At the movies: Kong: Skull Island was a hi-octane crazy delight that just proves Gareth Edwards' Godzilla flick - the first film in this same shared universe - was too timid. Skull Island better embraces the cheesy and/or ridiculous aspects of a giant monster film and just has FUN with them. It doesn't hold back on showing the monster(s). It doesn't shrink from making Kong a monstrous ape-man that looks like the model from the original film (as opposed to the giant gorilla of Peter Jackson's remake). It doesn't repeat the story beats of the original, and yet pays tribute to them visually. It uses the end of the Vietnam war as motivation for the characters, metaphorical background (and incomprehensible enemy in the jungle), and a couple of big puns if you think about it (Gorilla warfare or Viet Kong, you choose). And it's visually impressive. Now granted, most of the human characters aren't very well developed, especially those that might continue with the franchise, but by casting recognizable actors who bring baggage with them, the film avoids Godzilla's similar failing, where its less well-known actor just comes across as generic and boring. But Brie Larson's empathy comes through those giant eyes of hers. Casting sometimes goes a long way. Anyway, aren't you there for the giant monsters?! On that front, Skull Island definitely delivers. I was smiling all the way through.
DVDs: Before Spider-Man, Sam Raimi made one other superhero film, by way of horror films of course, and that's Darkman. Liam Neeson plays the title role, a Phantom of the Opera type who becomes a vigilante after he is horribly disfigured, and destroys a criminal organization using, among other things, life-like masks that bubble and disintegrate after 100 minutes in the light. In other hands, this might have been a forgettable post-Batman '89 cash-in. But Raimi brings an incredible amount of energy to the proceedings, with cool camera moves, memorable quirks for even the lowliest goon, and a complete embrace of the genre's goofiness, including comic book dialog delivery. A great deal of fun, and the only real flaw I would highlight is the extremely bad green screen work. But Raimi really does know how to make a cheap movie overcome its financial limitations using a full cinematic tool box.
Somewhere at the crossroads of Indiana Jones, Batman and Tarzan is The Phantom, a costumed pulp hero who scored a minor superhero film in the mid-90s, and I have to say, an underrated one. I guess it's hard to take that purple suit seriously, but then you shouldn't have to. This is another of those matinee cliffhanger flicks set in the 30s, like The Rocketeer and The Shadow, just fun action-adventure for a Saturday afternoon. The Phantom has a nice generational mythology which is expressed in the film, and there's a strong tie-in with the pirate brotherhood our hero must fight. Young Catherine Zeta Jones is in this, always a nice surprise, but it's Kristy "the original movie Buffy" Swanson who really steals the show, in my opinion, as the feisty brawling beauty Diana Palmer. A good straightforward story, plenty of good stunts, evocative locations... It's earnest and fun. It's only corny on the surface, never boring.
Netflix: Apparently, the original Dutch version of The Vanishing - 1988's Spoorloos - is the preferable viewing experience, but I haven't seen it. That's context for the review. The American Vanishing has a couple things going for it, to be sure, like showing the psychotic kidnapper working up the courage to commit a heinous crime before we're ever introduced to the nominal hero, and then pulling a bait and switch and revealing the hero is someone else entirely. Jeff Bridges is always interesting, though what a weird accent he's putting on. Keifer Sutherland as a frustrated and obsessive man looking for his missing girlfriend, however, is the least engaging person in the cast. He's a underwritten jerk whose motivations the film almost manages to contrast with the kidnapper's, but by the third act, we're just in bog-standard thriller mode and the happy-ish ending does away with any thematic resonance in favor of a clunky joke. I guess it's probably true what they say.