Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Kong: Skull Island and Person to Person (2017)

In an era full of reboots and remakes, chain reactions often open the door for classic characters and beloved films to make a return to the big screen. Inevitably, 2014's $500 million worldwide box-office smash, Godzilla, ultimately paved the way for The Kings of Summer director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, to reintroduce the world to King Kong. And with an infusion of energy and some fresh new ideas, we're given a version of Kong that we've never seen before.

A pair of scientists (John Goodman and Straight Outta Compton's Corey Hawkins) piggy-back on an expedition to an uncharted island in the Pacific where they sense some strange occurrences are taking place. Escorted to this dangerous and unknown territory by an Army helicopter fleet headed by a war-hungry Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), an unexpected encounter with Kong sends the surviving few deep into the woods of this mysterious island. Forced to withstand attacks from multitudes of different monsters inhabiting the strange land, they all hope they can make it home and live to tell the tale of Kong.

Kong: Skull Island stands as a comedy-rich monster film with only one goal, to entertain the audience. From that perspective, Jordan Vogt-Roberts absolutely delivers the goods. The visuals are amazing and the footage of Kong leaves nothing to be desired. Nightcrawler writer and director, Dan Gilroy, pens a clever story surrounding an island full of new monsters that continues to surprise even as the running-time mounts. However, corn-ball dialogue purposely intended to deliver trailer-made one-liners masks a larger problem with the film. Gilroy lazily uses character interactions to explain the plot to the audience and progress the story. Consequently, Skull Island unravels as nothing more than a thoughtless popcorn flick guaranteed to generate gaudy box-office totals and propel a whole new franchise of films.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Indie filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa makes his return to the SXSW festival six years after his directorial debut, Bad Fever, premiered there. This time around he returns with a larger and more prominent cast in the hilarious new comedy, Person to Person. This thoughtful examination of human interactions is wrapped within a bright comedic shell that highlights the everyday humor in life and personal connection.

Set throughout the course of one day in the lives of various New York City residents, Person to Person follows a vinyl record collector (Bene Coopersmith) who stumbles across a rare find, a pair of magazine reporters (Michael Cera and Broad City's Abbi Jacobson) struggling to uncover the truth behind a murder (or was it a suicide?), a computer illiterate romantic (George Sample III) who does the unthinkable to the love of his life, and a cynical teen (Tavi Gevinson) unsure of her own sexuality. These mostly non-intersecting storylines tackle a wide array of personal issues and human connection with a hilariously tender approach.

Endearing and genuine, Person to Person captures the true essence of indie filmmaking with raw performances and modest city settings. Yet, even through its minimalist backdrop, Dustin Guy Defa crafts an assortment of enriched characters that are brought to life with skilled actors and actresses. You'll recognize some of the talent involved such as Michael Cera, Philip Baker Hall, Abbi Jacobson and Isiah Whitlock Jr., but it's a whole host of other unknowns that truly steal the show. Bene Coopersmith proves to be a naturally gifted source of laughs and the heartfelt performances of both Tavi Gevinson and George Sample III propel their complex characters to the forefront of the film. Person to Person lacks an all-encompassing message, but the film brings levity and originality to its dissection of human connection.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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