The Lost City of Z

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★★★1/2

Based on a non-fiction book by David Grann, The Lost City of Z is an adventure drama based on the true story of a man’s repeated expedition into the Bolivian jungles. His initial mission was to map the boundaries between Bolivia and Brazil but he continued afterwards in a quest to find an ancient civilization. The film is about some of his journeys including his last. His name is Percy Fawcett.

The narrative follows his path from being a ranking British army officer to a determined explorer. By an assignment from elite members of the Royal Geographic Society, his travels take him on dangerous rivers, dense jungles, and tense communication with a plantation owner (played by Franco Nero) and cautious tribes people. The conditions are harsh and the characters are often starving if not concerned for food. As one boatman hopelessly observes, “it’s like a green desert”. But Fawcett comes upon evidence of an undiscovered primitive civilization and it becomes his unwavering objective to find it.

The film’s director and screenwriter is James Gray who directed  ‘We Own the Night’ and ‘The Immigrant’. I like the visual qualities of those films, particularly the cinematography and lighting which I could even describe as elegant. And with the Lost City of Z, I think Gray has created a better looking motion picture than those mentioned. It is not a quick moving film, being a drama, but the natural surroundings are a challenging obstacle for the characters and the protagonist has a strong desire that is interesting to observe. Percy Fawcett is played by Charlie Hunnam in a confident and strong performance. The personality is that of a go-getter, an optimist, and daring. Accompanying him on the expeditions is Corporal Henry Costin played by Robert Pattinson who is not easily recognizable under a thick beard and dialed down performance. Back in England are Fawcett’s wife and three children.  The wife Nina is played by Sienna Miller as the authority of the household and is as strong a leader perhaps, as Fawcett. His eldest son Jack (played at different ages by Tom Holland, Bobby Smalldridge, Tom Mulheron) seems to possess his father’s tenacity which explains why he gets taken along on his last trip to the Bolivia. Their final moments onscreen includes a comment by a tribal chief that brings a thought of existentialism to Fawcett’s character. Whether this story aligns well with the facts of the book, I am unsure of. It is said that Fawcett had travelled seven times in search of the missing civilization that he called “Z”, a belief that was said to have been ridiculed for many years and then was proven to have some validity based on much later findings. Regardless, I find this to be an absorbing film with noteworthy acting and my wish is that it should had been a bit longer to show more accounts of his journey. 

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Kong: Skull Island

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★★★

There have been seven King Kong movies, the first one in 1933, and they are not easy to enumerate.  I only remember three and they are the original, the 1976, and 2005 versions. Others might recollect the Japanese movie King Kong vs Godzilla which borrows the giant ape character for a completely different story. Regardless of how they have been made, whether they impart terror or tragedy, these movies are able to deliver an impact to the viewer. Which is probably why Kong: Skull Island exists. It doesn’t follow the traditional story that culminates with Kong protecting his female captive up the top of the Empire State Building. This one is about Kong in his natural habitat, being fierce and dominant.

Kong: Skull Island is an engaging blockbuster. Although i didn’t like the way it began nor was i too fond of the first half, it got more exciting and progressed to an impressive finale. I was thankful for that. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, there is plenty of action, hardly a dull moment, and admiration must be given to the special effects team who create some magnificent spectacles. Some scenes are of Kong doing battle with unique creatures while others are of brief moments in passing, like when a buffalo-like animal drinks at a river or when an octopus suddenly emerges. The story is basic because it is once again about a group of explorers (and soldiers) who encounter the giant ape in his home of Skull Island. But their reasons for travelling there are interesting and King Kong isn’t the only giant they run into.

The characters are played by John Goodman, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Ortiz and many others. Hiddleston, as fine an actor as he is, i thought seemed miscast as a tracker. But it is Samuel Jackson and John C. Reilly who are compelling. The former is an embittered Lieutenant who seems to be cooking bad ideas throughout the story and the latter is a stranded war veteran who has moved on to a peaceful state of living with the islands natives. I also liked some of the performances by the supporting cast who give subtle impressions about their mission and part in the Vietnam War. Which brings about an effective mild undercurrent that i did not expect in a monster movie – an antiwar sentiment. So i liked the movie overall, and had the first half been a bit more creative, perhaps i would have liked it a lot more.