Skull Island (WB, 2017) – Director: Jordan
Vogt-Roberts. Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein & Derek
Connolly (s/p). John Gatins (story). Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L.
Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins,
John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbel, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham,
Thomas Mann, Will Brittain, Miyavi, Richard Jenkins, & Eugene
Cordero. Color, Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
the attractive trailers, I was still wondering why this movie had to
be made. Why would the story of King Kong need a prequel? But I was
not expecting to be knocked back on my heels by this film. The story
was told convincingly, the cinematography was stunning and the
soundtrack powerful and entertaining. The special effects crew pulled
out all the stops, introducing us to brand new monsters and titanic
creatures. It even gave some plot explanations that were revealing.
The film starts with
a dogfight over the island in 1944 and both fighter pilots have to
parachute out of their disabled planes. Hank Marlow (Brittain) and
Gunpei Ikari (Miyavi) continue their battle on the beach until Hank
runs out of ammunition. He runs into the jungle chased by Gunpei and
stops at the edge of an impossibly high cliff. But their conflict is
interrupted by two immense ape hands gripping the cliff edge and
Kong’s head rising up over the ledge like a hairy sun. The two flee
and the audience is taken by the camera into the pupil of one of
Kong’s red eyes.
As the opening
credits roll, the years advance in the background and stop at 1973.
The Vietnam War is virtually over and Lieutenant Colonel Preston
Packard (Jackson) is looking at his collection of medals wondering
what they were all for.
Randa (Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Hawkins), a noted seismologist
and geologist, are trying to obtain backing from Senator Willis
(Jenkins) for an expedition to an uncharted island in the Pacific
Ocean called “Skull Island,” discovered by satellite imaging. The
island’s name is appropriate, since it’s shaped like a grinning
skull in profile. The senator is extremely reticent, knowing Randa’s
track record of hunting fantastic beasts and failing. It’s not
until Brooks uses the unknown species and possible cures for disease
argument that Willis gives in. The last thing Randa asks for is a
Preston Packard is
delighted to be back in action and he and his Sky Devils helicopter
squad are enlisted to accompany the expedition (though the men
thought they were going home after Vietnam).
Randa enlists expert
tracker, British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad
(Hiddleston) to lead the intrepid caravan and photographer Mason
Weaver (Larson) to record all findings. None of the men expected
Mason to be a woman though. Lastly, he recruits eminent biologist San
(Jing) – remember her from The Great Wall (2016)?
– and Victor Nieves (Ortiz) a Landsat employee to ensure location
of the island.
And now, the
interesting science fiction. Skull Island has remained uncharted by a
vicious, perpetual electrical storm surrounding it which cuts out all
communication devices. Everyone in the crew with a brain is wondering
why the supplies include seismic bombs and ample ammunition
(including napalm) and are given the explanation that they’re
needed for geologic surveys. With about a dozen military helicopters
on board, the ship Athena (which, in actuality didn’t sail until
2003) sails for Skull Island.
circle of storms is daunting to most on board, especially Victor
Nieves, but they plow through a calmer spot on the south side. Once
on the other side, and everyone gets over how beautiful the island
is, the soldiers start dropping the seismic bombs. Guess who notices
the commotion? Kong devastates the entire flying fleet defending his
turf. The survivors, which include all the major characters, divide
into two groups to hopefully make it to the north side of the island
where they have plans to be picked up.
On the way they
encounter various native fauna; a Kaiju, a giant buffalo rises from a
lake, (an amphibious prehistoric and fantastic beast with huge forked
horns), the soldiers are best by a spider with legs exactly like the
bamboo forest – dubbed “Mother Long-legs.” Nieves is aerially
drawn and quartered by pterodactyl-like creatures called “Leafwings"
with saw blades for beaks, and Major Jack Chapman (Kebbell) sees Kong
wrestle a giant squid and have his own version of calamari sushi
before sitting on a giant stick insect and getting eaten by a
The civilian crew
are ambushed by the Iwi natives, a fearsome tribe with spears and
ferocious facial makeup. But just when they think that all is lost,
Hank Marlow (Reilly) appears and sets things right, telling them the
story of his stranding in 1944 and how Kong rules the island. He
named the lizard-like skull-headed creatures from the depths of Skull
Island Skullcrawlers and informs the group that they haven’t seen
“The Big One” that killed all of Kong’s family.
At gunpoint, Randa
reveals to Packard that he’s working for a secret organization
called Monarch which specializes in hunting “Massive Unidentified
Terrestrial Organisms.” He’s the only survivor of the U.S.S.
Lautman, attacked by Kong in the past and that’s his motivation for
this mission. Packard wants revenge on Kong for killing his men and
will not be dissuaded. Meanwhile, Mason and Conrad learn the truth
about Kong and want to save him from Packard and his men. But all
want to get off the island alive.
Lots of excitement,
action, moments to startle you, gratuitous and bloody violence and
good use of 3D effects are in this movie. The acting is generally
believable, even though Samuel L. Jackson is a bit over the top in
his vengeful zeal. John Goodman is actually trim; he’s lost a lot
of weight and looks like he’s enjoying every moment. There were no
slow sections even with a tense standoff toward the end. I found
myself gripping the arms of my chair at least twice. Henry Jackman’s
music is awesome and the selection of pop tunes mixed in the story –
“Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers, “White Rabbit”
by Jefferson Airplane, “Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)” by
The Hollies, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Run Through the Jungle”
by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie,
and “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn – are the original tracks
and are appropriate where they are inserted. It kept my toes tapping.
The only flaw was a
temporal one. I checked when the original movie was released. If King
Kong was kidnapped (or rather ape-napped) in 1933 and brought to New
York, where he died, how did they only discover him in 1944? Forget
about 1973. Otherwise, the film was great, including the minimal
interaction between the non-existent Kong and live actors. I would
definitely recommend it to everyone who would not get nightmares from
seeing scary creatures, especially in 3D. Forget about the time
problem and stay through all the credits for the de-briefing scene
with Conrad and Mason with its innuendos of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra
and King Ghidorah. In the words of Randa, “This planet doesn’t
belong to us. Ancient species owned this earth long before mankind. I
spent 30 years trying to prove the truth: monsters exist.”
I thought I’d been
to every restaurant on “Restaurant Row” (46th Street) but
this one opened 15 months ago and, one thing for certain, nothing is
as sure as change in New York dining.
Besides the food,
the most important part of a restaurant is its servers. They can make
or break one’s dining experience. Fortunately, I had Nini, who
helped my through the menu and explained the specials as we assembled
my dinner. For my cocktail I chose the Koubai – Hendricks gin, plum
wine, campari, rice vinegar and sea salt, a beautiful shade of rich
orange in a ball-shaped glass with a hefty twist of lemon peel and a
brownish-red Chinese Bay berry suspended over the drink. The plum
flavor was dominant and the juniper of the gin gradually insinuated
itself into the mix and the citrus from the lemon combined with the
sweetness of the campari to make it an intriguingly delicious
Choosing a sake was
not easy – the list was so long, but the sake I chose was in a
category by itself on the list: Ichinokura “Taru” sake, aged in
cedar barrels with a subtle cedar accent to the smooth flavor of the
My first course was
a favorite, Shumai (ground shrimp wrapped in delicate, tender rice
flour dumplings steamed to perfection and topped with flying fish
roe). They were so fragile it was a challenge to pick them up with
chop sticks, but I managed and savored every bite.
The next course was
a joint selection. I chose the Uni (sea urchin) sushi because it’s
my favorite (and I learned later, it’s also Chef Seki’s favorite)
and she chose the King Salmon Sushi topped with a slice of roasted
tomato. Both were amazing. The slightly earthy Uni is the only sushi
one cannot dip upside-down into the soy sauce. To do so will cause
the sea urchin meat to fall out. The salmon sushi mixed with the
tomato almost tasted sweet.
My soup arrived with
the sushi. Akadashi (Aka=red, Dashi=bean) – red miso soup, with
little cubes of tofu, strands of seaweed and Nameko mushrooms
(slender-stemmed with heads the size of small peas). It had much more
bean flavor than regular miso, made from mung bean curd. And, as with
so many Japanese dishes, it was not heavy, almost a broth.
The main course was
as stunning to look at as it was to taste. Aji Sugata-Zukuri –
horse mackerel sashimi with ginger and wasabi. The sliced, shiny,
silver-skinned meat glimmered on the plate next to a row of thinly
sliced lemons. The main attraction was the remainder of the mackerel,
whose head was positioned looking up, while the rest of its body
swept over it like a ballerina’s arm ending in the tail
overshadowing the head! And when I tasted the fish I was surprised at
the lack of fishy flavor. It was tender enough to melt, almost sweet
and very delicate. My sake tasted strong in contrast.
When I finished the
sashimi another server took the dish for its second preparation. The
remaining flesh on the bones and head were crisped tempura-style and
re-served looking like a star on the plate. It was indeed a stellar
dish, the crunchy coating made the flesh taste similar to bacon. And
though I had to remove several small bits of bone and scales.
That may sound like
a lot of food, but still, I was hungry. Nini brought back the menu
and made a few suggestions, but I knew what I wanted. The Spicy Tuna
Roll, a California style sushi with the rice on the outside, was the
right choice to fill me up. Though each piece had wasabi in the roll,
after tasting one, I added more to each, making it really spicy. The
red tuna meat inside was excellent, tender, but firm and flavorful.
I always leave room
for dessert and Sushi Seki had one unique recipe that Nini pointed
out: the White Sesame Panna Cotta, flavored with rhubarb and served
with red bean paste and fresh berries (raspberry, blackberry and
kiwi, in this case). It was a delicate, mousse-like pudding. The tart
flavor of the rhubarb was merely a hint in the sesame goodness. Nini
brought me a beautiful ceramic cup of hot green tea and the bar
tender brought a bottle of plum sake flavored with apricots. I had
come full circle from my rich orange cocktail to my dusty orange
after dinner drink.
Seki has three locations in Manhattan. Where I dined is the flagship
and there’s one in Chelsea and one on the Upper East Side.