KONG: SKULL ISLAND (Rated PG-13)

“KONG” STILL MASTER OF THE JUNGLE; “TRIAL & ERROR” ON TV

A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (Rated PG-13) The fact that the producers behind the 2014 “Godzilla” film re-imagined the origins of the one of the most powerful monster myths of all in “Kong: Skull Island” is an important enough reason to stay for the end credits. From the old Fay Wray 1933 classic to more recent outings, the legend of King Kong has held sway over the public imagination. “Kong: Skull Island” may fascinate more for its special effects than the human drama behind an expedition team. At the film’s opening, Skull Island is seen as a forbidden place in the South Pacific when World War II jet pilots crash and an American and Japanese survivor face-off on a cliff when the giant beast appears.

Fast forward to the end of the Vietnam War in 1973 to find American explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman) hustling the halls of Congress to fund an exploration of the South Pacific island shrouded in clouds and powerful storms. As soldiers shut down in Vietnam, Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), an alpha male with a trigger finger, is looking for his next wartime adventure, and Randa easily convinces him to run a squadron of helicopters over to Skull Island. The team of soldiers, scientists and researchers is not warmly greeted by Kong, as he swaps the choppers out of the sky as if he were brushing aside annoying insects. The survivors of this mission must then face the treacherous jungle terrain.

Former British operative Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is on board as an expert tracker, yet he clashes with Packard’s gung-ho style. Wartime photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also can’t resist an adventure as dangerous as the battlefields. The most interesting discovery, aside from giant lizards and spiders, is that of World War II fighter pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been living with a mute indigenous tribe that views Kong not only as a god but the savior of their existence from external forces. Marlow has been living with the tribe for 28 years and he’s not only desperate to reunite with his wife and the son he has never met in Chicago, but also to find out if his beloved Chicago Cubs ever won a World Series, an event that still remained far off in 1973.

In a fleeting homage to previous “Kong” films, there’s a brief “beauty and the beast” moment when Kong holds Mason in his giant paw after rescuing her from drowning. Other than that tender moment, this “Kong” is all about the action. Protector of his domain, Kong displays, through terrific special effects, his physical process in fierce combat with prehistoric beasts. It’s all a warm-up for the battle with Godzilla yet to come. All in all, “Kong: Skull Island” is a greatly enjoyable action romp.

 

 

TV CORNER – “TRIAL & ERROR” ON NBC NETWORK

John Lithgow, an actor of wide-ranging talent in television and movies and on the stage, is a known quantity who can be a draw for the new comedy series “Trial & Error” on the NBC network. Playing an eccentric character is not a stretch for a man of Lithgow’s aptitude, and thus his new role of daffy poetry professor Larry Henderson in a small South Carolina town is an easy fit.

As the show’s title may inform, Larry’s predicament is that he’s been accused of murdering his beloved wife, and his family decides to hire what they euphemistically refer to as a “Northeastern lawyer” for defense counsel. Arriving on the scene in this tiny Southern town is not exactly the high-powered attorney the family expected. Instead, the arrival of bright-eyed but untested New York associate Josh Segal (Nicholas D’Agosta) sets the stage for fish-out-water comedy. Spoofing any number of crime shows littering the television landscape, “Trial & Error” is filmed in the spirit of a true crime documentary, where we are exposed to the inner workings of the defense team going up against a youthful, but determined prosecutor. Joining Josh on the defense team is the bumbling lead investigator Dwayne (Stephen Boyer) and office manager Anne Flatch (Sherri Shepherd), who suffers from “facial blindness,” a disability that keeps her from recognizing anyone she already knows. Settling into his makeshift office behind a taxidermy shop with his quirky team of local misfits, Josh suspects that winning his first big case will be made difficult for a variety of reasons, not the least of them being how his client always makes himself look guilty.

During the winter TV press tour, Lithgow summed up the essence of his strange character in a way that makes complete sense. He referred to Larry as “completely unedited” and having “no sense of priority or proportion.” Larry is so out-of-touch that during his 911 emergency call upon discovering his wife’s bloody corpse in their home he interrupts the operator to connect with the cable guy to arrange a long-awaited service appointment. Whether the essential joke of “Trial & Error” can hold up for a series run may depend on John Lithgow’s ability to sustain the comedy, a mission for which he is certainly capable.