes. The one thing this film doesn’t do is glorify the war itself as I felt uneasy during a lot of the severely horrifying scenes. Many people are claiming it as war propaganda which I really don’t see at all to be honest as it depicts the war as something horrifying rather than glorifying. The only real flaw I had is that the first act had a few cheesy moments that didn’t feel entirely authentic and the movie didn’t really have a sense of realism until the war itself. However,”Hacksaw Ridge” is definitely one of the best war films I’ve seen in many years and I think it has all the qualities and star power of going down as a classic.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: “The Birth Of A Nation” (2016)

Review of the controversial slave uprising drama written, directed and starring Nate Parker

By Carter Bagley

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I first heard buzz about this film way back in January when it made it’s world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and everything I heard was glowing and nothing less than stellar. All of the hype got me very excited to see the film especially since Nate Parker has been a rising star for years now and he finally took his career into his own hands by the_birth_of_a_nation_2016_filmwriting, directing and starring in it. Then a couple months ago charges of rape against Parker were brought up from 17 years ago even though they seemed to be long in the past as the court ruled it consensual and he was acquitted of all charges. This didn’t seem to matter though as the press has being weighing down Parker and this film ever since they were brought back up. Whether it happened or not is not my position to say but I will say I still remained excited to see this film because I tend to believe you should separate the artist from the art and let it stand on it’s own. The real tragedy here is that “The Birth Of A Nation” not only stands on it’s own but excels as a film all around and I don’t think people are seeing it for what it truly is. The true story turned into a film follows literate slave Nat Turner (Parker) who serves as a preacher to other slaves but after suffering and witnessing brutal acts of racism and violence against his people he decides to stand up as a leader and lead an uprising against the slave-owners including his (Armie Hammer) in hope to free all his fellow slaves. It’s a fantastic and tragic story and it’s told in such a detailed and caring way that you feel every hardship yourself as the film rolls out before your eyes. Nate Parker is absolutely outstanding as Turner and proves he’s beyond capable of being a strong, versatile and sensitive leading man. It contains impacting and brutal images of what is was really like in that turbulent period in American history. Parker’s direction is also surprisingly developed here even though it’s his directorial debut and it feels like a veteran filmmaker’s work. You feel every ounce of dread and pain as the film progresses and the life of a slave is showed in graphic detail. This is why the eventual violent uprising by devout Christian, Nat Turner, is all that more painful to watch as you understand the inevitable ending. Armie Hammer delivers a great supportive performance as Nat’s master who takes Nat around to different plantations to preach to the slaves for money. The conclusion is emotional and intense and will make you horrified by the history of our country. These good people driven to violence by their masters in hopes of freedom is a story that can affect us and something that each and everyone of us can relate to because that feeling doesn’t just apply to a specific group of people but to any human with a good sense of morality. I think one day this film will overcome the shadow of all the controversy surrounding it and be seen for what it is. It’s not a perfect film but it’s rawness and importance makes it a film I would recommend for anyone to go out and see especially because it’s expecting small box office returns. “The Birth of A Nation” is a genuine, emotional and expertly made film that I think has the potential to be remembered a long time from now.

Rating: 9/10

Classic Reviews: “The Deer Hunter” (1978)

“The Deer Hunter” is an intense, and sometimes beautiful psychological drama

Review of Michael Camino’s masterpiece about the effects of the Vietnam war on three best friends from Pennsylvania

By Carter Bagley

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Michael Cimino is a filmmaker we could talk about for hours and his downward spiral is one that may go down in history. No matter what happened to him however no one could ever take away the masterpiece that is “The Deer Hunter” from him. When it was released in 1978 there was drama surrounding it including over-budgeting and Cimino being an extreme perfectionist and a huge pain in the ass to the studio, in the end though he no doubt delivered a perfect psychologically horrific war film and among the first to really go in depth on the Vietnam war. The film follows three best friends from a blue collar MM-DEER_HUNTER.jpgPennsylvania town Mike (Robert De Niro), Steve (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) and they all have very distinct personalities. Mike is the confident, wise and quiet leader who keeps his senses better than his friends while Steve is sweet and loving and about to get married and Nick is reserved, thoughtful and charming. The film is really broken into three story structures where part 1 takes place prewar where they’re preparing for deployment and Steve gets married to his pregnant fiancee and Mike, Nick and other friends go on a final hunting trip before the three friends are sent into Vietnam. Part 2 is the time they spend in Vietnam and it features many horrifying scenes that scared and unnerved me more than most horror films I’ve seen in my entire life. Then part 3 focuses on the trio post-war and the effects it has on them and their close family and friends. Cimino does an indescribably fantastic job at directing this masterpiece and he puts major focus of scenes that seem to not be important and later prove to be vital to the development to the story and the characters. Robert De Niro gives one of his greatest performances I’ve ever seen from him right up there with “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “Cape Fear”. His portrayal of Mike is heartwarming and brutally raw all at the same time and you feel the relationships between all the characters to be 100% genuine. Meryl Streep is fantastic in a supportive role as Linda who’s the sweetheart of Nick and close friends with Mike and Steve. The imagery is impeccable and sticks with you and it’s almost indescribable how the scenes in this film whether they’re horrific or beautiful last with you long after the film ends. It runs a little over three hours but it doesn’t feel that way at all and I was sucked in by the amazing story, fantastic performances, and excellent use of landscape and scenery. The great character actor John Cazale is great as the trio’s unpredictable and impulsive hometown friend Stosh. He died soon after filming and before the film even released which is an awful tragedy as he was only in 5 films (“The Godfather”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “The Conversation”, “The Godfather Part II” and “The Deer Hunter”) and all of them were incredible. The scene everybody remembers from this film is when Mike, Nick, and Steve are forced to play Russian roulette against each other after being captured by Vietnamese soldiers. It’s a memorable and perfectly executed scene that shows the horrors of war first hand. Along with all those kind of scenes there’s the beautiful ones like when Mike is up in the mountains hunting the deer or when they’re all at Steve’s extravagant wedding. I think John Savage and Christopher Walken are overlooked a lot for their roles in this film which is too bad because everyone in this film is perfectly cast and perfects their role. “The Deer Hunter” is an intense, and sometimes beautiful psychological drama that is truly one of the most classic films of the 70’s and it’s one of most well-made films I’ve seen in a very long time.

Rating: 10/10