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

R.E.M. Series: “Monster” (1994)

“Monster” is a fun and energetic album full of fantastic singles and filler decent enough to keep your attention

Review of R.E.M.’s “big dumb rock album” that just so happens to be one of their biggest successes

By Carter Bagley

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After releasing two slower-tempo and methodical albums in “Out Of Time” and “Automatic For The People” R.E.M. wanted to release a faster, rock album like their older catalog in many ways and with 1994’s “Monster” that’s exactly what they delivered. The record is dedicated to Michael Stipe’s good friend and one of my favorite actors of all time, River Phoenix, who died unexpectedly in 1993 from a drug overdose. It’s also in tribute to Kurt Cobain who Stipe was friends with and was going to work with before Cobain infamously committed suicide in spring of 1994. The album starts off with the fantastic and energetic “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” and with Peter Buck’s explosive and ec68ea74c304448ec466ff7477d410a1.jpgclassic rock sounding guitar riffs and Michael Stipe’s brilliant vocals it undoubtedly sounds like the rock-oriented sound they promised. It was a massively successful single and it’s among my own personal favorites from the band because it’s just so fun and positive and gives fantastic vibes. They follow this up with “Crush With Eyeliner” which isn’t as good as the first track but it’s still a great song and one I enjoy when I put on the album and the same goes for track 3 “King Of Comedy” which is kind of the same thing for me. The first song that breaks from that sounds a little bit is “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” which isn’t great at all but it’s a nice enough song with decently written lyrics and the lead vocals really save it for me. Track 6 jumps right on board again though with a fast-paced rock and roll sound in “Star 69” which is fun and has great energy but it’s just filler despite all of that. It just cements the record for me as just an enjoyable alternative rock album and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The tempo to “Strange Currencies” is definitely slower and Buck’s lead guitar is charming and chime-like and Michael Stipe’s lyrics and vocals really make this an extremely underrated and overlooked gem of a song. It sounds more like something from “Automatic For The People” although it fits cosily in the tracklist to “Monster”. “Tongue” continues on with the slower tempo but it sounds almost churchy with a muffled organ in the background and the lead vocals are high pitched and smooth and it’s a little weird but after a while it grows on you and it’s a song I really like by them. “Bang and Blame” kind of picks up the rock sound again to some degree with kind of a “Life’s Rich Pageant” sound to it a little but not as good. The chorus is nonsense and the lyrics are mediocre but it’s an enjoyable care-free song and if you like their sound already there’s nothing different about this song to challenge that. “I Took Your Name” has the more rock n roll sound to it as well but it’s nothing special and it’s no doubt just filler. Michael Stipe wrote “Let Me In” in tribute to Kurt Cobain and he kind of sings like him a little bit and it features heavy guitar from Peter Buck. It brings the record back to quality and I really enjoy this song as a whole. “Circus Envy” is kind of the same thing for me and the lyrics are decent but the chorus is catchy and I quite enjoy the instrumentation to it. There’s nothing really to talk about though as it’s not one of the best by any means it’s just mindlessly enjoyable. The album closes on the song “You” which is pretty good and Stipe sings a little different than how he usually does. I do think it could’ve been harder hitting though if the band worked on it and tightened it up a little bit. Either way this isn’t one of their best records by any means but it definitely has some great songs that make it very enjoyable and exciting and the filler songs are still enjoyable enough to keep your attention. Michael Stipe and Peter Buck are the only ones that really get to shine in this album though as Mike Mills’ bass and Bill Berry’s drums aren’t nearly as prominent as opposed to other albums. This album seems to be forgotten a little bit by time which is weird because it’s one of their best selling by far compared to their earlier and later stuff. I think it just didn’t have the staying power that others had despite being just a very enjoyable rock record.

Highlights: What’s The Frequency Kenneth?, Crush With Eyeliner, Strange Currencies, Tongue, Let Me In

Lowlights: Star 69, I Took Your Name

Rating: 7/10

 

R.E.M. Series: “Automatic For The People” (1992)

“Automatic For The People” is a beautiful, slow-paced, and at times rather moving piece of music

Review of R.E.M.’s best-selling classic album “Automatic For The People”

By Carter Bagley

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Enjoying life as rock n roll superstars R.E.M. expanded their career even further with the outrageously successful “Automatic For The People”. Often considered one of if not the best album in their discography and it’s officially gone 4x platinum by the RIAA standards. Although it didn’t reach number 1 on the charts (it did reach #2 however) like it’s predecessor “Out of Time” did or it’s successor “Monster” it’s still sold more overall and has had a more lasting affect. Containing several songs you’ve probably heard before like “Drive”, “Everybody Hurts”, “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight”, and “Man On The Moon” it definitely has it’s share of hits. The album opens up with the lead single “Drive” and instantly feels fresh, original and good as hell. It’s a very slow track but has a hard hitting anger to it. It’s not as flashy and poppy as many of their other songs but it’s calm and calculated and methodical. It features a noticeable alternative rock sound to it mixed with automatic-for-the-people-by-rema slightly southern tie to the way it’s performed instrumentally. The second song “Try Not To Breathe” is an extremely underrated song in their discography and Michael Stipe’s vocals don’t explode like in other songs but the lyrics and chorus are memorable and anyone who knows the band well would recognize this song as a great one. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” has gotten some slack over the years with some saying it’s not a very good song including the band themselves. I don’t understand this as it’s energetic and light unlike a lot of the album and it’s one of my favorites on the whole record. Stipe also has a fantastic vocal delivery on the song and you can’t help but turn it up loud and sing along to it. The most famous track from the album however is the hit “Everybody Hurts” which I think everyone has heard in some way or another. It’s melancholy and the lyrics are much more basic than the rest of R.E.M.’s biggest songs in my opinion, it’s still a great song though and if it was a different artist I would be praising it I just know R.E.M. are capable of more but I can’t deny the marketability of this song. After track 4 the album goes through a series of non-singles as the whole record is pretty much bookended with singles with the exception of “Try Not To Breathe”. Track 5 is the first up and it’s titled “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” and you can guess that it’s just an instrumental track. There’s not much to say about it besides that it sounds nice and sad but the piano on it was a nice addition. “Sweetness Follows” is a deep cut that only real R.E.M. remember and I will say it’s a fantastic song that get’s tragically overlooked far too often. It’s a soft, well written and beautifully performed song that everyone should check out. “Monty Got a Raw Deal” and “Ignoreland” are the next two songs and the former is a great song and continues the softer, depressing theme of the album. Bill Berry’s drums are very noticeable and carry a great rhythm through the entire song and the lyrics are raw. “Ignoreland” is more upbeat and the instrumentation sounds like an 80’s pop song. Michael Stipe sings loud and confident lyrics and it’s a nice enough song overall but doesn’t compare to what came before it. Track 9 “Star Me Kitten” might be the most depressing song on the album and Stipe’s vocals are deep and quiet and the band gives a constant “ahh” backup vocal. Peter Buck’s guitar is simple and the percussion is mostly just cymbals and you’re supposed to focus on the mood more and it doesn’t entirely work for me but I still enjoy it as a nice little interlude into the last three songs. My personal favorite song on the album is “Man On The Moon” and I think it’s among the band’s greatest overall. The lyrics are weird and speak of the late comedian or “song and dance man” Andy Kaufman. Despite being very odd lyrically they’re still very heartfelt and emotional and it explodes into a perfect chorus that will be stuck in your heard for weeks. It’s truly a highlight on the album and shows how talented R.E.M. can be and how they’re so unconventional yet can appeal to all types. If you’ve never heard “Man On The Moon” you need to check it out as soon as you can. “Nightswimming” is another highlight and it’s probably the most beautiful sounding song the band ever made. The piano by Mike Mills is beautiful and Stipe’s vocals and lyrics are poetic and beautiful and moving. This song just keeps growing on you the more you listen to it and it stands out as nearly perfect and gorgeous. The album finishes it’s perfect three song streak with the album closer “Find The River” which sounds different than the rest of the album and it almost resembles John Denver in tone and feel but it’s much better than the vast majority of his catalog. The lyrics are beautiful and the melodica adds a nice instrumental touch to it. The chorus is lovely and one of the album’s greatest with yet another great vocal performance and the backing vocals and piano add to a fantastic album closer to a fantastic album. “Automatic For The People” is one of the band’s greatest albums they ever recorded and it’s more heartfelt than most of their other albums but it’s not quite my favorite. Despite that I can’t deny that it’s a beautiful, slow-paced, and at times rather moving piece of music that will only grow more perfect with time. It’s a timeless record that I always find myself returning to and if you’ve just heard the singles from it or maybe none of the songs at all then you’re missing out on fantastic music.

Highlights: Drive, Try Not To Breathe, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, Sweetness Follows, Man On The Moon, Nightswimming, Find The River

Lowlights Lesser Highlights: New Orleans Instrumental No. 1, Star Me Kitten

Rating: 10/10