BEAUTY and the Beast does not arrive in cinemas until this Friday (March 17) but I was treated to my own cinematic beauty and beast – of sorts – on my recent trip to the Curzon in London (a sublime Victoria and closure-threatened Soho).
Kong: Skull Island is the second ‘MonsterVerse’ film from Legendary Entertainment following on from 2014’s Godzilla. It takes place at the close of the Vietnam War in 1973.
Government official Bill Randa (John Goodman) pushes for approval to survey a mysterious and uncharted South Pacific island. His expedition is sanctioned on the basis that the US will be securing a potential gold mine of resources ahead of the Russians. But Randa is more concerned with proving the existence of deadly monsters that he believes inhabit the island.
Randa is assigned a military troop, fresh from ‘Nam. It is led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) and accompanies his team of scientists, along with tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
As their helicopters make a violent and disruptive arrival on Skull Island, they are greeted by the mammoth figure of King Kong who proceeds to tear them down in rage. This encounter turns the expedition into a fight for survival, which leaves the remaining members of the team just three days to navigate across the perils of Skull Island and reach the safety of their rallying point.
As Conrad and Weaver begin to realise that Kong is not the monster to be feared on this island, Packer remains hell-bent on exacting revenge on the colossal primate for killing many of his soldiers, resolutely stating: ‘’this is a war we can’t lose.’
Of course, if you are looking for any semblance of nuance or depth beneath ‘copter crushing and Samuel L Jackson cursing, you have definitely chosen the wrong film. Skull Island’s brittle script is littered with an array of undeveloped characters that feels all too reminiscent of recent ‘blockbuster’ disappointments such as Jurassic World, Ghostbusters and Suicide Squad.
Randa’s statement at the start of the film that ‘they’ll never be a more screwed up time in Washington’ is a jolting precursor to the film’s dense approach to storytelling.
In fact, Randa’s character arc seems to end once he has given everyone a reason to be on the island. It is a disappointing waste of Goodman’s abundant talent and sadly none of the monsters in this film are half as threatening, imposing or sinister as the one he so expertly played in 10 Cloverfield Lane.
The film’a scatter-gun approach is reflected in its careless use of music, albeit nowhere near as unbearable as Suicide Squad’s overhanded pop tracks.
Yes, Jefferson Starship and Credence Clearwater Revival are reminders that we are in the 1970’s. But their sound is almost as distracting as the appearance of Hank Marlow (John C Reilly) midway through the film.
Marlow, a former World War II pilot who has been living on the island since his plane crash-landed, gives the impression that he has just walked off the set of Step Brothers – certainly not of a man who has just spent close to 30 years battling for survival on a terror-filled island.
It is all irritating, bewildering and outright skull-numbing stuff that no amount of explosions and spectacle can cover up.
LUCKILY my second film of the day, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, provided just the right dose of medicine to sooth this cinephile’s gorilla-induced headache.
Successful video game chief executive Michele Leblanc (a glorious Isabelle Huppert) is confronted by a monster of different sorts when a masked man breaks into her home and rapes her.
Rather than calling the police – her father’s scandalous past makes her wary of the authorities – Michele’s response is shockingly composed and reserved. She cleans up the mess, takes a bloodied bath and then orders some sushi.
As a series of lewd text messages from Michele’s attacker spark a tense game of cat and mouse, she changes the locks, shops for weapons and learns how to fire a gun, ready to fight back if necessary.
The masked man rapes again and on one occasion leaves a message for her on a computer resting on her bed, accompanied by a healthy dose of his semen.
Michele’s desire to resist victimhood and maintain control of her life also gives her fresh impetus to confront other lingering personal issues which largely involve emasculated men.
Michele’s ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling), whom she regrets having separated from, is in a relationship with a young student (and yoga teacher) who is only interested in him for his modest literary fame.
Their son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) is still asking Michele for financial support and is subservient to his bossy and disagreeable pregnant girlfriend Josie (Alice Isaaz). A child we discover whose father is patently not Robert but a work colleague (the smile on the latter’s face in the maternity room after a difficult birth says it all).
Robert (Christian Berkel) – the husband of Michele’s best friend and business partner Anna (Anne Consigny) – is having an affair with Michele. Not surprisingly, Robert is desperate to keep their wilting romance alive but Michele’s disinterest is clear to see.
That is not all. Michele’s mother (a marvellous Judith Magre) is threatening to marry a young toy boy, much to her daughter’s disgust – while the latest video that the company is working on is corrupted by an employee, showing Michele in a less than flattering light. An extraordinary scene follows when one of the employees is asked to drop his pants to prove to Michele that he is not the rapist.
Most of these simmering relationships and situations provide an amusing backdrop to Michele’s darker issues, especially when some of these people are gathered together for a dysfunctional Christmas dinner party.
As you can tell from all this, Elle is certainly not your conventional revenge story.
Instead, it subverts the genre in ways that are outrageously dark and devastatingly enthralling. Huppert’s brave and unyielding performance – in some truly disturbing scenes – is sublime.
I thought she was good in last year’s Things to Come. But Elle sees Huppert reach new heights.
Reason enough to visit your local cinema and be terrified, appalled but thoroughly entertained by yet another challenging and provocative Verhoeven classic.
Kong Skull Island – 2/5
Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Scr: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson, John C Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann
DOP: Larry Fong
Music: Henry Jackman
Runtime: 2 hrs
Elle – 4/5
Dir: Paul Verhoeven
Scr: David Birke, Philippe Djian (novel)
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre, Christian Berkel, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, Vimala Pons
DOP: Stephane Fontaine
Music: Anne Dudley
Runtime: 2hr 10