Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings out the best in the beast in “Kong: Skull Island,” an insanely entertaining update featuring the legendary movie monster.
While the film has its share of flaws, it doesn’t matter: “Kong” is summer popcorn movie that happens to have a March release date. With lots of bone-crushing action, explosions, mayhem, a great cast and an incredibly realistic rendering of King Kong, the movie franchise suddenly has a vibrant new life.
Set in 1973 after the end of the Vietnam War, the great thing about “Kong: Skull Island” is that it’s not a remake of “King Kong.” The action takes place almost entirely on Skull Island, and there’s no transporting Kong back to New York City to be put on display.
Here, Kong remains in his natural habitat in a virtually inaccessible island in the South Pacific, and he doesn’t like it when a secret government exploration team with a military escort invades his space. The problem, as the humans come to discover, is that Kong isn’t the only creature on the island, giving the movie an intense “King Kong” meets “Jurassic World” feel.
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While the star of “Kong ” is the title character, the film’s cast doesn’t entirely get lots in the island madness. While Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Toby Kebbell and Samuel L. Jackson all fit the bill, the actor who steals the show is John C. Reilly as a pilot stranded on island for almost 30 years. From the very first time Reilly pops on the big screen with long, frizzy beard and looking like a madman, Reilly is a hoot.
Make sure to stick around for an after-credits scene, which sets up more “Kong” adventures. All told, “Kong: Skull Island” is a roarin’ good time.
Being at the helm of just one episode of a miniseries based on a classic espionage novel by best-selling author John le Carré would probably be enough to whet the appetite of most directors. But for Danish filmmaker Suzanne Bier, the greatest satisfaction would only come from leaving he
r mark on “The Night Manager” from start to finish.
Granted, such an enormous undertaking meant about two years of her life to adapt the 1993 bestseller, but Bier, 56, said every second was worth it.
“It is a lot of work, but a lot of inspiring, fun, weirdly invigorating work,” Bier said, laughing, in a recent phone conversation from London. “The material is so exciting and the cast is so great. So, yes, it’s physically exhausting, but it made me happy every day.”
And by all indications, Bier’s life is about to get even happier. As she prepares to unveil the series finale in the six-part television event to audiences Tuesday night (AMC, check local listings), the buzz surround the series may very well translate to Primetime Emmy nominations across the board for the Danish director and the BBC-produced miniseries.
“The Night Manager” follows the suspenseful and unpredictable path of Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), a former British soldier whose seemingly quiet life as a hotel night manager in Egypt becomes suddenly complicated when he’s recruited by MI6 intelligence to infiltrate the operation of elusive arms dealer Richard Onslo Roper (Hugh Laurie).
Originally broadcast on the BBC this past February through March, “The Night Manager” also stars Olivia Colman as the intelligence officer who sends Pine undercover; Elizabeth Debicki as Roper’s conflicted lover and Pine’s potential paramour; and Tom Hollander as Roper’s right-hand man who’s deeply suspicious of Pine’s motivations.
The release of “The Night Manager” oddly comes as talk continues to heat up about Hiddleston being a prime candidate to become the next James Bond in the 007 film series. Having first won over audiences as the mischievous Loki from Marvel comic book movies and most recently, winning critical acclaim as Hank Williams Sr. in the biopic “I Saw the Light,” Hiddleston no doubt has a tremendous presence about him — the sort of presence befitting of James Bond and his undercover character in “The Night Manager.”
“The thing about Tom is that Tom is almost like a real spy. A spy always has good secrets, and you can compare them to great actors, because great actors also have good secrets,” Bier said. “A great actor will control how much he is willing to show you, and Tom is masterful at being secretive, being enigmatic and being incredibly attractive, charismatic and likeable. That’s quite a rare thing for an actor, because maintaining the likability whilst keeping so much hidden is just a real art, and Tom does that.”
On top of that, Bier added, Hiddleston’s a nice guy — and that’s a must if any collaboration she enters into is going to be successful.
“He’s a super nice guy. The thing is, I need to work with people I like,” said Bier, the Oscar-winning director of the 2010 Best Foreign Film “In a Better World.” “Maybe certain directors get energy from antagonism. I don’t. I get energy from collaboration.”
Bier said she also gets energy from working with Laurie, the six-time Emmy nominee as the cranky yet brilliant Dr. Gregory House in the acclaimed television drama “House.” In “The Night Manager,” Laurie is a quite a bit more than cantankerous — he’s evil in fact — but evil and engaging at the same time.
“We don’t try to hide it,” Bier said. “We know right from the beginning that this man is really, really bad, yet you want to be at his parties, you want to be on holiday at his house and you want to be seated next to him at dinner because he’s so much fun and attractive — yet he is such bad news.”
In addition to being surrounded by such immense talent, Bier got the best of both worlds when it came to filming “The Night Manager” in that the production shot most everything on location. In addition to the U.K., “The Night Manager” took Bier and company to such places as Switzerland, Egypt, Spain and Morocco; and not for the purposes of making the production a working vacation. In fact, there’s a very sound rationale behind the places the series was shot, Bier said.
“You could say in a way that the locations are extra players — they’re characters,” Bier explained. “The story asks if this undercover agent is going to be sucked into Roper’s world. Is he going to compromise his moral integrity? Is he going to let down the mission he’s set out to accomplish? For those ideas to work, the places he goes need to be just as seductive as Roper himself.”
Just because the Loki isn’t in the latest Marvel superhero movie chapter “Captain America: Civil War,” it doesn’t mean that Tom Hiddleston can’t have a little fun contemplating a one-on-one battle between the God of Mischief and say, someone like Scarlet Witch
(Elizabeth Olsen) at some point in the movie saga.
Hiddleston and Olsen, who recently co-starred in the Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light,” appeared to like the suggestion offered in recent interviews with the actors.
“It would be interesting because both have magic powers,” Hiddleston told me, laughing. “I’d love to play Loki’s freak-of-nature arrogance in the company of Scarlet Witch. I think Loki would be incredibly patronizing towards her, and probably would be wrong-footed a couple times by her deftness and subtlety. It’d genuinely be fun.”
“Midnight Special” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Writer/director Jeff Nichols partially channels “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with uneven results in “Midnight Special, an indie sci-fi thriller that keeps you at arm’s length for most of the film, only to deliver an underwhelming payoff. Michael Shannon stars as Roy, the desperate father of an 8-year-old boy (Jaeden Lieberher) who has otherworldly abilities. Escaping a religious cult that believes the boy is their savior, the two, along with Roy’s best friend, Lucas, find themselves also on the run from the NSA, which perceives the boy as a weapon because he can bring down objects out of the sky. Roy has different plans, to bring his son to a specific location for reasons unexplained.
Although “Midnight Special” is slow to and uneventful at times, it’s almost a relief that it’s also not overwhelmed by special effects, especially given the genre it has originated from. Even though the cast – which also includes Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst and Sam Shepard – is stellar all around, the film seems empty when all is said and done. Ultimately, “Midnight Special” is not special, but merely above average.
“I Saw the Light” (R) 3 stars (out of four)
Loki actor Tom Hiddleston puts aside his usual brand of mischief to take on a risky performance of an American music icon with “I Saw the Light,” a biopic about Hank Williams’ rise and untimely death at the age of 29 in 1953. The film largely centers on Williams’ struggle with alcoholism and his relationship with his first wife, Audrey (an excellent Elizabeth Olsen) and how their tumultuous marriage effectively inspired the country and western star’s classic songs.
Hiddleston, who also sings such Williams classics as “Cold, Cold Heart” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” is spectacular in the film, yet somehow we come away from “I Saw the Light” with little insight into what tortured Williams’ soul to begin with. There’s no question he was a creative genius, but the film doesn’t fully explain why.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers