Tag: tom hiddleston

Kong: Skull Island


Kong: Skull Island (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

It probably would have been more appropriate for “Kong: Skull Island,” directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, to have been released in the middle of summer because, for better or worse, it embodies all elements of a blockbuster special and visual effects extravaganza including the sub-genre’s shortcoming: nice to look at but look closer and realize nothing much goes on inside. What results is a watchable action-fantasy, certain to entertain on late-night cable viewings, but it is not for viewers who demand creativity and intelligence alongside suspense and thrills.

Big names are cast in this monster film but the characters might as well have been played by unknowns because not one of the actors manages to inject something extra special to his or her performance. If less familiar performers had been cast instead, at least they would have benefited from the exposure. Instead, otherwise compelling actors familiar with the art of subtlety are reduced to playing extremes: Samuel L. Jackson as the villainous military man, Tom Hiddleston as the quiet hero hired for a job, Brie Larson as a photojournalist who finds humanity in a gargantuan gorilla, and John C. Reilly conveniently provides comic lines.

Just about everything is so expected, so familiar, that I found minimal excitement in a film that is supposed to balance wonder, horror, action, suspense, and eventual catharsis. I wished to know who the characters are outside of their occupations and what pushed them to partake in the mission. What makes he or she interesting other than being on survival mode? What makes he or she worth rooting for (or against) just because he or she means well (or the quite the opposite)? Clearly, these characters are one-dimensional. There is no excuse for a movie with a sizable budget to have a minuscule imagination. Look at how it portrays scientists. They are silent, cowering, often in the background.

For an island that is supposed to be undiscovered—being surrounded by perpetual storms helps—there is a lack of a sense of discovery outside encounters with massive creatures. At one point, the outsiders come across quiet indigenous people covered by paint and jewelry from head to toe. The picture dedicates not one scene in showing a new outsider attempting to make a connection with the curious human inhabitants. The story might have been set in the ‘70s but such is a mere ploy since it fails to capture the essence of that era. Notice that in movies released in the same time period, even in blockbuster films that happen to be set in a strange or new land, there is always an attempt to communicate, to connect, to find a commonality. Not here.

It excels in a few individual scenes, which usually last about five minutes, before forcing us to wait for the next action sequence. Perhaps most impressive is the graveyard scene. Notice how it builds atmosphere and mood. We are awestruck by the mighty skeletons; as the camera lingers on them, we try to imagine corpses that were once there. The yellow-orange dirt highlights the white bones’ surfaces—their cracks, crevices, and holes. All the while we know that something is going to happen soon. It becomes a matter of perfect timing. I felt elated when the execution got it exactly right. At that moment, I caught myself wishing that the entire material functioned on such a high level and on a consistent basis. There are stretches where neither the senses nor the mind is engaged.

“Kong: Skull Island” is not for audiences who demand more than two CGI characters duking it out during the final ten minutes. Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” got it right where this movie got it wrong. In the 1993 classic, there is dimension to the central characters, we get to know some of the creatures up close (sometimes a little too up close), it pushes us to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. It engages us intellectually. We grow to care deeply for our protagonists. Here, I did not care whether they would make it out of the island alive.

Only Lovers Left Alive


Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Currently living in Tangier, Eve (Tilda Swinton) decides to pay Adam (Tom Hiddleston) a visit in Detroit given his increasing depression. Its source: once a wonderful world quickly being reduced to a wasteland of mainstream-mindedness and self-imposed limitation resulting in humanity’s failure to progress. Eve hopes that her presence will help her fellow vampire to climb out of the rut, but the eventual arrival of Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s sister, threatens to lodge him deeper into his crippling frustrations.

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, “Only Lovers Left Alive” rests on its mood and atmosphere to tell a relatively forgettable story of two lovers who have lived together for centuries and are now questioning, in their own ways, if their everlasting lives, given that they choose to sustain it, is still worth continuing. Its languid pacing gives plenty of room for thought but it is certainly not the kind of picture that offers any kind of excitement despite its blood-drinking—preferably from blood donations—protagonists.

In a way, the slow as molasses pacing is appropriate. Since Adam and Eve are able to live for eternity and have been alive—if such a word is appropriate—for hundreds of years, time for them is to be relished. The film concerns itself with the details of its characters’ lives. Looking at the state of their homes, we can tell immediately that they admire art and music, like to read books, and value antiques. We get a taste of their personalities through the clothes they wear and how they are worn. We get an idea of what they like to do by looking at materials left on tables, chairs, and beds.

Casting Swinton and Hiddleston works for the movie’s advantage. These great performers are able to create something from pretty much close to nothing. Imagine if actors of lesser caliber were cast instead. Gone are the subtleties in facial expressions, how their limbs are placed and hung just right to evoke both menace and elegance, the control of movement from one point to another which communicates that they may look human on the outside but inside they are not. Both conjure up a mythical presence about them.

For instance, one of the more memorable shots is Swinton’s nostrils flaring just so when Eve, on her way to the City of Champions, notices a man’s finger dripping with blood. Just imagine: Creating tension from a simple millisecond movement of the nostrils? Only seasoned or naturally gifted thespians are able to pull that off without looking silly.

There is talk of “contaminated” blood which forces vampires, at least the very few we meet, to withhold from drinking any red at the most convenient opportunity. Is contamination referring to disease or drugs? There may be some evidence that it is the latter given one remark about a character spending too much time in underground clubs. Has the contamination gotten so bad that the vampire community is under a threat of extinction?

“Only Lovers Left Alive,” not without a sense of humor, gives audiences time to wonder what one might decide to do if one were given a chance to live forever. I would like to say something typical like “travel the world” or something of that sort. But I propose to take on a more challenging prospect: To watch every movie that has ever been released around the world… including those that are believed to have been destroyed. Places to visit are limited but movies are made and released on a daily basis.

High-Rise


High-Rise (2015)
★ / ★★★★

If given the choice to watch “High-Rise” again or to get punched in the face, I would choose to get punched in the face because at least the terrible experience would last only a split-second. Sure, the sting might last for a couple of minutes more but the alternative would lead to feeling confused, insulted, and outraged all over again. It were as if Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley, the writer and director, respectively, used the screenplay and film to wipe their asses and they had the audacity to present it to the world as art. Pretentious art. Bad art. Less than worthless art. Needless to say, I hated this film.

Although based on the novel, the picture is as subtle as unsuspecting hands on the table being struck with a hammer repeatedly until all the bones are crushed. The messages it attempts to convey about socioeconomic status and the short- as well as long-term effects of economic turmoil are obvious, turns repetitive quickly, and becomes so boring that there comes a point where every minute that trickles by feels like an eternity of pulling teeth. There is not one character worth empathizing with and so there is a lack of dramatic gravity.

One might think that by casting a charismatic dramatic performer like Tom Hiddleston to play Dr. Robert Laing, a recent occupant in a high-rise tower where the poorer tenants live on the lower floors while the wealthy throw extravagant parties on the upper floors, it would resurrect dead material. Instead, Hiddleston is not given anything to say or do that is remotely interesting. Once in a while, however, he is required to take his shirt and pants off in order to appeal to his admirers. I found the whole thing to be increasingly frustrating and disgusting.

The look of the picture is dull and uninspired for the most part. Before deplorable conditions take over the building, the pristine white floors and walls have a certain artificial look to them that is unconvincing even for a dystopian future universe. It looks too movie-like, a set, and so it is all the more a challenge to buy completely into the story being told. Just the same, when the state of the building turns to filth and the residents result to participating in torture, murder, rape, consensual orgies and the like, none of it is believable.

We get the impression that everyone is acting crazy because they are directed to act in such a manner. Long-winded dialogue is sprinkled from time to time but take a moment to look into the performers’ eyes: There is no conviction behind them and so what is paraded on screen appears to be a sham, a really bad, tasteless joke, simply random scenes cobbled together with seemingly minimal effort barely holding them together.

Since the material fails to provide a detailed and thorough context in terms of plot and why certain subplots are introduced—when, as it turns out, they serve little to no impact later on—in addition to the unimaginative aesthetics, it leaves the viewers no avenue to connect with the material in a meaningful way; it keeps us from a great distance and we are supposed to be impressed somehow.

There is a way to make allegories, metaphors, and symbolisms fascinating and worthy of exploration but “High-Rise” is not written, not directed, and does not function on a high enough level to earn viewers’ deep attention and insightful thoughts. It is an assault to the intelligence and patience of those hoping for an accurate and timeless satire about the social ladder—and, more importantly, those simply hoping to watch a good movie.

Crimson Peak


Crimson Peak (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

The night of her mother’s death, young Edith was visited by her mother’s ghost and warned her of Crimson Peak. Although it did not make sense to her at the time, Edith has never forgotten the encounter. Fourteen years later, Edith (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring writer, meets a baronet from England, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who comes to America with the hopes of raising capital for his project with the help of Edith’s father (Jim Beaver), a successful businessman.

In Europe, Thomas’ mansion, Allerdale Hall, sits on top of a clay mine. It is a matter of funding and building the proper machinery so that the clay can be acquired and sold. Soon, Edith and Thomas marry and live in Allerdale Hall. However, Edith begins to suspect that the mansion is haunted.

Written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robins, “Crimson Peak” is a gothic-horror film that is beautifully told with strong special and visual effects to back it up. It has many similarities with classic horror films, particularly with its treatment of gore and violence. These elements are secondary. The film is about the story and the characters first and how they come to change over time. Thus, an expected criticism is its slow pacing.

The deliberate pacing fits this type of story like a glove. It forces us to wonder how the characters are going to clash upon the delivery of key revelations. During its opening minutes, there are well-placed acknowledgements that the story is not really about ghosts, that ghosts merely serve as metaphor for the past that haunts. Although the idea only becomes fully realized during the latter half of the picture, it works because the wonderful performances by the leads and supporting performers help to carry through the promise.

It can be argued that the heroine is written as a bit of a bore. I agree—to an extent—but Wasikowska puts in a lot of effort to make Edith interesting. Take away the extravagant garments, hairstyles, and accessories and the performance remains highly watchable. Wasikowska appears to have more than a dozen faces to express fear. It looks and feels so effortless, the viewer gets the impression that she just picks one from her bag of tricks when the time is right. The scenes in which Edith is required to investigate during the night stand out.

There is suspense and genuine horror as she walks through hallways and opens cabinets because, like the camera, her expressions and body language are patient and precise. Jessica Chastain, too, shines as Thomas’ older, conniving sister. Notice the way she milks every scene she is in; menace is communicated right down to her fingertips.

Some of the computer-generated imagery are a bit much. Although the monsters in the haunted mansion look creepy and dangerous when they are shown, the longer the camera lingers on them, the less impact they tend to have. Perhaps this could have been circumvented if some of the images were more tactile, less translucent-looking. The choice to make them the latter, however, is an interesting one. Perhaps we are never really supposed to believe they look real or convincing, to tie into the idea that the film is not primarily a ghost story.

“Crimson Peak,” directed by Guillermo del Toro, does not need to be thoroughly original. It is difficult to deny that it is a period piece horror that is very done well. There is intrigue in the gothic romantic story and characters, the forefront and background images are stunning, the performances exhibit range, and we care about what happens to the characters. Though others may claim the film is “an exercise of style over substance,” the imbalance is not by much.

Midnight in Paris


Midnight in Paris (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

The plan is for Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) to get married in California after their mini-vacation in Paris. Gil, already a successful Hollywood writer for movies but currently hoping to break into the literary scene, informs his bride-to-be that he wants to live there for the time being because he is inspired by so many things: the magnificent architectures, the amazing art, and the histories behind them. He is even able to find beauty in the way the rain tends to cover the streets like a warm blanket.

But Inez does not want to live in Paris–end of discussion. She scoffs at the way he romanticizes the city. While walking around at midnight, something magical happens. Gil is able to walk into the 1920s, his favorite decade, and meet his idols: literary icons like F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).

Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris” shows us the slow decomposition of a relationship through fantastic encounters. A lot of care is put into the central character. Though the tone is light and accessible, the screenplay is concerned about details: what Gil feels and thinks about his career and relationship, the people of the past that he is able to interact with, and, eventually, to consider doing what is necessary so he can move forward.

The scenes set in 2010 as Gil interacts with Inez and her family (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy) are both maddening and amusing. I found Inez’ side to be really annoying because they are the kind of people who buy a $20,000 chair and not feel guilty about it. Their big problems consists of silly things like which clothing are appropriate to wear at a party or if they are coming off as smart or worldly enough to their acquaintances. Still, they find a way to complain about something. At the same time, I was entertained because Gil is so passive toward them at times. Clearly, he is the conduit between our simpler worlds and the disgustingly privileged just as he is the bridge between the past and the future.

Despite the glamour, the story remains relatable. I loved the scenes when the couple are forced to listen to pedantic Paul (Michael Sheen) about the history of each landmark and artwork. Even if he is wrong, he considers himself to be right. We all know people like Paul. What is it about certain people who feel that they know or must be right about everything? Given that they encounter others with similar know-it-all personalities, do they get annoyed around each other? Even with supporting characters like Paul, I enjoyed that the script inspired me to wonder.

The midnight time jumps to the 1920s is a welcome conceit. They are shot in beautiful bright yellow glow. While the scenes in 2010 focuses on negative energy that surrounds Gil, the 1920s are positive and golden. Wilson has played plenty of good guys, but I have never seen him so likable and in command of his effortless charm. He gives Gil a certain level of humility so our protagonist approaches legendary authors and artists as a wide-eyed fan, perhaps the way we would have if we were given a chance to meet the artists face-to-face.

It is joyful meeting colorful figures like Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), but the film does not lose track that this is about Gil’s journey as a budding writer, not just a revolving door of highly influential figures. By touching them physically, discussing and exchanging ideas, as well as taking note of their flaws, Gil is able to gain a fresh perspective on how to write and edit his novel. In addition and equally important, by spending time with Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Pablo Picasso’s then-girlfriend and muse, he learns that maybe Inez needs a man who has a more polarizing personality. Life is short and we should lead a life that is deserving of us.

“Midnight in Paris” entertains in a subdued way. While the pacing is slow at times, complementing Gil’s relaxed personality, its quirks do not overshadow the emotions. Like a novel worthy of reading while under soft blankets, there is elegance in the way in sashays from one encounter to another.

The Deep Blue Sea


The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Hester (Rachel Weisz) wishes to kill herself by ingesting a handful of aspirin and suffocating herself with gas. This attempt at suicide leads to failure, however, when her worried neighbors decide to enter the premises because they hear no answer from her end. During her state of near death, we are given the chance to look into her memories. It turns out that she’s married to a judge named William (Simon Russell Beale), at least ten to twenty years her senior, and is deeply infatuated with Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), a former pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

“The Deep Blue Sea” sketches a portrait of people in a current state of suffering and we are invited to partake in their conflicting emotions by means of observing its actors perform with such a high level and heavy intensity, I found it difficult to look away from a scene even when the characters themselves are unable to face the situations that befall them.

Weisz is almost always in every frame but not once do we see her energy waver. She is required to navigate through an archipelago of emotions, from the subtle distinctions between crippling shame and self-loathing to periods of explosive but genuine happiness and contentment, without coming off as performing for an audience. This is a pitfall that has been circumvented quite successfully despite the material being based on Terence Rattigan’s play. Every movement of Weisz’ hands, lips, and eyes is calculated to a tee that specific intervals when Hester does not say a word communicates an entire story. We feel her pain and yet she is not to be pitied. We are reminded that she is smart enough to make choices and so she must be responsible for dealing with her dilemmas.

Meanwhile, Hiddleston proves to be her equal as a technician. Though he is given more scenes in which he has to deliver outbursts of anger toward the woman he loves and the unbearable frustration in their situation, he is aware not to cross the line as to be considered the enemy, the figure that Hester must overcome to have another chance at starting over. Instead, he highlights the heartbreak in his character by conveying a certain awareness that although he cares deeply for Hester, maybe what they have is meant to be a transient thing despite the amount of hardwork they put into the machine.

I believe that the film is a love story even though it spends most of its time focusing on the darker, unhealthy aspects of passion. The scene with the woman (Ann Mitchell) explaining to Hester what love is while the latter looks at former’s dying husband is ironic in that it offers a glimmer of warmth instead of something to be feared or feel sad about. The way it turns over some its cards and revealing something unexpected is joyous. After all, how can we measure darkness without a bit of light?

Based on the screenplay and directed by Terence Davies, the film also uses music to its advantage by magnifying the emotions conveyed on the screen. I’m the first to cry foul when music gets in the way of the work but it feels appropriate here. Because the characters are so into their thoughts at times, the music urges us to consider what someone might be thinking or feeling if, for instance, a defensive stance is taken.

Ultimately, “The Deep Blue Sea” tells Hester’s story and it is bewitching to watch her, almost like observing a person in a sinking canoe who is desperately paddling toward land still a mile away.

The Avengers


The Avengers (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Tesseract, a cube with the potential energy to destroy the planet, was obtained by the egomaniacal Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from S.H.I.E.L.D., Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistic Division, led by one-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Overpowered by Loki’s strength and otherworldly powers, Fury sought help from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) eventually joining the party. Based on the screenplay by Joss Whedon, comprehensive character development in “The Avengers” was simply out of the question because each superhero contained an interesting personality filled with quirks and unique sense of humor. The main question was how to keep the story interesting apart from massively entertaining explosions and jaw-dropping action sequences. I found that the film was similar to a great swimmer. Because of Whedon’s direction, the film knew how to pace itself so it didn’t drown in its own ambitions. When the movie kept its head underwater by delivering the intense and often breathtaking battle scenes, they were allowed to play out to our satisfaction without overstaying their welcome. For example, the duel between Iron Man and Thor was simply wonderful to watch. Out of the six, not only did the two of them have the biggest egos, they were my least favorite characters compared to the rest. (Personally, listening to Thor speak is as boring as reading about the history of differential equations hybridized with Shakespearean lingo.) Yet it didn’t matter because I was so involved in what was happening. Their brawl, and of those to come, was within the story’s context. Thor, prior to joining the group, wanted to convince his adopted brother against enslaving Earth while Iron Man worked for a cause and had to deliver Loki to the proper authorities. When the movie gasped for air, they were quick and memorable. The sense of humor stood out because the script played upon the elementary personalities of each hero or heroine. For instance, the material had fun with what the audience expect of Black Widow and her sex. The script was balanced in subverting the typicalities of women’s roles in superhero movies, given that they’re usually the romantic interest or object of desire, and remaining loyal to her character as a woman on a global and personal mission. Since she, along with Hawkeye, did not have a stand-alone movie, having not read the comics, I appreciated that her character was given a little bit more depth than her counterparts. While there were still unanswered questions about her history and the intricacies of what she hoped to gain by joining S.H.I.E.L.D., by the end, I felt like I knew her as well as the other guys. I felt like she had her own stamp in the dynamics of the group, that they wouldn’t be complete without her. Naturally, the film’s climax involved a lot of extirpation of expensive skyscrapers. But the main difference between the destruction seen here as opposed to, say, Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” was the action didn’t feel incomprehensible. Things blew up but the quick cuts weren’t injected with multiple shots of epinephrine. Each jump of perspective had something enjoyable to offer instead of relying on a false sense of excitement. In other words, the destruction was actively made interesting instead of allowing it on autopilot. “The Avengers” could have used more Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), less speeches between Loki and Thor, and an explanation on how The Hulk became more manageable toward the end. Nevertheless, such negatives are so small compared to the cyclopean roller coaster ride that the filmmakers had given us. When I was a kid, I played with a lot of action figures. Some even revolved around crazy narratives I made up, one of which involved a live caterpillar and beetle destroying Legos that stood for Gotham City. I must say, the sight of The Hulk tossing Loki around like a piece of spaghetti made me feel like a kid again.